My friend Napp Nazworth has pointed out that Republicans have a race problem and Democrats have a religion problem. What he means is that Republicans have problems reaching people of color while Democrats have problems reaching the religious. Many have rightly argued that President Trump has needlessly alienated people of color. But perhaps not enough has been made about the way Secretary Clinton also unnecessarily alienated conservative Christians. This presidential election did nothing to reduce the race or religious problem for either Republicans or Democrats.
Nazworth has argued that whichever political party is able to solve its race/religion problem will become the dominant political force in the United States. If Republicans figure out how to reach out to political moderates or conservatives in communities of color, then they would soon start crushing the Democrats. They are not going to get the votes of BLM supporters, but they do not have to. There are plenty of people of color who are pro-life or who oppose many of the cultural changes concerning sexuality but will never consider voting for Republicans at this current time. If they ever do decide voting for Republicans is a viable choice for them, the Republican party becomes a political juggernaut.
Likewise if Democrats can become a plausible place where moderate Christians can place their vote, then Democrats would overwhelm Republicans. Many Christians are social conservatives but also envision issues such as racism, the environment and immigration as moral issues that are just as important as abortion and homosexuality. Many of them were not willing to give Democrats their vote, but cringe at some of what is happening in the Trump administration. Some reluctantly voted for Trump as they see no interest among Democrats to welcome them into their political party. If the Democrats find a way to get these Christian votes, then the Trump administration will likely be the last Republican administration for a long time.
This seems pretty simply. Republicans should reach out to people of color and Democrats should reach out to the religious. Given the potential for either party to dominate the political landscape through a program of outreach, it is worth asking why neither party has solve its race/religion problem.
So why do not one, or both, political groups use this strategy? The answer is fairly straightforward. The identity of each political group is not merely based on what they stand for but also what they stand against. This means that efforts to reach out to those who are not currently in the current groups the parties serve comes at a cost of losing members in those groups. For example, by reaching out to Hispanics, Republicans could develop an immigration plan that includes a pathway to legalization or even citizenship. But doing so will alienate important constituencies. Trump ran his candidacy on the notion that we can build a powerful wall and kick out millions of immigrants. That appealed to enough Republican voters to give him an advantage in the primaries. Those are voters the Republicans may lose with an immigration plan that improves their outreach to Hispanics.
In the same vein, there is an argument right now within the Democratic party about whether it is okay for pro-life individuals to run for office as a Democrat. We are not even talking about making a policy change to attract socially conservative, but economically moderate, Christians. We are talking about whether supporting pro-life legislation disqualifies someone from being a Democrat in good standing. How can Democrats reach those moderate pro-life Christians when they are arguing, not over whether the party should consider even the mildest of pro-life legislation, but even whether those Christians are allowed to participate in governance. Little wonder Democrats have a hard time attracting those Christians. The current debate about accepting prolifers has suggested that plenty of Democrats do not want to share the party with them.
Neither political party is situated to end our political and cultural divide because both parties are invested in a narrative that is exclusionary to a significant section of our society. As an African-American, theologically conservative Christian, I feel the exclusion coming from both parties. I do not sense concern from many Republicans for the reality of a racialized society that can be unfair to people like myself. And it is particularly scary when I think about my young boys. If we do not address the common image we have of black men as criminals, is it possible that one day they encounter a police officer who acts on those fears. I have seen what can happen when that occurs.
But turning to the Democratic party does not offer me any comfort. When Democratic Senators can freely apply religious tests against conservative Christians such as myself, then why should I believe that Democrats care about my religious rights? Why are Democrats and progressives monitoring the sermons of a laypastor and using that monitoring to have him fired? Why do those same politicians and activists engage in actions intended on defunding Christian colleges? Can you blame me for not wanting to throw in with the political party that promotes such nonsense?
I get it. I really do. Both political parties are willing to have me as long as I toe the party line. As long as I do not bring my racial concerns to the discussion, the Republicans would be delighted to have my support. As long as I leave my religion at home, the Democrats would be very eager to gain my vote. I can find a place in either party but only by giving up some vital part of who I am. The partisans in both parties must be appeased even if that appeasement means the adoption of a small tent approach.
