For most of the last three-plus years, the religious right has embarked on an all-out campaign to bully evangelicals, and Americans as a whole, into bowing down to Donald Trump. They have done so for the most part by speaking in code. To hear some of the nation’s so-called moral guardians talk, the opposition to Trump is demonically driven, meaning those who want to undercut Trump are being played by the devil.
As I write this on Friday afternoon, FiveThirtyEight pegs Trump’s average approval rating at 42.7 percent–the lowest approval rating on record for a first-term president at this stage. But a convincing argument can be made that even these numbers are inflated. After all, if you attend a fundified church and you have to worry about being branded as a pawn of the devil for daring to oppose Trump, odds are that you’ll keep your head down. And that’s especially true if you live in one of the few areas of the country where Trump still walks on water.
This would be nauseating enough in normal times, but is especially so as Trump faces impeachment. In the time between the House formally impeaching him in December and the start of the trial earlier this week, more evidence came to light that proves Trump did indeed abuse his power by sitting on military aid to Ukraine unless it launched a politically motivated investigation into former vice president Joe Biden.
But none of that matters to Steve Strang, founder and publisher of Charisma magazine and one of Trump’s staunchest defenders on the religious right. He seems to believe that the Democrats are trying to impeach and remove Trump because they just don’t like him.
For some time, Strang has used his platform as publisher of the nation’s largest charismatic and Pentecostal-oriented magazine to carry water for the right. But he has taken it to another level in the Trump era. He has joined his fellow fundies in using code to warn evangelicals against opposing Trump, and explaining that doing so furthers the interests of the devil. He has few qualms about slamming Democrats as “godless” while writing paeans to Trump, and believes that Christians should be waging spiritual warfare on Trump’s behalf.
Strang ramped up the spin machine again on Friday morning, in a column for Charisma. He highlighted a discussion he had with longtime conservative commentator Doug Wead, best known as the man who coined the term “compassionate conservatism.” It aired on Strang’s podcast, “The Strang Report”; listen here.
Wead used a good part of the discussion to engage in hair-splitting. For instance, he claimed that despite all the Democrats’ talk of a quid pro quo, the articles of impeachment make no mention of that phrase. What Wead doesn’t want you to know is that Article I, relating to abuse of power, accuses Trump of making aid to Ukraine conditional on Kiev launching an investigation into Biden–the very definition of a quid pro quo.
But if you believe Strang and Wead, we should take any accusations of abuse of power with a grain of salt. Early in their chat, Strang claimed that every president has been accused of abusing his power–meaning that a president “had power and did something they didn’t like.” Wead agreed, musing that his mother abused her power.
All of this led Wead to dismiss the impeachment inquiry as “impeachment lite,” motivated by “hatred of this president and a desire to hurt him and hurt his family.” In his article, Strang applauded Wead for “expertly” pointing out that abuse of power can often be code for “doing something other people don’t like.”
Anyone who has paid any attention to this affair can be pardoned for falling down and laughing. After all, during the impeachment inquiry in the House, we saw career diplomats and military personnel who have served under presidents from both parties express shock and disgust at Trump’s actions. This wasn’t a case of not liking what Trump did. They knew that what he did wasn’t just wrong, but illegal.
This assertion is even more laughable considering what came to light after Trump was formally impeached. We have learned that Trump personally ordered both the withholding of Ukrainian aid and the effort to get Ukraine to help him get dirt on Biden. We have learned that the decision to withhold the aid broke federal laws on presidential impoundments; indeed, the White House never even bothered to send the paperwork required by that law.
All things considered, the most benign interpretation of Strang’s article is that he is the one speaking in code. Much of his audience lives in a bubble where his magazine, as well as the likes of American Family Radio and “The 700 Club,” are considered major news sources. It makes one wonder–as bad as Trump’s approval ratings are, how low would they go if the scales came off enough evangelicals’ eyes?
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