The Last Temptation

The Last Temptation by Michael Gerson, The Atlantic, May 2018    https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2018/04/the-last-temptation/554066/

How evangelicals, once culturally confident, became an anxious minority seeking political protection from the least traditionally religious president in living memory

One of the most extraordinary things about our current politics—really, one of the most extraordinary developments of recent political history—is the loyal adherence of religious conservatives to Donald Trump. The president won four-fifths of the votes of white evangelical Christians. This was a higher level of support than either Ronald Reagan or George W. Bush, an outspoken evangelical himself, ever received.

Trump’s background and beliefs could hardly be more incompatible with traditional Christian models of life and leadership. Trump’s past political stances (he once supported the right to partial-birth abortion), his character (he has bragged about sexually assaulting women), and even his language (he introduced the words pussy and shithole into presidential discourse) would more naturally lead religious conservatives toward exorcism than alliance. This is a man who has cruelly publicized his infidelities, made disturbing sexual comments about his elder daughter, and boasted about the size of his penis on the debate stage. His lawyer reportedly arranged a $130,000 payment to a porn star to dissuade her from disclosing an alleged affair. Yet religious conservatives who once blanched at PG-13 public standards now yawn at such NC-17 maneuvers. We are a long way from The Book of Virtues.

Trump supporters tend to dismiss moral scruples about his behavior as squeamishness over the president’s “style.” But the problem is the distinctly non-Christian substance of his values. Trump’s unapologetic materialism—his equation of financial and social success with human achievement and worth—is a negation of Christian teaching. His tribalism and hatred for “the other” stand in direct opposition to Jesus’s radical ethic of neighbor love. Trump’s strength-worship and contempt for “losers” smack more of Nietzsche than of Christ. Blessed are the proud. Blessed are the ruthless. Blessed are the shameless. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after fame.

According to Jerry Falwell Jr., evangelicals have “found their dream president,” which says something about the current quality of evangelical dreams.

And yet, a credible case can be made that evangelical votes were a decisive factor in Trump’s improbable victory. Trump himself certainly acts as if he believes they were. Many individuals, causes, and groups that Trump pledged to champion have been swiftly sidelined or sacrificed during Trump’s brief presidency. The administration’s outreach to white evangelicals, however, has been utterly consistent.

Trump-allied religious leaders have found an open door at the White House—what Richard Land, the president of the Southern Evangelical Seminary, calls “unprecedented access.” In return, they have rallied behind the administration in its times of need. “Clearly, this Russian story is nonsense,” explains the mega-church pastor Paula White-Cain, who is not generally known as a legal or cybersecurity expert. Pastor David Jeremiah has compared Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump to Joseph and Mary: “It’s just like God to use a young Jewish couple to help Christians.” According to Jerry Falwell Jr., evangelicals have “found their dream president,” which says something about

Loyalty to Trump has involved progressively more difficult, self-abasing demands. And there appears to be no limit to what some evangelical leaders will endure. Figures such as Falwell and Franklin Graham followed Trump’s lead in supporting Judge Roy Moore in the December Senate election in Alabama. These are religious leaders who have spent their entire adult lives bemoaning cultural and moral decay. Yet they publicly backed a candidate who was repeatedly accused of sexual misconduct, including with a 14-year-old girl.the current quality of evangelical dreams.

In January, following reports that Trump had referred to Haiti and African nations as “shithole countries,” Pastor Robert Jeffress came quickly to his defense. “Apart from the vocabulary attributed to him,” Jeffress wrote, “President Trump is right on target in his sentiment.” After reports emerged that Trump’s lawyer paid hush money to the porn star Stormy Daniels to cover up their alleged sexual encounter, Graham vouched for Trump’s “concern for Christian values.” Tony Perkins, the president of the Family Research Council, argued that Trump should be given a “mulligan” for his past infidelity. One can only imagine the explosion of outrage if President Barack Obama had been credibly accused of similar offenses.

The moral convictions of many evangelical leaders have become a function of their partisan identification. This is not mere gullibility; it is utter corruption. Blinded by political tribalism and hatred for their political opponents, these leaders can’t see how they are undermining the causes to which they once dedicated their lives. Little remains of a distinctly Christian public witness.

As the prominent evangelical pastor Tim Keller—who is not a Trump loyalist—recently wrote in The New Yorker, “ ‘Evangelical’ used to denote people who claimed the high moral ground; now, in popular usage, the word is nearly synonymous with ‘hypocrite.’ ” So it is little wonder that last year the Princeton Evangelical Fellowship, an 87-year-old ministry, dropped the “E word” from its name, becoming the Princeton Christian Fellowship: Too many students had identified the term with conservative political ideology. Indeed, a number of serious evangelicals are distancing themselves from the word for similar reasons.

I find this desire understandable but not compelling. Some words, like strategic castles, are worth defending, and evangelical is among them. While the term is notoriously difficult to define, it certainly encompasses a “born-again” religious experience, a commitment to the authority of the Bible, and an emphasis on the redemptive power of Jesus Christ.

I was raised in an evangelical home, went to an evangelical church and high school, and began following Christ as a teen. After attending Georgetown University for a year, I transferred to Wheaton College in Illinois—sometimes called “the Harvard of evangelical Protestantism”—where I studied theology. I worked at an evangelical nonprofit, Prison Fellowship, before becoming a staffer for Senator Dan Coats of Indiana (a fellow Wheaton alum). On Capitol Hill, I found many evangelical partners in trying to define a “compassionate conservatism.” And as a policy adviser and the chief speechwriter to President George W. Bush, I saw how evangelical leaders such as Rick and Kay Warren could be principled, tireless advocates in the global fight against aids.

Those experiences make me hesitant to abandon the word evangelical. They also make seeing the defilement of that word all the more painful. The corruption of a political party is regrettable. The corruption of a religious tradition by politics is tragic, shaming those who participate in it.

How did something so important and admirable become so disgraced? For many people, including myself, this question involves both intellectual analysis and personal angst. The answer extends back some 150 years, and involves cultural and political shifts that long pre-date Donald Trump. It is the story of how an influential and culturally confident religious movement became a marginalized and anxious minority seeking political protection under the wing of a man such as Trump, the least traditionally Christian figure—in temperament, behavior, and evident belief—to assume the presidency in living memory.

Understanding that evolution requires understanding the values that once animated American evangelicalism. It is a movement that was damaged in the fall from a great height.

My alma mater, Wheaton College, was founded by abolitionist evangelicals in 1860 under the leadership of Jonathan Blanchard, an emblematic figure in mid-19th-century Northern evangelicalism. Blanchard was part of a generation of radical malcontents produced by the Second Great Awakening, a religious revival that had touched millions of American lives in the first half of the 19th century. He was a Presbyterian minister, a founder of several radical newspapers, and an antislavery agitator.

In the years before the Civil War, a connection between moralism and a concern for social justice was generally assumed among Northern evangelicals. They variously militated for temperance, humane treatment of the mentally disabled, and prison reform. But mainly they militated for the end of slavery. 
Indeed, Wheaton welcomed both African American and female students, and served as a stop on the Underground Railroad. In a history of the 39th Regiment of the Illinois Volunteer Infantry, the infantryman Ezra Cook recalled that “runaway slaves were perfectly safe in the College building, even when no attempt was made to conceal their presence.”

Blanchard had explained his beliefs in an 1839 commencement address given at Oberlin College, titled “A Perfect State of Society.” He preached that “every true minister of Christ is a universal reformer, whose business it is, so far as possible, to reform all the evils which press on human concerns.” Elsewhere he argued that “slave-holding is not a solitary, but a social sin.” He added: “I rest my opposition to slavery upon the one-bloodism of the New Testament. All men are equal, because they are of one equal blood.”

During this period, evangelicalism was largely identical to mainstream Protestantism. Evangelicals varied widely in their denominational beliefs, but they uniformly agreed about the need for a personal decision to accept God’s grace through faith in Christ. The evangelist Charles G. Finney, who was the president of Oberlin College from 1851 to 1866, described his conversion experience thusly: “I could feel the impression, like a wave of electricity, going through and through me. Indeed it seemed to come in waves and waves of liquid love.”

Early evangelicals were an optimistic lot who thought that human effort could help hasten the arrival of the Second Coming.

In politics, evangelicals tended to identify New England, and then the whole country, with biblical Israel. Many a sermon described America as a place set apart for divine purposes. “Some nation,” the evangelical minister Lyman Beecher said, “itself free, was needed, to blow the trumpet and hold up the light.” (Beecher’s daughter Harriet Beecher Stowe was among the founders of this magazine.) The burden of this calling was a collective responsibility to remain virtuous, in matters from ending slavery to ending Sabbath-breaking.

This was not advocacy for theocracy, and evangelical leaders were not blind to the risks of too close a relationship with worldly power. “The injudicious association of religion with politics, in the time of Cromwell,” Beecher argued, “brought upon evangelical doctrine and piety, in England, an odium which has not ceased to this day.” Yet few evangelicals would have denied that God’s covenantal relationship with America required a higher standard of private and public morality, lest that divine blessing be forfeited.

Perhaps most important, prior to the Civil War, evangelicals were by and large postmillennialists—that is, they believed that the final millennium of human history would be a time of peace for the world and of expansion for the Christian Church, culminating in the Second Coming of Christ. As such, they were an optimistic lot who thought that human effort could help hasten the arrival of this promised era—a belief that encouraged both social activism and global missionary activity. “Evangelicals generally regarded almost any sort of progress as evidence of the advance of the kingdom,” the historian George Marsden observes in Fundamentalism and American Culture.

In the mid-19th century, evangelicalism was the predominant religious tradition in Americaa faith assured of its social position, confident in its divine calling, welcoming of progress, and hopeful about the future. Fifty years later, it was losing intellectual and social ground on every front. Twenty-five years beyond that, it had become a national joke.

The horrors of the Civil War took a severe toll on the social optimism at the heart of postmillennialism. It was harder to believe in the existence of a religious golden age that included Antietam. At the same time, industrialization and urbanization loosened traditional social bonds and created an impression of moral chaos. The mass immigration of Catholics and Jews changed the face and spiritual self-conception of the country. (In 1850, Catholics made up about 5 percent of the population. By 1906, they represented 17 percent.) Evangelicals struggled to envision a diverse, and some believed degenerate, America as the chosen, godly republic of their imagination.

But it was a series of momentous intellectual developments that most effectively drove a wedge between evangelicalism and elite culture. Higher criticism of the Bible—a scholarly movement out of Germany that picked apart the human sources and development of ancient texts—called into question the roots, accuracy, and historicity of the book that constituted the ultimate source of evangelical authority. At the same time, the theory of evolution advanced a new account of human origin. Advocates of evolution, as well as those who denied it most vigorously, took the theory as an alternative to religious accounts—and in many cases to Christian belief itself.

Religious progressives sought common ground between the Christian faith and the new science and higher criticism. Many combined their faith with the Social Gospel—a postmillennialism drained of the miraculous, with social reform taking the place of the Second Coming.

Religious conservatives, by contrast, rebelled against this strategy of accommodation in a series of firings and heresy trials designed to maintain control of seminaries. (Woodrow Wilson’s uncle James lost his job at Columbia Theological Seminary for accepting evolution as compatible with the Bible.) But these tactics generally backfired, and seminary after seminary, college after college, fell under the influence of modern scientific and cultural assumptions. To contest progressive ideas, the religiously orthodox published a series of books called The Fundamentals. Hence the term fundamentalism, conceived in a spirit of desperate reaction.

Fundamentalism embraced traditional religious views, but it did not propose a return to an older evangelicalism. Instead it responded to modernity in ways that cut it off from its own past. In reacting against higher criticism, it became simplistic and overliteral in its reading of scripture. In reacting against evolution, it became anti-scientific in its general orientation. In reacting against the Social Gospel, it came to regard the whole concept of social justice as a dangerous liberal idea. This last point constituted what some scholars have called the “Great Reversal,” which took place from about 1900 to 1930. “All progressive social concern,” Marsden writes, “whether political or private, became suspect among revivalist evangelicals and was relegated to a very minor role.”

This general pessimism about the direction of society was reflected in a shift away from postmillennialism and toward premillennialism. In this view, the current age is tending not toward progress, but rather toward decadence and chaos under the influence of Satan. A new and better age will not be inaugurated until the Second Coming of Christ, who is the only one capable of cleaning up the mess. No amount of human effort can hasten that day, or ultimately save a doomed world. For this reason, social activism was deemed irrelevant to the most essential task: the work of preparing oneself, and helping others prepare, for final judgment.

The banishment of fundamentalism from the cultural mainstream culminated dramatically in a Tennessee courthouse in 1925. William Jennings Bryan, the most prominent Christian politician of his time, was set against Clarence Darrow and the theory of evolution at the Scopes “monkey trial,” in which a Tennessee educator was tried for teaching the theory in high school. Bryan won the case but not the country. The journalist and critic H. L. Mencken provided the account accepted by history, dismissing Bryan as “a tin pot pope in the Coca-Cola belt and a brother to the forlorn pastors who belabor half-wits in galvanized iron tabernacles behind the railroad yards.” Fundamentalists became comic figures, subject to world-class condescension.

It has largely slipped the mind of history that Bryan was a peace activist as secretary of state under Woodrow Wilson and that his politics foreshadowed the New Deal. And Mencken was eventually revealed as a racist, an anti-Semite, and a eugenics advocate. In the fundamentalist–modernist controversy, there was only one winner. “In the course of roughly thirty-five years,” the sociologist James Davison Hunter observes in American Evangelicalism, “Protestantism had moved from a position of cultural dominance to a position of cognitive marginality and political impotence.” Activism and optimism were replaced by the festering resentment of status lost.

