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Making sense of evangelicals' support for Trump

3 12 0
07.06.2019

How can evangelicals support Donald Trump?

That question continues to befuddle and exasperate liberals. How, they wonder, can a man who is twice divorced, a serial liar, a shameless boaster (including about alleged sexual assault) and an unrepentant xenophobe earn the enthusiastic backing of so many devout Christians? About 80% of evangelicals voted for Trump in 2016; according to a recent poll, almost 70% of white evangelicals approve of how he has handled the presidency – far more than any other religious group.

To most Democrats, such support seems a case of blatant hypocrisy and political cynicism. Since Trump is delivering on matters such as abortion, the supreme court and moving the US embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, conservative Christians are evidently willing to overlook the president’s moral failings. In embracing such a one-dimensional explanation, however, liberals risk falling into the same trap as they did in 2016, when their scorn for evangelicals fed evangelicals’ anger and resentment, contributing to Trump’s huge margin among this group.

Bill Maher fell into this trap during a biting six-minute polemic he delivered on his television show in early March. Evangelicals, he said, “needed to solve this little problem” – they want to support a Republican president, but this particular one “happens to be the least Christian person ever”. “How to square the circle?” he asked. “Say that Trump is like King Cyrus.” According to Isaiah 45, God used the non-believer Cyrus as a vessel for his will; many evangelicals today believe that God is similarly using the less-than-perfect Trump to achieve Christian aims.

But Trump isn’t a vessel for God’s will, Maher said, and Cyrus “wasn’t a fat, orange-haired, conscience-less scumbag”. Trump’s supporters “don’t care”, he ventured, because “that’s religion. The more it doesn’t make sense the better, because it proves your faith.” Maher portrayed evangelical Christians as a dim-witted group willing to make the most ludicrous theological leaps to advance their agenda.

As I watched, I tried to imagine how evangelicals would view........

© The Guardian