We know what evangelical Christians have gotten out of Donald Trump. For their overwhelming support in 2016, Trump has practically given them full control over his judicial nominees, paid them more lip service than any American politician ever has, and given them the sort of power they spent decades dreaming about.
But Peter Wehner of The Atlantic, a former Republican who has written about the moral rot of white evangelical Christianity, asks an important question: What have conservative Christians lost as a result of their unholy alliance with Trump?
The answer: A hell of a lot.
For starters, by overlooking and excusing the president’s staggering array of personal and public corruptions, Trump’s evangelical supporters have forfeited the right to ever again argue that character counts in America’s political leaders. They might try, but if they do, they will be met with belly laughs. It’s not that their argument is invalidated; it is that because of their glaring hypocrisy, they have sabotaged their credibility in making the argument.
But the problem goes far beyond an inconsistent application of a biblical ethic. What the Trump years have exposed is something more fundamental, which is that many evangelical Christians have not brought anything distinctively Christian to politics.
If Trump loses — and that’s still a big if — there are a couple of silver linings to his administration in spite of all the destruction and chaos he has caused. One is that he forced Democrats, who had become complacent during the Obama era, to get their shit together, both in terms of legislative priorities and in taking state-level elections seriously. The other is that Trump exposed the hypocrisy of the Christian Right. The self-described “moral majority” turned out to be an immoral minority with outsized power.
As Wehner says, he has anecdotally spoken to many young Christians who don’t want to identify as “evangelicals” anymore. Many of them, however, are just leaving the faith altogether. It doesn’t do any good to be a Christian when Christians, given more power than they ever had before, were responsible for destroying democracy, ignoring corruption, exacerbating racial tensions, and remaining silent while refugees (the least of these!) suffered under Republican rule.
When white evangelicals finally had the opportunity to put their faith in practice, our nation suffered. The repercussions of Trumpism lay at their feet as much as it does the elected Republicans who could’ve pushed back against Trump but decided to capitulate to him instead.
None of this was a secret. Progressives saw this happening under George W. Bush, too. But with Trump, there’s nothing to hide behind. It’s all out there for everyone to see, and none of it is pretty.
If the political power of white evangelical Christianity dwindles along with the Republican Party, it would be the only useful thing Trump has done — and even that would be something he did unintentionally.