As time passes in the Trump administration, the great political chasm in the country is starting to make sense.
In a nutshell, what makes Trumpies Trumpies — and what seems largely responsible for cleaving our republic in two — are two main factors: scriptural Christian principles about fealty to earthly political leaders, and the innate tendency of those who feel downtrodden to feel a visceral contempt for their assumed betters.
It’s a dual impulse born of delusion, nurtured by inferior defensiveness and propelled by rage. A perfect storm for a charlatan lusting for power and looking for intellectually and emotionally susceptible people to give it to him. Into that breach swaggered Donald Trump.
Two compelling newspaper articles in the past few days underline these hypotheses.
One Washington Post article, titled “The ‘Star Spangled Banner’ in Church? Some Christians are Questioning the Mix of Patriotism and God,” points out that the way American churches observe the Fourth of July is shifting (including whether nationalistic anthems are appropriate in churches), and that those changes are being debated:
“In recent years, the debate has been especially heated, with Christians disagreeing strongly on whether conflating God and country is a right or a heresy.”
Part of the problem is that most Americans in colonial times didn’t really understand the Founders’ intent to establish a secular democracy where religion was to be kept separate from government and government itself was prohibited from “establishing” or otherwise being intertwined with religion. For example, in 1786, our centennial year, patriotic church services were so normal that the Episcopal Church at its national convention passed this ill-advised and constitutionally specious resolution, that:
“… the Fourth of July shall be observed by this church forever, as a day of Thanksgiving to almighty God for the inestimable blessings of Religious and Civil Liberty vouchsafed to the USA.”
Nontheless, it’s important to point out that even Jesus in the New Testament (Matthew 22:21) spoke of a natural separation between God and government, and implied necessary fealty to rulers:
“Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s.”
The political issue that spawned this famous saying was that in Jesus’ day, coins in his area carried a likeness of the Roman Caesar, or ruler, who at the time was Tiberius. Some orthodox Jews felt that using these coins forced them to heretically acknowledge the absolute lordship of someone other than God. It was a quandary, because even in the Talmud, Judaism’s holy scripture, it is written that:
“A king whose ‘coin’ is ‘current’ in any country, the inhabitants of that country agree about him, and it is their joint opinion, that he is their Lord, and they are his servants.”
Jews under Roman rule were also thus prohibited from refusing to pay Roman taxes. So, it was OK then to bow before two lords, even under Jewish law. Jesus’ advice simply tried to follow that tradition by splitting the difference, although it’s unclear exactly — as with many of the prophet’s purported utterances — where he thought that split might be.
“The right of a king,” the Talmud prescribes, “is right.”
So, there is this profoundly ubiquitious ancient dictum that worldly rulers — which would include American presidents today — must in all instances be obeyed. Indeed, many rulers of antiquity were considered divine, which further muddied the waters.
In the United States today, with the percentage of self-described Christians having plummeted from as high as 90 percent in the middle of the last century to around 70 percent now, a reassessment is under way among the faithful. Jonathan Leeman, an elder at Cheverly Baptist Church outside Washington, wrote this week on the conservative evangelical blog Gospel Coalition:
“The culture wars in America today indicate more and more people identify as non-Christian. With that comes the fact that many Christians have to reconcile their own Christian identity with their national identity in ways they didn’t have to before. … Now Christians are going through a deprogramming process.”
Indeed, roughly a quarter of the populace now do not follow any religious persuasion whatsoever. But still, the true believers — predominantly fundamentalist evangelicals and Pentacostals — still cleave to the traditional Christian virtues of almost uncritically supporting their government and its leader. These make up most of the 40 percent of the electorate currently in thrall to Trump.
John Fea, an American historian from Messiah College who has just published a book on Christian nationalism, wrote this month that:
“Ever since the founding of the republic, a significant number of Americans have supposed that the United States is exceptional because it has a special place in God’s unfolding plan for the world. … [However, the] United States Constitution never mentions God or Christianity but does forbid religious tests for office. The First Amendment rejects a state-sponsored church and celebrates the free-exercise of religion. This is hardly the kind of stuff by which Christian nations are made.”
Which, of course, has never stopped the faithful from insisting — or from continuing to insist.
Another article this week, this one a piece in The New York Times titled “Trump’s ‘Purple’ Family Values,” discusses how people from different social classes and communities view the president’s blindingly obvious character flaws.
In short, working-class whites, blacks and Hispanics (but mostly whites) without much education and living in non-urban areas — the so-called “purple” demographic — tend to give the president a broad pass for his serial philandering, cheating, racist comments, cruel insults and dishonoring of women, etc. Better educated, urban others simply don’t.
Purples tend to live in unstable families where fathers are often absent and bonds between mothers and their children are the most valued social construct (and male philandering is the accepted norm). In relatively childless blue families, on the other hand, equality between spouses is prized (and adultery is not), while reds tend toward traditional conservative unions where men are the king of the castle and women helpmates and child rearers (and committed families are valued).
In the Times article, author Matthew Schmitz, a senior editor at First Things, published by the nonpartisan Institute on Religion and Public Life, wrote:
“The difference among these three family models explains three different reactions to Mr. Trump’s candidacy. Liberal professionals decried his sexism, which violated the prime value of the blue family model: equality. Elite evangelicals decried his infidelity, which ran counter to the red family model’s stress on fidelity.”
Purples apparently don’t see what all the fuss is about. In fact, they despise everything the so-called establishment “elites,” red and blue alike, stand for.
So there you have it. Trump’s supporters, who, due to ancient, arbitrary religious assumptions, are automatically servile to his dictates as the country’s leader and are also largely blind to his dangerous human failings that bode very ill for the republic — not to mention, very probably, the critical interests of his most ardent followers.
If this inertia doesn’t change, I fear for my country. I really do.
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