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A King Cyrus President: How Donald Trump’s Presidency Reasserts Conservative Christians’ Right to Hegemony



Religious right leaders and voters in the United States supported Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential election for the same reason that all blocs vote as they do: They believed that the candidate offered them the best opportunity to protect and extend their power and create their preferred government. The puzzle of their support, then, is less why they chose Trump and more how they navigated the process of inserting Trump into their story of themselves as a “moral” majority. This self-understanding promotes and exploits feelings of entitlement, fear, resentment, and the desire to dominate to encourage political action. Because Trump’s speeches affirm these feelings, religious right voters were open to writing a plot twist in their story, casting Trump as a King Cyrus figure, as their champion if not a coreligionist. This article analyzes appeals to and expressions of entitlement, fear, resentment, and the desire to dominate from more than 60 sermons, speeches, and books by religious right authors, Donald Trump, and Trump surrogates. Using open coding, it identifies themes in how these emotions are recognized, affirmed, and invoked by speakers, focusing on Trump’s Cyrus effect.
A King Cyrus President:
How Donald Trump’s
Presidency Reasserts
Conservative Christians’
Right to Hegemony
Rebecca Barrett-Fox
Religious right leaders and voters in the United States supported Donald Trump in
the 2016 presidential election for the same reason that all blocs vote as they do:
They believed that the candidate offered them the best opportunity to protect and
extend their power and create their preferred government. The puzzle of their
support, then, is less why they chose Trump and more how they navigated the
process of inserting Trump into their story of themselves as a “moral” majority. This
self-understanding promotes and exploits feelings of entitlement, fear, resentment,
and the desire to dominate to encourage political action. Because Trump’s speeches
affirm these feelings, religious right voters were open to writing a plot twist in their
story, casting Trump as a King Cyrus figure, as their champion if not a coreligionist.
This article analyzes appeals to and expressions of entitlement, fear, resentment, and
the desire to dominate from more than 60 sermons, speeches, and books by reli-
gious right authors, Donald Trump, and Trump surrogates. Using open coding, it
identifies themes in how these emotions are recognized, affirmed, and invoked by
speakers, focusing on Trump’s Cyrus effect.
Department of Criminology, Sociology, and Geography, Arkansas State University, Jonesboro, AR, USA
Corresponding Author:
Rebecca Barrett-Fox, Department of Criminology, Sociology, and Geography, Arkansas State University,
Jonesboro, AR 72467, USA.
Humanity & Society
2018, Vol. 42(4) 502-522
ªThe Author(s) 2018
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/0160597618802644
Trump, 2016 presidential election, white evangelicals, Christian Right
Personal Reflexive Statement
Like many scholars of right-wing religion in the United States, my interest in the
topic is personal: Many people I care about are true believers. My scholarship on
the intersection of religion and politics is thus inspired, in part, by my desire to
understand people in my own community better and, in turn, for participants in this
culture to understand themselves better. I continue to have hope in a self-saving
republic and think that American churches could, if they chose, be part of that effort
rather than supporters of the antidemocratic forces currently threatening the
nation’s best traditions and most important promises.
On July 1, 2017, the 500-voice choir of First Baptist Dallas led the Celebrate
Freedom Concert at the Kennedy Center in the U.S. capitol. Free and open to the
public, the concert of patriotic music and preaching from the megachurch’s lead
pastor, Dr. Robert Jeffress, was the culmination of a week of events, including a
Bible study with Congressional staffers, meetings with members of Congress, and a
tour of Washington, DC, that placed important historical locations and events within
a mythic vision of the nation’s “Judeo-Christian foundation.” According to promo-
tional material by Daystar television network, the sold-out concert honored “the
price paid by America’s veterans to secure liberty and justice for all.” It also paid
homage to President Donald Trump, not yet six months in office. Indeed, said
Jeffress, the event was possible only because of the president. In promoting the
event on the church’s website, the pastor praised the 45th president, saying he was
“grateful that President Trump has created an atmosphere in which Evangelical
Christians feel at home once again in our nation’s capitol.” Jeffress captured many
white conservative Christians’ desperate feelings about the 2016 election when he
introduced the president to the concert audience. “Millions of Americans,” he stated,
believe that the surprising election results “represented God giving us our next
chance, perhaps our last chance, to make America great again.” Indeed, enthusiasm
for the president’s catchphrase was so strong that evening that the church’s choir
delivered a hymn-like song titled “Make America Great Again” to cheers and heart-
felt tears.
Many familiar with the close relationship between conservative Christianity and
the Republican Party found the spectacle bewildering, but it was part of a much
longer romance between the nation’s most politically significant religious group and
the profane president. Exit polls on election night showed very strong support for
Trump from white evangelical Christians, with between 75 percent and 81 percent of
voters who identified this way voting for him, higher than the numbers for any recent
Barrett-Fox 503
Republican presidential nominee (Ansolabehere and Schaffner 2017; Smith and
Martı´nez 2016). Throughout his presidency to date, Mormons, white evangelicals,
and white Catholics were the only religious groups in which a majority of voters
approved of the president’s performance (Newport 2018; Smith 2017), and the
feelings of affection are mutual, with the president frequently speaking with, to,
and about conservative white Christians. It is a relationship that puzzles many,
angers some, and proves, for others, that conservative Christians are hypocrites.
Trump, after all, is a thrice-married, serially unfaithful casino developer who has
promoted pornography. As an unchurched “Bible illiterate,” to use a phrase that
evangelicals invoke to describe those unfamiliar with the Christian Scriptures, he
has said that the sacred elements of communion are just “my little wine” and “my
little cracker” (Serfaty 2015). The most important church experience of his life was
likely meeting his second wife, Marla Maples, at Marble Collegiate Church in New
York City for romantic rendezvous (Barron 2016).
Not all conservative white Christians support the president, of course. Significant
voices, especially among the Southern Baptist Convention, the nation’s largest
Protestant group, offered quick and consistent criticism of him as a choice for
faithful voters (Moody 2017; Moore 2015). The 38.6 percent of eligible voters who
abstained from voting likely included some conservative Christians (File 2017).
Moreover, approximately 19 percent of evangelicals are black (Cox and Jones
2017), and they overwhelmingly voted for Clinton (Smith and Martı´nez 2016).