The fundamentalists were not passive in their exile. They created a web of institutions—radio stations, religious schools, outreach ministries—that eventually constituted a healthy subculture. The country, meanwhile, was becoming less secular and more welcoming of religious influence. (In 1920, church membership in the United States was 43 percent. By 1960, it was 63 percent.) A number of leaders, including the theologian Carl Henry and the evangelist Billy Graham (the father of Franklin Graham), bridled at fundamentalist irrelevance. Henry’s book The Uneasy Conscience of Modern Fundamentalism was influential in urging greater cultural and intellectual engagement. This reemergence found its fullest expression in Graham, who left the fundamentalist ghetto, hobnobbed with presidents, and presented to the public a more appealing version of evangelicalism—a term that was deliberately employed as a contrast to the older, narrower fundamentalism.

Fox News and conservative talk radio are vastly greater influences on evangelicals’ political identity than formal statements by religious denominations.

Not everyone was impressed. When Graham planned mass evangelistic meetings in New York City in 1957, the theologian Reinhold Niebuhr editorialized against his “petty moralizing.” But Niebuhr’s attack on Graham provoked significant backlash, even in liberal theological circles. During a 16-week “crusade” that played to packed houses, Graham was joined one night at Madison Square Garden by none other than Martin Luther King Jr.

Over time, evangelicalism got a revenge of sorts in its historical rivalry with liberal Christianity. Adherents of the latter gradually found better things to do with their Sundays than attend progressive services. In 1972, nearly 28 percent of the population belonged to mainline-Protestant churches. That figure is now well below 15 percent. Over those four decades, however, evangelicals held steady at roughly 25 percent of the public (though this share has recently declined). As its old theological rival faded—or, more accurately, collapsed—evangelical endurance felt a lot like momentum.

With the return of this greater institutional self-confidence, evangelicals might have expected to play a larger role in determining cultural norms and standards. But their hopes ran smack into the sexual revolution, along with other rapid social changes. The Moral Majority appeared at about the same time that the actual majority was more and more comfortable with divorce and couples living together out of wedlock. Evangelicals experienced the power of growing numbers and healthy subcultural institutions even as elite institutions—from universities to courts to Hollywood—were decisively rejecting traditional ideals.

As a result, the primary evangelical political narrative is adversarial, an angry tale about the aggression of evangelicalism’s cultural rivals. In a remarkably free country, many evangelicals view their rights as fragile, their institutions as threatened, and their dignity as assailed. The single largest religious demographic in the United States—representing about half the Republican political coalition—sees itself as a besieged and disrespected minority. In this way, evangelicals have become simultaneously more engaged and more alienated.

The overall political disposition of evangelical politics has remained decidedly conservative, and also decidedly reactive. After shamefully sitting out (or even opposing) the civil-rights movement, white evangelicals became activated on a limited range of issues. They defended Christian schools against regulation during Jimmy Carter’s administration. They fought against Supreme Court decisions that put tight restrictions on school prayer and removed many state limits on abortion. The sociologist Nathan Glazer describes such efforts as a “defensive offensive”—a kind of morally indignant pushback against a modern world that, in evangelicals’ view, had grown hostile and oppressive.

This attitude was happily exploited by the modern GOP. Evangelicals who were alienated by the pro-choice secularism of Democratic presidential nominees were effectively courted to join the Reagan coalition. “I know that you can’t endorse me,” Reagan told an evangelical conference in 1980, “but I only brought that up because I want you to know that I endorse you.” In contrast, during his presidential run four years later, Walter Mondale warned of “radical preachers,” and his running mate, Geraldine Ferraro, denounced the “extremists who control the Republican Party.” By attacking evangelicals, the Democratic Party left them with a relatively easy partisan choice.

Billy Graham (right) left the fundamentalist ghetto, hobnobbed with presidents, and presented to the public a more appealing version of evangelicalism. (Bettmann / Getty)

The leaders who had emerged within evangelicalism varied significantly in tone and approach. Billy Graham was the uncritical priest to the powerful. (His inclination to please was memorialized on one of the Nixon tapes, in comments enabling the president’s anti-Semitism.) James Dobson, the founder of Focus on the Family, was the prickly prophet, constantly threatening to bolt from the Republican coalition unless social-conservative purity was maintained. Jerry Falwell Sr. and Pat Robertson (the latter of whom ran for president himself in 1988) tried to be political kingmakers. And, following his dramatic conversion, Chuck Colson, of Watergate infamy, founded Prison Fellowship in an attempt to revive some of the old abolitionist spirit as an advocate of prison reform. Yet much of this variety was blurred in the public mind, with religious right used as a catchall epithet.

Where did this history leave evangelicals’ political involvement?

For a start, modern evangelicalism has an important intellectual piece missing. It lacks a model or ideal of political engagement—an organizing theory of social action. Over the same century from Blanchard to Falwell, Catholics developed a coherent, comprehensive tradition of social and political reflection. Catholic social thought includes a commitment to solidarity, whereby justice in a society is measured by the treatment of its weakest and most vulnerable members. And it incorporates the principle of subsidiarity—the idea that human needs are best met by small and local institutions (though higher-order institutions have a moral responsibility to intervene when local ones fail).

In practice, this acts as an “if, then” requirement for Catholics, splendidly complicating their politics: If you want to call yourself pro-life on abortion, then you have to oppose the dehumanization of migrants. If you criticize the devaluation of life by euthanasia, then you must criticize the devaluation of life by racism. If you want to be regarded as pro-family, then you have to support access to health care. And vice versa. The doctrinal whole requires a broad, consistent view of justice, which—when it is faithfully applied—cuts across the categories and clichés of American politics. Of course, American Catholics routinely ignore Catholic social thought. But at least they have it. Evangelicals lack a similar tradition of their own to disregard.

So where do evangelicals get their theory of social engagement? It is cheating to say (as most evangelicals probably would) “the Bible.” The Christian Bible, after all, can be a vexing document: At various points, it offers approving accounts of genocide and recommends the stoning of insubordinate children. Some interpretive theory must elevate the Golden Rule above Iron Age ethics and apply that higher ideal to the tragic compromises of public life. Lacking an equivalent to Catholic social thought, many evangelicals seem to find their theory merely by following the contours of the political movement that is currently defending, and exploiting, them. The voter guides of religious conservatives have often been suspiciously similar to the political priorities of movement conservatism. Fox News and talk radio are vastly greater influences on evangelicals’ political identity than formal statements by religious denominations or from the National Association of Evangelicals. In this Christian political movement, Christian theology is emphatically not the primary motivating factor.

The evangelical political agenda, moreover, has been narrowed by its supremely reactive nature. Rather than choosing their own agendas, evangelicals have been pulled into a series of social and political debates started by others. Why the asinine issue of spiritually barren prayer in public schools? Because of Justice Hugo Black’s 1962 opinion rendering it unconstitutional. Why such an effort-wasting emphasis on a constitutional amendment to end abortion, which will never pass? Because in 1973 Justice Harry Blackmun located the right to abortion in the constitutional penumbra. Why the current emphasis on religious liberty? Because the 2015 Obergefell v. Hodges decision legalizing same-sex marriage has raised fears of coercion.

It is not that secularization, abortion, and religious liberty are trivial issues; they are extremely important. But the timing and emphasis of evangelical responses have contributed to a broad sense that evangelical political engagement is negative, censorious, and oppositional. This funneled focus has also created the damaging impression that Christians are obsessed with sex. Much of the secular public hears from Christians only on issues of sexuality—from contraceptive mandates to gay rights to transgender bathroom usage. And while religious people do believe that sexual ethics are important, the nature of contemporary religious engagement creates a misimpression about just how important they are relative to other crucial issues.

The upside potential of evangelical social engagement was illustrated by an important, but largely overlooked, initiative that I witnessed while working at the White House. The President’s Emergency Plan for aids Relief (pepfar)—the largest initiative by a nation in history to fight a single disease—emerged in part from a sense of moral obligation informed by George W. Bush’s evangelical faith. In explaining and defending the program, Bush made constant reference to Luke 12:48: “To whom much is given, much is required.” pepfar also owes its existence to a strange-bedfellows political alliance of liberal global-health advocates and evangelical leaders, who had particular standing and sway with Republican members of Congress. Rather than being a response to secular aggression, this form of evangelical social engagement was the reaction to a massive humanitarian need and displayed a this-worldly emphasis on social justice that helped save millions of lives.

This achievement is now given little attention by secular liberals or religious conservatives. In the Trump era, evangelical leaders have seldom brought this type of issue to the policy front burner—though some have tried with criminal-justice reform and the fight against modern slavery. Individual Christians and evangelical ministries fight preventable disease, resettle refugees, treat addiction, run homeless shelters, and care for foster children. But such concerns find limited collective political expression.

Part of the reason such matters are not higher on the evangelical agenda is surely the relative ethnic and racial insularity of many white evangelicals. Plenty of African Americans hold evangelical theological views, of course, along with a growing number of Latinos. Yet evangelical churches, like other churches and houses of worship, tend to be segregated on Sunday. Nearly all denominations with large numbers of evangelicals are less racially diverse than the country overall.

Compare this with the Catholic Church, which is more than one-third Hispanic. This has naturally stretched the priorities of Catholicism to include the needs and rights of recent immigrants. In many evangelical communities, those needs remain distant and theoretical (though successful evangelical churches in urban areas are now experiencing the same diversity and broadening of social concern). Or consider the contrasting voting behaviors of white and African American evangelicals in last year’s Senate race in Alabama. According to exit polls, 80 percent of white evangelicals voted for Roy Moore, while 95 percent of black evangelicals supported his Democratic opponent, Doug Jones. The two groups inhabit two entirely different political worlds.

Evangelicals also have a consistent problem with their public voice, which can be off-puttingly apocalyptic. “We are on the verge of losing” America, proclaims the evangelical writer and radio host Eric Metaxas, “as we could have lost it in the Civil War.” Franklin Graham declares, a little too vividly, that the country “has taken a nosedive off of the moral diving board into the cesspool of humanity.” Such hyperbole may be only a rhetorical strategy, employing the apocalypse for emphasis. But the attribution of depravity and decline to America also reflects a consistent and (so far) disappointed belief that the Second Coming may be just around history’s corner.

The difficulty with this approach to public life—other than its insanely pessimistic depiction of our flawed but wonderful country—is that it trivializes and undercuts the entire political enterprise. Politics in a democracy is essentially anti-apocalyptic, premised on the idea that an active citizenry is capable of improving the nation. But if we’re already mere minutes from the midnight hour, then what is the point? The normal avenues of political reform are useless. No amount of negotiation or compromise is going to matter much compared with the Second Coming.

Moreover, in making their case on cultural decay and decline, evangelicals have, in some highly visible cases, chosen the wrong nightmares. Most notable, they made a crucial error in picking evolution as a main point of contention with modernity. “The contest between evolution and Christianity is a duel to the death,” William Jennings Bryan argued. “If evolution wins … Christianity goesnot suddenly, of course, but gradually, for the two cannot stand together.” Many people of his background believed this. But their resistance was futile, for one incontrovertible reason: Evolution is a fact. It is objectively true based on overwhelming evidence. By denying this, evangelicals made their entire view of reality suspect. They were insisting, in effect, that the Christian faith requires a flight from reason.

This was foolish and unnecessary. There is no meaningful theological difference between creation by divine intervention and creation by natural selection; both are consistent with belief in a purposeful universe, and with serious interpretation of biblical texts. Evangelicals have placed an entirely superfluous stumbling block before their neighbors and children, encouraging every young person who loves science to reject Christianity.

Evangelicals remain the most loyal element of the Trump coalition. They are broadly eager to act as his shield and sword. They are his army of enablers.

What if Bryan and others of his generation had chosen to object to eugenics rather than evolution, to social Darwinism rather than Darwinism? The textbook at issue in the Scopes case, after all, was titled A Civic Biology, and it urged sterilization for the mentally impaired. “Epilepsy, and feeble-mindedness,” the text read, “are handicaps which it is not only unfair but criminal to hand down to posterity.” What if this had been the focus of Bryan’s objection? Mencken doubtless would still have mocked. But the moral and theological priorities of evangelical Christianity would have turned out differently. And evangelical fears would have been eventually justified by America’s shameful history of eugenics, and by the more rigorous application of the practice abroad. Instead, Bryan chose evolution—and in the end, the cause of human dignity was not served by the obscuring of human origins.

The consequences, especially for younger generations, are considerable. According to a recent survey by Barna, a Christian research firm, more than half of churchgoing Christian teens believe that “the church seems to reject much of what science tells us about the world.” This may be one reason that, in America, the youngest age cohorts are the least religiously affiliated, which will change the nation’s baseline of religiosity over time. More than a third of Millennials say they are unaffiliated with any faith, up 10 points since 2007. Count this as an ironic achievement of religious conservatives: an overall decline in identification with religion itself.

By the turn of the millennium, many, including myself, were convinced that religious conservatism was fading as a political force. Its outsize leaders were aging and passing. Its institutions seemed to be declining in profile and influence. Bush’s 2000 campaign attempted to appeal to religious voters on a new basis. “Compassionate conservatism” was designed to be a policy application of Catholic social thought—an attempt to serve the poor, homeless, and addicted by catalyzing the work of private and religious nonprofits. The effort was sincere but eventually undermined by congressional-Republican resistance and eclipsed by global crisis. Still, I believed that the old evangelical model of social engagement was exhausted, and that something more positive and principled was in the offing.

