The Tyranny of the Minority

One common feature of authoritarian societies that there is a core group of supporters who view themselves as a minority under existential threat. This group will serve as the anchor point for authoritarians. That doesn’t mean individuals within that group can oppose the authoritarian, but most people in that group will support the authoritarian because failure to do so could lead to calamity. Which brings us to this observation about the recent U.S. election (boldface mine):

But much of the Trump 2020 phenomenon can be explained by a far simpler way of looking at the electorate: There are White evangelical Christians — and there is everybody else.

White evangelicals are only 15 percent of the population, but their share of the electorate was 28 percent, according to Edison Research exit polling, and 23 percent, according to the Associated Press version. Though exit polls are imprecise, it seems clear that White evangelicals maintained the roughly 26 percent proportion of the electorate they’ve occupied since 2008, even though their proportion of the population has steadily shrunk from 21 percent in 2008.

This means White evangelicals turned out in mind-boggling numbers. Because they maintained their roughly 80 percent support for Republicans (76 percent and 81 percent in the two exit polls) of recent years, it also means some 40 percent of Trump voters came from a group that is only 15 percent of America.

White evangelicals have, in effect, skewed the electorate by masking the rise of a young, multiracial and largely secular voting population. The White evangelicals’ overperformance also shows, unfortunately, why the racist appeal Trump made in this campaign was effective. White evangelicals were fired up like no other group by Trump’s encouragement of white supremacy.

A Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary graduate who now runs the Public Religion Research Institute, Robert P. Jones, argues that Trump inspired White Christians, “not despite, but through appeals to white supremacy,” attracting them not because of economics or morality, “but rather that he evoked powerful fears about the loss of White Christian dominance.”

While the left focuses on the racism, it seems to mostly ignore the role of religion, which means we are missing the problem. There is a small ethnic and religious minority which feels existentially threatened*, and which forms the core of one of the two major political parties. Before anyone brings up Black voters, they compromise a smidgen under twenty percent of the national Democratic electorate and their role isn’t nearly as prominent–though Black voters are clustered in certain states and regions.

That clustering is important, when thinking about Republican politics: large swathes of the Republican landscape are dominated by white evangelicals–there will be districts where they are the majority of Republicans, overemphasizing their power within the party. Due to various structural factors (e.g., the Senate), this powerful minority within the Republican Party, now has considerable power over the nation as a whole.

Unfortunately, this isn’t politically sustainable: a small minority can’t continue to dominate without a political backlash (if one is lucky, it is only a political backlash). At some point, the inability to meet the majority’s problems will break Republicans, but the question is how much damage must the rest of us suffer before that point.

*Admittedly, for absurd reasons, but that doesn’t deny the power of those reasons.

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10 Responses to The Tyranny of the Minority

  1. Strange says:

    Yes, yes, but fails to explain the expansion of the Trump electorate in 2020. Latinos voted for Trump for chrissakes. Many millions of non-evangelicals were drawn to Trump’s message. Easy to see how horrible the GOP is rn, and yes, the evangelicals are a chunk of his coalition, but the Democratic party needs to reckon on why Dems remaint an unattractive option for so many.

  2. I live in the South– there’s a pretty big overlap between evangelical and racist.

    When you focus on VOTERS and people who VOTE and say that black people don’t matter, and we need to focus on getting progressive messages out to racists instead of making it so that people who believe in the message are actually able to vote… you sound kind of racist. I know I’m not going to change your mind, but you really ARE part of the problem, and with all these anti-Black/anti-women posts, you’re say that me pointing it out is me being part of the problem because somehow people like me are making people like you want to vote for white male racists. But, I think deep down, maybe you already do.

    So, no, I’d rather focus on enfranchisement than on your feefees, and the feefees of the “less educated white racist evangelicals” you’re so afraid of upsetting. If you really want to change how they vote, then get some legislation passed against propoganda on network television, radio, and major internet sites.

  3. Min says:

    As Jones’s current research indicates, being a White Christian now in America is an indicator of being racist. Both non-White Christians and White non-Christians in America are not particularly racist. I grew up in the Bible Belt during American Apartheid and then White Southerners were nearly all racist. Still, we talked about WASPs (White Anglo-Saxon Protestants), who were the dominant ethnic group in the U.S. at that time. That being the case, I was surprised that Jones does not seem to use the term. So I did a quick internet search, and discovered that Whites who rioted against Negroes around 1900 referred to themselves as Anglo-Saxons. So that association seems to go way back.

    Even the racist adults when I was growing up no longer believed that the sons of Noah were the progenitors of the different races, nor that Genesis decreed that the Children of Ham should serve the Children of Japeth. I have since heard that some modern White Christian racists believe that Blacks are the descendants of Cain, and that their blood is thereby tainted. So I am at a loss as to why among American Whites Christianity is so strongly associated with racism. But so it seems to be.

    As for Hispanics in Florida voting for Trump, many of them either fled Communist Cuba or their parents or grandparents did, and they believe that Democrats are socialists. And a large number of Hispanics in Texas and New Mexico, and probably Arizona, it seems to me, do not consider themselves to be anything but White. The presumed Majority Minority demographic shift is not as close and many people believe.

    • Wow! I was just thinking the other day how you never hear the term WASP anymore. When I was coming up, I was white but not a WASP. Lots of us were non-WASPs. Now we’re all WHITE, no matter what our ethnic background is.

      There used to be a LOT of white-against-white prejudices when I was growing up. Not so much anymore. Now it’s white against black/people-of-color or wealth against poor. I heard a (rich, white) landlord spouting off that all poor people should be slaves to the rich. If they couldn’t find a job, they “owed” their lives & labor to whoever could use them. He was NOT joking.

  4. ElHongo says:

    “While the left focuses on the racism, it seems to mostly ignore the role of religion, which means we are missing the problem.”

    Maybe not quite. At least over here in Europe, it’s a generational thing. The Old Left tends to believe there is no discrimination that is not class based, hence their stance on racism and sexism is actually not so far from the radical right’s. Also there’s quite a bunch of them – not a majority, but a significant minority – who are prone to AGW denial, anti-vaxxery, Covid denial etc. New Right/neofascist parties like FN/RN, AfD, UKIP etc have used this leverage well.

    I wouldn’t expect it to be as common in the US, which does not have a marked Old Left tradition (and neither is FFF as prominent as in Europe), but still – the Cold War leftists generally tend to be not very scientifically minded; certainly so when compared to the climate change generation. That outlook surely effects their stance on racism as well as on religion; post-desegregation leftists in the US I’d expect to be largely apathetic on both counts, while post-millennial leftists are actively concerned about racism; their rejection of religious fundamentalism is more passive OTOH.
    Maybe that’s due to notable “New Atheists” pulling no punches when it comes to “owning the libs” in a vain attempt to establish something like an Unreligious Right, until their movement turned into yet another “New Religion”-like cult and strongly gravitated to the right (or the “radical center”, Libertarianism). “Secular humanists” OTOH tend not to proselytize. Not even in Europe – maybe with the exception of France, surely with the exception of Poland, which are both Catholic-dominated though – does religion or its rejection readily lend itself to be made into a public issue as racism does, as far as non-Muslims are concerned.
    But at the core, there is a connection. Racists and Evangelicals are nurtured from the same cesspool of superstition and anti-science; this is, if anything, more true today than in Jimmy Carter’s days.

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