Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

Many white evangelicals stand by Trump because they are more white than evangelical

They have gone from being obsessed with the personal lives of politicians to, basically, not giving a damn.

What has happened to members of the “Moral Majority”? You remember them, right? The conservative evangelicals who helped deliver victories for “born again” Republicans Ronald Reagan and George W Bush and pushed for the impeachment of the philandering Democrat Bill Clinton? How come these “values voters” seem to have lost all their, ahem, values?

Consider the results of two surveys conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI). In 2011, fewer than one in three white evangelical Protestants said an elected official could behave ethically in their public life, if they had committed moral transgressions in their private life.

Yet just five years later, in 2016, more than seven in ten white evangelical Protestants said a politician’s personal morality did not matter to them.

“No group has shifted their position [on this issue] more dramatically than white evangelical Protestants,” observed the PRRI. “Today fewer than half (49 per cent) of white evangelical Protestants say it is very important that a candidate have strong religious beliefs, while nearly two-thirds (64 per cent) expressed this view in 2011.”

US evangelicals have gone from being obsessed with the personal lives of politicians to, basically, not giving a damn. Why? Donald Trump. Evangelicals lined up behind the former reality TV star in their tens of millions. These were not reluctant supporters, opting for the lesser of two evils. They were hardcore fans who cheered at campaign rallies and whose pastors offered full-throated endorsements of Trump.

In January 2016, prominent evangelical Jerry Falwell Jr compared Trump to Christ, claiming the billionaire property tycoon lived “a life of loving and helping others, as Jesus taught”. “You inspire us all,” televangelist Pat Robertson told Trump in February 2016. Franklin Graham, son of renowned evangelist Billy Graham, even suggested that “it was the hand of God” that helped Trump defeat Hillary Clinton.

We can agree to disagree on whether it was the hand of God – or even the hand of Vladimir Putin – that put Trump in the White House but what is beyond doubt is that evangelicals played a major role in his unexpected victory. Eight in ten white evangelical Protestants voted for Trump in 2016. It was a truly remarkable feat: according to a study by Pew, “Trump’s 65-percentage-point margin of victory among voters in this group… matched or exceeded the victory margins of George W Bush in 2004, John McCain in 2008 and Mitt Romney in 2012.”

To call Trump, as a recent Reuters report did, “an unlikely torchbearer for conservative Christians” is an understatement. How is it not anything other than brazen hypocrisy for evangelicals to spend decades demanding politicians live chaste and virtuous lives but then vote en masse for a thrice-married, twice-divorced adulterer and former casino owner who was caught on tape bragging about sexual assault?

How can evangelicals justify accusing Barack Obama, a practising Christian who sang hymns in church, of being a secret Muslim while lavishing praise on his successor, who once admitted to never having asked God for forgiveness for anything?

Remember: Trump once claimed the Bible was his favourite book – but couldn’t name any verses from it. He even referred to the Holy Communion as a time “when I drink my little wine and have my little cracker.” So why, then, did evangelicals pull the lever for Trump and why, crucially, do they continue to back him today?

First, don’t discount their opportunism. Ahead of Trump’s inauguration, Franklin Graham was refreshingly blunt: “It’s not about her emails. It’s not about his bad language. It’s about the Supreme Court… and who do you trust to appoint judges that are going to be in favour of Christian liberty?” Trump has not only appointed Neil Gorsuch, an ultra-conservative, pro-life Episcopalian judge, to the Supreme Court but also signed an executive order reinstating the so-called Mexico City Policy, which bars federal funds from going to international NGOs that perform or “promote” abortions. The former pro-choice donor to the Democratic Party is now giving conservative evangelicals exactly what they want.

Second, don’t discount their partisanship. The vast majority of evangelicals have long identified as Republicans and the vast majority of Republicans voted for Trump on party lines. Polarisation in the United States is at an all-time high and party affiliation was one of the best predictors of support for Trump in 2016.

Third, don’t discount the race factor. Only 35 per cent of non-white evangelicals voted for Trump compared to 59 per cent of non-white evangelicals who voted for Clinton. Jim Wallis, a progressive evangelical pastor and former spiritual adviser to Barack Obama, told me earlier this year that “black evangelicals, Hispanic evangelicals… did not vote for Donald Trump. White evangelicals did… because they were more white than evangelical.”

Despite all this, it would be both unfair to tar all evangelicals with the orange brush of Trumpism. Some, such as Russell Moore, one of America’s most influential evangelicals and a leading figure within the Southern Baptist Convention, have been #NeverTrump from the very beginning.

In a speech ahead of the election, Moore slammed his fellow evangelical leaders who he said had elevated politics above faith and had “waved away some of the most repugnant aspects of immorality” to back their preferred presidential candidate.

