I gained unlooked for sympathy for Donald Trump from Choosing Donald Trump, and a wish that the author would have stuck to the story instead of making this book his own pulpit. I loved learning about Trump’s family, early years and key means of personal formation; I also grew tired of Mansfield’s use of this story to grind his own ax against evangelical Church leaders.
From the opening epigraph/quote from Martin Luther King Jr. Mansfield makes clear that he’s not only writing about Trump and the Christian conservatives who helped elect him, but he’s using King’s vision for the Church speaking to power as his own measuring stick, or club, or both, as he reproves evangelical leaders.
Regarding the sections of the book dealing with Trump’s upbringing, family, school years, temperament and beliefs, the book is candid, well written and informative. These are the best chapters of the book. Mansfield writes clearly regarding Trump’s many and notable faults, but also sympathetically concerning the forces that shaped him. In Mansfield’s lens, Trump appears a narcissistic teenage boy, graced with family wealth, natural talent and gifts, but without a moral and ethical view of himself and others that allows him to rise to a greater nobility. Mansfield shows Trump as being notably motivated not only by his competitive drive to win at everything, but also by a deep-seated insecurity.
Mansfield does a good job of showing the dichotomy of Trump’s determination to win at any cost with his insecure desire for affirmation, the kind of internal contradictions that all of us tend to have, fragmented creatures that we are.
But Mansfield climbs into his old pulpit (he’s a former pastor) in the sections of the book where he takes evangelical leaders to task for not confronting Trump on his own morality. He continues to bang out his version of how Christ’s servants are meant to interact with political power from first quote to the narrative’s final pages. It would have been considerate for Mansfield to have alerted would-be purchasers that the book is approximately one third about Trump and the evangelical vote, one third his own opinions on Church/State relations, and one third Trump’s own words from various speeches. (The last 25% of the book according to my Kindle is not Mansfield’s writing but Trump’s speeches.) Was the subject of the book’s title inadequate on its own for a book length treatment?
Here’s a sample of Mansfield’s judgments regarding evangelical leaders:
Donald Trump is merely a man . He cannot be held responsible for the immoral drift of American society. Yet for those who are the guardians of morality and whose role it is to call for stronger character and deeper souls, to support Trump publicly without distinguishing between the virtues and the vices is nearly an act of idolatry .
Mansfield, Stephen. Choosing Donald Trump: God, Anger, Hope, and Why Christian Conservatives Supported Him (p. 111). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
I’ve thoroughly enjoyed earlier works by Mansfield, like his book on the Guinness family of Irish beer fame, but he seemed more interested in his subject then and less interested in using his book as a platform for his own moralizing. (For the record I believe Mansfield’s view of the role of the Church in culture and politics assumes too much and lacks nuance in depth and breadth regarding what Scripture calls ecclesiastical leaders to.)
Read the chapters of this book about Trump if you’d like to learn about the forces and family that shaped him. Save the other chapters for a Sunday morning you’re unable to be in Church but find yourself in the mood for a sermon.