Donald Trump is not an overly religious man, although he has always at least vaguely identified as some denomination of Christian, he definitely did not embody Christian theology in any way. Yet for some unknown reason, the Christian right latched on to Donald Trump with fervor. Despite the extreme hypocrisy, Christian voters, especially evangelical Christians, latched on to Donald Trump, the human embodiment of lust, greed, and unchecked urges. Despite all that the Christian right were incredibly important pieces of Donald Trump’s electoral puzzle and now they are an incredibly important part of the Trump administration’s new brand of ethnonationalism.
According to Pew Research roughly 32% of Americans now believe Christianity is required to be “truly American.” While 31% declare exactly the opposite, a record high, but the secularization of America is a long standing trend. The new uptick in Christian identity is a relatively new phenomena and it seems hard to decouple it from the rise of Donald Trump.
Evangelical Republican voters grabbed on to Donald Trump early, especially in the South. Liberty University founder Jerry Falwell Jr. was an outspoken supporter of Donald Trump. A big chunk of the Christian right, especially Mormons, latched on to Ted Cruz, but ultimately Trump’s coalition won out. For largely the same reason this uptick in political Christian identity is so concerning.
The fact that 31% or so of Americans believe American identity depends on Christianity aligns fairly well with the roughly 35% of the population that supported Donald Trump through thick and thin. However Donald Trump has done a lot to bring people into the fold of evangelical christians who might not otherwise. Nationalists of all stripes, paleoconservatives, and even some small part of the 4Chan loving part of Trump’s base are all now in the same big tent as America’s most rabid Christians.
It’s unclear what impact that will have on religion in the United States, but it seems pretty convincing to assume that this melding of nationalist politics and social conservatism has something to do with the idea Christianity is required to be a true American. Especially considering religious identity in general has been on the decline.
Donald J. Trump himself campaigned heavily to win the hearts of Christian voters, especially in the Republican primary. Evangelical voters were a massive voter block that many speculated early could push Ted Cruz over the edge in many of the early Southern primaries. What many didn’t expect was the appeal Donald Trump would have in those evangelical communities. Especially in a field packed with notable Christian Republicans like the aforementioned Ted Cruz, Mike Huckabee, or Ben Carson.
Yet Donald Trump took the south by storm, winning primary after primary by such large margins that he effectively sealed the deal on the backs of evangelical voters. Despite much hand wringing and hope from many that what seemed impossible was in fact impossible, it happened, and the Christian right was one of the biggest vehicles that made the impossible possible.
No matter the reason the Christian right latched on to Trump they did and the desire for a pro-life Supreme Court nominee simply does not explain that phenomena. The desire for a return to more conservative social mores doesn’t really explain it either. However these people have Christianity wrapped up into the deeper fabric of national identity for a lot of people makes sense. Especially in the Southern states where that Christian identity is tied up into racial identity and a longer system of traditions that make up large parts of Southern culture.
This trend is not limited to the south, but it’s probably most obvious in the bible belt. A place Donald Trump won handily, despite being a flawed messenger for basically any version of Christianity. Yet Trump is the flag holder for millions of Christian voters, not because of theology, but religious nationalism.