Photo Credit: Illustration by Emil Lendof/The Daily Beast - Photo: 2020

America’s Christian Right, Republicans and Donald Trump – 6

Viewpoint by John Newsinger*

This is the sixth of a six-part article originally published in International Socialism under the title The Christian right, the Republican Party and Donald Trump. Click here for part five of the series. Any views or opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of IDN-InDepth News.  

LONDON (IDN) – As for President Clinton, who many evangelicals came to regard as the Antichrist, with him in office the secular humanists were in power and Christian America was in greater danger than ever before.

Clinton was subjected to unprecedented abuse and slander while in office, including an attempted impeachment, much of it at the instigation of the Christian right.

And all the while their power and influence within the Republican Party grew stronger and stronger, so that by 2000 they were able to secure the nomination of one of their own for the presidency, the born again George W Bush. His election was to be celebrated as a miracle because although he had actually lost to his Democrat rival, Al Gore, God had still installed him in the White House regardless. Bush was the man God had chosen to respond to 9/11, which, of course, He knew was coming.

The younger Bush appeared to be the ideal Christian right candidate, a genuine born again Christian, able to mouth the sentiments and phrases with genuine sincerity, but once again he promised more than he delivered in the culture wars, wars exacerbated by the issue of gay marriage.

While he was the Christian face of the administration, the politics were actually handled by the agnostic Karl Rove, who regarded the Christian right as just another constituency, certainly a powerful one, to be managed, bought off, but certainly not as important as corporate America. Rove regarded “religion as a political tool” and homosexuals as “the perfect enemy” against whom to mobilise the Christian right.

The key, however, was an evangelical version of “Tammany_Hall” whereby the Christian right was to be kept on board by the administration throwing billions of dollars at it. Bush championed “compassionate conservatism” which in practice involved handing secular social service provision over to Christian churches and charities. In effect, it was “a spoils system for evangelical ministries which are now involved in everything from prison programmes and job training to teenage pregnancy protection”.

One consequence of this was that more and more social provision was put in the hands of organisations that refused to hire gays, Jews and others from among the damned. In 2003, the administration distributed 1.17 billion dollars as part of its faith-based programme and Bush boasted that the amount was over two billion dollars the following year.

However, none of this was what was regarded as the main business of the administration. The most important issues were managing the economy for the benefit of big business and the rich and extending the power and influence of US imperialism.

The Christian right rallied even more wholeheartedly behind Bush after the 9/11 attack in 2001. Jerry Falwell inevitably seized upon it as an opportunity to strike a blow in the culture wars. As he told Pat Robertson’s 700 Club two days after the attack: “the abortionists have got to bear some burden for this because God will not be mocked. And when we destroy 40 million little innocent babies, we make God mad. I really believe that the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and lesbians … all of them have tried to secularise America. I point the finger in their face and say, ‘you helped this happen’.”

Robertson expressed his agreement. As far as the administration was concerned, however, the attack presented them with the opportunity to consolidate US domination over the Middle East and to seize Iraq’s oil. While elements within the Christian right saw invasion as a chance to proselytise the Middle East, to convert Muslims to Christianity, the administration was more concerned to keep Saudi Arabia, a country that prohibited Christian worship, on board.

What George W Bush gave the Christian right was the “three S’s – symbolism, sympathy and selective concessions”. What they gave him was the opportunity to restore the level of inequality in the US to pre-1929 levels. His second term, which they hoped would see him winning their culture wars for them, was a disaster, however, with the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq continuing with no end in sight and with the crash of 2008 seriously damaging the economy.

The consequence of this was Republican defeat in 2008 and the election to the presidency of Barack Obama. He made some attempts to conciliate the Christian right, but as far as they were concerned secular humanism had triumphed and Christian America was, once again, on the road to destruction.

Obama’s presidency was, for the Christian right, a period of “unrelenting war on religion”. He had declared “war on Americans of faith”, had “never heard of an abortion he didn’t like”, was “the first US president to speak at a Planned Parenthood convention”, and supported gay rights, even having “the White House lit up in the colours of the rainbow, symbol of the Gay Pride movement”. Indeed, many evangelical Christians believed he was a Muslim only pretending to be a Christian.

