When Donald Trump was voted in as president-elect this time last year I believed that the Democratic Party had miscalculated the public mood by touting Hillary Clinton as their candidate. The phenomenal support for Bernie Sanders and the surprising level of support for candidate Trump indicated a powerful groundswell away from the Wall Street establishment. It was in that light that I understood Trump’s victory. I believed that much of his vote was a protest vote and that many had taken a chance on a wild card.
In the twelve months since Trump’s election an uglier reality has revealed itself. It is now clear that a large number of Americans voted positively for Trump and for his platform. The chose Trump not because he wasn’t Hillary but because of all that he did represent.
In 1985 Trump spent $85,000 on full-page newspaper adverts calling for the death penalty for five young African American mean later found innocent of a New York killing
In the light of hindsight it seems almost inevitable that after the first African American President there would be a pendulum swing towards what some call the alt-right, which may simply be a new term for fascism, and the white supremacist politics of the KKK, whose enthusiasm for Mr Trump was open from the beginning.
Not only has Mr Trump continued to prove himself a champion for racist, reactionary demographics but he has also emerged as an unlikely figurehead for American evangelicalism. Having proved himself at every turn of the campaign and every month of his presidency to be a man whose personal morality is 180 degrees removed from the traditional values of evangelical Christian faith one might ask what is the commonality between Mr Trump and that particular Christian demographic.
Frank Schaeffer offers a lucid explanation. He points out that there is in the evangelicalism of America a significant swathe whose worldview is fideistic. That is to say their worldview is one in which all true knowledge is the preserve of the true Church. It is a worldview rooted in the neo-Calvinist church doctrines of original sin and total depravity of man. The implications of these doctrines is that any information from outside the community of the true faith is seen as false knowledge, counterfeit information and demonic deceit. AKA “Fake News!”
This world of fideism is a place where everything outside of their community is a conspiracy. A place where a person who moves away to be educated and returns with an altered viewpoints brings shame on themselves and their family. Consequently there is a rejection of learning and expertise and an elevation of brutalist analyses. Put unkindly, it is a world where dumb is seen as smart.
On this basis Schaeffer argues that the commonality between Trump and the evangelical subculture that kowtows to him is one of psychology. Psychologically, Trump is its natural leader. That is the fellow feeling they deeply sense.
Harder still to come to terms with has been the support for Trump from other portions of the church world – sections of the evangelical community of whom we might have expected something different. Rick Warren? Bill Johnson?
When a person of the international following of Bethel Pastor, Bill Johnson berates Christians who have not voted for Trump for not knowing their Bible – that’s to say not “finding” in it the nationalist and conservative political beliefs that Johnson espouses (and which made a Trump vote natural for him, and something to be vehemently defended) that is something disturbing and disorienting for those of us who thought that he and we were somewhere on the same page.
The lack of concern or sensitivity towards, all those who will suffer, who will be terrorized, brutalized, deported, deprived of health insurance, separated from their families, pushed back into a cold war of terror under the lynching forces of American racism because of a Trump victory, is in effect to relogate all such vulnerable people into a “steerage” section of all the churches that look to Bill Johnson for inspiration and leadership. It is shocking, disappointing and disorienting. Bethel is not the home many of us may have thought it was.
I agonize with friends of mine in the USA who have had to come to terms with a clearer understanding of their neighbors and what they consciously and deliberately voted for. Many of my American friends have lost longstanding friends. Some of my American friends of color are taking steps to emigrate and some of my African friends living in America are making plans to return to Africa. Such is the fear under which they now live.
The fascism in Trump’s campaigning was obvious from the beginning and early on I drew parallels between his ascent and the ascent of Mussolini in 1930’s Italy. The prevailing wisdom of the day was that the realities of presidential government and the checks and balances of the Italian political system would make Mussolini in office a more conventional kind of leader. This doctrine of “trasformismo” proved incorrect and Mussolini’s ascent to power took Italian politics in quite a different direction. As Mr Trump goes toe to toe with North Korea we are reminded why America’s choice of president is everyone’s business. And why the forces shaping American society are forces that must matter to all of us.