The Cannon Beach Library remains locked down, but the library board has been using the coronavirus closure as an opportunity to repaint, redesign the office, purchase physical shields, and plan operating guidelines to protect patrons and volunteers.
Meantime, Marjorie MacQueen continues adding new titles to the library’s expanding collection.
A recent addition that caught my attention this week was “Unholy: Why White Evangelicals Worship at the Altar of Donald Trump” by Sarah Posner, a tenacious religion writer whose investigative reporting has appeared in Rolling Stone, The Nation, Mother Jones, The New Republic, HuffPost, VICE, Talking Points Memo, The New York Times, The Washington Post, The American Prospect and Politico.
A graduate of Wesleyan University, Posner holds a law degree from the University of Virginia, has published “God’s Profits: Faith, Fraud, and the Republican Crusade for Values Voters,” and recently received a Sidney Hillman Foundation Award for “How Trump Took Hate Groups Mainstream,” published in Rolling Stone before the 2016 election.
The subtitle of “Unholy,” which expands on Posner’s earlier writings, promised to answer a question that has bedeviled me since before Donald and Melania Trump glided into the Republican primary June 16, 2015 on a gilded Trump Tower escalator witnessed by many paid attendants.
That question: How could 80% of evangelical Christians support a thrice-married, serially accused harasser of women, under investigation for providing hush payments to accusers, and impeached for abuse of power and obstruction of Congress?
Posner’s explanation is multifaceted, beginning with the willingness of white evangelicals to view Trump, a deeply flawed, seemingly immoral man, as a divinely anointed strongman who would rescue their changing country from further decent into godless liberalism and permanent normalization of abortion, immigration, LGBTQ rights, women’s right, equitable treatment of all Americans, single-sex marriage, perceived attacks on religious liberty, secular public schools, and so forth.
Evangelicals saw in Trump a strongman who stood up to the diabolical Hillary Clinton and actually listened and responded to their concerns, unlike so many past Republican politicians who sought evangelical support but, when in office, cut deals with liberal Democrats.
They dismissed concerns about Trump’s moral shortcomings by identifying flawed biblical leaders such as King David, who was guilty of rape and murder and yet anointed by God to lead the Jews.
Or Cyrus the Great, another flawed leader, chosen by God to liberate the people of Israel from Babylonian exile and help them rebuild the temple in Jerusalem.
Trump’s conservative Christian evangelicals used the book of scripture to explain the book of nature, justifying their present support for Trump. A slippery slope, indeed.
Such comparison may convince true believers, but Posner argues that evangelical support for Trump has a far more practical and historical foundation, one that spans the past half-century.
Before Jerry Falwell, Sr. received credit for building the Moral Majority into an alliance with the Republican Party, Rev. Bob Billings, a graduate of Bob Jones University, was a central figure in the Christian school movement and its backlash against government efforts to ensure that tax-exempt private schools were not segregated.
Billings led the effort to brand the Supreme Court desegregation of public schools, separation of church and state, the end of mandatory public school prayer and bible reading, and the rise of secular humanism as part of a Communist plot to destroy Christian America in the early 1960s.
He portrayed his Christian school movement as an antidote to everything in the 1960s that conservatives despised: moral laxity, secularism, and particularly federal involvement in the desegregation of public education. The roots of Trump’s merger of white nationalism and white evangelicals in the 2016 presidential campaign began with Billing’s Christian school movement in the early 1960s.
In 1969, parents of black children in Mississippi public schools asked the D.C. federal court to rule that private “segregation academies” founded in response to public school desegregation as all-white private schools not be eligible for tax exemptions and deductions. In 1971, the Internal Revenue Service held that any private school without “a racially nondiscriminatory policy as to students” was not entitled to a tax exemption.
As Posner concludes, “As much as the Christian right of the twenty-first century is now fixated on abortion and sexual politics, the backlash against the efforts of the federal government to desegregate tax-exempt private schools is embedded in the movement’s DNA…
“In Trump’s words and deeds, they see an idealized white Christian America before civil rights for people of color—and a meddling government—ruined it.”
White nationalists, a relatively powerless political movement, thus saw the political wisdom of allying with the much larger religious right.