“Post-religious right” makes its debut in American politics

Irreligious and secular elements are taking control of the American political right, according to recent reports. While the recent Supreme Court rulings on abortion and church-state issues suggest the continuing relevance of religion to conservative activism, Nate Hochman argues in the New York Times (June 5) that they are more like a “last gasp,” as social conservatism has trumped religious conservatism on a whole host of issues—from the battle over Critical Race Theory to transgender instruction in public schools. “Rather than invocations of Scripture, the right’s appeal is a defense of a broader, beleaguered American way of life,” Hochman writes. “The upshot is that this new politics has the capacity to expand the Republican tent. It appeals to a wide range of Americans, many of whom have been put off by the old conservatism’s explicitly religious sheen and don’t quite see themselves as Republicans yet.” Veteran Christian Right leaders have misgivings about the new coalition, claiming that ignoring or deriding faith-based concerns will alienate the religious base of the right. But the typical Republicans of recent years can be more accurately described as “Middle American radicals”—non-college educated whites with a “populist hostility to elite pieties,” more nationalistic and hostile to free trade and immigration than was the case with conservatives imbued with “Christianity’s universalist ideals.”

In Politico (June 14), Patrick Brown reports on how the religiously based “compassionate conservatism” promoted by George W. Bush often failed to deliver the changes and policies it promised, while the more secular right championed by Donald Trump has found more success. Brown cites a recent Pew poll, finding that only 48 percent of Republicans thought it was somewhat or very important to be Christian to be considered a true American, down from 63 percent in 2016. “As America secularizes, the conservative movement is secularizing with it, and broadening its appeal in the process,” Brown writes. He adds that “It’s no coincidence that Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who eagerly picked culture war fights with major corporations, is among the most popular Republicans in the country. Glenn Youngkin won in blue Virginia in part from a parent-fueled backlash to Democratic governance. Neither has sought to align themselves explicitly with the religious right.” In the conservative Washington Examiner (June 15), political analyst Michael Barone writes that the “post-religious right” may have an opening, as liberal and leftist activists and organizations engage in infighting over generational issues involving identity politics. He concludes, “The longer view? More culture wars, probably, with some unexpected outcomes. And maybe some wistful yearning for Christianity’s universalist ideals.”

Source: Glenn Youngkin, May 2021 | Flickr.