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I often listen to Stephen Colbert’s monologues, and this one from last night was very telling. Trump’s presidency is clearly one of the worst examples of western national democratic leaderships ever. What was pertinent in this one was the reporting of how the White House is being run, or more accurately, how Trump is running the country and making decisions.

The sheer chaos of the administration as a direct result of Trump shooting his mouth of is staggering, as the Washington Post article “Trump chooses impulse over strategy as crises mount” states:

The Twitter disruptions were emblematic of a president operating on a tornado of impulses — and with no clear strategy — as he faces some of the most consequential decisions of his presidency, including Syria, trade policy and the Russian interference probe that threatens to overwhelm his administration.

“It’s just like everybody wakes up every morning and does whatever is right in front of them,” said one West Wing aide, speaking on the condition of anonymity to share a candid opinion. “Oh, my God, Trump Tower is on fire. Oh, my God, they raided Michael Cohen’s office. Oh, my God, we’re going to bomb Syria. Whatever is there is what people respond to, and there is no proactive strategic thinking.”

It’s such a car crash, or a “forest fire” as James Comey’s new book declares (that looks a fascinating read!). Trump’s dire approach to international politics is most obvious when Sarah Huckabee Sanders has to walk back on his tweet claims. This is pretty excruciating:

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Here is the Colbert segment:

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I am amazed that people. including commenters here, and particularly evangelicals (with their moral conservatism), can still manage to defend Trump with some extraordinary cognitive dissonance. Where is the point that they do finally accept that he is not worthy of defending? I mean, he is an adulterer (after all, why would his personal attorney pay a porn star $130,000 for silence, and why would Trump supposedly know nothing about this!?), Dino Sajudin, a former doorman at a Trump building, has confirmed reports that the National Enquirer’s parent company American Media Inc. paid him $30,000 to prevent him from publicizing a rumor that Donald Trump fathered a child out of wedlock. We have seen stark hypocrisies on virtually every policy point, with extant tweets attacking Obama for something that he then does himself. Yet still the support for Trump.

This is an evangelical problem, and one looked at in some detail by David Barr.

Indeed, as Barr states:

Making empathy harder still, Trump is not just amorally calculating and commercial; he is openly immoral: vulgar, dishonest, petty, mean-spirited, racially insensitive, and so on.

He goes on to say:

Thus, while Trump’s rhetoric, ethos, and personal life are aberrations from republican theology, his antipathy toward government and ruthlessness in waging war against it is one of its purest expressions in recent U.S. politics. In other words, Trump is useful for republican theologians. They see support for their project when he declares war on the “administrative” or “deep” state, lowers taxes, cuts environmental and consumer protections, ends social welfare programs, and so on.

The enthusiasm with which evangelical culture-warriors and champions of faith and family have embraced this secular, East coast, and thrice-married vulgarian is—on its surface—base hypocrisy, explicable only through unprincipled prejudice and ignorance. With reference to republican theology, however, we can see that—for many evangelicals—supporting Trump is at least in part the product of a coherent-if-imperfect, religio-political perspective faced with a difficult ethical tradeoff. We may dispute their premises, but interpreting evangelical support for Trump as simply evil and ignorance obscures the drive for moral goods that lies behind it.

This is spot-on. However, I would take it further and say that evangelicals, through cognitive dissonance, then deny or harmonise the moral aberrations that are Trump’s quotes, actions and personal positions. Herein lies the dishonesty: I would love to see them all say, “Yes, the man is a prime douchebag and a moral monster, but he is facilitating the kind of political change we have waited years for” even if that political change is terrible. Alas, it seems never to be so. Either the voters actually like Trump’s moral abhorrence in their own vulgarity, or they are the least self-critical people in existence.

Obama was fifty times the man Trump is for a thousand different reasons.

