Fake right-wing panic about "trans" Easter is part of Trump's push for Christian nationalism

Phony claims that Democrats “mock your faith” are a cynical excuse to strip Americans of religious freedom

By Amanda Marcotte

Senior Writer

Published April 2, 2024 6:00AM (EDT)

Marjorie Taylor Greene, Donald Trump and Mike Johnson (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)
Marjorie Taylor Greene, Donald Trump and Mike Johnson (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)

Most Americans spent Easter weekend with traditional activities like church or egg hunts, or, for non-Christians, just enjoying the lovely spring weather. Chronically dishonest MAGA Republicans, however, spent the holiest day of the Christian calendar violating the Ten Commandments. They specifically transgressed the one forbidding "false testimony," by lying their heads off about President Joe Biden. The lie? That Biden, a devout Catholic who spent Easter morning at mass, is mocking Christianity and oppressing its adherents. 

These phony outrages are being used by Republicans to justify their party's rejection of religious liberty and embrace of Christian nationalism. 

On Easter, Biden released a statement that said, "Easter reminds us of the power of hope and the promise of Christ’s Resurrection." Earlier in the week, the White House also acknowledged Sunday was the Transgender Day of Visibility,  calling on Americans "to work toward eliminating violence and discrimination based on gender identity." March 31 is always Transgender Day of Visibility and it's just a coincidence that it coincided with Easter. Donald Trump and other Republicans, however, pretended Biden planned it that way to insult Christianity. 

Trump's campaign called it "blasphemous" of Biden to speak out against discrimination and violence. Speaker of the House Mike Johnson, R-La. tweeted that Biden "betrayed the central tenet of Easter" and falsely accused Biden of "[b]anning sacred truth and tradition." Lies all the way through, of course. Jesus never even mentioned trans people, and certainly didn't center hating them in his philosophy. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., falsely claimed, "There is no length Biden and the Democrats won’t go to to mock your faith." She then used a Bible verse to unsubtly threaten violence. "The Lord laughs at the wicked, for he knows their day is coming." 

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There was also some phony anger over the fact that none of the White House Easter eggs had religious symbols on them, ignoring the fact that this has been White House policy for 45 years — including during the Trump administration. It's a First Amendment issue, but also, let's face it: People whose compulsion to blanket everything in religious imagery, even children's playthings, are too dreary to include in what is supposed to be a fun Sunday picnic. 

"We must make America pray again," Trump said. [...] You can't make people pray without force.

Using unvarnished bigotry and outright lying to rube-run Fox News viewers is standard GOP stuff, not that its frequency makes it any less depraved. But this fraudulent moral panic is especially alarming because it's not just about getting MAGA granny to believe she can stop her grandkids from being queer with a Trump donation. Increasingly, these phony outrages are being used by Republicans to justify their party's rejection of religious liberty and embrace of Christian nationalism. 

Embedded in all this performative outrage is an argument: It's justified for Republicans to adopt Christian nationalism, and even fascism, on the grounds of self-defense. The supposed threats to Christianity are so great, the thinking goes, that the only way to "protect" the faith is to end religious liberty and democracy. And, of course, their political opponents are "demonic" and subhuman, thereby violence against them is permissible, even desired. 

As Paul Waldman wrote in his newsletter addressing Trump's $60 Bibles, it is a grift, but also "a message to Christian nationalists," which is, "electing him will be a way for them to seize control of government for their god."

Trump claimed in his Bible ad that "Christians are under siege," and that the only way to "protect anything that is pro-God" is through force. "We must make America pray again," Trump said. Emphasis mine. It drew little attention because the phrase is a play on his "Make America Great Again" slogan, but there is no way to read it other than as an open rejection of religious freedom. You can't make people pray without force. 

This rhetoric isn't just authoritarian, but flat-out fascist. That was evident in a Fox News segment regarding the Trans Day/Easter coincidence, in which a panelist advanced a conspiracy theory about trans people trying to take God away. 

“This is a clear effort and a coordinated effort to remove God from our society and to replace God with false gods, and in this instance, it’s the trans community,” Lisa Boothe said of the Trans Day of Visibility statement. “They clearly want us to bow at the altar of the trans community instead of bow to God.”

Every single word of this, of course, is a lie. Democrats are not trying to take God away, as evidenced by Biden going to church and sharing a statement of faith. Nor is there a scrap of evidence that trans people are trying to become a "new" god to be worshipped. Not to get all Godwin's law on folks, but there's no daylight between this and what Nazis would say about Jews: A small, oppressed minority is actually super-powerful and evil. It's not just dehumanizing, but eliminationist, allowing viewers to believe violence against trans people is "self-defense." 

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It's also pure psychological projection. Over the weekend, there was one person who was trying to displace god so that people would worship him instead: Donald Trump. He spent Holy Week positioning himself as a new messiah, posting an article comparing his plight to Jesus' crucifixion and saying that court fines for his decades of fraud are like when "Christ walked through His greatest persecution." 

That's genuine blasphemy, but of course, the MAGA masses eat it up. Monday, Michael Bender of the New York Times published an in-depth analysis of how Trump has managed "to transform the Republican Party into a kind of Church of Trump." He spoke with Republican voters who openly spoke of Trump in messianic terms. One woman said Trump has "definitely been chosen by God," because it must be "divine intervention" that he's survived all the legal problems he has. Another woman insisted, "They've crucified him worse than Jesus," who was literally crucified, unlike Trump, whose main physical discomforts stem from his own poor diet and exercise choices. 

It's easy to roll one's eyes as the self-serving dramatics of MAGA voters using false claims of victimhood as cover for their ugly views. But, as the threatening language in Greene's tweet shows, this "woe is us" act is deeply dangerous. The hyperbolic conspiracy theories and dehumanizing language serve to convince Republican voters that religious liberty and democracy are simply values they can no longer afford to hold. The message is Christians are so "under siege" that the only way to fight back is by stripping everyone else of basic rights. 

This all goes hand-in-hand with Trump building his 2024 campaign around the Big Lie. False claims that Democrats "rig" elections exist only to justify actual efforts by Trump and his allies to steal elections. False claims that liberals are trying to destroy Christianity function the same way: to rationalize book banning, abortion bans, forcibly shutting down drag shows and Pride events, and otherwise actually depriving people of their rights to live outside of the narrow prescriptions of right wing Christianity.

Ultimately, of course, the two conspiracy theories blend together into an ur-justification for Trump's efforts to end democracy itself. They tell themselves that, to quote evangelical leader Lance Wallnau, Democratic voters are not "people anymore," but "demons talking through people." Demons don't have rights. Demons don't deserve safety. Demons are a supernatural threat to be eliminated at all costs. That rhetoric is painfully stupid — but that doesn't mean it's not dangerous. 

By Amanda Marcotte

Amanda Marcotte is a senior politics writer at Salon and the author of "Troll Nation: How The Right Became Trump-Worshipping Monsters Set On Rat-F*cking Liberals, America, and Truth Itself." Follow her on Twitter @AmandaMarcotte and sign up for her biweekly politics newsletter, Standing Room Only.

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Christian Nationalism Commentary Donald Trump Easter Gop Mtg Republicans Trans Day Of Visibility