One of the striking features of Donald Trump’s election victory was the overwhelming support he received from white Christians, rising to near-unanimity among white evangelicals, where Trump outpolled all previous Republican candidates. In thinking about the global rise of Trumpism, I’ve been under the impression that the US is a special case, and that the rise of Trumpism in a largely post-religious Europe suggests that the link between Christianism and Trumpism is a spurious correlation.
But, on reading a bit about the Dutch election, I found the suggestion that there is a long tradition of confessional politics in the Netherlands (maybe Ingrid could explain more about this) and that support for the racist PVV is centred on Limburg, and inherited from the formerly dominant Catholic party there. And, re-examining my previous position, it’s obvious that being “largely post-Christian” does not preclude the existence of a large bloc of Christian, and therefore potentially Christianist voters.
So, I’m now thinking that Trumpism can be seen, in large measure, as a reaction by white Christians against the loss of their assumed position as the social norm, against which assertions of rights for anyone else can be seen as identity politics, political correctness and so on. As is usual, as soon as I formed this idea, I found evidence for it everywhere. Obvious cases are Putin and Russian Orthodoxy, the Law and Justice Party in Poland, and Fillon in France. Looking a bit harder, I found that British Christians voted strongly for Brexit. And, in my own backyard, all the Trumpist parties I described in this post (except, I think, Palmer’s) are strongly Christianist.
Of course, there’s nothing distinctively Christian in the actual politics of Trumpism, so the analysis applies equally well to Islamists like Erdogan (and al-Baghdadi for that matter) and Hindu nationalists like Modi. In fact, looking over the recent upsurge of Trumpists, the only counterexample I can find to the analysis is Duterte in the Phillipines, who has been denounced by the Catholic Church and has returned the compliment in spades.
What does this mean for the future of Trumpism?
If religious belief is declining, as it would appear to be in the developed world, this analysis suggests that Trumpism is a symptom of that decline. Moreover, on that view, the repugnant hypocrisy of Trumpism seems likely to accelerate the decline of religion, which in turn will hasten the downfall of Trumpism.
Against that very optimistic view, there’s this study by Pew, projecting an increase in global religious affiliation through 2050, on which I’ve blogged a couple of times previously. I had discussions with some of the authors of this study, which gave me a bit more understanding of how their numbers were derived and how they should be interpreted. I don’t think I’m misrepresenting them, but obviously this is my interpretation not theirs.
The first point is that a projection is not a prediction. It’s an analysis of what would happen if trends observed in the past continue into the future. For predictive purposes, this is useful as a baseline. If you think the future will be different from the projection, it must be because the trends in question will not continue. In the Pew case, the central assumption is that rates of conversion between affilations, observed in the current population will be sustained. For example, if 20 per cent of 30-year olds who were baptised Catholic are now Protestants, we assume that the same will be true of people born Catholic in 2020, when we observe them in 2050.
One immediate consequence of this is that, if a dominant religion has, until now, had 100 per cent affiliation in a given country, the projection method implies 100 per cent affiliation forever. The same is true with multiple religions if their proportions have been stable over time. But, given that until relatively recently, 100 per cent affiliation was the rule, this projection method rules out, by assumption, whatever process has produced the rapid decline of religious belief in many developed countries.
A second problem is that, for reasons of consistency, data for the US is from 2010. So, the model takes no account of the sharp decline in Christian affiliation since then, a decline that has already gone further than the model projections for 2050.
To sum up, I don’t think the Pew projections tell us much one way or the other about whether religious belief in general, and dominant religion identity politics in particular are likely to rise or decline over the next thirty years. Since Trump’s victory, there have been quite a few results going the other way. Let’s hope this continues.