Wednesday, September 06, 2017


The usually astute Greg Sargent misses the mark, I think when he recommends this USA Today op-ed by Robert P. Jones, CEO of the Public Religion Research Institute, on the reasons evangelicals back Donald Trump:
One of the biggest mysteries of Donald Trump’s presidency has been white evangelicals’ steadfast and enthusiastic support for him. Unlike Mormons, who saw a nearly 20-point fall-off in support for Trump compared to their typical support for Republican presidential candidates, white evangelicals' support for Trump was in line with, and even slightly higher than, their 2004 support for fellow evangelical George W. Bush (81% vs. 78%, respectively), according to the exit polls....

The key to understanding the puzzling white evangelical/Trump alliance is grasping the large-scale changes — most prominently the declining numbers of white Christians in the country — that have transformed the American religious landscape over the last decade. These tectonic shifts are detailed in a new report Wednesday by the Public Research and Religion Institute, which I direct.

... one of the most important findings of the survey is that over the last decade ... white evangelical Protestants have declined from 23% to 17% of all Americans. To put this into perspective, during this same period, the proportion of religiously unaffiliated Americans has grown from 16% to 24%.

... The evangelical alliance with Trump can only be understood in the context of these fading vital signs among white evangelicals. They are, in many ways, a community grieving its losses.
Jones evokes Elizabeth K├╝bler-Ross's five stages of grief -- denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. He then writes:
While there are some lingering pockets of denial, and anger was an all-too-visible feature of Trump’s campaign, thinking about the white evangelical/Trump alliance as an end-of-life bargain is illuminating. It helps explain, for example, how white evangelical leaders could ignore so many problematic aspects of Trump’s character. When the stakes are high enough and the sun is setting, grand bargains are struck. And it is in the nature of these deals that they are marked not by principle, but by desperation.
But why is it inevitable that white evangelicals would cling to Trump if he doesn't share many of the values they profess? Why can't they say, as they said during the presidency of Barack Obama (who I think shares more of their values, but never mind), that the president simply isn't on their side? Why can't they look to the future, hopeful of a restoration when Trump is gone?

It's obvious that they've deluded themselves into believing that Trump is their champion because he pays lip service to their values and he gives them the judges they want -- and also because he despises the liberals they despise. Despising liberals shouldn't be the primary value of the "values voters," but in reality it's the #1 value.

And why is it inevitable that a group in decline must embrace a grotesque, pathological, extremist leader? Think about Southern Democrats. Their influence is in decline. In the years following the Civil Rights era, they sent two leaders to the White House, Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, and nearly sent a third, Al Gore. They elected senators and governors. And then their power all but vanished.

They haven't embraced an angry, thuggish fraudster and demagogue. They've just soldiered on, patiently waiting for a time when they can regain some political influence. They've had a few small victories, such as electing the current governor of North Carolina (although not a legislature that will work with him). But they're not acting out of "desperation."

Conservative white evangelicals believe they should rule America. Trump promises that they can do that with him in the White House. They're not grieving -- they're in denial. They can't accept that they have to share America with the rest of us.

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