Can’t Stop Mugshot Trump

And Big Eva Doesn’t Like It

Donald Trump’s campaign funding skyrocketed last year after the infamous Georgia mugshot. It was an immediate internet meme; t-shirts memorialized it, some versions completed the bad boy image with a mock “parental advisory” label; others included the message, “Never Surrender!” The New York Times predictably called this marketing “dangerous.” In an age starved for legitimately subversive, outlaw, rock n’ roll figures, this is the closest the kids are going to get. Our celebrities are all creepy ascetics obsessed with transhumanist longevity.

If New York Judge Juan Merchan sentences Trump, as he’s threatened to do, the only predictive analog we have suggests a similar effect to the mugshot. That Trump’s opponents will cheer on any punishment of the Orange Man, however small, only reveals how outmatched they are in the new political arena inaugurated by Trump himself.

The New York case is the Stormy Daniels hush money trial, the details of which will not detain us. Judge Merchan has found Trump in contempt ten times at time of publication for talking about the case publicly and issued considerable fines. Merchan is now supposedly considering jail time for future infraction. Trump’s most recent comments in an interview accused the judge of rushing the trial and complained about the jury given the trial is taking place in a predominantly Democrat area.

When it comes to trouble with the law, Trump is unbothered. He notoriously loves litigation, understanding it as free press, something no opponent can rival even with the unified backing of legacy media. To paraphrase Trump’s erstwhile strategist, Steve Bannon, all press is good press and bad press is even better. What frustrates Trump’s opponents is his intuitive grasp of the ecosystem to which he has fully adapted himself after decades of experimentation.

Trump seems to absorb all blows that would be fatal to an ordinary politician, from the Access Hollywood Tape to accusations of collusion with foreign governments, these things end political careers. Clinton was impeached and Nixon resigned for much less. Not Trump.

Power looks like managing the plausibility structure. Every “sensible” analysist assured us, from the moment Trump descended the golden escalator, that there was no chance he would win. The second that proved false, the entire paradigm of political expectations shifted. Liberal appeals to “normalcy” are outdated and meaningless. Their attempts to remove Trump from the equation are conventional. That is, ineffective.

Two impeachments and a mountain of indictments later, and Trump remains unscathed. Polls are with him, corresponding closely to how dissatisfied people are with the current administration. Much of the “Never Trump” outcry is recycled quips from 2016. Déjà vu all over again.

What explains Trump’s imperviousness to conventionally lethal occurrences? Why don’t people care?

First, Trump’s character was a known commodity before he ever ran. Decades in the limelight made him a household name and got people comfortable with him. He never dawned the rolled-up, everyman flannel on top of a hay bale, but his boorish, crass, philandering style exuded authenticity and appealed to middle American working class, white and black. Nothing with Trump shocks us because nothing is a surprise. There’s something to that in terms of generating confidence and trust.

Second, Trump’s character and fitness may have been an issue the first time around, but it wasn’t in 2020 and certainly won’t be this year. People are tired of the constant Democrat shenanigans that marked Trump’s first term, almost all of which were bunk. The emotional reaction to anything he does has already been neutralized.

Simultaneously, mounting hypocrisy from our elites in state and press compound declining trust of the same. Russiagate was a nothing burger while Hunter Biden’s laptop, a something burger to put it mildly, was actively suppressed. This is the contrast. Then there’s the pitifully senile current occupant of the Oval Office. Trump is not a young man, but by comparison he looks and acts, in more ways than one, positively juvenile. It doesn’t matter whether you think this is true or not, it’s the predominant mood, especially with conservative voters, and anything seen as obstructing a second term will only further this narrative.

And that leads us to a third point. Trump ran on an anti-deep state message. This resonated, but it’s also smart because anything hindering his attempts to drain the swamp are attributable to the existence of said swamp and the need for its drainage (i.e., the need for Trump himself). What’s the swamp? A metaphor for corruption, an enemy of the people. When “it,” the whole apparatus, hits Trump, it hits his swelling base. “In the end, they’re not coming after me,” thundered Trump after one of the dozens of indictments went public early last year. “They’re coming after you — and I’m just standing in their way.” That mentality injects all regular occurrences with new meaning: political solidarity and indifference to criticism.