I was wrong. In fact, evangelicals would prove highly vulnerable to a message of resentful, declinist populism. Donald Trump could almost have been echoing the apocalyptic warnings of Metaxas and Graham when he declared, “Our country’s going to hell.” Or: “We haven’t seen anything like this, the carnage all over the world.” Given Trump’s general level of religious knowledge, he likely had no idea that he was adapting premillennialism to populism. But when the candidate talked of an America in decline and headed toward destruction, which could be returned to greatness only by recovering the certainties of the past, he was strumming resonant chords of evangelical conviction.

Trump consistently depicts evangelicals as they depict themselves: a mistreated minority, in need of a defender who plays by worldly rules. Christianity is “under siege,” Trump told a Liberty University audience. “Relish the opportunity to be an outsider,” he added at a later date: “Embrace the label.” Protecting Christianity, Trump essentially argues, is a job for a bully.

It is true that insofar as Christian hospitals or colleges have their religious liberty threatened by hostile litigation or government agencies, they have every right to defend their institutional identities—to advocate for a principled pluralism. But this is different from evangelicals regarding themselves, hysterically and with self-pity, as an oppressed minority that requires a strongman to rescue it. This is how Trump has invited evangelicals to view themselves. He has treated evangelicalism as an interest group in need of protection and preferences.

A prominent company of evangelical leaders—including Dobson, Falwell, Graham, Jeffress, Metaxas, Perkins, and Ralph Reed—has embraced this self-conception. Their justification is often bluntly utilitarian: All of Trump’s flaws are worth his conservative judicial appointments and more-favorable treatment of Christians by the government. But they have gone much further than grudging, prudential calculation. They have basked in access to power and provided character references in the midst of scandal. Graham castigated the critics of Trump’s response to the violence during a white-supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia (“Shame on the politicians who are trying to push blame on @POTUS”). Dobson has pronounced Trump a “baby Christian”—a political use of grace that borders on blasphemy. “Complaining about the temperament of the @POTUS or saying his behavior is not presidential is no longer relevant,” Falwell tweeted. “[Donald Trump] has single-handedly changed the definition of what behavior is ‘presidential’ from phony, failed & rehearsed to authentic, successful & down to earth.”

It is remarkable to hear religious leaders defend profanity, ridicule, and cruelty as hallmarks of authenticity and dismiss decency as a dead language. Whatever Trump’s policy legacy ends up being, his presidency has been a disaster in the realm of norms. It has coarsened our culture, given permission for bullying, complicated the moral formation of children, undermined standards of public integrity, and encouraged cynicism about the political enterprise. Falwell, Graham, and others are providing religious cover for moral squalor—winking at trashy behavior and encouraging the unraveling of social restraints. Instead of defending their convictions, they are providing preemptive absolution for their political favorites. And this, even by purely political standards, undermines the causes they embrace. Turning a blind eye to the exploitation of women certainly doesn’t help in making pro-life arguments. It materially undermines the movement, which must ultimately change not only the composition of the courts but the views of the public. Having given politics pride of place, these evangelical leaders have ceased to be moral leaders in any meaningful sense.

Every strong Trump supporter has decided that racism is not a moral disqualification in the president of the United States.

But setting matters of decency aside, evangelicals are risking their faith’s reputation on matters of race. Trump has, after all, attributed Kenyan citizenship to Obama, stereotyped Mexican migrants as murderers and rapists, claimed unfair treatment in federal court based on a judge’s Mexican heritage, attempted an unconstitutional Muslim ban, equivocated on the Charlottesville protests, claimed (according to The New York Times) that Nigerians would never “go back to their huts” after seeing America, and dismissed Haitian and African immigrants as undesirable compared with Norwegians.

For some of Trump’s political allies, racist language and arguments are part of his appeal. For evangelical leaders, they should be sources of anguish. Given America’s history of slavery and segregation, racial prejudice is a special category of moral wrong. Fighting racism galvanized the religious conscience of 19th-century evangelicals and 20th-century African American civil-rights activists. Perpetuating racism indicted many white Christians in the South and elsewhere as hypocrites. Americans who are wrong on this issue do not understand the nature of their country. Christians who are wrong on this issue do not understand the most-basic requirements of their faith.

Here is the uncomfortable reality: I do not believe that most evangelicals are racist. But every strong Trump supporter has decided that racism is not a moral disqualification in the president of the United States. And that is something more than a political compromise. It is a revelation of moral priorities.

If utilitarian calculations are to be applied, they need to be fully applied. For a package of political benefits, these evangelical leaders have associated the Christian faith with racism and nativism. They have associated the Christian faith with misogyny and the mocking of the disabled. They have associated the Christian faith with lawlessness, corruption, and routine deception. They have associated the Christian faith with moral confusion about the surpassing evils of white supremacy and neo-Nazism. The world is full of tragic choices and compromises. But for this man? For this cause?

Some evangelical leaders, it is worth affirming, are providing alternative models of social engagement. Consider Tim Keller, who is perhaps the most influential advocate of a more politically and demographically diverse evangelicalism. Or Russell Moore, the president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, who demonstrates how moral conservatism can be both principled and inclusive. Or Gary Haugen, the founder of the International Justice Mission, who is one of the world’s leading activists against modern slavery. Or Bishop Claude Alexander of the Park Church in North Carolina, who has been a strong voice for reconciliation and mercy. Or Francis Collins, the director of the National Institutes of Health, who shows the deep compatibility of authentic faith and authentic science. Or the influential Bible teacher Beth Moore, who has warned of the damage done “when we sell our souls to buy our wins.” Or the writer Peter Wehner, who has ceased to describe himself as an evangelical even as he exemplifies the very best of the word.

Evangelicalism is hardly a monolithic movement. All of the above leaders would attest that a significant generational shift is occurring: Younger evangelicals are less prone to political divisiveness and bitterness and more concerned with social justice. (In a poll last summer, nearly half of white evangelicals born since 1964 expressed support for gay marriage.) Evangelicals remain essential to political coalitions advocating prison reform and supporting American global-health initiatives, particularly on aids and malaria. They do good work in the world through relief organizations such as World Vision and Samaritan’s Purse (an admirable relief organization of which Franklin Graham is the president and CEO). They perform countless acts of love and compassion that make local communities more just and generous.

All of this is arguably a strong foundation for evangelical recovery. But it would be a mistake to regard the problem as limited to a few irresponsible leaders. Those leaders represent a clear majority of the movement, which remains the most loyal element of the Trump coalition. Evangelicals are broadly eager to act as Trump’s shield and sword. They are his army of enablers.

It is the strangest story: how so many evangelicals lost their interest in decency, and how a religious tradition called by grace became defined by resentment. This is bad for America, because religion, properly viewed and applied, is essential to the country’s public life. The old “one-bloodism” of Christian anthropology—the belief in the intrinsic and equal value of all human lives—has driven centuries of compassionate service and social reform. Religion can be the carrier of conscience. It can motivate sacrifice for the common good. It can reinforce the nobility of the political enterprise. It can combat dehumanization and elevate the goals and ideals of public life.

Democracy is not merely a set of procedures. It has a moral structure. The values we celebrate or stigmatize eventually influence the character of our people and polity. Democracy does not insist on perfect virtue from its leaders. But there is a set of values that lends authority to power: empathy, honesty, integrity, and self-restraint. And the legitimation of cruelty, prejudice, falsehood, and corruption is the kind of thing, one would think, that religious people were born to oppose, not bless. This disfigurement of evangelical faith squanders the reputation of something valuable: not just the vision of human dignity that captured Blanchard, but also Finney’s electric waves of grace. At its best, faith is the overflow of gratitude, the attempt to live as if we are loved, the fragile hope for something better on the other side of pain and death. And this feather of grace weighs more in the balance than any political gain.

It is difficult to see something you so deeply value discredited so comprehensively. Evangelical faith has shaped my life, as it has the lives of millions. Evangelical history has provided me with models of conscience. Evangelical institutions have given me gifts of learning and purpose. Evangelical friends have shared my joys and sorrows. And now the very word is brought into needless disrepute.

This is the result when Christians become one interest group among many, scrambling for benefits at the expense of others rather than seeking the welfare of the whole. Christianity is love of neighbor, or it has lost its way. And this sets an urgent task for evangelicals: to rescue their faith from its worst leaders.

Persons, People, and Public Policy

Ron Cebik, Psychotherapist and Teacher, HuffingtonPost.com, 10/20/2013

Excerpt

Contemplating the confusion of contemporary events happening on both national and international stages, it is easy to pass judgment on whatever actor is portraying the role opposite of our own preference. The truth is that we are all responsible for the confusion and dysfunction. The breakdown of government is not due to the failure of public policy or the conflicting policies of partisan factions in the body politic. It is due, to a great extent, to factors under the radar of both popular media and sophisticated or academic thinking…What I am about to suggest is not often discussed in political discourse in this country. It might be heard on right-wing talk radio or Fox News when reference is made to latte drinking, electric car-driving left-wing elitists. Interestingly enough, this points to what is really happening. There is a flaring up of what has always lain below the consciousness of the American body politic; the presence of a hierarchical psycho-social structure which is denied and suppressed by the myth of the inherent equality of all citizens. This structure is about the development of an individual’s capacity to deal with the self in relation to the culture. The capacity to see beyond black and white responses to threats to one’s personal or group frames of reference requires the addition of internal abilities to tolerate ambivalence and toleration of differences in viewing the world. Too much developmental difference between people interferes in their ability to understand each other’s world views. This is not about intelligence. It is about the ability to manage culturally induced anxiety, the mechanism by which culture balances the need for societal control of the person and the need for personal freedom. The constituents of culture, i.e., economics, religion, technical complexity, etc. determine the level that the average member attains. Regression in psycho-social development occurs when the anxiety within the culture increases. Less tolerance for difference, the organization of self against threat without recourse to contemplation and evaluation, and rigidity of rules lead to conflict with dissent.

The United States is made up of differing cultures and has always been so. There is no common culture and there has never been. Public policy has always been worked out between conflicting cultures. When established cultural patterns are too threatened, anxiety increases, average levels of psycho-social development regress, and more rigidity is introduced into the inter-personal processes of deciding public policies. If our present governmental dysfunction is a product of anxiety diffused through the body politic, what is the antidote?

First, we have to define anxiety. Anxiety is actually preconscious memory of trauma caused by exceeding the boundaries that ensure the safety of the organism. In the beginning this involves dissolving the symbiosis of infant and “mother.” As self and self reliance emerge the boundaries of safety expand as culture teaches the limits beyond which the singular self is at risk. Remaining memories located in the amygdala (that part of the brain where trauma is stored and which triggers quick response to danger, real or imagined) are constantly sending signals to the organism to be vigilant to danger. When danger is attached to an object the body and mind go into the fight/flight mode. Later development opens the availability of options for responding to threats to well being. Acts of compassion and self sacrifice may emerge as the self incorporates increasing complexity in morality and interpersonal concerns. However, culture can also restrict and arrest development at a level that serves the needs of the culture. When this occurs, the discomfort resulting from anxiety can be brought into conscious control by attaching it to an object that can be feared thus giving a semblance of control over the object. I believe this is what is happening to many in our present national culture as they objectify their discomfort at changes taking place as a result of economic and technological changes, the threat of dilution of Caucasian domination of the culture, and seeming loss of control over their future. This arrested development and often regression lead to public policy that speaks to the limitation and restriction of boundaries aimed at self-security over compassion and cultural hegemony over a human community…The objectification of communal angst onto people who are different, be they of color, sexual orientation, religion, values, or willingness to challenge cultural boundaries for their own growth, results in public policy directed at diminishing the effect such people have…Today, the trend in education is to equip students to compete for fewer and fewer jobs requiring greater and greater specialized skills. Economic fears, meanwhile, diminish the values of an education leading to a broader concern for the welfare of the greatest numbers. Meanwhile, politicians through threats to their incumbency or for a desire for greater influence, inflame the forces of regression to levels of primitive rage and fear of anyone or any idea that threatens pre-conceived notions of cultural superiority.

The tragic truth is that an angst-driven minority can dominate a well-meaning progressive majority through threats of disrupting the structures designed to maintain a stable social system. The answer to this threat is enough people to maintain a posture of non-anxious reaction to the chaos engendered by the frightened angry minority. The future of American and global well-being is dependent on raising the level of self-aware conscientious independent citizenry who ultimately consider their highest allegiance to be humanity itself.

Full text

Contemplating the confusion of contemporary events happening on both national and international stages, it is easy to pass judgment on whatever actor is portraying the role opposite of our own preference. The truth is that we are all responsible for the confusion and dysfunction. The breakdown of government is not due to the failure of public policy or the conflicting policies of partisan factions in the body politic. It is due, to a great extent, to factors under the radar of both popular media and sophisticated or academic thinking.

Statements by politicians and pundits about the president during the recent series of events involving the use of poison gas in the Syrian conflict point to an overlooked factor in the shaping of opinions and conflicting attitudes. When the president stated there was a line which if crossed there would be military action, the Syrians crossed the line. The decision about military action was handed off to Congress. Then through some diplomatic maneuvering, the situation was resolved without military intervention. The result was a spate of accusations calling the president weak and that he had damaged the reputation of the United States before the world. Others applauded the president’s diplomatic prowess at averting military involvement in a complex war. “Who was right?” is a misleading question in determining the dynamics of the current political climate.

