White evangelicals need to ask why they were not motivated enough by the concerns of women, religious, and ethnic minorities and others to vote differently. Now I am not suggesting that there can be no faithful response to that question that could justify a vote for Trump, but I am suggesting that many of the evangelicals who voted Trump did not seem to think the question was even relevant to their vote. That is a problem.
It is a problem, but not one that the voters could solve. It is a problem brought to them. For one, the election was about the economy. It’s underreported and denied, but true. I had to own this mistake myself in my UK column, as I had spent the previous 6 months explaining why Trump would not win. Block paraphrase:
So what just happened? A comment from the thick of the night hit the nub. When the later returns started showing a pattern of Trump outperforming 2012 Romney across various groups, a liberal acquaintance asked: “What does it take to overcome Trump revulsion?”
It takes decades of expansive government power and eight years of an administration unreservedly using that power to do as it pleased. The Obama Administration was bound by neither law nor tradition, or even respect for the opposition. People were so fed up with having to take whatever Washington dished out that they voted for Donald J. Trump. They found government more repulsive than the man. And the intellectual chattering classes — the media, the ivory tower, the party players — they all completely missed it.
One of the lessons for me today is: I’m a part of the miss. I didn’t think frustration with federal government was high enough to get enough voters who would endure Trump. I was wrong.
As my husband soothed me later, I was wrong that I was wrong. Because the evangelical thing, I got that. Again from my UK column, months and months before the election:
Second, everyone, including the Cruz camp, has misjudged the evangelical voters’ motivation.
Evangelical voters are those outward Christians that everyone else finds so strange about America. Few outsiders get them, and with our infamous culture wars like abortion and gay marriage, most outsiders assume that these voters are issue voters. Since Trump is not with them on the issues, they won’t vote for Trump.
The connection between religion and politics in America is more fundamental than issues. The American political system is the secular parallel to Protestantism. The road to “We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal…” starts with the crucifixion, and the 95 Theses. These milestones in individual responsibility get lifted out of religious thought in the Enlightenment and eventually become the popular sovereignty of the US Constitution.
But US Christianity has changed. For decades our churches have been filled with the Prosperity Gospel. It tells people that if they pray hard enough, the right Way — if they have enough faith — then God will do for them. They will have rich and prosperous lives of good health and peace. It’s a horrible theology, one that leaves people to despair when they pray and act just as they were told but still don’t get what they expect.
This is the evangelical voter today. They’ve done everything they were supposed to do for Uncle Sam. They were the good patriots, working hard, raising families. Yet life isn’t going their way. From terrorism to taxes, jobs, budgets, public safety, insurance, family law, mortgages, small business regulation — all of it goes wrong. They reached despair. They feel forsaken.
Trump’s principles don’t hurt his vote percentages because they aren’t looking for principles. They’ve lost hope in principles. They are looking for the strongman. If we must have a government that quashes people, then they’d like one that quashes the other guy.
Some observers noted this strongman theory for general Trump supporters, but I don’t think anyone expected it among the evangelical voters. Christians are issues voters. Everyone knows that.
And that has been the one thing that has remained reliable and true this election cycle: the media and elites know precious little about the emotional lives of Christians.