It’s All About Status…

In 2017, Robert P. Jones, head of the Public Religion Research Institute, published The End of White Christian America. He presented copious evidence that demographic change was eroding the hegemony of the White Protestant males who had exercised social–and often, legal– dominance since the founding of the United States. He also provided evidence that awareness of their impending loss of status explained  most of their political hysteria.

Last week, New York Times columnist Thomas Edsall revisited the issue of status, or more accurately, fear of its loss.

More and more, politics determine which groups are favored and which are denigrated.

Roughly speaking, Trump and the Republican Party have fought to enhance the status of white Christians and white people without college degrees: the white working and middle class. Biden and the Democrats have fought to elevate the standing of previously marginalized groups: women, minorities, the L.G.B.T.Q. community and others.

The ferocity of this politicized status competition can be seen in the anger of white non-college voters over their disparagement by liberal elites, the attempt to flip traditional hierarchies and the emergence of identity politics on both sides of the chasm.

Researchers have begun studying what we have come to recognize as one of the most powerful motivations of human behavior. That research tells us that perceptions of diminished status is a source of rage on both the left and right. Add American divisions over economic insecurity, geography and values, and that rage only deepens.

Status is different from resources and power, although possession of those assets certainly contributes to it. It is based on cultural beliefs rather than material wealth or position.

Edsall quoted a Stanford professor who studies the subject.

Status has always been part of American politics, but right now a variety of social changes have threatened the status of working class and rural whites who used to feel they had a secure, middle status position in American society — not the glitzy top, but respectable, ‘Main Street’ core of America. The reduction of working-class wages and job security, growing demographic diversity, and increasing urbanization of the population have greatly undercut that sense and fueled political reaction.

People convinced that their status is low tend to gravitate to “anti-establishment” and radical candidates on both the Left and Right. Those fearing loss of status are different. One Harvard researcher explains that people  drawn to right-wing populist positions and politicians, such as Trump, usually “sit several rungs up the socioeconomic ladder in terms of their income or occupation.”

My conjecture is that it is people in this kind of social position who are most susceptible to what Barbara Ehrenreich called a “fear of falling” — namely, anxiety, in the face of an economic or cultural shock, that they might fall further down the social ladder,” a phenomenon often described as “last place aversion.

Apparently, the more socially marginalized people are, the more likely they are to feel alienated from the country’s political system — and the more likely they are to support  radical parties.

Radical politicians on the left evoke the virtues of working people, whereas those on the right emphasize themes of national greatness, which have special appeal for people who rely on claims to national membership for a social status they otherwise lack. The “take back control” and “make America great again” slogans of the Brexit and Trump campaigns were perfectly pitched for such purposes.

Other researchers emphasize that populism and fear of losing status are not the same thing. Populist movements stress group cohesion and equality; dominance, they point out, leads to self-promotion and support for steep hierarchies. That said, the research confirms that it is almost exclusively right-wing political actors who actively campaign on the status issue. 

The research confirms that it is fear of losing status, not actual status, that is the key political motivator.

I was particularly struck by this observation from a researcher at Duke:

Those who cannot adopt or compete in the dominant status order — closely associated with the acquisition of knowledge and the mastery of complex cultural performances — make opposition to this order a badge of pride and recognition. 

Dismissing journalists as “enemies of the people,” denying the reality of climate change, and refusing to wear masks and engage in social distancing are all part and parcel of this opposition to “elitists.” 

Edsall’s column has much more detail on the research. It explains a lot of America’s current polarization. Unfortunately, it doesn’t tell us what we can or should do about it.


  1. I’m sorry, but I just have to laugh at these “studies” performed by academic professionals today.

    We are all created equal, correct. Nobody is more special than the other, regardless.

    Every global person is part divine and part human.

    Jesus came along over two thousand years ago to tell us, “Love Thy Neighbor, As Thy Self.”

    What part of that is confusing to anyone here today?

    Can’t wait to read all the brain chatter clattering around on this post later today.

