Trump's Tower of Babel (Part 1): Roosevelt's Roost

Wallace Henley is an exclusive CP columnist. | (By CP Cartoonist Rod Anderson)

To whom shall we liken Donald Trump?

Now that we have seen The Donald in a debate environment where the Great Singularity has had to match his immense gravitational exertion with the forces of other personalities, how do we perceive him?

The Himself? If we refer to Hillary as the "Herself," fairness mandates we call the other mighty personage vying for the presidential nomination as the "Himself."

Ronald Reagan? Rudy Giuliani thinks so.

Vladimir Ilyich Lenin? Ben Stein offers that possibility.

Donald Duck? Various pundits have so characterized Trump.

Teenage bully? That's John Fund's proposed description.

For me, Nimrod comes to mind. So does Teddy Roosevelt.

The Bible presents Nimrod as "the first heroic warrior on earth ... the greatest hunter in the world" ... or "Nimrod... a mighty conqueror on whom the Lord kept a close eye" (Genesis 10:8-9). (Translation of the Hebrew text suggested by Vernard Eller, War and Peace: From Genesis to Revelation, 35.)

"The beginning of Nimrod's kingdom was Babel," the land of the Tower, the ground upon which was built Babylon, the prophetic symbol of the world-system organized without and in defiance of God. It is also the kingdom where people do not often feel the need for forgiveness.

On the Plain of Shinar in the Land of Babylon, humanity, fresh from the Fall and the Flood impose their own will on God's. Rather than obeying His command to scatter and bless they will do something to halt their spread. They construct a tower to be at the core of human existence, rather than God.

The Babel-builders make their own stone, and whip up their own mortar. The tower is human-made and artificial, a poor substitute for the "mountain of God" where He is highly exalted.

The tower is actually a perch where lofty humans love to roost.

Trump's tower has three tiers, which we will examine in this series. The first is populist progressivism, the second judgment-impairing presumption, and finally solipsist selfism.

Trump's penchant for tower-raising prompts the Nimrod comparison, and his populist progressivism brings to mind Teddy Roosevelt, America's 26th president.

Stylistically, the two men were cut from the same mold: Aggressive, boldly-spoken, visionary, and wrapped in bravado. Philosophically, too, they shared traits, except that Roosevelt was a populist who went after big corporations while Trump is a corporate builder with a populist streak.

There were two types of progressivism on the American political landscape in the early 20th century, as there are now — the populist progressivism of Teddy Roosevelt, and the doctrinaire progressivism of Socialist presidential candidate Eugene Debs. The populist style might not shun a conservative label, while the doctrinaire variety would be anything but. Woodrow Wilson was around, trying a mix of the two, as are some of Trump's competitors for the Republican nomination.

Debs would win more popular votes for a Socialist in a presidential race than ever before. Debs' present-day ideological descendant, Senator Bernie Sanders, is surprising everyone with the strength of his campaign. Nevertheless, as Roosevelt was the looming figure in 1912 so Trump dominates today.

Trump declares he has "bought" politicians on both sides to help him advance his projects, showing that populist progressivism is pragmatic enough to traffic with the other side if necessary. Think Huey Long. Think George Wallace. Think Ross Perot. Think Donald Trump. It should be no surprise Trump leaves the third party run an option. He may, in fact, be as serious as Teddy Roosevelt was in 1912.

The crucial question now facing the American electorate is this: Do we want a progressivist of any type as President of the United States?

Trump as Nimrod is a casting director's dream. Trump as Teddy Roosevelt comes clearer when you stand them side-by-side. The nationalistic fervor in 2015 would be recognized widely in 1912. Roosevelt introduced a "New Nationalism," and Trump's aim is to make America "great again."

"I feel Roosevelt's strength is altogether incalculable," said Woodrow Wilson in 1912. In the August 6, 2015 presidential debate, one could sense the others trying to measure Trump's muscle.

Too bad Carly Fiorina was not in that main event. She has Trump's number.

The 2015 presidential race has been described as a "circus." If that's the case, it's a paltry one-ringer compared to the big show of 1912. In 2015 the primaries are packed, but in 1912 there were four notable candidates in the general election — Republican nominee William Howard Taft, Democrat Woodrow Wilson, Progressive ("Bull Moose") Party candidate Theodore Roosevelt, and the Socialist's nominee Eugene Debs.

Roosevelt's and Wilson's platforms were twins at crucial points. While Wilson was advocating "living political constitutions" as "Darwinian in structure and in practice," Roosevelt was proclaiming that government must be used "as an efficient agency for the practical betterment of social and economic conditions." Further, "the administrative officer should be given full power" to do "the people's work."

This was breath-taking statism from both Roosevelt and Wilson, and a shocking naiveté in the light of our experience since 1912. In the end, Roosevelt's and Wilson's combined votes clobbered the conservative candidate, Taft, and put Wilson in office.

Their perhaps unwitting collusion shows that ultimately progressives of both types meet at the tower. Populist progressives talk about God as an add-on. Doctrinaire progressives — especially in our secular age — speak more of God as relic. All progressives inevitably convene at the tower in their reluctance to concede human fallibility and humanity's capacity to build utopia. The utopian world of one is capitalist and the other is socialist, but in the end they rally at the tower.

Thus Trump's tower is Roosevelt's roost. With Trump in the race the winner will possibly be today's counterparts of either Roosevelt or Wilson.

Either way, as in 1912, that would mean victory for progressivism and a defeat for constitutional government.

Wallace Henley, a former Birmingham News staff writer, was an aide in the Nixon White House, and congressional chief of staff. He is a teaching pastor at Second Baptist Church, Houston, Texas. He is a regular contributor to The Christian Post.

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