Logic will never change emotion or perception. There’s a fabulous southern concoction called sweet tea. It’s sacred in the Southland and simple to make- a gazillion cups of sugar, water and a dash of tea. In “Sweet Tea” John Lane credits God for the creation of this amazing beverage declaring, “For God so loved the world she made sweet tea.” If this she-God made sweet tea, then God is good, and in turn, that daily dose of caramel colored liquid-sugar-on-the-rocks is sanctified. And, since it’s a southern staple, God must surely adore the South. And, since the South elected Trump, God must love Trump. If perception is logic, this is logical deduction.
Perception is reality in politics, and God is back as the great champion of the United States. According to the new POTUS, God is on the side of Trump, the Trump train and everything Trumpish and squarely in America’s corner! The response: massive instability, concern, fear and retaliation by those who feel threatened by this restoration and utter relief by those who’ve been praying for national redemption. Justification is the process of being declared righteous, and Trump is full of righteous indignation.
Righteousness is a cornerstone of American history. God is always on the side of the winner. When the Civil War ended in 1865, the Vice President of the CSA Alexander Stephens spent the post-war years writing a massive two volume series on the constitutionality of secession. He argued the righteousness of the southern rebellion, but unfortunately for him, the victor wrote the narrative of the war, and his effort to justify the actions of the defeated disappeared in the dusty bins of archives. Even if the South was right, only the losers remembered their side of the story. And, history is about winners. God helped Europeans conquer the New World, colonists form the Republic, Lincoln preserve the Union, the United States win the World Wars and most importantly, democracy beat godless communism in the Cold War. And, winning too much led ungrateful Americans to place God in the margin of the national narrative. Trump has returned God to the center while restoring a powerful white male political class that definitely, at least according to Trump, has God on their side. Despite Obama’s efforts to make Americans citizens of the globe with an optional God-component, America’s been there, done that and returned to Normalcy.
Writer James McBride Dabbs said southerners are haunted by God because religion touches every aspect of life in the South. In this strain, God accents all things Trump. First, God is part of the SCOTUS pick. Trump’s nominee Neil Gorsuch is the first protestant on the court in quite some time, a court that currently has 5 Catholics and 3 Jews. Wow! If Roe v Wade is under siege by Trump, what of the Catholic majority on the court? The lack of religious diversity on the court has been overlooked for sure see: https://www.huffingtonpost.com/chris-weigant/supreme-courts-lack-of-re_b_5545989.html Second, God is back in political discourse. “God bless America” and “God bless you” are standard Trumpisms, as is his conviction that faith is an American value, faith rooted in Judeo-Christian concepts. Finally, God is national security, and God, according to Trump, favors righteous diplomacy and strength. Trump said, “There should be no fear — we are protected, and we will always be protected…we are protected by God.” Whew! Thank goodness!
The secularization of God is very much a part of the process of creating the perception of sanctified national strength. It’s like the Americanization of Dixie. From the antebellum period through the civil rights struggles of the twentieth-century, the South was labeled out of step with the nation, a backward, anachronistic and myth-driven region marred by illiteracy, racism, poverty and hookworm. How to bring it into the fold of the nation became a critical point of discussion in the early twentieth-century. WWI and WWII defined what Americanism was thanks to government efforts to create a hegemonic idea of what nationalism looked like (despite the internal fissures in American democracy, namely segregation). After WWII, interstates, sunny beaches, Spring Break, the SEC and warm weather in March made the assimilation quite easy (and of course federal money). Today, Wal-Mart and McDonalds make small town Mississippi indistinguishable from rural Michigan. God’s been assimilated into the secular life of the nation in a similar way. God is accessible, gendered, loved, befriended and whatever God needs to be to meet the emotion or perception of the believer. But, God has been conspicuously absent in American politics until now. The perception of God as a fortress around the Trump administration is a fascinating study in how Americans engage political reality. Trump has named God Justifier in Chief. Welcome back God!