How Is State-Level Theocracy Working Out?

A while back, I read an article detailing the various social deficits of Red states–documenting the greater incidence of a wide variety of social ills in states governed by the GOP. Those problems included everything from more spousal abuse to more obesity; more teen pregnancy and sexually-transmitted disease; more bankruptcies and greater poverty; worse maternal and infant mortality numbers; more rapes, robberies, and aggravated assaults; more student dropouts, more people on welfare, more homelessness; more gun deaths…

It was a long– grim–list.

The post came with hyperlinks, and I clicked through (and did some supplemental research), to confirm the accuracy of the list–which was even more extensive than the items I’ve shared.

The obvious question is: why? Why is there such a difference between Red and Blue states, all of which are part of the United States and all of which presumably participate to some extent in the same national culture? I could understand differences attributable to climate, to industry, to location, to economy–but why would there be such stark social differences based on a state’s political orientation?

The only answer that makes sense is rooted in the very different policy preferences of today’s Republican and Democratic politicians. A past state history of racism undoubtedly factors in, but the article noted that many of the policies that produce these socially problematic results stem from the GOP’s embrace in 1980 of what it termed “religious grifters.”

Prior to 1980,

George HW Bush and his wife Barbara had been big advocates for Planned Parenthood and a woman’s right to choose an abortion.  Ronald Reagan, as governor of California, had signed the nation’s single most liberal abortion law and was also an outspoken supporter of Roe v Wade and Planned Parenthood.

Similarly, the white evangelical movement prior to 1980 was largely supportive of abortion rights.  They were furious, however, when the Supreme Court banned preacher-led school prayer and in the late 1970s Jimmy Carter pulled the tax exemptions of segregated schools run by white evangelicals.

As I have previously noted, historians of religion have documented the Religious Right’s  tactical decision to focus on abortion to turn out Evangelical voters.

Weyrich and Falwell realized that the tax exemption issue based on racial discrimination had limited value, but opposing abortion was a moral issue cutting across racial and religious lines. That was their thinking on the eve of the 1980 elections.

The election that year saw the first full merger in American history between a major political party and a religious movement largely run by grifters.

The GOP also adopted Falwell’s call for a return to school prayer, hostility to sex education, rejection of women’s rights, assertion of patriarchy, and open hatred of homosexuality.

Championing what today we’d call the “culture wars” and “war on woke,” Republicans fully embraced the anti-science perspective of Falwell and his colleagues, questioning for the first time the theory of evolution and scoffing at concerns about pollution causing cancer, global warming, and a wide variety of diseases.

Hostility to science engendered hostility to education, to “elitists” and “pointy-headed liberals.” And we were off to the races.

When government ignores its basic, legitimate obligations–public safety, provision of  physical and social infrastructure, protection of civil liberties–and focuses instead on imposing religious doctrine, public policies are no longer based upon efforts to improve citizens’ welfare and an attendant evaluation of empirical evidence about what has and hasn’t worked.

Worse, the very definition of public welfare–of the common good– is re-focused. It no longer rests on data about the health and financial security of citizens. Instead, lawmakers are consumed with issues of “morality.” So we end up with states like Indiana in which women are forced to give birth to babies whose welfare those legislators subsequently ignore, and public schools that are underfunded because tax dollars have been siphoned off  to support religion.

Today, the GOP makes policy choices based upon White Christian Nationalist dogma (with a substantial helping of racism). The results are obvious. Blue states overall enjoy substantially better social health and safety outcomes. And because of that, they attract more businesses and more talented workers, and they send more money to Washington–money that subsidizes the Red states.

The Washington Post parsed the numbers:

Nine of the 10 states that sent the most to the federal government, per person, voted for President Biden in 2020. Nine of the 10 states that sent the least voted for former president Donald Trump. The typical resident of deep-blue Connecticut sent almost three times as much to Washington as the typical resident of deep-red Mississippi.

If those subsidies were paying for health care or better policing, that would be one thing. Paying for theocracy and poor social outcomes is considerably less defensible.


  1. Red states have fiscal problems caused by the “Reds” believing too much in corporations and too little in we the people.

    Of course, believing in corporations has its own rewards like more lucrative lifetime political rewards because corporations reward those who help them with generous campaign donations, perks while in office, and “positions” after political retirement on boards and executive suites.

    And, voters now can be convinced by TV that their taxes are “too” high and can easily be lowered by responsible politicians.

  2. Over the years, I’ve read many summations of Republican party behavior and have firmly embraced the Rick Wilson meme: EVERYTHING REPUBLICANS TOUCH DIES. It doesn’t matter what it is. But now that the evangelical camels are fully in the tent, their use and abuse of religion is sealing their fate – and, perhaps, the fate of democracy. That brings me to one of my favorite memes: ONCE AGAIN RELIGION COMES TO THE RESCUE OF SANITY.

    The words “grifter” and “religious” should by synonyms. They’re the same. How else do we explain soliciting money – tax free – for the support of an unproven dogma based on cherry-picked dogma misinterpreted thousands of times for the sake of the grift? “Money is the root of all evil”, they say, while passing the collection plate. Gimme a break.

