I have just finished reading a book, Taking America Back for God: Christian Nationalism in the United States, which sheds some light on how and why Donald Trump continues to dominate GOP politics even as he appears on his way to jail. The book, written by two sociologists who also happen to be committed to a broad, liberal-based Christian theology, contains a number of very interesting surveys which show the strength of Christian Nationalism and explains its resurgence under Donald Trump.
In a nutshell, Christian Nationalism is an ideology more than a theology, fusing a somewhat disjointed historical narrative into certain religious precepts that can be used to organize and define a political movement as well as to challenge social and cultural beliefs held by opponents of this political faith.
The basic idea behind Christian Nationalism is that what makes America different from all other countries is its fundamental commitment to religion (‘in God we trust’) and its founding accomplished by the vision and work of white, Christian men. Such a society has room for everyone – women, non-whites and persons born somewhere else – but they occupy subservient roles in a Christian Nationalist state, a dutiful, obedient status justified with reference to various Biblical tracts (e.g., 1 Corinthians 11:3 – ‘the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man.’)
Over the years, Christian Nationalism has ebbed and flowed based on whether leading public figures with access to major media use its tenets and philosophy to promote themselves or to denigrate the other side. Back in the 1950’s and 1960’s, J. Edgar Hoover used Christian Nationalist publications to attack the ‘ungodliness’ of Communism as well as the threat to American whiteness represented by Martin Luther King.
In the 1980’s Christian Nationalist preachers like Jerry Falwell tried to make common cause with Ronald Reagan, but Reagan kept the religious conservatives at arm’s length, if only because Reagan himself never felt all that comfortable showing up in a church.
But now we come to the Age of Trump, who will make a deal with anyone who agrees with what he has to say. And while Trump is so versant in Christian faith that he thinks that ‘second Corinthians’ is really ‘two Corinthians,’ he doesn’t have to take a seat behind anyone when it comes to believing that America should be run by native-born, white men.
The problem with using Christian Nationalism to define or at least help build a political movement like MAGA is that the followers of this theologically based ideology may have enough adherents to win a school board election in a small, Bible-belt town, or even get someone like Marjorie Taylor Greene up to Congress for a few years. But if someone wants to play politics at the national level, they need more than the support of the roughly 20% of the adult population which evidently considers themselves to be members of the Christian Nationalist base.
Don’t get me wrong. One out of five voters is nothing to sneeze at, except for one, little thing. Namely, that if a bunch of people decide to hold a Christian Nationalist rally, nobody else is going to show up. Or if other folks do stop by, they won’t be there to clap when the Christian Nationalist speaker or guest gets up to says what he or she has to say.
Just as Christian Nationalism exerts a very powerful pull on people who feel comfortable with what this religious ideology says, so it exerts an equally repellant impulse on folks who don’t hold to those beliefs.
To sum up, this whole Christian Nationalist ‘threat’ to American democracy and American pluralism is really nothing more than just another riff on how Trump is a Fascist, or Trump is an authoritarian, or Trump is a handmaiden for Putin, or whatever he is but left unchecked he will demolish the foundations of the American way of life.
Let me tell you what I think Trump really represents. He represents the fact that a national Presidential campaign now sees more than $7 billion dollars changing hands and – ready? – much of that $7 billion is in cash!
I don’t blame Trump or any other business guy for wanting to play in a sandbox holding $7 billion bucks because that kind of money is a lot more of what really makes America great than any kind of theology or ideology at all.