  2. And, so, why do so many supporters of President Trump have difficulty executing that Christian belief? Why are they so afraid? I too believe that my faith in Jesus Christ will always protect me. Therefore, I need not worry about losing status or be challenged if someone’s else’s status is recognized and relished. I do not need Camo and an AR-15 to be resurrected.

  3. Yes, the complete and utter hypocrisy associated with the ever-so-self-righteous engenders nausea. I sprang from blue collar Christianity, but there was a strong element of not being hypocritical – though my father tried his best to overcome his ingrained bigotry (and failed).

    Religion seems to have lost its way when the evangelical movements of the late 19th and early 20th century saw these unhinged ideologues scramble for the almighty dollar while replacing the almighty’s “written” intent with their own form a blasphemy.

    Religion is not provable or even testable in any terms that satisfies the limited logic that humans possess. There is no reason involved with religion. The term “faith” is substituted for logic in religion. When “faith” becomes interpreted by the self-ordained pseudo-intellectuals, we have cults on our hands. Cults follow charismatic leaders who tell the acolytes all the crap they need to hear to throw their hard-earned dollars into the collection plates – metal or electronic.

    As we’re seeing today, creatures like Jenna Ellis crawl out from under their anti-democratic rocks to push an agenda that is utter nonsense. In a way, she is the perfect representative for the evangelical fervor that is destroying civility and any hope of bipartisanship in our body politic.

    Well done, evangelicals. You really answered to God’s word and Jesus’ operating system, didn’t you? Once again, religion comes to the rescue of reason, decency and civility. Is this sufficient chatter clatter for you, Todd?

  4. Copied and pasted Wikipedia disclaimer above the description of the Public Religion Research Institute:
    “This article has multiple issues. Please help improve it or discuss these issues on the talk page. (Learn how and when to remove these template messages)
    The topic of this article may not meet Wikipedia’s general notability guideline. (March 2019)
    This article contains content that is written like text from a press kit or mission statement. (May 2012)
    This article may have been created or edited in return for undisclosed payments, a violation of Wikipedia’s terms of use. (March 2019)”

    “The Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) is an American nonprofit, nonpartisan research and educational organization that conducts public opinion polls on a variety of different topics, specializing in the quantitative and qualitative study of political issues as they relate to religious values.”

    Robert P. Jones and Thomas Edsall studied the “status or fear of the loss of status” of white protestant males and white people with or without college degrees as this country awaits the final word of the Electoral College on the presidential election which was fought on the racial battleground of gerrymandered black protestant American voters. American polarization has shifted from religion and/or politics to wealth levels thanks to Citizens United. Race and Follow the Money are the status determinants today using religion as a lure by the Trump Republicans.

    But slapping any name on the polarization, as Sheila so aptly states, “Unfortunately, it doesn’t tell us what we can or should do about it.”

  5. Seeing as I did not bring this up myself this morning, Todd and Patrick J are correct, those entitled white Evangelical Protestant males should have the faith it talks about in Hebrews the 11th chapter, but they’re in a hurry, they don’t have time to wait.

    So, Christ was asked about the law!? And of course the law that Christ was asked about was the Mosaic law. Christ stated that the Mosaic law became burdensome because of additions of ritual and unfounded interpretations which were added to the law through the Sanhedrin which of course was made up of Pharisees and Sadducees.

    So Christ simplified it and said that the whole law hangs on love God and love your neighbor! And he also said that it was wrong to hate your enemy and you should love that enemy!

    That being said, just as in the days of the sanhedrin, today’s political right-wing Evangelical Protestants do the same thing now as was done back in ancient israel!

    After all, who is your neighbor? Your neighbor is your fellow man.

    But the unfounded racism and bigotry that permeates this right-wing religious fanatical organizations and other affiliated religious groups that have devolved into the klan, white nationalism and everything else, because of the fear of falling as Sheila said. The pyramid is starting to collapse and the myth of the white male Atlas is starting to become a joke. Like I mentioned John O’Sullivan and Rudyard Kipling brought this out during the 1800s. The white man kept the civilized world together!

    Giving up the belt as they say in wrestling or boxing is very difficult. And, they would rather burn it all down then to give up their self-perceived superiority.

