The Confederate States of America chose as its (their?) motto the Latin phrase Deo vindice–God will vindicate us. History now repeats itself in our first Confederate president, Donald Trump, who today in Ohio declared that a vote for Joe Biden is a vote “against God” and to “hurt the Bible.”1This latter observation should–but probably doesn’t–tickle the irony bone of my fellow LDS readers, since Trump’s evangelical base believes that the Book of Mormon’s very existence hurts the Bible. But some causes are more important than mere religion. Indeed, Trump suggests a Biden vote is a vote to “hurt God” himself.
And so we find ourselves playing the zero-sum game Trump has been positioning himself for since his shock 2016 election. He is God’s chosen, and his opponents are God’s enemies.
Abraham Lincoln understood the innate problem with adopting such rhetoric, and possessed the inherent humility necessary to navigate its most toxic effects. In 1862–in the midst of some of the Union’s darkest days–Lincoln wrote:
The will of God prevails. In great contests each party claims to act in accordance with the will of God. Both may be, and one must be, wrong. God cannot be for and against the same thing at the same time. In the present civil war it is quite possible that God’s purpose is something different from the purpose of either party — and yet the human instrumentalities, working just as they do, are of the best adaptation to effect His purpose. I am almost ready to say that this is probably true — that God wills this contest, and wills that it shall not end yet. By his mere great power, on the minds of the now contestants, He could have either saved or destroyed the Union without a human contest. Yet the contest began. And, having begun He could give the final victory to either side any day. Yet the contest proceeds.
Though Lincoln did not intend this 1862 essay to be made public–John Hay saved it from destruction, though Lincoln detailed these themes further in his Second Inaugural Address–Lincoln recognized that God has his own purposes, quite separate from those invoking his name. This should be intuitive. God does not need help from the likes of Donald Trump. People who think otherwise are joining a battle they know nothing about, with leadership less qualified to wage it than they can possibly imagine. Imagine George McClellan crossed with Caligula.
For those of us with somehat more self-awareness, we must be more careful still. Our opposition to Trump is principled, value-driven, and necessary, even more so because the “Christian right” has become the fast lane for America’s long-percolating neo-fascism. But God’s will is known to him and him alone, and we must accept that we are facilitators–not imposers–of it. As Lincoln concluded in his 1865 inaugural address:
Yet, if God wills that it continue, until all the wealth piled by the bond-man’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash, shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said “the judgments of the Lord, are true and righteous altogether.”
Let us strive on to continue the work we are in.