February 24, 2016

Trump and Evangelicals and the Electorate - Meandering Musings

Long ago the people shed their anxieties, ever since we do not sell our votes to anyone. For the people—who once conferred imperium, symbols of office, legions, everything—now hold themselves in check and anxiously desire only two things, the grain dole and chariot races in the Circus - Juvenal, Satires 10.77-81
Question 167. Curiosity, Article 2, Reply to Objection 2: Sight-seeing becomes sinful, when it renders a man prone to the vices of lust and cruelty on account of things he sees represented. Hence Chrysostom says [Hom. vi in Matth.] that such sights make men adulterers and shameless. St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica
      I have had this odd yearning lately for a mountain-side cabin in Canada someplace. Or maybe, in a slightly wooded vale someplace removed from civilization. Own a goat-herd, perhaps keep bees and raise rabbits....maybe off "Old Goat River Road" or something like.

      I say this because I have had a sneaking suspicious during the course of the Republican primaries that a good number of my fellow citizens are completely off their rockers. I have been pondering the exit polling from South Carolina, particularly taken from Evangelicals, who comprise a good portion of the state's Christian population. Most of the polls statements look roughly like this:
But by Saturday evening it was too late; South Carolina had voted and Bush had managed to win only 7 percent of evangelicals. Instead, a plurality — 34 percent — went for Donald Trump, about the same share as the state’s GOP primary voters overall. 
According to the Edison Research/National Election Pool, evangelicals even chose Trump over contenders like Marco Rubio (21 percent) and Ted Cruz (26 percent) who frequently cite their Christian backgrounds as a guidepost.
Now wait a moment. 34% of Evangelicals. Ponder that. Let's assume for a moment that the website "National Association of Evangelicals" is a safe bet for an accurate "Statement of Faith." More extensively, the "Evangelical Manifesto" expands on the themes in that Statement. Read through the Manifesto. It is shot through with the idea that "The Gospel of Jesus is the Good News of welcome, forgiveness, grace, and liberation from law and legalism;" p. 8.

      The combination of the Manifesto and the polling seems to indicate that 34% of Evangelicals are more than happy to be voting for a man who has stated, multiple times, variants of the following:
I like to be good. I don't like to have to ask for forgiveness. And I am good. I don't do a lot of things that are bad. I try to do nothing that is bad.
And these are not ancient history - this particular statement seems to have been made in January, 2016! Combine this with multiple divorces, at least one affair, and multiple bankruptcies, and one must wonder about Evangelical preferences.

      What can this mean? I think there are several, not necessarily mutually exclusive, explanations to consider here. One is the idea forwarded by sociologist Christian Smith over several of his books, namely that individuals currently under the age of 35 (or so) do not necessarily know or care about the content of their own (or others') religious belief. For such people, Trump's statement that he believes in God and he believes he is a good person would be quite enough. As Smith noted about teenagers in 2005, they believed in "moralistic therapeutic deism," and therefore:
The language—and therefore experience—of Trinity, holiness, sin, grace, justification, sanctification, church, Eucharist, and heaven and hell appear, among most Christian teenagers in the United States at the very least, to be being supplanted by the language of happiness, niceness, and an earned heavenly reward. It is not so much that Christianity in the United States is being secularized. Rather more subtly, either Christianity is at least degenerating into a pathetic version of itself or, more significantly, Christianity is actively being colonized and displaced by a quite different religious faith.
These teenagers are, now (of course) the 25+ year old voters, who have not changed the MTD for a more traditional Christianity, no matter what they may call themselves (Catholic, Evangelical, etc.). Divorces, affairs, and financial woes may simply fall under a general rubric of "non-judgmentalism."

      Another explanation is that many of the Evangelical voters are first-time voters, and have grown tired of politic-speak. Even Cruz, to them, sounds too much like a member of the system. They have oriented, therefore, to a man who says whatever he wants, to whomever he wants, however he wants, without repercussions. Moreover, he is the ultimate individual cowboy - does not care who he rides over, does not care about contradicting himself, and appears to be completely self-made. He embodies American "do it on my own" individualism with a "f**k you" attitude.

     Finally, as I indicated at the beginning, I suspect there is some component of "politics by entertainment" (or "entertainment by politics") going on. Trump is, more than anything else publicly, a "personality." Whatever else he may have been, he is well known from talk shows, "Celebrity Apprentice," and from various news articles on marriages, divorces, etc. People are used to him - in a way, he's been running a campaign his entire adult life - he has more media exposure, more "comfort," more "that." I am reminded of the defeat of Frank Skeffington by Kevin McCluskey in Edwin O'Connor's book "The Last Hurrah." In essence, Skeffington, an old "machine" politician, is beaten by McCluskey due to the latter's skill with television advertising. Trump is a master of media, having been faced with it his whole life. Those who can manipulate media can manipulate their own image. He can be many things to many people - even reversing himself (lying?) about his statements and beliefs, and aided in this by a news feed he is well aware is dedicated to instantaneous update and forgetting the past. To reference Deneen again, the young are educated to be "like mayflies, alive by happenstance in a fleeting present."

      I am not entirely sure whether it is one, or many of these things, but my intuition says that it is, in some measure, all of them at once, making for an electorate ready to support this candidate, no matter how ridiculous he may actually be, or how toxic he may prove for this Republic..what's left of it...

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