United States presidential elections always have surprises (wouldn’t be American if they didn’t). But the current one beats them all in its sheer capacity to bewilder. It has thrown up the most unlikely and, according to many, the most unfit candidate for president.
The rise and rise (before a mighty fall, perhaps?) of Donald Trump has confounded everyone. The usually sure pundits are not certain about most things concerning him anymore. Only the very daring or foolhardy can hazard a prediction of the outcome of the election. Opinion polls, usually trusted indicators of which way the election will go, cannot be entirely relied on following the failure of the polls in the United Kingdom to forecast the result of the June Brexit referendum and general election a year earlier.
So everyone falls back on the safer assessment: too close to call, it’s a tight race, can go either way. That’s the level of uncertainty Donald Trump has brought to the polls. Nothing is certain any more.
Another unusual thing in this year’s presidential race: the near absence of religion. For the first time in a long time, religion is not a major issue hanging over the candidates and influencing the voters’ choice. Perhaps credit for that must also go to Donald Trump.
In the past, evangelical and other conservative Christians made such din as to drown the voices of people with divergent views. Normally they would have come out in force behind Trump. This time, they are unusually subdued, unsure of how they can support a man whose religious views (unless bashing Muslims is one) are unknown or non-existent. Even his conservative credentials are questionable.
Candidates have often had to name their religious affiliation and be seen to be practicing Christians. They even have pastors pray for them and appear with them at public rallies.
Hillary Clinton has been clear about her Methodist upbringing and her husband’s Baptist tradition.
Of Donald Trump, little is known about his religion or whether in fact he has any affiliation. Given his speech and general conduct, he doesn’t appear to have been affected much by any religious influence.
But surprise, surprise. Trump actually prays. Well, at least he has a pastor who prays with him, according to Time magazine. Time reported in its October 4, issue that Pastor Paula White has been a regular counselor and helped organise other pastors to pray for Trump from the time he announced he was running for president.
She prayed for him before he gave his speech at the Republican Convention in July. She met him, his wife and son in their room for more prayers before he went on to give his most important speech. She says she remembers asking God to give him his words and his mind, and to use him – that it would not be his words, but God’s words.
Maybe that night Pastor White might have had some influence. The words may not have been God’s words, but they certainly were not vintage Trump speech.
Donald Trump’s relationship with Pastor Paula White is said to have begun in 2002. Does he listen to the counsel of his pastor? Or he looks at her as simply another woman and fair game in his world. Have her prayers had any effect? It is difficult to say with prayers. But maybe they have and divine intervention has kept him in the race.
Or he is only riding his luck because there is no indication that he has been affected by any moral or spiritual teaching. On the contrary, he seems to revel in breaking every rule he should have learnt from the catechism or Sunday school or on his knees before his pastor.
The man does everything that would have disqualified him in normal times. He has broken every rule of civility. The Atlantic magazine said of him when endorsing Hillary Clinton: “He is a demagogue, a xenophobe, a sexist, a know-nothing, and a liar. He is spectacularly unfit for office, and voters—the statesmen and thinkers of the ballot box—should act in defense of American democracy and elect his opponent”.
But the man marches on
Trump has gone against everything Americans hold sacred. He has insulted war heroes and soldiers who fell in the service of the nation. He has also espoused what they detest. For instance, he has publicly stated his admiration for Russian President Vladimir Putin. All that is about as un-American as it gets.
And yet his campaign rolls on, apparently unaffected by all this..
If the confounding trend goes on, we may be in for more surprises in November. But those who genuinely pray might have a say in what happens. They are asking for a different outcome. Earnest prayers do get answered, don’t they?