What I am about to suggest is not often discussed in political discourse in this country. It might be heard on right-wing talk radio or Fox News when reference is made to latte drinking, electric car-driving left-wing elitists. Interestingly enough, this points to what is really happening. There is a flaring up of what has always lain below the consciousness of the American body politic; the presence of a hierarchical psycho-social structure which is denied and suppressed by the myth of the inherent equality of all citizens. This structure is about the development of an individual’s capacity to deal with the self in relation to the culture. The capacity to see beyond black and white responses to threats to one’s personal or group frames of reference requires the addition of internal abilities to tolerate ambivalence and toleration of differences in viewing the world. Too much developmental difference between people interferes in their ability to understand each other’s world views. This is not about intelligence. It is about the ability to manage culturally induced anxiety, the mechanism by which culture balances the need for societal control of the person and the need for personal freedom. The constituents of culture, i.e., economics, religion, technical complexity, etc. determine the level that the average member attains. Regression in psycho-social development occurs when the anxiety within the culture increases. Less tolerance for difference, the organization of self against threat without recourse to contemplation and evaluation, and rigidity of rules lead to conflict with dissent.

The United States is made up of differing cultures and has always been so. There is no common culture and there has never been. Public policy has always been worked out between conflicting cultures. When established cultural patterns are too threatened, anxiety increases, average levels of psycho-social development regress, and more rigidity is introduced into the inter-personal processes of deciding public policies. If our present governmental dysfunction is a product of anxiety diffused through the body politic, what is the antidote?

First, we have to define anxiety. Anxiety is actually preconscious memory of trauma caused by exceeding the boundaries that ensure the safety of the organism. In the beginning this involves dissolving the symbiosis of infant and “mother.” As self and self reliance emerge the boundaries of safety expand as culture teaches the limits beyond which the singular self is at risk. Remaining memories located in the amygdala (that part of the brain where trauma is stored and which triggers quick response to danger, real or imagined) are constantly sending signals to the organism to be vigilant to danger. When danger is attached to an object the body and mind go into the fight/flight mode. Later development opens the availability of options for responding to threats to well being. Acts of compassion and self sacrifice may emerge as the self incorporates increasing complexity in morality and interpersonal concerns. However, culture can also restrict and arrest development at a level that serves the needs of the culture. When this occurs, the discomfort resulting from anxiety can be brought into conscious control by attaching it to an object that can be feared thus giving a semblance of control over the object. I believe this is what is happening to many in our present national culture as they objectify their discomfort at changes taking place as a result of economic and technological changes, the threat of dilution of Caucasian domination of the culture, and seeming loss of control over their future. This arrested development and often regression lead to public policy that speaks to the limitation and restriction of boundaries aimed at self-security over compassion and cultural hegemony over a human community.

Anxiety below consciousness is the emotion that is transmitted through human systems to alert the system to a common danger. It is infectious. Alcoholism is often symptomatic of family dysfunction due to anxiety in the system. The alcohol becomes the objectified focus for this underlying incapacity to deal with the boundaries affecting growth and the ensuing risks that transcending boundaries engenders. The same is true for differing cultures within our nation. The objectification of communal angst onto people who are different, be they of color, sexual orientation, religion, values, or willingness to challenge cultural boundaries for their own growth, results in public policy directed at diminishing the effect such people have.

In family therapy as in other system approaches to increasing the functioning of human organizations, the object is to increase a non-anxious presence in the system. This is done by identifying persons capable of dealing with their own anxiety and who show a capacity to grow beyond the restrictive rules governing relationships in the group. This suggests the importance of putting the focus on the development of leadership based on the ability to transcend norms and boundaries that preserve the safety of sameness and venture into the space that encompasses the richness of diversity. This may mean making a place for education for personal development amidst an academia more attuned to skill training as an economic tool.

Today, the trend in education is to equip students to compete for fewer and fewer jobs requiring greater and greater specialized skills. Economic fears, meanwhile, diminish the values of an education leading to a broader concern for the welfare of the greatest numbers. Meanwhile, politicians through threats to their incumbency or for a desire for greater influence, inflame the forces of regression to levels of primitive rage and fear of anyone or any idea that threatens pre-conceived notions of cultural superiority.

The tragic truth is that an angst-driven minority can dominate a well-meaning progressive majority through threats of disrupting the structures designed to maintain a stable social system. The answer to this threat is enough people to maintain a posture of non-anxious reaction to the chaos engendered by the frightened angry minority. The future of American and global well-being is dependent on raising the level of self-aware conscientious independent citizenry who ultimately consider their highest allegiance to be humanity itself.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/ron-cebik/persons-people-and-public_b_4133393.html

We the People, and the New American Civil War

by Robert Reich, Common Dreams, November 6, 2012

Excerpt

The vitriol is worse is worse than I ever recall….It’s almost a civil war….What’s going on?…

And we’ve had bigger disagreements in the past…Maybe it’s that we’re more separated now, geographically and online….

But now most of us exist in our own political bubbles, left and right…

So when Americans get upset about politics these days we tend to stew in our own juices, without benefit of anyone we know well and with whom we disagree — and this makes it almost impossible for us to understand the other side.…I think the degree of venom we’re experiencing has deeper roots….

In other words, white working-class men have been on the losing end of a huge demographic and economic shift. That’s made them a tinder-box of frustration and anger – eagerly ignited by Fox News, Rush Limbaugh, and other pedlars of petulance, including an increasing number of Republicans who have gained political power by fanning the flames.

That hate-mongering and attendant scapegoating – of immigrants, blacks, gays, women this degree of divisiveness would have taken root had America preserved the social solidarity we had two generations ago. The Great Depression and World War II reminded us we were all in it together. We had to depend on each other in order to survive. That sense of mutual dependence transcended our disagreements…

So we come to the end of a bitter election feeling as if we’re two nations rather than one. The challenge – not only for our president and representatives in Washington but for all of us – is to rediscover the public good.

Full text

The vitriol is worse is worse than I ever recall. Worse than the Palin-induced smarmy 2008. Worse than the swift-boat lies of 2004. Worse, even, than the anything-goes craziness of 2000 and its ensuing bitterness.

It’s almost a civil war. I know families in which close relatives are no longer speaking. A dating service says Democrats won’t even consider going out with Republicans, and vice-versa. My email and twitter feeds contain messages from strangers I wouldn’t share with my granddaughter.

What’s going on? Yes, we’re divided over issues like the size of government and whether women should have control over their bodies. But these aren’t exactly new debates. We’ve been disagreeing over the size and role of government since Thomas Jefferson squared off with Alexander Hamilton, and over abortion rights since before Roe v. Wade, almost forty years ago.

And we’ve had bigger disagreements in the past – over the Vietnam War, civil rights, communist witch hunts – that didn’t rip us apart like this.

Maybe it’s that we’re more separated now, geographically and online.

The town where I grew up in the 1950s was a GOP stronghold, but Henry Wallace, FDR’s left-wing vice president, had retired there quite happily. Our political disagreements then and there didn’t get in the way of our friendships. Or even our families — my father voted Republican and my mother was a Democrat. And we all watched Edward R. Murrow deliver the news, and then, later, Walter Cronkite. Both men were the ultimate arbiters of truth.

But now most of us exist in our own political bubbles, left and right. I live in Berkeley, California – a blue city in a blue state – and rarely stumble across anyone who isn’t a liberal Democrat (the biggest battles here are between the moderate left and the far-left). The TV has hundreds of channels so I can pick what I want to watch and who I want to hear. And everything I read online confirms everything I believe, thanks in part to Google’s convenient algorithms.

So when Americans get upset about politics these days we tend to stew in our own juices, without benefit of anyone we know well and with whom we disagree — and this makes it almost impossible for us to understand the other side.

That geographic split also means more Americans are represented in Congress by people whose political competition comes from primary challengers – right-wing Republicans in red states and districts, left-wing Democrats in blue states and districts. And this drives those who represent us even further apart.

But I think the degree of venom we’re experiencing has deeper roots.

The nation is becoming browner and blacker. Most children born in California are now minorities. In a few years America as a whole will be a majority of minorities. Meanwhile, women have been gaining economic power. Their median wage hasn’t yet caught up with men, but it’s getting close. And with more women getting college degrees than men, their pay will surely exceed male pay in a few years. At the same time, men without college degrees continue to lose economic ground. Adjusted for inflation, their median wage is lower than it was three decades ago.

In other words, white working-class men have been on the losing end of a huge demographic and economic shift. That’s made them a tinder-box of frustration and anger – eagerly ignited by Fox News, Rush Limbaugh, and other pedlars of petulance, including an increasing number of Republicans who have gained political power by fanning the flames.

That hate-mongering and attendant scapegoating – of immigrants, blacks, gays, women seeking abortions, our government itself – has legitimized some vitriol and scapegoating on the left as well. I detest what the Koch Brothers, Karl Rove, Grover Norquist, Rupert Murdock, and Paul Ryan are doing, and I hate their politics. But in this heated environment I sometimes have to remind myself I don’t hate them personally.

Not even this degree of divisiveness would have taken root had America preserved the social solidarity we had two generations ago. The Great Depression and World War II reminded us we were all in it together. We had to depend on each other in order to survive. That sense of mutual dependence transcended our disagreements. My father, a “Rockefeller” Republican, strongly supported civil rights and voting rights, Medicare and Medicaid. I remember him saying “we’re all Americans, aren’t we?”

To be sure, we endured 9/11, we’ve gone to war in Iraq and Afghanistan, and we suffered the Great Recession. But these did not not bind us as we were bound together in the Great Depression and World War II. The horror of 9/11 did not touch all of us, and the only sacrifice George W. Bush asked was that we kept shopping. Today’s wars are fought by hired guns – young people who are paid to do the work most of the rest of us don’t want our own children to do. And the Great Recession split us rather than connected us; the rich grew richer, the rest of us, poorer and less secure.

So we come to the end of a bitter election feeling as if we’re two nations rather than one. The challenge – not only for our president and representatives in Washington but for all of us – is to rediscover the public good.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License
Robert Reich, one of the nation’s leading experts on work and the economy, is Chancellor’s Professor of Public Policy at the Goldman School of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley. He has served in three national administrations, most recently as secretary of labor under President Bill Clinton. Time Magazine has named him one of the ten most effective cabinet secretaries of the last century. He has written thirteen books, including his latest best-seller, Aftershock: The Next Economy and America’s Future; The Work of Nations; Locked in the Cabinet; Supercapitalism; and his newest, Beyond Outrage. His syndicated columns, television appearances, and public radio commentaries reach millions of people each week. He is also a founding editor of the American Prospect magazine, and Chairman of the citizen’s group Common Cause. His widely-read blog can be found at www.robertreich.org.
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Article printed from www.CommonDreams.org
Source URL: http://www.commondreams.org/view/2012/11/06

Why the Great Religious Realignment is a Great Secular Opportunity

by Sarah Posner, Religion Dispatches, November 7, 2012

Excerpt

last night’s election results show that we’re undergoing a great religious realignment, one in which “nones” share an equal proportion of the electorate with evangelicals, one in which “nones” helped drive President Obama to a reelection victory, one in which an increasing number of “nones” are non-believers, yet one in which white religious conservatives remain the essential bulk of the Republican base…a party that is on the wrong side of inexorable demographic change….

last night’s results show exactly why Democrats have a huge opportunity to make a counter-argument on religious freedom: that secular government and secular campaigning ensure everyone’s religious freedom, by not giving one religious view (often expressed by religious “leaders” but not necessarily shared by their constituents) precedence over another. The Constitution guarantees both a religiously neutral government and religious freedom; one is tied to the other. When the government, and politicians, are neutral on religion, everyone’s religious freedom is protected. This is an approach, and an argument, that meshes perfectly with Obama’s religiously diverse coalition. It’s one that the Romney coalition is at loggerheads with, because it seeks to impose its religious views (so-called “Judeo-Christian values”) on everyone else.

Full text

As I wrote in the wee hours of the morning, last night’s election results show that we’re undergoing a great religious realignment, one in which “nones” share an equal proportion of the electorate with evangelicals, one in which “nones” helped drive President Obama to a reelection victory, one in which an increasing number of “nones” are non-believers, yet one in which white religious conservatives remain the essential bulk of the Republican base.

The morning after an election always brings lists of winners and losers, and here are some losers: people or entities who tried to use their power or money to advance their religious agenda, often one not only out of step with most voters, but even the religious demographic they claimed to represent. From the Forward: “Tough night for Sheldon Adelson.” From Eduardo Penalver at Commonweal, on the Catholic hierarchy, which “finds itself identified more closely than ever with a single party in the United States, a party that is on the wrong side of inexorable demographic change.” I’ll add my own: Senate candidates Richard Mourdock and Todd Akin, and Rick Berg, who voted in North Dakota’s state legislature to make getting an abortion a felony. Mitt Romney, who endorsed Mourdock and Berg. Representative Allen West and his Islamophobia. Paul Ryan, who hitched his wagon to Ralph Reed and warned voters in the waning days of the campaign that Obama threatens “Judeo-Christian values.” The IRS, for not enforcing its own rule against politicking in the pulpit. The “pulpit freedom” pastors.

It was just about a year ago that the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops launched its “religious freedom” campaign in earnest. Cloaked in hyperbolic language about loss of religious liberty, it was really about the contraception mandate and gay marriage. What do they have to show for it? A record 19 women (update: now 20) in the Senate. Marriage equality in four states. As Catholics for Choice president Jon O’Brien said in October, about a poll showing large marjorities of Catholics rejecting the bishops’ politicking in the pulpit, “the bishops are trying to bully Catholics to vote in a certain way. This poll shows that the bishops’ efforts have been a spectacular failure.”

I’d anticipate some doubling down by the religious right in the “religious freedom” wars in the wake of Obama’s victory. But last night’s results show exactly why Democrats have a huge opportunity to make a counter-argument on religious freedom: that secular government and secular campaigning ensure everyone’s religious freedom, by not giving one religious view (often expressed by religious “leaders” but not necessarily shared by their constituents) precedence over another. The Constitution guarantees both a religiously neutral government and religious freedom; one is tied to the other. When the government, and politicians, are neutral on religion, everyone’s religious freedom is protected. This is an approach, and an argument, that meshes perfectly with Obama’s religiously diverse coalition. It’s one that the Romney coalition is at loggerheads with, because it seeks to impose its religious views (so-called “Judeo-Christian values”) on everyone else.

