I have a very religious Christian friend from the deep south who truly believes we are living in the end-times. I've known her for years, and despite our religious differences, we've always gotten along well, until recently. Lately, she has become convinced that the Day of Judgment is coming soon. And she worries about me, because if I don't accept Jesus right away, she believes I will burn in hell forever. She watches a lot of televangelists, and they tell her they see all of the signs that the end of the world is imminent (and if only she will buy their books and make a donation to their ministry, they will send her the information about how to be ready for the final days).
But in addition to her sudden concern about the end of the world, she is also concerned about what's happening to America. As she sees it, and as conservative talk show hosts remind her, President Obama is a secret Muslim who is trying to destroy the United States, a view echoed by some of the Republican candidates. (The preachers she watches seem to have taken that to another level-- they say he might be the anti-Christ.) We were talking politics about a week ago, and since she is an evangelical, I was certain she'd want to vote for Ted Cruz or Ben Carson in the primary-- she always gravitates towards the most religiously conservative candidate running. But her response surprised me. She said she was going to vote for Donald Trump.
Somehow, this didn't fit. I mean, Mr. Trump has been married three times, and he admitted he was unfaithful to his previous wives; my friend is among the most religious Christians I know, and morality really matters to her. In fact, she had been furious about Bill Clinton when he acknowledged his sexual misconduct with Monica Lewinsky, and she believed he was too immoral to be president. Yet here she was defending Donald Trump, a candidate who often used vulgarity and insult, and who had certainly lived a somewhat morally dubious life.
I asked what she liked about Mr. Trump (she had seen his reality show a couple of times, but she wasn't a fan), and she said she liked his strength and toughness, his patriotism, and his willingness to build a wall and keep "illegals" out. She also liked his stance about immigrants, and she especially liked his stance about Muslims. She was certain he would also get gay marriage banned, get Obamacare repealed, defund Planned Parenthood once and for all, and bring back all the jobs that had been shipped overseas (including hers-- the factory where she had worked was sold, and the new owners shipped the jobs to India). In other words, she was among the frustrated and angry working-class white voters who believed Donald Trump would take on the people who were ruining the country and, yes, make America great again.
And no matter what anyone said (or even what I said), in her eyes, Mr. Trump could do no wrong. I asked her about his support for ideas championed by white supremacists, about the verbal threats he made against members of the media who were covering his campaign, about how he often sounded like a petty tyrant, about how he used schoolyard taunts when talking about his opponents, and about how fact-checkers at every major publication had refuted a number of the claims he made. None of it changed her perception of him. In fact, since she believed the media were out to get him, she disregarded anything the fact-checkers said.
Yesterday was "Super Tuesday," and Donald Trump won millions of primary votes in states all across the country. The Republican establishment is now extremely worried and they want to find a way to stop his momentum, but I wonder where they all were six months ago, when he was making the same outrageous comments and stirring up his followers in the same way. So, now the party has a candidate who is attracting large numbers of people to his events and transforming them into Republican voters, but someone who is also a polarizing figure. (When I observe Mr. Trump's large crowds, I have to wonder if they are actually Republicans; more accurately, I think they are Trumpians, loyal followers of a man who is giving them permission to lash out at those who are different, and who motivates his supporters by telling them "the other" is to blame for their problems.)
Back in 1861, another Republican, Abraham Lincoln, hoped we would listen to the "better angels of our nature"; but Mr. Trump has no time for that; in his world, there is only tough talk and anger. And although it seems like a contradiction for a deeply religious Christian to also agree with Mr. Trump's less-than-charitable statements, my friend is among the many who have put their trust in him. Last week in my blog, I spoke of "two Americas," how today's Republicans and Democrats see things in such dramatically different ways. I understand that many voters are angry-- on the left as well as the right, and I know that candidates on both sides are just trying to appeal to the frustration the voters feel. But I must admit I find it disconcerting when someone like my friend, who has spent her life teaching scripture and preaching the gospel, has come to believe that Donald Trump has the best answers to the problems facing this country. As I said, this was not the response I expected.