This is more like it.
In a GetReligion post last month, I offered praise for a thought-provoking Washington Post story on overlooked rural evangelicals.
But I voiced concern over the piece's lack of actual voices from rural America:
My recommendation in that original post:
Piggybacking off Godbeat veteran Bob Smietana's suggestion that "this is the big religion story for 2017," here's what I'd like to see going forward. Both from the Post and other major media, it seems to me that there's a big need to send a reporter — I nominate Sarah Pulliam Bailey — to some actual rural churches to interview real evangelicals who voted for Trump.
Today, the lead story on the Washington Post website is a news-feature by — guess who? — Sarah Pulliam Bailey out of Mount Airy, N.C. (Don't resort to facts and try to tell me this piece was in the works before my earlier post. I'm intent on taking credit.)
Yes, the headline is clickbait at its best (or worst, if you will):
How nostalgia for white Christian America drove so many Americans to vote for Trump
Already, I've heard a few reactions to the piece from people who haven't actually read it but want to debate the title. I get that. Really, I do.
But I'm going to propose a radical idea and suggest that folks actually click the link and read the story before critiquing it.
The lede by Bailey — a former GetReligionista — sets the scene:
MOUNT AIRY, N.C. — From a perch on Main Street, the home town of actor Andy Griffith looks this day like it was plucked right out of the television show that bears his name. And it was.
Residents and tourists from far-flung states mill along the thoroughfare, past the quaint low-slung shops made of Mount Airy’s famous white granite and named, like Floyd’s City Barber Shop, for references in “The Andy Griffith Show,” the folksy comedy set in the idyllic fictional small town of Mayberry that first aired in 1960.
And yet even as this city of about 10,000 nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains fills its coffers by selling nostalgia, many of its residents would agree with the now-popular saying “We’re not in Mayberry anymore.”
If only the real Mount Airy, which has experienced decades of economic and social decline, were like the Mayberry facade, muses Mayor David Rowe. If only his city and the rest of America could return to the 1950s again.
“Now it’s about secular progressivism, not the values you get out of this book,” like honesty and hard work, said Rowe, 72, jabbing his finger at the leather Bible on his office desk.
But as Donald Trump prepares to move into the White House, Rowe and many of his constituents are hoping for a return to the past.
For me, the story stirs nostalgia in more ways than one. For one, I spent part of my childhood in Elkin, N.C., about 25 miles southwest of Mount Airy. For another, I — like so many — grew up watching reruns of "The Andy Griffith Show."
A few paragraphs later, the Post gets to the overall premise for this piece:
A yearning for an earlier time, especially prevalent in rural American towns and cities like Mount Airy, helped spur white evangelical Christians to vote overwhelmingly for Donald Trump. For these voters, the desire for change also could be viewed as a desire to change back, to what they perceive as a more wholesome and prosperous time, when high-paying manufacturing jobs were plentiful, white Protestants were indisputably in charge and same-sex marriage and the Black Lives Matter movement were unthinkable.
Seventy-four percent of white evangelicals believe American culture has mostly changed for the worse since the 1950s — more than any other group of Americans — compared with 56 percent of all whites, according to a 2015 survey by the Public Religion Research Institute. In sharp contrast, 62 percent of African Americans and 57 percent of Hispanic Americans think the culture has changed for the better, the survey said.
With his promise to “Make America Great Again,” Trump appealed directly to this sense of dispossession, and 81 percent of white evangelicals voted for him, according to exit polls.
The story hits both at economic and religious concerns in Mount Airy:
His colleague, Dreama Staples, 53, said people are bringing in their prized possessions to sell so they can buy groceries and gas. At 4.8 percent, the unemployment rate in Surry County is similar to the national figure, but Staples said that finding full-time work with benefits is difficult. She said she has grown angry over what she considers government overreach.
“We’re losing control of our freedoms,” Staples said. “The government was taking away our rights. Taxes are higher, our jobs are gone, and it just feels less Christian.”
Of course, Post stories like this typically go through several rounds of editors. Those editors are often looking for ways to give a story a harder edge. Certain unattributed phrases in this story — such as "when ... white Protestants were indisputably in charge and same-sex marriage and the Black Lives Matter movement were unthinkable" — don't sound like the kind of fair, nuanced reporting that Bailey usually emphasizes.
In other words, is race really the overriding issue that drove Trump voters? Or were class concerns (read: economics) a bigger force? Is the Post insisting on black-and-white language where gray would fit better — and be more accurate?
Perhaps that pre-election episode of "Black Jeopardy" — as depicted by "Saturday Night Live" — can shed some light. A Slate magazine writer called the skit "the most astute analysis of American politics in 2016."
But please don't miss my original point: Overall, this latest Post story is worth your time and attention.
I really like all the specific, revealing details that Bailey provides about Mount Airy and its people — both white residents nostalgic for the past and minority residents with different perspectives on earlier times.
That's what happens when a talented reporter goes to a real place (well, as real as Mayberry gets) and talks to real people. Kudos to the Post for recognizing the value of such journalism.