Many of the array of psychologists, psychiatrists and family therapists I talked to for this story have a question Mary Trump actually once asked herself, at a moment when she was feeling something less than pride in her celebrity son.

This was in 1990. Donald Trump was divorcing his first wife, philandering with the model Marla Maples and floundering in hundreds of millions of dollars in debt, facing high-profile humiliation and ruin in his early 40s. Mary Trump, on the other hand, was approaching 80. Once a poor immigrant from the remote, desolate northwest corner of Scotland, and the product of the strict mores of the country’s Presbyterian Church, she had been married to the business-centric Fred Trump for more than half a century, residing with him and their five children and their live-in in a large, red-brick, white-columned house positioned regally atop a grassy hill. She had worked tirelessly, volunteering at a local hospital, staying active at schools, charities and social clubs, and steering her rose-colored Rolls-Royce to the family’s outer-borough apartment buildings to collect coins from the laundry machines. She and her husband had sent their fourth and most incorrigible child, who as a boy threw cake at kids at parties and erasers at his teachers at his private elementary school, first to Sunday morning Bible classes, like his siblings—and then, unlike his siblings, to a stringent military academy an hour and a half upstate shortly after he turned 13. Now, in the twilight of her life, beset with debilitating bone loss, she was being sucked into his tawdry, nonstop soap opera, rendered a bit player in a media frenzy, captured by paparazzi while sitting in the rear of her chauffeured car, looking steely and peeved.

That year, according to Vanity Fair, Mary Trump asked Ivana Trump, her soon-to-be-ex-daughter-in-law, a pointed question. “What kind of son have I created?”

Michael Kruse, The Mystery of Mary Trump

Consider this nightmare scenario: a military coup. You don’t have to strain your imagination—all you have to do is watch Thursday’s White House press briefing, in which the chief of staff, John Kelly, defended President Trump’s phone call to a military widow, Myeshia Johnson. The press briefing could serve as a preview of what a military coup in this country would look like, for it was in the logic of such a coup that Kelly advanced his four arguments.

Argument 1. Those who criticize the President don’t know what they’re talking about because they haven’t served in the military. To demonstrate how little lay people know, Kelly provided a long, detailed explanation of what happens when a soldier is killed in battle: the body is wrapped in whatever is handy, flown by helicopter, then packed in ice, then flown again, then repacked, then flown, then embalmed and dressed in uniform with medals, and then flown home. Kelly provided a similar amount of detail about how family members are notified of the death, when, and by whom. He even recommended a film that dramatized the process of transporting the body of a real-life marine, Private First Class Chance Phelps. This was a Trumpian moment, from the phrasing—“a very, very good movie”—to the message. Kelly stressed that Phelps “was killed under my command, right next to me”; in other words, Kelly’s real-life experience was recreated for television, and that, he seemed to think, bolstered his authority.

Fallen soldiers, Kelly said, join “the best one per cent this country produces.” Here, the chief of staff again reminded his audience of its ignorance: “Most of you, as Americans, don’t know them. Many of you don’t know anyone who knows any of them. But they are the very best this country produces.”

The one-per-cent figure is puzzling. The number of people currently serving in the military, both on active duty and in the reserves, is not even one per cent of all Americans. The number of veterans in the population is far higher: more than seven per cent. But, later in the speech, when Kelly described his own distress after hearing the criticism of Trump’s phone call, the general said that he had gone to “walk among the finest men and women on this earth. And you can always find them because they’re in Arlington National Cemetery.” So, by “the best” Americans, Kelly had meant dead Americans—specifically, fallen soldiers.

The number of Americans killed in all the wars this nation has ever fought is indeed equal to roughly one per cent of all Americans alive today. This makes for questionable math and disturbing logic. It is in totalitarian societies, which demand complete mobilization, that dying for one’s country becomes the ultimate badge of honor. Growing up in the Soviet Union, I learned the names of ordinary soldiers who threw their bodies onto enemy tanks, becoming literal cannon fodder. All of us children had to aspire to the feat of martyrdom. No Soviet general would have dared utter the kind of statement that’s attributed to General George S. Patton: “The object of war is not to die for your country but to make the other bastard die for his.”

2. The President did the right thing because he did exactly what his general told him to do. Kelly went on a rambling explication of speaking to the President not once but twice about how to make the call to Myeshia Johnson. After Kelly’s son was killed while serving in Afghanistan, the chief of staff recalled, his own best friend had consoled him by saying that his son “was doing exactly what he wanted to do when he was killed. He knew what he was getting into by joining that one per cent.” Trump apparently tried to replicate this message when he told Johnson that her husband, La David, had known what he was signing up for. The negative reaction to this comment, Kelly said, had “stunned” him.

