Thursday, March 21, 2019

Ed Kilgore on White Evangelicals as Heart of Trump Base: "Committed to a Common Desire to Take America Back to Its Days of Greatness in the 1950s"

In "White Evangelicals Are Still the Heart of Trump's Base," Ed Kilgore comments on new Pew Research Center data that some commentators are erroneously interpreting to mean that white evangelical support for Donald Trump is waning. As Ed Kilgore notes, it's not waning. To the contrary, it remains robust, especially among the most churchgoing and committed of white evangelicals, 70 percent of whom report strong support for Trump.

He writes:

What can we actually learn from this relatively new data? There are a couple of interesting things. First of all, Trump consistently does better with regular churchgoing white Evangelicals than with less observant members of this group (70 percent of weekly churchgoers approve of Trump’s job performance, versus 65 percent of others). This finding suggests that MAGA people aren't just a bunch of rednecks who identify as Evangelical but are as heathenish as Trump in their actual belief systems and conduct. The same is true, interestingly enough, of another relatively pro-Trump religious demographic, white Catholics. Being churchy and being Trumpy seem to go hand in hand (not so much, however, with white mainline Protestants, an at-best-lukewarm group for Trump). 
Second, there is continuing evidence that support for Trump among white Evangelicals is not just a product of some single-issue obsession with abortion or the composition of the courts. Pew found about three-fourths of white Evangelicals favoring Trump’s pet border-wall project. Even factoring in partisanship, that's remarkable, since that level of support is higher than Trump's overall approval rating in this demographic. 
All in all, as we head deeper into the 2020 presidential election cycle, there's no reason whatsoever for Team Trump to doubt the reliability of white Evangelicals as the heart of his base. And we can expect the president and his congressional and media allies to keep up a drumbeat on issues thought to motivate them to show up at the polls in very high numbers, from Islamophobic themes to overwrought "infanticide" alarms to more immigration "emergencies." Most important of all is the general idea that Trump is protecting traditionally-minded people from cultural change, whether it's coming from the border or from college campuses or from Hollywood or Washington or media outlets. White Evangelicals have come to view themselves as a besieged minority, and Donald Trump, for all his faults, has committed to a common desire to take America back to its days of greatness in the 1950s. That’s not going to go away between now and November of 2020.

White Evangelicals have come to view themselves as a besieged minority, and Donald Trump, for all his faults, has committed to a common desire to take America back to its days of greatness in the 1950s: this is the long and short of it, and it's why, as Kilgore rightly points out, white Catholic support for Trump also remains robust through thick and thin. The findings of Robert P. Jones and his PRRI research team published on the eve of the 2016 elections in The End of White Christian America (NY: Simon & Schuster, 2016) were prescient in this regard: see the excerpt from that book at the head of this posting.

As Jones showed in End of White Christian America, there is a powerful hankering among white evangelicals, white Catholics, white Christians in general, for the glorious 1950s, when everyone remained in his/her place and white people — and white Christians, especially — ruled the roost. As Jones reports, the election of the nation's first African-American president galvanized these folks, leading the Republican party to craft a White Christian Strategy that has been powerfully persuasive for them, so that they are firmly in Donald Trump's camp and will remain there no matter what he might choose to do. They are there now in almost precisely the percentages of support Jones and PRRI were reporting right before the 2016 elections.

It's about idolatry, and idols exert powerful influence on those who have chosen to worship them.

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