Saturday, December 16, 2017

Can Democracy Survive the Trump Era?

   Rudy Barnes, Jr.

            The defeat of Roy Moore in Alabama provides hope for our deteriorating democracy, but there still seems no place for the moderate voter in our polarized partisan politics.  Republicans, with an unlikely coalition of angry white evangelicals and the smug rich, are pushing through a tax reform bill that rewards the rich and leaves future generations with a $1.5 trillion national debt, while Democrats remain stifled by the identity politics of their minority constituencies.

            Who’s to blame for this political mess?  We are, and that includes all of us.

            What can we do about it?  Assume responsibility for our mess and clean it up.

            Before the Revolution, Edmund Burke warned Americans that in a democracy we would “forge our own shackles.”  Even so, the American experiment in democracy had a hopeful start.  In 1831, Alexis DeTocqueville, a 19th century French aristocrat, visited the U.S. and marveled at how people with such a wide diversity of political, social and religious viewpoints were able to practice Democracy in America.  But DeTocqueville didn’t see the approaching Civil War.

            Today identity politics based on race, religion and other divisive special interests have polarized partisan politics.  An emphasis on individual rights and wants has made “Who am I?” the central question for political identity, ignoring the more important question, “Who are we?”  Unless a politics of reconciliation can defuse the divisiveness of identity politics and restore the collective obligation to provide for the common good, democracy in America is at risk.

            The greatest threat to American democracy is the polarization of partisan politics by race.  That threat could be countered by a new national party that promotes racial reconciliation, and it could be a spin-off from one of the two existing parties.  That’s the way the Republican Party was born.  It arose Sphinx-like from the ashes of the Whig Party in the 1850s, and given its current disastrous course it could self-destruct in much the same way that it was born.

            Roy Moore was a surrogate of Donald Trump, and their broad-based support by evangelical Christians indicates how radical religion can also be a threat to American democracy.  It was ironic that Moore was defeated by black voters who turned out not so much to support the Democrat Doug Jones as to oppose Moore, who resonated the racism of George Wallace.              

            Today religious divisions, like those of race, threaten democracy in all pluralistic nations.  Most Christians and Muslims are exclusivists who consider their religion the one true faith and demean all others.  Religious exclusivism motivated the Christian Crusades and Inquisitions, and today it motivates Islamist violence.  In a world of increasing religious diversity, exclusivist religious doctrines poison interfaith relations and must be reconciled to sustain democracy.   

            Despite DeTocqueville’s sanguine observations of diversity in democracy, the mix of religion and politics has proven to be a combustible component of democracy.  Religious and racial divisions challenge the stability of democracy in America and in Islamic nations.  But just as religious differences can unravel the fabric of democracy, the moral standards of religion can provide the glue needed to hold a pluralistic democracy together.

            That moral glue is found in the greatest commandment to love God and to love our neighbors as we love ourselves—including our neighbors of other races and religions.  It summarizes the altruistic teachings of Jesus and is a common word of faith for Jews, Christians and Muslims alike.  That love command provides the moral foundation needed to save democracy in America and overseas from the self-imposed shackles of human depravity.


Mary Eberstadt has asserted that the breakdown of the nuclear family in our pluralistic culture gives rise to the central question of “Who am I” that makes possible the group loyalties in identity politics that emphasize “personal choice, individual rights and self-definition.”  See

David Von Drehle noted that Doug Jones’ victory in Alabama should make Trump nervous, but that Jones is likely to be a three-year senator given the depth of the divisive identity politics that continue to plague American democracy.  See

On how black voters in Alabama defined the soul of the nation and prevented the election of Roy Moore, see

Based on exit polls it appears that 80% of white evangelicals voted for Roy Moore, who campaigned to “take our country back” from “a Washington elite that hates him because he refuses to hide from his conservative Christian values.”  Recent polls found that “evangelical Republicans were more likely to choose a representative like Moore who votes the way they want (55%) over one who lives a moral life (36%).”  Collin Hanson, editorial Director of the Gospel Coalition, said that evangelical Christians who supported Roy Moore have exposed “the theological rot “ in the evangelical church, and that “There will not be a coherent evangelical movement to emerge from this political season.” See

The biblical morality of Roy Moore and the evangelicals who supported him is similar to that of John Winthrop, the 17th century Puritan lawyer and leading figure in founding the Massachusetts Bay Colony.  Winthrop condemned democracy as “…amongst nations accounted the meanest and worst of all forms of government” since it had no precedent in biblical scriptures.  See

