The mob that desecrated the Capitol building, ending with destruction and death on the 6th of January, did so because they believed Trump when he told them that the 2020 election was fraudulent. Incited by Trump’s words, they marched and stormed the Capitol. We witnessed the Trumpism movement at its worst.
Among those at the rally proceeding the break in at the Capitol building along with Maga hats, American and Confederate flags were signs proclaiming “Jesus Saves.” Seven buses from Lancaster County in Pennsylvania attended that event. These well-meaning Christian folks believed that Trump was ushering in a Christian revival. Many others responding to Trump’s Twitter calls were from other towns and communities. Tragically, most of them have been in a pathological bondage to Trump’s cult-like personality. His words and actions deceive them.
Shofars and “my pillow” promotions notwithstanding, Trump thumping tweets and events, including the Washington Save America March and Stop the Steal rally exposes the Christian nationalistic part of Trumpism, finally culminating when Trump encouraged his loyal troops to go to the Capitol with strength, while Trump, his family, and enablers watched it unfold from their tent at the White House. His loyal troops marched to his orders and six were killed, along with police officers, and many injured.
In their book, Authoritarian Nightmare: Trump and His Followers, Bob Altmeyer and John Dean describe Trump followers as having a preference for strongly hierarchical and ethnocentric social orders that favor them or are those like themselves and who reject political establishments. Waving their American flags and Trump banners, they consider themselves to be true American Patriots left behind as society changes around them. They want to be winners like Trump, but resent the fact that they’re not. Like him, they lack empathy and many grew up in abusive households like his and become abusers themselves or its victims. These Trump believers are prone to conspiracy theories, magical thinking, and scapegoating. Trump has become their god-like savior. Like him they won’t wear masks or keep socially distanced. Instead, they congregate in large groups to pray endlessly for and over Trump because God has given them visions to do so. Their leaders, such as James Dobson of Focus on the Family and Franklin Graham of Samaritan’s Purse, have been frequent visitors to the White House to lay hands on President Trump. Influenced by these leaders and supportive pastors they live in rural areas and worship in local conservative churches, which have been infiltrated by Dominionists.
In the 1980s, a form of Conservative Christian Dominionism took over the Southern Baptists. Frederick Clarkson defines Dominionism as a “theocratic idea that, regardless of theological camp, means, or timetable, God has called Conservative Christians to exercise dominion over society by taking control of political and cultural institutions.”[i] Those influenced by this theology believe that America was founded as a Christian country. Because the country has fallen away from these roots, Christians are needed to run for and to be elected to public office. In addition, they encourage and recruit elected politicians to attend their bible studies and fellowships. In America, Christianity has been hijacked by this false theology.
When Christianity became the religion of the Roman Empire under Constantine, that was the beginning of the melding of the Christian faith with political and cultural institutions. Popes and emperors consorted and fought wars together, eventually leading to the disastrous crusades and the Spanish inquisitions. Sometimes referred to as Right Wing Christian Evangelicalism, Christian Nationalism, Christian Reconstructionism or, more recently, The New Apostolic Reformation, this kind of church and state mixed theology has found its way into American evangelical and charismatic denominational congregations in both the South and the North, especially in more fundamentalist and charismatic churches. This theocratic theology contrasts with historic Christian polity, based on the life and teachings of Jesus who espouses a domain called the Kingdom of Heaven, different from and challenging to the governing entity leading the country. In Jesus’ day that was the Roman Empire. Today that has been a kind of American Empire recently led by someone who considers he is the greatest, an emperor or a king. He has used and abused his Christian followers.
The Trumpism movement can also be called a white religious conservative populism. Such movements in America are not new. In the late 1880s William Jennings Bryan and the People’s Party exemplified biblical populism; in the mid-19th Century the Know-Nothings spouted conspiracy theories and anti-immigration rhetoric; in the 20th century McCarthyism was both nationalistic and racist in its origins. Trumpism has roots in the Tea Party Movement with its conservative Christian underpinnings and White Nationalism. Today, Tea party affiliated elected politicians have been caught up in following the Trump cult. Many of them were the Senators and Congressmen who objected to authorizing the Electoral votes for Biden and Harris, the lawful winners of the 2020 election.
How do we break the strangle-hold of Trumpism? Dr. Brandy Lee, in her new book, Profile of a Nation: Trump’s Mind, America’s Soul, provides a prescription that includes removal of Trump from power and his ability to influence including impeachment that keeps him from running for office again, prosecuting him under the full extent of our laws for criminal and treasonous behavior, and diminishing his social media platforms. This is now in process.
However, what can each of us do to help Trump’s followers? We can reach out to try and build relationships and provide emotional support, accepting that some will resist, be angry, and will not be persuaded by facts. Our task as true American patriots will be enhanced by Christians willing to stand up as Jesus did and confront the hypocrisy of both the leaders of this American theocratic movement and also love its followers back to being true to the teachings of Jesus.