How Trump unites evangelicals

By ending his speeches on a spiritual note, the former president courts the most religious segment of his electorate




(Conway, South Carolina) Known for his rambling and volatile speeches, former President Donald Trump now ends his campaign rallies on a solemn note.

Soft, meditative music envelops the room, coaxing the crowd into silence. Mr. Trump’s voice becomes deep and somber, and some supporters lower their heads or close their eyes. Others raise their arms, palms facing the stage, or seem to murmur prayers.

In that moment, Mr. Trump’s supporters become his followers and the former president, their pastor. He delivers a final fifteen-minute speech that discusses the “altar call,” a practice that concludes certain evangelical Christian services, where devotees come forward to proclaim their faith.

“The vast silent majority is rising like never before and under our leadership,” he reads from the teleprompter in a frequent version of his stage performances. “We will pray to God for our strength and our freedom. We will pray for God and we will pray with God. We are one movement, one people, one family and one glorious nation under God. »

This contemplative ritual clashes with the rowdy atmosphere of the assemblies of the American right under Mr. Trump, but this fusion of ritual and politics best illustrates his desire to make the Republican Party a sort of Church of Trump.

It demands absolute devotion and loyalty, a constant at all levels of the party, in Congress, the Republican National Committee and among ordinary voters.

PHOTO SHANNON STAPLETON, REUTERS ARCHIVES

Former President of the United States Donald Trump on March 25

This ability to transform the passion of his supporters into piety allows us to understand how he remains the undisputed leader of the Republicans, despite his dozens of indictments in four criminal cases and the repeated political failures of his party.

By presenting these accusations as persecution – and by warning, without proof, his supporters that they could “be next” – he energized his candidacy and put himself in a position to win back the White House.

“He was certainly chosen by God”

Against all odds, Mr. Trump succeeds in presenting himself as an unlikely but irrefutable evangelical hero.

Married three times, accused of several sexual assaults and civilly convicted of fraud, Mr. Trump has never shown much interest in mass. Last week, before Easter, he appeared in an infomercial extolling the merits of a $60 Bible also containing founding texts of the American nation and the lyrics of a song by Lee Greenwood, God Bless the USA.

Mr. Trump is courting evangelical voters and portraying his presidential campaign as a battle for the soul of the nation, but he has largely avoided making messianic remarks.

“This country has a savior, and it’s not me – it’s someone much higher than me,” Mr. Trump said in 2021 from the pulpit of the First Baptist Church of Dallas, a congregation of 14,000 people.

But his allies drew parallels with Christ.

Last year, Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene, a close aide to Mr. Trump, said the ex-president and Jesus had both been arrested by “radical, corrupt governments.” Last Saturday, Mr. Trump shared an article on social media titled “The Crucifixion of Donald Trump.”

He is in a long line of Republican presidents and candidates who have focused on evangelical voters. But many right-wing Christians believe Mr. Trump has been more effective than his predecessors, thanks in part to the conservative majority he built on the Supreme Court that overturned the ruling. Roe v. Wade on abortion.

An overwhelming majority of evangelical voters voted for Trump in his first two presidential runs, but few of them — even during his campaign rallies — explicitly compare him to Jesus.

PHOTO JEFF DEAN, ASSOCIATED PRESS ARCHIVES

Pro-Trump activists pray during a rally on March 16 in Vandalia, Ohio.

The Trumpian flock describes him instead as a modern version of Cyrus or David, heroic figures from the Old Testament, morally flawed, but chosen by God to carry out fundamental missions aimed at achieving late justice or resisting evil.

“He was certainly chosen by God,” said Marie Zere, a real estate agent from Long Island, N.Y., who attended the Conservative Political Action Conference in February near Washington. “He survives even though all these people are attacking him, and I don’t see any other explanation than divine intervention. »

For some, the political attacks and lawsuits Mr. Trump is facing are nothing short of biblical.

They crucified him even more than Jesus.

Andriana Howard, 67, restaurant waitress in Conway, South Carolina

Since 2016, Donald Trump has had the unwavering support of a hard core of voters. Which gives him a distinct advantage over President Joe Biden when it comes to inspiring his supporters.

Both a strength and a weakness

According to a recent survey The New York Times/Siena College, 48% of Republican primary voters are enthusiastic about candidate Trump and 32% are satisfied, but not enthusiastic. Only 23% of Democrats say they are enthusiastic about Mr. Biden being their nominee, and 43% are satisfied, but not enthusiastic.

PHOTO SETH HERALD, REUTERS ARCHIVES

A Donald Trump supporter wears a cap emblazoned with a religious message during a rally in Nashville last February.

The intensity of some support for Mr. Trump also weighs in the former president’s campaign decisions, according to two people familiar with internal deliberations. Knowing that these voters will vote for Trump anyway saves money that would be spent on getting out the vote. So it can be invested in field staff, television ads or other ways to help Mr. Trump.

But Democrats also see an advantage. Many voters support Joe Biden because they are deeply opposed to Mr. Trump.

The president’s strategists see a theme that could attract moderate voters to Mr. Biden: presenting Trumpism as a sectarian movement threatening abortion rights and democracy.

Pro-Trump rallies have always been a cross between a rock concert and a charismatic revival assembly. When Mr. Trump began concluding his speeches with music in the background, many made the connection with a musical piece that was adopted as the theme song by the QAnon conspiracy movement. But the Trump campaign has distanced itself from the idea.

PHOTO GAELEN MORSE, REUTERS ARCHIVES

Donald Trump supporters perform the QAnon salute at a pro-Trump rally in Youngstown, Ohio, in September 2018.

“President Trump used the end of his speeches to draw a clear contrast with the four years of Joe Biden’s disastrous presidency and present his vision of an America back on track,” said his spokesperson Steven Cheung via communicated.

But Russell Moore, former chairman of the Southern Baptist Convention’s political action committee, says Mr. Trump’s rallies are drifting into “dangerous territory” with the altar call and prayers delivered by preachers describing Mr. .Trump like someone sent from heaven.

“For a political candidate to claim divine authority or support from God is to say that it cannot be questioned or opposed without also opposing God,” Mr. Moore said. This is a violation of the commandment against taking the name of God in vain. »

This article was originally published in the New York Times.

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reference: www.lapresse.ca

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