Much furor has surrounded the inauguration of Donald J. Trump as the 45th President of the United States, with Trump’s lack of willing performers becoming a news segment in itself.
The president-elect has so far only been able to sign up one performer, a reality TV-show star named Jackie Evancho. Despite Evancho’s having performed for Barack Obama in recent years, Trump has desperately cast her as part of his “movement,” highlighting her “skyrocketing sales,” when in reality Evancho’s latest album dropped 41 places since her inauguration gig was announcement.
Other major artists like Elton John, The Beach Boys, Justin Timberlake, Bruno Mars, and Katy Perry (among many others) have refused to play at the Inauguration, leaving Trump furious with his inauguration committee for failing to attract top talent. Other artists like Rebecca Ferguson have held more poignant protests, where the British singer stated she would be willing to perform under the condition that she sing “Strange Fruit,” a song about lynching and prejudice against African Americans, in order to give voice “to all the disregarded and downtrodden people in the United States.”
Where Trump has faced disappointment in the entertainment industry, he has more than made up for it in the evangelical community. He’s thus far selected two prosperity preachers, a topic I’ve touched upon previously. “Prosperity gospel” preachers believe in seed-based donations, where individuals are told that once they donate to the church, subsequent donations over the course of many years will lead to an abundance of riches provided by God. This fraudulent venture, though somehow legal, often preys on the weakest and most vulnerable members of society, selling them false promises while taking what little money they have.
Sound familiar? When Trump paid a settlement of $25 million to the victims of the Trump University scam (despite his errant claims that he “never settles”), he admitted some form of guilt, while simultaneously continuing his tradition of never apologizing. Matthew 6:24 states that one cannot “serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.” However the record shows that both prosperity preachers and Trump have revolved their entire livelihoods around money, with Trump consistently boasting of his wealth and prosperity, a message that is ominously missing from the preaching of Jesus. Trump has continued to feign his religiosity amid his sparse history of churchgoing, and his appeals to the evangelical vote were overt and calculated. His pandering to the religious right has been a vacuous attempt to relate to an America that he has never experienced with a religion he has scarcely touched.
Of the ministers in question, Paula White, the prosperity preacher from Florida, has a history of extra-marital affairs, money-laundering and philanthropic issues that led to her investigation by the Senate where she failed to cooperate. Multiple bankruptcies and lavish homes (including an apartment in Trump tower) reflect a similar lifestyle to the president-elect. White has long been a Trump surrogate, organizing faith summits at the genesis of his presidential campaign and publicly supporting him. Likewise, Trump has described White as “not only a beautiful person, both inside and out, she has a significant message to offer anyone who will tune in and pay attention,” clearly forgetting to drop the “attention” at the end. Evangelicals have expressed concern about White’s presence on stage, with others described her as the “perfect choice to deliver a prayer on behalf a president-elect who has proudly proclaimed that he’s never felt the need to ask forgiveness from God for anything.”
I often wonder how evangelicals and working-class Americans allowed themselves to be so easily conned. Somehow evangelicals believed a philandering, money-worshipping self-deity would represent them and the word of their god on the international stage, while working-class individuals believed that a man who sits in a gold mansion at the top of a building named after himself, having given no thought to rural working class Americans for seventy years, now suddenly cares about all of them in his lust for power.
It is a positive step in the right direction that evangelicals are irked by Trump’s pick for the prayer, but having sat idly as prosperity preachers destroyed vulnerable people’s lives, it seems too-little too-late as these prosperity preachers have leapfrogged the evangelicals to the forefront of US politics. White’s statement in an interview with Trump describes their worldview perfectly. “That’s the principle I teach,” she said in regards to her work ethic. “Find your passion in life and figure out a way to make money.” Maybe Trump will implement White’s teachings in the Oval Office, with a seed-based presidency asking for a small donation of $5 to keep your family safe from nuclear annihilation.