I’m pleased to publish this guest essay from Dr. Paul D. Miller.

What was social conservatism, and why did evangelicals adopt it as their political creed? What has become of the movement under President Donald J. Trump?

Politically, social conservatism came to mean, above all, opposition to abortion and gay marriage. Those two stances were the rubber-meets-the-road implications of the “ism,” the irreducible praxis of what social conservatism looked like in action. But why? What was beneath and behind opposition to the public policy consequences of the Sexual Revolution? What were the ideas driving efforts to protect traditional marriage and human life?

If social conservatism was anything more than reflexive opposition to cultural change, it was a theory of social and political causation. Social conservatism was, supposedly, a political theory, an idea about how society, government, and culture fit together and affect one another. Social conservatives believed some public policy ideas led to better outcomes: outcomes that were more just, more compatible with ordered liberty, and more conducive to human flourishing. The same can be said of any set of ideas used to guide social and political activism.

Specifically, social conservatism was the political theory of Edmund Burke, Alexis de Tocqueville, and Russell Kirk: the belief that tradition, family, mores, and religion are essential for justice, liberty, and flourishing. Law should protect and favor them. And government governs best when it governs closest to the people. William F. Buckley, a Roman Catholic, introduced the Burkean approach to the emerging conservative movement starting in the 1950s.

A few decades later, evangelicals found this movement a natural fit for ideas they found rooted in the Bible. They first found warrant in Scripture, not the Reflections on the Revolution in France, for God’s commission to the family, the church, and the state. But the Biblical inheritance was received in the United States through an intellectual heritage that passed through, and was shaped by, early modern Europe. Evangelicals may have been unaware of this inheritance, but they found intellectual depth and made common cause with its exponents.

Burkean conservatism worried that family breakdown, secularization, cultural atrophy, administrative centralization, and the loss of citizen-shaping education would lead to damaged souls, damaged communities, and a damaged nation. As I’ve argued elsewhere, these ideas can be tested with the tools of historical investigation and social science. To the extent that they have been, socially conservative ideas have usually been vindicated (with nuance, qualification, and exceptions). On the whole, it is better for families to stay together, for schools to teach with rigor and have high academic and ethical standards, for a robust civil society to exist, and for religion to inform the conscience of a nation. And it is better for public policy to foster and encourage such things.

By 2016 it had become evident that Burkean conservatism—its intellectual coherence, philosophical depth and rigor, and consonance with Biblical political theology—was the working ideology of a tiny circle of intellectuals, not the voice of a broad movement. Evangelicals as a group either did not understand or did not care about the deeper ideas supposedly beneath their own movement. There is still widespread opposition to abortion and (decreasingly) gay marriage, but little evidence that such opposition is rooted in the ideas that were supposed to have animated social conservatism.

Instead, evangelicals, particularly white evangelicals, appear to have gravitated away from the ideas of Burkean conservatism and towards nationalism. Nationalism is reflexive tribal loyalty to the majority culture—which is to say, white American Protestantism. This is confusing because the majority culture still professes Christianity (although there is very little distinctively Christian about “cultural Christianity”). As a result, some Christians wrongly equate loyalty to the United States with loyalty to the church.

Donald Trump and American Political Culture

The campaign, election, and administration of President Donald J. Trump has made clear the conversion of white evangelicals from social conservatism to nationalism. White evangelicals overwhelmingly supported Trump in the 2016 election, some 81 percent of them having voted for him. For many, their support was motivated by concern for the Supreme Court, which overrode concerns about Trump’s character, truthfulness, conduct towards women, ignorance of foreign policy, and xenophobia. Evangelicals’ desire to secure a conservative appointment to the Court appears to have been vindicated by Trump’s nomination of Justice Neil Gorsuch ten days into his presidency.

But 100 days into Trump’s presidency, evangelicals still expressed overwhelming support for the president, despite everything else the president has done in office. According to a poll by the Pew Research Center, 78 percent of church-going white evangelicals approved of Trump’s performance in office in late April. This is remarkable because, aside from Gorsuch (and a few other symbolic and easily reversible gestures, like reinstating the Mexico City policy), Trump appears to have done little else to encourage, and much to discourage, social conservatism in public policy.

It is not that Trump has promoted progressive or liberal policy, such as abortion or gay marriage. Rather, the problem is that Trump’s presidency has a corrosive affect on the institutions of government and the mores of civil society, which Burkean conservatism says are vital for a healthy, functioning society. Trump’s public personality, rhetoric, and behavior are a walking rebuke to the traditions of American public life—traditions that social conservatives purport to venerate. Put another way, Trump is bad for the norms and informal rules that hold society together. Let me give just two examples. I’ve deliberately chosen two of the lesser examples.

First, Trump lies compulsively—he lied or made misleading statements almost five times per day, every day, for the first 162 days in office, according to the Washington Post. How can evangelicals approve of his performance in office? Either they approve of the lying, which I doubt, or they believe it does not matter very much (perhaps because they believe Trump’s lies are just the typical lies of any politician, which is false). Supporters may dismiss this as so much fake news, which raises an entirely separate question beyond the scope of this essay: the retreat of many Americans into a radical skepticism of all truth-claims and all news they dislike. To anyone open enough to examine the evidence, it is plain that Trump habitually lies.

