Paraphrasing Shakespeare’s The Tempest, “politics makes strange bedfellows” has become the go-to personification of the irony where illogical partners, even adversaries, find themselves working together. That decades of tantalizing Republican foreplay, laser focused on acquiring and retaining political power, have seduced fundamentalist Christians into finding themselves snugly abed with Donald J. Trump, provides a splendid example of why the Bard’s genius endures over time.
The unholy trinity of the president, Christian leaders and the GOP has collaborated to significantly alter the meaning and extend the reach of religion — one religion, anyway — into the public sphere, forming an iron-clad constituency: Trump’s cherished “base.” This alliance would be odd at best in a normal world, but, given our current circumstances, it’s par for the course. The Red-State-Holies appear completely unbothered by the daily Trump White House production of Fantasy Island. Blasphemy notwithstanding, they’ve found their guy.
Although this simmering cauldron of beatific BS may seem unusual for the uninitiated, the fleecing of malleable southern Christians by transparently bogus snake-oil salesmen has been going on for well over a half-century, reaching the mainstream in the ‘70s with Jerry Falwell’s “Moral Majority.” Falwell’s emergence in conservative politics pushed the anti-abortion, anti-LBGTQ agenda familiar today, but was largely a response to a 1978 IRS decision to strip tax-exempt status from the all-white Christian “academies” established in reaction to the Supreme Court’s Brown vs the Board of Education ruling.
Falwell’s racial animosity was mirrored clandestinely by the infinitely more tolerable Billy Graham, “America’s Pastor,” who played evangelist-in-residence to a series of presidents while simultaneously accepting segregation at some of his rallies; attempting to undermine the civil rights movement; and responding to MLK’s “I Have A Dream Speech” by saying: “Only when Christ comes back will The little white children of Alabama walk hand in hand with the Little black children.” According to his biographer, Graham’s legacy was tarnished by his approach to racial justice.
Both Falwell and Graham are both long gone, but their sons, Jerry Junior and Franklin, respectively, determined early on that looking a gift horse in the mouth would be imprudent, deciding instead, as Donald Trump had done, that going into the family business was an ideal way to earn a good living without getting their hands dirty. It made a lot of sense. Like the president, the grift was in their blood. All they needed was a cast of characters vulnerable enough to believe whatever they were selling. Enter the Christian Right.
And, as sanctimonious as fundamentalists can be, their endurance of decidedly un-Christian behaviors from their leaders is legendary. A minimal review of the past few decades reveals a virtual treasure trove of sexual scandals, financial malfeasance and an uncanny ability to maintain a straight face, vigorously condemning such things as Bill Clinton’s dalliance with Monica Lewinsky while doing an about-face to shrug off Trump’s admitted sexual assaults of numerous women.
The Christian Right’s capacity for hypocrisy is boundless, particularly considering the flexibility of their beliefs and moral codes, more dictated by conservative politics than any devotion to their version of God. Branding themselves “values voters” several years ago, most evangelicals were able to happily pull the lever for Trump in 2016, ignoring his multiple marriages, countless affairs, fraudulent business practices and dependable vulgarity in almost any situation.
Not unlike the GOP, Christians are apparently willing to endanger the country, and the world for that matter, if their agenda items are addressed. If necessary, orchestrating the rise of a bloviating ignoramus to a position of unlimited power. As long as he destroys Planned Parenthood; severely limits women’s reproductive rights; re-ostracizes the LBGTQ community; and — for good measure — invigorates White Nationalists, they’re all for it.
For their part, the movement’s royal progeny have provided ongoing support of the Trump presidency, with Falwell endorsing him in 2016, suggesting he was “one of the greatest visionaries of our time,” comparing the president to Winston Churchill. Graham has suggested that “God’s hand” was instrumental in Trump’s election victory, ignoring the warning of his father — who learned during the Nixon administration — not to “embrace presidents.”
Their enthusiastic backing was an important factor in shoring up the faithful with promises of a Supreme Court willing to overturn Roe v Wade, roll back gay rights, and solidify Second Amendment rights. The strategy worked, providing overwhelming support that arguably gave Trump his razor-thin victory, setting the stage for a monumental SCOTUS swing to the right.
Though the debate regarding the U.S. becoming a Christian theocracy and its inherent dangers will rage on, right now evangelicals have the upper hand, thanks to their shotgun marriage to Donald Trump. They would, however, be wise to keep one thing in mind. Borrowing and paraphrasing Ben Franklin rather than Shakespeare: “Lay down with pigs and you wind up smelling like garbage.”
Walt Amses lives in North Calais.