Conservative Christians have been a core constituency for President Donald Trump, and one of the more visible Christians supporting the president is bestselling author and radio host Eric Metaxas. Our Editor-in-Chief Kate Trinko recently got to sit down with Metaxas to discuss why he supports the president, as well as his latest book. Today, we’ll share that exclusive interview.
We also cover the following stories:
- Vice President Mike Pence announces a ceasefire deal with Turkey
- Rep. Elijah Cummings dies at age 68
- Prime Minister Boris Johnson seeks to win backing for a Brexit deal
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Kate Trinko: Joining us from the Values Voter Summit is Eric Metaxas, the host of “The Eric Metaxas Show,” and the author of many books. Thanks for joining us today.
Eric Metaxas: It’s my joy to be here. Thanks for having me.
Trinko: I know you get this question a lot, but there’s been a lot of Christian support for President Donald Trump and you’ve been very open about how you’re a supporter of the president. What do you like about him?
Metaxas: I like almost everything about him. He’s, I would say, a very refreshing figure in American politics. And of course, that’s what makes him a disruptor.
I guess his ability to see things slightly differently is what’s most refreshing, his ability to look at an issue and say, “Why don’t we do this?” And everybody says, “Well, you can’t do that.” And he says, “Well, why not?” He has that side to him, and I think it served him very well in a number of ways.
For me, basic conservative values, you know, low regulation, low taxes, the life issue, the unborn, freedom generally, those are things that I think are very quickly being pushed away because we have a culture [where] we’ve been so blessed with these things that we don’t really know what they are.
And I think under the last administration, under eight years of Obama, I think a lot of people realized, “Holy cow, we’re drifting very far from the Constitution and from basic American values.” [And it’s] simply because—you know, it’s like the fish who’s in water. He’s unaware of the water.
I think that’s part of the reason a lot of Christians turned to Trump, because they saw that somehow he gets this. This is not somebody we might have picked first and there still may be many issues that we would quibble with, but honestly, getting that is so big.
I think that his willingness to say things that you shouldn’t say, to be politically incorrect, it’s just so refreshing because we’ve been drifting in a certain direction. I think Americans are usually very polite and they put up with this kind of thing just because they don’t want conflict, but it eventually gets to a point where you say, “Holy cow, I have to call Bruce Jenner ‘Caitlyn Jenner’ now? And I have to pretend that I don’t even think that it’s a man that I watched growing up as a great athlete?” And that kind of thing, I think, has made some people uncomfortable.
Especially when you get to the issue of religious Liberty, that’s actually the core. If you really want to know why a lot of Christians have supported him, [it’s] because to lose religious Liberty in America is not simply to lose rights. It’s not about Christians are going to lose Christian rights. That’s nonsense. It’s about losing something so foundational, so central to the republic that you will eventually lose everything. It’s like pulling a thread and it’s going to unravel the whole thing.
I really think that Christians have been the canary in this coal mine. They’ve seen that there’s effectively the attempt to impose, to establish a religion. It’s a secular humanist religion, but whenever you’re talking about ultimate issues, you’re talking about things like personhood, you’re talking about sexuality, you’re talking about marriage, these are foundational things that get right to the core of people and cultures.
When the government suddenly feels that it has the right to impose certain views, it is departing from the Constitution very radically. We’ve seen that in the last 20 or so years.
I think that part of the turn to Trump is, or the biggest part of it is, a reaction to that in a sense that we’re losing something which we will lose forever. It’s not the sort of thing that we can get back. It’s not like the stock market’s going to go bounce up and down. When you lose that effectively, it might be 100 years before you climb back out of that ditch.
Trinko: What I thought was really interesting about your answer was you brought up, of course, Trump’s policies, which most conservative Christians would agree are good, but you also seem to really like his personality.
Is there a time that you think in his presidency that his character or his way of approaching things came through in a very … crystallizing way, a way that helped a lot?
