The State of the American Christian Union, Part 2 – Hannity and Fox News: Rat Poison for Christians
In this part we will indulge in some statistics, and reflect on the significance of the affect of conservative media on the public positions of evangelical Christians, as evidenced by their tangible actions at the ballot box.
First of all, according to those who keep track, the U.S. population currently in 2018 stands at around 327.5 million. According to exit polling of Edison Research of the 2016 Presidential election, 128,838,342 Americans voted, of which 26% were “white evangelical or born again” Christians, comprising 33,497,969 people. Of those, 81 percent of those evangelical Christians voted for Trump, or 27,133,355 people. Remember the scale of this number. According to the prestigious Pew Research Center, 25.4 percent of Americans are “evangelical Christians”, which shows that evangelicals vote in same proportion as the total U.S. population, and which would make the full evangelical population total 83.2 million. It also shows that roughly a third (32.6 percent) of all identified evangelicals vote, which would exclude the young, many of the very old, those unable to get to the polls, and the many who are too lazy or self-absorbed to bother to go. Not only does this third of the evangelical population represent its most engaged and activist portion, which presumably listens to some news somewhere to motivate itself enough to get to the polls, but as representing an overwhelming segment that very publicly embraced Donald Trump and his values, it also presents to the outside world of skeptical unbelievers what evangelicalism is all about, on behalf of the other 74 percent of evangelicals who did not vote for him, and thus impacts all of their abilities in evangelizing and outreach. These evangelical Trump voters also represent 21 percent of the total voting electorate, and almost 46 percent of all Trump voters, whereas only 35 percent of non-evangelicals voted for Trump; in other words, everyone recognizes that Trump is our president because of the evangelicals, as “their” candidate.
Let’s look now at the numbers of people who listen to a few conservative media outlets, which we can assume produce virtually all of the Trump votes. First of all, a July 2018 report in Forbes of Sean Hannity’s nightly Fox News TV show reported that he was hosting almost 3.4 million viewers nightly at the time. The August 2018 data from Talkers Magazine shows that Sean Hannity receives 13.5 million weekly unique radio listeners, Rush Limbaugh 14 million, Michael Savage 11 million, Glenn Beck 10.5 million, Mark Levin 10 million, Laura Ingraham 8 million, and Mike Gallagher 7 million. This data does not include the 30 million subscribers to Sirius XM, many of which listen to talk radio. Since sometimes these shows overlap in their time periods, are on one or no radio stations in many markets, and listeners can only hear one show at a time in their limited in-car time, it is likely that the listener overlap between these individuals is very limited, meaning that many tens of millions of conservative listeners listen to these heavily-opinionated (and many extreme) worldview formers as a “captive audience” every day in their cars, with their focused attention during their 30 to 60 minute drive times each day, as well as being on the radio at work, or shuttling kids. Those interested in such talk would primarily be those with enough interest to go out and vote – easily covering the 62 or so million Trump voters, and the 27 million evangelicals in his camp. I routinely hear the “talking points” and terms originating from many of these shows, either sent by communications officials from the administration or ginned up themselves (sometimes forwarded back to presidential communications officials, and in Trump’s case, when he watches them in the mornings), coming verbatim from my friends, such as the “Democratic mob” memes trotted out not long ago.
In contrast as a competing source of ideological influence, that of our pulpits (local churches, not the televangelists and other Christian media), Pew Research reports that 58% of all evangelicals (48.2 million) attend some church event at least once a week in 2014 (but is quickly declining annually), which may or may not include a sermon, and if so may be a single 30 minute or less variety, in one week (I still seem to view this as a large overestimate, based upon what I have observed in our church pews, otherwise our churches would be bursting at the seams, rather than featuring a lot of empty seats, and people who attend “when they feel led to”; other reports like those by Outreach Magazine suggest those numbers are grossly over-reported, and are actually much less). In any case, I wonder how many of those people are listening carefully in the pews, based upon their public behavior and voting, and I doubt that (with some exception) that parishioners are being exposed to as extreme and concentrated a direct political messaging operation as they get with corporate-paid talk radio.
The punchline of this data is that American Christians are getting 14 or more intense political “sermons” of extended length each week, with motives coming from unknown people with unknown agendas paying for them, except that we know they do not comprise the non-profit, unselfish views of a Bible and Christ that is not selling anything, and is promoting sacrifice, putting others before oneself, turning the other cheek, and the pursuit of reconciliation and a future kingdom driven by love, mercy and forgiveness – all items that just would not “sell” on radio or TV, and certainly not get good ratings. With this ratio of messaging and high-dollar public relations behind it, the poor pastor and his measly half-hour weekly sermon has no chance to offset the psychological conditioning of conservative talk radio during the week, which has become the real “church” of most conservative Christians, and where they form their real world views, as dictated by advertisers and corporate sponsors. This is a problem that I have not seen identified anywhere that I have observed, and I think that pastors and Christian leaders (those not totally “in the can” with these hard right media outlets) need to acknowledge that they have a formidable rival for the hearts and minds of active Christians, as opposed to the “godless universities”, movies and “the devil weed”. This does not even consider the formidable influence of online political news, with The Drudge Report reporting 33 million reads daily and about one billion a month, Youtube (with five billion videos watched each day), Facebook (1.4 billion active users), Yahoo News (175 million uniquely monthly visitors), Google News (150 million), Huffington Post (110 million) – as a juggernaut which will envelop these other media, as people in younger middle age and younger rely almost exclusively on online and social media, and can listen to it 24/7. The age of people coming to hear an oration and speaker has ended a generation ago; people now prefer the “intimacy” of a recorded voice speaking close to their ear, sometimes while they are controlling their low attention span by doing another task, and receiving much of the message thus subliminally.