How can it be unimportant that no one can trust the word of the most powerful man in the world? How can it not matter that he speaks a distortion, exaggeration, or outright falsehood everyday? Consider some of the practical effects: how will the bureaucracy know when to believe the president’s orders to them? How will our allies have confidence in America’s commitment to their security? Why would any partner in a trade negotiation take Trump’s word seriously? Or why would our rivals and enemies take threats and demands from Trump at face value? Trump is fundamentally untrustworthy, which make his jobs as chief law enforcement officer, chief diplomat, and commander-in-chief of the armed forces essentially impossible to fulfill. His compulsive lying simply makes him a bad president.

But we shouldn’t have to think through the practical implications of compulsive lying. It should be enough to say that compulsive lying is bad, and it is especially bad when leaders—men in positions of power, men held up in honor—lie compulsively. The old Burkean conservatism, at least, would have been content to say so. (Yes, it is also true that Hillary Clinton told lies; that is irrelevant to the question of whether one approves or disapproves of Trump’s performance in office).

Take another example: Trump’s praise for well-known autocrats and human-rights violators, including (just since he took office) Filipino President Rodrigo Duterte, Turkish President Recep Erdogan, and North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un. In past years, he also praised Russian President Vladimir Putin and the autocratic rulers of Communist China.

Such praise breaks with longstanding tradition—and remember, social conservatives value tradition as one of the key bulwarks of a healthy culture. Yes, the United States is sometimes compelled to tolerate and work with autocrats and dictators. But that does not mean the President of the United States must praise and admire such men, as Trump so publicly does. Again, the practical effects are damaging: it corrodes the United States’ soft power on the world stage; it disheartens democratic dissidents in closed societies; it encourages tyrants; it promotes a false and deceiving moral equivalence between ordered liberty and crushing tyranny; and it damages the American brand, the ideas with which the nation has been associated since its founding. It helps tyranny and hurts democracy. American presidents are supposed to do the opposite. That’s our tradition.

But also, again, we should not have to argue from practical consequences. It should be enough to note that praising tyrants is bad. The old Burkean conservatism understood the importance of public speech: we are to praise what is good, condemn what is evil. It understood that culture matters, and that when powerful people praise evil, they are shaping our culture with their words.

I’ve deliberately chosen the least-inflammatory accusations to illustrate Trump’s corrosive effect on American political culture. I could multiply examples. I could cite the Trump administration’s casual treatment of classified information and subsequent endangering of American national security (and yes, I criticized Clinton for the same thing) and undermining of the rule of law. I could mention the Trump family’s evident use of public office for private gain. I could mention Trump’s regular criticism of the public institutions that are supposed to constrain him, including the free press, the intelligence community, and the courts, which transgresses American traditions and denigrates the checks and balances that are at the heart of our system of government.

Most worrisome, I could mention Trump’s firing of the Director of the FBI amidst the Bureau’s ongoing investigation of ties between his campaign and various Russian interests, and the possibility that he may have attempted to interfere in the investigation of his former National Security Advisor, Michael Flynn.

The point is that Trump is a bad president, according to the criteria Burkean social conservatives should care about. If bad company corrupts good morals, Trump’s company corrupts good government. Social conservatives have long argued that a healthy culture is a vital component of a free society. That includes a culture of honesty and integrity among our public officials, a culture that demands not mere legal compliance but an expectation that such officials are above reproach, even above the appearance of wrongdoing. Trump manifestly fails this standard.

Evangelicals’ Response to Trump

Yet white evangelicals approve of Trump’s performance in office by an 8-to-2 margin. I see two possible explanations: either they fully understand the major damage that Trump has done and will continue to do as president, and simply believe that Gorsuch outweighs them all; or they have some combination of ignorance, willful blindness, and simple disregard for the damage Trump is doing to the health of American political culture. Both explanations boil down to the same thing: white evangelicals do not actually understand or care about the vitality of culture, tradition, and social mores. They do not believe such things are an important part of how society, government, and culture fit together, or do not care if the right fit is necessary for human flourishing and ordered liberty.

If they did actually care, they would be less hasty to trade away two hundred and fifty years of social capital and republican norms for a single seat on the Supreme Court. They would understand what a fragile achievement an open society is, and quicker to recognize Trump’s contributions (and their own) to its erosion. They would understand the importance of the long view and the power of precedent: the things Trump does today to erode democratic culture are the things future historians will look to as foreshadowing its eventual collapse. They would understand their responsibility to stay informed about what their government is doing, rather than take pride in ignorance and radical skepticism. They would care about the collapse of trust in public institutions and the total loss of faith in the words of public officials. If white evangelicals actually cared about the health of culture, ours would be the first eyes open to the blinking red lights, the first ears to hear the klaxons warning of catastrophe.

(To those who argue saving the Court is essential to reviving culture, I respond you fundamentally misunderstand what it means to revive culture. It means to revive the non-governmental institutions of civil society. If your ideology starts with government policy and treats civil society as secondary or derivative, your ideology is not social conservatism).

The entire premise of Burkean social conservatism, as I argued above, is precisely that it is a better working theory of the functioning of society, culture, and government. The large and sustained white evangelical support for Trump in the face of his assault on American public life leads me to conclude that white evangelicals no longer care very much about such niceties, if they ever did. Whatever they might say about their beliefs, white evangelicals have functionally abandoned social conservatism as an ideology.

