During his presidential campaign, Donald Trump famously boasted that he could literally “stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot someone” and still “not lose any voters.” He turned out to be right, metaphorically at least. White evangelicals are standing behind their chosen champion through all manner of scandals. I was surprised at first that this particular scandal is sticking so hard to our Jerkweed-in-Chief, but really, it isn’t all that surprising–and I’ll show you why it isn’t.
The Abortion Stick.
Turns out that you morons [the Republican base] have been voting with your middle finger for a very, very long time. And the America you now supposedly can’t stand—with all of its inequality and racial tension—is the result of it. You did this. You created an America where Larry the Cable Guy can somehow prosper… where Donald Trump can openly talk about grabbing pussy and somehow NOT be publicly exiled. Great job, shitbirds.
Drew Magary, GQ, October 2016
Decades of hard work have paid off for the American Republican Party. Their noses might be brown and their knees might be bruised, but they long ago successfully convinced fundagelicals of two things: that first, Republicans are the one and only Jesus Party, and second, that no other issues in America matter as much to Jesus as ending abortion rights for women.
The elites in the party might care a lot more about stuff like giving the 1% much-needed tax breaks and making sure corporations’ unfettered greed continues to grow without restriction, but they long ago figured out that the way to get that stuff is to lie to the 99% base about exactly what the Republican Party’s all about and what its goals are.
You’d think that it would be difficult to think of anyone less savory to represent fundagelical interests. And yet here we are, 360 days into the presidency of a man who may well go down in history as the most inept and embarrassing person to ever hold the office. And he got there thanks to white fundagelicals. When these specific voters were asked how in the world they could possibly support someone as monumentally inexperienced and morally repulsive as Donald Trump, one reason kept coming up more than any other:
They wanted a candidate who’d do his best to destroy abortion rights in America.
Donald Trump either figured that out on his own or–let’s face it, more likely learned this truth after one of his advisors put in the tremendous effort required to teach a tame walrus anything.
See, nobody ever went wrong by betting on just how hateful and controlling extremist Christians are–or on how high their ambitions fly.
Flip-Flops in the White House: Suddenly Fashionable.
The 2016 election laid out graphically what is in essence the loss of Christian America.
Donald Trump, not someone anyone would ever describe has having firm or fixed morals, made a switch of his own when he decided to go after the Republican vote. Before going into politics himself, he’d described himself as pro-choice person who even supported Hillary Clinton initially. That would have to change for him to gain the fundagelical vote–and it did. He completely flip-flopped on the topic, just like he did on a lot of other positions he’d held during his long life.
But fundagelicals themselves also changed quite a bit over the same period. A 2011 survey by PRRI indicated that Christians across the board didn’t think that elected officials could effectively fulfill their duties if they behaved immorally in private. White evangelical Protestants–in other words, Donald Trump’s future tribe–condemned that idea the hardest; only 30% of them thought such a combination was possible.
The same survey discovered that 64% of white evangelicals thought it was very important for their ideal presidential candidate to hold strong religious beliefs, while 28% felt that this quality was somewhat important.
By 2016, both of those opinions had dissolved. Now white evangelicals were the most likely of all Christians to say that elected officials could do something hugely immoral in private and still perform adequately in office: 72% of them said this combination was possible. PRRI blandly noted in their report that “no group has shifted their position more dramatically than white evangelical Protestants.”
Not only were white fundagelicals way more likely than other Christians to be okay with immoral behavior in a politician, they were way more likely to be okay with it than Nones were. In fact, over the same period Nones had become slightly less likely to agree with the idea.
As for holding strong religious beliefs, by 2016 white evangelicals had shifted there too. Now only 49% felt that it was very important for candidates to have strong religious beliefs, with 39% thinking it was somewhat important. The number of white evangelicals who thought it wasn’t important at all for a President to hold strong religious beliefs, meanwhile, had doubled from 3% to 6%.
Things change, and so especially, it seems, do the people involved with a religion they proudly declare to be, like their god, to be “the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow.” They don’t remember that almost a year before the Presidential election they were talking about how much they needed a “pastor-in-chief” — until six months later, when their candidate turned out to be anything but their ideal pastor, at which point Jerry Falwell Jr. shilled for him by declaring on Twitter that “we’re not electing a pastor. We’re electing a president.”
