As readers of this column might remember, I opposed Donald Trump’s candidacy from the very outset. I could find absolutely nothing in his record or from his checkered but financially successful business career that would suggest he was qualified to lead the world’s most powerful nation.
And although I can understand Trump’s support from the Pennsylvania and Midwestern blue-collar communities, I could never quite grasp the blind, uncritical devotion by Southern evangelicals to a person whose entire being is the very antithesis of a Christian existence.
Trump’s religious faith, if any? He was baptized in the Presbyterian Church in his youth and “Prosperity Gospel” minister Norman Vincent Peale presided at his first wedding. But he has never even pretended to a serious religious involvement or commitment of any kind. Then what’s behind this strange attraction of opposites?
Jerry Falwell Jr., president of Liberty University, and Franklin Graham, the great evangelist’s son, for reasons best known to themselves, have endorsed a person who operates in almost complete opposition to their own stated values. Graham even claims Trump is “a gift from God for our troubled times.” What kind of hold does he have on these people?
When we reflect that 150 short years ago Southern evangelicals were among slavery’s and white supremacy’s most ardent defenders, things begin to come into focus a little. This group believed that certain scriptural passages might be interpreted to support slavery and, later, slavery’s illegitimate stepchild, segregation. If God tells us how to buy, sell and punish slaves in the Old Testament, and the Apostle Paul advises slaves to obey their masters, He must surely approve of slavery, right? It is also interesting that both sides in the Civil War relied heavily on Scriptural passages to justify their respective causes and were dead certain God would lead them to victory. No wonder today’s evangelicals are so easily led.
When we trace evangelicalism’s noble origins to its present morally bankrupt support of a thrice-married serial adulterer who thumbs his nose at conventional moral codes, it blows my mind. On one hand Trump flaunts his sexual prowess and conquests, but then spends tons of hush money through his attorneys to keep his illicit affairs quiet. His boudoir exploits would probably make Bill Clinton look like Little lord Fauntleroy. Maybe today’s evangelicals interpret acceptance and forgiveness in ways others never have before.
I fear for a nation that would elect someone like Donald Trump its president. And I’m beginning to think the Trump experience might be the American version of the neo-populist trend already well underway in Europe. Many of the western world’s younger people are losing faith in democracy as effective governance. This was highlighted by the British withdrawal from the European Union, the Brexit, led by a narrow populist majority. A growing anti-immigrant trend in France gave the centrist coalition majority a scare in last year’s elections and is making disturbing inroads in Germany, Belgium, Poland, Hungary and elsewhere.
In 1933 Adolf Hitler, a crazed lunatic with a hypnotizing persona, convinced one of the world’s most highly-educated, highly-cultured and devoutly religious people that their world had caved in, was the fault of the Jews, and only he could restore Germany’s former greatness. Sound like anyone we might know?
George B. Reed Jr., who lives in Rossville, can be reached by email at email@example.com.