Trump and the Bible Dodge

Donald Trump is rejiggering the way the Republican Party does religion.

Give Trump credit for one thing: exposing, in plain view, that much of the religious right is driven more by politics than by religion; that is, more by mythology than theology. The usual demands that candidates pledge their fealty to the Bible, to the Christian nation, to the idea that America is in decline because of secularism have been suspended for Trump. That’s befuddling many observers. But the Trump phenomenon exposes how the piety test is often a proxy for other, irreligious motives.

The New York Times columnist Frank Bruni, for one, was shocked by evangelicals whose support of Trump is antithetical to the sacred text they claim is the foundation of our country. As historian Kevin Kruse points out, though, the fact that Ronald Reagan was a divorced non-church-goer who once supported abortion rights didn’t stop evangelicals from supporting him, either.

Let’s be clear here, we don’t know whether Trump’s lead will endure into next year. Although he is drawing a greater share of evangelical support in many polls than other candidates, the evangelical vote is still split—a phenomenon that was also true at this point in the previous two election cycles. In both 2008 and 2012, with evangelicals divided about which candidate to support in a crowded field, the primaries produced a nominee who appeared to be the least favored among evangelicals: John McCain and Mitt Romney, respectively. Although McCain’s nomination might have been seen as evidence of the religious right’s declining clout, the evangelical base’s discontent with McCain led to his selection of a running mate in Sarah Palin—perhaps contemporary politics’ clearest forerunner to the Trump ascendancy.

While Palin, like Trump, spoke the language of what TNR’s Jeet Heer calls “aggrieved privilege” (not populism), Palin wrapped it in overtly religious gestures. Her gestures, particularly her verbal ones, bore all the hallmarks of modern televangelism: an insistence on biblical inerrancy paired with a claim that the speaker can receive new revelations, directly from God, about one’s social, economic, and political prospects. It’s a perfect model for Trump: reinterpreting the Bible to claim God picked you out to make money, to be successful, and to be president of the United States. Trump hasn’t gone there—yet—although it’s not hard to imagine it.

Trump has  moved on from his “little cracker” reference to communion to proclaiming the Bible is his favorite book. Although he has compared himself to Billy Graham, because of Trump’s propensity to claim magical healing powers—for America, if not for someone’s bum knee or cancer—a closer analogy might be Benny Hinn.

While some evangelicals are cringing that their co-religionists adore this xenophobic, racist bully, there is some evidence that Trump is indeed drawing from the televangelist oeuvre. Next month’s meeting with “selected Christian leaders and ministry professionals” is being organized by televangelist Paula White. (White arranged a similar meeting for Trump in 2011.) In 2007, a Senate committee launched an investigation against White, Hinn, and four other televangelism stars for misusing tax-exempt donations for luxury homes, cars, private planes, and even plastic surgery. But the investigation, after pressure from conservatives, was dropped four years later before any changes to tax law or policy were even suggested. That’s Trump’s kind of evangelical.

Because many cannot wrap their mind around why Trump is getting support from religious voters, the pressure is on Trump (sort of) to prove his biblical bona fides. I would have loved to see a political reporter ask Trump what his preferred Bible translation is. King James? New International? Inquiring minds want to know—at least that he’s broken the binding on his favorite book. The closest we got was in Mark Halperin and John Heilemann’s interview on Bloomberg, where Halperin asked Trump if he had a favorite Bible verse or two. It’s a dumb question, although if Trump were a bit more savvy on this religion-in-politics stuff he would have at least talked about—oh, I don’t know, love thy neighbor? (Or perhaps that would have been too preposterous even for Trump.)

For the record, these questions shouldn’t be asked of political candidates. But since it was the Republican Party that turned elections into piety contests, you would think its preferred candidate could at least play the game well. Instead, Trump deemed his answer to be “personal,” adding that “The Bible means a lot to me, but I don’t want to get into specifics.” I might be sympathetic to such an answer from any other candidate—but in this case it’s clear that on the one hand Trump wants to play the religion card, but actually doesn’t have any particulars to back it up.

But Trump’s religious fans aren’t bothered. The Christian Broadcasting Network’s David Brody, who has been extolling Trump’s virtues for at least a month, describes Trump’s expulsion of Univision anchor Jorge Ramos from a press conference as “magic,” praising how Trump “showed (once again) to voters is that he’s not afraid to back down from a fight. He lets it rip and loves to battle.”

Trump, wrote Brody, is “the maestro conductor of this 2016 presidential election. He leads. Others follow.” The knee jerk reaction here would be to retort, “just like Jesus?” But that would miss the point.


  •' Jim Reed says:

    Trump is the maestro conductor of this 2016 Republican nomination process. That is a very different game from the 2016 presidential election.

