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On Defeating Trumpism: The Answer Lies in the New Testament

 

            In response to Liz Cheney’s resounding defeat in the Wyoming primary, the Lincoln Project, an anti-Trump group of conservatives and former members of the Republican Party, claimed that her defeat marks the end of the Republican Party. Cheney is a conservative’s conservative. She supported Trump 93% of the time while in Congress from 2017-2022. Her downfall came as a result of her vote against Trump in the second impeachment trial and because of the leading role she has played on the January 6th committee investigating the Capitol insurrection.

            What is going on here? Some clues become apparent when we look at the response of leading Republican politicians to recent events. Soon after the passage of the Inflation Reduction Act was passed which, among other things, provided funds to increase the number of IRS auditors, Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley claimed that IRS accountants armed with assault-style rifles are preparing to show up at your house to audit your taxes.

            After the recent raid of Trump’s Florida home by FBI agents to collect stolen White House documents, Senator Marco Rubio of Florida compared the FBI to the secret police in a Marxist dictatorship. Representative Paul Gosar one-upped Rubio and called for the FBI’s destruction.

            Comments like those above and several others like them led Edward Luce of The Financial Times to issue the following statement. “I’ve covered extremism and violent ideologies around the world over my career. Have never come across a political force more nihilistic, dangerous, and contemptible than today’s Republicans. Nothing close.” General Michael Hayden, the former director of the CIA under George W. Bush, tweeted: “I agree.”

            Again, we need to ask the question of what is going on. The simple answer is that these Republican politicians are playing to their base which has become profoundly anti-democratic. An understanding of their contempt for democracy is found in religion. The base of Trump’s MAGA movement which has taken over the Republican Party is made up of very theologically conservative Christians.

When I look at evangelical Christians as a group, I find two types. The first group I label inheritors. This group of psychologically healthy, happy warriors for Christ acquired their religious beliefs from their parents, the church of their youth; and, for some, their attendance at a Christian academy. By this process, they have inherited their conservative religious beliefs. If one were to reroll the cosmic dice and place them in a different family setting, you would find them as happy practitioners of mainline Protestantism, Mormons, or maybe even as a Buddhist. They may vote Republican, but their beliefs are not psychologically driven and do not cause them to resent democracy.

            The second type of conservative evangelical Christian I label psychological. (1) For this group, their conservative religious beliefs are driven by deep psychological needs. Their worldview has been shattered by several inexorable forces from modern life that are pounding them and causing great anxiety and humiliation.

            Their ideal of a white Christian America has been obliterated by demographic trends that will soon make the white race a minority. The literal truth of the Christian Bible, the bedrock of their value system, has been called into question by modern biblical scholarship and the findings of science. In addition, their economic we is being threatened by globalization and the digital revolution. Real wages for blue collar workers have been stagnant for twenty-five years or more. Good paying factory jobs have moved overseas or have been replaced by the digital revolution.

            These forces have led to a loss of self-esteem for many members of this group and to deep humiliation. As a result, they feel victimized and are filled with grievances toward those elite forces that have brought this on. This explains their hatred of Hillary Clinton and the eastern elite establishment  she represents. They say I’m not getting a covid shot because Anthony Fauci represents the deep state. Climate change is a hoax perpetuated by scientists and liberal Democrats whose only interest is to further jeopardize my economic wellbeing.

            This second group, psychological Christians, are the ones who make up Trump’s base of support. For many years they existed on the margins of society, living predominantly in rural areas, mostly adrift, disenfranchised with very low voting turnout rates. It was Trump’s genius to organize them, to provide them with a movement that raised their self-esteem and brought them hope that somebody cared about them and would return the country to their mythical ideal of a white Christian nation. They see him as a twenty-first century King David, not a perfect human being as was made clear from the video released in October of 2016 where Trump brags about his sexually assaulting women, but a man chosen by God to lead them out of the bleak wilderness created by radical liberal Democrat politicians.

            The threats encountered in modern life have led many from this base to adopt extreme, apocalyptic religious beliefs. Their deep sense of grievance has created a dualistic mindset of us versus them. Many have come to view their struggle with the secular world as titanic. They are filled with hatred for those who oppose them with the result that they demonize their enemies. They see their opponents as less than human, as evil, which, for the most extreme members of the base, justifies the use of violence to purify society of these Satanic forces.

