Election 2016: The Cult of Ideological Purity, Backfiring.

Election 2016: The Cult of Ideological Purity, Backfiring. October 13, 2016

The fallout from the Donald Trump-Billy Bush tape leak continues apace, with the newest election forecast looking even worse for Donald Trump than it ever has: 13.7% chance of winning, down from 18% on Monday, but that down from the mid-40s before the tape had dropped–while Hillary Clinton’s chances rose in turn to a current high of 86% (and as I’ve been writing today, a fresh scandal seems to be dropping out of the sky–WTF?).

A great deal of the reason behind Donald Trump’s tumble from grace is that fundagelicals are finally starting to abandon him. Even the Republican Party itself, a party whose platforms and ideology have for decades been based on fundagelical culture, a party that panders to right-wing ultra-conservative Christians to the exclusion of all other groups (to their own detriment), is beginning to turn against him in earnest.

A demon dog! (Credit: Christine Olson, CC-ND.)
Demon dogs! Well, a demon dog, anyway. (Credit: Christine Olson, CC-ND.)

Yes, many Christians are finally starting to question their allegiance to the Clown Prince of Mayhem. But many others remain ferociously loyal. The issue that divides both groups is one that perfectly reflects exactly what is so morally bankrupt about their ideology as a whole.

That’s what fascinates me so much about this election: it’s not just politics. It’s a searing indictment of Christianity itself. The whole reason that Trump came to power was that he tapped into the roaring, petulant, blazing rage of the Religious Right, and now the whole reason he is falling is that the Religious Right simply doesn’t hold the power that it once claimed. But the kind of people who still support him are also the kind of people who take a little while to see the writing on the wall when there’s been a massive sea change in circumstances.

Weirdly enough, the same attempted justification is being used by both his supporters and the defectors from his banner. It backfires both times.

Supporters: He’s the Forced-Birther Poster Child.

Donald Trump became a fundagelical hero by pandering shamelessly to fundagelicals. All he had to do was make various pretenses toward being One of the Tribe and they opened the doors to their hearts and let him galumph on in there–at which point he promptly shat on the floor. They either love this weird performance art of his or they hate it, but either way, they’re thrilled that he at least supports the one cause they need a candidate to support.

The problem here isn’t that they’ve chosen to die on a single-issue hill. I get why people become single-issue voters. If a candidate is loudly pro-choice, for example, that tells me a lot about their other platforms. They’re probably on board with that raft of other platforms that actually lower abortion rates–like universal healthcare (including contraception), comprehensive sex education, real science taught in schools, a firm stance on consent, and family-friendly policies like maternity leave. For another still, they’re usually pro-LGBTQ, feminist, and supporters of Black Lives Matter. People who get abortion rights also get consent, human dignity, and all kinds of other essential concepts. Once I find out that a candidate is brave enough to declare their support for abortion rights, I know that I’m probably on pretty safe ground with that person everywhere else. I’m sure it’s not a 100% correlation, but so far in practical experience it’s been close. So I get it.

But support for anti-abortion measures doesn’t quite work the same way. Candidates who oppose those rights tend to be all over the map, policy-wise. Some of them support climate change and real science; some are tinfoil-hat wearers. Some are even Democrats. And of the ones who are firm forced-birthers*, they don’t tend to support a single policy that actually lowers abortion rates, protects women’s health, or saves lives. Some of the most ferocious opponents of choice even strong-arm their partners into getting abortions for what they themselves would call “convenience” if it was anybody else doing it.

None of that matters to the True Believers, though. To them, simple ideological purity is all they need to hear. They can support this lying philanderer, this proud abuser of women, this alleged con artist and fraudster, this vicious racist, this brutal demagogue, this ignorant, callow, megalomaniacal business failure, no matter what he does–loudly, vocally, to the end–because he’s at least willing to adhere to the party line about abortion.

They’re certainly not in it for “precious babies” or “family values” or even “women’s health.”

They never have been.

It’s always been about controlling women–a goal which itself has always been about re-Christianizing America.

But a lot of other stuff has to fall into place before that Orwellian vision can become reality.

In the same way that I recognize all the other stuff that usually nests with abortion rights in a person’s mind, forced-birthers recognize that a lot of other stuff has to happen before abortion can be criminalized. Fundagelicals would have to start winning a lot more court cases and getting pro-fundagelical laws passed, which would have some big effects on the American judicial and legislative branches. They’d almost certainly need a right-wing Christian-pandering President to prevent all the vetoes that would otherwise happen. A lot of people would suddenly need to accept the Religious Right’s rape-culture ideas about women not having the right to consent and also to forget about the human-rights abuses that inevitably come with restrictions on abortion.

Christians would not unlock that achievement until they were safely ensconced back into superiority in American culture and law.

When you hear a Christian stoutly declare that they can’t possibly turn away from Donald Trump because the alternative is someone who does not oppose abortion rights, you are hearing a Christian tell you that he or she wants a Christian theocracy in America and will support anybody who even vaguely seems willing to help make it happen.**

Defectors: He’s Not Forced-Birther Enough.

When one sees Christians turning away from Donald Trump, only rarely are they doing it because he’s the lowest form of life on the planet. Fundagelicals opposing Donald Trump usually can name a raft of reasons why he would never be a good President, but one issue seems to swim constantly to the surface of all of their thoughts: abortion.

More and more often, I see Christians saying in disgust that they’re just not sure he’s the anti-abortion candidate of their dreams. “I can’t vote for Hillary Clinton,” they cry aloud, and often the sole reason they give for that decision is that she supports abortion rights. Even when there’s a smokescreen of other reasons given, when you dig down into them you notice that abortion rights tend to pop up very early and very centrally–as is the case of Russell Moore, a Southern Baptist leader who is one of the fundagelicals cited in the preceding paragraph’s links.

Donald Trump himself is as hard to pin down on the topic of his opinion about the legality of abortion as his followers are about the same exact topic. When directly asked if he’d ever been involved with a woman who’d had an abortion, he dodged the question. (Later, he said that he hadn’t–but it seems telling that he needed a little time to formulate a response.) He’s very famously flip-flopped all around the question for years. So voters can feel free to pin whatever opinion they wish on his butt.

For once I agree with Russell Moore, who sees this election cycle as “the last spastic breath of the Religious Right.” I’m not sure if he understands that his denomination has had a very direct hand in creating Donald Trump’s fanbase, but at least he seems to grasp how disastrous it’s all going to turn out no matter who wins.

This second group of fundagelical voters isn’t totally sure what they all want to do quite yet, but they do know they don’t want to support Donald Trump. I suppose that’s a start. But if his ideological purity about abortion is their big or (worse yet) their only problem with the idea of voting for him, if they’re hung up on this one issue in the face of all the other stuff he’s done, that’s a big problem.

We’ll be talking about consent, that demon bugbear of the Republican Party and toxic Christianity alike, next time. It seems like a fitting topic, given what came in on the dashboard this afternoon while I was trying to write this post. See you then!


* Forced-birthers are people who want to force pregnant women to give birth against their wills. The term is not original to me, but I like it.

** That’s why it takes a special kind of dense for an atheist to support forced-birthers, consequently; it’s like they think they could make it happen without theocracy trotting along beside that goal. 

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