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U.S. President Donald Trump’s prejudice is no longer in question. Most recently he has called Haiti, the largest Black republic in the hemisphere, a “shithole” whose people “all have AIDS.”
The man’s a racist, period. So are many of his fans.
The nonplus is how Trump came to be a pitch of inhabitant honour for devout Protestants who value despotic probity and good manners. In 2016, 80 per cent of white evangelicals voted for a thrice-married vulgarian of no clear piety, a somewhat aloft turn of support than they showed for choir child Mitt Romney and born-again George W. Bush. Why?
The discerning answer is that these conservatives wanted anyone but Hillary Clinton and knew that Trump would designate pro-life judges. And nonetheless they’ve mostly stuck with The Donald by a severe first year, suggesting a genuine affinity rather than a matrimony of convenience.
If we take a broader and deeper perspective of American history, we find that devout electorate and Donald Trump share a chronicle of that history, a master account of a selected republic with special powers. It’s a prolonged and disfigured tale, a bloody tale ripped from Scripture and sewn into too many American flags.
Pilgrims and founders
The story began with the New England Puritans, who saw themselves as boundless seekers in a “heathen” land. The wars they waged against Indigenous peoples in the 1600s gave arise to best-selling chains narratives, in which trusting white women endured prolonged months in furious forests with the men who had just scalped their children.
The Ulster Scots who came to the center and southern colonies of British North America in the 1700s had told identical tales about the monster Irish back home, and they simply recast the Creeks, Cherokees and Shawnees into the role of bloodthirsty infidels.
As men of the Enlightenment, the American Founders disliked such eremite tribalism. They proudly called themselves “liberal,” by which they meant open to the rest of the world. They suspicion of race in environmental rather than biological terms.
But they did not see non-white people as full members of an American “nation.” That word meant not only domestic village but also the some-more insinuate holds of denunciation and culture. (It comes from the Latin natio, birth).
Thomas Jefferson was not even certain if white Americans were a nation, given their different ethnicities. But he did call Blacks a antagonistic nation, an rivalry within to go along with the Indigenous enemies beyond.
The War of 1812 was a watershed. Especially for Americans in the southern states, this was a harrowing fight of presence against the British Empire and its non-white allies. It called for a new kind of nationalistic rage. “The supervision has at last yielded to the incentive of the nation,” the boundless Ulsterman and future boss Andrew Jackson told his volunteers.
By this he meant that Americans were now free to clean out the evildoers south of the Tennessee River — first the antagonistic “Redstick” Creeks and then any Indigenous communities or exile slaves in their way — much as the Israelites had once waged holy fight for the betrothed land west of the Jordan.
To this way of meditative and feeling, the United States was not just a republic of white people. It was a republic of endangered white people whose right to reprisal came from God rather than from any manmade source.
The story widespread by the 19th century, fed by “scientific” theories of race and the fast defeat of all south of Canada.
Often it wore an confident face. Providence had selected them to widespread the blessings of liberty, Americans believed. They were happy to shoulder the burden.
Whenever new groups sought new protections of law, however, the bloody epic was enacted all over again. Klansmen lynched Black men accused of raping white women in the 1890s. A second Klan targeted Jews, Catholics, Speakeasies and other signs of change in the 1920s. Their white gowns and blazing crosses symbolized the secular “purity” they longed to inflict.
White jingoist themes also flourished during the prolonged Cold War against irreverent communism. Most critical here were the new mega-churches of the South and West, the eremite descendants of the Puritans and Ulstermen who became a domestic force within the Republican Party during the 1970s and 1980s.
Although Trump never attended such churches, he embraced their inhabitant story. He entered politics in 1989 by job for atonement for 5 men of colour (falsely) accused of raping a white lady in Central Park. He re-emerged in 2011 by claiming that Barack Obama was not a U.S. citizen — an African, not an American. He took the White House by earnest to revenge “forgotten” Americans, and named Andrew Jackson his beam and inspiration.
All of this resonates with many white evangelicals as a kind of American gospel, making Trump sound honest no matter how many lies he tells. For everybody else, the plea is to offer a new story about the inhabitant community, one secure in common amiability rather than boundless favour.
This essay was creatively published on The Conversation. Read the strange article.
Jason Opal is Associate Professor of History, McGill University.