            Life becomes a battleground between good and evil. This extreme dualism naturally leads to the adoption of apocalyptic religious beliefs. Such beliefs relate to collective ends and new beginnings. From a Christian perspective, as the books of Daniel and Revelation reveal, the evil world will soon come to a violent end with the righteous few saved by Jesus who will take them to safety in heaven. These two books portray God as a global terrorist who brutally annihilates all the evil people who oppose him.

            For people with high self-esteem and a healthy psychological disposition, such views seem extreme, fanciful, and profoundly disturbing. They wonder who in their right mind can think that way. Unfortunately, there are millions of people who do. Left Behind, a series of books first put out by Timothy LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins in 1995, is a fictional account of the dark vision in Revelation. The series describes the Rapture where the righteous few are lifted to heaven while the rest of us are left behind. Those of us left behind are labeled as sinners or supporters of multiracial democracy who will die horrible deaths at the hands of a hate-driven and revenge-filled God. Sixty million copies of these books have been sold. Twenty percent of the American population have read at least one book from the series. In a poll taken in 2004, 38% of Americans believed the Bible was literally true, all of it the inspired word of God, which would include the dark visions of Daniel and Revelation.

            These extreme religious views are passionately held. Their possession of an absolutist mindset defines both their religious and their political views which makes it impossible for them to compromise on issues of public policy. Because they hold minority views, they are willing to consider undemocratic means to achieve their ends. Republican lawmakers in 43 states have introduced a total of 253 bills aimed at restricting access to the ballot for millions of people. These bills are designed to disenfranchise working class, poor, and minority voters. MAGA Republicans claim to be patriotic, they do a lot of flag waving, but they seem to love the country only when they are in political power.

            The analysis of the base above suggests that weaning these people away from Trump and bringing them back into the democratic fold, will not be easy. Modern science cannot locate heaven as an actual place which would be profoundly reassuring to this base nor have years of study surrounding the theory of evolution been able to poke disqualifying holes in it. Biblical scholarship has allowed the genie of major biblical contradictions to escape; and, unfortunately for those believing the Bible to be the literal word of God, it cannot be returned to the bottle.

            The one area of potential hope is economic. Five years ago I had the privilege of having an extended conversation with Andrew Young, the former mayor of Atlanta and Ambassador to the UN. Among other things, we discussed racial discrimination. “It’s all economic, Rick,” Ambassador Young said. “Give white, middle class Americans a good job and the better angels of their nature will shine forth.”

            Andrew Young’s optimistic assessment was proven to me by an experience I had more than forty years ago. At that time our family lived in a small Southern town where cotton was still king. The town had five large manufacturing plants. The average wage was $18.50 an hour, and unemployment was virtually nonexistent. All the public schools were successfully integrated, and the county voted for Jimmy Carter in 1980. It was a happy place, filled with optimism that the best days of the town were ahead.

            Three years ago we visited with our old neighbors who were still living in the town. When I asked my friend to describe the town today, he said it was really sad. What follows is a summary of what I learned from my friend when we had dinner together on that visit. Four of the manufacturing plants have closed and moved overseas. The average wage is $12.50 an hour, and one-third of the town is unemployed. Christian private schools have sprung up which has led to a defunding of the public schools. Christian parents who are paying private school tuitions resent paying taxes to fund the public schools. In 2016, 70% of the county voted for Trump.

            President Biden seems to understand the seriousness of the problem and the strategy to repair it. The bipartisan infrastructure law, the Chips and Science Act, and the Inflation Reduction Act are all designed to create good jobs in America. Much more needs to be done, however. I am particularly concerned with the level of academic achievement and job training possessed by many of these lost souls. The problem is that many of them do not possess the tools to successfully compete in a modern economy.

            If Jesus were here, he would say it is all about economic justice. That is what so many of his teachings in the New Testament are all about. The prophets echo his plea. If we want a healthy two-party system which is essential for democratic government and a more healthy society free of intense tribal partisanship, it’s time for us to listen to Jesus’ message of economic justice with absolute seriousness and to do something about it.

 

About the Author

Dr. Rick Herrick (PhD, Tulane University), a former tenured university professor and magazine editor, is the author of six published novels and two works of nonfiction. His three latest books are: A Christian Foreign Policy, A Man Called Jesus, Jeff’s Journey and A Second Chance. His musical play, Lighthouse Point, was performed as a fundraiser for the Martha’s Vineyard Museum. Herrick is currently retired, living in Bluffton, SC. He is married with three children and seven grandchildren.

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  1. My discussion of the psychological Christian was greatly aided by several well written and informative essays in The Fundamentalist Mindset, edited by Charles B. Strozier, David M. Terman and James W. Jones (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010).

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