Becoming The Enemy

A recent article in The Atlantic considered a question that many people have asked in the wake of the 2016 Presidential election:

One of the most perplexing features of the 2016 election was the high level of support Donald Trump received from white evangelical Protestants. How did a group that once proudly identified itself as “values voters” come to support a candidate who had been married three times, cursed from the campaign stump, owned casinos, appeared on the cover of Playboy Magazine, and most remarkably, was caught on tape bragging in the most graphic terms about habitually grabbing women’s genitals without their permission?

The author of the article, Robert P. Jones, heads up the Public Religion Research Institute, and the demographic data he shares is important (and to those of us who do not share the preoccupations of white evangelical Christians, comforting). But the article is not simply an analysis of increasing turnout amid declining absolute numbers; it also offers an explanation of white evangelical Christian support for a man who would seem to be an anathema to everything those Christians claim to hold dear.

And that support was critical:

Trump ultimately secured the GOP nomination, not over white evangelical voters’ objections, but because of their support. And on Election Day, white evangelicals set a new high water mark in their support for a Republican presidential candidate, backing Trump at a slightly higher level than even President George W. Bush in 2004 (81 percent vs. 78 percent)….

In a head-spinning reversal, white evangelicals went from being the least likely to the most likely group to agree that a candidate’s personal immorality has no bearing on his performance in public office.

Fears about the present and a desire for a lost past, bound together with partisan attachments, ultimately overwhelmed values voters’ convictions. Rather than standing on principle and letting the chips fall where they may, white evangelicals fully embraced a consequentialist ethics that works backward from predetermined political ends, bending or even discarding core principles as needed to achieve a predetermined outcome. When it came to the 2016 election, the ends were deemed so necessary they justified the means.

The bottom line: members of a dwindling demographic were so desperate to stem what they saw as the demise of their previous dominance that they embraced a candidate who epitomized everything they claimed to oppose. They gambled that, if he won, they would retain political clout.

There are analogies to be drawn. After 9-11, many Americans wanted to respond to terrorism by foregoing constitutional restraints– allowing law enforcement to ignore “niceties” like due process, and engaging in “enhanced interrogation” (aka torture). To the extent that terrorists were attacking our way of life, abandoning of  that way of life and dispensing with democratic norms gave them exactly what they wanted.

White Christian evangelicals claim they want government to protect “godly moral principles,” at least as they define those principles. By endorsing Trump, they abandoned that pretense.

Assuming America does emerge relatively unscathed from Trumpism, those evangelical Christians who were willing to shelve their beliefs in return for a promise of political power will find themselves further marginalized.

In addition to shrinking numbers (see Jones demographic data and projections), they have traded away whatever moral authority they retained.


  1. I think the church Folks voted for Trump because he hates the same people that they hate. Those “Others”. Especially Obama. Seems pretty clear from the outside.

  2. Maybe the support for Trump is another shade of hypocrisy for a group that already has many shades of it. It seems particularly rampant in Indiana.

  3. Could it be that these white evangelicals held their noses and voted for the lesser of two evils? Both candidates treat subordinates horribly. Both seem to lack a moral compass. Both have effectively referred to women as bimbos and treat them as less than equals. Neither seems to recognize the truth, even when it bites them in the….

  4. Patmcc; this is obvious to us but never to them even though they support his racist lack of values. While exhibiting their hatred for those “others”; they believe they are following God’s word and moving closer to the Pearly Gates. They are willing to support Trump continuing to waste millions of their hard earned tax dollars to feed his insatiable lust for living on a scale that is beyond their – and our – imaginations. Has any other president taken off virtually every weekend since their inauguration? In his own strange, twisted, racist, bigoted, lustful, personal revolution as president; he appears to me to evidence a Jim Jones syndrome, believing himself to be their God and doling out proverbial Kool-ade in his Tweets. Will he get them all, including Congress, to continue drinking his poisonous mixture? We still do not know if Jim Jones committed suicide or was killed by one of his own; is Mike Pence busy behind the scenes preparing his personal religious vendetta to go national? Is there any doubt he believes he will SOON be President of these rapidly becoming unUnited States?

    “…they have traded away whatever moral authority they retained.”

    Where was their “moral authority” when Trump was blatantly sexually harassing Mrs. Macron and when she was trying to get her hand out of his clenched hands? Why has this ugly, public display of Trump’s lustful mind set been ignored…evidently by France as well as this government and the rest of the world? Melania appeared to attempt to put her arm protectively around Mrs. Macron’s shoulders during the sexual harassment; was President Macron trying to avoid an international incident before the eyes of the world or does he fear Trump as this current administration appears to be doing?

