By Rudy Barnes, Jr.
Christianity and Democracy both forfeited their moral legitimacy in the Trump Era. It was not caused by Trump, but by a moral vacuum that had evolved in America’s Christianity and democracy. Nature abhors a vacuum, and Trump and his Republican Party merely filled the moral vacuum in America’s materialistic and hedonistic culture to gain their political power.
It began with the Enlightenment of the 18th century. It challenged traditional religious doctrines and politics with change based on reason and advances in knowledge; but institutional churches countered the threat of progressive change with doctrines of religious fundamentalism, asserting the Bible to be the literal, inerrant and infallible source of God’s truth.
Unlike the church, America’s Founding Fathers welcomed the political sovereignty of man over that of God in democracy. While the church continued to emphasize worshiping Jesus as the alter ego of God over following his moral teachings, Thomas Jefferson asserted that the teachings of Jesus were “the most sublime moral code ever devised by man.”
In the 20th century Billy Graham and Jerry Falwell popularized a form of evangelicalism that ignored the altruistic teachings of Jesus and promoted distorted “family values” and a prosperity gospel similar to the self-centered and materialistic objectivism of Ayn Rand. Franklin Graham and Jerry Falwell, Jr., followed their fathers and built an unholy alliance with the GOP.
Jimmy Carter was the last Democrat to win the presidency with the white “Christian” vote. Falwell’s moral majority backed Republicans after 1976, and in 2016 most White Christians elected Donald Trump as their president despite his egregious immorality that was antithetical to the teachings of Jesus; and few pulpits in White churches questioned their vote.
The moral corruption of Christianity and democracy culminated with Trump’s election. It was the moral depravity of American voters, not Trump, that caused that political catastrophe. While seven GOP senators voted to impeach Trump after he was charged with instigating the Capitol riot on January 6, polls indicate that 75% of Republicans continue to support Trump.
The Republican Party is in disarray and the church is in decline. The church was once the most powerful social institution in America and the primary source of the moral standards of political legitimacy; but after sacrificing Jesus on the altar of Republican politics the church lost its moral compass. Like the European church, it’s slowly becoming a cultural anachronism.
Popularity is the measure of success for both Christianity and democracy in America. The church has continued to emphasize worshiping Jesus Christ as the alter ego of God and the only means of salvation over following the altruistic teachings of Jesus, allowing materialistic and hedonistic values to shape American culture. It would take a moral reformation to save American Christianity and democracy from their demise, and that’s not likely to happen.
Michael Gerson has opined that Trump’s rot has reached the GOP’s roots. “If Trumpism were merely a set of proposals, there could be an antithesis. But the movement fully revealed by the Jan. 6 invasion of the U.S. Capitol is united by a belief that the White, Christian America of its imagination is on the verge of destruction, and that it must be preserved by any means necessary. This is less a political philosophy than a warped religious belief. There can be no compromise in a culture war. There can be no splitting of differences at Armageddon. What has emerged within the Republican Party is a debate on the value of democracy itself. From one perspective, it is absurd that so many Americans have invested their hopes for the preservation of civilization in a fool. But Trump has been effective in promoting the tribalism of White grievance, as well as desperation about the fate of America. And, unlike any other president, he was happy to step into an authoritarian role, attempting to maintain power through intimidation and violence. Can the GOP really have a productive debate between people who believe in democracy and those who have lost patience for it? Between those who view politics as a method to secure rough justice in a fallen world, and those who view it as a holy crusade against scheming infidels? Between those who try to serve conservative political ideals and those who engage (in Sasse’s immortal words) in “the weird worship of one dude”? The greatest need in our politics is a conservatism that opposes authoritarianism. The greatest question: Can such a movement emerge within the framework of the Republican Party? There are scattered outposts of Republican sanity in Congress, and more in state governments. But in most of the GOP, the rot has reached the roots. Activists feel the anger that Trump has fed rather than the contempt for Trump that he has earned. They feel cheated rather than defeated.
At the same time--though I admire the normality and professionalism of President Biden’s administration--it is hard to imagine a future for market-oriented, pro-life conservatives in the Democratic Party. A strong ideological current heads in the other direction. And it is equally difficult to believe that a third-party challenge to the political duopoly would be anything other than quixotic. But even an exiled conservatism offers this comfort: Nothing human is permanent. And no good cause is finally lost.” See https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/trumps-rot-has-reached-the-gops-roots/2021/02/15/8415fbb8-6fb9-11eb-85fa-e0ccb3660358_story.html?.
Senator Lindsay Graham (R-SC) is a Trump clone who has vowed to keep Trump at the heart of the Republican Party. He has criticized both Senator McConnell and Nikki Haley for criticizing Trump, saying that “McConnell may have “got a load off his chest” with his floor speech, but he had also made himself a target for pro-Trump Republicans in 2022. “Donald Trump is the most vibrant member of the Republican Party. The Trump movement is alive and well, All I can say is that the most potent force in the Republican Party is President Trump. We need Trump.”
When asked about former United Nations ambassador Nikki Haley’s recent decision to distance herself from Trump, after supporting him unequivocally and not speaking out against his baseless claims of election fraud, Graham said the fellow South Carolinian was “wrong.”
