Donald J. Trump is a serial adulterer and longtime vulgar who dons orange makeup, tweets with the grammar and spelling of a Chick-Fil-A cow, befriends brutal dictators and instigated a terrorist attack on the United States Capitol that nearly had its painfully submissive Vice President hanged in a noose. Educated Americans often wonder how any of their fellow citizens could have voted for this man, let alone show loyalty with the intensity of religious worship. In truth, it comes from the same place of hopelessness that often leads people to extreme ideology – it’s just not a form of desperation that none of us should respect.
The challenges posed to America’s nested hierarchies have often met with severe backlash. A century ago, as World War I drew South African Americans to work in urban defense industries, pent-up racism and frustration with the war effort erupted in a series of racial pogroms in cities like Chicago and Tulsa. During our grandparents’ lifetime, advances in the civil rights movement first spawned a revival of the Ku Klux Klan (led by North Carolina) and a quieter political reaction that defined American policy until beginning of this year. Demagogic politicians like George Wallace won a national audience by playing on the rage of whites threatened by the loss of privileges they had taken for granted since the beginning of the republic.
When Barack Obama was elected, that sense of panic swept through parts of white America like wildfire. Immediately everything in our public life was racialized; even the opinions of the Portuguese water dog have become polarized along racist / anti-racist lines. Large swathes of conservative white America had existential panic over the fact of a black president, at the sight of an African American with the middle name Hussein who had grown up in Hawaii and Indonesia descending the Navy steps One and commanding the executive branch for the first time in the history of the nation which, to date, had not even given a black man a nomination for the presidency of a major party. President Obama’s triumph was a powerful symbol of the changes sweeping the nation’s demographic fabric, and it was viewed by the Tea Party demographic as a crisis.
Religion contributed to their apoplexy. While American religious history is complicated and evangelicals have by no means always dominated the country – indeed, they have been marginalized between the Scopes Monkey Trial and the rise of the Moral Majority – an evangelical revival in the years 80’s and 90’s had cemented spiritual hegemony. conservative Protestants. They have largely succeeded in imposing their moral values on everyone. But a strong trend towards secularization took hold in the early 2000s, accelerating year by year until now, even in devout North Carolina one in five citizens do not commit to any religion.
They were losing their country.
And then came Donald Trump. Trump had danced on the edges of the political scene for decades, but first emerged as a major force with the rise of the Birther movement. Supposedly in possession of Obama’s “real” birth certificate, he quickly gained ground in the GOP. He led the 2012 nomination polls before he bowed out, and it wasn’t long after his anti-immigrant announcement speech to propel him to the top of the 2016 Republican primary. proposed was not a policy or even a thrill of revenge against the Wall Street-Washington elite. It was the restoration of white Christian rule.
Frightened, dislocated and enraged, Caucasian evangelicals placed their hopes for their country in the hands of the New York barbarian. Trump was for them a true white knight who rushed to save their privilege. As one of its most fervent supporters, Newt Gingrich, had put it, a “secular-socialist machine” had emerged as a threat to the white Christian homeland. Trump, with his ferocity and warmth, presented them with a hero figure in whose battles they invested their hopes for an ethno-nationalist restoration. The Wall, Mar-a-Lago, the pugnacious Twitter thread and his scowl in the face have become symbols of the conservative counterrevolution. Even today, he commands their worship.
Alexander Jones is an original contributor to PoliticsNC.