The Corner

Politics & Policy

Donald Trump, Theocrat?

Over at the Washington Post today, Catherine Rampell has one of the dumber columns you’ll see this month. Here are the opening paragraphs:

Much-dreaded “sharia law,” or something resembling it, may well be coming to the United States.

Just not in the form many Americans expected.

That is, the religiously motivated laws creeping into public policymaking aren’t based on the Koran, and they aren’t coming from mythical hard-line Islamists in, say, Dearborn, Mich. They’re coming from the White House, which wants to make it easier for hard-line Christians to impose their beliefs and practices on the rest of us.

Rampell frames her minimal evidence – Trump’s apparent opposition to the Johnson Amendment, his draft executive order on religious freedom, and Betsy DeVos — in the most sinister language possible: DeVos, for example, speaks in “well-established code for supporting . . . dressed-up creationism.” As her kicker, she cites a Pew Research Center poll that found that about a third of Americans said being a Christian was necessary to be “truly American.”

The notion that allowing a Christian florist to decline participating in same-sex marriage ceremonies is ushering in a new Inquisition demonstrates a misunderstanding of the issue so entire it’s not really worth addressing. But it also seems not to have occurred to Rampell that the Pew research she cites probably undermines her thesis, given that that one-third statistic is historically low; the United States is in the midst of a long-term decline in religiosity, accompanied by a parallel increase in people who self-identify as having no religious affiliation (“Nones”). To the extent that there is any popular support for remaking the country according to the vision of “hard-line Christians” (minimal, at best), it’s waning. Likewise, Rampell seems not to have considered the possibility that it’s her own position — which takes for granted that religiously motivated lawmaking is unacceptable — that is the ahistorical imposition.

But set even that aside. Rampell is young, but she has a few years on me — yet between us, I seem to be the only one with a memory of the 2000s, when this sort of nonsense doom-mongering was standard fare in mainstream publications: George W. Bush was a tool of the “Christian Reconstructionist Movement” (whatever that was), and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were “holy wars” and “new crusades.” Kevin Phillips’ 2006 best seller was titled “American Theocracy.”

Then, when Bush’s policies failed to usher in the End Times, the same concerns were simply projected onto the next target of opportunity: Sarah Palin (a harbinger of “theocratic neofascism), Rick Santorum (“a frightening theocrat who does not believe in the separation of church and state”), Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry (together part of a “Christian plot for domination”), even Newt Gingrich — in short, any Republican who evinced any particular Christian devotion.

But theocracy never happened — not because the beleaguered forces of secularism rallied to save the Republic, but because it was never at risk of happening in the first place. There was never any moment when the U.S. was just a hairsbreadth from swapping out the Constitution for “Christian Dominionism” and the Levitical rites. In fact, given that the United States government has fully endorsed rights to abortion and same-sex marriage, on key issues the country is officially antagonistic to traditional Christianity.

And now we’re supposed to believe that Donald Trump — adulterous, tabloid playboy, Vegas-casino owner, “grab ‘em by the p*ssy” Donald Trump — is ushering in the New Jerusalem?

The Lord works in mysterious ways — but that seems like a stretch.

Ian Tuttle — Ian Tuttle is the former Thomas L. Rhodes Journalism Fellow at the National Review Institute.

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