Is THIS Why White Evangelicals Love Trump?

Why? Why? Why? That’s what nerds have been asking for the past few years. Why, that is, do so many white evangelical voters seem to (still) love Trump? Sometimes even more now than in 2016? Reporter Julie Zauzmer recently examined some interviews to offer a new explanation. To me, it seems like there is still something missing. It’s big and it’s obvious, but it’s not the first thing white evangelicals like to talk about.

Trump make america great again

It’s the hat, stupid.

When asked, a group of white evangelicals explained that they like Trump because they think he is fighting for them. Finally. As Zauzmer explained,

Interviews with 50 evangelical Christians in three battleground states — Florida, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin — help explain why. In conversation, evangelical voters paint the portrait of the Trump they see: a president who acts like a bully but is fighting for them. A president who sees America like they do, a menacing place where white Christians feel mocked and threatened for their beliefs. A president who’s against abortion and gay rights and who has the economy humming to boot.

“You’ve just got to accept the bad with the good,” Halbert [a white evangelical from Florida] said.

Makes sense. But there’s an important element missing from this explanation. Yes, many white evangelicals feel that America is a “menacing place,” but more important, with a bitter nostalgia they see mainstream America as a menacing place that used to be better. They see a mainstream America that has been warped and perverted, not just an America that isn’t the way they like it. Most important, many white evangelicals see America as a place that has been stolen from them. As I found in the research for Fundamentalist U, white evangelicals have long felt that America has not only declined passively; they feel America has been usurped.

bolce page image

Watch out, white evangelicals–mainstream institutions have been usurped!

It is a hugely important distinction and it’s one that Trump stumbled across with his MAGA approach to the 2016 elections. Consider just a few 20th-century examples of the kind of nostalgism that has driven white evangelical politics for so long. Way back in 1909, for example, journalist Harold Bolce reported in the pages of Cosmopolitan magazine that mainstream colleges had gone to the dogs. Instead of inculcating youth with revered values of God, home, and family, elite colleges taught students a devilish stew of skepticism and “science.”

By way of example, Bolce interviewed Syracuse sociologist Edwin L. Earp. As Bolce told anxious readers,

“Do you not believe, Professor,” I asked, “that Moses got the ten commandments in the way the Scriptures tell?”

The professor smiled. “I do not,” said he. “It is unscientific and absurd to imagine that God ever turned stone-mason and chiseled commandments on a rock.”

For white evangelicals at the time, the message was clear. Something terrible had happened. They could no longer trust mainstream institutions. The feeling lasted throughout the twentieth century and got stronger with time. By 1979, fundamentalist school founder A.A. “Buzz” Baker could warn readers,

It may come as a surprise to some that the very first public and private schools in our country had a traditional approach or philosophy of education.  Harvard, Yale, Andover Newton [sic]—to name but a few—used to be ‘our’ schools.

For white evangelicals in the 1970s, the notion that Harvard used to be a conservative-evangelical stronghold often came as a shock and a revelation. It fit with the sense of angry nostalgia that has driven white evangelical politics for so long. Not only did America use to be great, many white evangelicals feel, but America used to be OURS.

Why did so many white evangelicals vote Trump in 2016? And why do so many like him even better now, in spite of everything? Yes, they see Trump as a fighter in their corner on issues like abortion rights and LGBTQ rights. But even more important, they hear Trump repeating their mantra: America used to be great. America used to be OURS. It has taken some hits, but together we can Make America Great Again.

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For Christians, A Stark Choice: Falwell or Moore?

Just as hundreds of evangelical pastors converge on Liberty University for a mega-political rally, the SBC’s Russell Moore is asking them to renounce racism and Christian nationalism. What will white evangelicals choose?

thank god we are deplorable trump pence

What will 2020 bring?

There hasn’t been much mystery about the recent politics of Liberty’s Jerry Falwell Jr. His in-your-face Trumpism has been pretty extreme even for white evangelicals. In the long tradition of his father’s Liberty University, this week’s workshops will help evangelical pastors connect their cultural conservatism to their political activism. As CBN described,

Most Conservative Evangelicals see a culture spiraling out of control and drifting further away from Judeo-Christian principles. They are well aware of America’s spiritual roots and it was pastors, especially back in the Revolutionary War period, that led the way speaking out boldly from the pulpit on the moral and cultural issues of the day. This effort is clearly an attempt to see a new generation of pastors step up.