Finally, “negative voting”—selecting a candidate based on opposition to their oppo-
nent—was predicted to be very high (Geiger 2016).
The 68 percent of registered Republicans who identify as white evangelicals (Pew
Research Center 2015) turned out in record numbers during the 2016 primary
(Hirschkorn and Pinto 2016). Although many white evangelicals opposed Trump
(Chideya 2016) early in the primary, he handily defeated his primary opponents in a
highly divided field. This include those who more clearly expressed religious right
values: Former pastor Mike Huckabee and Seventh Day Adventist Ben Carson,
whose religious memoir is a bestseller, dropped out early for lack of support, and
Ted Cruz, himself the son of an evangelist, won just seven states in the primary.
Although churchgoing white evangelical primary voters were initially among the
most skeptical of Trump (Pew Research Center 2016b), by the time of the general
election, they were even more supportive of him than non-church-going voters
(Smith 2016). Seven months prior to the Republican convention, the majority of
white evangelicals felt that Trump would make a “good” or “great” President (Pew
Research Center 2016a), suggesting that support for him was not merely due to a
crowded primary field or an example of white evangelicals “holding their noses and
voting” but actual approval of him. In sum, neither opposition to Clinton nor social
identification with the Republican Party (Jelen and Wald 2018) can explain why 40
percent of conservative white Christians supported Trump in the primary (NBC Exit
Poll Desk 2016), when they had other options, or why they continue to express
approval of him. Given their initial hesitation, their eventual enthusiasm is
504 Humanity & Society 42(4)
remarkable and suggests a shift not in Trump’s performance of morality but in white
evangelicals’ ability to identify with him politically, without them seeing him as one
of them.
This article argues that the religious right—a loose coalition of predominantly
white Protestants who are socially and politically conservative, along with like-
minded Catholics, Mormons, and Jews—invokes feelings of entitlement, fear,
resentment, and the desire to dominate as they construct a vision of America as a
fallen nation that has succumbed to the various forms of wickedness encouraged by
liberal politics. By moving the nation back, politically and socially, to how they
imagine it was during a time when they envision that God protected and fostered it,
conservative Christian voters hope to again trigger God’s blessing. In this plan,
making America “great again,” as Donald Trump promises to do as president, begins
with Christian hegemony, which they believe will naturally and supernaturally yield
prosperity, military victory, and social stability. However, selecting Trump required
a negotiation of their identity as the moral guides of the United States. Because
Trump’s speeches to and about conservative believers affirm the feelings that under-
gird that sense of self, though, religious right voters were open to writing a plot twist
in their story of themselves—specifically, casting Trump as a King Cyrus figure who
would champion them without having to ever share their religious beliefs or prac-
tices. This article analyzes appeals to and expressions of entitlement, fear, resent-
ment, and the desire to dominate from more than 60 sermons, radio broadcasts,
speeches, and books by religious right authors or Donald Trump or Trump surrogates
to understand how religious right voters who chose Trump used emotion to address
the “special challenge” he posed to them (Rozell 2018:3).
This article draws upon key texts from 2015 to 2018 in which Christian speakers
and authors discuss the relationship between the U.S. government and their faith and
recordings, transcripts, or reports of 20 speeches that Donald Trump, as candidate or
president, gave to conservative Christian audiences. Speakers and authors include
Robert Jeffress, Franklin Graham, Jerry Falwell, Jr., Tony Perkins, Bryan Fischer,
and others familiar to conservative evangelicals as well as charismatic Christians
Paula White Cain, a proponent of the prosperity gospel and one of Trump’s spiritual
advisors, and Lance Wallnau, who is credited with providing a Biblical narrative that
made sense of the Trump presidency for religious conservatives. Sources are ana-
lyzed using open coding to identify the emotions that support Christian nationalism
and the theology that justifies enthusiastic support for Donald Trump. While other
nationalist movements also invoke an imagined past to justify conservative policies
(and nationalism is often driven by concerns about both race and religion [Blum
2005]), American Christian nationalists have a unique understanding of American
history as God-ordained. Because Christianity is still often seen as a positive force in
U.S. politics by Americans, with 75 percent of those polled by Gallup (2018) saying
that the nation would benefit if more people were religious, appeals rooted in
religious rhetoric resonate with audiences in a way that more secular appeals to
nationalism may not.
Barrett-Fox 505
Feeling the religious right
While the Celebrate Freedom Concert was a spectacular invocation of pride in the
ways that America was blessed by God because of the faithfulness of the nation’s
Christians, feelings of pride—and fear—are cultivated in humbler Sunday sermons
and Bible studies; on Christian radio programs, blogs, and YouTube channels; in
Christian college courses; and via historical and ecological tours of the United States
that stress God’s hand in its creation. To believers, God has inserted America into
the story of the Bible, between the formation of the early church described in the
Christian New Testament and the coming End Times described in Revelation, its last
book. Debates about the United States’ role in the end of the world have risen and
fallen in popularity (Sutton 2014), but religious right Christians are relatively con-
sistent about their faith’s influence on the nation: The United States was founded as a
Christian nation but has strayed from this foundation, risking, as a result, God’s
special protection on the country. Only a full restoration of Christianity as a hege-
monic force can insure the U.S. lives out its promise of greatness.
Entitlement: The United States as a Christian Nation
Christian nationalism is not a new idea, nor are conservative Christians the only ones
who have deployed it (Haselby 2015). However, since World War II, it has been
used most effectively by conservative Christians to argue that the American colonies
and the new nation were purposively, fundamentally Christian. For scholars, it is a
“discursive site where politics and history meet” and “where assertions of identity
and power are conjoined” (Edwards 2017:1). For conservative Christians, it is a
historical fact, one they can prove through the work of pseudo-historians such as
David Barton, who has written more than a dozen books arguing that the founders
were Christians building a nation founded on Christianity and for Christians
(Barrett-Fox 2017).
In this view, God’s plan for America was to make it prosperous, spreading
Christianity and freedom across the globe. This history is retold in various ways
in conservative Christian preaching and media. For example, in 1977, the year of the
American bicentennial, renowned Presbyterian Minister Peter Marshall and coau-
thor David Manuel released The Light and the Glory, which tells the story of
America from the arrival of Columbus to the Revolution, interpreting historical
events through a religious lens that sees national successes as evidence of God’s
approval and failures as evidence of the colonists’ failure to seek God’s counsel.
