G.K. Chesterton once said that America “is a nation with the soul of a church.” Trump’s prayer breakfast speech this morning was as good as it could be in a nation with the soul of the church. The speech was infused with the usual themes of civil religion: “In God We Trust,” “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance, “Praise to be to God” on the Washington Monument,” and plenty of references to the Providence of God. When you combine Christian theology with nationalism it can breed the worst forms of idolatry. At the same time, American presidents have been doing this for a long time. Check out Kevin Kruse’s excellent book One Nation Under God: How Corporate America Invented Christian America.
Some of my anti-Trump friends will trash the speech. Fair enough. But there was nothing about this speech that was unusual or unique to Donald Trump. A version of this speech could have been delivered by FDR, Ike, JFK, Reagan, or Obama. It was a straight-forward appeal to American civil religion.
A few quick observations:
- I am glad that there was no reference to Arnold Schwarzenegger this year.
- I was unsure if the reference to “we are God’s handiwork” was a reference to individuals or the United States
- Irony: Trump said prayer helps families to thrive even as he is tearing families apart with his immigration policies.
- At the end of the speech Trump said we should follow the founders. It implies that they were Christians or at least people who cared about peace and justice. This is not entirely true. The founders were morally complex people. We should probably not invoke them in a prayer breakfast.