Some people can be fooled some of the time, but not all of the people can be fooled all of the time unless they want to be. Evangelical Christians seem to be among the latter.
They have every reason to doubt Donald Trump’s religious convictions. The number of fraud cases he has lost should be a clue: Trump University, his charitable foundation, and the E. Jean Carroll rape charge. The 91 current criminal indictments ought to be a red flag, too. Nonetheless, if polls speak true, a majority of the religious right gives the former president their unwavering support.
Why they put their faith in him is unfathomable. Until 2016 when he ran for President, he had little commerce with them and identified as a Presbyterian. Even now, what he seems to admire most about evangelicals is the ability of their pastors to squeeze vast sums of money from the flock.
Despite his duplicity, evangelical pastors struggle to create what amounts to a squared circle, allying themselves with a man whose shenanigans rival those of Bernie Madow. Instead, they turn a blind eye to his conduct or choose to see him as a “flawed vessel of God’s will.”
An equivocation like the last one is a confession. They know they have made a Faustian bargain, but given their priorities, they have no choice. Under Trump’s leadership, they hope to drag the United States into the past, a period when women had few rights and LGBTQ was no more than a set of alphabet letters.
So far, aligning themselves with an “infidel” has had its rewards. Trump chose an evangelical as his 2016 Presidential running mate, and after winning the election, he filled his Cabinet with people like Mike Pompeo who believe in the Rapture. Then he gave them the jewel they sought most. He appointed three Supreme Court judges who were happy to overturn Rove v. Wade and deny women sovereignty over their bodies.
When opposites conspire with one another, outcomes are unpredictable. Trump and the pastors have cobbled together a wide net meant to ensnare an army of true believers. They’ve forgotten, however, that the same net circumscribes their boundaries and failed to foresee how a changed environment would alter their flock. One pastor complains his parishioners have begun to reject Christ’s teachings, finding them to be too weak. They seem to prefer the strum and dang of their new savior, Donald Trump. He not only embodies righteousness but also promises revenge.
No doubt the former president thrills to the roar of the crowd, but the stage upon which he struts is a narrow one. The audience that gathers at his feet comes not to praise him but to hear their worst instincts validated. Moderate the message to the slightest degree and will they boo, as they did when he urged them to get a Covid 19 vaccine.
Trump and the pastors have come to realize that their suppliants are more to be feared than exhorted. No longer a disorganized band of malcontents, they swell with the promise of the coming Rapture. To be ready, they’ve formed themselves into mindless hammers and are prepared to crush anyone who fails to share their frenzy.
Trump’s rhetoric has grown more violent in response to their bloodlust. They may hurry him along the path he has chosen, but these suppliants demand of him a never-ending cycle of extremes, a demand that may appall some of the unscrupulous pastors and ambitious politicians who have been dragged within his wake like Marley’s chains.
Having pledged their troth to a flawed vessel, these former luminaries must tread in their master’s footsteps or lose all import. Surely, a compact this perfidious begs for a circle in Dante’s hell.