Trump & The Post-Religious Right
America needs a religious right. Maybe not the religious right it has; certainly not the religious right of Carson and Falwell Jr. But the Trump era has revealed what you get when you leach the Christianity out of conservatism: A right-of-center politics that cares less about marriage and abortion, just as some liberals would wish, but one that’s ultimately far more divisive than the evangelical politics of George W. Bush.
When religious conservatives were ascendant, the G.O.P. actually tried minority outreach, it sent billions to fight AIDS in Africa, it pursued criminal justice reform in the states. That ascendance crumbled because of the religious right’s own faults (which certain of Trump’s Christian supporters amply display), and because of trends toward secularization and individualism that no politics can master; it cannot and should not be restored.
But some kind of religious conservatism must be rebuilt, because without the pull of transcendence, the future of the right promises to be tribal, cruel, and very dark indeed.
Hey, I’m doing my part this weekend. The final version of the manuscript for The Benedict Option is due by Monday morning. I’m doing the final polishing today and tomorrow, hoping to get it right.
I just took a break and saw this news from the campaign trail. You want to talk about tribal, cruel, and very dark indeed? Look:
Anger and hostility were the most overwhelming sentiments at a Trump rally in Cincinnati last week, a deep sense of frustration, an us-versus-them mentality, and a belief that they are part of an unstoppable and underestimated movement. Unlike many in the country, however, these hard-core Trump followers do not believe the real estate mogul’s misfortunes are of his own making.
They believe what Trump has told them over and over, that this election is rigged, and if he loses, it will be because of a massive conspiracy to take him down.
At a time when trust in government is at a low point, Trump is actively stoking fears that a core tenet of American democracy is also in peril: that you can trust what happens at the ballot box.
And if Trump doesn’t win, some are even openly talking about violent rebellion and assassination, as fantastical and unhinged as that may seem.
“If she’s in office, I hope we can start a coup. She should be in prison or shot. That’s how I feel about it,” Dan Bowman, a 50-year-old contractor, said of Hillary Clinton, the Democratic nominee. “We’re going to have a revolution and take them out of office if that’s what it takes. There’s going to be a lot of bloodshed. But that’s what it’s going to take. . . . I would do whatever I can for my country.”
He then placed a Trump mask on his face and posed for pictures.
Trump’s campaign has taken a sharp turn toward such dark warnings in recent days. He says he is a victim of conspiracies, portrays himself as a martyr to the cause of the right wing, and is stoking anger in advance of what may be a defeat on Nov. 8.
Trump is whipping this sentiment up now:
Above all, Trump is now using the prospect of his loss to undermine faith in democratic institutions.
“It’s one big fix,’’ Trump said Friday afternoon in Greensboro, N.C. “This whole election is being rigged.’’
Read the whole thing. This isn’t merely interesting or merely depressing anymore. We are getting into “vote for the crook, it’s important” territory. For religious and social conservatives, a Clinton presidency would be terrible. But it would not the the worst thing imaginable. Donald Trump is now showing us something worse: a paranoid nationalist demagogue destroying the institutions of our country, and fomenting mob violence.
Trump surrogates like Sen. Jeff Sessions are spreading the meme that the election is going to be rigged. And look at this, from the sheriff — the sheriff — of Milwaukee County:
It’s incredible that our institutions of gov, WH, Congress, DOJ, and big media are corrupt & all we do is bitch. Pitchforks and torches time pic.twitter.com/8G5G0daGVN
— David A. Clarke, Jr. (@SheriffClarke) October 15, 2016
This is the chief law enforcement officer of a populous urban county, calling for riots in support of Trump. What if a sheriff did the same on behalf of Black Lives Matter? What would conservatives think then?
I have said, and I believe, that faith in the institutions of American life is going to decline ever more sharply. I don’t look forward to this, not at all. But I think it’s going to happen. It is terribly dangerous, though, for Donald Trump, the presidential candidate of the Republican Party, based on no evidence whatsoever, to stoke his followers into believing that this election, which he is doing his utmost to lose with his behavior, will have been stolen from them by fraud.
What does he expect to happen after November 8 if he loses? Whatever violence occurs, if it indeed occurs, will be on him. If the GOP doesn’t formally denounce him and disassociate itself from him, it will be on them too.
What Trump is doing is extremely un-conservative. He is not critiquing our governmental institutions (which they deserve). He is actively delegitimizing them in the eyes of his supporters. This is a very, very big deal, people. He is revealing every single day why he is unfit for the presidency. And he is putting conservatives who loathe everything Hillary Clinton stands for, and who dread what her administration will bring to this country, in the position of having to vote for her to save America from this lunatic demagogue, and to register a protest against Trump’s brand of politics.
He has gathered and unleashed forces that will be extremely hard to put back in the bottle, if they can be at all. This is what the Right whose passions are untempered by Christianity looks like: tribal, cruel, and very dark indeed.