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Donald Trump speaks to the media at Arizona's Mesa Gateway Airport in December 2015. Photo by Gage Skidmore

Religion and the U.S. election

There’s no Sermon on the Mount from Trump

By Dennis Gruending

In her nomination speech to the Democratic National Convention in July, former U.S. Senator and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton described her Methodist faith as the foundation of her activism. “[My mother] made sure I learned the words of our Methodist faith,” she said “‘‘Do all the good you can, for all the people you can, in all the ways you can, as long as ever you can.’” This is almost Sermon-on-the-Mount material, and one hopes that Clinton actually meant it.

Meanwhile, her political rival Donald Trump says that he’s a Presbyterian. But in his nomination speech to the Republican National Convention, he only explicitly mentioned religion while praising evangelical Christians. Trump’s gratitude is understandable. For decades, white evangelicals have been the bedrock of Republican support. In 2012, they voted 73 percent to 21 percent for Mitt Romney over Barack Obama, and a poll published by the Pew Research Center in July indicated that an even greater percentage of them will support Trump in 2016. This is especially significant because evangelical Christians in the U.S. make up about 30 percent of the population — about 100 million people.

For evangelicals, the ideal candidate embodies a combination of family values, as they see them, and personal integrity. Trump, however, has been divorced twice. He is a real estate magnate who owns both hotels and gambling casinos. And his companies have declared bankruptcy four times, leaving creditors and workers in the lurch. Yet Trump has been embraced by evangelical leaders, such as Jerry Falwell Jr., who took over as president of Liberty University in 2007, upon the death of his ever-controversial father. The younger Falwell says that  “Donald Trump is God’s man to lead our nation.”

In response, writer Peter Wehner, who has served in three Republican administrations, said that Trump holds a worldview that “is incompatible with Christianity.” Trump is all about power, Wehner wrote. He holds anyone he considers weak or vulnerable in contempt, including prisoners of war and people with disabilities, as well as those who he considers physically unattractive and politically powerless. He is a bully who “disdains compassion and empathy.” So expect no Sermon on the Mount from him.

But Trump, it turns out, doesn’t have a lock on people of faith. He has offended and frightened Latinos by calling them criminals and rapists, actually promising to build a wall between Mexico and the U.S.  Latinos, though now represent 17 percent of the American population and one-third of the nation’s 50 million Catholics. The latest Pew poll showed that registered Latinos will vote for Clinton by a margin of 77 percent to 16 percent, which would provide her with a 17-point advantage among all registered Catholic voters. The Pew pollsters also anticipate that registered voters among black Protestants will vote for Clinton by a margin of 89 percent to 8 percent.

Trump, in turn, will continue focussing on white voters while suppressing the vote of Latinos and blacks — a strategy that Republicans have used in the past. The chances are good, however, that changing demographics — combined with attention to the beatitudes — will finally sink the reality TV star in November.

Author's photo
Dennis Gruending is an Ottawa-based author, blogger and a former Member of Parliament. His work will appear on the second and fourth Thursday of the month. His Pulpit and Politics blog can be found at www.dennisgruending.ca.
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