Jacques Berlinerblau blames the secularism movement for lack of effective leadership. But the political parties share blame here too. The GOP for its pact with the religious right, which makes it beholden to its refusal to adapt or compromise and unable to attract any other voters as a result. The Democrats, for lack of imagination in responding to the GOP’s supposed dominance over “religious” voters and fear of talking about church-state separation. The Democrats for buying the claim that voters want to hear about politicians’ religiosity, that voters want to hear about how faith informs policy, and that voters want politicians to listen to religious “leaders” (i.e., those with access and power) and adapt policies to suit them, even if it harms other citizens. (Case in point, the contraception coverage requirement.) But what happens when, as in the case of the bishops, their constituents disagree with the religious leaders who have lobbyists, and access to the White House and Congress?

While the Democrats did have a modest infrastructure for religious outreach this year (see the close of this piece for some of the details), Obama engaged in far less (although a bit) of religious politicking. Mostly he relied on surrogates to tout his religiosity to the press, in particular an evangelical style of Christianity. This was a much more modest redux of the strategy for 2008, but it was obvious neither the president’s nor the campaign’s hearts were in it. And maybe that’s a sign that they, too, are ready for a change.

http://www.religiondispatches.org/dispatches/sarahposner/6595/why_the_great_religious_realignment_is_a_great_secular_opportunity

We Need a Little Fear

By JONATHAN HAIDT, New York Times, November 7, 2012

Excerpt

THE voters have spoken. So, what now? How will our still divided government deal with our mounting threats and challenges? Shared fear can help.

A national election focuses our attention on a single level of competition — political party versus political party. Let’s call that “me and my brother against our cousin.” But after that, it’s time for our national team to come together to fight the many threats and enemies that confront us…Since the 1990s we’ve been stuck at one level — party versus party. Partisanship is not a bad thing. We need multiple teams to develop competing visions for voters to choose among. But when so many of our leaders can’t even occasionally place national interest before party interest, we’ve crossed over into hyperpartisanship. And that’s a very bad thing, because it amplifies other problems like the debt crisis, the absence of a rational immigration policy and our aging infrastructure.

We the people bear some of the blame for what’s happened in Congress, for we, too, have become more angrily partisan. So what can we do to pull ourselves up to that higher level? How can we unite not just with our brothers and sisters, but with our cousins?

One way is to focus on common threats, rather than on common groundIt’s only the threat of the stranger that brings the extended family together. When we focus only on the one asteroid that most frightens us, we feel anger at the partisans on the other side. We curse their blindness without recognizing our own. But if we can look up into the sky and see a whole fleet of asteroids heading for us, we lose our tunnel vision and experience a healthy form of panic. We’re in big trouble, and anyone who does that hyperpartisan stuff now should be ashamed — or kicked out of office. The day after Election Day is the day for all of us, and our siblings and cousins, to come together and start building an asteroid deflection system.

Full text

THE voters have spoken. So, what now? How will our still divided government deal with our mounting threats and challenges?

Shared fear can help.

A Bedouin proverb says, “Me against my brother, my brothers and me against my cousins, then my cousins and me against strangers.” Human beings are pretty good at uniting to fight at whatever level is most important at a given moment. This is why every story about a team of warriors or superheroes features an internal rivalry, but all hatchets are buried just before the climactic final battle in which the team vanquishes the external enemy.

A national election focuses our attention on a single level of competition — political party versus political party. Let’s call that “me and my brother against our cousin.” But after that, it’s time for our national team to come together to fight the many threats and enemies that confront us. Let’s unite with our cousins to fight the stranger!

Except that we didn’t do it four years ago, when things looked even grimmer, and there’s no sign that we’re going to do it now. Since the 1990s we’ve been stuck at one level — party versus party. Partisanship is not a bad thing. We need multiple teams to develop competing visions for voters to choose among. But when so many of our leaders can’t even occasionally place national interest before party interest, we’ve crossed over into hyperpartisanship. And that’s a very bad thing, because it amplifies other problems like the debt crisis, the absence of a rational immigration policy and our aging infrastructure.

We the people bear some of the blame for what’s happened in Congress, for we, too, have become more angrily partisan. So what can we do to pull ourselves up to that higher level? How can we unite not just with our brothers and sisters, but with our cousins?

One way is to focus on common threats, rather than on common ground, just as the Bedouin proverb suggests. It’s only the threat of the stranger that brings the extended family together. A physical attack by outsiders — like Pearl Harbor or 9/11 — binds people together like nothing else. But what if there is no such attack? Can trade competition with China do it? What about a threat we created ourselves?

Well, that depends. A basic principle of moral psychology is that “morality binds and blinds.” In many pre-agricultural societies, groups achieved trust and unity by circling around sacred objects. In modern societies, much larger groups bind themselves together by treating certain books, flags, leaders or ideals as sacred and by symbolically circling around them. But if your team circles too fast, you lose the ability to see clearly or think for yourself. You go blind to evidence that contradicts your group’s moral consensus, and you become enraged at teammates who suggest that the other side is not entirely bad (as New Jersey’s governor, Chris Christie, is now finding out).

Unlike a foreign attack, a problem that threatens only one side’s sacred values can therefore divide us, rather than unite us. It’s as though a giant asteroid is headed for the Earth. One side sees it coming and screams, but the louder it screams, the more stubbornly the other side covers its ears and averts its eyes. Here are a few of the asteroids hurtling toward us, which half of us can already see with our naked eyes:

• Rising temperatures. The left has been raising the alarm about global warming since the 1990s. It’s a threat to the environment and to poor people around the world — sacred values for liberals — but the right largely denies the scientific consensus, in part because many of the remedies would require limits on industry and intervention into markets (which would violate sacred values for some conservatives). Hurricane Sandy gave us a small taste of what’s likely to happen more frequently.

• Rising entitlements. The right has railed against entitlement spending since the 1960s, and its frustration boiled over in the Tea Party movement. The welfare state is a threat to traditional conservative values of personal responsibility (people have less incentive to plan for their own future) and fiscal solvency. Despite the logical errors in Mitt Romney’s “47 percent” comments, we do face bankruptcy when the baby boomers retire and a shrinking percentage of workers must pay the ever growing expenses of a ballooning class of retirees. Yet the Democrats want to “protect” older Americans, students and almost everyone else from the need to sacrifice.

• Rising inequality. The left has been protesting rising inequality since Ronald Reagan cut taxes on the rich and benefits for the poor, and a great deal of recent scholarship documents the socially, morally and economically damaging effects of separating the haves ever further from the have-nots. Nearly all the gains in productivity in the last 30 years have gone to the wealthiest, but the right justifies the trend and denies its toxicity.

• Rising births to unmarried women. In 1960, 5 percent of American children were born to unmarried women. In 2010, that number was more than 40 percent. Conservatives treat the traditional family as the irreplaceable building block of society and are therefore horrified that unmarried motherhood will soon be the national norm. The left has been ambivalent about the value of marriage (at least, before the push for gay marriage), sometimes viewing it as a patriarchal institution and reluctant to admit that a stable marriage is very good for children.

In other words, America faces many serious threats, but each side sees some and denies others. Morality binds and blinds. The philosopher John Stuart Mill described this problem in 1840, noting that in almost all major ideological controversies, “both sides were in the right in what they affirmed, though wrong in what they denied, and that if either could have been made to take the other’s views in addition to its own, little more would have been needed to make its doctrine correct.”

To see Mill’s diagnosis in action, note that marriage is disappearing primarily among Americans without a four-year college degree. Marriage confers so many benefits on children that it helps them rise into the upper tier of wealth; children who don’t benefit from a stable marriage are more likely to fall. So if you are a liberal who is worried about the inequality asteroid, you might consider teaming up with a conservative group trying to promote marriage.

But then you’d run smack into the problem that women rarely want to marry a man with no job and poor prospects. So if you are a conservative who cares about the unmarried-mother asteroid, you might want to team up with liberal groups working to improve educational equality and to find ways to keep poor young men in school.

When we focus only on the one asteroid that most frightens us, we feel anger at the partisans on the other side. We curse their blindness without recognizing our own. But if we can look up into the sky and see a whole fleet of asteroids heading for us, we lose our tunnel vision and experience a healthy form of panic. We’re in big trouble, and anyone who does that hyperpartisan stuff now should be ashamed — or kicked out of office. The day after Election Day is the day for all of us, and our siblings and cousins, to come together and start building an asteroid deflection system.

Jonathan Haidt, a professor of business ethics at the New York University Stern School of Business, is the author, most recently, of “The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion.”

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/11/07/opinion/after-the-election-fear-is-our-only-chance-at-unity.html?src=me&ref=general&_r=0

The Great Religious Realignment

How did President Barack Obama just win a second term, prevailing in evangelical (and Catholic) intensive states like Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Iowa, Ohio, and Virginia? By winning among voters other than white religious conservatives.

If you had listened to Ralph Reed or Tony Perkins, you might have thought the mighty values voters of 2004 were going to turn out in huge numbers and tip the election to Mitt Romney. Instead, he lost, as did the Republican Party’s worst specimens in the culture wars: the rape apologists Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock. And marriage equality has passed in two states (as of this writing, Maryland and Maine), and pot was legalized in Washington and Colorado. (Brace yourself for tomorrow’s apocalyptic conference calls, emails, op-eds, and press briefings.)

But what went wrong for Reed, Perkins, et al.?

They represent a coalition in decline—white religious conservatives—while Obama has a more diverse one, made up of various religious and non-religious voters, whites, blacks, and Latinos. This story has been emerging even before the election.

The religious right made a huge mistake of hyping their clout. From two press releases yesterday:

Family Research Council’s Tony Perkins: “I would not be surprised to see tomorrow’s turnout of values voters eclipse what we saw in 2004.”

Ralph Reed’s Faith and Freedom Coalition: “The Faith and Freedom Coalition made over 122 million voter contacts to evangelicals, faithful Catholics, and other voters of faith in key states in 2012. FFC’s voter education effort included 23 million pieces of mail, 21 million get-out-the-vote calls, 18 million text messages and emails, and 30 million voter guides distributed in 117,000 churches.”

Their overblown turnout predictions either simply did not come true—or if they did, the results demonstrate that the “values voters” no longer have the clout to tip elections with their turnout. As I’ve been writing all night, based on initial exit polling data, Romney has been winning in battleground states among white evangelicals, white Catholics, and weekly churchgoers. But it wasn’t enough to give him a victory. In Pennsylvania, for example, while Romney won white Catholics and white Protestants, Obama won among Catholics as a whole, the unaffiliated, and non-white voters. In Ohio, evangelical turnout, at 31%, was higher than the evangelical proportion of the population (the Pew Religious Landscape Survey has it at 26%), so maybe Reed’s or Perkins’ GOTV worked. But the turnout wasn’t enough to push Romney over the top. Similarly, in Virginia, as I noted earlier, voters weren’t asked by exit pollsters if they were white born-again Christian or evangelical. But the exit poll had Romney winning among white Protestants, who make up 41% of voters, 75-25%, among white Catholics (11%), 64-33%, but Obama winning 89% of non-whites (33% of the electorate). Other data are showing that Obama won big among Latino voters generally.

The exit polls, like I have said, are imperfect: some states were not subjected to exit polling, and on religion questions, there’s so much inconsistency between how questions are asked in different states that it’s hard to compare two states where one includes data on evangelicals and the other does not. But given what we’ve learned recently about religious realignments—declining numbers of Catholics, declining numbers of mainline Protestants, declining numbers of evangelicals in the 18- to 29-year-old age group, and increasing numbers of unaffiliated voters, and in particular, atheists and agnostics in the 18- to 29-year-old age group—it seems like a significant shift is underway. A recent Pew survey found that there are now equal numbers of white evangelicals and unaffiliated voters, and a Public Religion Research Institute poll found similar results. I noted at the time of the PRRI survey that the bulk of Romney’s base was coming from white conservative evangelicals, mainline Protestants, and Catholics, while Obama’s “support comes from a more diverse group: 23% from the unaffiliated, 18% from black Protestants, 15% from white mainline Protestants, 14% from white Catholics, 8% from Latino Catholics, and 7% from non-Christians. Romney draws just 3% of his base from Latino Catholics, 2% from non-Christians, and an unmeasurable portion from black Protestants.”

It looks like a religious realignment is well on its way. That’s not to suggest (as I’ve said before) that the culture wars are going away. But the same narratives about “values voters” and the evangelical vote, even with its growing alignment with conservative Catholics, do not have the same explanatory—or electoral—power they once claimed.

http://www.religiondispatches.org/dispatches/sarahposner/6593/the_great_religious_realignment

How Patriarchal, Christian Backlash Politics Have Only Become More Vicious

Salon.com / By Arthur Goldwag [1], Posted on AlterNet.org, October 28, 2012 |

When I tell Republicans — and even some moderate Democrats — that I wrote a book about right-wing hatred, their response, often as not, is skeptical and disapproving. Politics is a rough game, they say. Romney might have his 47 percent, but just listen to all those class war tropes about the 1 percent you hear from the left. Sure, the far right has an unfortunate legacy of racism, sexism and homophobia, but Obama has a whole deck of race and gender cards that he plays. And anyway, the nuts are ultimately unimportant — national elections are decided in the middle.

