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President Donald Trump holds up a Bible outside of St. John's Episcopal church across Lafayette Park in Washington, D.C. on June 1, 2020. (Photo: Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images)

President Donald Trump holds up a Bible outside of St. John's Episcopal church across Lafayette Park in Washington, D.C. on June 1, 2020. (Photo: Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images)

Donald J(esus) Trump

Trump assumed different postures in front of the church, contemplating before each photo how he could best appear to the onlookers.

Christopher Brauchli

"The true teacher defends his pupils against his own personal influence.... He will have no disciple."

—Amos Bronson Alcott, "Orphic Sayings" from The Dial

It was an highly symbolic act, the symbolism of which was missed by almost all the observers because it was unexpected and, certainly, atypical. It was the performance of the Trump on June 5, 2020. It took place the day after there had been a small fire at St. John's Episcopal Church, a church very close to the house where the Trump lives. On that day, the Trump and his disciples participated in a highly symbolic and deeply moving trip to St. John's in order to reassure and calm a country riven by the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis a few days earlier.

The formal part of the event began when Attorney General William Barr quietly left the Rose Garden where the Trump was trumpeting about assorted non-religious matters. Upon leaving the Rose Garden the Barr assumed two roles to prepare the way for the coming of the Trump: Thurifer and First Server.

The role of Thurifer is a role usually assigned to an adult who is responsible for lighting the thurible, an incense burner containing charcoal. The Thurifer swings the thurible as he or she walks down the aisle of the church spreading the aroma of the incense throughout the church and, incidentally, knocking out of the way anyone impeding the procession. Instead of swinging a thurible, which would have cleared the area through which the Trump would soon be passing, Barr invoked the aid of armed personnel who were present. They used flash-bang grenades and tear gas to prepare the area for the advent of the Trump.

In conjunction with performing the role of Thurible, the Barr also assumed the role of First Crucifer. The First Crucifer's assigned task is to carry the processional cross at the entrance to the church and lead the participants to the altar where they assume their assigned places. Although not a prescribed function, the First Crucifer, by leading the processional, ensures that there is nothing in the aisle that will prevent those in the procession from arriving at their respective assigned places. The armed personnel made that unnecessary.

The June 5 event was, of course, somewhat different since it took place not within the church but at its entrance. Nonetheless, assuming both roles, the Barr insured that the entire area was prepared for the coming of the Trump by having onlookers removed. Following the Barr's actions the Trump arrived, accompanied by his disciples, and a few hangers on.

One of the disciples accompanying the Trump on his pilgrimage was his beloved Ivanka Trump. To her had been entrusted the sacred task of transporting the Holy Bible from the White House to the church for use by the Trump as he offered reassurance to a nation torn by violence. Ivanka carried the bible in a pristine, yet fashionable, white purse. Upon arrival at the church, and when the Trump indicated he was ready to receive the sacred book, she quietly opened her purse and solemnly handed the bible to the Trump.

Not fully instructed in the task she was to perform, Ivanka handed the bible to the Trump upside down. The Trump, unconcerned with its contents or its posture, took the bible from her. Assuming his most solemn demeanor, he quietly turned, faced the plaza emptied of onlookers, except for his devoted followers and disciples, and, holding the bible in his right hand, raised it for the world to see and for the photographers to photograph so that this solemn moment would be forever part of the history of his beloved country and of St. John's Church. (The solemnity of the moment was slightly disturbed by the fact that the bookmark that was sewn into the binding of this particular bible was dangling from the bottom of the book indicating that the bible was being held upside down by the Trump. That slightly awkward, if humorous touch, simply proved that the Trump, notwithstanding his exalted position is, like Christ and the rest of us, human. Since the Trump had no intention of reading the bible at that or any other time, this awkwardness did nothing to detract from the solemnity of the occasion.)

To provide a bit of variety the Trump assumed different postures in front of the church, contemplating before each photo how he could best appear to the onlookers. He concluded the photo op by inviting six of his disciples who had accompanied him on his solemn walk from the White House to the church to join him for the final photograph to be taken.

All in all, it was a moving occasion and one not soon to be forgotten by any who saw it. As the Trump would have onlookers believe, his posing was a fitting tribute to the memory of George Floyd, a man who will be remembered not only for his life but for the effect his death has had on people throughout the world. Always focused on himself, the Trump must have wondered, as the photos were being taken, whether his eventual death would evoke the same displays of affection for him and praise for all he accomplished during his life. He'll simply have to wait to find out until that great day comes. He can rest assured that many of us await the answer to that question with as much eagerness as he.

Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.
Christopher Brauchli

Christopher Brauchli

Christopher Brauchli is a Common Dreams columnist and lawyer known nationally for his work. He is a graduate of Harvard University and the University of Colorado School of Law where he served on the Board of Editors of the Rocky Mountain Law Review. For political commentary see his web page at

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