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Thursday, November 16, 2023

Donald Trump, Miltonian Hero - A Defiant, Unapologetic Devil

If one were to believe progressives, Donald Trump is the incarnation of evil.  Of course they don't quite put it that way, for secularism has no room for good and evil, only relative actions and relative consequences, but there is the possibility, however remote, that one of the spawn of the Devil did indeed hatch, and his heir is apparent. 

Steven Winthrop, both a good liberal and a descendant of a lead prosecutor in the Salem witch trials, found conflation easy.  It made eminent sense that secular evil existed, and that while Satan himself might not exist, evil certainly did and was extant. Donald Trump was the  most obvious example of this possession.


Some people like Donald Trump are incarnated repositories of evil – perhaps not the satanic kind, but the evolutionary result of it.  While Steven could not bring himself to completely dismiss the Devil or the idea of spiritual evil, he was content and satisfied knowing that however it was transformed into a more recognizable human configuration, it was here embodied in the former president.

He was not alone in his belief in the persistence of historical evil.  Nathaniel Hawthorne in The House of the Seven Gables, written in part as a metaphor for his own Salem witch-hunting ancestry, could not account for the persistence of evil through the generations. 

Poor Hepzibah Pyncheon who looked up at her feared and hated ancestor, Colonel Pyncheon, accused of murder and expropriation, progenitor of a line of Pyncheons, a clone of which would show up every other generation or so with the same evil compulsion, could not leave the house.  Family legacy was not so easily dismissed, and the Colonel’s descendants would have to deal with his villainy regardless.

Steven’s ancestors had not only lived in Salem at the time of the witch hunts, they were prosecutors.  Hiram Winthrop was known as The Burning Judge of Salem, a man without pity who thanked the Lord each and every time a woman crackled and popped at the stake. As distasteful as it might seem, he was doing God's work, a scourge of righteousness, as convinced of his mission as Yahweh when he destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah and flooded the world; and a Winthrop three hundred years later stood on the same hallowed ground.

Today’s progressive community in Washington and on the coasts was no different from that of Salem in 1692.  They called for Donald Trump’s blood just as loudly and hysterically as the people of Massachusetts did for young witches. Death was too good for this moral vagabond, this emotional cretin, this insidious traitor.

Trump of course is no patsy, and in his defiance of the neo-Puritans of his day, he was not unlike Milton’s devil, the hero of Paradise Lost whose defiance, will, and purposeful rebellion were indeed heroic.  ‘Better to reign in hell than serve in heaven’, the devil says, and leads a rebellion against the forces of God.

Satan is classically characterized as evil because he is the corrupter of good, and responsible for the unleashing of Sin and Death onto the world; but in Milton’s hands, he is canny, nuanced, defiantly courageous, and heroic.

The mind is its own place, and in itself
Can make a Heav'n of Hell, a Hell of Heav'n.
What matter where, if I be still the same,
And what I should be, all but less then he
Whom Thunder hath made greater? Here at least
We shall be free; th' Almighty hath not built
Here for his envy, will not drive us hence:
Here we may reign secure, and in my choyce
To reign is worth ambition though in Hell:
Better to reign in Hell, then serve in Heav'n.


Throughout Paradise Regained Satan's strategy is to force from Christ a public declaration that will give him a definitive understanding of the nature of his mission of redemption. Satan seeks, he tells us, to "understand my Adversary, who and what he is; his wisdom, power, intent ... to know what more thou art than man, / Worth naming Son of God by voice from Heav'n". To achieve that understanding, Satan offers the Son a series of determinate heroic scripts, citing all manner of Renaissance master-texts (including Scripture itself) in an attempt to provide well-delineated co-ordinates for the Son's Messianic career.  

Donald Trump remains defiant and dismissive of the claims against him.  He is unrepentant, and defiant.  How then to confront Beelzebub, Baal, and the Unholy One? The witch trials in New York, Washington, and Georgia are fitful, pitiable irritations.  They have none of Salem’s holy terror.  Their prosecutors are timid politicos, holding copies of the Constitution like Southern preachers the Bible, but cannot bring the man down.  Any conviction will be pyrrhic for Trump whose supporters have only become energized and more committed to him.  There will be no burning at the stake.  


Evil, as Dostoevsky noted in The Brothers Karamazov is Christ’s dismissal of the suffering of children and the penury and misery of mankind for the promise of salvation.  Even Augustine could never square the existence of evil in a world created by an all-good God.  There is no evil, he said. only the absence of good.  How self-serving!  

As a young man, Augustine followed the teachings of a Christian sect known as the Manicheans. At the heart of Manichean theology was the idea of a cosmic battle between the forces of good and evil. This, of course, proposes one possible solution to the problem of evil: all goodness, purity and light comes from God, and the darkness of evil has a different source.

However, Augustine came to regard this cosmic dualism as heretical, since it undermined God's sovereignty. Of course, he wanted to hold on to the absolute goodness of God. But if God is the source of all things, where did evil come from? Augustine's radical answer to this question is that evil does not actually come from anywhere. Rejecting the idea that evil is a positive force, he argues that it is merely a "name for nothing other than the absence of good".

Milton’s Satan and Donald Trump have nothing to do with Augustinian reflections on evil.  Neither has any truck with such parsing.  There is no such thing as evil.  Satan was thrown out of Heaven not because of evil but because of defiance.  Trump’s enemies, under the pretense of evil, want him gone and neutered; but since there is no such thing, they have lost the battle before it even starts.   

Trump dismisses charges of misogyny, racism, homophobia, and capitalist greed, inflated political accusations as having nothing to do with evil, immorality, or spiritual entropy; only twisted temporal interpretations, preachy sermons, dime-store horror stories.  ‘Who can match me?’ says Trump/Satan to the prosecutors and judges who to him are no more than pieces of lint or discarded bottle caps.

Men like Trump are never defeated, and like Milton’s Satan will always rule

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