Why Aren’t Evangelical Trump Supporters More Curious About Trump’s Behavior Toward Russia?

The easy answer is that evangelical leaders don’t want to mess up their power relationship with the president. It is easier to rationalize his actions. Even though the same actions from a Democrat president would bring outrage, they have tasted political dominance and don’t want to give it up.

There may be other factors. Social psychologists study the role of consistency and cognitive dissonance in maintaining attitudes. Taking a public position helps to solidify that attitude. Also, dissonance over a position can often be resolved by finding a sufficient justification for it. Subjects in studies have been induced to lie and say dull, boring tasks were fun. Subjects only paid a small sum to lie later said the tasks were interesting in contrast to those who were paid 20 times as much money to lie. The well paid group had sufficient justification to lie whereas the low pay group did not. The low pay group resolved their dissonance by later rating the tasks as more interesting than all other subjects.

Evangelical leaders may tell themselves that getting judges or support for some other policy or access to the president is justification for lack of scrutiny of the president’s behavior toward Russia. They may tell themselves that Russia isn’t really that bad after all. However, to people outside of the circle of his evangelical supporters, the president’s actions are very troubling.

If this article interested you, you probably have heard that the FBI investigated Trump’s possible ties to Russia after he fired FBI Director James Comey. Over the weekend, it was also reported that Trump has taken steps to keep his meetings with Vladimir Putin highly secret. There are other signs which have been documented elsewhere and summarized below. In short, Trump has deferred to Putin and Russian interests in ways that depart sharply from previous U.S. policy.

Even actions which appear to signal a willingness to respond firmly to Russia raise questions. Some supporters of the president point out the administration imposed tough sanctions on Russian interests, including those very close to Putin. An incurious supporter of the president will stop there. However, even the tough actions aren’t always what they seem to be.

For instance, in April 2018, the U.S. imposed tough sanctions on a group of Russian interests. One such person whose name is recently in the news was Oleg Deripaska. However, the action was delayed by the Trump administration almost a year past the time when it would have done the most good. Congress wanted sanctions imposed much earlier but for reasons never made clear, Trump delayed imposing them. In that time frame, the targets (who were well aware they were coming) had time to move funds into locations which are not covered by the sanctions.

Now the administration is lobbying to remove sanctions from companies previously associated with Deripaska. It isn’t clear to me how much Deripaska personally would benefit from the action but the timing of request should raise questions. However, Trump supporters don’t seem to ask questions.

As a child of the 60s, I am in disbelief to see evangelicals numb to Russian efforts to destabilize our elections. To hear Trump excuse Russian aggression is jarring and raises so many red flags. Trump’s behavior with Putin and in relation to Russian interests are truly and objectively troubling. Even Andy McCarthy, a Trump defender writing at the National Review, saw it recently. McCarthy doesn’t support the Mueller investigation but wrote, “If Mueller’s highly elastic warrant is to probe Trump “collusion” with the Kremlin, why would he stop if the president keeps giving him reasons to continue?”

McCarthy then lists Trump’s unbelievable support for Russian rationale for the invasion of Afghanistan, his praise of Putin as a leader in the face of evidence that he ordered the murder of dissenters, his obsequious response in Helsinki to Putin’s denial of election meddling, and his lies about having business dealings in Russia as reasons why someone might want to investigate. Trump supporter McCarthy doesn’t think Trump is a Russian agent, but he understands why someone might question Trump’s behavior.

In contrast, evangelical and other supporters of Trump just close their eyes and minds. Although I think it is highly likely that there is compromising information known by the Russians which motivates Trump, I will withhold judgment until Robert Mueller completes his work. However, whatever motivates our president, his actions are not helpful to the U.S. and demand a response from Congress and the people.


30 thoughts on “Why Aren’t Evangelical Trump Supporters More Curious About Trump’s Behavior Toward Russia?”

  1. Why Aren’t Evangelical Trump Supporters More Curious About Trump’s Behavior Toward Russia?

    Maybe because they could see it was obviously a fake story.