    Just concerning the white Evangelical Protestant male, the idea of being able to control everyone else with their personal strength and their own interpretation of religion, is a self-delusional self-aggrandizement! Right to life? But flood weapons into society. Right to life? Support war and conflict! Right to life? Demonize contraception! Right to life! Demonize a woman’s right to choose. Right to life? Roil against healthcare for all! A lot of children born because there is no alternative? Not their problem! Then after the children are born, can’t get healthcare for them?, Can’t provide shelter! Can’t provide a proper education! Can’t provide the proper clothing and nutrition!

    Is that really loving your neighbor? Is that really following Christ’s law? Is that really being compassionate ethical, empathetic, and moral?!?

    They are nothing but followers, they’ve been sold a bill of goods by those with power to manipulate them by playing to their basest fears! But they should know better!

    Slavery, lynchings, reservations and concentration camps, we’re all done by the White Evangelical Protestant males. Or in short those acclaimed Christians and followers of christ!

    In my opinion, religion has not one iota of right to be included in government! And yet here we are! Religious opinions are pushing the anti-vax movement, anti-contraception and anti-abortion, anti-gay, anti-foreigner, anti-muslim anti-jew! Like I said, the white Atlas with all of society on his shoulders! If it wasn’t so disturbingly sad it would be a joke!

    You would think an atlas, or all white atlases would be good stewards of the planet, and yet, here we are again burning it all down.

  6. It’s all about expectation. We are paying the price of our propaganda – how we trained people to believe in fairy tales, American world dominance, and male responsibility for all. Atlas shrugged all right, because he bought his own bullshit.

  7. Despite his good intent, Jefferson had it wrong. We are not all created equal. What we are (or should be) is equal under the law. There isn’t anything inherently wrong in my having only a three inch vertical leap while LeBron James has a 40 inch one, but we are not equal. Equality has nothing to do with our current mess, while imagined superiority has a great deal to do with it.

    Likewise the “Love thy neighbor” quote is generally misunderstood. The good Samaritan wasn’t just a stranger, he was one of many deemed an enemy. So our enemy is also our neighbor and should be loved. They might sometimes be jackasses, but we shouldn’t hate them and whenever we denigrate them, we prove their point.

  8. I’ve always been fascinated by our Primate cousins and have followed the work of Jane Goodall and Dian Fosse and many others over the years.
    In Chimpanzee society status is everything. It’s very hierarchical among the males and females. They actually often fight over status.
    So, this research on humans does not surprise me one bit.

  9. This really needs more complete discussion. I think it revealed my (and other progressives’) error in reaching out for political consensus on community issues …
    My Dad had an 8th grade education but he never was threatened by advancement of women or persons of color. A big part of that comfort in seeing others achieve comes, I believe, from being secure in who we are and with our own role, recognizing that others have their own parts. Therefore, no one is threatened by others.

  10. Jan,

    One thing about primates, they are very greedy! One way of catching chimpanzees and other primates is to put a large piece of fruit and a container anchored to something that cannot be moved. They reach their hand in to grab this delicious piece of fruit and when the captors come, they will not release the fruit and therefore can’t take their hand out of the container. They usually end up being killed and their brains eaten by their captors for the most part. If they’re fortunate they’ll live the rest of their lives and captivity in a zoo, or unfortunately, somewhere else maybe a lab as research subjects.

    And peggy, you are correct, the Samaritan was a despised individual by the jews, but the levite and the priest stepped over their own comrade and an enemy of Jews helped him, had pity on him, use his own money to have him taken care of and returned to the inn to make sure the person was okay and offer restitution to the innkeeper.

    So in this instance, who was the enemy and who was the neighbor? Because nowhere in scripture did it ever say love your neighbor but hate your enemy! Christ made sure this was pointed out to those asking the question.

