To mark the end of 2018, we asked writers to revisit some of the year’s most noteworthy (for good or evil) events, people and ideas. See the other entries here between now and the new year.
This year, many have found themselves playing the role of political pawns, manipulated to perpetuate political agendas. And President Donald Trump has been the chess master.
From using asylum-seekers in the migrant caravans to push forward violent immigration policy to gathering Black pastors and people like Kanye West to appear sympathetic toward and popular in communities of color, the Trump administration seems to see all people as movable pieces on a game board serviceable to his political agendas.
While most have been forced into being pawns through circumstance and systemic oppression, conservative Christians have voluntarily chosen the role of being the most manipulatable people in the game. These Christians have been politically duped by Trump, who promised movement on their issues of deepest concern without actually following through in significantly measurable ways.
Some Christians will go to any length to gain and maintain political power, sacrificing Jesus’ values of inclusion and justice.
If 2017, the first year of Trump’s term, was a year of hype and of creating the illusion of a Christian nation, 2018 has been the year that Trump used his pawns to do his bidding, even at the expense of real Christian values. During his campaign, he promised to defund Planned Parenthood, and in doing so, solidified a conservative Christian base. “Every life is sacred, and . . . every child is a precious gift from God,” Trump declared. “We know that every life has meaning and that every life is totally worth protecting.”
Yet Trump’s administration has made it painfully clear that he doesn’t care about life at all; he simply cares about maintaining a base. He has put children in cages at the border, disregarded the value of Black lives, desecrated Native land with the Keystone XL pipeline, oppressed trans people in the military and regularly dehumanized people through his petulant Twitter tirades.
When Trump needed people to support militarization at the border, he manipulated the traditional values of protecting your family, when he needed to exclude people from predominantly Muslim countries, he leveraged Christian fear about freedom of all other religions. Culminating in the Religious Liberty Task Force introduced by former Attorney General Jeff Sessions, the Trump administration has catered to its Christian constituency with a track record of either ignoring or demonizing other people of faith and simultaneously elevating and espousing (politicized) “Christian values.”
When he wanted to put Brett Kavanaugh on the Supreme Court despite the sexual assault allegations the judge faced, Trump leaned on pro-life values that would appeal to his Christian base. And when he continuously violates all morals and ethics in his personal life, character and communication, he is able to rely on the notion of forgiveness, grace, or Christians choosing to put up with his lesser evils as long as their political motivations are legitimized and backed.
Trump will continue to be a chess master, moving Christians toward the death of their integrity and the increase of his own power.
This administration floats on hollow promises and grandiose rhetoric. Trump is a political siren, singing and swaying Christians away from the values of Jesus with the promise of single-issue victories on abortion, religious freedom and a seat at the political table. They seem plenty happy to go along with Trump, to the death of their integrity and the witness they so claim to desire.
It has become more and more clear that some Christians will go to any length to gain and maintain political power, sacrificing Jesus’ values of inclusion and justice in exchange for a front-row seat at this administration’s circus of oppressive activity. The sad irony is that members of Trump’s evangelical Christian base are the least powerful pieces on this political chessboard, mere pawns used to spread Trump’s message of hate and oppression.
Jesus warned against gaining the world and losing your soul, but some Christians have sold out the real Jesus in exchange for American political prestige and acclaim. Until they believe that Jesus himself is worth more than their ideas about him, Trump will continue to be a chess master, moving Christians toward the death of their integrity and the increase of his own power.
Brandi Miller is a campus minister and justice program director from the Pacific Northwest.