A historian’s discerning, critical take on current American politics
“Believe me” may be the most commonly used phrase in Donald Trump’s lexicon. Whether about building a wall or protecting a Christian heritage, the refrain has been constant. And to the surprise of many, a good 80 percent of white evangelicals have believed Trump—at least enough to help propel him into the White House.
Historian John Fea is not surprised, however—and in these pages he explains how we have arrived at this unprecedented moment in American politics. An evangelical Christian himself, Fea argues that the embrace of Donald Trump is the logical outcome of a long-standing evangelical approach to public life defined by the politics of fear, the pursuit of worldly power, and a nostalgic longing for an American past.As insightful as it is timely, Fea’s Believe Me challenges Christians to replace fear with hope, the pursuit of power with humility, and nostalgia with history.
|Publisher:||Eerdmans, William B. Publishing Company|
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x (d)|
About the Author
John Fea is professor of American history at Messiah College in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania. His previous books include Was America Founded as a Christian Nation? A Historical Introduction, and he blogs regularly at The Way of Improvement Leads Home.
Table of Contents
1 The Evangelical Politics of Fear 13
2 The Playbook 43
3 A Short History of Evangelical Fear 75
4 The Court Evangelicals 115
5 Make America Great Again 153
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
The question of why a man of Donald Trump’s character and behavior could enjoy such widespread support among morally conservative church-going folk has been often debated over the past two years. I remember discussing Trump’s candidacy in the summer of 2016 with an evangelical friend, and she defended her support by telling me that she was “voting for a president, not a pastor.” It was a phrase I was to hear many more times. It was also a phrase that I found somewhat hypocritical as I heard it from prominent evangelical leaders who had vociferously questioned Bill Clinton’s qualification for that office in the wake of the Lewinsky scandal. But why have so many evangelicals (81% according to some polls) given their support to Donald Trump? As both a professional historian, and an evangelical, John Fea brings valuable insight, and provides helpful historical details and analysis to this topic. His book explores the topics of fear, nostalgia, and power as historical ingredients to evangelical support for Trump. I found several aspects of this book illuminating. Fea’s exposition on nostalgia vs. reality is helpful, especially to understanding the undefined notion of ‘Making America Great Again.’ I also found the chapter on the ‘Court Evangelicals’ to be quite informative. For one thing, I was unfamiliar with the leaders of the INC movement, and their role among the evangelical leaders supporting Trump. One topic on my mind has been the ‘grudging’ supporters – not all of that 81% were enthusiastic. I remember talking to another evangelical friend after the election, and he told me that he voted for Trump ‘holding his nose’ and felt dirty the next morning. The politics of fear explains much of this grudging support. Near the end of chapter 2, Fea writes that most evangelicals saw the 2016 Presidential ballot as a choice between unpleasant alternatives, but due to long held fears stoked by the religious right, they felt they really had no choice but Trump. I do think Fea is correct in the way he reads their reasoning. But I wonder why so many saw it as a binary choice. Why didn’t more people vote for a third alternative? Is a vote for the best candidate instead of the least bad of two candidates really a wasted vote? But I digress. My favorite chapter is the book’s conclusion. As a historian, Fea is more comfortable explaining how we got here than he is giving advice or plans of action. But writing from his experiences on a recent civil rights tour, he expounds briefly on three antidotes to the fear, power, and nostalgia that fueled Trump’s evangelical support. We need to replace these with: hope, humility, and history. It’s a good chapter. And it complements, or even contrasts with the advice of another historian, Timothy Snyder (On Tyranny). While less concretely practical than Snyder, I appreciated Fea’s positive approach to the question ‘what now?’ It’s not the despairing and equally fearful resistance of the left, nor is it the disengagement of the ‘Benedict Option.’ There is a middle path that involves evangelical reassessment of our role as citizens and Christians. I heartily recommend this book to anyone who seeks a deeper understanding of what fuels evangelical support for Donald Trump. I received an Advance Reading Copy from the publisher in exchange for this honest review of the book.
Whenever there is a presidential election, inevitably there are books published about the winner. Since 2016, this has not changed. What is significant about Donald Trump's win, however, is the support that he had, and still has, garnered from Evangelical Christians. Many within evangelicalism have scratched their heads to try to understand why this has happened, in light of many of the moral and policy decisions that have been made by Trump. John Fea’s “Believe Me : The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump” addresses the questions that many evangelicals have had about what has happened in regards to the relationship between Evangelicals and the current political atmosphere. Fea, an American historian by training and profession, is not one who writes as an uninterested outsider. Fea himself is an Evangelical, teaching at a college with an Evangelical history. This does not mean, however, that Fea is on a crusade to launch uncritical attacks at the current administration. His criticisms are fair. He approaches the subject with a historian's eye, unraveling the road that evangelicals have traveled to arrive at support for Trump, despite many of the glaring incongruities between Trump's’ personal character, policies, and actions and those beliefs of Christians. Looking at the role of fear, nostalgia, and influence, especially in regard to the “court evangelicals” (a term coined by Fea), he takes on a journey of history in trying to understand what has happened. This is by no means a dry academic history, although there is plenty of scholarly rigor and endnotes for those interested. Instead writes as an example of an evangelical public scholar, whose audience is the average reader. The writing itself is very engaging, something that one wishes all historians could do. This is an excellent treatment of the subject, very valuable to Christians who want to understand the support that Donald Trump has received from Evangelicals, but also to those outside of Christianity that want to understand the same thing.