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Tuesday, January 26, 2021

The Economic Divide (Why Do So Many Christians Support Trump?, Part IV)

The economic divide is another factor that may help explain why such a large proportion of white Christians voted for Donald Trump ("Why Do So Many Christians Support Trump? (Part I)"). Sometimes referred to as the "left-behind" thesis, it overlaps somewhat with the urban-rural divide ("The Rural-Urban Divide (Why Do So Many Christians Support Trump?, Part III)"). It argues that Trump attracted a large proportion of working class voters who had fallen behind economically and felt abandoned by the Democratic party. Much of Trump's support came from blue collar workers (especially men) without a college degree, who felt that they've been treated unfairly, that they no longer have a shot at the American Dream.

The sociologist Arlie Hochschild ("Strangers in Their Own Land") captures this sense with the "deep story" she crafted to help explain why many of those who live in one of our nation's poorest and most polluted states (Louisiana) continue to vote for candidates who resist federal aid and oppose regulating industries that damaged the communities in which they live. Specifically, she asks us to
imagine waiting in a line at the end of which lies the American Dream. However, not only are we waiting in line, but we've been waiting in line for a very long time. And while we've been waiting, people have been cutting (unfairly) into the line ahead of us, and they aren't doing it by themselves. They're getting help. In particular, they're getting help from the government, usually the federal government. Moreover, there are others (many of whom have already reached the end of the line and are openly contemptuous of how we live and what we believe), who think it's just fine for the government to help the line-cutters.
According to Hochschild, a number of people have come to distrust and resent the federal government and are more inclined to put their faith in capitalism and the free market. While the government gives away jobs to others (i.e., the line-cutters), jobs which they believe rightfully belong to them, capitalism does not. This had led her to conclude that to understand Donald Trump's appeal, we need to pay more attention to how emotions inform political choices. Many people she met had grown tired of feeling marginalized, left behind, and mocked by liberal elites who tend to support big government. And they saw Donald Trump as someone who was willing to put an end to the line-cutting and defend their way of life.

Returning to our topic at hand, some argue that conservative white Christians can be disproportionately found among the economically left behind. There is some support for this argument. Consider the following graphs that plot the proportion of evangelicals in terms of percentage who have earned a college degree (right), average job prestige (upper left), and average annual income (lower left). They indicate that the average evangelical scores lower on all three measures compared to all other faith traditions, except Black Protestants. The difference in job prestige is not as pronounced as are the differences in income and percent with college degrees, but the pattern across all three measures is consistent.


Of course, since white evangelicals score, on average, higher than Black Protestants on these measures, economic inequality is not the only factor at play here. Also, a good portion of theologically conservative Roman Catholics supported Trump as well, and the data used to create the above graphs do not lend themselves to separating white, theologically conservative Roman Catholics into their own category.

Not everyone buys the left-behind thesis, though
. Trump, after all, attracted his fair share of college-educated individuals who worked in good paying jobs. The median Trump supporter makes an above-average wage ("Donald Trump and ‘Economic Anxiety’"), and in 2016, more college-educated whites voted for Trump than for Clinton ("Behind Trump’s victory: Divisions by Race, Gender, Education"). And the economy had improved from 2012 to 2016. As such, some argue that the left-behind thesis is better framed as an "economic anxiety" thesis where those who voted for Trump represent a combination of people who had fallen behind economically along with others who feared that they may soon fall behind.

Consider, for example, a 1995 study of European countries by the sociologist Lincoln Quillian. He found that racism grew among middle class majorities during periods of weak economic growth and growing minority populations. This led majority members, who were afraid of losing their jobs, income, and status, to embrace anti-immigrant and racist policies in order to hold on to their place in society.

A recent paper by Diana Mutz uncovered a similar (but not identical) dynamic in the U.S. In particular, she found that white, Christian, and primarily male voters supported Trump because they felt that their dominant status was at risk. Her results provide no empirical support for the economically left behind, although one could probably argue that economic anxiety may have fed into the perceived threat to their status, which then led a number of folks to embrace a form of populist white nationalism fueled by racist and anti-immigrant rhetoric.

Finally, Ronald Inglehart and Pippa Norris have pitted economic insecurity arguments against what they call the cultural backlash thesis, which argues that the rise of populism in Europe and the U.S. is a reaction to cultural changes that threaten the worldview of older sectors of the electorate which once was the dominant worldview. Their analysis, which focuses more on Europe than the U.S., finds support for both the cultural backlash and economic insecurity theses.

