Sunday, June 7, 2020

Want to Know Why, Even Now, More Than Half of US White Christians Stand with Trump? See Robert P. Jones on GOP's White Christian Strategy

Three days ago on 4 June, the Public Religion Research Institute published results of a telephone survey PRRI conducted between 21-26 May. The PRRI report is entitled "Trump Favorability Slips Among White Catholic and Non-College Americans During National Unrest."

  • Ahmaud Arbery, an African-American man out jogging, was killed in Brunswick, Georgia, 23 February by Gregory and Travis McMichael. Gregory McMichael is a former police officer. 
  • Breonna Taylor, an African-American woman, was shot to death by Louisville police officers in her apartment on 13 March; no one has yet been charged in her killing.
  • George Floyd, an African-American man making a purchase at a convenience store, was killed by Minneapolis policeman Derek Chauvin on 25 May.

Here's an excerpt from PRRI's 4 June report: 

After spiking upward in March 2020, Trump's favorability ratings have retreated back to 2019 levels among most religious groups. Currently, more than six in ten (62%) white evangelical Protestants, about half (51%) of white mainline Protestants, and 34% of religiously unaffiliated Americans hold favorable views of Trump. These groups are essentially unchanged in their views of Trump since April.    
White Catholics and nonwhite Protestants show the largest changes in attitudes toward the president. Currently, 37% of white Catholics hold favorable views of Trump, a significant drop from 49% across 2019, and a substantial downward trend from a high of 60% in March and 48% in April. By contrast, 40% of nonwhite Protestants hold favorable views of Trump, which is mostly steady since March 2020 but a significant increase from 30% across 2019.   
Among all white Christians, a majority (52%) hold favorable views of Trump, which is unchanged since April, but there are differences by date of the May survey. Between the first and second halves of the survey field period, Trump's favorability levels declined from 57% to 46% among white Christians.

As I read the PRRI report, I'm stuck at this statement: 

Among all white Christians, a majority (52%) hold favorable views of Trump….

The same day that PRRI published its report, Greg Sargent commented on it in Washington Post and helping readers understand why the white Christian support for Trump remains so robust (hint: white evangelicals):

And Trump has another formidable bulwark against base erosion. As the new PRRI poll finds, white evangelicals are not slipping in their support for Trump: A remarkable 62 percent of them view him favorably, basically unchanged since last month. 
"You see white evangelical protestants holding mostly steady," [Natalie] Jackson [PRRI research director] told me. 
I suspect this is why Trump's advisers saw it as such a big triumph when the president strode across the area that had been violently cleared of protesters with scenes of civil strife in the background, subsequently holding a Bible aloft, posing as the biblically heroic conqueror of that strife. 
This symbolism was tailor made for Trump’s white evangelical base, as this quote from a top supporter illustrates well:
"Every believer I talked to certainly appreciates what the president did and the message he was sending," said Robert Jeffress, the pastor of First Baptist Dallas and a stalwart evangelical Trump supporter. "I think it will be one of those historic moments in his presidency, especially when set against the backdrop of nights of violence throughout our country."

The following day, Sarah Posner reported the following in an article entitled "The religious right is still sticking by Trump. Sadly, there's a long, grim pattern'" in The Guardian

"Is there a line Trump could cross that would cause white evangelicals to abandon him? Don't bet on it. … 
A common refrain in white evangelical circles is to condemn the police murder of George Floyd as, in the anodyne words of the evangelist and Trump ally Franklin Graham, a "terrible tragedy that should not have happened and should never happen again". In this all-too prevalent way of thinking, there's only one cure for racism. As Dan Patrick, the Republican lieutenant governor of Texas, told Fox News on Wednesday, the country could only be "healed" by people accepting Jesus Christ. 
When it comes to the systemic change demanded by lawful protesters all over the country, from its largest cities to its small towns, Trump's defenders draw the line. "We cannot heal through commissions and blue-ribbon panels and more laws," Patrick told Trump's favorite network. Graham wrote in a Facebook post, "New laws and more government give-away programs are not the answer. It's a heart problem, and only God can change the human heart." 
This white evangelical opposition to laws and policies addressing systemic racism is nothing new. At other similarly transformative moments in recent American history, white fundamentalists and evangelicals viewed the advance of civil rights in America as the nefarious work of leftist outsiders, and opposed laws and policy designed to promote equal rights. 

To understand why a majority of white Christians in the United States can continue to hold a favorable view of Donald Trump after the killings of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd (the PRRI poll was still being conducted when Floyd was killed), we need to review once again the important analysis of "the white Christian strategy" of the Republican party, as it's analyzed in the book PRRI director Robert P. Jones published on the eve of Donald Trump's election. The book is entitled The End of White Christian America (NY: Simon & Schuster, 2016).

Here are some important excerpts from Jones's book (clicking the graphics will enlarge them):

Jones then adds:

To understand the post-Obama milieu, it is necessary to understand the "White Christian Strategy,: a political tactic employed primarily by the Republican Party beginning with the campaigns of Barry Goldwater and Richard Nixon in the mid-1960s and ending with Mitt Romney's failed presidential run in 2012. 
What I am calling the White Christian Strategy is an outgrowth of the Southern Strategy, a tactic developed by political conservatives and the Republican Party in the mid-1960s to appeal to white southern voters who were angry with the Democratic Party for its support of civil rights. The Southern Strategy picked up momentum through two critical transition moments, one in the 1960s and one in the 1980s, which political scientists Merle and Earl Black identified as the two iterations of the "Great White Switch" (p. 88, citing Merle and Earl Black, The Rise of Southern Republicans [Cambridge: Harvard UP, 2003], p. 4).

And there's more:

The leaders of the Christian conservative movement [in the Reagan era forward] won support by extolling the virtues of an orderly bygone era, where white Protestant Christian beliefs and institutions were unquestionably dominant and there were clearly defined roles for whites and nonwhites, men and women. For these groups, the allure of the black-and-white image of a family Thanksgiving meal lay in this utopian vision of "true" America (p. 92: the black-and-white image to which Jones refers is a 1942 Normal Rockwell painting of an all-white, all-American Thanksgiving dinner that the Christian Coalition circulated to its followers in 2012). 

As Jones points out, the Tea Party movement that began almost immediately after the first election of Barack Obama to the White House was depicted in media outlets as a libertarian revolt against Obama's election, but substantial evidence exists to support the conclusion that it was, in fact, yet another iteration of the "White Christian Strategy:

Despite the official assertions that the Tea Party represented a new libertarian surge, nearly half (47 percent) of Tea Party supporters reported [on a November 2010 PRRI survey] that they also considered themselves a part of the Religious right or Christian conservative movement. Moreover, they were mostly social conservatives, with views on issues like abortion and same-sex marriage that would have dismayed libertarian purists. Nearly two thirds (63 percent) of Tea Party members said abortion should be illegal, and only 18 percent favored allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry. This new research showed definitively that the Tea Party, far from representing a new strain of libertarian populism, was in fact another revival of White Christian America (pp. 96-7).

And finally: 

No segment of White Christian America has been more complicit in the nation’s fraught racial history than white evangelical Protestants. And no group of white evangelical Protestants bears more responsibility than Southern Baptists, who comprise the overwhelming majority of white evangelicals, particularly in the states of the former Confederacy (p. 167).

Want to understand why more than half of US white Christians still envisage Donald Trump as their savior — and why 6 in 10 white evangelicals still stand solidly with him, even now, even after what was done to Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd? See: Robert P. Jones. 

See also:

No comments: