Monday, August 15, 2016
White Might Sleight
It’s strange to watch political doctrines shift, sometimes almost entirely from major party to major party. After all, it was the Democrats who championed the pro-slavery faction against Republican Abraham Lincoln who found the practice so reprehensible that he was willing to wage the Civil War… a war that generated more American casualties than WWI and WWII combined.
Uber-“liberal” and major academic Democrat, Woodrow Wilson, who argued for global peace and understanding after WWI, was an arch “Dixie-Crat” – unraveled the federal Civil Service’s new program bringing blacks into the federal government. The desegregation movement of the early 1950s began under the GOP’s Dwight D Eisenhower administration, and it was almost relegated into oblivion by Dixie-Crats – who solidly ruled the South at every level (and were still enjoying the results of expert gerrymandering, a gift from their carpetbagger predecessors)… until Dem John Kennedy took a big risk and reversed his party’s commitment to racial diversity and rights.
The Republicans stepped into that “southern” void, first by embracing white Christian values to accelerate their financial goals, and then deploying the same gerrymandering and voter ID requirements that had held the Dix-Crats in power so long. But the modern GOP has also totally reversed Republican President Teddy Roosevelt’s deep progressive commitment to preserving and protecting the environment by taking the official position that global warming is either a hoax or of vastly lesser importance than unrestricting big corporations from environmental controls.
The current GOP “coalition” appears to be those who favor unrestricted and low-taxed wealth with those who favor ultra-conservative Evangelical Christian values with a powerful antipathy to ethnic, racial and sexual diversity (which they consider “anti-Christian). Until the Trump candidacy, these two groups seemed to have found a compromise that united them in purpose and political direction. The GOP dominates the Congress, state governorship and state legislatures, a testament to that successful alliance. But it is an alliance that is unraveling.
Some may point to those elements of Trump’s populism that are bad for business: isolationism and a strong rejection of multilateral trade agreements. Others fear the financial destabilization of a president who truly doesn’t understand the deepest issues facing government… rather a simple and very destabilizing vector to take it apart. But for the Republicans, there is a much deeper, demographic concern. When the Republicans disassembled the Democratic control of the South, they did so on the backs of white protestant voters with deeply religious values.
As my August 9th blog, Under-Educated, Under-Paid and Over-Angered, points out, the core of Donald Trump’s very loyal constituency are these increasingly disenfranchised white voters, particularly middle aged and older white makes without a college degree. Whether they are actually have a job they like or not, their anxiety about their economic future and the change in the direction of American values has made them diehard Trump supporters. But when you look at younger voters, Trump seems on the wrong side of history.
“[A] new USA TODAY/Rock the Vote Poll finds, as Republican Donald Trump heads toward the worst showing among younger voters in modern American history… The survey shows Clinton trouncing Trump 56%-20% among those under 35, though [Hillary Clinton] has failed so far to generate the levels of enthusiasm Sanders did — and the high turn-out that can signal — among Millennials.” USA Today, August 14th.
Trump’s and the GOP’s greatest traction skews older, white and Protestant. Pull this bloc out of American politics and not only does Mr. Trump’s campaign collapse, but the entire Republican Party becomes seriously compromised. Yet that’s exactly what’s happening across the United States.
John Sides’ insightful piece in the August 15th Washington Post, entitled White Christian America is dying, provides the chart noted at the top of this blog. It also explains why the GOP resonates so forcibly among older voters and why its anti-diversity policies have little traction among the young. Simply, those white Christian voters are rapidly becoming a minority force that no longer sets the values or goals for the rest of America. The 2020 Census will also redefine political representation in America. That they are well-armed with a seeming NRA sanction to use their guns to oppose a government that they believe no longer represents them.
Sides adds some additional explanations to this transition-of-power phenomenon: “Although the declining proportion of white Christians is due in part to large-scale demographic shifts — including immigration patterns and differential birth rates — [the above] chart also highlights the other major cause: young adults’ rejection of organized religion. Young adults are three times as likely as seniors to claim no religious affiliation (34 percent versus 11 percent, respectively).
“The American religious landscape is being remade, most notably by the decline of the white Protestant majority and the rise of the religiously unaffiliated. These religious transformations have been swift and dramatic, occurring largely within the last four decades. Many white Americans have sensed these changes, and there has been some media coverage of the demographic piece of the puzzle. But while the country’s shifting racial dynamics are certainly a source of apprehension for many white Americans, it is the disappearance of White Christian America that is driving their strong, sometimes apocalyptic reactions. Falling numbers and the marginalization of a once-dominant racial and religious identity — one that has been central not just to white Christians themselves but to the national mythos — threatens white Christians’ understanding of America itself.
“One thing you describe is how the decline of white Protestantism isn’t just about the decline of mainline denominations like the Episcopal, Methodist or Presbyterian Churches. It’s also about the decline of evangelical Protestantism. This conventional wisdom that traditional Gothic cathedrals are empty but the suburban mega-churches are bursting isn’t quite right.”
That these white Evangelical voters are merely digging in deeper into their belief, that only they represent true American values, only increases the Congressional gridlock that eschews traditional political horse-trading and compromise. Those elected by that white constituency are particularly committed to shutting the federal government down, if need be, to force the country to heel. They will continue to mount their gerrymandered/restrictive voter ID power over the rest of the country well into the next presidential administration, no matter the victor. And how the rest of the country reacts to that power struggle will define the United States for as long as there is a United States.
I’m Peter Dekom, and I am deeply troubled at the further extreme polarization of this country without much in the way of a sign of middle ground.