Behold, I shew you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed,In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.
The current Error of Trump closed like it began with a trashy display of jingoism and bad music as he ascended in Air Force 1 to Frank Sinatra’s “My Way” and hopefully far away enough for the foreseeable future. Certifiably, Donald J. Trump will go down as the worst president in the history of the United States. While many can argue that there have been worse presidents such as Andrews Jackson and Johnson respectively, it’s hard to make any claim for Trump’s stature above last place after a failed re-election campaign and not one, but two impeachments in less than a calendar year and both within a first term.
The question facing would-be authors and historians will be where to start once Trump’s presidential legacy becomes history as of noon on January 20, 2021. Does one start with him coming down the escalator like a Simpsons-episode-turned-real-life announcing his candidacy? Or do you go back to the moment President Obama roasted him at the White House Correspondents’ dinner. Perhaps a fuller story of how America arrived at this moment must begin with the sordid details of Trump’s pitiful relationship with his father or maybe his privileged life of ease in New York leveraging real estate as a slumlord to the ultimate end as a reality TV star.
The word unprecedented was the most overused word throughout the balance of 2020 due to the coronavirus and its impact on daily life. The Trump presidency made the word work overtime as Trump eschewed press conferences for tweets. Unprecedented was the go-to word for when he’d tweet out foreign policy mandates that no one knew about, where he’d assail political opponents after watching Fox & Friends, or the platform where cabinet members or White House staffers would learn of their own work termination. The ultimate deplatforming of Trump, singularly by Twitter, was a remark on just how abysmal the administration was on, well, everything. No matter how big nor small, Trump and his minions found a way to dissolve norms like cotton candy under faucet.
However, the religious traditions of America were not shattered under Trump. There was not a moment in which many looked toward the likes of Franklin Graham or Paula White and felt the word unprecedented was appropriate. Words like typical, expected and customary came to mind as so-called white evangelicals professed a near undying love for Trump. With the encouragement of birtherism and given the way they politically set their teeth against the Barack Obama White House, and even their embrace for political quacks like Sarah Palin (and to a lesser extent hotheads like Ted Cruz, Bobby Jindal et. al.), it should be of no shock that the marriage of the religious right and Trump was a marriage made in an American hellscape—an unmasked wedding party attended by QAnon conspiracy theorists, anti-vaxxers, the Proud Boys, the Three Percenters, Fox News watchers, and the rest that comprise the basket of deplorables—officiated by none other than Rudy Giuliani.
The merger of white evangelicals with Trump probably speaks more to the troubled soul of this nation than anything else. The only deep state at play in America right now are the dark psychic forces of messianic white supremacy masquerading as traditional Christianity. To invoke the word unprecedented would be too small to explain the moral depths to which white evangelicals plummeted in order to retain fealty to their feckless leader. However, the fervor and anger displayed by those that call themselves white evangelicals is a religious one. The function of religion is to signify meaning. The meaning of the so-called white evangelicals is merely signifying towards the leviathan of white supremacy and the cult of Trumpism.
The only reasonable explanation is that the likes of Paula White—who famously called on African angels to secure an election victory of Trump—and Vicki Yohe, Franklin Graham, Al Mohler, the presidents of the Southern Baptist seminaries and a nameless rabble of Depression-era-Bible-salesmen-turned-preachers, is that they were never truly Christians in the first place. Their loyalty has never been to a brown-skinned Jewish man born in Nazareth and his teachings, but rather to a reprehensible ideology that sees whiteness above and before everything else. Despite what the 1776 Commission may ignorantly argue, we know that playing on white so-called Christian identities was part of Nixon’s “southern strategy” in the 1968 election. That southern coalition reformed under the Republican party giving birth to Jerry Fallwell’s “moral majority” and has not looked back since. White evangelicals as we see them today are a part of that direct lineage. The manifestation of such a movement was on full display in the Senate chamber of the U.S. Capitol as Q-Anon believer and viking-hat-wearer Jake Angeli launched into a full prayer from the vice-president’s chair.
