One growing trend under Donald Trump’s administration is that if you’re not alt-right, you’re going to be left out.
Pandering to the alt-right, of course, means pandering to the pseudo-Christian sect that builds itself on privilege and exclusion. To that end, Trump and his administration have worked hard these past sixteen weeks to let anyone outside the Christian right know that they’re officially persona non grata.
Anti-Muslim Rhetoric and Actions
The first religious group Trump overtly shut out, in a rather literal sense, was Muslims. That’s been perhaps his most direct and visible action against a group that doesn’t call itself Christian. This action is still plodding through courts.
USA Today reported this week that whether the executive order banning entry by individuals from certain predominantly Muslim countries can be enforced depends largely on whether the order stands alone.
On its own, the order likely falls within legal bounds — if it is read as restricting admission to people from countries based on terror threats, real or alleged. However, if it is read to be based on religion, it’s likely to be rejected as unconstitutional. The deciding factor, it appears, may be whether Trump’s anti-Muslim rhetoric before the election can be taken into account in determining the intent of the order.
Whether or not the order is enforced, if part of the purpose was sending a strong message to Muslim Americans, and Muslims who are living in, or would immigrate to, this country, it has clearly been successful in that. If it was intended to send Trump’s alt-right and pseudo-Christian base a message that his administration recognizes them as the superior or preferred group, it was successful in that as well.
While Trump hasn’t built his campaign personally on an endless flow of anti-Semitic rhetoric, he has made connections that have anti-Semitic influences. Specifically, Steve Bannon, who Donald Trump appointed as the chief executive officer of his campaign, and subsequently as the chief strategist for his administration, has been a concern for many.
Multiple organizations have warned that Bannon is connected to the rise of anti-Semitism in America. The Anti-Defamation League warned that,
Bannon has embraced the alt-right, a loose organization of white nationalists and anti-Semites.
The ADL further clarified that Bannon has proudly proclaimed that Breitbart News, of which he was the executive chairman from 2012 until he joined the Trump team, was ‘the platform for the alt-right,’ though he also denied that the alt-right is anti-Semitic (or racist). He reportedly did admit those particular prejudices are common among individuals in the alt-right, however.
Meanwhile, the Southern Poverty Law Center published a piece highlighting increased connection between Breitbart commenters and what they call ‘the most aggressive far-right extremists’ on social media, during a period that was largely under Bannon’s leadership, based on language patterns. To be clear, when they say ‘most aggressive far-right’ the SPLC doesn’t mean the strongest advocates for the right of businesses to have religions and to get government out of health care. They’re talking about
…users who advocate for violence against minorities and are openly pro-Nazi…
The SPLC indicates that the purported ‘zero-tolerance’ by Bannon of any anti-Semitism in the publication is not supported by facts.
In early 2013, the term “Jewish” was used in a similar way as “white” or “black” as a racial/ethnic descriptor, which is similar to how “Jewish” is used in the mainstream press. By 2016 on Breitbart, however, “Jewish” had morphed into an epithet, used in similar contexts as “socialist” or “commie.”
As for what comes out of Bannon’s own mouth, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency collected a list of concerns about Steve Bannon, including a list of anti-Semitic remarks attributed to him. Bannon is quoted as complaining about the number of ‘Hannukah books’ in a school library, expressing distaste for the fact that the school in question had formerly been a temple, and, at one school, in the longest and perhaps most vitriolic anti-Semitic statement attributed to him, Bannon said,
…went on to say the biggest problem he had with Archer is the number of Jews that attend. He said that he doesn’t like Jews and that he doesn’t like the way they raise their kids to be ‘whiny brats’ and that he didn’t want the girls going to school with Jews.
The list of concerns also mentions Bannon’s failure to remove certain blatantly anti-Semitic sentiments from Breitbart, including one that read “Heil Hitler.”
But wait, there’s more!
Steve Bannon’s appointment isn’t Donald Trump’s only behavior that has been decried as anti-Semitic and harmful to Jewish people in America. Though he has closely aligned himself with religious leaders who describe themselves as pro-Israel, he’s also been called out for a failure to condemn attacks and bomb threats on Jewish Community Centers. Though Trump did finally issue a statement when pressed, it took him weeks to do so, according to CNN.
According to Bradley Burston, a journalist at Haaretz, there are more reasons to consider Trump an anti-Semite himself: his omission of Jewish people in his statement on International Holocaust Remembrance Day, his reluctance to fire Michael Flynn (who, Burston notes, once retweeted a message declaring, “Not anymore, Jews. Not anymore.”), covert encouragement of anti-Semites within his supporter base, and that Trump appeared to be more offended that anyone would ask him to condemn anti-Semitic attacks, than by the attacks themselves.
