Mormon Rejection of Trump Provides Insight into Muslim Extremism

McKay Coppins has a neat article on Buzzfeed about why so many Utahn (and Idahoan) Mormons seem to be so immune to Donald Trump? (Consider this to be my indirect and strong endorsement of The Wilderness: Deep Inside the Republican Party’s Combative, Contentious, Chaotic Quest to Take Back the White House, Coppins’ fantastic exploration of the Republican race to 2016.)

And while not all Mormons are political conservatives, many if not most of them are. In fact Coppins calls them “the most reliably Republican religious group in the country.” But the polls show Cruz absolutely thwacking Trump.

Unlike many other Republican constituencies, Mormons seem to be repelled by everything Trump stands for. They are more open to immigration than he and his base are. They tend to be better-educated, and Trump plays poorly with the more educated. The Church itself has come out strongly against Trump’s anti-Muslim language. And of course Mitt Romney, quite arguably the most prominent Mormon politician in the American landscape, made a strong stand against Trump in a recent speech. (Though this doesn’t erase his complicity in Trump’s rise.)

All of this is interesting to me generally, and if I could thank Mr. Romney in person, I would. I still think he missed the chance to apologize for his own role in Trump’s rise, but he came out more strongly against Trump than many other pols ever would.

But what interests me specifically is a revelation, that many have attempted to comprehend, about the correlation between conservative Christianity and Trumpian authoritarianism. How is it that a candidate who is so biblically illiterate, who seems to represent the opposite of nearly everything Christian, can be overwhelming the party?

The neat nugget is Coppins’ note that the less likely you are to go to church, the more likely you are to support Trump.

Now, there are all kinds of reasons for that, including perhaps feelings of deep social alienation and isolation. Many people who don’t go to church can still be religious. Many people who don’t go to church don’t vote for Republicans too. While many who go to church, or mosque, or synagogue, vote for Democrats. And just because you’re allergic to Trump doesn’t insulate you from similarly noxious forms of bigotry. Republican Utah is after all going for Cruz.

Who isn’t much better than Trump on some registers and, on the critical issue of religious freedom and Islamophobia, might actually be a lot worse.

But far be it from me to miss an opportunity to point out how Trumpian authoritarianism parallels Islamic extremism. Though religiously conservative Muslims may hold political opinions that many of us might find uncomfortable, if not outrageous—political illiberalism, patriarchy, ideological and social rigidity (they’d be on the Cruz Crew)—religiosity is also an inoculant against certain forms of violent radicalization. The more you know about Islam, and the more you practice Islam, the less tempted you are to join an extremist group.

As the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding’s Director of Research, Dalia Mogahed, told me, her research “found no correlation between rejection (or acceptance) of violence or religious literacy.” But, she also noted, “people who engage in violence are typically religious illiterates.” She pointed to the lack of religious training, or specific instances in which ISIS recruits purchase Islam for Dummies while on their way to Syria. (To read more of this research, go here.)

This doesn’t just indicate how far outside the Muslim mainstream groups like ISIS and al-Qaeda are, though. It also suggests how far outside the mainstream of Muslim societies, many of them religious and conservative, potential radicals actually are.

Which is all just a way of saying that while strong religious beliefs can create social challenges in pluralistic societies (and all societies are, whether they admit or not, more pluralistic than they realize), they can also preserve pluralism, by anathematizing certain kinds of language and behavior. Consider the Mormon Church’s response to Trump against Chris Christie’s craven endorsement; the latter, governor of a very diverse northeastern state joined the Trump bandwagon apparently without a second thought about his new patron’s racism, xenophobia, and belligerency.