In all fairness I can’t call this a book review. I believe for a book review you need to read the entire book. In the case of The Faith of Donald J. Trump: A Spiritual Biography (HarperCollins, 2018), that was not going to happen. When discovering what nails on a blackboard feels like, you don’t necessarily need the whole blackboard. So the following is, put more aptly, a book reaction.
Like Vladimir Putin, Kim Jong-un, and any run-of-the-mill wannabe tyrant throughout the ages, Donald Trump is entitled to an authorized biography full of vain propaganda and fake exploits. The Faith of Donald Trump, however, goes a step beyond and focuses on the one characteristic Trump lacks like the Sahara lacks water. When it comes to oxymoronic titles, what in creation could ever top this one—The Decency of Harvey Weinstein? The Altruism of Pharma Bro? The Levelheadedness of O.J. Simpson? The Morality of Judge Roy Moore?
An oxymoron is, virtually by definition, short. Authors David Brody and Scott Lamb, therefore, deserve some sort of backhanded compliment for stretching this Bazooka Joe comic out to a hefty 400 pages. But if you can win a substantial electoral college victory with 46 percent of the popular vote, surely you can put a half ton of lipstick on a small pig.
One way to do it is to recount the entire history of the Christian faith and drop Trump’s name into it here and there, as if The Donald played a pivotal role in the Reformation. You may already know Martin Luther objected to the Church selling indulgences in exchange for leniency in the afterlife. This, however, was hundreds of years before Donald Trump routinely and by his own admission bribed New York politicians in exchange for variances. You may also already know that Christian philosophers have for centuries wrestled with whether grace could be earned or was simply conferred by God. The amount of time Donald J. Trump has over the course of his life pondered this abstract question is approximately 0.000000 minutes.
From there it’s a short hop, skip, and a Trump to a rather long biographical account of Donald’s father Fred’s career as a developer and his now legendary work ethic. Fred, you see, didn’t believe in vacations because there was always more money to be made. Sounds a lot like Jesus of Nazareth stating man cannot live on bread alone, doesn’t it?
If at this point in the manuscript you’re still awake and have managed to swallow your own rising puke, you can read about how Donald received the best of both sides of Jesus Christ’s industrial era work ethic—the single-minded workaholism from his paternal German side and the clichéd thriftiness from his maternal Scottish side. By this time you’ve made it to page 100 without reading a single word about how Donald Trump banged everything that wasn’t nailed to a paternity suit and you deserve either a thousand dollars or a free semester at Trump University
With an advance in the bank and apparently no other worldly responsibilities, the authors follow Trump around during the 2016 presidential campaign looking for some sort of Sermon on the Mount that never comes. Instead they hang out on Trump’s Boeing 757 and receive stray mindless quips which they treat as manna from heaven. At one point, Republican pollster Frank Luntz is overheard asking Trump if he has ever asked God for forgiveness. Trump equivocates by saying taking communion, with the “little wine and little cracker” is a kind of contrition but clarifies that, no, not really—basically never. While most of America, evangelicals included, ultimately took the candidate at his word and moved on, the authors go on to praise him for his honesty—a sort of crude post-Biblical substitute for faith, humility, and decency. Worse still, the authors do not go on to ask the reader for forgiveness.
A few pages later, Trump thanks God for giving him his brain, and suddenly we must consider whether to forgive God. Still a few pages later the authors pull Luke 18: 9-14 out of thin air to compare Trump to the morally troubled tax collector whom Jesus praises for his honesty, which is superior to the hollow good deeds of the self-righteous Pharisee. Get it? If Jesus were here in the flesh he’d be wearing a MAGA hat.
The crescendo of the authors’ epic and relentless effort to draw blood from a stone appears around page 161 of the Kindle version. When at the Trump National Golf Club in Rancho Pales Verdes Donald Trump is asked for his favorite Bible passage and fails to recite even one loosely recalled verse, the authors could have left sad enough alone. Instead, they lavish praise on the candidate for shmoozing with evangelical preachers on the plane and being generally curious. Whereas ignorance was at onetime merely bliss, it is now virtue.
The Faith of Donald J.Trump is, essentially, a series of blanks which the authors unabashedly fill in to satisfy their publishing contract. There is no reason the reader can’t do the same. This reader has no Kantian or a priori knowledge of Donald Trump’s faith but watches a lot of CNN and reads HuffPost. Based on these sources, the faith of Donald Trump can best be summarized as follows:
Everything and everyone can be bought.
One can fire his way out of any reality show or constitutional crisis.
If you say something enough times it becomes true.
Hush money is eternal.
It is easier for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of Mar-a-Lago than it is for a Democrat to take a needle in the eye.
The arrogant shall inherit the earth.
Hit back ten times harder.
Seek and ye shall find loopholes.
I’m, like, really smart.
I alone can fix it.
There’s a sucker born every nanosecond.
There will never be a book about my faith or your faith. There will never be a book about the faith of Scott Beigel as he shielded his students from gunfire one horrible day at Stoneman Douglas High School. But there is a big fat book about the nothingness of Donald Trump’s faith because there is a pathological desire among many in America to justify their own blind rage, misogyny, and racism. As such, The Faith of Donald J.Trump is actually much more than an insufferable tome. It is the prototype for a new category of obscene literature—theocraporn.
Rich Herschlag is well into his third decade as an author, consulting engineer, husband and father and is very tired.