Michael Gerson and Joe Scarborough provide two views of how the demise of the Republican Party could give birth to a new party that could restore legitimacy to America’s partisan politics.
Related Topics:

On the demise of democracy and identity politics, see
(3/12/16): Religion, Race and the Deterioration of Democracy in America
(3/19/16): Religion, Democracy and Human Depravity
(3/26/16): Religion, Democracy, Diversity and Demagoguery
(11/26/16): Irreconcilable Differences and the Demise of Democracy
(2/18/17): Gerrymandering, Race and Polarized Partisan Politics
(3/11/17): Accountability and the Stewardship of Democracy
(11/18/17): Radical Religion and the Demise of Democracy
(11/25/17): A Dark Revelation on Thanksgiving Day
(12/9/17): Religion, Race and Identity Politics         

On the mix of religion and politics as civil religion, see
(9/9/17): The Evolution of the American Civil Religion and Habits of the Heart
(9/16/17): The American Civil Religion and the Danger of Riches
(9/23/17): Tribalism and the American Civil Religion 
(10/7/17): A 21st Century Reformation to Restore Reason to American Civil Religion
(12/2/17): How Religious Standards of Legitimacy Shape Politics, for Good or Bad

On race and religion in politics, see
(6/7/15): The Future of Religion: In Decline and Growing
(6/21/15): Christians Meet Muslims Today
(6/28/15): Confronting the Evil Among Us
(7/5/15): Reconciliation as a Remedy for Racism and Religious Exclusivism
(7/12/15): Reconciliation in Race and Religion: The Need for Compatibility, not Conformity
(8/23/15): Legitimacy as a Context and Paradigm to Resolve Religious Conflict
(9/20/15) Politics and Religious Polarization
(3/12/16): Religion, Race and the Deterioration of Democracy in America
(4/30/16): The Relevance of Religion to Politics
(7/9/16): Back to the Future: Race, Religion, Rights and a Politics of Reconciliation
(1/21/17): Religion and Reason Redux: Religion Is Ridiculous
(2/18/17): Gerrymandering, Race and Polarized Partisan Politics
(2/25/17): The Need for a Revolution in Religion and Politics
(6/10/17): Religious Exclusivity and Discrimination in Politics
(6/17/17): Religious Exclusivity: Does It Matter?
(8/12/17): The Universalist Teachings of Jesus as a Remedy for Religious Exclusivism 

On a politics of reconciliation, see
(5/7/16): Religion and a Politics of Reconciliation
(5/14/16): The Arrogance of Power, Humility and a Politics of Reconciliation
(5/21/16): Religious Fundamentalism and a Politics of Reconciliation
(6/18/16): A Politics of Reconciliation with Liberty and Justice for All
(7/2/16): The Need for a Politics of Reconciliation in the Wake of Globalization
(7/9/16): Back to the Future: Race, Religion, Rights and a Politics of Reconciliation
(7/16/16): The Elusive Ideal of Political Reconciliation
(7/23/16): Reconciliation and Reality
(7/30/16): Politics after the Conventions: More Polarization or Reconciliation?
(10/22/16): The Need for a Politics of Reconciliation in a Polarized Democracy
(11/19/16): Religion and a Politics of Reconciliation Based on Shared Values
(12/10/16): Partisan Alternatives for a Politics of Reconciliation
(12/31/16): E Pluribus Unum, Religion and a Politics of Reconciliation
(2/4/17): When Confrontation Trumps Reconciliation in Politics and Religion
(5/27/17): Intrafaith Reconciliation as a Prerequisite for Interfaith Reconciliation
(8/19/17): Hate, History and the Need for a Politics of Reconciliation
(11/11/17): A Politics of Reconciliation that Should Begin in the Church

On the greatest commandment as the moral foundation for a politics of reconciliation, see
(1/11/15): The Greatest Commandment: A Common Word of Faith
(1/25/15): Jesus Meets Muhammad: Is there a Common Word of Faith for Jews, Christians and Muslims Today?
(6/21/15): Christians Meet Muslims Today
(10/25/15): The Muslim Stranger: A Good Neighbor or a Threat?
(1/23/16): Who Is My Neighbor?
(1/30/16): The Politics of Loving Our Neighbors as Ourselves
(2/7/16): Jesus Meets Muhammad on Issues of Religion and Politics
(8/12/17): The Universalist Teachings of Jesus as a Remedy for Religious Exclusivism 

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