Donald Trump’s candidacy has been instructive for a number of reasons, albeit regrettable for many others. It has shown how a loud and colorful personality, promising to make Germany America great again can quickly gain the allegiance and more, faith, of desperate crowds who will ignore any charge against him because of the faith they have placed in him. There are books to be written on this subject, but only one small but instructive point concerns us here: the growing faith in the rich.
One of Donald Trump’s key arguments on the campaign trail is that people should trust him because he is rich. Because he is rich, he cannot be bought and hence is more trustworthy. Leaving aside the question of whether a person who buys influence, favors, and people is more trustworthy than a person who sells them, what is so interesting here is that we are being asked to trust the rich because they are rich. Money (supposedly) makes a person trustworthy. Poverty makes him unreliable. Money equals virtue and poverty, vice. This is not a new idea. G.K. Chesterton wrote about it 100 years ago: “You will hear everlastingly, in all discussions about newspapers, companies, aristocracies, or party politics, this argument that the rich man cannot be bribed” (Orthodoxy, chapter 7). It was as ridiculous then as it is now, but what is so interesting is how the idea is suddenly seen as widely convincing today just when the influence of Christianity seems to be fading- and there is more than coincidence in this.
Why should nations with proud democratic traditions and governments and nations (America at least) founded on the notion that all men are created equal suddenly appear so ripe for aristocracy? Why should they suddenly be so ready to submit themselves to rule by the rich believing that only the rich can be trusted to rule? In the last hours of its decay, the Roman republic did the same thing, as mobs threw power to a patrician strongman railing against corruption and promising to look out for them, but why should American be prepared to do the same? What makes a nation with America’s history and democracy be suddenly willing to adopt and adopt loudly the position that the poor cannot be trusted, that we must throw ourselves on the rule of the rich?
For G.K Chesterton (and me), it was the decline of Christianity. For only Christianity provided any consistent bulwark against this superstitious faith in the rich.
Only the Christian Church can offer any rational objection to a complete confidence in the rich. For she has maintained from the beginning that the danger was not in man’s environment, but in man….if, in short, we assume the words of Christ to have meant the very least that they could mean, His words must at the very least mean this — that rich men are not very likely to be morally trustworthy (Ibid).
Some of the rich may be trustworthy and some may not, just as some of the poor may be trustworthy and others not, but no man is more trustworthy because he is rich or less so because he is not. This is a pagan superstition and hence a modern one, but according to Christianity, greater danger lies in riches than in poverty. As Chesterton remarked:
There is one thing that Christ and all the Christian saints have said with a sort of savage monotony. They have said simply that to be rich is to be in peculiar danger of moral wreck. It is not demonstrably un-Christian to kill the rich as violators of definable justice. It is not demonstrably un-Christian to crown the rich as convenient rulers of society. It is not certainly un-Christian to rebel against the rich or to submit to the rich. But it is quite certainly un-Christian to trust the rich, to regard the rich as more morally safe than the poor (ibid).
But this is why modern America can believe the myth that Trump’s wealth makes him reliable. Because belief in Christianity is on the decline, such superstitions are on the rise; it can hardly be otherwise. Man needs a savior and if he cannot have a divine one, then he must have a human one. Whether such a savior can save anything, bring hope and change, or make America great again, is another, more doubtful question.
- Note: I find that Mark Shea already beat me to this passage in Chesterton and its applicationhere: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/markshea/2015/07/the-prophet-chesterton-on-donald-trump.html