All of that might be true, but the kind of hatred that I’m talking about goes way beyond ordinary politics and deep into the realm of abnormal psychology. In its full-blown manifestations, it is akin to what an ophidiophobe feels at the sight of a snake: visceral and existential; categorical and absolute. It turns on the gut certainty that your adversaries aren’t looking just to raise your taxes but to destroy your whole way of life: that they are not only wrongheaded, but preternaturally evil. Comparatively few people experience these feelings on a conscious level, but they lie latent in many more of us than we might suspect.

It is precisely because appeals to those kinds of feelings work below the level of consciousness that I am so alert for them — and they have been very much in evidence throughout this whole campaign. When Mitt Romney promised to “keep America America [2]” and Michele Bachmann launched a witch hunt against Muslims [3] in the State Department, when Newt Gingrich called Obama a “food stamp president [4]” and Rick Santorum railed against the “elite, smart people” who will never be “on our side [5],” those were the buttons that were being pushed.

Conspiratorial shibboleths are seeded throughout the GOP platform, which, among other things, gestures toward a return to the gold standard and repudiates the John Birch Society’s favorite bugaboo, the United Nations’ Agenda 21 (which Ted Cruz, a Texas Republican who is running for the U.S. Senate, calls [6] a George Soros-financed attempt to “abolish ‘unsustainable’ environments, including golf courses, grazing pastures and paved roads”).

None of this is new. Not surprising for a nation whose founders were in large part the descendants of religious refugees for whom the devil was both literally real and ubiquitous, an undertone of paranoid dread has been a constant if largely unacknowledged feature of American politics. All the way back in the 1790s, the Illuminati — a secret society that was founded in Bavaria in 1776 by Adam Weishaupt, an ex-Jesuit whose dream was a self-ruled, secular, trans-nationalist Cosmo-political order — became the screen on which New England religious conservatives projected their anxieties about the rising tide of anarchy and atheism. “God grant,” wrote an exposé that descried the hand of the Illuminati in the French Revolution, “that the United   States may not learn to their cost that Republics are equally menaced with Monarchies; and that the immensity of the Ocean is but a feeble barrier against the universal conspiracy.” A contributor to the Hartford Courant declared that President Thomas Jefferson is “the real Jacobin, the child of modern illumination, the foe of man, and the enemy of his country.”

In the 1820s and ’30s, apprehensions about what the Masons were getting up to in their secret Lodge meetings fueled a national political movement. Former President John Quincy Adams (who had been defeated by the Mason Andrew Jackson) ran for governor of Massachusetts on the Anti-Masonic ticket in 1834. In his book “Letters on Freemasonry,” he wrote that Masonry “is wrong — essentially wrong — a seed of evil, which can never produce any good.” If the Illuminati had been feared for their irreligion, the Masons were condemned not just as freethinkers, but as occultists, Jesuits and even Jews of a sort. The anti-Masonic panic was followed in short order by the know-nothing era of anti-Catholic Nativism.

And of course there is race. From the destruction of North America’s indigenous inhabitants to the importation of Africans as chattel slaves, from Jim Crow to racially targeted voter suppression efforts today, race has played as fraught a role in the American psyche as Freud believed sex did for bourgeois Austrians. “Affirmative action” and “reparations” are two of the most resonant buzzwords in the rhetorical arsenal of the right. Republican congressman Steve King ofIowahas accused Obama of plotting to make taxpayers pay slavery reparations to American blacks. In his bestselling book “The Roots of Obama’s Rage” and the top-grossing documentary “2016: Obama’s America,” Dinesh D’Souza takes the idea even further, arguing that, as the heir to his father’s anti-Colonialism, Obama’s master plan is to “redistribute” America’s power and prosperity to the Muslim world, bankrupting the U.S. and turning it into a third-world country in the process.

Going all the way back to Jefferson and Hamilton’s bitter arguments about the national bank, Americans have been deeply suspicious of finance, for both good and terrible reasons. The rise of greenback and Silverite populism in the second half of the 19th century was partly driven by the fear that British/Jewish bankers were conspiring to destroy the Republic — the same cabal that would later be accused of foisting the Federal Reserve on the U.S., orchestrating World War I and financing the Bolshevik revolution. Oddly enough, today’s populists agitate for the return of the very gold standard that their forebears fought so hard against.

All of these different strains came together in a master template in 1920 when “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion,” a forged document that had first been published in Russian in 1903 and that supposedly provided documentary proof of an ancient Jewish/Masonic conspiracy to rule the world, was translated into English. By the 1930s, the anti-Roosevelt far right had recast American history as the story of the endless struggle between red-blooded patriotic “producers” (farmers, craftsmen and manufacturers) and the parasitic, citified financiers who sucked them dry (aided by an unlikely alliance of dark-skinned and foreign-born moochers and collectivists). Progressives like Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson had delivered the federal government to the enemy.

They have been telling pretty much that same story ever since, though the Masons would take a back seat to the Communists, the specter of Shariah law would eventually understudy for the Vatican and the Elders of Zion, and George Soros would stand in for the Rothschilds. Florida’s Rep. Allen West proved that McCarthyism is alive and well last spring when he told a town hall meeting that “about 78 or 81 [7]” of the Democrats in the U.S. Congress “are members of the Communist Party.”

But as much as the extreme right might have hated FDR, JFK, Bill Clinton and even Eisenhower, Nixon and George H.W. Bush, President Obama is the visible embodiment of everything that they fear the most. He is an elite Harvard lawyer and the bearer of a foreign name. He is an urbanite and a community organizer in the Luciferian mold of Saul Alinsky. Last week Jerome Corsi — the bestselling co-author of ”Unfit for Command: Swift Boat Veterans Speak Out Against John Kerry”took to right-wing talk shows to share his theory that Obama is not only secretly Muslim but also gay [8].

Most of all, Obama has dark skin. Let’s face it: Racism is infinitely more resonant than recondite monetary theories and tall tales about black helicopters. The thought that Obama really is an affirmative action president — earnest and full of good intentions but hopelessly over his head (“When you’re not that bright, you can’t get better prepared,” as John Sununu, the former New Hampshire governor and Romney campaign co-chair put it [9] after Obama’s poor showing at the Denver debate) — might have even resonated, albeit guiltily and uneasily, with some of his disappointed supporters. Donald Trump’s latest publicity stunt — offering to donate $5 million [10] to charity if the president releases “his college records and applications and if he gives his passport applications and records” — plays off the presumption that Obama is hiding something (the bad grades that would prove that he is a beneficiary of affirmative action, an application as a foreign student or something “funny” about his passport that vindicates the birthers’ suspicions).

Speaking of that dreadful debate, one can’t help wondering whether Obama wasn’t overborne by his efforts to not look like an angry black man [11]. If true, it would be ironic if his own racial self-consciousness damaged his reelection prospects no less than his opponents’ overt and covert appeals to racism. Romney’s avidity to press the Benghazi non-issue in the second debate might be an example of just such a coded appeal — a cynical attempt to tap the suspicion that Obama is a crypto-Muslim who secretly sympathizes with al-Qaida’s aims.

Obama’s much stronger showing in the second and third debates did little to silence the murmuring. Writing on her Facebook page, Sarah Palin accused Obama of “shucking and jiving” on the Benghazi question. During a CNN interview, John Sununu dismissed Colin Powell’s endorsement of Obama as based on a “slightly different reason [12]” than policy. When pressed, he insinuated that Powell was just being loyal to his race. “When you have somebody of your own race that you’re proud of being president of the United   States, I applaud Colin for standing with him,” is the tortuous exact quote. Sununu tried to walk back his comment a few hours later, releasing a statement in which he said he did “not doubt” that Powell’s endorsement “was based on anything but his support of the president’s policies” — but which elided the many specific critiques of Romney’s policies that Powell had offered. Sununu, of course, is also the person who said, “I wish this president would learn how to be an American,” back in July.

But as noisome as all this fear and loathing may be, I suspect it will prove less influential than one might expect in the long term — even though Fox News, conspiratorial websites like WorldNetDaily and pundits like Glenn Beck have been giving it wider circulation than it’s ever had. The great arc of American history bends toward greater, not lesser, tolerance and open-mindedness. Both candidates, remember, are members of minorities. For all that Romney’s Mormon faith informs his view of American exceptionalism, many Evangelicals consider his religion to be no less sinister than Islam, or for that matter, the Illuminati. Billy Graham’s organization didn’t get around to removing the LDS from its list of dangerous cults until last week. But, however belatedly, it did.

The glass is half full and it’s half empty. Things are a little like they were in 1928, when the KKK was strong enough to hurt Al Smith’s electoral chances (as president, it was said, he would extend the Holland Tunnel 3,000 miles to Vatican City), but not strong enough to keep a Catholic off the ticket in the first place.

The writing is already on the wall. According to the U.S. Census, 50.4 percent of the babies born in theU.S.between July 2010 and July 2011 were minorities — up from 37 percent in 1990. In “Suicide of a Superpower: Will AmericaSurvive to 2025?” Pat Buchanan envisions an Americain which whites “may discover what it is like to ride in the back of the bus.” Go to a meeting of white nationalists, and you’ll quickly learn that their deepest fears are demographic. “White Christians are threatened with extinction as a separate and identifiable people,” writes Dr. Michael Hill, the president of the neo-Confederate League of the South. “Demographers predict that whites will be a minority in this country by 2040 … we are sowing the wind because of our inaction regarding immigration and multiculturalism. We will likely reap the whirlwind.”

No matter how this election turns out, the endgame has already begun: Americais becoming more multicultural, more gay-friendly and more feminist every day. But as every hunter knows, a wounded or cornered quarry is the most dangerous. Even as the white, patriarchal, Christian hegemony declines, its backlash politics become more vicious. They may succeed in turning back the clock for some time.

Source URL: http://www.alternet.org/tea-party-and-right/how-patriarchal-christian-backlash-politics-have-only-become-more-vicious

Links:
[1] http://www.alternet.org/authors/arthur-goldwag
[2] http://www.snopes.com/politics/romney/slogan.asp
[3] http://www.csmonitor.com/USA/DC-Decoder/Decoder-Wire/2012/0719/Michele-Bachmann-links-Clinton-aide-to-extremists.-Has-she-gone-too-far-video
[4] http://www.npr.org/2012/01/17/145312069/newts-food-stamp-president-racial-or-just-politics
[5] http://washington.cbslocal.com/2012/09/17/santorum-we-will-never-have-the-elite-smart-people-on-our-side/
[6] http://washingtonexaminer.com/so-does-ted-cruz-really-believe-in-a-un-conspiracy-to-take-away-golf-well/article/2504153
[7] http://www.politico.com/news/stories/0412/75025.html
[8] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/09/12/obama-gay-rumors-chicago-jerome-corsi-_n_1877990.html
[9] http://thinkprogress.org/politics/2012/10/26/1094491/john-sununus-history-of-racial-remarks-about-obama/
[10] http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-505267_162-57539897/donald-trump-$5m-offer-to-president-falls-flat-joke-to-many/
[11] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/10/10/obama-debate-polite_n_1954559.html
[12] http://www.cnn.com/2012/10/26/opinion/martin-sununu-race/index.html
[13] http://www.alternet.org/tags/barack-obama
[14] http://www.alternet.org/tags/donald-trump
[15] http://www.alternet.org/tags/extremism
[16] http://www.alternet.org/tags/gop
[17] http://www.alternet.org/tags/hate
[18] http://www.alternet.org/tags/racism-0
[19] http://www.alternet.org/tags/right-wing-terrorism
[20] http://www.alternet.org/%2Bnew_src%2B

The Rise of the Regressive Right and the Reawakening of America by Robert Reich

robertreich.org, October 16, 2011

Excerpt

A fundamental war has been waged in this nation since its founding, between progressive forces pushing us forward and regressive forces pulling us backward.
We are going to battle once again.
Progressives believe in openness, equal opportunity, and tolerance. Progressives assume we’re all in it together…Regressives take the opposite positions.
…today’s Republican right aren’t really conservatives. Their goal isn’t to conserve what we have. It’s to take us backwards…
The regressive right has slowly consolidated power over the last three decades as income and wealth have concentrated at the top. In the late 1970s the richest 1 percent of Americans received 9 percent of total income and held 18 percent of the nation’s wealth; by 2007, they had more than 23 percent of total income and 35 percent of America’s wealth. CEOs of the 1970s were paid 40 times the average worker’s wage; now CEOs receive 300 times the typical workers’ wage.
This concentration of income and wealth has generated the political heft to deregulate Wall Street and halve top tax rates. It has bankrolled the so-called Tea Party movement, and captured the House of Representatives and many state governments. Through a sequence of presidential appointments it has also overtaken the Supreme Court…
Yet the great arc of American history reveals an unmistakable pattern. Whenever privilege and power conspire to pull us backward, the nation eventually rallies and moves forward….regressive forces reignited the progressive ideals on which America is built. The result was fundamental reform. Perhaps this is what’s beginning to happen again across America.

Full text

A fundamental war has been waged in this nation since its founding, between progressive forces pushing us forward and regressive forces pulling us backward.

We are going to battle once again.
Progressives believe in openness, equal opportunity, and tolerance. Progressives assume we’re all in it together: We all benefit from public investments in schools and health care and infrastructure. And we all do better with strong safety nets, reasonable constraints on Wall Street and big business, and a truly progressive tax system. Progressives worry when the rich and privileged become powerful enough to undermine democracy.

Regressives take the opposite positions.

Eric Cantor, Paul Ryan, Rick Perry, Michele Bachmann and the other tribunes of today’s Republican right aren’t really conservatives. Their goal isn’t to conserve what we have. It’s to take us backwards.