The scary thing is, evangelical support has gone up since the Stormy Daniels case. As Hemant Mehta opines:

We know that 81% of white evangelical Christians voted for Donald Trump in 2016. We also know that many continue to support him today, despite all the drama and scandals that have unfolded ever since. Why? Because Trump is still giving nominating judges from conservatives’ wish lists. Because he’s still paying lip service to the idea that Christian persecution is real. Because Mike Pence still looms in the background.

But one of the talking points evangelicals have been saying for a while now is that they always knew Trump wasn’t a golden boy. Sure, he was a greedy, woman-chasing, vulgar, thoughtless egomaniac… but that was before the election. He’s been scandal-free ever since.

(That doesn’t make any sense to those of us who live in the real world, but the FOX News crowd certainly thinks that the Mueller investigation is part of some liberal conspiracy.)

How ingrained is that myth in the Christian mindset?

Get this: Since the Stormy Daniels scandal began, Trump’s support among evangelicals has gone up.

The most recent Pew polls suggest that President Donald Trump hasn’t just held his support amongst white evangelicals but actually has grown his support since the Stormy Daniels story took hold.

With his white evangelical support having dropped to 61 percent in December, Trump now enjoys 78 percent support, just a shade beneath the support he won from white evangelicals on Election Day.

I will leave you with the final segment to Barr’s essay linked above (“Evangelical Support for Trump as a Moral Project: Description and Critique” – worth a read):

Now, Christian nationalism is not the same as republican theology. The latter connects Christian faith to morality as a foundation of a flourishing democracy, but it is at least theoretically open to other foundations, including other faiths; it is not inherently exclusionary, even if it often is in practice. Where republican theology holds up political liberty as the necessary condition of right faith, Christian nationalism prefers the government to privilege Christianity. Sociologists identify Christian nationalism in their subjects by testing agreement with statements like, “The federal government should declare the United States a Christian nation” or disagreement with ones like “the federal government should enforce strict separation of church and state.”

According to the authors of the study, Christian nationalism draws heavily on Old Testament themes wherein Israel was “commanded to maintain cultural and blood purity, often through war, conquest, and separatism.” Christian nationalism, in actual practice, thus often carries with it racialized notions of purity. Appeals to our “Christian” heritage easily become code for “white” and “European.” Earlier research by Perry and Whitehead,13for example, showed that “Christian nationalism is a strong predictor of antipathy toward racial boundary crossing,” including interracial marriage. In surveys, Christian nationalism correlates strongly with racism and xenophobia.

I do not think that republican theology is necessarily tied to Christian nationalism or that Christian nationalism is necessarily racist. That said, it is an empirical fact that republican theology, Christian nationalism, and racism often overlap in our society.  This is a sociological, not a priori, criticism. While there is no necessary causation between republican theology, nationalism, xenophobia, and racism, I want to suggest that their overlap is also not accidental. We live in a country whose founders were white, largely Protestant Europeans. As long as we identify early America as a successful economic and political experiment and credit that success to morality and religion and we are willing to make exceptions to libertarianism to protect the preconditions of that success, thenwe will face the constant temptation to elide culture, race, religion, and morality and to use the government to enforce racial, cultural, and religious purity.

The primary aim of this piece has been to show that there is more to the meaning of evangelical support for Trump than the obvious meaning, which is the one that most often makes the headlines. Recognizing republican theology helps us see beyond the obvious. Recognizing Christian nationalism, on the other hand, helps us see why racism, xenophobia, and other forms of bigotry are the obvious meaning in the first place. If republican theology is going to persist as a defensible option in American politics, it has to separate itself, consistently and vocally, from the tribal and bigoted elements of Christian nationalism. The more evangelicals support figures like Trump, who embody “nationalism” more than “Christian” and are so publicly and unrepentantly immoral and who (at the very least) signal to bigots that they are friendly to their cause, the harder it will be for others to see any moral meaning to their behavior. The obvious meaning of that support will become, even more than it is now, the only visible meaning

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Jonathan MS Pearce

A TIPPLING PHILOSOPHER Jonathan MS Pearce is a philosopher, author, columnist, and public speaker with an interest in writing about almost anything, from skepticism to science, politics, and morality,...