Patriotism is supposed to be the last refuge of scoundrels, but religion surely is a close second. So there was President Donald Trump last week with evangelical leaders laying hands on him, and granting a rare non-Fox interview to the doddering founder of the Christian Broadcasting Network.
That interview was with the televangelist Pat Robertson, who is to news professionalism what Chris Christie is to constituent diplomacy. Robertson, you may recall, felt that feminists and gays were among the guilty parties in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. These days, he says that Trump's critics are going against "God's plan" and may be influenced by — who else — Satan.
One assumes that God's plan includes the biblical admonition to treat the bedraggled, the poor, the hungry — "the least of these brothers and sisters of mine" — as you would treat him. Did I miss something when Trump said he was salivating at the chance to take health care away from 22 million Americans and the 87-year-old Robertson merely responded with his trademark chucklehead chuckle?
We've got an iceberg the size of Delaware breaking off in Antarctica, a free world that can't trust the nominal leader of that realm, and Trump offers his interlocutor this gem: "It was a great G-20. We had 20 countries."
Robertson is not the most despicable of Trump's enablers. For that, you're probably thinking of Sean Hannity. No, it goes beyond the safe spaces in broadcasting. The most odious of those who are letting Trump drag America into the gutter include Vice President Mike Pence, the leaders in Congress and the pious shepherds of a white evangelical community that continues to give an awful man a pass for every awful thing he does.
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Pence is the choirboy who leaves the room when the nasty boys take over, and then helps clean up later. I'll grant him this: I cannot see Pence hanging out with that gang of thugs, castoffs and oligarchs who surrounded Trump as they ogled beauty queens a few years ago, with the future president dispensing advice on how to write up a really cheap pre-nup.
If only Pence's probity extended to his view of the man he works for. Through every degrading statement, every Oval Office insult, every one of the more than 500 demonstrable lies told (so far) by this president, Pence has remained silent or defended the offender.
And if the White House is blackmailed because the Kremlin has something even more damning on, say, Jared Kushner — who attended that meeting where the subject in the email was "very high level and sensitive information" that was "part of Russia and its government's support for Mr. Trump" — Pence will be further exposed as a gutless cipher.
Another boy scout in hiding is House Speaker Paul Ryan. Golly gee, he just wants to cut taxes on the rich, destroy the health care system, and work on his abs and guns. The man who loves to lecture the poor on their "lives of dependency and complacency" through a safety net that can become a hammock has not a word about an unprecedented attempt to sell out his country to a hostile nation.
Ryan is a politician; hypocrisy is his first language. But these church ladies and their pastors dish up a special kind of moral quackery. Trump trashes the dignity of his office on a daily basis. He lies and lies and lies, and then lies about his lies. He would take vital care away from the most vulnerable among us. And the response from these representatives of righteousness?
"President Trump is the greatest thing that's happened to this country," said Luther Strange, who was appointed to the Alabama Senate seat vacated by Jeff Sessions. "I consider it a biblical miracle that he's here."
A true miracle would be for one of the enablers among the 81 percent of white evangelicals who gave their vote to Trump to follow their conscience, or at least the Scriptures they profess guide them.
Timothy Egan, based in the Pacific Northwest, writes a column for the New York Times.