Politics

Peanut Butter and Pictures of Jesus: Trump in Utah

The photos of President Trump in Utah Monday pushing a shopping cart between rows of peanut butter and pictures of Jesus raised some eyebrows.  He turned out to be visiting a food and necessities distribution center maintained by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  The Mormon Church, as it is more colloquially known, is famous for its relief efforts and caring for the poor.  Whenever major cultural or political figures visit the leaders of the Mormon Church in Salt Lake, they are taken to the Humanitarian Center to see the operations for relieving poverty throughout the world.

Trump was accompanied by Senator Orrin Hatch, one of his closest allies in the Senate and arguably the most influential Senator in Utah’s history.

Trump was quoted as saying to the Church leaders showing him the Center, “We’re really proud of you.  What you do is like nobody else….  This is very exciting for me.  The job you’ve done is beyond anything you could think of — taking care of people the way you take care of people and the respect that you have all over the world.”  Trump was accompanied by Senator Orrin Hatch, one of his closest allies in the Senate and arguably the most influential Senator in Utah’s history.

Trump in Utah: A Long Legacy

By visiting Utah, President Trump was following in the footsteps of nearly every American president since Theodore Roosevelt.  By visiting the Humanitarian Center, he was following in the footsteps of every president since Harry Truman.  But what is the Center, and what does it do?

“…mountains of food and supplies.”

According to an article written for the Philanthropy Roundtable in 2012, the Humanitarian Center, known as the Bishop’s Central Storehouse, stockpiles “mountains of food and supplies.”  These are distributed throughout North America for use by needy people, and include grain, dairy products, and canned goods grown on farms owned by the Church, as well as household dry goods and necessities.

“The size of the Bishop’s Central Storehouse gives a sense of scale to Mormon welfare and humanitarian efforts. Situated on 35 acres, the building’s current footprint is 570,391 square feet, with plans to add 100,000 more. The total planned capacity of the building is 65,000 pallets, and it stocks hundreds of foods—from corn, beans, and cereals to cheese, ice cream, and peanut butter—as well as toiletries, tools, and electric generators. It has its own trucking company, complete with nearly 50 tractors and 100 trailers, as well as a one-year supply of fuel, parts, and tires for the vehicles. The facility has even been built to withstand a 7.5-magnitude earthquake.”

In addition to providing food, the assistance programs provide help finding employment, addiction recovery, family counseling, ESL instruction, and other social services.  Most of these services are aimed at Church members.  They are directed at the discretion of local clergymen and women.

International Assistance and Disaster Relief

In another program, separate from the general relief program, the Mormon Church has a massive international humanitarian aid effort.  Some aspects of it are permanent and continuous, such as providing wheelchairs, vision care, neonatal care kits, vaccinations, and assistance in developing systems for clean water.  These are provided as public services in poor countries.

The Church has donated approximately $1.2 billion to relief efforts worldwide over the past 30 years.

In addition to these permanent programs, the Church also provides disaster relief supplies for natural or man-made disasters.  Part of the stockpiles in the enormous Bishop’s Central Storehouse are set aside for emergency relief.  They include shelters, blankets, clothing, food and water purification systems.  The supplies are ready to be flown to any location in the world at a day’s notice.  The Church has donated approximately $1.2 billion to relief efforts worldwide over the past 30 years.

None of the international humanitarian relief assistance is accompanied by proselytizing of any sort.  In fact, in some parts of the world where logistics are very difficult, the Church has donated money or supplies to other organizations who are well established in the regions.  OxFam, Catholic Relief Services, the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, and other religious or secular organizations all have received Mormon donations to help with disaster relief.

Good Politics

That is why President Trump found himself photographed between peanut butter jars and pictures of Jesus.  It’s what he was talking about when he expressed admiration for what the Mormons do around the world.  It won’t hurt him politically to have done so, either.

Two thirds of Utah residents are Mormons, but only 45 per cent of Utahns voted for him in 2016.  There are also large and politically very active Mormon minorities in several other states, including Nevada, Arizona, Idaho, California, Washington, New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma, Virginia, Maryland, Georgia, and Florida.  Mormons have long memories for positive attention from secular political figures, and Trump’s kind words for the Church may win him support not only in Utah, but in other key states in the future.

Bart Marcois

Bart Marcois (@bmarcois) is a Senior OpsLens Contributor and was the principal deputy assistant secretary of energy for international affairs during the Bush administration. Additionally, Marcois served as a career foreign service officer with the State Department. He is a director at the Richard Richards Foundation.

Join the conversation!

We have no tolerance for comments containing violence, racism, vulgarity, profanity, all caps, or discourteous behavior. Thank you for partnering with us to maintain a courteous and useful public environment where we can engage in reasonable discourse.