I’ve been hearing lots of talk about the president losing support among evangelical Christians, his most loyal supporters. The occasion was his order to pull the US military out of Syria, thus giving way to Turkey, which aims to wipe out the Kurds.
The problem for evangelical Christians, as I understand it, isn’t so much the betrayal of our Middle East allies, the very people who fought and died with American soldiers against the murderous Islamic State (ISIS), but the Christian minorities who would surely be slaughtered without protection from a US-Kurdish military alliance.
Once the Americans depart, the Kurds would abandon all responsibility for overseeing jailed ISIS fighters, and they would realign with Syria’s Bashar al-Assad to defend themselves against Recep Erdoğan’s ethnic-cleansing-in-all-but-name. That’s what the experts said would happen. Over the weekend, that’s precisely what happened.
The Times’ Elizabeth Dias wrote Friday that leading evangelical figures appeared to “break ranks” with the president. Erick Erickson, Franklin Graham and Pat Robertson —all influential voices—have said in one way or another that Donald Trump’s betrayal of the Kurds is appalling, shameful, or “in great danger of losing the mandate of heaven,” as Robertson put it. Without them, many Christian innocents would perish.
But all of this is wrong.
Erickson, Graham, Robertson and others are not breaking ranks. They will never break ranks. Trump is precisely the kind of president they want. He is an authoritarian nihilist through and through. So are they. They will offer prayers for Christian minorities—lots and lots of prayers—but they will not use power to bend Trump’s ear.
They will instead continue to support the president, because he is “fighting for them” against “leftists barbarians,” according to Sahil Kapir’s reporting. If standing idle while fellow Christians are massacred is the price they must pay, so be it. Besides, they were the wrong kind of Christian. They were already destined for Hell anyway.
Too uncharitable? I don’t think so.
In fact, mainstream reporters, in their coverage of Trump’s evangelical Christian base, are far too charitable. They take Erickson and others at their word, accepting uncritically the assertion that they have normal and genuinely held beliefs, like any other American. Getting overlooked is that those values are not like any other American’s beliefs. They are perniciously in keeping with various and sundry forms of fascism. These people are opposed to democracy, which matters only to the extent they can use it to achieve their authoritarian goals. I mean, ISIS fighters have “values,” too. Yet ISIS fighters do not get sympathetic play in America’s premiere news outlets.
That’s not the only problem.
Because evangelical Christians are Trump’s most loyal supporters, they get the lion’s share of attention. In doing so, mainstream reporters inadvertently give the impression that these Christians are the only ones that matter. Overlooked is a galaxy of Christian belief entwined with the anti-Trump resistance. This sociopolitical dynamic is such that Trump’s liberal critics end up blasting all of Christianity, alienating allies and undermining a powerful religious argument against fascism.
This is important to point out for two reasons.
One, there’s not enough scrutiny of evangelical Christians as Christians. A closer look suggests they have scandalously strayed from God’s path, permitting the sacrilege of autographing copies of the Bible (yes, Trump did this), and turning the president into a kind of Golden Calf. Peter Wehner was right Sunday in saying Trump voters are impervious to facts. Trump is they and they are Trump, so much so that “now it's not just a defense of Trump, it's a defense of their defense of Trump. To indict him is to indict themselves, to indict their own judgment, and that's hard for any human.”
So they have become idolaters, yet reporters are, even now, looking for reaction among evangelical Christians to someone making a video of Trump shooting reporters in a church. They don’t care about murder in a church. It does not offend them, not enough to “break with Trump.” Evangelicals have their Golden Calf, and they can’t quit him.
The other reason why whitewashing all of Christianity is important is because resistance to fascism can’t be premised on mere politics alone. It must be a majoritarian enterprise. It must make room for a liberal religious argument against Trump. Fascism isn’t just anti-democratic. It’s a deep moral wrong opposing liberty and equality. Trump and his evangelical supporters stand on the outside of what many would call the American creed. You could say (I would) that they oppose God.
But we never talk about it that way.