Nationalism and Christianity

I said above that there are two possible explanations for white evangelicals’ support for Trump: they don’t understand the full gravity of Trumpism, or they do understand and believe Gorsuch is worth it. In fact, there is a third explanation: some might fully understand what Trump stands for, and willingly, knowingly support it. In abandoning social conservatism, some white evangelicals have found a new ideology to champion.

What, then, do these white evangelicals really believe? I see three defining traits of Trump’s political movement: 1) populist nationalism, 2) opposition to progressivism, and 3) loyalty to the culture of white American Protestantism. These are in some measure three different ways of saying the same thing. Some portion of the “white evangelical” demographic are not ideologically bound to social conservative ideas, or even to evangelical theology; rather, “white evangelical” has become a tribal identity which they equate with the American nation itself, and whose advancement has become their primary goal.

First, Trump is an avowed nationalist and populist. As I’ve argued elsewhere, nationalism is distinct from patriotism. It is a pursuit of “competitive prestige,” as George Orwell said, not merely affection for one’s country. Trump repeatedly struck nationalist themes on the campaign trail, including the economic nationalism of his protectionist trade policy; his restrictive immigration ideas; and his “America First” foreign policy. He sold these policies, and himself, to his base as a return to authentic popular rule.

Nationalism is, at its worst, a cult with Trump as its priest and prophet. As a form of “closed exceptionalism” that John Wilsey identified, nationalism is a form of idolatry, and it is inconsistent with Christianity. (I do not mean the individual policies are necessarily wrong; I mean the worship of the nation often expressed in Trump’s rhetoric—and some evangelical sermons—when he speaks about America is idolatry).

Second, Trump’s movement is also motivated by an entirely justified backlash against progressivism. The progressive left overreached and has become an increasingly authoritarian and bullying movement devoted to political correctness, campus speech codes, and an extreme gender ideology, policed by social justice warriors and community organizers. Middle America revolted, and Trump was their standard-bearer. This is the silver lining to Trump’s movement.

Third, Trump’s movement appears to be an expression of identity politics for white evangelicals. His campaign made an explicit appeal for Christians to vote for him because he would defend and champion their group interests. In, June 2016 he told the Faith and Freedom Coalition “We will respect and defend Christian Americans.” In August 2016, he told a group of pastors in Orlando, “Your power has been totally taken away,” but under a Trump administration, “You’ll have great power to do good things.” In September 2016, Trump told the Values Voters Summit, “A Trump administration, our Christian heritage will be cherished, protected, defended, like you’ve never seen before. Believe me.” In return, white evangelicals turned out to vote for Trump. Jerry Falwell Jr., president of Liberty University, where Trump spoke in both 2016 and 2017, said this month “I really believe [Trump] has done more for the Christian community in that that short, in four months time, than any other president in our lifetimes.”

Of these three components, only anti-progressivism is consistent with social conservatism, with limited government, or with the idea of equal justice under law. Nationalism is, like progressivism, a totalistic political religion that is inconsistent with limited government. Identity politics are similarly illiberal, substituting the advancement of a group for the concept of justice and equality under law. Social conservatives were right when they criticized the left for stoking identity politics for minorities. Identity politics is a dressed-up version of ethnic nationalism and sectarian politics, and it is inconsistent with republican citizenship. The same is true of identity politics for white evangelicals.

The Question of Race

White evangelicals are no longer Burkean social conservatives. Paralleling the Republican Party’s evolution away from conservatism towards white identity politics, evangelicals have become the cheering section and voting bloc for populist nationalism, largely because they identify the nation with themselves. America is a “Christian nation,” they say, and the advancement of Christian interests can only be good for them, good for the country, and good for the world. How can this be wrong?

It is wrong because identity politics are wrong. Our goal should be equality under law for all citizens, not preferential treatment for our tribe. It is wrong because “Christian” shouldn’t be a tribe. It is a gathering of all peoples, tribes, tongues, and languages. Christians have more in common with each other around the world than with their fellow citizens. It is wrong because Christianity is antithetical to nationalism. Christians should be patriots—I served in the US armed forces and I have affection for this country—but nationalism is a false religion that places the nation in the place of the church and the leader in place of God.

It is wrong because America is not a “Christian nation,” except in the narrow descriptive sense that most Americans have always been professing Christians and Christianity has shaped much of our culture and traditions. America has no eschatological status. It is not a chosen nation. It plays no irreplaceable role in the redemption of the world. To say otherwise is flatly unbiblical.

Finally, it is wrong because it is, at least, insensitive to the legacy of race and racism in the United States. A critic may accuse me of smuggling race into this discussion. Trump’s appeal to Christians has, in theory, been available to all Christians, not just whites. On the campaign trail Trump said some pretty standard stuff about being welcoming to minorities. He never did make an explicit appeal to white nationalism, despite what his harshest critics on the left say. The left accused him of racial “dog whistles,” but they’ve said the same thing about every Republican for fifty years.

But consider: while 80 percent of white evangelicals voted for Trump, just five percent of Black Protestants did. The election of 2016 and the presidency of Donald Trump have made it painfully clear that white American Christians have a different set of political priorities than non-white American Christians. Set aside Trump himself, it is clear that Trumpism, as a movement, it almost entirely a white phenomenon.

