With the US election just under a month away, the world awaits to see if the income-bent incumbent will maintain his reign for another term, or whether his aged opponent will take the throne. Rather than speculate over the result of the election and potential determining factors, this article aims to shed some light on one of the groups Trump will be relying on for his re-election: America’s vast number of Evangelical Christians. This contingent of Christianity accounts for over 60 million citizens, according to a recent Financial Times article, some 18% of the population. Whilst this sect is not statistically the most loyal political agent of the religious world (that accolade going to the Mormons), the sheer size of this following is what gives it political power. In the last election, 81% of evangelists voted for Trump, and recent polls have suggested that November will see an increase in this figure.
Compared to the rest of the Western world, America is disproportionately devout, with Ireland the only nation to ‘out-believe’ in God. For a politician to publicly declare themselves an atheist is to commit career suicide, as they will be dumped by the electorate as an immoral candidate. A 2019 Gallup poll concluded that the only thing less appealing to American voters than an atheist is a socialist. Christians are disproportionately represented by 88.2% of Congress, despite 70% of the public identifying as Christian.
So, why do so many of the evangelical movement back Trump? Well, there has been an ongoing relationship between the religious right and the GOP since the 1980 election, when abortion became a political issue in the aftermath of Roe v. Wade. The 1973 Supreme Court decision roused religious institutions into political action, after a realisation of the vast amount of influence they could exert over politics by playing the numbers game.
In Trump and Pence they saw two people who would protect them and shared their world view. Their feeling of being oppressed cannot be underestimated, despite the seeming lunacy of these emotions. A 2017 report by the Public Religion Research Institute discovered that white Evangelicals believe they are more discriminated against than are Muslims in the USA, demonstrating the extreme and unfounded sentiments that influence their political persuasions. Trump has played these emotions by encouraging them to view themselves as a targeted group, at risk of losing their way of life to liberalism. Whilst this tactic may seem to work, depending on the levels of one’s cynicism, it is a method of fearmongering where Trump is simultaneously heightening the threat perception of conservative Christians and offering them a solution in himself. The irony of Trump’s masquerading as a moral saviour cannot be missed.
“Time and time again, faith leaders have dismissed and excused Trump’s behaviour when so few others have been able to”
Why are Trump’s vast swaths of controversies not enough to dissuade so many Evangelicals to vote for him? How can a man who is guilty of narcissism, sexism, bullying and allegedly paying off a porn-star over an affair really be the “dream president” that popular televangelist, Jerry Falwell Jr, touts him to be? The hierarchical structure of religious organisations is mostly responsible for this, where popular preachers and pastors are able to generate reliable, and even predictable, responses from their followers due to the high level of trust communities place in church leaders. Time and time again, faith leaders have dismissed and excused Trump’s behaviour when so few others have been able to. In exchange for pardoning Trump’s behaviour, these leaders have been rewarded with invitations into the White House, positions in the Trump administration and policies that reinforce conservativism in the States.
The strength of Church influence over peoples’ political view is clearly exemplified in the Latino community. Prof. Matthew Wilson of Southern Baptist University Dallas, who specialises in religious influence over political behaviour, has emphasised the significance of religion in maintaining support for Trump within the Latino community. Despite multiple instances of policy discrimination against Latino migrants, notably the splitting up of children from parents at the US-Mexico border – which was condemned as a form of mental torture by the Physicians for Human Rights group – and labelling Mexican immigrants as “bad hombres”, “criminals” and “drug dealers”, the President enjoys continued support from this group.
Throughout Trump’s first term, there has been a consistent 30% of this demographic maintaining support for Trump. This is remarkable due to the demonisation and othering inflicted upon them by Trump, who claims America is facing an “invasion” through its southern border. What is interesting about this case study is that the 30% who have remained loyal to Trump are those that identify as Evangelical Christians. It is evident that these votes are being captured by the GOP as a result of their stance as the conservative, God-fearing party. The Democrats, however, in the eyes of the Evangelical community, threaten the values held most highly with their discourse of progressiveness and liberalism.
This is not to say that being an Evangelical is synonymous with being a Trump supporter. There are of course some in the community who have called Trump out for being the abhorrent, self-obsessed pariah that his actions have certainly sketched him as. Those who have disavowed Trump as a champion of their faith have been as reviled by his actions as anyone, and where their political views are concerned, they don’t tend to identify as single-issue voters – that is, their vote will not be decided on a candidate’s stance on one issue (we’re talking about abortion again here).
However, Evangelical critics of Trump have faced severe backlash from other leaders in their community after going public with their concerns. Mark Galli was the former editor of Christianity Today (CT), a flagship magazine of Evangelism founded by Billy Graham, one of the ‘fathers’ of the politicisation of religion in the 1980 election. During the impeachment proceedings last year, Galli penned an editorial in which he called for Trump’s removal from office and criticised his leadership. This article was condemned by Trump on Twitter, who dismissed Galli’s criticism as “far left… or very ‘progressive’, as some would call it.”
In the aftermath of the article, Galli found the board of CT becoming increasingly hostile and felt more and more unwelcome at the magazine. Two months later he had been fired as the company tried to distance themselves from his words. Clearly, the Evangelical atmosphere is not receptive to any member who drifts from the position the group projects.
The 2020 election is just around the corner, and the result has far greater ramifications than at first glance. For example, if Trump is voted in for a second term, it is a decisive victory for populism and would likely give more traction to the rising tide of populism seen in Europe at present. This is an era of great change in politics. As division in society is exacerbated by leaders of movements, this has injured the ability for adversaries to debate in an honest way, as seen in the unprofessional and embarrassing first presidential debate. All that is left to do now is to wait with bated breath and chew one’s nails.
By Louis Martin
Comment your thoughts and rate this article below!