A tweet about conservative Christians:
For those of you who have actual lives and don’t know what the Great David French Debate is, congratulations! Sadly, I do know, which says nothing good about the quality of my life. In the tiniest possible nutshell, it’s a debate about whether social conservatives should be nice people (like David French) or fire-breathing Torquemadas who understand just how bad things are and are willing to do what it takes to crush secular liberalism.
Now, this was all set off by one guy who used French as a stand-in for milquetoast social conservatism, so I’m not sure just how Great this debate really is. But it might be! I don’t know. It’s not as if I spend a ton of time paying attention to intra-troglodyte debate, after all.
Oddly, though, I think Yglesias’s position deserves some pushback—though not in a way that conservative Christians will like much. There are two reasons for this pushback. The first thing to understand is just how demoralized conservative and evangelical Christians felt in 2016. It started in the aughts; increased during Obama’s presidency; and culminated in Obergefell v. Hodges, the 2015 Supreme Court case that represented their final and utter defeat on the question of gay marriage. Like me, you probably think it was great that they were definitively routed on this issue, but it’s not hard to imagine how they felt: as if moral decay, after 50 years of steady ascension, had finally completed its nationwide victory. Even the sodomists had a grip on our kids now! And that wasn’t all. By 2016, three-quarters of Americans agreed that religion was losing influence. The evangelical share of the population had declined by a quarter. The fastest growing religious group was “none.”
In other words, from the point of view of evangelicals this really did look like a crisis. All their old warhorses were dead or close to it, and their new leaders were increasingly turning away from traditional moral hot buttons. There was no end in sight. Everywhere they looked, they were losing and the Great Liar was winning.
And then, out of nowhere, comes Donald Trump. Sure, he doesn’t seem like much of a churchgoer, and yes, he was a big-time playboy in the 80s. Still, in public he’s not just a Christian, he’s a muscular, Bible-thumping, hit-em-where-they-live Christian. He’s the kind of person—maybe the only kind of person—who can turn things around. Are you really going to let some womanizing get in the way of supporting him? Get real. This isn’t a game, after all.
And that brings us to the second reason for pushback: there’s nothing new here. Conservative Christian leaders have always tolerated womanizers. They’ve always supported overseas wars. They’ve always been xenophobic. They’ve always appealed to the wealthy. They’ve always admired strong-man politicians. They’ve alway turned a blind eye to hypocrisy in their personal lives. They’ve always been super-patriots. They’ve always disliked Muslims. They’ve always been mostly white. And at least since the Reagan era, they’ve tolerated divorce just fine.
As you probably see by now, this is a pretty mild pushback. If you want to think of evangelicals as hypocrites, that’s fine. But don’t think of them that way because of Donald Trump. He is practically the apotheosis of conservative Christianity in America, not some weird, blustering outlier. No one should be either surprised or shocked that they love him. In a crisis, he was inevitable.