The easy explanation for why is, of course, “racism.” But relying on that explanation would be to fall into the intellectual laziness and causal misanthropy of the progressive left, for whom anything done by any conservative is always racism. I think it is far more complex than that. Simply ascribing every political problem in America to white people’s supposed personal animus against people who look different is radically simplistic. The progressive left too often excuses itself from serious social analysis by attributing everything to the racism (and sexism and now homophobia). But taking one explanation and turning it into the only explanation for everything is the fastest way to take a meaningful insight and turn it into a punch line and a cliché. As the adage goes, when you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail. When you have progressivism, everything looks like racism. Simple charity demands that we start with more grace and more understanding for those whose behavior we are seeking to understand. If racial hatred were really the primary driving force of the American right, we would almost certainly see far more racial violence and more explicit appeals to racial solidarity by public officials.

What bothers me about American nationalism is not its secret racist plan to re-impose Jim Crow laws and reestablish the monopoly of white men on positions of power in America, because no such plan exists. Vice President Joe Biden told a crowd of supporters in 2012 that Republicans “want to put y’all back in chains,” an offensive and stupid critique that paved the way for Trump’s vulgarity by normalizing such overwrought and baseless accusations. The progressive critique—that Middle Americans are just a bunch of bigots—is so insultingly wrong to anyone who lives in, or has family in, Middle America that it is itself, ironically, a form of bigotry.

In fact, the progressive mania about the supposed epidemic of Middle American racism is counterproductive because, in the face of their hysteria, it becomes too easy for us to dismiss legitimate concerns about race and ethnicity. If we were honest with ourselves, we would recognize the need for some soul-searching. The problem with American nationalism is its amnesia about its own past; its insensitivity to how it sounds to outsiders; its tendency to identify the nation with its largest demographic group; and the potential for it to lapse back into old habits of equating culture with color.

How Should the Church Respond?

To the casual white evangelical Trump supporter, I would ask that you look more closely at the history of the movement you have joined. Ask yourself if this is a community and a tradition that you are comfortable carrying forward. Look at the past record of this movement—not the Trump movement, but its predecessors, the previous incarnations of white Christian American nationalism—and ask if this is the fruit by which you want to be known. Is nationalism truly a better fit as a Christian political theory than social conservatism?

To the churches, I ask: what sort of unity do you want to foster, and how are you fulfilling your duty to teach your members about their responsibilities to love their neighbors? Since the election I have heard many calls for unity in the church. I’ve heard pastors boast that they have Trump voters and Clinton voters sharing the pews, praising God for the picture of unity captured therein. But I wonder: what kind of unity is that? Is it proof of unity in the Spirit and true neighbor-love, or proof that your church functionally ignores politics?

Does it show that you have taught your members how to truly grapple with the difficult questions of a Christian’s duty to steward the responsibilities of democratic citizenship, and your members have tragically come to opposite conclusions? Or does it show that you avoid controversy, let your members carry on their political activities in their “private” lives, and that you only preach about the evils of abortion and gay marriage?

I know many churches are in the habit of (rightly) challenging their members who vote for Democrats tough questions about how their vote functionally supports unjust policies. Do you ask Trump supporters similarly tough questions? Do you even recognize the need to do so? If you don’t, then you are implying by your silence that nationalism is unproblematic for Christians. You are modeling—from the pulpit—the same insensitivity and blindness towards American history and systemic injustice that appears to afflict most white Americans.

Beware the shallow unity of ignoring difference, of avoiding hard conversations. That is the unity of a marriage in which the husband and wife have agreed to avoid difficult topics because they just want to avoid conflict. That kind of marriage does not last. I am not suggesting that churches should divide over the question of politics. I am saying that we are already divided, and that we should be far more troubled than evangelicalism appears to be about the racial and ethnic split in American political theology.

Paul D. Miller teaches public policy and political theory at The University of Texas at Austin. He is a research fellow with the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission.

Posted by Guest Writer

  • pwlsax

    Good job criticizing the lazy thinking of evangelicals, then wrapping up your own lazy thinking about progressivism in a package of otherwise well-reasoned conservative thought.

    • Cal P

      Well reasoned conservative thought? The fact one touts Buckley or the Republican party of the 70s onwards as “conservative” is a joke. And the lack of historical awareness is staggering, even if common among most bitter anti-Trumpkins. If anything, the election of Donald Trump is judgement on the shallow propaganda that styles itself as “Christian”, with the audacity to tell the Church what to do. He complains about Trump’s praise of Duterte or Kim Jung Un? Does he not know American foreign policy from at least the 50s onward? What’s better, giving faux-praise to the North Korean dictator or backing the creation of a Japanese collaborator government in the south, committing massacres in a “police action”, continuing to back an erstwhile military junta which cracked down on dissidence (Kwangju massacre), and has been a client state of the American imperium? And that’s just Korea. If anything, Trump exposes America hypocrisy, showing the legacies of Buckley’s creature Reagan to be nothing but posture, buffoonery, and vicious imperial conquest. With friendly advice from Miller, does the Church really need enemies?

  • hoosier_bob

    The author supposes that there was some halcyon era when white evangelicals believed in Burkian social conservatism. When I joined the evangelical movement in the 1990s, I had that idea too. But over time, I came to see white evangelicals as being more consistent devotees of white nationalism than anything else.

    On abortion and same-sex marriage, there is a common theme. Both are indirect attacks on patriarchal social structures. White nationalists generally hold to patriarchal social structures. They don’t simply believe in the supremacy of whites, but in the supremacy of white men. So, while Burkian social conservatives may have sound reasons for opposing legalized abortion and same-sex marriage, I never sensed that evangelicals had any appreciation of these arguments.

