If you were in the know, you would know what that title means.
My 163rd essay on Medium? Nope.
The 163rd day of the year. Not even close.
The re-election of Donald Trump? Bingo.
That wasn’t so hard.
Like many people, I first became aware of Gematria via a Jordan Klepper segment I saw on TikTok. (No, I’m not going to link to it.) In the video, he’s engaged in his usual shtick. At a Trump rally in Wisconsin, he interviews a woman who says she’s “learning Gematria.” She seems a bit unclear on what it is. For her, it’s an app and a “calculator.” Klepper explains in a voice-over that it’s a “mystic, numerological key.” (More on that in a sec.)
The woman explains, by typing words into the app and getting a number, that Donald Trump and J. Kennedy are one and the same person. She argues that Michael Jackson is still alive (the name of Jackson’s last tour was “this is it”  and “not true” ). And she also claims that Osama Bin Laden was a CIA agent named “Tim something” (but it wasn’t clear that that was numerologically based).
So, for some background. Yes, Gematria is a real thing. It has a very long history. It involves a process of assigning a numerical value to a letter or word. According to Wikipedia, Aristotle wrote of such as system some 2400 years ago. So, although the word “Gematria,” derives from the Greek, it has most commonly been used by Jews, especially those practicing Kabbalah. Nevertheless, Gematria appears in interpretations of texts in Christianity, Islam, and in many other cultures around the world.
In traditional Jewish Gematria, each letter in the alphabet is assigned a number between 1 and 400. The first letter, Aleph, equals “1.” The letter Lamed equal “30,” and Tav equals “400” (and everything in between.)
A US English version exists, which operates on a similar principle. That system was originated by Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa (1532), and it was based on the Latin alphabet.
What the MAGA crowd uses, though, is a “Simple” version. (And I’ll just leave the obvious joke right there in front of you.) In the Simple version, the 26 letters of the English alphabet receive the corresponding letter of 1 to 26. Letter A equals 1, and letter Z equals 26. That seems to be the system used by the Gematria “calculator” used by Klepper’s interviewee.
So, using that calculator, the name Donald Trump = 88. The name J. Kennedy also = 88, suggesting that Kennedy was never assassinated and that Trump is actually JFK. Leaving aside for just one second the question of whether or not those letters have any such numerical valuation, let’s looks at the comparison. In the case of Trump, she uses his first name and his last name. Bear in mind that Trump just as frequently uses Donald J. Trump, and sometimes, Donald John Trump. In the case of Kennedy, she used simply his first initial and his last name. Bear in mind that Kennedy almost NEVER used that abbreviate for himself. Nor did commentators and journalists. In common parlance, he was always John F. Kennedy or JFK. So, since Trump frequently uses Donald J. Trump, and Kennedy would nearly always use John F. Kennedy, then it would seem logical to use those to forms of their names for the comparison in Gematria.
Donald J. Trump = 148
John F. Kennedy = 131
Not the same at all. In fact, they had to perform quite a few twists and turns in order to get the numbers to line up.
And that seems to be a pattern.
In another interview, a different woman reveals the truth behind the Corona virus. According to her, Corona = 666, aka the Mark of the Beast. But how did she get that? If you enter Corona into the Gematria calculator, it returns “66.” She argues that the word Corona has 6 letters in it. So when that 6 of the number of letters is put next to the 66 of the numerology, then we get 666. Satan. She also argues that 666 represents Democrats. But the calculator says that “Democrats” = 98 (Democrats DOES equal 363 in Hebrew Gematria and 588 in English Gematria. So, closer, but not quite there.)
On the (X) Twitter account Gematria Club, they demonstrate some of the machinations necessary to make “sense” of contemporary politics.
For example, in one post, they claim that “Donald” = 119. Well, in Simple Gematria, which they typically use, “Donald” = 50. However, in traditional Hebrew Gematria, “Donald” = 119. OK. A sleight of hand. Also bear in mind that English and Hebrew use different alphabets, so translation and approximation are necessary to even make that calculation. They then note that Trump was elected on 11/9. Well, not exactly. The election was held November 8, 2016. Although most us of didn’t know the result until the following day (11/9), he was actually elected on 11/8. Another sleight of hand.
They next claim that Trump was elected 11 months and 19 days after the anniversary of JFK’s death. Well, that’s an unusual way to put it. Yes, JFK was infamously assassinated on 11/22. That seems more like 11 month and 14 days later (if we use the 8th). It’s still incorrect if we use the 9th. They also claim that JFK died 1109 days after his inauguration. Well, by my calculations, the number of days in between January 20, 1961 (when JFK was inaugurated) and November 22, 1963 (when JFK was assassinated) is 1036. Another not quite correct calculation. Gematria Club then claims that “master plan” = 119. Well, yes, according to Simple Gematria, it does.
So, by those sleights of hand, by that logic, and by those numbers, we are intended to see that it’s all part of a plan: Donald Trump really is John Kennedy returned.
Except, none of it is true — at any level.
As I noted, they have to jump back and forth between number systems to even get close to convergences. They have to fudge the dates in order to make the numbers match. They outright lie about other numbers — expecting that no one will take the time and effort to check on the calculation. And then they are OK vacillating between 119 and 1109. I would think that for people who find great meaning in numbers, they might be a little more precise. It’s absolutely true that the date 11/9 could be written as 11/09 and mean the same thing. It is not true that 11/09 and 119 (master plan) are the same number.
Nevertheless, many people find meaning in these convergences. They are convinced that they hold significance in their own lives and in the unfolding of public events. The facts don’t seem to matter much when one’s worldview is so closely connected to the falsehood.
And we all do this to some extent. We ignore red flags and falsehoods because that job would be perfect for us, or because that person really makes me feel good about myself (most of the time). We vote for a candidate despite the fact that they have done something we abhor because they say many of the things that we hold to be true about ourselves and about our society.
So, we all allow for discrepancies in order to live our lives. We find meaning in disconnected people, things, and events. We live with cognitive dissonance. But we DO want to find significance in our lives. The trouble begins when these falsehoods become our action-guiding principles. Doing so frequently places us in unwelcome situations. Doing so often leads to misguided and dangerous actions (J6, anyone?).
So maybe put the Gematria “calculator” away.
And, for the record, “going to jail” also equals 119.
Ritch Calvin is an Associate Professor of Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at SUNY Stony Brook. He is the author of Queering SF: Readings, Feminist Epistemology and Feminist Science Fiction, and edited a collection of essays on Gilmore Girls. His most recent book is Queering SF: Readings (Aqueduct Press).