Those of us who have observed Donald Trump over the past 30 years know he is and has always been a fraud! He has regularly cheated small businesses out of millions of dollars he owes them for completed construction contracts. He practiced racial exclusion in his real estate business against federal law until the Justice Department caught up with him. But since his election last year I have been more worried about the future of my grandchildren in a Trump style America.
In hindsight it is easy to see why he was elected. Most Americans, including me, are fed up with politics. Neither party is seriously addressing critical national issues that concern the vast majority of us. Working Americans were too busy trying to make a living to dig into the political minutiae but felt he was probably right about the system being rigged against them. They knew Trump wasn’t a typical politician. They assumed, mostly because he told them so, that he was a successful businessman. He said he alone could fix things and would “make America great again”. They wanted to believe and were willing to take a chance.
But Trump also had another more formidable and much more ominous secret weapon in his bid to be President. He seems to have struck a deal as early as 2011 with several of the nation’s relatively extreme evangelical Christian Leaders, people like Ralph Reed, Jerry Falwell Jr, Robert Jeffress, Ralph Drollinger, and others, to promote his candidacy. He promised them unprecedented White House access and influence in government in exchange for their support.
It doesn’t matter to these evangelical leaders that Trump is a hate monger, a xenophobe, personally amoral, and a pathological liar. Generally they advocate a form of “prosperity theology”, are hungry for political power, and are themselves willing to ignore, twist, or rationalize sacred Christian values to achieve their power objective.
For the most part they delivered the evangelical Christian vote! Endorsing Trump with his disinformation and hate campaign strategy against an unpopular Democratic candidate, they successfully manipulated millions of trusting but naive evangelical Christians into voting for the Trump ticket. Voting statistics suggest that effort was one of the keys, maybe the key, to Trump’s election to the Presidency.
But those evangelical leaders’ goals are not what most of the American electorate want. Now that they helped put Trump in office they are not interested in promoting or respecting diversity of ideas, political compromise, or cooperation for the common good. They want to remake American government effectively into a brand of Christian theocracy (my word, not theirs). Trump is their ticket to substantially weaken the separation of church and state, and inject their intolerant extremist religious dogma into national governance.
So what specific things do they want? First and foremost they seek to reverse the Supreme Court’s rulings on abortion and the protection of equal rights for the LGBT community while staking out broad Christian “religious liberty” exemptions. But they also want to stack the federal judiciary at every level with ultra-conservative judges so that they can insert their religious agenda into national governance and have it endorsed by the courts. They support extreme nationalism and severe restrictions on immigration, specifically of non-whites and non-Christians. They are eager to dismantle the national social safety net and shift that authority, probably along with some level of federal funds, to the religious community. They insist on reintroducing officially endorsed prayer into public schools (only Christian prayer of course), and they want the Johnson Amendment, which prevents churches and other tax exempt organizations from endorsing and funding specific political candidates for office, to be repealed.
To that end, and with the participation of the Administration, these evangelical leaders have formed a Presidential advisory group to promote and implement their religious agenda. Johnnie Moore, a public relations consultant and minister says of the group: “It’s sort of an influential informal coalition of evangelical leaders with a special relationship with the White House”. He seems to be one of the spokespersons, but not a leader, of this “unofficial” group, frequently referred to alternately as the “Faith Council” or “Faith Leadership Initiative”.
Membership in the group is believed to be somewhere around 25-50 individuals, nearly all white males, and all evangelicals. Steven Martin, the communications director for the National Council of Churches, a group that includes mainline Protestant, Orthodox and historically black denominations says his organization has been excluded from participation. “I’d absolutely say we’re frozen out” he said. Muslim and Sikh groups have also reported little or no contact with the Administration. Available evidence suggests that only these evangelical extremists have any real access to the Trump Administration.
This group’s relationship with Trump is likely designed to be unofficial and informal specifically to avoid transparency. The Federal Advisory Committee Act and other sunshine laws establish procedural and transparency standards for “any committee, board, commission, council, conference, panel, task force, or other similar group” established to advise members of the executive branch. That appears to be the reason membership is secret and there are no public records of meetings, decisions made, or actions taken.
