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Divided We Stand

Divided We Stand
New book about the 2020 election.

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Trump, Existential Fear, and Evangelicals

In Defying the Odds, we discuss cultural reasons for Trump's victory.  The update  -- just published --includes a chapter on the 2018 midterms.

A.J. Nolte at The Bulwark:
...Obergefell came as a huge shock to conservative evangelicals. They’d rapidly gone from certainty that they were winning big cultural fights to a very real fear that their views on marriage would be regarded as proof of bigotry. Given that the Obama administration regarded forcing nuns to provide contraception as a moral imperative, this fear was, perhaps, not totally groundless. Bluntly put, many evangelicals panicked.
Existential fear’s impact on political behavior is something political scientists have studied extensively. One of the primary drivers of this type of fear they’ve identified is when rising expectations about the future are dashed. In essence, this explains what happened to evangelicals, just as it explains the role declining trade between Britain and Germany may have played in World War I. And, as in war, pretty much the first thing a political movement does when faced with existential fear is to look for allies: the tougher, stronger, and scarier, the better.
Counterintuitively, the fact that Trump is bellicose, bombastic, insulting, and lives according to a code at odds with evangelicals’ beliefs actually made him more attractive as an ally, not less. “Evangelical nice” is a real thing, and like all good satirical characters, there’s a solid core of truth in The Simpsons’ depiction of Ned Flanders. That made evangelicals unlikely to see one of their own as capable of defeating an existential threat. But Trump embodied the opposite values, and he seemed determined to fight the people they were fighting
 In the long run, of course, the evangelical alliance with Trump is almost certain to do more harm than good. Trump’s administration has certainly used executive action to follow through on some evangelical priorities related to abortion and religious freedom, and has appointed one, maybe two, reliably conservative Supreme Court justices. On the other hand, he’s also alienated millennials, ethnic minority voters, and college-educated suburbanites, and this alienation is making evangelicals and their positions more unpopular by proxy. It also doesn’t particularly help that, while past evangelical efforts on religious freedom (such as the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act and 1998 International Religious Freedom Act) were explicitly designed to apply to Christians and non-Christians alike, Trump’s flirtation with things like Muslim bans undermines this universal argument in significant ways. Critics of broad religious freedom protections argue that they amount to “Christian special pleading”; it’s not a particularly good idea for evangelicals to condone any of Trump’s actions that give support to that argument.