Editor’s Note: This story was originally published in the December 24 edition of CNN’s Meanwhile in America, the daily email about US politics for global readers. Sign up here to receive it every weekday morning.
Not even his biggest fans would describe Donald Trump as a bearer of peace and goodwill. This Christmas, the US President has even opened a schism among evangelical Christians.
It all started with a fire and brimstone editorial in “Christianity Today” that lambasted Trump’s “grossly immoral character.” Sparked by impeachment drama, the piece caused a net spike in subscriptions, according to the religious magazine’s outgoing editor, who seemed to be having a Howard Beale moment on his way out the door.
Evangelicals are a crucial component of the President’s base as he eyes his reelection battle, and non-believers and moderate worshippers often wonder why they tolerate Trump’s failings – such as lying, racial rhetoric and alleged adultery – that appear to flout their morals. But forgiveness is a Christian virtue too. And while Trump seems to need more forgiveness than most, he’s offering his flock plenty in exchange.
Trump has delivered two Supreme Court justices and scores of young, conservative federal judges bristling for a fight on social issues like abortion and same sex rights. A second Trump term could put the Supreme Court majority out of reach of Democrats for two generations and thwart socially liberal laws passed by future Democratic presidents, in a nation being swept by a secular tide.
For now, many evangelical leaders are still standing firmly behind Trump. Jerry Falwell Jr,, son of the famous televangelist and president of a major Christian university, has already joyously predicted the 2020 election will be like “Hiroshima and Nagasaki for the Dems!”
It may seem like a Faustian bargain to some. But for others, voting Trump delivers a divine payoff.
Meanwhile in Riyadh
This is what’s known as a pre-Christmas news dump.
With all its Washington antagonists out of town for the holidays and with Trump out-of-sight in Florida, Saudi Arabia dropped its verdict on the murder of Jamal Khashoggi: Death sentences for five anonymous suspects – and all higher-ups cleared of wrongdoing.
Critics called the ruling a whitewash and a scam. But the White House, through a statement from an unnamed official, hailed a good “first step” – a positive response that sits uneasily with CIA assessments that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman himself knew about and possibly ordered the gruesome murder.
The Trump administration, led by first son-in-law Jared Kushner, is all-in on MBS, and has anchored US policy towards Iran and the wider Middle East on the impulsive Crown Prince. But Khashoggi’s murder and that impenetrable relationship have now sparked rare bipartisan alarm on Capitol Hill – and it will take more than a secretive deliberation in Riyadh to fix the kingdom’s problems in the US Capitol.
Trump won’t be in office for ever. And one day, the coziness of the Trumps and the Salmans will cede to a reckoning in US-Saudi relations.
’The world is tiny compared to the universe’
Trump reflected briefly on the Earth’s size this weekend, during a diatribe against windmills in West Palm Beach. “They’re made in China and Germany mostly – very few made here, almost none,” he said of the green technology he loves to hate. “But they’re manufactured tremendous – if you’re into this – tremendous fumes. Gases are spewing into the atmosphere. You know we have a world, right? So the world is tiny compared to the universe.”
He added, “You want to see a bird graveyard? You just go. Take a look. A bird graveyard. Go under a windmill someday. You’ll see more birds than you’ve ever seen ever in your life.”