As almost 100,000 people have lost their lives to COVID-19, Trump’s expression of sorrow has been negligible. Moreover, the disease is taking a terrible toll on the people who are working to save lives. The list for this lack of empathy could begin with the Princess Cruise Line ship that Trump wanted to prevent from docking in California because it had coronavirus victims on board and if it docked the number of US COVID-19 cases would increase. This was followed in May by the extraordinary example of Trump’s using the Defense Production Act to reopen midwestern meat-packing plants, which had closed because of the virus. But, he refused to use the Act to ensure that the nation had enough testing capability.
To explain these events, we must understand that the current Republican base evinces a belief in a combination of Christian Nationalism (what Christian Evangelicalism has become), unchecked capitalism, and free market absolutism. In this setting government is the enemy because its role is to regulate the free market for the national interest, to guarantee the separation of church and state, and to empower democratic institutions to protect against power-seeking dictators. This belief assumes that anything that impinges on the private sector is an illegitimate enemy.
Katherine Stewart spells out how Christian Nationalism is behind evangelical support for Trump in her book, The Power Worshippers (2020, ebook). Christian Nationalism is a political movement that worships masculine power (e.g., social distancing is weak and cowardly, not altruistic and courageous). Christian nationalism is not libertarian or even anti-government but is driven by the divine right of kings.
In this form, Christian Nationalism marries masculine Christianity with the philosophy of unchecked capitalism espoused by author Ayn Rand. “My philosophy,” she said, “in essence is the concept of man as a heroic being with his own happiness as the moral purpose of his life.” And, this philosophy links perfectly into Trump’s emphasis on privatization and explains use of the free market centering on tax cuts for the rich (using the disproved theory that the poor and middle class will benefit from trickle down). It is plausible to explain Trump’s actions as Trump’s sticking to his 2016 playbook to get reelected and doing everything to deflect attention from the devastation of coronavirus.
However, the coherent ideology that Trump and his base believe in—Christian Nationalism, the philosophy of novelist Ayn Rand, and free market absolutism—is particularly dangerous because it attacks our institutions. Government is seen as the enemy because its role is to regulate the free market in the national interest and that of individuals, to guarantee the separation of church and state, and to empower democratic institutions to protect against power-seeking dictators. Yet, with Trumpism, democracy and those elected are not accepted as legitimate actors and power-holders. Any sense of community (i.e., the foundation of morality), whether it is nations working together or individuals in communities working together, is presented as harmful and against God’s will.
— Elizabeth Spiro Clark, Chair, Human Rights and Democracy Task Force