NPR correspondent analyzes Trump phenomenon through a religious lens

Tom Gjelten spoke about the rise of Donald Trump and the media's dilemma in covering him at a lecture on Friday.

Award-winning NPR correspondent Tom Gjelten spoke about the presidential election, his experiences reporting on religion, and his latest book “A Nation of Nations: A Great American Immigration Story” on Friday in the Hergenhan Auditorium.

After a meet and greet with students and guests, Gjelten began his lecture by discussing the issues he has faced covering this year’s presidential election, an election that has been plagued by mud-slinging and dishonesty. Gjelten characterized the ongoing national upheaval as unprecedented and the reporting of it “a real challenge.”

“The only way we in the news media can play our role and hold on to some to do this in a non-judgmental way.”
- Tom Gjelten

“It seems like all the rules that we used to think that governed the election campaign are thrown out of the window,” said Gjelten. “Predictions have been so off-paced.”

Gjelten stated that that the public’s distrust in the media has posed a particularly difficult question for journalists, who have been wondering how to remain neutral in their coverage of both candidates, particularly Donald Trump, who Gjelten calls “an unconventional candidate.”

Gjelten unpacked the “Trump Phenomenon” from a religious angle based on his perspective as a religion reporter and examined the political and religious polarization that currently exists in America.

In Gjelten's travels to North Carolina, he found that religious groups there were willing to compromise their stances on many political issues because they agree with Trump’s position on same-sex marriage and abortion.

Gjelten once interviewed an underprivileged girl in a halfway home and found that she supported Trump because she was unable to abandon the conservative Pentecostal values she was raised with, even though she recognized the benefits of Hillary Clinton’s social policies.

Gjelten said that Trump won the favor of the wealthy because he is a proponent of the “prosperity gospel,” which welcomes personal financial achievements. He has also won the support, Gjelten said, of people who feel under cultural assault because of the change America’s recent demographic changes.

“It has less to do with religion,” said Gjelten, “than it has to do with cultural identity or national identity.”

Gjelten ended his discussion by emphasizing the responsibility of the media to provide just and truthful coverage.

“The only way we in the news media can play our role and hold on to some respect within the American population,” Gjelten said, “is to do this in a non-judgmental way.”

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