Standing in solidarity with Speaker of the House Paul Ryan and most of the Republican establishment (with some notable exceptions in Utah and a few other places), evangelical leaders have made their stand on the Trump tapes: sure, the comments were “inappropriate,” but they don’t rank high on the “hierarchy of concerns” of evangelicals.
And anyway, that was 11 years ago, when he wasn’t a Christian and was a young man of 59, and now that he’s a baby Christian and fully matured at 70, obviously he’s a better man. And we’re electing someone to stand for our values, not to be our Sunday School teacher. And besides, Bill Clinton. Supreme Court. Bill Clinton. Supreme Court. Just a couple of examples, which could be multiplied endlessly:
— Pastor Mark Burns (@pastormarkburns) October 8, 2016
Reed concludes the above post by arguing that “Given the stakes on the election and the critical issues confronting our nation, an audiotape of an eleven-year-old private conversation with an entertainment talk show host is unlikely to rank high on the hierarcy of their concerns.”
It’s interesting to see what else does not fit into the “hierarchy of concerns.” Racist attacks on immigrants and people of color—not on the list. Same with Twitter wars with Gold Star Mothers. Peddling birther lies years after they were disproved—nope. Calling for the execution of the Central Park Five, and continuing to demand their punishment even after their DNA-based acquittal—crickets. Insane 3 a.m. tweets because he’s mad at a former Miss Universe—chuckles. You can fill in the rest of the very long list.
Curious to see how the Trump demographic is responding to the latest scandal, I took this opportunity to survey my Facebook “acquaintances,” mostly consisting of those I grew up and went to K – 12 school with in rural northwest Oklahoma. These are folks tailor-made for the Trump demographic: white, living in or close to the hometown, Christian, and angry in ways they themselves find difficult to specify (although the frequency of their social media postings certainly means they try). And, like Ralph Reed, Tony Perkins, and the usual laundry list, they might see the recent “comments” as “inappropriate” or as the usual Trump “hyperbole” or “pecadilloes” (as evangelical pseudo-intellectual Eric Metaxas sees them), but “Killary” must be stopped or the Republic will cease to exist. What’s a little “locker-room banter” in comparison to those stakes?
I’ve pondered the motivations driving people I know very well and otherwise have a lot in common with. On one level, the study linked above, contrasting those who continue to live close to home as adults versus those who move away, describes the split rather precisely. But it doesn’t explain it.
Certainly these hometown Oklahomans (where Trump is set to win by a large margin, or at least once did, prior to this most recent scandal) are angry about immigration, even though immigrants now manning agricultural factories (hog farms and the like) have helped to resurrect the formerly struggling economy of the Oklahoma Panhandle. At the same time, formerly all-white counties (such as where I grew up) are now ethnically diverse in ways unimaginable twenty-five years ago. The sorts of conspiracy-laden social media postings that I see when I choose to look deep into the heart of Trumpland provide an unscientific but telling sampling of how the hard-core base sees the world.
This is the world of white cultural nationalism, and where white Christian America hasn’t yet read the news that it is going to die. Ralph Reed and Eric Metaxas look to a larger world and hunger for intellectual validation, but ultimately they reinforce this world where almost no one would have even heard of them.
More so than Trump, Pence knows how to speak to this world; it’s what he did on his radio show for years. Be afraid.