On Monday – the day before Donald Trump said he was to be indicted by a New York State grand jury – I watched as a large pickup truck barrelled its way through the narrow streets of the historic old town in Key West, Fla. It drove past the Ernest Hemingway museum, where fans were lined up to see the home where the author wrote his masterpieces, and where they might possibly have an encounter with descendants of his six-toed cat. Three large flags waved in the grey wind from the truck’s bed: “Trump 2024″ on the driver’s side, the Stars and Stripes in the middle, and, on the right, “Jesus is my Savior; Trump is my President.”
It was a surreal sight for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is the strange bedfellow-ness of this flag pronouncement: Jesus Christ and Donald Trump.
Even now, years after the Trump administration, it feels bizarre, this connection: Christians and Mr. Trump, a man whose decidedly unchristian acts in public have included belittling people with developmental disabilities, speaking crudely about groping women, and speaking sympathetically about the racist alt-right. A former president who told thousands of lies while in office and who has been impeached twice.
And then there are the unchristian things he is alleged to have done: encouraging the Jan. 6 insurrection, attempting to overturn a fair election, cheating on taxes, and cheating on wives – in the case that is particularly relevant to this moment, allegedly with an adult film star named Stormy Daniels.
The alleged extramarital contact with Ms. Daniels – which Mr. Trump denies – is not the actual issue. The potential indictment is concerned with what happened long afterward.
Ms. Daniels had tried shopping her story to media outlets for money. She ultimately, in 2016, accepted a US$130,000 payment in a deal involving the National Enquirer. The Enquirer had no intention of publishing her story; this was a catch-and-kill situation in which Enquirer executives sought to suppress a negative story about Mr. Trump.
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As has been widely reported, the tabloid was working with Mr. Trump’s fixer, lawyer Michael Cohen, to buy the story in order to ensure it wouldn’t run elsewhere. Ms. Daniels signed a non-disclosure agreement.
That is not illegal; NDAs are used all the time. But this NDA was signed days before Mr. Trump won a very close election.
The money was paid by Mr. Cohen, who has said that he did this at Mr. Trump’s direction, and that he was later reimbursed by Mr. Trump; the payments were logged as legal expenses.
So this hush money at a critical moment is the crux of the matter. This was a payment made to keep Ms. Daniels from revealing her story – which voters may have found relevant as they made their decision between Mr. Trump and Hillary Clinton.
It is entirely within the realm of possibility that had this information come out prior to voting day, the election’s outcome could have been different. How many of those Christians who (somehow) support Trump would still have done so, having read Ms. Daniels’s story in the media?
Would they still have held their noses and voted for Mr. Trump, knowing that a Republican president could give them the Supreme Court they needed to overturn Roe v. Wade? How hard can a Christian hold their nose? And for how long?
Mr. Trump’s supporters – and even potential 2024 Republican rivals – are trying to minimize the severity of these allegations. But what happened here could have changed the course of history. There is nothing minimal about that.
When Mr. Trump posted Saturday that he would be indicted on March 21 (he wasn’t) and in all-caps urged supporters to “protest, take our nation back!,” the tactic was clear: distract from the reason for the indictment and turn it into a pity party for Mr. Trump. Stir up sympathy, rouse the troops. Perhaps inspire them to roll through the streets of Key West, with its great literary history and liberal, LGBTQ presence; its drag queens, its rainbow crosswalks, its downtown bookstore with a front-and-centre cash-register display that includes On Impeachment: The Presidency on Trial; and We Dissent, by the dissenting U.S. Supreme Court justices on the abortion ban.
After Mr. Trump’s post, up went the security barricades outside the Manhattan courthouse complex. Out came the online chatter from the fringe, urging protests – even armed ones. Out came the flags.
It happened in a flash; the Trump/Christ flag-bearers had driven off before I could speak to them. So it’s impossible to know if their display was the result of Mr. Trump’s call to action. It’s also impossible to know if their intent was to bully or intimidate. But I can tell you this for sure: that’s how it felt.
What would Jesus think?