There is just never enough time and energy to read all the books we want and need to read. For those of us for whom reading is a passion, we are utterly unable to understand people who are content with never or rarely reading. None of this is said to demean other worthwhile activities ranging from church work to sports to watching movies to visiting friends. But reading, for me and maybe you, ranks right up there really close with eating and drinking.
History, to no one’s surprise, is the closest and most long-term delight that I have as a subject for reading, writing, and teaching. There are several periods of history that are more consuming than others, and high on the list is political history. Just last night while visiting a bookstore, I gazed longingly on a book about the 1968 Presidential election and another about the 2012 Presidential election. In a fit of showing off, I walked my students through all the Presidential elections in American history by naming and describing a bit about both the winners and the losers. (For about ten minutes, I could not remember Horatio Seymour of New York who lost to Gen. Grant in 1868.)
So far, I have read only one book about the amazing, weird, quirky, disgusting, and yet thoroughly enjoyable 2016 election. The book I read was P. J. O’Rourke’s How the H*^# Did This Happen? I thought the title explained a lot even for those of us who seek to guard our language more that PJO. That book, as is typical of O’Rourke, was incredibly funny, sneakily brilliant, and very timely. While whole tables full of books have appeared both celebrating and bemoaning the results, I am restraining from even looking at most of them. (Sad to say, Hillary Clinton’s What Happened? will probably never appear on my reading list.)
But I have now purchased a book on the election with the intent of reading it very soon. Pictured above, Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump is by historian John Fea and is published by Eerdmans. Dr. Fea is a professor of history at Messiah College in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania. Because of his reputation as a Christian and a historian, I bought the book. Because of my puzzlement at the marriage of convenience between evangelicals and then candidate Trump, I bought the book. Byron Borger, owner, operator, and book reviewer at Hearts and Minds bookstore, tipped the already leaning scales in favor of me buying the book and buying it from his store. (More about that later.)
Something went far awry in the 2016 election. The Republicans had a bench full of incredibly apt and experienced Presidential candidates. Some very fine men proved to be inept candidates, such as Jeb Bush (who seemed hollow and plastic), Lindsay Graham (who was totally unconvincing), Rick Perry (who missed his chances in 2012), and others. But there were some really worthy men running. My favorite was and still is Sen. Marco Rubio. Sen. Ted Cruz, minus his awkward facial expressions and irritatingly preaching speaking style, was also top rate. John Kasich, who eventually became a bore, was very gifted. Even Dr. Ben Carson was appealing if one could accept having a President who knew nothing about the job. (Note the hint of irony there.)
The shocks of the primary season were unending. But for me, the biggest sign that something was crazy amiss was when the so-called Christian right, the old voting groups that used to be called the Moral Majority, and the faction within the Republican Party that was labeled as evangelicals completely ignored evangelical heroes of the past, like Huckaby and Santorum (who appealed to evangelicals even though he is Catholic) and of the present like Rubio, Cruz, Kasich, and others. Donald Trump stated that he was Presbyterian, although he never demonstrated even the least bit of familiarity with any Presbyterian doctrines or practices. (One could digress into the Presbyterian/Calvinistic/Reformed teaching about total depravity, but will not.) Mr. Trump even denied having any need to seek forgiveness.
It all still seems like a weird dream. The party that welcomed the evangelicals and religious right into its ranks during the Reagan years, the party that was absolutely appalled at the moral degradation that Pres. Clinton brought to the office and name of the Presidency, the party that was extremely cautious about the moral and upright but Morman Mitt Romney, suddenly embraced and gushed over a man who had been twice divorced (for less than biblical reasons), who ran gambling casinos, who was rude, uncouth, and uninformed, and who seemed vacant minded about most moral issues.
Of course, the story is more complicated. The Democrats borrowed the old and often failing Republican playbook. That is, they nominated an old party worker who had tried and failed to capture the nomination once before. (The last time that had happened was 1968 and it failed then as well.) And it nominated a person whose campaign skills were on the level of an accountant, whose personality was tree-like, whose energy level was sloth-like, whose debate skills were less than those of Dan Quayle. And the Democrat candidate was so heavy laden with personal scandals, outright and bizarre lies, and her husband’s infidelites, that she stood almost no chance of winning anything beyond the millions of old time party machine votes.
2016 revealed some real and underlying currents of anger, unrest, econmic fears, and resignation among the American public. Why did we not see this when Iowa was showing up in the Trump electoral camp in all the polling early on? Of course, experts, news people, and (most important) political bookies (people who set betting odds) missed it. I knew something was wrong or right and different when Florida, North Carolina, Ohio, and even Virginia were still up in the air on election night. Candidate Trump carried three of those four states that Pres. Obama won twice.
After Wisconsin got called for Trump at about midnight, I knew it was over. Candidate Clinton would have had to win nearly all of the remaining states to clinch the victory. As a spectator sport, election night 2016 was the superbowl plus.
Some disclosures are in order: About a half hour before my wife and I went to vote, I finally made up my mind to vote for Candidate Trump. Arkansas was nowhere near being a swing state, so my vote was not going to “make a difference,” as we often say. I would have and could have never voted for Mrs. Clinton. To put it nicely, I did not think her health or energy level would enable her to ever be anything but “the first woman elected President.” I was constantly surprised that few reporters commented on how little campaigning she did. The “most qualified person for the Presidency” (as then-Pres. Obama called her) spent days and days preparing for three debates that she lost or at least failed to gain ground from.
I debated the also-ran candidates. The Libertarian candidate was a nut and a man operating on no information. Evan McMullin who ran on the “I am a little like Mitt Romney” ticket was not worth taking time for. The parties that are only on four or five ballots across the nation are not even considered. So, I decided to vote for Vice President Mike Pence and his running mate.
A year and a half later, I am thankful for many changes I see in the government and the country. I am surprised at many good decisions that President Trump has made. I would not be surprised if future decisions are not agreeable. Many of his tweets and comments are embarrassing and shocking. I no longer tell kids to study hard and learn because they might be President some day.
Whatever the case is after four to eight years of President Trump, the election of 2016 will remain a puzzle for lots of reasons. One of the parts I hope to understand better is what created “the evangelical road to Donald Trump.”
Other books from my library by John Fea:
Very good book that I am currently reading.
Post Script: A word or ten concerning Hearts and Minds Bookstore in Dallastown, Pennsylvania.
I buy lots of books from Amazon and Books-A-Million. But those are companies, not people. Independent bookstores struggle to survive, but they offer a product that cannot be found in the big operations. Byron Borger posts reviews every month or so highlighting a number of books that thinking and reading Christians should consider. These reviews appear under the section called Booknotes.
Often I will read about a book that Byron likes that I would never ever ever ever want to read. Then right after that, I will read about a book he is recommending that I suddenly cannot live without. If he and I were neighbors (along with being Christian brothers), we would always be going from delightful shared ideas to mean-faced arguments about differences. That’s what I like about him.
Support independent bookstores. You may end up paying a bit more in some cases, but you get better services and personal attention. The big chains will sell Bibles if Bibles are hot items, but they will just as readily sell pornography. Books are a number in a warehouse to them. Independent bookstore owners are finding matching orphaned books on the shelves with homes where they will be loved.
I bought Believe Me from Hearts and Minds. The service is fast. If ever I end up going into Byron’s store, I fear I will never come out.