Metaxas: Yeah. Well, I think for me it’s a little weird. I grew up in Queens, New York, so I’m a new Yorker, I’m a Queens New Yorker. I was raised in a working-class environment. I grew up with people kind of rough around the edges like Donald Trump, so I really feel like I speak that language in a way that a lot of people don’t.
People in the Beltway, people in certain social circles in Manhattan where I have traveled in certain educational environments—I graduated from Yale—do not speak that language.
And it’s horrifying to most of them to try to make sense of what he says, because it’s like you’re listening to somebody who talks like a comedian, who talks completely differently in cartoon phrases and things, and then you try to parse it as though it was spoken by an aide to Eisenhower. You really can’t do that. You have to be able to hear him correctly.
But I’ll tell you, I used to really despise this president. I was horrified by him culturally. I just thought that this is a man who is contributing to the vulgarization of the culture. And to some extent, I think that that was true. But when he was in the primaries, I began to listen to him on the stump.
A friend of mine kind of rebuked me and said, “Hey, you need to give him a listen. I think you’re missing something. He’s like a folk hero.” And I began to listen, and I was shocked to hear him making sense on a level that was so simple that I thought, “Nobody talks like that. Nobody talks to the common man.” People are always, you know, virtue-signaling to their super intelligent, educated friends that are going to blog about it tomorrow or something like that. I thought, “That’s really refreshing.”
But then I actually wrote a humor piece for The New Yorker Magazine. Donald Trump was being asked about the Bible, and he gave some answers that were … it was kind of like the seventh-grader who’s trying to fool the teacher, and like somebody on CNN said, “So, if you had to go with the Old or New Testament, which one do you prefer?” Which is really [a] completely idiotic question. And Trump looks at this person seriously and says, “I’d have to say, you know, I think about even.”
I thought that’s like the perfect smoke-blowing … and I laughed and I thought to myself, “This is so funny because people are actually expecting this guy from Queens who grew up in the rough and tumble world of New York real estate to be conversant in the Bible.” … The whole thing was funny.
So I wrote a piece for The New Yorker called “More Trump Bible Verses,” and it was basically tweets in his voice of … his misunderstood version of Bible verses. And while I was doing that, because I’ve written a lot of comedy, … you find a voice. It’s almost like someone writing for a comedian, like you find their voice and their rhythms.
So in writing, you know, I’m kind of a mimic, so here I found myself kind of mimicking his rhythms and his voice and writing these Bible verses, which were Trump Bible verses, you know, silly stuff. I don’t even know if I can remember any of them, but something like, there’s a Proverbs Scripture, “A good wife, who can find? I found three.” It’s stuff like that, or where Jesus talks about, “A man will leave his mother and father and cleave to his wife, for a season.” You know, like just kind of dumb jokes.
But the reason I’m saying this is because in the course of writing this article for The New Yorker Magazine, making fun of Trump, I found myself having a kind of affection for him, almost like because he’s a New York figure like Jackie Mason or Ed Koch or did just this kind of New York shtick. I kind of turned a corner where I allowed myself to like him.
It doesn’t mean I approve of everything. I didn’t suddenly decide, “I think adultery is OK,” but I think when you vote for a president you’re often voting in spite of things.
People who voted for JFK didn’t know that he would routinely be bringing prostitutes into the White House.
Presidents, if they could be like Mike Pence, that would be a wonderful thing, but sometimes they are very rough on the edges and I think you have to make a mature decision. You cannot be petulant and insist that you’re going to get a candidate who gives you everything you want.
I would say this, in case it’s difficult, all you have to do is really fathom what a Hillary Clinton presidency would have looked like and would’ve meant for America. I think at that point, it’s like sticking your head in a basin of ice water. You wake up and you say, “Look, I have no choice. I’m going to bet on this candidate. And if things go bad with him, it certainly couldn’t go worse than it would with Hillary Clinton.”
