Donald Trump and the Religious Right

Those who know me well know that I can be very strident in my views sometimes.

Nevertheless, I am a great believer in public service and accordingly respect dedicated public servants – regardless of their political affiliation. There are some exceptions: I would find it hard to respect a BNP Councillor, for example, because I believe their politics is one of hatred. But within mainstream politics, I understand that we’ve all had different journeys and have reached different conclusions about matters of public policy in good and sincere faith. As a Christian, I know fellow Christians in the Conservative, Lib Dem and Green parties and I respect the contribution they make in their various spheres.

But the rise of Donald Trump has profoundly disturbed me. He preys on white nationalism. His election would risk instability around the globe. But what disturbs me most is his popularity in the Bible Belt and also amongst self-identifying Evangelicals. This is made worse by the fact that his two main rivals (Cruz and Rubio) are so blatantly Christian. This is a failure of the Religious Right on its own terms.

But to understand this phenomenon, we have to understand American political history: the Republican party’s Southern Strategy to reach out to working class white southerners. After the Civil Rights era, it became increasingly unacceptable for politicians to speak openly in racist terms. So they dogwhistled: talking in code about defending “Christian” values. So they didn’t talk about black women but about “Welfare Queens” etc. etc.

Over the years, it’s been increasingly assumed that (white) Evangelicals should vote Republican, on the basis that they are better at defending “moral issues” (defined in narrow terms as covering, for example, abortion and “family values”). Indeed, in some circles, candidates are defined on the basis of how well they defend these moral values.(Meanwhile, African American Evangelicals still lean Democrat).

So we reach 2016 and the mask comes off. The two leading Hispanic candidates couldn’t be more straight-down-the-line on these “moral issues” if they tried. But instead people vote for the irreligious WASPish alternative who bases his campaign on white nationalism. It raises the question: was this ever meant to be about defending Judeo-Christian values or was it always about white nationalism? Does Trump’s popularity spring from the fact that he takes away the dogwhistle?

This having been exposed, can we now move onto an agenda that is more holistic in its approach to so-called moral issues? There is a moral imperative to economic and social justice, to protecting the environment and working for peace in the world. And racial justice too. There’s nothing more Evangelical than the belief that we are all children of God – whatever our tribe, tongue or nation.