Meanwhile, the Southern Baptist Convention’s Russell Moore was telling Newsweek that evangelical Christianity has to fight against racism and nationalism. Yes, Moore noted, evangelical Protestants and other conservative Christians have had to defend themselves against unfair charges of bigotry and prejudice.

But Trump’s aggressive racist appeals are dangerous. As Moore noted,

racism is not a social or political issue. Racism is Satanism in my view, because it’s the idolatry of the flesh—and a sense of superiority and dominion over other people. That can manifest itself in neo-Nazi movements in Germany, in racist memes on Facebook or in left wing anti-Semitic posts and movements around the world as well.

Plus, Moore pointed out that religious people have a complicated relationship to political action. As he put it,

The church is not a political action committee and should never be a means to any earthly end. Church has a much bigger mission than that. Christians should be engaged in the world around them, including in their callings as citizens. The fortunes of the church don’t rise and fall with whoever’s winning and losing in the political arena. But then I will find myself sometimes even on the same day preaching to, say, a group of younger church planters. And making the point you can’t withdraw from the public arena and still love thy neighbor. You have responsibilities as citizens.

Will anyone listen? I guess the more precise question is this: How many white evangelicals will listen? How many will ask themselves if Trumpism really represents their vision of a just society, or if “making America great again” is code for a cynical, secular nostalgia that doesn’t really reflect evangelical values?

My hunch is that most white evangelical voters will continue to make decisions on a long list of factors. Some will be attracted to the Falwell-ish machismo of Trump’s angry white rhetoric. Others will be put off, but still choose Trump as the lesser of two evils. A few might decide that Trump’s racist appeals put him over the edge of moral acceptability, even if they don’t like the Democratic alternative.

I Love You but You Didn’t Do the Reading

The view from 1804 is still pretty bleak, but things in 2019 don’t look all that cheery, either. Here are some of the news stories we found when we crawled up out of the archives this week:

Will the real conservative please stand up? Prof. Patrick Deneen reviews George Will’s new book at WaPo.

Animated by a conservative skepticism of the belief in sufficient human knowledge to control circumstance, and a pessimism about the capacity of human beings to consistently act from noble intentions (or that such noble intentions are likely to lead to noble ends), Will calls for a minimalist state allowing for maximal expression of “spontaneous order.” . . . Nowhere to be found in the 538 pages of text is a discussion of conservative commitments to the unborn, the threats posed by the advance of the sexual liberation movement, and commitments to religious liberty. It is as if the book was written in 1944…

A billionaire offers a new way to give teachers a raise, at Forbes.

An interview with historian Darren Dochuk about his new book, Anointed with Oil: How Christianity and Crude Made Modern America, at R&P.

Amid jungles of derricks and refining fires, risk-filled labor and violent swings of fortune, oil-patch Christians embrace a cataclysmic view of the here and now and of life beyond, as well as a dependency on an all-powerful being who gives and takes and tests his people but is always there.

Why are radical creationists so upset about men in heels? Here at ILYBYGTH.

Ken Ham drag school

It’s not Darwin they’re worried about, it’s “Sparkle Leigh.”

Can a professor teach a class about conservative thought? Portland State says no, at IHE.

How did Teach For America get tied up with charter schools? An expose at Propublica. HT: MM

Liberty U. cuts divinity program, at IHE.

Did anyone think we were done with all this? Trump, Falwell, Cohen, and the “Pool Boy,” at NYT.

That backstory, in true Trump-tabloid fashion, features the friendship between Mr. Falwell, his wife and a former pool attendant at the Fontainebleau hotel in Miami Beach; the family’s investment in a gay-friendly youth hostel; purported sexually revealing photographs involving the Falwells; and an attempted hush-money arrangement engineered by the president’s former fixer, Michael Cohen.

…and boom goes the dynamite. At MH.

