Saturday, April 27, 2024

Bill Barr explains why Christian nationalists are so loyal to Trump

Former Attorney General Bill Barr is in the news again. After basically asserting that the former president is unfit for office, he is now endorsing Donald Trump. 

Barr said, “Between Biden and Trump, I will vote for Trump because I believe he will do less damage over the four years.”Barr went on to describe the difference between both parties in stark terms, insisting that the “the threat to freedom and democracy has always been on the left.”

“I think the real threat to democracy is the progressive movement and the Biden administration,” he said.

This has everyone scratching their heads in an attempt to understand how Barr can suggest that policies he disagrees with are a more serious threat to democracy than someone who attempted to overthrow an election and is now facing numerous felony charges. 

But there are a couple of things to keep in mind about all of this. The first is that Bill Barr (much like his pal Leonard Leo) is representative of the Catholic version of Christian nationalism. Most of us have been scratching our heads for years now trying to understand why this religious sect remains so loyal to Trump. In a speech he gave at Notre Dame in 2019, Bill Barr helped us answer that question. 

The former attorney general began his speech by making the claim that "in the Framers’ view, free government was only suitable and sustainable for a religious people – a people who recognized that there was a transcendent moral order antecedent to both the state and man-made law and who had the discipline to control themselves according to those enduring principles." In other words, he posits that our founders thought that democracy would only work if people allowed religion to control their evil impulses.

Barr went on to claim that "over the past 50 years religion has been under increasing attack" leading to "the steady erosion of our traditional Judeo-Christian moral system." He then says that every social pathology - illegitimacy, mental illness, suicide, drug addiction - is the result of progressives who are militant secularists pushing religion out of the public square. He joins forces with the kind of rhetoric we hear from dominionists.

Secularists, and their allies among the “progressives,” have marshaled all the force of mass communications, popular culture, the entertainment industry, and academia in an unremitting assault on religion and traditional values.

In short, Barr believes that progressives are out to strip this country of it's Judeo-Christian moral system, which will make democracy unsustainable. That is the house of cards around which Christian nationalists have built their support for Donald Trump - at least on the surface. But as Fareed Zaharia explains, it goes much deeper than that. 

Zakaria points out that over the last 30-40 years, women, Blacks, Hispanics, gays, etc, are "rising out of the shadows into the mainstream," which is creating a major backlash not only in this country, but around the globe. Zakaria also suggests that Trump's superpower was his ability to tap into that backlash. Interestingly enough, that is exactly what white supremacist Richard Spencer said back in 2015.

“Trump, on a gut level, kind of senses that this is about demographics, ultimately. We’re moving into a new America.” He said, “I don’t think Trump is a white nationalist,” but he did believe that Trump reflected “an unconscious vision that white people have – that their grandchildren might be a hated minority in their own country. I think that scares us. They probably aren’t able to articulate it. I think it’s there. I think that, to a great degree, explains the Trump phenomenon.”

The reason Barr and his fellow Christian nationalists support Trump is that they are engaging in what Doug Muder called the Confederate mindset (emphasis mine).

The Confederate sees a divinely ordained way things are supposed to be, and defends it at all costs. No process, no matter how orderly or democratic, can justify fundamental change.

The very idea that, as Obama once said, we are continuing to "perfect our union" is anathema to the Confederate mindset.  Those are the stakes we're grappling with today. 


  1. What were those seven deadly sins compiled by Pope Gregory around 600 AD again?

    1. * Pride: Check
      * Greed: Check
      * Wrath: Check
      * Envy: Check
      * Lust: Check
      * Gluttony: Check
      * Sloth: Check

      What really gets me is that, although Bill Barr knows that Trump is unfit for office, he will vote for him anyway. Why? Because Barr's White, Christian privilege is going away, so why not burn the entire country down before that can happen! Confederate mindset indeed!

    2. I was mostly thinking about number 6. Maybe in Barr's case number 2 would be ranked second for violations.

  2. Since you link to Doug Muder, I'll point out here that he doesn't get the history particularly right.

    The Confederates seceded from the Union and started the Civil War in order to preserve slavery. In the lead up to the war Confederates argued that non-slaveholders should be willing to fight for slavery because the end of slavery would mean the end of white supremacy, but that was a recruitment tool, not an indication that we shouldn't believe their many statements that the conflict was over slavery.

    Once the war started, that created additional reasons to fight. For example, based on past history, Jefferson Davis could expect that if the Confederates won the war, Davis would go down in history as the father of his country. If the Confederates lost, he could expect to be hanged as a traitor. It's hardly surprising that he preferred the first option to the second.

    The reason traitors are typically hanged is to send the message “don't try this again.” The defeat of the Confederacy was so total that there was no need to hang anyone--slavery was finished in the United States and everyone knew it. No one was going to start another civil war in an attempt to restore slavery.

    One aspect of that defeat was that the Confederates lost the argument over the morality of slavery. The Declaration of Independence, says that everyone has an inalienable right to liberty, but the wealth and social status of the slaveholders caused a lot of people to convince themselves, or at least pretend to believe, that slavery was good. Emancipation destroyed the social structures that supported this belief. In addition, it was widely believed at the time that the course of history followed a Divine plan, and the Confederate defeat was seen as a pretty strong indication of where God stood on slavery. So in the wake of that defeat, most Americans conceded that slavery was evil.

    So in 1866, Confederates were confronted with the fact that they had lost a war, their cause was not just, and the decision to fight that was was stupid because it hastened the event it was trying to prevent. Edward Pollard tried to spin the events of the Civil War in a way that made them less humiliating to southerners, writing The Lost Cause in 1866 and The Lost Cause Regained in 1868. In the latter book, he put forth the notion that the Confederates weren't really fighting for slavery, they were fighting for white supremacy. This rewriting of history hasn't stood the test of time because by modern standards, white supremacy is hardly a more noble cause then slavery, but it's spin, not actual history

    Resistance to change is a very real human attribute, but “Confederate mindset” doesn't seem to be a particularly apt term for this. The Confederates took radical actions to advance their financial interests.

  3. To reiterate Mr. Almquist's final statement "The Confederates took radical actions to advance their financial interests" is to recognize that the modern-day White Supremacists and Christian Nationalists have discovered the motivational arguments that an immigrant is here to take your job, or that all immigrants are criminals and rapists, or that the business of government is business. All of that is bunk. Period. We need a new SCOTUS now and in the future.

  4. Thank you for your very illuminating piece, Nancy! But I continue to be mystified as to how these people can justify their views in light of the Commandment to 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'


The root of the problem is a theology that enables sexual abuse

As someone who was raised in a white evangelical Christian family and church, it deeply saddens me every time we hear that another leader o...