The events surrounding the protests in Charlottesville, Virginia, last weekend have inspired new acts of resistance, and one is hitting the president right where it hurts. Some graduates of Liberty University are protesting Donald Trump by returning their diplomas, indicating a potential loss of support within the evangelical Christian community that could disrupt Trump's entire base.
Trump owes arguably a big portion of his political success to Liberty University and its president, Jerry Falwell Jr. Falwell was one of the first and most prominent evangelical Christian leaders to endorse Trump's campaign, which may have ended up helping him secure him the presidency. The early show of confidence from the hard-core Christian wing of the Republican party may have been the boost that got Trump all the way to the White House — according to the Pew Research Center, 81 percent of white evangelical voters went for Trump in 2016.
But following Trump and Falwell's statements after the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville (just over an hour away from Liberty), some graduates are voicing their displeasure with their presidents. Alumni have promised to return their diplomas after Falwell tweeted his support for Trump after he said that there were "very fine people on both sides" of the conflict.
"Finally a leader in WH," Falwell said via Twitter on Wednesday. "Bold truthful [statement] about Charlottesville tragedy. So proud of [Donald Trump]."
"I'm sending my diploma back because the president of the United States is defending Nazis and white supremacists," 2006 Liberty graduate Chris Gaumer told NPR. "And in defending the president's comments, Jerry Falwell Jr. is making himself and, it seems to me, the university he represents, complicit."
Georgia Hamann, a 2006 graduate and attorney, couched her objections in the evangelical language that Liberty uses to recruit students. "We're asking that Liberty University return to its stated values and accept that the pursuit of power is leading it into some dark places, and really repudiate that," Hamann told NPR. "The word in Baptist and evangelical circles is 'repent.'... You know, truly a turning away from wrong conduct."
It's unclear if these students who are now returning their diplomas previously supported Trump, but this latest change within the evangelical community could indicate weakening overall support for the president. If Christians are taking away their support for Trump and/or the GOP, the electoral math of 2018 could look very different than 2016, and 2020 could be a different story altogether.