When Human Evil Goes Unchecked

In September 2020 I wrote of the presence of human evil in the White House, defining its characteristics and practices from the vantage point of psychology. On December 26, 2020, illustrating from Biblical history, I wrote of the frightening prospects inherent within the final 25 days of Trump’s presidency. “It’s going to get worse,” I penned.

Eleven days later on January 6, it did. And it will again.

It is the nature of wickedness to thrive in the indulgence of its adherents. This week human evil in America is on trial and our elected representatives will miss the rare second opportunity to eradicate it before it accomplishes much worse. We employ sweet phrases like, “we need to move on” – convenient (and flawed) arguments like, “unconstitutional” or “first amendment” – and self-centered (unspoken) fears regarding the future of one’s political career. But courage in the face of evil that can truly do you in, is rare in any era. As Tim Nelson wrote recently of the GOP and Christians, “we will see more collateral damage.”  

Christians coddle ongoing human evil with out of context verses like, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged.” But Jesus did not mean we should never exercise judgment. He gave moral context in the same teaching saying, “You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” (Matthew 7:1-5) So we must judge, and do so with great care that begins and ends with self-examination. Jesus himself demonstrated such needful and harsh judgment in both religious and political spheres, in multiple confrontations with Pharisees and in his dismissive commentary on Herod.

The specter of Trump and Trumpism’s ongoing evil remains predictable, though I am at a loss to explain the continued support coming from Christian leaders. I wrongly thought when Trump was discovered targeting Mike Pence, his own loyal VP and titular champion of the Christian right, that many would recognize the reality of Trumpist evil for the first time. Not at all. “Hang Mike Pence” arrived simultaneously with the twitter feed of Trump. My colleague Kathy Edin examined this phenomenon in depth in January writing, “many American Evangelicals have embraced the baseless lies their leaders have spread, and some have acted upon them.”

It is the nature of wickedness to thrive in the indulgence of its adherents.

It’s going to get worse. ‘Whatever falsehoods stick’, will deliver the intellectual deviousness necessary for both witting and unwitting believers to run down the same violent lane once more. Repeated lies will gain momentum and a bigger platform will be provided by the acquittal. So remember…

  • Remember – when you find friends diminishing the January insurrection and pondering alternative theories of its genesis. Already the events of January 6 are being blamed on Antifa, Nancy Pelosi, and even the police. (remember ‘Blue Lives Matter’? Not so much when White nationalists decide they are the enemy.)

  • Remember – when you find yourself becoming numb to repeated violence on behalf of Trumpism and its cousins.

  • Remember – when the mid-terms arrive and Trumpist true-believers primary their way to seats in Congress with lies you once knew were crazy.

  • Remember – when Josh Hawley or Ted Cruz or ‘DJT redux’ up the ante for human evil in the 2024 election. Even if they lose it won’t matter. It’ll be worse – because we’ve uncaged it.

Perhaps we’ll have a third opportunity to eradicate the malignancy of Trumpism. I hope so, but we have little control over that possibility going forward, and it’s not a given. Remediating human evil requires a capacity to see it clearly and we don’t – not yet. This is very hard. In both theology and psychology, it’s a dark work. But judgment must be made. The constant prerequisite for such work is to grow our capacity to examine and heal ourselves. That work begins at home, in heart and mind. At least over that, we have complete control.