As of Monday, FiveThirtyEight pegs Donald Trump’s average approval rating at 43.3 percent. Only Jimmy Carter and Harry Truman had lower approval ratings at this stage in their first terms. Indeed, a case can be made that Trump is an even worse position than Carter and Truman were at this point. Poll after poll has shown Americans have no confidence in Trump’s leadership during the coronavirus crisis, and any “rally ’round the flag” bump has long since faded.
But as has been the case all too often over the last three years, a good case can be made that even those numbers are inflated. In all likelihood, Trump’s approval ratings would have cratered into the depths we saw for George W. Bush in 2008 if not for Trump’s continued otherworldly support among white evangelicals. According to Public Religion Research Institute’s American Values Survey, released in January, a staggering 77 percent of white evangelicals approve of Trump’s performance–almost identical to the 81 percent who voted for him in 2016.
How is that possible? Well, almost from the time Trump locked up the Republican nomination in July 2016, the religious right has mounted what can only be described as a campaign to bully us into supporting Trump. To hear the nation’s so-called moral guardians talk, Russia didn’t hack the election for Trump–God did. Therefore, opposing Trump’s leadership is tantamount to shaking your fist at God.
In an environment like that, if you oppose Trump and you attend an evangelical, Pentecostal, or charismatic church that leans hard right, you’d probably best keep your head down. And that’s especially true if you live in a state where Trump still walks on water. In all likelihood, that explains the massive disconnect between how evangelicals see Trump and how the rest of the nation sees Trump.
One of the main leaders in this bullying campaign has been Steve Strang, founder and publisher of Charisma magazine, the largest Pentecostal/charismatic oriented magazine in the nation. For a long time, Strang has used this platform to carry water for the right. But he’s taken it to another level in the Trump era. This is a man who insisted that Trump was impeached for abuse of power because those mean old Democrats just didn’t like him. He also would have us believe that Trump isn’t really a boor and a bully, but a genuinely nice man.
Simply put, anyone who makes arguments like that is completely removed from reality. If there was any doubt this was the case with Strang, he was kind enough to give us even more proof in his latest column for Charisma. He claimed–with a straight face–that Trump is actually providing “great leadership” during this pandemic.
Strang was promoting an upcoming “quick update” to “God, Trump and the 2020 Election,” a paean to Trump he’d originally written in January. He’d written this update over three weeks last month in light of the mushrooming pandemic. Strang praises Trump for imposing restrictions on travel from China and Europe, declaring a national emergency in March, and imposing guidelines on social distancing that eventually recommended gatherings be limited to no more than 10 people.
If you believe Strang, Trump has given this country “great leadership” that will continue once this crisis passes, allowing the economy to “roar back.” To those who suggested this pandemic could be “an existential threat” to Trump’s reelection chances, Strang claimed it was “even more reason to back this president and help him get reelected.”
Um, Steve? If Trump was giving this country “great leadership” in this crisis, then why did he ignore numerous intelligence reports in January and February that this virus was going to be a disaster? Why was he so fixated on getting the economy going again that he had to be dragged out of his desire to completely roll back social distancing guidelines by Easter? And why have governors and mayors stepped in to provide the kind of leadership that the president would normally provide in such a crisis?
Those are but a few examples of why anyone who has followed this crisis can be pardoned for wondering if Strang’s idea of “great leadership” is fundamentally warped. Indeed, in a case of exceptionally bad timing, this article went live just hours after Trump told an audience at a Fox News town hall that coronavirus could potentially kill up to 100,000 people–in the same breath that he urged governors to continue reopening their states. Watch a clip from CBSN here.
Even in the face of such a sobering death toll, Trump said–with a straight face–that some states were taking too long to start the process of reopening. How is this “great leadership,” Steve?
Nearly every major poll shows that the nation at large does not trust the way Trump is handling the coronavirus. But according to Pew Research, some 77 percent of white evangelicals are confident in the way Trump is handling the pandemic. Out of that total, 49 percent of white evangelicals–just shy of a majority–are “very confident” in how Trump is handling this. How is this possible? It’s simple. People like Strang have their followers convinced that, in the face of all evidence to the contrary, that Trump is a competent leader.
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