Gene Demby has an informative piece using Kanye West’s right-turn as a starting point to explore ideology among Black Americans. He explains, with the help of some scholars, why black conservatives, who comprise a substantial segment of the African-American population, don’t tend to be Republicans. Part of the explanation is linked fate, defined in the article as “the belief among black folks that their individual prospects are tied to a collective well-being.” The concept, championed by political scientist Michael Dawson has been instrumental in the study of race and politics, especially electoral behavior and why groups vote as blocs, even when there are significant ideological cleavages.
Ismail White of George Washington University argues that linked fate is not the only mechanism explaining the homogeneity of the African American vote. There is also a peer pressure factor enforcing these voting patterns. From the article:
What White and and three other researchers found in a recent study is that social pressure from other black people is how this Democratic norm gets policed. They found that the expectations around this norm were so powerful that simply having a black questioner ask a black respondent about their voting preferences made that respondent more likely to say they were voting for a Democratic candidate.
Chryl Laird, one of the study’s authors, said this is how everyone votes. We like to think of our voting choices as purely rational, but we take cues from the people around us, especially when we don’t know much about a candidate or an issue. Laird said social influence and pressure partly explain why most white evangelical voters in Alabama supported Senate candidate Roy Moore last fall, even after he was accused of sexual misconduct involving minors.
My dissertation on Latinx politics explores why Latinx people overwhelmingly support one party even when there’s ideological diversity in the group. My conceptualization of ideology is entirely different since I avoid traditional”liberal-conservative” labels. Instead, I opt for a definition rooted in linked fate and identity that I call the “ethnic ideological heuristic.” My findings suggest that even among Latinx people who are traditionally conservative (in the way we understand conservatism in contemporary politics), the explicit racism of the GOP has been a deterrent. Latinx people don’t wholly trust the Democrats anyway and tend to have lower levels of partisan attachment as a result.
In summary, among African Americans and Latinxs, even when people have conservative ideas, these do not necessarily translate to support for the GOP for myriad reasons. But the principal one is that the white identity politics at the core of GOP conservatism is toxic even to people of color who agree with similar ideas.
Sean McElwee published an op-ed in the Huffington Post hitting on some points that I have thought for a long time. Namely, that Democrats are naive about the Supreme Court while conservatives and Republicans are quite aware of the power of the institution.
…[R]epublicans are far more mobilized on the court than Democrats, something true among both the general public and activist elites. Despite his rank incompetence in every branch of government, Trump has managed to create an efficient pipeline of far-right judges to the federal bench, filing it four times faster than Obama through his first year. However, even as the court has become a reactionary institution, my analysis of Cooperative Congressional Election Studies reveals a disturbing pattern: Democrats mostly have positive views of the court and see it as a centrist institution rather than one that explicitly seeks to advance the Republican agenda.
I understand that church/state separation is sort of a foundational issue for secular Americans. I think that the views of many on the issue are quite naive, along the lines Sean explains in his article. Talking to fellow secular people, I get this feeling that they have a quasi-religious trust in the Constitution and that matters of Separation are settled. That the Enlightenment ideas in which the Constitution is rooted are well understood and that religious conservatives are the ones attempting to undermine this tradition.
One of my concerns with church/state issues is that President Obama left an inordinate amount of court vacancies unfilled that President Trump is filling at a rapid pace. These are not people friendly to our issues, whether they are the wall of separation or any progressivish policy position. With an additional SCOTUS vacancy, we’re closer to a theocracy that we’ve been in a while.
One of the books I read in graduate school that has now become my go-to guide to understand what’s going on in American society is The Power Elite by sociologist C. Wright Mills.
Written in 1956, when conservatism was at one of its lowest points in the country’s history, The Power Elite stands out because it argues against the pluralistic thinking that was dominant at the time. Much of the political and social science of the era was very triumphant about American institutions and the ability of the common man to influence the nation’s politics. The country’s intelligentsia wasn’t the only ones with an overwhelming optimism in the country’s government.
A trend compiled by the Pew Research Center finds that in 1958 more than nearly three-quarters (73 percent) of Americans trusted the government in Washington to do what is right always or most of the time. This number includes 7-in-10 Democrats and Independents, and nearly 8-in-10 (79 percent) Republicans(!!!). It was also a time when income inequality was declining, in large part thanks to a postwar boom, a stronger labor movement, and government investment.
