I’ve got about three sermons crowding into my head demanding to be written. So let’s start with the easy one.
Yesterday, I understand, in a nearby community there was a big (by local standards) pro-Trump rally and prayer service by the county courthouse. I wasn’t there, so I can’t comment on what happened. But given that Washington County has a per capita income of $16,095 (per Wikipedia), I’m going to assume most of the attendees were poor as dirt. It’s also safe to assume they were very conservative and very white.
This is the Bible Belt. People will tell you they are “Bible believing Christians” even if they don’t know Leviticus fromÂ Thessalonians and only attend church for weddings and baptisms. But they hold the ideal of the dominance of Christianity in high regard, and identify as Christian, even if they don’t practice the religion themselves. Conservative Christianity has a big presence here, and I’m told some of the local preachers actually campaigned for Trump.
Many already have reviled conservative Christians for embracing Trump. He would seem to be a repudiation of everything they say they stand for, like, um, morality. He’s sleazy, vulgar, dishonest, promiscuous, and he built gambling casinos, for pity’s sake. But this article byÂ Michael Wear, an evangelical who headed religious outreach for President Obama’s re-election campaign, explains it pretty well. (It was published in November but I’m just now seeing it.)
In the 2016 presidential election, 81 percent of these voters â€” voters that Democrats only remember exist every four years â€” voted for Donald Trump, and only 16 percent supported Clinton, well below the level of support of white evangelicals for Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012, when he won 26 and 21 percent of white evangelical votes respectively. …
…Â First, itâ€™s a disturbing fact that safe harbors in white evangelical culture for an acceptance of or willingness to overlook racism, misogyny, xenophobia and anti-Semitism still exist. These tendencies do not wholly define evangelicalism; nor do they summarize all white evangelical support for Trump. But they still plague evangelical communities, and it is the responsibility of evangelicals who supported the winning candidate to be open to these conversations for the unity of the church. …
…Â But there are also ordinary political explanations for how white evangelicals voted. Trumpâ€™s message to evangelicals was that the challenges they face require a suspension of their values in politics â€” that it is now time to stop playing nice and start busting heads and disrupting the entire system. For evangelicals who feel embattled, isolated and marginalized by the onslaught of cultural change from sexual liberation to same-sex marriage to the coarsening of culture, Trump promised that he would relieve the pressure. Perhaps many of the 81 percent of white evangelicals who supported Trump were uncomfortable with his approach to winning, but there was an even firmer sense that they could not afford to keep losing.
My sermon to the white evangelicals is this — before you voted, you should have reviewed Jesus’ words in Matthew 7:15-20.
â€œWatch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheepâ€™s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.” [New International Version]
There’s a lot of stuff in the Bible open to many interpretations, but this is pretty much a dead-on warning to the faithful to not do what they just did — judge a leader by his promises rather than by the effects of his life. (Notice I don’t say “deeds” but “effects”; impressive resumes don’t necessarily mean beneficial results.) Although Trump owns some successful hotels, his actual record as a businessman is, um, mixed. It could be said he’s not really a brilliant businessman; he just plays one on teevee. His record as a humanitarian is worse. And then there’s the vulgar language, the infidelity and divorces, the fraud, the stiffing of contractors, the ties to the mob, etc., etc. And that’s just the stuff we know about. And he’s not displayed even a whiff of remorse or contrition about any of it. The effects of his life are mostly that he’s made a ton of money for himself and left a lot of human wreckage behind.
Oh, and remember when the Mouth of Sauron, a.k.a.Â Kellyanne Conway, told us to ignore what comes out of Trump’s mouth?
â€œYou have to listen to what the president-elect has said about that. Why don’t you believe him? Why is everything taken at face value?â€ she asked anchor Chris Cuomo. â€œYou can’t give him the benefit of the doubt on this and he’s telling you what was in his heart? You always want to go by what’s come out of his mouth rather than look at what’s in his heart.â€
In Matthew 15:11, Jesus said, “What goes into someoneâ€™s mouth does not defile them, but what comes out of their mouth, that is what defiles them.â€
So if Jesus was right, no good can come from a Trump Administration. The man is corrupt to his core. The effects of his presidency are likely to be terrible. And if this also isn’t a classic example of “making a deal with the devil,” I don’t know what is.
History shows us that whenever religious power and political power join forces, both become corrupted. And I think we’re seeing the high-water mark of the corruption of conservative evangelicalism in America; it’s the fundie equivalent of Catholicism during the time of the Borgias. They’ve sold out everything, including the Gospels, for the sake of political power.
