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The Disappearing Religious Right

“White grievances” supplant “moral values” as a major impetus to get out the vote for the Republican Party.

Data gathered after the 2020 Presidential Election show that “moral values” as a motivation to get out the vote has greatly decreased. Only 3% of voters said abortion was the most important issue facing the country according to the AP VoteCast Survey. Same-sex marriage wasn’t even a consideration.

In 2010, 43% of voters considered abortion to be a “very important issue” and 32% of voters thought same-sex marriage also to be a “very important issue” according to a Pew Research Center  survey.

The largest group of 2020 voters, 41%, said the coronavirus pandemic was the most important issue and they voted 73% for Biden per the AP VoteCast Survey. Predating the pandemic and “based on analyses of survey data of the whole U.S. population examining both [2016] voting behavior and attitudes toward blacks and immigrants … Trump’s core supporters are working-class white men, the group most racially resentful and most opposed to further immigration.” This is true especially “when we look at lower-paid working-class jobs [that] typically require high school degrees or less and tend to pay low wages.” This analysis was presented in July 2019 by Donald Tomaskovic-Devey and Eric Hoyt, directors at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst’s Center for Employment Equity.

“The Republican Party Is Now the Party of White Grievance” Jessica Lynn wrote on Nov. 5, 2020. Lynn noted that “these white males are under the false (and illegal) impression that it is their civic duty to restore order with military-style weapons, that voting is rigged, but only if their guy loses.” Lynn concluded: “White grievance is simply racism, not wanting ‘others’ to get a piece of what you have.”

“Resentful white voters” are the GOP’s “core constituency,” syndicated columnist Leonard Pitts Jr. wrote after the Jan. 6 insurrection at the Capitol. The attack was “an expression of their fear,” he said. “They know they’ve lost the debate over LGBTQ rights, immigration, race and all the other issues marking the line between left and right. They realize the nation’s population of angry white people is dwarfed by its rainbow coalition of white, Black, Asian, Hispanic, Islamic, Jewish, LGBTQ and others who demand ‘liberty and justice for all.’”  

“The Republican Party has long been an engine for white resentment politics” noted Ezra Klein, a New York Times opinion columnist on the Jan. 11, 2020, broadcast of the “The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell.”

Defining the Religious Right

As a political movement, the Religious Right was created by the intentional melding of organized religion and the Republican Party. It was a brilliant strategy in the late 1970s to take advantage of not only – at that time – the prestige of, and respect for, religious leaders to benefit the GOP, but also to provide unlimited dark money for political campaigns.

Long before PACs and Super PACs were standard funding sources for political operatives, all religious organizations were/are legally as financially opaque as they wish to be.  Additionally, the names of donors not only need not be disclosed but also the donors receive a tax deduction for their “contributions.” Not only do the finances of religious organizations need not be disclosed, they are also tax-free institutions.

The only requisite for religious leaders and organizations to maintain their tax advantages was/is not to endorse a candidate by name. So the “moral values” that would energize conservative Christians to political activism and get out the vote were carefully selected. The Republican Party became the anti-abortion, anti-LGBTQ champions.

Neoconservatives Paul Weyrich, along with fellow Catholics Terry Dolan and Richard Viguerie, and Howard Phillips, a Jew who had converted to evangelical Christianity, established the Moral Majority in 1978 to be led by Southern Baptist pastor Jerry Falwell. Other Evangelical churchmen followed.

Weyrich, once referred to as the most powerful man in America, also founded The Heritage Foundation, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), and many other organizations that became the foundational tools for neoconservative domination of the GOP.

Since Catholic bishops are usually only replaced when they retire or die, it took over a decade for Pope John Paul II, with the advice of his allies in the Reagan Administration, to create a majority of prelates dedicated to the Republican Party. They then directed the lions share of their resources to denying women and gays their human rights.

“Catholic writers emerged as intellectual leaders of the religious right in universities, the punditocracy, the press, and the courts” observed Howard Schweber, professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. “In the academy, on the Court, Catholic intellectuals provide the theoretical discourse that shapes conservative arguments across a whole range of issues,” Schweber wrote in 2012.

Racism is not a “moral value”

As the appalling ruthlessness of the neocon lust for plutocratic power fades from memory, the Religious Right is often erroneously conflated with Southern racism. With the exception of voting for Jimmy Carter in 1976, the South abandoned the Democratic Party after Pres. Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The GOP’s “Southern Strategy” has always been based on racism.

So, yes, the majority of rural and Southern Evangelicals will continue to support the GOP as the party of white supremacy, not from any expectation that the legalization of same-sex marriage will be reversed. In 2020, 23% of voters identified as born-again or Evangelical and 81% voted for Trump, according to the AP VoteCast survey.

The same survey showed that “among white Catholics, 57% backed Trump,” wrote David Gibson, director of Fordham University’s Center on Religion and Culture. “In 2016 Trump won 64% of white Catholics …. particularly in Rust Belt battleground states such as Michigan and Wisconsin,” Gibson noted.

So, yes, the vast majority of Catholic “working-class white men” who vote Republican will continue to do so because they are resentful of being left behind in “lower-paid jobs,” not from religious scruples about abortion.

Betty Clermont is author of The Neo-Catholics: Implementing Christian Nationalism in America

2 Responses

  1. Ms. Clermont, you are SO refreshingly and sanely appreciated in this historical chronicle of the seeds and deeds of religious ROT in what I now call the Repugnicant’s party!

    Now at 70, I well remember the shadowy paranoid forces in both church and state collaborating to denounce and demonize all things Vatican 2. By the early 1980’s, the unholy Trilogy was well in place:

    Reagan (the La-La Land Tin Man and actor-president), Margaret Thatcher (who was a one-dimensional believer in the ferocious Gospel of self-sufficiency, prosperity and national sovereignty, a direct prelude to the disasters of Brexit today), and John Paul 2, (a life-long house-divided between the unreconciled torments of his own childhood, that is: the dual and dueling faces of the same coin, Fascism and Communism). These…the unholy trinity–and they remain so.

    Your named article here, begins with these three Devil’s Advocates.

    No one knows this better than independent Catholic Journalist, Penny Lernoux in her shocking and profound 1989 work, “The People of God.” After she died of lung cancer at 49, I often wondered if her husband would continue with her work–as they were in this together. Alas, not long afterward, he was suddenly “killed” in a car accident.

    I would love to see a team of curious open young Catholics doing a film or documentary on Penny Lernoux and her life’s work. She is one of my “communion of saints.”

    You are a prophetically-informed gift for many of us, Betty! In gratitude!

  2. Thank you so very much, Ms. Carey, for taking the time and making the effort of a well-informed comment. And your remembrance of Penny Lernoux is especially appreciated and your praise of her work well-deserved. She is one of my “communion of saints” also, A documentary of her work would be, not only enlightening, but also a very much needed commentary on the issues she covered which are still with us today!!

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