Depending on which media source you read, the recent election marked the Fall of the Religious Right, the End of White America, or the Collapse of the Republican Party (you know, like the Democratic Party vanished for ever in the 1980s, never to rise again). Nobody is underestimating the scale of the calamity for conservatism and conservatives, but some of the long-term prognoses do miss critical points.
No argument, the Republican Party did very badly indeed. Personally, I’d pay less attention to Obama’s victory over a seriously flawed Republican candidate, and much more to the disastrous Republican failure to win a roster of what should have been easy Senate seats. Republicans lost heavily among groups who are assuredly going to grow in numbers and influence in coming decades, including Latinos, Asian-Americans and African-Americans. They did atrociously among women and especially among younger voters. As Rich Benjamin suggested in Salon, Whites-only GOP meets its demographic destiny: “The creaking noise you hear? It’s the sound of conservative white men trying to fight off change — and failing.” Conversely, Democrats have gained a lock over younger, urban and new ethnic communities. This is all the more damaging as the country moves towards majority-minority status, in which no one ethnic group commands an overall majority. This shift is projected to be complete by around 2042.
By that point, presumably, a few breeding pairs of Republicans will be allowed to live semi-wild on a national park in Montana with a view to preserving the race from utter extinction.
Some commentators noted that 2012 marked the victory of a new Democratic coalition, which is young, urban, multi-ethnic, and significantly less religious. And that is the point at which I would like to ask, What is wrong with this picture?
Let’s think of the next twenty or thirty years, as the US moves to its polychrome future, with the steady growth of Latinos, Asian Americans, and African-Americans. And these are “irreligious” communities? Mexicans, Central Americans, South Asians, Chinese, Vietnamese, Koreans, Filipinos, Nigerians and other Africans, old-stock black Americans … am I not describing some of the most actively religious sections of the US population? And with the exception of South Asians, also the most passionately Christian. By mid-century, Latinos and Asians could make up 80 percent of US Catholics, and they are already very well represented among Pentecostal and evangelical churches. Go to any college campus and watch the ethnic makeup of the Christian organizations. These are the leaders of tomorrow’s churches, and usually they are not old-stock whites. Often, they are first or second generation immigrants.
Undeniably, any Republican or conservative movement has to acknowledge the demographic shifts currently in progress if it wants to survive, and above all that has to mean recognizing the ethnic transformation. A party based wholly on the support of older, white, rural and small-town America is destined for the scrapheap – especially if white America is beginning to secularize. Nor is that broadening of the ethnic base necessarily that difficult: George W. Bush scored well among Latinos as recently as 2004, before the acute rise in tensions over immigration. There is no logical reason why Republicans should be doing so badly among so many of the newer ethnic communities – Christian, Muslim and Hindu – who are deeply committed to entrepreneurship, and who desperately want and need pro-business policies.
At the same time, though, an ethnic reorientation certainly does not imply taking aboard the whole liberal social agenda, which is anathema to so many of those newer groups, largely on religious grounds. The cities of a future majority-minority America could well be marked by powerful ethnic churches and religious institutions with distinctly conservative positions on issues of morality and sexuality. (Prior to September 11, morality issues actually led many Muslim voters to favor Republicans as their natural allies).
I wonder whether we might see a political shift quite similar to that among white ethnics in the 1960s and 1970s, when moral and religious concerns dragged millions of voters away from their traditional Democratic moorings, to become a solid conservative voting bloc.
The End of White America? Well, hardly…. But assuredly not the collapse of the politics of religion and morality, faith and family. If a future Republican Party can’t build on that base, they deserve to be obliterated.