    That being said, as Sheila brought out in her blog post this morning, the hypocrisy started from the beginning of this country, our constitution was written by those very same people. the very same people that thought you Eugenics was okay, the very same people who promoted hatred of the Jews and formed the Nazi state-run Church. Those that endorsed slavery, and claimed that Africans were 3/5 human and also descendants Canaan and therefore cursed. And because of the curse, they were doomed to serve as slaves! Of course none of this is true but this is who you’re talking about should be shown understanding? If people aren’t aware of the history of that which they revere, then they are accountable for such conduct themselves!

  11. “…not the glitzy top, but respectable, ‘Main Street’ core of America. The reduction of working-class wages and job security….” And who has been responsible for these changes for those folks? Oh, gee, it’s the Republicans, beginning, more, or less, with Ronnie Reagan. He destroyed the Air Controllers Union, told people “you can have it all!” Suddenly CEO wages hit the stratosphere, and jobs were sent out of the country, in order to lower the cost of production. The consequences to the people of “Main Street,” once thought of a “the Salt of the Earth,” were conveniently ignored. Maybe they were seen as unworthy, because their plight was their fault.
    But, “Main Street” does not realize this.
    It seems, from here, that the highly vaunted “Christian” belief long ago became co-opted with a drive for Christian hegemony ubber alles; became “Our tribe over any others.” Despite the lovely sounding ethos, it’s been a craving for control. Control of minds, uteruses, wealth.

    Nonetheless, despite any details any of us can come up with, perceived loss of status has to be a major motivator, as discussed. “THEY are coming to displace us.!”

  12. Mitch said,

    Nonetheless, despite any details any of us can come up with, perceived loss of status has to be a major motivator, as discussed. “THEY are coming to displace us.!”


  13. John could have stopped with, “love God and love your neighbor.”

    The Great Commandments.

    Peggy, you’re beautiful. I heard you, Vernon.

    I saw variables of the word “inflate” in many posts. Let me see what Wikipedia or the dictionary says about it:

    Okay, here it goes:

    “late Middle English: from Latin inflat- ‘blown into’, from the verb inflare, from in- ‘into’ + flare ‘to blow’.”

    Basically Latin for “in blow.”

    In other words, if we are all created equal across this entire globe [which we are (part human) and (part divine)], then who is better than the other?

    This will challenge those attached to their brains.

    Why are you better than anybody else?

    I’ll come back later…

  14. Some of this radicalization might be self correcting as sane thinking people realize how they are being manipulated as the manipulations become more desperate and absurd.

    Here is an except from Heather Richardson Cox blog post today:

    In an important move today, evangelical leader Beth Moore, the founder of Living Proof Ministries, a Bible-based women’s group from Houston, Texas, who has almost a million followers on Twitter, tweeted: “I do not believe these days are for mincing words. I’m 63 ½ years & I have never seen anything in these United States of America I found more astonishingly seductive & dangerous to the saints of God than Trumpism. This Christian nationalism is not of God. Move back from it…. Fellow leaders, we will be held responsible for remaining passive in this day of seduction to save our own skin while the saints we’ve been entrusted to serve are being seduced, manipulated, USED and stirred up into a lather of zeal devoid of the Holy Spirit for political gain….”
    Moore follows this weekend’s statement by evangelical Karen Swallow Prior, who said she was “now embarrassed and ashamed” for voting for local and state Republican candidates (although she had never voted for Trump). “What a bunch of money-grubbing, power-hungry, partisan cowards who care nothing about conservatism,” she tweeted. Conservative journalist David French also wrote this weekend that “the frenzy and fury of the post-election period has laid bare the sheer idolatry and fanaticism of Christian Trumpism.”
    If evangelicals return to their traditional stance that politics corrupts religion, the modern-day Republican Party is in trouble. In this year’s election, about 80% of white evangelicals supported Trump. They make up 15% of the U.S. population, but because they turn out in huge numbers, they provided about 40% of Trump’s votes in 2020. Since the Reagan years, white evangelicals have been a crucial part of the Republican base. If they are starting to rethink their loyalties, it will be a game changer.

  15. We are formed by three forces. What we are born with, what we are born into, and what our experiences with those attributes teach us. There is a great deal of variability around the world in all three dimensions and the reality of that has recreated tribal culture. Our cohorts have become more distinct in ways that aren’t under personal control. That has been amplified by the forces of branded advertising that we live immersed in.

