Culture Jana Riess: Flunking Sainthood Opinion Politics

The danger and ego of Donald Trump, all in one gesture

Republican U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump asks his supporters to raise their hands and promise to vote for him at his campaign rally at the University of Central Florida in Orlando, Florida on March 5, 2016. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Kevin Kolczynski

On Saturday, Donald Trump took a straw poll of his supporters in Florida, asking those in attendance to raise their right hands and pledge to vote for him on or before the Florida primary on March 12.

And a whole lot of people are calling this action very, very stupid.

So, here’s a quiz. Is this stupid because:

a) The Florida primary is actually on March 15, not March 12?

b) It’s a safe bet that superfans who came out on a weekend to a Trump rally can probably rouse themselves to vote for Trump without him making them publicly raise their hands and swear to it?

c) Trump just failed his very own Godwin test and played right into the hands of all those folks who think he’s a reincarnation of Adolf Hitler? Or . . .

d) All of the above?

Ding ding ding! I know you guessed D, which means you are already smarter than Trump.

Republican U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump asks his supporters to raise their hands and promise to vote for him at his campaign rally at the University of Central Florida in Orlando, Florida on March 5, 2016. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Kevin Kolczynski

Republican U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump asks his supporters to raise their hands and promise to vote for him at his campaign rally at the University of Central Florida in Orlando, Florida on March 5, 2016. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Kevin Kolczynski

Now I don’t know what was in Donald Trump’s mind when he asked people to swear their allegiance. It’s entirely possible that he didn’t foresee the consequences — didn’t imagine that, when he raised his right hand to demonstrate the gesture, his supporters would up the ante by enthusiastically raising their entire right arms in the manner of a Nazi salute. (Or that some of them would do so even before he told them what they were pledging. Saints preserve us.)

Let’s give Donald Trump the benefit of the doubt and assume that he didn’t realize that this whole scenario would smack of 1933, with him playing a role that would require him to defy his well-publicized follicular challenges and grow a mustache.

That could have been the end of it, had Trump learned anything at all from the ensuing outcry and angry comments, like when the longtime chair of the Anti-Defamation League, a Holocaust survivor, slammed the salute as “a fascist gesture.

But Trump is not apologizing for it, not at all. Here is what happened on the Today show this morning:

“Honestly, until this phone call, I didn’t realize it was a problem,” the Republican front-runner said Tuesday in a live interview on TODAY.

Trump claimed the crowds simply were “having a good time” and even demanded he lead them in the pledge.

“If it’s offensive, if there’s anything wrong with it, I wouldn’t do it,” he said.

Over the weekend, Trump urged supporters at a rally in Orlando to raise their right hand and repeat a pledge to vote for him. Despite critics comparing the scene to one of Nazi rallies, Trump repeated the effort at two more rallies days later.

The most revealing part of Trump’s response is this line: “If it’s offensive, if there’s anything wrong with it, I wouldn’t do it.”

In other words, Trump’s egomania is so all-encompassing, and his horror of apologizing so far-reaching, that anything he does is automatically unimpeachable in his eyes. He knows what’s right. It doesn’t matter if Jews protest. It doesn’t matter if the current and former presidents of Mexico protest.

Their opinions aren’t important. The only opinion that matters to Donald Trump is Donald Trump’s.

Trump has throughout this campaign traded in the outrageous and flirted with the offensive. So far, his candidacy has proven to be so well-coated in Teflon that nothing he has said or done has significantly reduced his support — causing him to boast in January that he could even “shoot somebody” and not lose voters.

He’s probably right. But I sure hope America wakes up to his ongoing ego trip and proves him wrong. We need real leadership, not dangerous demagoguery.

About the author

Jana Riess

Senior columnist Jana Riess is the author of many books, including "The Prayer Wheel" (Random House/Convergent, 2018) and "The Next Mormons: How Millennials Are Changing the LDS Church" (Oxford University Press, 2019). She has a PhD in American religious history from Columbia University.


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  • As an article elsewhere today headlined, Trump is the symptom, not the disease.

    And that frightens me.

  • Trump worries me but not any more than Rubio or Cruz. The republican party has become a party of the crazy. When i read the words of Christ, i do not see modern day conservatism in there.

