God and Donald Trump by Stephen E. Strang, Florida: Charisma House, 2017. 221 pages.
One of the most contentious and controversial elections in American history culminated with the victory of Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton on November 8, 2016. According to the mainstream media, the Republican candidate was never supposed to defeat the Democrat in this extraordinary race to the White House, but he nevertheless did. “How did he win?” was the big question that echoed across the country and around the world in the aftermath of Trump’s surprising and shocking victory, around one year ago.
A broad range of socio-economic and political explanations for why Trump won have been offered by both the left and the right, as well as a number of best selling books as to “what happened” (including Clinton’s own memoir of an account). However, this book is unique as it attempts to explain the often unexamined religious dimensions of the 2016 election.
Strang is the founder of Charisma Magazine and CEO of Charisma Media. He is a successful businessman and an award-winning journalist who wrote bestseller The Faith of George W. Bush in 2003. Now Strang seeks to provide an thorough explanation that considers the role of the Religious Right and how Donald Trump won the greatest amount of Christian voters in American history, more than any previous Republican president including even George W. Bush, himself an openly declared Evangelical Christian.
This book furthermore explores “who Donald Trump really is, what he believes, where his vision for America will lead us, and where God is in all of this.” The author admits that he is a vocal supporter of Trump. He views the outcome of the election as God’s response to an ongoing prayer for national revival and restoration to America’s traditional roots, a movement also known as “Make America Great Again.”
Strang writes in the opening chapters that:
While some people interpreted Donald Trump’s win as a political revolution, many conservative Christians saw it as a cultural counter-revolution and an answer to prayer…They weren’t praying to elect Donald Trump so much as they were praying for a change of direction and a new moral and spiritual awakening…Donald Trump represents a supernatural answer to prayer, but he didn’t come in the package people wanted. Of the seventeen Republican nominees, he ranked as the last choice of most evangelicals.
Back on June 16, 2015, in Trump Tower, after Donald Trump announced his controversial candidacy he nevertheless continued to lead in the polls consistently into the Republican primaries, defeating 16 well qualified candidates. Trump ran on a populist platform emphasizing illegal immigration and international trade issues which were critical to his unexpected success throughout the Midwestern industrial heartland, today known as the Rust Belt.
However, Trump also unapologetically engaged the public behalf of Christian causes in the culture wars. After winning the Republican nomination, many ministers began endorsing Trump including most notably: Evangelist Franklin Graham, Baptist pastor Robert Jefress from Texas, Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr., and Family Research Council President Tony Perkins, among others on the Religious Right. Strang notes that critical to these connections were his long time spiritual adviser and preacher Paula White from Florida. Also, he considers the announcement of Indiana Governor Mike Pence for Vice President as the most important move in securing support among Evangelicals even beyond solid support in the Bible Belt.
Strang explains this phenomenon this way:
A momentum has started among conservative Evangelicals, and the Trump presidency has given renewed strength and support to a growing Christian resistance movement. The struggle no longer consists of Republican versus Democrat, left versus right, or conservative versus liberal but as…an even more critical and widely recognized area of conflict, nationalism versus globalism…evangelical resistance to the trendy but toxic globalist agenda has become an even greater area of focus for many believers.
As a New Yorker who had lived as a cosmopolitan liberal most of his life in addition to being a friend of the Clintons, it was ironic that Trump on the campaign was embraced by many conservative activists and public figures. By the time of the General Election, conservatives in having to choose who to vote for, perhaps felt he was simply the only viable option, as compared to Clinton.
Both Clinton and Trump had based their campaigns in Manhattan and it was there on Election Night that the seemingly impossible unfolded as the mainstream media reluctantly announced the final results at around 3:00 AM, sending shock waves across America and around the world. Throughout the transition, Trump together with Pence assembled what Strang calls “the most conservative and evangelical cabinet,” to the surprise to those who doubted his intentions and opposed his candidacy on an ideological basis.
