The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion ‘Values’ voters are misnamed

"We respect our great American flag," President Trump said to cheers. (Video: The Washington Post, Photo: YURI GRIPAS/The Washington Post)

President Trump revels in the adoration of Christian conservatives, who remain among the most steadfast supporters of the thrice-married, frequently accused misogynist who evidences not a single Christian virtue (e.g. humility, honesty, empathy, kindness, generosity). Trump tells them simplistic applause lines — they can say “Merry Christmas!” — and they applaud. He has delivered for them, in the form of a Supreme Court justice appointment of their liking, a broad order to ban transgender people from the military and sweeping permission for employers to deny birth control as part of the health-care coverage they provide. Sure, he’s cruel to “dreamers” and indifferent to the health-care needs of Americans, but it is not as if “values voters” are politically influenced by concern for immigrants or the poor.

Former congresswoman Michele Bachmann, following up on remarks she made on Friday at the Values Voter Summit, called Trump a “man of faith.” That’s the fable these voters tell themselves and others so as maintain their air of self-righteousness. Trump, you see, is a God-fearing Christian who shares their determination to protect religion, which they actually believe is under attack in the United States. His overt behavior — his bullying, rudeness, nastiness, lying, excessive materialism (doesn’t want poor people in his Cabinet) and total lack of empathy — is ignored.

Revealing the depths of these voters’ hypocrisy, the summit also hosted Stephen K. Bannon, chairman of the self-described home of the alt-right, Breibart News. The invite prompted conservative David French to tweet: “Why is a Christian organization hosting this vile man?” He continued, “The alt-right launched racist attacks against my daughter. Steve Bannon said he gave the alt-right a platform. Why honor him? … The alt-right also made vile threats against a host of people who were your longtime friends and allies. Yet you chose to feature Bannon.” The answer is that the organizers traded political influence for defense of true religiosity; they celebrate anyone who wages the culture war on their behalf, a war based on resentment, anger, self-pity and dishonesty.

Meanwhile, Christian conservatives should know, as with anyone who sucks up to Trump, that he has nothing but contempt for their views, and for their darling Vice President Pence. The New Yorker reports:

A staff member from Trump’s campaign recalls him mocking Pence’s religiosity. He said that, when people met with Trump after stopping by Pence’s office, Trump would ask them, “Did Mike make you pray?” Two sources also recalled Trump needling Pence about his views on abortion and homosexuality. During a meeting with a legal scholar, Trump belittled Pence’s determination to overturn Roe v. Wade. The legal scholar had said that, if the Supreme Court did so, many states would likely legalize abortion on their own. “You see?” Trump asked Pence. “You’ve wasted all this time and energy on it, and it’s not going to end abortion anyway.” When the conversation turned to gay rights, Trump motioned toward Pence and joked, “Don’t ask that guy—he wants to hang them all!”

Mocking prayer? Denigrating the effort to overturn Roe v. Wade? They’d be horrified if a Democrat came close to that sort of conduct. Does Trump believe these things, or is he merely willing to humiliate a devout Christian for his faith?

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Trump knows that without the religious right, he’s politically dead. There is little likelihood that he will cross them on a policy issue of any importance. Like the National Rifle Association, the religious right made a pact with someone who never evidenced any concern for their issues. So far, the gamble has paid off for both. Trump and Republicans remain the NRA’s poodles; Trump delights in fighting the culture wars.

Christian conservatives should give up the ruse — they’ve made a bargain with the most irreligious and faithless president in history, a man who holds what they value in contempt. Their scam — that they and their candidates operate from some high, moral plane and are the true repositories of American values — should end with this president. They are nothing more and nothing less than an anti-abortion, anti-gay lobby group that seeks to enlist government to impose their ideological positions on others. In short, they are what their critics have always claimed.