White American evangelicals have overwhelmingly thrown their electoral lot in with Donald Trump which seems irrational, hypocritical, and just plain weird. More than three-quarters of them in the latest poll. This is a guy who has had three wives, gloried in his genital exploits outside of marriage, does not pray to God for forgiveness and cannot name his favorite book in the Bible. He doesn't go to church.
The only faith he has is in himself. The man identifies with his money before all else. In the ground rules for the Comedy Central Roast back in 2011, there was only one joke that Trump declared off limits: that he wasn't as wealthy as he said he was. Comedians were allowed to take shots at his wife, his hair, having sex with his models. But all were forbidden from touching his money: that was sacred. Trump's rapacious business dealings, the legions of vulnerable immigrant workers who have received substandard wages or were just never paid, bespeak a man who is the opposite of the Biblical owner of the vineyard who pays the last the same as the first. That he is a camel who will not get through the eye of the needle doesn't seem to matter to the evangelical public.
Trump is a player, not a prayer.
Part of their approval is precisely because he is a sinner. He is like them: Evangelical marriages are more likely to fail; their children are more sexually active than others. They have more unplanned pregnancies and more abortions.
That Trump is the evangelicals' man not only requires explanation, it is the explanation, providing the key to understand the logic of his campaign. He has fashioned a secular outworking of religious forms.
Trump's is not a liberal or a progressive campaign based on the democratic assemblage of groups and the redistribution of wealth. It is not a conservative campaign based on getting the government out of the way of free individual choices to exchange and to move oneself or one's money to the jobs and places where you can get the best return. It neither celebrates democracy nor the market. Trump rather imagines his constituents as a beleaguered us who have faith that they will be saved by a powerful, supremely willfull you: Donald Trump.
That power is condensed in his sneering, shouting, unrehearsed and uncontrollable voice, in his fabulous and flashy money, in his fecundating phallus, in his fists ready to take on the disruptors, in his guns ready to take out the enemies. It is manifest in his refusal to advertise: He does not need to be spoken for; he does not need to seduce. People will come to him, the real man. He is not a messager; he is the message, an angry will to be great again. Drawn from the rural and ex-urban workers who have not thrived in the new global America, his supporters feel that absence of greatness is as much about them as it is about their country. They have been left-behind.
Trump is treated as an embodiment of a pure power. He does not advertise trying to convince his voters. He offers himself to be chosen, as an act of faith in his personhood. He offers them a chance, at last, to be themselves, to stand behind a champion who will reflect and defend them, who will make the best deal on their behalf. He offers them salvation.
At the convention, the crowds did not chant "Yes, we can." They rather shouted "Yes, you will." The campaign is organized around his person, not around core ideas or policy proposals. And like an evangelical service, his campaign is about feelings more than ideas: the feeling of humiliation, the feeling of threat, the feeling of imminent, even apocalyptic danger, that enemies outside and inside are coming to take us over and tear us apart, and the feelings of fierce determination and anger that that they will not get away with it: the Muslims and the Mexicans on the one side, and the multinational corporations, the big banks and the corporate media on the other. Both cross our boundaries at will, taking advantage of our open-heartedness, our liberal sympathies, our naïve belief in the mystery of the invisible hand and objective information, stealing our jobs, bringing violence, crime and rape to our people, rigging our elections. As a body politic we have become a pussy.
Hillary is cast as their handmaiden, on the one side an avatar of globalism which is taking our country down, a woman in a pantsuit who has allied with global capital and the money of foreign nations who feed the coffers of the Clinton Foundation, and on the other, of the women, the minority poor, the migrants who feed off American largesse. The emasculations cumulate. She is an agent of those who keep American from being able to stand up for ourselves. If you are keyed into the plot-line of Left Behind, the best selling drama on the tribulations before the coming of Christ, Hillary stands in as a female anti-Christ announcing the end times. A large percentage of the evangelical voters are voting for Trump because they are against Clinton. This is not just sexism; it is an affirmation of political patriarchalism, of a powerful father who fornicates with whom he likes, not a mother who endures a President husband who allows a lowly intern to phlate him in the Oval Office. For them Hillary is not a woman, she is a she-devil.
The primacy of feeling over policy or ideology makes Trump not an analogue of mainline Protestants, where creed is all, but more a Pentecostal or a Baptist, where it is what you feel, the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in your person, your sense of conviction of the possibility of redemption and salvation that are key. It is, above all, about sacred rage. The mainline Protestants are not his fans. Donald Trump makes you feel things. He lays out that there are enemies, who they are, and how we must come together through Him to confront and defeat them.
Trump is about his power, its apotheosis, the intention to do right by the Americans. That power, like divine power, is above and beyond the law. It is manifest in his public declarations that he would like to punch his adversaries in the face, in his willingness to break the law to use torture to keep America safe, in the threat that opponents feel in the presence of his supporters, in racist epithets and condemnations of whole groups as enemies who should be expelled or disbarred. It is about the deal, the man who makes decisions unconstrained by anybody or anything, decisions without recourse, the man who can say: You're fired. This is the man who will set the rules aside to do the right thing, to get the best deal, to make his mark. Such a man acts like a god, who can make life and take life away regulated only by his will.
Trump is not a candidate for President. His candidacy is a political miracle. He is a running to be a God.