Jack Shafer: Donald Trump, Who Regards Himself as a Divine King, Calls for His Royal Restoration

From a Jack Shafer Fourth Estate column on politico.com headlined “The Messianic Trump Cult”:

Donald Trump, who regards himself as a divine king unjustly dethroned, called for his royal restoration in a Truth Social posting this week. Complaining that an FBI briefing at Facebook caused the social media site to spike mention of the Hunter Biden laptop, Trump cried foul. Insisting that he would have won the 2020 presidential election “easily” if not for the FBI’s treachery, wrote Trump, “REMEDY: Declare the rightful winner or, and this would be the minimal solution, declare the 2020 Election irreparably compromised and have a new Election, immediately!”

Trump’s delusion that he is the forever president emerged about midway through his term and has gelled into the stuff cults are made from. Abandoning all rationality, he continues wearing his red baseball cap like a crown and expounds on issues like a monarch. His most ardent followers’ minds have become pudding as they predict and repredict his restoration like a messianic cult or a doomsday sect. Like a perpetual going-out-of-business sale run by a shady merchant, Trump’s second-coming is never-ending.

Trump’s loyal subjects have never doubted his perma-president status, no matter how many deadlines he’s missed in taking back power. First, he and his supporters believed that the Jan. 6 riots and the blocking of congressional certification would extend his presidency. When the Capitol siege turned out to be a bloody, tear-gas-stained dud, QAnon theorists asserted that Jan. 20, 2021, — Inauguration Day — would be the day of the Great Awakening following Trump’s signing of the Insurrection Act to declare martial law and conduct mass arrests of his enemies. Michael Flynn, who served as Trump’s national security adviser for about 15 minutes in 2017, had claimed in December that Trump could “basically rerun an election” in several states. Then Trump’s reinstatement was pegged for the “real” inauguration day, March 4, 2021. Do you notice a pattern? Following the cult dictum to predict often and grandly as nobody will remember long enough to hold you accountable, that day came and went. Then the Trump cult set a new date of March 20 for his return because he would somehow have legal control of the military until then.

You might take pity on the citizen who fell for the cult’s mumbo-jumbo, but they number in the tens of millions, and they gladly donate to his political fronts to help him unsteal the 2020 election he clearly lost. A June 2021 poll found that 29 percent of Republicans believed Trump had a chance of being reinstated by the end of the year. Even though there is no constitutional mechanism for a rejection of the 2020 results or a do-over election, Trump was telling people he expected his reinstatement by August. He’s coming! He’s coming! My Pillow magnate Mike Lindell fired up the cult that summer by pegging the second coming as Aug. 13, 2021. That proved to be a wash, too, as was the revised date of Thanksgiving. Like any true believer, Lindell is still at it, recently staging a flop of a stolen-election conference in Springfield, Mo. Lindell — along with Flynn, John Eastman and Steve Bannon — has also trumpeted the cockamamie idea that Biden’s 2020 win could still be “decertified” in key states. By touting Trump’s second coming no matter how many times he fails to return, Trump’s followers have branded themselves a cult.

How did Trump and his believers come by these preposterous notions? As a serial bilker of creditors, investors, donors to his philanthropy and his fund-raising organization, students at his “university,” workers, and contractors, Trump was already well positioned for such a role. And then he learned during the 2016 campaign what an easy touch the religious community could be. Preachers as varied as Jeremiah Johnson and, later, Franklin Graham vowed that God was moving the scenery in support of his 2016 victory. By 2020, a poll by Pew Research of U.S. adults found that 27 percent believed God had chosen Trump for the office. Small wonder Trump rallies resemble religious assembles in which the faithful worship their god.

It’s one thing for the religious rank and file to believe in Trump’s status as God’s right-hand man, but how do we account for the prominent Republicans who endorsed the idea? Brad Parscale, his campaign manager, called him a “savior” called into service by God. White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told Christian Broadcasting Network viewers in 2019 that God “wanted Donald Trump to become president.” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, not normally a supernatural theorist, speculated that Trump had been sent to save Israel from Iran. Trump took to the testimonials with the enthusiasm of a convert. During a 2019 scrum with reporters, he looked to the skies and stated, “I am the chosen one.” He later claimed he was being sarcastic, but not everybody believed that excuse. Two months later, Secretary of Energy Rick Perry confided that he had informed Trump he was the “chosen one” designated to lead the country. In 2020, Sen. David Perdue of Georgia fluffed Trump’s ego by calling him “providential.”

As Trumped settled into his presidency, he began to regard it as a potentially permanent position. If God has chosen you to lead, who are you to surrender the position? In 2018, he “joked” that Chinese President Xi Jinping’s status as “president for life” was “great,” continuing, “Maybe we’ll give that a shot someday.” In 2019, he “joked” again saying he might remain in the White House “at least for 10 or 14 years.” These forever president sentiments blossomed again two months later in his retweet of Jerry Falwell Jr.’s view that a two-year extension on his first term was warranted for the time the Mueller probe had stolen from his presidency.

Although evicted from the White House 19 months ago, Trump still postures as if he were president. In addition to calling for reinstatement and a do-over election, Trump ensures that his office calls him the “45th president,” not the former president. He continues to unlawfully use the presidential seal for commercial purposes. And his capricious handling of sensitive and secret documents at Mar-a-Lago — his idea that the papers belong to him and that he’s above the law — make the case that he’s come to believe in his own, permanent divinity. Trump said in 2019 that being president gave him “the right to do whatever I want,” which is consistent with thinking you’re God’s co-pilot.

The great obstacle in accepting Trump’s divine status is that he has never convincingly presented himself as a man of God. Remember the “Two Corinthians” incident or that time in 2015 when he said the Bible was his favorite book, but he couldn’t name a favorite verse? Perhaps Trump was sent to earth to work wonders. But what if he’s not a messenger from heaven but from the other place?

Jack Shafer is Politico’s senior media writer.

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