  • I am no fan of Trump, and pray he doesn’t get elected. But I think some of this stuff is way overblown. I mean, you could do the same thing with a picture of the sustaining of church officers in conference.

  • No worries, he’s just making sure to collect E-V-E-R-Y supremacist’s vote. There can’t be that many, and he’ll loose all the other voters, right? NOT?


    Thank you again Jana for your important voice!

  • I’m keeping my fingers crossed for Hillary. She’s the only one in the lot who seems remotely presidential in her comportment and qualified by actual experience. The rest, especially Trump, are a bunch of clowns, in my opinion.

  • Trump scares me spitless. I would have been happy to vote for some of the Republican candidates and willing to hold my nose and vote for the rest; “anyone but Clinton!” — except Trump. Never Trump.

  • There seems to be something about Trump that scares a lot of people–including me. But Trump defenders often say how competent or sharp a billionaire must be. How do we know he isn’t a Howard Hughes who eventually went insane.

  • Hard to decide what’s more disturbing — the whole Fascist phenomenon of Trump or the inability of ideologues like Mike to distinguish between Fascism and conservatism.

    Mike reminds me of people who can’t tell the difference between Stalinist Communism and liberalism.

  • Fred M, context is everything. When informed about how this appeared, Trump did it again. Moreover, this is the same Trump who flirts with Fascism in a number of areas, has expressed admiration for authoritarian regimes using brute force against dissenters, has re-tweeted Mussolini quotes, has an authoritarian personality that bullies others and can’t handle criticism, and tried to dodge criticizing the KKK and David Duke.

  • I don’t doubt Trump’s competence. I doubt his commitment to America as a free nation where rule of law, not rule of man, prevails. In both personality and character, as well as public pronouncements, I see an authoritarian who sees the Constitution as an obstacle on his road to despotism. I see a demagogue who will use his blind and gullible followers to take apart rule of law brick by brick, all in the name of “winning” and “getting things done.”

  • The one hope there is regarding Trump is his strange relationship to the idea of winning. When he is winning, he starts to believe that losing is impossible. And the more he wins, in business or politics, the more convinced he becomes that if he believes enough in himself, he is omnipotent.

    But once he loses, his bubble bursts, he falls to earth, and he starts acting like a normal human being again.

    It has everything to do with the fact that he was raised on the ideas of Norman Vincent Peale, who elevated “the power of positive thinking” to cultish status.

    Keep feeding him victories and he inflates like a balloon, becoming ever more arrogant and more megalomanic. But beat him soundly in anything and eventually he adjusts and goes on to something else.

  • One reason politics is so attractive to Trump is that in order to win, all he has to do is convince enough people that he is…..a winner. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Then once people make him a winner, the process feeds on itself, leading to more winning.

    The one problem, of course, is that strong-willed people resist this calculus….and in a democracy, there are plenty of self-governing, strong-willed people scattered among the population.

    Also, among religious people, it cuts both ways. Those who are authoritarian-minded are easy dupes for him. But those whose true locus of authority is God and not man, he’s in big trouble.

  • POLITICO ran an article that said this had more to do with identifying Anti-Trump protesters than pledging to vote for “The Donald”. According to the article Trump has a number of undercover private security operatives roaming the crowd looking for troublemakers who don’t participate in the “arm raising” loyalty pledge which apparently gives away their identity and then they are removed before they can disrupt the event.

  • Cruz and Rubio have curried the endorsements of people who want all gays and atheists imprisoned or executed and claim that Biblical law is more important than democracy. Just different brands of crazies being courted.
    The only difference being there is a slight chance that Trump is just play-acting. That all this bluster is merely a means to an end. Cruz and Rubio are true believers in the whole Dominionist junk.

  • I defend him for a completely different reason. There is no way on Earth I will vote for him. But I understand his background enough to see that he is a showman. A con man at heart who became successful by parting other people from their money and running away when things go south. That he has years of experience in scripted faked “reality television”. He knows how the media works to tell a story. Politics and acting have converged before in strange ways.

    Btw Howard Hughes at least produced things of value to society and had some measure of skill as both an engineer and a pilot. Trump’s skill is entirely flim flam.

