Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Trump's Backward March

Welcome back to the Middle Ages.

You remember hearing about that lovely time when kings dictated, and opponents found themselves in serious trouble?  When one religion dominated and insisted everyone else was wrong?  When the rich controlled everything while the vast bulk of humanity slaved to support the few on top?  When what little media existed was censured and bullied?  When truth was whatever the leaders decided it was?

It’s all the rage these days.

Too bad if you are not one of the elite.  Of course, that’s no protection unless you support the king. 

Meet Donald Trump: the new king of the 16th century.

Trump can’t imagine he lives in a democracy.  Not knowing anything about government, only his ability to set the rules as an owner of a company, he intends to trample (or fire) his opponents.  He insists that only his way is correct.

We have had strong presidents before: George Washington, John Adams, Andrew Jackson, Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, his cousin Franklin and Harry S. Truman, to name the most prominent.  They all had something in common: the desire to work within the system to help improve society as a whole.  They may have disagreed on the goal – Jackson destroyed the monetary system because he thought it undermined the average person; Franklin Roosevelt tried to strengthen the banking system – but the underlying premise was the same: will it help Americans?

Trump has no such concern.  His move to block incoming visitors has caused immense chaos not just for people with valid visas, but for Americans.  His decision to name a known racist as his chief advisor and nominate another as attorney general represents a direct assault on millions of Americans.  His choice for the Department of Education chief, a woman with an overt dislike of public education and limited knowledge about anything, throws a black cloud over the entire educational system in this country, affecting all Americans.

He has ordered scientists not to talk about Global Warming, an increasingly threatening danger to human life.  He has named someone who opposes environmental regulations to the Environmental Protection Agency.  He has threatened to end our role in the United Nations, which, for all its limitations, has managed to end diseases like smallpox, provide relief to refugees worldwide and reduce global tensions.

The list could go on, including supporting the effort to build a pipeline through the heart of United States, but it’s a sad legacy created in just a few short days in control.  It also portends far worse in the future.

Charles I
Given Trump’s unconscionable desire to restore the dictatorship of hundreds of years ago, perhaps some timely reminders would be helpful.

For starters, no kingdom survived the effort.  Common people, fed up with oligarchies, revolted.  The Church split in half, forever losing its control.  Kings were beheaded – Louis XVI, Charles I – or lost power to elected officials.  No omnipotent kings remain.  The closest is probably Kim in North Korea, although he doesn’t claim kingship.  Even the Saudi monarchs answer to their religious leaders. 

Media became stronger.  In the Middle Ages, men like Erasmus produced multiple and successful essays that offered a different view of life; the Bible was translated into vernacular despite the protests of the clergy; opinions that countered kings became commonplace.  Attempted censorship in the Middle Ages failed miserably; the same will happen these days with the wide array of communication channels available to everyone.

In the Middle Ages, more scientists grew emboldened to express truths that contradicted both regal and religious claims.  Given new tools, like microscopes and telescopes, they began to explore the reality of the world they inhabited, bequeathing us a treasure trove of knowledge.  Kings couldn’t stop the march; neither can Trump today.
Spence Tracy as Henry Drummond

As Henry Drummond told the court in Inherit the Wind – a retelling of the 1925 Tennessee trial when a biology teacher was arrested for teaching evolution:

“Can't you understand? That if you take a law like evolution and you make it a crime to teach it in the public schools, tomorrow you can make it a crime to teach it in the private schools? And tomorrow you may make it a crime to read about it. And soon you may ban books and newspapers. And then you may turn Catholic against Protestant, and Protestant against Protestant, and try to foist your own religion upon the mind of man. If you can do one, you can do the other. Because fanaticism and ignorance is forever busy, and needs feeding. And soon, your Honor, with banners flying and with drums beating we'll be marching backward, backward, through the glorious ages of that 16th century when bigots burned the man who dared bring enlightenment and intelligence to the human mind!”

Clarence Darrow addressing the real Scopes jury.
Drummond lost the case, but won the argument.  In the play, Matthew Brady, Drummond’s fictional opponent, discovered he was not a prophet of God.  The state of Tennessee in reality changed the law that banned the teaching of evolution. 

They all learned the same lesson: leaders can attempt to drive the world backwards for a short time, but, eventually, they are forced to learn that’s the completely wrong direction.

Trump will get that same message, too.

Long-time religious historian Bill Lazarus regularly writes about religion and religious history with an occasional foray into American culture.  He also speaks at various religious organizations throughout Florida.  He holds an ABD in American Studies from Case Western Reserve University and an M.A. in communication from Kent State University.  You can reach him at 

He is the author of the famed novel The Unauthorized Biography of Nostradamus as well as The Last Testament of Simon Peter; The Gospel Truth: Where Did the Gospel Writers Get Their Information; Noel: The Lore and Tradition of Christmas Carols; and Comparative Religion for Dummies.  His books are available on, Kindle, bookstores and via various publishers.  He can also be followed on Twitter.

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