President Donald Trump is now grappling with the aftermath of a badly managed COVID-19 pandemic in America, where infections exceed 2 million and more than 100,000 people are dead. With the subsequent deterioration of the economy, more than 20 million have lost their jobs and that number is expected to reach 38 million. Unemployment is rising to nearly 14% and this spells the loss of all the accomplishments Trump bragged about during his first three years. His popularity declined after George Floyd was killed and protests broke out all over America, including near the White House itself.
These developments have reached a peak during an election year, and President Trump finds his popularity deteriorating even among evangelicals. His approval ratings declined from 77% last March to 62% in May, and dropped 27 points among white Catholics. Where the American public mood is changing, so is the general mood of evangelists who supported him during the first election. They supported him according to the Machiavellian principle in which the end justifies the means, which is not a Christian principle.
Trump’s decline in popularity, while his rival Joe Biden gains in popularity, required divine intervention, and that is why he appeared at a church on June 6 carrying the Bible. The appearance was meant to send the message that he is the divine choice, that he is always the winner and that he is capable of getting America out of this crisis; that he built the greatest economy at the beginning of his term and that he can build it again.
He repeatedly said, “God is with us,” and, “God is on our side.” That he is the “second coming,” and the “divine choice.”* He is trying here to combine piety and patriotism, and prove that he is the one who is the most willing to protect the highest American interests.
Trump is not the only president who has turned to religion as his salvation and to gain support for his political views and wishes. Napoleon Bonaparte and Russian President Vladimir Putin also used religion and exploited the Orthodox Church. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi uses Hinduism. The Khamenei mullahs in Iran use Shiism. Benjamin Netanyahu uses Judaism. However, the example that most resembles President Trump was President George W. Bush. He won the 2000 election despite the huge success of the Clinton Democrats. The Clinton administration’s achievements were not enough, and voters turned to the person who could divert their attention away from the dispute over government morality.
This is all thanks to the Southern states, known as the Bible Belt, which gave their votes to Bush. Although the economy was in decline, he won a second term because he adhered to religion and the idea that he was the savior, and he committed himself to the Christian fundamentalist agenda. He made this evident with his utmost support for Israel, asserting that Israel should prevail in all the wars against it, build the kingdom of God in Palestine and hasten the return of the Messiah.
In order to understand why Trump held up a Bible, we should recall that when the Puritan Protestant groups immigrated to America, they called it a pilgrimage and considered themselves pilgrims. When they settled in Massachusetts in 1620, they seized the Native Americans’ land and killed them in the name of the Bible. They presented America as a nation against the world just as Trump is trying to do today, as he presents America as being alone against the world. It is the savior’s nation, where fundamentalism is synonymous with patriotism.
Today, evangelicals form a large base of more than 60 million people and they have a large press network and relationships with influential politicians. Therefore, their support makes success likely for any candidate, and every candidate has relied on religion to back their positions. President Franklin D. Roosevelt recited passages from the Bible in his political speeches to support his liberal policies, as did President Dwight D. Eisenhower, who quoted the Bible to support his conservative agenda and unite Americans against the blasphemous Soviet Union during the Cold War. In 1953, Eisenhower led a national prayer service using the phrases “one nation under God” and “in God we trust.”* After that, all presidential candidates, Republicans and Democrats, followed the same path as their predecessors in supporting religion and exploiting it politically. President Trump falls among them and professes admiration for Eisenhower, but he focuses more on the approach that “I am the First and I am the Last,” as if he were the lord and savior, and without him America would collapse in ruin.
Christians elected him in 2016 even though he was the furthest thing from their beliefs, they believed he was still the person best suited to further their interests and satisfy their demands. Conservative Christians have found Trump to be a necessary evil, someone who will do anything for them. He presents himself as the president who has been the most responsive to their demands, and he is calling on them today to return once again to his side. He decided to move the American Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and give Israel the green light to annex all of Palestine’s land according to the Christian belief that the return of Christ can be brought about faster by gathering all the Jews in Judea and Samaria.
Despite the fact he wielded a Bible, the evangelicals’ position on Trump is similar to American public opinion in general. This can be seen in how many of their leaders objected to using the military to suppress and halt protests. The harshest response to Trump came from prominent media spokesman Pat Robertson who said, “You just don’t do that, Mr. President.”
The evangelical magazine, Christianity Today, called for Trump to be removed from office.
Yet at the same time, they fear that not supporting him could be worse, and Trump knows it. Christian fundamentalism and Trump have entered into a toxic relationship; he is a necessary evil for them, and they will ensure he keeps the presidency. However, he wants divine intervention more than the support of Americans to help him win. As former House majority leader George Mitchell once said, “Although he’s regularly asked to do so, God does not take sides in American politics.”
The evangelicals’ vote remains crucial to President Trump’s victory, and they believe he has a lot to offer them and Israel. There is no doubt that religion plays a major role in influencing the political behavior of the average citizen and American strategic thought, although the U.S. Constitution provides for separation of church and state. America is considered a secular country, but religion and religious groups still play a crucial role in shaping American political issues. The president is the one who embodies American politics and wields broad power, so he is the most influential among political groups. Because the presidency is the grand prize and every president dreams of winning and serving two terms, Trump responds the most to the voice of fundamentalist religious groups.
*Editor’s note: Although accurately translated, the quoted remarks could not be independently verified.
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