Trump's "I am the Chosen One"--The Language of Self-Delusion, Grandeur, and Divisiveness
By: John Mason/Arab America Contributing Writer
Trump’s initial statement, “I am the chosen one,” last Wednesday, August 21, was uttered from his mouth in response to a reporter’s question that took place on the White House driveway about China and the trade war he started. His response, in Hollywood fashion, was to preen his head upwards to the sky, perhaps the heavens, in addition, his hands held out in the style of entreaty to claim his genius and supernatural character. While rooted in the President’s incoherence and delusionary behavior, his statement on being chosen has implications for many American spheres of influence, including that of Arab Americans, which we focus on here.
The Consequences of Trump’s holier-than-thou declarations for Arabs and Jews
As Trump bragged to reporters about his successful tariff war on China, according to The Washington Post, he received a tweet from a conservative radio personality describing Trump as the “King of Israel.” Furthermore, the tweet said that Israeli Jews “love him like he is the second coming of God.” This, from Wayne Allyn Root, who says he is a “Jew turned evangelical Christian.” In the Jewish Bible, leaders call Jesus the “King of Israel,” but in a mocking way; according to the Christian Bible, in the book of Matthew, it is said of Jesus, “He’s the king of Israel! Let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe him.” And, so much for believing Trump on just about any topic!
Given American Jews’ approval of Trump in 2018 at only 26%, one has to wonder which Jews Trump would be “king” of. Apparently, it’s Israeli Jews. Trump’s move of the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem has endeared him to some Israelis, with the exception of Arab Israelis, who deplore the Embassy move. Then Trump vilified U.S. Muslim Representatives, Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib for their support of a boycott of Israel for its treatment of occupied Palestinians. He went further and nudged Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu to ban Omar and Tlaib from traveling to Israel.
The Post also reported some critics’ comments about his holier-than-thou-statement, “I am the chosen one,” as possible grounds for trump’s dismissal based on an assessment of his fitness for office. (Some critics on his side have suggested that Trump was only exercising his “sense of humor” in making these loaded statements; if those statements were humorous, then perhaps we need a new definition of humor.) According to one such critic, it was President Andrew Jackson who during his term, 1865-69, compared himself to the Messiah. The articles of impeachment of Jackson noted his “intemperate, inflammatory and scandalous harangues.” Sound familiar?
Let’s now look at Trump’s “I am the chosen one” statement to tease out who he thinks he was “chosen” for.
If Trump is the ‘Chosen One,’ just who was he chosen for? American Jews?
Trump’s holier-than-thou way of speaking connects to issues of importance to those American Jews who support Democrats and Israeli Jews who believe in a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestine issue (and who are probably against the reelection of present Prime Minister Netanyahu).
As noted above, practically 3/4s of American Jews disapprove of Trump as President. He said of Jews who vote for Democrats, they show “either a total lack of knowledge or great disloyalty [to Israel].” This led some critics to note that this was an “old anti-Semitic trope that Jews have ‘dual loyalty,’” one for America, the other for Israel. I believe we can rule out that Trump was the “chosen one” for American Jews.
Netanyahu and Israel’s Religious Right?
It seems Trump and Netanyahu were made for each other. David Remnick of the New Yorker Magazine characterized the Netanyahu-Trump relationship perfectly: “Just as Netanyahu showed Trump the possibilities of right-wing populism, Trump has shown Netanyahu the possibilities of outrageous invective, voter suppression, and disdain for the law.” Like Trump, Bibi, as Netanyahu is known, practices a politics of division, targeting his enemies much like Trump does. They also share an overriding concern for their own self-interest. Ideologically, they both make no pretense that a settlement with the Palestinians won’t happen under their watch, much less a two-state solution. They both agree that Israel’s incorporation into Israel of Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank is more and more likely. If Trump was “chosen” for anyone, Netanyahu and the Israeli right comprise a number one candidate.
