Trump and “Expressive Individualism”


Republican U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks in Janesville

Some good analysis here by Ronald E. Osborn:

In a 2011 article in First Things, the Eastern Orthodox theologian David Bentley Hart pondered why so many literary depictions of the devil present him as attractive, witty, stylish and debonair. If there is a devil, Hart ventured, he is a thug and a bore, “probably a monomaniac who talks about nothing but his personal grievances and aims, and in the bluntest, most unrefined language imaginable—the sort of person you try your best to get away from at a party.”

Hart recalled a legal case from 1993 in which a poor, elderly New Jersey woman, Vera Coking, fought to keep her home while a ruthless developer used all his power to have the land seized by eminent domain so he could buy it at a discount and turn it into a limousine parking lot for one of his Atlantic City casinos. Hart then offered the following verdict on that developer and on the nature of the diabolical: “Cold, grasping, bleak, graceless, and dull; unctuous, sleek, pitiless, and crass; a pallid vulgarian floating through life on clouds of acrid cologne and trailed by a vanguard of fawning divorce lawyers, the devil is probably eerily similar to Donald Trump—though perhaps just a little nicer.”

Osborne continues:

Conservatives have long decried the relaxing of sexual ethics and the loss of codes of etiquette as markers of liberalism’s moral impoverishment and as political perils to Western civilization. Yet with the rise of Trumpism, they are themselves now deeply and irreversibly implicated in the expressivist turn. All of the old pieties, it turns out, are completely fungible for most conservatives as well. Basic principles of rationality, truth-telling, civility, decency and restraint have been laid waste by the reality television star’s hostile takeover of the Republican Party and ascent to the White House on a tsunami of emotive tweets and hyperbolic promises of “better deals.” Yet an astonishing number of Americans, abandoning their own earlier proclamations of the necessity of virtuous character for wise and just political leadership, now cheer the unraveling—and the cruelty.

Read the entire piece at America.

6 thoughts on “Trump and “Expressive Individualism”

  1. John, with no particular offense to your evangelical soul, I happen to believe that individualism is a hallmark of contemporary evangelicalism and the reason it has been so ineffective in changing the world. The very tenet of a individually inviting “Christ into your heart,” the “personal relationship,” that there are thousands, perhaps tens of thousands of denominations. How often have evangelicals left a church because “they felt led to.” It’s all an individual decision. Sure, they used to like some community standards, but that myth fell by the wayside when they embraced Reagan, the adulterer and fornicator. The good thing about Trump is he’s crystalizing the chimeric truth of this individualism, even hyper-individualism.

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    • Bob,
      You have a valid point about evangelicalism tending toward the subjective. It seems that many former evangelical institutions have drifted into theological liberalism (or state least heterodoxy) over the past sixty years. Probably the most egregious examples are found in the so-called emerging church movement. There are currently a lot of people who toss the term “evangelical” rather freely but it’s meaningless if measured by earlier evangelical standards. A case can be made that this whole sad process actually started with Luther.

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  2. With all respect to David Bentley Hart, I have to agree with Scottus. St Paul told the Corinthians that “….Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light. Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also be transformed as the ministers of righteousness……”

    When it comes to President Trump, someone would have to be rather naive to view him as representing any standard of personal Christian righteousness. He is a hard-driving, tough, secular businessman. While he does give lip-service to Christian spirituality (and might even see himself as a spiritual man), I don’t think the average discerning Christian would be credulous enough to rank him as “an angel of light.”

    With all of that being said, it doesn’t trouble me if the best automobile mechanic in town is an agnostic or if my top-rated dentist is a terribly lapsed Hindu I simply want my car back on the road or my teeth properly repaired. As long as these men do not overcharge me for their services or try to destroy my faith, I’ll probably be pleased with their work and return to them In the future. Thus far Trump has not padded my bill and is working toward fixing the mess his predecessors of both parties have left us. I don’t see him as a minister of righteousness———just a very effective leader neither more nor less moral than the average American politician.

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  3. Difficult reads I agree with Beerbom, Br museum saps strength.
    Oscorn difficult with #o many references. My view of Roger Williams more charitable, as he was a Seeker when the state religion busy founding City on hill, had no room for heretics of any ilk
    My view of Satan closer to CSLewis. Unctuous and smooth

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  4. Both are not easy to adsorb. I do second the Beerbom reference to Br Museum. It saps your strength. Osborne references so many so briefly and caustically, as in reference to Roger Williams. Who defined himself as seeker in a time of ruthless persecution of those who differed from the state religion as they conquered the new world and rid it of heretics and dissent.
    My view of Satan is closest to CSLewis. It explains the unctuous disdain for mankind best coming from inside man

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  5. “decency and restraint have been laid waste by the reality television star’s hostile takeover of the Republican Party and ascent to the White House on a tsunami of emotive tweets and hyperbolic promises of “better deals.” ”

    I am not an expert on this, but I question that Trump’s was a hostile takeover of the Republican Party. If it were it would offer hope of some power in a critical mass of leaders or regular folks to check him.
    In a way the promise to build “The Wall” with Mexico’s money was a litmus test. If a enormous number of people bought that, and they did, it was “Katie bar the door”, it’s anything goes!

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