Dear 100 Hour Board,
I am really sad about how many Church members where I live (and all over) love Trump. Not just support him, but on the extreme end--they think Qanon is a thing and don't like things that President Nelson says because it's not what Trump says. And since I posted some things showing I don't like Trump on my social medias I am getting a lot of hate messages and comments and saying I can't be a good member of the Church if I don't support Trump. Pretty mean stuff. I am just deleting people that are super-duper overly hateful, but it's making me sad and mad and I keep thinking about it even though I don't want to. Have any of you experienced this? Also, I'm still not having church in person where I live, and now I'm dreading going back to my ward and facing everyone that said hateful things to me. I didn't post anything hateful against Trump, just made it clear from sharing "Letter to Arizona Mormons" (https://saveourelection.org/letter-to-arizona-mormons/) that I don't support him or his policies or ideas or anything. Any words of advice or comfort? I'm just sad and mad and discouraged.
Other writers, and especially guppy of doom, are more qualified to explain this than I, but I will give it a shot. I've listened to some cool podcasts recently that helped me understand the way some people think. Which is really important because this is something my BIPOC wife and I deal with frequently.
This really boils down to the fact that both politics and religion get baked into people's identities. This means that often times instead of using logic to examine their political affiliation, the use their political affiliation to examine whether something makes sense or not. Now that may sound a little backwards, but the way our brains work by default is by comparing new information to things we already know. And for a lot of people they get taught by their families and their communities that Republican = Good, Democrat = Evil.
The same thing happens in the other direction as well. One unique dynamic is that the states that are most heavily LDS are also very Republican. This causes a lot of people to equate the two. In other parts of the US or in other countries the dynamic is different. But in Utah, Idaho, and Arizona there has been a long standing intersection of religion and politics.
So people get a certain ideology and world view pushed into their minds for 40+ years. It becomes something they identify with. Studies show that the variables that best explain political affiliation are what party your parents affiliate with, and where you were born so this makes sense. So your brain holds certain ideas very concretely and when those ideas get challenged that freaks your brain out and causes cognitive dissonance.
Here's an example of how that would work:
- I believe that Republican = Good, I am a good person, and Trump is a Republican.
- Someone suggests that Trump is a Racist, and therefore evil.
- If Trump is Racist, then Republican = Bad, and I am Republican, so I am Bad.
- This new information suggests that I am bad and my entire life is a lie.
- I know my life isn't a lie so I will discount this new information.
Our brains don't like conflicting information. And when faced with information that conflicts with their current world view people tend to reject it.
Now we end up with two possible options for people who identify as both Republicans and as LDS:
- They view their religion and political ideology as connected.
- They view their religion and political ideology as separate.
- My wife and I have relatives who believe that Trump represents the views of the LDS faith. This upsets me because Trump is quite racist and that suggests that racism is a god supported view.
- We also have relatives who don't like Trump as a person, but continue to support him politically even though he conflicts with their other beliefs. This upsets me because it suggests that they don't care that he is racist.
I don't know that I have a lot to say, but I wanted to add, as one of the Board's few conservative writers, that increasingly I feel as though my allegiance to the restored gospel pulls me to the left on issues where the party line, in the current political climate, tries to pull me to the right (and unlike your anonymous friends, I'm not about to side with Trump over BYU or church leaders in a disagreement). I'm no liberal nor a modern progressive by any stretch of the imagination, but I find that interesting. Those who think the gospel ought to mirror their politics in all respects have their priorities backwards, I think.
In the end, our identity as children of God and our loyalty to the restored gospel (which is not a 1:1 equivalence to the institutional church) ought to transcend all other loyalties in our lives, including political affiliation. Most of the other writers would likely disagree with me on more political issues than I care to count, but our shared commitment to the kingdom of God ought to move us to look past or work out those differences. An acquaintance of mine once said that it's hard to hate people once you get to know them, and I find my more liberal friendships not only bear that out, but frankly they're usually more interesting.
Back to your question. Unfortunately, some members of the Church (including, somewhat infamously, the late President Benson) have historically promulgated a rather simplistic marriage of traditionally conservative principles with a "true" and proper understanding of the restored gospel, with the result that conservatism, for some people, then is baked into a religious commitment itself. (Similar problems often happen with simplistic views of history, scriptural interpretation, and other relevant topics in the Church. When people don't realize that all of us are making interpretive judgments when we speak, and everything that we say is filtered through our personal worldviews, beliefs, and convictions, we tend to run into trouble.) The result, especially here in Utah and some neighboring areas, is that questioning typically Republican politics is then tantamount to questioning the words of the prophets, even though some very bright Latter-day Saints (such as the famous Hugh Nibley) have been thoroughgoing Democrats.
I wish I had good words for you on how to combat that, because few things are as dangerous (not to mention flat-out annoying) as uncritical fundamentalism.
But then 2016 happened, and it's all so much worse. Personally, I'm incredibly frustrated that Trump has commanded the attention of the Republican party since his election, and I'm even more displeased to see evangelical and LDS conservatives alike fall in line in what appears to me to be an unsettling cult of personality surrounding him. Especially for those who seem to be mistaking him for someone sent by God, and who blame the Church for failing to fall in line, rather than taking note that there might just be something wrong with their politics. Even as a natural contrarian who reluctantly voted for Trump in 2016, and as someone who tends to give as much benefit of the doubt as possible, his presidency has, in my view, been one of naked self-interest, blustering ego, and embarrassing tactlessness.
I really don't have any great suggestions other than to bear in mind that you're not accountable to anyone else for your political views. In some circles, I would be as much a pariah as you feel you are now if I were to write the above paragraph publicly. In other circles, I know people who will scarcely even speak to me because they believe my conservative views are so intrinsically offensive and bigoted that I don't deserve respect. With some people, there's really no winning. Should you defend yourself? Where it's productive, absolutely. But as sad as it is, in this case you're often going to be better off letting others waste their own time and energy thinking less of you. Help others when you can, but mostly, remind them that they ought to be loyal to the one true God before their political gods of choice.