    To be honest, I don’t see how the evangelical movement survives the Trump era. Trump simply revealed a dichotomy that had existed within the evangelical movement for a long time.

    • M.J.Davis

      Your analysis of the evangelical world is interesting and insightful (see, especially, On Trump and Repentance (reply to M.J.Davis, August 26, 2017)). In order to facilitate discussion, I accept your categories and offer the following observations:
      Group A: This group’s day has come and gone. Their donations are welcome, but their suggestions are not.
      Group B: No doubt this group could create its own associations if it wanted to. But how many people who look at the world through libertarian lenses will see the need for such associations, much less be willing to engage in the collaborative effort that is necessary to create and sustain them?
      Group C: The folks in this group are intelligent, articulate, and ambitious. As a result of their academic accomplishments, which typically are impressive, they are confident they are are good analysts. They write beautiful prose and they often have important things to say. As you point out, they are embarrassed by their brothers and sisters in Group A, whom they regard as benighted (at best), and they are quick to let them know the error of their ways, especially with respect to matters of race. If Group C’s attitude toward Group A is fixed and dismissive, Group C’s attitude toward Group B is fluid and ambivalent. While Group C sometimes imitates Group B’s urban chic, and certainly would like its respect, Group C is unwilling to embrace the sexual revolution, which means Group C’s relations with Group B are strained and will remain so for the foreseeable future. So where is Group C headed from here? My sense is Group C’s principal objective is to influence the opinions of evangelical pastors and professors, and indeed, it is having some success in that regard. In the process, however, Group C is annoying folks in both Groups A and B.

      • hoosier_bob

        I’ve enjoyed discussing things. I don’t disagree with anything you said above.

        Group B will indeed never create the kind of visible institutional presence that evangelicalism once enjoyed. Their general openness to natural revelation and pragmatism doesn’t require them to seek separation to the degree that older evangelicals did. Moreover, they’re not trying too hard to gain adherents outside of educated professionals. They’re more post-evangelical than evangelical, and are generally distrustful of established networks.

        Group C is too unctuous, in my view. Consider the Nashville Statement that these folks released today. Such statements will only further alienate them from the cultural mainstream. It’s not that folks in Group B believe that the Sexual Revolution is a good thing. They don’t. But they don’t see it as that bad either. After all, they largely live in a world where people just don’t tend to make big mistakes. In terms of Charles Murray’s lingo, Group C lives in Belmont, and doesn’t even know where Fishtown is on the map.

        I believe that Group B is open to dialogue, but not with people who call them heretics. In some sense, that’s why I like Group A better. They have their one cultural axe to grind, but they generally concede that those outside of their fold are still Christians. The folks in Group C generally won’t do that. They’re constantly on the prowl for heretics, and will end up devouring themselves before it’s all over.

        • M.J.Davis

          You have made a number of trenchant observations during our discussion. My favorite is, “Group C lives in Belmont and doesn’t even know where Fishtown is on the map.” I don’t entirely agree with you, but I wish I could craft a phrase like that.

          The only way dialogue can occur across ideological divides is for the two partisans to acknowledge at the beginning and at the end of the debate, “We’re just sinners saved by grace.”

          It has taken me a long time to acknowledge the following truth: The sun will rise the morning after I die.

          Cheers.

  • M.J.Davis

    Professor Miller is troubled by the fact that fewer than 20 percent of white evangelicals share his contempt for President Trump. Convinced, as he is, that his assessment is incontrovertible, he can conceive of no legitimate basis for supporting the President. Thus, he has decided the President’s evangelical supporters must be nativists and racists and, what is more, that it’s his prophetic duty to call them to repentance. However, his essay is unlikely to change any minds. The reason is fairly simple: Professor Miller is wrong. Despite President Trump’s many flaws, he does not pose a grave threat either to American culture or to ordered liberty. To the contrary, it is the left that has debased American culture. It is the left that has created a vast administrative state (though Republicans have helped preserve it). It is the left that has undermined the separation of powers (albeit with assistance from Republicans). It is the left that has “constitutionalized” the sexual revolution. It is leftists who control the giant technology companies. And it is leftists who will take away a person’s business or job if he question their dogmas. A rational person could look at that constellation of circumstances and reasonably fear the emergence of an Orwellian technocracy. Furthermore, a rational person reasonably could view Donald Trump, flawed though he is, as an obstacle to the further consolidation of power in the hands of a technocratic ruling class. Professor Miller failed to acknowledge, much less discuss, such considerations. As a result, he should withdraw his essay and reconsider his harsh criticism of the President’s evangelical supporters.

    • hoosier_bob

      I agree that Miller’s assessment is a bit disingenuous. Since its emergence from fundamentalism in the 1940s and 1950s, the evangelical movement has always represented something of an uncomfortable alliance between a majority faction that tilts towards a kind of white nativism and a minority faction that tilts towards a kind of Burkian globalism. The former tend to be political populists, while the latter are political elitists. The only thing that kept these groups together was common opposition to progressivism. Thus, evangelicalism is probably more characterized by its negative views of progressivism than by any positive program. That’s because it’s unlikely that evangelicalism’s two factions could agree on any kind of positive program. In many ways, you’ve proved that point by gliding past the issue that Miller raises and focusing instead on the leftist bogeyman whose specter has traditionally cemented this uncomfortable alliance together.