Throughout the book and its two sequels, which follows U.S. history up to the Civil
War, the authors invite readers to respond with an enthusiastic “yes” to the question
that they open the series with: “Could it be that we Americans, as a people, were
meant to be a ‘light to lighten the Gentiles’ (Luke 2:32)—a demonstration to the
world of how God intended His children to live together under the Lordship of
Christ?” (p. 19). Like John Winthrop encouraging the Puritans aboard the Arbella
506 Humanity & Society 42(4)
before they disembarked in New England, Marshall and Manuel constructed Amer-
ica as an experiment in obedience to God.
The religious right continue to promote this mythic vision of America, expanding
the notion to a “Judeo-Christian heritage” in the 1980s as a “political profession of
faith” (Silk 1984:84) in order to situate American history, law, and government in
the context of the Bible rather than the Enlightenment or English common law
(Hartmann, Zhang, and Wischstadt 2009; Hudson 2016). Individual liberty and
conscience are less important, in this frame, than is the nation’s adherence to
“Biblical morality.” Or, as Franklin Graham said on the January 20, 2018, episode
of MSNBC’s Weekends with Alex Witt in his defense of Donald Trump when rumors
of an extramarital affair between the president and pornographic actress Stormy
Daniels began to circulate, “Our country’s got a sin problem, and I believe if these
politicians in Washington would recognize the moral failure of so many of their
policies, that maybe we could fix it.” Graham, like other defenders of President
Trump, shifts attention from the moral failure of the president to the moral failure of
politically liberal or progressive policies, which, in his view, have taken the nation
farther from God’s standard.
Because they hold that the United States was founded as a Christian nation, by
Christian people, and for the purpose of showing the rest of the world how blessed a
nation can be if it is governed by the rules of the Bible, as understood by conser-
vative Protestants, religious right Christians feel entitled to controlling the nation to
ensure that it continues on this path—and to the best blessings God provides in this
transactional human–divine relationship, including positions of leadership and
power. The fight for the nation’s heritage to be a “Judeo-Christian” one, then, is
not about history but about the present and future; it seeks to answer the question of
who is entitled to power and, even more basically, who deserves to be part of the
nation, for, like other conservative movements, adherents are “motivated by a desire
to maintain the advantages they hold or once held, advantages that are or were
isolated to their particular group to which they belong” (Dietrich 2014:4). For
religious right Christians, only by maintaining the values of white conservative
Christianity, narrowing “access to privileges” to those who adhere to its vision
(Dietrich 2014:40), and affording it a special place of honor in the American culture
can America’s exceptionalism be preserved. “Christian nationalism,” conclude
Whitehead, Perry, and Baker (2018) in their quantitative study of voting patterns
in the 2016 election, “provides a metanarrative for a religiously distinct national
identity, and Americans who embrace this narrative and perceive threats to that
identity overwhelmingly voted for Trump” (p. 165).
Fear: American Declension
American preachers have been warning that America is going to hell since coloniza-
tion. Two hundred years after the founding, Marshall and Manuel (1977) noted
military failure in Vietnam, declining trust in government and institutions, changes
Barrett-Fox 507
in gender roles and family structures, and sexual immorality and wondered, thinking
back to what they knew to be God’s plan for the nation, “Was our vast divergence
from this blueprint, after such a promising beginning, the reason why we now seem
to be heading into a new dark age?” (p. 19). Their worries, though not new, resonated
during a period of conservative backlash as Nixon’s silent majority pushed through
policies that sought to undermine progressive politics seen as at odds with “Biblical”
morality and have remained salient for religious right voters ever since.
Fear of a nation in decline is a powerful motivator. Even Donald Trump’s pre-
sidency, Rev. Jeffress reminded the Celebrate Freedom crowd, was “perhaps our last
chance.” As he did with ancient Israel, religious right pastors preach, God has
entered a covenant with the United States, and, like that ancient nation, America
today frequently turns its back on God. Just as God would eventually grow weary of
Israel’s collective sin, he may one day find America’s rejection of him to go too far,
prompting him to withdraw his “veil of protection,” as Jerry Falwell, Sr., explained
the September 11, 2001, attacks (CNN 2001), leaving the United States open to
military defeat, terrorism, economic failure, the corruption of its democracy, and
even civil war. “[N]ostalgia,” notes Braunstein (2017), “is a common response to the
perceived or anticipated decline in ...status” (p. 80), so it is not surprising that a
desire for an imagined past is one way to resolve the religious right fear of the future.
Fear is not just an emotional response to entitlement, though; it also fosters entitle-
ment, for it reminds religious right believers that they must return to the past in order
to be assured about the future. The religious right can, its leaders argue, execute that
return by dominating those who have drawn the nation away from God.
