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I Don’t Believe in Satan, But I’m Pretty Sure It’s Donald Trump

I don’t believe in Satan, but Donald Trump certainly seems to fit the description. The Gospel according to John declares, “There is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks according to his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies” (8:44).

The portrayal of the devil as an “adversary who prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1Peter 5:8) conjures images of candidate Trump stalking Sen. Clinton during the presidential debate. His irrational behavior with European allies, ALL CAPS Twitter rants, name-calling and threats against political opponents — these actions flesh out the picture.

He tries to clothe his evil-doing in garments of light (2 Cor 11:13–15), pretending racism is patriotism and cruelty is strength. The epistle goes on to say that we should not be surprised that his servants also try to disguise themselves as agents of righteousness.

The Republican party made a Faustian bargain, and now the bill is due. They got their corporate tax cut, conservative Supreme Court appointments, and dismantling of regulations. Aggrieved whites got voter suppression, a brutal border policy, legalized anti-Muslim bias, and a rollback of affirmative action.

This is the true tragedy of Satan’s work in the world, as the myth graphically unfolds in real time — the temptation of humans by feeding their worst appetites. Trumpistopheles rewards Republicans’ craven efforts to cement party power. He fosters racism and xenophobia, and has given white supremacists a mainstream platform. He gets officials to separate families seeking asylum and lock children in cages. He seduces conservative Christians to support him despite the fact that he violates every standard of decency they ever thought they held to be important. He persuades people that they don’t need to care about anyone but themselves. He seeds rancor and mistrust, including of many institutions that actually do make America great, like the Fourth Estate.

So what is the price? What does Trumpistopheles want? At his July meeting with Putin in Helsinki, it seemed unmasked, connecting the dots of his temper tantrums and colossal incompetence — to cozy up with strongmen, incite a trade war, make friends into enemies, and upend the world order to magnify his own power. Satan knows his time is short (Rev 12), so he is making quick work of it. Is it going too far to imagine that the Book of Revelation meant “orange” when it described the great red dragon?

But our Satan seems more the medieval fool-devil than the Prince of Darkness. He is the embodiment of the sins he cultivates in human beings, with special affection for greed, lust and vanity.

Greed is evident at every turn. He bragged that he would make money running for President, and pours taxpayer funds into his Mar-a-Lago property while profiting from its presidential status. His real motivation for trying to excuse Saudi Arabia’s brutal murder of the journalist, Jamal Khashoggi, is not to salvage a putative arms deal that isn’t even a real deal — it’s about Saudi Arabia’s investments in his personal business.

Lust thrust itself at us as we were forced to watch the candidate who gloated about groping women, the president who lied about paying off porn-star Stormy Daniels and casually dismissed credible sexual assault charges against a Supreme Court nominee, the man who routinely describes women he’s not attracted to as dogs and horses.

Vanity. Trump is an authoritarian wannabe, a narcissist who identifies national friends and enemies by whether or not they criticize him personally. Russia’s interference in the election further delegitimizes the president who lost the popular vote by almost three million. It unravels the myth that his self-dealing, shameless campaign to have a professional moron elected president was a stroke of political brilliance. Instead, we were manipulated by a hostile foreign power.

In the final scene of The Devil’s Advocate, Satan (played with great gusto by Al Pacino) disguises himself as a reporter, eager to make the newly chastened lawyer (Keanu Reeves) a star. The young man successfully resisted Satan’s earlier temptations (at least in the do-over), but agrees to grant the interview. As Reeves steps out of frame, the reporter’s face transforms into Pacino’s and he gloats, “Vanity, definitely my favorite sin.”

Even our sleazy Satan can induce his subjects to march obliviously toward destruction. How do we free ourselves from the devilish situation in which we find ourselves?

Resistance is built in countless daily decisions — some of them in the voting booth. We can resist the transformation of our national home into Hell by creating a check on Satan’s power. Vote to flip at least one house of Congress — even if you don’t normally vote in the midterms, even if you would otherwise vote Republican, and even if you don’t like your options. VOTE — there is no sideline.

Rabbinic tradition, rather than hypostatizing the devil, imagines two competing inclinations inside each of us, one for evil and one for good. We choose in every moment what kind of human being we want to be. Jesus’ temptation reportedly lasted forty days in the wilderness (Lk 4); ours is ongoing. We can give into our worst instincts, or work to restore the goodness that truly makes America great. Which will you choose?