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Supreme Court rules NY prosecutors can access Trump’s financial records
WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court on Thursday ruled New York prosecutors have a right to see President Trump’s tax returns and financial records — serving a major blow to the administration and paving the way for an ugly partisan battle ahead of the November election. The bench voted 7-2 and sided against the president after...
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Trump’s Really Bad Bet
Donald Trump is running for the presidency of an America that no longer exists.Trump in recent weeks has repeatedly reprised two of Richard Nixon’s most memorable rallying cries, promising to deliver “law and order” for the “silent majority.” But in almost every meaningful way, America today is a radically different country than it was when Nixon rode those arguments to win the presidency in 1968 amid widespread anti-war protests, massive civil unrest following the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., white flight from major cities, and rising crime rates. Trump’s attempt to emulate that strategy may only prove how much the country has changed since it succeeded.Americans today are far more racially diverse, less Christian, better educated, more urbanized, and less likely to be married. In polls they are more tolerant of interracial and same-sex relationships, more likely to acknowledge the existence of racial discrimination, and less concerned about crime.Almost all of these changes complicate Trump’s task in trying to rally a winning electoral coalition behind his alarms against marauding “angry mobs,” “far-left fascism,” and “the violent mayhem we have seen in the streets of cities that are run by liberal Democrats.” The Americans he is targeting with his messages of racial resentment and cultural backlash are uniformly a smaller share of American society now than they were then.Not all the country’s changes present headwinds for Trump. The population is older now, and older white voters in particular remain a receptive audience for Trump’s messages of cultural and racial division (even if his mishandling of the coronavirus outbreak has notably softened his support among him). Fifty years ago, Southern evangelicals still mostly leaned toward the Democratic Party; now they have become a pillar of the Republican coalition. And while many Northern white Catholics back then might have recoiled from Trump-style attacks on immigrants as a smear on their own heritage, now “when Trump talks about making America great again,” more of them “see themselves as part of that country that is getting protected,” says Robert P. Jones, the founder and chief executive of the nonpartisan Public Religion Research Institute and the author of White Too Long, a new book on Christian churches and white supremacy.[David Frum: This is Trump’s plague now]Together, those shifts have solidified for Republicans a much more reliable advantage among white voters without a college education than they enjoyed in Nixon’s era. Like Trump, who once declared “I love the poorly educated,” Nixon recognized that he was shifting the GOP’s traditional class basis. On “tough problems, the uneducated are the ones that are with us,” Nixon told his White House advisers, according to David Paul Kuhn’s vivid new book about blue-collar backlash in that era, The Hardhat Riot. “The educated people and the leader class,” Nixon continued, “no longer have any character, and you can’t count on them.”Trump might echo both of those assessments. But he is offering them to a very different audience. The demographic shifts that have most reshaped politics since Nixon’s day sit at the crossroads of race, education, and religion.From the 2016 GOP primaries forward, white voters without a college education have provided Trump’s largest group of loyalists. In the 1968 presidential election, that group comprised nearly 80 percent of all voters, according to post-election surveys by both the Census Bureau and the University of Michigan’s American National Election Studies. White Americans holding at least a four-year college degree represented about 15 percent of voters, with non-whites, almost all of them Black, comprising the remainder, at just under 10 percent. (Emory University political scientist Alan Abramowitz analyzed the ANES data for me.)That electorate is unrecognizable now. The nonpartisan States of Change project has forecast that non-college-educated white Americans will likely constitute 42 percent of voters in November, not much more than half their share in 1968. States of Change anticipates that both college-educated whites and voters of color will represent about 30 percent of voters in 2020. For the former group, that’s about twice their share in 1968; for the latter, that’s somewhere between a three- and four-fold increase.The change is just as dramatic when looking at the nation’s religious composition. White Christians comprised fully 85 percent of all American adults in 1968, according to figures from Gallup, provided to me by senior editor Jeffrey M. Jones. They now represent only half as much of the population, 42 percent, according to PRRI’s latest national figures.The groups that have grown since then reflect the