One of the old leaders of the civil rights movement, who had the bruises and the breaks to prove it,.
One of the old leaders of the civil rights movement, who had the bruises and the breaks to prove it, once told me of a protest outside the White House during the second Ronald Reagan administration.
“There were a lot of us there, from the Catholic Worker movement, various inner-city Baptist churches and the like, and we made one hell of a fuss and a noise. Lots of arrests. Suddenly we looked up, and there in a limousine driving through the gate was Jerry Falwell going to meet and praise the president. Hey, what can you do?”
Which goes some way to explaining what’s apparently beyond explanation under the newly installed president: how is it that more than 81 per cent of white evangelicals and a large number of Roman Catholics, especially the more observant, voted for Donald Trump, who has been married three times and accused of sexual assault by numerous women, who spews racist hatred and, as a social libertarian at heart, is indifferent to abortion, contraception, pornography and equal marriage?
The answer is that Trump is a seasoned liar, and evangelical Christians are particularly credulous and naive.
Right-wing Christians so detest Obama, the Clintons and what they see as the liberal establishment that they would vote for Satan in a good suit if he had reactionary policies – and it’s looking more and more like they did just that with Trump.
Franklin Graham, the son of TV evangelist Billy Graham, was among six evangelical leaders Trump invited to deliver the invocation at his inauguration. Graham has said that the hand of divine providence was at work in the election, and Trump seems to believe that. His inaugural address referenced the Bible and the U.S.’s divine right to rule the world, although not in so many words.
To wit: “When America is united, America is totally unstoppable. There should be no fear. We are protected and we will always be protected. We will be protected by the great men and women of our military and law enforcement. And most importantly, we will be protected by God.”
I sometimes grow tired as a Christian explaining that the Old Testament, read intelligently, is a text of liberation, and that in the New Testament, the epicentre of the story, Jesus, is all about love, inclusion, justice, equality and peace. But I understand the public’s cynicism.
Just about the only people still resisting full LGBTQ rights, for example, are right-wing Christians. And reproductive choice is accepted by almost everybody outside of evangelical and strict Roman Catholic circles.
In the Trump case, though, the story goes deeper. American Christianity has long been infected with exceptionalism – the idea that America has a special place in God’s plan and purpose.
We see elements of this bias on the Christian right in Canada, but because of the large numbers of immigrants in Canadian evangelical churches (the Dutch Reformed churches mostly came into being after the Second World War), it’s a far tougher sell. Canadian evangelicals may be obsessed with abortion, euthanasia, homophobia and the “myth” of climate change, but they are far less racist and nationalist.
In the U.S., on the other hand, even the idea of the wall on the Mexican border had Biblical overtones for some Christians, with the notion of a prophesied city on a hill or a nation surrounded by holy boundaries fulfilling God’s calling. There was lots of good old xenophobia and racism, but they were mingled with something worryingly spiritual.
Trump has managed to convince his new friends that he is a long-term defender of the unborn, which is absurd on many levels. This is a man who clearly has no regard for women. But when he spoke – even if it was inaccurately and dishonestly – on national television in a live presidential debate about the “murdering” of babies in late-term abortion, he won over tens of millions of activists.
It’s difficult for the mainstream to grasp just how crucial this was for people who focus their entire thinking and praying lives on what they regard as the mass slaughter of babies.
The Christian right regards abortion as a weapon of the unholy, just as they see Islam as part of the war on Christ.
Again, Trump’s brutal Islamophobia delighted them, and when he added the denial of human-caused climate change – seen as another liberal lie by the Christian right – and promised to stack the Supreme Court with judges who would question equal marriage and stand up for so-called persecuted Christians, Trump’s private immorality was dismissed as irrelevant.
We must never forget the misogyny and racism that underpinned all of this. Hillary Clinton is an independent, strong woman, Barack Obama an articulate, brilliant and powerful man of colour. As for Michelle Obama, the things said about her on certain “Christian” websites were breathtakingly awful.
Mainstream Republicans, many of them genuine Christians, who would not play along with Trump’s game plan were derided as weak and corrupted by Washington. Trump, on the other hand, was free of all this because he was the once-in-a-lifetime leader who would right the many wrongs that had made God abandon His beloved America.
We’ll see what happens next. It could well be that impeachment will stop Trump in his tracks. But his vice-president is a true believer and could be even worse. God help us.