A week earlier, Kelly had taken over the White House press briefing in an attempt to quash another scandal and ended up using the phrase “I was sent in,” twice, in reference to his job in the White House. Now he seemed to be saying that, since he was sent in to control the President and the President had, this time, more or less carried out his instructions, the President should not be criticized.

–Masha Gessen, John Kelly and the Language of the Military Coup

Donald Trump’s supporters always had diverging interpretations of his campaign mantra, “Make America Great Again,” yet they all centered on returning the country to a better and more comfortable time.

To economic nationalists, it meant going back to an era of high tariffs and buying American. To defense hawks, it meant returning to a time of unquestioned military supremacy. To immigration hard-liners, it meant fewer jobs for foreign-born workers—and, for some of those voters, fewer dark faces in the country, period.

But for many evangelicals and conservative Catholics, “Make America Great Again” meant above all else returning to a time when the culture reflected and revolved around their Judeo-Christian values. When there was prayer in public schools. When marriage was limited to one man and one woman. When abortion was not prevalent and socially acceptable. When the government didn’t ask them to violate their consciences. And, yes, when people said “Merry Christmas” instead of “Happy Holidays.”

This explains one of the more striking lines in Trump’s speech Friday to the Values Voter Summit, which in just 10 years has become one of the premier annual gatherings of social conservatives in Washington. Touting the “customs, beliefs and traditions that defined who we are as a nation and as a people,” the president recalled the Founders’ repeated reference to a “Creator” in the Declaration of Independence. “How times have changed,” Trump said. “But you know what? Now they’re changing back again. Just remember that.”

The audience roared with a 20-second standing ovation.

Of course, much of the cultural drift the “values voters” fear seems irreversible as America’s demographic transformation yields an electorate that is younger, more ethnically diverse, more urban, more educated and less religious. Same-sex marriage is settled law with ever-broadening public support; abortion rights are probably impossible to fully retract. And the country’s steady secularization, decried for decades from church pulpits, appears to have accelerated in recent years: According to a comprehensive Pew Research Center poll of more than 35,000 Americans, the share of self-identified Christians decreased nearly 7 percent between 2007 and 2014, while the share of religiously unaffiliated citizens increased nearly 7 percent in that time.

What, then, can a thrice-married Manhattan billionaire—or any politician, for that matter—realistically offer Christian voters who hope for a cultural and spiritual revival in America?

Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, the conservative group that organizes the Values Voter Summit, says Trump’s greatest impact is legitimizing those people and views that have been marginalized. “Barack Obama used the bully pulpit and the courts to demonize those who held to the very values that made America great. And Trump is doing the opposite,” Perkins says. “What the president and his administration can do is once again make people feel like it’s OK to stand up and talk about these traditional values, and engage in these conversations. Then we can win hearts and minds, and that’s where the transformation begins.”

Others, however, are taking a more direct approach. The biggest draw of the weekend event, other than the president himself, was Roy Moore, the Alabama Senate candidate and former chief justice of the state’s Supreme Court. Moore was removed from office twice: once for refusing to remove a Ten Commandments monument from courthouse grounds, and 14 years later, having reclaimed the position, for directing state judges to ignore the federal government’s legalization of same-sex marriages. To Moore and his admirers, these incidents were evidence of American turning its back on God—tribulations that have been used to rally the faithful in his deeply religious state as he went from a quixotic Senate hopeful to the favorite.

When Moore spoke to a Friday luncheon sponsored by the American Family Association, he was introduced unapologetically as someone who would put Christianity ahead of the Constitution. When a video played detailing the Ten Commandments saga in Alabama, the room of several hundred retirement-age attendees shook their heads in disgust. And when he took the stage, he stirred the crowd. “It was never about the Ten Commandments; it was about the God who gave the Ten Commandments,” Moore said. “We forget that what they really want to do in this land is remove the knowledge of God. That won’t happen, as far as I can see, because I think the people of God are rising up in this land today. In 2016 we were given a new lease, a new reason, and it’s upon us now.”

Seated at the rear of the room, John and Jill Stabley nodded along. The older married couple from Delaware have attended the Values Voter Summit seven previous times, but this year feels different. “Suddenly hopeful,” Jill says. “We grew up in an era where people were thinking of others, and trying to do the right thing—.” John interrupts: “And walking with Christ.” He pauses. “There’s no going back. All these outside people are coming in and tearing us apart.”