This is not Christianity. This is messianic white supremacy.
Such a heresy needs to be named. These people who believe that Trump was the answer to a prayer have no concept of a man named Jesus who was murdered for committing crimes against the state and by the power of God was resurrected three days later. For Franklin Graham to allege that the Republicans who voted to impeach Trump were akin to Judas betraying Jesus confirms the heresy that I am alleging. These people care nothing about Jesus, just Trump.
Following the siege at the U.S. Capitol, white moderates finally broke their silence. Ed Stetzer of the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College in an NPR interview called for a reckoning saying that “A big part of this evangelical reckoning is a lot of people sold out their beliefs.” The Chicago Tribune covered the story of a Catholic priest at a suburban Chicago parish that had parishioners walk out in the middle of his sermon as he named Donald Trump from the pulpit, admitting the number of times he was silent over the past four years—grabbing women “by the pussy,” his mocking of a disabled reporter. The priest, one Fr. William Corcoran, in response to those who said his sermon was courageous that, “I didn’t think it was courageous,” he said. “I thought it was necessary.”
Religious progressives need not be timid in identifying white messianic supremacy as a theological heresy. The logic is simple. There are hundreds of biblical scriptures that articulate ways that society ought to be ordered so that (1) those on the underside of society are taken care of and (2) so that there is an even and equal distribution of resources so that there no longer are those that are left out. Even Jesus, in his inaugural address declared that the spirit of the Lord was upon him to preach good news to the poor. With a handful of verses that speak on homosexuality and virtually none on abortion, the religious right—“white evangelicals”—planting their flag on these culture wars are false flags that have totally co-opted the messaging of American Christianity.
As I discussed in a previous blog, the election of Rev. Raphael Warnock to the U.S. Senate somewhat begs the question as to whether or not Black liberation theology has a public policy platform. The more I think about it, I don’t think it does. Much of what undergirds public policy for adherents of Black liberation theology is tried and true social justice advocacy. But, larger questions for what the progressive faithful need to be in this new era are certainly front and center.
The Black church has found itself at an institutional crossroads unlike any in the past. Leadership in the historic Black denominations is aging and is still predominantly male. (Church of God in Christ, the largest African American Pentecostal denomination in the world, lost four members of its general board just last year!) These two factors alone provide just a peek into the reasons why the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement was the first civil rights-based movement that forged ahead without the Black church somewhere in the center. That in and of itself isn’t problematic. But, when one realizes that, still, Black folks still have higher church attendance rates than that of white Americans, it’s not hard to realize that any widespread political movement would benefit with Black religious buy-in.
In his book In a Shade of Blue, Eddie Glaude noted that the Black political imagination hadn’t progressed much past 1968 with the death of Martin Luther King, Jr. Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow PUSH coalition relied heavily on his association with King and even Barack Obama invoked “the Edmund Pettis bridge” whenever he could. At the risk of sounding ageist, when there are 80-year-old Black elected officials still occupying congressional seats whose only point of political reference is the “Edmund Pettis bridge,” the generational bridge to Black activists who are worried about police brutality, making rent, student loans and private prisons is too often a bridge too far. To make my point even more, many of today’s young Black activists weren’t even old enough to vote for Obama in 2012 and have no idea how upset Black folk were with George W. Bush in the aftermath of Katrina. Standing on platforms lecturing about “the Edmund Pettis bridge” is the equivalent to launching a lead balloon to see how high it will soar.
While I don’t see the “where are the Black leaders” narrative emerging the way it did pre-Obama, the “leaderless leadership” model of the early years of BLM were obviously not effective. While the George Floyd marches and deplatforming of Confederate statues no doubt did swing the election in favor of Joe Biden, I’d be hard-pressed to identify a political or policy win that emerged from BLM that does anything to prevent another unneeded Black death from happening again. Within our current political structure—a democratic republic— one way that the Black church can participate in the zeitgeist is by grooming grassroots candidates to run on strong social justice platforms. And let me be clear: the candidate does not have to be Black. Simply putting Black faces in white spaces does not automatically solve anything. Such thinking is “Edmund Pettis bridge” political imagination. Based on that thinking, in a city with a Black mayor, a Black police chief, a mostly Black city council, a Democratic governor and a Black president, Freddie Gray should not have died. Yet, his body lies in Woodlawn cemetery.
