politics not gettin’ religion

I’m starting to believe people enjoy using the word “great” succeeded by a major, significant noun to make the phenomena sound really big… ie. the “Great Depression,” the “The Great British Baking Show,” or the Covid-prompted “great resignation.” Today’s discussed “great” is the “great realignment,” identified recently by Axios’s Josh Kraushaar (who is quoted below) as “arguably the biggest political story of our time… Republicans are becoming more working class and a little more multiracial. Democrats are becoming more elite and a little more white.” The parties are changing. Why?

Allow us to again wrestle with the words of respected author and economist David French: 

“There’s talk of realignment in the air. If you think all the way back to 2012, you might remember a certain phrase—the coalition of the ascendant. This was the Obama coalition, the collection of all of America’s growing demographics, from nonwhite voters to single women. The Romney voters, by contrast, were fading. White, Christian, and married, they were the demographic losers in a population that was becoming both more diverse and more secular. Democratic dominance was inevitable.

That analysis should have caused us to feel a certain looming dread. Nations that use race or ethnicity as the organizing principle of politics are often quite unstable, and quite violent. This is true across the world, and it’s true in our own land. Systematic racial division and oppression fractured the country once. It’s foolish to think it couldn’t fracture again—especially when the political class intentionally mobilizes voters to vote as a racial bloc.

Optimistic Democrats didn’t see Donald Trump’s victory in 2016 so much as a refutation of the coalition of the ascendant theory as a quirk of the electoral college and a reminder that Hillary Clinton wasn’t Barack Obama. The nation wasn’t quite majority-minority yet, and thus that the white majority could still win races when identity politics reign supreme. 

But 2020 told a different tale. The Democrats got whiter, the Republicans got more diverse, and now all the assumptions are scrambled. Donald Trump lost the popular vote by a far wider margin than he did in 2016, but he did materially better with Hispanic, Asian, and black voters. In fact, Trump did better than Romney with nonwhite voters in 2016 (an improvement then mainly attributed to Hillary Clinton’s weaknesses), and he improved on that showing in 2020. What was once seen as an aberration now looks like a trend.

The trend continues. Last week Axios’s Josh Kraushaar described an ongoing ‘seismic shift’ in the two parties’ coalitions. As outlined in a New York Times/Siena College poll, ‘Democrats now have a bigger advantage with white college graduates than they do with nonwhite voters.’ The Democratic Party’s losses with Hispanics are remarkable. Whereas Obama won 71% of the Hispanic vote in 2012, and Biden won 65% in 2020, now the Hispanic vote is ‘statistically tied.’

Moreover, there are good reasons to believe that Hispanic voters will continue to migrate to the GOP. As Ruy Teixeira described this week on his Substack, comprehensive issue polling from Echelon Insights demonstrates that strong progressives have substantially different political and cultural views from Hispanics.

Hispanic voters are far more likely to believe that America is ‘the greatest country in the world,’ far less likely to support defunding the police, far less likely to believe ‘racism is built into our society,’ and far less likely to believe that transgender athletes should play on sports teams that match their current gender identity. In most cases, the polling gap is just immense. 

What accounts for such monumental differences in beliefs in values? As my colleague Jonah Goldberg often (and rightly) says, we should reject monocausal explanations for complex social phenomena, but here’s a factor that simply isn’t discussed enough. The Democratic Party has a huge ‘God gap,’ and that God gap is driving a wedge between its white and nonwhite voters…

A party that’s culturally disconnected from (or perhaps even scornful of) traditional religious faith is going to alienate itself from tens of millions of voters it could otherwise reach. The danger to the nation is a version of the same danger represented by ethnic identity politics. If there’s one thing that can fracture a nation as thoroughly as ethnic division, it’s religious strife. The historical examples—from Catholic/Protestant to Hindu/Muslim to Sunni/Shiite—are too numerous to count. Indeed, we’re watching a great power war unfold in eastern Europe that’s motivated at least in part by profound religious animus. Our nation will be far, far healthier if we don’t divide on sharp religious lines. 

Religious conflict and political religious separation is also dangerous to religion itself. Turning one party into the ‘faith party’ not only risks repeating many of the compromises of the Trump era (many Christians saw supporting the GOP as their only real choice), it also risks melding together faith and power and faith and ideology in deeply destructive ways. 

Countless political and cultural issues don’t have a clear ‘Christian’ policy solution, yet when a party’s members perceive it to be the party of American Christianity, then the platform is wrongly infused with religious fervor, even on issues (like tax rates, gun policy, environmental policy, foreign policy, and countless others) where the correct religious answer is far from clear…

The future is not yet written. Both parties are at a crossroads. There is time for secular progressives to understand that Christians (including especially the black church) are an indispensable element of the progressive coalition. At the very least secular Americans should demonstrate respect and real tolerance for traditional religious beliefs…

Conservative Evangelicals—who come disproportionately from the South—have a real opportunity to turn the page on generations of terrible sin. Why are black Christians still so politically separated from the white church? Because for centuries all too many white Christians viewed their black brothers and sisters less through the lens of a common faith and more through the bigoted lens of a different race. It was white identity politics that separated the church, and its lingering legacy is a roadblock to unity today.

While Hispanic Americans don’t share the same history as black Christians, the hateful and fearful language around immigration (including, for example, ‘replacement theory’ discourse) causes too many Republican Christians to view Hispanic immigrants more as a political threat and less as brothers and sisters who likely share the same faith.

In December 2016, the executive editor of the New York Times, Dean Baquet, famously told NPR’s Terry Gross, ‘We don’t get religion. We don’t get the role of religion in people’s lives…’

But if we don’t ‘get religion’ we won’t fully get the seismic shift in American politics. America is a multi-ethnic, multi-faith, and deeply religious republic. If one or both parties can embrace each element of that reality, then we have a chance to make sure that seismic shift moves our politics towards the respectful pluralism that America requires.”

David French… always makes me think… of someone more than me.