With Barack Obama’s victory and the Democrats’ concomitant advances in the Congress, some reflections and anticipations are in order. I will concentrate on two aspects: the Republican Party and Evangelical Christianity.
It’s fair to say that the Republican Party is history as a national party in the U.S.
Oh, it’s true that it will continue to be an important regional party, and certainly the party of choice for Caucasian Evangelicals. But as a national party, its continuance is impossible. Although American history buffs may look to the Whig split over slavery before the Civil War as a fitting historical precedent, a more relevant analogy is the transition from Liberal to Labour Party in the UK as the predominant left wing party, a transition driven by social changes.
There are several reasons for this.
The most important ones are tied up in the generational and demographic shifts that are taking place. I have elaborated on these at length elsewhere, but will repeat some of those observations:
It’s hard to see the future for true freedom (as understood by our society until now) in a country where so many are so used to so much supervision. That bodes ill for religious and political minorities (such as the Evangelicals) who have been demonised by the “powers that be” for so long. But that leads to another characteristic of this generation that Coursey brought up: they are diverse and tolerant. They see a fulfilment of that in Obama’s election.
Tolerance is doubtless the most oversold virtue our society has today. Looked at on a purely practical level, tolerance is the grease that allows a group of people who aren’t identical to mesh and get through life together. Underneath the obsession with tolerance is the primal fear that some of the group will be trashed if they don’t go along with the standard agreed on by “everyone.” That guarantees that the tolerance agenda will be self-defeating, because any time a standard is agreed on, some will always fall outside of it. It’s another road to enforced groupthink.
The tricky part for…Barack Obama…is fulfilling the unrealistic expectations of the overconfident in the face of the current economic situation. Will his followers stick with him like dutiful children to a parent? Will they bolt and go somewhere else, like a different job? Or will they just go to pieces, like the losers in Beijing?
Put another way, the Hegelian process of moving from thesis and antithesis to synthesis is simply too traumatic for a generation drilled in the tyranny of consensus.
Under these circumstances, Europeans may be satisfied with parties differentiated by nuance. But over here, with our rigid “winner take all” system, single-party hegemony will be the preferred expression. We have seen this before (remember the “Solid South?”)
Beyond that, the Republican Party’s “intelligentsia” has betrayed it by its implicit adoption of a “educational/credential” model of social advancement, as opposed to an “experiential” (or “educational/experiential”) model more in line with American traditions. This was evidenced by their reaction to Sarah Palin. The whole history of the conservative movement, from William F. Buckley to Ronald Reagan and beyond, is a marriage of the intellectual to the practical. Such a union–essential to success–is impossible with attitudes such as this (it wasn’t easy the first time.)
Finally, as I have said before, Barack Obama’s first task is to consolidate his power and that of his party, through such moves as:
- Reinstitution of the “Fairness Doctrine”
- Packing the judiciary with élite judges who look at the world through his idea
- Hate crimes legislation, designed to silence opponents
- Changes in voter registration requirements (although the expansion of the electorate wasn’t as big of a factor in Obama’s victory as many anticipated)
- Show trials and congressional hearings of political opponents (Bush, Cheney, etc.)
- Gerrymandering of House districts in the 2010 reapportionment
- Patronage through social entitlements
With these, any attempt to overturn the results of this election will be a steep hill to climb, even in the worst of economic circumstances. As many Third World countries will attest, it is easier to acquire a regime than to get rid of one.
There’s no doubt that things will be rough under an Obama Administration.
The Obama campaign has proven itself to be a vindictive scorekeeper, and there’s no reason to believe that things will be any different in the White House. Evangelical Christians aren’t part of his constituency and can expect few favours. In addition to the list above, one can throw in such things as expanded abortion rights, anti-discrimination laws applying to churches, revocation of tax-exempt status for churches not to the government’s taste (as Jimmy Carter’s administration did with Bob Jones University,) the imposition of same-sex civil marriage through national judicial fiat, use of child protection laws to prevent raising of children in the faith, Federal regulation of Christian and home schools (another stillborn Carter brainchild) and other impediments to the free exercise of religion.
Some have said that persecution is good for the church. But American Evangelicals are unprepared legally and mentally for such an assault. This is no China.
One thing that American Christians need to adopt in a hurry is a more transnational attitude. If the Democrats can have a transnational group at its core and still win in this society, why not us? If our real citizenship is in heaven, why can’t we act like it? It won’t be easy, but, as the Anglicans have found it, it’s worth it. In addition to forging needed foreign ties, it would also be a gateway to rectifying one of the more shameful acts of the Republican Party: it’s total failure to come up with a realistic solution for illegal immigrants. The abandonment by Hispanic Protestants of John McCain was an unnecessary blow to both the unity of the Body of Christ and the expansion of the Republican Party. At this point the party may be unfixable, but the Body of Christ is another matter altogether.
In some ways, the shift to a practical one-party system simplifies our job as Christians. It means that we can respond to the state in ways that are more in line with the New Testament, because the early church did not have the option of changing the state through any kind of electoral process.
It’s not a happy situation, but it’s where we’re at. As I like to say, it’s our move: we need to make it. With God’s help, his Spirit and a basic commitment to do it his way, as the Obama people like to say, yes, we can.