The One Issue in Our Culture War Is Trump

But the ongoing arguments about whether these kids deserved the opprobrium that landed on them in the first hours after the incident had little to do with any serious disagreements about what was on those videos. All that most people needed to know what they thought was a momentary glance at the misleading excerpts posted on Twitter that showed a young man with a smile and a red “Make America Great Again” baseball cap on this head.

This sterile debate in which a group of Catholic and politically conservative teenagers became a national Rorschach test is being blamed on the corrosive impact of social media. But the reason why this became a cause célèbre had everything to do with the baseball cap. If Nicholas Sandmann and his friends were not identified as Trump supporters, then it’s doubtful that, even if they had actually been guilty of mobbing a Native American with a drum, it would have garnered national attention, let alone becoming a story that overshadowed the government shutdown for a few days.

It was because they were supporters of President Donald Trump, and only secondarily because they were attendees at the March for Life, that they were labeled racist thugs harassing Nathan Phillips in much the same manner as Nazis attacking Jews during the Holocaust, as one particularly egregious Internet meme asserted.

.. Many conservatives and even some liberals may think there is still room for a debate about the great issues of the day without involving Trump. That ought to be especially true given his lack of interest in ideology and the inner workings of policy discussions. But it’s hard to think of a single domestic or foreign-policy issue about which the debate has not become one on which Trump’s position has not determined the stances of the participants. The willingness of former conservatives such as the Washington Post’s Jennifer Rubin and Max Boot to switch sides on Iran, Jerusalem, or climate change, issues on which they had once taken strong stands, has illustrated one aspect of Trump Derangement Syndrome. But this trend now extends beyond the few remaining Never Trump stalwarts still in the field.

.. For liberals, Trump has always been not so much a conservative opponent but a threat to democracy, even though their rights and that of a hostile media are still very much intact two years into his presidency. Trump has fielded the most conservative government in memory and, with a few exceptions, adopted stands on social, economic, and foreign-policy issues that conservatives had long held, but it makes no difference to some of his centrist or former conservative opponents. If the realization of long-cherished conservative goals such as tax reform, deregulation, and control of the Supreme Court or even moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem are considered unimportant when compared with his inappropriate behavior and statements, then it’s obvious that the only issue is whether to keep him in the White House or rid the country of the affliction of Trump and his “deplorable” supporters.

.. Covington demonstrated as clearly as anything else that the battle over Trump is not ideological in nature but cultural, that it’s about the president’s perceived vulgarity and unwillingness to behave in a presidential manner or, more to the point, like a member of the educated classes to which he actually belongs. That is what fuels the anger of his opponents. If the red hat that is emblematic of support for the president is, as some commentators have made clear on CNN and other outlets, now seen by Trump’s opponents as being as much a “trigger” for feelings of fear of racist behavior as a Ku Klux Klan white hood, then issues and ideology have become secondary to symbolism that denotes an attitude that is assumed to be hateful if not offensive.
.. As any casual viewer of late-night television knows, in the past few years virtually all of the popular shows have become daily in-kind contributions to the Democrats, as Hollywood’s liberal orthodoxy has taken full possession of pop-culture outlets. The ratings of NBC’s Jimmy Fallon suffered when he was perceived as neutral toward Trump, rather than as a hostile partisan, in 2016 during an interview. Fallon was forced to adopt a more political and anti-Trump tone in order to compete with his rivals.

.. That’s why the decision of TBS’s Conan O’Brien to attempt to avoid all mention of Trump and politics in his new half-hour show is instructive as to the difficulties of avoiding the only issue anyone seems to care about. If there is room for 30 minutes of comedy every day without its focusing on abuse or mockery of Trump’s foibles, then perhaps there might be some hope for the preservation of neutral space.But as the 2020 presidential race begins in earnest, it’s clear that Trump and not abortion, gun rights, religious freedom, or free speech remains the binary question around which America’s most bitter culture war revolves. For many Americans, politics has largely replaced religion as the factor that determines friendships and even marriages. Both Covington and the shutdown reminded us that there is only one issue worth arguing about, and its name is Donald Trump.

The ‘Rotten Equilibrium’ of Republican Politics

the 20 most prosperous districts are now held by Democrats, while Republicans represent 16 of the 20 least prosperous, measured by share of G.D.P. The accompanying chart illustrates their analysis.

.. The authors’ calculation of the contribution to the G.D.P. of every congressional district showed that Democratic districts produce $10.2 trillion of the nation’s goods and services and Republican districts $6.2 trillion.

This trend creates a significant dilemma for Trump and the Republican Party. Candidates on the right do best during hard times and in recent elections, they have gained the most politically in regions experiencing the sharpest downturn. Electorally speaking, in other words, Republicans profit from economic stagnation and decline.

