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.
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.