The apocalyptic myth that helps explain evangelical support for TrumpRoundup
tags: Rick Perry, religious history, Trump
Thomas Lecaque is an assistant professor of history at Grand View University in Des Moines, Iowa.
“God’s used imperfect people all through history. King David wasn’t perfect. Saul wasn’t perfect. Solomon wasn’t perfect,” outgoing Energy Secretary Rick Perry said in an interview on “Fox & Friends” before going on to claim that he had given the president “a little one-pager on those Old Testament kings about a month ago. And I shared with him, I said, ‘Mr. President, I know there are people who say, you know, you are the chosen one,’ and I said, ‘You were.’ ”
Perry’s statement — especially that “chosen one” bit — would be more surprising in a different administration. At this point, though, it could almost disappear into the background chatter of the administration and its allies. Presidential adviser Paula White, for example, uses the description of a demonic struggle to paint contemporary politics as a holy war. In a sermon about Trump in June, she proclaimed, “I declare President Trump will overcome every strategy from hell and every strategy of the enemy, every strategy, and he will fulfill his calling and his destiny.”
Perry’s and White’s praise may seem outlandish or extreme, but it is entirely in keeping with the way many of the president’s advocates speak of him. Indeed, the tenor of these public pronouncements help explain why he is supported by some 65 percent of white evangelical voters, despite his many improprieties and failings. As Perry’s and White’s remarks remind us, “modern” Christianity has not cast off old ideas. One of its oldest is evident in the “calling and destiny” that White evokes: Implicit in her bombast is a vision of the president as a triumphantly apocalyptic figure, one who evokes the medieval legend of the Last World Emperor.
The Last World Emperor originates in the apocalyptic sermon known as “Pseudo-Methodius,” written in Syriac between 685 and 690 after the Arab conquest of the Middle East. The prophecy speaks of a Byzantine or Roman king who would lead a successful war against the forces of Islam and establish a new era of peace. That calm would hold for a decade, at which point the forces of “Gog and Magog” would attack. Instead of resisting them, the king would travel to Mount Golgotha to lay down his crown, fulfilling the prophecy of Daniel and setting the stage for the Second Coming and a final apocalyptic battle between good and evil. The Last World Emperor and Daniel differ most notably in that the former demands a flawed secular hero as the champion. It therefore offers a model that allows the religious to cast secular political leaders as apocalyptic heroes, regardless of their personal failings.
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