They’d like to return to the 1920s — before Social Security, unemployment insurance, labor laws, the minimum wage, Medicare and Medicaid, worker safety laws, the Environmental Protection Act, the Glass-Steagall Act, the Securities and Exchange Act, and the Voting Rights Act.

In the 1920s Wall Street was unfettered, the rich grew far richer and everyone else went deep into debt, and the nation closed its doors to immigrants.

Rather than conserve the economy, these regressives want to resurrect the classical economics of the 1920s — the view that economic downturns are best addressed by doing nothing until the “rot” is purged out of the system (as Andrew Mellon, Herbert Hoover’s Treasury Secretary, so decorously put it).

In truth, if they had their way we’d be back in the late nineteenth century — before the federal income tax, antitrust laws, the pure food and drug act, and the Federal Reserve. A time when robber barons — railroad, financial, and oil titans — ran the country. A time of wrenching squalor for the many and mind-numbing wealth for the few.

Listen carefully to today’s Republican right and you hear the same Social Darwinism Americans were fed more than a century ago to justify the brazen inequality of the Gilded Age:  Survival of the fittest. Don’t help the poor or unemployed or anyone who’s fallen on bad times, they say, because this only encourages laziness. America will be strong only if we reward the rich and punish the needy.

The regressive right has slowly consolidated power over the last three decades as income and wealth have concentrated at the top. In the late 1970s the richest 1 percent of Americans received 9 percent of total income and held 18 percent of the nation’s wealth; by 2007, they had more than 23 percent of total income and 35 percent of America’s wealth. CEOs of the 1970s were paid 40 times the average worker’s wage; now CEOs receive 300 times the typical workers’ wage.

This concentration of income and wealth has generated the political heft to deregulate Wall Street and halve top tax rates. It has bankrolled the so-called Tea Party movement, and captured the House of Representatives and many state governments. Through a sequence of presidential appointments it has also overtaken the Supreme Court.

Scalia, Alito, Thomas, and Roberts (and, all too often, Kennedy) claim they’re conservative jurists. But they’re judicial activists bent on overturning seventy-five years of jurisprudence by resurrecting states’ rights, treating the 2nd Amendment as if America still relied on  local militias, narrowing the Commerce Clause, and calling money speech and corporations people.

Yet the great arc of American history reveals an unmistakable pattern. Whenever privilege and power conspire to pull us backward, the nation eventually rallies and moves forward. Sometimes it takes an economic shock like the bursting of a giant speculative bubble; sometimes we just reach a tipping point where the frustrations of average Americans turn into action.

Look at the Progressive reforms between 1900 and 1916; the New Deal of the 1930s; the Civil Rights struggle of the 1950s and 1960s; the widening opportunities for women, minorities, people with disabilities, and gays; and the environmental reforms of the 1970s. 

In each of these eras, regressive forces reignited the progressive ideals on which America is built. The result was fundamental reform.

Perhaps this is what’s beginning to happen again across America.
http://robertreich.org/post/11511074902

Conservative Southern Values Revived: How a Brutal Strain of American Aristocrats Have Come to Rule America By Sara Robinson

AlterNet, June 28, 2012

Excerpt

It’s been said that the rich are different than you and me. What most Americans don’t know is that they’re also quite different from each other, and that which faction is currently running the show ultimately makes a vast difference in the kind of country we are.

Right now, a lot of our problems stem directly from the fact that the wrong sort has finally gotten the upper hand; a particularly brutal and anti-democratic strain of American aristocrat that the other elites have mostly managed to keep away from the levers of power since the Revolution. Worse: this bunch has set a very ugly tone that’s corrupted how people with power and money behave in every corner of our culture. Here’s what happened, and how it happened, and what it means for America now.

North versus South: Two Definitions of Liberty

Michael Lind first called out the existence of this conflict in his 2006 book, Made In Texas: George W. Bush and the Southern Takeover of American Politics. He argued that much of American history has been characterized by a struggle between two historical factions among the American elite — and that the election of George W. Bush was a definitive sign that the wrong side was winning.

For most of our history, American economics, culture and politics have been dominated by a New England-based Yankee aristocracy that was rooted in Puritan communitarian values, educated at the Ivies and marinated in an ethic of noblesse oblige (the conviction that those who possess wealth and power are morally bound to use it for the betterment of society). While they’ve done their share of damage to the notion of democracy in the name of profit (as all financial elites inevitably do), this group has, for the most part, tempered its predatory instincts with a code that valued mass education and human rights; held up public service as both a duty and an honor; and imbued them with the belief that once you made your nut, you had a moral duty to do something positive with it for the betterment of mankind. Your own legacy depended on this.

Among the presidents, this strain gave us both Roosevelts, Woodrow Wilson, John F. Kennedy, and Poppy Bush — nerdy, wonky intellectuals who, for all their faults, at least took the business of good government seriously. Among financial elites, Bill Gates and Warren Buffet still both partake strongly of this traditional view of wealth as power to be used for good. Even if we don’t like their specific choices, the core impulse to improve the world is a good one — and one that’s been conspicuously absent in other aristocratic cultures.

Which brings us to that other great historical American nobility — the plantation aristocracy of the lowland South, which has been notable throughout its 400-year history for its utter lack of civic interest, its hostility to the very ideas of democracy and human rights, its love of hierarchy, its fear of technology and progress, its reliance on brutality and violence to maintain “order,” and its outright celebration of inequality as an order divinely ordained by God…these elites have always feared and opposed universal literacy, public schools and libraries, and a free press…perhaps the most destructive piece of the Southern elites’ worldview is the extremely anti-democratic way it defined the very idea of liberty. In Yankee Puritan culture, both liberty and authority resided mostly with the community, and not so much with individuals. Communities had both the freedom and the duty to govern themselves as they wished (through town meetings and so on), to invest in their collective good, and to favor or punish individuals whose behavior enhanced or threatened the whole (historically, through community rewards such as elevation to positions of public authority and trust; or community punishments like shaming, shunning or banishing).

Individuals were expected to balance their personal needs and desires against the greater good of the collective — and, occasionally, to make sacrifices for the betterment of everyone. (This is why the Puritan wealthy tended to dutifully pay their taxes, tithe in their churches and donate generously to create hospitals, parks and universities.) In return, the community had a solemn and inescapable moral duty to care for its sick, educate its young and provide for its needy — the kind of support that maximizes each person’s liberty to live in dignity and achieve his or her potential. A Yankee community that failed to provide such support brought shame upon itself. To this day, our progressive politics are deeply informed by this Puritan view of ordered liberty.

In the old South, on the other hand, the degree of liberty you enjoyed was a direct function of your God-given place in the social hierarchy. When a Southern conservative talks about “losing his liberty,” the loss of this absolute domination over the people and property under his control — and, worse, the loss of status and the resulting risk of being held accountable for laws that he was once exempt from — is what he’s really talking about. In this view, freedom is a zero-sum game. Anything that gives more freedom and rights to lower-status people can’t help but put serious limits on the freedom of the upper classes to use those people as they please. It cannot be any other way. So they find Yankee-style rights expansions absolutely intolerable, to the point where they’re willing to fight and die to preserve their divine right to rule.

Once we understand the two different definitions of “liberty” at work here, a lot of other things suddenly make much more sense. We can understand the traditional Southern antipathy to education, progress, public investment, unionization, equal opportunity, and civil rights

The Civil War was, at its core, a military battle between these two elites for the soul of the country. It pitted the more communalist, democratic and industrialized Northern vision of the American future against the hierarchical, aristocratic, agrarian Southern one. Though the Union won the war, the fundamental conflict at its root still hasn’t been resolved to this day. (The current conservative culture war is the Civil War still being re-fought by other means.)…

post-war Southerners and Westerners drew their power from the new wealth provided by the defense, energy, real estate, and other economic booms in their regions. They also had a profound evangelical conviction, brought with them out of the South, that God wanted them to take America back from the Yankee liberals — a conviction that expressed itself simultaneously in both the formation of the vast post-war evangelical churches (which were major disseminators of Southern culture around the country); and in their takeover of the GOP, starting with Barry Goldwater’s campaign in 1964 and culminating with Ronald Reagan’s election in 1980.

They countered Yankee hegemony by building their own universities, grooming their own leaders and creating their own media. By the 1990s, they were staging the RINO hunts that drove the last Republican moderates (almost all of them Yankees, by either geography or cultural background) and the meritocratic order they represented to total extinction within the GOP. A decade later, the Tea Party became the voice of the unleashed id of the old Southern order, bringing it forward into the 21st century with its full measure of selfishness, racism, superstition, and brutality intact.

…Buttressed by the arguments of Ayn Rand — who updated the ancient slaveholder ethic for the modern age… — it has been exported to every corner of the culture, infected most of our other elite communities and killed off all but the very last vestiges of noblesse oblige…

 

We are withdrawing government investments in public education, libraries, infrastructure, health care, and technological innovation — in many areas, to the point where we are falling behind the standards that prevail in every other developed country.

Elites who dare to argue for increased investment in the common good, and believe that we should lay the groundwork for a better future, are regarded as not just silly and soft-headed, but also inviting underclass revolt. The Yankees thought that government’s job was to better the lot of the lower classes. The Southern aristocrats know that its real purpose is to deprive them of all possible means of rising up against their betters.

The rich are different now because the elites who spent four centuries sucking the South dry and turning it into an economic and political backwater have now vanquished the more forward-thinking, democratic Northern elites. Their attitudes towards freedom, authority, community, government, and the social contract aren’t just confined to the country clubs of the Gulf Coast; they can now be found on the ground from Hollywood and Silicon Valley to Wall Street. And because of that quiet coup, the entire US is now turning into the global equivalent of a Deep South state.

As long as America runs according to the rules of Southern politics, economics and culture, we’re no longer free citizens exercising our rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness as we’ve always understood them. Instead, we’re being treated like serfs on Massa’s plantation — and increasingly, we’re being granted our liberties only at Massa’s pleasure. Welcome to Plantation America.

Full text

It’s been said that the rich are different than you and me. What most Americans don’t know is that they’re also quite different from each other, and that which faction is currently running the show ultimately makes a vast difference in the kind of country we are.

Right now, a lot of our problems stem directly from the fact that the wrong sort has finally gotten the upper hand; a particularly brutal and anti-democratic strain of American aristocrat that the other elites have mostly managed to keep away from the levers of power since the Revolution. Worse: this bunch has set a very ugly tone that’s corrupted how people with power and money behave in every corner of our culture. Here’s what happened, and how it happened, and what it means for America now.

North versus South: Two Definitions of Liberty

Michael Lind first called out the existence of this conflict in his 2006 book, Made In Texas: George W. Bush and the Southern Takeover of American Politics. He argued that much of American history has been characterized by a struggle between two historical factions among the American elite — and that the election of George W. Bush was a definitive sign that the wrong side was winning.

For most of our history, American economics, culture and politics have been dominated by a New England-based Yankee aristocracy that was rooted in Puritan communitarian values, educated at the Ivies and marinated in an ethic of noblesse oblige (the conviction that those who possess wealth and power are morally bound to use it for the betterment of society). While they’ve done their share of damage to the notion of democracy in the name of profit (as all financial elites inevitably do), this group has, for the most part, tempered its predatory instincts with a code that valued mass education and human rights; held up public service as both a duty and an honor; and imbued them with the belief that once you made your nut, you had a moral duty to do something positive with it for the betterment of mankind. Your own legacy depended on this.

Among the presidents, this strain gave us both Roosevelts, Woodrow Wilson, John F. Kennedy, and Poppy Bush — nerdy, wonky intellectuals who, for all their faults, at least took the business of good government seriously. Among financial elites, Bill Gates and Warren Buffet still both partake strongly of this traditional view of wealth as power to be used for good. Even if we don’t like their specific choices, the core impulse to improve the world is a good one — and one that’s been conspicuously absent in other aristocratic cultures.

Which brings us to that other great historical American nobility — the plantation aristocracy of the lowland South, which has been notable throughout its 400-year history for its utter lack of civic interest, its hostility to the very ideas of democracy and human rights, its love of hierarchy, its fear of technology and progress, its reliance on brutality and violence to maintain “order,” and its outright celebration of inequality as an order divinely ordained by God.

As described by Colin Woodard in American Nations: The Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America, the elites of the Deep South are descended mainly from the owners of sugar, rum and cotton plantations from Barbados — the younger sons of the British nobility who’d farmed up the Caribbean islands, and then came ashore to the southern coasts seeking more land. Woodward described the culture they created in the crescent stretching from Charleston, SC around to New Orleans this way:

It was a near-carbon copy of the West Indian slave state these Barbadians had left behind, a place notorious even then for its inhumanity….From the outset, Deep Southern culture was based on radical disparities in wealth and power, with a tiny elite commanding total obedience and enforcing it with state-sponsored terror. Its expansionist ambitions would put it on a collision course with its Yankee rivals, triggering military, social, and political conflicts that continue to plague the United States to this day.

David Hackett Fischer, whose Albion’s Seed: Four British Folkways In America informs both Lind’s and Woodard’s work, described just how deeply undemocratic the Southern aristocracy was, and still is. He documents how these elites have always feared and opposed universal literacy, public schools and libraries, and a free press. (Lind adds that they have historically been profoundly anti-technology as well, far preferring solutions that involve finding more serfs and throwing them at a problem whenever possible. Why buy a bulldozer when 150 convicts on a chain gang can grade your road instead?) Unlike the Puritan elites, who wore their wealth modestly and dedicated themselves to the common good, Southern elites sank their money into ostentatious homes and clothing and the pursuit of pleasure — including lavish parties, games of fortune, predatory sexual conquests, and blood sports involving ritualized animal abuse spectacles.