There is unfortunately a lot of traction to be gained by demonizing certain groups in our society. Too many times the Republican party plays on stereotypes of people of color as criminal and lazy. Look at how President Trump sold his plan about a wall. He talked about Mexicans as rapists. Furthermore, many times people use images of blacks as criminals to justify tough on crime efforts or police shootings. Some of those same individuals use images of blacks and Hispanics as lazy to justify reducing welfare. The demonization of people of color often becomes a political weapon.
Of course the Democrats are not any better in their treatment of conservative Christians. It is common for them to talk about such Christians in a dehumanizing way. Christians can be stereotyped as irrational, and/or driven by dogma. Such claims allow certain Democrats to limit Christians’ access to the public square. When a United States senator implies that a Christian’s theology is off and because it is off that this Christian does not deserve a spot in the government, that senator is using dehumanizing stereotypes to legitimate religious exclusion. I cannot see a better way to interpret the senator’s actions.
The sort of racial and religious dehumanization we see today can lead to hate. I am not talking about hate over superficial issues. I am not talking about hate defined as “I disagree with you.” No, we are talking about the type of hate that questions the intrinsic value and worth of those with whom we disagree. We are talking about the type of hate that allows individuals to treat members of the out-group as not having the same rights and privileges as those in the in-group. We are talking about the hate that justified violence if such violence allows the individual to achieve his or her political goal.
As much as I do not like or trust our current president, I cannot lay the blame of this problem at his feet. Clearly many of his comments and tweets have made things worse instead of better. But this problem predated his presidency and unless one or both political parties change their course, this is a problem that will go on beyond his presidency.
Much of this demonization is driven by the tribalist impulses of the partisans in the party. They are the ones with the racial attitudes that trivialized the concerns of people of color or religious attitudes that dismisses the rights of conservative Christians to participate in the public square. Can the leaders of our two political parties stand up to the partisans so that we can reduce this political animosity? I have very little confidence in the ability of the political leaders in each major party to do this. We have already seen movements such as the Tea Party strengthen the reluctance of Republicans to address the concerns of people of color. I already see evidence that much of this new “resistance” movement will have a similar effect on Democrats in any attempt to reach moderate Christians. Both political parties have calculated that they will lose more of their traditional supporter than gain new support for either people of color or cultural conservatives, and so we stay on this polarizing path.
The answer, if there is an answer, may lie within the actions of those political partisans themselves. Can they become open to the possibility that getting 75 percent of what you want and winning is better than getting 0 percent of what you want and losing? For example, the conversation I alluded to earlier about whether Democrats can accept those who are pro-life in their political party is a tremendous opportunity for them to expand their party. Accepting pro-life individuals into their party without encouraging a revolt by the partisans already in the party, can be a step towards reversing some of their previous political losses. (Not offering religious tests for those pro-lifers would also be a step in the right direction.)
As it concerns Republicans, I have often wondered why so many of them hold onto the fiction that we can deport 12 million people. “Build the wall” is not a reasonable immigration policy. Support of a reasonable immigration policy may well set them up to not only be the dominant political party today, but also for the foreseeable future as the Hispanic population continues to grow. Are Republicans willing to give up the fantasy of deporting 12 millions people so that the party can be powerful enough to save unborn lives? What is wrong with the priorities of people who choose deportation over saving the lives of babies?
The partisans on the left and right have the loudest voices, but their loudness is not what is best for our nation. So unfortunately, I do not expect either the pro-choice Democrats or the immigration hawk Republicans to be willing to make the move that will expand their tent. As I look at their unwillingness to make those moves, I realize that neither political party wants a moderate like myself. They would rather maintain their political ideological purity than consider crafting a policy plan that I can find attractive.
Since I felt unwanted at the last presidential election, I voted third party. Since things are not getting any better, it seems quite likely that I will do so again in 2020. Perhaps if enough of us dissatisfied with both parties vote third party, then at least one of them would try to court our vote. That may be the only way I think we can moderate the extremist impulses of our two political parties.