The following guest post is from Beth C. Buck.
Beth Buck is a budding writer who mostly spends her writing energy waxing erudite about yeast and freeze-dried chicken at an emergency preparedness website. Someday she hopes to publish a novel, but probably not today. She has four kids, a spinning wheel, a black belt, and a degree in Middle Eastern Studies.
How crazy is this election cycle? I suppose it wouldn’t be a real election year if our news feeds weren’t inundated with muckraking, scandals, and political plot twists. Most days, I don’t know whether to move to Canada, or sit back and watch with a bucket of popcorn on my lap as if it were only another crude reality TV show.
But there is one thing I like about this election, and that is how we Mormons have successfully distinguished ourselves by refusing to ally with Donald Trump. It was with no small amount of pride that I first heard the phrase, “Trump’s Mormon Problem.” In the short time since the famous “Trump Tapes” have been made public, Trump’s Mormon Problem has only intensified as top LDS Republican leaders have rescinded their endorsements.
And the media is just eating it up. The phenomenon of Trump’s Mormon Problem is too interesting to leave alone. It has people worried enough to suggest that Utah may become an actual swing state [http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2016/09/mormons/498506/] in this election. Breitbart went so far as to suggest that any hypothetical failure of the Trump campaign to win the White House would be all the Mormons’ fault [http://www.breitbart.com/2016-presidential-race/2016/08/20/will-the-mormon-churchs-support-for-muslim-immigration-block-trumps-victory/]. Not bad for a minority group that comprises less than 2% of the population.
Most op-ed pieces on this issue center around Mormon ideology – Trump’s personal history is at odds with the Mormon ideals of family and sexual fidelity, so that’s why we don’t like him. He’s a jerk and Mormons value kindness. Many also point to how Trump’s stance on religious liberty and immigration is at direct odds the Church’s pro-refugee “I was a Stranger” campaign. And it’s all true, but there’s another, deeper reason. It’s because Donald J. Trump is essentially a living incarnation of Wicked King Noah.
For active LDS members who grew up in the Church, distrust of anyone who acts remotely the way King Noah acts runs deep. We grew up with these stories – “Wicked King Noah, the most evil man who ever walked the earth.” Even though there are figures in the Book of Mormon who are much, much, more evil, Wicked King Noah has gotten a lot more press in children’s cartoon adaptations, kids’ scripture readers, and Book of Mormon-themed storybooks. No one wants to make a cartoon of Amalikiah poisoning Lehonti by degrees (See Alma 47). Among my friends and family, when I’ve briefly mentioned the similarities between Donald Trump and Wicked King Noah, all have laughed and agreed because the real estate mogul is so very recognizable recast as a Book of Mormon villain.
I will grant you it’s not a perfect analogy. For one thing, Wicked King Noah was famous for his exorbitant taxes (Mosiah 11:3 – one fifth, which is more than the average American pays in income tax anyway, but that is neither here nor there), and Trump wants to lower taxes. The alcoholic King Noah spent his days in “riotous living” (v. 14-15) whereas Donald Trump does not drink.
How is Trump like King Noah? First of all, it’s important to remember that at the time of his reign, Noah was beloved by his people, the high taxes and personal foibles notwithstanding. When Abinadi first began to preach against the King, it was the people, not the establishment, who initially sought to kill him (v. 26). And to give King Noah his due, his extensive building projects (v. 8-13) most likely did Make the Land of Nephi Great Again. He also led his people in a successful military victory over the Lamanites (v.18-19). Similarly, Trump’s most devoted supporters acknowledge his bad behavior, but continue to back him because of his promises to improve the American economy and strengthen our military, that we might, too, become Great Again. Despite all the revelations concerning the negative aspects of Mr. Trump’s personality, there are still plenty of people who have expressed their undying devotion and intentions to vote for him.
Of course King Noah’s reign wasn’t all palaces and sweet victories. King Noah, like Trump, had plenty of personality flaws, too. My favorite is detailed in Mosiah 12:29, when Abinadi accuses Noah and his priests of “spend[ing their] strength with harlots,” a descriptive phrase that could also apply to Donald J. Trump, if his boasts about his prowess and the number of his sexual partners are to be believed (See Mosiah 11 for additional references to Noah’s many wives, concubines, and whoredoms).
