Donald Trump’s ideological vacuum, the more he is isolated and attacked, is being filled by the Christian right. This Christianized fascism, with its network of megachurches, schools, universities and law schools and its vast radio and television empire, is a potent ally for a beleaguered White House. The Christian right has been organizing and preparing to take power for decades. If the nation suffers another economic collapse, which is probably inevitable, another catastrophic domestic terrorist attack or a new war, President Trump’s ability to force the Christian right’s agenda on the public and shut down dissent will be dramatically enhanced.
On the surface it appears to be incongruous that the Christian right would rally behind a slick New York real estate developer who is a very public serial philanderer and adulterer, has no regard for the truth, is consumed by greed, does not appear to read or know the Bible, routinely defrauds and cheats his investors and contractors, expresses a crude misogyny and an even cruder narcissism and appears to yearn for despotism. In fact, these are the very characteristics that define most of the leaders of the Christian right. Trump has preyed on desperate people through the thousands of slot machines in his casinos, his sham university and his real estate deals. Megachurch pastors prey on their followers by extracting “seed offerings,” “love gifts,” tithes and donations and by selling miracle healings along with “prayer clothes,” self-help books, audio and video recordings and even protein shakes. Pastors have established within their megachurches, as Trump did in his businesses, despotic fiefdoms. They cannot be challenged or questioned any more than an omnipotent Trump could be challenged on the reality television show “The Apprentice.” And they seek to replicate their little tyrannies on a national scale, with white men in charge.
The personal piety of most of the ministers who lead the Christian right is a facade. Their private lives are usually marked by hedonistic squalor that includes mansions, private jets, limousines, retinues of bodyguards, personal assistants and servants, shopping sprees, lavish vacations and sexual escapades that rival those carried out by Trump. And because they run “churches,” in many cases church funds pay for their tax-free empires, including their extravagant lifestyles. They also engage in the nepotism found in the Trump organization, elevating family members to prominent or highly paid positions and passing on the businesses to their children.
The Christian right’s scandals, which give a glimpse into the sordid lives of these multimillionaire pastors, are legion.
These religious hucksters are some of the most accomplished con artists in the country, a trait they share with the current occupant of the Oval Office.
The evangelicalism promoted by the Christian right is very different from the evangelicalism and fundamentalism of a century ago. The emphasis on personal piety that defined the old movement, the call to avoid the contamination of politics, has been replaced by Christian Reconstructionism, called Dominionism by some. This new ideology is about taking control of all institutions, including the government, to build a “Christian” nation. Rousas John Rushdoony in his 1973 book, “The Institutes of Biblical Law,” first articulated it. Rushdoony argued that God gives the elect, just as he gave Adam and Noah, dominion over the earth to build a Christian society. Their state will come about with the physical eradication of the forces of Satan. It is the duty of the church and the elect to “rescue” the world so Christ can return.
This is an ideology of death.
Tens of millions of Americans are already hermetically sealed within this bizarre worldview. They are given a steady diet of conspiracy theories and lies on the internet, in their churches, in Christian schools and colleges and on Christian television and radio. Elizabeth Dilling, who wrote “The Red Network” and was a Nazi sympathizer, is required reading. Thomas Jefferson, who favored separation of church and state, is ignored. This Christian propaganda hails the “significant contributions” of the Confederacy. Sen. Joseph McCarthy, who led the anti-communist witch hunts in the 1950s, is rehabilitated as an American hero. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict, along with the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, Somalia and Libya, is defined as part of the worldwide battle against satanic Islamic terror. Presently, nearly 40 percent of the U.S. public believes in Creationism or “Intelligent Design.” And nearly a third of the population, 94 million people, consider themselves evangelical.
Those who remain in a reality-based universe often dismiss these malcontents as buffoons. They do not take seriously the huge segment of the public, mostly white and working class, who because of economic distress have primal yearnings for vengeance, new glory and moral renewal and are easily seduced by magical thinking. These are the yearnings and emotions Trump has exploited politically.
Those who embrace this movement need to feel, even if they are not, that they are victims surrounded by dark and sinister groups bent on their destruction. They need to elevate themselves to the role of holy warriors, infused with a noble calling and purpose. They need to sanctify the rage and hypermasculinity that are the core of fascism. The rigidity and simplicity of their belief, which includes being anointed for a special purpose in life by God, are potent weapons in the fight against their own demons and desire for meaning.
These believers, like all fascists, detest the reality-based world. They condemn it as contaminated, decayed and immoral. This world took their jobs. It destroyed their future. It ruined their communities. It doomed their children. It flooded their lives with alcohol, opioids, pornography, sexual abuse, jail sentences, domestic violence, deprivation and despair. And then, from the depths of suicidal despair, they suddenly discovered that God has a plan for them. God will save them. God will intervene in their lives to promote and protect them. God has called them to carry out his holy mission in the world and to be rich, powerful and happy.
The rational, secular forces, those that speak in the language of fact and evidence, are hated and feared, for they seek to pull believers back into “the culture of death” that nearly destroyed them. The magical belief system, as it was for impoverished German workers who flocked to the Nazi Party, is an emotional life raft. It is all that supports them. The only way to blunt this movement is to reintegrate these people into the economy, to give them economic stability through good wages and benefits, to restore their self-esteem. They need to live in a society that is not predatory but instead provides well-funded public schools, free university education and universal health care, a society in which they and their families can prosper.