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Journal of Interdisciplinary Studies

Volume 30, Issue 1/2, 2018

The American Experiment: A Republic, If You Can Keep It

Charles A. McDaniel
Pages 117-144

Political Polarization and the Churches
Tocqueville on Religion, Democracy and the Future of Christianity

Critics decry what they see as an odd association in the 2016 election of Donald Trump and evangelical Christians who emerged as his most reliable base of support. Yet President Trump’s popularity among evangelicals is not as remarkable as it may seem given the often-paradoxical relationship between religion and politics in the United States. Alexis de Tocqueville’s warnings about the vulnerability of American Protestantism’s prophetic voice to individualism and materialism may help to explain Trump’s status as a “religious” president. Polls suggest that security concerns have eclipsed moral issues in importance for many American Christian voters. Such a transformation, Tocqueville believed, would undermine the nation’s moral foundations. This concern led Tocqueville to admire the American principle of church-state separation and voice support for something akin to the “Protestant Principle,” which promotes maintenance of prophetic distance between religion and politics to morally ground democracy.

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