Resentment and the Desire to Dominate: The Restoration of Christianity
as a Hegemonic Force
Religious right adherents express notable resentment for those they see as giving
them cause to fear for America’s future. Like other conservatives, they are partic-
ularly suspicious of those they consider “elites”: the well-educated who they suspect
look down upon believers (Williamson and Yancey 2015) and urbanites who they
feel mock rural America (Cramer 2016). Although much of America’s Islamophobia
comes out of its religious right organizations (Johnston 2016), as does its homo-
phobia (Barrett-Fox 2016; Burack 2014) and white evangelicals are among the most
anti-refugee Americans (Hartig 2018), those in the religious right resent being called
bigoted toward Muslims; lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queerþpeople; or
refugees and immigrants (Davis 2012). They both act with political hostility toward
them and are frustrated at being called racist, homophobic, and xenophobic. In this
way, vulnerable populations are resented by the religious right first for their role in
risking America’s pact with God and again for “making” the religious right look
hateful to those with a more multicultural vision of America. They feel “both
victimised by others and superior to them,” “humiliated by their presumed inferiors”
(Kalish and Kimmel 2010:459). When entitlement and resentment are combined,
508 Humanity & Society 42(4)
they can even justify revenge (Connolly 2008:52), and so the concept of ressenti-
ment—“an affectively charged desire for revenge that involves the belief that some-
one or other is responsible for the suffering that causes it” discharged “in order to
acquire a feeling of power”—may be the best language to capture this feeling (Elgat
In this view, rooting policy and law in Christianity—as defined by religious right
Protestantism—is a sensible option, first, because God blesses only Christian nations
and, second, because “God’s laws” naturally produce the best outcomes. Religious
right lawmakers can invoke religious justification for laws because, they argue,
God’s laws are not arbitrary but practical. In the process, though, the desire to
dominate—to reassert power to which they are entitled—is met. Conservative Chris-
tians feel entitled to use the law to enforce their particular understandings of Scrip-
ture—which consistently affirm conservative politics—because they believe in a
history in which those peoples who followed God’s laws flourished. That history
is both Biblical, with the nation of Israel rising and falling as it followed and then
abandoned God, and American. Using the law this way will consistently affirm
conservative politics. For example, in June 2018, Attorney General Jeff Sessions
invoked a passage from Romans 13 to justify separating immigrant parents and
children at the U.S. border, an understanding of Scripture that press secretary Sarah
Huckabee Sanders later affirmed. Both argued that Christian Scriptures instruct
believers to obey their government and that lawlessness—such as undocumented
immigration—rather than removing children from the care of their parents was the
sin. Sessions cited specific Christian Scripture, while Sanders argued that Paul’s
advice to Roman Christians to obey the law naturally yielded a more functional
society, regardless of whether one was a Christian. In the end, though, both were
arguing for an anti-immigration position that targets people religious right adherents
see as threats to the nation (Butler 2018; Mullen 2018).
Different varieties of Christian nationalism take different approaches in asserting
Christian authority. “Softer” approaches (Ingersoll 2015) argue that it is not neces-
sary to achieve a theocratic state in order to promote “Judeo-Christian values that
benefit all of America” (Gagnon and Humphrey 2016, para. 14). One way this can be
done is simply by having more conservative Christians in influential roles. For
example, the seven mountain (7-M) mandate, a term coined by Charismatic evange-
lists Lance Wallnau and Bill Johnson (2013), posits that Christians must take over
seven “mountains” of culture—arts and entertainment, business, education, family,
government, media, and religion—to become power brokers in these areas. While
dedicated 7-M believers say that Christians must do this to usher in the return of
Jesus, a belief in the need for Christians to control government in particular has
extended beyond its origins in Pentecostal and Charismatic circles without requiring
more traditional conservative Christians to believe its End Times teachings.
But it has proven difficult to place conservative Christians in political power. No
evangelical or born-again Christian has ever sat on the Supreme Court, though some
of its Catholic Justices have been social conservatives. Only one president—George
Barrett-Fox 509
W. Bush—can be credibly called a conservative evangelical, and he won only
through the countermajoritarian efforts of the Supreme Court and electoral college.
Yet, even without reaching the peak of the “7-Ms,” conservative Christians have
significant power in shaping law and policy. Conservative Christians can do this,
writes Wallnau in the 2016 God’s Chaos Candidate, which lays out his prophetic
vision of a Trump candidacy and presidency, if they will, according to promotional
materials for the book, “take [their] place in helping America fulfill her unfinished
assignment.” They can do this by supporting candidates who might not be perfect
Christians but who will nonetheless do the work that conservative Christians want
done. After all, argued Jeffress in a defense of Trump,
we don’t elect presidents on the basis of whether or not they’re role models .... I might
not select him to be a children’s Sunday School teacher. But that’s not what we were
electing President Trump to do. We were electing him to be commander in chief and
the leader of our country. I think he’s doing a fantastic job at that. (Green 2017)
when efficacy, not morality, is the measure of the president, Donald Trump can be
viewed as being “single-handedly ...responsible for giving the American people
hope,” as Christian radio host Bryan Fischer said on his July 20, 2017, Focal Point
Trump may be an unusual choice for God to work through, but that is just what is
happening, according to this vision. Wallnau (2016) writes:
Because we have not engaged our primary assignment of discipling our own nation,
God is doing something that none of us expected. God continues to walk with a nation
that once knew Him, but now disregards Him. Yet, God’s unique assignment for the
United States is revealed by Him choosing a man that does not know Him, to meet Him,
in the crucible of the calling to serve America. (P. 15)
Wallnau’s words appeal to the feelings invoked in the texts analyzed in this
research: religious right adherents’ entitlement to privilege based on their special
role as defender of the nation, fear that the people’s collective failure to honor that
relationship could have destroyed the nation, resentment of those such Christians
have failed to “discipline,” and an embrace of the desire to dominate—through
Donald Trump’s appointment as president—so the nation can be restored and, along
the way, so can religious right Christians.
Donald Trump as Cyrus the Great
As Donald Trump rose as a candidate, religious right Christians struggled to insert
him into their narrative of a Christian America. He espoused nationalist arguments
but not overtly Christian ones. He sought to invoke fear of American declension, the
nation ruined by immigrants, terrorists, high taxation, and government regulation,
510 Humanity & Society 42(4)
but this ruin was not explicitly due to God’s displeasure or Americans’ collective
failure to reject sin. He encouraged resentment of some of the same targets that
religious right Christians felt resentment for—Muslims, feminists, queer people,
immigrants, “multiculturalists,” political liberals and progressives, and everyone
else who was sapping the power of religious right Christians, either by changes to
the law or demographic shifts—but his resentment was not justified by Scripture.
Trump did not seem to fear God—indeed, he famously said he had no need for God’s
forgiveness (Scott 2015)—but instead targeted nonwhites and non-Americans as the
people white Americans should be afraid of, something many white evangelicals
clearly felt (Sides 2017) but that could not be worked into their public story of
evangelical Christianity as welcoming to people of color (Robertson 2018). They
mostly responded by ignoring or dismissing Trump’s racism or framing his com-
ments as being about illegality (whether undocumented immigration or crime) rather
than race and refocusing on his promise to restore them to power.
Other Republican primary candidates made the same promise that, if elected,
religious right Christians would again exercise the power they felt they had been
losing, relieving their fears and asserting themselves over those they resented, and
they did so using language familiar to religious right voters. Yet they were crushed in
the primary election by Trump. In the process, religious right leaders had to make a
way for Trump, who was appealing to the emotions they had long been encouraging
their listeners to feel, to enter their story and resolve it satisfactorily, something that
Episcopal John McCain and Mormon Mitt Romney, who lost the general elections in
2008 and 2012, had failed to do.