nation’s increasing racial and religious diversity. In 1968, non-white Christians represented only 8 percent of Americans; now that’s tripled to just over 24 percent in the PRRI study. Most explosive has been the growth of those who identify as secular or unaffiliated with any religious tradition. They represented just 3 percent of Americans in 1968; now it’s 24 percent.Other shifts in society’s structure since that era are equally profound. Census Bureau reports show that a much smaller share of adults are married now than they were then. Only about half as many Americans live in small-town or rural communities outside of major metropolitan areas. The share with at least some college experience is about triple its level then.Across all these dimensions, the consistent pattern is this: The groups Trump hopes to mobilize—non-college-educated, non-urban, married, and Christian white voters—have significantly shrunk as a share of the overall society in the last 50 years. The groups most alienated from him include many of the ones that have grown over those decades: college- educated white people, people of color, seculars, singles, and residents of the large metro areas.Trump faces two other big challenges in channeling Nixon. One is that the crime rate, especially the rate of violent crime, doesn’t provide as compelling a backdrop for a law-and-order message as it did during the 1960s. The overall violent-crime rate increased by more than 50 percent just from 1964 to 1968, en route to doubling by the early 1970s. Robberies per person more than doubled between 1960 and 1968. The murder rate soared by 40 percent just between 1964 and 1968; by 1972 it was nearly 85 percent higher than in 1964. In Gallup surveys from September 1968, 13 percent of college-educated white voters, 11 percent of non-college-educated white voters, and 9 percent of non-white voters identified crime as the biggest problem facing the nation.Today, overall crime rates are much lower, a change that’s made possible the revival of central cities around the country. After violent crime peaked in 1991, it declined fairly steadily for about 15 years. It’s proved more volatile over the past decade: The violent-crime rate fell from 2008 to 2014, then rose through 2016 and has dipped again since. As Trump did in 2016, with his dark warnings about “American carnage” following the uptick in crime late in Barack Obama’s second term, he is again using recent findings of elevated murder rates in some cities to raise the specter of Democrats unleashing a new crime surge. “Despite the left-wing sowing chaos in communities all across the country … and the heart breaking murders in Democrat controlled cities like Chicago, New York City, and Atlanta, Joe Biden has turned his back on any semblance of law and order,” the Republican National Committee warned in a press release yesterday morning.But James Alan Fox, a criminologist at Northeastern University, said that any crime spikes this year amount to “short-term fluctuation [in] a long-term trend” toward greater safety. “We’ve enjoyed, really since the early 1990s, a decline in crime,” he told me. “From year to year, some cities see decreases, some see increases, [but] there’s no crime wave … although Trump may want to construct one—a trumped-up one.”Though polls generally show concern about crime hasn’t fallen as fast as crime itself, Americans haven’t entirely missed this long-term trajectory: In June Gallup polling, just 3 percent of adults cited crime as the nation’s top problem, far less than in 1968.Trump’s other big obstacle is that racial attitudes have shifted since then. That’s partly because people of color represent such a larger share of American society. But it’s also because college-educated and secular white Americans, who tend to hold more inclusive views on racial issues than non-college-educated and Christian whites, are also a bigger portion of the white population. Gallup polling in 1968 consistently documented a high level of white anxiety about the pace of racial change: Almost half of white Americans said the federal government was moving too fast to promote integration; two-thirds said Black people did not face discrimination in hiring; and, most strikingly, a bristling three-fifths majority supported a policy of shooting looters on sight during riots. On each front, college-educated white people were less likely to express conservative views than those without degrees, but even they split about evenly on these questions.[Read: The rage unifying boomers and Gen Z]A half-century later, racism remains ever-present in America. But many more white people appear willing to acknowledge its persistence, especially in the national debate that has followed the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. A recent Monmouth poll found that most white people now agree police are more likely to use deadly force against African Americans, while CNN found that most whites agree the criminal-justice system is biased. And while Trump has called Black Lives Matter “a symbol of hate,” three-fifths of white people expressed support for the movement in a June Pew Research Center poll. White people with a college degree were consistently more likely than those without one to express such liberal views on race, but these perspectives