In a forthcoming book titled Trump and the Protestant Reaction to Make America Great Again, author Matthew Rowley argues that American Protestants, in their reaction to President Trump, now view U.S. history and our present polarization through the framework of three contrasting worldviews. Rowley deems these the Make America Great Again, Make America Lament, and Make America Better positions.
A book launch for Rowley took place through the University of Cambridge Centre for Geopolitics on October 21. Rowley, honorary visiting fellow at the University of Leicester, was joined in conversation with the Rev. Angela Denker, author of Red State Christians: Understanding the Voters Who Elected Donald Trump, and moderator Judd Birdsall of the Cambridge Centre for Geopolitics.
The aim of Rowley’s book and the ensuing conversation was to analyze at how varying interpretations of American history and culture affect political views today. Rowley specifically analyzed the way Protestant Americans, often in clashing interpretations, view American history and the path forward.
“If more people work to understand those they disagree with, this would be a far more charitable country, and maybe we would even elect better leaders,” stated Rowley in his opening remarks. Rowley furthermore recognized that both the Left and Right in America “weigh American greatness over American failure.”
Rowley writes in the wake of the death of George Floyd and the ensuing country-wide protests in late May and early June of this year, a time when racial and societal tensions in America were increasingly polarized.
In light of this, Rowley sought to capture the way that Protestants specifically view American history and the present moment. He constructed three contrasting worldviews that American Protestants hold — the Make America Great Again, Make America Lament, and Make America Better positions.
Those who hold the “Make America Great Again” position generally ascribe to the beliefs that one would expect when hearing the now famous line. These Protestants believe “America cannot do good if it does not remember the good its values did in the past,” stated Rowley. He elaborated that those who hold this view often bracket out the weightiest failures in American history for fear that it will negate what they see as America’s greatness.
Protestants with the “Make America Great Again” worldview cite court cases from the mid-twentieth century which eroded the power of the Bible and religion in society as the beginning of America’s decline, according to Rowley.
The second lens in Rowley’s analysis, the “Make America Lament” worldview, emphasizes Biblical call to lament. “They fear MAGA may even be a way of turning the clock back on progress,” stated Rowley about these Protestants. They hold the view that the past is not over, citing ongoing prejudices in American society.
Rowley conceded that those with this worldview often “seem allergic to speaking fondly about America’s past,” including about historical documents or figures who may have held views that do not live up to our current moral standard.
Thirdly, Rowley conceived the “Make America Better” position. These Protestants believe that there “has always been two Americas — the founding ideal and the founding reality.” Supporters of this worldview resist a zero-sum game between the claims that America is objectively bad or irreparably flawed.
Supporters of the “Make America Better” line of thinking “invoke a deep appreciation for their deeply flawed nation,” according to Rowley. Moreover, they hold that “America has come of age when it can squarely face its past.”
In order to move forward, Rowley believes that first and foremost we need a shared national memory. “Americans need to be willing to confess what went wrong in American history, and what went right,” stated Rowley.
Rowley furthermore asserted that “mature nations own the past and rectify the wrong,” and believes that the “Make America Better” framework allows for this believe to triumph and even lead to meaningful action and healing.
Despite the three dueling worldviews, Rowley believes that a starting point to moving forward in healing the divided nation lies in every American employing more imagination, more self-criticism, and more empathy. “Americans should generally be more curious… Half the country disagrees with me… and Americans should want to figure out why,” closed Rowley.