Three photographs have been seen by the Herald, however. They are images not of Falwell, of but his wife in various stages of undress. It is not known who took the photographs or when they were taken, and the Herald was not given the photographs and therefore, has not been able to authenticate them independently. Two of the photographs appear to have been taken at the Falwells’ farm in Virginia, and a third at the Cheeca Lodge.

Curmudgucrat Peter Greene tells arrogant ed-reformers what they’ve always needed to hear:

We told you so. . . . Before you launch your next bright idea to reform education, talk to actual professional educators first. You don’t have to talk just to teachers. But talk to teachers (and not just ones that have been carefully vetted to be sure they’re aligned with your values). Every dollar and hour wasted, every fruitless crappy reform idea of the last twenty-some years could have been avoided if people had listened to actual teachers. There’s the lesson that everyone, even exceptionally smart and respectable former Presidents, needs to learn.

Christian America on the Ropes

You’ve heard about Project Blitz, the MAGA scheme to impose Christianity back on America. More polling evidence from the Harris folks this week shows how desperate such efforts are.

Harris bible classes

…people don’t really care about Christian America.

Here’s what we know: In a survey of just over 1,000 adults, Harris pollsters found that a mere 12% thought public schools should have kids read the Bible and not other religious books. By way of comparison, far more respondents (17%) didn’t have an opinion.

Historically speaking, those numbers are pretty astounding. It wasn’t that long ago that large numbers of public schools included devotional Bible reading as part of every school day. In 1960, just before SCOTUS ruled against devotional Bible-reading in public schools, 42% of public-school districts nationwide reported incorporating Bible-reading. The highest proportion was in the South (77%) and East (68%). In the Midwest (18%) and West (11%) the numbers were far lower.

So what? People like me might get anxious when we read the theocratic ambitions of regional politicians such as Indiana’s Dennis Kruse. We get nervous for our public institutions when we hear Kruse say things like,

I’m a Christian person and a religious person. . . . I think we need more Christianity and more religion in our society, in our state.

Trump bible tweetWe get even more skeeved when Trump tweets his support for school-Bible laws, as he did a few months back:

Numerous states introducing Bible Literacy classes, giving students the option of studying the Bible. Starting to make a turn back? Great!

In fact, though, the Blitzers, MAGists, and Trumpies who endorse such notions are not the vanguard of a vast right-wing army. Rather, they are the last snarls of a disappearing vision of the proper role of religion in America’s public square.

Creationists Lovin Trump

I admit it: I don’t get out much. And when I do, I mostly hang out with people a lot like me. And people like me don’t understand how anyone could like President Trump. So I’m always curious about the people who are lovin Trump.

Creationists lovin trump

Young-earthers agree: GOAT!

I got a clue this afternoon–turns out at least one young-earth creation aficionado agrees with Rachel. I couldn’t help myself and I scanned through some of the other comments. Why do Americans love Trump? people lovin trump

For some of them, at least, Trump is a real hero, not just someone who will stack SCOTUS with anti-abortion justices. As “Funkfuzz” contributed, some see Trump as the hardest-working, toughest-talking “lover of America” we’ve ever had in the White House.

I don’t see it, but I do understand why some radical creationists love Trump so much. After all, as I’m arguing in my new book about American creationism, radical young-earth creationists don’t really disagree with other creationists about theology. That is, young-earth creationists are usually not more conservative in their theology than are other types of creationists.

The thing that distinguishes young-earth creationists most sharply from other evangelical creationists is not their theology. Rather, it is a deep cultural conservatism, a nostalgic yearning for a Christian America that never was. It’s no surprise, then, that radical young-earth creationists would hop on board the Trump train, hoping to Make America Great Again.

I Love You but You Didn’t Do the Reading

Still getting snow up around here, but May is just around the corner. The weather wasn’t the only wild thing this past week. Here are a few of the stories from the interwebs that captured our attention in the past seven days:

I didn’t say what I said: Trump’s NRA speech fact-checked by NYT.

god guns trump

Make Buttons Great Again…

Michael Ruse on “Darwinian existentialism,” at HNN.

