Image courtesy Gage Skidmore
I recently had a lapse in judgement; I got involved in a political discussion on Facebook. It began innocently enough, but quickly devolved into name-calling and threats of violence. Fortunately, not much catches me off-guard these days when talking to evangelical supporters of Donald Trump.
In a spirit of honesty, I did not help the situation. I entered the fray armed with the goal of discovering how quickly Godwin’s Law would be invoked. My mission was accomplished a mere ten comments after I entered. Facebook debate never ends well, but this one piqued my curiosity. What is it about Trump that is so appealing to conservative evangelicals?
To find the answer, I donned my proverbial trench coat and magnifying glass and took on the role of a traditional gumshoe. What I found was appalling. The following is a sampling of Trump:
“When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending the best… They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists…”
“You know, it really doesn’t matter what the media write as long as you’ve got a young and beautiful piece of ass.”
“The only kind of people I want counting my money are little short guys that wear yamakas every day.”
“The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.”
Donald Trump is a racist, sexist, greedy, scientifically illiterate, narcissistic man… none of these traits align with the teachings of Jesus Christ and yet, conservative evangelicals have flocked to his side.
A Discussion with "Craig"
In my attempt to understand the mindset and reasoning of Trump-supporters, I spoke with a Christian College professor who requested to remain anonymous. Our conversation revolved around what drew him to Donald Trump and how he saw Trump’s views aligning with Christianity.
This professor - we’ll call him Craig - admitted his doubts regarding the validity of Trump’s faith and conceded his use of off-putting tactics. Craig voiced his opinion that Donald Trump is “serving a vital role in moving the political discourse in a different direction.”
Trump is serving as a decoy, taking criticism and negative publicity in such a way that other far-right conservatives will have a better chance at election.
While he supports Trump, Craig has little hope that he will become our next president. Trump, he asserts, is serving as a decoy, taking criticism and negative publicity in such a way that other far-right conservatives will have a better chance at election.
“Carson’s statements about Islam last week would have probably forced him out of the race in a normal election cycle, but because Trump has drawn so much heat and raised the limit for non-[politically correct] language, he was able to stand by his words and keep going.”
Furthermore, Craig states that Trump likely does not hold the views he has shared in his campaign.
“In his writing about deal-making, [Trump] talks a lot about negotiating tactics, especially the use of hyperbole and absurd demands as a way of getting the other party to move closer to your position in the end… I think Jesus did a lot of that as well. Did he really mean that we should gouge out our eyes, cut off our hands, or hate our parents? Of course not.”
When questioned about Trump’s views on immigration, Craig made an appeal to Scripture. Quoting Romans 13, he argued that, according to both Jesus Christ and the apostle Paul, “we should… obey the laws set forth by those governing us… we should obey those in authority over us and [recognize] that no one is in power except that God has placed them there… We need to follow the immigration laws set forth by the government and honor the wisdom that put them in place.”
I Respectively Disagree, Craig
I deeply appreciate Craig’s willingness to share his views with me in a civil and rational discussion. Such dialogues have become a rarity in our increasingly polarized world. I would, however, challenge several of Craig’s assertions and point out the logical inconsistencies I see.
I would argue with the notion that Trump is moving political discourse in a positive direction. The trend we have seen is not a shift of American views from left-to-right or vice versa, it has been a shift towards the more extreme ends of the political spectrum. Candidates such as Trump and Sanders, who once would have been relegated to the fringes of a presidential race, have become enormously popular. The vast majority of politically moderate Americans are being dragged into a slug-fest between the far-right and far-left.
How many conservative evangelicals intend to submit to governing authorities when it comes to issues such as Roe v. Wade or the recent Obergefell v. Hodges decision?
I would also challenge the validity of Craig’s appeal to Romans 13. Yes, it does instruct Christians to submit to governing authorities… but utilizing this passage to defend Trump’s immigration stance becomes problematic quickly. How many conservative evangelicals intend to submit to governing authorities when it comes to issues such as Roe v. Wade or the recent Obergefell v. Hodges (marriage equality) decision?
Furthermore, I would assert Craig is unable to make this argument effectively as an American. We live in a nation whose very inception was the result of violating the principles set forth by Paul in Romans 13. We live in a nation that, with support from most conservatives, violates the national sovereignty of foreign governing authorities on a regular basis.
So why have conservative evangelical Christians rallied around Donald Trump? I believe it is because American Christianity has lost the “salt” that made it Christian to begin with. In the nineteenth and early twentieth century, Christianity was among the strongest liberal forces in America. Reforms such as abolition, public housing, women’s suffrage, welfare, etc. were pioneered by radically liberal Christians. Sadly, loving and providing for others is no longer the goal of Christian faith in America. Twentieth century dogma regarding the moral superiority of capitalism merged with and overwhelmed previous Christian ethics. Today, conservative Christianity has become about the superiority of those within the group and the alienation and “other-ness” of the outsiders.
The tragedy of this is that Christianity does have something to offer America, but because of Trump’s tactics, evangelicalism has become an object of ridicule and disgust for many Americans.
Seeing as the “outsiders” are the poor, oppressed, and marginalized, this harmonizes quite well with Trump’s message. Donald Trump has slapped an evangelical sticker on what would otherwise be ugly, chauvinistic, sexist, racist, nativist, bigoted rhetoric. The tragedy of this is that Christianity does have something to offer America, but because of Trump’s tactics, evangelicalism has become an object of ridicule and disgust for many Americans. I am embarrassed that Trump is as popular as he is and am saddened that he has found a strong ally in Christianity.