In which we consider the results of the American Presidential election, and what they might mean.
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Posted by Matthew Lee Anderson

Matthew Lee Anderson is the Founder and Lead Writer of Mere Orthodoxy. He is the author of Earthen Vessels: Why Our Bodies Matter to our Faith and The End of Our Exploring: A Book about Questioning and the Confidence of Faith. Follow him on Twitter or on Facebook.

  • Greg Smith

    I feel like you guys missed a key element in your post-election discussion. In the weeks leading up to the election, I became more and more certain that Trump would win. I woke up Wednesday morning shocked, not by the election results but by the almost universal surprise in the media that Clinton had lost. What I think you missed was the power of a populist movement. This is the same thing I feel happened with Brexit. People felt they were losing control of their government, that it was dominating them against their will. As an American, this was my sense about Brexit though I will admit I did not have a certain feeling about that.
    But this is almost certainly the case with Trump. I think this came in two stages and that it was difficult to overlook. First, the fact that Trump led the Republican race from the beginning demonstrated that the Republican rank and file were disgusted with the status quo leadership of the party. The RINOs in Washington have foisted their will upon the party for so long that a large enough populist coalition formed to get Trump the nomination. This is a clear slap in the face to the Republican establishment and they need to rethink their ways in the future.
    The second stage was the general election which served the same purpose to the national political agenda forced upon us for the last eight years, perhaps the last twelve. This was a complete repudiation of the last year of Bush’s presidency and, especially, the Obama presidency which has ruled against the will of the majority from the beginning.
    There are three things we know about populist movements. First, they are powerful. The people have spoken on the populist level in Great Britain and the nation will change because of it. The people have also spoken in America’s recent election and there will be great change coming. Second, populist movements are rare. Powerlessness has to spread across a majority of disparate viewpoints to pull these groups together so they act in unity. This cannot happen often. Which brings us to the third point, populist movements do not last. People will be expecting Trump to make some big changes. If he does so, this may last through the midterm elections but certainly not to 2020. Populist movements cannot be held together.
    As a group you seemed concerned about racial tensions rising. It is probably true that all the racists voted for Trump. But this does not mean that everyone who voted for Trump is a racist. It also does not mean that racist policies will prevail and I do not think they will. However, it is interesting to note that with the election of Obama, many thought the racial divide in this country would go a long way to being healed. Instead, no one can rightly deny that it has gotten far, far worse during his presidency.
    I am not a Trump supporter. I woke up Wednesday morning overjoyed that Clinton had lost the election. But I was also sad that Trump had won. From my perspective we had to choose between a horrible candidate (Trump) and a worse candidate (Clinton). It is difficult to see this as a victory but I actually have more hope than if the election turned out the other way.

    • Thanks for the comment.

      You said: “As a group you seemed concerned about racial tensions rising. It is probably true that all the racists voted for Trump. But this does not mean that everyone who voted for Trump is a racist. It also does not mean that racist policies will prevail and I do not think they will. However, it is interesting to note that with the election of Obama, many thought the racial divide in this country would go a long way to being healed. Instead, no one can rightly deny that it has gotten far, far worse during his presidency.”

      To be clear, I certainly am well aware that neither of the implications you name follow from the concern about the role race played in this election, and could play the next four years. If I remember correctly, none of us drew those conclusions, nor do they follow from anything that we said.

      I know you’re thinking out loud there. But the baseline presumption in this cycle for many readers has been that anyone who does not make that distinction explicit must actually believe they follow. I don’t, and I’m confident I can speak for everyone else on the show as well.

      Matt

      • James McClain

        I take it that each member of the panel has a generous view regarding those that voted Trump but recognize they are not necessarily racially bigoted. The measured tones are much appreciated in an age of shriek. What caught my attention was the statement by Derek (about 25 min. in) that, though these folks voting Trump may not have been explicitly racist, they just didn’t “care enough”. This, of course, assumes that a person, by virtue of casting a vote, actually believes that this vote has anything fundamentally significant to do with race. To many, Trump’s reckless rhetoric was so much bloviation, and they fear no setback to anyone on the basis of race because of this election outcome. They could be wrong. The assertion that there is a straight line inference with respect to this man’s election and turning back the clock on race relations is continually made, but to suggest it has anything to do with a typical voter’s reasons for pulling the lever is assuming much. I live in the middle of red state and, aside from typical partisanship, I believe it is a fair observation that this presidential election cycle represented – far and away beyond any given issue – a repudiation of HRC. Besides a few outliers from the alt right re. race (and why do they garner as much attention as they get anyway?), the most visceral reactions to this election for those who voted Trump were to the effect of something like “Bam! That woman is not my president!” So, are these folks at least insensitive with respect to race? Maybe, maybe not. Attempting to divine that type of intention in this election cycle strikes me as a stretch, given the parties involved and the perceived stakes. Thanks for the show, and keep them coming.