But by many accounts these evangelical leaders are now the most influential constituency advising the Trump Administration. And the public does not even know, and can’t determine for sure, who are members or even how many there are. The White House consistently declines to provide any specific information about meetings, participants, issues, or contacts with the group. Mostly what we know comes from social media posts, public revelations by participants, and bragging from individual members.
What is known about the members however is not encouraging. The group seems with relative certainty to at least include Robert Jeffress, Ralph Drollinger, Johnnie Moore, Franklin Graham (Billy Graham’s son), Jerry Falwell Jr, James Dobson, Ralph Reed, and Paula White (probably the only woman). The de-facto leaders appear to be Robert Jeffress, pastor of First Baptist Church in Dallas, and Ralph Drollinger, the President of Capitol Ministries. They are controversial personalities with fairly extreme religious views. They espouse truly bizarre and frighteningly Un-American ideas about the national government. Both are dangerous to democratic governance. But in my mind Drollinger is the more dangerous of the two. He seems to have deeper influence with the Trump Administration
Views publicly expressed by Robert Jeffress:
Jeffress defended Trump for equating neo-Nazis and white supremacists with those protesting them in Charlottesville. Jeffress said: “I believe President Trump’s response to the Charlottesville protests has been very balanced and I support him completely”. He said he “hasn’t seen the President do anything worthy of condemnation.”
He says the New Testament (Romans 13) gives Trump the authority to preemptively attack North Korea. He can “do whatever, whether it’s assassination, capital punishment or evil punishment to quell the actions of evildoers like Kim Jong Un”.
Other Jeffress quotes that give more insight into the man and his thinking:
“We have allowed the atheists, the infidels, the humanists to seize control of this country and pervert our Constitution into something the Founders never intended. And we have to say enough to that”;
“Not only do religions like Mormonism, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism lead people away from God, they lead people to an eternity of separation from God in Hell”;
“Much of what you see in the Catholic Church today doesn’t come from God’s Word, it comes from that cult-like, pagan religion”;
“Obama Is paving the way for the antichrist”!
Views publicly expressed by Ralph Drollinger:
Drollinger has similarly twisted views of government, societal mores in general, and diversity of thought in particular. He is on record, for example, declaring that women with children have no place in public office. He says they are sinners for not staying home and taking care of their families. He agrees with Jeffress’ assessment of Catholicism as well. It is “the world’s largest false religion,” he says.
In a September 2015 interview he described his mission as “creating a factory to mass-produce politicians like Michele Bachmann”. “She doesn’t need a whole lot of time to figure out how to vote because she sees the world through a scriptural lens,” Drollinger said.
He declares homosexuality “is an abomination in the eyes of God.” Likewise, he considers marriage “the institution in Scripture where the husband is to lead the wife. That is not to mean that she is his slave, but if there is a tie vote, the tiebreaker is the husband. The wife, she should submit to his decisions, unless he is asking her to be unbiblical.”
Drollinger rails against what he calls “radical environmentalists” and says that to believe human activity could have an impact on the climate and environment “is the result of godless pride. To think that man can alter the earth’s ecosystem—when God remains omniscient, omnipresent and omnipotent in the current affairs of mankind—is to more than subtly espouse an ultra-hubristic, secular worldview relative to the supremacy and importance of man.”
Another frightening aspects of his beliefs relates to poverty, the poor, and our public social safety net. He says that scripture lays out very clearly how the poor, sick, and disabled are to be cared for, and it does not involve government. He says according to scripture the government has NO responsibility for providing a social safety net. Further, he says it is bankrupting our country and we can’t afford to continue it.
It is not clear how much direct influence Drollinger and Jeffress had over Trump’s Cabinet choices but virtually to a person the Cabinet Secretaries promote the worldview and priorities of those two individuals. That doesn’t seem like a coincidence to me! And Drollinger has specifically expressed how pleased he is with the Cabinet selections, their submission to his teachings, and even calls some of them “disciples”.
