Map of the vote compared to last election
I don’t know where to start. Fortunately, many others have chimed in by now, so much of what I would say has already been said, often more clearly that I would say it. Also, this post contains a lot of my own political views, so if you aren’t interested in that, you of course don’t have to read it.
In fact, there is a lot we don’t know yet. We don’t know the extent of the damage we’ll suffer as part of the Earth, nor the damage to our society, to minorities of many types, to church/state separation, and so on. We don’t know how long racists, bigots, and sexists will be emboldened to continue carrying out attacks on anyone who is different. We don’t know where, on the long scale going from a relatively inactive Trump who just used the racism & bigotry of 100 million Americans to get elected on one end, to a very aggressive Trump rounding up people of all kinds at the other end, the events of the next four years will fall. We’ve already seen signs that point in either direction.
I don’t know how likely it will be that Trump gets a second term, or how much he’ll be seen as an American hero vs. a failure. A lot can change in four years, and I think it is wishful thinking at this point to say that we know he’ll be gone in four years. If successful, he could be the start of presidents similar to him – I we simply can’t know at this point. I truly hope we don’t keep seeing the emboldened racism that Trump has brought us.
In addition to the impact, what this says about America is a giant topic too. It clearly shows that the outright hate speech of Donald Trump is perfectly fine with around half of Americans – proving beyond a doubt that we have a long way to go as human beings. I don’t buy for a second the racist apologetic suggestions that most Trump voters aren’t racist, and only voted for him because they wanted his other policies or were ignorant of what he’s said. While there is certainly a long list of groups to blame, I won’t get into that now aside from the fact that the majority of the blame falls on those bigoted enough to vote for Trump.
Of all the points to discuss, the topic of this blog itself narrows them down, and so here are some thoughts.
Lies, Evidence, and Fact Checking
In every election I’ve seen (which means “since about 1980”), there has been some twisting of the facts. However, the past several years has seen the rise of full media companies devoted to outright lies and the selling of falsehoods – more, I think, than before. This culminated in an election where I routinely heard people post howler falsehoods which would be obvious to anyone with a decent education. Statements like “Clinton founded ISIS”, “Obama was born in Kenya”, “Clinton is now deploying the National Guard to take away our guns”, “Obama is a Muslim planning to destroy America”, and so on. Both parties are not equally guilty of this. Yes, there have been some lies shared on facebook by people on both the left and the right (and we all know people are pretty bad at checking before sharing), but the outright lies by Trump and by his supporters have reached heights that even a year ago I would have not thought possible. The willful ignorance of so many people makes a functional democracy, a healthy society, and a bright future all impossible. While the Republican war on science has been going on for at least a decade, this election shows how being openly delusional and opposed to evidence has become acceptable in large segments of American society.
This should be appalling to any reasonable person – including people of many different religions and ideologies. As Naturalistic Pagans, our explicit reliance on evidence shows that our voices are especially needed today. Evidence, fact checking, and understanding what is really true are things that have always needed more emphasis in politics, but now the number of times I see open, willful ignorance and denial portrayed as virtues blows my mind. I hope that we’ll find allies here in all religions – as there are people who put a high value on evidence and reason who are Hindu, Christian, Muslim, Taoist, etc.
I can’t help but wonder if this abandonment of reason among so many people is a predictable result of demographic shifts. Yes, there are many other factors, and perhaps larger factors, fueling Trump’s win – but here is one that seems to be ignored by mainstream media.
We know that Christianity is declining in the United States. More than just “declining”, it’s been declining asymmetrically, becoming more polarized. When I was a kid, it seemed that practically everyone was a moderate Christian. The “war on Christmas” didn’t exist. Christian privilege then was as natural and invisible as white privilege was in 1930 (of course, white privilege is still a big problem, but at least people are talking about it). I wrote about the decline of Christianity in 2009, when few people talked about it and most mentions of it were met with disbelief – that was well before its growing recognition since 2012 made it a much more common point of discussion.
