Monday, January 28, 2019

What did Donald Trump do today?

He pandered to evangelical voters.

As usual, Trump spent several hours on Twitter this morning. In one tweet, he said that some states were "introducing Bible Literacy classes, giving students the option of studying the Bible." He added, "Starting to make a turn back? Great!"

In a way, this is centuries-old news. While public schools in the United States cannot promote one religion over others, they have always been allowed to use the Bible and other religious texts in their curriculum—or sing sacred music, or stage religiously-themed plays, or discuss the history or philosophy of religion, or otherwise discuss the fact that religions exist and are part of the world that Americans live in. 

By mentioning it, Trump seems to be trying to renew his support among evangelical Christians, who have advocated for using the Bible in literature classes. A recent poll saw his support among evangelical voters dropping sharply. He is now less popular with that electorally powerful group than he is with Republicans as a whole—although his numbers are down there, too. 

In fact, his internal support is now so low that the Republican National Committee—which, as president, he effectively controls—took the unprecedented step of endorsing him for the Republican primary elections in 2020, in an attempt to fend off an embarrassing (and possibly successful) challenge to his nomination. The RNC has never before needed to protect a sitting president that way.

Trump, who is theoretically a Presbyterian, could probably benefit from a "Bible literacy" class himself. In a rare appearance at a church on the campaign trail, he confused a communion paten for the offering plate and tried to put money on it, and he once told an evangelical audience that he had never asked God for forgiveness. And when he met two Presbyterian ministers, who confused him by gently reminding him that they were not evangelicals, he had to be reassured that Presbyterians were a kind of Christian.

Who cares?

  • Presidents don't have to be constitutional lawyers, but a basic working knowledge of the First Amendment is helpful.
  • Past a certain point, pandering just becomes insulting to the people who actually believe in something.