It’s bad enough that a whole lot of American Christians believe President Donald Trump was literally sent by God to save the nation — in fact, this absurd belief is surging.
What’s worse, though, is that a lot of Americans — including, disturbingly, some Democrats — also believe that all presidents are literally godsent.
This disquieting news spotlighting the dumbfounding credulity of fellow citizens comes to us from Religion in Public (RIP), an organization that conducts surveys about the role of religion in American communal life and reports on the nexus of faith and the public square.
In a new blog post on a fresh survey — “Trump the Anointed?” — RIP reported that rumors of Trump’s purported messianic bona fides are gaining potency.
“In 2019, among white Protestants who attended church weekly or more often, 29.6 percent believed Trump was anointed by God to be president. But by March 2020, that figure had climbed to 49 percent. It was up across the board, though none so dramatically as among the regular attenders.”
Continually re-emphasized among findings in the RIP poll is the fact that the more people go to church — meaning presumably the most religious folks — the more fervently and unqualifiedly they embraced the idea that their dear leader was personally “anointed by God” for historic nation-savior duty.
To reach their latest conclusions, Paul A. Djupe of Denison University and Ryan P. Burge of Eastern Illinois University compared survey data from May 2019 to a survey they conducted in March of this year.
Djupe and Burge found that white mainstream Protestants and evangelicals are similarly likely to believe in Trump’s supposed divinely assigned role, while tongue-talking Pentecostals are nearly twice as gullible.
“This belief didn’t come out of nowhere,” they wrote in a new blog post. “It was making the rounds of conservative media, with figures such as Rick Perry suggesting that Trump is ‘the chosen one,’ a label Trump embraced and used (while pointing toward the clouds) in an August 2019 press conference (@ 1:29 in the video).
Belief in the godly anointment of President Trump as well as all presidents has soared dramatically since a previous survey in May of last year. In that survey, 29.6 percent of those polled said they believed the president was God-sent, and 17.1 percent said all presidents are. Then, in a March 2020 poll, the percentage of messianic Trumpers had surged to 49.5 percent — an astonishing nearly 60 percent spike; and 34 percent (a surge of just over 50 percent) said all presidents are divinely anointed.
They found that in 2019 the difference between Trump vs. all presidents in terms of Americans’ sense of their divine anointment was nearly 40 percent across church-attendance categories, with the president leading, but by 2020 the gap had tightened to 15 percent. In other words, as Djupe and Burge reported, stating the obvious:
“The religious significance of the presidency is spreading.”
But there’s precious little daylight between white Protestants and “others” in the percentage who are convinced Trump is divinely assigned to his purported role as savior of the nation. But 0.4 percent separates the former from the latter among once-a-week churchgoers, and only 2.3 percent between white Protestants and others who never go to church.
Djupe and Burge strongly suspect that the culprit in this surge in divine assumptions about the presidency is multi-tiered, including Christian Right cheerleading by far-right media (i.e., Fox News and others, like Breitbart), “chosen one” pronouncements about the current president by elite conservative opinion leaders (federal lawmakers and Cabinet members), and the drumbeat of anointment claims by prominent (and lesser) clergy.
“There is no effect of clergy speech on anointment beliefs for Democrats and Independents. But there is quite a strong effect for Republicans,” Djupe and Burge reported.
The poll results have been clear. The more religious you are the more likely you are (by far) to believe God’s hand has touched this and all presidencies, but especially this one.
Further bad news, according to the researchers, is that the influences on religious believers is “having a profound effect on public opinion, serving to insulate Trump supporters.” The political chasm is thus widening as media “is amplifying the threat from outgroups [felt by Protestants] and the religious significance of the in-group political leader, Trump.”
“It is this combination of forces that suggests traditional measures, such as campaigns, that can broaden the discourse and pull in new constituencies will likely be ineffective,” Djupe and Burge concluded. “But it is important to see that this is not just an evangelical Republican problem. The religious significance of the presidency is swelling across the board for the religious, indicating further polarization along religious and partisan lines is continuing.”
But risks accompany the supposedly anointed, to which Jesus Christ himself could attest. The same day Trump implied he was “the chosen one,” he inadvisedly retweeted a comment by conspiracy-spewing conservative radio host Wayne Allyn Root comparing the president to the “King of Israel” and “the Second Coming.”
This didn’t even go down well with Trump true believers. Jay Lowder, a Texas-based Trump supporter characterized the retweet as “one of Trump’s most disturbing steps.” Lowder “encouraged evangelicals to end their ‘silence’ on the matter,” according to a Christian Post article.
“Trump is neither the ‘Second Coming of God’ nor the ‘Messiah,’” Lowder wrote in a Washington Post op-ed last year. “In repeating the profane quote, he gave a narcissistic endorsement and even thanked Root, a well-known conspiracy theorist, for his words.”
Robert George, former chairman of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, joined many others in decrying the president’s words and behavior at the time.
“For heaven’s sake (I’m speaking literally here), Mr. President, you are not ‘like the King of Israel.’ You are certainly not ‘like the second coming of God,’” George posted on Twitter.
Still, there’s no shortage — indeed, there’s a sharp increase — of people who actually believe this nonsense.
Trepidation is probably appropriate under the circumstances.
Please sign up (top right) to receive new Godzooks posts via email, Facebook or Twitter
“Erudite yet readable … very illuminating”
— Richard Dawkins, author of “The God Delusion,” in praise of “Holy Smoke”
Buy either book on Amazon, here (paperback or ebook editions)