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Donald Trump’s revealing 2015 interview

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The turmoil across the United States this week produced so many vivid, emotive images.Some, like the sight of protesters peacefully singing Lean On Me in the streets of Washington D.C., were inspiring. Others, such as the footage of police pushing over an elderly man for no reason and then failing to help while he bled…

The turmoil across the United States this week produced so many vivid, emotive images.

Some, like the sight of protesters peacefully singing Lean On Me in the streets of Washington D.C., were inspiring. Others, such as the footage of police pushing over an elderly man for no reason and then failing to help while he bled onto the pavement, were infuriating.

The one that has really stuck with me, though, was just downright confusing.

It has been days now since President Donald Trump posed for photos outside St John’s Church in Washington D.C., and I still have no idea what he was trying to achieve.

Protesters were driven out of the area by force to clear a path for the President, their bodies bruised by police batons and eyes burning from irritants in the air.

It was a stunning intervention by the authorities; the sort of outrageous, heavy-handed treatment of protesters we’re not used to seeing in a liberal democracy. So the cops must have had a good reason, right? Apparently not.

Mr Trump emerged from the White House, strode the short distance to St John’s, and stood in front of it holding a Bible.

Said holy book happened to be upside down – an unintentional and, it must be said, rather fitting metaphor for the state of his country.

“Is that your Bible?” a reporter asked.

“It’s a Bible,” Mr Trump replied.

And then he left.

It later emerged that his daughter Ivanka had brought it along in her $US1540 handbag – yet another small reminder that the people who profess such hatred for America’s rich east coast “elites” happily voted a family of them into the White House.

Anyway, that was it. Mr Trump didn’t go inside the church, or offer a prayer, or talk to anyone who could shed the tiniest sliver of light on the tumultuous events rocking the US. Photo op completed, he returned to the White House.

It was baffling on so many levels.

What message was the stunt supposed to send? Why didn’t Mr Trump explain it? And why did this President, who not only indulges in but practically embodies so many forms of sin, think he could wield the Bible as some sort of political weapon?

Local religious leaders, who got no heads up about Mr Trump’s hastily arranged jaunt, were understandably furious.

“The President just used a Bible, the most sacred text of the Judaeo-Christian tradition, and one of the churches of my diocese, without permission, as a backdrop for a message antithetical to the teachings of Jesus,” said the Episcopal Bishop of Washington, the Right Reverend Mariann Budde.

Washington Archbishop Wilton Gregory said it was “baffling and reprehensible that any Catholic facility would allow itself to be so egregiously misused”.

When White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany was pushed for an explanation, she instead offered a series of historical analogies that were beyond absurd.

“Through all of time, we’ve seen presidents and leaders across the world who have had leadership moments, and very powerful symbols that were important for a nation at any given time, to show a message of resilience and determination,” Ms McEnany told reporters.

“Like Churchill. We saw him inspecting the bombing damage. It sent a powerful message of leadership to the British people. And George W. Bush throwing out the ceremonial first pitch after 9/11. And Jimmy Carter putting on a sweater to encourage energy savings. And George H.W. Bush signing the Americans with Disabilities Act flanked by two disabled Americans.

“And for this President, it was powerful and important to send a message that the rioters, the looters, the anarchists will not prevail.”

How on earth does posing for photos outside a church, having punished protesters who were doing the right thing, send that message?

And how can anyone compare it, with a straight face, to Winston Churchill touring bomb sites during the Second World War?

As author Erik Larson – who has written a book on that very subject – said, it was an “appalling” parallel to draw.

“Churchill wept on these visits. He offered compassion and hope, and helped people find their courage,” Mr Larson said.

How about former president Bush’s first pitch at that World Series game in 2001?

That moment, which happened just over a month after the 9/11 terror attacks, was steeped in symbolism. It was a signal that Americans could and should come together instead of living in fear.

Mr Trump had police attack peaceful protesters so he could avoid any actual human interaction while being photographed, glowering, with an upside down Bible. I’m sorry, but it’s not quite in the same league.

The thing that confuses me the most, however, is not the inept political messaging. It’s the fact that Mr Trump believes he can use religious symbols as props in this way, even though he is self-evidently the least pious politician to ever hold the presidency.

Run through the so-called seven deadly sins – pride, wrath, sloth, gluttony, lust, envy and greed. Mr Trump is a living example of all of them, to varying degrees.

He is also a man who has never displayed the slightest interest in or understanding of scripture.

One of the truly great, hall of fame level Trump interviews happened shortly after he started running for president, in August of 2015.

Bloomberg Politics asked the then-longshot candidate to name his favourite verses from the Bible.

“You mention the Bible. You’ve been talking about how it’s your favourite book. And you said, I think last night in Iowa, that some people are surprised that you say that,” one of the interviewers said.

