As former FBI Director James Comey repeatedly called President Donald Trump a liar, Trump decided to prove him right. In a speech that neatly coincided with Comey’s long-awaited Senate hearing, Trump preened and crowed in front of a rapt audience at the Faith and Freedom Coalition’s annual luncheon. The speech itself? Anti-climactic. He played all the old favorites—a little bit of blood-and-soil, some exaggerated claims about the Johnson Amendment, a dash of persecution complex—and then proceeded to repeatedly violate the Ninth Commandment.
He said he’s added one million jobs to the economy. (False. CNN Money says the number is actually 594,000.) He claimed that insurance companies are fleeing the Affordable Care Act’s exchanges and blaming former President Barack Obama. (Half-true: Companies are pulling out of the exchanges, but they’re blaming the Trump administration’s policies.) He blamed Democrats for the vacancies in his administration. (False: The vacancies exist mainly because he’s been slow to put forward nominees.) He said that Ben Franklin reminded members of the Constitutional Convention of 1787 to begin their sessions with prayer. This story is beloved by religious right partisans like David Barton, but it is also only half-true. Franklin made a motion to hold prayer, but it was never voted on.
This is the part where people point and laugh at evangelicals. It’s tempting. They seem like easy marks for a con like Donald Trump. But they’re in on the con. Trump wasn’t even the first self-identified Christian to lie at today’s event. Senator David Perdue of Georgia claimed that the U.S. poverty rate is “the same today” as it was when President Lyndon Johnson launched the War on Poverty, thus proving that big government doesn’t work. But this is a lie. The poverty rate was 19 percent in 1964 and it’s 13.5 percent now.
Evangelical activists are fine with Trump’s lies because they grasp the bargain they’ve made for power. Today’s godly lunch-eaters applauded our withdrawal from the Paris climate agreement; they clapped for Senator Ted Cruz when he promised them a flat tax and the end of the IRS. This has never been about the Bible, not entirely. Lies aren’t even the most disturbing facet of today’s luncheon. That honor goes to the speech delivered by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, who recounted the biblical tale of David’s successful sneak attack on Jerusalem. The message, he told listeners, is that outright belligerence isn’t necessary. You don’t need to file lawsuits; often, legal demand letters will do the trick.
You don’t have to rewrite the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment in order to destroy the separation of church and state. You can pick away at it instead, brick by dusty brick. You can lie. And your enemies will be so busy laughing at you, they won’t even realize what you’ve done.