    1. What was “fake” about Trump keeping his meetings with Putin secret? or how Trump made excuses for Putin’s behaviour?

      1. “It is settled law that the Constitution entrusts the conduct of foreign relations exclusively
        to the Executive Branch, as it makes the President “the sole organ of the federal government in
        the field of international relations.” United States v. Curtiss-Wright Export Corp., 299 U.S. 304,
        320 (1936); see also Chicago & S. Air Lines, Inc. v. Waterman S.S. Corp., 333 U.S. 103, 109
        (1948) (“The President also possesses in his own right certain powers conferred by the
        Constitution on him as … the Nation’s organ in foreign affairs.”). In keeping with Supreme
        Court precedent, the Executive Branch has consistently taken the position, across administrations of both political patiies, that the President has exclusive authority to conduct diplomacy with foreign nations.”

        “With all respect, the Constitution assigns the President the role of charting the course of U.S. foreign policy and detetmining which diplomatic communications advance the national interest. Policy disagreements with the President’s decisions on those matters do not create a legislative right to review the President’s diplomatic communications with foreign leaders”

        Source https://assets.documentcloud.org/documents/5777433/Cipollone-Putin.pdf

  2. I’m reminded of the section in”Thus spake Zarathustra” called “The Ass Festival” where people worshiped a donkey who only said “Yea-uh.”

  3. Warren, your article underplays the amount of affection the evangelical community has for Putin. No less than Franklin Graham was gushing over Putin’s support for “traditional family values” during the Moscow Olympics, going as far to claim that the USA had ceded its moral authority to Russia over the issue of LGBTQ rights.

    Why the Christian Right Shares Trump’s Affection for Putin

    That’s right, Donald Trump and his alt-right fanbase are hardly the only Americans who deeply admire Vladimir Putin: He has a fairly large fan club among politically active U.S. Christian conservatives.

    It includes some pretty big names, like conservative Evangelical leader Franklin Graham, National Organization for Marriage leader Brian Brown, and American Family Association spokesperson Bryan Fischer. In almost every case it has been his distinctive combination of homophobia and Islamophobia that has made Putin one of the Christian right’s favorite international figures.

    Putin’s attacks on “gay propaganda” have been particularly heartwarming to Christian-right folk, probably because of echoes they hear of their own longtime warnings about a sinister “homosexual agenda” pervading U.S. politics and culture.

    For them, closer ties with Russia is a feature for much of the evangelical community, not a bug, so seeing Trump buddying up with Putin is to be encouraged, and nothing to be concerned about.

    It is also true that there is plenty of admiration for Putin in Trump’s base. I’ve seen comments going back well into Obama’s presidency wishing America had its own Putin — a strong, authoritarian leader that takes no crap from anybody, and returned the nation to nationalist ideals and traditional moral values. If anything, I suspect a good many of them would be perfectly happy to have Putin replace Trump in the White House, should such a thing be possible. After all, they’re still waiting for Trump to round up and imprison the Clinton camp and the leaders of deep state, and they know Putin wouldn’t have hesitated.

    1. I have written about this here: /2018/07/24/scott-lively-and-the-american-evangelical-attraction-to-russia/ and /2018/07/18/national-prayer-breakfast-organizer-doug-burleigh-predicted-putin-and-trump-would-become-friends/

      1. I find it insulting to suggest that all American evangelicals are endorsing authoritarian regime of Putin and want Trump to adopt the same repressive methods of his political opponents in the US as Putin does in Russia. That’s what Tacitus is doing and he obviously has no clue of what he is talking about. Reality check: Democrats have recently taken over the House of Representatives. Doesn’t look like Trump has any power over them, at all. Personally, I find it insulting because a pastor from my former church, who is a evangelical missionary, a Baptist, who went to Russia and got assaulted by the mob that was hired by their government. So, how can pastors like him would ever support a politician like Putin for what his government has put them through? As for the link to one of your threads, I’ve seen it and explained the association of Russian evangelicals with Lively, over there.

