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Trump And The Evangelicals-- Made For Each Other

How much time do you spend wondering what the hell is wrong with these people who support Trump? Is it mostly the bigotry or mostly that they are incredibly stupid? Obviously a combination— but why Trump instead of, say, Mike Pence, Tim Scott or DeSantis? Ed Kilgore wrote yesterday about how Evangelicals are Trump’s firewall against primary losses. The states with the highest percentage of evangelicals are all fucked up dysfunctional MAGA states: Tennessee (52%), Alabama (49%), Kentucky (49%), Oklahoma (47%), Arkansas (46%), Mississippi (41%) and West Virginia (39%).

Kilgore wrote that “there are two major problems with any sort of by-the-numbers effort to flip conservative Evangelicals against Trump. First, these voters have an abiding sense of gratitude for what Trump has already done for them. Second, Trump himself is deeply tied to the religious views of a growing subset of Christian Evangelicals. As the 45th president frequently reminds conservative Christian audiences, he was the first Republican president to redeem decades of promises to secure the reversal of Roe v. Wade and the abolition of federal constitutional abortion rights. And more generally, Trump discarded decades of embarrassed Republican efforts to downplay cultural issues in pursuit of upscale swing voters favoring moderation and compromise on topics that Evangelicals considered matters of eternal and immutable principle. He was firmly the enemy of the enemies of the people in the pews, and smote them hip and thigh unscrupulously. It will take more than a slightly higher rating on the latest set of litmus tests laid out by conservative religious leaders for mere politicians to match the founder of the MAGA movement in the esteem of voters who really do want to turn back the clock to a ‘greater’ America.”

And there’s more. Kilgore suggested a second element of Trump’s Evangelical primary firewall— “the significant and rapidly growing subset of American Evangelicals whose view of politics and its relationship to religion cannot be captured by mere policy issues. Trump plays a larger-than-life role in a supernatural drama of good and evil that many of these believers embrace via the teachings of a new set of ‘prophetic’ teachers and preachers, as religious scholar Matthew Taylor explains:

Trump’s most ardent Christian advocates are nondenominational Charismatic evangelicals, a group sometimes referred to by academics as Independent Charismatics or Independent Network Charismatic Christians.

Independent Charismatics emphasize a modern, supernaturally driven worldview where contemporary prophets speak directly for God; miracles are everyday experiences; menacing demonic forces must be pushed back through prayer; and immersive, ecstatic worship experiences bolster Christian believers’ confidence that they are at the center of God’s work in the world. These believers are country cousins to the more denominationally aligned Pentecostal evangelicals, though the lack of denominational oversight and the freewheeling nature of the independent Charismatic sector leaves them more vulnerable to radicalization.

Kilgore: “Many Independent Charismatics have been radicalized by the passions unleashed by Trump and the conflicts he has engendered. Cultural warfare is for them spiritual warfare in which Trump is literally an agent of the divine will. Independent Charismatics are notably active in Trump-adjacent groups like the ReAwaken America Tour, in which pardoned former Trump lieutenants Roger Stone and Michael Flynn have been conspicuous participants, and a newer group called Pastors for Trump. The 45th president is an irreplaceable and heroic figure in the apocalyptic cosmologies of such groups, who aren’t about to replace him with some other Republican politician, no matter what more orthodox Evangelicals say or think. Specific political ‘issues’ are very small in their reckoning of God’s destiny for America.

So within the legions of conservative Evangelicals engaged in American politics, Trump has charismatic shock troops whom he can count on to stick with him as though their lives— indeed, their souls— depend on it. If you add in the Evangelicals who uniquely trust Trump for keeping his promises to them and are grateful for his reshaping of the U.S. Supreme Court to make it a powerful allied force, you can see why he’s not as vulnerable to raids on this base of support as you might imagine from the boasts of his rivals that they are nearer to God than he is.

Forget about Trump’s personal flaws, evangelicalism is characterized by a set of theological beliefs, including a strong emphasis on the authority of the Bible and evangelicals view political issues through a moral lens, believing that certain policies align more closely with their misunderstanding of biblical teachings. This moral worldview has led to a desire for strong leadership that aligns with their values, including authoritarian leaders. Remember, these people tend to feel that their cultural and religious identity is under threat and seek a strong leader who promises to protect their values and restore what they perceive as a more righteous society, while fighting a perceived decline in moral values. Authoritarian movements, like MAGA appeal to evangelicals who feel personally aggrieved and feel that their cultural and religious identity is under threat. In Trump they see a strong leader who promises to protect their values and restore what they perceive as a more “righteous” society.

Meanwhile, Meatball Ron is trying to sell himself as a spiritual warrior in a bid to get the pastors who have such great influence over their flocks (of sheeple). Jack Jenkins of Religion News Service reported that when DeSantis speaks to pastors, while he recounts “his proudest accomplishments as governor, such as removing books from public libraries and ‘waging a war on woke,’ he also sprinkles his remarks “with religious references, lauding churches that refused to close during the pandemic and encouraging listeners to ‘put on the full armor of God.’”

German philosopher and sociologist Theordor Adorno co-wrote the landmark study, The Authoritarian Personality, in 1950. He identifies personality type susceptible to authoritarianism defined by clusters of 9 traits: conventionalism, submission, aggression, anti-intraception, superstition and stereotypy, power and "toughness,” destructiveness and cynicism, projectivity and exaggerated concerns over sex. The study pointed to strong positive correlations between traits like rigidity and ethnocentrism with right-wing politics and fundamental religious beliefs. And a year later, in his influential book, The True Believer: Thoughts On The Nature of Mass Movements (1951), American moral and social philosopher Eric Hoffer examined the psychological motivations of individuals who are drawn to extremist movements, including both religious and political movements. He argued that certain psychological dispositions, including a longing for certainty, a fear of individual freedom, and a desire for submergence in a collective whole, can make individuals susceptible to extremist political and religious ideologies.

More recent academic studies like Tobin Grant’s, American Evangelicals and the 2016 Election: New Cultural Divides and Long-Standing Resilience (2017), examined the relationship between evangelical identity and political preferences, this one specifically focusing on the 2016 election. He found that white evangelicals were more likely to support Trump, despite concerns about his moral character, a willingness to overlook certain behaviors in favor of a certain “style” they found compelling and their own political goals. In 2020 Andrew Whitehead’s Authoritarianism and Fundamentalism: A Meta-Analytic Review found a significant and positive association between religious fundamentalism and authoritarianism, suggesting that individuals who hold more fundamentalist religious beliefs also exhibit a greater inclination towards authoritarian attitudes.

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