Let’s return to John Austin of the Michigan Economic Center. In an email he describes this unusual situation succinctly: “A rising economic tide tends to sink the Trump tugboat,” adding

“Certainly more people and communities that are feeling abandoned, not part of a vibrant economy means more fertile ground for the resentment politics and ‘blaming others’ for people’s woes (like immigrants and people of color) that fuel Trump’s supporters.”

The small- and medium-sized factory towns that dot the highways and byways of Michigan, Indiana, Ohio and Wisconsin have lost their anchor employers and are struggling to fill the void. Many of these communities, including once solidly Democratic-voting, union-heavy, blue collar strongholds, flipped to Trump in 2016.

This pattern is not limited to the United States. There are numerous studies demonstrating that European and British voters who are falling behind in the global economy, and who were hurt by the 2008 recession and the subsequent cuts to the welfare state, drove Brexit as well as the rise of right-wing populist parties.

..In a July 2018 paper, “Did Austerity Cause Brexit?” Thiemo Fetzer, an economist at the University of Warwick in Coventry, England, argues that austerity policies adopted in the wake of the 2008 financial collapse were crucial both to voter support for the right-wing populist party UKIP in Britain and to voter approval of Brexit.

the EU referendum (Brexit) could have resulted in a Remain victory had it not been for a range of austerity-induced welfare reforms. These reforms activated existing economic grievances. Further, auxiliary results suggest that the underlying economic grievances have broader origins than what the current literature on Brexit suggests. Up until 2010, the UK’s welfare state evened out growing income differences across the skill divide through transfer payments. This pattern markedly stops from 2010 onward as austerity started to bite

.. The results here and in England reinforce the conclusion that the worse things get, the better the right does.

As a rule, as economic conditions improve and voters begin to feel more secure, they become more generous and more liberal. In the United States, this means that voters move to the left; in Britain, it means voters are stronger in their support for staying in the European Union.

Why Trump Reigns as King Cyrus

The month before the 2018 midterms, a thousand theaters screened “The Trump Prophecy,” a film that tells the story of Mark Taylor, a former firefighter who claims that God told him in 2011 that Donald Trump would be elected president.

At a critical moment in the film, just after the actor representing Mr. Taylor collapses in the flashing light of an epiphany, he picks up a Bible and turns to the 45th chapter of the book of Isaiah, which describes the anointment of King Cyrus by God. In the next scene, we hear Mr. Trump being interviewed on “The 700 Club,” a popular Christian television show.

As Lance Wallnau, an evangelical author and speaker who appears in the film, once said, “I believe the 45th president is meant to be an Isaiah 45 Cyrus,” who will “restore the crumbling walls that separate us from cultural collapse.”

Cyrus, in case you’ve forgotten, was born in the sixth century B.C.E. and became the first emperor of Persia. Isaiah 45 celebrates Cyrus for freeing a population of Jews who were held captive in Babylon. Cyrus is the model for a nonbeliever appointed by God as a vessel for the purposes of the faithful.

The identification of the 45th president with an ancient Middle Eastern potentate isn’t a fringe thing. “The Trump Prophecy” was produced with the help of professors and students at Liberty University, whose president, Jerry Falwell Jr., has been instrumental in rallying evangelical support for Mr. Trump. Jeanine Pirro of Fox News has picked up on the meme, as has Ron Dermer, the Israeli ambassador to the United States, among many others.

As the Trump presidency falls under siege on multiple fronts, it has become increasingly clear that the so-called values voters will be among the last to leave the citadel. A lot of attention has been paid to the supposed paradox of evangelicals backing such an imperfect man, but the real problem is that our idea of Christian nationalism hasn’t caught up with the reality. We still buy the line that the hard core of the Christian right is just an interest group working to protect its values. But what we don’t get is that Mr. Trump’s supposedly anti-Christian attributes and anti-democratic attributes are a vital part of his attraction.

Today’s Christian nationalists talk a good game about respecting the Constitution and America’s founders, but at bottom they sound as if they prefer autocrats to democrats. In fact, what they really want is a king. “It is God that raises up a king,” according to Paula White, a prosperity gospel preacher who has advised Mr. Trump.

Ralph Drollinger, who has led weekly Bible study groups in the White House attended by Vice President Mike Pence and many other cabinet members, likes the word “king” so much that he frequently turns it into a verb. “Get ready to king in our future lives,” he tells his followers. “Christian believers will — soon, I hope — become the consummate, perfect governing authorities!”

The great thing about kings like Cyrus, as far as today’s Christian nationalists are concerned, is that they don’t have to follow rules. They are the law. This makes them ideal leaders in paranoid times.

This isn’t the religious right we thought we knew. The Christian nationalist movement today is authoritarian, paranoid and patriarchal at its core.

  • They aren’t fighting a culture war.
  • They’re making a direct attack on democracy itself.

They want it all. And in Mr. Trump, they have found a man who does not merely serve their cause, but also satisfies their craving for a certain kind of political leadership.