Righting America

A forum for scholarly conversation about Christianity, culture, and politics in the US
A Gift from White Evangelicals: President Trump | Righting America

by William Trollinger

Exit polling data reveal that white evangelicals voted for Trump by an overwhelming 81 to 16 percent margin. Evangelical support for Trump was particularly important in swing states such as Florida.

To be sure, there are evangelicals who, like historian and blogger Chris Gehrz, are deeply dismayed by the fact that their fellow evangelicals voted for

a misogynistic, xenophobic, racist demagogue who appeals to every one of the lowest impulses in the American character; an uninformed outsider who has no meaningful experience predictive of success in the highest of political offices; a lazy narcissist whose character lacks all of the traits — wisdom, prudence, humility, empathy, willingness to learn from mistakes, openness to multiple viewpoints, commitment to national service — that normally check the arrogance common to presidents.

Gehrz’s dismay is not shared by the vast majority of his fellow evangelicals. Instead, the Trump victory has sent evangelical leaders such as Dallas pastor Robert Jeffress and Jerry Falwell, Jr. into fits of ecstasy, with an euphoric Falwell exclaiming to the media that the victor was the “dream candidate” for American evangelicals.

It may seem startling to find evangelical leaders describing a “misogynistic, xenophobic, racist demagogue” as the “dream candidate.” But as we have been saying here for months, there is absolutely nothing surprising about evangelical support for Donald Trump.

In Righting America we have noted that, for the past century, much of American evangelicalism has been characterized by a fervent commitment to political conservatism, unfettered capitalism, and patriarchy. When it comes to race, white evangelicals resisted even the mildest challenges to segregation and voting restrictions, only very belatedly “recant[ing] their opposition to civil rights for African Americans” (187).

It turns out that race is central to the Christian Right story. Driven by “anger over the Internal Revenue Service’s efforts to remove tax-exempt status from Christian schools that discriminated on the basis of race” (187), in the 1970s leaders such as Jerry Falwell, Sr. worked with Republican leaders to organize white evangelicals into a political movement. Soon the Christian Right became “the most reliable and perhaps the most important constituency within the Republican Party” (6).

From the beginning this Christian Right has been much more Right than Christian. The morality and character of conservative Republican leaders has never been their primary concern, be it Ronald Reagan’s lack of religiosity (they supported Reagan against the devout Southern Baptist, Jimmy Carter) or Donald Trump’s litany of moral offenses. More stunning, perhaps, the Christian Right has happily ignored the teachings of Jesus when it comes to their economic and political commitments, as the aforementioned Jeffress made clear when he said that he would vote for Trump over Jesus because Jesus would be soft on terrorism.

Right. And in the end, that “soft” Jesus ended up on a cross. That’s not for the Christian Right. The Christian Right is not about losing. It is about winning. And the election of Donald Trump makes clear that the Christian Right is indeed winning, thanks much to the fact it has created “an intricate web of local evangelical churches and national organizations” (6) devoted to advancing their conservative political and economic agenda. Since the 1990s one crucial component of this right-wing juggernaut has been – as we detail in Righting America – Ken Ham’s Answers in Genesis empire, with its “mind-boggling flood of print, media, and social media material” (11) and with its Creation Museum and now Ark Encounter, all of which combine to serve “as a Christian Right arsenal in the culture war” (191).

In his Times Higher Education (UK) review of Righting America Randy Malamud concludes by noting that, “Trumpism is the extrapolation of the Creation Museum and Righting America is right, America: we need to figure out – and quickly! – what is going on here.”

If this was not clear before Tuesday, it should be now.