He also said that Trump’s daughter-in-law, Lara Trump, should run to replace retiring Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), who cast a surprise vote to convict Trump on Saturday. “The biggest winner I think of this whole impeachment trial is Lara Trump,” Graham said. “If she runs, I will certainly be behind her because I think she represents the future of the Republican Party.”
Trump himself has shown no intention of fading away, issuing a statement shortly after the Senate vote that slammed the entire impeachment trial as “a witch hunt” and lamented that no other president had been subjected to such indignities. “Our historic, patriotic and beautiful movement to Make America Great Again has only just begun,” Trump stated. He added that “in the months ahead I have much to share with you.”
Evan McMullin, executive director of the nonprofit political organization Stand Up Republic, spoke of his recent call with more than 120 Republican officials about starting a new party or faction within the GOP. “Well I think what’s clear . . . is that something new is required,” McMullin said on MSNBC on Saturday. “Forty percent feel there is no hope for the GOP to reform and to rejoin the healthy political process in America.” McMullin said the hypothetical party could put up primary challengers against “Republicans who have most abandoned our Democracy,” citing Arizona Reps. Andy Biggs and Paul A. Gosar as examples. McMullin, who ran as an independent in the 2016 presidential election in large part to counter what he saw as the alarming pull Trump had on the GOP, said Trump’s impeachment and subsequent acquittal have only “intensified” the discussions about a third party. “We are committed to either taking a new route to fight for the direction of the GOP or to compete with it directly,” McMullin said. See https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/trumps-acquittal-further-polarizes-factions-within-the-gop/2021/02/14/ff78b098-6ee2-11eb-b8a9-b9467510f0fe_story.html?
In an interview with David Illing of Vox, David French said that the Trump presidency was a catastrophe for American Christianity. French cited Ryan Burge, a scholar of religion who has shown how different American religious strands, whether it’s Black Christians, Mormons, atheists, Catholics, all maintain some distance in their ideology from the party they most affiliate with. But this isn’t true for white evangelicals. It is an exact overlap. The identification between white evangelicals and the GOP is almost perfect. That’s a problem because it means your faith is now tied to an entire array of both personalities and political positions that do not naturally flow from biblical ethics. ...White evangelicals are Republicans, and Republicans are white evangelicals, which has been the case for a long, long time now, and Trump was just the Republican nominee, and so he had to work incredibly hard to lose their support.
...Most Republican Christians are not getting their information from the pulpit. They are getting catechized in politics through conservative media, through Fox News, through talk radio. ...A lot of these people genuinely believe that the country is in some kind of emergency that justifies the extremism of Trump. They believe they need someone who’s willing to be very aggressive in taking on the left, their so-called enemies. Trump was also very shrewd about granting access to evangelical supporters and to outright grifters and opportunists. That’s a big part of what happened as well.
...In many strands of evangelical Christianity, there’s a real struggle to articulate and live out a biblical [moral] masculinity that is not too influenced by a secular culture that either wrongly denigrates toughness or wrongly elevates toughness. That’s led to an awful lot of confusion. This is a man who evaded military service, who has serially cheated on wives, who is terribly out of shape, is so cowardly in a lot of his personal interactions, that he delegates to others the task of firing people. ...If you were going to map out who is the archetype of the masculine leader prior to Trump, he would be the opposite of that.
...[On conspiracy theories] the religious right has already been conditioned by decades of conservative media telling them that the godless left wants to destroy their way of life and kill the church. So it’s not hard to see why [people] believe the Democrats stole an election or that perverted pedophiles are trafficking children. The hardcore Trump evangelical base now threatens our constitutional rule of law. People have told me for a long time that I’m exaggerating the threat, but now we’ve seen a direct violent attack on the US Capitol, on the very seat of American democracy, and it was designed to prevent a peaceful transition of power that was taking place at the exact same time as the attack.
...Unless you’re in the middle of Trump country and interacting with grassroots activist Republicans, I don’t believe you can possibly understand how deep the conspiracy thinking has wormed its way into the GOP. I don’t think you understand the ferocity of Trumpism. One of the reasons more legislators have not stood up more dramatically to Trump is that they fear for their lives and the lives of their families. Some stories on this have leaked, but I really do think it’s worse than most people suspect.”
When asked how we pull back from the brink, and whether he sees a path forward, French said, “I don’t know. To say that there’s no hope is completely wrong. I think there is hope [and] I think the attack on the Capitol was a wake-up call for some people.
My personal hope is that as we move forward without Trump tweeting and inflaming tensions so people can have a chance to breathe. Our only hope is that the overall atmosphere of the country starts to feel less like an existential crisis and more like normal life, whatever that is, because I don’t think things would have escalated to this point without the stress and anxiety of the pandemic weighing down on all of us. There’s been so much death and fear and restlessness, and it’s amplified our societal dysfunctions.
I have to believe that as the pandemic recedes, and some of the pressures it placed on us fade with it, that things will get better. That’s my best shot at optimism. Seehttps://www.vox.com/22188646/trump-evangelical-christianity-david-french.