It’s never a good idea to try to understand a world drenched in religiosity through the filter of the secular. It’s one of the reasons western intelligence services, with all of their resources, got Iran and then Afghanistan so painfully wrong. For myriad people, God is much more important than traditional politics.
This also applies to the phenomenon of Donald Trump, a man who baffled the conservative as well as liberal establishment, and now has a stranglehold over Republican politics. Indict him, condemn him, expose, him, even incarcerate him, and enough Americans will remain vehemently loyal to maintain him as a dominant figure.
There are millions of people with no particular faith who lionize the man, but the hardcore, indefatigable fanatics, are overwhelmingly Christian. More than 80 percent of white evangelicals support Trump, and a good number of conservative Catholics. Which may, and should, come as a surprise in that the founder of Christianity was a 1st-century Jewish radical born to poor parents living in an occupied country, later surrounding himself with the powerless and rejected, warning of the dangers of wealth, legalism, and power, and speaking of love, forgiveness, social justice, and grace.
But then we’d be naïve, and historically illiterate, to believe that 2000 years of Christians have always listened to the original source.
With Trump Christians, it’s more specific and arguably less inconsistent than sheer hypocrisy. They have a rigid ideology, regarding their country as being chosen by God, set apart with a special purpose and vocation. It’s very much a 17th-century phenomenon, a mingling of Calvinistic predestination and raw nationalism. The centuries have rather perverted the original the Puritan idea, however, expunging much of its sense of community and good works. What we now see is almost post-Christian, even ironically pagan. The trappings of faith wrapped around fear-based reaction. Fear, warped nostalgia, and the sacraments of the bunker.
The tenets are extraordinary. There is a cosmic and human battle taking place between forces we don’t always fully understand—hence the embrace of conspiracies with no evidence. The “non-Christian” powers in the country want to limit religious freedom, impose state power, and also break up the traditional family. This last belief is behind roaring the homophobia, the sometimes violent opposition to women’s choice, and now the obsession with pedophilia and labeling of opponents as child abusers.
There’s a constant eschatological theme too, a belief that the end of the world is close, where the “remnant” — those believers who reject anything new or progressive in Christian thinking — will be saved, and the rest of us doomed to Armageddon. So, elections are about far more than changing government policies; they concern the future of people’s souls.
There are plenty of Republican politicians who play lip-service to some of this, many of them fellow evangelicals, but Trump will say pretty much whatever is required. Yet he’s known to be a philanderer and a liar, and was always pro-choice and socially permissive. Such is the hysteria of his fundamentalist devotees that they will simply deny this, or claim that flawed people can be used by God for noble purposes. They point to the examples of King Cyrus II and Emperor Constantine. The former was the despot who allowed the Jewish people to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the temple. The latter was the Roman Caesar who in the early 4th-century gave his support to Christianity, after a lifetime of war and slaughter.
This may sound bizarre but I assure you it’s all over pro-Trump Christian media platforms. As for Joe Biden and his genuine commitment to Roman Catholicism, or Barack Obama’s thoughtful and wise Christianity, these men and all like them are dismissed as compromisers and the perennial social media accusation of, “wolves in sheep’s clothing.”
The more Donald Trump is condemned or prosecuted, the more obvious it is to the zealots that he’s victim of the great persecution, with the legal system as culpable as the governing and media class. It’s hard enough to believe that a whale swallowed Jonah; these people will believe that Jonah swallowed the whale if Trump tells them so.
But it’s far from a laughing matter. The storming of the Capitol Building led to mayhem and death, and could easily have been even worse. The relative moderates in the Republican party are despairing and impotent, reasonable Christians have been silenced, and the more extreme the action or statement the greater the appeal.
If you’re the praying kind, pray someone will come to their senses.