Conservative Christianity has championed credulity as a virtue in the US – creating the perfect conditions for Trump’s rise to power.
If you’re an unscrupulous political figure aiming to sweep to power by riding a wave of hyperbole, lies and conspiracy theories, your best chance of success is to leverage an existing structure that positions faith as superior to facts. This structure is firmly established in the US, as a result of the increasing political and social influence that conservative Christian religious organizations have been afforded over the last few decades. This influence contradicts the First Amendment to the Constitution, as well as the notion of the “wall of separation between church and state” expressed by Thomas Jefferson. The tax-shy billionaire Donald Trump, elected to kick wealthy establishment parasites out of power, is another contradiction. His supporters are praying for more.
The Moral Majority organisation, founded by televangelist Jerry Falwell, began a concerted effort to push conservative Christian viewpoints into political discussions in the 1970s. In the decade that followed, media figures like Rush Limbaugh broadcast the same messages into American households through radio and television. The ideologically-driven Fox News channel emerged in the 90s, its reporting shaped to appeal to America’s white, Christian, politically-conservative heartlands. And then along came President George W Bush – complete with a direct line to the Creator himself.
The rising prominence of the conservative Christian agenda in American politics has made the country increasingly susceptible to the emergence of figure like Trump. The demographics speak for themselves: A Pew Forum study in 2011 stated that 79.5% of people in the US identify as Christian, while 42% follow a Creationist view of human origins according to a Gallup poll in 2014. This attractive voting block is never far from American politicians’ thoughts – or policies. Trump and his team looked at the way conservative Christian churches and organisations had conditioned their congregations to think, and transposed the patterns into electoral decision-making. Their success is regrettable, but undeniable.
The similarities are uncanny. Both before and after the US election, Americans have flocked to Trump’s rallies to experience euphoric spiritual outpourings among a congregation of fellow believers. These believers are accustomed to drawing their understanding of the world from a single source: Trump’s Twitter page performs a similar function for his political doctrine. While almost all other sources are blasphemous, channels like the Breitbart News Network act as secondary scripture that interprets how Trump’s will should be understood and enacted in everyday life.
Conservative Christianity and Trumpist politics also take an analogous approach to reconciling inconsistencies. The contradiction between the cult of the humble carpenter and the money-grubbing televangelists who cash in on his popularity is mirrored in the contradiction of the conceited billionaire and his proclaimed fellow-feeling with the poor. Unwavering belief in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary is the ultimate show of virtue: When Trump attempts to restrict access to affordable health services while cutting taxes for the wealthy, his believers look the other way. Trump moves in mysterious economic and sociological ways.
To examine Trump’s tax returns would be akin to examining the efficacy of prayer through scientific study – the magic doesn’t work if subjected to scrutiny by the cynical. The all-powerful is too smart to be play ball. Similarly, Trump’s believers know, through revelation, that more people attended Trump’s inauguration than Obama’s. Belief is the first step. Master it, and you will see the miracles: But not before.
Of course, Trump is not the first to benefit from an established culture of credulity. The Tsar was the head of the Russian Orthodox Church for centuries before Stalin came along – and instilled a doctrine of heresy trials, miracles and unfaltering praise for the leader that drew a great deal from the structure it replaced. Mao leveraged a history of superstition and servility in China. North Korea is a cult, with a revered leader receiving rapturous applause at every turn, and weeping gratitude for each miniscule concession to the adoring (and hungry) masses. While the American public will never allow Trump to become a dictator, his plans may be more short-term in nature. This makes him particularly dangerous.
This danger, in my opinion, emerges from the fact that the conservative Christian religious doctrine and Trump’s political ideology share a fervour for precipitating the end of the world. In fact, they’ll do anything they can to accelerate it – whether funding the settlement of the West Bank, ignoring warnings about climate change, or drawing the leaders of hostile nations into a nuclear cock-measuring contest.
Trump’s claims about “wiping Islamic terror of the face of the earth” represent a win-win situation for conservative Christians: If the enemy is destroyed, it will be evidence of God’s preference for their creed. If the world is destroyed, American Christians will finally know their saviour and see justice served on non-believers. A recent article in the New Statesman outlined Steve Bannon’s conviction that the world is approaching a crisis that will mark the end of a self-contained “Saecula” (generation), and lead to the birth of a new world order. The article claims that Bannon “seems to believe his job is to accelerate this new apocalyptic paradigm”. Conservative Christians will support him and Donald Trump in precipitating this crisis, with unshakeable faith in their cause. The meek may destroy the earth – with pious smiles on their faces and red baseball caps on their heads.