  •' lsomers says:

    The only so-called Christians who can support a racist, xenophobe like Trump are those whos religion is an empty shell, a joke and an insult to people who actually try to follow Jesus.

  •' Whiskyjack says:

    It comes as no surprise that the religious right can find enough theological wiggle room to support Trump. After all, many of the same folks see no problems with the prosperity gospel. Given Jesus’s repeated and consistent warnings about the negative spiritual effects of wealth and his exhortations to care for the poor, the Christian right has long ago detached itself from the actual teachings of its putative founder.

  •' ObscurelyAgnostic says:

    Of course hypocrisy isn’t a uniquely Christian quality — it’s merely a universally HUMAN one …

  •' ObscurelyAgnostic says:

    Since when do real human beings consistently practice their religion? isn’t that why we have religion in the first place?

  •' Whiskyjack says:

    I freely grant that hypocrisy is not exclusive to Christians. What I find particularly odious about the hypocrisy of the Christian right is their predilection for wanting to impose their particular form of morality on others, whether it be sexual abstinence, homophobia, or public expression of religion. If they want to be abstinent, homophobic or overtly religious in their own home, they can do so. Just leave the rest of us out of it.

  •' ObscurelyAgnostic says:

    A fair point, brutha! — mine was just that fundamentalist Christians are hypocrites not because of their religion but because of their species …

  • You can’t call anyone a fraud because everyone is a fraud. Do you know who wins with this maxim? Conmen.

  • If everyone is bad than no one is bad. Your philosophy needs work.

  •' Laurence Charles Ringo says:

    Best answer yet.I find myself utterly,mind-bogglingly baffled how ANYONE could vote for someone like Trump,and for ANY supposed Christians to endorse him…Please,somebody,ANYBODY…WHY??? I personally don’t believe he’s even remotely”christian”,unless he’s concocted his own version of some kind of. pseudo-“christianity”,a “god”re-made in his,Trump’s image.Give me a break.Let me put it like this: If my one vote could propel Trump to the White House,he would NEVER get in.Oh,and FYI: I’m one of the ” blacks ” he claims to get along with so well.Seriously,dude?? I wouldn’t trust Donald Trump as far as I could throw a steel elephant!!

  •' ObscurelyAgnostic says:

    I didn’t say everyone is bad, I said everyone is human 🙂

  •' ObscurelyAgnostic says:

    You gotta problem with being human, brutha? 😀

  •' cgosling says:

    Jesus said explicitly, the rich man cannot go to heaven. To deserve heaven, the rich man must give his wealth to the poor. Trump’s indiscriminate drive for wealth has left many victims in its wake. He has more money than he can spend or needs. I can’t understand how can the religious right can support Trump.

  •' apotropoxy says:

    “Jesus is fabulous, so is god! They’re both tremendous. They love me. I’m their biggest supporter…. given them plenty of money. I haven’t met him, but I have no doubt, absolutely no doubt, that the Holy Ghost is amazing!. Mary did a good job with them. I love women. How about that Moses! … and the others. Moses built a fence, didn’t he? And Noah, and what’s his name…. They’re huge.”

  •' Jim Reed says:

    Moses is not real. We now know that because science shows us there wasn’t really any exodus of the nation of Israel from Egypt and spending 40 years wandering in the desert.

    I don’t mean to make you question your religion, but just because they say something doesn’t make it true.

  •' apotropoxy says:

    “Moses” was Sargon the Great of Akkad. The ancient Hebrews picked up this cultural artifact from their fellow Babylonian Semites.

  •' Jim Reed says:

    Just because the Babylonians say something doesn’t make it true either.

  •' apotropoxy says:

    Historians do not doubt the existence of Sargon the Great and are well aware of the myth-making tales that surrounded him. The Hebrew story is based on the stories told about a real man. Those stories found their way to Babylon and then to Palestine.

  •' Jim Reed says:

    It can be hard to separate the real man stories about Sargon from the myth making tales.

  •' Jim Reed says:

    I see. This is a Trump quote. From that point of view it shows the key to the Republican campaign Trump problem. Can any other Republican candidate say anything equally significant about Christianity without sounding even more crazy? The other candidates have to try to battle Trump in any other issue because it would be a big mistake for them to try to take Trump on in the religion arena. In any issue they risk having Trump expose their hypocrisy, but nowhere more so than in the issue of religion.

  •' nightgaunt says:

    Some of them like power over religion unless it works in their favor. Timing. Napoleon found uses for those who follow such things, he got them to follow him too.

  •' nightgaunt says:

    Rushdoony was far from a shell. His stuff is stuffed full. Don’t think it has to be your way as a facade. They can believe and still be dangerous dictators.

  •' nightgaunt says:

    Humans, fallen in a fallen world. Same thing as “bad”.

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