Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Responses to PRRI Report on Nostalgia for 1950s (Straight White Men Running Things) and U.S. Elections (and Why Catholic Leaders Won't Talk About These Issues)

There's some very good commentary already to be found at various sites about the report PRRI released yesterday, its annual American Values Survey, entitled this year The Divide Over America’s Future: 1950 or 2050? I gave you an initial report about this important document yesterday.

Unfortunately, the good commentary already being published about this document is not (yet) to be found at Catholic journal or blog sites — and I'm dubious about seeing it at such sites down the road. One of the most destructive results of the period of repudiation of Vatican II in which the Catholic church found itself in the final decades of the 20th century was how this repudiation has yielded an exceedingly parochial, cut-off, clubby, mentality among many Catholic academics and Catholic journalists — the lay leaders of American Catholicism — which insulates Catholic academics and Catholic journalists from important discussions taking place in a broader intellectual and cultural context.

Catholic academics and journalists continue to shy away from honest, open discussions of some of the key issues that have to be discussed frankly if we're going to contend with the findings of the PRRI report. In general, Catholic journalistic and academic commentary about this election cycle has been very weak in acknowledging the role that racism plays in driving many voters, some white Catholic ones included, to Donald Trump.

Catholic journalistic and academic commentary is also lamentably backwards in talking about issues of heterosexual male entitlement — about issues including heterosexism and gender roles that have emerged as central to the current election. Those issues are front and center in the PRRI report, because they are front and center in the election itself. 

But they are very unlikely to be discussed frankly in Catholic discussion spaces, which remain fixated on topics like how men and women can manage to relate to each other in marriage, given how different they are, or on how "gender ideology" blurs the hard, fast lines that heterosexual males within the Catholic context wish to see drawn between men and women and how they "naturally" act. It's obvious to me that what many heterosexual male Catholic academics and journalists, and other Catholic academics and journalists content with heterosexism and male entitlement, want to veil in discussions of issues of gender and heterosexism is the unacknowledged (and unmerited) privilege that Catholic magisterial teaching gives to heterosexual males.

Here's valuable commentary I've spotted online in the past two days about the PRRI report. First, Anthea Butler (who happens to be Catholic herself, but who has published this statement at Religion Dispatches and not a Catholic site):

For white Protestants and evangelicals the 2016 election cycle truly is, in the words of PRRI CEO Robert P. Jones, 'The End of White Christian America." The carefully built and curated political alliance between evangelicals and the Republican party has brought both of them to the brink, and this survey highlights just how far evangelicals' moral influence has failed. 
It also makes clear that while Jim Wallis and others may say 'not all evangelicals' and try to lump blacks and Hispanics into the evangelical definition, that obscures the fact that these groups vote far differently than their white counterparts. These are also the groups that suffer the most from policies white evangelicals and protestants support. The PRRI survey does an excellent job of revealing this divide, and rendering Wallis’ bid to grandfather evangelicals of color in to the larger fold dubious at best. 
The upshot of this survey is that white evangelicals want to go back to Ozzie and Harriet—in time, behavior, and gender roles. This does not bode well for their influence in the future, and their embrace of Donald Trump and his alt-right followers will hurt them far more than they can imagine politically. This excellent report shows that despite all of their protestations, white evangelicals and Protestants are truly the ones who are left behind.

"This election has become a referendum on competing visions of America's future," Robert P. Jones, PRRI's CEO, said in a statement. "Donald Trump supporters are nostalgic for the 1950s, an era when white Christians in particular had more political and cultural power in the country, while Hillary Clinton supporters are leaning into ― and even celebrating ― the big cultural transformations the country has experienced over the last few decades." 
Democrats, millennials, black Americans and people who aren't affiliated with any religion ― all groups that are largely backing Clinton ― are among the most likely to think that things have improved. Republicans, white evangelical Protestants and members of the white working class ― groups that have shown more support for Trump ― are the most likely to express nostalgia for the 1950s.  

This trait is also reflected in the GOP base voters, who refuse to accept that the world is changing and they have to change with it. Instead, they cling obstinately to a privileged status that no longer exists and close their minds to the reality that it really isn't necessary in the first place. As Salon's Matthew Rozsa pointed out this week, they yearn for a return to a time when America was dominated culturally and economically by white people and led exclusively by men. 
[In a] survey published by the Public Religion Research Institute, 72 percent of likely voters supporting Donald Trump say America has changed for the worst since the 1950s. By contrast, 70 percent of likely voters supporting Hillary Clinton say that America has changed for the better since that decade. 
All but the oldest among them have no idea what it was like in the '50s, then other than the fact that uppity people of color and women knew their places. They are anything but "acclimated" to the modern world.

Though Chauncey DeVega is not reporting on yesterday's PRRI report in this Salon article published today, what he has to say dovetails very nicely with discussions about the PRRI report — and he does, in fact, cite a previous PRRI/Atlantic report documenting the role that assumptions about male entitlement are playing in the current presidential election cycle in the U.S.:

Donald Trump is the product of an extremely polarized and dysfunctional political system. As research by social scientists such as Douglas McAdam, Michael Dawson, Michael Tesler, and others have repeatedly shown, attitudes about race and gender are central to this puzzle. This is especially true in the Age of Obama and the almost pathological-like resistance the United States' first black president has encountered from white conservatives. . . . 
A number of recent studies highlight how support for Donald Trump among Republican and Right-leaning independent male voters is closely related to a sense of disempowerment and anxiety about men's place in American society. For example, a October 2016 survey by PRRI and The Atlantic shows that voters who feel that society "punishes men for acting like men" are significantly more likely to support Donald Trump than Hillary Clinton. Moreover, self-identified Republicans and conservatives were significantly more likely to agree that men are unfairly punished in American society than were Democrats and liberals. Education was also a key variable in the PRRI/The Atlantic survey. 
The Atlantic's Olga Khazan explains how: 
"In the PRRI/The Atlantic survey, education level and gender played a role in whether respondents felt men are punished unfairly by society. Men — and less-educated men in particular — were more likely than women to agree. Among Americans with a high-school degree or less, 25 percent 'completely agreed' that men are punished just for being themselves. 
The education gap seems even more striking when pollsters asked people if they think 'society as a whole has become too soft and feminine.' White, working-class Americans — a crucial part of Trump's base — were more likely to agree with that statement than white, college-educated respondents were." 
Research by Harvard University's Dan Cassino, has demonstrated that 41 percent of Republican (white) men believe that they have been treated unfairly because of their gender. 
Feelings are not facts. In reality, white men — and white Americans as a group — benefit disproportionately from a society that’s oriented around protecting their economic, political, and social power. While they may feel alienated and disempowered or somehow convinced that "reverse racism" both exists and has a meaningful negative impact on their life outcomes, almost all of the available social science and other data suggest that white privilege pays significant and unearned economic, political, and emotional dividends to white Americans. Ultimately, while a given white person may experience hardship and challenges in American society, those experiences are not because they are "white" but rather occur despite that fact." 

And finally, there's Adele Stan noting the following at Alternet this morning

Trump rallies well-heeled Southerners and dispossessed Rust-Belters with promises of past glory—and lots of misogyny. 

And that makes a point very similar to what the PRRI survey has just found: for a sizable proportion of American voters right now, it's all about the 1950s, when some people — especially white evangelical men — were on the top of the heap, and everyone else stayed in his/her place.

Those men want their country back.

The graphic — the cover of PRRI's America Values Survey report — is from the first link in this posting.

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