By Patrick Mendis
After his assassination order to kill the Iranian general Qassem Soleimani in Iraq, both domestic and international hostilities against President Donald Trump began to multiply. Since then Trump backed down on his threats but ridiculedthe Iranian supreme leader Ali Khamenei to “Make Iran Great Again.”
Within days of the president’s military order from the Mar-a-Lago Club in Florida, Pastor Paula White, his favorite televangelist and a newest White House aide, organized a rally of evangelical Christians at the King Jesus International Ministry in Miami. There, the president singled out the two Democrat congresswomen – Somali-American Ilhan Omar of Minnesota and Palestinian-American Rashida Tlaib of Michigan – and denounced that they “hate” Jewish people and then claimed God is “on our side.”
Invoking God is “on our side” is heretical and diametrically opposed to the traditional Christian faith; the true believers always want to be “on God’s side.” For the die-hard evangelical Christian base of supporters and financiers, Trump is the champion of their religious faith. And, their political agenda is cleverly shrouded in the Prosperity Gospel of health and wealth creation. For them, the genuine practice of the Christian teachings of Jesus Christ rests somewhere else.
The Mandate of Heaven over Providence?
When President Trump decided to abandon the America’s Kurdish allies fighting to defeat ISIS in Syria, Reverend Pat Robertson – the 90-year old patriarch among the influential televangelists and the founder of Christian Broadcasting Network – criticized Trump and decried that “the president of the United States is in danger of losing the Mandate of Heaven if he permits this to happen.” Using the phase “Mandate of Heaven” by a Christian is extraordinary but seemingly purpose-driven in the prevailing political environment.
The Mandate of Heaven or Tianming is an ancient Chinese political and religious doctrine. It justifies the rule of the emperor according to the natural order of the moral universe and the supreme will of the celestial power. If an emperor was unfit to govern, calamities ensued, and the mandate was withdrawn with the appropriate justice of reward and revenge. Reverend Robertson’s subtle use of the Chinese phrase was to send a coded message, which other American leaders often referred to as “Providence” or “Nature’s God” as enshrined in the Declaration of Independence.
When a powerful editorial in the flagship evangelical magazine Christianity Today described President Trump as “immoral” and called for his removal from office, the most domineering Republican group of evangelical leaders and conservative commentators rallied around the impeached president. Apparently for Reverend Robertson, Trump is acting more like a Chinese emperor or a dictator than a leader of the free world.
The other White evangelical Christian group would fear losing the president’s already shrinking electoral base to advance their own pro-Israel Middle East policy agenda that had temporarily been hidden away during President Barack Obama’s administration.
Born Again Christians
This neoconservative policy toward the Middle East has its own rebirths. Within weeks of the 9/11 attacks, for example, General Wesley Clark, the former Supreme Allied Commander of NATO, was informed that then Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld had a plan in the George W. Bush administration. It described in a memo how “we’re going to take out seven countries in five years, starting with Iraq, and then Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and, finishing off Iran” after of course invading Afghanistan.
Then Secretary of State General Colin Powell – who was cynically used to provide justification for invading Iraq by the Bush White House – advocated the traditional Party’s platform of diversity and tolerance at the Republican National Convention in 1996. By the time he supported President Obama and defended him as neither a “Muslim” nor a “foreign-born” in 2010, the Trump Republicans had long abandoned Powell and labeled him a RINO (“Republican In Name Only”). These resurrected forces and dynamics have subtly propelled the emergence of Trump’s Republican base with nativist evangelicals.
Exporting the Culture War
Having assembled a cohesive white national security team of obsequious Christian men, President Trump’s acts would constitute the most consequential of his presidency to remake America. Emphasizing the national security risks, the Washington Post analysis highlights that Secretary of State Pompeo, for example, has tried “a maximalist position on Iran” and as the CIA director, Pompeo “quickly set up an Iran Mission Center” at the agency. The Post then provides the reason that these acts made him “popular among two critical pro-Israel constituencies in Republican politics: conservative Jewish donors and Christian evangelicals.” This is essentially an attempt to export the American “culture war” to other countries with their Christian zealotry.
The very essence of the founding doctrine of the United States is to prevent the current perils of advocating religious, personal, and partisan agendas that would undermine the functioning of government in American democracy – not as the governance of absolute monarchy in a Christendom. The sobering lessons of yet another hubris of power come from the Bush administration of neoconservatives (one of whom included President Trump’s former National Security Advisor, John Bolton).
In his book Decision Points in 2010, President Bush wrote “I had reached one of the defining decision points in my presidency: We would fight the war on terror on the offense, and the first battlefront would be Afghanistan.” In a new age of global war on terror, targeting the safe havens of terrorists in Afghanistan was a “war of necessity;” Iraq was a “war of choice” as Dr. Richard Haass coined the phrases. The latter phrase was a war against the moral universe rather than a “special calling” from God for President Bush, a born again Christian.
The Return of Providence
Knowing the unseen forces of unjust wars and unfair congressional decisions is beyond normal human capacity but inevitably the higher power does always bend toward justice. It is the immutable law of Nature’s God or Providence as the mysterious mechanics of this impartial magistrate will bring about fairness for all.
It was precisely the point recognized by Otto von Bismarck when he cautioned Wilhelm I in 1875 that “I would . . . never advise Your Majesty to declare war forthwith, simply because it appeared that our opponent would begin hostilities in the near future. One can never anticipate the ways of Divine Providence securely enough for that.”
As in the Chinese doctrine of Mandate of Heaven, God is all about justice that comes with an intrinsic karmic mechanism of rewards and punishments for the individual ruler and collectively for particular group or geography. It is with that understanding by which the Founding Fathers wrote the Declaration of Independence and the need of government to be “the great moral purposes of society. . . founded in the laws of nature and of Nature’s God,” said Secretary of State (and later President) John Quincy Adams in 1821.
The omniscience of God here has always been the omnipotent arbitrator of justice in American public life. The unfolding impeachment saga of President Trump and his “Make America Great Again” role in the world has yet to be revealed in the moral universe of Nature’s God.
Dr. Patrick Mendis is a Taiwan fellow of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of China and a distinguished visiting professor of global affairs at the National Chengchi University in Taipei. Previously, he served as a distinguished visiting professor of Sino-American relations at the Yenching Academy of Peking University and a commissioner of the US National Commission for UNESCO at the US Department of State. The views expressed in this article are his own; they do not represent the institutions of his past or present affiliations.