Of Saints and Sinners

In the pantheon of presidential saints, we have . . . hmmm, well, actually it’s a pretty short list. Maybe Lincoln. But even with him, it’s probably safer to put him at the second stage of the four-stage process to sainthood, Venerable. After all, despite more books about him—15,000 and counting—than any other human being possibly excepting Jesus, we don’t know of any actual miracles, and who knows what youthful peccadilloes may yet be discovered to mar Honest Abe’s march to glory.

So the standards are pretty high. Our current president, Mr. Trump, once suggested that he would be our best president, with the possible exception, he generously allowed, of Mr. Lincoln. Based on this claim, it is not unreasonable to consider Mr. Trump’s application for sainthood. There was the miracle of his actually getting elected, at least if one acknowledges that not all miracles have to be good things but can include things that are simply impossible yet somehow happen anyway. But before putting The Blonde One on the road to sainthood, let’s see how he does with the seven cardinal sins.

Typically no one remembers the seven cardinal sins except priests and those fortunate to have learned some mnemonic device for recalling them. Happily, we have one: WASPLEG, which stands for wrath, avarice, sloth, pride, lust, envy, and gluttony. So how does the forty-fifth president measure up?

Wrath. If “wrath” means only screaming fits, rather than just anger, there is still some evidence. Leaks have suggested that The Don has exploded at underlings who fail their master, and his perpetual tweets have sometimes had all the characteristics of semi-literate writing done in red if not white heat. But if wrath is basically a mildly archaic word for anger, well, the President almost radiates anger, especially at anything that does not reflect well upon him. It is no great leap to assume that his obsession with denigrating the investigation of his Make Russia Great Again campaign shows him to be pretty darned angry that anyone might doubt him or even has the right to investigate him. Further, his excoriations of the press as fake news suggest a fellow who goes apoplectic in the privacy of the residential quarters of the White House when a reporter discovers some unflattering or possibly criminal fact and has the audacity to announce it on TV.

Avarice. This one’s easy. The billionaire bombast and braggadocio. The bankruptcies to avoid payments to his creditors. The unwillingness to make public his IRS returns, partly to hide his Russian connections but also to avoid revealing how little he has paid in taxes. His over four thousand lawsuits, many of which are aimed at stiffing contractors and tradesmen who have worked for him. The laughable preposterousness of Trump University, sucking thousands of dollars from credulous wannabe millionaires. The meretricious gaudiness of his physical surroundings, so much so that he can barely stand a weekend at the unacceptably drab White House. His endless pursuit of money-making schemes—golf courses, Trump steaks, Trump buildings around the world, even selling the Trump logo for buildings he does not even own. His two great goals—money and power—reciprocally reinforce each other: more money means more power, while more power, especially as president, means more money pouring into the coffers. It is not for nothing that he refused to put all of his holdings into a blind trust. And who ever heard of the “emoluments clause” in the Constitution until this president?

Sloth. The president is somewhere on the bi-polar continuum here. He is wonderfully industrious in the pursuit of his business enterprises, his eighth grade tweeting, and his (presumed former) pursuit of fair ladies. He has also shown industry in the writing of executive orders, or at least signing them. But in the area of governing, his industry flags. Of the 554 administration positions requiring senate approval, only eighty-two had even been announced, and only twenty-four actually filled as of April 24. Of course he is rather busy trying to put out fires and squash investigations, but he also is said to spend many hours attending to how he is being covered in the news. Thanks to Mitch McConnell, he did appoint a Supreme Court justice, but he has signed no significant legislation, he has had only one actual press conference where he was the only one at the podium, and he doesn’t bother to read much of anything longer than a page or otherwise improve on his vast horizons of ignorance. He can’t even write his own books.

Pride. Pride, if C. S. Lewis and presumably other theological thinkers are to be believed, is the most egregious of all the sins because the prideful person, like Milton’s Lucifer, is challenging God, even seeking to displace him. Mr. Trump has raised pride to an art form. First, of course, is that his name is on just about everything associated with him, written in glorious golden letters. Isn’t that just a little tawdry? Wouldn’t most folks be embarrassed to be thought so vain and self-obsessed? Then there is his constant bragging, particularly during the campaign, about what a great president he would be, how intractable problems would yield to his forceful deal-making and sheer personality, his assumption that his fame entitles him to grope women, and his demand of obeisance from underlings, even to the point of grotesque adulation, all of which bespeak a pride far in excess of mere arrogance. The quintessential example of grotesque adulation occurred at his recent cabinet meeting, in which each of the cabinet members except Secretary of Defense Mattis forfeited all semblance of dignity by offering their adoring praises of the president and professing their great honor and blessing at being his lackey—a spectacle of such sycophancy that an objective observer could only be left agape, stupefied. Rather than demur at this extraordinary display, the president smiled beatifically, acknowledging his due, like some middle-eastern potentate. One could further argue that many of his notorious lies, for example about crowd size at his inauguration, are self-deceptions as well as intentions to deceive others since the truth undermines his self-regard and diminishes his pride. And of course who can forget the textbook definition of narcissism in Trump’s monumentally egomaniacal statement at the GOP convention that “only I can fix it”? What galactic stores of pride are necessary to even think such a thing, much less to say it? The president might well ponder Proverbs 16:18 in his self-proclaimed favorite book, the Bible, which warns that “pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall.”

Lust. No further comment necessary.

Envy. This one is tricky because hard evidence is difficult to come by. Still, there are intimations of envy in the president’s need to be bigger and better than others, to be the greatest president, and to belittle any challenger. Worse, his admiration of autocrats—Putin foremost, but also the leaders of Turkey, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the Philippines—suggests how much he envies their largely unchecked power and their freedom from an inquiring press and an untamed judiciary. Who, he must privately ask, will rid me of this meddlesome Constitution?

Gluttony. In its meaning of great intemperance in the matter of eating and drinking intoxicating beverages, we must give the president a pass given our absence of evidence. But if it can mean something slightly broader, as in “a glutton for punishment,” Trump’s need to acquire and own indicates a materialism so pervasive that it snuffs out curiosity, obliterates aesthetic values, and minimizes generosity of spirit. He is ruled by his passions—power, material gain, and adulation from others.

Somehow dishonesty, bullying, and hypocrisy didn’t make the Seven Cardinal Sins list. I offer them as amendments. Meanwhile Lincoln, the president Mr. Trump hopes to be compared to, is a Venerable. Trump has a pretty long way to go to move up the ladder. How could the Grand Old Party produce both a Lincoln and a Trump?

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1 Comment

  1. Elizabeth DeCoux said,

    August 3, 2017 at 8:38 pm

    Great blog post, John. I especially appreciate the reference to C.S. Lewis, a favorite of mine. And the section on lust demonstrates, about as well as anything I’ve seen, that brevity is the soul of wit. Now I have to go see USA Today, because Val posted that they stole your idea!


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