Darwin did not disprove God. When he wrote his great Origin of Species, 1859, he still believed in a deistic god, a god of unbroken law.  But he made it possible not to believe in God and to be, in the words of Richard Dawkins, a “fulfilled atheist.” More importantly, Darwin suggested that the deity is like the common perception of the God of Job, indifferent to our fate.

Unintended consequences: San Francisco’s deseg plans makes schools more segregated, at NYT.

You really didn’t do the reading. But you’re not alone. At CHE, an analysis of college-student reading and a prescription to improve it.

Women and the Christian Right: An excerpt from Emily Johnson’s new book at R&P.

Professor Coyne makes the case: Secular humanism is not a religion. At Quillette.

the absence of evidence is indeed evidence for absence if the evidence should have been there. That’s why most of us are confident that the Loch Ness Monster doesn’t exist. The same should go for most religious truth claims.

How has the religious composition of the major political parties changed since 1978? Great charts from RIP.RIP dems change

Houston high school enacts dress code…for parents. From AP.

“No one can enter the building or be on the school premises wearing a satin cap or bonnet on their head for any reason,” Principal Carlotta Outley Brown said in a letter to parents dated April 9. “You also cannot wear a shower cap of any kind in the building.”

Let em debate: A conservative case for free conservative speech at NR.

High-school artist takes heat for her painting, at IME.

trump nope

Acceptable student art?

 

The Conservative/Christian Coalition Gets Weird…

You scratch my back, I’ll…erm…pretend I didn’t just see that dinosaur on Noah’s Ark. It’s not news that more-secular conservatives have long paired up awkwardly with Christian conservatives. With T-Diddy in the White House, though, things seem to be reaching a crescendo of ultimate weirdness. A couple of recent news stories underline the contortions that both sides have to go through to make America great again.

PRRI-Trump-Favorability-and-white-evangelicals-2015-2018-1-1024x683

Fox n Friends strategist: Who’da Thunk We’d Be Hanging out with Dinosaurs for this…?

First of all, let’s clear the air of a few stubborn misconceptions. As we’ve pointed out over and overSAGLRROILYBYGTH are likely tired of hearing it—there’s absolutely nothing “new” about the idea of conservative evangelicals getting involved in politics. The so-called “New Christian Right” of the 1970s was not the first time that evangelicals decided to jump into the political fray. As historians such as Daniel K. Williams, Matthew Avery Sutton, and yours truly have argued for years, evangelical Protestants have always been politically hyperactive.

As any historian knows—and any savvy evangelical could tell you—the evangelical community has always included political conservatives, political progressives, and a bunch of people in the political middle. The emergence of the “New Christian Right” was not a question of evangelicals getting into politics for the first time, but rather an always-awkward alliance between politically conservative evangelicals and the conservatives within the Republican Party.

Having said that, let’s look at some of the recent unpleasantness. At evangelical Taylor University in Indiana, for example (see our further coverage here), Vice President Mike Pence has caused a furor over his invitation to deliver a commencement address. Politically progressive members of the Taylor community have protested.

Not surprisingly, non-evangelical conservatives have weighed in to support the university’s decision. Non-evangelical conservatives have highlighted the justice of the conservative evangelical side at Taylor. For example, Fox & Friends tracked down a politically conservative alumnus of Taylor, who told them,

The vice president has very orthodox Christian beliefs – very traditional beliefs – that a vast majority of Christians believe. His political views are shared by a large section of America, so it’s not a radical choice, and I think people should be able to engage and disagree with his views and do it in a mature fashion.

The conservative PJ Media concluded,

Sadly, this incident illustrates yet again the trend of liberals demonizing dissent from their ideas. Conservative speech is not violence, and Mike Pence is not “rooted in hate.”

It’s no surprise that secular conservatives would jump in to side with evangelical conservatives at Taylor. After all, secular progressives have done the same thing for the anti-Pence side. Things get a little weirder, though, on a different episode of Fox & Friends.

fox n friends at the ark encounter

just…wow!

