I recently read this article, where a pastor who attended a Trump rally was horrified at the level of idolatry and the angry mob physically accosting protesters. He referred to it as “demonic activity.” I’m not a fan of that framing, partly because I still carry some scars from a deep-seated evangelical fear of demonic activity and partly because I think we respond better to evil when we recognize it as human than when we try to make it supernatural. But it resonated with me because I’ve felt similar fear every time I see how much Trump’s fan base worships him. Supposedly many of these people are Christians, and I just want to shake them and say, “What about Jesus? Donald Trump is not your messiah!”
But, in a sense, he is. That’s the terrifying thing. White, evangelical Christianity has distorted the idea of Jesus to the point where he’s unrecognizable. They supposedly follow a meek, mild savior who healed the sick and forgave everyone, but they’re much more focused on Jesus in Revelation, on a white horse, with a sword coming out of his mouth. A suffering, dying, forgiving messiah is difficult to follow, but a victorious king—that’s much easier to get behind.
That’s the vision of Jesus espoused by the religious right, and it’s the version of Jesus who shows up in Tim Lahaye and Jerry Jenkins’ Left Behind series. Fred Clark, who deconstructs the pure awfulness of the series on his blog, describes this false messiah as TurboJesus, more action-movie fantasy than anything resembling the Jesus of the Gospels.
So, for decades, we’ve had a vision of bad-ass, wrath and destruction Jesus, all about punishing sinners and martial victory. So, when a Presidential candidate comes along promising to “make America great again” by violently crushing our enemies (and their families, and anybody who might conceivably be from the wrong country), Evangelicals flock to him. The fact that he validates their persecution complex doesn’t hurt either.