SALT LAKE CITY—If "None of the Above" were on the presidential ballot, Utah would be his strongest state.
Utahns' resistance to Republican nominee Donald Trump and rejection of Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton tells us something important about religion, community, and civil society.
Most Utah voters want someone besides Clinton or Trump, a recent Salt Lake Tribune poll showed, with conservative independent Evan McMullin, Libertarian Gary Johnson, Green Party nominee Jill Stein, and "undecided" combining for 51 percent.
No state had a higher rate of "neither" voters in the recent 50-state survey by the Washington Post. In the GOP caucuses, Trump was demolished, finishing in last place with 14 percent, 50 points behind Ted Cruz.
Utah is a very conservative state, so the rejection of Hillary is no mystery. But why is Utah so anti-Trump?
There are many reasons, and most of them trace back to the central role of Mormonism—the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or LDS for short.
The question of refugees provides a telling contrast between Trumpism and Utah's culture. Utah takes in 1,200 refugees a year, according to Jon Pierpont, executive director of Utah's Department of Workforce Services. Salt Lake County has 60,000 refugees in all. In the recent Pioneer Day Parade, there was even a refugee float.
"We accept that we are all God's children," said Doug Wilks, Bishop of a Salt Lake City ward (analogous to a parish pastor), told me when I asked him about refugees. "We reject a message that is contrary to it."
While Utah is very white and distinctively American, the LDS church is cosmopolitan. Most young Mormons spend a year or so on mission, and Asia, Africa, and South America are common destinations. Russ Horman, a former drug addict who tells me he returned to the LDS church after getting shot one day told me he launched a program for orphans in the Philippines. The recent LDS annual conference included a focus on refugees, and one local community college has been renovated into a refugee training site.
Trump's wall and deportation, along with his anti-globalist nationalism clashes with the LDS mindset.
More importantly, Trump's appeal to the disaffected doesn't resonate as much in Utah. "The American dream is dead," was a Trump refrain early in the primary season. "Make America Great Again," implies that America's not great. This pessimism has less purchase in Utah than in most parts of the country. Utah is the happiest state in the union, according to one study.
Utah's most important trait may be social connectedness. People trust their neighbors. They feel they have a role in the community—even a sense of purpose.
In much of the country, though, social cohesion is eroding—that's the theme of Robert Putnam's Bowling Alone, and Charles Murray's Coming Apart. Murray points out that wealthy, highly educated pockets of the country still have strong communities.
But you can also find this community strength in some non-wealthy pockets. You see it Dutch areas like Orange City in Iowa, in Western Michigan, and Oostburg in Wisconsin. You see it in orthodox Jewish neighborhoods in New York and in my part of the D.C. suburbs.
As in Oostburg and Crown Heights, Utah's social cohesion comes from the local church. LDS wards are shockingly active.The church sets up educational, social, and religious activities constantly for all ages.
Former bishop Skip Christiansen, eating a Choco Taco at a downtown Starbucks (he wasn't drinking coffee, of course), told me a majority of the ward was active in volunteer activity. All ward members have a "home teacher"—a member of the ward who visits their home to help assess and address problems, struggles, hopes.
This closeness makes possible the church's welfare system, which functions on a human level, rather than the impersonal bureaucratic style of federal safety net programs and most state programs. The LDS approach to welfare—with heavy emphasis on "self-reliance"—trickles out into the state and local governmental safety nets. The church's ideas leak out into the culture of the state, and manifest themselves in the secular institutions.
"Hillary Clinton was right," said Boyd Matheson, head of the conservative Sutherland Institute as we had lunch in his office overlooking both the Temple and the State Capitol. "It does take a village."
If a shared faith is the glue that creates close community and a sense of belonging, what does that mean for those of a different faith? Mormonism has same famously exclusionary aspects. The LDS Temple that forms the center of Salt Lake City is not open to non-Mormons. At one point, the church excluded black people.
But the non-"members" I spoke to in SLC generally were happy to live among the Mormons.
David is in his 50s and on disability. He was drinking coffee at Starbucks Thursday afternoon. He's not an LDS member, and never was. He told me how much he resents the "brainwashing" by the LDS church. He also told me: "They do wonderful works. If you ever need to get help for anything, this is the best state."
One black man, an immigrant from Ethiopia who didn't give his name, but I'll call Neil, similarly sung the Mormons' praise at that Starbucks on Wednesday. The racism in the church's past is gone now, as far as he can tell, and has left no apparent trace. Salt Lake City is the least racist part of the country, in his experience.
"Even if you are racist," Neil said, "you won't say it because you're afraid of your Bishop." He thinks the church aggressively roots out racism.
When Trump promises that he alone can Make America Great Again, that resonates with much of the country. In places like Salt Lake City, however, many people perceive a greatness that comes from no one person, but from a community.
Despite the strength of McMullin and Johnson here, Trump will probably carry the state on Election Day. But thanks to the strong civil society here, Trumpism never will.
Timothy P. Carney, the Washington Examiner's senior political columnist, can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. His column appears Tuesday and Thursday nights on washingtonexaminer.com.