I really think that that was a fact, and I think there was serious danger to liberty in America on a whole number of levels. So I allowed myself to have an affection for him, which I still do.
Trinko: … You are probably the first and only person who has become more fond of Trump when writing a New Yorker article.
Metaxas: Isn’t that bizarre?
Trinko: That’s amazing.
Metaxas: Isn’t that crazy?
Trinko: They’re probably very sorry they commissioned it.
Metaxas: Yeah, me too.
Trinko: OK. So I want to talk about your book. We’ve got a copy out here in front of us, “Donald Builds the Wall,” and one of the things that I love about the cover is you have Trump, you call him “Donald the Caveman,” and he’s portrayed as such. So tell me about this book and how you got this Donald the Cavemen character who’s also in another book of yours, I understand.
Metaxas: Yeah. I have to be clear. Well, first of all, and I’m large, I contain multitudes, and I’ve written a lot of comedy, I’ve written 30 children’s books. I am known mainly for these large biographies that I’ve written, but I’ve written a lot of kids’ books. I wrote for “VeggieTales.”
When Trump was in the primaries, a friend of mine—who actually is the illustrator of these books, that’s why the illustrations are brilliant, because he’s brilliant, he was the one that kind of convinced me to kind of take a look at Trump—kept saying, “He’s sort of like a folk hero.” And I thought, “Wow, he’s right.”
So when Trump was elected, I thought, ” … Tim Raglin and I have got to do another children’s book based on Trump.” So we’d done another children’s book in the past, but we kept thinking, “Well, what would it be like? What would a children’s book be like?” And we settled on this idea of him as a caveman character.
The first book is called “Donald Drains the Swamp,” and ultimately, it’s like a humor book for adults in the shape of a kid’s book. Although, it works as a kid’s book because there’s nothing nasty in it. It’s not a vicious political book, but there’s humor in it. There’s characters in the swamp, … one of them has half glasses and cries a lot. Obviously, that’s a [Sen.] Chuck Schumer-type. …
It’s all dinosaurs, and the biggest, baddest figure in the whole swamp is the George-o-saurus. Feel free to laugh.
But … there’s all kinds of characters in here. It’s a bipartisan swamp. There’s a turtle. It looks a bit like [Senate Majority Leader] Mitch McConnell, you know, it’s kind … of goofy. But what it does is it illustrates on the simple level of a fable: What does it mean to connect the people back to their government? What does it mean to be out of touch? What does it mean to have a king that lives in the middle of the swamp and he never talks to the people he represents, [he] only talks to the people who live in the swamp, and the people live in the swamp because they want to be near the king?
So Donald is this caveman and they go to him and they say, “Hey, like, we never get to talk to the king anymore. He doesn’t care about us.” So Donald says, “Well, yeah, I got some time tomorrow. I’ll walk down there, I’ll check it out.”
So he goes down there, he talks to the swamp people, and of course he discovers that the swamp doesn’t look like the green swamp just because it’s a green swamp. It’s made of money. He realizes that there’s only one solution, they’ve got to drain the swamp. But he’s a builder of caves, and he says it’s no big deal. You just dig a big ditch and the water drains out and you drain the swamp.
I’m giving you the basics, but it really is funny … because it’s so simple and so true, because you drain the swamp. Everybody follows the money to the horizon, flowers bloom, and … here’s the fill-up for which you are not prepared, the people say, of course, “Hey, Donald, the king and everybody left, would you be our new king?”
Donald says, “No, you are a free people now. You don’t want a king. A king tells people what to do and they have to do it. A free people governs themselves.”
And they say, “Well, you mean like they’d have a leader, like a president?”
And he goes, “Well, yeah. And if that’s what you’re looking for, I’m you’re caveman.”
So he becomes the president who is elected to do the will of these people. And the money’s drained out of the swamp.
So there’s a lot of really goofy humor in it, but there’s a central basic concept of, what is freedom? What happens when money corrupts politicians that are no longer in touch with the people? It’s really basic.