Shockingly, the left hasn’t figured all this out yet. Or maybe they have and are simply uncreative. If Judge Merchan wants to sentence Trump, go ahead, but it won’t damage Trump, it will make him stronger. If the motives behind the charges at issue are political, and there’s indication that they are, then a worse strategy couldn’t have been dreamed up for the Democrats. Widespread belief that the 2020 election was stolen is heightened by attempts to put Trump behind bars, or at least bankrupt him. It all smacks of third-world politics complete with election tampering and jailing opponents.

To many voters, it’s the left that looks guilty, not Trump. The lady doth protest too much, methinks. Cries for due process, constitutional norms, and free speech fall flat when January 6 protestors are still behind bars more than three years later. No one is buying it, no one trusts the system. And if 2020 was stolen, as reputable people like Molly Hemmingway have convincingly argued, then anything denying Trump what he is owed will be perceived as injustice itself. No gag order is going to change that.  

Do not expect Big Eva outlets or “thought leaders” to get this. Do not expect them to try to understand the dynamics in play. Expect them instead to recycle the feigned moral conundrum of last time around. Expect them to erroneously but piously equivocate between Trump and Biden. For all their fearmongering over the alleged politicization of Christianity, it is they that overly spiritualize politics. Most of what they say is projection. The above analysis of pre-election dynamics would never appear in their pages—not enough pietist caveats and ambiguity. We wouldn’t want people to draw the wrong conclusions.  

American evangelicals have been thoroughly disserved by Big Eva’s commentary leadership over the past two election cycles—much heat, very little light. Cabined subject matter on “culture issues” abounds. It all amounted to Christianized versions of Cathedral-approved rhetoric. On nearly every single issue, from immigration to crime to public health, Big Eva world has failed for nearly a decade now. The rank-in-file are tired of it, or bored with it, or both. Can you feel the vibe shift yet?

The sites that make a living off listicles about Taylor Swift, or travel logs about finding yourself in “church hurt,” or yet more concerned consideration of modernity or whatever smart books tell you to think about cannot be expected to provide insightful, agile analysis of our politics. We were foolish for ever thinking they could. And they certainly are not going to do so in a way conditioned by our rich Protestant inheritance—politics calls for the wrong resourcement. They would rather have David French, whose sole purpose is to castigate his own people, preach to them about civility and “managing” tribalism from the pulpit. Thanks to the efforts of our own contributing editor, Ben Dunson, at least that won’t happen at the PCA General Assembly this year. People like Raymond Chung bemoaned this as a hypocritical “cancelation” move. In other words, people like Chang are recognizing the vibe shift and they don’t like it. They’re seeing evangelical opinion shift against them.

All that to say, expect even more vehement chastisement of the deplorables from Big Eva this summer. The shift will all be dismissed as “hyper-online,” “authoritarian,” and, of course, “racist.” Anything to sideline it. Don’t flinch at the hundredth article on the “cult of Christian Trumpism,” or how politics (i.e., you) are “dividing” the church. What it actually is, however, is evangelicals waking up to the fact that their incumbent intellectual class has failed not only to assert and represent their interests, but to describe reality to them in any actionable way. Stated differently, they (evangelicals) have recognized that they can do better, and they should. No doubt French et al. will assume victimhood status on this one. It will confirm all the nasty things they tell you about the “right-wing” takeover of their beloved institutions and how hard it has been for them to watch, and I’m sure it has been. But don’t fall for it.

Image: Wikimedia Commons.

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Timon Cline

Timon Cline is the Editor in Chief at American Reformer. He is an attorney and a fellow at the Craig Center at Westminster Theological Seminary and the Director of Scholarly Initiatives at the Hale Institute of New Saint Andrews College. His writing has appeared in the American Spectator, Mere Orthodoxy, American Greatness, Areo Magazine, and the American Mind, among others. He writes regularly at Modern Reformation and Conciliar Post.

8 thoughts on “Can’t Stop Mugshot Trump

  1. History tells us not to canonize those who experience success at the polls in a democracy. Some very evil people have had the strong support of the population in the past. Evil people who bore some disturbing similarities to Trump and yet, people like Cline support Trump. If I didn’t know better I would say that Cline’s support for Trump is because Trump would advance a hidden agenda for Cline if elected. That doesn’t speak well for Cline.

