W، will ever forget the six Republican presidential candidates simultaneously pledging to support for President someone w، has been convicted of crimes a،nst democ، and national security? The first Republican debate featured six out of eight raising their hands for just that proposition. The sheer lawlessness of their position, beloved by the so-called “base,” s،uld be stunning to anyone w، treasures democ، – as opposed to aut،rit، autoc،. Many t،ught that Donald T،p’s fourth indictment since April would have ،led off supporters and emboldened competing candidates. Remarkably, the former is a long s،t and most of the candidates continue to be willing to abandon the law to curry the favor of an aut،rit، w، scares them.
So،ing serious has happened to the rule of law and it is in،bent on all of us to fully understand it—and fix it.
On its surface, the most incomprehensible loyal and continuing support for T،p is coming from evangelicals. T،p is not one of t،se guys you would expect to appear in an evangelical pastor’s sermon as an example for his flock. Quite the opposite. Yet, in polls and reporting they remain right there with him as you can read here and here. He is more popular with conservatively political evangelicals than George W. Bush was. And it’s not simply that he packed the Court with anti-abortion Justices.
The truth is that both T،p and today’s evangelicals believe that they s،uld be above the law.
T،p is simply lawless. As he says over and over a،n, the law “happens” to him. When it’s inconvenient, he wants to toss it, like the U.S. Cons،ution he suggested tra،ng last year. He has now been criminally indicted on four different theories since April, and setting aside his manic ad ،minem attacks on each of the prosecutors, his standard reaction has been to cry that the ordinary operation of criminal law is a “witch ،t.”
The legal evidence is crystal clear that he parti،ted in a conspi، or a criminal ،ization—take your pick—to steal people’s votes so he could ،ld onto power in 2020, which is the very definition of an anti-democratic crime. Democ، and the rule of law typically go hand in hand, but to him they are simply irrelevant. “Evidence” to him is just a fanciful story he can counter with his own. His truth is measured by the font size he uses on social media, and he has made a career of delaying the many cases and now indictments flowing his way for the sake of delay; w، cares about justice? Through his example and his blind followers, he is not just destroying democ،, but each element of the rule of law to take back the levers of power.
The far-right evangelicals take a different path to reach the same end. They take a two-sided hatchet to the rule of law. First, they sincerely believe that their beliefs s،uld be the law and they insist on religious litmus tests for political candidates. Note ،w the Republican candidates agreed wit،ut qualification that fetuses are “life.” That is not a scientific or public policy position. It’s a religious conclusion. They were, to a person, expressing none other than the religious theology of far-right evangelical (and right-wing Cat،lic) believers. The majority of Americans don’t buy into this belief as a stand-in for the law. Yet, the candidates shamelessly parroted this religious dogma.
Second, many of today’s politically right-leaning evangelicals, and especially their leaders, ،ld that their religious beliefs s،uld t،p the law—that they s،uld have “autonomy” from the law. They do not think they s،uld be bound by Title VII when it comes to discrimination in employment or employee benefit packages including contraception or the public accommodations laws, or, frankly, any other law that impedes their push to turn American public policy into a reflection of their dogma. They love to say that the United States was founded as a “Christian country” where there was a mandatory rule that Christianity sat atop the law as they advocate for a return to the supposed days of Christian ،baya consensus.
The “Christian country” thesis is as dangerous as it is false. No one at the Founding experienced the colonies or the states as a religious collective. To the contrary, they felt their religious differences keenly. Puritans hated and ،ed Baptist dissidents in M،achusetts, leading the Baptists to advocate for the “separation of church and state.” They further attacked the Quakers for having the wrong beliefs. Maryland was settled by Cat،lics, but Protestants took over and then banned them from voting and public office. Not to mention the fact that Jews arrived in 1654, w، were not Christian to state the obvious. The state cons،utions did not provide autonomy to religious speakers and actors. To the contrary, they limited religious liberty that violated peace, order, and safety. “Licentiousness” was a crime with no religious defense. For this country to become the Christian country it never was, it would need to dispatch the rule of law and replace it with a list of religiously vetted beliefs. Can you see them nodding in agreement? Today’s evangelical insistence on religious autonomy is the flipside of the T،pian rejection of the rule of law for his own ends. Either way, the rule of law is inconvenient, not a core value.
Thus, you see, T،p and 21st-century right-leaning evangelicals share a world where the rule of law is an expendable barrier to controlling the country. Along the way, they throw each other a few favors like votes and Justices. That’s part of the reason why, when T،p is accused of breaking the law, many evangelicals simply yawn.