The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Americans in the age of Trump: Less tolerant

An audience in Fairfax, Va., listens to candidates running for the Fairfax County board chairman position last month. (Michael S. Williamson/The Washington Post)

In a disturbing new poll, the Public Religion Research Institute finds that “while at least two thirds of Americans oppose allowing small business owners to refuse products or services to minority groups based on their religious beliefs, a small but increasing proportion of Americans think it should be permissible to turn away customers based on their sexual orientation, gender identity, religion, or race.”

As one might expect, the big uptick in those willing to refuse service comes among Republicans, but Democrats aren’t immune from the trend to declare that one’s religion permits discrimination against others. “From 2014 to 2019, the partisan gap on this issue has dramatically increased. Nearly half (47%) of Republicans favor such a policy, which is more than double the 21% who favored the policy in 2014. By contrast, today only 18% of Democrats and 24% of independents support these kind of religiously based service refusals. These numbers are also an increase from 2014, when only 11% of Democrats and 16% of independents agreed.”

The difference between the parties is stark:

● More than one in five (22%) Americans say small businesses should be able to refuse to serve Muslims on religious grounds. Men are more likely than women to agree (25% vs. 20%). Around three in ten white evangelical Protestants (32%) and white mainline Protestants (28%) say small businesses should be allowed to refuse to serve Muslims for religious reasons, compared to around one in five nonwhite Protestants (21%), Catholics (19%), and the religiously unaffiliated (17%) who say the same.
● Republicans are more than twice as likely as Democrats to support religiously based refusals to serve gay or lesbian people (47% vs. 18%), transgender people (44% vs. 19%), atheists (37% vs. 17%), and Muslims (32% vs. 14%).

And now 19 percent (up from 12 percent) say it is fine to deny service to Jews, and 15 percent (up from 10 percent) say it is acceptable to deny service to African Americans.

Let’s be clear: President Trump and his evangelical fan base have never been interested in religious freedom, but rather in domination of their own religious beliefs. One cannot favor the Muslim travel ban, suggest Muslims cannot be members of Congress and continue to blame Muslims for terrorist attacks in the United States when, in fact, all terrorist-related deaths in 2018 came at the hands of right-wing extremists and white supremacists. When the president tells the country there were some “very fine” people on both sides in Charlottesville, he empowers racists.

This PRRI poll is not the only troubling sign that Trump’s xenophobic, nationalistic and racist rhetoric has had an impact on popular opinion. In April, the Anti-Defamation League released its survey. “The U.S. Jewish community experienced near-historic levels of anti-Semitism in 2018, including a doubling of anti-Semitic assaults and the single deadliest attack against the Jewish community in American history,” the ADL found. “ADL’s annual Audit of Anti-Semitic incidents recorded a total of 1,879 attacks against Jews and Jewish institutions across the country in 2018, the third-highest year on record since ADL started tracking such data in the 1970s.” The fear of replacement by Jews and those immigrants they assist — whipped up by Trump’s rhetoric and scaremongering about M-13 and “caravans” — was the motive for the Pittsburgh massacre, the deadliest attack on American Jews ever.

Trump has referred to immigrants fleeing violence in their home country as “animals,” likening their arrival to an “infestation.” No wonder the administration’s lawyers feel entitled to argue in court that children in their custody don’t need basic necessities. Once you dehumanize a group, you give license to abuse and mistreat them.

Out of this boiling cauldron of hate, up pops former House speaker Paul D. Ryan to claim that Trump is just terrific since he stands up for the "forgotten man.” Actually, he’s played into their victimology, which convinces them that white males — not women, not LBGTQ Americans, not people of color — are the real victims and therefore have the right to shove back against minority groups. They aren’t “forgotten” but rather encouraged to spew bile, discriminate against minorities and redefine themselves as the “real Americans.” Ryan can rationalize his enabling of a hateful, racist president all he likes, but in fact without the compliance of Republicans like Ryan, Trump’s assault on transgender troops, immigrants, Muslims and others could not take place.

Democrats like to say of the Trump era that “this [racism, Islamophobia, xenophobia, etc.] is not who we are.” But that’s exactly what a growing segment of mostly, but not exclusively, Republicans think about their fellow Americans. Role models matter. Political speech matters. Most of all, elections matter, and unless this trend meets with your approval, it’s incumbent on all Americans of good will to throw Trump, his enablers and his “blood and soil” nationalist ideology out.

Read more:

Jonathan M. Metzl: It’s time to talk about being white in America

Kathleen Parker: Trump represents the nadir of identity politics

Colbert I. King: I used to think America would age out of racism. What was I thinking?

Colbert I. King: Why is racism still thriving? Ask the enablers.

Michael Gerson: White supremacy must be undone — institution by institution