Cultural identity — or, more accurately, an existential fear that white privilege and culture may cease to exist in an increasingly multicultural society, is the gut issue driving radical conservative politics. The “Liberal Agenda“, any way you choose to define it, does not allay that fear – in fact, it stokes it.
Frank Bruni, the NY Times columnist, interviewed Ann Coulter, a Fox News commentator and outspoken Trump advocate. She expresses disillusion with Trump’s failure to move his border wall forward. The wall is one huge symbol of preserving the sort of national purity that Coulter desires.
Read the full interview here – (click)
The willingness of evangelicals to forsake the most basic of Christian values is also rooted in white cultural identity fears. The Rev. Dr. Kelly Brown Douglas, dean of Episcopal Divinity School at Union Theological Seminary says:
The “value proposition” displayed by white evangelicals in the 2016 election, and the definition of what constitutes “moral values” and what doesn’t, is inextricably related to the nation’s upcoming demographic shift—the fact that, by the year 2044, the United States is expected to become majority nonwhite. This has significant implications for the wider faith community regarding issues of race. Much more may be at stake than the leader of the Christian foundation was able or willing to recognize.
Here Douglas refers to the leader of a Christian foundation who explained his support of Trump by saying:
… he told me to consider the “moral values”—such as pro-life concerns—that he said prompted, if not demanded, white evangelical support of Donald Trump’s candidacy.
Douglas argues that the evangelicals are heirs to Puritan beliefs:
… the Puritans and Pilgrims crossed the Atlantic with a vision to build a nation that was politically and culturally—if not demographically—true to their “exceptional” Anglo-Saxon heritage.They saw this as a divine vision.
They traced their Anglo-Saxon heritage through the ancient woods of Germany back to the Bible. They considered themselves the “new Israelites,” carrying forth a godly mission. Central to this mission was building not simply an Anglo-Saxon nation but a religious nation—one that reflected the morals and virtues of God, which in their minds were synonymous with the unsullied ways of their freedom-loving Anglo-Saxon ancestors. “The Lord will make [America] a city upon a hill,” Puritan leader John Winthrop preached in 1630, “[with] the eyes of all people upon us.” [Read the full Douglas article here – (click).]
President Ronald Regan spoke of America’s Capitalist Democracy in similar terms, though I hesitate to suggest that he or his speechwriter made the connection. But the notion that America is set apart and above those outside its boundaries is clear.
Dave Shelman, in a letter to the editor of Sojourner Magazine, cautiously observed striking similarities between the Christian support of Hitler and of Trump:
… particularly the ease with which evangelical Christians, in America today and in Germany then, accepted populist movements and their nationalistic programs. In both cases, the populist forces were able to exploit societal anxieties and make a sentimental appeal to a cultural form of Christianity that served its purposes.
The slogan of the Nazified German Christians was “Germany our goal, Christ our power!” Based on a distorted interpretation of Lutheran theology, a group of theologians at the time issued a document, known as the Ansbacher Ratschlag, opposing the Barmen Declaration. It was addressed to the National Socialist Evangelical Union of Pastors and included this statement: “… we as believing Christians thank the Lord God that in this hour of need he has given our people the Fuhrer as a ‘good and faithful sovereign,’ and that in the Nationalistic Socialist state he is endeavoring to provide us with disciplined and honorable ‘good government.’” This distant mirror of attitudes—and even words—that are with us today should give Christians great concern. The vulnerability of the American church did not come about in the presidential election of November 2016. The present political quagmire has only exposed it.
Understanding and taking seriously cultural identity fear is key to understanding why radical conservatives are refractory to reasoned arguments and willing to subordinate their basic morality values for a powerful champion who says he’s with them. It’s about the survival of their personal identity myth.
There are human needs that take on an importance greater than life itself as Paul Chappell asserts when he enumerates the needs that Maslow overlooked. A person’s life and identity are inseparable from the quest to meet these needs. When frustrated, bad behavior happens.
We bond and identify with others to fulfill these needs, and once we bond our values are profoundly intertwined with our social affiliation. Certain conditions foster bonds.
When I consider these factors it’s easier to understand how a group that is bonded by a shared extreme belief becomes refractory to any contrary evidence. When all of those you count as friends are bonded by a shared orthodoxy, it takes super-human self-assurance and courage to break away no matter how implausibly warped the shared perception is. Reality doesn’t change the belief that bonds.
Denial, selective listening, strategic lying, and many other self-destructive (soul-destructive?) behaviors are understandable when seen in this frame.
Here is a TED talk where an ex-skinhead reveals what got him into the movement, and what got him out of it. I think it confirms what I’ve said above. Perhaps it also points to the resolution of our differences.