        • To be clear, I was sharpening the question in a way that I have heard before, not stating my own position on that.

    • Alastair J Roberts

      Thanks for the comment, Greg.

      I agree with Matt here. I would also remark that both Matt and I have remarked upon the populist dynamics of the American election and Brexit at length at various points. Of my discussions of this, see, for instance, this (which I wrote about Trump back in January, arguing that Trump support shouldn’t be simplistically attributed to racism), this (on the dynamics behind Brexit), and this (on the breakdown of trust within contemporary populist movements).

      • Greg Smith

        This may be. I was only referring to the post election podcast. I have not heard these earlier comments yet. Still working my way through the archives.

  • Greg Smith

    My main point in my earlier comment was not about race. It was about how people feel they are losing control of their government and I think this is so not just in the US but throughout the western world. Voting for things like Brexit and Trump is a way for the average citizen to let government know it is overstepping its authority in by forcing upon the nation things the nation does not want. Building up to the next French election looks like the right is gaining the ascendancy. I think people are tired of the nanny state.

    • Joe Stocker

      Nativism is an inevitable response to only confronting the human foibles of one group of people (whites). The majority bloc are now playing the same identity politics game as minorities.It’s still a political and spiritual dead end though.

      Hopefully, “gospel Christian” churches will be welcoming places for deplorables. Everyone needs the gospel.

  • Physiocrat

    I think an interesting avenue of discussion would have been why some blacks and Hispanics voted for Trump , I doubt they were all evangelicals voting on the basis of the SCOTUS as such your reading of increased racial tensions seem inflated. In fact he secured more votes than were expected from such demographics. Also of note, proportionally more white women voted for Trump so their either their misogyny radar was faulty or again the whole misogyny issue was overblown. I wonder if everyone would go on about how divided the country is if Hilary had won- I bet no-one would have even thought of mentioning it, same with Brexit.

    Also Jeff Sessions is not Voldemort, you can mention his name.

    • Joe Stocker

      The (liberal) assumption is that blacks and Hispanics are open border progressives rather than nativists. Trump is less racist than everyone thinks in that he understood that blacks and Hispanics are people first and blacks and Hispanics second – and will vote (although not in large numbers) for a ‘protectionist’ candidate.

      The people who were inclined to vote for Trump for other reasons didn’t care about his grab a pussy “misogyny”. All of that language policing was pointless and if NeverTrumpers had ignored it and focused entirely on his more obvious faults – well… he wouldn’t be President.

      • “The people who were inclined to vote for Trump for other reasons didn’t care about his grab a pussy “misogyny”. All of that language policing was pointless and if NeverTrumpers had ignored it and focused entirely on his more obvious faults – well… he wouldn’t be President.”

        LOL. Right, because #nevertrumpers *didn’t* focus on his “more obvious faults.” Golly, I wish I had realized it at the time. Why did I never write about any of his other problems?! I see the light now, Joe. Oh do I ever.

        But hey, it’s good to see “language policing” has replaced “virtue signaling.” That’s progress, I guess. It must be fun inventing new ways to explain away genuine, morally motivated objections to a person’s (confessed) behavior.

        • I mean, let’s even apply the facile framework that has become the rationalizer du jour by Trump supporters, namely that we are supposed to take what he says “seriously” but not “literally.” Even then, we could take what he says *seriously* as revealing a kind of misogyny, even if he *literally* didn’t do what he said he did.

          But hey, I bet if #nevertrumpers had brought that line of argument out, the goalposts would have shifted and we’d be accused of “tone policing” rather than “language policing.”

          And so our public moral discourse dies at the hands of those who really should know better. (Oops, more “virtue signaling,” I suppose!)