Trump likes people to think of him as a “tough guy.” He has created a narrative centered around his unwillingness to pander to special interest groups or political correctness, believing that doing and saying as he pleases makes him strong. (Whether it actually does is immaterial) He has become very well known for insulting people who disagree with him: calling women “fat and ugly,” calling Marco Rubio’s virility into question, and accusing other Republican officals as “weak” and “ineffective leaders.” And he doesn’t let it go, either; think of his continued personal attacks on his Republican opponents even after he won the nomination. And despite assurances from the Department of Justice that there are no criminal charges they could in seriousness bring against Hillary Clinton, Trump continues to insist that he will put her in jail.
King Noah does this sort of thing as well. In Mosiah 17:12, when King Noah is about to release Abinadi, he reconsiders once the priests remind him that Abinadi’s first and gravest offense was the verbal attack on his person. You could interpret this a few different ways. Either a) Noah killed Abinadi out of anger or revenge, or b) Noah decided that rescinding the execution would have been weakness. Even when Abinadi was dead, it wasn’t enough to drive Alma out of his kingdom and into hiding. Noah tried to have Alma and his followers exterminated.
I am sure you think all this is very interesting, but why does it matter? Well, it matters because things did not end well for King Noah, or for the people he ruled. When things got tough, Noah abandoned his family and the most vulnerable portion of his population to save his own skin (see Mosiah 19). The public persona Trump has cultivated shows him to be a narcissist and a cad, more concerned about his own success and his ability to do what he wants with women than he is with nearly anything else. Simply put, I can very much envision a Donald Trump who throws women and children under the bus to save himself. And that’s the thing about Trump’s 2005 comments; they don’t necessarily reveal how he feels aboutwomen, as if female humans were another species. They reveal his attitudes about other people.
You could successfully argue (and I have seen it done) that Trump must not be the villain so many of us think he is, because of his clean living and the fact that his ex-wives don’t seem to hate his guts. Some Trump apologists have suggested that Trump isn’t really as horrible as he seems to be, that people who dislike him suffer from confirmation bias and are looking for things that confirm what they already know to be true (that is, that Trump is a narcissist and a cad).Yet there’s something about him that causes good people – and a lot of Mormons, in particular – extreme disquiet. There is something we can’t put our finger on that just really ticks us off. It comes down to more than offending mere cultural values. While there are some Mormons who choose to support Trump, the majority of us have a visceral distrust and even loathing for him. Even if all this “Trump is awful” stuff isn’t an accurate reflection of who Trump is at his core, it does a good job of making a lot of of Mormons really hate him.
Comparing Trump to King Noah is relevant for Mormons discussing the election because Wicked King Noah is pretty much the poster child for what it means to be a bad king: you could read the Book of Mosiah almost like a political treatise, comparing and contrasting the life and works of Righteous King Benjamin and Wicked King Noah, then ultimately concluding that the risk of having a bad king makes monarchical governments unfeasible and dangerous. Mosiah, Benjamin’s successor, does away with the monarchy completely and sets up a democratic judiciary government, but gives us a warning: And if the time comes that the voice of the people doth choose iniquity, then is the time that the judgments of God will come upon you; yea, then is the time he will visit you with great destruction even as he has hitherto visited this land (Mosiah 29:27). Perhaps we shouldn’t so easily laugh off internet memes that proclaim Trump as “The Last President of the United States.”
All of this isn’t meant as an endorsement of Hillary Clinton. I joked to a friend of mine several months ago that if Trump was King Noah, that made Hillary Amalikiah. But when you look at all the unethical things in which the Clintons have been involved, and how few of those things for which they have served prison time, it does make you wonder to what extent secret combinations have played a role. And if the Book of Mormon has taught us anything, it’s that secret combinations are REALLY bad news. I won’t go down the rabbit hole that is the laundry list of Clinton conspiracies, but I can promise that the Amalikiah/ Hillary thing won’t be funny any more once you look at it. King Noah wrecked his kingdom by following his pride and his id, but secret combinations destroyed more than one Book of Mormon civilization.