The sequel, “Donald Builds the Wall,” they’ve been so successful [that] the land of the free, as it’s now called, is thriving. The cavemen have invented the wheel. They’ve invented fire. They’re starting to cook their food.
So of course people want to come there because it’s wonderful, and some people come there who are not in love with freedom. They’re just there to kind of get what they can get.
They say, “Well, you can’t stay here.” So they carry them to the border and say, “Until you’re ready to be part of this liberty thing, you can’t be here.” But the people keep coming back. And finally Donald says, “I’ve got a solution. Let’s build a wall.”
There’s a vicious gang called MSNBC 13.
Trinko: I see what you did there.
Metaxas: There’s an orange triceratops that looks remarkably like Brennan. It’s really weird.
Metaxas: So there’s a lot of goofy stuff and there’s an AOC [Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez] character who says that the smoke from the fires is going to cause everyone to be extinct soon. So she comes up with a plan called the Green Raw Deal. It’s really silly, and I recommend it highly.
Trinko: I have to ask, did you reject any other ideas before you got to caveman for Trump?
Metaxas: Actually, no. I’ll tell you why. Tim Raglin and I are real students of classic kids books, and there are some books from the ’50s I think featuring a kind of a happy-go-lucky caveman character. He’s just sorta funny, and there was something about that that appealed to us.
Of course, once we hit on that, we thought, “It’s so perfect,” because he is kind of like a caveman. He’s sort of rough around the edges, but he gets stuff done. He moves stuff around. It’s the opposite of … the Hamlet-like Obama. He’s like brilliant, and he says things, whatever. But this guy just gets stuff done. He sees a simple solution and he makes it happen. So it really is oddly apt, but we hit on it immediately.
Trinko: To switch gears a little bit, I read during the 2016 election, which I don’t recommend, your Bonhoeffer biography. [It] does not put you in a good mindset for the election. But I wanted to ask you, how do you think we will view this period of time in 50 to 100 years from now?
Metaxas: We’ll all be dead in five years. Don’t you pay any attention to the climate change stuff? We’re not going to—
Trinko: Well, let’s just say we make it.
Metaxas: We’ll be lucky to get out of this podcast alive. Are you kidding me? No, seriously, I think it’s interesting because when I was writing the Bonhoeffer book I had a different takeaway. The reason I initially didn’t like Trump was because I thought clearly in terms of his style, in terms of his love of winning and power, and that kind of stuff. As a Christian, I don’t find that appealing, but there are elements to it. You have to be careful not to be sloppy about how you perceive things.
It did strike me that it was possible that he was what all of his detractors say that he is. But as I looked at it more closely, I realized, if you know history, if you have any sophisticated sense of history and of what totalitarianism is, and what the Nazis were, you must reject that idea as patently absurd.
We have people cursing this president every day in the streets. If he were an authoritarian, he would squash them like bugs. Some of them ought to be squashed because they are very, very nasty people. But I have to say, no, we’re in America. We have separation of powers, people have liberties, and we have so many checks and balances that the idea that somebody could just stumble in and suddenly take over and be an authoritarian and stuff, it’s ridiculous. I would be the first to denounce that person.
On the contrary, I think the parallel that I see in the Bonhoeffer book has to do with what we would see today as cultural Marxists forces, people that don’t agree even slightly with the American experiment in self-government, they don’t agree with it. They reject it. They think that it was founded on lies and slavery and they really want to burn it down.
And I think that those people don’t play by the same rules. In other words, they’re genuine fascists in the sense that they will do whatever it takes because they don’t believe in quaint, antiquated ideas like civility and liberty and due process. They don’t believe in those things. So I think that there a real threat.
I think that in the same way in Germany in the ’30s, the way there was this creeping cultural pressure that if you don’t go along with this, if you don’t reject plastic straws, if you don’t go with that, you’re part of the problem. You’re a bad guy, you’ll lose jobs. … I think that that has come to America and it [has] increased in the last year with the Democrats sprinting leftward. It really is horrifying to see in the United States of America.