Mitt Romney’s own instability regarding a number of issues including abortion might have become part of his doom during his failed run(s) at the office. I say “might have” because by 2012, a Christian Science Monitor study indicated that Christians were a little less concerned by those shifts than they had been earlier–as long as the final shift aligned with their own agenda. If Donald Trump’s handlers knew about that study, it might well have gone into their advice to go ahead and flip-flop to pander better to the enraged, belligerent Christians he was aiming for.
White fundagelical Christians in particular have demonstrated on numerous occasions that they are totally okay with metaphorical-if-not-literal flip-flops in their White House. They can deal just fine with a villain in the highest office in the land, too–as long as he’s their villain.
A Post-Christian Nation, Thanks to Christians.
By 1994 Newt Gingrich and Richard Armey’s Contract with America had accomplished two things, neither of which was explicitly stated in the contract. It had used middle-class Christian voters to secure Republican Party control of both houses of Congress for the first time in 40 years, and its welfare reforms had cemented the vilification of America’s poor.
Regina Nippert, The Hill, May 29, 2015
To be sure, this overt control-grab and over-politicization might be yielding inconsistent-but-occasional big returns for fundagelicals–but overall, it appears to be costing them more than they’ll ever be able to recoup.
The Hill, a DC-insider gossip and politics blog, noted in 2015 that “mixing Christianity with politics is killing the church,” but also that this isn’t really a recent development. It began decades ago (as we observed recently ourselves) and began to reach its flowering in 1994 with Newt Gingrich and Richard Armey’s “Contract With America.” That post’s writer implores her fellow Christians not to allow politics and religion to mix, on the grounds that it damages “both our democracy and our churches.”
Her plea fell upon deaf ears, obviously.
So did a similar plea from Joan Walsh in The Nation.
The people these wiser voices wanted to reach are past masters at filtering out information they don’t like. They already think they know why they’re losing so many people, and the answer they’ve come to doesn’t have anything to do with reality–but it does absolve them of all their “sins” and encourage them to stay the course (or get even worse).
Because vast numbers of Christians are unwilling to look at the real reasons why they’re losing so many people, they’re at a distinct disadvantage in solving that problem. They’re going to keep throwing their dwindling resources at non-solutions based on what they think is causing their problem, but those non-solutions don’t even tangentially intersect with the real causes of their problem. Their non-solutions alienate more and more people from their tribe and cause them to lose more and more credibility in observers’ minds, which provokes these Christians to behave in even more controlling, authoritarian, judgmental, and hypocritical ways, which will only alienate and repel us more quickly.
Literally the only way that they could avoid that result would be to find a way to coerce us into playing along with their theocratic nightmare-fuel. But they mostly lost the power to coerce years ago.
Enter the American Republican Party, which assures their Christian Right fanbase that they will work tirelessly to return to them their lost ability to coerce others. Oh, yes, they will have their onetime power again. They will have their dominance back.
And they’ll get it all back without giving up their culture wars OR changing a thing they’re doing that they enjoy.
All of their past mascots and champions have made similar promises over the years, but it was Trump who turned out to be just as hateful, belligerent, willfully ignorant, and opportunistic as they were. Trump bet that extremist Christians would care way more about winning their culture wars–thus regaining coercive power over their tribal enemies–than they would about regaining their lost credibility.
Ya know, gang, I don’t give a casino operator–even a failed one--any extra credit for knowing better than to bet against the house, nor a hotelier–even a suspiciously-politicized one--extra credit for knowing better than to reckon without his hosts.
Oh My Stars and Garters!
[FitzGerald’s overview in The Evangelicals], in tandem with an array of more pointed books on the subject, suggests that evangelical support for Trump is not a deviation at all—not a sign of hypocrisy or declining influence. On the contrary, that 81 percent figure makes perfect sense.
Molly Worthen, The Atlantic
This whole situation is what’s making the current scandal around Donald Trump’s “shithole” remarks all the more hilarious in a way.