Trump’s campaign mantra, “Make America Great Again,” (MAGA) was music to the ears of many Evangelicals and conservative Catholics, conveying a return to the time when Judeo-Christian values were prevalent. According to Politico Magazine, MAGA would return America to a time when “…there was prayer in public schools, marriage was limited to one man and one woman, abortion was not prevalent and socially acceptable, the government didn’t ask them to violate their consciences, and yes when people said ‘Merry Christmas’ instead of ‘Happy Holidays.’”
Immigration became the crucible for a marriage of Trump and the nationalists and the Evangelicals, resulting in another mantra, “America First.” Referred to as a “shotgun marriage,” this union had the unlikely partnership of someone with no roots in the Christian conservative universe, Trump, and the Christian right. The Christian right, again according to Politico, chose Trump as their champion because of “his provocative style…betting on a brash street brawler to win the culture battles they had been losing for generations.” Having given the Evangelicals abortion policy, religious liberty, and judicial appointments, Trump became “…the unlikely cornerstone of his coalition.” A question about this alliance, however, is whether the Evangelicals have given up the moral high ground for a political leadership based on an absence of Christian values? Just how much are they willing to give up to return to “…a bygone, pious America?”
So, in the column of who he was chosen for, U.S. Evangelical Christians tie with Netanyahu for the top of the list. More importantly, however, it is Trump who has chosen the Evangelicals—and for what? Votes in 2020, of course. This is not rocket science.
In this Messianic equation, where do Arab Americans stand?
Arab Americans of Muslim background are not even in the equation. Trump has erased them from his view of the world. After all, the Supreme Court has banned them from immigration to the U.S. For Arab American Christians, the situation is a bit better, though they are always, according to The American Conservative magazine, put up against an “ideological litmus test …that requires them to be Pro-Israel.” For Arab Christians living in the Mideast, such an affinity for Israel does not fit with some of the repressive nationalist regimes under which they must exist. For Christian Arabs here in the U.S., there is another litmus test of sorts, their allegiance to Palestinians living in occupied territory or as refugees in neighboring Arab countries. Not all Arab American Christians can be labeled pro-Palestinian, but many have opposed Zionism and support the Palestinian struggle. Being America, however, there is bound to be an array of viewpoints on just how pro-Israel or pro-Palestine they are.
Whether Arab American, Christian, and Muslim, or some other kind of American, we should all be wary of a U.S. president who takes on the mantle of a demigod (much less a demagogue). Whether this is just another ShowTime tactic of a former TV personality or part of a well-thought-out divisive ploy to further divide and conquer the American electorate is up for discussion. One fear is that in calculating his new role as the “chosen one,” Trump perhaps consulted the two Jews in the White House closest to him, son-in-law senior counselor, Jared Kushner and immigration czar, Stephen Miller. If based on such a hypothetical conversation, Trump’s understanding of Jewish thought emerged, then God helps the Jews, the Christians, the Muslims, and everyone else of no matter what religious or non-religious persuasion.
“I am the Chosen One ; with boasts and insults, Trump sets benchmark for incoherence,” Tom McCarthy, The Guardian, August 21, 1019; “Yes, Donald Trump really believes he is ‘the chosen one’”, Chris Cillizza, CNN, The Point, August 21, 2019;“‘I am the chosen one’: Trump again plays on messianic claims as he embraces ‘King of Israel’ title,’” Washington Post, August 21, 2019; “The Trump-Netanyahu Alliance,” by David Remnick, The New Yorker, April 14, 2019; “Donald Trump and the Dawn of the Evangelical-Nationalist Alliance,” Tim Alberta, Politico Magazine, October 14, 2017; “U.S Conservative Contempt for Arab Christians,” The American Conservative, September, 12, 2014)
John Mason, an anthropologist specializing in Arab culture and its diverse populations, is the author of recently-published LEFT-HANDED IN AN ISLAMIC WORLD: An Anthropologist’s Journey into the Middle East, 2017, New Academia Publishing.