Friday, March 4, 2016

More on the Conundrum Confounding Beltway Media and GOP Establishment: Explain to Me Again Why White Evangelicals Are Going for Trump?!

My headline for the posting I just published mentions the continued strong support of white evangelicals for Donald Trump, support that is confounding the beltway media and the Republican establishment, but will astound no one who lives among white evangelicals and has had his or her finger on the pulse of white evangelical culture since this religious group began trending Republican in the South following the enactment of the Civil Rights Act (It's about the racism). Here's some commentary on why white evangelicals are, for the most part, deliriously happy about Donald Trump:

But like Reagan, Trump offers evangelicals something better than a president who is like them and shares their values. He offers them a country that is all about them and their values. It's a mirage, of course, but after tomorrow's voting, it will make him the presumptive Republican nominee.

Maybe, just maybe, the conservative movement has spent so long politicizing religion that Evangelical voters are willing to forgive heresies as long as the politics match. Maybe, just maybe, self-described Evangelical conservatives are flocking to Trump because "Evangelical" in the context of American politics now has less to do with religion and more to do with conservative identity signaling. This may be baffling for members of the Evangelical establishment, who may really be Christian first and Republican second, but it jives with an electorate that is, if anything, Republican first and Christian second.

I've been attending the FRC's annual "Values Voter Summit" for the past 10 years, and I have a theory. I've noticed how more and more these gatherings sound like Heritage Foundation briefings with a little prayer thrown in. (In fact, the Heritage Foundation has served as a co-sponsor of the Summit in the past.) 
At the Summit, one hears a lot of talk about health-care reform. Attendees, many of whom are over 65 and undoubtedly relying on Medicare, virulently despise "Obamacare." One hears constant calls to do something about illegal immigration. Taxes, especially the estate tax, are assailed, as is the all-purpose bogeyman of "Big Government." Attendees demand a hawkish, jingoistic foreign policy anchored in "American Exceptionalism." Muslims are bashed with impunity. 
Sure, some speakers do assail abortion, marriage equality and the alleged attack on "religious liberty." But there are huge portions of the Summit that have absolutely nothing to do with Christianity. The name of Jesus Christ is rarely invoked. Ronald Reagan's is constantly. The Summit often seems to have more in common with the philosophy of Ayn Rand, an atheist, than the founder of Christianity.

This set of maps from New York Times offering a breakdown of the results from Tuesday's primary in my own state of Arkansas is revelatory. Note the correlation between areas of the state that are heavily evangelical (that is, almost the entire state outside its central and northwest urban areas) and areas in which Trump carried the GOP ticket; and note the correlation between areas with lower rates of educational attainment and Trump's dominance. I would expect to find similar correlations in most Southern states.

The headscratcher illustration is from The Evening Ledger (Philadelphia, May 4, 1916), and was uploaded to Wikimedia Commons by Johnny Automatic of Open Clip Art Library.

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