Although the 2016 presidential election has been the most bizarre election in American history, perhaps even stranger is the way in which we have seen an entire political party (one with a disproportionate percentage of conservative and highly religious Americans) become a “weirdly inverted” Bizarro World in and of itself.
Perhaps the most fascinating inversion occurring is among Evangelicals, which make up over 1/3 of Republican voters.
What do Evangelicals look for in a candidate?
Ralph Reed is a conservative Christian activist and current head of Trump’s religious advisory board. In 1998, when he was running the Christian Coalition, Reed stated, “Character matters, and the American people are hungry for that message. We care about the conduct of our leaders, and we will not rest until we have leaders of good moral character.”
To Reed’s Christian Coalition, Bill Clinton’s infidelity scandal represented “the ultimate evidence that Washington was in need of a restoration of ‘family values.'”
Ladies and gentlemen, meet Bizarro Ralph Reed, who is now advising a thrice-married, racist, draft-dodging, alleged rapist, serial philanderer, who has praised Sharia Law for its simple divorce procedures, and who has told young girls (on more than one occasion) that he would be dating them one day.
Bizarro Ralph Reed, responding to the recently unearthed Trump tape: “Nobody’s going to remember what horrible things Donald Trump said over a decade ago. We’re never going to have a perfect candidate until Jesus Christ reigns forever on the throne.”
Let’s meet some more characters from Evangelical Bizarro World:
James Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family stated in 1998 about the Bill Clinton scandal, “What has alarmed me throughout this episode has been the willingness of my fellow citizens to rationalize the President’s behavior.”
Bizarro James Dobson last week, in defense of Trump after sexual assault allegations: “Jesus said, ‘Let him who is without sin cast the first stone.’”
Bizarro Jerry Falwell, Jr., who is still supporting Trump after hearing the candidate describe sexually assaulting women, stated, “We’re never going to have a perfect candidate.”
Tony Perkins, of the SPLC-designated hate group the Family Research Council, once urged Christians to leave their church if their pastors supported Obama.
Bizarro Tony Perkins, who is also still supporting Trump, stated in a remarkable feat of semantic gymnastics, “My personal support for Donald Trump has never been based upon shared values, rather it was built upon shared concerns.” I’m sure any one of us, if pressed, could identify a few concerns we share with even Charles Manson.
Rev. Sam Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, spoke to Glenn Beck’s audience in April. On the topic of the political climate, he stated, “White, black, yellow and brown Christians must stand up and build a firewall against hatred, bitterness, and bigotry.”
Bizarro Sam Rodriguez, after wall-builder-in-chief Donald Trump’s ascension to GOP nominee, recalibrated his message, stating that God uses “broken people to accomplish great things.”
“We the senior editors of The Christian Post encourage our readers to back away from Donald Trump…[he] does not represent the interests of evangelicals and would be a dangerous leader for our country…Trump is a misogynist and philanderer. He demeans women and minorities. His preferred forms of communication are insults, obscenities and untruths.”
Fast-forward four months, when Richard Land becomes Trump’s Evangelical Executive Advisor: “We as Christians often ask ourselves “what would Jesus do?” Frankly, I cannot imagine our Savior would draw His robes around Himself and walk on the other side of the street and spurn Mr. Trump’s request for spiritual counsel and advice.”
“If I were to support, much less endorse, Donald Trump for president,” Mohler says, “I would actually have to go back and apologize to former President Bill Clinton.”
So, what has happened? How can Evangelicals reconcile their dedication to the teachings of Jesus and their steadfast devotion to Donald Trump, whose “candidacy is the antithesis of everything [Evangelicals] set out to achieve”?
It appears that much of Evangelicals’ support for Trump is rooted in a simple desire to reject the establishment and the media elite.
“No Evangelical I know is expecting Trump to lead our nation in a spiritual revival. But seven years of Barack Obama have drastically lowered the threshold of spiritual expectations Evangelicals have of their president. No longer do they require their president to be one of them. Evangelicals will settle for someone who doesn’t HATE them like the current occupant of the Oval Office appears to.”
Many Evangelicals believe that they are the victims of government mandated rejections of their core beliefs, whether that be through the legalization of same-sex marriage, the barring of public prayer, or the rejection of bills that would require transgender people to use the bathroom that corresponds to their birth gender. They view the evolving ethnic and religious makeup of the Great Melting Pot as a threat to what was a mostly white, Christian nation.
“It’s not surprising is that the enemy of our enemy is our friend. That’s the art of political warfare. He’s calling out the establishment, the ‘media elite,’ and he’s calling out a lot of people.”
“Donald Trump is the incarnation of a bumper sticker. The support for Donald Trump is a way of sending message of anger with the status quo, and there are many people angered with the status quo.”
Trump, while not exactly a saint, has built his campaign on two mantras that resonate with Evangelicals: ‘Make America Great Again’ and ‘Build That Wall.’
“Wall People attempt to quiet the winds of change by isolating themselves from everything that they believe is threatening to their way of life — immigrants, globalization, climate change and so on. In contrast, Web People embrace change and strive to work in a borderless world that acknowledges the technological innovations that are driving globalization and other challenges to the status quo. Extending Friedman’s logic, we can call evangelical Trump supporters “Wall People.” They feel threatened by dramatic cultural shifts in the world around them, and rightly so.”
…Simplistic typologies such as Wall People and Web People rarely capture nuanced developments, and this is particularly true when it comes to religion. Still, it’s useful to see how Trump’s central imperative—“Make America Great Again”—evokes feelings of nostalgia, loss and anger that deeply resonate with a voting block that reached its apex of cultural and political influence during the Reagan era and have seen their dominance slowly but steadily erode over the past three decades.
So even if Trump’s lifestyle doesn’t accurately reflect the faith of white evangelicals, his rhetoric does echo the fears of those who prefer walls over webs. That’s probably enough to ensure wall evangelicals’ loyalty to Trump in the voting both. Whether that loyalty will turn out to have been misplaced is another question altogether.
The old saying “politics makes strange bedfellows” was made for situations like this. The saying can be traced back to Shakespeare’s The Tempest: “Misery acquaints a man with strange bedfellows.”
Misery, as they say, loves company.