photo by Flickr user versageek
If Lou Dobbs and other Trump partisans are looking for someone to blame for Trump likely losing the election, and maybe even solidly red Utah, it won’t be the “Mormon Mafia.” It might, however, be cellphones.
Dobbs, who took his populist road show to Fox Business after a long run on CNN, ought to know as well as anybody the damage an internet connection can cause. He recently apologized for retweeting the address and phone number of one of the many women who have recently accused Trump of various forms of misbehavior. Trump himself might be in a much better position going into next Tuesday’s balloting if someone had simply taken away his smartphone and given him an old-fashioned flip phone on the day he announced his candidacy.
But Dobbs succumbed to the impulse to blame some group that doesn’t include him for Trump’s dismal prospects as reflected in the polls. Last weekend, Dobbs took to Twitter to call independent presidential candidate Evan McMullin “a Globalist, Romney and Mormon Mafia Tool.”
The tweet took off, but probably not in the way Dobbs had hoped, as #MormonMafia began trending across the country. The responses were generally less “outrage” and more “jokes about sleeping with the fishes.”
Some of my best friends are Mormons. No, seriously – a lot of my best friends really are members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. So I know Utah and its people a lot better than most financial planners and bloggers based on the East Coast. As a result, it came as no surprise at all to me that many of my Mormon friends responded to Dobbs’ slur with turn-the-other-cheek humor.
Like many Americans, but perhaps more so than most, Mormons are apt to turn up at your house bearing a Bundt cake if someone is sick, or even just feeling a little low. They’ll stage benefit concerts to raise money for a family that has fallen on hard times, and practically a whole town will turn up.
That is partly because they want to help, of course, and partly because the music is just so good. Music is deeply embedded in Mormon culture. I just need to say the word “tabernacle,” and you’ll fill in the two words that surround it in the American consciousness yourself. To my Utah friends, all of whom are LDS members, that institution is just “MoTab.” My friends will also jump seamlessly from performing metal rock, or country, or pop music to spiritual renditions so beautiful the entire world stops to listen, Mormon or not.
That is the basic approach of their evangelism. If you can, do something beautiful. If you can’t, just do something nice – and preferably something funny.
Besides having more than their share of musical talents, a lot of Mormons are really good at comedy. As one of my friends explained to me, they don’t go out drinking on Saturday nights, so what else do they have to do but entertain one another (and the rest of us)? My favorite sketch comedy show, “Studio C,” won two Emmys last week, which were among 13 won by its home channel, BYUtv. You can probably find it in your local cable package, but if not, “Studio C” posts many of its sketches on YouTube.
The Mormon gift for humor is probably why #MormonMafia gained such widespread attention. The references ranged from the Sopranos to biker gangs to funeral potatoes (which even I had to ask about). “The Godfather” series was well-represented too, despite the fact its content means many Mormons have never watched the films.
In fact, the only real difference that sets content generated by the LDS community apart is that it is uniformly family friendly. Virtually every LDS artist I know, comic or musical, cares deeply about producing content that anybody will be comfortable presenting to an audience of any age.
Many of my Mormon friends even think I’m funny – certainly funnier than my kids think I am, at least. Possibly this is because, being Jewish, I am inclined to make observations such as the reason I like Utah so much is that it is the only place I can go where I can be a gentile. Mormons seem to think that is really funny. And, possibly because I do not drink or smoke but do eat ice cream at any opportunity, I blend right in.
Of course, Dobbs is not angry at Mormons because they like to sing and eat ice cream. He’s teed off – a phrase my Mormon friends would use – because so many of them seem inclined to vote their conscience rather than their policy preferences. Independent candidate Evan McMullin, himself a Mormon, is running very strongly in Utah and below the radar virtually everywhere else. Many LDS members just cannot bring themselves to vote for someone who is so crude, so regularly as Donald Trump, even if they believe the policies of a Trump administration or his Supreme Court picks would be much closer to their preferences than those of a Hillary Clinton White House.
They know that McMullin has no chance to become president. Many even know that Trump’s chances of winning the election fall to zero if he cannot even carry Utah. But in the end, they just cannot bring themselves to vote for him. That’s not the approach Dobbs is taking in this election. It’s not the approach I am taking either. But I understand it and I respect it. Unlike Dobbs, I see no reason to insult a religious group to which I do not belong over it.
There are aspects of the LDS faith that disturb many non-Mormon Americans and that make even some Mormons uncomfortable. The same could be said of many religions, including Judaism and Catholicism. As our country’s position on same-sex marriage changed in the past two decades, the LDS church has clung strictly to its theological opposition to the institution, yet it has also urged public officials to respect the changing laws in their official capacity. One LDS leader summed up the approach as: “Though we may disagree, we should not be disagreeable.”
That is a true and fair interpretation of the Constitution’s guarantee of religious freedom for all of us. It is what I have come to see as the Mormon way, which is to win friends and converts by setting a warm and respectful example. Dobbs and Trump might want to try it sometime.