Theories of Evangelical Support from Trump: Strongman Theory

Today’s is a final post in a brief series about why white evangelical support for Trump remains strong. Today, we look at the idea that Trump was seen as a strongman by his supporters.

In this theory, Trump’s previous behaviors were not a detraction but an asset. His disdain for the weak, including people with disabilities and prisoners of war, was a sign of his toughness. His sexual assaults of women? Evidence that he could take what he wanted from the world. His pursuit of ever-younger wives? Proof that his willingness to always be on the prowl for the next best thing. Dealings with the mob? An ability to navigate a world of danger. Refusal to pay employees for their work? Just a man who can drive a tough bargain. Bankruptcies? A sign that he is willing to game the system for his own benefit.

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In this logic, behavior that other people might think of as bad is actually evidence of his no-nonsense willingness to do whatever dirty thing it takes to come out on top. And if he was willing to do it for himself, why wouldn’t he be willing to do it for the country?

Well, because there is no honor among thieves. That Trump is enriching himself off the presidency doesn’t bother his voters, who repeatedly point out that he doesn’t collect a salary–as if rejecting the $400,000 he is earning as president is anything other than a distraction when he’s also hawking his children’s products from the White House and hosting important international events at his resorts.

Bullies never end up actually protecting the underlings who suck up to them searching for protection. Will white evangelicals remember that in November? I doubt it. They enjoy watching Trump play the role of their champion too much.

One comment

  1. I think you’re substantially right that Evangelicals want a “Big Man” and a bully. Maybe you’ve covered this elsewhere, but I’d be interested in your thoughts about why.

    I see several possibilities:
    1. Evangelicals are assimilated into the right wing of a secular U.S. culture that values Domination, the Big Man, FKB, Might-makes-right, and the Myth of Redemptive Violence. This is contrary to New Testament values, and they may know this, but justify it with “Two-Kingdom” cosmology, or as an unavoidable necessary evil in the spirit of Just War theory. Or they’re just so inured to it that the whole thing operates on a subconscious level and they simply don’t think about it.

    2. Evangelicals take the public ministry and words of the pre-Easter Jesus to be something that was directed only to the people of Jesus’ lifetime, but that the post-Easter Christ just wants to be your personalLordandSavior, which is accomplished exactly and only by “believing right”, which is to say, using the correct anointed language, and accepting Jesus into your heart by saying that you accept Jesus into your heart, thus finalizing the transaction. All that socialist-sounding stuff was just what Jesus wanted people to do at that time because… because… It doesn’t matter why, because Jesus is the boss-man and it’s not our job to ask why. But for whatever reason, Jesus had different marching orders for us after he came back, and that’s to BELIEVE IN HIM. Why? Doesn’t matter. Jesus saves BELIEVERS and everybody else goin’ to Hell. Faith alone, and what you do doesn’t really matter. Except abortion. And the gays. Everything else doesn’t matter as long as you believe the right words and maybe ask for forgiveness once in a while, for whatever you might have done. Just in case. But Faith alone! Don’t forget that.

    3. Evangelicals actually have a “Strongman” theology that accepts the basic premise of the Myth of Redemptive Violence and substitutes YWH-God in for Marduk. God demands blood in atonement for trespass, it was only Jesus’ interposed blood that satisfied this vengeful God, and only the special dispensation that comes from pledging allegiance to the flag of Jesus that buys off the continuing and ever-present bloodlust of God. Loyalty is the supreme virtue, and obedience the second. It was only God’s loyalty to His Son Jesus who supplied the requisite blood that prompted God to carve out this little loophole in His divine program of eternal and universal damnation, and only our vassal-like fealty to Jesus that lets us slip under the fence with him. “Us? Oh, we’re with him {gesturing toward Jesus with our thumbs}” “Ah, very well then, come on in.” To say God is forgiving in this view is to acknowledge that God has every right, by virtue of being powerful and the Lord of the universe and all, to roast us all in Hell for eternity just because he feels like it. I mean, a loophole and a backdoor into Heaven is pretty magnanimous, wouldn’t you say? Considering that we all deserve eternal torment for not being perfect, you know. So could it be that it’s neither hypocrisy/realpolitik nor the jaded negligence of contemptu mundi, but rather an implicit theological belief of the bully-boy God that makes jerks like Trump seem not just tolerable, but divinely inspired?

    Or are all these elements at work. Are there other possibilities I’m missing? Why do Evangelicals love an arrogant, abusive prick?


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