‘If we put our trust in Him, if we place this miracle of democracy from sea to shining sea. then He will bless America beyond all that we could ask or imagine.’ That’s how Vice President Mike Pence ended his remarks as he introduced President Trump in Colorado Springs.
Pence was of course referring to the Almighty, but you wouldn’t know it. In the small maxed-out arena, the large crowd was there to listen to Trump’s sermon. Colorado Springs is known as one of the most religious cities in America. NPR dubbed the city a ‘Mecca for Evangelical Christians’, while the Guardian labeled it ‘a playground for pro-life, pro-gun evangelical Christians’. There were gloves in back pockets and more workbooks than Birkenstocks present. The masses were assembled for one man, and it wasn’t Jesus Christ.
Outside the arena, giant screens were set up so the spillover crowd could enjoy Trump’s brand of evangelism in crisp freezing temperatures. Trump’s 2016 rallies — part-church, part-Wrestlemania — were covered wall-to-wall by cable news. Now, even though the cameras have moved on, his true believers have not.
Trump’s critics in politics and the media have been befuddled by how such an amoral man could shepherd the evangelicals. Part of his appeal is evoking a sense of ‘I’m the last thing standing between you and them’. As Matthew wrote, ‘they will kill you. You will be hated by all nations because of my name.’
Trump, ever the showman preacher, delays his entrance then enters the stage, circling and applauding while ‘Proud to be an American’ plays in its entirety. It’s a strangely choreographed routine, more at home on WWE Raw than at a presidential rally.
The Trump act is by now all too familiar. First he singled out the media, who were for the most part hidden behind a phalanx of news cameras. Most reporters don’t respond anymore. Some still smirk, but it’s clear this is political theater. Then Trump mocked ‘Mini’ Mike Bloomberg’s debate performance and the results of the Academy Awards. His supporters love every second of the show. The music playlist in the background sometimes plays entire songs, sometimes just the intros. It’s as though Trump himself is backstage, hitting the next button on the randomized Spotify playlist.
Under this roof and inside the tent, the red hats all come out. His followers dance in the aisle, boo the fake news media (of which I was a part), cheer at ‘Space Force’ and believe he will protect their Second Amendment and stand for the sanctity of life.
One supporter told me that he hopes Trump does these rallies forever. ‘Even after he leaves office?’ I ask. ‘Oh I hope he never leaves office,’ the guy kids. This is the part, combined with Trump joking he plans to serve another 26 years, from the stage, where members of the media get the vapors, and the commoner who ‘can’t read lines on the map’ jabs a cheeky elbow into my side. They know it’s all a show. At the same time, they seem to consider Trump the bombastic pastor and Trump the Commander-in-Chief to be two different people. It certainly feels that way inside the tent.
The enthusiasm from the true believers is not only still there: it’s strengthened in the last four years. As Trump lampooned the Democratic debate from the previous night, Bernie Sanders was name-checked several times and booed the loudest. Trump is an expert at telling his people what they want to hear. You almost wonder whether he’ll base his decision to put Space Force Headquarters a short few miles away near the Air Force Academy on how much applause he receives.
Trump is in full messiah mode already, while the Democrats are still fumbling around for their own savior. It’s clear who the evangelical everyman has chosen.
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