The liberal critics of Trumpian evangelicals don’t really want that. What they may think is that voting for Hillary was the Christian thing to do. The hitch there is that committing Christianity to any political party or candidate is to go back before liberal politics separated religion from government, when the king was head of the church or the pope the sovereign of Christendom. That means that Christians who support either Trump or Hillary as part of Christian duty have gone back to a world in which religion was established and religious freedom did not exist.
Here is a thought experiment for those who think the evangelicals who voted for Trump are exposing the dark underbelly of born-again Protestantism. Notice how evangelical support for Trump resembles political developments in Europe.
First, what’s been happening in Europe:
Populist and nationalist parties have been on the rise for the better part of a decade, responding at first to structural economic problems and frustrations with the bureaucratic burdens of the European Union. But they received a potent infusion of electoral energy only after Angela Merkel unilaterally decided in 2015 to open Europe’s borders to a flood of refugees from the Middle East, and especially from Syria’s bloody and intractable civil war.
Suddenly the populists and nationalists had an injustice to stoke, a cause to champion, an anxiety to provoke, and a foil to use for rallying supporters. Suddenly what would have been dismissed by most voters just a year or so earlier as an extremist conspiracy theory began to sound reasonable, credible, wise. Overnight, immigration restrictionism had become a sensible, mainstream position.
Three years later, we’ve had the Brexit vote in the U.K. and the coming to power or electoral strengthening of populists and nationalists in Hungary, Austria, Poland, the Czech Republic, Germany, and Italy, with Sweden poised to become the next domino to fall in September elections. Populists and nationalists have even made significant headway in gaining power within the European Parliament itself.
What accounts for evangelical support for Trump and the rise of Christian-inflected nationalism in Europe? Is it that Europeans are experiencing a religious revival and the number of evangelicals there is growing? Affirmative answers to those questions would indicate that evangelicalism itself bears responsibility for a right-wing turn in the U.S. and Europe.
But in point of fact, evangelicalism is not growing in Europe. What is happening there and in the U.S. is a political phenomenon in which citizens are wanting to recover national identity and sovereignty in response to political institutions such as treaties and unions (European Union or United Nations) that appear to make countries weaker and less meaningful.