The Christian right played a crucial strategic role in the election of Donald Trump and continues, despite everything, to provide him with the hard core of his support. According to one poll, not only did evangelical Christians constitute nearly a third of votes in the 2016 presidential election, but 81 percent of white evangelical Christians voted for Trump.
Indeed, during the election campaign itself tens of thousands of evangelical Christians took part in prayer marathons and prayer walks, some fasted for days, calling on god for a Donald Trump victory. His election was celebrated as an actual miracle, as god intervening to save his chosen land.
How was it that someone like Trump could become the candidate of the Christian right? The New Testament character that he most resembles is, of course, King Herod and the one he least resembles is Jesus.
He is the epitome of the Bad Samaritan. His whole life has been devoted to greed, self-indulgence and self-aggrandisement, to proving that “the meek”, or rather the “losers”, will inherit nothing. He is a bully and a conman, only saved from the consequences of his criminality by his wealth and his lawyers.
His ignorance is profound and he has no knowledge whatsoever of the Bible, which is after all a book. And he is a boastful compulsive liar. As for his personal life, he is a sexual predator, indeed this is something he boasts about.
And yet evangelical preachers were queuing up to give this man their blessing, famously gathering around him to lay their hands on him in front of the TV cameras.
The leaders of the Christian right cut an old-fashioned cynical backroom deal with Trump whereby he would give them what they wanted, control of the Supreme Court was the deal breaker, and in return they would hypocritically sell him to their followers as the Lord’s anointed.
Trump began his flirtation with evangelical Christianity as early as 2002 when Paula White, the televangelist, became his “spiritual adviser”. Her school of “prosperity gospel” in effect taught that Jesus died on the cross in order to make his chosen followers personally rich and that the way to access this miracle was to send her money. People were rich because god had blessed them. In the past she has owned her own personal jet and had a $3.5 million condo at Trump Tower in New York along with other multimillion dollar properties courtesy of the generous donations of her followers.
Today, after some financial setbacks, she is worth only some $5 million but rising. In January 2018, she urged her followers to send her that month’s pay as tribute to the Lord. White seems to have convinced Trump that evangelical Christianity was just a glorified scam, something that he could wholeheartedly embrace in spirit, even if the theology was beyond him. And it could help put him in the White House. White preached at his inauguration, chairs his evangelical advisory board, has threatened a Christian uprising if he is impeached and still hopes for a top post in his administration.
But how was he sold to the millions of ordinary evangelical Christians? There were two stories told. One was that he was reformed, that the corrupt dissolute Trump had found the Lord. And for those not quite so gullible, it was preached that god worked in mysterious ways and if in his wisdom he had chosen a corrupt dissolute billionaire to save Christian America then the faithful should be grateful.
As one preacher argued, if god had once chosen to speak through an ass, then why couldn’t he speak, if somewhat less coherently, through Trump?
This was reinforced by preaching that his opponents were demonically inspired, that what was at stake in the 2016 presidential election was the soul of America.
At its most extreme, this preaching condemned the Clintons as a “Baal worshipping pair”, as “Luciferian witches who worshipped the angel who became Satan”, as the creatures of “the Rothschild-born Illuminati…who kidnapped, raped, tortured, and murdered in Satanic sacrifice young children, burning them to Moloch as ancient Baal worshippers had done”. And so on.
Even so Trump was still a problem. His complete ignorance of Christianity was a continual embarrassment. When asked in a television interview what his favourite Bible verse or story was, he was initially completely at sea, but then came up with: “I think many, I mean, when we get into the Bible, I think many, so many…look an eye for an eye, you can almost say that…we can learn a lot from the Bible, that I can tell you.”
As far as the faithful were concerned though, his aggressive bigotry more than compensated for the fact that he knew less about the basic tenets of Christianity than any previous presidential candidate.
And he has delivered. His cabinet is not only the richest in US history but the most evangelical. Indeed, there are weekly Trump cabinet Bible study meetings where Betsy DeVos, Mike Pompeo, Ben Carson, Mike Pence, Jeff Sessions, Scott Pruitt and others, all professed evangelicals, meet to pray to god for guidance and for Trump’s success. Even Trump himself sometimes puts in an appearance.
They are committed to putting a stop to abortion and Planned Parenthood, rolling back gay rights, and handing schooling over to Christian control, a whole moral and cultural counter-revolution as far as they are concerned.
The fight against this attempt to impose a reactionary, bigoted, corrupt and hypocritical school of Christianity, a sort of Christian Wahhabism, on the US is a vital part of the fight against Trump.