Editor's note: The following is an excerpt from Stephen Strang's new book, releasing today, "God and Donald Trump."
On Jan. 20, 2017, Donald J. Trump stepped forward to take the oath of office on the steps of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., to become the 45th president of the United States. It was a moment no one in the mainstream media or the political establishment had seriously considered. That auspicious occasion marked the culmination of one of the most contentious election campaigns in U.S. history and the beginning of one of the most heated ideological struggles ever seen in this country.
Outlasting a field of 16 other GOP contenders while attracting the largest number of evangelical voters in history, the New York billionaire had delivered a stunning blow to his Democratic rival and sent shock waves of amazement and disbelief across the nation and around the world. By some miracle, "The Donald" had actually won.
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Washington elites from both political parties had spent months pounding on candidate Trump, questioning his intelligence, his sanity, his motives, his fitness for public office and even his religion. Thrice married, a casino owner and someone known for his outrageous and often salty language, Trump did not have the persona of a model Christian, and his detractors were certain the conservative Republican base would never vote for such a man. And if they did, the pundits suggested, it would certainly be a betrayal of everything they once claimed to believe.
The New York Times pointed out that evangelical leaders had spent decades developing and fielding a cadre of strong conservative candidates capable of winning high public office. Gov. Mike Huckabee, Sen. Ted Cruz, Sen. Marco Rubio, Sen. Rick Santorum, Gov. Rick Perry and Rep. Michele Bachmann were among the beneficiaries of that effort, yet none of them attracted the kind of support in the 2016 campaign accorded to the egotistical and unrestrained reality-TV star from Queens.
Trump, they wrote, "is unabashedly ignorant of the biblical imperatives that form the foundation of evangelical culture and politics. That Mr. Trump is a Presbyterian and not Evangelical is not the issue. It's that he doesn't pretend to understand evangelicalism, or even his own mainline Protestantism." The New York Times pontificating on the biblical imperatives of evangelical Christians ought to elicit at least a few chuckles for the irony.
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Nevertheless, Donald Trump never claimed to be a paragon of virtue; in fact, he has admitted repeatedly in interviews with reporters and biographers that he had been rude and undisciplined for much of his life. But evangelical leaders who have met with him, as I have, believe he understands the importance of sincere faith, and – especially over the last few years – he has made a sincere effort to expand his knowledge of and his fluency with essential Christian beliefs.
During the 1950s, Trump attended Sunday school and church with his parents, Fred and Mary Trump, at First Presbyterian Church in Jamaica, Queens, which has been described as the oldest Presbyterian congregation in America. He was even awarded a Bible at his confirmation in 1959. After the family transferred membership to Marble Collegiate Church in Manhattan, Trump was strongly attracted to the preaching of Dr. Norman Vincent Peale, who served that congregation as pastor for more than 50 years, from 1932 to 1984.
Peale's message that faith in God and a positive attitude are the keys to success in every area of life had an obvious appeal to the young Trump. Looking at Peale's book "The Power of Positive Thinking," which has sold more than 20 million copies, it's easy to see how his message would have resonated in Trump's life and business practices. Shortly before his retirement, Peale wrote to Trump, congratulating him on completion of his landmark structure, the lavish Trump Tower. Peale reminded Trump that he had once predicted he would become "America's greatest builder," and added, "You have already arrived at that status, and believe me, as your friend, I am very proud of you." Four years later Trump hosted Peale's 90th birthday party at the Waldorf-Astoria hotel in Manhattan.
But Trump's education in biblical imperatives didn't end there. It's fair to say that he values the Christian faith because it defines a key part of the America he loves, not necessarily because he is a born-again Evangelical. He has been taught, counseled, witnessed to, and preached at for years, and he professes belief but keeps a healthy arm's length from overtly doctrinaire and fundamental Christianity. From a purely pragmatic point of view, perhaps that's for the best. His understanding, despite all he has said, may appear somewhat superficial to the faithful, but a majority of the American people have decided that's OK. They were seeking a true American leader, not a theologian. And in comparison with the Democratic alternative, there was never a serious debate.