    BTW, those red states and all their ills are also #1 in Fox News viewers. Just saying…

  3. This is why you can’t take red-state secession seriously. If they did secede, they’d be bankrupt almost immediately. They couldn’t even help out their fellow states.

    I guess they haven’t learned how to over-tax their residents like Indiana. But, wait, Indiana still relies on the federal government which gets excess funds from blue states. No wonder the donut ring counties thieve from Indianapolis.

    However, a poor social outcome equals “owning the libs.” So, they have that…

  4. Extremists pollute every human decision now whether they are decisions to go to wars (on the offense, sovereign states have an obligation to defend against attacks even by employing asymmetric tactics like terrorism) or to fund “charter” schools in Indiana, or by rowdy attendance at local school board meetings.

    The bottom line for all morality is we not I.

    Extrmisim is all about “I”.

  5. I’ve known for years that Indiana is one of the states that takes more money back than it gives to the national pot of money via tax dollars. Indiana’s GOP is fully against funding social safety nets to help out those in need – people they refer to as “takers” – but I personally don’t know a single one of them that has a problem being a “taker” from the taxpayers in blue states. They fully embrace the thought of I’ve got mine and to heck with you.

    Sheila – I really wish you would have considered running again for state and national offices after your first try. You have a gift for being able to clearly explain societal issues and offering potential resolutions. If I had the money to fund a national speaking tour for you I would do so in a heartbeat.

  6. “Red” people increasingly move to Red states and vice-versa. Likewise, “Blue” people move to urban areas. This is petrol behind the curtains for some future ignition.

  7. It’s just too bad that most of those who continue to vote the jackals into office will never see, hear, or read any of this.

  8. Lester, you are right about people moving from state to state as the country continues to sort itself. It has done this to some extent since its founding but not by political affiliation so much. A hard look at the maps of the country’s counties since the last election shows a definite pattern of blue counties being cities and red counties the rural areas. The less a state has embraced modernity, the redder it is. Eventually, the red counties around the blue cities fade to a light pink, then purple, then blue as their own young reach for the new and the discard their parents old thinking and ways.
    We now see this sorting at a more personal level too as families and friends have split off to associate more and more with likeminded folk…even at the dinner table. IMO that level of inability to get along is a death omen for society.

  9. Soeme years ago Nebraska portrayed itself as the “Model” red state, and if it were not illegal, would have had top declare bankruptcy.
    It was Reagan who befriended Falwell, and allowed the first camel into the tent, claiming that the country ought to get back to its spiritual roots.
    Vernon, there is yet another catchy phrase related to yours, and that is “Religion spoils everything,”as per Christopher Hitchens.
    How many Councils of Trent, and the like did it take to hammer Christianity into its current state, define its past and its dogma? And teach people, like the speaker of the House, that the man-made bible is inerrant, helping to create the insanity of which Vernon speaks?
    When theocracy is the bottom line, none of the suffering of the masses it creates is seen as a problem!

  10. And as always, the Catholics in the US lead the charge backward, including being hostile toward their own Pope. It’s not only “Evangelicals.” Conservative Catholics were and are consciously courted by the right.

    In my opinion Leonard Leo and The Federalist Society have done more damage to the U.S. than any other Christian group. I do not, by the way, hate Catholic people. I do, however, despise their cult, which is clearly, if anything, more aggressively and effectively socially conservative than most of the generally hapless Protestant organizations.

    Fear of death becomes fear of everything, and the ignorant, fearful peasant is an easily controlled peasant.

  11. So blue states are helping finance religion in the schools of red welfare states? Whatever happened to the idea of “no taxation without representation?”

  12. Just saying, All this talk of red and blue states and city verses country folks makes me want to watch “New in Town”.

  13. Count me as someone that is looking at these red states vs blue states as we plan our leave from Europe. Sure we considered the cost of living in red states vs blue states but we also know that cost of living is not the full picture of living somewhere.

    We want to visit libraries often and I want them stocked with books that are probably banned in some schools in the south. We want to enjoy meeting people that think like us, not the neanderthals in red states. We want to enjoy our neighbors and not live next to someone that flies a trump flag and has anger issues and is a gun humper.

    Let’s just say, I’ve already had an email exchange with an ole colleague that said to me, California? Everyone is leaving that state and the cost of living is too high. Come to the south because we just shoot people that don’t agree with us. He was joking but I know he wasn’t really joking.

    And I had to remind that person that my spouse has brown skin. We know how the lily white population of the south treats brown skinned people that are immigrants. Also, why the hell would I choose to live next to someone that lives in the red state bubble and bring my loving spouse to that state? No thanks. We are educated and don’t want to live next to idiots.

  14. “It was a long– grim–list.”

    {start sarcasm}
    But we still have our white nationalist evangelical christianity and are not baby eating democrats! {end sarcasm}

    Lyndon B. Johnson once said, “If you can convince the lowest white man he’s better than the best colored man, he won’t notice you’re picking his pocket. Hell, give him somebody to look down on, and he’ll empty his pockets for you”

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