    Competition between tribes over resources and status is just natural behavior for animals.

    From that reality we are expected to design government that treats all of the tribes equally under the law when in fact they are not equal in any other way.

    Don’t expect any of the current struggles that we have become so tired of to go away soon.

  16. Speaking of ‘brain chatter’:
    ‘We are all created equal, correct. Nobody is more special than the other, regardless.’

    Maybe we are born equal, but considering we are not created, we cannot be created equal or otherwise. But playing Todd’s game of make-believe for a moment, ‘equal’ according to the rules of that game means only equal in the sight of God and the presumption of law, assuming either is unbiased.

    Whatever…from our born-moment on, none of us are equal: with our first breath, all of us begin the long, uninterrupted task of ‘creating’ (to use a term Todd and others use incorrectly) our un-equality and recognizing everyone else’s un-equality.

    But again speaking of equality, frankly, I see little difference between the anti-science deplorables’ alternate reality and the alternate reality of the legions of phantasy God wielders.

  17. Just a thought on “Love thy Neighbor as thyself”. It was never said to love thy neighbor more than yourself. It can be a defense against religion or others asking too much of us? We’re in the equation, and have the power to balance our interactions. So joining into the hysteria of a political movement to allay ones fears seems counterproductive.

  18. Larry,
    There are vestiges of Truth in most dogma how much, is what individuals should investigate. Unfortunately people manipulate everything so much, no one has faith in any of it.

    The more people are manipulated and confused, the easier it is to deceive. Then there’s also the willfully deluded who wish to live in a fantasy because reality is too harsh for them.

  19. Larry, what in the world does this mean: “uninterrupted task of ‘creating’.”

    What the devil are we creating?

    It’s funny that the word “inflate” was used and found with Greek origin. Everyone wants to puff them up to be something special, but are they really?

    We are all born the same; we all die the same. What happens in the middle is “inflated. LOL

    My dad always told me that I put my pants on just like everybody else, “One leg at a time.”

    He is a Wise man.

  20. Kathy,

    1st Corinthians 13:3
    And if I give all my belongings to feed others, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I do not benefit at all. (Apostle Paul)

    Matthew 6:2
    So when you make gifts of mercy, do not blow a trumpet ahead of you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be glorified by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. (Christ)

    John 15:13
    No one has love greater than this, that someone should surrender his life in behalf of his friends. (Christ)

    So yes Kathy, it is asked of us to love our neighbor, our fellow man more than ourselves! That’s kind of where the faith comes in!

  21. It is more than just status:
    Mao Tse Tung is quoted below:

    “When politics develops to a certain stage beyond which it cannot proceed by the usual means, war breaks out to sweep the obstacles from the way…. When the obstacle is removed and our political aim attained the war will stop. Nevertheless, if the obstacle is not completely swept away, the war will have to continue until the aim is fully accomplished…. It can therefore be said that politics is war without bloodshed while war is politics with bloodshed.”
    This has been the GOP method of operation for some time The Trumpet, Pastor Pence and McConnell has taken it to next level.
    “Every Communist must grasp the truth; “Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun.”
    Oddly enough the gun toting camouflage types from the Reactionary Militant Right espouses – “Power grows out of the barrel of a gun”. What they cannot achieve through the ballot box, they will try to achieve via threats and intimidation.

    Power confers status. Power is the one thing in life that cannot be faked. You have power or you do not. The gated communities either in a literal sense or economic sense project power.

    Even though the Male-Macho Authoritarians that inhabit the Trump Cult have no kinship so to speak with the uber wealthy they are united in preserving what is mine at the exclusion of all others.

