President Donald Trump answered questions Tuesday afternoon for a Fox News virtual town hall surrounded by a frame of graphics. In the lower right-hand corner, a box documented the market’s delirious approval of Trump’s bizarre recent push to ease the state of emergency around the coronavirus pandemic to aid the economy. Another on-screen graphic ticked away the number of confirmed coronavirus cases and deaths. Coincidentally, those numbers were rising as well.
“I would love to have the country opened up and raring to go by Easter,” Trump said during a virtual town hall on Fox News, adding that he’d like to see “packed churches all over the country” in just 19 days. Fox News anchor Bill Hemmer beamed and remarked, “That would be a great American resurrection.”
Nearly two hundred miles away, another resurrection was underway in Lynchburg, Virginia, as Jerry Falwell Jr. ordered Liberty University’s reopening despite the advice of experts and Governor Ralph Northam’s having ordered nonessential businesses shuttered and public schools closed for the remainder of the year. Falwell Jr., scion of his father Jerry Falwell’s evangelical empire and a loyal Trump ally—who recently suggested the coronavirus might be a biological weapon produced by North Korea or China—echoed the president’s baffling call to a return to normalcy, saying, “Let’s get them back as soon as we can.”
It is easy to be confused by both of these developments and their seeming contradictions: Two very public figures treating the pandemic like it was under control as both the numbers and personal experiences show otherwise. The president of the United States and his favorite news channel actively working to turn the holiest of holidays into a secular, nationalist triumph. The president of a religious university, named after one of the most famously espoused principles of America’s founding, continually playing politics. But the truth is that these events, like so many others that seem irreconcilable based on our current understanding of politics, history, and American religion, fit into the same puzzle that was fused together from nationalism and capitalism decades earlier.