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Column by editor-in-chief Daniel Gerlach: Trump and rapture

How Trump could simply disappear

Column by editor-in-chief Daniel Gerlach: Trump and rapture
President and First Lady watch fireworks from the White House on July 4, 2020. The White House (Flickr)

Things are closing in on the US President. Three Middle Eastern stories of a caliph, a rabbi and a thaumaturge may offer him some inspiration.

The first Tuesday in November is rapidly approaching. It is predicted that if, contrary to all expectations, Donald J. Trump should claim victory in the elections, things will not go smoothly in Washington. But even more so if he loses it, refuses to concede and vacate the White House later on.


Trump himself has got to know exactly what he is facing in either case. He could become the first former US President to spend his sunset years in either a prison or a mental hospital. If he’s looking to avoid those options, then there’s a golden exit to that sticky situation: he just needs to disappear. Or rather: let himself be raptured.


The benefits are clear to see. After all, anyone who is mysteriously disappeared does not have to leave behind a valid address. Neither would he need to settle up outstanding taxes. Better yet, he who no longer walks the earth, who has moved to other realms or parallel universes, cannot be liable to prosecution.


Habeas Corpus ab subjiciendum – in order to indict a person, you must get a hold of the living body first. Getting around this would be a challenge for mere mortals. But for shining lights, semi-fictional characters and redeemers, all of which Trump shares characteristics with, other options are available. The Middle East’s history offers up a number of role models as a source of inspiration.


Let us take a look at the Fatimid ruler of Cairo, Al-Hakim bi-amr Allah (985-1020/21), the most notorious eccentric among all the caliphs of the Muslim world. His historical image has been painted by the critics. They did not have a good word to say about either the person or the politics of Hakim. It will likely go the same way in Trump’s case.


The caliph always felt misunderstood, surrounded by losers and backstabbers. He considered himself knowledgeable in all possible matters and would fire his most capable advisors on a whim. Hakim brought the Fatimid public service to the brink of collapse with some of the most outlandish decrees. Only very few could see the greater meaning behind his plans.


At some point Hakim’s rule became too much to bear. Either he was discreetly done away with – possibly by his half-sister, the regent Sitt al-Mulk – or he himself had enough of it all and sought a way out of the political shambles. Hakim is said to have ridden out of the city one day on an ass, ne’er to be seen again.


Even today, Hakim’s rapture is clouded with legends and conspiracy theories. What is significant, however, is that some religious communities in the Middle East to this day still revere him, or even view him as their founding father. And perhaps the whole affair was actually quite different from what all the fake news of the Abbasids, Ayyubids and Seljuks, the Fatimids’ fierce opponents, would have us believe.


Since Trump does not appear to have the best relationship to Islam, and certainly not to the Shia branches to which Hakim belongs, perhaps we are better off trying a Jewish model. Sabbatai Zevi, a rabbi of the Ottoman Empire (1626-1676) and founder of a Chiliastic sect, springs to mind.


Rabbi Sabbatai at one point began to fancy himself the Messiah. He travelled the Middle East and was introduced to mysticism in Gaza, which was once a thriving hub of Jewish scholarship. In the name of emulating the prophet Hosea, Rabbi Sabbatai wed an Italian prostitute. This woman reportedly viewed her profession as a religious duty. She occasionally performed as a spiritual medium and communicated with the dead.


For some Jewish communities in the Ottoman Empire, this all became a bit too much, for the authorities in any case. Rabbi Sabbatai was to appear before a court in Adrianople (Edirne) and be shot at by an archer to prove that he was, in fact, the Messiah. If true he would, of course, be invulnerable. Things got serious. Why should Rabbi Sabbatai have to play the hero? He abdicated, converted to Islam for form’s sake, donned a turban and retreated into exile in the Western Balkans. He left behind a somewhat perplexed entourage as well as the mythologised promise of a Resurrection Day encore.


In the Middle East, the stylish art of occultation has often been deployed


Since Donald Trump believes himself to have special medical and diagnostic skills, as the Covid crisis has revealed, we have another such figure to turn towards from the world of thaumaturges, the healers and witch doctors of Classical antiquity. Apollonius of Tyana, a wise man from Cappadocia (40-120 AD), carried out all kinds of experiments and allegedly even managed to contradict Aristotle’s teaching that one and the same thing cannot be in two places at once. Legends and mysteries are woven into the intricate tapestry of his life. Apollonius is even alleged to have gone to India on a mystical voyage, and returned.


But he also incurred a great deal of criticism and anger. So sometimes it pays off to make an inconspicuous exit at the peak of your fame. Nobody knows where Apollonius of Tyana’s grave lies. According to his biographer Philostratos, who is admittedly a biased source, it makes no sense to look for it. For Apollonius was granted an Ascension, probably in gratitude for his outstanding merits in divine affairs.


Apollonius enchanted posterity, inspired the alchemists and even became known as ‘Balinas al-Hakim’ or ‘Balinas the physician’ to Arab and Persian authors. The writings of the Bahai movement from the 19th century are much acquainted with his name. And in theosophical and esoteric circles he enjoys a small but steady fanbase until today.


Trump could stage his disappearance from politics like a guiding star, leaving his faithful disciples among the US electorate with the hope that he might one day return. Trump has survived the Covid virus, bewitched the public with his performances and in the process of this allowed his duplicity to reach new heights. But now, in a way, the Court of Adrianople is coming for him. If, out of pure vanity, he wants to prove that he is invincible, things could end painfully for him.


In this respect the rapture as a means of escape, examples of which have been outlined here, seems quite opportune for him. At the end of the day it all comes down to a question of logistics. And Trump surely knows a number of people who could help him out because they owe him one, in the Middle East, too, where the art of stylish occultation has often been successfully deployed.


Even Trump’s mystical glorification, which is absolutely necessary for a staged exit, could work if it is well-planned. Besides various post-modern conspiracy cults, such as QAnon, the US president has won over certain Evangelicals. They might stay faithful to him if he were to disappear mysteriously. As a sinner, a con man, a false magician through whom God’s grace has, time and again, revealed itself.


History could remember this scheme as a success. In 500 years’ time, historians might critically note that not everything that CNN and other contemporary sources have circulated about Trump is true. History is written by the winners, after all. And maybe Donald J. Trump really was a genius, they might say.

Daniel Gerlach