Trump is Perfect for Evangelical Political Analysis

Trump is Perfect for Evangelical Political Analysis January 23, 2018

Along come two more op-ed columns about — can you believe it — the hypocrisy of evangelical support for President Trump.

First Michael Gerson on Billy and Franklin Graham:

We can now look back on such gullibility with nostalgia. Graham had the alibi of self-deception. But his son Franklin Graham, Jerry Falwell Jr., Robert Jeffress and President Trump’s other evangelical Christian advocates have no such excuse. They have made their political bargain with open eyes. Trump has made profanity an unavoidable part of our political culture. He is in the midst of a gathering corruption scandal that has left close aides under indictment. He tells repeated and obvious lies. He incites ethnic and racial resentment as a political strategy and was caught on tape bragging about sexual assault. Add to this something that could never be said of Nixon: the credible accusation that Trump paid hush money to a porn star to cover up an affair.

Billy Graham, the man who was not naive about meeting with women, gets a pass for gullibility but his son and company do not? I hope Mr. Gerson is never judge in a courtroom in which I need impartiality.

Then (actually four days ago) Erick Erickson (from the paper with the tagline that should read, “Where Self-Righteousness Goes on Parade”):

Scripture commands Christians to behave in ways that reflect God, not man, but the president’s evangelical supporters are celebrating a repeat adulterer who embodies American hedonism where pleasure and happiness are the highest goods.

Still, a large number of evangelicals have convinced themselves that their politics and faith are two separate things and they can champion a politician like Trump without it affecting their souls or salvation. They have rationalized their way into a bastardized version of Martin Luther’s two kingdoms theology. (Luther believed that “God has ordained the two governments: the spiritual, which by the Holy Spirit under Christ makes Christians and pious people; and the secular, which restrains the unchristian and wicked so that they are obliged to keep the peace outwardly.”) These evangelical activists believe God has ordained the two governments and never the two shall meet, so what they do in politics has no bearing on the church or the advancement of God’s kingdom.

Why is it that the critics of evangelicals are as moralistic as Trumpian evangelicals try to be in their endorsements? In other words, why is moralistic support for Trump any worse than moralistic objections to support for Trump? Can anyone among evangelicals actually prove John Fea wrong when he recently wrote, “evangelicals have not thought very deeply about politics.”

Thinking deeply about politics might mean considering the kinds of issues by which Trump appealed to American voters. The best summary of that appeal (not as a Bible-thumping Christian nor as a child of light) came recently from Robert W. Merry:

Thus did Trump drive a wedge through the body politic, generating a great American split best understood through the most potent issues he forced into the American consciousness. They are: restraint vs. adventurism in foreign policy; immigration; trade; the plight of the working class; and political correctness. Trump meshed these issues into a successful electoral coalition in last year’s campaign; the question now is whether he can mesh them into an effective governing coalition.

Foreign Policy: Nothing accentuated Trump’s anti-establishment persona more distinctly than his assault on America’s promiscuous engagement in foreign conflicts. He railed against George W. Bush’s Iraq war and his nation-building ambitions. With typical brutality he even alleged that Bush and his top officials lied to the American people. He called America’s Afghan involvement “a complete waste” that should be ended. He excoriated President Obama for assisting in the overthrow of Libya’s Muammar Qaddafi and pursuing the overthrow of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. He called NATO “obsolete” and vowed to reduce America’s commitment to it. He decried the ongoing U.S. bellicosity toward Russia.

Trump didn’t foreswear all foreign entanglements. He expressed concerns about a rising China, particularly on the economic front, and he assaulted Obama’s contribution to the Iranian nuclear deal. He also called for the complete defeat of the Islamic State. But generally, he rejected the establishment view of America as an indispensable nation with a remit to spread democracy in far-flung regions and upend unpalatable dictators. He called for a strong America focused on the country’s vital national interests. . . .