    God, or whatever higher power you believe in, help us all from this man!

  5. Evangelicals have espoused moral authority in name only. As a whole they have never behaved more “morally” than other citizens. Their morality exists only on the surface while they work hard at hiding their immoral behavior, especially towards the females within their congregations.

    This group of people is the epitome of the old quote “Do as I say, not as I do”.

  6. My Evangelical siblings voted for Trump because after 20+ years of Newt Gingrich’s smear campaign against the Clinton’s they truly believed she represented an evil more palpable than Trump. One sibling even stated after Trump was elected “We need God back in our country” – as if Trump would be the one to herald a holy intervention. And it’s not just my siblings – I have several Evangelical friends who voted for Trump (because Hilary was the devil-incarnate) despite their distaste for his many moral transgressions. During the campaign they desperately grasped at any rumor of Trump becoming a Christian himself. They listened hungrily as prominent Christians who supported Trump gave reports of the candidate having recently “accepted” Christ and the gospel. They even referred to him, naively and hopefully, as a “baby” Christian who would herald God’s will back to the U.S. Very twisted thinking in an attempt to support their own moral bankruptcy in voting for this man.

  7. Have you called your congressman lately. It’s important to note that certain ideals are not the best route for the reality that we face. Case in point, title II funds are being cut, these funds support teacher leadership that can increase scores by up to 20%. This most notably is needed in the impoverished areas. It is like they are throwing The baby out with the bathwater as they are defunding teacher training and retraining. Teachers because of it. but the real goal is not to help the kids as much as it as it is to defeat the unions with an but the real goal is not to help the kids as much as it as it is to defeat the unions within education. Charter schools can be successful if run properly. But they need 3 to 5 years to get up and going because they hire new teachers. they don’t always pay as well and have a big revolving door. The hierarchy of charter schools is not from educators but business people who do not understand the mindset of the empires child. So the next time the Democrat party wants to put up a person like Hillary Clinton has their representative to run the country. Maybe we should look for a good school teacher to run the country instead We need people who are fighting from the trenches

  8. I am struck by Holly’s post describing her siblings. The evangelicals and the Catholics who voted for Trump seem to have confused dogma and puritanical morality from theology. They seem to suffer from a poverty of spirit and are gripped by simplistic and binary thinking. A dangerous mix!

  9. Looks like some of today’s commenters have drunk the anti-Hillary kool-aid. Don’t believe everything the Heritage Foundation and the Kremlin have said about her. She just may have been the most qualified candidate ever to run for the office.

  10. I have commented,to no great authority,that the right wing bigot majority is of this flock. when one preaches the faults of ones flock,may they be forgiven of their sins for ignorance?. If one follows a bible, love one as,love all. like hobby lobby,the bottom line means far more. than to believe that was a moral decision. When i encounter such shams, i smile and walk away… Im not a believer,though i do not chastise one for practicing ones own moral code. The self practicing of segrigation without words is a common theme in America. Is this a self imposed moral code? If we cant accept everyones faults,do we blame? This fact we can side on, corprate America uses this premise to divide us,and lock in,small minds and charactor,to their self imposed value$… (did i just say value$?) when i hear a president attending the national cathedral in DC i get sick. especially war monging pasts,and the present clown. to believe they can be in such a place,and feel they are supreme in actions,and seeking to gather with souls who must all feel the same way.. if we must practice religion,keep it out of our govenment.

  11. People have pretty short memories. I bet they will be able to claim the “moral majority” without a problem. Irony/hypocrisy are so thick on the ground, a little more probably won’t be noticed.

  12. At first blush; this may seem outside the issue of today’s blog but I believe it to be part of the basis of Trump’s agenda.

    We have all probably seen the police shooting of the bride-to-be in Minnesota; I keep missing the full story but what I have not missed is the frequent report that the officer who shot and killed her is Muslim. What does that have to do with anything to do with the shooting or outside Trump’s agenda? With all of these police unarmed killings I have never before read the shooter’s religious affiliation.

    I wonder of Senator Al Franken has looked into this; my guess is that he has.

  13. I was not aware HRC referred to women as bimbos. She didn’t coin the term ‘bimbo eruption’. IMHO, evangelicals can take a flying #### at the moon. They aren’t real kristians. Their values change as fast as their candidates change their stories.

    There isn’t a so called kristian wingnut in congress wouldn’t sell their first born child for another taxcut for the wealthy. WWJD? Probably kick some ass and take some names among these phonys in congress and the evangelical pool.

