Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) issued a new report last week about the state of the American electorate in advance of the 2020 election. Buried within it was an interesting, if disturbing, nugget: About a third of all white evangelicals say there is pretty much nothing President Donald Trump could do that would cause them to withdraw their support for him.
In a section dealing with Trump’s job approval, respondents were asked to put themselves into one of four categories: approve of Trump, and almost nothing Trump could do would lose approval; approve, but Trump could lose approval; disapprove, but Trump could win approval; and disapprove, and almost nothing Trump could do would win approval.
When PRRI broke the respondents down by religious affiliation, it found that 31 percent of white evangelical Protestants said they fell into the first category. No other religious group came close to that figure.
During the campaign, Trump asserted that his supporters were so enamored of him that he could shoot someone in the middle of Fifth Avenue in New York City, and they would not care. He was joking (I think), but the level of devotion he has received from some of his more zealous acolytes should give us pause. It’s not healthy.
The fact that many of his most ardent backers are so-called “values voters” is disturbing. Exactly what value are these people lifting up – Naivety? Extremism? Blind hero worship?
It can be difficult to grasp how people get to such a place. Part of them problem is that many Christian nationalist residents of Trump World live in a kind of parallel universe. They get their news either from the Fox News Channel or some other similarly biased source. Every day, for example, the American Family Association’s fake news service OneNewsNow issues an email that portrays Trump as a kind of reincarnation of Winston Churchill. In the real world, the overwhelming consensus is that Trump’s policy dealing with the Kurds in Syria has been a disaster. OneNewsNow portrays it as a brilliant diplomatic coup.
It’s bad enough that people are foolish enough to believe this stuff. What’s worse is that they are absolutely convinced that they, by virtue of their fundamentalist faith, possess a superior ethic that gives them the right to lord over the rest of us. They’re convinced that their religious views – and, by extension, their political opinions – are “true” and that’s the end of the discussion.
There’s an old bumper sticker beloved by fundamentalists: “God said it. I believe it. That settles it for me.” (It was turned into a song in 1976.) Today’s Christian nationalists have seemingly tweaked that phrase in a hugely significant way: They’ve ditched the first word and replaced it with “Trump.”
Photo: President Trump addressing the Values Voter Summit in 2017.