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Trouble in America: The Bible probably won't save Donald Trump

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Cartoon by Mark David/@mdavidcartoons.

President Trump is attempting to get on the side of religious America in the lead-up to the presidential election, writes Dr Lee Duffield.

THE IMAGE OF President Donald Trump brandishing a Bible amid the American rioting raises questions about what he might find inside that book, to comfort himself, or make him afraid. 

In the old days, our local regional newspaper (one still not closed down by Rupert Murdoch, even though he owns it) had a subscription to the AAP news agency (which is being closed down, Rupert Murdoch owning 45% of it), so it delivered to our household the news of the world. This was also the name of a tabloid newspaper, News Of The World, that was owned by Rupert Murdoch before closing it down.  

News from a mad world

Each morning my mother and father would make commentaries on aspects of this world news and usually, one of them would make the judgment: “The yanks are mad, aren’t they?”

Fast forward to 2020 and recently you can see on television that it might be true in the news from America.

Some of them are mad in the sense of being angry — understandably, given the treatments they get. To mention a few: bad pay, the “health system”, Right-wing blackshirts carrying guns in the street and historical racial enmity towards black people. Then there are these undisciplined, scared, incompetent types in police costumes able to slowly suffocate a citizen, with impunity, in public.

Some are mad in the sense that they will promote the chances of all this continuing, by supporting the billionaire real estate man Donald Trump as their president.

Brandishing the Bible

An insane vision has appeared in this week’s media — Trump brandishing a Bible outside a church. The church had sustained some fire damage during the troubles.

It was an Episcopalian Church, same as Anglican, and the vicar there complained that Trump was using the book and the church as a prop for his eternal, non-stop political campaign.

Part of the teaching of that particular church is “God is love”, which came out strongly when one of their bishops married the movie star and the soldier, Meghan and Harry.

No wonder the vicar and other clergy were unhappy.

There does not seem to be much love about Donald Trump and until this week, not much God about him, except that he wants the continuing support of evangelical Christians.

Pitching for the pews

Here is his pitch: “You are Bible bashers and here I am bashing a Bible, see, stupid?”

I noticed him waving the Bible on TV as I was reading that same book, initially prompted to do so by a reading of John Milton’s Paradise Lost, on similar themes.

The book said, just near where I had my thumb :

‘But a prophet who presumes to speak in my name anything I have not commanded, or a prophet who speaks in the name of other gods, is to be put to death.’ (Deuteronomy 18:20)

If ever President Donald Trump paused to read the book and found something like that, it might pause him, for a few moments at least.

I was caused to think of him again a few pages on:

‘If two men are fighting and the wife of one of them comes to rescue her husband from his assailant, and she reaches out and seizes him by his private parts, you shall cut off her hand. Show her no pity.’ (Deuteronomy 25:11-12)

This would pique Donald’s known interest in genital grabbing. It’s a different take to what he knows of the subject, but the brawling and blood-letting (blood coming out of her wrist) might focus his attention, for a few moments.

Clutching at believers

There have been signs that support for Trump is failing among those evangelical folk who backed him so strongly in the elections of 2016 — so out came the book.

It has been rock-hard support up until now, although dented by his misjudged handling of the COVID-19 crisis — not good for older citizens, which many of those folks are.

In the opinion polls, Trump’s approval ratings over the last two days have been negative by 13-14%, a high figure and they have been consistently negative throughout his time in office.

Yet despite this unpopularity, he has been holding on in key pockets of voter support, any slippage very slow. Where he is led by his Democratic Party rival, Joe Biden, by 7-10% across the country, he stays closer in the marginal states that make the most difference, such as Florida where Biden’s margin is 1%.

In the important category of Likely Voters (LV) – in a country where voting is not compulsory, where administrative obstacles are put up to discourage poor voters and where state administrations are able to draw up distorted, gerrymandered electoral boundaries – the margins are much closer, more favourable to Trump. His approval rating in the LV category, people most likely to actually turn up and vote, is better at minus 7-10% and he trails Biden by just 4%. 

What American voters will do when their chance comes at the elections, this November, remains mysterious. It is so far no more clear in the polls than clues the errant president might go looking for in his Bible.

Published by Lee Duffield in Subtropic.

Media editor Dr Lee Duffield is a former ABC foreign correspondent, political journalist and academic.

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