MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
Is the 2016 election the last stand politically for white Christians in the United States? That's the question academic John Sides implies in a Washington Post interview with Robert P. Jones, the author of the recently released book, The End of White Christian America.
I have written numerous commentaries this election cycle on how Donald Trump is the "great white hope" to restore the White House and the US to representing the interests of white privilege, white tribalism and the restoration of blatant racism as an acceptable political and cultural stance among whites.
When it comes to religion, Donald Trump's ongoing defamation of Muslims and draconian proposals for restricting the access of Muslims to the United States and even intensive monitoring of Muslims within the United States is certainly aimed at opportunistically ratcheting up xenophobia and Islamophobia. However, it is also an attempt to corral white Christians -- particularly Evangelicals -- behind an unabashed bigoted white authoritarian Christian – although perhaps in name only -- presidential candidate.
Trump's extension of Nixon's strategy to include not just southern whites, but all whites who believe in white privilege and that the United States is losing its "Christian heritage" is borne out by clear demographic trends. In a 2015 article, Time concluded "white Christians now make up less than half of America":
White Christians no longer make up the majority of the U.S. population, a new survey has found.
The number of white Christians in America has dwindled to 46 percent of the total population from 55 percent in 2007, according to a Pew Research Center survey released Monday by National Journal’s Next America project.
The survey also found that while the percentage of white Christians fell, they still account for nearly seven in 10 Americans who identify as Republicans.
Religious News Service phrased the 2015 Pew Research Center findings succinctly: "The notion of America as a mostly white, mostly Christian country is rapidly becoming a fact for the history books."
Trump's campaign has been characterized by a push to reverse history, as encapsulated in the slogan on the caps he wears, "Make America Great Again." Of course, to his followers this reads as, "Make America white again."
Robert P. Jones provides context to this phenomena unfolding before our eyes in his answers to John Sides' interview, including this statement:
The American religious landscape is being remade, most notably by the decline of the white Protestant majority and the rise of the religiously unaffiliated. These religious transformations have been swift and dramatic, occurring largely within the last four decades. Many white Americans have sensed these changes, and there has been some media coverage of the demographic piece of the puzzle.... I is the disappearance of White Christian America that is driving their strong, sometimes apocalyptic reactions. Falling numbers and the marginalization of a once-dominant racial and religious identity — one that has been central not just to white Christians themselves but to the national mythos — threatens white Christians’ understanding of America itself.
So many of Trump's supporters either agree with Trump's excessive hateful, sneering and racist stances -- along with his confused and frequently draconian foreign policy positions. Others of his supporters forgive him his misstatements of facts and "un-Christian" lifestyle. Why? Because he's the great white hope. He is brash, belligerent, unapologetic, prejudiced and an authoritarian. Just the kind of guy who could restore the supremacy of white Christian national identity politics and put people of color and non-Judeo-Christian religions "in their place."
As the US's non-white, non-Christian population has increased, the emotional desperation of people who tie their personal identities and senses of comfort and power to being white Christians increases. We noted above that white Christians are already a minority in the nation. Add to that this forecast as detailed in a 2015 NPR report:
America is heading toward the day when whites will no longer make up the majority of the population. And U.S. children will get there soon, according to a new U.S. Census Bureau report. The agency also says the overall U.S. population will grow older — and grow more slowly — in coming years.
By around 2020, "more than half of the nation's children are expected to be part of a minority race or ethnic group," the Census Bureau says, putting Americans under the age of 18 at the front of a trend that will see the overall population follow suit some 20 years later.
"When that shift for the U.S. as a whole takes place by 2044, the Census Bureau predicts no one racial or ethnic group will dominate the U.S. in terms of size," NPR's Hansi Lo Wang reports. "Overall, the U.S. population is set to grow more slowly over the next few decades partly because of declining fertility rates. It's expected to hit 400 million by 2051."
In short, Donald Trump represents probably the last presidential campaign in which a white person running a campaign based on unabashed racism and bigotry has a chance of winning the presidency.
In The Washington Post interview about his book, John P. Slide states,
My argument in the book is that we have already experienced the passing of White Christian America. While this claim is grounded in demographic changes, it is also supported by the fading power of major institutions, such as the National Council of Churches or the Christian Coalition of America. There are no indicators that the country will see the likes of White Christian America as a dominant cultural force again.
The tumultuous Republican primaries and the ongoing reprehensible comments of Donald Trump, however, make it clear that in an immediate sense, the last gasps of white Christian identity will continue to create turmoil.
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