by William Trollinger
From the beginning, the dream was an exercise in the worst sort of wishful thinking.
Over the past fifty-odd years, the Christian Right has been the most reliable constituency within the Republican Party. But over these same five decades, scholars and political commentators have issued a persistent stream of proclamations that the Christian Right is dead or is nearly dead or will soon be dead. Signs of its imagined imminent demise have included the televangelist scandals of the 1980s, Pat Robertson’s failed run at the presidency in 1988, the election and re-election of Bill Clinton, the emergence and re-emergence of “young” evangelicals who would not toe the Right line, the overwhelming victory of Barack Obama in 2008, and, most recently, the alleged conflict in the Republican Party between economically-focused libertarians and social conservatives (a claim that required a stubborn unwillingness to see the enormous overlap between the Tea Party and the Christian Right).
But after November 8, only a person determined to live in a progressive fantasyland will miss the import of the Christian Right in American politics. Ignoring or discounting their candidate’s misogyny, racism, and heavy dependence on alt-facts, an estimated 81% of white evangelicals voted for Donald Trump. Trump has rewarded them for their support. Not only is Mike Pence — creationist and staunch opponent of gay rights — Vice President of the United States, but Trump has filled his cabinet with conservative evangelicals such as Ben Carson, Betsy DeVos, Rick Perry, and Scott Pruitt. Most striking, Liberty University president Jerry Falwell, Jr., who on election night described Donald Trump as the “dream candidate” for evangelicals, has been appointed by Trump to lead a task force aiming to “reform” American higher education.
The day for make-believe has past. And not only do we need to see clearly, we need to understand. Righting America at the Creation Museum is one window into the Christian Right. As we argue in the book, Answers in Genesis (AiG) – the fundamentalist apologetics enterprise that is behind both the Creation Museum and Ark Encounter – is “a Christian Right arsenal in the culture war” (191). All the emphasis on young Earth creationism and biblical literalism cannot mask the fact that AiG’s goal is to “prepar[e] and arm crusaders for the ongoing culture war that polarizes and poisons U.S. religion and politics” (15).
“Polarizes and poisons.” A true word when Righting America came out in the spring of 2016. Even more true today.