“Why Utah’s conservatism is better”

From The Economist, subtitle: “The Mormon right has not followed white evangelicals’ descent into grievance politics”

ONE OF THE few uplifting notes of last year’s election season was struck by the candidates for Utah’s governorship. “Win or lose, in Utah, we work together,” said Christopher Peterson, the Democrat, in a humorous ad featuring him and his Republican opponent. “So let’s show the country that there’s a better way,” said that rival, Spencer Cox.

Now Utah’s governor, Mr Cox seems to be keeping his pledge. The upbeat 45-year-old is winning plaudits for his pragmatism and evenhandedness. After Utah’s Republican legislature demanded an early end to its mask mandate, he negotiated a month-long extension, with exceptions for schools and businesses. He issued his first veto of a bill sponsored by his brother-in-law (it was an attack on social-media firms and probably unconstitutional).

He is popular with Democrats as well as Republicans—as Utah’s governors tend to be. Gary Herbert and Jon Huntsman had similar records. Though Utah is one of the most conservative states, the relative moderation of its Republican leaders has helped make it one of the less polarised. “We have a history here of wanting to bring the other side to the table,” says Mr Cox….

Sadly, a comparison between the Mormon and evangelical churches also suggests how hard it will be for evangelicals to follow the Latter-day Saints’ lead. The big difference between the two is psychological and rooted in their divergent histories. “My great-great-great-grandparents’ home was burned to the ground by a mob in Illinois,” said Mr Cox. “You don’t forget stuff like that.” That past not only explains Utah’s openness to immigration. It represents for Mormons a parable of existence as a sacred struggle, demanding humility and accommodation with a hostile world. Unlike aggrieved evangelicals, says Richard Mouw, a leading evangelical theologian, “Mormons are not angry, they don’t want to win, they just want a place at the American table.”

Mormons’ and evangelicals’ distinct perspectives are also a product of their churches’ organisation. The decentralised nature of evangelical America has allowed worshippers to sort themselves into racially and otherwise homogeneous congregations. This has in turn led them to elevate cultural over spiritual concerns. By contrast, Mormons’ centralised institutions underpin their greater pragmatism and openness to diversity….

Utah conservatism is a reminder to the American right of its more expansive, optimistic past. It also offers a warning of where Republicans’ current pessimistic course may lead. Almost half of Mormons under the age of 40 voted for Joe Biden.

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