If you don't remember Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker, I understand. It's been awhile. Yet, once upon a time, they were the cutest couple in televangelism—if we define "cute" as "cheesy." As preachers-in-residence on the PTL (Praise the Lord) Club, they looked like a pair of Cabbage Patch dolls, with some pre-teen Basquiat applying Tammy Faye's makeup with spray paint.
We mustn't be too hard on Tammy Faye. Cancer got her in 2007. But for more than a decade, she and Jim were superstars ministering to the camera. In 1987, the many mansions of Jim and Tammy came tumbling down. Jim was convicted of defrauding PTL out of a big hunk of money, much of it going to encourage a woman to keep her mouth shut about his having drugged and raped her. He went to prison, Tammy divorced him and the PTL Club went bankrupt. As far as this casual observer was concerned, that was the end of the story—at least, until a couple of weeks ago, when I learned Jim Bakker is once again, as the kids say, a "thing."
Yes, squishy Jimmy is back to televangelizing, alarming the gullible into buying survival rations ahead of the End Times. It's no shock a convicted criminal would return to his old flimflamming grounds. What else would such a man do for a living, having learned early in life he had a special talent for separating rubes from their money?
I learned of Bakker's re-emergence as an evangelical presence after he remarked (about a month ago) that the resistance to Trump is kick-starting the Apocalypse. "It seems like there is a hatred among people and this is satanic," Bakker warned. "These people mocking the president... That's the spirit of Antichrist."
Bakker isn't the only highly visible evangelical warning of divine wrath if Americans don't get straight with The Donald. Pat Robertson (the troll under The 700 Club bridge) said in February, "I think ... these people are not only revolting against Trump, they're revolting against what God's plan is for America." Franklin Graham showed his theological depth with this: "He [Trump] did everything wrong, politically. He offended gays. He offended women. He offended the military. He offended black people. He offended the Hispanic people. He offended everybody! And he became president of the United States. Only God could do that."
While support for Trump is not universal among evangelical leaders—the sticky web of the Southern Baptist Convention is being torn ragged by the rift between those officials who have denounced Trump and those who will abide with no criticism of him—Robertson, Bakker and Graham are decidedly with the majority of white evangelical voters. Trump carried their numbers with an astounding 80 percent. Since the election, analysts have been straining their brains to explain how the self-professed most righteous Americans could fall so obediently in line behind such an obscene specimen as Donald Trump. Most commonly offered excuses are their economic distress and/or innate racism.
There is truth to these rationales. As one of the least educated, most intellectually challenged demographics in our nation, it is no surprise they have suffered more economic distress than the average American. Iif you can't tolerate the idea that a great many among this population are innately racist, then I'll leave it to you to explain why there are so few mainline Catholic, Lutheran or Unitarian neo-Nazis or Klansmen.
I am convinced it goes much further. From the beginning of Trump's campaign, it became clear the reason the evangelical horde responds so sympathetically to this travesty of a man is that they recognize in him the rot and depravity in their own depths. It's simple: They are as awful at being humans as he is.
Why are they so attracted to the most strident, uncompromising churches to begin with? Might it be they avoid the more forgiving, liberal denominations because they understand, at some instinctual level, that far from being morally superior, they are, in truth, morally inferior?
Might it be that evangelicals voted for a profane bastard for president for the same reason they were drawn into the evangelical mosh pit in the first place? That they, like him, possess no inherent sense of spirituality, of what is good and what is not good? And that without some malignant authoritarian figure—be it a vindictive preacher or a vindictive president—telling them how to behave... what to think... where to put their faith... who to blame... they would be lost in the incoherent muddle and muck of their own resentments, jealousies and violent natures?
Might it be so easy to sell such ethically empty vessels the lies about Obama and Hillary because they simply don't want to believe there are people more remarkable than themselves? That the only way they can respond to the reality that others are so much smarter, so much more accomplished, so much more loving... so much more in the likeness of the God they try to claim as theirs alone... is to dim those more radiant souls down to a darkness they can comprehend?
I would suspect Jim Bakker knows exactly what I'm getting at, as does Robertson and Graham. But don't count on any of them to ever say it, as dependent as they are on that never-ending rube money.