Mills is skeptical of the “kumbaya” narrative of power and money in the United States and says that there is a “power elite.” Not a conspiracy, but certain interlocking dominant classes in politics, business, the military, and arts, that reinforce themselves. THis power elite is not bound by ideology, but by a need to keep themselves at the top of American society. More than 60 years later, as the upper classes continue to horde opportunity and wealth, he looks like a visionary.
Frank Rich, writing in New York Magazine, lays out how the New York society, its “liberal” and mostly Democratic establishment abated the rise of Donald Trump by telling to story of Roy Cohn. Cohn was Trump’s mentor and better known for being the henchman of infamous U.S. Senator Joseph McCarthy (R-Wisc.). The whole article reads like a gossipy version of The Power Elite, but nonetheless is a good window into how the powerful help themselves.
On my post “The Nones are Causing the White Evangelical Aging Crisis” I wrote:
I guess they [younger people] are leaving [evangelical churches] more because of politics than theology, while the older folk are leaving due to theology. Why do I think this? Because the political differences between white evangelicals and former white evangelicals are wider among people who left religion than people who switched congregations.
A new research paper by Paul A. Djupe, Jacob R. Neiheisel, and Kimberly H. Conger shows that in states with anti-gay rights policies, the nones increased more rapidly. Abstract below
Hout and Fischer have made the repeated, controversial claim that the dramatic rise of “religious nones” in the United States is due to the prominence of the politics of the Christian Right. As the argument goes, the movement’s extreme stands on gay rights and abortion make religion inhospitable to those who take more moderate and liberal positions. We take another look at this proposition with novel data drawing on expert reports and interest group counts that capture the prominence of the movement in each American state from 2000 to 2010. We attach these data to decennial religious census data on the unchurched, as well as estimates of the nones from Cooperative Congressional Election Study data. At stake is whether religion is independent of political influence and whether American religion is sowing its own fate by failing to limit taking extreme stands. Rising none rates are more common in Republican states in this period. Moreover, when the Christian Right comes into more public conflict, such as over same-sex marriage bans, the rate of religious nones climbs.
This paper is very useful for understanding how politics affects religious identification. Alas, it doesn’t answer (and it wasn’t its goal to do so) the larger question about the religious beliefs of people who move toward no-identification. I think people, particularly young people, who become nonreligious and come from a conservative Christian background leave religion because of doubts about the veracity of religious beliefs than political matters. Otherwise they would join or start to identify with a more liberal Christian tradition.
Jeet Heer writes that the Republican Party, not Donald Trump, is the real threat to American democracy. He argues that Trump is a symptom of a larger problem within the GOP. As he puts it:
But one institution has sorely failed in its constitutional duty to restrain the president. Time and again, the Republican-controlled Congress has ignored, defended, or outright enabled Trump’s authoritarian excesses.
I don’t think he’s wrong in this analysis but I think focusing solely on the GOP electeds’ indifference toward Trump’s authoritarian impulses minimizes the role conservative media plays in shaping the Party’s agenda. Heer mentions that the conservative media has “a profound influence” on the Party, but I think that’s an understatement.
Conservative media leaves in a conspiracy bubble. Its success depends on profits and those profits depend on viewers, listeners, and readers coming back. Reality is warped to the extent that even when the Republican Party controls the White House, both branches of Congress, and a majority of state governments, they still act as if they a persecuted minority. This warped reality has reached now ridiculous heights. Institutions conservatives normally love like the FBI and the CIA are under attack as part of a “deep state” conspiracy.
Trump is not just the de facto leader of the GOP; he’s also an avid consumer of conservative media. He is the poster boy of conservative news consumers: a white, male Boomer with too much time in his hands. Many of the members of his administration come from that media ecosystem. Understanding the current GOP means understanding how Fox News, Breitbart, and the like have monetized outrage to the extent that an organization at the peak of its political power believes it is the underdog.
If you’re in the DC area on April 7, head down to All Souls Church for the Secular Social Justice conference.
There’s going to be an amazing lineup of speakers (and me).
Starts at 9:00 am.