Are the dominant voices of white evangelical Christianity in the United States destined to be angry and defensive? Is President Trump making sure they stay that way?
I found myself asking these questions after I read my Post colleague Elizabeth Bruenig’s revealing and deeply reported essay about her journey to Texas to probe why evangelicals have been so loyal to Trump and are likely to remain so.
Hers was a venture in sympathetic understanding and empathetic listening. What she heard was a great desire to push back against liberals, to defend a world that sees itself under siege and to embrace Trump — not as a particularly good man but as a fighter against all of the things and people and causes that they cannot abide. Even more, they believe liberals and secularists are utterly hostile to the culture they have built and the worldview they embrace.“I think conservatives for decades have felt bullied by the left, and the default response was to roll over and take it,” said the Rev. Robert Jeffress, pastor of Dallas’s First Baptist church and one of the very earliest and most vocal leaders of Trump’s evangelical bloc.
I confess I don’t really see the “roll over” part. Conservative politicians, Fox News commentators and talk-radio hosts have engaged in plenty of bullying of their own. But I have no doubt that Jeffress was telling the truth about how he and like-minded folks feel.
This means that the nastiness that makes Trump so odious to many of us comes off to his evangelical Christian supporters (even when it makes them uneasy) as a hallowed form of militancy against what one evangelical whom Bruenig interviewed called “a den of vipers” engaged in what another called “spiritual warfare.”Bruenig summarized the approach to politics she kept running into as “focused on achieving protective accommodations against a broader, more liberal national culture.” She wondered whether conservative evangelical Christians will “continue to favor the rise of figures such as Trump, who are willing to dispense with any hint of personal Christian virtue while promising to pause the decline of evangelical fortunes — whatever it takes.”
What struck me in reading Bruenig’s chronicle is that the undoubtedly serious faith of those she encountered was less central to their embrace of Trump than a tribal feeling of beleaguerment — remember: Defending a culture is not the same as standing up for beliefs about God. Their deeply conservative views are not far removed from those of non-evangelical conservatives.
Above all, there was a Republican partisanship that has been around for a long time. In some cases, it goes back to 1964, when Lyndon B. Johnson’s embrace of civil rights incited many white Southerners, including evangelicals, to bolt the Democratic Party. In other cases, Republican loyalties were cemented by Ronald Reagan in 1980.We keep coming back to Trump’s white evangelical base because it seems so strange that religious people with strong moral convictions could embrace someone whose behavior violates so many of the norms they uphold. But party is a big deal these days, and there was nothing extraordinary about Trump’s share of the white evangelical vote. He won what Republican presidential candidates typically win. His 80 percentamong white evangelicals in 2016 was hardly a surge from Mitt Romney’s 78 percent in 2012.
In the end, party triumphed over any qualms evangelicals may have felt about the “Access Hollywood” candidate. Long-standing conservative desires (for sympathetic Supreme Court justices) and inclinations (a deep dislike of Hillary Clinton) reinforced what partisanship recommended.
I get why those with strongly held traditional religious views feel hostility from centers of intellectual life and the arts. More secular liberals should consider Yale philosopher Nicholas Wolterstorff’s suggestion in “Religion in the University” that religious voices be welcomed at institutions of higher learning in much the same way the once-excluded perspectives of feminists and African Americans are now welcomed. One of the academy’s purposes is to bring those with different backgrounds and experiences into reasoned dialogue. Religious people must be part of that conversation.
But reasoned dialogue is far removed from what’s happening in our politics now, and the irony is that the Trumpification of the evangelicals will only widen the gaps they mourn between themselves and other parts of our society. In her recent book “America’s Religious Wars: The Embattled Heart of Our Public Life ,” Kathleen M. Sands, a University of Hawaii professor, writes of a long-standing conflict between “anti-modernist religion and anti-religious modernism.” Trump has every interest in aggravating and weaponizing mistrust that is already there. And judging from Bruenig’s account, he’s succeeding brilliantly.
In retrospect, the civil war in the Balkans was the most important event of that period. It prefigured what has come since: the return of ethnic separatism, the rise of authoritarian populism, the retreat of liberal democracy, the elevation of a warrior ethos that reduces politics to friend/enemy, zero-sum conflicts.
.. Back in the 1990s, there was an unconscious abundance mind-set.
.. Today, after the financial crisis, the shrinking of the middle class, the partisan warfare, a scarcity mind-set is dominant: Resources are limited. The world is dangerous. Group conflict is inevitable. It’s us versus them. If they win, we’re ruined, therefore, let’s stick with our tribe. The ends justify the means.
.. The scarcity mind-set is an acid that destroys every belief system it touches.
.. Now, Donald Trump leads the Republican Party, the personification of the scarcity mind-set. Fox News, with its daily gospel of resentments, is the most important organ of conservative opinion.
.. Republicans are happy to trade away their fiscal principles if they can get their way on immigration, which is what they did in last week’s budget deal.
bulldozer drivers like him are responsible for moving the war forward one block at a time. Iraqi officers won’t start an offensive without them, and if a bulldozer is knocked out with no replacement, the day’s operation is over.
“There can be no liberation without the bulldozer,” Shwele said.
.. Aside from screening for car bombs and acting as a mobile barricade with a top speed of just over 6 mph, his machine’s 12-foot-wide blade will also act as a de facto minesweeper.
.. Schwele’s dozer is a Caterpillar D7R, built in the United States. It is one of 132 sent to Iraq by the Pentagon since March 2015, according to data provided by the Defense Logistics Agency. It has additional armor but carries no weapons and weighs more than 32 tons. Websites price the civilian variant of the bulldozer at upwards of $200,000.
.. Massive and slow, the vehicles are a favorite target of the Islamic State. When they appear at the end of a street, the militants target their engine with rockets and car bombs.
.. Among one another, the bulldozer drivers within the Federal Police call themselves “The Suiciders,” a name bandied about with a grinning pride.
“The infantry, they can hide behind a Humvee or a berm,” Ahmed said. “I hide behind nothing.”