President Trump gave the commencement address to the class of 2017 at Liberty University Saturday. He was introduced by the school's chancellor, Jerry Falwell Jr., who was an early supporter of then-candidate Donald Trump, who went on to win over 80 percent of the white evangelical vote in the 2016 election. Falwell hailed Trump's commitment to Christian values. He specifically cited his religious liberty executive order and his pro-life Supreme Court justice pick, Neil Gorsuch, and had no qualms calling out the archaic secular media as fundamentally dishonest.
This was Trump's third visit to Liberty University, and I think it is part of the shifting political coalitions in our nation where the Christian right is viewed as an essential part of the new nationalism that has been the centerpiece of Trump's campaign. When President Trump first spoke at Liberty, he quoted scripture and vowed to "protect Christianity." And he continued that theme in his commencement speech, noting that America has been characterized as a nation of prayer and said specifically that, "In America we don't worship government, we worship God." Moreover, he went on to say: "As long as I am your president, no one is ever going to stop you from practicing your faith," which was a not so subtle jab at the hard secular policies of the Obama administration.
Trump's speech exemplified a trinity of themes that have marked Trump's political philosophy: capitalism, nationalism and Christianity. The commencement address was of course laced with references to pursuing your dreams, never giving up, being enterprising and entrepreneurial, and the like. This is clear capitalist-inspired rhetoric. But what's interesting here is that this is not your run of the mill corporatist capitalist rhetoric. This is an enterprising rhetoric informed by faith on the one hand and nationalism on the other. Trump believes that what made America great is what chief strategist Steve Bannon calls "enlightened capitalism." This is a free-market capitalism that historically generated tremendous wealth, with a rising standard of living, that was rooted in and supported communities and traditional ways of life, particularly those lived out in working-class environments. It is precisely this kind of economy Bannon sees as the primary reason America didn't get involved with the deep state managed economies of fascist or socialist Europe.
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This is because enlightened capitalism involved an entrepreneurial American spirit that sought to make life better for one's Christian neighbor. It has historically been referred to as the Protestant work ethic, the sense that one's occupation and inventiveness was a sacred calling by God to live out faithfully a flourishing Christian life. But this is also why Trump sees secular globalism as such a threat to our nation. Secular corporatist globalism turns populations away from the traditions of their forefathers – such as nationalism, modesty, patriarchy and religion – and instead turns populations toward adopting more trans-cultural values such as pluralism, sexual identity, egalitarianism and secularism. Trump recognizes that economic globalism involves detraditionalizing processes that in effect kill off our traditions, customs and religions, replacing them with a transnational vision of the human person as mere consumer. Capitalism as such is no longer seen as an economic enterprise whereby inventors and workers can benefit their fellow Christian neighbor; capitalism is merely now a thoroughly atheistic means by which corporations are able to accumulate wealth and power irrespective of family, culture and tradition.
And this is where Trump's concern for the forgotten men and women of our country comes in a notion reiterated by Jerry Falwell Jr.'s introduction. This globalist secular turn benefits the big cities and marginalizes the economies and ways of life that characterize so-called "fly-over country." Globalism finds its expression in the economies of L.A. and NYC, not in the Midwest, the Bible Belt, or in so-called Pennsytucky. And so the traditions and customs that characterize blue-collar workers in the rust-belts have been the chief economic victims of this globalistic turn.
This is why Christianity is so important to Trump's political vision. He sees Christian traditionalism as paving the way back to what Bannon calls "enlightened capitalism," which sustains communities and traditional ways of life all the while providing an ever-increasing standard of living. Both Trump and Bannon see Judeo-Christian values as indispensable to a sustainable capitalism: It is through a commitment to Christian tradition that the excesses of unfettered capitalism and its globalistic corporatist values are tempered. Now, this doesn't mean that everyone in society has to be a Christian; but what it does mean is that Christianity provides a value system that is able to counter the radically narcissistic value system of consumerist-based lifestyle values created by globalized economies, which in turn erode rural economy and culture, in turn creating this counter-globalized blowback.
And it is precisely here where nationalism comes in for Trump; nationalism has the powerful effect of keeping people out who don't share these Christian values. This is precisely where Trump was coming from when he said during his campaign that we needed to ban Muslims from coming into the country. This is also why Trump is championing law and order – without the moral guidance of Christian values, we inevitably fall into moral relativism such that we champion Black Lives Matter sympathizers who shoot cops. Now, nationalism is wholly inclusive; it welcomes all peoples, races and ethnicities to share in the blessings of the American dream, as long as they are willing to protect and perpetuate an enlightened capitalism guided by Christian sentiments dedicated to a common tradition, custom and culture. This is the Trump doctrine of America First.
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And you heard it in the commencement address. Trump made connections between Liberty University and the amount of military servicemen who were getting degrees as a testimony to the nationalist character of the university. He linked further the pledge of allegiance with the acknowledgment of one nation under God. Trump reiterated that we share one home and one glorious destiny; we all salute the same flag, and we are all made by the same almighty God. Nationalism protects the Christianity that protects the capitalism from collapsing into a narcissistic consumer-based economy that erodes the traditions and communities that in effect keep America great.
And so we continue to see in this commencement address the trinity of themes that have been so central to defining the new political order that has emerged in the U.S. and indeed in much of Europe – Capitalism, Nationalism and Christianity. We heard Trump's commitment to a Christian-informed capitalism that raises standards of living while protecting traditional values that keep us from slipping into a consumerist narcissism, and a revitalized nationalism that protects Christian traditions from the relativism of anti-traditionalist, anti-cultural globalism.