Sociologist Andrew Whitehead: How Christian nationalism drives American politics - 2020-02-29
In early 2018, after a year of confusion over why Donald Trump had been elected, Clemson sociologist Andrew Whitehead and two colleagues provided compelling evidence — which I wrote about here — that "voting for Trump was, at least for many Americans, a symbolic defense of the United States' perceived Christian heritage." That is, it represented "Christian nationalism," even when controlling for other popular explanations such as "economic dissatisfaction, sexism, anti-black prejudice, anti-Muslim refugee attitudes, and anti-immigrant sentiment." The puzzle of why white evangelicals voted for Trump so overwhelmingly turned out to have a simple explanation: It wasn't their religion that he championed — Trump is conspicuously not a person of faith — but rather its place in society.
Now, Whitehead and one of those colleagues, University of Oklahoma sociologist Samuel Perry, have a new book taking their research approach much further: "Taking America Back for God: Christian Nationalism in the United States." Donald Trump doesn't figure as a central subject in the book, but then, he doesn't have to. By exploring and explaining the power of Christian nationalism, Whitehead and Perry provide one of the best perspectives possible on the 2020 race, and the larger forces that will continue to polarize America for some time to come.
Significantly, the authors explore Christian nationalism's influence on society as a whole — not just on those who embrace it, but on those across the whole spectrum, from adherents to opponents — while not forgetting how extreme its animating vision is. They cite Corey Robin's "The Reactionary Mind" and Jason Stanley's "How Fascism Works," for example, in making the point that while "Christian nationalism seeks to preserve or reinstitute boundaries in the public sphere," its believers are "most desperate" to influence "Americans' private worlds," as is true of "all reactionary movements."