In a later post, I'll explore studies that demonstrate a correlation between white nationalism and support for Trump (although to be clear that not everyone who supported Trump is a white nationalist). Before that, though, I intend to consider the role that beliefs may have played. It's quite fashionable in academic circles to focus on structural factors (e.g., the economy, a growing minority population, rural-urban divides), but ideas do matter. So we'll take a look at some of those next time.

References

Mutz, Diana C. 2018. "Status Threat, not Economic Hardship, Explains the 2016 Presidential Vote." Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 115(19):E4330. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1718155115

Norris, Pippa, and Ronald Inglehart. 2019. Cultural Backlash: Trump, Brexit, and Authoritarian Populism. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Quillian, Lincoln. 1995. "Prejudice as a Response to Perceived Group Threat: Population Composition and Anti-Immigrant and Racial Prejudice in Europe." American Sociological Review 60(4):586-611. doi: 10.2307/2096296

Sunday, January 24, 2021

A Ranking of the James Bond Movies

In addition to watching all of the Harry Potter (including Fantastic Beasts) and Star Wars films during the pandemic, I've worked my way through all 25 of the James Bond films. Below is a ranking of them (not including the Casino Royale staring David Niven, which is more of a satire than a serious Bond movie), which reflects their average rankings on Rotten Tomatoes, IMDB, and Meta Critic:
  1. Goldfinger (Sean Connery)
  2. Casino Royale (Daniel Craig)
  3. From Russia with Love (Sean Connery)
  4. Skyfall (Daniel Craig)
  5. Dr. No (Sean Connery)
  6. Thunderball (Sean Connery)
  7. GoldenEye (Pierce Brosnan)
  8. On Her Majesty's Secret Service (George Lazenby)
  9. You Only Live Twice (Sean Connery)
  10. The Spy Who Loved Me (Roger Moore)
  11. Spectre (Daniel Craig)
  12. The Living Daylights (Timothy Dalton)
  13. Never Say Never Again (Sean Connery)
  14. License to Kill (Timothy Dalton)
  15. Live and Let Die (Roger Moore)
  16. For Your Eyes Only (Roger Moore)
  17. Diamonds Are Forever (Sean Connery)
  18. Moonraker (Roger Moore)
  19. Quantum of Solace (Daniel Craig)
  20. Octopussy (Roger Moore)
  21. The Man With the Golden Gun (Roger Moore)
  22. The World Is Not Enough (Pierce Brosnan)
  23. Tomorrow Never Dies (Pierce Brosnan)
  24. Die Another Day (Pierce Brosnan)
  25. A View to a Kill (Roger Moore)
Unsurprisingly, several of the Sean Connery Bond movies rank in the top 10: "Goldfinger," "From Russia with Love," "Dr. No," "Thunderball," and "You Only Live Twice." Only "Never Say Never Again" (13) and "Diamonds Are Forever" (16) do not. The Daniel Craig Bond movies are, on average, the second most popular with two landing in the top 10 ("Casino Royale" and "SkyFall") with "Spectre" (11) not too far behind. Only "Quantum of Solace" ranks relatively low (19). By contrast, only one of the seven Roger Moore Bond movies ranks in the top ten ("The Spy Who Loved Me") and one ranks last ("A View to a Kill"). The first Pierce Brosnan Bond movie ("GoldenEye") ranks in the top ten (7th), but the other three rank among the worst (22nd, 23rd, and 24th). Here are the average rankings of the movies staring Connery, Craig, Moore, and Brosnan (lower is better):
Sean Connery = 7.57
Daniel Craig = 9.00
Roger Moore = 17.86
Pierce Brosnan = 19.00
Two other actors have played Bond: Timothy Dalton and George Lazenby. Dalton played him twice ("The Living Daylights" and "License to Kill") and both films garner respectable rankings (12th and 14th). Dalton was a good Bond. It's a shame he didn't play him for longer.

Lazenby only played Bond once, in "On Her Majesty's Secret Service" (OHMSS). He was chosen to play Bond after Connery retired from the role after "You Only Live Twice." Connery, of course, changed his mind (twice) and came back to play Bond in "Diamonds Are Forever" (1971) and "Never Say Never Again" (1983). Although OHMSS was a commercial success, its initial reception was mixed. The film's reputation has improved greatly over time, however. The director Christopher Nolan has named it as his favorite Bond movie, and it has slowly moved its way up some of the "all-time Bond film lists" ("On Her Majesty's Secret Service", "50 Years Later, This Bond Film Should Finally Get Its Due"). Why? Because OHMSS contains some of the best action scenes of the series, Lazenby plays a capable Bond, Diana Rigg is excellent as his love interest and future (and only) wife, and Telly Savalas's "Blofeld" is by far the best of the Bond films. It also follows the original novel far more closely than the other Bond films. That is undoubtedly why it is currently ranked 8th, higher than three of Connery's and all of Moore's.

