I’ve been benched, forced to watch the GOP descent into xenophobic madness through chemotherapy’s haze. I haven’t possessed the strength to drop in comments until now. Here are three observations, for what they’re worth:
First, many point out that the aimless anger conjures images of a different era. Dick Polman posted this on his Facebook page:
The voters “were not really looking for anything concrete (from their demagogic candidate). They were, instead, protesting against the (status quo). Many of them, particularly in rural areas, small towns, culturally conservative families…may have been registering their alienation from the cultural and political modernity for which the Republic stood.” Their demagogic candidate preferred “simple slogans” and “frenetic, manic activity” – and “to a large extent this allowed people to read into (him) what they wanted to and edit out anything they might disturbing.”
A description of the Republican electorate on Super Tuesday?
That’s British historian Richard J. Evans’ portrait of Germany in 1932.
In other words, the Trump phenomenon is not a laughing matter. It never was.
Retired Colonel Tom Moe, a POW during the Vietnam War, made similar warnings early in the campaign. John Kasich aired them in a campaign ad:
Second, it seems a substantial block of the real estate mogul’s support comes from “evangelical” voters. Which leaves many puzzled: How can “evangelicals” back a lying strip-club owner who dumped two of his wives, posed with a scantily clad Playboy playmate on the magazine’s cover, and once advocated partial-birth abortions? Something’s wrong. Self-identified “evangelical” Christians are no longer evangelical. The term is now meaningless, which is why the esteemed Russell Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, has shelved the label for the time being. “We have been too willing to look the other way when the word ‘evangelical’ has been co-opted by heretics and lunatics. This sort could deny creedal Christianity and gospel clarity with impunity, as long as they were on the right side of the culture war.”
Part of the “evangelical” problem lies in polling methodology. Brian Kaylor noted this in a February 29th op-ed: “As a Baptist minister with a doctorate in political communication and a book on religious rhetoric in presidential campaigns, I find the treatment of religion in exit polls woefully lacking. In Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada, there were a total of just two different religious questions for Republican voters. For Democrats, there were no questions on religion in the first three states!”
And we know nothing about those who claim to be evangelical. Do they go to church? Do they hold to evangelical beliefs? Do they know what a Bible is? None of it. Maybe the voting booths are flooded with posers.
That hasn’t stopped well-known evangelical leaders in their attempts to quarantine the Trump plague. Editors of the largely conservative Christian Post urged their readers to “back away” from the candidate. They pointed out that they have never taken a stance in a presidential election, but the times call for guidance: “As the most popular evangelical news website in the United States and the world, we feel compelled by our moral responsibility to our readers to make clear that Donald Trump does not represent the interests of evangelicals and would be a dangerous leader for our country.” They add: “Trump is a misogynist and philanderer. He demeans women and minorities. His preferred forms of communication are insults, obscenities and untruths. While Christians have been guilty of all of these, we, unlike Trump, acknowledge our sins, ask for forgiveness and seek restitution with the aid of the Holy Spirit and our community of believers.”
Third, the Trump chaos should surprise no one. We’ve been descending into this maelstrom for decades. As for evangelicals, many began following the Pied Piper in in 1980, when the Moral Majority anointed Republican Ronald Reagan as the more “Christian” of the two candidates. One problem: Democrat Jimmy Carter popularized the term “born again” four years earlier and few doubted his sincerity. Reagan rarely attended church. Things fell from there.
As for Republicans, the so-called “Party of Lincoln” began cultivating the white southern vote in 1964, often using race-baiting with nary a conscientious blink. Barry Goldwater, the GOP 1964 hopeful, voted against the Civil Rights Act, which prompted Strom Thurmond’s leap from the Democrats to the Republicans. I don’t doubt the sincerity of Paul Ryan when he denounced Trump’s proposed ban on Muslims and failure to condemn the KKK, but the House Speaker should not be naïve. Dick Polman observes:
Richard Nixon successfully played to white voters with his 1968 “southern strategy,” using coded phrases like “law and order.” As Nixon said at the time, after watching a TV ad that featured footage of ghetto riots, “Yep, this hits it right on the nose … it’s all about law and order and the damn Negro-Puerto Rican groups out there.” Nixon aide John Ehrlichman later said, “The subliminal appeal to the anti-black vote was always present in Nixon’s statements and speeches.”
Decades passed, but the formula stayed the same. Ronald Reagan talked about “states’ rights” and “welfare queens,” and everyone knew what he meant. George H. W. Bush won the presidency in 1988 with help from the notorious “Willie Horton” ad, which featured a black convict who’d raped a white woman after being furloughed in Massachusetts. The governor at the time was Mike Dukakis, Bush’s Democratic opponent. (Actually, the furlough program had been created by Dukakis’ Republican predecessor. No matter. An unnamed Bush aide told The New Republic magazine that the Willie Horton ad was “a wonderful mix of liberalism and a big black rapist.”)
I’ll sum up: A cancer has been spreading in the Church and America at large. We’re seeing its ugly tumors. As for me, I’m submitting myself to chemotherapy’s physical pain in an effort to heal my malady. Is our nation willing to accept the doctor’s prescription, confess its sins, and rid itself of its aimless, frenzied rage? Time will tell.