Sticking with Trump

Whoever was going to become the Republican candidate for the presidency in 2016 was going to have to be acceptable to the Christian right. While there was no longer any dominant organisation like the Moral Majority or the Christian Coalition, the Republican Party was, in much of the country, in the hands of various Christian right organisations, organisations that had millions of members between them.

What is amazing is that their chosen candidate was Donald Trump, the most unchristian candidate in US history, chosen over other candidates with genuine evangelical credentials. Two factors seem to have been decisive: first they became convinced that he could win the presidency and second, as we have seen, he promised them everything they wanted.

He would hand over control of the federal judiciary up to the Supreme Court, would give them the vice presidency, and promised to fill his administration with their people and move the US embassy in Israel to Jerusalem. The Christian right believed that control of the courts was the key to victory in the culture wars, to rolling back gay rights, banning abortion, curbing environmentalism and so on.

In return, they agreed to ignore everything about Trump, his pathological inability to tell the truth about anything, his corruption and criminality, his misogyny and racism, his authoritarian bullying and thuggery, his astonishing ignorance, his flirting with fascists and neo-Nazis. And they have stuck with him faithfully so far. How did they justify this deal to themselves?

Some tried to claim that he had been born again and was now a sincere Christian. He did, after all, occasionally claim that God had told him to run. All this was, of course, totally implausible. Instead, the justification that came to the fore was that even though he was clearly a pagan and a sinner, God had often chosen to work his will through the agency of pagans and sinners.

First, he was compared to Balaam’s ass on the grounds that if God had once chosen to speak through the mouth of an ass, then why not Trump’s mouth. This was not a comparison likely to appeal to Trump, of course. Instead, the preferred comparison became Cyrus the Great. God told American evangelist Lance Wallnau to seek understanding for why the Christian right should support Trump in Isaiah 45, where he found Cyrus described as “his anointed” and God charging him with restoring Jerusalem to the Jews.

And just in case there was any doubt, God provided another clue: Isaiah 45 had additional significance because the 2016 campaign was to elect the 45th president! This sophistry was seized on with Wallnau actually having the opportunity to try and explain it all to Trump himself at one of his meetings with evangelical pastors. Trump “nodded…trying to understand what he could”.

One of the bravest attempts at justifying the Christian right’s stand is David Brody and Scott Lamb’s spiritual biography of Trump, The Faith of Donald Trump. For them, “clearly God is using this man in ways millions of people could never imagine. But God knows and that is good enough”. Trump endorsed “the most pro-life platform the party has ever produced. It was solidly pro-family, pro-traditional marriage, pro-religious liberty”. Trump was their “dream candidate”. There were “more prayers read during Donald Trump’s inaugural ceremony than at any other presidential inaugural in American history” and he has appointed a “faith-filled cabinet”, indeed, his cabinet looked like “a believers in politics all-star team”. His complete lack of knowledge of Christianity and of the Bible was of no consequence in comparison.

How long will this unholy alliance last? For the moment it seems secure with Vice President Mike Pence, a committed evangelical, effectively functioning as the so-called “shadow president”, while Trump plays the role of the “celebrity president”. 

The White House Bible Study Group has ten cabinet secretaries among its regular attendees along with the vice president. Pence and his supporters are confident that he will be the next Republican candidate for the presidency. And as one recent defector from Trump’s entourage has argued: “As bad as you think Trump is, you should be worried about Mike Pence… We would be begging for the days of Trump if Pence became president”.

All this could change, however. Impeachment, a disputed 2020 election result, a new economic crash, war, any of these developments or a combination of them, could see elements of the Christian right manifest themselves as an American fascism. [IDN-InDepthNews – 26 February 2020]

* John Newsinger is a member of Brighton Socialist Workers Party (SWP). His most recent book is Hope Lies in the Proles: George Orwell and the Left (Pluto, 2018).

Photo Credit: Illustration by Emil Lendof/The Daily Beast

IDN is flagship agency of the International Press Syndicate. –

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