Kevin Kruse’s Under God: How Corporate American Invented Christian America is an engaging and important book with a somewhat misleading central argument.
Kruse explains how many things Americans take for granted came to be: the presence of “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance, the adoption of “In God We Trust” as a national motto, the annual “presidential” prayer breakfast, and the presidential practice of ending speeches with “may God bless America.” Although “In God We Trust” has a longer history, many elements of American civil religion have their roots not in the American founding but in the more recent past.
Nor did expressions of public piety bubble up from the pews. Instead, a coalition of politically conservative business leaders forged ties with likeminded ministers, evangelists, and politicians to fight against New Deal liberalism, Communism, and immorality. Kruse describes their agenda as “Christan libertarianism.” Many individuals played leading roles in this cause: the Congregationalist minister James Fifield, Goodwill Industries founder Abraham Vereide, philanthropist J. Howard Pew, Ronald Reagan, Walt Disney. But the two foremost heroes (or villains, depending on your perspective) were Dwight Eisenhower and Billy Graham.
What Under God’s book jacket describes as an “unholy alliance” succeeded, but only in part. This coalition of sometimes strange bedfellows helped elect Eisenhower (and later Richard Nixon and Reagan), but the genial man from the Abilene clapboard house ultimately had no interest in dismantling the New Deal. According to Eisenhower, those who attempted to scrap ...1