Trump, Republicans, and Revivalism
I’ve been reading this extremely interesting book as part of my research into “spiritual marketing”. It’s called Selling God: American Religion in the Marketplace of Culture (1994) by historian R. Laurence Moore. It’s a description of how the early marketing of religion became, over time, the religion of marketing. It traces the beginnings of the mass commercialisation of religion to the strange friendship of the founder of revivalism, George Whitefield, with Benjamin Franklin. Whitefield joined together theatre and sermon as performance. And in his day, he had what is today called “rockstar status” (as well as a healthy income to go with it — the prototype of the televangelist).
As I was reading the history of revivalism in the United States, though, I was suddenly struck by the fact that the present Republican National Convention isn’t a political rally so much as a revival meeting. It has all the same, (and in my view bizarre) characteristics of the early camp revivals that Moore describes as “arguably the first large-scale popular entertainments in the United States.” They were, in effect, carnivals and festivals, if not mass orgies. This “revivalist” type of gathering was even reinforced for me after reading a satirical piece by Andy Borowitz in The New Yorker, “Republicans Accused of Plagiarizing Entire Convention Scenario from Book of Revelation“.
This might explain why it has no logic, why it seems incoherent, senseless babble and barbarism. If it’s revivalism, it’s not intended to make sense. It’s theatre, and it’s described perfectly in those terms by Moore: “Like the world of the theater, the revival meeting of whatever degree of emotional heat created a special sense of time during which the normal constraints upon sentiment and behavior were deliberately modified. It is tempting to say that a better analogy to ‘enthusiastic’ camp meetings than the theater is carnival.” It’s purpose is excitement and “venting” and producing emotional heat.
This is fascinating, really. Moore’s book may well be the linchpin I’m looking for to account for marketing 3.0, and for the strange anomaly, noted by some historians of advertising, why so many men destined for the pulpit in early life were drawn, instead, into advertising and branding.
I hope to have more on this later. But the apparent “irrational exuberance” of the Trump campaign and of the present Republican National Convention only makes sense (if that’s the right word) as modeled on the revival meeting.