Immigration: Nothing crystallizes the nationalism vs. globalism struggle as sharply as this definitional issue. The political establishment wanted to finesse it through the campaign to tamp down civic angers about border dissolution and the 11 million or so illegal immigrants in the country (an ugly blot on the nation’s governing classes). The aim was to calm the waters until after the election, when the high-voltage amnesty issue could be dealt with in a more controllable legislative setting. Exhibits A and B in this farce were Senators John McCain and Marco Rubio, who evinced appreciation for popular sentiment on the issue in running for office but promptly returned to the amnesty project when the electoral challenge was over.

But millions of Americans were tired of this finesse, and Trump’s willingness to seize the immigration issue in his bold, even nasty way resonated with white working-class voters in states previously considered Democratic strongholds—particularly Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania. This was pure populism at work—taking an issue dominated and closely managed by elites and casting it to the electorate for ballot box adjudication. Hillary Clinton’s “basket of deplorables” comment suggests the extent to which establishment liberals didn’t know what hit them. . .

Trade: In the 1990s, free trade became an elite mantra embraced by both major parties, influential think tanks, key journalists, and the federal government’s managerial barony. As America pursued multilateral open-trade agreements, however, the nation’s industrial base deteriorated, devastating America’s working classes. It became increasingly clear that other nations, particularly China, weren’t playing by the rules of the World Trade Organization and other multinational entities. . .

But the elites, with their globalist outlook, ignored this menacing phenomenon. An example was New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, who celebrated globalization in the late 1990s as involving “the inexorable integration of markets, nation-states and technologies to a degree never witnessed before.” To Friedman it was about “the basic human desire for a better life—a life with more choices as to what to eat, what to wear, where to live, where to travel, how to work, what to read, what to write and what to learn.” Friedman’s giddy encomium to this brave new world of petty materialism showed little concern for cultural sensibilities that could get crushed or for Americans whose livelihoods were threatened.

That was Trump’s opening. He slammed this elite consensus, portrayed himself as protector of beleaguered working Americans, and attacked many of the country’s major trading partners for not playing fair. It worked.

Plight of the Working Class: In addition to addressing this issue through trade rhetoric, Trump also sought to expose another significant development threatening middle class workers. This was the phenomenon known as “financialization,” defined by Harvard Business School professor Gautam Mukunda as an “increase in the influence of financial markets, institutions and elites over both the economy and the other institutions of society, including the government.” The financial sector now dominates much of the U.S. economy—and uses its clout to influence Washington policymaking to its benefit.

Today’s Wall Street titans make money by moving money and taking a cut in millions of financial transactions. Unlike the industrial titans of the 19th and 20th centuries, including the much-maligned Gilded Age “robber barons,” these elites don’t build factories or products and don’t create many jobs. . . .

Political Correctness: No serious presidential candidate had ever taken on the forces of political correctness with Trump’s brand of pugilism. His rhetorical intemperance was part of it, a defiant poke in the eye to those who would silence conservatives by declaring their views outside the bounds of proper thinking. But he also took on leftists who denigrate elements of the American and Western heritage and who malign patriotism. A study by mathematician Spencer Greenberg, reported in, indicated that anger over political correctness was the second most reliable predictor of Trump support, behind party affiliation and ahead of social conservatism, protectionism, and anti-immigration sentiments.

Once again it was Trump who touched this nerve while most others held back. It turned out that political correctness was roiling major segments of the populace far more than anyone perceived.

I suppose you can chalk these issues up to racism, sexism, or worse, which would be another form of moralizing about matters of national policy. You may even disagree with Trump on these issues, or express frustration for his failure to act on them.

But simply to look at his personal immorality and the hypocrisy of one segment of his supporters is not to make much effort to understand national politics. Which POTUS can stand in the words of the Psalmist:

Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord?
And who shall stand in his holy place? (Ps 24:3)

John F. Kennedy? Ronald Reagan? Bill Clinton?



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