Just to recap anybody who isn’t in the know: In a meeting concerning immigration a week ago, it’s reported that Donald Trump referred to African nations, along with Haiti and El Salvador, as being “shithole countries.” He wondered aloud why “all these people from shithole countries” were allowed to come to America. Some of the folks attending the meeting dispute that he said it (some, weirdly, are saying he actually said “shithouse,” which in my opinion doesn’t change anything–though Stephen Colbert had a great time with that splitting-of-hairs), while others insist that yes, he totally said it. Given Trump’s childish giddiness over the controversy he sparked, it seems almost completely certain that that’s exactly what he said.
Since he contrasted these “shithole countries” with Norway, which he apparently thinks is the gold standard of countries, many of Norway’s residents wasted no time in informing Trump that they consider the United States to be way too much of a shithole country to ever want to move to it.
And a human rights official with the United Nations (UN) roundly condemned the remark as racist, though that might just give fundagelicals a thrill given their longstanding (and entirely misplaced) hatred of the UN. The same goes for Vice, an online magazine not exactly known for its support of extremist Christians generally, which ran a post called “Christ, Trump is an Asshole” that led with the question “How many more ways can he show everyone what he is?”
In customary Donald Trump fashion (and–to say the least–in customary fundagelical fashion as well), he’s gone on the offensive against those saying he did indeed say “shithole.”
He must respond somehow, because for some reason this scandal isn’t going away for him like all his previous ones have (especially considering that Trump decided today to ban Haitian immigrants from applying for seasonal-worker visas).
The funny thing is, it would neither be out of character for Trump to have said it, nor an unusual outburst for him to have made. As the New York Times said recently in a devastating timeline of Trump’s racism, he’s said and done deeply racist things for many years before deciding to hitch a ride on the 2016 Republican Clown Car. He didn’t have to stretch far to meet his fans where they were.
But this particular racist outburst combines two things that are really sensitive topics for fundagelicals right now.
Hitting Them Where It Hurts.
Of course people from Norway would love to move to a country where people are far more likely to be shot, live in poverty, get no healthcare because they’re poor, get no paid parental leave or subsidized daycare and see fewer women in political power.
Christian Christensen, Twitter
First, it’s deeply profane, obviously.
Most of us could easily attest that Christians will tolerate any amount of systemic injustice and hypocrisy in themselves and their groups–but they faint like hothouse orchids at the very mention of a naughty word.
Oh, sure, a few of them might rail against those injustices and instances of hypocrisy while also condemning the naughty words. Others might recognize that policing language of necessity creates a Designated Adult dynamic that makes real communication impossible and art less authentic. But these Christians are very much in the minority. Their pals have created a whole mythology around profanity and the people who use it, making opposition to profanity possibly a more universal doctrine in the religion than the Trinity.
So in that sense, obviously some fundagelicals aren’t happy about the exact language used. (That archive link comes from The American Conservative, and the comments there are exactly what you’d expect to see when conservative Christians’ champions are criticized.)
Endemic, systemic, deep-rooted racism is perfectly okay with them–hell, it’s a bedrock covert doctrine in fundagelicalism. But profane racism is not okay with them.
But second, Trump’s “shithole countries” comment combines his explosive profanity with a racist insult to people of color (POC) from developing and economically-challenged countries, who are surging in importance with the Christian Right for a variety of reasons, most of them sketchy.
White fundagelicals are well aware of how poorly their tainted brand is faring with consumers in the religious marketplace in the United States. They’ve been quietly moving for years to offload their
simple, universal message of hatred, abuse, cruelty, viciousness, exclusion, class warfare, -isms, and warmongering “Good News” to countries that haven’t learned yet just how hypocritical, wicked, and dysfunctional fundagelicals are as a group.
That’s why Scott Lively, a homophobic crackpot preacher from the United States, ended up in a very serious trial over his exportation of fundagelical bigotry and hatred to Uganda. (The lawsuit was dismissed this past summer on what the SPLC describes as “a narrow jurisdictional ground.”) Lively is joined in his efforts by hundreds of other white fundagelical bigots who recognize that the United States simply isn’t as fertile a field as it used to be for their predations. Even Christians who see themselves as kinder, gentler bigots look at countries like Uganda and Haiti as the next big harvest for their religion–in fact, as one of the very few places on Earth still receptive to their message.
