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Why Evangelicals Voted for Trump: A Critical Cultural Sociology: Cultural Sociology of the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election

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Abstract

Most white evangelicals viewed Donald Trump as the lesser of two evils. They were driven by concerns about abortion, religious freedom, and the Supreme Court. But a plurality preferred him to other GOP candidates. Why? Because they are white Christian nationalists. As such, they were attracted by Trump’s racialized, apocalyptic, and blood-drenched rhetoric. It recalled an earlier version of American religious nationalism, one that antedated the softened tones of modern-day “American exceptionalism” first introduced by Ronald Reagan. At the same time, Trumpism was stripped of the explicit allusions to Christian scripture that traditionally tethered American religious nationalism to Christian political theology. One way of reading Trumpism, then, is as a reactionary and secularized version of white Christian nationalism. I conclude by arguing that the proper response to Trumpism is not to double down on radical secularism but to recover America’s civil religious tradition.

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Even within the narrower confines of recent American history, conservative is a polysemous concept, that is, contains multiple dimensions and layers of meaning not necessarily consistent with one another: small government and strong defense, conservation and free markets, strict constructionism and law and economics, biblical literalism and confessionalism, traditional values and libertarianism, and neoconservatism and isolationism. And the meanings become even more varied if we look at the longer sweep of American history. The boundaries of Protestantism have themselves been the subject of ongoing dispute. The old Protestant mainliners, dominated by the New England establishment, were hesitant to accept the holiness and Pentecostal movements of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries into their confessional family. 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The bicentennial of the American Bill of Rights offers an appropriate occasion to reassess its intellectual heritage. British radicals, I will argue, had a major impact on the principles enunciated in the Bill of Rights, including the rarely cited ninth amendment, so crucial for the resolution of such sociolegal issues as the rights to life and privacy and the place of religion in society. By radicals I mean those who sought fundamental changes in politics, religion, society, or the economy by striking at the root of contemporary assumptions and institutions.
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In 1859 an influential theological quarterly asserted without fear of contradiction that postmillennialism was the “commonly received doctrine” among American Protestants; but by the early twentieth century, it had largely vanished, and Lewis Sperry Chafer, with only slight partisan exaggeration, could claim in 1936 that it was without “living voice”. In part, this change resulted from the defection of conservatives like Chafer to the expanding premillennial ranks, and several historians have told their story in detail. The disappearance of postmillennialism outside of premillennial quarters, however, has received scant attention. There—especially among the moderate to liberal Protestants with whom this article is chiefly concerned—the once dominant eschatology appears not to have suffered outright rejection but to have ebbed away. Although its remants endured as faith in progress, it gradually ceased to be a distinct biblically grounded eschatology.
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How does religion affect one's attitudes toward immigrants? Scholars have shown that members of minor religious groups are less anti-immigrant than members of majority affiliations and that Evangelical Protestants are partic-ularly hostile. Other scholars have demonstrated that increased religiosity reduces immigrant animus. Here, we argue that religion affects immigration attitudes via a distinct religiously informed interpretation of America's national identity, which we call Christian nationalism. Christian nationalists believe that America has a divinely inspired mission and link its success to God's favor. Using social identity complexity theory, we argue that citizens who ascribe to this worldview should be least tolerant of those they perceive as symbolic threats to American national identity. We assess this claim using the 2006 Pew Immigration Attitudes Survey and the 2008 Cooperative Con-gressional Election Survey. Christian nationalism is a robust determinant of immigrant animus, whereas religious affiliation only affects immigrant animus when Christian nationalism is excluded.
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When Sacvan Bercovitch's The American Jeremiad first appeared in 1978, it was hailed as a landmark study of dissent and cultural formation in America, from the Puritans' writings through the major literary works of the antebellum era. For this long-awaited anniversary edition, Bercovitch has written a deeply thoughtful and challenging new preface that reflects on his classic study of the role of the political sermon, or jeremiad, in America from a contemporary perspective, while assessing developments in the field of American studies and the culture at large. © 1978, 2012 The Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System. All rights reserved.
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Ernest Tuveson here shows that the idea of the redemptive mission which has motivated so much of the United States foreign policy is as old as the Republic itself. He traces the development of this element of the American heritage from its beginning as a literal interpretation of biblical prophecies. Pointing to the application of the millenarian ideal to successive stages of American history, notably apocalyptic events like the Civil War, Tuveson illustrates its pervasive cultural influences with examples from the writings of Jonathan Edwards, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Timothy Dwight, and Julia Ward Howe, among others.
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