By Sue Hagan
A childhood friend, the preacher’s daughter where we attended church, became her father’s sermon subject one Sunday. Jill’s misbehavior (using her parents’ bed as a trampoline) and the welts and bruises on her behind from the belt-whipping he gave her were presented as a lesson on proper discipline. My mother was livid; she told me our minister abused his daughter and embarrassed her by telling the congregation about it.
The National Prayer Breakfast is a 68-year old tradition intended to be a non-political; members of both parties gather in worship and prayer for the nation without rancor towards one another. Trump this year turned it into a campaign rally with hatred overflowing. Preceding Trump was a former conservative think tank head, Arthur Brooks, who talked of Jesus’ commands to love others even if you disagree with them. Brooks asked the crowd to raise their hand if they love anyone who disagrees with them politically: Trump kept his hand down.
When Trump took over the podium, he spent a half hour denigrating his perceived enemies. He explicitly disagreed with Brook’s call for harmony, saying, “When they impeach you for nothing, then it’s not easy to like them” and made it clear he would not even try. He held newspaper after newspaper headlining the impeachment acquittal which had happened the day before.
Worse, Trump mocked the religious convictions of Mitt Romney (for citing his religious faith when he explained his vote for impeachment) and Nancy Pelosi (who has said she prays for the President). Said Donald Trump, “I don’t like people who use their faith as justification for doing what they know is wrong. Nor do I like people who say, ‘I pray for you,’ when they know that that’s not so…we can’t let that go on.”
The next day, Trump began taking revenge on lawfully subpoenaed witnesses who had fulfilled their civic duty by testifying at the impeachment. First and most noticeably was Lt. Col. Vindman who had testified to what he had heard, in the course of his job, when he listened in on Trump’s so-called “perfect” phone call: Vindman was escorted out of the White House (an unnecessary power display intended to humiliate the decorated Iraq War veteran). With no explanation given, Trump also removed Vindman’s twin brother—‘collateral damage’ the press calls it.
Trump then tweeted out harsh and untruthful words about Lt. Col Vindman, calling him an “insubordinate”, a liar, a man with poor judgment—descriptions that are opposite the high evaluations Vindman received from his immediate supervisor. Vindman was considered THE top expert on Ukraine in the National Security Council. The week after removing Vindman from his White House job, Trump expressed hope that the military would discipline him further.
Next was firing Ambassador Gordon Sondland. You may recall, Sondman had ‘purchased’ his ambassadorship by making a lush donation to Trump’s campaign. Initially Sondland ran defense for Trump at the impeachment but ultimately conceded Trump was trying to bribe the Ukrainian president. Several Republicans tried to persuade Trump to let Sondland retire without the theatrics of firing him, but Trump wanted it his way.
More vengeance is promised. Another object of Trump’s revenge is the whistleblower, the man who followed federal laws for reporting possible government corruption. Federal law guarantees job protection to whistleblowers but does anyone think that would happen in this instance? For what purpose other than revenge do Trump and the GOP desire to expose the whistleblower’s identity, especially now that the trial has ended?
Initially Trump defenders complained the whistleblower had provided only hearsay evidence. True enough, but the hearsay evidence was verified during the impeachment by the partial transcript of the phone call, by testimony from multiple witnesses, and by Trump’s own refusal to provide any counter evidence. The whistleblower’s report was irrelevant and not even introduced at the impeachment.
More than just his job being jeopardized, the whistleblower’s life is at risk. Trump called him a spy worthy of the death penalty; numerous threats to the whistleblower’s safety have since been uncovered. Two weeks ago, in this very paper, Republican Chair Ray Rehder actually gave the “likely” Whistleblower’s name! Rehder didn’t just make up a name; he clearly was repeating information passed down to him from higher ups in the party. They are looking for blood, perhaps more literally than figuratively. All in service of Trump’s vengeance and desire to tyrannize people into silence if they see wrongdoing.
Does Trump’s thoughts of pardoning his long-time friend Roger Stone show the President as merciful? No: it is the court system on which Trump’s wrath is falling. Trump wants the federal prosecutors to apologize for treating Stone badly! Stone was found guilty of witness tampering and lying to investigators looking into the Russian interference in the 2016 US elections. Trump is also accusing the federal judge of bias, a clear attempt to intimidate her.
Numerous Bible passages say vengeance should be left to God and enemies should be treated with kindness. People of faith naturally struggle living up to religious ideals; Trump doesn’t bother trying. Which brings back to mind the preacher who humiliated his daughter by recounting her misbehavior and the whipping he gave her. Thankfully, no one cheered our minister. Many at the National Prayer Breakfast, like raucous crowds at his rallies, cheered Trump’s vindictive and braggadocio display. Thankfully many were appalled.