Back to Michael Wear:
Trumpâ€™s outreach to religious people consisted of telling them he was the only one who could save them and the country from what was coming â€” terrorism, a loss of religious freedom, the ratification of abortion as a moral good â€” and that he would offer them not just protection, but power. His message was to affirm conservative Christiansâ€™ sense of isolation and vulnerability, and to offer himself as the only way out. The debate line Trump used to deflect from his â€œAccess Hollywoodâ€ comments was not new. He used it at Liberty University:
â€¦Weâ€™re going to protect Christianity, and I can say that. I donâ€™t have to be politically correct. Weâ€™re going to protect it. You know, and I asked Jerry [Falwell Jr.] and I asked some of the folks because I hear this is a major theme right here, but II Corinthians, 3:17, thatâ€™s the whole ball game. Where the spirit of the lord, right, where the spirit of the lord is, there is liberty, and here there is Liberty College, but Liberty University, but it is so true. You know, when you think â€”Â and thatâ€™s really â€”Â is that the one? Is that the one you like? I think thatâ€™s the one you like because I loved it, and itâ€™s so representative of whatâ€™s taken place. But we are going to protect Christianity. And if you look whatâ€™s going on throughout the world, you look at Syria where if youâ€™re Christian, theyâ€™re chopping off heads. You look at the different places, and Christianity, itâ€™s under siege.
This helps us understand how a majority of Trumpâ€™s voters could question his temperament and fitness for office, and still think heâ€™s the man for the job.
Even if evangelicalsâ€™ morality was on the losing side of the culture, which Trumpâ€™s candidacy was a walking reminder that it was, they could be protected through a more forceful exertion of power. This explains Trumpâ€™s unusual focus on the Johnson Amendment â€” a provision banning the endorsement of candidates from the pulpit or through the use of church resources. I have been involved in religion and politics for a decade now, and I had never before heard any mainstream religious leader prioritize the Johnson Amendment. Only a quarter of evangelicals believe an endorsement from the pulpit would be appropriate. Yet, Trump went around the country putting the repeal of the Johnson Amendment at the forefront of his outreach.
Trump’s money mostly came about because his father gave him a lot of it, but his fame came about because he is a master salesman. He’s really good at sniffing out what people want and offering to help them get it.
However, he also has a long history of breaking promises once the deal is done. A lot of his fortune came about because he gets away with stiffing people. And he has absolutely no compunction about doing this; as long as he gets what he wants, there’s no problem. Â For example:
Trump’s promises are of the say-anything variety familiar to anyone who paid attention to Trump University:
The ads for his university were classic Donald Trump — Trump stares into the camera and proclaims:
“We’re going to have professors and adjunct professors that are absolutely terrific people, terrific brains, successful. We are going to have the best of the best… and these are people that are handpicked by me.”
… [But in] Trump’s own deposition [in] December , Trump failed to recognize the name of a single presenter or teacher at his real estate seminars. He also confirmed he had nothing to do with the selection process of instructors who taught at the school’s events or mentors for the school’s “Gold Elite” programs.
A review of Trump University presenters and so-called real estate experts found many with questionable credentials and inflated resumes. Court documents show background-checks conducted during the hiring process could not determine whether some instructors even graduated high school.
He may follow through on his promise about the Johnson Amendment, or he may have forgotten about it already. But I can pretty much guarantee that those folks who rallied at the Washington County courthouse aren’t going to see a lick of benefit from a Trump Administration. It’s much more likely that their sorry, poverty-filled lives are about to get worse.
And considering that the state’s newly elected governor is the machine-gunning former Navy SealÂ who posed as the Ultimate Conservative, they aren’t going to get any help from the state, either. It probably won’t shock you to learn that one of his first acts was to drain tens of millions of dollars out of the budget for the state’s colleges and universities. Because that’s how wingnuts roll.
I’ve written in the past that people in many parts of the country have legitimate grievances, and that both parties Â have ignored the economic stagnation growing in small towns and rural areas. However, Washington County has never amounted to much, frankly. When I was growing up nearby I was told most of the inhabitants were on welfare. Whether that is true I do not know, but it might have been true.
It might still be true, actually. It’s not good farm country, and the area has never attracted much industry. There used to be a lot of surface barite deposits in the vicinity, and in times past the locals made a little money digging it up by hand and selling it. But that’s gone now. I believe the biggest “business” there now is the state maximum security prison. And of course, there’s a big WalMart. And a lot of meth is getting cooked in them thar hills.
So exactly what the folks at the Washington County Courthouse expect Trump to do for them isn’t clear. If government really were to “get out of their lives” they probably wouldn’t survive long. Industry isn’t going to be revitalized here, because it was never here to begin with. I’m not seeing an influx of immigrants in the area, so they can’t complain about illegals taking away the jobs they didn’t have anyway.
I’m sure that between Trump and the state, women will have even less access to abortion and birth control, which they barely have now. Medicaid wasn’t expanded here, so a lot of Washington County residents have no health insurance. And the nearest Planned Parenthood clinic is in St. Louis, about an hour and a half drive away.
Perhaps they are living in fear of being asked to bake cakes for same-sex weddings someday. Â But, frankly, this place is so poor that if someone were to open up a gay sex toy factory, the locals would line up for the jobs.
So, in Washington County, it probably does come down to racism and religion. People here aren’t just economically isolated; to a large degree they are culturally and socially isolated as well. The world outside of the Ozarks is alien territory. If anyone wants to study an area where white privilege and class privilege have completely parted company, this is it.Â And now even Christianity is selling them out.
This will not end well.