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Dana Milbank: Trump’s cult of barbarism

“It’s becoming a cultish thing, isn’t it?” Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., mused this last week about his Republican Party under President Trump.

As if to prove Corker’s point, the Trump administration the very next day claimed that it had the divine right to rip children from their parents’ arms at the border.

Officials justified the unique form of barbarism — taking infants from parents and warehousing children in tent cities and an abandoned Walmart — by saying they are doing God’s will.

“I would cite you to the Apostle Paul and his clear and wise command in Romans 13, to obey the laws of the government because God has ordained them for the purpose of order,” Attorney General Jeff Sessions said Thursday. “I am not going to apologize for carrying out our laws.”

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, asked about Sessions’ remarks, said: “It is very biblical to enforce the law.”

This isn’t religion. It’s perversion. It is not the creed of a democratic government or political party but of an authoritarian cult.

The attorney general’s tortured reading of Romans is exactly the strained interpretation that others have used before to justify slavery, segregation, apartheid and Nazism. The same interpretation could be used to justify Joseph Stalin, or Kim Jong Un.

Romans 13 does indeed say to “submit to the authorities,” because they “are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer.” But this is in the context of what comes before it (“share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality”) and after (“owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law”) — and, indeed, admonitions to care for the poor and the oppressed that come from Isaiah, Leviticus, Matthew and many more.

Evangelical leaders who looked the other way when Stormy Daniels and the Access Hollywood tape surfaced this time have denounced Trump’s month-old “zero-tolerance” policy that, as the National Association of Evangelicals, the Southern Baptist Convention and others wrote to Trump this month, has the “effect of removing even small children from their parents.”

“God has established the family as the fundamental building block of society,” they wrote. The leaders urged Trump to end zero tolerance and use “discretion” as previous administrations did.

But a cult, by definition, is not about mainstream theology. I looked up characteristics of cults in the sociological literature to see how Trump’s stacks up.

  • “Presents a distinct alternative to dominant patterns within the society in fundamental areas of religious life.” Grab ’em by the p---y!
  • “Possessing strong authoritarian and charismatic leadership.” I alone can fix it!
  • “Oriented toward ‘inducing powerful subjective experiences.’ ” Alternative facts. Fake news!
  • “Requiring a high degree of conformity.” See: Flake, Jeff and Sanford, Mark.
  • A tendency “to see itself as legitimated by a long tradition of wisdom or practice.” It is very biblical to enforce the law.

Check, check, check, check and check.

And members of the Cult of Trump, formerly known as the GOP, follow him over the cliff and onto the spaceship. They swallowed their heretofore pro-life, pro-family and pro-faith views to embrace Trump’s travel ban on several Muslim-majority countries (“Such blatant religious discrimination is repugnant,” said the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops) and applaud him tossing paper towels at Puerto Ricans as they died by the thousands because they didn’t get adequate hurricane relief.

They’ve joined his efforts to shred food, income and health programs that help the least among us while giving tax cuts to the wealthiest. They’ve accepted his abandonment of human rights abroad. They’ve joined his attempt to end family-based immigration and to threaten deportation of “dreamers,” immigrants brought here as children.

It appeared, briefly, that things might be different this time. House Republicans drafted legislation allowing children to be detained with their parents. But Trump on Friday signaled that he would veto the bill, and, as House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., said this last week, the “last thing I want to do is bring a bill out of here that I know the president won’t support.”

This is the way of the cult.

Will the vivid cruelty of taking babies from parents, coupled with the obscene use of Scripture to justify it, finally lead some Trump supporters to abandon the compound? God knows.

But the rest of us don’t need to drink the Kool-Aid. Give to groups such as the Florence Project, which provides legal aid and social services to immigrant families in Arizona, and Catholic Charities USA, which provides crucial help to immigrant families in the Rio Grande Valley.

You don’t have to be a theologian to see the difference between people who do God’s work on earth and those who pervert God’s word to justify inhumanity.

Follow Dana Milbank on Twitter, @Milbank.

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