Donald Trump’s presidency has brought one scandal after another, and this week, he is coping with a growing impeachment inquiry as well as widespread criticism over his decision to withdraw U.S. troops from northeastern Syria and abandon the United States’ Kurdish allies. But according to liberal economist and veteran New York Times columnist Paul Krugman, Trump has a way of coping with multiple scandals — resorting to “religious bigotry” — and he is doing it with the help of Attorney General William Barr.
Last week, Krugman notes, Barr gave a “fiery speech” at the Notre Dame University Law School in which he railed against “militant secularists” who are out to destroy the “traditional moral order” and are to blame for everything from violence to drug addiction in the United States. And according to Krugman, such speeches are meant to distract Americans from Trump’s corruption.
“Pardon my cynicism, but I seriously doubt that Barr, whose boss must be the least godly man ever to occupy the White House, has suddenly realized to his horror that America is becoming more secular,” Krugman asserts. “No, this outburst of God-talk is surely a response to the way the walls are closing in on Trump — the high likelihood that he will be impeached for high crimes and misdemeanors.”
Trump, Krugman writes, is “taking shelter behind bigotry — racial, of course, but now, religious as well.”
Trump’s response to his predicament has been to ramp up the ugliness in an effort to rally his base. The racism has gotten even more explicit, the paranoia about the deep state more extreme. But who makes up Trump’s base? The usual answer is working-class whites, but a deeper dive into the data suggests that it’s more specific: it’s really evangelical working-class whites who are staying with Trump despite growing evidence of his malfeasance and unsuitability for high office.
Not only was Barr’s speech at Notre Dame a cynical effort to shelter Trump from all the terrible headlines that have come from the Ukraine scandal, Krugman writes — it was also horribly misleading in its critique of secular societies. The Times journalist explains, “Barr’s claim that secularism is responsible for violence happens to be empirically verifiable nonsense.”
No matter how much Trump and Barr play the Culture War card, Krugman stresses, the Ukraine scandal won’t be any less repulsive.
“The efforts of Trump’s henchmen to use the specter of secularism to distract people from their boss’ sins probably won’t work,” Krugman asserts. “But I could be wrong. And if I am wrong — if religious bigotry turns out to be a winning strategy — all I can say is, God help us.”