The CEO of the Public Religion Research Institute offered his own explanation for the strong support of presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump among white evangelical voters.
Robert P. Jones’ book, "The End of White Christian America," describes demographic and cultural shifts in the U.S. that he says are linked to the rise of Trump’s candidacy. In an interview with Linda Wertheimer for NPR’s "Weekend Edition Politics" radio segment, Jones discussed the main points of his book and its connection to the 2016 presidential campaign.
Jones explained that his use of the term “Christian America” is bigger than just demographics. “I use it as a metaphor really for this whole cultural world that was built by white Protestants all the way back from the founding of the country,” he tells Wertheimer, calling this cultural world “a kind of civic glue” that held the country in place.
Jones identified the “golden age” of White Christian America as the 1950s, propelled by the victorious end of the World War II and before the political and social unrest of the following decade.
In an article for The Atlantic, Jones cited census data that indicates the U.S. is expected to no longer be a majority-white nation within a few decades. The number of Americans that identify themselves as Christian is decreasing, and younger people are more likely to be religiously unaffiliated. Most importantly, Jones claims white Christian society has lost the grasp is once had over American social and political values.
Wertheimer asked Jones what he called "the question" of the campaign: how evangelicals have come out so strongly in support of Donald Trump. “I mean, this is a man who had married three times, who owns gambling businesses. He would not appear to be their kind of guy,” Wertheimer noted.
Jones said the answer was encapsulated by Trump’s campaign slogan, “make America great again.” He told Wertheimer, “the most important piece of that is that last word, again, this harkening back,” a representation of Trump’s promises to white Evangelicals that he would “turn back the clock.”
In an opinion piece for The New York Times, Jones says this general slogan has a particular meaning to voters who noticed the “curtain was coming down on the era of white Protestant dominance.”
“Trump’s ascendancy has turned the 2016 election into a referendum on the death of white Christian America, with the candidate appealing strongly to those who are most grieving this loss.”