Throughout history, the letter has been one of the literary genres most closely associated with apocalyptic texts. The Book of Revelation is framed as a letter, and the letters of Paul are rife with apocalypticism. One of the most important medieval apocalyptic texts, Adso of Montier-en-Der’s “Letter of Adso to Queen Gerberga on the Origin and Time of the Antichrist,” is a literal letter from the abbot to the queen of Germany. Christopher Columbus reveals his role as a new John of Patmos repeatedly in the five letters that come down to the present day. And during the First Crusade, especially, letters, or chronicles framed as letters, shed light on the most apocalyptic worldviews among the crusading contingents.
And this is, indeed, what Trump’s letter is: a warning framed as a missive, meant not for Pelosi’s eyes alone but as a broader declaration of Trump’s worldview, a chronicle of his reign, a threat of impending peril for the United States and a vision of history centered on Trump himself. It is, in effect, an apocalyptic text, more reminiscent of the eschatological letter-chronicles of the past than any legal document of rebuttal. The only things missing are the horsemen.
The text opens with the president protesting “the partisan impeachment crusade” of the Democrats in the House. The word choice of crusade, of course, no longer reflects the papally issued holy wars of the Middle Ages — indeed, “crusade” is used routinely for any political movement seen as being overly zealous against a particular target. But Trump’s use of “crusade” gives a framework for the central apocalyptic crutch of his entire administration: the notion of an existential, good-vs.-evil, apocalyptic duality surrounding his term of office that includes him as a semi-messianic figure.
And that framework of holy war never really leaves the text. Its tenor suggests that to challenge Trump is, somehow, to violate the righteousness of Trump’s presidency itself. But the text goes further, arguing that the Democrats are attacking America at its core. Impeachment, according to Trump, “display[s] unfettered contempt for America’s founding and your egregious conduct threatens to destroy that which our Founders pledged their very lives to build.” The very next line argues that Pelosi’s claims to pray for the president are “offending Americans of faith,” that the statement “is not true, unless it is meant in a negative sense. It is a terrible thing you are doing, but you will have to live with it, not I!”
This prologue may seem normal, coming as it does from a president who routinely personally attacks his political opponents. But it also sets up a moral argument that undergirds his attempt to rebut the articles of impeachment: This is an existential conflict, because the Democrats “are declaring open war on American Democracy.” It is rooted in his anger about his legacy and the stain that being one of only three American presidents to be impeached will leave on it — but it is also part of a broader discourse on Trump and his supporters being the “real America,” which, in the form of quasi-religious dogma, suggests that Democrats opposing Trump are at war with the righteous. The framing of Trump’s letter builds on this foundation, suggesting that the conflict is a holy war: a war for American democracy, as well as a war between “Americans of faith” and those who oppose Donald Trump: the Democrats, the liberals, secular America, etc.
The rebuttals of the two articles of impeachment may be standard Trump fare, but their follow-up continues the language of apocalyptic conflict. According to the president, none of this has to do with Ukraine — he writes that “everyone, you included, knows what is really happening,” that “your chosen candidate” lost in 2016 and, as a result, “you have spent three straight years attempting to overturn the will of the American people and nullify their votes. You view democracy as your enemy!”
After laying out the framework for the holy war between Trump and his detractors, and rebutting, at least to his supporters, the specific articles of impeachment, Trump establishes why his presidency matters within this eschatological framework: His reign heralds a millenarian kingdom for his own band of faithful. In the lengthy paragraph that begins, “Your party simply cannot compete with our record,” he brags about the economy, the military (including the creation of the Space Force) and his appointment of 170 federal judges and two Supreme Court justices, among other supposed accomplishments. Then he discusses foreign policy issues, many of which have religious resonance: Trump defeating the Islamic State caliphate! Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and moving the U.S. embassy there! Trump recognizing Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights! And, of course, Trump builds “the Southern Border Wall”! — all of which serve as “the beginning, there is so much more.”
All of this constitutes a claim to ongoing authority and righteousness, but as with other apocalyptic texts, it is also a call to action for those who would preserve that righteous authority. True patriots, it suggests, must enlist in the holy war to preserve the Trump era — one that goes on and on and on, time everlasting. The president himself acknowledges as much. “I write this letter to you for the purpose of history and to put my thoughts on a permanent and indelible record.” The letter is not meant to be read by Pelosi and the House Democrats, though it certainly will be — it is meant to rouse his supporters, to announce the great revelation: They are living in a time of great change, of great hope in the form of Trump’s millenarian kingdom, and of great fear, from the forces of darkness assaulting American democracy in the form of the Democratic Party. This is the eschatology of Trump: The final battle is here, in the impeachment, and must be fought to give them the Kingdom of Trump on the other side.