Trump’s ‘God Bless the USA Bible’ is No Joke

Image: Still from New York Times video.

As he makes another bid for the White House, Donald Trump is well aware of who his base is and what they believe. Indeed, the campaign has increasingly adopted more overtly Christian nationalist themes, particularly those that attach special importance to the role of Trump in the Christian god’s plans for America, a strategy that appeared to reach its apex with the widely-derided “God made Trump” campaign ad. Only now Trump has gotten directly into the Bible business, officially endorsing and profiting from the “God Bless the USA Bible.”

As Karen Park notes here on RD, apart from a King James translation Bible in an “easy-to-read” format, the “God Bless the USA Bible” (GBUSA) also includes: the US Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights, and The Pledge of Allegiance. Of course, the GBUSA isn’t the first to make an explicit connection between the Bible and the founding documents of the US. The American Patriot’s Bible (2009) features the New King James translation paired with inserts on Christian theology, American history, American “patriots,” and texts, poems, and hymns from US history. (And, in case the meaning behind this particular assortment of texts is too subtle, the subtitle, “The Word of God and the Shaping of America,” closes the circle.) Then there’s the KJV Military Bible, which features articles on patriotic themes like the Pledge of Allegiance, the Star Spangled Banner, the Marine Corps Hymn, and (for some reason) George W. Bush. 

What sets the GBUSA Bible apart from these other patriotic bibles are its endorsements (not a common practice in Bible publishing) and licensing agreements. The GBUSA is “the only Bible endorsed by [popular patriotic songwriter] Lee Greenwood,” and “the ONLY Bible inspired by America’s most recognized patriotic anthem, God Bless The USA,” Greenwood’s most famous song and one that’s been embraced by Christian nationalists. In fact, as you may recall, the GBUSA was originally planned to be released in 2021 by Christian publisher Zondervan with just Greenwood’s endorsement, but the publisher canceled the project after a number of its Christian authors protested.

The latest iteration of the GBUSA still includes Greenwood’s endorsement, but in addition it now has the dubious honor of being “the only Bible endorsed by President Trump!” While neither the former president nor any of his various corporate entities actually produced the GBUSA, his endorsement seems to have come with a price. His “name, likeness and image [are used] under paid license from CIC Ventures LLC,” which, according to the Washington Post, “is a conduit to Trump — personally, if not politically.”

Trump’s foray into the Bible business has already garnered predictable responses from various news outlets. Politico, for example, wryly begins by telling the reader, “Add ‘Bibles’ to the list of items Donald Trump is peddling as his legal fees continue to grow.” Trump’s embrace of a Christian nationalist Bible is framed here as another grift, which is not to be taken seriously. For the savvy reporter, Trump’s embrace of White evangelicalism is just playing the game of politics, and thus requires no further analysis. 

But we should take the GBUSA seriously. Biblical scholar Timothy Beal has shown that the Bible isn’t merely a static text, but rather a cultural icon. It means many different things to different people at different times. In my own work with biblical scholar Jill Hicks-Keeton, we’ve argued that there is no Bible, per se, but many bibles. Each is crafted by humans (readers, pastors, churches, and publishers) into a sacred text. And each is different. 

In the GBUSA, as with other patriot bibles, the lines between where the biblical text ends and the Constitution or the Declaration of Independence begins can get fuzzy, since these texts are often printed side-by-side. The more one reads such a Bible, the more the founding documents and history of the US become intertwined with the cultural icon we call the Bible. The result is that readers come to see patriotism and Christianity as deeply intertwined, which is a core ingredient of Christian nationalism. The GBUSA takes this dynamic even further, by tying the Bible to patriotism and to Trump himself.

One thing that stands out, if we take Trump’s endorsement of the GBUSA seriously, is the way he encourages this connection, presenting the GBUSA as a solution to a crisis facing the country: “Religion and Christianity are the biggest things missing from this country. …I think it’s one of the biggest problems we have; that’s why our country is going haywire. We’ve lost religion in our country.” In other words, we have to find a way to recenter Christianity in American life. 

The Bible functions as a symbol for White evangelicals; if the Bible is centered, then so are they. “All Americans need a Bible in their home, and I have many,” says Trump. “It’s my favorite book. It’s a lot of people’s favorite book.” His association with fans of the Bible, and thus with Bible-believing Christians, marks him as an insider. Note too that Trump sees the Bible as necessary for all Americans, a dog whistle that only Bible-believing Christians are “real” Americans—another core Christian nationalist belief

Endorsing the fears of persecution shared by many White evangelicals, Trump presents himself as a protector of Christianity, the Bible, and, by implication, White evangelicals themselves: “Christians are under siege but must protect content that is pro-God. We love God, and we have to protect anything that is pro-God. We must defend God in the public square and not allow the media or the left-wing groups to silence, censor, or discriminate against us.” 

He also threads a similar knot around the founding documents of the US, warning his audience: “The Constitution, which I am fighting for every single day, very hard, to keep Americans protected. …You are being threatened to lose those [Constitutional] rights. It’s happening all the time…but we’re gonna get it turned around.” Trump is again the protector of the Constitution, of rights, and of the right kind of citizen

What we learn by taking the GBUSA seriously is how Trump and his MAGA followers tie together, over and over in their rhetoric and publications, the Bible, US history, the country’s founding documents, and White Christians to such an extent that these categories bleed into one. To turn to the GBUSA as a devoted Bible reader is to enter into a sacred space where the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, and the Pledge of Allegiance become the Bible, with Trump as their protector. In this space, Christianity and the USA become intermingled in such a way that one does not exist without the other. And it only works by maintaining the fiction that the founding documents are being added without transforming the Bible itself. Yet Trump’s rhetoric shows how this fiction masks the powerful emotional appeal of the MAGA bible. The GBUSA is a MAGA Bible for orthodox MAGA Christians.

This is not to say that MAGA Christianity isn’t authentically Christian. As Jill Hicks-Keeton has shown, all forms of Christianity shape the Bible in their image. Each time we encounter a Bible, even one that seems as absurd as the GBUSA, we need to understand that it offers us a window into how some Christians view themselves and their place in the world. We ignore these constructions of the Bible at our political peril.