Tag Archives: Dwight D. Eisenhower

Why Evangelicals Love Donald Trump

Possibly the most depressing thing I have ever read about the state of the evangelical church in years.

Kevin Kruse, a historian at Princeton University, has a theory: This is an echo of an old alliance between white, evangelical Protestants and the corporate world. In his book One Nation Under God, published last year, Kruse argues that business titans joined forces with ministers and pastors following the Great Depression, pushing back against the New Deal with a kind of “Christian libertarianism.” Later, Dwight Eisenhower took their arguments—that freedom from government is a necessary part of freedom under God—and transformed them into messages about America: “In God We Trust” was adopted as the national motto and added to U.S. currency, and “under God” was tacked onto the pledge of allegiance. In turn, Kruse argues, Nixon used the newly minted image of America as a “Christian nation” to justify many of his policies.

Perhaps a strain of “Christian libertarianism” is coming back in American politics, showing up in a push to have government “run like a business” and a sense of anxiety about individual religious liberty being trampled by changing social mores. Kruse and I spoke about the possible connection between Trump’s rise and this old strain of pro-individualism among some conservative Christians.

Here is some of what Kruse said in an interview with The Atlantic

The first strand is an old one. You can look at the way in which Christians, Protestants, have seen personal success as a sign of God’s work.

The real political linkage is one that comes about through these corporate leaders in the 1930s, who are looking for someone to push back against the New Deal. When their own efforts fall flat, they go looking for ministers to make the case for them. They come together around a common set of values: They see the New Deal and the labor unions’ power as forces of “pagan statism.” Through that common enemy, they make an argument that Christianity and capitalism are one and the same.

In my book, I talk about James Fifield, who argues quite explicitly that both the systems are based on individual salvation. In his telling, a good Christian goes to heaven; a bad one goes to hell. A good capitalist makes profit, a bad one goes to the poorhouse. In both systems, individuals rise on their own merits.

If you go back and look at the main libertarian thinkers from the 1930s on, religion doesn’t play a large role in their lives. Even some, like Ayn Rand, are atheists.

Christian libertarianism is an effort by ministers like Fifield or Vereide or even Billy Graham to appropriate classic libertarian arguments, which didn’t at all have to do with religion, and put a religious veneer on them to make them palatable for Americans. They reprint Hayek and von Mises and people like that who never would have made an argument in religious terms; they send them off to ministers and religious leaders. Christian libertarianism is essentially an effort to appropriate a political ideology that either had nothing at all to do with religion or was antithetical to religion and instead use it toward a set of ends that had a religious gloss to it.

Why did the U.S. invade Iraq?

It was hubris

So what’s the best explanation for why America invaded Iraq? Hubris born of success. From Panama to the Gulf War to Bosnia to Kosovo, America spent the decade preceding 9/11 intervening successfully overseas. As a result, elites in both parties lost the fear of war they felt after Vietnam. In 1988 Reagan had been so afraid of another Vietnam that he refused to send ground troops to Panama. In 1990 John McCain had responded to Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait by declaring, “If you get involved in a major ground war in the Saudi desert, I think [public] support will erode significantly … We cannot even contemplate, in my view, trading American blood for Iraqi blood.” In his emotional 1991 speech opposing the Gulf War, John Kerry had mentioned Vietnam 10 times. In his 2002 speech supporting the invasion of Iraq, by contrast, he mentioned Vietnam only once.

It wasn’t only military success that by 9/11 had eroded America’s caution. It was economic and ideological success, too. By 2001 the boom of the late 1990s had turned America’s budget deficit to surplus. For top Bush officials, the lesson was that just as America had overcome the deficits Reagan amassed while fighting the Cold War, America could easily overcome whatever temporary debt the Bushies incurred fighting the “war on terror.” As Dick Cheney declared during the run-up to Iraq, “Reagan proved deficits don’t matter.”

The final ingredient was ideological success. In the 1980s, before democratization swept across Eastern Europe, East Asia, and Latin America, prominent liberals and conservatives would have found the idea that democracy could take root in a country like Iraq utterly fanciful. As late as 1983, Irving Kristol, the “godfather” of neoconservatism, was writing that “the traditions—political, religious, cultural—that shape Latin American thinking and behavior are such as to make it exceedingly difficult for the countries of Southern America to proceed along the [democratic] lines followed by Northern America and Western Europe.” By 2001, however, “neoconservatism” had been redefined by ideological optimists like Paul Wolfowitz, Elliott Abrams, and Irving’s son, William, men shaped by the very democratic transformations that Irving Kristol had deemed impossible.

Obviously, it took 9/11 for the Bush administration to rally the public behind the Iraq war. But had the success of the 1990s not bred so much military, economic, and ideological overconfidence on both sides of the aisle, it’s unlikely they would have tried.

The key thing that has changed in the decade since America invaded Iraq is not Barack Obama’s election. It’s the collapse of American hubris. Far fewer people in either party now claim that America can easily topple and occupy distant lands. Far fewer believe we can conduct foreign policy as if “deficits don’t matter.” Far fewer believe that the peoples of the Middle East yearn for secular, liberal, pro-American democracies. That doesn’t mean the United States has stopped acting like a superpower. We’ve simply turned to methods that cost less money and fewer American lives.

It’s an old story. After Korea left the United States exhausted, Eisenhower told the CIA to overthrow leftist Third World governments because it could do so more cheaply than the Marines. When Richard Nixon could no longer sustain a large U.S. ground presence in Vietnam, he began bombing ferociously from the air. Now Obama has pulled U.S. ground troops from Iraq, is pulling them from Afghanistan, and is fighting al Qaeda with drones instead.

There’s nothing particularly glorious, or moral, about empire on the cheap. But at least war will no longer cost America so much money and so many young American lives. Maybe we’ve grown wiser over the last 10 years. Or maybe we’ve just lost the epic ambition that true tragedy requires.