It was a momentarily difficult task. Trump was not “a man after God’s own heart”
(1st Samuel 8:14) like King David (Hemingway 2016), despite some early efforts by
Jerry Falwell, Jr., to paint him this way (Rodriguez 2016). Although a strongman
like Samson in Judges 13–16 (Boys 2015), he was not dedicated to God, and, unlike
Jehu in 2 Kings 9 (Dozier 2015), he could make no claim to be called by God. Like
Queen Esther, he might be placed in a position of power, but he did not identify with
persecuted Christians (White Cain 2017). Soon, Wallnau (2016), in a widely read
essay titled “Why I Believe Trump is the Prophesied President,” proposed a different
figure: King Cyrus, referenced in 2 Chronicles 36:22–23; Ezra 1–6; Isaiah 44:28 and
45:1,13; and Daniel 1:21, 6:28, and 10:1.
Cyrus is not a hero of the Jewish or Christian faith per se, though the Persian king
is a hero to them. According to the Hebrew Bible, the nation of Israel cycled through
a series of shorter and longer term kings before splitting into northern and southern
kingdoms. The northern kingdom was eventually conquered by Assyria, resulting in
the exile of the Jewish people, and 135 or so years later, in 587 or 586 BCE, the
southern kingdom was taken by Babylon. Israel as a state was no more, the Jewish
people were dispersed, and the sacred landscape of their faith was lost to them. Then,
in 539 BCE, Cyrus the Great radically altered their situation. The Persian king
allowed more than 400,000 Jewish people to return to their homeland to establish
Barrett-Fox 511
a theocratic state, still tied politically to Persia and without its own king. For Jews in
diaspora, the return allowed them to rebuild the temple. The faith was reawakened.
For those searching to explain how God could call (and demand voters support) a
man like Trump without dismissing the feelings of entitlement, fear, and ressenti-
ment that have long propelled religious right activity, the Cyrus story was the
answer. Both Cyrus and Trump are outsiders to the people they “alone” promised
to save (Trump 2016). Cyrus was not a Jew, and Trump is not a conservative
Christian. Cyrus did not save the Jews because he cared about Jews in particular
as much as he practiced “enlightened colonialism” and may have wanted a protec-
tive buffer of subjects between Babylon and the Egyptian border (Cohen 2008:23).
Likewise, Trump’s relationship with conservative Christians is highly transactional:
votes in exchange for political power or at least for a sense of continued cultural and
political importance despite a demographic decline. The salvation Cyrus delivered
was a side effect of his desire to expand his own power. The glory that Trump
promises Christian voters—the glory that only he can restore to them, he says—is
not a result of his love for them or for God; it’s their reward for giving him power. In
accepting his nomination at the Republican Convention in July 2016, Trump recog-
nized this, saying:
At this moment, I would like to thank the evangelical and religious community
because ...the support they’ve given me ...has been so amazing. And has had such
a big reason for me being here tonight. True. So true. They have so much to contribute
to our politics, yet our laws prevent you from speaking your minds from your own
pulpits .... Their voice has been taken away.
Here, Trump refers to the Johnson Amendment, a 1954 tax code provision pro-
hibiting nonprofits, including churches, from endorsing political candidates, but the
sentiment—that conservative Christians have been marginalized—is invoked fre-
quently in texts by Trump and by conservative Christians. He affirms, in this speech,
feelings of entitlement and resentment among religious right Christians, saying that
they had lost power (“voice has been taken away”) they deserved, deserved because
of their contribution to the United States’ political history. He pinpoints blame on
“the law,” those establishment politicians, which he reminded his audience, he is
decidedly not. If they could insert him into their story, he could restore the power to
which they were entitled, easing their fears about the future of the nation but also—
and perhaps as importantly—neutralizing the people they resented for their loss of
power. If, after all, he could do it to a political establishment hostile to their faith (as
symbolized in the Johnson Amendment), he could do it to Muslims, feminists, gay
rights activists, and others viewed as threats.
Some religious right leaders were clear-eyed about the exchange they made. Tony
Perkins, leader of Family Research Council, expressed concern about Trump’s sex-
ual behaviors but consistently argued that Trump was the candidate to best promote
the “family values” group’s interests; conservative Christians, explained Perkins in
512 Humanity & Society 42(4)
an interview with Politico, are “tired of being kicked around by Barack Obama and
his leftists.” Donald Trump is (like David, like Samson) their champion. They look
to Trump and feel “glad that there’s somebody on the playground that is willing to
punch the bully,” in Perkins’ words (Dovere 2018). Jerry Falwell, Jr., willingly
posed with Trump in front of framed copy of Playboy featuring Trump on its cover
and shared the image on Twitter
because he believed that Trump would listen to
conservative Christian concerns (Gryboski 2016). Even as the Stormy Daniel’s
scandal widened from marital infidelity to the illegal use of campaign contributions
to pay the actress for signing a nondisclosure agreement (Common Cause 2018),
Robert Jeffress took to Fox News to explain how evangelicals believe in both
morality and a president who lacks it, explaining on March 8, 2018, that
“Evangelicals still believe in the commandment: Thou shalt not have sex with a
porn star .... However, whether this president violated that commandment or not is
totally irrelevant to our support of him.” Trump could still count on evangelical
support, he said, because they chose him not for his moral uprightness but for “his
policies and his strong leadership.”
To date, Trump has had mixed success implementing religious right policies. He
has appointed a social conservative, Neil Gorsuch, to the Supreme Court and is set to
appoint a second and has placed religious conservatives such as Ben Carson and
Betsy DeVos in cabinet positions, where they have crafted some policies that please
conservative Christians, such as the repeal of the Affordable Care Act’s birth control
mandate. However, he has not yet done away with the Johnson Amendment, rid the
nation of Obamacare, or defunded Planned Parenthood. Conservative Christians
may still consider him a success, though, because their goal was not necessarily
securing specific policies, including making abortion illegal (Smietana 2016).
