According to cutting-edge political research, the desire for Christian supremacism (expressed and implicit) is the underlying objective of most Donald Trump supporters, but the operational psychology of American conservatism is also very important in its descent into madness. In the present moment as Trump and his followers are forced to contemplate the loss of the presidency, it’s important to realize that losing is the psychic core of the U.S. right.
Trump’s repugnant demeanor and prior history of political moderation is what made him so reviled by conservative activists and donors in 2015 but his angry victim complex so deeply resonated with the GOP base that this is why he won the primary. That’s because American conservatism has been obsessed with death and loss since it emerged in the 1940s. The utter humiliation of Herbert Hoover and the rapid growth of federal spending and regulation under Franklin Roosevelt was an existential moment for the corporate barons who started the U.S. right.
The rise of explicitly atheist Marxist-Leninism was also immensely triggering of long-time fundamentalist fantasies of persecution and death before the return of Jesus. Most Christians don’t see John’s Apocalypse as a literal text but fundamentalists do. The ethos of the Book of Revelation so utterly permeates modern conservatism even after the collapse of the USSR. The book’s tale of two prophets called by God to witness for Christ in Jerusalem is foundational to evangelical support for Israel and for Christian nationalism in America.
Outside the U.S., the idea of Christian witness is mostly personal, but as successive presidents sought to ramp up public support for the Cold War, the idea that U.S. was some sort of divinely created country became very widespread.
The religious concept of witness was merged into the identity politics of American conservatism from its very beginnings as in Buckley’s first book “God and Man at Yale” and Whitaker Chambers’s book “Witness.”
Critical to both men’s views was that they were on the losing side. The founding slogan of National Review was that it would “stand athwart history, yelling Stop.” It has been the mission and identity of conservatism in the country ever since. Conservatives would witness against the godless wicked and die fighting for the truth.
In my former days as a right-wing activist, I sat in many meetings of conservatives about various legislative tactics on budget bills or some regulatory policy and the phrase “well this is the hill that we’ll die on” was uttered so often. It was bizarre to see such an obsession with dying for Christ, even if only metaphorically.
This attitude is present at the very highest levels of American conservatism. And it keeps re-manifesting itself anew in different ways. Trump’s final press secretary Kayleigh McEnany is one of many Republican elites who view themselves as potential martyrs for God, similar to the way they falsely believe that Columbine shooting victims Rachel Scott and Cassie Bernall were killed for refusing to renounce God.
In a 2013 essay for the right-wing Blaze website, McEnany made it abundantly clear that she sees herself in similar terms:
“As Congress tries relentlessly to squelch religious liberty and remove God from our public buildings, our schools, and our heritage, let’s choose instead to honor the written word of Rachel Joy Scott this April 20th: ‘I am not going to apologize for speaking the Name of Jesus. I am not going to justify my faith to them, and I am not going to hide the light that God has put in me. If I have to sacrifice everything … I will.’”
Jenna Ellis, who was one of Trump’s lead attorneys in his failed election lawsuits, seems to have similar thoughts. She posted the following statement to her Twitter profile in June of 2020 and has pinned it as her most important tweet since then:
“I’m going on record now: If they try to cancel Christianity, if they try to force me to apologize or recant my Faith, I will not bend, I will not waver, I will not break. On Christ the solid Rock I stand. And I’m proud to be an American.”
McEnany, Ellis, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, are among many far-right Christians who have been fond of invoking comparisons of their political views to the Biblical story of Esther, a Jewish woman who is said to have been foreordained to fight God’s battles “for such a time as this.”
But even non-religious conservatives are obsessed with loss since the idea that “big government” is inevitable is actually true. Basically no one is going to vote to slash Medicare or to privatize Social Security and so they’ve increasingly come to the conclusion that capitalism is lost.
Some of them, like billionaire Peter Thiel, blame this on women.
In 2009, he seemed to pin the growth of government on women having the right to vote. He also wrote that “the higher one’s IQ, the more pessimistic one became about free-market politics — capitalism simply is not that popular with the crowd.”
Trump’s promises of “so much winning” in 2015 was exactly the message that conservatives wanted to hear after decades of frustration. The TV game show host told fundamentalist Christians that they would be in charge of society under his administration and that only he could do what was needed.