  22. Todd,
    “We are all created equal, correct. Nobody is more special than the other, regardless.”

    You’ve led an unfortunate life if you’ve not been around superior people and thereby concluded that we’re all equal. My high school band director (and my trumpet teacher)didn’t have to study a second instrument at Peabody because he took his violin finals during his first week. And in my life I’ve never seen or heard a better trumpet player. My 16 year old freshman roommate in college (a physicist) corrected his math textbooks and helped professors out when they asked. He willingly explained things to the math majors cued up outside our dorm room. He scored 1590 on his SAT tests, became one of the best bridge players on campus, was president of his fraternity, never took les than 19 credit hours, and showed no signs of ego. Except for French, all his courses were at least sophomore level during his freshman year. One of my fraternity brothers was a Rhodes Scholar, and one I thought would flunk out because he played cards all the time graduated with a 3.94 in electrical engineering. My oldest son (an American pilot) got his flying license before his driver’s license and the first time he landed an airplane did it better than I ever had (maybe that’s not a rigorous benchmark). I’ve encountered many people with immeasurable aptitudes and skills in every form of art, music, drama, writing, sports, building fortunes and practically any other discipline you can name.

    If you have not associated with these kinds of people in your life you are unfortunate. If you have and think you are their equal, you are most probably mistaken.

    John Sorg: Which do you like better about religion – that it tells you what to think or that it tells you how to think about it? Do you think it odd that Adam and Eve got in trouble with God because they ate from the Tree of knowledge, or do you simply admit that that has always been religion’s attitude toward learning? Or is citing irrelevant platitudes from writings thousands of years old a form of knowledge? Is the mindless teaching of the Koran a form of knowledge, or just the mindless teachings from the Bible?

  23. I just thought I would throw out something I found recently:
    ” Now does his title hang loose about him, like a giant’s robe upon a dwarfish thief.” Macbeth

  24. Oh Terry!

    As you can see, my quotations were directly correlated to Kathy’s request in her comment! Or at least her query! And I obliged. If the shock of what I posted was too much to take, I apologize.

    And, on this blog, I’ve quoted the Quran several times! As a matter of fact, I’ve quoted several of the Islamic holy books several times.

    Your opinions or beliefs are somehow more relevant than others? The philosophers and others that have been quoted recently on this blog all had a belief that religion was important in society! John Locke Alexis de Tacqueville, Aristotle and others!

    Believe it or not, the religious construct was responsible for most laws that we have even today! I don’t have time to teach a class, so I won’t do that now.

    Suffice it to say, present day religion and philosophical Giants from the past were hand in hand in forming the intellectual basis of society! Not bad for myths and opinions is it?

    When you limit your knowledge, you do yourself a disservice! Just because I argue about, let’s just say evolution, or heaven and hell for that matter, doesn’t mean I am not completely aware of all of its nuances. When you take an interest in something or a stand Terry, You have to be well versed in everything! That’s the way you learn. Not hearsay, but actual comprehension concerning all sides of the sphere. And, there are countless sides to the sphere as they say Terry. And, I’m sorry to say Terry, I don’t consider any of that mindless!

  25. Oh, and by the way Terry, as I’ve mentioned many times, the Quran is only one of the Islamist holy books. One of their holy books is the first five books of the Bible IE the Pentateuch, that’s the the holy book Tevrat, another one of the Islamic holy books are the Psalms from scripture, and another one after that are the Gospel books of the scripture. Most Muslims are more knowledgeable about scripture than most Christians, lol!

  26. Another great post, Sheila.

    I remember some things from the ’60s that seemed plausible at the time, and seem appropriate in context here.

    Discussing the violent reaction to the Civil RIghts movement, the view was that the poorest, least educated white man was afraid of “losing status”. He was “white trash”, but at least he wasn’t a “n*****r”. But if the black man was made “equal”, then he had nobody to look down upon – he was just “trash”. He lost status by granting equality to others.

    There were also the classic children’s jokes. The jokes that I learned as “moron jokes” surface as “Polish jokes” and among some, as “Italian jokes”. I have been told that they are “Swedish jokes” or “Norwegian jokes” depending upon which country you live in. They are “Newfie jokes” in Canada and the Jews have their own tales about other Jews – the Wise Men of Chelm (a real town). We all seem to increase our “status”, at least in our own minds, by laughing at others.

Comments are closed.