‘Believe Me’ Examines Evangelical Loyality To Trump

Raised in an evangelical church, I was deeply interested in reading Believe Me: The Evangelical Road To Trump by historian John Fea.

Fea, a self-described evangelical (as the book jacket cover notes) was not surprised when 81 percent of evangelicals supported Trump. Instead he argues, it was the ‘logical outcome of a long-standing evangelical approach to public life.’ An approach Fea describes as,

‘the politics of fear, the pursuit of worldly power, and a nostalgic longing for an American past.’

The relatively short  book (191 pages — hardback edition) explains those three pursuits.

Politics of Fear

As a child, I learned firsthand this element of the movement. Raised during the Cold War era, I remember as a 8 or 9-year-old child waking up from nightmares where I was facing a Communist firing squad. These dreams were fueled by our minister stating, from the pulpit, that ‘when (not if) the Russians took over’ they would ask everyone if they believed ‘Jesus was the Christ.’ Those who said yes, would be executed (but go to heaven). Those who said no would survive, but spend eternity in Hell.

Fea bypasses personal anecdotes and, instead, looks at America’s history and shows the various fears that captivate evangelicals. These fears began with an unhealthy view of Native Americans in New England — even those who converted to Christianity. The fears progress through every era of our history. Fear was behind the evangelicals support of the Know-Nothing (American) Party of the mid-1800s. Evangelicals supported the party mainly out of their fear of immigrants. Fear was drove the movement to add ‘under God’ to the pledge and our coinage. In the current era, fear was the motivating factor behind the aversion to president Barack Obama — whose progressive policies moved society at a pace that panicked evangelicals.

But, as Fea demonstrates, many of the fears have no basis in fact (like Obama being a secret Muslim). This, however, does not prevent unscrupulous politicians from exploiting the misinformation. But, it may have been the Supreme Court ruling on same-sex marriage that really galvanized evangelicals in their opposition to Obama. As Fea notes,

“Rod Dreher, an Eastern Orthodox Christian with a large evangelical following, offered a more apocalyptic response to the legalization of same-sex marriage…. Dreher echoed what many ordinary evangelicals were feeling. ‘We are living in a post-Christian nation. LBGT activists and their fellow travelers really will be coming after social conservatives…adding that believers in traditional marriages ‘are going to have to live as exiles in their own country.'”

Pursuit of Power

In this section, Fea pulls no punches concerning the inner circle of evangelicals who advise Trump. He refers to them as court evangelicals — a reference to medieval times when ‘holy men’ advised kings. As Fea notes, though, not much has changed from the medieval era since, then as now, few spoke the truth for fear of losing access to power.

Fea builds a case that Trump is using the evangelicals to pursue his own agenda. Fea quotes A. R. Bernard, who abandoned Trump after Charlottesville (2017). Bernard said the advisers had little power, noting that ‘meetings (with Trump) took place, but nothing substantive was discussed.’

But, a bigger role this advisory group has, Fea reveals, is to explain Trump’s moral failures to followers. Fea writes,

“Falwell Jr. claims that Trump called him immediately after the infamous Access Hollywood tape was released to the public… (Falwell) implied that Trump was looking to Falwell for help in smoothing things over with evangelical voters who might be disgusted by these revelations.”

Fea notes that the court evangelicals come from three sources: the Religious Right, followers of the Prosperity Gospel, and members of the Independent Network Charismatics. One minister who receives considerable space (and justifiability so) is Robert Jeffress. Jeffress encouraged Trump to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem — because of Jeffress’ belief that, in doing do, a biblical prophecy would be fulfilled.

Make America Great Again

This section opens with a discussion Fea had with a black minister — a minister that opened Fea’s eyes to the reality there is no historical place for Blacks to look back on when America was great. The current era, as bad as it is with modern-day lynching — White officers gunning down unarmed Black men without repercussion — is the best time in their history.

Fea, the historian, while acknowledging the hypocrisy of the ‘again’ statement (with regards to minorities) moves forward by skillfully breaking down the reality that there is no great era in U.S. history.

Since Trump never (by design) alludes to a specific era, Fea attempts to reconstruct from Trump’s words what era he may be referring to — and, comes to the conclusion, that many of us have, that Trump is simply referring to times when Whites were favored even more than they are today.

Fea concludes his book with an example of American Christians who built their legacy on hope, humility and history — championing it as a better way to interact in our diverse society.

Rated 4/5. This book is an excellent candidate for a weekend read. Those who practice the Christian faith will find the depth of Christian philosophy enlightening. Those who enjoy American history will find the narrative — and logic — easy to follow even if they are not familiar with the tenets of evangelicalism. Those who want ‘their country back’ will find a sliver of hope that, at least, one evangelical is pushing back against the madness.

Categories: Books I have read, Politics, Religion

‘Red State Blues’ Puts Trumpism Into Perspective

I have grown to appreciate the various small, independent publishing houses and authors that have spoken their truth in the age of Trump. Belt Publishing is one I especially enjoy. They published What You Are Getting Wrong About Appalachia which is a much more balanced view of the region than Hillbilly Elegy.

Their latest book I read is Red State Blues: Stories from Midwestern Life on the Left. The book is divided into five sections and contains about 25 essays. The essays are written by people from a wide range of backgrounds and are intriguing looks at the communities they represent. There are stories from immigrants and first-generation Americans, African Americans, college students, activists and reporters. The most well-known name (to me) was Sarah Kendzior, a Missouri reporter (and author of The View from Flyover Country) who has been uncannily accurate in her predictions about the Trump administration.

