Jimmy Carter was the choice of evangelicals 40 years ago. It was a natural fit: he was a Southern Baptist who taught Sunday School, and Christians hoped for a theocracy. Four years later, they switched their allegiance to Ronald Reagan because Carter had weakly supported abortion and women’s rights. Four presidents after Reagan, evangelicals are supporting a twice-divorced casino owner who displays a woeful ignorance of the Bible and differed with almost all the evangelical positions until a recent, unconvincing conversion.
The question is why all those white Christian evangelicals are supporting Donald Trump by 49 percentage points—down from 60 points less than a month ago. One theory is that evangelicals like Trump’s authoritarian approach. Trump has strong similarities to the fundamentalist god—driven by whim and demanding loyalty, punishing those who stray from the pack. An important piece of Trump’s far-right following is his seeming ability to accumulate wealth—the “spirit of capitalism.”
In the early 20th century, Max Weber’s “The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism,” explained how the Puritans’ promotion of self-flagellation through constant inward interrogation replaced the European rites of penance and forgiveness inculcated by the Catholic Church. From Puritanism came Calvin’s emphasis on business productivity—a “prosperity gospel.”
The end of state-established churches in 1820, vast resources in the New World, and the rapid Westward expansion replaced the glumness of Calvinism with a “market revolution” supported by the rise of money-minded faiths such as the entrepreneurial Mormonism. The Pentecostal tent revival meetings of the early 20th century led to famous televangelists such as Jerry Falwell who went on to found what is now Liberty University almost 50 years ago and the wealth-worshipping of Norman Vincent Peale and megachurch pastor Joel Osteen. .
The early American work ethic, admiring purposeful work, disappeared as the new evangelicals worshipped the accumulation of wealth. Osteen preaches the value of capitalist heroes and calls Trump “an incredible communicator,” “a friend of our ministry,” and “a good man.”
Religious leaders didn’t develop their obsession with becoming rich on their own. Industrialists and business lobbies, distressed by Franklin D. Roosevelt’s determination to help the poor through regulations, recruited and funded fundamentalist pastors in the 1930s and 1940s to preach “faith, freedom and free enterprise,” as Kevin Kruse describes in One Nation under God: How Corporate America Invented Christian America. The corporate rationale for the religious leaders was that Christianity and capitalism are the same: if you’re good you succeed and if you’re bad you fail. Kruse said:
“The New Deal, [corporations] argue, violates this natural order. In fact, they argue that the New Deal and the regulatory state violate the Ten Commandments. It makes a false idol of the federal government and encourages Americans to worship it rather than the Almighty. It encourages Americans to covet what the wealthy have; it encourages them to steal from the wealthy in the forms of taxation; and, most importantly, it bears false witness against the wealthy by telling lies about them. So they argue that the New Deal is not a manifestation of God’s will, but rather, a form of pagan stateism and is inherently sinful.”
The corporate campaign to use religion for its own ends largely succeeded with the election of Dwight Eisenhower in the 1950s. He put a Christian god put on U.S. currency and into the once-secular Pledge of Allegiance. After the election of progressive Democrats in the 1960s, business knew it needed to more heavily involve fundamentalist churches in politics, and Ronald Reagan was their success story. Once elected, he incorporated the term “God bless America” into all his speeches—the first time that this had happened except for Richard Nixon using the phrase once after the Watergate scandal.
Although he voiced acceptance of all religions, George W. Bush extended the policy of bringing Christianity into the federal government. His presidency was a time when religious groups received tax money, and Bush focused on faith-based governance while increased the coffers of the wealthy by reducing their taxes. During President Obama’s terms, many states became increasingly conservative, pushing punitive laws on issues such as women’s and LGBT rights. Recently the courts have started controlling unconstitutional laws, but the next election will determine the direction of the United States, either toward more a secular or a more religious government, returning to Victorian times.
Trump Watch: Today may be Sunday, but Donald Trump never stops sending his outrageous tweets. He’s gone from blaming “rigged” elections for his drop in the polls to raging against what he calls the “disgusting” media after an article in The New York Times displeased him. The day after the RNC agreed to work with Trump’s campaign in Florida, he issued a number of tweets targeting the newspaper before expanding his vitriol to indicting media in general. Now he claims that the media is protecting Hillary Clinton:
“I am not only fighting Crooked Hillary, I am fighting the dishonest and corrupt media and her government protection process. People get it!”
The NYT article cites anonymous Republicans describing the presidential candidate as “exhausted, frustrated and still bewildered by fine points of the political process.” He also may “be beyond coaching,” according to some of his advisors. Trump tweeted that he won’t be changing: “I am who I am.” Instead of campaigning today, Trump and his team tried to get people to cancel their subscription to the NYT.
The RNC may publicly support their presidential candidate, but top party officials are privately feeding donors and journalists the position that Trump and his campaign are to blame for his slide in the polls. For example, Sean Spicer, the RNC’s top strategist, spoke to 14 political reporters about the many RNC resources deployed to swing states and the great strength of the GOP infrastructure. He also said that RNC chair Reince Priebus calls Trump “five or six times a day” to coach the candidate. Spicer said that the deadline for supporting Trump is mid-October, but it could happen before that because early voting starts in September for some states. The RNC is holding off because it wants Trump to do more fundraising, but the RNC message to donors is to give the money to the RNC and not Trump.
While Trump now claims to have been sarcastic in his comment about President Obama being “founder of ISIS,” his vice-presidential candidate hasn’t heard that message. On Fox New Sunday, Pence said that Trump was being “serious” about the statement and “getting people’s attention.” At least Pence was right about the attention. The VP candidate also denied that the “sarcastic excuse” is “getting a bit old,” when host Chris Wallace asked him, because Trump “made his way through a very competitive primary.” Wallace finished the question by asking, “Are you the cleanup crew?”
Hillary Clinton has a projection of how many jobs she would bring to each state and how many jobs Trump would lose. In my state of Oregon, Clinton plus 130,364 jobs; Trump minus 42, 619 jobs. The differences in other states is far more staggering.
Trump says that he has no connection with Russia, but investigators have found the name of his campaign chair, Paul Manafort, along a record of $12.7 million in undisclosed cash payments to him from Ukraine’s former president, pro-Russian Viktor F. Yanukovych, in an illegal off-the-books system.
Tomorrow? Donald Trump lays out his plans for working with Muslim allies in the Middle East to defeat ISIS. Hmmm.