  14. Patmcc – nailed it. Those xians hate the same people that #45 hates so he got more votes.

    But…I still don’t believe the vote totals. I doubt I ever will. I know I’m a dreamer but I really don’t believe this past election was valid, similar to 2000 and 2004. I don’t believe we’ll ever know the real story of how many votes were flipped or changed or invalidated by hacking.

  15. Perhaps an explanation is that the evangelicals didn’t vote for Trump, they blindly voted Republican. They voted Republican because in many cases their most influential leaders are the 1%. In other cases their leaders need a scapegoat for their declining influence. What better scapegoat than Democrats passing laws based on freedom of religion rather than a Christian theocracy.

    Of course in retrospect Christianity lost the election as did America except for the prosperity entertainers who are part of our new aristocracy like Pence.

    Pence can’t wait for the day when the white smoke from a Whitehouse chimney declares him Protestant Pope President of America as Trump’s transgressions overrun his army of lawyers.

  16. I keep hearing they voted for Trump and the GOP because of one issue and that was Supreme Court Justice picks. I read a great article on this the other day that essentially stated it was about having the power to pick conservatives for the Supreme Court in an attempt to overturn Roe vs Wade and to strip any advances the LGBTQ community has made. They were willing to sell their souls on these two issues. Outside of these two issues, there is little else the Evangelicals care about.

    I know most of the tiny, country churches in Tennessee had on their church signs to ‘Make America Great Again’

  17. Trump once said he was an atheist, because then he didn’t have to bother with ethical, Christian values.

    Once again, religion comes to the rescue of sanity. If Jesus in fact exists in something we name Heaven, he must be weeping with his face in his hands, saying, “No, no, no. That’s not what I meant to do.”

  18. Oh, and one more thing: There has been a pent-up resentment of the brown guy as President by the white evangelicals. He was, after all, a democrat, and therefore, the backlash should have been expected. They’d have voted for Satan himself if he was a Republican.

  19. I agree with Elaine’s comments above all my conservative Christian friends voted for Trump because he would stack the supreme court with conservatives in the hope of over turning Roe Vs Wade. Abortion has always been the only issue driving the far right in Indiana.

  20. I have no clue why anyone would vote for Trump, from the hard right voters to atheists. He is clearly amoral, selfish, ignorant and even sick in the head and thus unqulified to sit in the Oval Office or any other office. However, he is a good salesman and diverts attention from his misdeeds nicely by very general discussions of “horrible trade agreements,” “crooked Hillary” and other such statements not about his qualifications but about how bad his opponents are. Apparently enough Americans bought his stories, so here we are, stuck with an immoral nincompoop who know nothing of the art of governing, one who has given us a leadership vaccuum that has already earned Merkel the title of “leader of the Free World.” What’s next? Will he give up our position as holder of the world’s currency reserve in favor of the ruble or some ill-defined “basket of currencies,” which would be too disastrous to enumerate? I am beginning to think we need a 300 pound docent between this looney-tune and the atomic button in the Oval Office since he lives in a world to which we are not privy, that of Narcissus.

  21. @Elaine: You’re right! And not just the small country churches.

    @Vernon: They _did_ vote for Satan himself and they got him.

    My guess is that Pence can hardly contain himself in the thought that he might be president one day. My guess is also that Indianans are sick at that thought…and also sick that somehow he might return to “serve” in some capacity in Indiana.

    This is getting scarier by the minute!

  22. Betty: I think most Hoosiers would welcome Pence back w open arms. Excluding me and you. I have taken note of the opening volleys for the republican race for Donnelly’s senate seat. It’s all tea party rhetoric and I’m betting the more extreme candidate wins it all.

  23. Speaking of Pence and his religious supporters – I attended a college reunion this past weekend and was in the company of three friends from Columbus, IN. They started talking about Pence and how he was in their class, blah, blah, blah. It sounded like a brag session because they grew up with him and knew him personally or at least crossed his path in school.

    I had to leave the room before I blew up! It was obvious that they had no idea that one of of us could not even stand to hear his name spoken, let alone hear people speak well of him.

    It is simply amazing how red this state is and how it seems that every R thinks we are all Rs and are in agreement with whatever they are thinking/believing. They are completely oblivious to those of us who don’t exist within their bubble!

  24. @daleb: Wow! Really? Extreme seems to be in vogue lately, so you could be right. We’re in a mell of a hess. Surely someone can undo the current trainwreck, but it won’t be quick or easy with a completely unstable engineer in charge.

  25. The irrational mind wants to see, hear and feel what it wants. That seems like a “win” to it. It does not like reality which inconveniences its “script”.

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