Indeed, Trump as a candidate made relatively few policy promises specifically to
Instead, he appealed to their sense of entitlement, their feelings of fear, their
resentment of the loss of hegemonic power and their resentment of those they see
as responsible for that loss, and their desire to dominate. “Your values of love,
charity, and faith built this nation,” Trump asked the audience at the September
2016 Values Voters conference, framing their Christianity as a force for social good
and appealing to audience members’ senses of self as noble. “So how can it be that
our media [and Democrats] treats people of faith so poorly?” He then promised them
that their honor would be restored:
Let me say this right up front: A Trump administration, our Christian heritage will be
cherished, protected, defended, like you’ve never seen before. Believe me. I believe it.
And you believe it. And you know it. You know it .... Remember, remember.
He repeated this promise in his campaign speeches and public talks to conserva-
tive Christians since then: Donald Trump is committed to forcing homage to the
nation’s “Judeo-Christian heritage.” He promised during the campaign that “[i]f I
Barrett-Fox 513
become president, we’re going to be saying ‘Merry Christmas’ at every store” and it
will be “Merry Christmas all the time” (CNN 2017). While a president cannot, in
fact, issue an executive order demanding that all store clerks share a cheery “Merry
Christmas” with every customer, conservative Christians were not seeking an actual
law; what they so enthusiastically responded to in Trump’s words was that they
would be so important that even non-Christians would be forced to bend to their
traditions. Indeed, the pettier the tradition—such as acknowledging a Christian
holiday in a commercial setting—the greater it serves as evidence that Christians
are being respected once again. The power to which they were entitled—even the
power to dictate holiday greetings—could now be exercised over those who had
previously refused to honor them.
Like religious right leaders, Trump has deliberately fostered a sense of conser-
vative Christians as under siege. They may be entitled to controlling the culture
because of their great contributions to it, but they have not been treated this way.
“[A]ll of your leaders,” Trump told a June 2016 meeting of religious right pastors,
“are selling Christianity down the tubes, selling the evangelicals down the tubes, and
it is a very, very bad thing that is happening” (Farley 2016). His audience shared his
fear of a loss of power, and they could point to any number of laws—like the
Johnson Amendment or the Affordable Care Act or Obergefell v. Hodges, the 2015
Supreme Court case that legalized same-sex marriage—as evidence that the political
establishment has it out for them. Even previous Republican presidents, such as
George W. Bush and Ronald Reagan, had failed to deliver the policies that conser-
vative Christians wanted, despite their high rate of support for these presidents. If
Trump likewise fails to deliver policies, he can at least provide them with a sense of
importance by recognizing them as victims of persecution.
But Trump does more than just affirm religious right Christians’ “rhetoric of
victimage” (Engels 2015). He also fosters their belief that they alone can save the
nation by transforming their beliefs into laws. Speaking to the 2017 graduating class
at Jerry Falwell, Jr.,’s Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia, he encouraged the
crowd to ignore those with political differences:
A small group of failed voices who think they know everything and understand every-
one want to tell everybody else how to live and what to do and how to think, but you
aren’t going to let other people tell you what you believe, especially when you know
that you are right. (Trump 2017a, 2017b)
Here, Trump alludes to both the Clinton campaign and to cultural elites—polit-
ical liberals/progressives, people who believe in political correctness and multicul-
turalism, intellectuals, and those with global experiences and a broad view of the
world—as “failed voices.” His comment that graduates will not allow others to tell
them “how to think” is a direct response to criticism that university professors raised
when Secretary of Education DeVos (2017) accused them of telling students “what
to do, what to say, and more ominously, what to think.” In short, he invokes invisible
514 Humanity & Society 42(4)
enemies, reminding students that they have many people to fear. However, he rallies
them, “when you know that you are right,” you can ignore the input of others. The
speech defends unilateralism and the imposition of one’s personal beliefs—in this
case, the beliefs of the largest conservative Protestant university in the United
States—on the majority by arguing that rightness is more important than either
expertise (“think they know everything”) or even representative democracy (“think
they ...understand everyone”). The speech gives conservative Christians approval
to save the nation through Christian nationalism.
As a King Cyrus figure, Trump does not need to do more than this to protect his
support from conservative Christians, and his lack of faith protects him from charges
of hypocrisy; indeed, viewing Trump as an outsider to the religious right moral
community inhibits negative feelings, such as moral disgust, indignation, and even
contempt that might otherwise undermine acceptance of him. Conservative Chris-
tians like Jeffress can continue to dismiss Trump’s immoral behavior because, after
all, they did not elect him to be a faithful husband or an honest businessman. They
elected him because he represented “perhaps our last chance” as Jeffress warned, to
return to the power they are entitled to have. Cyrus himself never became a believer,
but he remains an honored figure in Judaism. According to the books of Ezra and
Nehemiah, shared by Christians and Jews, the Babylonian king financially supported
the rebuilding of the temple and the return of artifacts stolen from the First Temple,
which had been destroyed. Moreover, under his watch, the returning Jews built a
wall around Jerusalem to ensure that the city would be safe from outsiders.
By promising to enforce respect for the nation’s mythical Judeo-Christian heri-
tage, Trump clears space for the wall around America to be rebuilt. Much like his
promised but unlikely border wall, the material delivery of support for conservative
Christians is less valuable to them than is Trump’s affirmation of the Judeo-Christian
myth, validation of their fears of national ruin, and approval for their effort to
dominate culture and politics. He can draw conservative Christians close because,
as Strang (2017), a prolific charismatic writer and Trump supporter, notes in his
spiritual biography of Trump, God and Donald Trump, “he values the Christian faith
because it defines a key part of the America he loves, not necessarily because he is a
born-again Evangelical” (p. 4).