On January 20, 2017, Donald Trump was inaugurated as the 45th president of the United States in Washington, D.C. Strang spends a chapter covering Trump’s first 100 days in office, characterizing opposition to Trump as activism from both in government and in the press as an overwhelming distraction from the GOP agenda. Part of this was the ongoing focus on Russian interference in the election while ignoring the economic and social reason why Trump won. As President, Trump nevertheless delivered right away by nominating Constitutional Originalist Judge Neil Gorsuch for the Supreme Court. Trump also acted on pledges and promises by means of executive orders promoting religious freedom at home and abroad. Strang quotes his friend Pastor Jeffress in summarizing these perspectives, stating:
President Trump has not only met but he has exceeded our every expectation, in reviving the economy, rebuilding our military, respecting our veterans, and restoring our greatest freedom of all, the free exercise of our faith. President Trump has done more to protect religious liberty than any president in United States history, and we are grateful to him for that.
In Parts 1 and 2, Strang summarizes the religious response and related aspects during the election while in Part 3 and 4, more emphasis is placed on what is known about Trump’s personal experience with faith and the broader political purposes that have inspired him.
Referencing the Trump’s own self-promotional account in The Art of the Deal as well as other family sources about his early life, we see the impact that his Mainline Protestant upbringing as a Presbyterian had in his formative years, before acquiring his greedy playboy, billionaire, real-estate mogul image. Growing up in the outer borough of Queens, New York, the Trump family attended a Presbyterian Protestant church pastored by Norman Vincent Peale, one of the earliest “prosperity preachers” who wrote an influential book called The Power of Positive Thinking.
Strang suggests that perhaps, this teaching did have an impact on Trump in a positive sense. However, he admits that later in life Trump’s multiple divorces would have a negative effect on any “family man” image, except for the fact people really respected how his children turned out to be. The author here infers that Trump’s foundational upbringing in faith, although largely forgotten throughout his life, later inspired his interest to reconnect to Evangelicals, despite having lived a life that does not reflect a moral ideal standard.
Finally, Stephen Strang includes the transcript of an interview for Charisma Magazine with then candidate Donald Trump. The conversation focuses on issues of domestic religious liberty as well as topics on Judeo-Christian values and Christian Zionism. Trump assures Strang that on all the issues, he will keep his promises to support the evangelical cause if he wins. This for Strang, is the turning point that convinces him to support Trump, as he says:
After that interview I understood that Donald Trump believes America remains a great country even though we’ve drifted away from the clear vision of the founders. He possesses an undeniable faith in America, and I realized that a big reason for that is his lifelong faith in God.
Overall, Stephen Strang’s account is a sincere one that attempts to examine Donald Trump’s background and political intentions, albeit from a perspective that is not really objective as it is openly supportive while rarely ever critical. The book is very effective at retelling the story of the entire two-year campaign from a personal perspective involving issues of faith, though in broadly evaluating Evangelicals, it does not clearly clarify certain ambiguous aspects. For example, although statistics indicate that the greatest number of Evangelicals voted for Trump in the election, it’s not considered that most of these voters were in fact, cultural Evangelicals rather than bible-believing, churchgoing Christians. This surprising fact about last year’s election, can be further explored in the following report on How “Notional” Christians Switched to Trump by the IRD’s Joseph Rossell.
There were obviously very vocal and prominent Evangelical voices (both conservative and liberal) who criticized Donald Trump during the primaries, before the election and ever since then. Though, it would be interesting to see whether more critics will be prepared to offer as thorough and consistent an explanation of their views as does Stephen Strang.
One notable book to be released in January 2018 attempts to do that through a compilation of essays addressing Evangelicalism in the age of Trump, titled “Still Evangelical?”
Nevertheless, God and Donald Trump is a highly recommended read for Christians as well as all readers interested in American politics, because it is among the few books (however biased) that even attempts at exploring in-depth the religious dimension of last year’s presidential election. For Christians critical of Trump, the book can be useful in revealing why some of their fellow believers gradually started to consider Trump’s movement as the unexpected answer from God, to long held prayers for revival in America.
Furthermore, Stephen Strang’s personal perspective in this book can help to make sense of how Donald Trump won the election, while providing a first-hand account of how self-proclaimed Evangelicals played a part in his victory. God and Donald Trump is an interesting yet controversial book that encourages deeper thought about changing cultural and religious trends in America.