Donald Trump and the Nationalist Christian Movement

Without the support of Christians across the nation—without the support of evangelical Christians—Donald Trump would long ago have cancelled his candidacy. He could not have achieved his monumental success without them. Christians must urgently consider whether they may now be complicit in the future demise of the America they say they love.

This will sound alarmist to some. But Donald Trump’s own campaign slogan is “Make America Great Again.” What he envisions, without much in the way of specifics, is a New America. His critics have commented on the negative and bombastic tone of his campaign, and his supporters have either ignored or celebrated this aspect of the demagogue’s character. But few have commented on the crassly Nationalist sentiment he trumpets.

Nationalism must not be confused with patriotism. The Nationalism I speak of raises national interests to the level of idolatry in the name of patriotism. Patriotism reflects a spirit of pride in the benefits of one’s country. Nationalism is a political ideology. It defers to the charismatic whims of a demagogue whose rhetoric is sometimes subtly, and sometimes blatantly, seditious. It derives its energy from intense emotion that is manufactured through mass manipulation. It plays on the anger of citizens who feel they have been disenfranchised and want to take their country back. Often it results in fascism, of one form or another.

With the rise of Trump there has arisen an almost militant nationalist sentiment among Christians. We may actually be witnessing the emergence of a Nationalist Christian Movement. The Trump phenomenon is strong indication of this. And it is cause for concern. If I’m right, Trump isn’t the problem. The problem is that so many Christians are willing to follow an unprincipled, morally bankrupt, ambitious, and egomaniacal character along the path to imagined bliss. His character, which is no secret, says something about what he thinks is good for this country, what it would mean to make America great again.

Socially conservative Christians have long complained that their cultural influence has been compromised. But today, on the eve of Super Tuesday 2016, they have it within their power to stop Donald Trump in his tracks overnight. This is because without them he wouldn’t be where he is in the polls. And as long as they are with him, as long as they zealously trumpet his persona and uncertain promises, they are responsible for his meteoric rise, and they will be responsible for whatever version of America he considers “great,” if he wins the general election. Christians have never been better positioned to make a difference—for better or for worse.

Less than a hundred years ago, Christians in Germany faced a parallel situation. Angered by their military, economic, and cultural marginalization, many forged an alliance with a Nationalist regime that resulted in Nazi fascism. For them at the time, German Nationalism was Christian Nationalism at its best. Nationalism has often been a stepping stone to diverse forms of fascism.

Don’t think it can’t happen here. Don’t think Christians would never fall for that sort of thing. And don’t think that a Christian Nationalist Movement isn’t already gaining momentum. Someday we may even witness the sad emergence of a Christian Nationalist Party.

 

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About Doug Geivett
University Professor; PhD in philosophy; author; conference speaker. Hobbies include motorcycling, travel, kayaking, sailing.

3 Responses to Donald Trump and the Nationalist Christian Movement

  1. Mark says:

    I should have said that when I said the “boorishness and unpresidential behavior” is “fairly tame by historical standards” I didn’t mean to include his demagoguery and lack of charity. A whole different thing. I don’t get worked up about some gamesmanship like some do, but I have maximal contempt for him calling Cruz a liar and trying to make it stick. That really angers me, and not because he’s my candidate though he is. Good people just don’t do that. I will never forget it. I’m also disappointed in Rubio for joining in and snarkily rebuffing Cruz’s sincere apology over a campaign issue. Also disappointed in Ben Carson for not defending Cruz even though they’re opponents. He’s the one guy that could have uttered one or two sentences into the mike at the last debate and silenced the “liar” meme. Nope. Good ol Ben stood there looking genial.

    Trump has tapped into a popular discontent, so I don’t think people are dumb for supporting him. But I don’t think Trump has any clue about what to do about it. China is the problem with our economy? Really? Build a border wall and that will even stop drug trafficking? Really? People may be dumb for thinking he actually has a plan or idea what to do about his littany of complaints, which I don’t think he does in any way. But I suspect they see that as a matter of politics as usual, and it pretty much is. It is a frightening combination though.

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  2. Mark says:

    James Bowman always has tremendous insight. http://www.jamesbowman.net/articleDetail.asp?pubID=2384

    Rush Limbaugh I think astutely grasps other elements of the phenomenon. I just don’t see the nationalist angle.

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  3. Mark says:

    That is one way to look at it, but I’m not so sure. For one, on the “making America great” those are supposedly Reagan era slogans. I’m not going to bother to check if they really are, but I’m non-plussed by “nationalist ideology”. It isn’t all bad, and I hope it saves a country like Iraq, and it could. Is it really so bad in all this postmodern stuff where politics is seen as a dodge? I would consider it a moderating influence under the circumstances. For another, I’m skeptical of thesis like this. I’ve never bought into the hysteria about a “Christian America” that the Evangelical elites are always claiming the less “educated” Christians believe. Look, I’m the most virulent critic of romantic narratives as you’ll ever find, but I just don’t see people going for that one. I do see elites going for every other romantic narrative that comes down the pike with reckless abandon, and perfectly happy to drag their congregations along with them, so I just gaze in wonder about how terrified they are about the “Christian America” meme.

    I’ll never forget a 2002 9/11 memorial in the area I went to. I told myself I’d never go to an Evangelical memorial service ever again. My pastors were just terrified of any national sentiment whatever. They apparently thought we were a bunch of idiots, when we just came to remember our fellow Americans who died. But they seemed to forget that and we got preached to about the dangers of nationalism and then had an altar call. Never again. It was in poor taste, and I thought it was an insult to those who died and us. And where does this fear come from? Grad school, where else? Since then you’ll find me at a military ceremony to celebrate such things. So color me skeptical. I think there is an analogue is the lack of faith in government in a lack of faith in Christian leaders who live in their own world and think their unwashed masses in the pews are not fit to know what’s good for them.

    So, right or wrong, I look for the wisdom in crowds that there often is. I want to think of alternative explanations for this Christian Trump mania. I wonder if it isn’t more rational than it seems. As I said in comment on “Super Tuesday and the “Cult of Trump”, maybe enough wonder as I do if even a Cruz, with his admirably ideological moorings from a Conservative perspective, or a Rubio, would be able to make much of a difference given that it isn’t hard to see that the impartial and professional civil service is a fiction. That compact phrasing actually I borrowed from Glenn Reynolds, but it has been perfectly obvious for years for all to see. (Ironic that, since virtually all of what people think they know of the “Gilded Age” or “Robber Barons” comes through the hysterical vitriolic speech passed down through the years of liberal Republicans revolting against the party over anything less than a full and rapid dismantling of the spoils system.) Most Conservatives realize an impartial news media is a fiction, though it really always was.

    So maybe the average Republican voter gets all this and isn’t as blind as we think about Trump. Maybe they’ve just realized that even a Reagan was only able to slow the acceleration of the rot a bit, that only a radical change can work, and so there isn’t that much to lose. I deplore alarmism, but it isn’t clear the nation’s demise isn’t already a forgone conclusion if things continue as they are. I hope and prey that isn’t true, but I’m quite sure it will be true without a revolutionary change. I’m hopeful enough that it will happen, but no one knows how it will come even if it does.

    BTW, though I deplore Trump’s boorishness and unpresidential behavior, I’m also not inclined to moralize about it either. I think it is fairly tame by historical standards, and I don’t it is the most important thing. I know many wouldn’t agree, but many Christians are prone to a narrow moralism that misses the mark on life in many ways.

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