claimed significant support among non-college white Americans as well.Those attitudes point toward a final key difference from 1968. Back then, many anxious white voters genuinely believed Nixon could deliver law and order; but today, many white Americans, especially those with degrees, have concluded that Trump himself is increasing the risk of lawlessness and disorder. In one particularly striking result, Quinnipiac University last month found that college-educated white people were twice as likely to say that having Trump as president made them feel less safe rather than more safe. That’s a very different equation than Nixon faced: Though he may have considered “the uneducated” the most receptive audience for his hardline messages, he overwhelmingly won college-educated white voters too, carrying about two-thirds of them in both of his victories, according to the ANES. Some recent polls have shown Trump carrying only one-third of them now.Trump still has an audience for his neo-Nixonian warnings about an approaching wave of disorder: In that same Quinnipiac survey, a solid plurality of white voters without a degree said they feel more safe with Trump as president (even though many blue-collar whites have also expressed unease about his response to the protests). In a PRRI poll last year, majorities of white Protestants, Catholics, and especially evangelicals said discrimination against white people was as big a problem as bias against minorities. Yet both these groups—working-class and Christian white voters—will each likely comprise only about half as many of the voters in November as they did when Nixon prevailed five decades ago.Those numbers won’t become any more favorable for Republicans in the years ahead: While white Americans accounted for four-fifths of the nation’s total population growth from 1960 through 1968, Frey noted in a recent report that all of the nation’s population growth since 2010 has been among people of color; the final 2020 Census, he concludes, will likely find that this has been the first decade ever when the absolute number of white people in the country declines. The shift in the nation’s religious composition is as unrelenting: Jones says that the share of adults in their twenties who identify as secular grew from 10 percent in 1986 to 20 percent in 1996 to nearly 40 percent in PRRI’s latest study. Only one-fourth of adults younger than 30 now identify as white Christians.Trump hopes that reprising Nixon-style messages about disorder will allow him to mobilize massive margins and turnout among the white voters who feel threatened by these changes. But the country’s underlying evolution shows how narrow a path Trump has chosen. He is betting the Republican future on resurrecting a past that is dissolving before his eyes.
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Is evangelical support for Trump a contradiction?
Fran Flynn (C) prays during the “Evangelicals for Trump” campaign event held at the King Jesus International Ministry as they await the arrival of President Trump on January 3, 2020, in Miami, Florida. The rally was announced after a December editorial published in Christianity Today called for President Trump’s removal from office. | Joe Raedle/Getty Images A religious historian explains why Trump wasn’t a trade-off for American evangelicals. In early June, President Trump had federal officers use tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse a peaceful protest so he could stage a photo op outside St. John’s Church, which sits across from the White House. The image, now infamous, shows Trump awkwardly holding up the Bible as though he’s never held a book in his life. It’s a surreal shot that somehow captures the performative dimension of his entire presidency. But why the Bible? And why go through all that trouble to do the photo op in front of a church? It’s well-known that evangelicals are one of Trump’s most loyal constituencies, but it’s still not clear why. Conventional wisdom says that evangelicals held their noses and voted for Trump purely for pragmatic purposes — the biggest reason being the Supreme Court. They may not like him, the argument goes, but he’s a useful political vehicle. (See, for example, the Court’s decision on Wednesday that allows the Trump administration to expand religious exemptions for employers who object to the Affordable Care Act’s contraceptive mandate.) But what if Trump wasn’t a trade-off for evangelicals? What if an obsession with manhood and toughness made a figure like Trump the natural fulfillment of their political evolution? This is the argument Kristin Kobes Du Mez, a historian at Calvin University, makes in her new book Jesus and John Wayne. According to Du Mez, evangelical leaders have spent decades using the tools of pop culture — films, music, television, and the internet — to grow the movement. The result, she says, is a Christianity that mirrors that culture. Instead of modeling their lives on Christ, evangelicals have made heroes of people like John Wayne and Mel Gibson, people who project a more militant and more nationalist image. In that sense, Trump’s strongman shtick is a near-perfect expression of their values. To be candid, I wasn’t sure what to make of this thesis, but I’m also not an authority on American