The Latter-Day-Saint mind is conflict-averse to the point of dysfunction. A lifetime of warnings about the ill-effects of contention and disunity have an undeniable effect on the psyche.
For one thing, LDS individuals have a long and well-documented history of being taken in by con artists, scammers, and tricksters. Generally, these individuals need do nothing but wave around their temple recommend or church calling, and the money starts flowing. There is a level of trust given, but never earned, because asking the right questions is considered bad form.
Nor are LDS individuals used to employing intellectual argument. The LDS Church teaches that belief derives from the silent influence of the Holy Ghost, or Spirit, and that the best way to convert others is to bear “testimony,” which causes the Holy Ghost to influence the listener with their own witness.1To be clear, I am not criticizing this doctrine. I believe this doctrine myself. But it does not extend to having a “testimony” of Trump. The result is that LDS individuals often find themselves drawn up short when they are bearing “testimony” about things that aren’t testimonial. Put another way, LDS individuals are used to saying things that can’t be supported, and conditioned to believe that the “right” response is to agree. Indeed, LDS people are taught not to argue about their beliefs at all.2Politically, this strain of belief sometimes manifests itself among LDS people in a kind of permanent “Republicans are nacho cheese, Democrats are cool ranch,” which posits absolute moral equivalency of belief, no matter the extreme or immoral ends served. In some sense, this is easier to dismiss than Trump voters. If people can just say, do, or believe anything they want, why be concerned with truth, or participate at all?
This inability to engage with the secular world on secular terms has long resulted in an enforced insularity, generally managed by attrition. Those that swim outside the Church’s socio-political mainstream simply tend to disappear over time, while everyone wonders (perhaps not 100% sincerely) where they went. The social pressure to normalize in the group overrides all other considerations, including spiritual ones.3If this sounds like the Republican Party to you, then you may be catching on.
As with most other things, the Age of Trump is manipulating these pre-existing conditions far past their breaking point. Most obviously, there is the spectacle of historical non-combatants joining the political equivalent of Fight Club. Like new recruits at the battle of Shiloh, they press into service with the tools given them: memes, talking points, propaganda, QAnon and other conspiracy theories—all of which they “believe” with the same fervor as scripture. And if they can succeed in wrapping these secular tokens with religious imprimatur, it can all be taken on faith, just as the actual doctrine. The brain can turn off entirely, and the message can be imported with missionary zeal, straight from the Lord himself. The hard work of intellectual conversion is reduced, quoting the Book of Mormon musical, to “I Believe!”4No wonder they make fun of us.
All of this also has consequences when it comes to LDS individuals putting things into appropriate context. In the LDS church, sitting with your family and listening to them sing hymns is called Family Home Evening. In the White House, sitting with your family and letting them run the country is called authoritarianism. Indeed, I recently heard the argument that Trump should be re-elected precisely because he takes counsel from his idiot sons. I didn’t ask whether the same rule applied to, say, Saddam Hussein and his similarly influential sons, Uday and Qusay. But these are the logical leaps required for LDS Trump supporters to bypass reason and instead bear “testimony” of their candidate.
We are in for a long haul of this. Already, a group called “Latter Day Saints for Trump” has appropriated images of the Salt Lake temple for their cause—a distinctly Mormon example of the kind of emotionally-charged imaging and propaganda Trump supporters regularly employ. Sure, the “Advisory Board” for this group is an LDS D-team of psychos5Raul Labrador was last seen losing a statewide Republican primary in Idaho for, get this, being too conservative., careerists, and nobodies. The only notable is former Senator Orrin Hatch, apparently present to confirm that Trump’s emergence from the Republican fever swamps was no accident. But, of course, their first act was to appoint themselves the defenders of Mormondom’s holiest buildings. Who can oppose the sentinels of such self-appointed righteousness?
One of the situation’s many ironies is that even many LDS individuals opposed to Trump suffer from the same inability to fully commit to opposition. Many Utah Republicans took the protest candidacy of Evan McMullin seriously—to their credit, when compared with the ignominy of supporting Trump—and, yet, all they did was ensure Trump Utah’s electoral votes. Even now the latest Utah poll shows Trump leading 50-31%. What is the other one-fifth of Utah waiting for, a white horse?
But LDS dissenters are not without recourse. LDS pressures to conform have always existed and long pre-date Trump—he is simply its latest, if most malignant and dangerous, manifestation. We must oppose—create conflict, dissent, fight, if necessary—for the same reason as those who should have known better in 1930s Germany. As Hannah Arendt wrote, “The sad truth is that most evil is done by people who never make up their minds to be good or evil.” This should ring a bell. Commitment merely requires the courage, judgment, and foresight we claim the LDS Church teaches in the first place.
And doing so becomes all the more necessary, because Trump is as willing to sacrifice the LDS Church for re-election as he is everything else. Even as their parents fulminate about socialism and lawlessness, 74% of Americans under 30 report their disapproval of Trump. Trump won only 35% of Utah voters of the same age range in 2016, and tied with Hillary Clinton6Gasp! among voters aged 18-24. His support among that age group since 2016 has now completely collapsed, and young Mormon voters are little concerned with—and hardly even know about—say, Ezra Taft Benson’s Bircher loyalties. Indeed, the irony of pro-Trump LDS voters making common cause with the “Christians” who otherwise hate everything about them (and everybody else) is its own subject for another day.
Which inevitably brings one to the most disturbing conclusion yet. The underlying theme of Christian dalliance with Trump is that Trump is somehow “saving” Christianity. One can understand why most Christians believe this—theirs is a Christianity no reasonable person would follow except at the point of a gun. But does the LDS Church—the church that literally professes the leadership of Jesus Christ himself—really need Donald Trump? Of course not. So why do LDS supporters of Donald Trump need him so very desperately? Answer that question, and you start to get into the kind of conflict resolution that might actually save souls, if not the nation.