        1. First off, wishful thinking often doesn’t comport with reality. Trump’s admiration for hard men and dictators like Putin is patently obvious, and we should be thankful his incompetence (and the US Constitution, so far), has left him chafing at his impotence to follow suit.

          Secondly, as I said above, it’s not all evangelicals. You are deliberately distorting what I said. Honestly, I’m nowhere near dumb enough to put all evangelicals in the same basket. Not all evangelicals are even conservative politically, especially in the non-white community, of course.

          Oh, and I’ve seen more than enough comments by religious conservatives on right wing message boards over the years to know that Putin is admired by many of them. Even if it’s not the majority, it’s a disturbingly large minority, for sure. Maybe you should stop denying it’s a problem and start putting more effort into understanding why it’s a problem and what can be done about it.

          There is no doubt at all that white evangelicals continue to be the lynch pin of the Trump base — they are so enthusiastic about their support for Trump that even if he ditched fellow evangelical Mike Pence, it wouldn’t make any difference to this level of support in that community, at all! (Which is why Trump is considering the move.)

    2. From the same link that you provided:

      This law is one of the reasons conservative Evangelical writer Eric Metaxas, who got a lot of attention this fall for claiming that like-minded people had a religious obligation to vote for Donald Trump, isn’t buying into any “man-crush” when it comes to Putin:

      It should be clear that the law has little, if anything, to do with defending Christianity and everything to do with Russian nationalism. As author David Aikman told Christianity Today, “The Russian Orthodox church is part of a bulwark of Russian nationalism stirred up by Vladimir Putin … Everything that undermines that action is a real threat, whether that’s evangelical Protestant missionaries or anything else.”

      This negates a position that all American evangelicals are supposedly fans of Putin, and possibly of Trump, at the same time. Eric Metaxas is an influential pastor and it shows that he is not happy at all regarding what Putin’s government does to evangelical missionaries, and neither has been Franklin Graham.

      1. So what? Nowhere did I imply that *all* American evangelicals are fans of Putin. When you have as prominent a figure in evangelical circles as Franklin Graham, who is far better known than Eric Metaxas, gushing about Putin’s support for moral values, that’s a major problem, whether or not it’s “all” evangelicals.

  4. The groundwork for this was laid long ago, dating back to the 70’s and politically-driven groups like the Moral Majority, and has shaped the minds of so many evangelicals and conditioned them to always favor whatever the GOP power structure says and does. Because, abortion. And opposition to LGBTQ people. And in a transactional bargain these evangelicals have bought wholesale into an entire political system, to the current reality where tax policy favoring the rich, and immigration opposition, and absolute gun rights, and all sorts of other things are now seen as “the one correct and true Christian position.” This is in similar fashion to the way Fox News, Rush Limbaugh, et. al. have shaped the minds of so many people over the years (GOP = always absolutely good, Democrat = always absolutely bad, the truth is only what WE say, and everything else you hear is false and can be dismissed out-of-hand).

    Most Trump-supporting evangelicals don’t believe anything they hear apart from the Fox-spun and -filtered “news,” as reinforced and amplified by high-profile evangelical sycophants (e.g. Falwell Jr., Graham, Jeffress, Robertson, etc., who spend their days in endless adoration and praise of Trump and his administration). They have turned Christian values upside down to where many Trump-supporting evangelicals actually like and celebrate the fact that Trump is a crude bully, and even that he lies, because after all in so doing he is “owning the libs.” These evangelicals no longer see the world in terms of a field in which the gospel is to be sown, but rather in terms of a culture war in which everyone not on “our side” is to be berated, opposed, attacked, defeated and destroyed.

    Speaking as a middle-aged white politically moderate evangelical (who watched as many in my previous church shifted during the 2000’s into full-on “Fox” mode to the point where you couldn’t even have a Sunday School class doing exposition on a Bible passage without someone, or multiple people, taking it off on a tangent to gripe about the “horrors” of the Obama administration), I don’t even recognize the Christian faith anywhere in this worldview. They have traded the Savior for the power of an earthly Caesar, and traded the gospel for a political program.

