Donald Trump famously boasted, “I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters.”
He may have been right. He has done everything but that and appears not to have discouraged his mythic “base.” Including his many followers in the Great Basin (”Make Deseret Great Again!”)
Mormon Support of Trump is almost as high as it was for Brigham Young. A recent article in the Tribune reports that Mormon support of Trump is the highest of any religious group in America. A Gallup poll charts that support at 61 percent. According to Newsweek, “Mormons were the only religious group to overwhelmingly approve of the president in 2017.”
How is that possible when even his supporters have stopped trying to deny his lying, sexual peccadillos, narcissism, and his curious camaraderie with Vladimir Putin and other plutocratic strongmen he admires and whose atrocities he excuses? How is it possible when he breaks all the principles and commandments we honor, refers to Mormonism as an “alien faith,” and disagrees with the First Presidency about whether or not infant children of immigrants should be separated from their parents?
Simple: Translation. If the Bible had not been translated from Greek, to most of us it would be, well, Greek. Mormons probably think 5th Avenue and New York are maybe a little too alien for us to be bothered about who gets shot there. So, let’s translate Trump’s analogy to our own place and people: “I could stand in the middle of North Temple and shoot a Temple worker … and I wouldn’t lose voters in Utah.”
We Mormons, like some Evangelicals and Catholics, seem to be open to a loose observance of our ethical standards to accommodate behavior in the president we would not tolerate in others (for instance: in Democrats!) Imagine the moral outrage of Mormons and other conservative Christians if tapes had surfaced during the Obama presidency revealing an affair with a porn star whom he had paid to keep silent!
According to religious historian Randall Balmer, “The religious right’s wholesale embrace of the Republican party and of Donald J. Trump, both as candidate and as president, has necessitated a rewriting of evangelical ethics.”
Given the ethical and moral pass many Mormons are inclined to give Trump, it is hard to argue that we have not done the same.
During the Republican presidential primary, our own Mitt Romney warned the nation about the danger of electing Donald Trump: “Let me put it very plainly. If we Republicans choose Donald Trump as our nominee, the prospects for a safe and prosperous future are greatly diminished.” Romney justified his warning by enumerating the dangers Trump posed, including: his tax plan that “would balloon the deficit and the national debt,” his foreign and national security policies, his corrupt business deals, his boasting of sexual exploits, “the bullying, the greed, the showing off, the misogyny, the absurd third grade theatrics,” and his admiration for Vladimir Putin.
Romney concluded, “Dishonesty is Donald Trump’s hallmark ...There’s plenty of evidence that Mr. Trump is a con man, a fake, a phony, a fraud ... He has neither the temperament nor the judgment to be president and his personal qualities would mean that America would cease to be a shining city on a hill.”
That’s the same Donald Trump who today enjoys inordinate support among Mormons.
We came into these valleys over 160 years ago to separate ourselves from a corrupt president, Congress and federal government. So, what will it take for us again to recognize a villain for who he is and dump Trump?
(Maybe it’s time to again get the wagons and oxen ready.)
Robert Rees is director of Mormon Studies at Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley.
Clifton Jolley is a writer and president of Advent Communications in Ogden.