Donald Trump may be the last person you’d expect to see as the leader of a theocratic movement. After all, the religious conservatives who swoon over Donald Trump have long struggled to justify their affection for a thrice-married, self-confessed sexual assaulter and casino owner who pays hush money to porn stars.
But two speeches given recently by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and, more notably, Attorney General William Barr, underscore just how much Trump has paved the way for a government based on a very specific (i.e., right wing) set of religious principles. And Trump, with his autocratic personality, is perfectly happy to give his conservative evangelical supporters veto power over democracy if it consolidates his own hold on office.
The more inflammatory of the two speeches was Barr’s. In an address last Friday at the University of Notre Dame Law School, the attorney general essentially declared that the purpose of the law was to enforce a very narrow set of religious beliefs.
Barr went on at length about how the Founding Fathers “believed that the Judeo-Christian moral system corresponds to the true nature of man.” (In fact, the nation’s founders often held much more complicated views about faith than Barr would allow.)
But just as ominously he talked about the role that natural law, which Barr defines as “a real, transcendent moral order which flows from God’s eternal law,” has in informing government. Natural law has been used to argue against LGBTQ rights for decades, on the grounds that who we are is against God’s plan. In fact, Trump has established a committee to promote just this very concept.
Barr then went on a tear against “militant secularists” who are using the law to force “irreligion and secular values… on people of faith.” Along the way he slammed school curricula promoting LGBTQ acceptance for being what “many feel is inconsistent with traditional Christian teaching.”
Barr’s speech presented a vision where government’s primary role is to promote a specific moral framework based on a certain brand of Christianity. That means putting the law into service for religious conservatives and quashing anyone who begs to differ (otherwise known as American citizens).
Keep in mind that Barr isn’t some random administration flunky. He is the chief legal officer of the United States, who is supposed to enforce the separation of church and state. Instead, he is saying the church – his church – and the state are inseparable.
Pompeo’s speech was less pugnacious, but equally disturbing. Pompeo spoke at length about his personal faith (nothing wrong with that) and the qualities of humility, forgiveness and dialogue (which are in short supply in the administration). But Pompeo also made a direct connection between his personal beliefs and government policy, largely by talking about how it benefits fellow Christians.
This is no surprise from a man who promised to fight marriage equality “until the Rapture.” Pompeo also had the speech, titled “Being a Christian,” posted on the State Department’s website.
Pompeo’s and Barr’s willingness to make faith a resume requirement for government service didn’t materialize overnight. For decades, there has been a train of thought among the far right that the U.S. government should be a theocracy.
Pseudo-historian David Barton is well respected in the GOP, even though he believes the U.S. should indeed by a theocracy. In essence, Barton is a Christian nationalist.
Of course, nationalism is the uniting thread between Trump and his evangelical base. Trump more usually frames nationalism in racial terms, but he’s happy to put his thumb on the scales to favor conservative Christians. His call to repeal the Johnson Amendment, which threatens churches that engage in political activity with loss of their tax-exempt status, is one example. The nominees that he’s chosen to pack the federal judiciary with is another.
In the end, Trump is animated more by power than by faith, by race more than by God. But fortunately for him, he’s found the overlap with a core group of supporters. It’s just unfortunate for everyone else.