"We're saying Merry Christmas again": Donald Trump as the Savior of White Conservative Christian Identity
Dissertation in Culture
First supervisor: Prof. Martin Lüthe
Second supervisor: Prof. Harald Wenzel
Third supervisor: Prof. Mark J. Rozell
I investigated the first two years of Trump’s presidency through the lens of a triangular relationship involving the president, prominent Religious Right organizations, and white conservative Christian electors. Devised as a tool to appraise the links between religious advocacy groups and Trump voters, this tripartite scheme allowed me to underline the various discursive, ideological, and symbolic elements sustaining said connection and helping to explain the successful electoral result.
The structure of the dissertation mirrors that of the triangular relationship. The first chapter provides a historical background to both the long-standing connection between religious values and politics in the United States, and the economic and social changes that affected the country and were responsible for the growth of feelings of displacement and resentment, and consequently status loss, among white conservative Christian citizens; the chapter is concluded by an overview of the religious elements populating Trump’s discourse. The second chapter presents the discourse of the Religious Right as stemming from both individual interviews and written material. The third and final chapter is centered around the peer group conversations conducted with white conservative Christians on the themes of religious freedom and Donald Trump.
As highlighted by the analysis performed, the scant and sloganized way in which Christian symbols entered Trump’s speeches (“Nothing beats the Bible,” “We’re saying Merry Christmas”) did not prevent both supportive Religious Right organizations and white conservative Christian voters to attribute him the traits of a savior of their identity and culture. Far from merely constituting a legacy of the ideological alliance between conservative Christians and the Republican Party formed at the end of the 1970s, the resonance that the president’s deployment of religious talk had with his supporters is indicative of the stage of exploitation for political purposes reached by religion in the twenty-first century. Now a mere tool of mobilization for a reactionary white identity politics, Christianity is used to provide reinforcement and legitimation to a discourse based on claims of endangered rights and freedoms deployed by conservatives, both at the national and the local level, to express racialized, ethno-centric, and authoritarian concerns for the supposed status loss of the white conservative Christian identity.