In my wildest dreams and worst nightmares, prior to November 2016 I never could have imagined Donald J. Trump being elected as President of the United States. The mere thought of it seemed like an outrageous joke. But it happened.
Then, I was sure that in only a matter of months, the American people—including those who voted for him—would see Donald Trump as the vicious, mean-spirited, self-serving dunce he really is. (Although, I was shocked that any person, much less millions of Americans, couldn’t see that right from the start.) But it didn’t happen.
I felt certain that at some point, most of the evangelicals who voted for the world’s greatest grifter would wake up and see the horrible mistake they’d made and repent. That didn’t happen either.
My Mistaken Assessments
How was I so wrong so many times about Donald J. Trump? The answer is simple: I gave too many people too much credit for being honest, intelligent, and discerning. I assumed the best about most Americans when I should have understood that far too many of our people are intellectually lazy, morally corrupt, and easily duped.
I gave too many people too much credit for being honest, intelligent, and discerning.
Worse still, I’m sad to say, most of those lazy, corrupt, easily duped folks are white evangelical Christians. And, writing as one of those white evangelical Christians—I still haven’t decided if I’m fully ready to reject that label—I’m certain that most white evangelicals would feel gravely offended and viscerally angry at that characterization. Too bad; it’s true.
Making matters even worse, added to their intellectual laziness, dishonesty, and gullibility, far too many white evangelicals also tend to be proud—and I mean that in the sense of hubris, not fulfilled, gratified, or noble. Having crowned Donald Trump as their new messiah—mostly symbolically but in many cases literally—they will never repent. To do so would be to pull the thread that would begin the unraveling of their entire belief system. And the reason for that unraveling would be their unyielding melding of religion and politics.
Forget Character, We Want Power!
As many have already noted, by 2016, most evangelicals had given up on their hope of putting one of their own in the White House. They’d come close in 2000, with the election of George W. Bush, but W didn’t quite fit the mold. His “compassionate conservatism” was too dainty, too much Fred Rogers and not enough John Rambo. White evangelicals wanted someone who would kick asses on their behalf. They wanted someone who would keep the riff raff out and protect their right to worship on Sunday mornings and spend the remainder of the weekends enjoying their expensive toys.
And that was what Donald J. Trump promised to do for them—in exchange for their undying loyalty. But supporting this thrice married adulterer who mocked disabled folks was bad optics. So, they had to rebrand Trump. He wasn’t just the foul-mouthed philanderer who cut a deal to earn their unwavering support; he was God’s man for the job. God Himself had placed His Divine seal of approval on this most unlikely messiah. There was, they said, a biblical precedent: the ancient Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar, who conquered the Israelites—along with most of the known world at the time—and then brought many of those Israelites back to Babylon as servants and slaves. The turning point in this Trump/Nebuchadnezzar comparative narrative was when the Hebrew God, Yahweh, humbled the mighty Babylonian king and the king repented and became a follower of Yahweh.
But despite Nebuchadnezzar’s conversion, he never released the Israelites to return to their Promised Land. And, because so many evangelicals see the Church as a modern-day version of the nation of Israel, equating a modern-day messiah to him seemed less than ideal. So, up next was the ancient Medo-Persian King Cyrus, who defeated Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonians and did, finally, allow the captured Israelites to return to their Promised Land.
Then, as the Nebuchadnezzar/Cyrus comparisons circulated throughout the white evangelical milieu, the myth grew and solidified. Donald Trump became white evangelicals’ new messiah. His status as divinely chosen was beyond doubt. Those who did doubt that status were apostates, pretenders, RINOS and CINOS (Christians In Name Only).
No Turning Back
By that point, there was no turning back, it was all or nothing. The faith—the entire white evangelical institution—was married to Donald Trump, and it would march to victory or fall to defeat with him. Then, with a key tenet of biblical Christianity being faith in the messiah overriding sensory perceptions, it was a small step to believe anything the new messiah said, regardless of the statements’ contradictions of observable reality. If Donald Trump said grass is purple, then purple it is. When he said there were “good people on both sides” of a Nazi-inspired white supremacy rally, then those Nazis were exemplary folks. And when he said the 2020 election was stolen from him … well then it’s time to put the messiah back on his throne, no matter the cost.
So the January 6th insurrection at the nation’s Capitol building should have come as no surprise. Neither should the next violent attempt to create a most-unchristian Christian theocracy with the new messiah, Donald Trump, bestowing indulgences upon his loyal followers. The quest for a millennial reign of Trumpism is not over. It will not succeed, but not because white evangelicals will quietly and peacefully abandon their self-serving dream.