Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Trump presidency highlights the 'complete fusion of evangelical Christianity and conservative politics'

President Trump rose to power partly because he promised evangelical Christians more political power, and such voters could be his best shot at re-election, Elizabeth Dias reports for The New York Times.

"The Trump era has revealed the complete fusion of evangelical Christianity and conservative politics, even as white evangelical Christianity continues to decline as a share of the national population," Dias reports. "There are some signs of fraying at the edges of the coalition, among some women and young people. If even a small fraction turns away from Mr. Trump, it could make the difference to his re-election. But even if he loses in November, mainstream evangelical Christianity has made plain its deepest impulses and exposed where the majority of its believers pledge allegiance."

One January 2016 speech at Dordt University, a Christian college in Sioux Center, Iowa, was widely covered because Trump said he "could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody" without losing any voters, Dias reports. But some locals in the town of 7,500 keyed into another part of the speech: "Christianity will have power," Trump said. "If I’m there, you’re going to have plenty of power, you don’t need anybody else. You’re going to have somebody representing you very, very well. Remember that."

Though only 11 percent of Republicans in Sioux County caucused for Trump nine days later, 81% did in November, matching the 81% of nationwide white evangelicals who voted for Trump nationwide.

White evangelicals could be "Trump's best chance at re-election," Dias reports, since he has trailed presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden by double digits in nationwide polls for a month. Though Trump's approval rating has gone down slightly among white evangelicals, 82% said they intend to vote for him in November, according to a Pew Research Center poll conducted in late June.

Plenty of pundits, researchers and journalists have speculated, investigated, or gathered data on why evangelicals support Trump, with theories ranging from the "purely transactional" promise of appointing more conservative judges and ending legal abortion to hatred of Hillary Clinton.

"But beneath all this, there is another explanation. One that is more raw and fundamental. Evangelicals did not support Trump in spite of who he is," Dias writes. "They supported him because of who he is, and because of who they are. He is their protector, the bully who is on their side, the one who offered safety amid their fears that their country as they know it, and their place in it, is changing, and changing quickly. White straight married couples with children who go to church regularly are no longer the American mainstream. An entire way of life, one in which their values were dominant, could be headed for extinction. And Trump offered to restore them to power, as though they have not been in power all along."

White evangelicals Dias interviewed expressed fears that Christianity—which they often equated with rural values—was under attack, and said they felt that city dwellers looked down on rural residents, and didn't understand their way of life. Trump, they said, recognized that fear and would fight for them.

"The one group of people that people felt like they could dis and mock and put down had become the Christian. Just the middle-class, middle-American Christians," said Lisa Burg of Orange City, Iowa. "That was the one group left that you could just totally put down and call deplorable. And he recognized that, You know what? Yeah, it’s OK that we have our set of values, too. I think people finally said, 'Yes, we finally have somebody that’s willing to say we’re not bad, we need to have a voice too.'"

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