One takeaway from watching the films is that some have stood the test of time, while others have not, and this is reflected in the rankings. I'm willing to watch any of those ranked in the top 10 above, plus "Spectre," "Live and Let Die," and Diamonds Are Forever." Although I was once a huge Moore fan (it helped that he played Simon Templar in "The Saint" before signing on as Bond), Moore's Bond films became increasingly campy over time. After Moore's last movie ("A View to a Kill"), Timothy Dalton's "The Living Daylights," was a breath of fresh air. In fact, beginning with "The Living Daylights," the Bond movies took a more serious turn, such that by time Craig took over the role, the Bond character had returned back to one similar to Connery's. Signing Judi Dench up as "M," the head of British Secret Service, in "GoldenEye" also brought a bit of seriousness back to the films.

Needless to say, Bond girls are a central feature of the Bond movies. They are generally Bond's love interests but not always. Some have names containing double entendres or puns, such as Pussy Galore ("Goldfinger"), Plenty O'Toole ("Diamonds Are Forever"), Xenia Onatopp ("GoldenEye"), and Holly Goodhead ("Moonraker"). Several have regular names, but one of the more intriguing is Vesper Lynd of Casino Royale, Ian Fleming's first novel. Some believe that Fleming intended the name to be a pun on "West Berlin," indicating Vesper's divided loyalties as a Soviet double agent. Bond girls often don't live very long (especially in the movies), but although they're clearly intended as sex objects, they're typically portrayed as having a high degree of independence (especially in the books).

The actresses who've played Bond girls haven't always gotten along. For example, in "Diamonds Are Forever," Jill St. John (Tiffany Case) and Lana Wood (Plenty O'Toole) were both "seeing" Sean Connery at the time and (understandably) didn't get along. Their shared animosity for one another has only grown over time, however. As some readers may know, Lana Wood was the sister of Natalie Wood, who died under mysterious circumstances, and Lana, along with several others, believe that Natalie's husband at the time, Robert Wagner, had something to do with her death. What does this have to do with Jill St. John? She is currently married to Robert Wagner.

Anyone who has watched the Bond movies has probably noticed that some actors turn up as different characters in multiple movies. For instance, Charles Gray plays a British agent in "You Only Live Twice" and then Blofeld in "Diamonds Are Forever." Similarly, Shane Rimmer, who plays a submarine captain in "The Spy Who Loved Me", also appears in two other Bond movies, "You Only Live Twice" and "Diamonds Are Forever," as well as providing the voice for a character in "Live and Let Die." Maud Adams plays a "Bond Girl" in "The Man with the Golden Gun," then reappears in "Octopussy" as a jewel smuggler who in the end teams up with Bond, and finally in an uncredited role in "A View to a Kill." Then there is the actor, Walter Gotell, who first appears as a Spectre agent (Morzeny) in "From Russia with Love" and then as KGB General Anatol Gogol in several Bond films: "The Spy Who Loved Me," "Moonraker," "For Your Eyes Only," "Octopussy," "A View to a Kill," and "The Living Daylights." And Joe Don Baker has appeared in three Bond films. First, as a villain (Brad Whitaker) in "The Living Daylights" and then as (the enjoyable) CIA agent, Jack Wade, in "GoldenEye" and "Tomorrow Never Dies."

The honor for appearing in the most Bond movies goes to Lois Maxwell and Desmond Llewelyn. Maxwell played Miss Moneypenny 14 times and Llewelyn played "Q" 17 times. Moneypenny is, of course, M's secretary, and although her character has only a small part in most of the films, there's always a hint of romantic tension between her and Bond (at least in the movies). Moneypenny appears in all of the movies except the first two Daniel Craig movies. The first Craig movie she appears in is Skyfall in which she has an extended part. However, we don't learn who she is until the movie's end. Q is the head of Q-branch, the fictional research and development division of the British Secret Service. Llewelyn doesn't appear in "Dr. No," but he's in 17 of the next 18, all except "Live and Let Die." Interestingly, he filmed scenes for it, but they weren't included in the final cut (Note: If you're wondering, Benard Lee played "M" 11 times).

Bond movies often allude to earlier movies. For example, "Die Another Day," whose release marked the 40th anniversary of the first Bond movie ("Dr. No"), includes references to all of the previous 19 Bond films, sometimes in terms of props (e.g., Rosa Kleb's shoe in Q's shop), at other times in terms of lines in the script (e.g., bad guy, Gustav Graves, claims "Diamonds are for everyone"). Too bad the movie wasn't any better.