But perhaps the most destructive piece of the Southern elites’ worldview is the extremely anti-democratic way it defined the very idea of liberty. In Yankee Puritan culture, both liberty and authority resided mostly with the community, and not so much with individuals. Communities had both the freedom and the duty to govern themselves as they wished (through town meetings and so on), to invest in their collective good, and to favor or punish individuals whose behavior enhanced or threatened the whole (historically, through community rewards such as elevation to positions of public authority and trust; or community punishments like shaming, shunning or banishing).

Individuals were expected to balance their personal needs and desires against the greater good of the collective — and, occasionally, to make sacrifices for the betterment of everyone. (This is why the Puritan wealthy tended to dutifully pay their taxes, tithe in their churches and donate generously to create hospitals, parks and universities.) In return, the community had a solemn and inescapable moral duty to care for its sick, educate its young and provide for its needy — the kind of support that maximizes each person’s liberty to live in dignity and achieve his or her potential. A Yankee community that failed to provide such support brought shame upon itself. To this day, our progressive politics are deeply informed by this Puritan view of ordered liberty.

In the old South, on the other hand, the degree of liberty you enjoyed was a direct function of your God-given place in the social hierarchy. The higher your status, the more authority you had, and the more “liberty” you could exercise — which meant, in practical terms, that you had the right to take more “liberties” with the lives, rights and property of other people. Like an English lord unfettered from the Magna Carta, nobody had the authority to tell a Southern gentleman what to do with resources under his control. In this model, that’s what liberty is. If you don’t have the freedom to rape, beat, torture, kill, enslave, or exploit your underlings (including your wife and children) with impunity — or abuse the land, or enforce rules on others that you will never have to answer to yourself — then you can’t really call yourself a free man.

When a Southern conservative talks about “losing his liberty,” the loss of this absolute domination over the people and property under his control — and, worse, the loss of status and the resulting risk of being held accountable for laws that he was once exempt from — is what he’s really talking about. In this view, freedom is a zero-sum game. Anything that gives more freedom and rights to lower-status people can’t help but put serious limits on the freedom of the upper classes to use those people as they please. It cannot be any other way. So they find Yankee-style rights expansions absolutely intolerable, to the point where they’re willing to fight and die to preserve their divine right to rule.

Once we understand the two different definitions of “liberty” at work here, a lot of other things suddenly make much more sense. We can understand the traditional Southern antipathy to education, progress, public investment, unionization, equal opportunity, and civil rights. The fervent belief among these elites that they should completely escape any legal or social accountability for any harm they cause. Their obsessive attention to where they fall in the status hierarchies. And, most of all — the unremitting and unapologetic brutality with which they’ve defended these “liberties” across the length of their history.

When Southerners quote Patrick Henry — “Give me liberty or give me death” — what they’re really demanding is the unquestioned, unrestrained right to turn their fellow citizens into supplicants and subjects. The Yankee elites have always known this — and feared what would happen if that kind of aristocracy took control of the country. And that tension between these two very different views of what it means to be “elite” has inflected our history for over 400 years.

The Battle Between the Elites

Since shortly after the Revolution, the Yankee elites have worked hard to keep the upper hand on America’s culture, economy and politics — and much of our success as a nation rests on their success at keeping plantation culture sequestered in the South, and its scions largely away from the levers of power. If we have to have an elite — and there’s never been a society as complex as ours that didn’t have some kind of upper class maintaining social order — we’re far better off in the hands of one that’s essentially meritocratic, civic-minded and generally believes that it will do better when everybody else does better, too.

The Civil War was, at its core, a military battle between these two elites for the soul of the country. It pitted the more communalist, democratic and industrialized Northern vision of the American future against the hierarchical, aristocratic, agrarian Southern one. Though the Union won the war, the fundamental conflict at its root still hasn’t been resolved to this day. (The current conservative culture war is the Civil War still being re-fought by other means.) After the war, the rise of Northern industrialists and the dominance of Northern universities and media ensured that subsequent generations of the American power elite continued to subscribe to the Northern worldview — even when the individual leaders came from other parts of the country.

Ironically, though: it was that old Yankee commitment to national betterment that ultimately gave the Southern aristocracy its big chance to break out and go national. According to Lind, it was easy for the Northeast to hold onto cultural, political and economic power as long as all the country’s major banks, businesses, universities, and industries were headquartered there. But the New Deal — and, especially, the post-war interstate highways, dams, power grids, and other infrastructure investments that gave rise to the Sun Belt — fatally loosened the Yankees’ stranglehold on national power. The gleaming new cities of the South and West shifted the American population centers westward, unleashing new political and economic forces with real power to challenge the Yankee consensus. And because a vast number of these westward migrants came out of the South, the elites that rose along with these cities tended to hew to the old Southern code, and either tacitly or openly resist the moral imperatives of the Yankee canon. The soaring postwar fortunes of cities like Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Phoenix, Houston, Dallas, and Atlanta fed that ancient Barbadian slaveholder model of power with plenty of room and resources to launch a fresh and unexpected 20th-century revival.

According to historian Darren Dochuk, the author of From Bible Belt to Sunbelt: Plain-Folk Religion, Grassroots Politics, and the Rise of Evangelical Conservatism, these post-war Southerners and Westerners drew their power from the new wealth provided by the defense, energy, real estate, and other economic booms in their regions. They also had a profound evangelical conviction, brought with them out of the South, that God wanted them to take America back from the Yankee liberals — a conviction that expressed itself simultaneously in both the formation of the vast post-war evangelical churches (which were major disseminators of Southern culture around the country); and in their takeover of the GOP, starting with Barry Goldwater’s campaign in 1964 and culminating with Ronald Reagan’s election in 1980.

They countered Yankee hegemony by building their own universities, grooming their own leaders and creating their own media. By the 1990s, they were staging the RINO hunts that drove the last Republican moderates (almost all of them Yankees, by either geography or cultural background) and the meritocratic order they represented to total extinction within the GOP. A decade later, the Tea Party became the voice of the unleashed id of the old Southern order, bringing it forward into the 21st century with its full measure of selfishness, racism, superstition, and brutality intact.

Plantation America

From its origins in the fever swamps of the lowland south, the worldview of the old Southern aristocracy can now be found nationwide. Buttressed by the arguments of Ayn Rand — who updated the ancient slaveholder ethic for the modern age — it has been exported to every corner of the culture, infected most of our other elite communities and killed off all but the very last vestiges of noblesse oblige.

It’s not an overstatement to say that we’re now living in Plantation America. As Lind points out: to the horror of his Yankee father, George W. Bush proceeded to run the country exactly like Woodard’s description of a Barbadian slavelord. And Barack Obama has done almost nothing to roll this victory back. We’re now living in an America where rampant inequality is accepted, and even celebrated.

Torture and extrajudicial killing have been reinstated, with no due process required.

The wealthy and powerful are free to abuse employees, break laws, destroy the commons, and crash the economy — without ever being held to account.

The rich flaunt their ostentatious wealth without even the pretense of humility, modesty, generosity, or gratitude.

The military — always a Southern-dominated institution — sucks down 60% of our federal discretionary spending, and is undergoing a rapid evangelical takeover as well.

Our police are being given paramilitary training and powers that are completely out of line with their duty to serve and protect, but much more in keeping with a mission to subdue and suppress. Even liberal cities like Seattle are now home to the kind of local justice that used to be the hallmark of small-town Alabama sheriffs.

Segregation is increasing everywhere. The rights of women and people of color are under assault. Violence against leaders who agitate for progressive change is up. Racist organizations are undergoing a renaissance nationwide.

We are withdrawing government investments in public education, libraries, infrastructure, health care, and technological innovation — in many areas, to the point where we are falling behind the standards that prevail in every other developed country.

Elites who dare to argue for increased investment in the common good, and believe that we should lay the groundwork for a better future, are regarded as not just silly and soft-headed, but also inviting underclass revolt. The Yankees thought that government’s job was to better the lot of the lower classes. The Southern aristocrats know that its real purpose is to deprive them of all possible means of rising up against their betters.

The rich are different now because the elites who spent four centuries sucking the South dry and turning it into an economic and political backwater have now vanquished the more forward-thinking, democratic Northern elites. Their attitudes towards freedom, authority, community, government, and the social contract aren’t just confined to the country clubs of the Gulf Coast; they can now be found on the ground from Hollywood and Silicon Valley to Wall Street. And because of that quiet coup, the entire US is now turning into the global equivalent of a Deep South state.

As long as America runs according to the rules of Southern politics, economics and culture, we’re no longer free citizens exercising our rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness as we’ve always understood them. Instead, we’re being treated like serfs on Massa’s plantation — and increasingly, we’re being granted our liberties only at Massa’s pleasure. Welcome to Plantation America.
Sara Robinson, MS, APF is a social futurist and the editor of AlterNet’s Vision page. Follow her on Twitter, or subscribe to AlterNet’s Vision newsletter for weekly updates.

http://www.alternet.org/story/156071/

Do People Get Less Religious When Societies Grow More Egalitarian?

By Amanda Marcotte, AlterNet, June 25, 2012

Slowly but surely, religion’s historical monopoly on the human mind is breaking apart. On its surface, the reason seems straightforward: the rise of secular democracy and especially of scientific understanding should encourage more people to give up on religion.

In fact, recent research from the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago shows that the picture worldwide is much more complex than that. While atheism is on the rise in many places in the world, others are seeing a rise in religiosity, creating a situation where the levels of belief and non-belief vary wildly depending on culture. A lot of it has to do with history and culture, but one intriguing thread can be pulled from the picture, which is that there seems to be a strong correlation between high rates of atheism and countries that prioritize economic equality and make higher investments in a strong social safety net, such as France and the Netherlands.

Could liberal policies help create non-believers? Previous research indicates that when countries embrace progressive social policy, that tends to create a decline in religious belief. The theory, often called the “secularization thesis” is that the combination of good education of its citizens and the fact that citizens can rely on the government instead of the church for poverty relief means that more people will turn away from religion. But could the reasons go deeper than that? Few people base their choice of whether to believe in God or not on something as simple as whether they can go to the church or the state in times of need. Perhaps it’s more that economic insecurity itself increases the desire to believe in God. And if atheists want to minimize the power religion plays in society, should they start by demanding a more secure and egalitarian society?

There’s a heavy body of research showing that the more stress and uncertainty people face, the more likely they are to engage in what psychologists call “magical thinking”: superstition, prayer, belief in the supernatural. In 2008, Jennifer Whitson and Adam Galinsky published a paper in Science demonstrating that when you remove the amount of control people have over their situation, they tend to engage more in “illusory pattern perception,” which is the psychological process that creates belief in the supernatural. Other research has shown the real-world effects of this psychological tendency, showing, for instance, that people living in war zones tend to engage in more magical thinking, such as carrying lucky charms or believing in the power of prayer, than those who don’t.

We can observe these effects in ordinary situations where people feel a lack of control. Take for instance, the sports fan who is usually a rational person but nonetheless refuses to wash his favorite jersey for fear that it will cause his team to lose. Or the usually non-superstitious person who, when playing dice in a casino, blows on the dice before rolling for good luck. When we don’t have control over outcomes, we sometimes try to regain that sense of control by imagining that we’re actually exerting control through unseen supernatural means. Religion has a lot more tradition and power behind it than everyday superstitions, but psychologically, the process can be similar. People look to supernatural means to exert control over situations they can’t influence through real-world means.

Living in a country with a poor social-safety net and high income-inequality means, for most of its citizens, living a life dogged with constant insecurity and a loss of feelings of control. People worry more about losing their jobs, and if they do lose their jobs, they worry more about becoming homeless or otherwise falling into poverty. People without guaranteed access to health care worry more about what will happen to them if they get sick. Parents in places where the education system is shoddy worry more about what’s going to happen to their kids. The less control they feel over their own destiny, the more tempting it is to conjure up a God who can save you in a society that doesn’t bother.

It’s not so much that people believe the church will come through for them in a pinch. It’s that belief in God gives them a sense of control they lack in their real-world lives.

Given these patterns, it makes sense that Russia was, along with Israel, at the top of the list of countries that had the biggest surge in religiosity in the past 20 years. A large part of that, of course, is due to the end of communism and its bans on religion, allowing people to recommit to faith. But other formerly communist nations, like the Czech Repubic and Poland, didn’t see such a surge in believers. In fact, the Czech Republic saw a surge in atheism in the past decade.

Of course, the two countries couldn’t be more different for ordinary citizens post-communism. Russia has been a swirl of political and economic distress, making it a notoriously stressful place to live. Life expectancy in Russia hovers around 68 years, about 10 years short of the standard in more stable, prosperous Western nations. The Czech Republic, on the other hand, was praised by the U.N. for its remarkably high human development index, which is a rough shorthand to measure the stability and standard of living for the average citizen of a country. Life expectancy there has reached 77 years, closing in on countries like Germany and France.

Atheists who aren’t content to simply not believe themselves, but who also want to increase the secularization of a society and the numbers of atheists, need to get behind a politically progressive agenda. Right now, the United States is seeing an explosion in income inequality, high unemployment, and ever more serious cuts to the social safety net. The inevitable result of this is more stress, and more feelings of loss of control among ordinary Americans. If they aren’t going to find safety and security in the real world, they’re going to turn their hopes to a supernatural one.

Religion’s grip on power is tightly entwined with the economic misfortunes of the people. If we want to build a more secular society, the first step is building a more equitable one.
Amanda Marcotte co-writes the blog Pandagon. She is the author of It’s a Jungle Out There: The Feminist Survival Guide to Politically Inhospitable Environments.

© 2012 Independent Media Institute. All rights reserved.
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