Sound Off! America's Least Religious President Heads to Holy Lands By Luke Perry
Of the last five presidents, all went to Canada in their first foreign trip but George W. Bush, who went to Mexico then Canada. Not surprisingly, Donald Trump is doing things much differently, going to Saudi Arabia, Israel, and the Vatican.
The White House put forth three main goals: 1) project American power abroad; 2) build relationships with world leaders; and 3) provide a message of unity among Jews, Christians and Muslims. “What President Trump is seeking,” National Security Adviser McMaster explained, “is to unite peoples of all faiths around a common vision of peace, progress and prosperity.”
The message is laudable, but Trump’s personal and professional experiences fits poorly with such an endeavor.
Trump is arguably the least religious president in U.S. history. Scholars typically measure religiosity by belief and practice. Trump rarely speaks about his religious beliefs and does not go to church regularly.
As presidential candidate, Trump demonstrated a lack of basic religious literacy and discomfort discussing his faith as well as interacting with people of faith. As president, Trump has largely refrained from making basic civic religious appeals, such as humility and forgiveness, and turned his first National Prayer Breakfast into a comedic roast.
One of the many remarkable aspects of the 2016 election was that two-thirds of Republicans believed it was important for a presidential candidate to share their religious views, then nominated someone who did not. Trump overcame this by convincing White Evangelicals he would fight for them and benefiting nationally from a society becoming more accepting of atheism and secularism in recent years.
Trump, a noted homebody, has traveled much less frequently, both domestically and internationally, than his recent predecessors. He now heads overseas on a foreign trip built around engaging an environment he is uncomfortable and unfamiliar with. People of faith will struggle to take him seriously in that regard as he has displayed little seriousness in devoting himself to ethical or moral convictions.
Like much of the Trump presidency, the external façade of this trip is shinier on the surface than the internal reality.
Luke Perry (@PolSciLukePerry) is Professor of Government at Utica College. His column Sound Off! critiques various aspects of presidential politics.