President Donald Trump
Credit: White House Photo by Shealah Craighead

On Sunday, Trump’s trade advisor Peter Navarro attempted to justify the president’s memorandum on coronavirus relief by suggesting that God had something to do with creating executive orders.

The narrative is that congress is simply a “swamp” and so Trump took action via something that was created by God and our founding fathers to bypass the legislative body. Of course, that is the opposite of what was written into the Constitution when it describes three separate, but equal branches of government. In a sense, Navarro is claiming that our founding fathers created a mechanism for the president to act as king. He backs that up with the idea that God was involved with doing so.

None of that is going to be a concern for Trump’s base among Christian nationalists. Over the weekend, Elizabeth Dias published a piece in which she reminded us of that one time when Trump actually told the truth by saying that he could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue in broad daylight and his supporters wouldn’t abandon him. She noted that it was during that same speech at a Christian college in Iowa that Trump said this:

“I will tell you, Christianity is under tremendous siege, whether we want to talk about it or we don’t want to talk about it,” Mr. Trump said.

Christians make up the overwhelming majority of the country, he said. And then he slowed slightly to stress each next word: “And yet we don’t exert the power that we should have.”

If he were elected president, he promised, that would change. He raised a finger.

“Christianity will have power,” he said. “If I’m there, you’re going to have plenty of power, you don’t need anybody else.”

Over the last four years, we’ve heard endless attempts to explain why Christian nationalists have been so loyal to a man who has lived the opposite of everything they have claimed to value. But there you have your answer: he promised to give them power. That is precisely why Katherine Stewart titled her book about Christian nationalists, The Power Worshippers. She explains that we miss the mark if we assume that this movement is all about the so-called “culture wars.”

This is a political movement that wants power. I do think it is helpful, in understanding this movement, to distinguish between the leaders and the followers. The foot soldiers may believe that they’re fighting for things like traditional marriage and a ban on abortion. But over time, the movement’s leaders and strategists have consciously reframed these culture war issues in order to capture and control the votes of a large subsection of the American public. They understand if you can get people to vote on just one or two issues, you can control their vote. So they use these issues to solidify and maintain political power for themselves and their allies, to increase the flow of public and private money in their direction, and to enact economic policies that are favorable to their most well-resourced funders.

In commenting on the Christian right’s comparison of Trump to King Cyrus, Stewart wrote this:

Today’s Christian nationalists talk a good game about respecting the Constitution and America’s founders, but at bottom they sound as if they prefer autocrats to democrats…The great thing about kings like Cyrus, as far as today’s Christian nationalists are concerned, is that they don’t have to follow rules. They are the law. This makes them ideal leaders in paranoid times…

This isn’t the religious right we thought we knew. The Christian nationalist movement today is authoritarian, paranoid and patriarchal at its core. They aren’t fighting a culture war. They’re making a direct attack on democracy itself.

They want it all. And in Mr. Trump, they have found a man who does not merely serve their cause, but also satisfies their craving for a certain kind of political leadership.

This is why you’ll find no objections from Christian nationalists to the prospect of Trump upending Constitutional norms like the separation of powers among the three branches of government. They want the tyrannical power associated with an autocrat in order to enact their agenda.

Nancy LeTourneau

Follow Nancy on Twitter @Smartypants60.