Why do evangelical conservatives support a sinner like Donald Trump?
The futile effort of the religious right to stop social progress
Elton John recently announced that he was going to stop touring to spend more time with his husband and their children. As he stated, “we had children and that changed our lives.”
John’s decision came at an inauspicious time in the gender wars. After making progress toward more equal division of labor between genders, since the early 1990s progress toward the goal of true equality has stalled. The problem are self-proclaimed progressive men who refuse to change their lifestyles after children are added to the family.
But society has a way of changing despite our best efforts, and it often comes from the unlikeliest of places. I am old enough at 51 to remember an era when gay people were supposed to remain in the closet, and when telling gay jokes was socially acceptable. Indeed, if you had told me just a few years ago that gay marriage would be the law of the land, I would have called you crazy. But here we are.
Indeed, when I was in high school, your greatest fear was being labeled a “fag.” As a result, young men did everything to avoid it. We refused to wear flashy clothes, we refused to hug each other, to tell another man that we loved him, or even to enjoy dancing. Being hairy was seen as masculine. Obviously, that has all changed.
Now men routinely wear pink, we shave our entire bodies, and we are actually good dancers. We have the gay community to thank for all that. We realized that the LGBT crowd had a lot to offer us. They knew how to express themselves, how to have fun, and how to look good. As a result, the mainstream society has adopted a lot of these mores.
This adoption of the mores of one-time oppressed minorities is typical in America. Remember Eminem rapping
I’m not the first king of controversy
I am the worst thing since Elvis Presley
To do black music so selfishly
And use it to get myself wealthy
Sometimes referred to as cultural appropriation, the process of adopting the best offerings from other groups, even groups that the mainstream crowd look down upon, is a distinctly American phenomenon. Indeed, it can be argued that this is part of the reason that American culture is so powerful — whose movies and TV shows are watched worldwide, after all. It is because our culture is the mixture of the best of all other cultures. It’s the supposed melting pot.
The process by which this happens has become painfully clear of late. We have certain mores that are accepted by society as a whole. Once someone succeeds by breaking those norms, other people imitate the new norms. We can see how Donald Trump does it, trashing the traditional political norms like “don’t lie.” But since he has lied so successfully, now it is seen as an acceptable political tactic. Similarly, when Elvis imitates African-American music or Madonna vogues like in the gay clubs, there may be shock initially, but the outrage quickly dissipates and the once outrageous behaviors become part of our new social norms.
How to solve the gender domestic labor imbalance
We threw the baby out with the bathwater in the sexual revolution
So now that gay men are becoming married, adopting children and changing their lives to care of the children, it is my hope that it will become a new norm that men change their lives when the children arrive just as the women have always had to.
It may seem hard to believe that these norms can change to make people more responsible, not just more fun, but they do. I remember when people used to smoke everywhere, in the workplace, in airplanes, even in the doctor’s office. Littering was once not frowned upon. An interacial couple was unusual at best. But all these norms have changed, and for the best.
Such change can be scary for some people, however. Starting in the early 1980s, five basic personality traits were identified which can be predictive about an individual’s behavior. For example, one of the traits, conscientiousness, has been linked to strong work performance. A person’s political orientation, interestingly enough, can be linked to their openness to experience. The more open to new experience a person is, the more likely they are to be liberal.
Unsurprisingly then, liberals tend to be more accepting of new social norms. To people whose personality is better described as less open to new experience, social changes will be frightening. Imagine how different things are now, with gay people getting married, America becoming a majority minority nation, and transgender people coming out of the closet. These changes may not actually seem bad once the people think about it, but their personality just makes them afraid of change. Period.
That’s where Donald Trump comes in. Evangelicals know that he is a liar, a cheater, a con man, a sinner. But they have developed a rationale that despite his flaws, he is a vehicle for God’s will, just as King Cyrus was in the Bible. The point is that they don’t care what he is like. They just care about what he is doing for them.
And what is it that they want that he is delivering upon? He is trying to turn back the clock, to stop the social change that has been happening over the past few decades, the change that so scares the Christian right just because their personality makes them afraid of change.
But in reality, trying to stop such change is futile. The Christian right is becoming more radical, more desperate, because despite their efforts, they see society continuing to change anyway. After all, though they may blame Obama, he was not the source of the change in the laws protecting gay marriage. In fact, he was not even in favor of gay marriage until quite some time into his Presidency. Instead, it was the Supreme Court that made gay marriage the law of the land, a Supreme Court with a supermajority (6 members) appointed by Republican Presidents.
Trump doesn’t care about any of this, though. He can’t turn back the clock, but his cruelty to LGBTQ people among others appeals to those frustrated evangelicals who know society is changing no matter what they do. That’s why they love him.
This would all be an interesting theoretical discussion if not for one problem: economic inequality. While the right cannot stop society from becoming more diverse, accepting and liberal, cynical crony capitalists have taken advantage of the legitimate fear of change the evangelicals are experiencing to divert the bulk of our nation’s prosperity into their own pockets.
Consider the following. The majority of evangelicals supported Jimmy Carter in the 1976 election. In 1980, Reagan appealed directly to them, ultimately starting the love affair between evangelicals and the activist conservatives. Reagan’s policies, however, delivered virtually nothing to the evangelicals. But he did deliver big time to his crony capitalist supporters, starting the destruction of unions, our progressive tax code and our safety net that reduced inequality. The result is what we now have, with MORE THAN 100% of our nation’s income growth going to the top 10% since then.
In a way, you can appreciate the fear and frustration of the evangelical Christians. Their personality makes it so change, whether good or bad, is scary to them. They believe the promises of Republicans since Ronald Reagan that they would stop such social change, only to be disappointed again and again. The world they look at is scary and to them, at least Donald Trump is expressing the frustration and fear they have with the social changes that just won’t stop. Unfortunately, in return for his rhetorical support, they are giving away the keys to the kingdom to Trump and his cabal of crony capitalists, and all of us will suffer for this unholy union.
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