Politics / March 28, 2024

Trump’s New Line of Work: Bible Salesman

In a quick cash-grab to foot the bill for his legal troubles, the former president has teamed up with country singer Lee Greenwood to peddle branded scripture.

Chris Lehmann

With Holy Week underway and Easter Sunday approaching, the true believers of MAGA Nation have turned their eyes to a persecuted martyr in need of deliverance—not the man preaching the Gospel from Nazareth, but the one cheating at golf in Mar-a-Lago. Earlier this week, Donald Trump quoted a fan letter from a Truth Social groupie who drew an unlikely parallel between the presumptive GOP nominee’s desperate effort to gin up cash to meet a bond in his New York fraud trial and the Passion of the Christ. “It’s ironic that Christ walked through His greatest persecution the very week they are trying to steal your property from you,” the message read—according to Trump’s post, anyway. The Trumpian exegete went on to quote some pointed election-rhyming rhetoric from Psalm 109:

They have rewarded me evil for good
And hatred for my love
Set a wicked man over him
And let an accuser stand at his right hand.
When he is judged, let him be found guilty
And let his prayer become sin.
Let his days be few
And let another take his office.

That exchange, it turned out, was a preview of the big marketing event in Trump world this week: a video announcement the following day for a “God Bless the USA Bible,” cosponsored by the jingoist country music balladeer Lee Greenwood. Trump touted the leather-bound, large-print King James translation as a must-have spiritual accessory: “You have to have it for your heart and your soul,” he announced in the cursory-to-indifferent patois that’s lately served as the hallmark of the MAGA aesthetic. “Religion and Christianity are the biggest things missing from the country,” he goes on to say, as though he were sizing up prospective renovations at Mar-a-Lago. “And I truly believe we have to bring them back fast. It’s one of the biggest problems we have. That’s why our country is going haywire.”

Of course, the sentiments of the New Testament alone wouldn’t suffice for this turnaround effort; the God Bless the USA Bible also includes the texts of the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, the Declaration of Independence, and the Pledge of Allegiance. (Trump and his pious handlers evidently have yet to learn that the latter document was composed by a soft-on-immigration socialist.) There’s also another sacred text for the MAGA cult: a handwritten verse of Greenwood’s Team America–style anthem that modestly lends the name to this mash-up of civic-religious Christian nationalist fantasy. The whole slapdash package sells for $59.99, making the Bible the latest addition in the pantheon of Trump-branded swag, alongside the recently launched, similarly overpriced MAGA sneakers and cologne

The impetus behind this recent marketing offensive is, of course, the formidable battery of fines and legal expenses overrunning Trump and the GOP just as the general election campaign looms into view. In addition to the New York bond obligation, downscaled this week from $454 million to $175 million, Trump has forked over $92 million for his repeated defamation of E. Jean Carroll, whom a New York court determined this Bible-hawking pseudo-savior had sexually assaulted in the 1990s. Diverting proceeds from the God Bless the USA Bible—which is overseen by a Trump licensing operation called CIC Ventures—into that particular charitable cause is a gothic twist that Flannery O’Connor could never have imagined.

Yet such ironies stir no cognitive dissonance in a MAGA following that prefers to cast Trump in the role of a suffering servant, or a secular redeemer in the mold of the ancient Egyptian King Cyrus. Trump’s 2024 campaign has leaned all the way into this idolatrous strain of political prophesying on the evangelical right, from its courtship of the Q-Anon cult to the Reawaken America national revival tour featuring Michael Flynn, Roger Stone, Donald Trump Jr., and a rotating cast of fascist extremists. These currents of Christian nationalist hero worship recently converged in a MAGA video that also debuted on Truth Social called “God Made Trump,” which has since gone into heavy rotation at Trump rallies. One snippet from the video has a homespun-sounding narrator declaring that “God said, ‘I need someone who is strong and courageous’” over a montage of newspaper headlines underlining Trump’s militant support for gun rights; God is then held to call for a strongman “who will not be afraid or terrified of the wolves when they attack” as a photo of a wolf briefly morphs into Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

That same far-from-subtle subtext of divinely sanctioned political violence comes into immediate play when Trump’s Truth Social followers toggle over to the homepage for the God Bless the USA Bible. There, a promotional video kicks off with an ad for a “light saber flashlight…designed specially for American Special Forces.” (A similar “flashlight bat” marketed through the site also converts into a knife, and is touted for its utility in “dangerous neighborhoods.”) There are also ads for prepper-grade caches of freeze-dried food to meet coming power outages and supply-chain breakdowns. These high-paranoid product pitches are, like the MAGA movement itself, a distressing sign of how evangelical piety is breaking down everywhere into violent and eliminationist end-times fantasy—sentiments that Trump is tailor-made to cash in on.

“All Americans need a Bible in their home, and I have many,” Trump announces in the video. “It’s my favorite book.” The testimony of Trump’s late ex-wife suggests otherwise; she reported that he kept a copy of Mein Kampf by his bedside, and also owned a deep-cut collection of Hitler speeches, My New Order. Ivana’s successor, Marla Maples, reportedly witnessed the same Führer-adulation close up. When Trump took up the eliminationist refrain that immigrants were “poisoning the blood” of the nation during early primary rallies, and commentators noted its roots in Hitler’s rhetoric, Trump denied ever reading Mein Kampf. But his broader political achievement resides in creating a movement where such claims and counter-denials no longer matter; the prime texts of MAGA believers and Third Reich dead-enders are becoming one and the same. 

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Chris Lehmann

Chris Lehmann is the D.C. Bureau chief for The Nation and a contributing editor at The Baffler. He was formerly editor of The Baffler and The New Republic, and is the author, most recently, of The Money Cult: Capitalism, Christianity, and the Unmaking of the American Dream (Melville House, 2016).

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