      In my view, it’s time for evangelicalism’s two factions to decouple institutionally. Neither populism nor elitism is necessarily inconsistent with the Gospel. Therefore, I see no merit in trying to question the Christian orthodoxy of one group or the other. After all, nothing about the Gospel compels the adoption of a Burkian globalist view of political philosophy. But, to a large extent, the visible church has to meet people where they are. In the past 30 years, populists and elites have come to occupy two very different–and somewhat incompatible–social spheres. These two classes have even come to occupy very different geographic spaces. Thus, I think we’re moving into an era where the populist-elitist divide is as important as the liberal-conservative divide. In fact, within elitist circles, the conservative-liberal divide is about as meaningful as the UNC-Duke divide. Evangelicalism, in its current institutional form, is built on social-demographic assumptions that no longer prevail. Denominations are creatures of pragmatism. I see no pragmatic basis for trying to keep disparate camps of evangelical populists and evangelical elitists together under the same institutional tent. Miller wants to keep the alliance going, but probably only on terms that grant privilege to the elite class at the expense of the populist class. Populist objections that approach are well taken, in my view. Thus, I believe that something akin to an amicable decoupling is in order.

      • M.J.Davis

        Thank you for your gracious and thoughtful response.

        1. I concede the first three sentences of my comment do not do justice to the complexity of Professor Miller’s arguments.
        2. That said, his suggestion that “white evangelicals do not actually understand or care about the vitality of culture, tradition, and social mores” is risible.
        3. Granted, there appear to be prominent Christians for whom the term “‘white evangelical’ has become a tribal identity which they equate with the American nation itself.” However, Professor Miller does not stop there. He implies, without quite stating, that this sentiment is widely shared by the President’s evangelical supporters. If this is Professor Miller’s contention, then he has a duty to support it with clear and convincing evidence. Otherwise, he has violated the Ninth Commandment.
        4. Professor Miller is not alone in that regard. As I noted elsewhere in this blog, in a rather whimsical fashion, there is at least one other contributor to this blog who seems to think he is capable of plumbing the depths of the President’s soul. If he’s going to do that, then he better be able to back up his accusations with convincing evidence, and so far he hasn’t.
        5. Trinitarian cultures have provided the most fertile soil for the growth of republican institutions. I question whether republican institutions can last very long in a culture that lacks the concept of the Trinity.

        I acknowledge I have not responded to your provocative suggestions. I will do so in a subsequent reply.

        • hoosier_bob

          I received an email notification of a comment that isn’t showing up here. In that comment, you asked about the term “Burkian globalism.” By this term, I mean people who generally embrace the merits of globalism, but do so in a way that reflects political realism rather than idealism. I would contrast it with the blind notion that free trade will just fix everything.

          • M.J.Davis

            I can see the comment to which you refer when I use my cell phone to access the blog, but not when I access the blog via my laptop. I can’t explain the difference.

            No doubt you and I disagree sharply about many issues, but I have this sense we could discuss our respective views over a glass of beer and part amicably. So, no, I would prefer not to decouple. However, I see your point. How many people are interested in having conversations that are based upon evidence, logic, and simple fairness?

      • M.J.Davis

        I need more information before I attempt to assess the validity of the statement, “[T]he evangelical movement has always represented something of an uncomfortable alliance between a majority faction that tilts towards a kind of white nativism and a minority faction that tilts towards a kind of Burkian globalism.” The term “Burkian globalism” is new to me. What do you mean?

        I tend to agree with the statement, “[E]vangelicalism is probably more characterized by its negative views of progressivism than by any positive program.”

        I agree there are rival factions in our nation. I think Angelo Codevilla’s description of a contest between the ruling class and the country class is spot on. I also agree the evangelical movement is riven by factions. You assert the contest is between populists and elites. Perhaps. My sense is that the division has arisen, in part, because Christians bitterly disagree with respect to what a properly ordered polity looks like.

        Your proposal of intentional “decoupling” is certainly provocative. I cannot assess it until I have a better idea of what you mean by the terms “populists” and “elites.”

        Our nation probably won’t decouple as a matter of law (note, I said “probably”), but it seems to be decoupling as a matter of fact. One of the more important unresolved issues is whether the chattering class will accept leftist mob action a legitimate form of political expression. I am inclined to think it will, which can only mean more violence in the streets. How bad will it get? Hard to say. If it becomes bad enough, people will cry out for security and stability. If that contingency occurs, some form of technocracy will emerge; and I doubt it will be benevolent.

        Which brings me back to my original comment. It is simply not the case that President Trump’s evangelical supporters necessarily have abandoned social conservatism and embraced some form of “white Christian American nationalism.” Ofir Haivry’s and Yoram Hazony’s article “What is Conservatism?” (American Affairs, Summer 2017) is instructive. A rational voter reasonably could decide that supporting President Trump is consistent with the “Principles of the Conservative Tradition” as distilled by Haivry and Hazony.

        Professor Miller has failed to make a compelling case to the contrary. Yes, the President is dishonest, which is an extremely serious matter. But James Comey is no hero, as anyone who follows Andrew McCarthy knows. By helping shield Hillary Clinton from prosecution, Mr. Comey denied the people of this country the equal protection of the law. Nor is it reasonable to accuse the President of mishandling classified information. It is the President’s enemies who have repeatedly violated the law. Finally, one hopes Professor Miller has the intellectual integrity to acknowledge the “Russian collusion” narrative is baseless.

