Friday, June 10, 2016

Donald Trump is Mr. By-Ends

trumpismrbyendsAmidst all the unpredictability of the 2016 election, one certainty emerged very early on: The mindless utilization of Hitleresque-Ad-hominem arguments. When the primary season first began, an odd brotherhood of Democrats and Republicans engaged in the collective Hitlerization of Donald Trump. Those who were repulsed by Trump were eager to compare him with such an infamous figure from history. Perhaps this procedure made people feel good, however, I would suggest that it denigrates actual history while obscuring Trump’s actual danger as a potential president. For those who insist on utilizing illustrative language in order to describe the indescribable peculiarities of “The Donald,” I would like to recommend a more suitable parallel from the realm of classical literature: The proud and pragmatic religionist – Mr. By-ends[1] - from John Bunyan’s popular book, The Pilgrim’s Progress.

Mr. By-ends was no Hitler, but he was a profoundly dangerous menace who was eventually rebuked by the main character of The Pilgrim’s Progress: Christian. For Bunyan, By-ends represented some of the most deplorable elements within 17th century English society: ruthless pragmatists who operated beneath the cloak of religion for their personal gain and prestige.[2] I personally find it difficult to avoid the association between Trump and By-ends, especially when I hear Trump bloviate over his support from “the Evangelicals.” In The Pilgrim’s Progress, By-ends is a wealthy, self-inflated character who came from the affluent town of Fair-Speech where people craftily used words in order to manipulate others.[3] His relatives reveal much about his pedigree: Lord Turn-about, Lord Time-server, Mr. Smooth-man, Mr. Facing-both-ways, and Mr. Any-thing. Bunyan also introduces us to several of By-ends’ childhood associates, all of whom had been trained in the “art of getting wealth”: Mr. Hold-the-world, Mr. Money-love, and Mr. Save-all. They all were “…taught by one Mr. Gripeman, a schoolmaster in Lovegain in the county of Coveting….[who] taught them the art of getting, either by violence, cozenage, flattering, lying, or by putting on a guise of religion…[they] had attained much of the art of their master, so that they could each of them have kept such a school themselves.” The church that By-ends attended echoed the shallowness of Fair-Speech as evidenced by their hypocritical parson: Mr. Two-tongues. When describing his lukewarm devotion to religion, By-ends boasted: “…we somewhat differ in religion from those of the stricter sort…First, we never strive against wind and tide. Secondly, we are always most zealous when religion goes in his silver slippers; we love much to walk with him in the street, if the sun shines and the people applaud him.” By-ends was not a man of his word, but he was skilled in the use of words in order to achieve his own by-ends.

The Pilgrim’s Progress is largely unknown in the modern day, but it was a common literary staple within the early American colonies. For them, a reference to By-ends would have evoked a profoundly disturbing image. Frankly speaking, the relevant parallels between Trump and By-ends are too numerous to list in this column, however, his bizarre and unending braggadocio concerning his riches; his apparent inability to admit his mistakes along with his unpersuasive efforts to associate with the Christian faith; and his bombastic self-marketing tactics which make him sound like an auto-repeating infomercial where he is both the presenter and product at the same time, collectively suggest that he was expertly trained in the city of Lovegain, of Coveting county. Whatever manner one wishes to think of the GOP’s presumptive nominee, it is quite clear that hurricane Donald continues to tear through the landscape of American politics and there are no known computer models that can forecast where this storm will end up next. And while he is not a murderous madman, his trail of failed marriages and businesses demonstrates that he does bear a dangerous resemblance to Mr. Two-tongues’ finest disciple: a blustering braggart who will say or do anything for his own personal gain. Bunyan’s allegory should remind us that history does repeat itself and that we are dull fools if we fail to heed its important lessons. In the end, if Donald Trump is elected as our next president, then our nation will have shamefully revealed itself to be the United States of Fair Speech – a land of selfishness, hypocrisy, and unprincipled people. Overall, not only am I concerned for the soul of Donald Trump, but I am especially concerned for the collective soul of our nation and it is my fear that we may end up getting exactly what we deserve.

May God have mercy on America

[1] John Bunyan, The Pilgrim's Progress: From this world to that which is to come, (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1995).
[2] It is important to remember that Bunyan wrote his popular allegory while serving a jail sentence, and that his development of characters like By-ends gives us some historic insight into the religious dysfunction of 17th century England. Under the rule of Charles II, religion had become a means of power and prestige, and those who sought religious freedom were persecuted and imprisoned. Barry Horner gives an excellent summary of this point in history, especially as it relates to the persecution of pastors like John Bunyan: “Upon the accession of Charles II to the throne after the Restoration of the monarchy in 1660, opposition by independent churches to legally mandated conformity led to Bunyan’s immediate imprisonment as well as the ejection of about 1,760 Dissenting ministers from their pastorates.” Barry E. Horner, Pilgrim’s Progress – Themes and Issues (MA: Auburn, Evangelical Press, 2003), 295.
[3] Bunyan’s reference to the land of “Fair-Speech” is based upon Proverbs 26:25: “When he speaks graciously, do not believe him, For there are seven abominations in his heart.” The idea of Fair-Speech is that of smooth and flattering speech that is given in order to gain an advantage over others (see also Jude 16).