Hi and welcome back! Last week, news emerged about Donald Trump mocking and belittling evangelical leaders. And strangely, I can’t find many of them talking about this betrayal. Today, let me show you self-interest so profound that evangelicals can forgive literally anything their idol says or does.
(Important pre-note: I don’t use scare quotes with evangelicals. All quotes used in my posts come from actual sources, unless I alert you otherwise. Also, just for future reference: all emphases in quotes also come from the original sources.)
“King Cyrus” Indeed.
From the get-go, evangelicals have hailed Donald Trump as the reincarnation of King Cyrus from the Bible. Maybe he wasn’t a true-blue believer, no. But dangit, he sure pandered well to right-wing Christians. They could forgive his constant streams of gaffes — and they did.
Then, The Atlantic unveiled a major story: Donald Trump has been mocking and belittling evangelical leaders for years, even as they threw more and more support at his political ambitions.
Somehow, I can’t see Bible-era King Cyrus committing a similar betrayal of the Jews.
Yes, indeed. Since at least 2015, he’s called evangelical leaders scammers, “full of shit,” “hustlers,” and more. He’s mocked their big laying-on-of-hands prayer meetings over him (you know the ones: where they resemble small children trying all at once to pet a walrus at a petting zoo). He’s also belittled their beliefs and customs. The reporter of the Atlantic story, McKay Coppins (a Mormon himself), characterized Donald Trump’s opinions of Mormons in particular as “vicious.”
This report dovetails nicely with similar recent news about Donald Trump’s anti-Semitic comments. I noticed many news sites also mentioned that Trump’s own close political associates thought he was an atheist.
It’s not like anyone ever thought Donald Trump was really totally converted to TRUE CHRISTIANITY™. I think most people outside evangelicalism thought he was only pandering to evangelicals and their frantic quest for power in the face of decline. But this betrayal, evidence as it is of the true reality of his two-faced nature, left me just breathless.
It was incredible to see just how completely insincere his pandering truly was, and how impossible it was for this narcissistic conjob to conceal his true feelings.
But I was going to get an even bigger surprise when I went looking for evangelical reactions to Donald Trump’s betrayal.
Mockery Destroys Authoritarians, Usually.
Very little seems to undo authoritarians quite like mockery does. They call it blasphemy and other such things to make it sound like a big outrage. But really, they’re just upset about being mocked.
And by their own lights, they should be upset.
Mockery serves two purposes, for those doing it:
First, it reveals that the person doing the mocking doesn’t hold the authoritarian in high regard at all. Just in itself, that is bad enough. Authoritarians need adulation and fear like most people need water. Those displays give them momentary feelings of safety and pleasure.
Second and possibly more importantly, however, mockery reveals that the mocker isn’t afraid of what the authoritarian will do in response to the mockery.
So mockery not only reveals very serious flaws in the target’s opinions, behavior, etc., but it also highlights the fault lines running through the target’s power-base.
So you’d think evangelicals would be extremely upset about betrayal from their big hero Donald Trump.
I mean, you’d think. That was my expectation.
Reactions from the Christ-o-Sphere.
For their own part, the White House spokes-enablers have downplayed everything about Trump’s betrayal. Oh, y’all, their boss was just kidding! He’s just got this weird, quirky, “terrific sense of humor” that liberals just don’t understand. They added that meaniepies are just out there “seeking to sow division.”
(Sow division is a Christianese phrase, incidentally. Here’s the explanation. Evangelicals deploy this phrase to silence critics and dissenters.)
I know the “fake news!” response is a reflex at this point, but the president’s apologists may want to pause and consider why the White House didn’t dispute any of the details in this story. They pointed, instead, to his “terrific sense of humor.”
A Baptist site called Word & Way linked the Atlantic article without comment. It’s not like this is a totally unheard-of practice for them, but they’ve had stuff to say about other stories.
The Strange Amnesia of the Religious Right.
A writer for The Federalist, Mollie Hemingway, noted that “there’s nothing wrong with Trump calling Prosperity Gospel Peddlers ‘hustlers'” because most evangelicals already agree with that sentiment. She forgets that those “peddlers,” along with leaders that evangelicals actually tend to respect (like Jerry Falwell Jr., who offered an instrumental endorsement in 2016 and became a powerful friend) that got most evangelicals on board with voting for the Hustler-in-Chief himself. She also forgets that Trump very deliberately courted evangelical leaders to obtain those endorsements.
It’s an odd and noteworthy bit of amnesia, but one can easily understand why Hemingway suffers from it. She’s Lutheran, her bio reads at Christianity Today, which can go either way. But she sounds evangelical to her very bones and she certainly writes for that crowd.
Like most narcissists and authoritarians, evangelicals don’t tend to have good memories for their own shortcomings and failures, and even less of a memory of those of their favored leaders and causes. They’re like the most malevolent goldfish ever.
So no, I wouldn’t expect her to recall such information, nor evangelicals generally. I can guarantee that there’s at least one evangelical leader she does respect who’s endorsed Donald Trump and then been insulted and belittled by him. I also guarantee that that leader continues to endorse him anyway. I’ve found not one single indication that a single evangelical leader endorsing Trump has second-guessed that stance as a result of betrayal. Moreover, he also insulted evangelicals’ beliefs and customs — but Hemingway has nothing to say there, either.
