This will be my fourth entry today. I want to round out an argument that I have been developing by suggesting how media research and theory is particularly implicated in the events of this week.
Along with many others, presumably, most of us missed what was developing. We saw the potential of a White, working-class revolt, and saw the evidence of those sentiments in the Sanders and Trump campaigns. Many observers missed the size of it.
That was in part because we and they missed the extent to which a set of ideas–inflected with religion in general and Protestantism in particular–came to the fore in the call to “Make American Great Again.” Clearly racial, ethnic, gender, and class resentments are at mixed up in this, but also there is a significant larger framing within the specifically American version of religious culture. Through that culture, religion legitimates the whole set of claims and loyalties and organizes them. This was explicit in Trump’s appeal to “religious liberty” but much more subtly there in his appeal to a longed-for 1950s domestic ideal. That makes sense as a moral project because it has always been made to make sense by the religious/Protestant inflection of American culture.
It is not just the content of that “project.” More significant is the idea that there should be such a project. That is part of the essence of the American version of the Bourgeois project. It has always drawn its justification and its moral architecture from America’s Protestant roots.
Most important to media scholars is the fact that such a moral project is only possible as an imaginary. It’s grounding in reality is deeply contradictory and is circulations ambivalent. As a shining moral claim though, it works. It is a project of cultural construction. In public space, circulated through channels of communication and modern mediation. That is the stuff we work on.
And unless we spend at least part of our time looking for the religious inflection and roots of all this, we’ll have been looking in the wrong places.