So, let’s say you are a conservative Republican of a decidedly evangelical bent, and are struggling a bit with misgivings about the presidential nominee of your political party, Donald Trump. He does not, after all, fit most definitions of a “godly man,” and beyond that he does not seem to have any sort of well-articulated plan for what he’s going to do if he’s elected, other than to gloat over the despair of his many enemies and detractors like a heathen warlord at the Sack of Rome.
The simplest way to buck oneself up for the unpleasant task of supporting this philistine is to make it a matter of religious and civilizational necessity. Thus it is not surprising to see an apocalyptic note begin to creep into the rhetoric of Trump’s Christian-right supporters.
The most notable example of this tendency flows from an unlikely, wonky source: an essay in the Claremont Review of Books that has gone viral. The pseudonymous author compares America to 9/11’s Flight 93, and Trump supporters to the heroic passengers on that flight who had to take action not knowing what they’d do if they did get control of the plane:
2016 is the Flight 93 election: charge the cockpit or you die. You may die anyway. You—or the leader of your party—may make it into the cockpit and not know how to fly or land the plane. There are no guarantees.
Except one: if you don’t try, death is certain. To compound the metaphor: a Hillary Clinton presidency is Russian Roulette with a semi-auto. With Trump, at least you can spin the cylinder and take your chances.
Having reached the lurid conclusion, the pseudonymous author proceeds to justify it on grounds that America is on the edge of collapse under its current liberal management, mostly because of a decadent culture that defies “nature” (there is much ventilating about transgender bathroom issues) and a ruling class eager to wipe out any dissent from its secular-socialist ideology. He/she also borrows Donald Trump’s own apocalyptic argument that uncontrolled immigration will soon give said secular-socialists a permanent majority that will enable them to cackle maniacally athwart the dying, defeated body of Western civilization, or words to that effect.
Given that alternative, is it so big a risk to entrust the Republic to a mere Attila, who is perhaps unconsciously acting as the Scourge of God?
As Vox pointed out recently, the Claremont essay is not an outlier — it represents a common line of thinking among Trump backers:
“There’s no next election. This is it,” Rudy Giuliani told America at the Republican National Convention. “There’s no time left to revive our great country.”
It’s a sentiment I’ve heard echoed by Trump supporters like the ones I talked to in Massachusetts this spring — that America has been going in the wrong direction for quite some time now, and that this might be the last chance voters like them have to destroy the cancer before it metastasizes.
The change here isn’t just in the amplitude of rhetoric — a way to rally “our team” in a polarized age. It’s the belief that the status quo must be destroyed for something better to replace it.
A variation on the theme of the apocalyptic argument for Trump was made this last weekend at the Christian-right Values Voter Summit by Kentucky governor Matt Bevin:
“We don’t have multiple options; we’re going one way or we’re going the other way, politically, spiritually, morally, economically, from a liberty standpoint. We’re going one way or we’re going the other way …”
“It’s a slippery slope,” Bevin said. “First, we’re killing children, then it’s ‘Don’t ask, don’t tell,’ now it’s this gender-bending kind of ‘don’t be a bigot,’ ‘don’t be unreasonable,’ ‘don’t be unenlightened, heaven forbid,’ ‘just keep your mouth shut.’”
In his fifteen minute, off-the-cuff speech, Bevin compared conservatives sitting silently to Martin Niemöller, a Nazi imprisoned protestant minister who wrote a famous poem about how people remained silent as the Nazis persecuted different groups.
This is an old meme in Christian-right circles: Liberal “baby killers” are the Nazis, conservative Christians are the “good Germans” going along with it who are called to be the “Confessing Church” that resists evil.
Called on this rhetoric back home in Kentucky, Bevin tried to prevaricate his way out of it, claiming the lurid threats he mentioned were from overseas, from “radical Islamic extremists.” If ISIS has near the top of its agenda defending legalized abortion or promoting “don’t ask, don’t tell,” or any sort of “gender-bending,” that would be big news.
As it happens, Bevin has not explicitly endorsed Trump just yet, but you get the sense he’s talked himself into it like so many others. As he also said in his VVS speech, some people confronted with evil emulate Neville Chamberlain’s cowardice and vacillation when they should act like Winston Churchill. That kind of reasoning does not present a choice, but a call to arms.
And it’s a violent future Bevins anticipates if Clinton is elected president, as he indicates in appropriating a famous Thomas Jefferson quote about the tree of liberty being watered occasionally by the blood of tyrants and patriots:
He encouraged the audience to fight in every possibly way so that they aren’t forced “to do it physically.” However, he argues that it may come to the shedding of blood.
“I will tell you this: I do think it would be possible, but at what price?” he said, after being asked if he thought America would survive Clinton. “At what price? The roots of the tree of liberty are watered by what? The blood, of who? The tyrants to be sure, but who else? The patriots.”
It was a very different country with a very different relationship with biblical language when Teddy Roosevelt launched his Progressive Party presidential campaign in 1912 by proclaiming: “We Stand at Armageddon, and we battle for the Lord!” Much of what Roosevelt stood for, and for that matter the Progressive label he embraced, are entirely alien to today’s self-proclaimed Christian soldiers. But for many, Armageddon is nearer than ever.