Donald Trump and the Evangelical Industrial Complex

Harper-Valley-PTARepublicans tend to believe that the bulwark of their strength comes from those people who are very conservative, which includes the millions of Evangelical Christians in the United States. In order to appeal to these groups, Republicans do, used to take on the mantle of what linguist George Lakoff has called “the stern father image.” No humor here, just strict conformance with what is right and proper.

Anyone who saw the Republican debate from Houston on February 25 would have to say that the candidates seemed to act more as if they were in a “clown car” than as upright, proper citizens. Why is it that the stern view from the pillars of the evangelical movement are not enough to curb the enthusiasm, or at least the behavior, of the Republican front-runners?

Perhaps it’s that Christian evangelicals are not as solid a bloc as they have been purported to be. Cracks in their façade are nothing new. Think of Jim and Tammy Baker, of Jimmy Swaggart, of Ted Haggard. One of the beauties of the evangelical movement is that forgiveness is always available, even after the most hypocritical behaviors. If you want a little insight to the “transgressions” in the evangelical community, just read the lyrics to the great Jeannie C. Riley song, “Harper Valley P.T.A.” about what’s behind the evangelical façade. If you prefer, you can watch the video below.

I wanna tell you all a story ’bout a Harper Valley widowed wife,
Who had a teenage daughter who attended Harper Valley Junior High,
Well her daughter came home one afternoon and didn’t even stop to play,
And she said. “Mom I got a note here from the Harper Valley PTA.”

Well the note said, “Mrs. Johnson, you’re wearing your dresses way too high.
It’s reported you’ve been drinkin’ and runnin’ round with men and goin’ wild.
And we don’t believe you oughta be a bringin’ up your little girl this way.”
And it was signed by the secretary, “Harper Valley PTA.”

Well it happened that the PTA was gonna meet that very afternoon.
And they were sure surprised when Mrs. Johnson wore her mini-skirt into the room.
And as she walked up to the black board, I still recall the words she had to say.
She said I’d like to address this meeting of the Harper Valley PTA.

Well, there’s Bobby Taylor sittin’ there, and seven times he’s asked me for a date.
And Mrs. Taylor seems to use a lotta ice, whenever he’s away.
And Mr. Baker can you tell us why your secretary had to leave this town?
And shouldn’t widow Jones be told to keep her window shades a pulled completely down.

Well Mr. Harper couldn’t be here cause he stayed too long at Kelly’s Bar again.
And if you smell Shirley Thompson’s breath you’ll find she’s had a little nip of gin.
And then you have the nerve to tell me, you think that as a mother I’m not fit.
Well this is just a little Peyton Place, and you’re all Harper Valley hypocrites.

No, I wouldn’t put you on because, it really did happen just this way.
The day my momma socked it to, the Harper Valley PTA.
The day my momma socked it to, the Harper Valley PTA

Donald Trump has been able to drive further cracks into the “evangelical industrial complex.” Who’d have thunk that he would have been able to carry the evangelical vote in the Bible-thumping state of South Carolina? He did not gain the support of the flock because he is “so Christian” (the lame reason he gave for why the IRS keeps auditing him). There has to be something more tantalizing about Trump.

Maybe it’s that he’s angry and he harnesses the anger of Evangelicals who “love and hate” sinners. Maybe it’s because Evangelicals are not promised seventy-two virgins that Islamic suicide bombers are promised, but Trump makes them feel that they too can become rich in the “here and now.” Maybe it’s because he casts away political correctness; something that many Evangelicals certainly do when it comes to issues of women’s rights or accepting diversity. Whatever it is, he has tapped in the American evangelical population in ways previously thought to be impossible.

While I find most of Trump’s ideas to be dangerous and simplistic, there is a certain whimsicalness about them, and the way in which he presents them. This, among other things, separates him from his Republican competitors, with the possible exception of Ben Carson. Perhaps in the minds of many evangelicals, Trump flies like an eagle, above the fray, and unencumbered by earthly restraints. If I was an evangelical and I wanted to know which Republican candidate would be most supportive of me when I took my teenage daughter with an unplanned pregnancy to the abortion clinic, it would be Trump.

Trump gives hope in ways that Cruz and Rubio never could. That resonates. The trick now is for more evangelicals, and more Americans overall, to recognize that real hope comes in the form of a Clinton or a Sanders. Who knows, as many conservatives suspect, maybe The Donald will eventually convince his present supporters that the Democratic path is the road to take. He “loves everybody.”

Arthur Lieber Arthur Lieber (440 Posts)

Since 1969, Arthur Lieber has been teaching and working in non-profit educational organizations. His focus has been on promoting critical, creative, and enjoyable learning for students in informal settings. In the 2010 mid-term elections, he was the Democratic nominee for US Congress from Missouri’s 2nd Congressional District.