Monday, January 18, 2016

Donald Trump's Poisonous Use of Religion to Divide

Donald Trump has found a following among poorly educated whites and others feeling threatened by America's changing demographics and society.  While one has to wonder whether Trump has any real religious beliefs - certainly not when it comes to the New Testament's condemnation of divorce - he has nonetheless found religion to be a useful tool in his campaign to endear himself to his targeted audience.  As a column in the New York Times noted, Trump is appealing to religious bigotry to bolster his substance free claims that he will "make America great again."  Here are some column highlights:
IT is no secret that Donald J. Trump’s ruinous rise in the Republican presidential primaries has been powered, in large part, by a naked agenda of religious division and fear-mongering — an agenda that will likely inform his speech today at Liberty University, a conservative Christian college in Lynchburg, Va.

But while his anti-Muslim provocations have rightly drawn the largest share of public outrage, Mr. Trump has in fact been using his bully pulpit throughout this election season to attack religious minorities of all stripes. He deploys this tactic on the campaign trail whenever it suits his political purposes, and his religious digs and dog whistles are often so cartoonishly retro that they sound as if they’re being delivered by a billionaire Archie Bunker.

In the Gospel According to Trump, there is only one blessedly normal, all-American faith: mainline Protestant Christianity. The Presbyterians, the Methodists, the Baptists — those believers who once made up this country’s mid-century religious mainstream — are Mr. Trump’s “chosen ones.” He regards their customs and values as essentially as American as apple pie, while all other faith communities, even other forms of Christianity, seem to rest somewhere on a spectrum from exotic to sinister.

More recently, he tried to blunt Ted Cruz’s surge in the Iowa polls by using the senator’s Cuban heritage to exoticize his Christian faith. “I do like Ted Cruz,” Mr. Trump said at a rally in Des Moines, “but not a lot of evangelicals come out of Cuba.”

There is an absurdity in seeing Donald Trump trying to play the role of 2016 religion referee. This is a man whose sincerest praise for the Bible is to deem it even better than his best-selling book “The Art of the Deal,” a man whose most famous religious experience is having reportedly struck up a romance with his second wife among the pews of a Manhattan church (while he was still married to Ivana).

But Mr. Trump’s religious posturing is not about theology, it’s about branding — and if his religious worldview seems impossibly dated, that’s by design. His entire message, right down to his “Make America Great Again” campaign slogan, is rooted in a gnawing nostalgia and economic anxiety that grips much of the country’s white working class. Mr. Trump’s target demographic is not America’s most devout, but its most anxious and aggrieved, and what he’s selling isn’t salvation, but a bygone era of plentiful factory jobs, robust pension funds and safe, monochromatic suburbs dotted with little white churches that everyone in town attended on Sundays.

By focusing his rhetorical firepower largely on minority faiths that have grown in size and influence in the United States over the past 60 years — displacing the old Protestant monopoly — Mr. Trump is stoking a tribal hostility toward those who worship differently, one that hucksters have seized on throughout history to infect and co-opt America’s faith communities.

It is the same visceral force that animated the witch trials in Salem and set fire to the crosses in front of black churches.
Religion is always a divider and Trump is cynically using religious bigotry to his own end. 

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