          • I have no idea why you returned to the thesis that people didn’t vote for him *because* he’s a racist. I have never once, ever, said that was why people were voting for him.

          • hoosier_bob

            I’m with Joe on this one. As a child of the Rust Belt, it’s quite clear to me why many people voted for him. And while I didn’t vote for him, his election doesn’t bother me too much. In my view, Trump was far better than any other GOP candidate besides Kasich. Besides, it’s nice to see “checklist conservatism” suffer self-destruction.

          • Joe Stocker

            I’m not responding to just the things you have written. Plenty of commentators were (and still are) pushing the racist/sexist/ism explanation (and there is an element of truth in it).

            My references “virtue signalling” and “language policing” have clearly upset you – so this will be my last Trump comment.

        • Joe Stocker

          On the topic of language… why don’t I take your snark as genuine enmity? Because the great body of your work shows that you are a gracious person.

          The majority of people (including the infamous 80% of evangelicals) will have voted for Trump because they don’t believe he is racist or sexist.

          Maybe he played everyone.

  • hoosier_bob

    I don’t disagree with much of what was said here. Even so, it’s hard to understand Trump’s appeal without simultaneously considering the degree to which both political parties suffer from a kind of intellectual ossification. We see this on the left with the rampant push for political correctness and the concomitant effort to rid the world of every last micro-aggression. But the right suffers from much the same kind of stupid ossification. As I noted below, this leads to a kind of “checklist conservatism,” where being “conservative” is reduced to affirming some list of maxims. Never mind that some of them are mutually contradictory. For example, it’s awfully hard to promote “family values” while one simultaneously supports economic policies that force middle-class families to face increasing disruptions from the effects of a fast-paced capitalist society. That said, I see nothing wrong with social conservatives cutting political deals with fiscal conservatives to achieve certain political ends. But we’ve got to stop peddling the nonsense that the GOP coalition reflects some kind of coherent conservative ideology. It doesn’t. Rather, it’s a pragmatic coalition among various groups who have some number of aligned interests (and some number of antagonistic interests).

    In my view, Trump won because working-class whites had been effectively locked out of checklist liberalism and checklist conservatism. They are locked out of the former because liberal elites generally appease minority groups by granting such groups benefits that largely come at the expense of working-class whites. And they’re locked out of the latter because they’re not that religious and because they oppose free trade. So, the only way in which they could gain a voice was by supporting an outsider who would come in and upset the apple cart.

    I moved this past week, and found myself driving through rural southern Ohio on US-35 from Dayton to Gallipolis. Trump easily won every county along that path, raking in as many as 3-4 times as many votes as Clinton in many places. So, I expected to be sharing the road with a fair number of big pick-ups bearing Trump bumper stickers. I was not disappointed. Even so, I was surprised by the number of big pick-ups that were decorated with fading Bernie Sanders bumper stickers. In a few cases, vehicles bore both Sanders and Trump bumper stickers. But on further reflection, this made perfect sense. Sanders and Trump were both popular among working-class whites because they promised to set fire to the two major parties’ effective lockout of these voters from the political process.

    In many ways, the same thing may apply to evangelicalism. Evangelicalism too has become too ossified, and has degenerated into a kind of “checklist orthodoxy.” In many ways, it too is ripe for a kind of Trump-like takeover. That explains why members of the evangelical establishment are fighting to expel everyone from the movement who won’t check every box on the checklist without qualification. For example, Wheaton College appears to be moving toward requiring its faculty to adhere to some form of Creationist ideology. And one thinks of the numerous firings in recent years of long-time professors from evangelical seminaries because their views on certain issues were a bit too nuanced. Even so, the evangelical establishment has barely batted an eye over the fact that a large number of professors at conservative seminaries no longer believe in the Trinity (because the Nicene formulation was getting in the way of misogyny). So, according to the evangelical establishment, the Trinity is now something over which we can agree to disagree, but the Gospel is somehow at stake over peripheral issues concerning gender and sex. Even so, survey after survey indicates that substantial numbers of evangelical parishioners disagree with many things on the orthodoxy checklist. Guys like Al Mohler and Tim Keller are fast becoming the evangelical equivalent of Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio. We’re simply waiting for the evangelical equivalent of Trump to come in and pronounce their firings.

    • Joe Stocker

      Tim Keller is far from ossified