Vail Daily column: Panic buyers invest in doom and gloom
President Donald Trump’s doom and gloom economic tirades mesh with Evangelicals’ end-time expectations. When people fear jobs are slipping away because of “carnage” that has left America shattered, they believe dire forecasts that spread paranoia about the coming apocalypse.
In his acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention and during his Inaugural Address, Trump painted a dreary economic picture of the U.S. Throughout his real estate career, he’s used this ploy of scaring people and then heaving a lifeline to rescue them from financial ruin. Living half-way between Philadelphia and Atlantic City in the mid-1970s, I fought against Trump’s Atlantic City casino empire. Prior to gambling’s approval in this seacoast city, its economy crashed. Gambling would make Atlantic City great again as a tourist mecca, promised Trump.
Blue-collar workers figured the 1970s depression afflicting Atlantic City wouldn’t worsen with casinos coming into the city. This fast-growing industry promised jobs to unskilled workers and fun at gaming tables. The Trump Empire razed city blocks where these blue-collar workers lived. This building boom raised real estate prices, so workers couldn’t afford to live in their city. After leveraging costs forced him to pay this huge debt, Trump declared bankruptcy. He left the city in economic ruin, where it totters today.
Here’s Trump’s pitch: Preach gloom and doom. Scare constituents. Dupe them that you are the only savior they’ve got. Once the bloom dies on the economic rose, run from debt’s blight. Manipulate bankruptcy laws as smart tycoons do. Leave citizens with empty pocketbooks.
Running for the presidency, Trump perfected this Atlantic City playbook. Play on economic fear. Promote a savior complex. Get voters to believe a Trumpian rescue brings back glory days.
Trump whipped up enthusiasm among residents in Rust Belt towns and cities that wanted to make their homes great again. He campaigned in “mostly white parts of the country, with struggling Main streets and low-college-graduation rates, where the local beauty salons do better business than car dealers. They are places where people start their life stories by recounting the good-paying jobs their grandparents held or the long-gone second homes on the lake where they used to play as kids.
“In the 1970s, the bumper stickers on trucks in Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin, would read ‘LIVE BETTER. WORK UNION.’ Now the sign in the local Walmart says, ‘SAVE MONEY. LIVE BETTER.’” (“Person of the Year,” Time magazine, Dec. 19, 2016, p. 58). But forgotten Walmart shoppers have little money. Their gloom and doom cling nostalgically to the good times when manufacturing jobs gave life-time economic security.
Such fears force Evangelicals into Trump’s “safe arms” because gloom and doom resonates with how they believe the world will end. Starting in the 1840s, Baptist layman William Miller’s followers in New York State climbed a summit to witness End-times. Apocalyptic preachers still dupe conservative Christians into believing the Bible gives detailed timelines about the world careening toward Armageddon. This word conjures a jarring picture of a terrible battle between good and evil near Mount Megiddo, a barren hill on a good-for-nothing- plain in northern Israel. Here the world will collapse into chaos, as predicted in the prophetic passages in Daniel, Ezekiel, Zechariah and Revelation, threaten apocalyptic preachers.
In the nick of time, Jesus (a savior who acts and sounds like Donald Trump) will appear in the clouds and elevate Evangelicals from this terror into heavenly safety. After being lifted from doom [called the “Rapture”], gloom will descend on victims stranded below, slaughtered in epic battles. Finally, after Jesus’ return to Earth, he will inaugurate a thousand-year-reign of prosperity, the Millennium. Then Jesus, sounding like a boss among apprentices, will declare, “You’re fired to hell, or saved to heaven,” in the Final Judgement.
Donald Trump has skillfully edited this gloom and doom biblical script, recast it in secular terms, and won admirers’ hearts because he plays the lead in this macabre drama. As President, he rides on the Washington Beltway’s clouds of glory. He’s the savior-protagonist in the scenario that “The Late Great Planet Earth” in the 1970s and the “Left Behind” series in the 1990s made vivid. Who cares that these best-selling authors’ predictions were false? They pocketed millions by jerking around gullible believers who believe in Trumpian “alternative facts.”
Trump’s secular version of apocalyptic Americanism is “often a heresy for the disappointed and dispossessed, and it finds its strongest adherents among populations for whom the story of American history is a story of gradual marginalization or defeat: 19th century Nativists and neo-Confederates, (Roman Catholic radio priest) Charles Coughlin’s listeners in the 1930s and John Birchers in the 1950s, and religious fundamentalists (Evangelicals) in nearly every time and place,” observes New York Times columnist Ross Douthat (Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics, 2012, p. 256).
Douthat warns that gloom and doom thrives on enemies’ lists. “apocalyptism looks for a villain on whom to blame the betrayal of the (U.S.) Founding.” On script, Trump denounces others who differ from white blue-collar workers: Drug-dealing immigrants who rape; Muslim terrorists; and Big Bank officials who bow before the Star of David.
Who is missing from this list of apocalyptic desperadoes churning gloom and doom? White blue-collar folks against whom the entire system of U.S. governance is rigged.
Trump wins by using a secular version of biblical gloom and doom. He succeeds because Americans are either biblically illiterate or naive about End-time predictions. Either way, our Republic is diminished when a reality TV star cons legions into believing he is a secular Jesus who will rescue them from economic woes.
The Reverend Dr. Jack R. Van Ens is a Presbyterian minister who heads the nonprofit, tax exempt Creative Growth Ministries (www.thelivinghistory.com), which enhances Christian worship through dynamic storytelling and dramatic presentations that make God’s history come alive.