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What ought to be readily apparent is that Donald Trump believes in the American Dream. He has achieved it himself, in a big way. Growing up in a middle-class neighborhood in the New York borough of Queens during the 1950s, Trump watched his father, with only a high school education, achieve his dream of becoming the most successful builder and real estate entrepreneur in Brooklyn and Queens. At an early age, Trump decided to follow in his father's footsteps. He worked for him, learning the ropes from the bottom up, and would eventually exceed his father's accomplishments many times over. But he understood that the American Dream was within the reach of anyone willing to work hard and play fair, and that too requires a certain biblical ethic. That attitude apparently struck a chord with men and women in the heartland during the bruising 2016 campaign.
Michele Bachmann, who had made an impressive run for the White House with major tea party support in 2012, didn't hesitate to assure her supporters that Donald Trump was the best man for the Republican nomination in 2016. In a taped interview with CBN News commentator David Brody, she referred to the Old Testament Book of Daniel, saying, "The bottom line of the Book of Daniel is this: it teaches us that the most high God lifts up who He will and takes down who He will."
Bachmann had not been a Trump supporter from the first but eventually decided he was the only electable candidate. "I actually supported Ted Cruz," she said. "I thought he was fabulous, but I also see that at the end of the day God raised up, I believe, Donald Trump, who was going to be the nominee in this election. I don't think God sits things out. He's a sovereign God. … I think it's very likely that in the day that we live in that Donald Trump is the only individual who could win in a general election of the 17 who ran."
This a perspective I have encountered more than once as I've observed and participated in the vetting and exploratory process of the election. There are ministry leaders and prophetic voices who are convinced God brought Donald Trump, who had said for many years that he was not at all interested in running for public office, to this place for this time. It may well be, as Bachmann and certain prophetic voices have suggested, that Trump was sent by God as a bull in a china shop to break up the globalist agenda and interrupt the left's campaign to remake America in their own image. A man with a milder, gentler, less aggressive personality could never hope to take on the forces within the political establishment and prosper, which explains why Donald J. Trump was the perfect choice for this hour.
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If you consider the level of shock in all quarters once it became clear that Trump had actually won, you would have to believe that some kind of backlash was to be expected. Democrats were stunned, and many Republicans were in disbelief as well. Even Trump's most ardent supporters could hardly believe what happened. Panic and anger ensued on one side and euphoria on the other, but the impossible had actually happened. The Never-Trumpers and self-righteous conservatives and libertarians were utterly confounded, but the reaction from hard-left groups funded by George Soros and other counterculture organizations escalated the anger and violent protests to unprecedented levels.
The left reacted furiously because their long-term agenda was being derailed. The Obama administration had been organized and commissioned as a catalytic operation – set into motion, no doubt, decades earlier. Saul Alinsky, a mentor of both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, taught that the historic framework of democracy in America must be destroyed. This was also the goal of the "new world order." The powers that elevated Obama to prominence and supported his rise to the presidency in 2008 had given him a mandate. His administration was to be the key to unlock the gates of the antiquated American democracy, to bring America at long last into the "community of nations," and to clear the way for the global government President George H. W. Bush had promised 17 years earlier in his 1991 State of the Union address before Congress.
Bush had called it "a new world order, where diverse nations are drawn together in common cause to achieve the universal aspirations of mankind." Once Obama opened the door, the Clinton campaign would be poised to take it from there, to capitalize on that promise and complete the transformation. But something unexpected happened on the way to global government: a grass-roots rebellion and an act of God of magnificent proportions. A comparison of the platforms of the two political parties reveals the depth of division between them. But what those documents do not show is the depth of resentment of the men and women in the flyover zones who felt their country was being ripped from their fingers and their moral heritage was being squandered.
Neither party and few mainstream pundits had recognized the tension building up in Middle America. Consequently, Trump's victory led to a wave of outrage from the left followed by a massive campaign of resistance and retaliation. Even before the inauguration the liberal media were in full Terminator mode. There were vitriolic attacks on the president-elect like nothing we had ever seen. I will take a closer look at this development in a later chapter, but it would be foolish indeed to ignore the unprecedented hostility that began rising all around us.
With so much negative press and attacks from members of both parties, how did Trump win? A comment from a longtime friend of Trump's at the election night party at the New York Hilton may provide the answer. As we waited the long hours and watched the election returns on the TV screens set up around the ballroom, a wealthy businessman standing close to me said (a couple of hours before the election was called for Trump), "If the results show that Trump wins, that proves there is a God." Reason: "If Donald Trump wins, it will be a miracle!" And that's what Christians had been praying for.