A Trump Explainer

His supporters simply see that he stands up for Christianity

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Politics

Religion ought to have sheltered American democracy from the dangers of irreligion, as de Tocqueville famously observed, but it did not. This practical failure of religion in part explains the surprise election of Donald Trump in 2016. Trump’s supporters are not as anxious about the fate of their country—although, to be sure, there is plenty of anxiety about that, and plenty of reason to be worried—as they are heartbroken to see all around them that America really is not a Christian nation anymore. When Trump supporters were heartened to see the president holding a Bible in front of the burned St. John’s Church near the White House this summer, it was not because they thought Trump was a savior, but because someone was standing up, however hypocritically, for Christianity. If there were better men than Trump doing half as much with even a tenth of Trump’s forcefulness, those men would be lauded and Trump’s photo-op witness quickly forgotten. That there are no such men is precisely why American Christians voted for Trump before and may well again. In other words, American spiritual seekers have very little besides a TV personality—a redux of televangelists of the past, one might say—in whom to look for national salvation.

Apart from the president, the capitulation of the American elite to anti-Christian sentiment is now nearly total. This wanton abandonment of the American Christian heritage fills believers with deep foreboding, and further heightens the cycle of rallying around whoever stands up in the breach, no matter how unworthy he may be. There are Satan statues in state capitol buildings, for example. Meanwhile, statues of Jesus, the angels and saints, and the Blessed Mother, along with churches themselves, are routinely desecrated, vandalized, destroyed. The worst of the destruction of religious sites has ramped up lately, but enmity towards religious faith in America has been unmistakable for decades. And attacks have turned against believers themselves.

Bakers and photographers must now celebrate sin in a professional capacity or else lose their livelihoods. County clerks in the same industry as the fictional Atticus Finch who refuse to compromise their consciences—consciences formed in the bosom of the Bible—find themselves under arrest. “After-School Satan” clubs are popping up at elementary schools, gender ideology is leading an entire generation into an unprecedented mental health crisis, and a football coach who kneels in prayer before a game is fired while an entire team genuflecting before the social-justice cause of the hour is cheered. America has fulfilled the old Southern saying made part of the pop-culture lexicon by an R.E.M. song from thirty years ago: the entire national establishment, from the federal government down to the local school board, has lost its religion.

Millions of Americans hope the US truly becomes a Christian nation again. Whether Trump is cynically exploiting such hopes is beside the point. Americans do not want social solutions to spiritual problems, no matter how capably those solutions are proffered. And they don’t want to “cling” to their Bibles; they by and large just want to be free to live out the teachings God gives us in the Bible, without having to turn the Good Book into a rallying point in culture wars. Many Americans want to live in a nation where biblical morality is the norm, and where it can be taken for granted (what a luxury that once was!) that boys and girls will grow up in stable, loving, mother-and-father homes and will go on to get married and provide the same wholesome environments for their own children.

Donald Trump has spent much of his life flouting the biblical morality he now professes to uphold. That so many—including myself—are willing to follow him despite the blatant disconnect between his words and his actions is proof not that Trump supporters are fools, but that they—we—are desperate for someone, anyone—even a womanizing Manhattan billionaire—to make America Christian again.

 

Jason Morgan is associate professor at Reitaku University in Kashiwa, Japan.

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