Those countries’ people, like pretty much everyone else on Planet Earth, know that Donald Trump speaks for white fundagelicals. That demographic put him in the White House because he learned to pander to its members like nobody else ever had.
So it’s very logical for these countries’ people to wonder if the white fundagelicals flooding their countries also see them that way.
And white fundagelicals themselves rightly fear what impact their champion’s words might have on their future sales.
Tish Harrison Warren, an Anglican priest in Pennsylvania, said of Trump’s “shithole” comment, “It hurts evangelism.”
The Wichita Eagle notes that Vic Gordon, a pastor from Wichita, is specifically concerned about what Trump’s outburst will mean for his missions work in Haiti–and that his fellow pastor Jeff Isaacs condemns the comment specifically in light of the so-called Great Commission: “There’s no asterisk beside that Great Commission by Jesus. We are to go to all the nations.”
I found comments like that everywhere. When a fundagelical could be found at all to condemn the “shithole” comment, chances are they were couching that condemnation in concern over future sales and lost credibility–or else by relating people from those countries to Christian missionary efforts in some other way, like condescendingly and paternalistically talking about how oh, well, you see, we’re alllllllllllll “God’s” children, including Haitians.
They literally talk about the people Trump insulted in the exact same way they talk about LGBTQ people.
Always Assume the Mic is Live.
Fire is not so easily contained. This month Trump has shown himself once more as an arsonist, and insofar as they let his vulgarity distract from his inhumanity, his evangelical supporters act as accomplices.Bonnie Kristian, The American Conservative, January 18, 2017
Trump’s evangelical council, which hasn’t had any trouble supporting their holy paladin through all manner of other scandals and gaffes, is somewhat split over this one.
Not all of them had moral qualms about the profane phrase, of course. Robert Jeffress, one of the brownest-nosed and sore-kneed of Trump’s tribe of yes-men, probably made fundagelicals look worse with his own full-throated support of his Dear Leader’s racism because, he decided it meant that Trump was putting Americans ahead of other people, which he felt was perfect in a President. Vox concluded that “Jeffress’s statement may even be interpreted as acknowledging that Trump’s position is incompatible with core Christian doctrines of charity toward those in need.” Jeffress wasn’t even the worst attempt to justify the unjustifiable.
And none of it matters to fundagelicals themselves. The alt-right base in particular is going wild over the controversy Trump has created. Trump himself appears to be as giddy as a schoolchild over it all. There’s nothing a narcissist likes better than yanking chains, after all.
Folks around Trump predict that his core of dedicated fans won’t mind his remarks at all–and might even like them. His staffers might be simply exhausted dealing with his recklessness and childishness, but his fans are the only people Trump really cares about–and as long as he performs the one job they put him into office to perform, they won’t care what damage he causes along the way.
That said, the gaze of the world misses nothing.
We can totally hear them talking about us.
Their mic is still live.
The cameras are always rolling.
And we’re becoming more and more aware of how dangerous these religious zealots really are, especially when they get a little taste of the power they seek.
Join us next time as we dive into some clobber verses’ clobber verses–and a list of Bible verses and stories I wish I’d known when I was actually Christian, but somehow never heard till after I’d left. See you then!
Speaking of “this mic is live,” this interview happened in 2013. At one point the racist rhetoric is flying so fast and thick that Aasif Mandvi asks then-GOP Precinct Chair Don Yelton if he’s actually aware that people can hear him talking right then. Yelton went on to lose his GOP position over that interview. Even better, in 2016 this interview was cited by an appeals court as part of its decision to strike down the law Yelton was gloating about. Yelton “went bonkers” in an extensive series of rants on social media after the current GOP Chairman of his county, in referring to that decision, said Yelton was “like a chronic case of hemorrhoids.” Yelton still pops up around his local area’s news–and he hasn’t changed a bit! A pity for him that this whole scandal happened a few years before Republicans went Peak Neo-Nazi. Dude might have ended up in the Cabinet.
If you like what you see, I would love to have your support. My PayPal is email@example.com (that’s an underscore in there) for one-time tips, and I also welcome monthly patrons via Patreon with Roll to Disbelieve. Thanks!