Hearing Mr. Watts was an epiphany for me. . . . no wonder Republicans and Democrats can't agree on things . . . We live in different philosophical worlds, with different foundational principles.
While compelling, I find Mr. Watts' appeal to human nature curious, not the least because it seems to discount many of the traditional sources of individual voting behavior—namely: evaluations of government performance, personal characteristics of the candidates, economics, race, region, education, and social class. Interestingly, social science suggests that factors ranging from peer pressure and the desire to "fit in," to a candidate's physical attractiveness, are as likely to affect voters' decision-making as more traditional factors, like economic performance. But if we set such considerations aside and take Mr. Watts' conceptualization seriously, casting political ideology in terms of fundamental beliefs has consequences . . .
In thinking about the "fallen world" and ideas of inherent goodness and evilness (to borrow Kyle Kate's phrasing), I am reminded of an article by Robert Wright published in the February 2015 edition of the New Yorker. Like Leonard's piece, Wright's article discussed a clash-of-values theory, albeit one of an international (rather than national) character.
In the early 1990s, political scientists spilled a lot of ink discussing the "Clash of Civilizations (COC)." Bernard Lewis first used the term in a 1990 article in The Atlantic, which sought to explain the perceived animosity toward America from the Muslim world. Lewis wrote:
. . . this hatred goes beyond hostility to specific interests or actions or policies or even countries and becomes a rejection of Western civilization as such, not only what it does but what it is, and the principles and values that it practices and professes. These are indeed seen as innately evil, and those who promote or accept them as the "enemies of God." (emphasis added)
Since the 1990s, of course, COC theory has gained quite a bit of traction; the idea that Muslims hate America on the basis of a fundamental "good-versus-evil" ideology is frequently bandied about as a hypothesis to explain the motivation for terrorism by Islamic extremists. (I will note that there is ample evidence suggesting the idea of generalized "Muslim rage" is, at best, simplistic and, at worst, untrue.) However, as Wright notes in his article, and as Trump surely understood in crafting his inauguration speech, describing any conflict as an ideological war of values packs a rhetorical punch. After all,
It's natural, when you're freaking out, to accept simple and dramatic, even melodramatic, explanations. It's a clash of civilizations!For the sake of argument, let us make some assumptions. First, let us assume that Republicans and Democrats—rural ones especially, what with their "traditional American values" and "Puritan work ethics"—vote on the basis of beliefs about human nature. Let us also assume that such beliefs are fundamental. Ostensibly, such beliefs would by definition transcend economic, education, and class considerations—which might explain the discrepancies between the empirical metrics (referenced in Willie's post) and the resonance of Trump's inauguration rhetoric with the rural electorate. It would seem the logical extension of this line of reasoning is that voting patterns are set—pre-determined, even. If white rural evangelicals, for example, believe the Republican party reflects the worldview that humans are fundamentally bad, they would have voted for Trump (and will continue to vote along party lines) regardless of their economic fortunes and social circumstances. Can this possibly be true?
Here is what we know: Yes, 80% of white evangelicals voted for Trump. Yes, rural Americans voted overwhelmingly for Trump. And yes, rural populations are composed of evangelicals at a higher percentage than urban populations. Perhaps the alignment of this segment of the population is attributable to Trump's co-opting of the "fallen world." Perhaps rural Americans were swayed by apocalyptic discourse and the notion of a society trapped in sin. On the other hand, perhaps we—"we" referring to the collective consciousness that inevitably awakens to pick apart our political fate ex post facto—simply like to believe that Americans care about things like "good" and "evil." Perhaps we prefer to believe that Americans choose the candidate that they see as the good guy (even if we disagree with the choice).
In terms of what we know, it is also worth noting that:
- Evangelicals account for approximately 25.4% of the U.S. population.
- A large percentage of self-identifying evangelical Christians are not white (e.g., in 2001, 61% of blacks described themselves as "born again").
- Many prominent evangelics are "disillusioned by Trump's staggering victory."
- Survey results suggest evangelical support might not be as unanimous as it seems.
- 28% of evangelicals identify as Democrat/leaning Democrat.
- Only an estimated 19% of evangelicals live in rural areas.
- Despite rising employment levels and falling poverty rates, rural employment levels remain well below pre-recession levels (and far below urban employment levels).
- According to Gallup data, those living in "'evangelical hubs' the 'working-class country,' 'aging farmlands,' and 'rural middle America' [are] dour about the economy's prospects[.]"