White Christian America: Gasping but not yet Gone

Tonight, Robert P. Jones will be speaking at the University of Florida, giving a presentation entitled “The Election of Donald Trump: Last Gasp or Resurrection of White Christian America.” [1] Jones published an excellent book last year chronicling the decline in influence of what he called “White Christian America.” [2] Donald Trump’s surprise election can be seen as a challenge to the book’s core analysis.

Here’s my take on whether White Christian America is resurrecting or gasping its last. It is gasping, but not quite its last, and it could still revive itself enough to be consequential for about another decade.

To properly analyze the ongoing power of White Christian American, Trump’s victory must be seen in context. The following five events dramatically changed the electoral landscape between November 2012 and November 2016:

1. June 25, 2013 — The U.S. Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act, making GOP efforts to suppress minority voting easier. This was especially important in certain swing states like North Carolina and Wisconsin. [3]

2. June 26, 2015 — Gay marriage was recognized as a constitutional right by the U.S. Supreme Court, intensifying anti-LGBTQ sentiment on the Christian right and helping Trump garner the largest percentage (81%) of evangelicals ever. Anti-LGBTQ sentiment among evangelicals will continue to energize homophobic/anti-queer sentiment among evangelicals for the foreseeable future by giving them a focus for organizing. [4]

3. July 15, 2015 (approx.) — Fake Planned Parenthood videos are released, effectively amping up anti-choice zealotry. [5]

4. August 15, 2015 — Obama re-opens Cuban embassy, intensifying anti-Democratic sentiments among Cuban Americans in Florida, at least in part contributing to Clinton’s loss there. [6]

5. February 13, 2016 — The GOP Senate blockades Merrick Garland, giving many, perhaps most, anti-choice, anti-LGBTQ segments a belief that they had to vote for the GOP candidate, no matter who he was. It was a brilliant move to ignite evangelical and other far right support. If Scalia had lived another 269 days, Clinton might be president, based on this factor alone. Chalk one up to random events. [7]

These five factors were going to benefit the GOP nominee, no matter who he was.

The foregoing said, Clinton nevertheless almost won. She won the popular vote, though it is critical for this analysis to remember that, excluding California (where Clinton won 61.5% to 31.5%), Trump won the popular vote in the other 49 states collectively by 1.6 million votes. She lost the election because of Trump’s narrow wins in Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania. Trump’s wins in these states were due in large part to a conscious decision of Clinton and the Democrats to not actively seek white, blue collar votes, a strategy explained by Charles Schumer at the Democratic Convention as based in a belief that Clinton could successfully win moderate suburban Republican voters, thereby eliminating Team Clinton’s need to woo white, blue collar voters. [8]

Had Clinton won, as she nearly did, today we would be discussing Jones’s book as bold, brilliant prognosticating, showing the diminishment of the political and cultural influence of White Christian America, especially white Christian Protestantism. This assessment still holds. Certain flukes of history do not change that. But it may be the case that Trump’s victory has infused White Christian America with new life, at least for awhile. Trump won in the parts of the U.S. where White Christian America is still the strongest, and the strong backlash against Trump on the Left Coast and in New York and New England may have the effect of deepening Trump’s strength in the South, Midwest, and Intermountain West (excluding Colorado and New Mexico), for a while longer. White Christian America might be gasping, but it cannot be written off yet.

1. https://religion.ufl.edu/event/the-election-of-donald-trump-last-gasp-or-resurrection-of-white-christian-america/

2. https://www.prri.org/end-white-christian-america/

3. http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/26/us/supreme-court-ruling.html

4. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Obergefell_v._Hodges

5. http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/nationworld/ct-planned-parenthood-video-20150720-story.html

6. http://www.cnn.com/2015/08/14/world/u-s--embassy-reopens-cuba-havana/

7. http://www.politico.com/story/2016/02/mitch-mcconnell-antonin-scalia-supreme-court-nomination-219248

8. https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/in-final-100-days-clinton-and-trump-to-chart-different-paths-to-white-house/2016/07/30/ac58a59e-55c4-11e6-b7de-dfe509430c39_story.html