Chanting "Demographics are Destiny" Won't Save Our Democracy
And a holiday offer to receive a signed personalized copy of White Too Long.
Happy holidays, #WhiteTooLong readers. And greetings from North Carolina, where we’re doing holiday gathering two of four, due to the complicated dynamics of the pandemic. I know we’re not alone in our efforts to balance the values of family and health. Wishing everyone creativity, grace, and stamina in these challenging days.
Because of the travel and family commitments, I don’t have a new Friday reflections column today, but I’m pleased to share an important conversation I had this week with Washington Post columnist Jennifer Rubin.
If you’re not a regular reader of Rubin’s column, you should be. She is a clarion voice sounding the alarm both to the public and to her media colleagues about the ongoing need to unambiguously highlight the threats to democracy we are facing. These are not normal times.
Jennifer asked me to comment on new Pew Research Center data showing the continuing uptick in the number of religiously unaffiliated Americans. Specifically, she wanted to get my thoughts on what these trends (Here’s PRRI’s 2020 Census of American Religion for comparison) mean for the future of the Republican Party and for its white evangelical Protestant base.
Here’s what I had to say, augmented with some charts from the PRRI Census of American Religion report.
In terms of politics, these shifting religious demographics promise to disproportionately and negatively impact the future prospects of the Republican Party.
According to PRRI’s 2020 Atlas of American Religion, only about 1 in 10 (13%) Republicans identify as religiously unaffiliated, compared to about a quarter (23%) of Democrats. Conversely—even as the number of white Christians in the country has dropped from 54% in 2008 to 44% today—more than two thirds of Republicans continue to identify as white and Christian, compared to only four in ten among Democrats.
As the country’s religious and racial demographics have shifted, particularly over the last decade, the Democratic Party has changed with the times, while the Republican Party remains rooted in the past. To put this starkly, in terms of their religious and racial composition, the Democratic Party mirrors 30-year-old America, while the Republican Party mirrors 70-year-old America.
These increasingly challenging religious and demographic disadvantages have not been lost on Republican leaders. Seen against this backdrop, the temptation to abandon democratic principles for short term political gains is powerful. These dynamics are one of the chief drivers not only of the MAGA appeals to nostalgia for a 1950s-era white Christian America but also for the heavy handed tactics of extreme gerrymandering, restrictive voting laws, voter suppression, and the unfolding attempts to allow Republican-controlled state legislatures to throw out the results of fair elections.
These anti-democratic bulwarks represent a visceral, desperate attempt to retain a minority, white Christian rule against the rising tide of religious and demographic change.
So that’s my take. And here’s the final word from Rubin:
Democrats and our democratic system cannot simply wait for the demographic wave to save the country from the authoritarian right. Our democracy is in peril now, and the future of democracy in just the next few years is in doubt…. Refusal to address this issue directly advantages the pro-authoritarian right and erodes the concept of democracy. Whenever the minority abuses the system in order to enhance its power, voters will find the government increasingly out of sync with their views, values and concerns.
I encourage you to read Rubin’s full Washington Post column here: “The trend against religious affiliation is a grave threat to the GOP. But don’t count on it to save democracy.”
More about Jennifer Rubin
Jennifer Rubin writes reported opinion for The Washington Post. She covers politics and policy, foreign and domestic, and provides insight into the conservative movement, the Republican and Democratic parties, and threats to Western democracies. Rubin, who is also an MSNBC contributor, came to The Post after three years with Commentary magazine. She is the author of Resistance: How Women Saved Democracy from Donald Trump.
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