I perceive that the political role of the Black church moving forward in 2021 ought to be that of dismantling systems of oppression that directly disaffect Black folk. Anything short of that is merely a stopgap. A church can host all the coat drives, bookbag drives, back-to-school jamborees, marches against violence and candlelight vigils to the victims of gun violence it wants, but if individual churches banned together are not committed to defunding the systems of white supremacy, morally, they are no better than the so-called white evangelicals. Much of this work is passive. That is to say, a lot of it is messaging from pulpits and Sunday school classrooms about how to think better, but there are churches that have the resources to do more than just shout and dance on Sunday, and the impetus is certainly on them to lead by example.
When the Arkansas state legislature attempting to ban the teaching of African American history in response to the Biden administration’s dismantling of the 1776 commission, it becomes clear that state and local politics make a difference in the lives of everyday people. There is a fierce urgency for these things to be taking place now. The need for change is always now. And this isn’t just for congressional seats at the federal level, but also at the state and local level.
We need not ever forget that QAnon supporters stood in the U.S. Capitol and prayed to some god invoking Jesus’ name in the middle of an insurrection that threatened the lives of our elected officials. For those that stormed the Capitol building, I’m sure they felt that the last trump had sounded. Dozens of messianic white supremacists had “prophesied” that Trump would be re-elected to a second term. The reality of such a roorback came tumbling down on January 6th as Congress met to certify the electoral college votes: Joseph R. Biden was going to be the next president. Millions of white folks who call themselves Christian are grappling with the new reality that for once their whiteness didn’t have enough power to change the outcome. And least for those pensive enough, they are settling into the reality that their whiteness was the premier catalyst for the outcome being not in their favor.
Donald Trump is not the last trump. I hope he’s the last Trump we’ll ever see in office, but he is not the final harbinger for God’s great cosmic clean-up of the world. In fact, this may only be the first herald of what lies ahead. The parallels of the decade leading up to the American civil war are beginning to align themselves. Strong sectarianism over racial matters, civil unrest from Ferguson to George Floyd have replaced slave revolts and insurrections and Congress members showing up to sessions armed are just a few of those parallels from then to now. If not for events of January 6th at the U.S. Capitol, the wild ravings of Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene and the antics of Colorado Rep. Lauren Boebert could be discounted as wacky, but they speak to the neo-Confederate ideals that comprise Trumpism. True to form, Trump’s defeat is being idealized as the new Lost Cause. Such a school of thought is pseudo-historical and negationist at heart believing that Trump’s cause was a righteous one and morally sound. This is dangerous at best. Deadly, as we already know, at worst.
Simple calls for unity will not suffice when elected officials in the GOP operate from an alternative set of facts. The call for a third reconstruction by Rev. William J. Barber of the Poor People’s Campaign seems to be all the more poignant now than when he began the rallying cry in 2007 when the Democrats controlled both houses of Congress and the White House. This isn’t about political left and right, but about what’s right and what’s wrong. The GOP failing to denounce Reps. Greene and Boebert, let alone Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley, signify that while Trump is out of the White House and unable to tweet, his shadow still looms large in the party as the rest of America tries to grapple with the trail of political and moral destruction left in the wake of his presidency.
My hope is that progressives will seize the moment, regroup and emerge in the next political cycles as a force to be reckoned with. This looks like redefined political imagination that strikes a new and better deal for the underserved in America and one that eschews the failures of late-capitalism and neoliberalism that fundamentally don’t work for the broad swaths of the American electorate. I also hope that the American public realizes the power of their vote. I hope the record turn-out in the 2020 election repeats itself in upcoming state and local elections as well. I hope that we see Trump’s presidency as the first trump, not the last trump, as a call to action; a call to “We the People” working together to form a more perfect union.