Trump, Cruz, And Evangelical ‘Vanity’
I’ve been trying to find the most interesting thing somebody said about Donald Trump’s pathetic pandering to conservative Evangelicals at Liberty University today, and it turns out the best piece was written by Matthew Lee Anderson a few days ago. In it, Anderson — himself a conservative Evangelical — lets his co-religionists have it for supporting Trump or Cruz. Excerpts:
By all appearances, then, the Religious Right is as alive as it has ever have been. But this time, the grievances that animate them have flowered into an overt anti-politics, a willingness to trade the responsibilities of governance for the therapeutic cleansing of disruptive chaos.Trump and Cruz are dominating evangelicals—and Cruz has provided evangelicals what Trump has popularized, except in a (slightly) more respectable form. The life of the Religious Right is that of the undead: Theirs is not the politics of hope grounded in a vision of a common good for all people, but a nihilistic cynicism animated by resentment and anxiety. And therein lies a tale.
Anderson points out that by and large, the Evangelical leadership has not backed Trump, but the laity has chosen otherwise — because Trump has a lot in common with Evangelical religiosity, especially of the prosperity gospel type. More:
The inherent appeal of being a ‘winner’ is not far from the hope of being set free from all one’s earthly troubles. Trump flouts the Bible these days like Big Dan Teague, in part because the kind of commercialized religiosity they represent is not far from the center of the evangelical ethos. “It’s all about the money, boys!” Or in this case, the votes.
Evangelicals who are more discerning may find themselves attracted to Ted Cruz, says Anderson. They shouldn’t be, because he promises nothing more than “Trumpism with a veneer of respectability.” More:
Indeed, no religious arena has been immune to Cruz’s political ambitions. He announced his campaign at Liberty University, which bills itself as the world’s largest Christian university, and indelicately placed his own political hopes in the hands of the conservative evangelical community. “Imagine,” he bluntly put it, “millions of people of faith all across America coming out to the polls and voting our values,” before turning his family into a political prop to demonstrate his social conservative bona fides. On the day of an important Iowa social conservative event, the Presidential Family Forum, Cruz not-so-subtly announced the formation of a “Prayer Team.” Direct contact with the Almighty about all matters Cruz comes with strings, though: Team Cruz will require your name and address, please. “The prayers of [middle-class, registered Republicans] availeth [many votes].” So the Bible says somewhere, I think. Most perniciously, Cruz managed to turn an event about the persecution of Christians in the Middle East into a news story about himself, proving in the most abhorrent of ways that absolutely nothing is sacred when everything is political.
Cruz’s unsavory use of the religious life for his own advancement, however, is the playbook that the Religious Right has written for itself, creating a vicious cycle that identifies the evangelical world with such shameless politicking. Attempt to carve out a path respects the church’s independence, avoid subordinating the Christian life to political ambitions, and many conservative evangelicals will simply tune out. Pandering is the litmus test for politically conservative religious ‘authenticity.’ Evangelical pastors and laypeople who are more careful in their theological politics are understandably invisible to the media in political seasons—which rewards the Religious Right with the attention they crave, and is instrumental to their ongoing power.
Read the whole thing. It’s very, very good. Anderson says Evangelicals have made their own mess by tying their fortunes so closely for so long to the success of Republican politicians. He further says that Evangelicals voting for Trump or Cruz because they’re going to shake things up would be “an apocalyptic, anti-political judgment that our political order is beyond repair.”
That makes me queasy, because I am tempted to think it might be true. Erick Erickson is not a Trump supporter, but he praises Trump’s candidacy for doing a few good things. I don’t agree with all of Erickson’s list, but I do agree with this one:
First, he exposed the consultant class of the GOP as profiteering charlatans. They have been unable to come up with a strategy to stop Donald Trump, build up the establishment candidates, or do anything other than make a mint off losing candidates. Trump’s campaign is, compared to the consultant class in D.C., an island of misfit toys and those misfit toys are kicking the GOP’s a*s.
This brings me pleasure, but a pleasure that makes me uneasy, because it is not at all clear that the dissolution of the Republican Party as we have known it for two generations will bring something better. Note well that you will never see me in this space endorse a political candidate. We are not allowed to do so by terms of TAC’s non-profit status. Nothing I write or link to here should be interpreted as an endorsement of any candidate. Yet I can say quite honestly to you that I don’t have a candidate in 2016. Haven’t had one for long time now. Don’t expect to for many years to come. All politics that really matter, I think, involve establishing local forms of community that can hold it together and help others to thrive in the time of unraveling now upon us.