Why did evangelicals vote for Trump?

America's ChristiansWhy White Evangelicals Support President Trump

"We humbly ask you to bless our nation and to bless our president Donald Trump": The request for God's blessing for Donald Trump is not missing at any election campaign rally by evangelical Christians. And the lack of understanding about it is just as passionate as the loyalty of these voters to the incumbent US president - especially in Europe.

Philip Gorski, professor for the sociology of religion at Yale University and until recently guest lecturer at the University of Göttingen, has now written a guide through the political and religious thicket. "At the Crossroads. America's Christians and Democracy" wants to explain and enlighten and in the process straighten out many a misunderstanding. The biggest of these is the assumption that America's evangelicals are a monolithic bloc, Gorski says:

"You have to make some distinctions, firstly between the Afro-American and Latin American evangelicals, who are more progressive on issues such as immigration, the welfare state, and social policy.

(private) US election campaign - "The Catholics are one of the most interesting groups of voters"
If Joe Biden were elected President, he would be the second Catholic after John F. Kennedy in this office. It is no longer a disadvantage for an applicant to belong to the Catholic minority, says the sociologist of religion Philip Gorski.

The elective affinity between Christianity and democracy can spoil

Before turning to the relationship between white evangelicals and Donald Trump, Gorski undertakes an excursion into the history of democracy and Christianity in America. And inevitably ends up with Alexis de Tocqueville. Gorski writes:

"As far-sighted as he was, Tocqueville had his blinders too. He was so fixated on showing the compatibility of Christianity and democracy in America that he failed to see that Christianity could integrate hierarchy and monarchy just as well. His blinders prevented that Opportunity to face the fact that the long and happy elective affinity between Christianity and democracy could one day perish. "

In another chapter, Gorski describes how the Republican Party and Conservative Christians - white Conservative Evangelicals as well as Conservative Catholics - have grown closer and closer since the 1970s. A coalition that Donald Trump eventually promoted to the presidency. More than 80 percent of white evangelical Christians voted for Trump, the most dominant group of voters, in 2016.

But why, many ask, do these self-proclaimed guardians of public morality stand with such zeal behind a morally questionable candidate? Gorski:

"Most media or academic observers see this as a barter deal. Trump promises to appoint judges who oppose abortion and advocate conservative values."

(picture alliance / Wolfram Steinberg)

Trump's worldview corresponds to the evangelical one

Another, frequently cited reason for the evangelicals' voting behavior is the so-called negative polarization: They do not vote for Trump, but against the Democrats and their values. But these explanations are not enough for the sociologist:

"What is missing is that many white evangelicals love Trump, love them from the bottom of their hearts. And my argument is that Trump's worldview corresponds in a certain way to the evangelical worldview. And it is mainly about white Christian nationalism."

(Getty / Drew Angerer) Trump, the "Anointed One of God"
In the Bible, kings are also referred to as "God's anointed" ones. In the US, evangelicals are now claiming that President Trump is "anointed by God". And more and more people agree.

That historical narrative according to which the USA was founded and built by white Christians, led to prosperity and peace. And that their predominance today is threatened by non-white, non-Christian intruders: immigrants, Muslims, humanists, atheists, communists.

"And you have to protect this foundation of the nation, the country at all costs. And for that you need a strong man. And that's where Trump was sent, sent by God, many believe."

Members of the Evangelicals For Trump group pray shortly before Donald Trump's performance in January 2020. (imago images / ZUMA Wire)

Ungodliness is not an argument

But how can God choose such an ungodly Messiah? Gorski writes that this question by no means causes the die-hard among Trump's evangelical supporters to explain. You would simply borrow from the Old Testament. “Most compare (Trump) to Cyrus, the Persian king who freed the ancient Israelites from their Babylonian captivity and allowed them to return to Jerusalem and rebuild their temple. Like Trump, they claim, Cyrus was a pagan man to God used as a tool to protect his people. "

Anyone who argues in this way is immune to rational arguments. And also immune to the dramatic consequences that President Trump - according to Gorski - "bungled, frivolous and botched handling" of the Covid pandemic had for hundreds of thousands of Americans.

The sociologist therefore has no optimistic forecast for the elections in November:

"At the beginning of the pandemic, I was hoping that the evangelicals would lose their approval for Trump. The approval ratings have indeed fallen a bit. But I think in the end they will vote for him anyway."

Hope rests with the non-white evangelicals

In the long term, he puts his hope in younger and non-white evangelical Christians. And on the fact that the secular progressives meet them in parts:

"Will you be ready to give up some of the land and meet social conservatives in the no man's land between the trenches of the cultural wars? [...] The future of American democracy will also depend on your response."

Philip Gorski's book is an illuminating, powerful, sometimes uncomfortable mixture of historical analysis, political essay and current commentary. And one of the important books on the state of America before the November 3rd elections.

Philip Gorski: "At the crossroads. America's Christians and democracy before and after Trump"
Herder Verlag, 223 pages, 24 euros.