C.S. Lewis isn’t the first person you would think would have predicted Donald Trump.
The British novelist and theologian wrote reflections on Christian life that are still widely cited by pastors, and he wrote books about a lion, a witch and a wardrobe that are still beloved by children the world over.
But he didn’t usually have much to say about politics.
Yet in The Four Loves—his book on the variety of human loves—Lewis talked at length about the horrible damage that can be done by patriotism, or love of country. And it sounds like he had Trump down pat, more than 50 years before the businessman ever decided to run for president.
The Four Loves, a 1958 radio talk before it was adapted into a book, speaks about four types of human love: affection, friendship, eros and charity.
But those four loves do not encompass all passions, Lewis writes. Take, for example, patriotism.
On the subject of love of one’s country, Lewis says, “We all know now that this love becomes a demon when it becomes a god.”
Citing examples of damage done in the name of patriotism, Lewis mentions the trampling of Native American tribes, the gas chambers of Nazi Germany, the sins of apartheid. The love of one’s country, driven to the far edge of idolatry, has always led to the enforcement of a fear-based ideology, and often to death.
“The pretense that when England’s cause is just we are on England’s side—as some neutral Don Quixote might be—for that reason alone, is…spurious. And nonsense draws evil after it,” he writes.
Enter Trump. Trump, who wants to build a wall between Mexico and the United States to keep immigrants out. Trump, who seems just as unfamiliar with the truth as he is with the church. Trump, who wants to ban Muslims from traveling to the United States.
Whether we are looking at his policy positions or at his blustery rhetoric, Trump is exactly what Lewis predicted when love of country runs amok: “On the lunatic fringe it may shade off into that popular Racialism which Christianity and science equally forbid,” Lewis writes.
This is not to say that Lewis sees all patriotism as a straight path to racism. We can have a good and natural affection for our particular home, he writes. But we must not let that love of home prevent us from acknowledging the sins of the past. “The actual history of every country is full of shabby and even shameful doings,” he writes.
Joan Didion said that “we tell ourselves stories in order to live,” and this is as true of nations as it is of individuals. America has her myths: Paul Revere’s ride, peaceful cooperation with Native Americans, the Christianity of our Founding Fathers. Some of these myths may have some truth to them, but none tell the whole story, the “shabby and shameful” parts.
Yet when Trump says he wants to “Make America Great Again,” he is appealing to the kind of false America that Lewis talks about in The Four Loves. The past he wants to return to is the glorious past of our myths, not the shameful reality. The bad fruits of love of country are now being harvested in Trump’s campaign.
And do any of us doubt that Trump considers himself sovereign? It isn’t so much love of country that drives him as it is love of self. Like Narcissus at the pool, Donald Trump sees himself reflected in the roaring crowds at his rallies. He thinks he is receiving their love and admiration; he is actually receiving the overflow of their fomenting hatred.
For Trump supporters, the promise to make America great again is particular to their context. For the woman who had to close her business because she couldn’t pay the minimum wage to her workers, it is a return to lower wage laws. For the man who feels disadvantaged by the idea of affirmative action for others, it is a return to white supremacy. For the family who worked hard to feed their children but never quite made ends meet, it is a return to the possibility that they, too, could be great, because they are white and straight, just like our Founding Fathers.
Their xenophobia is based on a sense of thwarted superiority, which Lewis also predicted: “Some nations who have also felt [superior] have stressed the rights not the duties. To them, some foreigners were so bad that one had the right to exterminate them.”
Compare that to what Trump has said about Muslims, Mexicans and Megyn Kelly. He knows how to stir up a crowd, and his particular brand of authoritarianism appeals to the basest forms of patriotism, as Lewis described it.
The way to correct our course is to check our patriotism against our other, greater loves—our love of goodness, our love of truth and for Lewis, above all, our love of God.