Similar data have shown an ongoing polarization – where the moderate Christians often either leave Christianity or become fundamentalists. We do have data showing why that is happening. Christians are recognizing that fundamentalist positions more closely match the various Bibles, and hence either joining churches that more closely follow their Bible (the fundamentalist churches), or rejecting the Bible as the one source of truth (and hence leaving Christianity). In other words, many of those leaving Christianity simply don’t believe that the worldview described in their Bible is real anymore. The decline of liberal Christianity is so steep that there are already millions fewer Episcopals and United Church of Christ members, liberal seminaries often shut down or are “consolidated”, and a satire piece titled “Evangelical Left admits it doesn’t really exist” just appeared this week.
All of this means that Christianity in America is made up of a shrinking number of increasingly fundamentalist Christians, who are seeing their previously unquestioned privilege being replaced by treatment which is at least a little bit more equal. This too is too large a topic to detail all the examples, but a clear one is the Kim Davis marriage license story from last year. By simply being asked to treat people equally, Kim Davis felt that she was being oppressed – because when someone is accustomed to privilege, equal treatment feels like oppression. Any group who are used to being treated as superior can be expected to lash out as they lose some of that privilege – or even if more equal treatment is simply suggested out loud. When we couple that with the anger at seeing the first African-American president, one can imagine that some white Christians will be ready and eager to vote for someone who expresses racism and promises to bring America back to how it was in the past (“Make American Great Again”).
Of course, this is not to say that all Christians are Trump supporters or fit with the above paragraph in any way. Many Christians are at the forefront of diversity efforts and support for science and evidence. In the many times I’ve promoted science and evidence in opposition to creationism, Christians made up much of my support and allies. The same goes for any other issue (marriage equality, reproductive rights, etc.) Heck, Clinton’s votes came mostly from Christians (65%). Like nearly any religion, some forms of Christianity are healthy, modern, and full compatible with a just society. One example comes from one of my most important spiritual mentors, Michael Dowd, who’s Christianity is fully evidence-based and future focused. This is why it is important to remember that few groups are monolithic, and that pointing out Christian privilege doesn’t make someone anti-Christian, any more than pointing out white privilege makes one “anti-white”.
That hopefully puts our discussion in context, allowing us to look at the data. The exit polls show that among whites, being an evangelical Christian was the best predictor (aside from ideology/party) of how one would vote. Fully 81% of white Christian evangelicals voted for Trump, to Clinton’s 16% – a five fold difference, and the highest proportion any candidate has ever received since data has been kept. And it wasn’t just evangelicals. Catholics, Mormons, Protestants and “other Christians” all voted for Trump with strong majorities. The idea that anger over waning Christian privilege accounted for a significant amount of Trump’s victory is not my idea, and the map from that article shows the states with the highest proportion of white Christians. Comparing it to the map at the top of this post (of the swing compared to 2012), one can see a lot of overlap. Maybe the media will start talking about Christian privilege. It’s still hardly ever mentioned, even though it is clearly becoming the elephant in the room. After all, silence is the main tool of privilege of any kind.
These data and so much more make me wonder what will happen next in American politics, especially in the next few years. What will be the effect on rational decisions that affect our future generations? What part will each of us play? How can we help build a pluralistic society, where people of all religions and none are welcomed and treated fairly? Can we all look at the objective evidence on any topic, and choose the path that builds a just, healthy, and sustainable world for all future generations? I hope for the best, but I don’t expect it to be easy. Both our naturalism, as well as our Paganism, point to our struggles in the coming years.
Starstuff, Contemplating by Jon Cleland Host
We are assemblages of ancient atoms forged in stars – atoms organized by history to the point of consciousness, now able to contemplate this sacred Universe of which we are a tiny, but wondrous, part.
Dr. Jon Cleland Host is a scientist who earned his PhD in materials science at Northwestern University & has conducted research at Hemlock Semiconductor and Dow Corning since 1997. He holds eight patents and has authored over three dozen internal scientific papers and eleven papers for peer-reviewed scientific journals, including the journal Nature. He has taught classes on biology, math, chemistry, physics and general science at Delta College and Saginaw Valley State University. Jon grew up near Pontiac, and has been building a reality-based spirituality for over 30 years, first as a Catholic and now as a Unitarian Universalist, including collaborating with Michael Dowd and Connie Barlow to spread the awe and wonder of the Great Story of our Universe (see www.thegreatstory.org, and the blog at evolutionarytimes.org). Jon and his wife have four sons, whom they embrace within a Universe-centered, Pagan, family spirituality. He currently moderates the yahoo group Naturalistic Paganism.