Because they see themselves as the preservers of the secret of the United States’
success, conservative Christians feel specially entitled to shaping American law and
policy, to dominating others politically. This is not new but is part of “a long-
evolving tapestry of movement and backlash that has typified the last 20 years of
American politics” (Dombrink 2015:43). Donald Trump is not the first politician
who promised to tap their power to do this—but he did it particularly effectively by
explicitly appealing to their feelings of entitlement and resentment and their excite-
ment about a future in which they could wield authority, feelings that Religious
Barrett-Fox 515
Right leaders have been cultivating for years prior to this election. Inserting Trump
into the story that fostered these feelings was a brief struggle, but he assisted them by
speaking to their emotions. Speaking at a July 2016 rally in Iowa, he reminded those
conservative Christians gathered that, collectively, they have the potential to be
powerful, that they are entitled to use that power, and that, indeed, they are obligated
to use that power in order to protect the future of hegemonic Christianity
But the Christians don’t use their power .... We have to strengthen. Because we are
getting—if you look, it’s death by a million cuts—we are getting less and less and less
powerful in terms of a religion, and in terms of a force .... (Trump 2016)
Promises of power are enticing for any group, but for a group whose self-
conception is grounded in feelings about fear and resentment about fading authority
in a society that needs it to survive, they have proven especially effective. Trump
made the deal very clear:
I’ll tell you one thing: I get elected president ...Christianity will have power, without
having to form .... Because if I’m there, you’re going to have plenty of power. You
don’t need anybody else. You’re going to have somebody representing you very, very
well. Remember that. (Trump 2016)
And they have, continuing to be his largest, most vocal group of supporters.
Trump’s victory in the 2016 election did not erase their feelings of entitlement but
instead affirmed that they were right to hold them; he provided them with a “politics
of hope” (Reicher and Haslam 2016). It has provided an opportunity for them to
blend their fears about the future with hope that they can regain what they see as
unfairly lost cultural and political dominance, for, as Wallnau (2016) noted, the next
step is for them to regain power and once again “discipline” the nation.
They could still squander that opportunity, which is why Jeffress cautioned, even
in his celebration of Trump, that the presidency is only a “chance,” not a guarantee;
fear of the future is thus kept alive. This means that future politicians—Republicans
running in the midterm election, Trump in 2020, and those who will come after—
have a toolbox of emotional appeals that they know work because these appeals were
crafted by the religious right itself to insert Trump into an acceptable white evange-
lical narrative of self and nation. Trump could stumble as he spoke about God,
revealing his lack of Biblical literacy or knowledge of basic theology, because they
had already created a story in which he did not need to know their faith to appeal to
their emotions. In exchange, Trump-as-Cyrus has given the religious right the
authority to assert dominion over American culture and politics—a deal that may
only further encourage candidates of dubious morality to ally with religious right
voters. That this movement has gained power even amid continuing demographic
decline of white American Christians and waning U.S. global hegemony is only
further evidence for them of God’s hand in the 2016 election and thus God’s
516 Humanity & Society 42(4)
approval of such trades. Whether their emotional repertoire is adaptable enough to
let them continue to make them—and at what costs—is yet to be seen.
Declaration of Conflicting Interests
The author(s) declared no potential conflicts of interest with respect to the research, author-
ship, and/or publication of this article.
The author(s) received no financial support for the research, authorship, and/or publication of
this article.
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... Why did American evangelicals, primarily white evangelicals, turn out in record numbers to support Trump in 2016? For Barrett-Fox (2018), the Religious Right, a loose coalition of socially and politically conservative white Protestants along with Catholics and Jews appealed to "feelings of entitlement, fear, resentment, and desire to dominate" to reconstruct the American vision as a Christian nation that has fallen from its original foundation as a result of liberal politics. By restoring the nation's Christian identity as a hegemony force, America may preserve its greatness and God's special favor and protection of America. ...
... 504-511). Barrett-Fox (2018) concludes: Donald Trump is not the first politician who promised to tap [the conservative Christians'] power to do this-but he did it particularly effectively by explicitly appealing to their feelings of entitlement and resentment and their excitement about a future in which they could wield authority, feelings that Religious Right leaders have been cultivating for years before [the 2016] election. (p. ...
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... Some scholars believed that Trump's victory in the 2016 American Presidential Election was also related to the strengthening of several issues, including religions. Barrett-Fox (2018) found that Trump's victory in the 2016 American Presidential Election was associated with Trump's ability to invite conservative Christians to gain the power to protect their Christian hegemony in America. This has a real impact on the widespread support of conservative Christians for Donald Trump in the 2016 American Presidential Election. ...
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The Evangelical vote played a major role when Donald Trump won the 2016 presidential election. Although various factors may explain this result, we should not overlook the influence of the alliance that emerged between Trump and leading Evangelicals during the campaign. In this article, I present four books written before and after the election that illustrate how Trump prophecies and the portrayal of Trump as a national savior were used deliberately to convince conservative Christians that voting for him was their religious duty. With the help of framing theory, I analyze this rhetorical strategy of Trump’s allies, and show how it not only has influenced Christian voters, but also the president himself
The presidency of Donald Trump exposed and amplified dynamics long active in American religion. Although the overwhelming support of evangelical Christians took many by surprise due to his unconventional religious qualifications, scholars have increasingly established that this political alliance reflects numerous well-established commitments. Accordingly, this study analyses the function of the Bible in the rhetoric of Trump’s Christian supporters. Among those surveyed, fundamentalist assumptions of biblical authority and inerrancy are held in common even while the exegetical techniques deployed diverge widely from the corresponding principles of “literal” interpretation and “original” meanings. Their tendencies are rather towards divinatory, even quasi-magical, appropriations of scriptural excerpts, practices attested in antiquity though less well known in American Christianity. For these political apologists, the Bible’s status approaches that of a ritual icon possessing spiritual power and conferring authority and legitimacy on those who wield it.
White Evangelical Conservatives are a cornerstone of Donald Trump’s base. Though not a religious man, conservative faithful helped propel Trump to office and consistently supported him during his first term. This chapter examines the basis of this support, the central role of White Evangelicals in Trump’s reelection bid, the interplay between policy advocacy and personal behavior in the voting behavior of religious conservatives, and the implications for presidential campaigns and candidates in 2024.
This contribution explains the declining policy influence of the Christian Right in Australia, especially compared to its more powerful American counterpart. Despite seven years of conservative federal government in Australia featuring prominent Christian conservatives, including two prime ministers, the Christian Right has had continuous defeats on issues such as same-sex marriage and abortion. This contribution argues the Christian Right in Australia is weakened by the lack of a popular sense of Australia as a ‘Christian nation’, even if it still has a majority of Christian identifiers. Unlike the United States, where a Christian nation discourse is an important political resource for the Christian Right, in Australia the relative lack of such a discourse weakens the link between the Christian Right’s policy agenda and broader exclusionary nationalism. Even when repelling out-groups is politically popular, Christianity is no longer privileged as the national in-group. This contribution empirically examines the use of the term ‘Christian nation’ in recent public discourse in Australia to show why it lacks political power.