evangelicalism. So I contacted Du Mez, who teaches at a Christian college and has spent 15 years studying evangelicals, to talk about the direction of the movement and how it led to Trump and what she calls our “fractured political moment.” A lightly edited transcript of our conversation follows. Sean Illing The contrarian argument at the core of your book is that the relationship between Trump and (mostly white) evangelicals is more harmonious than most people suggest. Can you sum up your thesis? Kristin Kobes Du Mez Well, there are all these theories that evangelicals were holding their noses when they voted for Trump, that they were somehow betraying their values. But I’ve studied evangelicals for a long time and I was watching them very closely during the election and in the aftermath, and I just didn’t see any regrets at all. There was no angst or no sense that this was somehow a difficult trade-off. In fact, what I saw was a bunch of enthusiasm. There were some evangelical leaders who were expressing caution about Trump, but most of the rank and file had zero difficulty supporting Trump. Sean Illing And when did that become clear to you? Kristin Kobes Du Mez I’d say right around the time the Access Hollywood tapes were released — that’s when it crystallized for me. So we had these tapes where Trump is talking about sexually assaulting women in such crass terms. And the media really homed in on white evangelicals at that moment, asking if this was a bridge too far. Although there was a little hesitation here and there from evangelicals, about a week later they were all back on board. Sean Illing I know you teach at a Christian university, but did you grow up in the evangelical world? Do you know it from personal experience? Kristin Kobes Du Mez I didn’t identify as an evangelical growing up, but most evangelicals don’t. We tend to identify as Christians. Looking back, though, I would probably define myself as evangelical-adjacent. I grew up in a small town in Iowa, and this was very much a part of my world. As I grew up, I was exposed to this evangelical popular culture through our local bookstore, the only bookstore in town. The shelves were filled with these evangelical books, with Christian contemporary music and Christian movies. I was in a Christian youth group. And so my experience with evangelicalism was through the popular culture. Sean Illing Help me understand why masculinity and nationalism are so foundational to the contemporary evangelical worldview. Kristin Kobes Du Mez What I look to as a historian is this critical period in the post-World War II era when these gender ideals fuse with anti-communist ideology and this overarching desire to defend Christian America. The idea that takes root during this period is that Christian masculinity, Christian men, are the only thing that can protect America from godless communism. At the same time, you have the civil rights movement destabilizing white evangelicalism and conceptions of white masculinity. Then you have feminism destabilizing traditional masculinity. And all of this comes together for evangelicals, who see their place in the culture slipping away, and they see their political power starting to erode because of this cultural displacement. That’s the moment when you see Christian nationalism linking together with a very militant conception of Christian manhood, because it’s up to the Christian man to defend his family against all sorts of domestic dangers in the culture wars, and also to defend Christian America against communists and against military threats. Sean Illing So the idea is that Christian masculinity is the only thing that can preserve traditional American culture and that belief is what precipitates the turn toward a more muscular Christianity? Kristin Kobes Du Mez That’s exactly right. So when you think of evangelicals, a lot of people think of the term “family values.” But I actually went back to the origins of family values evangelicalism and I was really surprised just how much it was placed in the context of foreign policy, how much it was in the service of defending the American nation. If you go back and listen to James Dobson of Focus on the Family and read the books that emerged during this period, this is all very clear. Sean Illing The phrase “family values” is typically hurled at evangelicals in order to call out their hypocrisy, but I think your book makes pretty clear that they’re not hypocrites at all. They only appear hypocritical if you misunderstand what they actually value. Kristin Kobes Du Mez Exactly. If you understand what family values evangelicalism has always entailed — and at the very heart of it is white patriarchy, and often a militant white patriarchy — then suddenly, all sorts of evangelical political positions and cultural positions fall into place. So evangelicals are not acting against their deeply held values when they elect Trump; they’re affirming them. Their actual views on immigration policy, on torture, on gun control, on Black Lives Matter and police brutality — they all line up pretty closely with Trump’s. These are their values, and Trump represents them. Sean Illing I’d like to steelman the evangelical perspective, so can you tell me what cultural forces they’re reacting against? Kristin Kobes Du Mez Well, it changes over