America developed as a nation through ongoing waves of immigration – first British; then Africans; then Scottish, Irish, French, German, Italian, Russian and Eastern Europeans; great waves of Asians; Hispanics; and Latinos – and continuing. While fundamental Christian principles of charity and humanity are engraved on the Statue of Liberty, much early immigration was forced through kidnapping and slavery; involuntary indentured service of prisoners and debtors; much resulted from territorial expansion by financial acquisition or by war and threat of war; all accommodated by forced migration of Native Americans; much consisting of those fleeing violence, starvation, destitution and political and religious persecution.
The New Colossus
Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
November 2, 1883
Almost all immigration was encouraged to provide needed, cheap labor to meet the voracious demands of the agricultural and industrial sectors of the economy in the nation’s rapidly expanding territory and industry. After four centuries of imperial wars, of political revolution, of indigenous, expansionist and civil wars; of massive territorial expansion; of rapid connection of the continent by port, river, rail and freeway; of mass industrialization of the continent; it seems a little late to tell our immigrants, and their descendants, to go home; to segregate themselves; to subordinate themselves in our political processes; to leave their religions and cultures behind; and to subordinate and conform themselves to White, European, Christian cultural traditions. In fact, it has become more and more clear that America has not, but must, find ways to accommodate, and integrate, longstanding racial, religious, ethnic, and gender-identity cultural divisions; to seek greater conformance with our uniquely American ideals; and to fully recognize the actual conditions of our highly diverse society, rather than to seek to impose White, Christian, European cultural standards on our entire society.
The alternative to this is what we are seeing – an ongoing culture war that has resulted in failure of our political system to address longstanding problems requiring political compromise. These include the need for full acknowledgement of historic mistreatment of Native Americans and African-Americans; the century-long inability to rationalize the nation’s health care financing system; four decades of major fiscal imbalances and repeating systemic failure of the financial system through misguided deregulation; ineffective management of growing dangers of environmental pollution and climate change; full equal voting and civil rights, and political participation, for minority racial, ethnic, religious and gender-diverse groups; unaddressed aging and failing transportation, utility and communications infrastructure; undermining of longstanding global defensive alliances and trade arrangements organized and led by America; the utter failure to organize an effective response to a deadly and uncontrolled pandemic that has metastasized nationwide; and, incredibly, the breakdown in the country’s ability to accept the results of our most fundamental democratic function in the form of a presidential election, due to the failure to overcome the well-organized, well-financed mass misinformation campaigns that have almost overwhelmed our democracy.
I think the role of the religious right in our politics gets too little attention, although it is well established as a primary pillar of the mysterious and toxic mix that has become the modern GOP. As we watch the Trump administration continue to degenerate to some combination of criminal enterprise, anarchical gang, and internet conspiracy cult; with the Republican Party leadership in the Senate, House and National Committee seemingly under Trump’s unbreakable political spell; with a devastating pandemic overwhelming the country due to some nationwide, anti-science zeitgeist; Gallup reports 47% of Americans identifying themselves as Christian Evangelicals, almost entirely members of the Republican Party. Just as it seems increasingly clear that America must address its cultural divisions in order to maintain its democracy, the Christian-right has developed its sophisticated mass fundraising, communication and political operations to the point of greatest influence, resulting in newly expanded Christian religious “rights” which are actually exemptions to laws the rest of us must follow. These political operations have resulted in, and followed from, the increasing numbers of appointees in the Federal judiciary, and, increasingly, in high level political appointees in the government’s administrative apparatus.
In the Trump administration, these include, to name a few, Vice-President Mike Pence; Attorney General William Barr; Secretary of State Mike Pompeo; White House Legal Counsels Pat Cippolini and Jay Sekulow; Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett; CDC Director Robert Redfield; HUD Secretary Ben Carson; Surgeon General Jerome Powers; Corona Virus Task Force Director Deborah Birx; White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnaney; and Election Attorney Jenna Ellis. All of these officials have lifelong close affiliations with far-right, extremist, Christian advocacy groups; all share a view of the critical importance of preservation of traditional Christian, heterosexual, male-dominated social and cultural norms; all attribute America’s social problems to the breakdown of these standards; all have as a primary motivation for their involvement in government the advancement of their cultural views; and all have shown a willingness to subordinate the public health, the law, the Constitution – our democracy itself – to maintenance of Trump’s presidency.
Two views of our society are on a political collision course. One side sees integration of racial, cultural, ethnic, gender and religious diversity as a path to fulfillment of the democratic ideals enshrined in the Constitution. The other side sees such diversity as a threat to their view of America’s cultural standards, and, as demonstrated by current electoral circumstances, seem willing to undermine the democratic standards of the Constitution in order to insure the imposition of their cultural standards on society broadly.
What is striking about this is the contradiction between true Christian values of charity and humanity, on the one hand, and the cruelty of Republican Party/Christian Right policies on the other – gerrymandering and voter suppression designed to depress African-American representation in our government; harsh, punitive and grossly inhumane immigration policies at the southern border; intolerance of racial, ethnic, religious and gender diversity; callousness toward the poor, elderly, sick and disabled; and the use of well-financed, mass anti-truth messaging to accomplish and maintain their policies. While these cultural views have been writ large in policies of the Trump administration, they represent longstanding values of the Republican Party; and they will not go away with the end of this administration.