Another example occurs in "Quantum of Solace" where one of Bond's paramours is killed by being entirely covered in oil, which, of course, harkens back to how Goldfinger kills his former assistant, Jill Masterson by covering her in gold paint. And when Bond meets Ernst Stavro Blofeld for the first time in "Spectre" (or at least when Daniel Craig's Bond meets Blofeld for the first time), Bond's "welcoming" is remarkably similar to Bond's welcoming by Dr. No to his private island in, well, "Dr. No." Rumor has it that Rami Malek's villainous character in the next Bond movie ("No Time to Die") is very similar to Dr. No.

Here's some additional random facts about the Bond films:
  • Ian Fleming reportedly stands beside a train after Bond and Tatiana Romanova board it in "From Russia With Love"
  • John Cleese plays "R" and then "Q" in "The World Is Not Enough" and "Die Another Day"
  • A very young (and bumbling) Rowan Atkinson appears in "Never Say Never Again"
  • In "Die Another Day" Madonna plays Verity, the fencing instructor of Miranda Frost (played by Rosamund Pike of "Gone Girl" fame) 
  • The sociopathic character Xenia Onatopp of "Golden Eye" is virtually the same as the Fatima Blush character in "Never Say Never Again"
  • Patrick Magee of Avengers fame (along with his co-star Diana Rigg) appears in "A View to a Kill"
  • In "License to Kill" Wayne Newton plays the lecherous Professor Joe Butcher, a televangelist and a front-man for a drug smuggling operation
  • Sammy Davis, Jr. appears in "Diamonds Are Forever" (but only in DVD and Blue Ray releases)
  • Julian Fellowes, Hugh Bonneville, and Brendan Coyle all appear in "Tomorrow Never Dies." Fellowes went on to write and produce "Downton Abbey," while Bonneville and Coyle went on to star in "Downton Abbey" (apparently, Hollywood is also a small world)
In April (hopefully) we'll be treated to the 26th Bond movie, "No Time to Die," which reportedly will be Daniel Craig's last time in the role. As good as Craig has been, it's probably time for him to move on. We wouldn't want him to follow in the footsteps of Roger Moore, who played Bond a little too long. Beginning with "Octopussy" (some might say, with "For Your Eyes Only"), Moore begins to move a bit slow for someone with a license to kill. That was probably also true of Connery in "Diamonds Are Forever," but he redeemed himself in "Never Say Never Again" where he humorously plays an aging secret agent. Perhaps Craig will return one day in a similar vein. Before then, though, enjoy the trailer for "No Time to Die."


Friday, January 22, 2021

When Prophecies Fail: The Future of QAnon

QAnon is a conspiracy theory that holds that President Trump is (or was) fighting a "deep-state" cabal of Satan-worshipping, cannibalistic pedophiles, who are running a global child sex-trafficking ring. This cabal includes liberal Hollywood actors, Democratic politicians, and other high-ranking government officials. It believes that Trump is (or was) planning a day of reckoning known as the “Storm” when thousands of members of the cabal will be arrested. This, in turn, will lead to a “Great Awakening” when we will all have an epiphany and finally see that we’ve been enslaved by a corrupt political system. 

Q initially claimed to be a high-level government official with “Q clearance” – that is, someone with access to highly classified information. Now, Q is seen as a team of high-ranking individuals who are executing a military intelligence operation that has been planned for years. In fact, some QAnon followers believe the military specifically chose Donald Trump to help them carry out this operation (so much for free and fair elections).

On October 28, 2017, Q posted their first "intelligence drop" although he/she/they did not initially sign their posts "Q" (a post on November 2, 2017 was the first). These drops tend to be quite cryptic. This is because, followers claim, of the classified nature of much of the information Q seeks to share. Q can't come right out share it, so Q drops "breadcrumbs" that others can then interpret and uncover "the truth." This has led to a stunning proliferation of beliefs, such as those captured in the following chart, which was pulled together by a QAnon follower (click on this link if you want to download the chart yourself):


