I have noticed that lately Donald Trump has been working a new closing refrain into his stump speeches: He promises to bring the nation together under a single God. In these speeches, Trump is shooting for a theme of unity, but instead makes a statement that is both pointedly un-American and openly discriminatory.
“We will be one people, under one God, saluting one American flag,” he said at a speech to the National Guard Association in my beloved Baltimore, Maryland. Moments before, he claimed he would be a “president for all Americans” in an effort to portray himself as more of a uniter than his rival, Democrat Hillary Clinton.
But one God? And which God would that be, Mr. Trump? With this statement, Trump is demonstrating his innate bigotry with the suggestion that there is a single faith in America that takes precedence over all others and unites the whole nation. Well, there are a great number of Jews, Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims, and a vast array of Christian sects who will disagree with that proposition.
Once again Trump proves that he does not understand America, its Constitution, or the principles for which it stands. Nor does he understand the religion he pretends to practice.
According to Trump, under his leadership, all Americans will be “under one God.” Of course, Trump, who claims to be a conservative Christian, must certainly mean the Christian god.
Considering his attacks on Islam, it would not be at all surprising to hear that Trump would be in favor of some official ban on other religions. Considering how strong evangelicals consider any other religion to be the enemy, and considering how strong Islamophobia and anti-Semitism have become in 2016 America, it is likely a great number of Trump supporters would support a forced assimilation “under one God.” That would certainly make them “deplorable” in my book.
Even if Trump were not dog-whistling about Americans with “other” religious beliefs, it is clear that he is not speaking to those who do not categorize themselves as Christian at all. That is a full one-third of the nation that he is neglecting while pandering to Evangelical Christian voters. (Dog-whistle politics is political messaging employing coded language that appears to mean one thing to the general population, but has an additional, different or more specific resonance for a targeted subgroup.)
When Trump made this unsettling statement, I began to wonder if he plans to persecute non-Christian religions if he becomes president. Trump was making what might appear to be a banal unity speech, but the degree of unity to which he was reaching for should make everyone deeply uncomfortable.
Trump’s “under one God” line may sound like boilerplate presidential campaign rhetoric, but the inclusion of the word “one” is new and disturbing. A review of transcripts suggests he debuted it during a speech in Greenville, North Carolina, and has since used it in campaign speeches in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Pensacola, Florida; Baltimore, Maryland; and Washington, D.C.
Broad overtures to notions of the United States as a “Christian nation” built on “Judeo-Christian” values are hardly anything new in American politics. But a presidential candidate vowing to unite all Americans under “one God” can hardly be viewed as inclusive. Trump’s campaign even capitalized the “One God” phrasing in his prepared remarks for his Pensacola rally.
These are not the words of the “Great Uniter,” but of the “Great Divider” who wants to separate privileged white Americans from blacks, Hispanics, Muslims, women, the disabled, and others.
But think of the America our Founding Fathers endured so much to give us, especially of Thomas Jefferson, who wrote in his Autobiography (1821) of his Virginia Statue for Religious Freedom (1785), which was the inspiration for the First Amendment. Jefferson wrote: “Where the preamble declares, that coercion is a departure from the plan of the holy author of our religion, an amendment was proposed by inserting ‘Jesus Christ,’ so that it would read “A departure from the plan of Jesus Christ, the holy author of our religion;” the insertion was rejected by the great majority, in proof that they meant to comprehend, within the mantle of its protection, the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and Mohammedan, the Hindoo [sic] and Infidel of every denomination.” [Emphasis mine]
So far away from this guiding principal are Trump’s words as he closed out his remarks at the Values Voter Summit recently by once again doing his best imitation of a pious and committed Christian in an effort to appeal to the Religious Right activists who had gathered for the conference: “We’re all equal and we all come from same Creator. There’s a biblical verse that I’ve often read and I want to repeat it again because I think it is so important to what we’re trying to achieve right now for our country. It’s from 1 John: 4: ‘No one has ever seen God, but if we love one another, God lives in us and His love is made complete in us.’ So true, so true.”
No! So false, so false.
That is a belief, not a fact. Perhaps if Trump actually read the Bible instead of quoting whatever a staffer told him to say, maybe he would have understood that the Constitution is the basis of our system of government, the law of the land, not the Bible or any other religious text. It is a belief that Trump is welcome to if it is really his, and not only empty words like so much else that pours from his mouth.
“Imagine what our country could accomplish if we started working together as one people, under one God, saluting one flag,” Trump concluded, apparently anticipating a future in which every American, regardless of religion, is required to worship Jesus Christ.
Needless to say, there are atheists, Jews, Muslims, and even other Christians who are horrified by the prospect of a president who wants to make sure our country worships the same God.
Trump’s language appears to conflict with the freedom of religion enshrined in the First Amendment, which holds that people in the United States have the right to practice whichever religion they choose, or none whatsoever. Many Americans subscribe to polytheistic theologies and may worship many gods. Followers of monotheistic religions also have differing views about the Supreme Being they worship. And let us not forget the growing ranks of religious “nones,” which includes atheists, agnostics and others who do not consider themselves members of any traditional religious affiliation.
The question that I ask is this: Does Donald Trump really expect all of these people to unite “under one God”?
It seems more likely to me that Trump is not speaking at all to the thirty percent of Americans who do not consider themselves Christian. In fact, it is hard to see his new oratorical coda as anything other than coded language to his base and specifically to white, evangelical Christians, who are often distrustful of other religious groups. Such a strategy would be consistent with broader themes of Trump’s campaign, which has regularly come under fire for embracing blanket Islamophobia and coddling unmitigated Christian white supremacists.
It might also be particularly appealing to evangelicals who feel more fervent forms of religious expression have fallen victim to the same political correctness that Trump has railed against throughout his presidential run.
Trump has ramped up his outreach to evangelical Christians after winning their support in the Republican primaries and subsequent general election polling, despite numerous questions about his views on marriage equality and abortion rights.
Speaking to the Christian conservative Value Voters Summit recently in Washington, D.C., Trump promised the audience that he would make it worth their while if they voted for him.
“A lot of people said: ‘I wonder if Donald will get the evangelicals,’ he said. “I got the evangelicals. I’m going to make it up to you too, you watch.”
I am not sure what Trump means by that. Just what is it he going to make up to the evangelicals, for which they are supposed to watch?
Well, I will be watching, Donald. According to PolitiFact’s Truth-O-Meter™, seventy-one percent of everything you say is either mostly false, false, or pants on fire false, so I, for one, will not be holding my breath waiting for anything to happen.