February 22, 2024 - 10:00am

The American Left is zeroing in on a new Right-wing bogeyman: Christian nationalism. 

God & Country, a documentary released over the weekend, explores fears that the growing force of Christian nationalism could replace democracy with theocratic rule in the US. It features footage of religious leaders expressing negative views of DEI and immigration, alongside commentary from prominent anti-Trump Christians concerned about the fusion of Right-wing politics and evangelical Christianity. 

Meanwhile, a Politico report from Tuesday warned that Trump’s allies plan to promote Christian nationalism in his next term if he wins re-election this fall. “Christian nationalism” was reportedly a bullet point in a list of priorities drafted by the Center for Renewing America, a Trump-aligned think tank run by a Russell Vought, a former staffer of the ex-president; the CRA has denied the report. 

These stories indicate a growing concern on the American Left about the alleged threat of Christian nationalism, the belief that the US was “founded as a Christian nation and that Christian values should be prioritized throughout government and public life”. In practice, it promotes policies including mandatory child support beginning as soon as paternity is determined, ending no fault divorce, banning commercial surrogacy and ending sex education in schools, according to Politico

Though very few Americans would describe themselves as Christian nationalists, attention on the movement has grown commensurate with the prospect of a second Trump term. It may seem an odd complaint to lob at a thrice-married man who rarely attends religious services, and a comfortable majority of Americans think Trump is not religious. He was the first president to campaign openly in support of same-sex marriage for his first term, and he has distanced himself from the overturning of Roe v. Wade and privately expressed support for legal abortion through the first 16 weeks of pregnancy. In some sense, though Trump enjoys strong support from religious voters, his rise ushered in the post-Christian Right in America. 

The emphasis on Christian nationalism reflects a shift on the political Left, away from campaigning against Trump the individual and shifting to campaigning against the Right more broadly. Trump may not be particularly religious, but he will nonetheless fill government jobs with “Right-wing psychos” who want to ban birth control and abortion and usher in fascism, some have argued.

While Trump hysteria may be losing steam, abortion has proven a salient issue for Democrats, credited with several electoral wins since Roe was overturned in 2022. Stirring fears over Christian nationalism helps Democrats marry the abortion issue, a winner across much of the political spectrum, with fears that democracy is under threat, an issue that stirs the progressive base. 

The Christian nationalist label will serve as a battering ram for the Left this election year, drawing voters’ attention to what they expect will be winning issues and away from immigration and the economy issues on which Biden is losing. Polls so far indicate a close race, but with 45% of Americans believing the US should be a “Christian nation”, it’s hard to imagine the label doing much to push voters out of Trump’s camp. 

is UnHerd’s US correspondent.