The Radical Center
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The Radical Center

Unholy Trinity: Evangelicalism, Trump and Authoritarianism

At Boston Review Ronald Aronson looks at how evangelicals have given Trump a carte blanche to do what he wishes. He quotes the grifter Jerry Falwell Jr saying, “I know anything he does, it may not be ideologically ‘conservative,’ but it’s going to be what’s best for this country.” Poor Jerry Jr. doesn’t understand the Narcissist only does what is good for him — he has no concern for the country, a church, or anyone else.

Aronson sees this as “a striking display of cultish loyalty and departure from principled conservatism,” which indicates a lack of awareness about the political history of American evangelicalism.

Evangelicals have never been principled when it comes to politics. Their natural tendency has been to seek out two things — first the most authoritarian candidate and second, the candidate most likely to promote their own hateful agenda — and if there is one motivation behind the crusades of evangelicals it has been hate for anyone not like themselves.

The litany of hate campaigns from the born-again brigade is endless: gays, trans individuals, immigrants, refugees, blacks,Catholics, Jews, Masons, etc. America has a long history of crusades meant to destroy the life, liberty and property of scapegoats and in each crusade evangelicals, or fundamentalists, have been at the core of those crusades. They were often the first to slip into their sheets, grab some rope and look for the nearest tree — as the Lord would want. After all “Sinners deserve what they get” and everyone who isn’t one of them is a sinner by default.

Aronson is correct to note that from these people “Trump wins support not despite his transgressions but because of them. He is cheered as he flouts the Constitution, ignores longstanding customs and expectations, and violates political norms, morality, even good manners. Whatever critics find most troubling about Trump only further endears him to his supporters.”

American evangelicalism is largely a Southern phenomena and it was the backbone of racism and the Klan. As much as they try to pretend otherwise the largest fundamentalist sect, the Southern Baptists remains a largely lily-white sect. The bulk of their churches are in areas with high concentrations of racial minorities while their congregations remain largely white many of them exclusively so. It’s one thing for a Lutheran church in North Dakota — where relatively few minorities live — being predominantly white and quite another for a Southern Baptist church in Mississippi being so.

When the Democratic Party was largely run by racists and white supremacists these “Christians” were the backbone of the party. During the misnamed Progressive Era the Democrats were authoritarian populists with heavy socialist inclinations, they were eugenicists, racists and white supremacists and they loved Jesus — and it was the home of the born again with William Jennings Bryan as their tinhorn messiah. It was the perfect reflection of Southern fundamentalism: racist, authoritarian with a huge dollop of Jesus on top.

The failures of Prohibition and the battle over evolution made monkeys of this intolerant cult who then largely hid-out in their revival tents and backwater tabernacles. They would march to the polls and vote for racist Democrats but they were whipped and they knew it.

In the 50s and 60s they felt threatened by the Civil Rights movement. Those “inferior” people were seeking equality of rights and the born again are a very insecure lot — with deep needs to feel superior to others of the human race. They started to leave the revival tents and don their sheets again. They rallied behind George Wallace and gave the Southern electoral votes to an open racist once again.

Their revived interest in politics didn’t remain Democratic for long. They flocked to Jimmy Carter because he was born again but they soon discovered Carter’s Christianity was a tolerant variety and not based on the ego-boosting faith of white supremacy. Worse, they started to feel Carter was betraying them.

Along came Reagan and he said nice things to them. He wasn’t going to strip their racially pure schools of tax-exempt status but wasn’t going to pull out the authoritarian whip they wanted to see being used. He’d have to do, but he was never really one of them. They were waiting for a second coming still.

But, the GOP was their best option and they flocked to party the way they’d flock to some faith-healing grifter. Their goal was simple: turn the Grand Old Party into God’s Own Party.

Now concentrated in the Republican Party they engaged in a long-term campaign to remake the party into the political arm of their movement. Slowly the party abandoned the conservative principles of Goldwater and morphed into the party of organized hate — and with hate comes the desire to inflict harm and that requires force — and that means a vicious government with a whip and ready to use it. They wanted vicious and not even witnessing children being snatched from the arms of parents was enough to turn evangelical stomachs.

Along came an open authoritarian preaching one-man rule, drooling over the dictatorships of Russia and North Korea and telling evangelicals he was their pet bulldog ready to save them from secularists and impose their will on the nation. Of course the Republican Party spit on conservative values — evangelicals were never conservatives, not in the Goldwater sense. They were only conservative in clinging to old racist values and the desire to wield power to punish evil — and if you aren’t them, you’re evil!

The truth is fundamentalists didn’t become Republicans as much as Republicans became fundamentalists and that meants embracing the authoritarian vision of this uniquely American sect — one with few roots in historical Christianity.

There is good news here, and not good news in the sense of gospel. As evangelicalism emerged as the dominant face of American Christianity it undermined and discredited the entire Christian religion. The more ugly evangelicalism became the more people walked away from the church. The result was a rise in those unaffiliated with any religion or openly non-theistic. That made the Religious Right even more desperate and more authoritarian.

They know the culture is changing and they are losing the war of demographics. They can’t even keep their own young white children true to the hate campaigns of the church. They built their “hot house” schools to protect the kids from secularism, blacks and modernity only to find them dancing, attending “Hollywood movies” anyway! The “kids” are avoiding church, celebrating with friends at Pride parades, and some — horror of horrors — are even dating outside their own race!

That makes authoritarian fundamentalism more desperate. They need to cling to power and they don’t give a damn about how it’s done. Yes, they spit on the Constitution — it limits power and they wanted unlimited power. They flock to Trump because he is the most openly fascist politician since Wallace. Aronson writes:

These demographic changes are both a source of alarm (for the communities affected) and a potential reason for optimism (for opponents of Trumpism). Not only is the number of white evangelicals continuing to decline, but their children are increasingly eschewing the identity. Churchgoing has seen a steep falling off among those aged 18 to 29. On the one hand, “nones” — those professing no religion — have risen steeply compared with any time in the past, and now are approaching 40 percent of the younger generation. On the other hand, while white evangelical Protestants now comprise perhaps a sixth of the U.S. population, they make up only 8 percent of 18 to 29 year-olds, the same portionof that age group as white mainline Protestants. The evangelical takeover of Protestantism is thus fading in the next generation. Trump exploited this anxiety. “This is our last chance to save our country and reclaim it for we the people,” he told his supporters before the 2016 election. “This is it.”

The reality is Christian fundamentalism would rally behind Trump even if he ramped up the gas chambers — provided the targets were people they hated, and there are so, so many of them.

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A blog for the Moorfield Storey Institute: a liberaltarian think tank.

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James Peron

James Peron

James Peron is the president of the Moorfield Storey Institute, was the founding editor of Esteem a LGBT publication in South Africa under apartheid.

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