An example case in point is what you will hear conservative Christians believe about Hillary Clinton. While I am certainly no fan of hers, rather seeing her as a Washington insider (although she paid her dues as a legal activist), I am shocked to see the degree to which normally loving Christian people I know truly despise her, but when I ask for details of specific things she has done that warrant such feelings, they are hard pressed to give specifics, rather than just “impressions”, from unknown sources. They truly would deal with any “devil” to oppose her, as the last election testifies. In fact, I have seen repeatedly that there was no criteria or “line drawn” where they would hesitate to support a person, if they opposed Hillary and could beat her, with their votes being merely an “anti-Hillary” vote. When I ask which specific policies of hers that she has promised to pursue that they oppose, they are also hard pressed to give specifics. One thing many of them seem to know: that she is a bona-fide witch who operates a pedophile ring under a Washington pizza parlor – albeit without any tangible evidence to confirm such a far-fetched yarn. These are some of the same people – many of whom I previously thought were pretty wise – who take seriously the mythical “Q Anon” legend, much like Paul Bunyan, and fashion him into whatever Guy Fawkes-type resister they want him to be (or what influential online fearmongers suggest), while pleading ignorance that similar secretive “whistle blowers” like Guccifer 2.0 were outed as Russian operatives, and not who they suggested they were, some time ago, trying to sow general discord within the gullible American public. My dear, normally-wise and loving Christian friends cannot seem to realize that they have been conditioned to have these irrational thoughts without vetting – which all of us online are vulnerable to – and subject to “psy ops” via the mass media in conservative talk radio. Its similar to how the same conservative media has demonized the term “liberal” to mean the vilest of all (although the Bible says that God gives to men liberally (James 1:9), and the King James Version of those described as “liberals” (such as Isaiah 32:8) are alternatively translated at “generous” or “noble”), as well as “socialist” being another term just below “devil worshipper”, although many of our Christian brethren in Europe happily live in socialist countries, and have no desire to leave.
This phenomena of conservative media on the public, and Christian community, is certainly nothing new, and was built on earlier foundations, although it has certainly “amped up” in the last quarter century. You could say that some of its early origins were amongst the Sanhedrin, whose high priest Caiaphas was concerned that ” If we let him [Jesus] thus alone, all men will believe on him: and the Romans shall come and take away both our place and nation” – a true priority of a conservative, to conserve the public order and status quo of power and class (John 11:48), and who made false accusations of Jesus for violating conservative “traditions” (with Jesus in turn asking them ” Why do ye also transgress the commandment of God by your tradition?” (Matt. 15:3) – which would make him not a good, tradition-loving conservative), and who used their early mass media to give “fake news” about Jesus not only in the courtroom , but among the crowds, to make him an anti-tradition, anti-conservative who needed to be stopped. Conservative use of the public was also common among the Romans and Greeks – where the term demagogue originated – always finding a scapegoat outsider to blame for their mismanagement and woes, or even false-flag attacks, such as the Christians blamed (as a feared minority religion, having had many lies told about them) for the fires in Nero’s Rome. Conservative Christian leaders were used to colluding with power structures, such as Constantine in Rome, to then anathematize many of their brethren having slightly different views of disputable and mysterious theological issues, and thus eliminate rival priests and help Constantine galvanize power and use Christianity to cement and stabilize the empire and control. They worked within the Catholic church to humble independent kings (and Popes themselves by the cardinals), and provoke the masses to crusades not only against Muslims, but even rival Christian sects. Conservative Lutherans and Calvinists soon got in the act, while those deemed liberal, like the Quakers, were seen as pacifists and non-violent, and the object of their scorn. Conservative, unyielding and uncompromising Christians of all stripes in Europe kept the continent in flames in religious wars, with the less fundamentalist folk caught in the crossfire. Some Christian groups were persecuted by their fellow conservatives, like the Puritans by the Anglicans, to which they fled to the New World to do some fundamentalist persecution of their own, against Baptists and Quakers. Conservatives justified the institution of slavery, while the liberal denominations fought it. The Protestant sects participated in a wave of anti-Catholic, anti-Mason and anti-immigrant persecution over the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, while at the same time the liberal Christian groups began to address poverty and social injustice.
