Sarah Posner, “‘Unholy’ Examines The Alliance Between White Evangelicals And Trump,” interview by Terry Gross, National Public Radio, July 8, 2020

[Connects dots, demonstrates intersectionality between evangelicals, fear of people outside the religious community and school segregation. Posner is author of Unholy: Why White Evangelicals Worship At The Altar Of Donald Trump — link HERE to Goodreads.]

[race, Trump and Brown v. School Board]

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. Let’s get back to my interview with journalist Sarah Posner, author of the new book “Unholy: Why White Evangelicals Worship At The Altar Of Donald Trump.”

My impression from your book is that even though Trump doesn’t share the values of the Christian right in terms of lifestyle and religion, the Christian right and Trump share a lot of the same grievances. So what are some of the grievances that unite them?

POSNER: Trump articulates for them the idea that changes that took place largely in the second half of the 20th century – political, legal, social changes – robbed them of something, robbed them of the Christian America that they believe was God’s intention for America’s founding, robbed them of being able to say what the dominant form of Christianity in America is or rob them, they believe, of their right to practice that version of Christianity.

GROSS: So you say some of the Christian right’s grievances date back to the 1954 Supreme Court decision Brown v. Board of Education, which ordered the desegregation of schools. And, you know, the Christian right didn’t want that. The Christian right was also worried that religious schools would lose their tax-exempt status when those schools were accused of racist policies. Do you think that part of the grievance that Trump shares with the Christian right is this fear that white America is being threatened by Black people and now Muslims and Mexicans?

POSNER: Yes. Yes, very much so. So the Christian right, for the evangelicals and fundamentalists who came into the national politics in the era of the Moral Majority, the founding story that they like to tell is that they were propelled into national politics because they were upset and outraged about Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion. But, in fact, even by the admission of the leaders of this movement at the time, they were motivated to get involved in national politics because of federal government policy meant to desegregate or end discriminatory policies in private Christian schools after public schools were being desegregated in the wake of Brown.

So in the 1960s, as public schools were desegregating, you saw a rise of what were known as segregation academies. These were private schools that were intentionally created to avoid desegregation. They were intentionally segregated. And you also saw the rise of Christian schools, which were formed for multiple reasons, including the invalidation of mandatory school prayer and Bible reading in public schools by the Supreme Court in the early 1960s. But they were definitely a response to a number of different social changes, including desegregation. And even though they weren’t explicitly segregation academies, the IRS in response to a series of court decisions went to them and said, look; you cannot get a tax exemption and basically be subsidized by the American taxpayers by having a policy or having policies that lead to the same segregation that we are trying to end in public schools. And so the IRS came to them and said, look; you know, you should try to enroll more Black students, or you should reach out to the community to enroll more Black students, but the requirements were pretty minimal.

[Church and state, alt-right and scapegoats]

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I’m Terry Gross. Let’s get back to my interview with journalist Sarah Posner, author of the new book “Unholy: Why White Evangelicals Worship At The Altar Of Donald Trump.” She covers the intersection of religion and politics and has written about the Christian right for about 15 years. She’s a reporting fellow at Type Investigations. What do you think is the ultimate goal of the Christian right leaders who are supporting Trump?

POSNER: A very serious – more serious rollback of the separation of church and state than the Supreme Court has already undertaken, and kind of a flipping of the separation of church and state to elevate the free exercise clause over the separation clause – so to basically brought in what is perceived as religious freedom for Christians and to have government policy and the law reflect that.

So if you think about the Hobby Lobby decision, where a Christian company was permitted to opt out of providing contraception coverage in its employer health plan, bolstering government support for Christian private schools, creating huge religious exemptions so that people would not have to comply with nondiscrimination laws protecting people based on sexual orientation and gender identity – basically, have a government run from the perspective of the Christian right, what they would call a biblical worldview.

GROSS: So we’ve talked about the alliance between Donald Trump and the Christian right. Let’s get to the alt-right. How does the alt-right connect in there? Does the alt-right connect to the Christian right, as well as to Donald Trump?

