Trump Can't Give Evangelical Christians The Power They Crave Without Our Permission
This weekend, the New York Times ran A Very Special Cletus Safari, featuring a bunch of evangelical Christians in Sioux Center, Iowa — the site of Trump's famous "I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn't lose any voters, OK?" speech. It was meant to satisfy some curiosity we are all supposed to have about how "values voters" could support a divorced womanizer who bragged about grabbing women by the pussy and made a whole lot of money off of gambling. However, unlike so many other articles we've seen in this same vein, Elizabeth Dias — the Times's religion correspondent — did not do us the disservice of romanticizing her subjects. They were clear about what they want and what they want is power. They want to be the norm. They want to be the default setting and they are angry at a world where that is increasingly not the case.
It's hard to believe anyone has sincerely been surprised by evangelicals embracing Trump. Such comments have always seemed at least a little tongue-in-cheek, and more about pointing out the hypocrisy of the holier-than-thou set than about any true befuddlement at how they could do such a thing. No one ever really thought the "Moral Majority" had particularly great morals, after all, did they?
As the headline, "Christianity Will Have Power," suggests, it's always been about power.
Evangelicals did not support Mr. Trump in spite of who he is. They supported him because of who he is, and because of who they are. He is their protector, the bully who is on their side, the one who offered safety amid their fears that their country as they know it, and their place in it, is changing, and changing quickly. White straight married couples with children who go to church regularly are no longer the American mainstream. An entire way of life, one in which their values were dominant, could be headed for extinction. And Mr. Trump offered to restore them to power, as though they have not been in power all along.
Dias notes that in the same speech where Trump delivered his infamous Fifth Avenue quote, he also made a promise to Christians — that he would give them the power they so desperately crave. He promised them that the rest of the country would learn to respect their authority. He promised them a whole lot of things he can't actually give them.
The Driesens, a couple who feature prominently in the article, explained that they support Trump because they are just very scared their children might someday lose their freedom to have exclusively heterosexual teachers:
They want the Christian education for their children "so we don't have to have them indoctrinated with all these different things," he said. "We are free to teach them our values."
"So far," Ms. Driesen clarified. "That's where we see Trump as a key figure to keep that freedom."
She paused. "It's almost like it is a reverse intolerance. If you have somebody that's maybe on the liberal side, they say that we are intolerant of them. But it is inverse intolerant if we can't live out our faith."
She worried that the school might be forced to let in students who were not Christian, or hire teachers who were gay.
There is a lot of concern among the interviewees about not being allowed to "live out their faith." It's clear, however, that this doesn't mean that they won't be allowed to go to church or read the Bible or believe that Jesus is God, the son of God and also a ghost that looks like a bird. It means they would like to discriminate against people without anyone telling them "that's wrong."
"Silly things. Just let the boys go in the boys' bathroom and the girls go in the girls'," he said. "It's just something you'd think is never going to happen, and nowadays it could. And it probably will."
"Just hope nobody turns it upside down," he said.
"But we feel like we are in a little area where we are protected yet," she said. "We are afraid of losing that, I guess."
Protected? These people are adults, and they think they need "protection" from trans children. They actually think some kid should have to pretend they are a gender they are not, to use the bathroom of a gender they are not, because they, the adults, would be most comfortable that way.
Every problem these people complain about, the root cause is that not everyone practices their religion.
"The religious part is huge for us, as we see religious freedoms being taken away," Ms. Driesen said. "If you don't believe in homosexuality or something, you lose your business because of it. And that's a core part of your faith. Whereas I see Trump as defending that. He's actually made that executive order to put the Bibles back in the public schools. That is something very worrisome and dear to us, our religious freedom."
First of all, if a core part of your faith is hating gay people, that is your choice. That is something you can control. There are lots and lots of Christians out there who don't hate gay people or who, at the very least, do not bring their issues with gay people to work with them. Second,Trump's executive order did not "put the Bibles back in the public schools"; Bibles have always been available in school libraries. In fact, it didn't actually do anything. His executive order literally did nothing other than restate what was already the current policy, that schoolchildren can pray as long as prayers are not being led by teachers, coaches or other school employees.
This obsession evangelicals have with being able to indoctrinate other people's children in public schools is absurd. If they want to try to recruit people, they can go hand out flowers at the airport, go door to door, or offer free personality tests or leprosy treatments. Other religious groups have figured out all kinds of ways without requiring the assistance of the public school system. There are myriad options, as those of us who watch way too many documentaries on cults know. It doesn't have to be telling kids the earth is 6,000 years old in science class.
Another couple, the Schoutens, spoke proudly of the way women in the area only go to Dordt University — the college Trump spoke at — to get their M.R.S. degree. Mrs. Schouten was also not afraid to get super racist:
"I do not love Trump. I think Trump is good for America as a country. I think Trump is going to restore our freedoms, where we spent eight years, if not more, with our freedoms slowly being taken away under the guise of giving freedoms to all," she said. "Caucasian-Americans are becoming a minority. Rapidly."
She explained what she meant. "If you are a hard-working Caucasian-American, your rights are being limited because you are seen as against all the races or against women," she said. "Or there are people who think that because we have conservative values and we value the family and I value submitting to my husband, I must be against women's rights."
I don't think anyone actually cares if she wants to submit to her husband — that's her business. It seems like a bad time, but whatever. No one is here to kink-shame. But she doesn't manage to name which "freedoms" she feels were taken from her, and that seems a tad suspicious.
The thing is, Trump can never, ever give these people what they truly want, because what they want cannot be legislated. It can't be given to them by a president or by any other elected leader. Trump cannot executive order the rest of us to convert to Christianity or make it socially acceptable to discriminate against LGBTQ people. He can't force other citizens of these United States to not think they are racist or bigoted, or to tell them they have bouncy, shiny hair and a winning smile. He can't ban people from "dissing" or "mocking" them. He can't give them the kind of power they so desperately want.
Perhaps ironically, if what they want is respect, if what they want is for us to not think they are "bad people," then electing Donald Trump president is the last thing they ever should have done.
Robyn Pennacchia is a brilliant, fabulously talented and visually stunning angel of a human being, who shrugged off what she is pretty sure would have been a Tony Award-winning career in musical theater in order to write about stuff on the internet. Follow her on Twitter at @RobynElyse