  • I see where Mitt is going after Trump and he wants in the race so he can “save the constitution by a thread”. Hillary is the best candidate this year.

  • I don’t know that this was the intention but this is why I found Trump’s action chilling. There is a reason we have a secret ballot — nobody has to fear consequences from their neighbors or their employers for their vote. IT IS SUPPOSED TO BE PRIVATE. What if you were there simply to hear Trump and make up your mind? Would you dare to keep your hand down with everyone raising their arms around you?

  • The point of politics is to show us that any substitute for the lords plan brings missery and suffering after the euphoria of making our own choice fades away. American politics is reaching the point where we are presented with all bad choices and we are regretting the demise before it happens. What an awful situation we find ourselves in. Zion or bust.

  • Jack. Trump’s power is seen by the way he captivates your thoughts and actions each day. He may not get elected president of the U.S. but he’s definitely already set up shop inside your head. Hilarious. He’s got you blowing more unsubtantiated diatribe than all the pundits on TV.

    He’s definitely rocking YOUR world.

  • “Would you dare to keep your hand down with everyone raising their arms around you?”

    You mean like in General Conference?

  • One who deals in paranoia will certainly attract the paranoid and manipulate them to his ends.

    I believe all this “righteous anger” is totally misplaced. Without knowing it, these products of the union-run public school system in America, are really angry at the Constitution. Our Founding Fathers gave us a forward-thinking system with boundaries of checks and balances to prevent us ever having a dictator-king, ruling us by his iron will. We all vote to select a president, who is held in check by Congress and the Supreme Court. The Trump crowd is unwittingly shouting, “Away with all that–give us our KING!

    Obama often chafes at those boundaries and tries to act like a king. The disaffected are too unthinking to realize that their side lacks a big enough Senate majority to override Obama’s vetos. Constantly sending up narrowly-passed bills to be vetoed, is an exercise in insanity! Misplaced anger indeed! Trump’s minions are acutally the ones willing to trash the Constitution.

  • I agree with just about everything Jana says here and I think Trump should be stooped. However, comparing Trump to Hitler just because a bunch of people raised their hand at a rally is silly. You can find the same image of President Obama:

  • “Trump’s skill is entirely flim flam.” I agree with yoh.

    I like both Hillary and Bernie. Bernie’s weakness as a president is foreign policy. We need to have a pro like Hillary dealing with the Middle East, Africa and the E.U.

  • On the contrary, Scott, Trump’s power is seen through followers like you who are unable to articulate why they’re for him despite his character and personality flaws and boorish conduct, and despite the fact that there were 16 other alternatives within his own party from which to choose.

    It is also seen through the continued inability of his followers to process anything that reflects poorly on him.

    Trump said that even if he shot someone on Fifth Avenue in New York in broad daylight, people like you would still support him. Those aren’t my words, Scott. They’re Trump’s. He means you. He’s saying you and your fellow supporters are mindless cult members devoted to the cult leader no matter what he does. Again, that’s what Trump himself was saying. There’s no way around it.

  • Sabelotodo2, that was a magnificent post. You summed it up perfectly, better than all the articles written in the media against Trump.

  • Any literal comparison to Hitler is problematic, but certainly there are elements of fascism present in the persona and phenomenon of Trump.

    Of course, most of Trump’s ignorant followers probably don’t know what fascism is and some have probably never heard of the word.

  • Ultimately, ron, you’re correct, but some political systems are better than others.

    Ours came from the minds of political and philosophically serious people who wanted at the Constitutional Convention (1) a stronger central government to “get things done” while (2) guarding against tyranny through separation of powers and other intentional roadblocks placed there to preserve rule of law and the attendant freedoms Americans took for granted as a free people.

    Of course, trying to explain that to Trump supporters is like trying to teach differential calculus to an ant colony.

  • The simplest reason to oppose Trump is the one that flies right over the heads of Trump supporters:

    He takes special delight in humiliating, degrading, and bullying people who dare to stand up to him for any reason whatsoever, while endlessly praising and boasting about himself.

    That’s a long way of saying he is a rotten human being, with a bundle of traits that every good parent in history has tried to discourage in their children.