However, conservative media and influence came into its own in the Twentieth Century, with the development of mass media, in addition to print. Some of the early stars, like Father Coughlin, had audiences in the millions, and focused on pro-fascist and anti-semitic positions. Others continued in the anti-Catholic tradition. Many took up the anti-Communist cause, and some transitioned into anti-education, anti-science, or anti-socialism. Do you detect a trend here? We should not forget the Klan, who by the 1920s had already compiled the basic modern conservative Christian agenda of prayer in schools, the Ten Commandments in the court room, mandatory church attendance, and the promotion of “Christian soldiers”, as fifteen percent of all men in the U.S. were members of the Klan by 1925. One thing they did take a positive position on was money – free enterprise and capitalism, and big business, and sacredized it – leading to today’s Christian emphasis on these principles (with them being in the statements of purpose at Liberty University), helping big business in overseas missionary ventures, like Dole in Hawaii and United Fruit Company in Central America, and setting the stage for the “name it and claim it”, “prosperity gospel” and televangelists in the latter part of the century. Alternatively, they took a hard line against Roosevelt’s “Great Society” welfare and jobs assistance for those suffering during the Great Depression, and “welfare cheats” and “deadbeats” ever since.
There ultimately became various strains of conservatism, soon after it popped up in history. One strain stood behind tradition – in power structures and the divine right of kings, and would be known as monarchists or royalists later, and protected the widespread power of the king, and the wealthy noblemen and aristocrats supporting them, and despised democracy. Another strain soon supported tradition in religion, and its existing power structures – not only in Rome, but also in Canterbury or Constantinople, and opposed any independent expression, or resources not centralized under the hierarchy, or attempts to fill the populace with “dangerous ideas”, such as from the Bible, which would have been seen as quite liberal and progressive, and certainly not ‘traditional”. Another strain would be the military, comprising military members who wanted a strong military not answerable to anyone, and an adventurous foreign policy. Yet another would be “money class”, comprising bankers and big business, based upon the earlier Knights Templar and Rothchilds templates, and typified in the City of London and later Wall Street, and arguably the most powerful segment of conservatism, with its wealth buying and controlling its rival segments, and with an argument that it strongly influences the CIA, and Goldman Sachs and hedge fund managers now the most important elements. Beyond these, we have the “fringe” elements, which can be influential at times, and often comprise hybrids of these established groups, like the John Birch Society, founded in 1958 as an anti-Communism movement often seen as a conspiracy-theory group that distrusts all global entanglements, and now sees a secret Illuminati cartel or cabal even above that of International Communism. In contrast, the banker conservatives tend to be internationalists (for there is money to be made and controlled), and mainstream conservatives like Eisenhower would be viewed as potential Communist collaborators. The Religious Right is another “fringe” group that is not so fringe in size, and is essential for conservative political victories, but usually ends up on the short end of the stick when getting payouts for their hard work keeping the rank and file to the polls (for example, for 28 or more years of Republican power since Roe V. Wade, they did not do much to curb abortions at all, as is always promised, although to be fair the Religious Right groups did not originally oppose abortions, including the Southern Baptists, until the Religious Right groups first formed to stop Christian school integration, and adopted the anti-abortion platform more into the 1980s. William F. Buckley was the standard bearer of the “blue blood”, aristocratic Ivy League conservatives, with his Firing Line show (on public television, no less) being the main conservative mass media forum from 1966 until 1988, and the rise of Rush Limbaugh. Rush took his conservative “with an attitude” radio show national in 1988, as Bush 43 was getting ready to be elected, and virtually invented talk radio as a force of societal change, and still going strong thirty years later, with no liberal rival. Sean Hannity then became a similar force, beginning in national talk radio and the first conservative cable news network, Fox News, in 1996, in the middle of the Clinton Administration. Around that same time, Matt Drudge began to perform the same revolution on the Internet, initially seeming more even handed in his criticism, but as he aged became more sympathetic to right-leaning positions, as well as his spinoff from Andrew Breitbart, and hard-right conspiracy trouble-maker Alex Jones. So one can see, there is a long legacy of conservative conditioning of the public, for which the evangelical community appears most vulnerable and gullible.
As seen at the top of this blog post, I believe that outlets such as Fox News (with their veritable “HeeHaw Honeys”, with their short skirts and low cut blouses that only feature attractive, mostly young women, talking about “family values” (and which makes no surprise that the organization was rife with infidelity and sexual harassment)), Sean Hannity and their ilk, talking about despising immigrants, encouraging war and intimidation, justifying torture and secret detainment with out trial (or secret trials without defendant rights), supporting the cause of the powerful institutions (like the police) always over a populace that might have been wronged, suspicions of those of different faiths, love of money and the powerful, and veneration of big business as the saviors of society while denigrating public servants if not in the military, all with a big dose of swagger and bullying, is in effect a “rat poison” that kills the conscience, morality, character, circumspectness, mercy, humility and love for others that is essential for well-functioning Christians, and has done more to handicap the Christian cause and reputation in America than any Communist or liberal professor could ever do. It took a long time to purge that “poison” out of my system, and I encourage all readers to take a Fox News and talk radio “break” for an extended time, instead reading the words of our Lord, and see if you don’t start having the same second-thoughts that I did – if our consciences aren’t already seared.
In the last segment of this series, we will briefly summarize how this historical trend, leading to the Trump revolution, will influence evangelicals in the generation ahead and behind, how they are perceived, and their mission to evangelize the lost.