As happens once every year, Thursday was announced as the National Day of Prayer, and President Donald Trump gave a speech for the occasion on the White House Rose Garden. And what he said, while it's not exactly new, was nonetheless headline-grabbing ― Trump claimed Americans say "under God" more now because he's the president.
Trump has made statements like this before, specifically regarding the use of the phrase "Merry Christmas" rather than its more inclusive, non-religious variant, "Happy Holidays." Last year, when December rolled around, Trump repeatedly insisted that people were saying Merry Christmas again and that it was all thanks to him, even though there is no evidence to support that idea.
As a candidate for office, and even before entering politics, Trump would often claim that people were wary of using the phrase during the Obama years; again, there's no actual evidence supporting any of this, and former President Barack Obama, himself a Christian, regularly said Merry Christmas.
But regardless, Trump has continued making this claim, and on Thursday, he added in the idea that people are now saying "under God" more often thanks to his being president ― as in, "one nation under God," like in the Pledge of Allegiance.
"Prayer changes hearts, and transforms lives. It uplifts the soul, inspires action, and unites us all as one nation under God. So important," Trump told the assembled crowd. He added:
And we say it here, you know? A lot of people, they don’t say it. But you know what, they’re starting to say it more, just like we’re starting to say Merry Christmas when that day comes around. You notice the big difference between now and two or three years ago? It was going in the other direction rapidly, right? Now it's going straight up.
Trump's speech from the Rose Garden wasn't just about boasting that Americans of Christian faith were exclaiming it more loudly, however. He also announced the signing of an executive order undoing Obama-era restrictions on religious preaching by organizations that receive federal funds.
Trump continues to enjoy strong support among American evangelicals, a fact that might seem peculiar to an outside observer. As The Washington Post noted in its coverage, Thursday's prayer event came "amid Stormy Daniels news," referring to the adult film star who has claims she had an extramarital affair with the president back in 2006. The White House has said that Trump denies the affair, and he recently claimed that Daniels has made "false and extortionist accusations."
Under certain circumstances ― say, if a Democratic president were implicated in sexual behavior that seemingly ran counter to traditional Christian morality ― it wouldn't be surprising to see them pay a price at the polls with evangelical voters. In Trump's case, however, as a Republican with a devout vice president in Mike Pence, and having supported the policy goals of the religious right at every turn, he's gotten a very different reaction.
In particular, Trump has been outspoken about laws empowering "religious liberty." Progressives and liberals often decry these laws, as they can create legal frameworks to protect various forms of discrimination, including racial and anti-LGBTQ bigotry. He's also broken unprecedented ground with his support for the anti-abortion movement, having become the first sitting president to ever speak at the March for Life.
In short, Trump has thoroughly aligned himself with the religious right, and he's reaping the political benefits among white evangelicals. Although as far as his dramatic claim on Thursday is concerned ― that people throughout America are suddenly saying "God" more often because he's in the White House ― that might be more like wishful thinking.