time. In the ’40s and ’50s, it’s all about anti-communism. But once the civil rights revolution takes hold, it becomes about defending the stability of the traditional social order against all the cultural revolutions of the ’60s. But the really interesting moment for me is in the early ’90s when the Cold War comes to an end. You would think there would be a kind of resetting after the great enemy had been vanquished, but that’s not what happened. Instead, we get the modern culture wars over sex and gender identity and all the rest. And then 9/11 happens and Islam becomes the new major threat. So it’s always shifting, and at a certain point I started asking the question, particularly post-9/11, what comes first here? Is it the fear of modern change, of whatever’s happening in the moment? Or were evangelical leaders actively seeking out those threats and stoking fear in order to maintain their militancy, to maintain their power? Sean Illing So this drift into a more militant and nationalist Christianity leads to this obsession with toughness and machismo. The way you put it is that evangelicals are looking for “spiritual badasses.” They don’t want gentle Jesus, they want William Wallace or John Wayne. Kristin Kobes Du Mez Yeah, these are their role models. Most white evangelical men that I knew during the height of this movement, which is really the early 2000s, were very militant. They were buying these hypermasculine books and taking part in these men’s reading groups. They weren’t living out this rugged, violent lifestyle, except maybe at weekend retreats where they role-played this stuff. But in real life, they were still walking around in khakis and polo shirts, but these were the values that were really animating their worldview. Sean Illing Wait, are there weekend retreats where evangelical men are role-playing Braveheart? Kristin Kobes Du Mez I don’t know about that in particular, but this is very much a thing. The success of John Eldredge’s book Wild at Heart [a huge bestseller that urged young Christian men to reclaim their masculinity]was a big deal in the evangelical world, and it sold millions of copies just in the US. Every college Christian men’s group was reading this. It was everywhere in the early 2000s. There were lots of conferences celebrating this version of a rugged Christianity. It was big business, and there were lots of weekend retreats where men could go out into the wilderness and practice their masculinity. Local churches invented their own versions of this. One church I know in Washington had their own local Braveheart games that involves wrestling with pigs or something. It was all weird and different, but the point was to prove and express your masculinity. Sean Illing Is this fascination with manhood unique to evangelical culture in particular? Or is this something you find in other Christian subcultures? Kristin Kobes Du Mez The emphasis on strict “gender difference” and perceived need to “define” Christian manhood is far greater in conservative white evangelicalism than in other Christian subcultures. White evangelicals also stand out in terms of their emphasis on militancy and their conceptions of masculinity, and in how that militant masculinity is connected to Christian nationalism. In Black Protestantism, for example, you may find an emphasis on Christian manhood, but you’re much more likely to encounter discussions of fatherhood rather than a militant warrior masculinity. In mainline Protestantism you’ll be more likely to encounter a kinder, gentler masculinity — more of the Mr. Rogers sort. (Militant white evangelical masculinity explicitly denounces Mr. Rogers’s model of manhood.) That said, evangelical constructions of masculinity have made inroads into mainline circles largely via popular culture (many mainline churches use evangelical literature in their small-group Bible studies, for example), so the lines between white evangelical and mainline Christianity are not always all that clearly drawn. Sean Illing There’s a lot going on there, but I’ll bring this back to Trump. Do most evangelicals consider him a spiritual badass? Kristin Kobes Du Mez For many he’s not, but he is their great protector. He’s their strongman that God has given them to protect them. So, again, the ends justify the means here. But I think it’s important to understand that the appeal of Trump to evangelicals isn’t surprising at all, because their own faith tradition has long embraced this idea of a ruthless masculine protector. This is just the way that God works and the way that God has designed men. He filled them with testosterone so that they can fight. So there’s just much less of a conflict there. The most common thing that I hear from white evangelicals defending Trump is that they just wish he would tweet less. I don’t find a lot of concern about his actual policies or what’s in his heart. Sean Illing I don’t understand how a draft-dodging, spray-tanned hypochondriac has become a hypermasculine protector for militant evangelicals — Kristin Kobes Du Mez I mean, that’s fair, but you have to remember that their whole idea of militant masculinity was formed in reaction against feminism and more recently against so-called political correctness. That has been just such a powerful enemy for white evangelicals who feel