One of the F&F hosts, Todd Piro, goes on a tour of Answers In Genesis’ Ark Encounter. With a straight face, so to speak, the F&F segment shows the creationist megalith in all its zombie-science glory. The camera pans over dinosaurs in cages. Piro interviews visitors who sincerely praise the displays. As one earnest youth explains,

Not only did it give you the Biblical side, but it gave you a lot of scientific facts.

In his introduction, Piro says the Ark is just… “Wow!”

Not, ‘Wow, do you really believe that dinosaurs lived at the same time as humans?’

Not, ‘Wow, do you really believe that a flood could have actually covered the entire planet?’

But, ‘Wow, this is a neat museum, full of learnin n stuff.’

Now, I’m no conservative, but I can understand perfectly well why non-evangelical conservatives would fall all over themselves to support Taylor’s conservative evangelicals. After all, both evangelical and non-evangelical conservatives can agree on their opposition to LGBTQ rights.

But I’m truly flabbergasted when I see non-evangelical reporters describing the Ark Encounter as if it were just another neat museum. How is it possible for anyone who is not themselves a radical young-earth creationist to see the Flintstones-level scientific displays and not ask about them? How is it possible that any journalist can see dinosaurs in cages and not wonder how they count as “scientific facts”?

Watching Piro sugar-coat the radical science on display at the Ark Encounter, one can almost hear the political calculations going on in the offices of Fox & Friends. We can almost hear the implicit deal non-evangelicals want to cut with evangelical conservatives. “You give us a solid 81% vote for T-Diddy,” we can hear them thinking, “You give us university commencement speeches for Pence, and we’ll give you a cake-walk visit to your kooky Bible-science museum and a stirring defense of your stubborn resistance to LGBTQ rights.”

I Love You but You Didn’t Do the Reading

Democratic socialism, evangelical racism, and dirty dogs: This past week saw a lot of action. Here are some of the top stories that crossed our desk:

Lots this week about the connections of racism and evangelicalism.

1.) An interview with Jemar Tisby at R&P:

every time that the white community—especially Christians—failed to confront racism in its everyday, mundane forms, they created a context of compromise that allowed for an extreme act of racial terror like planting dynamite at a church. That’s the idea of complicity. It’s not that every Christian was a foaming-at-the-mouth racist hurling racial slurs and burning crosses on peoples’ lawns.

2.) The dangers of racism for the future of evangelical religion, at CT:

a warning sign for those concerned about the possible waning of evangelicalism in the United States. While current survey data says that white evangelicals have not experienced statistically significant population declines in the last decade, this will likely not continue into the future.

maga smithsonian 3

Art to choke hearts.

Wow. Trumpy artist sues to get his painting displayed at the Smithsonian, at TI.  HT: TWOILH.

High school doesn’t have to be boring, at NYT. HT: LC.

Harvard University: Creationist factory? Interview with creationist Harvard PhD at WORLD.

What do today’s teens worry about? Not what you might think, at The Economist.

TEEN WORRIES ECONOMISTSOCIALISM 2020

Preaching Christianity to Christians, at RNS:

Christianity as merely a family tradition only requires maintaining the tradition. . . . Sadly, many people in the Bible Belt are haunted by the idea of Christ, while not understanding His love for them.

Queen Betsy threatens the budget for Special Olympics, but the budget goes up. Turns out this happens a lot, from MS.

dirty dogCountry dog? City dog? An argument for letting dogs be dogs at FPR:

while city dogs enjoy ever more doggy parks, doggy play dates and dog-friendly shops and stores, their elevated status burdens them with human-dominated constraints.

Can conservatives find a way to love Trump? At RCP:

Many [conservatives] are repulsed by [Trump’s] crudity, thin-skinned nature, and vitriolic personal attacks. . . . But—and this is crucial—conservatives and many independents recognize Trump’s biggest achievement, beyond strengthening the economy and rebuilding the military, is his persistent effort to roll back the administrative state, with its endless regulations and executive orders.

Put It Up!

I admit, at first I pooh-poohed the story as just another example of wacky boorish Trumpism. The more I think about it, though, the more I’m hoping the Smithsonian will relent.

maga smithsonian 3

“Unashamed,” indeed.