(Of course, goldfish can actually remember stuff for way longer than evangelicals can. The Law of Comparative Comparisons strikes again! We really can’t compare evangelicals to anything without the comparison group suffering an unjust slam.)
The Lack of Reactions: A Stunning Silence.
So yes, I found a few reactions from the Christ-o-Sphere. Most came from conservative news and opinion sites.
However, the picture changed when I checked out reactions from major sites positioned firmly in the Christ-o-Sphere.
In fact, none of the big-name right-wing Christian sites even touched the story.
I found nothing from Christianity Today, Christian Post, Baptist Press, or Baptist News (though those last guys fretted a lot about Donald Trump catching COVID-19).
It’s downright hilarious.
These sites cover every little thing about the Orange Savior including his bout with Christian Coof, but nothing whatsoever at all about him insulting everything they stand for alongside their big-name leaders.
And a Few Trickling In.
Now, a few much smaller sites and individuals have expressed their utter lack of care over the betrayal. They probably speak for much of the tribe. Their reaction, too, provided me much-needed snerks today.
Todd Starnes, that weirdo who got fired from Baptist Press and Fox News Radio for his inflammatory false statements and misquotes, had a few things to say on The American Conservative. Mostly, he just slammed McKay Coppins as a liar regarding earlier stories he’d written about other Republicans that Starnes likes. (Starnes also insists that he’s not planning to vote for Trump. Take this protest as you will.) He doesn’t flat-out call The Atlantic story false, but says he’s really just asking questions:
But this is my experience with McKay Coppins’ reporting thirdhand information about a situation where I was in the room and he was not. Is it unreasonable to ask if there are similar discrepancies in his recent negative story about President Trump?
In turn, I’d just ask questions about Todd Starnes’ own reliability as a narrator, considering why he lost those other two jobs.
Glass houses and all that, ya know.
Ah, That Religious Liberty Scam Again.
Moving on, a Russian website called RT.com unsurprisingly hosted a Trumpkin rant that begins here: “The Atlantic has done another hatchet job on President Trump.” It goes downhill from there. Its evangelical writer, Micah Curtis, declares something quite telling in his post’s subtitle:
As an evangelical, I don’t believe Trump hates Christians, but so what if he does? He still respects our rights[.]
Curtis ends thusly:
I am of the opinion that if an atheist showed the utmost respect for those who believe in a higher power, they could likely win the presidency some time in the future.
It might help to know some Christianese here. When evangelicals talk about “respect” shown to themselves, they mean deference and compliance with their demands, not basic consideration and civility. When they speak of their “rights,” they mean the power they exercise over others. Religious liberty, in Christianese, means giving evangelicals real power over others.
Curtis alludes to all of these redefinitions, and he does so without ever stating exactly what he means. That’s okay. His target audience will know and understand completely.
National Review echoes this sentiment, declaring that “disdain is a small price” to pay for Donald Trump’s allegiance to the tribe. In fact, it can:
almost be a compliment. It confirms the strength and importance of your role in the coalition. You think Iowa’s corn growers don’t know how politicians talk about the ethanol subsidies in private?
I have no idea how politicians talk about that, no, and the post offers no sources for this assertion.
Trump: “I played the game.”
But considering how freaked out evangelicals get over mockery, it’s noteworthy that this time, they’ve got almost nothing to say.
There’s a good reason for their silence.
Evangelicals might use different words to describe their sentiments, but they’re leaning hard into Trump’s pandering and his explicit, repeated offers to give evangelicals “power” over their enemies.
As long as Donald Trump continues to offer evangelicals the temporal power they crave, they will completely and utterly support him to the hilt. Even the evangelical leaders he has specifically insulted and mocked behind their backs won’t say a single word about this betrayal.
As Donald Trump himself has said, he “played the game” with them by giving them free hotel stays and whatnot. They’re beholden to him.
Winning “the Game.”
As we’ve seen many times around here, evangelical leaders find themselves locked in a whole network of social obligations to each other. That’s why they only turn on each other when it’s totally safe to do so.
(As an example, Lee Strobel became a success thanks almost entirely to his close professional association with Bill Hybels. Later, when Hybels lost his job amid disgrace, Strobel only spoke out against his former boss well after Hybels had been kicked out of the Cool Kids’ Club.)
That’s the tight network Trump counts on now. No matter what he says or does, those leaders won’t abandon him. They know they need him to gain the temporal power they want.
And that’s why most Christians haven’t really talked much about this betrayal. Donald Trump is still instrumental to their ambitions. He could say literally anything at this point, even that he’s just been lying to them this entire time while playing both sides, and they’d still vote for him.
It’s 2am, the bar is closing, and they’ve got nobody else to go home with.
NEXT UP: TRUE CHRISTIANS™ have decided to wreck a whole new “mission field” during the pandemic. (Thanks! We hate it!) See you tomorrow! <3
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