When I saw the article below on 3 Quarks Daily, I thought it was time to share some thoughts I had on the popularity of Donald Trump in conservative Evangelical churches.
The article’s argument is that Trump was already known to be a bully, and Joe Biden’s platform was as one who would stand up to the bully and give him a taste of his own medicine. If that was what it would mean to “win” against Trump then Biden indeed did not fight fire with fire in the terrible debate that was held recently. But I’d like to suggest that fire needs to be fought with water, that bullying itself is not combatted when a bigger bully comes along, but when someone comes along who can challenge them fearlessly without engaging in the same tactics. Of course, to the extent that Biden spoke simultaneously with others and interrupted, he reciprocated instead of being thoroughly different. Whether that is a point on which he deserves to be criticized is not my concern here.
What is my concern is that the debate helps clarify why Trump’s popularity among conservative Evangelicals, far from being a puzzling anomaly, is precisely what we ought to expect. Take a look at conservative Evangelical debate tactics and you will see the same things we saw in the first presidential debate. Bullying. Not respecting moderator or opponent. Unleashing such a steady stream of misinformation that not only the on-stage opponent but other fact checkers won’t manage to keep up. The latter became such a stereotypical feature of debates featuring young-earth creationists that it even got a nickname, the “Gish Gallop,” after Duane Gish, with whom it was particularly associated, although it was never unique to him.
Donald Trump in the debate was the belligerent preacher who denigrates and demeans their opponent, doing whatever it takes to score rhetorical points with a poorly-informed audience/congregation who do not know the facts and do not care about them, but only want to see passion and strength on display that reassures them of their own rightness. That is what conservative churches have been fostering for a long time. It has been publicly visible on Christian television channels and radio stations and in debates both formal and informal. There is nothing surprising, therefore, about Donald Trump’s popularity with that crowd. On the contrary. The only way to win a genuine victory against this is not to play Trump’s game, nor to engage in the rhetorical strategies of conservative debaters, but to figure out how to win conservative Evangelicals over to valuing what the Bible calls “speaking the truth in love.” There was neither love nor truth on display in Trump’s debate performance. Can Christian fundamentalists and others like them be persuaded to see this and repudiate it? That’s the question that will decide not only the future of the United States, but also the future of American Christianity.
Here are links to articles and blog posts that will likely be of interest to those who want to explore Christian values and rhetoric:
Weekend Fisher blogged about what ideally ought to be the case, namely that religious communities would be precisely where shared values are a matter that we hold one another accountable to. However, when the shared value that predominates is one that esteems belligerence and authoritarianism, the combination of those values with structured community can make them even more toxic.