What do you know? It turns out that much of Trump’s appeal to white evangelicals is grounded in racism.
A Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary graduate who now runs the Public Religion Research Institute, Robert P. Jones, argues that Trump inspired White Christians, “not despite, but through appeals to white supremacy,” attracting them not because of economics or morality, “but rather that he evoked powerful fears about the loss of White Christian dominance.
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White evangelicals have become, in essence, an offshore island, one whose inhabitants are slowly but steadily distancing themselves from the American mainland. The fading Island of White Evangelica will, eventually, lose its influence over America. In the meantime, its existence points to an unfortunate, larger reality. There is vanishingly little that Democrats (or Republicans, for that matter) can do to persuade voters to switch sides, because race, and views on race, are the most important factors determining how people vote. Add to the White evangelicals’ turnout the votes of the smaller proportions of White mainline Protestants and Catholics with high levels of racial resentment, as defined by the American Values Survey, and you’ve accounted for the bulk of Trump’s coalition.
I live in the Southern Baptist south, in the hometown of one of the Southern Baptist Convention’s seminaries, and I’d be quick to agree that racism is an important part of evangelical support for Trump. Racism is embedded here, systemic, part-and-parcel of the ambient culture. Is it determinative with respect to the votes of particular individuals? I suppose, but I doubt that they are a majority; I think it’s more a matter of resentment that the old order, of which racism is a pillar, is disappearing.
The distinctly southern tribe is dying and being displaced by ‘foreign’ influences — chiefly education and the Internet. But down at Hometown Baptist Church, where Miz Liza — who never misses a Sunday, and when a young wife made sandwiches and delivered them in picnic baskets to the brave menfolk who jeered and threw rocks at the freedom marchers — is an honored Ancient, the changes aren’t welcome.