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During the 2016 presidential election, Evangelical supporters of Donald Trump presented him as a modern version of the ancient King Cyrus of Persia. To many conservative Christians, the comparison offered a justification of voting for a candidate whose character supposedly was at odds with their Christian virtues. Subsequent to his inauguration, the idea of Trump being an American Cyrus continued to develop and circulate. It is the aim of this article to deepen the understanding of Cyrus as a political tool in the West and explain how he ended up as a means to mobilize American voters. With an emphasis on the last 250 years, the article looks at how various personalities have been compared to Cyrus or presented as modern Cyruses. Based on these examples, it develops a typology, arguing that the modern Cyrus can be best understood as different types and subtypes, of which several have been applied to Trump. The article demonstrates how the various subtypes have separate evolutionary lines, which in turn can be attributed to different goals and functions.
In this article, we argue for the importance of investigating cultural spaces in connection to social inequalities. Within cultural spaces, culture in both material and nonmaterial forms is used in ways that bolster privilege, provide means for people and groups to navigate inequalities, and offers avenues for contesting inequalities. We critically examine some of the past and present ways that culture and inequalities have been studied together. We identify three trends that have arisen from the current scholarship on culture and inequality in the United States: space and place, embodiment, and performativity. In addition to examining understudied contemporary cultural spaces, the articles in this special issue contribute to and expand on the identified trends of studying cultural spaces as sites of inequality maintenance and resistance.
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Why did Americans vote for Donald Trump in the 2016 Presidential election? Social scientists have proposed a variety of explanations, including economic dissatisfaction, sexism, racism, Islamophobia, and xenophobia. The current study establishes that, independent of these influences, voting for Trump was, at least for many Americans, a symbolic defense of the United States' perceived Christian heritage. Data from a national probability sample of Americans surveyed soon after the 2016 election shows that greater adherence to Christian nationalist ideology was a robust predictor of voting for Trump, even after controlling for economic dissatisfaction, sexism, anti-black prejudice, anti-Muslim refugee attitudes, and anti-immigrant sentiment, as well as measures of religion, sociodemographics, and political identity more generally. These findings indicate that Christian nationalist ideology-although correlated with a variety of class-based, sexist, racist, and ethnocentric views-is not synonymous with, reducible to, or strictly epiphenomenal of such views. Rather, Christian nationalism operates as a unique and independent ideology that can influence political actions by calling forth a defense of mythological narratives about America's distinctively Christian heritage and future.
Environmental issues are an ever-increasing focus of public discourse and have provoked concern among religious groups as well as in society more widely. Among biblical scholars criticism of the Judaeo-Christian tradition for its part in the worsening crisis has led to a small but growing field of study on ecology and the Bible. This volume in the Oxford Handbook series makes a significant contribution to this burgeoning interest in ecological hermeneutics, incorporating the best of international scholarship on ecology and the Bible. The Handbook comprises 30 individual essays, from established scholars as well as up-and-coming ones, on a wide range of relevant topics. Arranged in four sections, the volume begins with a historical overview before tackling some key methodological issues. The second, substantial, section comprises thirteen essays offering detailed exegesis from an ecological perspective of selected biblical books. This is followed by a section exploring broader thematic topics such as the Imago Dei and stewardship. Finally, the volume concludes with a number of essays on contemporary perspectives and applications, including political and ethical considerations. The editors, Hilary Marlow and Mark Harris, have drawn on a wealth of experience in Hebrew Bible and New Testament to bring together a diverse collection of essays on a subject of immense relevance. Its accessible style, comprehensive scope and range of material makes the volume a valuable resource not only to biblical scholars and students of the Bible, but also to religious leaders and practitioners.
This book examines the ongoing contests and shifting political and social landscape of America in the Obama era as it applies to the core elements of the “culture war.” It considers a central disjuncture: the liberalization of American society on many measures, at the same time as the enormous conservative pushback that continues, and a political polarization that still characterizes us in America in 2015. This book concludes that these “wedge issues,” successful in American politics for three decades, have lost their power. This “unwedging” is what characterizes America in 2015, especially amidst the effect of the rising importance of the millennial generation – a decidedly more secular and progressive generation on these issues. As one religious conservative leader recently wrote, such shifts in American society suggest that like-minded religious-based social conservatives should now view themselves as a “prophetic minority” rather than a “Moral Majority.” It seems improbable that these wedge issues will soon regain their potency.
Prophets and Patriots takes readers inside two of the most active populist movements of the Obama era and highlights cultural convergences and contradictions at the heart of American political life. In the wake of the Great Recession and amid rising discontent with government responsiveness to ordinary citizens, the book follows participants in two very different groups-a progressive faith-based community organization and a conservative Tea Party group-as they set out to become active and informed citizens, put their faith into action, and hold government accountable. Both groups viewed themselves as the latest in a long line of prophetic voices and patriotic heroes who were carrying forward the promise of the American democratic project. Yet the ways in which each group put this common vision into practice reflected very different understandings of American democracy and citizenship.
The 2016 presidential candidacy of Donald J. Trump posed a special challenge for many religious-motivated voters, especially those long associated with the religious right movement that has long anchored the Republican Party.
Ressentiment-the hateful desire for revenge-plays a pivotal role in Nietzsche’s On the Genealogy of Morals. Ressentiment explains the formation of bad conscience, guilt, asceticism, and, most importantly, it motivates the "slave revolt" that gives rise to Western morality’s values. Ressentiment, however, has not enjoyed a thorough treatment in the secondary literature. This book brings it sharply into focus and provides the first detailed examination of Nietzsche’s psychology of ressentiment. Unlike other books on the Genealogy, it uses ressentiment as a key to the Genealogy and focuses on the intriguing relationship between ressentiment and justice. It shows how ressentiment, despite its blindness to justice, gives rise to moral justice-the central target of Nietzsche’s critique. This critique notwithstanding, the Genealogy shows Nietzsche’s enduring commitment to the virtue of non-moral justice: a commitment that grounds his provocative view that moral justice spells the ‘end of justice’. The result provides a novel view of Nietzsche’s moral psychology in the Genealogy, his critique of morality, and his views on justice.