In her essay, The ‘Other Forgotten People’: Feeling Blue in Missouri, she opens with her attendance at a Palo Alto, California conference, ‘where the average home sells for three million dollars.’

“That’s would be two million, eight hundred and seventy thousand more than the average home sells for where I live, in St. Louis, Missouri: a struggling, blue city in a once purple, suddenly bright red state.”

This direct approach to the problems — like wealth inequity — is just one of the attributes of Kendzior’s writing I find appealing. In the essay she exposes the rage that many, who feel left behind, feel. She notes, though, that anger is intensified when the forgotten are morphed into ‘white, male conservative manual laborers.’

As she says,

“It is a terrible thing to be in pain and ignored — as a place, as an individual. It is perhaps worse to finally be recognized, but only as a symbol — to be given a mask and told that it is your face.”

Her quote, for me, summarizes what each of the essays attempt to do — remove the mask and show what is beneath the surface.

Black Lives Matter

An essay, written by Mark V. Reynolds, hit very close to home. Reynolds writes about Yellow Springs, Ohio (about 45 minutes from my residence), known locally for its laid-back atmosphere, bike trails and progressive politics (not to mention its most famous resident Dave Chappelle). The town also has a rich Civil Rights history. Coretta Scott King graduated from Antioch College in Yellow Springs, and two of the three Civil Rights workers killed in Philadelphia, Mississippi in 1964 were students at Antioch.

But, the essay centers around an incident that made the local news a few years ago during the village-wide New Year’s eve celebration. The event has been held in the town’s center for decades and, after the ‘ball drops’ the crowd disperses without incident.

A few years ago, though, the event was marred when white officers ‘roughed up’ a black man.

After the incident, the progressive town was forced to re-examine itself — and the essay does an excellent job retelling the story, not as a news event, but as a reminder that race relations are abysmal in the United States.

Say No To ICE

The essay about Elkhart, Indiana, though, was my favorite — because of the story it told. It’s the tale of an unlikely pair taking on the private prison industry (CoreCivic). The organization was attempting to build a civil detention facility for ICE in Elkhart. The pair, a 50-something professor and a 22-year-old female (the eldest child of Mexican immigrants) went to work educating the community on the downsides of bringing the facility to the region which has a significant Hispanic population. Eventually, the mayor of Elkhart, a Democrat, would post on Facebook:

“CoreCivic…would create jobs we don’t need at wages we don’t want. Any tax dollars generated by the project wouldn’t be enough to offset the long-lasting damage such a facility would do to our county — both in terms of perception and in terms of creating an unwanted unwelcoming reputation.”

The community succeeds in keeping the facility out of their town — proving Goliaths can be defeated.

Rated: 5 out of 5. Anyone who, like me, is a blue dot in an ocean of red, will find the book enlightening, thought-provoking, and occasionally humorous, but mostly it feels like you’re sitting down with 25 or so like-minded friends.

Categories: Books I have read

‘Recovery Boys’ Another Great Documentary On Opioid Crisis

When I watched the parade scene in ‘Recovery Boys’ a Netflix original documentary created by the producer of Heroin(e), I felt like I was watching a parade in my hometown. The backdrop of the empty, gutted downtown looked eerily similar in concept.

But, in Preble County, an apparent change in the heroin supply, dropped the number of overdoses calls in Eaton, Ohio from about 10 per month in 2017 to about two per month this. Aggressive policing and court-mandated Vivitrol shots, also appears to have altered heroin use in the county — by driving the chemically addicted to using meth. According to an article in Saturday’s The Register-Herald, the executive director of our mental health and recovery board said,

“In the state of Ohio, Preble County is number one in meth use.”

Ohio has 88 counties, and with 40,000 or so residents, we are a small county.

What Can You Do?

As I interact with various locals on social media, though, there does not appear to be a resolve to solve the issue, rather more of a ‘let the professionals figure it out’ approach.

That is what is refreshing about Recovery Boys. The film is set in nearby West Virginia, and it chronicles the life of four men who are struggling with heroin addiction. All four have entered a rehab facility that is the brainchild of a man whose son is a recovering addict. Rather than resign the issue to the professionals — although he is trained in substance abuse treatment — the father decide to go his own way and create a unique approach to treatment.

What unfolds in a farm-based treatment center where the chemically-addicted work the farm in addition to the ‘inner work’ that recovery requires.

I won’t reveal how each of the four men did, but obviously with a chemical as intense and as addicting as heroin, it’s not always a win-win story. But, the producer does an excellent job presenting the humanity of these men — men who are often reduced to stereotypes in my county.

A minor, albeit troubling, subplot that unfolds in the story is the reality that the children, especially young ones, are extremely vulnerable in our country. One of the men lost custody of his two young girls (less than five years old), and one of his girls is molested by a foster parent. This is one of the side issues that gets buried in our culture’s ‘disgust with druggies.’ Their children often pay a high price, especially in small counties where adequate oversight does not exist.

The movies moves at an appropriate pace and it will make you think — and hopefully it will help the apathetic or the ‘they made their choice’ crowd, better understand the disease of addiction, so small communities like mine can shed titles like ‘meth capital.’

Rated 5 out of 5.

Categories: 8th congressional district, drug use, movies, My America | Tags: ,