Thanks to the ever-watchful John Fea, I’ve been following the story of artist Julian Raven and his Trump fan art. Raven has sued the Smithsonian to force the museum to display his portrait of Trump, “Unafraid & Unashamed.” So far, no dice. The gallery told Raven the painting was too big (it weighs 300 pounds), too political, and too terrible.

But the people love it. Attendees at the recent Conservative Political Action Conference lined up to have their pictures taken in front of the monstrous painting.

As Raven told the Daily Beast, the inspiration for this work came to him in a flash when he saw Trump speak back in 2015:

I just had the words go through my mind: ‘unafraid and unashamed’. . . . The image in my mind was this soaring flagpole, a U.S. flag pole falling to the ground. Right before it falls to the ground, an eagle swoops in and snatches it.

So far, the artist has had no luck in court. One judge informed him that the National Portrait Gallery does not have a Constitutional duty to display his painting. Yet Raven perseveres, complaining that the Smithsonian has trampled his First Amendment right to free speech, and now his Fifth Amendment right to due process. (He says his sales have been hurt by the negative publicity.)

What should the Smithsonian do? Put it up!

Here’s why: Nothing could capture the Trump era better than this gauche, over-sized, childish portrait, composed in a flurry on a sudden impulse and surprisingly beloved by conservatives. Even better, the artist is complaining—unburdened by any knowledge of the actual Constitution—that he has a First Amendment right to cram his painting into the Smithsonian. Furthermore, Raven insists that a left-wing conspiracy is the only thing keeping his portrait out of the National Gallery.

When future generations want to understand Trumpism, what could be better than this yuge painting, accompanied by a placard (or better yet, video interview) explaining the artist’s schlock-vs.-Goliath story?

All the News That’s Fake to Print

Teachers don’t get freaked out easily. But our new world—in which the President denounces journalists as “enemies of the people” and news coverage he doesn’t like as “fake news”—has altered the world of classroom teaching already. Peter Boyer recently warned that Trumpism might kill the New York Times. In schools around here, at any case, it’s already dead.

New York Times Trump

Who will be the ultimate loser in this fight?

Here’s what we know: Boyer took a look at the long and contentious relationship between Trump and the Times. As NYT reporter Jim Rutenberg argued back in 2016, Trump forced some journalists to question their core beliefs in non-partisan journalism. As Rutenberg wrote,

If you view a Trump presidency as something that’s potentially dangerous, then your reporting is going to reflect that. You would move closer than you’ve ever been to being oppositional. That’s uncomfortable and uncharted territory for every mainstream, nonopinion journalist I’ve ever known, and by normal standards, untenable.

And Boyer concluded,

The unavoidable takeaway from [Rutenberg’s piece] was that Donald Trump, in shattering the norms of presidential politics, had baited the elite news media into abandoning the norms of traditional journalism—a central tenet of which was the posture of neutrality. That certainly seemed to be the case at the Times, which soon began to characterize dubious Trump statements as “lies” in news reports and headlines, a drastic break from the paper’s once-indelible standards.

What does this have to do with today’s classrooms? Everything.

I’m lucky to work with a group of smart, engaged history teachers. Recently, we were looking at some material from Stanford’s History Education Group. The goal of one lesson was to help students evaluate arguments made online, in places like Facebook threads.

Facebook Argument_edited

News, Fake News, and Damned Lies…

The SHEG folks offer a mock-up of a potential Facebook debate about gun control. They want students to be able to differentiate between substantive arguments with good evidence and claptrap. As SHEG writes,

Successful students will notice and compare the sources each user provides. Anya links to an article from a mainstream, national newspaper. In contrast, Grace’s chart comes from a group that lobbies against restrictions on gun ownership.

The hope was that students would recognize the superiority of a New York Times article over a partisan, pro-gun organization. Unfortunately, that’s not how it works any more. The teachers I met with immediately warned that their students would tend to think that the New York Times was untrustworthy and politically imbalanced. Teachers knew their students would not trust the New York Times or consider it a “mainstream” reliable source.

Boyer warned that Trumpism had put “the news media’s bond of trust with its audience . . . under strain.” In classrooms around here, at least, that bond of trust is more than strained. It has already snapped.