Apocalyptic Thought in the Age of Trump

The Dangers of a Doom and Gloom Mindset

Donald Trump, October 27, 2016. Carlo Allegri / Reuters

Following the electoral victory of Donald Trump, the mood of U.S. Democrats and the left-leaning world was somber. It was perhaps best summed up by the headline of France’s daily newspaper, Libération on its November 9 issue: “Trumpocalypse.”

We will surely hear more end times doom and gloom as Trump continues to assemble his cabinet. The best-case scenario is that much of his divisive campaign rhetoric was “serious, but not literal,” as PayPal co-founder and Trump transition team member Peter Thiel and some optimistic Democrats have suggested.

But his first round of cabinet appointments has belied such hope. And even if he didn’t mean what he has repeatedly said about women and racial and religious minorities, his campaign rhetoric and his decision to name the alt-right figure Stephen Bannon as chief strategist has unsurprisingly led some Americans to believe that they have a license to hate. An announcement that the new administration is considering a registry for Muslim immigrants is only likely to deepen this perceived license. Add to this, Trump’s temperament, his denial of climate science, his hostility to the Environmental Protection Agency, and his forthcoming access to the nuclear codes, and it does seem that Trump could edge the world closer to catastrophe.

But the key to preventing such a horrific outcome is to stop viewing Trump’s victory in apocalyptic terms. Apocalyptic worldviews, which have a long history in U.S. politics, lead to three political postures, all of which are extremely dangerous. The first is to withdraw from political participation—as the biblical author of the Book of Revelation encouraged early Christians to do. Those who cared about the fate of their souls must not be complicit with evil, it cautioned.  Christians who accepted this counsel were left with no option but to give up on their political world and to await a New Jerusalem. Today’s liberal doomsayers want to move to Canada or secede.

The second posture is resignation. The world

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