    1. 100% corroborated and agreed with, speaking as a middle aged white moderate in the south, former evangelical (the term left me, I didn’t leave the term – I’d say I’m liberal reformed now [if that’s a thing lol]). And a huge irony is – how’d that Supreme Court work out for you? The day that Kavanaugh was sworn in, the then completely Republican controlled Congress could have passed a sweeping anti-abortion bill that the President, whom many pro-lifers (I’m pro-life – whole life and didn’t vote for Trump) held their nose and voted for, could have signed, and the now majority conservative court w/ *two* Trump justices could have upheld it. Yet what happened? Not a peep. Which should tell *every* single issue voter that you have been played for chumps on that single issue for decades. The GOP politicians *know* you’ll vote on that issue and that issue alone and you’ll let them get away with all kinds of other nonsense because of the promise, the hope, the vain wish that one day, if you vote for them, they’ll do something about abortion. And they are laughing all the way back to Washington every four years

      1. Nathankc, I appreciate the corroboration! We see some of the same things. I like your expression of “the term left me, I didn’t leave the term.” I have said on several occasions that I feel like I am moving left politically, but upon consideration I think my views have held fairly steady, and so my sense is instead that many of those around me are moving further right. I still hold to “politically moderate evangelical,” but just *barely* and entirely on the basis of certain theological approaches (think Bebbington quadrilateral) rather than the increasingly politicized connotation of the term.

        I understand your “pro-life – whole life” terminology. I consider myself pro-life, but I also want to be as consistent as I can be in that view beyond just the concept of abortion. If I really am “pro-life,” I want other policies to value and support the life I claim to value, rather than considering a legal prohibition of abortion to represent “job accomplished.” It frustrates me to no end that people who (like me) wish to see pregnancies carried to term then turn around and support policies that make it vastly more difficult for those young lives that are delivered (and their mothers). A true pro-life view extends beyond just the matter of a child being born, it also has many considerations throughout the child’s life and into its old age. I don’t doubt that many politicians are sincere in their “pro-life” views as regards birth, but then they push for policies that make that newborn life far more difficult. Other politicians (as you point out) are probably just cynically milking the issue because they know it locks up a high percentage of the evangelical vote. Many of that latter group probably don’t want any changes made on abortion policy because it serves as a good fundraising and “get out the vote” issue with the base.

        And it also frustrates me to no end how the abortion issue gets used by many fellow evangelicals as (no pun intended) a trump card. As in, any time the slightest criticism is made of Trump, his administration, or the GOP, the quick retort is, “oh, I guess you would rather see babies being killed.” That tactic is constantly used as a discussion-stopper and therefore directly or indirectly is used to excuse a whole host of problematic policies and improper/immoral behavior.

        1. Giving credit where it is due for “pro-life whole life” – https://www.democratsforlife.org/
          I appreciate this group because they are working to change the equally myopic DNC platform away from it’s near-militant stance on choice, which effectively leaves folks like me (and others) without a home. I can’t support the GOP anymore for a host of reasons, and the DNC won’t have me because pro-life, even though we would agree on the bulk of the rest of their platform.

          1. I am not a big fan of “both sides-ism” arguments, but . . . both parties do have certain rigid orthodoxies, with non-adherents essentially regarded as “the enemy,” which leaves many moderates and independently-minded people on the outside looking in. That is a large part of the reason I stick with being ideologically independent, because I find my faith coming into conflict on certain points with both parties. As you find in your case, though, I do find myself agreeing with more of the Democratic platform as I view the GOP as having moved further and further right and increasingly openly embracing the rhetoric of white nationalism as voiced by its party leader.

  5. Seems to me that Trump is doing just fine with pushing back on and condemning the EU’s dependence on Russian energy sources, as well as laying the groundwork to meet that need ourselves as the North Sea is depleted as a European resource. That’s a kick squarely to the pants of Russia. We’re worried about the President getting peed on by commie hookers or something, and meanwhile the heart of NATO is working overtime to render themselves completely reliant on Putin.

