Hi and welcome back! Sometimes, the news astonishes me. However, this was not one of those times. Donald Trump has downplayed the coronavirus epidemic (COVID-19) from the very beginning. Alongside him, his rabid fanbase of white evangelicals gladly indulged and encouraged this irresponsible behavior. Now, he’s caught the virus along with a growing number of his close associates and political allies — alongside the white evangelicals also being laid low by the virus. Magical thinking and denialism are no ways to go through life, but it certainly marks Donald Trump’s entire presidency — and the entire worldview of white evangelicals as well.
The Dance of Dominance.
It would have taken a showman to understand the weaknesses of white evangelicals — and then to exploit those weaknesses so ruthlessly. Everything in the character of such Christians led them straight to the feet of whatever politician was finally willing to play those cards to their fullest extent. It’s like Billy Graham and his pals back in the 1950s set out to deliberately concoct the bizarre headlines we see every single day, nowadays. White evangelicals were gift-wrapped and ready to be deployed.
That’s how inevitable it all was.
Most folks didn’t recognize the vast power of white evangelical rage and terror, egged on and ginned-up as it’d been for decades upon decades.
But Donald Trump — or at least, his handlers — did.
In January 2016, he explicitly promised white evangelicals “power” if they elected him president. They heard, and they did exactly what he wanted.
And then, they expected him to fulfill that promise.
That’s where things got a little tricky. America is not the Republic of Gilead — not yet, not yet. All these inconvenient laws and checks-and-balances came into play that thwarted many of the control-grabs the tribe demanded of their new Orange Popesicle.
When COVID-19 became a thing, their dream of theocracy got even trickier. This new disease interfered mightily with their fantasies of dominance.
Denial of Reality.
From the very beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, white evangelicals bristled under the changes it wrought in society.
Nobody had time anymore to deal with their bellows of rage and their self-pitying, faux-persecution whining. People largely shoved white evangelicals’ demands under the rug (where they belong, really).
While most folks adjusted and salvaged what they could, white evangelicals stewed together in echo chambers. Their rage at being pushed aside — and their terror of losing dominance once and for all — drove them to ever-greater heights of wingnuttery. Pastors freaked out about enforced church closures, for good reason. Meanwhile, hucksters strove to take advantage of the tribe’s willful ignorance and terror-addled worldview.
Gosh, wouldn’t anybody think of the poor widdle hard-done-by white evangelicals’ fee-fees here?!?
Well, one person sure did. From the very beginning, Donald Trump, the Orange Overlord of their fantasies, pandered to their feelings and desires.
He acted this way not out of love or genuine belief, but out of self-interest — as usual, as always.
His fans didn’t care. Someone had finally promised them power and pandered to everything they cherished most about themselves.
From the Beginning, COVID-19 Denial.
Almost immediately, the pandemic trampled Donald Trump’s favorability ratings. Worse, that deterioration extended even to his only real fanbase: white evangelicals. And it happened despite all his best efforts to downplay and negate the COVID-19 pandemic.
NPR has a great timeline of all the times Trump lied or distorted reality to make the COVID-19 pandemic seem manageable and minor. It’s downright scary to see it all laid out like this. Beginning in January 2020, he blandly told Americans, “It’s going to be just fine.” The gubmint had everything “under control.”
The next month, he topped himself by giving his infamous “like a miracle” speech:
“It’s going to disappear. One day — it’s like a miracle — it will disappear,” Trump said. “And from our shores, we — you know, it could get worse before it gets better. It could maybe go away. We’ll see what happens. Nobody really knows.”
By April, when face masks became the official Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommendation for everyone, Donald Trump insisted that this measure was “a voluntary thing” that he wouldn’t be doing. In fact, the first time he ever wore one publicly himself was the following July. Worse, he and his loyal staffers downplayed the usefulness of masks and pressured White House staff and visitors to take theirs off.
And oh, white evangelicals loved their silly dancing bear for all of his wacky, reactive displays.
A Marker Belief About COVID-19.
In June, Christianity Today noted a survey that found that white evangelicals were less likely than the general population to take almost any precautions to avoid catching COVID-19. Interestingly, the article makes this observation at the end:
“I’m preaching about fellowship and freedom, to do what you do out of love for your brothers,” one pastor said. “What’s fascinating about this is that if you ask people who want to wear a mask and the people who don’t want to wear a mask, both of them will tell you the other one is the weaker brother.”
