When Karl Marx said “Religion is the opiate of the masses,” he had the right idea and the wrong drug. Opiates tend to make you nod off, quietly. Since religion tends to make you gallop around like your hair’s on fire, a more accurate quote would be “Religion is the meth of the masses.”
Take, for example, a chain of suburban St. Louis mega-churches pastored by a man with a name straight out of Charles Dickens—David Crank. Crank posted an Instagram shot in mid-January of he and his wife snuggled up against Donald Trump with the caption “God has given me…the ear of @realDonaldTrump for a few years now. He began watching our ministry.”
At least we now know what Trump does with his “executive time” in the White House in between racist rants, authoritarian power grabs, and ordering children kidnapped from their parents at the border. He watches a televangelist with four churches, a weekly attendance of 10 to 15 thousand, and a satellite ministry in Palm Beach, Florida, home of Trump, Roger Stone, and thousands of skeevy con-men who hide their assets in mega-mansions since, according to Florida law, you get to keep your house even if the rest of your assets are seized in an indictment or tax lien.
Crank, who may or may not be aware of self-parody, is just a symptom of a larger disease that’s metastasized to include white supremacists disguised as evangelicals, right-wing Catholics heir to the Falangist Catholic movement of fascist 1930’s Spain, conservative Jews whose support for the Netanyahu government Israel trumps any theological concerns, and even a smattering of black pastors who seem to have gotten degrees from the Trump University School of Theology.
To all of them, Trump, who’s reportedly paid for at least one mistress to have an abortion and whose moral universe looks like the back of Rick James’ van, is doing God’s work. Which god, they don’t make clear, although both Ba’al and Moloch are good bets. This is, of course, a scam.
My mother-in-law, born in 1929, often says Trump reminds her of Father Charles Coughlin, a Catholic priest with a radio show in the ‘30’s that reached tens of millions of American households. Father Coughlin was as fan of Hitler, a rabid anti-Semite, and was finally forced off the air by the FCC in 1939 because, unlike now, support for fascism was not considered free speech. But Coughlin was merely the first of a long line of American hustlers who tried to hide extreme right-wing politics behind the Almighty.
Jerry Falwell, whose Moral Majority gibberish helped propel Reagan into the White House, was a white supremacist and segregationist whose 1950’s sermons were full of fire, brimstone, and dire warnings about race-mixing. His son now runs his theo-conglomerate, and is a huge Trump fan. Jim Bakker, the televangelist who said Trump’s orange skin “is the sign of the Holy Spirit flowing through him” famously spent five years in prison for fraud and embezzlement.
Franklin Graham, son of Billy, praises Trump, says gays are Satan’s children, calls Islam “wicked”, and has a net worth of around $30 million. Black Cleveland Pastor Darrell Scott, who claims Trump is “pro-black,” says police should have been rougher on Black Lives Matter protestors, has condemned gays and lesbians, and is an ex-PCP dealer who parlayed preaching into a net worth of around $5 million.
The social conservatism of the right-wing hallelujah caucus hits “pause” when it comes to Trump. His depravity, instability, sexism, racism, and lurid private life don’t matter. Which shows that the entire “family values” edifice built by decades of evangelical hustlers is a scam, and that the entire reason for the modern religious conservative movement is an amoral devotion right-wing political philosophy: outlaw abortion, give tax cuts to the deserving rich, punish the undeserving poor, and preach survival of the fittest.
Toss in a healthy dollop of white nationalism, and you have a toxic America First cult masquerading as religion. Over the past few decades, we’ve gotten used to the white noise (pun intended) and the fundamentalist war against women, gays, minorities, evolution, science in general, and rational thought. We’ve let the White House set up an office of “faith-based” initiatives. We don’t blink an eye when crosses or “In God We Trust” are displayed on public buildings at taxpayer cost.
And we hardly give a second thought to right-wing politics disguised as religious statements invading, and degrading, public life. That was the idea all along. And while we pretend that conservative “theology” isn’t just more conservative politics, one thing separates Trump and his preachers from the people in the pews.
Trump and the pastors are in on the scam.