  • Since I was much taller than most kids growing up, I would find myself defending the weaker ones against bullies. The height advantage made it fairly easy.

    I wonder how many Trump supporters were themselves bullied in school and I wonder how they could support Trump given that fact. Very odd once you think about it.

  • Jana Riess?? Who is that? Nothing but a loser! I know all about Nazis! Some of my best friends are Nazis!! What does Riess know, she was probably home schooled. Now she’s nothing but a failed journalist running a “blog” somewhere out in the sticks! I checked out her so-called “blog” and she has a picture of herself on there. Really? I mean, with a face like that, who can take her opinions seriously? I mean, that’s a face that would stop a clock, am I right? And she’s a failed Mormon too! She probably wears a bonnet and makes wooden furniture for a living, while I’m out here running corporations and making millions. Besides, Mitt Romney is a Mormon and look how *that* turned out! They are both nothing but losers!!

  • Obama tries to act like a king?

    Absolute, utter nonsense. What he does is try to govern with a party in charge of our congress that has vowed to block him at every turn.

    But which does nothing on its own of any value.

  • What’s sad is that the left and right oppose or support Trump irrespective of his character.

    The left opposes him because his rhetoric is anti-left. The right supports him for the same reason.

    But neither the left nor the right seems to care about his lousy character. It is an afterthought to most posters on either side.

    And that’s unfortunate, because on character alone, he appears to be as bad as any figure who has ever sought the presidency in modern times.

  • Very good imitation of “the Donald.” You have him exactly right.

    Given that, how can anyone who cares a whit about character support someone like him for president?

    I guess it shows either bad character, poor judgment, or both on the part of his supporters.

  • The other point is that here in America, people swear fealty not to other people, but to the Constitution. It demonstrates that we believe in rule of law, not rule of man, and that everybody is under the law and no one above it.

    It is in authoritarian or totalitarian regimes that people swear oaths to leaders. School children swore daily oaths to Der Fuhrer in Germany and Il Duce in Italy, and have sworn such oaths to Dear Leader in North Korea.

    This is the cult of personality, tied to a adored demagogue who is conning the masses into surrendering their rights under the law and laying them at his feet. In a society that worships celebrity, it is fitting that a celebrity reality show personality makes an easy transition to authoritarian politics whose aim is despotism.

  • No, Ben, it is not utter nonsense. While Obama seems to have a more normal and appealing personality than Trump’s, people in his own party, as well as a series of 9-0 Supreme Court rulings, have rebuked Obama for doing precisely that. He has pushed the envelope quite energetically in that direction, a thing that has worried constitutional scholars, most of whom are generally sympathetic to the causes Obama has promoted.

  • The idea that the current batch of contenders for the GOP nomination are sane or worthy of a vote is dreaming. There are no conservative answers to Trump because he is the Republican id given form.

    Your need to make stuff up and misrepresent my position shows how little substance is there among conservatives Your denial of Cruz and Rubio’s extremism is hollow. Their backers have all made the kind of inflammatory bigoted remarks I have mentioned.

    Trump is not worth voting for, but nobody in the GOP right now is.

  • I think if people have “just started” to be afraid of whomever becomes president then i hate to be the one to break it too them that the farm was sold a long time ago, and now when a presidential candidate comes along that is just crazy enough to use all those presidential powers the “wrong way” they start to panic. Time to eat humble pie and pay for the sins of our votes.

  • Who told you I was FOR Trump, Jack? I don’t think he’s being treated fairly in a lot of ways but that’s the self-righteousness of your particular ilk bleeding through.

    I’m from Texas….tend to support Ted Cruz but do enjoy watching Trump make idiots of folks who are too heavenly-minded to be any earthly good. 🙂

  • Jack: Who told you I support Trump. I’m from Texas and tend to support Ted Cruz. But I do love the way Trump has taken the pseudo-wind from the sails of the self-righteous. Refreshing.

  • Your main talent seems to be spouting tired rhetoric. That, and repeating yourself ad nauseum.

    Other than that, you haven’t accomplished anything yourself. No education. No career. Big hat, no cattle.

    If you had a job, you’d be FIRED!!