Considerable journalistic and political commentary has centered on how President-elect Donald Trump attracted millions of white working-class voters to his banner, thereby undercutting what had been a key Democrat constituency. But at least equally important was Trump’s appeal to conservative Christians and Orthodox Jews.
According to network exit polls and a post-election survey conducted by Faith & Freedom Coalition, “Self-identified evangelicals comprised a record 26 percent of the electorate and voted 81 percebt for Trump, with only 16 percent voting for Hillary Clinton. This was the lowest share of the self-identified white evangelical vote ever received by a Democratic presidential nominee.” (While over 71 percent of Jews voted for Hillary Clinton, Orthodox Jews almost unanimously supported Donald Trump, according to Haaretz, a polling organization.)
There are additional interesting details in the post-election survey commissioned by FFC and conducted by Public Opinion Strategies. But let us instead focus on how remarkable this development is. If it was unlikely that a billionaire businessman would draw blue-collar workers into his column, it was even more unlikely that a secular and “worldly” person would stir up what is known as the religious right.
The closest historical parallel that comes to mind is the rebellion of Henry VIII against the Roman Catholic Church in the 16th century. It is one of history’s better-known facts that the Tudor tyrant discarded wives as soon as it became evident that they were not providing a male heir. This culminated in the passage of the Act of Supremacy in 1534 that made Henry the head of the Church, which had refused to grant him divorces. Beheading his wives was the alternative.
Beyond the fact that this royal reprobate was hardly a candidate for religious reform (for lack of a better term), he also opposed Martin Luther’s more serious efforts to reform the Church, which led Pope Leo X to grant Henry the title of Defender of the Faith.
His equally famous daughter, Elizabeth I, had the prayer books rewritten in English and stood her country’s ground against Catholic Spain when its Armada attempted an invasion in 1588. Great Britain was irrevocably Protestant, even if the only other serious religious difference with Rome was its preference for English over Latin in the Eucharist.
During one of the Republican presidential debates, Sen. Ted Cruz called attention to Donald Trump’s “New York values,” meaning that state’s urban preference for a relaxed attitude on morals. Trump effectively turned that comment around by reminding everyone of how New York’s heroic and compassionate values were on display following the Islamic terrorist attack on Sept. 11, 2001.
But Trump went on not only to blunt that attack from the political right but to embrace much of America’s religious community, who certainly didn’t espouse what Sen. Cruz had in mind when he denigrated New York “values.”
How did Trump do it? It was a combination of his political savvy and the religious right’s realism. When The Donald declared his intention to “make America great again,” that was an appeal not only to working-class whites who had seen their jobs disappear and/or their income stagnate, but also to the millions of faithful Christians and many conservative Jews who have always believed — and had good reason to believe — that America’s greatness is attributable to God’s grace.
The liberal left has been attempting for nearly a century to marginalize believers, many of whom became discouraged, perhaps even chastened, by the country’s secular trends. But our greatest leaders shared their fellow citizens’ faith, particularly George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Franklin Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan. All had opposed dangerous and powerful foes to our independence and freedom and put their faith in God.
Trump and his advisors welcomed support from this still-surviving heritage but no less from leaders of the religious right. Whether it was antipathy to the full-blown secularism of Hillary Clinton and her party or the key endorsements of prominent evangelists, millions of religious believers decided not to make the perfect the enemy of the good.
That is, rather than waiting (seemingly forever) for the spotless or purest candidate for president to emerge, unprecedented numbers of religious believers preferred the possibilities for morally revitalizing the country with the flawed Trump to the nightmarish Clinton.
If that seems too harsh, just consider how far the Obama Administration has taken us down the treacherous liberal road in only eight years, from endorsement of unnatural marriages and permitting the mixing of genders in rest rooms and dressing rooms, to opening women to military combat and legitimizing allegedly multiple genders in the ranks.
Likely these trends will stop, if not reverse, because the next president will cooperate with the majority of believers in Congress who will guide the nation back to the foundations that made America great.
Richard Reeb taught political science, philosophy and journalism at Barstow Community College from 1970 to 2003. He is the author of "Taking Journalism Seriously: 'Objectivity' as a Partisan Cause" (University Press of America, 1999). He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org