      1. Not sure how that article was relevant to the issue of EU countries who do not rely on gas and oil from the North Sea becoming increasingly reliant on Russian energy sources, and working to fortify that line of supply for the long term while enjoying the protection that NATO affords. For Trump to kick the NATO table over and publicly call out Germany in particular for depending on American taxpayers’ defense dollars to keep Russia in check, at the very same time that they are increasing their own indefinite dependency on Russia, is a VERY odd play for a man who is allegedly in Putin’s pocket. Especially given the comparatively dinky benefits Trump allegedly hopes to glean from being a Russian pawn.

        Doesn’t add up. At all. Add to that the source of most of the Russia/Trump apoplexy, and that explains why this evangelical has more pressing concerns.


  6. why aren’t evangelical leaders more curious?…because when you’ve told your flocks that this was a divine appointment…you expose yourself to the whole Deuteronomy 18:20 thing….thank goodness for the new covenant, eh guys? 😀

  7. This seems weird to me also. The closest historical analog to Trumpism in my opinion (at least in the US) is the John Birch Society. Its heyday was a little before my time, but I heard about it from my father who grew up in Texas and had friends who were members though he was not one himself, and have also read about it.

    The JBS had 2 defining features (in addition to an overall conspiratorial mentality not too different from Glenn Beck or Infowars):
    1) Paranoia about the influence of communism, as exemplified by Russia and China.
    2) Hostility to people of color and immigrants.
    But my impression is that #1 was a much bigger thing for them than #2.

    Now, their ideological heirs don’t seem concerned about election meddling and other infiltration of the American system by a Russian regime headed by a former KGB agent. I think there must be some cognitive dissonance — they have cast their lot with Trump and are sticking with their choice. Dave also had a good point that many Evangelicals today are much less shaped by their Christian faith than they are by media forces like Fox News and Breitbart and Coulter and Limbaugh that treat Evangelicals as useful idiots to advance what is basically a secular far-right agenda.

  8. One thought: many evangelical leaders painted themselves into the corner when they claimed it was divinely ordained that Trump become President (whether or not they really, truly believed it, or were just making a false claim for their own selfish power reasons). The key is that they convince their followers to believe them – hook, line and sinker. Once God’s involvement was declared, then when any doubts begin to surface, these same leaders have no choice but to go in ‘denial mode’ (“No, we didn’t misinterpret what God told us.”) or ‘distraction mode’ (“Hey, look over there at the crisis on our southern border!”), otherwise their followers may start to grow skeptical regarding anything further that these leaders have to claim. When it comes to Russian influence, any potential cognitive dissonance can be easily waved away (by both the leaders and their followers) as also being a part of God’s plan.

    And don’t get me started on the whole nutty conspiracy theory that many of these leaders (OK, not leaders, but influential right wing web celebs) are supportive due to their collective hopes that it all directly leads toward the return of Jesus. People maybe, kinda, sorta like Jim B., Cindy J., Lance W., Steve S., Liz C., Gordon K., Coach D.D. and their ilk would never support this administration simply to help ring in the Rapture / End Times.

  9. Because Trump is LORD, the Second Coming of Christ enthroned in Trump Tower DC, uttering infallible inerrant SCRIPTURE already broken up into 140-character Twitter verses.

    1. I don’t know if that is true. Do you have any data to support that? I know that there are those who try to spin the 81% evangelical support for president Trump as not all those in the 81% are evangelicals.

      1. It means that of those Trump supporters who identified as evangelicals, the percentage was 81%. But there were also other groups, like men, over age 50, non-college graduates who were Trump supporters but did not identify as evangelicals.

        Here is a data shown that his approval rating has gone to 39% as opposed to 45% when he was elected as president:

        Why can’t it be possible that people of different identified groups, including evangelicals are starting to lose interest in him?

      2. As for data support, look at the primary voting data. Most evangelicals voted for someone else during the primaries until the very end.

    2. That’s most likely true. Remember most evangelicals voted against Trump in the primaries. And a great many of them held their nose and voted for Trump when it was clear he was the only alternative to Clinton. Furthermore, “evangelical” is a pretty broad term that relies on self-identification and no definition.

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