One of the biggest question many people have been asking themselves since the election is “how did this happen?” I’ve heard many different theories, most of them regurgitating the same old political lines. Well, they might have some truth to them. Is the Democratic Party guilty of elitist progressivism? Definitely. Did they railroad Hillary Clinton candidacy, regardless of any other option? Probably. Has the Democratic Party focused more on urban areas and academia to the detriment of rural Americans? Again, definitely.
The issue is that both urban and rural areas have some similarities, but those similarities are part of the problem. Population density has been the basis of most of the programs, initiatives and policies by our government (including those that have been bi-partisan). It should be obvious that rural areas, by definition, have lower population densities than urban areas. Unfortunately, our leadership (including many Republicans) has ignored the shrinking ability of these communities to support the needs of their people.
However, there is a portion of our nation’s citizenry that many people do not understand. Moreover, I have yet to have seen any discussion of them. These are our fellow citizens who are evangelicals. In fact, when people talk about them, it is usually quite derogatory or mocking. We also tend to give them short shrift because the urban poor are obvious to anyone who spends time in the poorer sections of our cities. The rural poor? The nicest stereotype is Cletus the Slack-Jawed Yokel (from the Simpsons, seen to the right) or maybe the Beverly Hillbillies.
The overall population of America is trending away from Christianity. As of a report published in May 2015, Christianity has been losing adherents. Other research shows that our rural population is far more religious than their urban counterparts are. Often rural population tends towards evangelistic churches. One of the real reasons for this is that churches are often the only way many people in the rural communities know each other. Churches in rural America tend to be not just places where you go on Sunday, but places you go to band together for those in need, to fight for social justice, or even just to spend time together as people.
There has been a growing movement among evangelicals since the 1940s and 1950s called prosperity theology. Oral Roberts taught that donations made to him would return seven-fold to the follower. He also started the trend to televangelism.
What this so-called doctrine states is that Christians are entitled to be healthy and rich simply because of their experience of God and Jesus in their hearts. I say “so-called” because while I am fully aware of the Bible verses this doctrine interprets to this entitlement, it does not match other specific quotations. In fact, Christ himself says it is “easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” (Matthew 19:16-30 – although verses 29-30 seem to support their position.
Both prosperity theology and abundant life teachings set up the idea that if their faith is strong enough, God will give them everything they need or even want. But the catch is right there — if you are poor or ill, your faith is obviously not strong enough.
Now, let’s come back around to “how did this happen?”
The word evangelical has come to mean both denominations of Christianity who firmly believe that they are called to “share the gospel with all the world” as well as the denominations of Christianity who are better called Pentecostal or Charismatic. If you look at the global demographics of these evangelical groups, America is host to just under half of the total.
Then, when you start looking into the demographics of the political parties as well as the demographics of race and ethnicity, the basic numbers tell us just exactly how this happened. Let me give you some of that information:
70% of all evangelical Christians and 80% of Mormons identify as Republicans.
- Of the share of Independents who lean towards Republicans has increased to 43%, while those who lean Democratic declined to 48%.
- The greatest increase has come from people under the age of 30
- 52% of white voters either identifyas Republican or lean toward Republican.
- 65% of white, evangelical Protestants identify as Republican or Republican-leaning.
- Finally, the racial and ethnic composition of evangelical Protestants is 76% white.
Is it clear yet?
America’s white, adult, non-institutional population is 61%, but the non-white population of our prisons (if you are convicted of a felony, your right to vote is taken from you) is 59%.
Match this information with the fact that in 2011, the Census Bureau reported that 50.4% of children under the age of 1 were defined as “minority.” Many believe that by the middle of the century, white people will become the minority.
Frankly, this white demographic is seeing their control of the U.S. disappearing rapidly. For those who feel disenfranchised by minorities, this is intolerable. Just as many of the Democratic whites consider this a positive trend, many Republican whites — including those believe that people of color are genetically incapable of being “good citizens” — feel like the United States is being actively destroyed by anyone “not like them.”
Trump’s “Make America Great Again” slogan plagiarized straight from Ronald Reagan’s campaign of 1980, and Trump was able to get it registered as a service mark. Many Republicans, including much of their rural adherents, consider him to have been a saint to fiscal and social conservatism. Reminding some of his older supporters of the Reagan presidency certainly made a difference. Reagan’s slogan was referencing post-WWII America, which most of our white population in the 1980s considered greatest, riding high on the idea that America was the savior in WWII. Sadly, these are also the worst decades for social justice for non-whites.
There are other reasons “why this happened” but we can’t ignore the rest of the story.