“The Religious Right,” Moore warned, “turns out to be the people the Religious Right warned us about.”

Mehdi Hasan is a contributing writer for the New Statesman and the co-author of Ed: The Milibands and the Making of a Labour Leader. He was the New Statesman's senior editor (politics) from 2009-12.

This article first appeared in the 07 December 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Christmas special

SCIENCE AND SOCIETY PICTURE LIBRARY
Show Hide image

A Lab of One’s Own: the forgotten female scientists who shed stereotypes about women’s abilities

Every woman in this book deserves a biography of her own.

You might assume that there’s not much left to be written about the suffragette movement. But what has been ignored is that in the quiet corridors of university science departments, important battles were fought by women whose names were quickly forgotten. They weren’t always high-profile campaigners, but by forcing open the gates to the male-dominated worlds of science and engineering they helped shed stereotypes about women’s abilities.

In A Lab of One’s Own, the Cambridge historian Patricia Fara documents these scientists’ stories, painting a picture of a world that clearly wanted to remain male. It was the First World War that gave women unprecedented access to careers for which they had until then been deemed unsuitable. From all walks of life, they began working in munitions factories, developing chemical weapons (at one point, 90 per cent of industrial chemists were women) and building war machinery, while male scientists were on the battlefield.

These weren’t safe jobs; 200 women producing TNT died from poisoning or accidental explosions. Their achievements were so immense that even the prime minister Herbert Asquith, who opposed female suffrage, was forced to admit that there was hardly a service “in which women have not been at least as active and efficient as men”.

There is understandable anger in Fara’s voice. Despite their skill and dedicated service – often working for less pay than their male counterparts, or none at all – female scientists faced appalling resistance. Women were shunted into the worst roles, mocked for what they wore (trousers or skirts, they could never seem to get it right), and their ideas were ignored. Trade unions fought to protect men, meaning most women went unrepresented, promptly losing their jobs once the war was over.

Again and again, they had to carve out spaces for themselves then battle for the right to keep them. Britain’s scientific societies pulled elaborate tricks to block female members in the first half of the 20th century. One graduate, Emily Lloyd, managed to gain admission to the Royal Institute of Chemistry only by cleverly using the gender-neutral “E Lloyd” to sit the qualifying exam.

But getting through the door was only half the challenge. At Cambridge, men stamped their feet while women walked to their reserved seats at the front of the lecture theatres (imagine how they must have felt when Philippa Fawcett, daughter of the suffragette Millicent Fawcett, beat them all to come top in the Cambridge Mathematical Tripos exams in 1890). Women-only labs were given inferior facilities. Even scientists who worked alongside their husbands sometimes weren’t given credit when their joint work was published.

Every woman in this book deserves a biography of her own. Martha Whiteley, for example, who did pioneering work on mustard gas and wounded her arm when she tested it on herself. And the chemist Dorothea Hoffert, who researched varnish and food before having to give up work when she got married. The personal tales of these remarkable figures could benefit from more spacious storytelling, but as a scholarly account, Fara’s book offers a window into this fascinating chapter of history.

What’s also intriguing is the unease that men felt on seeing women doing “their” jobs. Soldiers worried about “the masculinisation of women” back home. There were fears that uniforms and protective overalls would drain femininity, and that by choosing to study and work rather than reproduce, clever women were depriving the nation of clever babies.

Unsurprisingly then, after the war, things went back swiftly to how they were before. Even in medical schools, where women had made huge strides, “the traditional masculine culture reasserted itself”. Women did win the battle in the end, although the war continues. As Fara makes clear, this was not only through the force of their intellects but also by taking the example of male clubs and forming their own networks. Women’s colleges became hotbeds for campaigning, particularly Newnham in Cambridge. The Women’s Engineering Society, the British Federation of University Women, and others were set up partly to help women fight entrenched efforts to hold them back.

“It is with much interest that we learned a few weeks ago that women chemists in London had formed a Club,” a snobbish editorial in the journal Chemistry and Industry began in 1952. “Most men are clubbable one way or another, but we did not know this was true of women. We wonder if this formation of a Club for women chemists is another sign of female emancipation.”

It was. By banding together and defending their rights, women found a strength that many before the war assumed they would never have. These pioneers not only helped win women the vote, they changed what it meant to be a woman. l

Angela Saini is the author of “Inferior: How Science Got Women Wrong – and the New Research That’s Rewriting the Story” (4th Estate). Patricia Fara will appear at Cambridge Literary Festival, in association with the New Statesman, on Friday 12 April.​

A Lab of One’s Own: Science and Suffrage in the First World War
Patricia Fara
Oxford University Press, 352pp, £18.99

This article first appeared in the 15 February 2018 issue of the New Statesman, The polite extremist