So argues Mark Tooley:
Neither Sanders nor Trump would have been possible or even conceivable as serious presidential candidates during the decades of Mainline Protestant hegemony in American public life.
Excluding JFK, all presidents (including Unitarians) have had ties to Mainline Protestants, who shaped America’s political ethos for most of four centuries. Mainline Protestantism helped create American civil religion, a broad vaguely Protestant view of God that permitted all religious groups, including Catholics and Jews, to fully participate in public life without having to minimize their own religious convictions.
American democracy consequently remained very religious but also non-theocratic, tolerant and diverse, with all sects invested in America’s affirmation of religious liberty.
Through the mid-20th century, Mainline Protestantism provided the political language and ethical tools for governance and accommodation, especially for the great reform movements that expanded human equality. The Civil Rights Movement was perhaps Mainline Protestantism’s last great moral crusade, redeeming its earlier failures to address slavery and segregation.
But the great Mainline Protestant membership and wider cultural collapse began in the early 1960s. Then, one of six Americans belonged to the seven largest Mainline denominations. Today, fewer than one of 16 do.
Tooley fails to ask whether that political hegemony came with the price of theological modernism? After all, to maintain your place in the establishment, you can’t be vigorous about the particulars of your religious communion.
Tooley goes on to observe a certain tackiness among evangelicals:
Evangelicalism, lacking that magisterial heritage, is less self-confident, often uncomfortable with political power, is prone to extremes and often highly individualistic, impatient with human institutions.
These same handicaps plague even more the world of the religiously unaffiliated, who often lack the traditions, formal human communities, ethical tools and moral vocabulary for governance. They are especially vulnerable to the impulse of the moment.
So, if the the downfall of the mainline paved the way for Trump, how much more the corruption of the Roman Catholic Church which paved the way for magisterial reformers?