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 urge to move away from the Wall Street establishment. I saw Trump’s victory in that light. I believed that much of his vote was a protest vote and that many were taking a chance on a wild card.
In the 12 months since Trump’s election an uglier reality has become clearer. It is now evident that a large number of Americans voted quite deliberately for Trump. Not because he wasn’t Hillary but because of what he did represent.
Now it seems almost inevitable that after the first African American President there should be a pendulum swing towards what some call the alt-right, which may simply be a new term for fascism, and the white supremacy politics of the KKK, whose enthusiasm for Mr Trump was open from the beginning.
Not only has Mr Trump been proving himself a champion for these racist, reactionary demographics but 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 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 gift of the true church. Any so-called knowledge from outside their faith-community is seen as false knowledge, counterfeit information and demonic deceit. AKA fake news! Their world 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 altered viewpoints is a shame. There is a rejection of learning and expertise and an elevation of brutalist analyses. Put ungraciously it is a world where dumb is smart.
So the commonality between Trump and the churches who kowtow to him is one of psychology. Psychologically, Trump is their 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 evangelical world – sections of the evangelical community of whom we might have expected differently. Rick Warren? Bill Johnson?
When a person of the international kudos of Bill Johnson implicitly 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 he 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 might have been somewhere on the same page.
The lack of concern for, or at the very least sensitivity towards, all those who would suffer, who would 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 really to push all such vulnerable people down into a “steerage” section of the churches that look to Bill for inspiration and leadership – a section we might not have believed still existed – or at least not in that section of the church. Again it is disorienting and deeply disappointing.
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.