oppressed by these new standards of behavior. And I think Trump really succeeds by not following any of those rules of civil discourse. Sean Illing If most evangelicals are taking their moral and political cues from Trump or the Duck Dynasty clan or from Christian radio and television, haven’t we crossed over into something post-religious, something closer to a lifestyle or a cultural pose? Kristin Kobes Du Mez I think we have. But I will say there is still diversity within evangelical churches, communities, and families. There are so many evangelicals who read their Bible every morning, who hold to scriptural teachings as they understand them. But for many of them, the Bible is a complicated book. Which verses do you hold on to as formative for your life, and which do you dismiss? Many are reading through the filter of this ideology now. But I’ve encountered lots of evangelicals who don’t want to speak out, who feel a lot of pressure within their own communities. This is not what their faith means to them, this is not what Christianity is to them. So when we talk about white evangelicals, we should acknowledge that there is disagreement within churches and communities and families, but it’s true that a solid majority of white evangelicals have bought into this ideology. Sean Illing One of the most interesting threads in your book is this story about how evangelical leaders have tried to modernize the church by using pop culture to lure people in, but over time the pop culture has completely supplanted the theology and all that’s left is the vacuous political brand. Kristin Kobes Du Mez I teach at a Christian university, so the majority of my students would fit into this category of white evangelicals. And just this past year, I was teaching a course where it involved reading the first three chapters of Genesis. It was about biblical gender roles and taking a critical look. And at one point during our discussion, one woman raised her hand and said, “I have a confession to make. I think this is the first time I’ve actually read the first three chapters of Genesis ... I’ve been working with the VeggieTales stories and I assumed I knew this, so I didn’t bother with the Bible.” [VeggieTales is a Christian animated series for kids that uses pop culture to retell biblical stories.] She was so embarrassed to confess that, but then several other students confessed to the same thing. So this is the evangelical culture these kids have been raised in. They listen to pop Christian music on the radio. They read the pop Christian books. They watch Focus on the Family children’s programming. They watch VeggieTales cartoons. And Christian parents are told to keep their kids away from the broader secular culture, so it’s also very insular. They stick to the Christian version of it. That’s the only theology they know. Sean Illing This is really a story about a religious movement getting entangled with politics and consumerism and being bastardized as a result of the collision. Kristin Kobes Du Mez I think that’s right, and there’s a lot of money to be made through the book sales, the advertising, and the connections between the political strategists and some of the folks behind this consumer market. What I really tried to do here is just understand the networks behind American evangelicalism. Who is publishing what? What are the distribution networks? It’s critical to understand evangelicalism through this lens. Even when someone walks into a Christian book store or goes online and orders a Christian product, that feels like an authentic expression of their faith to them. Sean Illing I hear people say all the time that Trump’s election was a tragedy for evangelicals, but after reading your book, I wonder if it isn’t their greatest victory. Kristin Kobes Du Mez It depends on your vantage point, right? I’ve been studying evangelical masculinity for almost 15 years and seeing the veil ripped off in this way was almost cathartic for me. I was able to see the nature of the movement with even more clarity. This is what “family values” evangelicalism looks like and now it’s apparent to everyone. But for evangelical dissenters, this is indeed a tragedy. And yet I think even those who are resisting, or who are calling this out and who are struggling with the direction that evangelicalism has taken, still need to reckon with the ways in which they, too, as part of this tradition, have been complicit in this ideology. The Trump era didn’t just happen. We’ve been moving in this direction for a long time. Support Vox’s explanatory journalism Every day at Vox, we aim to answer your most important questions and provide you, and our audience around the world, with information that has the power to save lives. Our mission has never been more vital than it is in this moment: to empower you through understanding. Vox’s work is reaching more people than ever, but our distinctive brand of explanatory journalism takes resources — particularly during a pandemic and an economic downturn. Your financial contribution will not constitute a donation, but it will enable our staff to continue to offer free articles, videos, and podcasts at the quality and volume that this moment requires. Please consider making a contribution to Vox today.
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