But when people say, “How could that happen in Germany?” Look, I’m not saying that we’re going to get the death camps here, but I’m saying that there’s a kind of thing that happens in a culture, and if you’re sensitive to it, you see parallels. And I’m very sorry to say that most Americans are as ignorant of biblical values or the Constitution as Germans were of biblical values and how a dictator might be dangerous.
All you need to do is take your eye off that ball for a few years and horrible things can happen.
So it strikes me right now, like with the NBA not even having the scintilla of a spine or the scintilla of any values to stand up to totalitarian China. It tells you how important it is for us to teach what we know is true to our kids and to rehearse it in our culture and to remind ourselves over and over and over again how important these things are. Because, if you’re not sure what it is, someone [can] come in who is quite sure of what he believes and they will impose those values, and you basically see it happening in America today. I didn’t mean to go on and on, but I had too much coffee.
Trinko: Well, … maybe I should clarify when I meant [by saying] that reading the Bonhoeffer book was troubling during the 2016 election. I think it was realizing that over the course of a relatively short lifetime, you can go from a secure country to a country that has, as you said, death camps and thinking about, “Wow, do I have the courage of my convictions if God forbid America slides that way?” But things are looking up.
But as you mentioned, there are a lot of cultural war things. You’ve brought up the plastic straws. I know you recently tweeted about the gender-neutral dolls that Mattel is releasing. [It] feels like every week at The Daily Signal we have a new topic to discuss on some political correctness in toys or the like. Big picture here, what do you think we need to do on the culture wars?
Metaxas: Well, look, first and foremost, I’m a Christian, and I think that there is something undeniable about this country in terms of the connection between serious faith and freedom. I think it’s wishful thinking that you can separate the two utterly.
You certainly cannot legislate religion, and in fact, that’s the irony and the amazing thing at the heart of this democracy is that the strength of the faith in America, the strength of a virtue in this country, in the virtue of the American people comes precisely because our Founders were smart enough to know that you must keep religion free. You must not put the thumb on the scale.
Nonetheless, they understood that they do that in part because they’re trusting the people when they’re free to be virtuous and to express their faith robustly.
So I have to say that, ultimately, that to me is the greatest hope for this country, that people of faith will say, “Listen, this is real. This is what it’s all about. And all the freedoms we have in all that, they will go away unless we are able to practice our faith and to be free.”
It sounds a little bit like a tautology, but it is circular and cyclical in the sense that the two feed into each other. Look, [Alexis de] Tocqueville talked about it. We’re not teaching that in American schools anymore. Certainly not in public schools.
And you think, “Well, why aren’t we? Is this suddenly not true anymore? That these things are inextricably intertwined?”
If we don’t understand what religious liberty is, if we don’t understand how freedom works, if we don’t understand how self-government works, if we don’t understand how the checks and balance works, if we don’t go over and over and over that as we have done for nearly two and a half centuries so that people know what it is to be an American in value and prize it and fight against those who are trying to destroy it, we are doomed.
But I think that we’ve been given a reprieve in a sense. I think that this president, for all of his complicated issues, gets these fundamental things. And I think somehow because he’s such a disruptor, he’s forced the other side to show its colors much more vividly so that we know what we’re fighting. So I am hopeful.
I wrote a book, which is not here, called “If You Can Keep It,” where I deal with this very directly. I think that we have to be very intentional now, having almost lost most of this, in understanding what it is that we have, what it means to be an American, why it’s a precious, wonderful, rare, fragile thing. And I think we’re beginning to do that. We’ve got a long way to go, but I am generally very hopeful.
Trinko: OK. Eric Metaxas, the host of “The Eric Metaxas Show” and the author of “Donald Builds The Wall,” thanks for joining us.
Metaxas: My pleasure. Thank you.