Exclusion of other religious minorities
While Donald Trump and his administration have made fewer specific attacks on other minority religions (Pew Research Center reports that less than 3% of Americans follow a faith that is not a Christian denomination, Judaism, or Islam, with 70% reporting as Christian and about 30% total in the category of atheist, agnostic, or ‘none,’ making other religious minorities a less notable target for politicians of any stripe) many of his actions affect these faith groups too.
The Muslim ban, for instance, represents a similar danger to those of other religious backgrounds leaving Muslim-majority countries. The alt-right rhetoric endangers anyone of a religion that the pseudo-Christian extremist base doesn’t choose to embrace. Further, the rampant ignorance of the difference between non-Christian religions and the dress often associated with them means that promotion of violence and hate against one almost inevitably means violence and hate against others. (Al Jazeera covered in 2015 that Sihks are frequently the targets of violence that is intended to be acted upon Muslims, detailing a long list of specific attacks on Sihks and other minority religions, carried out with explicit anti-Muslim rhetoric.)
Exclusion and alienation of non-religious Americans
This has been less overt than either anti-Semitism or anti-Islamic actions from the Trump administration. However, it’s certainly an issue as well. The Freedom From Religion Foundation is currently suing Trump after his National Day of Prayer actions, which clearly favor Christian political groups and explicitly exclude non-faith tax-exempt organizations that fall under the same tax code.
His appointment of Mike Pence as Vice President was also a concern for atheists. Pence has a background of supporting theocratic ideals, and specifically, according to Americans United, of fighting against the separation of church and state as outlined in the Constitution of the United States of America, as well as of promoting Christianity in public schools.
In further efforts to undermine education and promote Christianity, Pence has supported voucher programs to move public funds from public schools to private religious ones. While this should be a concern to all, atheists, in particular, have been fighting this battle, since even when laws intended to promote Christianity are nominally accepting of other faith groups, they continue to exclude those without religion.
Exclusion of mainstream Christians
While the Trump administration might claim to embrace Christianity, the truth is that only one subset of Christianity, a group many Christians consider fake Christianity or Christianity poorly executed, is really connected to right-wing extremist politics. It’s the brand of Christianity associated with mega-churches, televangelists, and businesses run in the guise of religious organizations.
Franklin Graham, an evangelist who has been associated with such political activity as supporting Kentucky court clerk Kim Davis in her refusal to grant marriage licenses in an attempt to prevent same-sex couples from marrying, and who asserted Thursday that 100,000 Christians are being killed per year for their faith in a ‘Christian genocide,’ according to Christian Today, is the type of Christian that Donald Trump’s administration embraces.
James Dobson, of Focus on the Family, who, according to the Souther Poverty Law Center called LGBTQ rights ‘a second civil war,’ in which his organization fights to keep government control in the hands of those who would deny such rights, is the type of Christian the Trump administration embraces.
So is televangelist Paula White, who, according to the Orlando Weekly is ‘a match made in alt-right heaven’ for Trump, whose list of scandals mirrors his own:
She’s rich, but also dogged by financial controversies, accumulating a small fortune in cash and properties through various now-bankrupt ministries.
Christians who promote gay rights, accept Muslim immigrants with open arms, and preach equality in the eyes of God are not a part of Trump’s image for America. If your pastor promotes prosperity gospel, has been fighting for legislation that will allow him to funnel church funds to a politician’s campaign (especially if his church has lots of it to funnel), wants less government regulation of business and environment (and somehow construes this as a religious issue) but more regulation over women’s bodies and which people are allowed to marry and what scientists can study, then your brand of Christianity is welcome in Trump’s America.
If your pastor tells you to love everyone, if there are LGBTQ people in your congregation and they feel safe and welcome, if you invited (or would invite) your Muslim neighbors to a church potluck, if you believe that government should be secular — if this is you and your church, then you’re as much outside Donald Trump’s desired in-crowd as any minority religion.
Donald Trump is working to give political power to these pseudo-Christian ‘ministries,’ to encourage those who use a style of Christian worship to enrich themselves, and who will, in turn, enrich him, and the more success he has, the more everyone else, in every other faith group or non-faith group, is excluded and made less safe in America.
If this goes unchecked, America will be in the hands of the alt-right religious extremists, and everyone else will be left behind.
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Steph Bazzle reports on social issues and religion for Hill Reporter. She focuses on stories that speak to everyone's right to practice what they believe in and receive the support of their communities and government officials. You can reach her at Steph@HillReporter.com