It may be hyperbolic to claim that Donald Trump’s speech at the Values Voter Summit has ushered in an era of conservative Christian capitalism, but this has definitely become an era of conservative Christian capitalism. This strain of religious conservatism has grown out of a long-running pedagogical project where neoliberal capitalism and Christian fundamentalism have created a mistrust of public institutions and secular governance. Evangelical support of Trump is the logical endpoint, as paradoxical as it may seem. Trump stands in contrast to many of the supposed values of conservative Christianity; he has been divorced twice, uses vulgar language, shows no humility, and does not even appear to attend services at any church. Former Secretary of Education Bill Bennett put it best, “We are conscious of his history, we are conscious of his future.” What Trump has done in the past is not relevant as what he can do now that he is in office. And that is, with no hyperbole at all, to end democracy in America.
In order to understand how conservative Christian capitalism means to end democracy, it needs to be understood the kind of education taking place in these fundamentalist communities. Many were homeschooled, and in turn homeschool their own children, an act in itself that shows hostility towards the public. Michael Apple’s Educating the “Right” Way discusses this phenomenon wherein public schools are declared to be unholy and godless places that teach anti-Christian values. From an early age, children homeschooled in fundamentalism are taught to fear secular institutions.
In my own book, I examine the curricula in several fundamentalist homeschool publishers in an attempt to understand the kind of society being pursued in fundamentalist communities. Much of this was echoed in things said by Trump during his speech. Most notably, his claim that, “it’s the family and the church—not government officials—who know how to create strong and loving communities.” One of the overarching themes to all the homeschool providers was that government was not to be trusted. The role of government as described by these groups was the same as that of neoliberal capitalists, in that it should exist only to enforce property rights, keep markets open, and maintain law and order. Abeka, a publishing affiliate of Pensacola Christian College (formerly A Beka Book) describes “Government is ordained by God… We present free-enterprise economics without apology and point out the dangers of Communism, socialism, and liberalism.” Under this line of thinking, the wealthy are wealthy because God made them so, and to question poverty and inequality is to question God.
Trump’s call to fight supposed enemies “In this administration we will call evil by its name… we’re confronting rogue regimes from Iran to North Korea and we are challenging the communist dictatorship of Cuba and socialist oppression of Venezuela,” is seen in the Christian Liberty Academy School System, a self-proclaimed pioneer of the home school movement, seems to be seeking the creation of an army of Christian soldiers through the study of geography: “(The student) learns how geographical traits affect nations’ economies, their position in world trade, their military defense capabilities and their independence of, or dependence upon, other nations. Geography plays an important role for Christian students as they learn about the worldwide advance of the kingdom of God.” This lays the foundation for a theocratic government, controlled not by the people, who are unworthy, but an elite group of religious fundamentalists who justify their power as a being granted by God.
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These examples, though only a glimpse as to what is being taught in fundamentalist circles, show a clear anti-democratic ideology through the suppression of critical thought and an adherence to authority. A critical education, that is, one that examines and questions structures of power, inequality, and injustice, is frightening to fundamentalists as it supports democratic development by providing more people with an understanding of the world and their place within it. Critical education pushes the questioning of authority rather than a devotion to it.
Capitalism requires a similar fear of the public, believing it leads to government overregulation and hinders the free market. Neoliberal capitalism at work in education has mirrored fundamentalist education as both have sought to erode public control in favor of putting schools in the hands of private entities. Under capitalist ideology, this has meant the growth of charter schools and a new resurgence of vouchers. These two fundamentalisms, market and religious, convene under Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, who has supported the use of neoliberal strategies to provide public funding for religious schools.
The marriage of conservative capitalism and fundamentalist Christianity created the perfect environment for a man like Trump to be elected President. In this moment, the power of education is on full display, as it can now be seen what happens when public schools are attacked by religious and private influences that seek to instill their own form of education. This is a critical juncture for public educators who must reclaim schools as sites of resistance. Students must learn to be critical, to challenge power, and to understand what it means to be part of and to participate in a democratic society. Education must connect students to their communities and allow them to see how they are connected to larger world, rather than the fundamentalist push to isolate and withdraw. If the path towards privatization and fundamentalism continues, so too will the erasure of critical thought from public consciousness. With it, conservative Christian capitalism, as seen in the Values Voter Summit, will usher in a Christian theocracy or neoliberal corporatocracy focused on eliminating democracy both in the United States and around the world.