Charles Blow:

Blow’s lede, “On Jan. 6, as Donald Trump was revving up the rioters who would attempt an insurrection at the Capitol, just a short distance away, he said to them: ‘We fight like hell. And if you don’t fight like hell, you’re not going to have a country anymore’.”

It is yet another clear indication to me that America wasn’t ceasing to be a country, it was ceasing to be a democracy.

Indeed, I don’t believe that Trump was saying that the country would end. Rather, the white nationalist president was saying to his overwhelmingly white horde of supporters that white supremacy in a white nation that honors the culture and legacy of white people, at the exclusion of others, was in jeopardy.

xxx

America was not founded as a true democracy. Only wealthy white men were initially allowed to choose the leaders of this country, and I doubt the framers of the Constitution ever considered it would work differently from that. But over the centuries, we expanded the vote and moved closer to the ideal of democracy.

But those moves have always been met with extreme resistance. And at times, they have been dialed back. Just look at the way Jim Crow was used after Reconstruction to crush the enfranchisement of Black people.

We are entering a new era of extreme restriction, of white supremacy and white oligarchy, and Republicans are attempting to maintain power by redefining democracy backward. They want to take “their” country back, back to a time when white people had complete control of the halls of power, the levers of industry and the crafting of narrative.

Most Republican senators couldn’t vote for the independent commission because the people attempting the insurrection were their voters. The insurrectionists didn’t so much want to completely destroy democracy but to redefine democracy as a system in which their voice held more weight, determinative weight. The insurrectionists want the same thing as the Republican Party that shields them.

Cite: Charles M. Blow, “Is America’s Democracy Slipping Away?” New York Times, May 30, 2021 https://www.nytimes.com/2021/05/30/opinion/republicans-congress-democracy.html.

***

Kenneth L. Woodward

No question, white Evangelicals constitute a significant and so-far loyal element of the Republican party, with or without Trump as its leader. But that should not blind us to the truth the last two presidential elections have revealed: in the highly polarized state of American public life, it is politics that shapes religion, not the other way around.

The perception that white Evangelicals form the base of Trump’s support rests chiefly on a single statistic: the 81 percent of white Evangelicals who, according to exit polls at the 2016 presidential election, voted for him. The idea that conservative white Protestants would vote overwhelmingly for a thrice-married womanizer who did not belong to a church and was manifestly ignorant of the Bible produced a cascade of editorials chiding them as moral hypocrites who excused in Trump what they previously excoriated in Bill Clinton.

That 81 percent figure, however, is misleading. As Princeton sociologist Robert Wuthnow showed in his 2019 study, Inventing American Religionexit polls are notoriously crude instruments—both in the questions asked and the lack of training of those hired to do the asking. At best, exit polls may give us a rough snapshot of how various groups voted. At worst, the very act of filtering voters according to religious self-identification, as all the major polls do, encourages the assumption that religion is more of a factor in Presidential elections than it actually is.

xxx

Habit is one. White Evangelicals have been part of the Republican coalition for 10 straight presidential elections. Beginning with Ronald Reagan, they were allowed to say the prayers, but not until Donald Trump came along did they help set the political table. Conversely, it is not as if the Democrats put out a welcome mat for them. Jimmy Carter has lamented not doing more to keep his fellow Evangelicals in the Democratic fold after they rallied around him in 1976, propelling him to victory and carrying the South. There are good reasons why the largest single constituency within the Democratic coalition is the non-religious (the “Nones”).

Geography and demography also play a role. White Evangelical voters skew older than most Democrats, and most of them live in red states or red districts in blue and purple states. One does not expect white Evangelicals in Baton Rouge to vote Democratic any more than one expects Unitarians in Berkeley to vote Republican.

Education is key: only 30 percent of Americans over the age of 25 have degrees from a four-year college, and white Evangelicals are more likely than other white Christians to have no more schooling than a high school diploma. Education largely determines their social class and caste—just above African Americans, according to Isabel Wilkerson’s latest book, leaving them feeling like they are in competition with Black Americans.

xxx

Habit is one. White Evangelicals have been part of the Republican coalition for 10 straight presidential elections. Beginning with Ronald Reagan, they were allowed to say the prayers, but not until Donald Trump came along did they help set the political table. Conversely, it is not as if the Democrats put out a welcome mat for them. Jimmy Carter has lamented not doing more to keep his fellow Evangelicals in the Democratic fold after they rallied around him in 1976, propelling him to victory and carrying the South. There are good reasons why the largest single constituency within the Democratic coalition is the non-religious (the “Nones”).

Geography and demography also play a role. White Evangelical voters skew older than most Democrats, and most of them live in red states or red districts in blue and purple states. One does not expect white Evangelicals in Baton Rouge to vote Democratic any more than one expects Unitarians in Berkeley to vote Republican.

Education is key: only 30 percent of Americans over the age of 25 have degrees from a four-year college, and white Evangelicals are more likely than other white Christians to have no more schooling than a high school diploma. Education largely determines their social class and caste—just above African Americans, according to Isabel Wilkerson’s latest book, leaving them feeling like they are in competition with Black Americans.

xxx

Despite President Biden’s promise to unite the country, the outlook is for greater divisiveness, not lessPolitical scientists, of course, are not equipped with divining forks. They can’t tell us what will happen, but they can show us which direction the truck marks are headed. In their path-breaking new book, Secular Surge, Campbell, Green and a third political scientist, Geoffrey Layman, find that the margin of religious over non-religious Americans has narrowed to seven percentage points and is closing fast on an evenly divided nation. This is not based on mere polling data. It represents a variety of academic studies, surveys, and social science instruments.

What these political scientists see—indeed, what they worry about—is the emergence of “a new fault line in American politics” with the Republicans perceived as the party hospitable to religious Americans and the Democrats seen as the home of the non-religious. This may seem implausible with a Democratic president, Joe Biden, who regularly attends Sunday mass succeeding a Republican, Donald Trump, who was more at home in a casino than a pew. But this is where we’re heading: an alignment in our politics, and not one to be wished for, a world where elections are tantamount to a referendum on the existence of a God whose work on earth, as President Kennedy said, “must truly be our own.” A house so sharply divided does not look like one that would long stand

Cite: Kenneth L. Woodward, “Evangelicals, Trump, and How Politics Shapes Religion—Not the Other Way Around,” Washington Monthly, May 28, 2021 https://washingtonmonthly.com/2021/05/28/evangelicals-trump-and-how-politics-shapes-religion-not-the-other-way-around/.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s