Daily Planet, June 2018
Oliver Cromwell was an accident of history.
So is Donald Trump.
Cromwell was an obscure farmer. Trump was a personality known to every American. Different beginnings – but the same man inside.
Cromwell was a Member of Parliament when the English Civil War – Parliament against King Charles – broke out in 1642. He recruited a cavalry regiment – and he turned out to be a military genius. When Parliament reorgamized its army, Cromwell was made second in command. As luck would have it, the number-one guy resigned, and there was Cromwell at thehead of what was now a powerful, modern, well-organized army.
Trump lived in New York neon as “The Donald” long before he began haunting reality TV in 2004. Most Americans regarded him as a buffoon, but to a big chunk of his audience, he was the man we need to straighten things out. He was a very unlikely politician, but there he is, at the head of the United States government – and, not incidentally, its army.
A couple of years after the Civil War, Cromwell got tired of Parliament. One day he walked into their hall with soldiers, gave a little dismissal speech and emptied the house. He ruled England as a military dictatorship for five years, until his death from malaria. Once Cromwell got power, the dictator part came naturally.
It is often said that Trump considers himself his best strategist. He trusts his instincts over the advice of experts. He openly admires dictators in other countries. He regards national law enforcement – the Justice Department – as his personal tool. You have to wonder what might happen if he had a docile Defense Secretary.
Two men in two periods of history but the same man – dictator and wannabe dictator.
And then there’s religion. Just like Trump has his faithful evangelical Christians, Cromwell had his Puritans. And the parallel continues.
Puritans were called Puritans – in 17th-century England – because they wanted the Church of England to “purify” itself of everything Catholic and become like the Scottish Presbyterians. Their goals were really political, not religious (even though they called themselves “the godly”). They were the backbone of Cromwell’s support. They backed him, no matter what.
And Cromwell’s “what” got nasty. He sent an invasion force into Ireland on what amounted to a genocide mission. The invasion resulted in the deaths of almost half of the Irish population, from massacre, disease and starvation. Hundreds of thousands of Irish women and children, and Catholic priests, were sent to the Caribbean as slaves. And Irish lands were confiscted and resettled.
None of this affected the Puritans’ loyalty to Cromwell. He was, after all, ridding England of Catholics, and that’s what they cared about.
And now, 360 years later, American evangelicals are loyal to Trump, no matter what. And Trump’s “what” includes everything their faith says they should despise. He’s a liar, adulterer, bully. He never repents. He uses his power to further enrich himself. He maintains no loyalties – perhaps even to his country.
Cromwell’s Puritans were, first and foremost, political. But it should be noted that when they had legislative power in the short-lived Commonwealth after the Civil War, they passed religious laws, like an Adultery Act that gave death sentences for incest and adultery and three months in prisonfor fornication. They also put curbs on more extremist groups like Quakers, by issuing licenses to preach. And they relieved Puritans from an old requirement that everybody attend Church of England services.
One of the big reasons evangelicals stay with Trump is to turn our court system toward goals they favor, like banning abortions and reversing the trends toward homosexual rights, plus some oldies like school prayer and public religious displays. They stay on Trump’s stinky road to get there.
Cromwell and Trump are the same man, and their followers are a lot alike, too: political interest groups that want, fiercely want, society to be refashioned to their wishes.
Oh well, England survived Cromwell. Dare we hope?