During the first debate of the 2016 American presidential election, Donald Trump interrupted Hillary Clinton a staggering 51 times. The majority of those interruptions, according to commentators, resulted in Trump saying very little of substance. In the course of the debate, Clinton also called out Trump's blatant sexism when he demeaned the appearance of a winner of the Miss Universe pageant. Clinton didn't even mention his multiple affairs and divorces, although Christian author Philip Yancey mentioned those in his own criticism of Trump the following day.
Trump's misbehavior, sexism, and brash style toward women are not going to deter his base of supporters. Some may even find that his bullying is part of his appeal. It's notable that Jerry Falwell Jr. of Liberty University endorsed Trump in the midst of his sexist attacks on Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly.
Many American evangelicals have rationalised that Trump is what America needs and, even more in their own self-interest, that Trump will stand up for them. While such confidence in a man with a history of being petty, temperamental, and given to telling blatant lies has its own problems, it's especially troubling to know that evangelicals have more or less ignored Trump's troubling statements about blacks, immigrants, and women in order to advance a very limited agenda that narrowly defines "family values" according to the values of a segment of primarily white evangelicals.
In the case of women, the evangelical acceptance of Trump's bullying and degrading of women is nothing new to the wider movement and worthy of closer scrutiny. Author Nish Weiseth shared on Facebook regarding Trump's treatment of Clinton during the debate: "You can't be against sexism only when it suits your political preferences. That's not how it works. You're either against sexism ALL the time toward ALL women, or you're... well, sexist."
If you follow enough news stories and listen to enough women who have grown up in American evangelical congregations, it becomes clear that women have been considered expendable for the health of the church or inferior when compared to men more times than we would like to admit. A new study has even found that 43 per cent of evangelical Republicans believe that men better represent their interests, compared to only 22 per cent of non-evangelical Republicans who hold the same view.
The scandals follow a predictable series of patterns:
Women have been told to keep silent about inappropriate pastoral conduct for the good of the church.
Women aren't believed when a husband is accused of abuse.
Some abused women are told to stay in abusive marriages, lest they be expelled.
When a woman reveals the sexism or past abuses of a mission organization, men are quick to chide her because the organization does so much good in the world.
It's not a far leap for evangelicals to accept Donald Trump's sexism, mansplaining, and bullying during the debate. In many pockets, evangelicals have already created a subculture that has a high tolerance for mistreating women and 28 per cent of pastors believe divorce is a sin, even in the case of abuse. If enough evangelicals honestly believe that America or the church can only be saved by President Trump standing up for religious liberty while verbally attacking and demeaning women, then that is a price they are more than willing to pay.
In addition to seeing Trump as a protector of religious liberty, evangelicals are looking for a strong male leader according to Real Clear Politics, which says: "Trump is perceived to be strong and bold; a leader that will help evangelicals navigate a world they believe is too often adrift and too different from what they want."
This election is framed as a battle over the future of America and the freedom of religion, but based on Trump's poor treatment of women and minorities, the primary group that will benefit from his version of "making America great again" will be white males. For too many evangelicals, that's a very familiar, if not preferred, state of affairs.
Although Clinton has her own flaws and shortcomings, they call for scrutiny, debate, and explanation, not a hollow strategy of interruptions and bullying.