It's certainly one of the iconic images from the early 2016 rallies that, to the shock of the all-wise politicos everywhere, helped push Citizen Donald Trump into the White House.
I am referring to the viral image at the top of this post, a picture -- with mocking variations -- that can be found all over the place in cyberspace.
What made this image so perfect? Perhaps it was something about the combination of reality-TV ecstasy on certain faces and that "Thank You Lord Jesus for President Trump" sign.
For many journalists it perfectly captured what they wanted to believe, which was that Trump was the official candidate of white evangelical Protestants. The most deplorable of the deplorables.
After the election, this simplistic view of the primaries evolved into a similar verdict on election 2016, which was that if you wanted to know who to blame (yes, yes, yes) for President Trump that would be angry white men in blue collars and/or white evangelicals. From a true-blue cultural perspective, what's the difference?
Actually, there are lots of differences. As one pollster told me, there's a big difference between Saturday night conservatives and Sunday morning conservatives. There are bar conservatives and church conservatives. In the primaries, the church crowd was really divided and highly conflicted, in terms of backing (to one degree or another) Trump. He had some key old-right religious backers, in the primaries, but there was zero evangelical unity.
This brings me to a stunningly simplistic essay in a source where you aren't supposed to find simplistic journalism -- The Economist. The headline: "Why evangelicals love Donald Trump."
So right there you have trouble. You know that this really means white evangelicals. Or how about Latino evangelicals, who may have given Trump Florida?
Never mind. Here's the overture:
MANY titles bestowed on Donald Trump -- from president to commander-in-chief -- are hard for non-supporters to digest. But the honorific that most puzzles the world, perhaps, is that bestowed by American conservatives who praise the swaggering, thrice-married tycoon as a man of God.
Expect that gulf of perception to grow still wider as Mr Trump embarks on his first presidential trip overseas on May 19th. ...
Sceptics have long suspected that conservative Christians -- and above all white evangelical Protestants, who are among his most loyal backers -- are embracing the president for a mix of reasons, including worldly politics and tribal loyalties. Opponents assume that is why pious followers overlook such Trumpian sins as pride, wrath and bearing false witness (or fibbing, to use a layman’s term). They note that when Jerry Falwell junior, head of Liberty University, a Christian college, called Mr Trump a “dream president”, he listed achievements that straddle the realms of God and man, from his appointment of a conservative Supreme Court justice, Neil Gorsuch, to his vocal support for Israel.
Now here comes the key summary statement, wisdom from nameless experts and a big statistic:
Some political scientists sound more like anthropologists than theologians when they dissect Mr Trump’s success with whites who call themselves evangelical Protestants and attend church regularly -- fully 80% of whom told a recent survey by the Pew Research Centre that they approve of his job performance. Those scholars note that for many whites, notably in small towns and rural areas, adhering to traditional Bible values and embracing a personal relationship with Jesus Christ -- to use one common definition of evangelical faith -- is another way of saying “I am an upstanding citizen”.
The big idea here is that the billionaire Trump has created a message that resonates with the "prosperity Gospel."
The prosperity Gospel, of course, is then supposed to resonate with white evangelicals. Except that it doesn't, at least not enough to affect an election. That's a message aimed at niche audiences and many of the most prominent prosperity Gospel preachers are African-Americans preaching to African-American flocks (a fact that is mentioned at the end of the essay).
But the big problem in this article, once again, is that it assumes that all, or even most, evangelicals who voted for Trump actually wanted to do so. They don't get the 50-50 split out there in conservative pews.
As I have said many times, I live in Bible Belt GOP territory (East Tennessee) and I have yet to meet an evangelical who had Trump at the top of his or her candidate list. Many actively opposed him. Yet I have only met one or two who didn't vote for Trump.
What was that mantra again? "I don't know what Trump will do. But I DO KNOW what Hillary Clinton will do."
Journalists! Please back up in time and read that pre-election Christianity Today piece that your GetReligionistas have been recommending FOR MONTHS. The double-decker headline:
With half of voters dissatisfied with both presidential candidates, white evangelicals primarily plan to oppose Clinton.
Now, go talk to lots of actual evangelicals. Ask if, other than the U.S. Supreme Court pick, they are actually pleased with Trump the man or Trump the president. While you're at it, ask if they would rather see @VP in the Oval Office.
Listen. Be prepared for some complex answers, answers way more nuanced than the prosperity Gospel.