      1. Duke,
        Explain how I am being disingenuous? Consider the following:

        Supported traditional values–Trump, Hitler
        Nation first direction– Trump, Hitler
        Make Nation Great Again– Trump, Hitler
        Opposes Pluralism– Trump, Hitler
        Opposes Democracy– Trump, Hitler
        Calls critics the enemy of the
        people– Trump, Hitler
        Participated in Insurrections– Trump, Hitler

        Should I go on? Am not saying that Trump is Hitler. Nor am I saying that we would attempt a mass genocide under Trump. But look how many similarities there are between the two and I could have listed more. And Cline writes glowingly about Trump. And Cline should know better considering his occupation and education. Cline is very intelligent and yet. And so why would Cline support Trump and his other perhaps draconian causes?

        1. None of what you listed in their given contexts are bad things, in fact, they are great and needed. You sound like you’re quaking in your boots thinking about Trump (OMG! He’s literally Hitler!).

          It appears you lack testicular fortitude.

          1. Duke,
            Before we test your position here, let’s test your accuracy in understanding what I wrote about Trump. You wrote the following about my views of Trump:

            You sound like you’re quaking in your boots thinking about Trump (OMG! He’s literally Hitler!).

            What did I write about Trump outside of the comparisons made:

            Am not saying that Trump is Hitler. Nor am I saying that we would attempt a mass genocide under Trump. But look how many similarities there are between the two and I could have listed more.

            You have an accuracy problem.

            Supports traditional values–
            How good that is depends on what those traditional values are. After all, traditions vary from nation to nation and even community to community.

            But does supporting traditional values have to mean oppressing those who don’t follow those values. Does it mean suppressing freedom and establishing the tyranny of tradition?

            Nation First–
            If you want a godly nation, then nation first is as godly as individual first. We are told that instead of seeking our own way, we are seek God’s righteousness and what we need will be given to us.

            So what if seeking the benefit of one’s nation is done by exploiting other nations or harming others? Or specifically how is one seeking the nation first? The answers to those questions can put Nation First in a negative light.

            Make Nation Great Again–
            First, was the nation ever great and if so, by what metrics? As individual Christians, are we ever encouraged by Jesus or any of the New Testament writers to seek greatness?

            Whether Make Nation Great Again is good depends on the metrics one uses for greatness and how one seeks to be great. What metrics is Trump using? Is he using the same metrics as Hitler?

            Opposes Pluralism and Democracy–
            Why is that good? After all, didn’t Jesus tell us not to be like the heathen who prefer to lord it over others. Where in the New Testament are we told to rule over people to reduce their sins? Where? Rather, the passages on Church discipline assume pluralism. And we are not to told to remove ourselves from the godless. Rather we are to evangelize the godless. And lording it over them and seeking a privileged place for our groups and religion automatically puts stumbling blocks in the way of those who might otherwise listen to the Gospel

            Calls critics the enemy of the people–
            How does doing that encourage people to express discontent with how things are? And if we criticizing the leader is making oneself the enemy of the people, then doesn’t that leader have absolute power to do whatever they want?

            Hitler wasn’t the only one who called his critics the enemy of the people, Lenin and Stalin did too. And doing so gave those leaders permission to imprison and kill their critics. What, is Trump above criticism?

            Participated in Insurrections–
            We should note that both used violence to participate in insurrections against the gov’t. But what does Romans 13 say about that especially in Trump’s case where he was trying to overthrow the results of a legitimate election?

            Finally, look at your last sentence:

            It appears you lack testicular fortitude

            Why the machismo? What does it accomplish except to promote pride? And yet, what do New Testament writers say about machismo and pride?

          2. Duke,
            Since you seem not to want have a rational discussion, I will no longer respond. But consider the group of sins that merit the shunning of a Christian listed below:

            9 I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people; 10 I did not at all mean with the sexually immoral people of this world, or with the greedy and swindlers, or with idolaters, for then you would have to leave the world. 11 But actually, I wrote to you not to associate with any so-called brother if he is a sexually immoral person, or a greedy person, or an idolater, or is verbally abusive, or habitually drunk, or a swindler—not even to eat with such a person. 12 For what business of mine is it to judge outsiders? Do you not judge those who are within the church? 13 But those who are outside, God judges. Remove the evil person from among yourselves.

            Notice how ‘verbally abusive’ is listed with sexual immorality. When we personally attack each other, we are attacking someone for whom Christ died. Disagreeing is not attacking someone per se. But how we disagree determines whether we are attacking each other.

  2. Forget your main point. The way you talk about fellow believers here is not Christian. Repent.

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