What we're seeing unfolding over the last four years, and coming into full flower now, the [political] divides really are about American identity, much more than they are about a policy or even economics. Today we should probably replace 'It's the economy, stupid' with 'It's American identity, stupid.' — Robert P. Jones, founder and CEO of PRRI
What we're seeing unfolding over the last four years, and coming into full flower now, the [political] divides really are about American identity, much more than they are about a policy or even economics. Today we should probably replace 'It's the economy, stupid' with 'It's American identity, stupid.' — Robert P. Jones, founder and CEO of PRRI
Why it's now 'American identity, stupid' in US politics
The grounding of today's partisan differences in such elemental components of social identity as religion -- as well as race, education and age -- helps explain why the balance of power has grown so difficult for either party to fundamentally shift, despite all the tumultuous events of recent years. It also explains why so many Americans consider the stakes in the political competition higher than ever. The PRRI results point toward a political competition that now revolves less around individual policy disputes than the larger question of whether America's direction will be set by the predominantly White and Christian voters who have historically wielded the most power or by an emerging America defined by both religious and racial diversity.

"What we're seeing unfolding over the last four years, and coming into full flower now, the [political] divides really are about American identity, much more than they are about a policy or even economics," says Robert P. Jones, founder and CEO of PRRI. "Today we should probably replace 'It's the economy, stupid' with 'It's American identity, stupid.' "

Jones, like other analysts, believes a pervasive sense of loss and displacement in a diversifying country has solidified the strong affinity for Trump-style politics among many White Christians, especially White evangelical Protestants.

"It really is hard to overstate how central to White Christians' worldview is this idea of America as a White Christian nation," says Jones, author of the book "White Too Long," a history of the relationship between Christian churches and racial inequality. A poll of Trump supporters earlier this year by the conservative Ethics and Public Policy Center underscores his point: Fully 87% of them agreed that "Christian faith is an essential part of American greatness." That number rose to a near unanimous 97% among White evangelical Trump supporters.

Both the Ethics and Public Policy Center polling and the Public Religion Research Institute's annual "American Values Survey" document deep concern among Trump's White Christian supporters, especially evangelicals, that social change of all sorts is eroding Christianity's central position in American life. In the EPPC poll, 89% of all Trump supporters (and 94% of his evangelical backers) said that "Christianity is under attack in America today." In the latest PRRI polling, three-fourths of White evangelicals agreed that immigrants are "invading" America and replacing its culture; just over 7 in 10 agreed that Whites now face as much discrimination as Blacks and that the values of Islam are incompatible with American values. Nearly 6 in 10 of them, in a recoil from changing gender roles, said that "society is becoming too soft and feminine."

This sense of siege, Jones said, has left many conservative Christian voters open to both Trump's message of resisting social change and to wild conspiracy theories, such as his disproven claims about massive election fraud in 2020. In recent PRRI polling, roughly one-fourth of White evangelical Protestants expressed sympathy for the QAnon conspiracy theory and as many agreed that "true American patriots may have to resort to violence" to save the US.

"I think as this central tentpole that has been holding up their worldview -- America as a White Christian nation, their own private promised land -- has fallen, just under the sheer weight of the changing country all around them, it has left them vulnerable to grasping at straws and believing in delusions," Jones says.

Behind this weakness for ungrounded political fantasy is an implacable demographic reality: White Christians have been relentlessly declining as a share of America's population.

... "My fear is that what's going to happen is as the group shrinks it's going to become more extreme and what'll end up happening is that the moderating voices in that group will leave and then it becomes even more extreme," says Jones.

Such a "radicalization spiral" is very hard to break, he notes, and provides a huge pool of disaffected Whites willing to subvert democratic rules -- or even resort to violence -- if that's what it takes to prevent a diverse and increasingly secular liberal coalition from, in their view, remaking American society.


"It's a crisis," Jones says flatly. "There's no other way to say it."
Read the full article: https://www.cnn.com/2021/07/13/politics/religion-politics-divide/index.html