American politics is no longer about politics. Genuinely political disputes revolve around the role of government, around contending policies. That today’s GOP is consumed by very different issues should have become clear when the Party simply dispensed with the production of a platform.
Jennifer Rubin recently reported on a study of Evangelicals conducted by PRRI, the Public Religion Research Institute. The study confirmed what has become obvious to political observers: people who identify as Evangelical are claiming a political label, not a theological one. These are the voters who form the base–and constitute the majority–of today’s GOP.
A striking 71 percent of these voters think the country has gone downhill since the 1950s (when women were excluded from most professions, Black Americans faced barriers to voting, 50 million Americans still used outhouses and only about 5 percent of Americans were college-educated). Because White Protestant evangelicals make up such a large share of the GOP, that means 66 percent of Republicans want to go back to the time of “Leave It to Beaver.
Other results from the research fill in the blanks. Six in ten white evangelical Protestants (61%) believe that there is discrimination against white Americans and that such discrimination is “as big a problem as discrimination against racial minorities.”
Some 58 percent of all Americans realize that white supremacy is still a major problem, but only 33 percent of White Evangelical Protestants agree– the lowest percentage among all religious groups.
Fifty-one percent are convinced that public teachers and librarians are indoctrinating students with “inappropriate” curricula and books.
Fifty-four percent of Evangelicals believe in the “big lie” of a stolen election.
And on immigration, only 30 percent of Americans buy into the “great replacement theory.” But 51 percent of White evangelical Protestants agree that “immigrants are invading our country and replacing our cultural and ethnic background.”
I’m personally appalled by that “only” thirty percent figure…But I digress. As Rubin sums up the findings,
In a nutshell, this group’s beliefs clash with the essence of the American experiment and conflict with objective facts, demography and economics. White evangelical Protestants’ outlook is warped by right-wing media and refracted through a prism of visceral anger and resentment.
That “visceral anger and resentment” are in response to–and in conflict with– the current state of American culture.
Today’s Republicans are rejecting reality. As Rubin quite correctly notes, they want something that is unattainable. America is steadily becoming less White, less male-dominated and less religious, and no election, no politician can change that. Women are not going docilely back to the kitchen; Black and Brown folks aren’t going to regain a shuffle and “know their place.” White guys who want to be dominant are going to have to prove their bona fides–they will no longer wield control merely by virtue of their gender and skin color.
Moreover, White evangelicals are fundamentally out of step with the majority American opinion on everything from abortion to immigration to the legitimacy of the 2020 election. That, too, won’t change, no matter how angry they become.
The anger and frustration uncovered by the PRRI study (and confirmed by several others) does explain the willingness of the GOP base to support incredibly flawed candidates. People who feels besieged don’t cast their votes on the basis of candidate merit; as Rubin says, they “don’t much care about a candidate’s smarts, ethics or decency. Faced with a perceived existential threat, these Americans are inclined to support anyone who gives voice to their frustrations.”
That is the answer to the persistent question–why?— from those of us who have been at a loss to understand why any sane American would vote for Marjorie Taylor Greene, Lauren Boebert, Donald Trump or the other numerous, despicable culture warriors who currently populate the once-Grand Old Party.
Even the most casual student of history realizes that cultural change eventually dictates political policies and movements. But zealots hostile to the culture can do enormous damage in the meantime.
If it takes control of the House or Senate next Tuesday, the current iteration of the GOP can and probably will reverse years of social and economic progress. At a bare minimum, it will continue its assault on immigration, do further harm to the environment, and withdraw support for Ukraine– upending the global balance of power. It will weaponize its ongoing assaults on women, people of color and non-Christians, and do enormous damage to America’s constitutional liberties and to the rule of law.
What it can’t do–what it has absolutely no interest in doing–is govern.