POSNER: Donald Trump speaks to both of these constituencies simultaneously when he articulates the grievances of white America. So the same grievances that he talked about in the opening of his campaign energized both the alt-right, you know, the white supremacist fringe of the American right, as well as white evangelicals who also shared these grievances about Mexicans who were criminals coming to take their jobs or change the fabric of America.

And as Trump’s campaign went on, with his racist rallies, his attacks on Black Lives Matter protesters – his verbal attacks on Black Lives Matter protesters during campaign rallies – I mean, all of this was energizing the alt-right and white evangelicals at the same time. So Trump articulates this vision of a white America that has been, somehow, lost or under attack.

GROSS: And so has he – has Trump brought together the alt-right and the Christian right in a way they hadn’t been together before? Or are they already connected?

POSNER: I think that they’re connected by a shared hostility to liberal democracy. So there are people in the alt-right who have a lot of contempt for the Christian right and vice versa. There are a lot of people on the Christian right who would never go to a rally where people were giving Hitler salutes, which is something that happens at alt-right rallies. And there are a lot of people on the alt-right who don’t really consider themselves to be particularly religious and don’t really like the moralizing of the Christian right.

That said, the two movements do find a common hero in Trump. And that’s because they do share the same grievances and the same scapegoats for a lot of those grievances. So a lot of the conspiracy theories that you see Trump peddling in his Twitter account you will see articulated in Christian right and alt-right circles. So George Soros is a boogeyman in both movements. And, you know, political correctness or cultural Marxism are phrases that are used to identify, basically, you know, a liberal democracy that they see as hostile to their interests.


Madeleine Albright: “‘Us vs. Them’ Thinking Is Tearing America Apart. But Here’s Why I’m Still Hopeful About the Future,” Time, Jan. 15, 2011

At this moment of shock, sadness, and hope, it might be wise to reflect on the two most dangerous words in the human vocabulary: “us” and “them.” Last week, we received a dramatic reminder of this peril when our nation’s political divisions erupted into a spectacle of lawlessness on Capitol Hill.


Now, even as we prepare for the inauguration of a new president, we do not see ourselves as much of a model. Immensely destructive forces have been unleashed in our country. The trend has been evident for at least a quarter century, but has, in the past four years, assumed the strength of a hurricane. By now, our nerve endings have been rubbed raw. Political rallies have devolved into exhibitions of hate. Public figures are threatened and harassed, their homes vandalized. Debates have been supplanted by shouting matches. At the very highest level, democratic institutions have been undermined and mocked. Surveys indicate that a growing number of Americans view partisan opponents not only as misguided but also as agents of evil. Each day, our biases are reinforced by the broadcast news and social media sources we select and by the likeminded people with whom we associate.

Many among us would apparently prefer to live in a country where the rest of us, i.e. “them,” have no place. This attitude led directly to the debacle we witnessed on January 6, when a mob broke into the U.S. Capitol in support of a Republican president’s effort to reverse the lawful result of a national election. One imagines that Abraham Lincoln, the party’s founder, wept.


It should be clear given both our national experience (and world history) that no group has a monopoly on truth or virtue. However we conceive of “us,” we have ample grounds for humility. I can speak only for myself, but I have been wrong many times. My attitudes and opinions are always changing as I learn more and perhaps forget a few things here and there. There is no question that we all have a right to quarrel with one another; that’s the democratic way. But we also have a responsibility to talk frankly and to listen carefully, to recognize our own faults, and to refrain from pinning dehumanizing labels on those with whom we disagree. It would be helpful, too, if the professional political class would stop describing America as split between red states and blue. The habit is lazy and unhelpful, and the picture it creates is at odds with the shared needs, aspirations, and values of most citizens. Notwithstanding the recent tumult, we remain one country, not two.

There is immense folly in thinking that, just because we have important differences, Americans have nothing equally or more important in common. Lacking that conviction, we would have neither the ability nor the credibility to lead internationally. At home, only by acting on that conviction can we avoid paralysis. Going forward, let us advocate vigorously on behalf of causes that concern us as individuals or groups; but let us also never forget that we belong in addition to a larger circle. No matter how we define “us”; no matter how we define “them”; “We the People,” is an inclusive phrase.

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