    • M.J. Davis : Hear, hear! Thank you. You saved me the time of having to write something similar.

      • M.J.Davis

        Our objections to Professor Miller’s essay were vindicated Monday night. Were there any doubt, it is now clear “We the People” do not hold the reins of power in this country. So who does? In my opinion, in order to understand what’s going on, one must be familiar with the work of Angelo Codevilla. Professor Codevilla argues the terms we traditionally have used to describe the political divisions in this country (“left versus right,” liberal versus conservative,” and “Democrat versus Republican”) have become largely meaningless. The true division in American is between a Ruling Class and a Country Class.
        What is frustrating about Professor Miller’s essay is that it ignores the real power struggle that is taking place in American and focuses instead on the President’s personal failings. For example, Professor Miller writes, “Trump’s public personality, rhetoric, and behavior are a walking rebuke to the traditions of American public life . . . .” That’s a very nicely crafted sentence, but one that bears little connection with reality. The “traditions of American public life” were debased long before Donald Trump ever announced his intention to run for office. Professor Miller is too intelligent and too well-read to think otherwise.
        Professor Codevilla has described the debasement of American traditions and institutions better than I can. The points I made in my original post owe much to his insights. Like Professor Codevilla, I am pessimistic, but not entirely without hope.
        Many Christians despise the President. Fair enough. But, in my opinion, their personal animus has blinded them to the gravest threats this country is facing. As a result, we are not having the discussions that must occur if we are to survive as a constitutional republic. We should be discussing the demise of the rule of law and the separation of powers. We should be discussing the growth of the administrative state. We should be discussing the influence of the great corporations. But we aren’t. We’re engaged in vitriolic debate over the significance of the President’s personal failings.
        Which brings me to the speech he gave Monday night. The President’s decision to re-escalate the war in Afghanistan represents the triumph of the Ruling Class. After all, who is going to benefit from the fighting? Not the young men who will be killed and maimed. Not the families who will be told, “The Department of Defense regrets to inform you . . . .” Not the people who would have benefited from the resources that will be diverted to the war effort.
        My guess is Michael Flynn and Steve Bannon oppose the re-escalation of fighting in Afghanistan. However, they quickly were marginalized and driven from places of influence. The chattering class celebrated their marginalization as the triumph of virtue over vice. And, no doubt, both men have their vices. But now the President is surrounded by hawks. Are we as a country in a better place because of it?

  • This is a liberal polemic, not a Christian one.

    Yes, Christianity does have problems with nationalism… FROM THE RIGHT. i.e – Christianity has historically opposed nationalism on the grounds that it was an 18th century liberal invention which directly contradicted our holy traditions of Divine Right, threatening the authority of monarchs who ruled kingdoms containing more than one group. It does not have some left wing critique that nationalism is ‘mean’ or ‘non-inclusive’. That’s hogwash, and as I said, the author is showing that he has been corrupted by purely modern and material politics. People really have lost sight of just how degenerate politics is in the West.

  • To me, this article is a mixed bag. Certainly its acknowledgement of Trump’s many faults, the existence of nationalism and a tribal loyalty to a white American Christian culture and nation and how neither one is beneficial. It’s short on racial issues because it does not tie them to our nation’s economic direction and its sanctified black-white world view where true social conservatives have everything to teach and nothing to learn from the progressives though what makes one a progressive is not well-defined. For example, the writer does not distinguish between liberals and leftists.

    Why was Trump elected? One of the major reasons was because his opponent was Hillary. Another reason was because Trump lied about representing the working person. He correctly portray Hillary as giving control of the country to foreign elites such as through trade policies like the TPP. However, Trump misrepresented his leaning toward populism, he wanted elite-centered rule in the US only with his Republican Party approved elites in charge. Now that Trump is simply being Trump, some of his elites have found it necessary to jump ship.

    Finally, Trump’s ‘America First’ slogan made people feel more secure with him as President than any candidate who would not make America first in their policies. Those to whom this nation first slogan appealed seem to have neither the knowledge nor interest in knowing the history of other campaigns that ran on similar platforms. For example, one of the platforms Hitler ran on was a Germany First platform. BTW, another one of his platforms was the restoration of traditional values.

    Finally, one of the flaws of this article is the way in which certain topics are treated in an all-or-nothing manner. For example, social conservatives want to maintain tradition. And yet, shouldn’t we judge our traditions on a case by case basis? After all, slavery was once a tradition and so was Jim Crow. White Supremacy still reigns and that has been a part of our nation’s traditions. The criminalizing homosexuality has been a tradition and though such criminalization has been done away with, the LGBT community has only now just begun to emerge from its traditional marginalization. American Imperialism is also a tradition.

    Progressivism has also been portrayed in black-white terms though progressives had to fight for laws that would protect laborers and the environment from exploitation. Also, progressives understand that racism is alive and well even after the dismantling of Jim Crow. Much of today’s problems with racism are tied to our economic system that has prevented the wealth disparity between the white race and other races from being reduced.

    With Blacks still lagging behind economically and the LGBT community having been marginalized by society for centuries, is it any wonder that we have identity politics? To demonize identity politics is to deny the past and/or present marginalizations groups have suffered through and how the plight of these groups needs to be improved. We should note that with the mass incarceration of minorities in jail and the problems that those released from jail face in becoming productive citizens, some, like Michelle Alexander, describe us as going through a second Jim Crow.