“I’m wondering what one or two of your most favourite Bible verses are, and why?”

“Well I wouldn’t want to get into it, because to me that’s very personal. You know, when I talk about the Bible, it’s very personal. So I don’t want to get into verses,” Mr Trump replied.

“There’s no verse that means a lot to you, that you think about or cite?” the reporter pressed.

“The Bible means a lot to me, but I don’t want to get into specifics,” said Mr Trump.

“Even to cite a verse that you like?” asked the reporter, increasingly puzzled. His colleague jumped in with a new question.

“Are you an Old Testament guy or a New Testament guy?” he asked.

“Uh, probablyyyyyy … equal,” Mr Trump said.

“I think it’s just an incredible, the whole Bible is just an incredible – I joke, very much so, they always hold up The Art of the Deal, I say, ‘My second favourite book of all time.’

“But, uh, I just think the Bible is just something very special.”

This sort of BS answer is very familiar to anyone, such as myself, who went through school and university without ever studying.

“Sam, what did you think of the readings?”

“They were excellent. Really loved them.”

“What exactly did you find excellent about them?”

“Well, I wouldn’t want to get into it.”

“Did you prefer the first one or the second?”

“Uh, probablyyyy … equal.”

The subject of Mr Trump’s favourite verse came up again a short time after that Bloomberg interview, when he spoke to the Christian Broadcasting Network. This time he was ready with an answer.

Proverbs, the chapter ‘never bend to envy,’” Mr Trump said.

“I’ve had that thing all of my life, where people are bending to envy.”

When people pointed out that there was nothing in the Bible about “bending to envy”, Mr Trump’s campaign staff clarified that he was talking about Proverbs 24:1-2.

“Be not thou envious against evil men, neither desire to be with them. For their heart studieth destruction, and their lips talk of mischief,” it reads.

How does that fit with what Mr Trump said? I’m confused again.

Fast forward again, to April of 2016, when WHAM radio host Bob Lonsberry asked Mr Trump whether he had a favourite Bible story that had impacted his character.

“Well, I think many. I mean, you know, when we get into the Bible, I think many. So many,” Mr Trump responded, straying dangerously close to that BS, “I actually haven’t done the readings, sir,” territory again. But he did get more specific.

“And some people – look, an eye for an eye, you can almost say that. That’s not a particularly nice thing. But you know, if you look at what’s happening to our country, I mean, when you see what’s going on with our country, how people are taking advantage of us, and how they scoff at us and laugh at us,” he said.

“And they laugh at our face, and they’re taking our jobs, they’re taking our money, they’re taking the health of our country. And we have to be firm and have to be very strong. And we can learn a lot from the Bible, I can tell you.”

He seemed to be referring to a passage from Exodus.

“If people are fighting and hit a pregnant woman and she gives birth prematurely but there is no serious injury, the offender must be fined whatever the woman’s husband demands and the court allows. But if there is serious injury, you are to take life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise,” that section reads.

There’s a similar passage in Leviticus as well.

“If a man cause a blemish in his neighbour; as he hath done, so shall it be done to him; breach for breach, eye for eye, tooth for tooth.”

Mr Trump is not a fan of Jesus’s message about turning the other cheek, then. He is, if anything, an Old Testament guy. Not all of the Old Testament, mind you – I doubt he would like the part about stoning adulterers to death.

Now, I don’t actually have a problem with the President’s lack of piety. I’m about as hardcore an atheist as it’s possible to be without turning into Richard freaking Dawkins, so if anything I appreciate it.

The issue is that Mr Trump pretends, absurdly, to be a champion of Christianity. And he cynically uses the Bible he has, it seems, never actually read as a political tool.

“Nobody reads the Bible more than me,” he told a campaign crowd in 2016, without a hint of irony. It was about as credible as his insistence that he knew more about Islamic State than America’s generals did, or knew more about renewable energy than anyone, or had a deeper understanding of infrastructure policy than “anybody in the history of this country”.

And yet, evangelical voters in the US didn’t mind. A whopping 81 per cent of them voted for Mr Trump over Hillary Clinton four years ago, and a huge majority will vote for him again over Joe Biden.

Maybe that was the real purpose of his photo op this week – to be a rallying call for his political base.

If so, I have one more classic Trump quote for you.

“I don’t like people who use their faith as justification for doing what they know is wrong,” the President said of Republican Senator Mitt Romney earlier this year.

Mr Romney, a devout Mormon, had spoken of the role his faith played in his decision to vote in favour of Mr Trump’s impeachment. He was the only Republican to do so.

This week Mr Trump used his faith as justification for needlessly and violently dispersing a crowd of peaceful protesters.

He might not have realised that was wrong. But the rest of the world did.

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