The thing that makes Ralph Drollinger particularly dangerous to our democracy is that he has continuing direct access to the Administration to promote his extremist religious philosophy of governance. He holds regular weekly Bible Studies with Trump’s Cabinet members (7 am Wednesdays). He brags that Vice President Mike Pence, HUD Secretary Ben Carson, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, Energy Secretary Rick Perry, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, CIA Director Mike Pompeo, Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, and Scott Pruitt, head of the Environmental Protection Agency all regularly participate.
Drollinger also seems to be promoting at least the concept of President Trump as a necessary American dictator at this time in our national history. He says “this Administration has the power to change the course of America in ways that are biblical”. “America’s in such desperate straits—especially economically—that if we don’t have almost a benevolent dictator to turn things around I just don’t think it’s gonna happen through our governance system right now,” he says.
Those are dangerous anti-democratic ideas to even consider. While most Americans might think a US dictatorship is impossible, that would be an error. It certainly would be hard to implement, given the long history of stability in our public institutions. But in our current politically divisive environment it is only unlikely, not impossible. It is already frighteningly clear that the President is easily influenced. He recognizes evangelicals are a major portion of his political base and is likely willing to do most anything to keep them happy. And whether by radical evangelical influence or not, he is already laying the groundwork for a shift toward autocracy.
Virtually all dictatorships that replace democratic governments follow the same playbook. The would-be autocrat starts by exploiting unrest that already exists in the electorate, in our case immigration, race, and wealth-inequality are specific flash points. Or he might exploit a national or international crisis, say like possible nuclear war with North Korea. He blends that with attacks on the free press for prejudicial reporting against him and his heroic efforts to save the nation. In parallel he attacks the judiciary as a vehicle of the liberal establishment and public institutions as incompetent, corrupt, and inefficient. It helps if the potential dictator’s political allies (in this case the Republican Party) are willing to yield to and/or support his authoritarian attitude and behavior. Any of that sound like the national political reality we are watching play out everyday??
Starting with the resolution supporting the President’s authority to invade Iraq without a declaration of war our Congress has already abdicated its Constitutional authority to the Executive Branch for deciding if, when, and against whom we use military force. Today as an institution the Republican-led Congress seems prepared in the name of party unity to rubber-stamp whatever else the President and his evangelical advisors decide. We saw that in spades this past week when the House Judiciary Committee’s Republican “yes men” followed Trump’s lead with vicious, reckless, sustained slander against both the FBI and Special Council Robert Mueller.
I don’t know where all this will go. But we need the Republican Party’s Congressional leadership to start exercising its co-equal constitutional authority against Trump’s irrational and destructive policies; or we need the Democrats to win control of the House and/or Senate. Otherwise we are going down a dangerous path into uncharted territory!
For anyone who doubts my assessment of this current unhealthy reality, please note both the extremist evangelical Trump advisors I have profiled (Jeffress and Drollinger) are prolific writers and speakers espousing the views I describe. They both have published books and regularly grant interviews on these subjects, including their advisory role in the Trump Administration. It is easy to verify what I am reporting. The most disconcerting part though is that they continue preaching to and teaching the President and his Cabinet how to implement their worldview every week. And they seem to have great sway with the Trump Administration.
Let me stipulate here: I am expressing my personal views based on studying the literature, speeches, and interviews of those evangelical leaders who are now advising Trump as well as observing the Administration’s apparently related behavior. In the interest of transparency let me also admit that I am not unbiased on the subject of evangelical Christianity. I was reared in a family with a similar extreme evangelical philosophy. I have seen first hand how these extremists can subvert the underlying message of New Testament scripture by taking individual phrases and verses out of context and manipulating them to mean something totally different.
Philosophically, I respect the moderate practice of all faiths as long as they don’t try to infringe on the rights of others who believe differently, and don’t try to inject their dogma into public policy. And I am familiar in some detail with the tenets of the Christian scriptures. Beyond that I don’t spend much time dwelling on the character, quality, or even the existence of God. But one thing I know: If the New Testament actually is true, and God indeed does ban non-believers and the un-righteous to eternal damnation, then I am destined to meet the President and several of his evangelical leadership team in Hell!!