From Joseph to Trump: Keeping the Faith

Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat, currently playing at Melbourne’s Regent Theatre, is an ever-popular musical revival. And the source of its appeal? Well, besides being blessed by Andrew Lloyd-Webber/Tim Rice stardust, it seems some Old Testament themes never date: love, jealousy, family, loyalty – and, of course, faith.

In this case, the faith is that of a dreamer who steadfastly clings to his ideals throughout a long period of enforced exile and challenge. Joseph is born into a large family. You might think this would guarantee his anonymity, but not so. He is the favoured child, favoured simply because he was his father’s first-born from his union with the beloved Rachel. This favouritism became manifest in the form of an ostentatiously colourful – let’s face it, garish – coat. Got coat, will flaunt. Joseph sees the coat as his birthright and signals his future ambition as head of the family. Maybe not the best way to endear yourself to your siblings …

 The hostility of his brothers is, perhaps, only natural. The Book of Genesis, the source of Joseph’s story, makes this clear: ‘When his brothers saw that their father loved him more than any of them, they hated him and would not speak a kind word to him’. Revenge is afoot – and some would say that Joseph had it coming. One day, the brothers throw Joseph into a hole and sell him to passing traders, who then whisk him off to a life of slavery in Egypt. Oh, harsh. After all, is it Joseph’s fault that his father instilled in him such a sense of entitlement? Sins of the father and all that.  But Joseph has faith. He endures slavery, famine and drought in Egypt. He works his way into a senior position in the house of one of the Pharaoh’s officials, having demonstrated a divine ability to interpret dreams. See, he knew all along he was special!

But Joseph also has integrity: he faces imprisonment rather than succumb to the tempting advances of his employer’s wife. He has faith that all will turn out well, echoing this biblical maxim: ‘Commit to the Lord everything you do. Then he will make your plans succeed’. And when his starving brothers turn up and beg for food, no one would blame Joseph for turning them away. Yet he is better than this. Humbled by famine, the brothers prove themselves reformed and all is forgiven.  Joseph’s faith has led to familial harmony and conquering hard times. Often seen a prefiguration of Christ, Joseph is held up as the personification of faith.

So faith is good thing, then. Belief is a potent force. As in Joseph, its impact can be positive. Yet, in the hands of a narcissist, faith becomes a sinister twin…

Earlier this week, Donald Trump announced his intention to run as Republican candidate in the 2024 presidential election. A successful campaign would make Trump only the second American leader in history to hold the mantle of Commander-in-Chief for two consecutive terms. He doesn’t stand a chance, right? His period in Office was nothing if not divisive. It was filled with countless gaffes and flouting of facts. The man was impeached not once but twice – the first time in 2019 for abuse of power, then again in 2021 for inciting riots. At the end of his Presidency, Trump’s approval rating was the lowest of any president in history.

Surely, such a person would be crazy to aspire to a second term? You’d think so. But this logic does not account for the self-belief – nay, self-delusion – of the irrepressible Donald Trump. Like Joseph, Trump believes in his own destiny. And like Joseph, Trump has faith that God supports his ambitions. But unlike Joseph, Trump’s faith is underpinned by a worship of commercialism. In a country where every dollar bill is emblazoned with ‘In God we trust’, Trump is the embodiment of materialistic America on steroids.

So from where did Trump’s faith and self-assurance spring? The clues are loud and clear in the billionaire’s past, namely the influence of pastor Norman Vincent Peale, author of The Power of Positive Thinking. Known as the father of positive thinking, Peale presided over the marriage of Trump and first wife Ivana in 1977, and is believed to have helped shape the businessman’s world.  The robust and respected news organisation, Politico, has described Trump as a ‘self-help apostle’. As such, he is a ready follower of the ideas of Peale: ‘It is an affront to God to have a low opinion of yourself’.  Peale’s hypothesis is that if one has enough faith, and voices it enough, it will come to pass. It is a belief system that held Trump in good stead, taking him all the way to the White House.

On Trump’s inauguration, Reverend Franklin Graham (son of Billy Graham) compared the new president to Cyrus, a 550BC Persian ruler who overthrew the Babylonians and released the Jews from captivity. Cyrus was the only foreign ruler to be referenced as Messiah (‘His anointed one’). By this reckoning, Graham depicts Trump as a Messianic liberator and Washington as Babylon, waiting to be freed from centralised politics. This breed of Evangelism is rampant in the USA, and feeds into Trump’s brand of faith – faith in the self, above all others.

The world has seen the consequences of Trump’s convictions and opportunism. Under Trump’s aegis, the power of positive thinking has been weaponised. He is now using that weapon to navigate his way back to the position of most powerful leader in the free world. Will he succeed? He is still immensely popular, so maybe.

And he has faith on his side.

Amanda Ellison

Amanda Ellison is a writer, teacher and labradoodle owner, hailing from a Northumbrian coastal town in the UK. She writes regularly for various publications, exclusively on subjects she is passionate about – including the arts and current affairs!

Amanda Ellison

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