By “outside people,” John means immigrants—particularly Muslims, whom he says are undermining the Constitution in pursuit of sharia law. (John believes Obama is a Muslim, and Jill says the Common Core education standards were used to indoctrinate students with Islamic ideology.) The focus on immigration in these Christian circles speaks to the budding union between Trump’s evangelical and nationalistic supporters, which was on display at Perkins’ weekend event. He raised eyebrows by inviting former White House aides Steve Bannon and Sebastian Gorka, the polarizing promoters of Trump’s “America First” message, to speak at the event, despite neither having any roots in the Christian conservative universe.

This shotgun wedding resulted in some predictably awkward moments. Bannon, emphasizing the importance of grass-roots politics in winning elections, raised the 44th president’s former job title. “What’s a community organizer? I’ll tell you what it is. Somebody that could kick your ass—twice.” There were crickets from the audience; it was almost certainly the first time someone had ever used a curse word during a speech to the Values Voter Summit. Earlier, in his own speech, Gorka had stressed how liberating it was for him and Bannon to now be working outside the White House. “The left has no idea how much more damage we can do to them as private citizens,” he said to scattered applause. Responding to Gorka, conservative radio host Erick Erickson, a frequent Trump critic, tweeted, “Sad to see this said at a Christian conference. Where is the grace? Where is the mercy? Where is the Christ?”

These are good and fair questions. But anyone expecting the evangelical right to shy away from Trump world’s hardball approach to politics hasn’t been paying attention the past 18 months. Many Christian voters embraced Trump not despite his provocative style but because of it, betting on a brash street brawler to win the culture battles they had been losing for generations. And their faith has been rewarded: From abortion policy to religious liberty to judicial appointments, Trump has delivered for social conservatives more than any other constituency, making them the unlikely cornerstone of his coalition.

–Tim Alberta, Donald Trump and the Dawn of the Evangelical-Nationalist Alliance

It is insufficient to state the obvious of Donald Trump: that he is a white man who would not be president were it not for this fact. With one immediate exception, Trump’s predecessors made their way to high office through the passive power of whiteness—that bloody heirloom which cannot ensure mastery of all events but can conjure a tailwind for most of them. Land theft and human plunder cleared the grounds for Trump’s forefathers and barred others from it. Once upon the field, these men became soldiers, statesmen, and scholars; held court in Paris; presided at Princeton; advanced into the Wilderness and then into the White House. Their individual triumphs made this exclusive party seem above America’s founding sins, and it was forgotten that the former was in fact bound to the latter, that all their victories had transpired on cleared grounds. No such elegant detachment can be attributed to Donald Trump—a president who, more than any other, has made the awful inheritance explicit.

His political career began in advocacy of birtherism, that modern recasting of the old American precept that black people are not fit to be citizens of the country they built. But long before birtherism, Trump had made his worldview clear. He fought to keep blacks out of his buildings, according to the U.S. government; called for the death penalty for the eventually exonerated Central Park Five; and railed against “lazy” black employees. “Black guys counting my money! I hate it,” Trump was once quoted as saying. “The only kind of people I want counting my money are short guys that wear yarmulkes every day.” After his cabal of conspiracy theorists forced Barack Obama to present his birth certificate, Trump demanded the president’s college grades (offering $5 million in exchange for them), insisting that Obama was not intelligent enough to have gone to an Ivy League school, and that his acclaimed memoir, Dreams From My Father, had been ghostwritten by a white man, Bill Ayers.

It is often said that Trump has no real ideology, which is not true—his ideology is white supremacy, in all its truculent and sanctimonious power. Trump inaugurated his campaign by casting himself as the defender of white maidenhood against Mexican “rapists,” only to be later alleged by multiple accusers, and by his own proud words, to be a sexual violator himself. White supremacy has always had a perverse sexual tint. Trump’s rise was shepherded by Steve Bannon, a man who mocks his white male critics as “cucks.” The word, derived from cuckold, is specifically meant to debase by fear and fantasy—the target is so weak that he would submit to the humiliation of having his white wife lie with black men. That the slur cuck casts white men as victims aligns with the dicta of whiteness, which seek to alchemize one’s profligate sins into virtue. So it was with Virginia slaveholders claiming that Britain sought to make slaves of them. So it was with marauding Klansmen organized against alleged rapes and other outrages. So it was with a candidate who called for a foreign power to hack his opponent’s email and who now, as president, is claiming to be the victim of “the single greatest witch hunt of a politician in American history.”

In Trump, white supremacists see one of their own.

–Ta-Nahisi Coates, The First White President