A substantial number of QAnon supporters participated in the January 6th storming of the US Capitol in Washington DC. Many believed the raid was "the Storm" (#TheStormHasArrived) and were understandably disappointed when it wasn't. They were even more disappointed two weeks later when Biden was officially sworn in as the 46th President of the United States; they had been led to believe that Trump (or someone) would prevent that from happening ("Biden Inauguration Leaves QAnon Believers in Disarray"). Add to this the fact that Q has been silent ("gone dark") for 45 days (since December 8, 2020), and there's been a lot of soul-searching in the QAnon community in recent days:
  • "It's over."
  • "I just want to throw up."
  • "I'm so sick of all the disinformation and false hope."
  • "It's done and we were played."
  • “Wake up. We’ve been had.”
  • "This is a very difficult day for all of us."
  • "Today's inauguration makes no sense to the Christian patriots and we thought 'the plan' was the way we would take this country back."
Anecdotal evidence suggests that some white supremacist groups are attempting to poach disaffected QAnon supporters, hoping to radicalize them further. Not everyone has abandoned the faith, however:
  • "I will continue speaking truth. I have not given up. I still have faith. I still now that God Wins."
  • “The more I think about it, I do think it’s very possible that Biden will be the one who pulls the trigger.”
  • "Things have just started."
  • "Anything that happens in the next 4 years is actually President Trumps doing."
Indeed, although many are no doubt hoping that with Biden's inauguration, the QAnon conspiracy will fade into the sunset, that's unlikely to happen. When prophecies fail to come true, true believers often move the goalposts.

Consider, for example, the Millerite movement. It was composed of followers of William Miller, a Baptist lay preacher who, after years of studying the Bible, predicted that Jesus's second coming would occur around 1843-44. Miller never personally identified an exact date, but eventually the movement settled on October 22, 1844, as the day. When nothing happened, many became disillusioned. Some concluded they had been wrong, but others came up with alternative interpretations. For example, some argued that October 22nd did not mark the Second Coming of Christ, but was rather a heavenly event where the sanctuary in heaven was cleansed. It was this group of believers that developed into today's 7th-Day Adventists.

Can we compare QAnon to the Millerites (and other groups that have continued beyond failed prophecies) even though QAnon is a secular movement? I think so. Although Q's not considered to be divine and QAnon followers aren't required to believe in the supernatural (see note below), QAnon has taken on many of the trappings of religion. For example, Q's intelligence drops have become like scripture, Q is regarded as a prophet, and Donald Trump is seen (by some) as anointed by God to bring about the redemption of the United States (messiah means "God's anointed one").

So, I think it's unlikely that QAnon will just fade away. It may splinter into numerous groups (like the Millerites) with only a couple surviving for the long term, but it's likely that traces of the movement will stick around for some time. Hopefully, I am completely wrong.

Update (January 25th): Some QAnon followers believe that Donald Trump will be inaugurated as the 19th (that's not a misprint) President of the United States on March 4th. Presidents used to be inaugurated on March 4th, but the date was moved up in 1933 to shorten the period between the election and when the new President takes office. Borrowing from the sovereign citizen movement, these followers believe that an 1871 law turned the US into a corporation and did away with the original republic, and that Trump will restore this original republic on March 4th. They also believe that Franklin Roosevelt sold us out in 1933 when he abandoned the gold standard. Thus, they believe it wasn't a coincidence that 1933 was the year the date of inauguration was moved.

Note: Belief in the supernatural does not necessarily mean belief in a God or gods; for example, it can be a belief in a supernatural force, such as karma.

Wednesday, January 6, 2021

May the GOP have an Epiphany on Epiphany

Today, January 6th, is Epiphany, which is the Christian celebration of the revelation (manifestation) of God incarnate as Jesus Christ. In the Western Church, it marks the end of the 12 days of Christmas and the arrival of the Wise Men (Magi) to visit the infant Jesus. It is sometimes called Three Kings' Day and should be when the Wise Men first appear in Nativity scenes. Symbolically, it is seen as the first manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles. In the Eastern Church, Epiphany commemorates Jesus's baptism in the Jordan and his manifestation to the world as the Son of God. Many Eastern churches celebrate Epiphany on January 19th because they follow the Julian calendar rather than the Gregorian calendar, and there's a 13-day difference between the two.

The word, epiphany, refers to more than a Christian feast day, however. An epiphany, for instance, can refer to those times when we suddenly grasp the essence of some thing or event. They are "Eureka" moments, like when a light abruptly switches on. Merriam-Webster defines an epiphany as
  • a sudden manifestation or perception of the essential nature or meaning of something 
  • an intuitive grasp of reality through something (such as an event) usually simple and striking 
  • an illuminating discovery, realization, or disclosure 
  • a revealing scene or moment

Today, the U.S. Congress will begin to certify Joe Biden's election as the 46th President of the United States. My hope and prayer is that with his certification, many Republicans will start coming to terms with the fact that Trump really did lose, that claiming an election was stolen isn't the same thing as proving that it was (there needs to be evidence, in other words). Put differently, this Epiphany I pray that many in the GOP will begin to see the light, that they will have an epiphany. I'm not holding my breath, but as Hans Gruber once remarked, "It's Christmas. It's the time of miracles." So, you never know.