“Christianity is under tremendous siege,” he told a heavily evangelical crowd in Iowa in 2016. “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.”
He continued, telling his audience how things would be if he were in the White House: “If I’m there, you’re going to have plenty of power. You don’t need anybody else.”
And while Trump was able to appoint far-right Christians to plum government posts and sign a number of executive orders, ultimately he was unable to fulfill his promises. It was a lie, in fact, not just because presidents have no control over cultural institutions but also because the cultural changes of the 1960s and 1970s are hugely popular among Americans. Women want to have options and no one wants to return to the days of Jim Crow and the closet.
Even worse from their standpoint is that the oppressive fundamentalism yearned for by today’s religious right has not been popular in the United States for more than a hundred years. The humiliation of evolution opponents in the national press during the John Scopes trial of 1925 caused many radical Christianists to turn inward and focus on community rather than undertake the hopeless task of forcing their ideas on the “worldly.” Many began to accept that Jesus’s kingdom was never supposed to be of this world.
But the geopolitical struggle against the USSR resurrected the delusion that cultural victory was possible. Taking America back for God became a real goal for many.
From the beginning, Republican electoral consultants knew that the public didn’t support slashing the govt. (Even GOP voters are not particularly interested in reducing spending.) But they figured out soon that you don’t need a majority of the people, if you can get a majority of the voters. And with the Electoral College, you don’t even need that.
Paul Weyrich, founder of the early Christian Right group the Moral Majority and first president of the Heritage Foundation, stated the idea in stark terms in a 1980 speech:
“Now many of our Christians have what I call the goo-goo syndrome — good government. They want everybody to vote. I don’t want everybody to vote. Elections are not won by a majority of people, they never have been from the beginning of our country and they are not now. As a matter of fact, our leverage in the elections, quite candidly, goes up as the voting populace goes down.”
Elite Republicans have long known they didn’t have majority. This is why Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell won’t kill the filibuster despite its medium-term benefits. It’s also why former Speaker of the House Paul Ryan was obsessed with stopping society’s “takers” and favoring its “makers.” The activists, however, really did believe that the struggle was winnable.
But the GOP’s successive losses of the popular vote began shaking faith in the struggle. Trump’s defeat in 2020 was the last straw. Despite Trump’s promises of “so much winning” and QAnon’s exhortations to “trust the plan,” it didn’t work. And so now, all that remains is thanatos, the death drive.
This moment is the hill that pathological conservatism wants to die on. And they want to sacrifice America on it.
This is why “accelerationism” is becoming so popular in the far-right. Not only does it appeal to “black-pilled” nihilists who just want to die, it also works for apocalyptic Christian fundamentalists who believe that the world must burn before Jesus can return.
Most Republican elites only slightly realize what they have set in motion. But their insatiable desire for power is why they will not call off the droogs. To tell the truth that Trump lost fair and square would be to rupture the GOP and permanently end the minoritarian scheme. And so they will not. Instead, like they have always done, party elites will lie to their marks. They will coddle them from truth and reality, while also keeping them in a constant state of rage to incentivize them to vote.
Even though Trump’s presidential term has just ended, the explosions are only beginning. Ali Alexander, the lead organizer of the “Stop the Steal” rallies that turned into the January 6th Capitol invasion, demonstrated that right-wing extremists are willing to do anything in the name of God-Trump in a video he released after the attack. In the clip, Alexander proclaimed his desire to be a divine instrument to enact violent justice against Satantic leftists:
“You are not, you are not, going to rule over us with your [Saul] Alinsky type rules, you and Lucifer, and Alinsky, and all the fat people who refuse to sign up for Jenny Craig can go fuck yourselves,” Alexander said, bizarrely claiming that overweight people were somehow in league with the devil and the long-deceased leftist political theorist.
“The Lord says that vengeance is his, and I pray that I am the tool to stab these motherfuckers,” he continued. “This begins the rebellion and I will not bow before an illegitimate government, not now, not tomorrow, not if they imprison me, not if they question me, not if they poison me, not if they behead me. They can go to hell, I’m going to heaven.”