    And then there is the all-or-nothing approach to political correctness without noting that being politically incorrect is one way of keeping marginalized groups in their place. After all, making the n-word unacceptable to use in public is a result of political correctness.

    And then we have the good guys wearing the white hats riding in as they attempt to champion families. But they fail to note that in the inner cities, a major reason why there are so many single parents raising children is because of the economic hopelessness that comes from a lack of jobs that pay living wages. And that discourages families from forming Here we should note that corporations can pay their employees poverty wages while relying on government assistance programs to subsidize their payrolls.

    And then there is American Imperialism to deal with. Certainly the 9/11 attacks were both atrocities and a response to American Imperialism. Progressives have noted this for a while.

    The problem with social conservatism is that it is too ideological to accept the facts on the ground. Yes, it has contributions to make. But it has and continues to contribute to some of our social problems and it has stuff to learn from progressives. We need both sides if we are thrive and share society fairly with each other.

  • Darrell

    This essay is spot on. Thank you Dr. Miller.

  • Alan D. Atchison

    Yet another reason I as a Southern Baptist am disgusted at the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. If we continue to support “scholars” like this, then I am done giving a dime to my church to promote the cooperative program.

    • M.J.Davis

      I am not a Southern Baptist. I have heard of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, but I know little about it. If you have read my comments, you know that like you, I am sharply critical of Dr. Miller’s essay. So how should folks like you and I respond? We could question Dr. Miller’s competence as a scholar and disengage. If we do that, then as a practical matter, we’re conceding defeat without a fight. I don’t know you, but my guess is you wouldn’t have posted a comment if you’re the type of person who gives up easily. There is an alternative. We could acknowledge Dr. Miller is a competent scholar (maybe even a brilliant one, I don’t know) but challenge his arguments when he’s wrong, as he was in this instance. I encourage you to consider this alternative. We have good arguments on our side. Let’s make them. Now, that doesn’t mean we’ll always be correct. To the contrary, there are times we’re going to be flat out wrong. Thus, we need to carefully consider our opponents’ arguments, and when we’re wrong, be man enough to admit it and reconsider.

      By and large, there are two types of advocates. The first type sees the strengths of his arguments and the weaknesses of his opponent’s arguments. The second type sees all that, but he sees more. He sees the weaknesses of his arguments and the strengths of his opponent’s arguments. He asks himself, “How can I defend against my opponent’s strengths and, at the same time, exploit his weaknesses?” Let’s do that. I urge you to reengage.

      • I’m sure Dr. Miller is an eminent scholar in his field. My point is that as a Southern Baptist I’m done subsidizing progressive attacks that are little more than name-calling diatribes directed at fellow Christians–all because some Christians had the audacity to reject all these excellent “experts” telling us how to vote in the last election.

        The only way we have a chance of fighting and winning is by creating our own networks to stand against their networks–the ERLC, The Gospel Coalition (now heavily into promoting cultural Marxism via Critical Race Theory, etc.) That fact hit me hard reading Foreign Affairs latest issue when it quoted John Arquilla’s advice from 2002, “It takes networks to fight networks, much as in previous wars it has taken tanks to fight tanks,” and Gen. McChrystal’s comments, “Over time, ‘It takes a network to defeat a network’ became a mantra across the command and an eight-word summary of our core operational concept.”

        For me, the first step is to stop funding their network via my church giving. I know only a tiny, tiny amount of what I give ends up at the ERLC, but every dime I give is promoting this type of thinking. It has to stop.

        Now, the next step is promoting networks that have the correct political theology and correctly appreciate concepts that formed the core of Christendom. That’s probably the hardest part. But, I think it is important to promote scholars like Dr. Carol M. Swain, a Southern Baptist who understands the dangers of white nationalism, but also the many dangers of racial identity politics too.

  • UnreconstructedRebel

    The church is comprised of many nations, but this doesn’t mean that individual nations themselves should be multi-ethnic social experiments undertaken in the name of equalitarianism.

    The biblical concept of a nation is based on ethnicity, not ideology. Nations, properly construed, are essentially clans, tribes, extended families, sharing a common language, ancestry and heritage. Under this template, there is no conflict between nationalism, patriotism and Christianity. The Christian patriot dwells among his own people in his nation with affection for each. The multi-ethnic, propositional nation built around a shared ideology is a conceit of humanism made popular only the past 100 – 150 years. It doesn’t work and even now we are witnessing it’s death rattle as it’s artificial construction breaks apart tectonically at the ethnic plate boundaries.

    To deny America is a Christian nation, or should be, is a height of folly that disqualifies this author from being taken seriously. There is no such thing as a secular society – something will be be revered as divine, the only question is what. Christian kingdoms and nations for 1500 years required allegiance to the Christian faith. Paganism was outlawed in the Roman Empire in the 5th century and not allowed out into the open again until the past few decades. Now it is corrupting the morals of the land to the point our survival is in doubt. That’s where “tolerance” leads – satanists demanding their turn at offering the opening prayer at a city council meeting.

    This author utterly misses the proper concept and relation of God, church and nation. In the Western tradition, the only viable model is a Christian nation, without tolerance for heathenism or paganism, built around the biblical model of common, or at least similar, compatible ethnicity, with a kin ruler. God lifts up the nations and He strikes them down, and nations that fail to organize themselves along the pattern He set forth in His Word will not long survive.