That about covers
flybys white evangelicals’ entire opinion. The quote comes from this Baptist Press article that better outlines the conflict involved here:
“Instead of framing the conversation in fear versus faith, we wanted to frame the conversation in terms of serving our neighbor.”
That’s an interesting thing there, “fear versus faith.” Donald Trump himself has constantly insinuated that he refused to wear a mask to avoid showing fear to his many enemies. When he revealed that he’d worn one in May, he said he’d only worn in private because he “didn’t want to give the press the pleasure of seeing it.”
Masks (like other COVID-19 precautions) quickly became a sign of weakness to Donald Trump, and by extension to his fanbase of white evangelicals. Meanwhile, COVID-19 itself has become this age’s AIDS epidemic to white evangelicals: a divine punishment for their enemies.
Fighting for Control of COVID-19.
One of those precautions rankled white evangelical leaders like none other: closing public places like churches.
White evangelical pastors often rule their churches like kings and emperors. Thus, they consider any encroachment upon their prerogative, any checks upon their impulses, as a hostile act. And they respond to any limitations placed upon them with the most nonsensically over-the-top territoriality.
Almost immediately after closures began, white evangelical churches began defying those orders. Rodney Howard-Browne, the faith-healing huckster most responsible for the Toronto Blessing, ended up arrested for his defiance — and lost his church’s insurance plan besides.
Pastors promise to faith-heal the virus if anyone catches it, and to pray away infections altogether. They insist that attending church together showcases their religious liberty.
Over and over again, headlines reveal yet another white evangelical church reopening too early and not enforcing even the most basic precautions. Church attendance has become one of the most common ways the virus spreads, alongside the big events celebrating the things and activities that white evangelicals enjoy.
(Can we please start calling it the Fundie Coof? Pleeeeeze? I just feel like we should be recognizing one of the primary COVID-19 disease vectors of our age.)
The Stupid Prizes Won in This Stupid Game.
I could go on. I hope I don’t need to do so, though. White evangelicals’ senses of entitlement, unwarranted privilege, self-pity, and narcissism have collided in the age of COVID-19 in the worst possible ways. Trump plays to this crowd because he must, regardless of where his own interests might roam.
(Back in the 1980s, my tribe of Pentecostals thought he was a die-hard, abortion-supporting Democrat — and possibly also the Antichrist.)
And now Trump has won the Stupid Prize to beat all such prizes. He has fallen sick with COVID-19 himself, as NPR tells us, along with dozens of his close associates and untold thousands of his white-evangelical supporters. Since he also occupies several high-risk groups (age, obesity, poor health already, etc), he stands to suffer greatly from the virus.
Predictably, he’s acting like everything is just fine. He claims to be “feeling well” in tweets from the hospital. But NPR tells us that his vital signs have been doing roller-coaster loop-the-loops for a while.
I’d like to point out that Trump also acted like everything was just fine in January, too, before the United States got wracked with disease and death. In my opinion, he’s a liar and a conjob, and his tax returns prove that point even without him catching COVID-19. Nobody has any legitimate reason to believe his protests of excellent health.
Denial: Not Just a River in Egypt.
I’m sure Trump thought his bluster about church reopenings would win them back to his loser’s banner. But so far, that move’s had limited success. So has the bluster about not taking precautions to avoid COVID-19.
But hey. If not, there’s always the trump card (haha) of the abortion culture wars. If nothing else, evangelicals will “hold their noses” and vote for the guy who swears he’ll overturn legalized abortion for them.
(Hey, if abortion couldn’t be deployed as a winner-takes-all trump card that wins against any opponents infinity times infinity forever, it wouldn’t make an effective moral panic, now would it?)
Donald Trump’s worst error was in assuming he could live in denial about COVID-19. White evangelicals made the same exact mistake. I wonder which of them will fix that mistake first, or go down with the ship while swearing they were totally right.
At this point, it’s anybody’s guess. If either of ’em could change, they already would have.
NEXT UP: LSP! Then, we’ll look at why evangelicals live in denial about illness in the first place. See you tomorrow!
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