When Donald Trump was running for office, he boasted that he was so popular that he could shoot someone in the middle of Fifth Avenue in New York City and his supporters would not care.
It sounded like typical Trump bombast, but it’s apparently true for some people – and among them is Jerry Falwell Jr.
During a recent interview with The Washington Post, Falwell admitted that there is nothing Trump could do that would cause him to withdraw his support because Trump is, well, pretty much perfect.
Post reporter Joe Heim asked Falwell point-blank, “Is there anything President Trump could do that would endanger that support from you or other evangelical leaders?”
Falwell replied with one word: “No.”
When Heim noted the brevity of the answer, Falwell added, “Only because I know that he only wants what’s best for this country, and I know anything he does, it may not be ideologically ‘conservative,’ but it’s going to be what’s best for this country, and I can’t imagine him doing anything that’s not good for the country.”
The Post then asked Falwell, “Is it hypocritical for evangelical leaders to support a leader who has advocated violence and who has committed adultery and lies often? I understand that a person can be forgiven their sins, but should that person be leading the country?”
To this Falwell replied, “When Jesus said we’re all sinners, he really meant all of us, everybody. I don’t think you can choose a president based on their personal behavior because even if you choose the one that you think is the most decent – let’s say you decide Mitt Romney. Nobody could be a more decent human being, better family man. But there might be things that he’s done that we just don’t know about. So you don’t choose a president based on how good they are; you choose a president based on what their policies are. That’s why I don’t think it’s hypocritical.”
There’s a lot to say to this. First of all, Falwell represents a movement (one his father helped found and used to run) that spent 40 years arguing the exact opposite: character is what counts. The Religious Right has been telling us since the late 1970s that we cannot be led by the “ungodly” – only men who uphold “biblical values” are fit to hold public office.
In his 1979 book America Can Be Saved, Jerry Falwell Sr. wrote about the kind of president he wanted to see. He described that person as someone who would say, “[A]s long as I am President, I shall lead this country in the ways of Christ as set forth in this book, God’s Holy Word. I would vote for the president who would take a bold, uncompromising stand against sin – SIN – and tell us what he believes it is.”
Say what you will about a leader like that – and I say he sounds more like a preacher than a president – but it’s hard to see that as a description of Trump. While Trump constantly kowtows to the Religious Right, he’s hardly an exemplar of the moral values members of that movement claim to champion. He’s a petulant, vain, habitual liar, a man who has mocked the disabled, boasted about sexually assaulting women and couldn’t even muster the moral clarity to condemn neo-Nazis. When accusations arose that he had cavorted with a porn star and then paid to buy her silence, it sounded gross, yet perfectly plausible. Several members of his inner circle are either in prison or under indictment – and the noose may be tightening around Trump as well.
When he’s not bashing poor people (just like Jesus did – oh, wait, he did the exact opposite), Falwell Jr. makes a pathetic attempt to argue that none of this matters because Trump is doing a great job. On what planet is that happening? America’s international standing is plummeting, Trump’s White House is engulfed in chaos, the stock market is imploding and as I write this, portions of the federal government aren’t even open. (I was also amused by this gem from Falwell, reflecting on the results from the midterms: “This midterm, the president did better than the average president does in his first midterms.” Meanwhile, back in the real world, Trump’s party lost control of the House of Representatives in a wave election.)
But for all of his bootlicking, Falwell is getting something back from Trump: appalling policies at the federal level and a raft of troubling appointments to the federal bench. In the end, that’s all that matters to Falwell and his Religious Right allies. As I’ve noted previously, the operational philosophy of the Religious Right in the Trump era is this: The ends justify the means.
If you’re wondering where that comes from, I’ll give you a tip: It’s not the Bible.
P.S. Journalist Katherine Stewart had an insightful piece in The New York Times recently about the Religious Right’s relationship with Trump. You can read it here.
(White House photo)