Where are these statistics coming from? It is my understanding that the current population of the United States is about 63% Non-Hispanic White. Also, if current data can be believed, only 20% of Americans go to religious services on a regular basis. Yes, I do accept the premise that identity has been hijacked by political polarization. But this is not simply an issue of race and religion. In a world-wide economy cleansing itself of people needed to produce its goods (based largely on automation), fear is being mobilized for groups to close ranks. Neither political party has a realistic agenda to deal with this. We are all on our own. Some of are worrying about our children’s SAT scores and hoping they will be granted the last few passes into a middle-class. Others are buying rifles. The Republicans are orchestrating for more tax-cuts and (more debt); Democrats are protesting. Marx had it backwards, history repeats itself first as farce, then as tragedy.
That “Christians and whites face roughly as much discrimination as”, doesn’t matter what groups are named, the idea is patently absurd. What they mean is that Christians aren’t able to force everyone at their child’s high school graduation to pray in a way they think everyone should. Nothing stops them from praying as often and as much as they want at that ceremony, what they call discrimination is that there isn’t a group led prayer to reinforce their belief in a Christian identity for this country.
This is of course a phony issue, like all the cultural wars issues they are intended to divide us, to create an “us vs them.” What the polling results suggest is that conservative leaders have been very successful in the prosecution of the culture wars.
The big question raised by this data is what is Christian identity? The racial dynamic of American identity was established early in the 19th century when congress passed the Nationality Act of 1790 limiting immigration to white Europeans. And with the Supreme Courts decision in Dedd Scott African Amaericans were declared to be totally outside the American body politic and therefore never to be considered as full human beings or citizens.
Times have changed, as have our views and laws. But both the narrow view of what America is and its evolution has always been attached to Christian values. So the real question today is as much a theological one as it is a sociological one. Sadly the Christian church is as fractured and undecided as our politics are.
Even worse, It has largely been silent in the face of our shifting politics and demographics. Rarely do you read an op ed by a theologian or other religious leader. Our politicians are quick to exort Muslims to speak out and distinguish themselves from the reactionary strains of Islam, but other than on the abortion issue we never ask for moral guidance in our public affairs from Christian theologians.
The white identity aspect of today’s politics is well established. What’s missing is the values of Christian virtue. Every politician proclaims their faith, but few measure their conduct by theological principles. And few theologians are willing to hold them accountable to what they proclaim to believe.
Of all the troubling trends, the most important one is “the death of truth”.
Many of our leaders are defining their own facts and label anyone who disagrees as false. It does not matter what the topic is. Sometimes it is economics, sometimes it is discrimination, sometimes it is evolution, or climate science, or medicine, or all of science.
When you label anyone who disagree with you as false, then there is no way to bridge the gap. Where does that lead? There can be no compromise with someone who is completely wrong. The only solution is to destroy the other side. Is that were we are heading? This is insanity!
We used to live our lives within the framework of national institutions which acted to level perceived differences and create a daily shared cultural experience. Foremost among these, the public schools. Before the Reagan tax cuts promoted a re-concentration of wealth, one commonly found the children of the wealthy and privileged attending public school. Military service performed a similar role until the debacle of Vietnam. Religious observance also filled this role, though the erosion of a national day of rest – from the elimination of blue laws to travel-team youth athletics – did more than anything to kill Church attendance as Sunday became just another day of the week. Instead we have a culture that looks inward. Even in a crowd we are absorbed in our personal electronic devices, oblivious to those around us. To have a common culture, you need a common cultural experience. We might make a start by a national day of rest from our ‘devices’ where all mass communication networks are required to close so we are forced to talk with our neighbors. We might find we have more in common than we thought.
The racial and religious divide, real though it is, is a mask for the larger and more destructive divide between the so-called “one percent” and the rest of us, the gap between the very wealthy and the never wealthy. White, evangelical Christians at the bottom of the economic ladder see brown-skinned immigrants of other faiths doing what they have been unable to do, i.e., climb the ladder to a greater or lesser extent, and — rather than see those at the top of the ladder (mostly other whites who are nominally Christian) as their oppressors — they see their non-white fellow ladder-climbers as the problem, which leads to the scape-goating of both immigrants and citizens of Latin American, Asian, and African descent.
Researchers (like the author of this piece) focus on the second-level racial/religious division rather than the economic division which fosters it; this focus is misplaced and simply exacerbates the problem. Bernie Sanders was criticized for always bringing debate back to a focus on “the millionaire class,” but he was essentially correct. The most important issue is economic equality and economic mobility; the wealth and income gap, and growth of a powerful oligarchy or plutocracy, is the root cause of American identity failure.
White Christian values are like a foreign language to me. No amount repetition or gesticulation will make me understand. Speaking louder doesn’t help either. Don’t get me wrong. I respect and appreciate an individual’s passionate commitment to belief. I know white Christians are speaking a language and attempting to communicate with me. Where I get really lost is translating their professed faith into anything resembling Republican orthodoxy. The words and gestures are communicating two wildly different things. I thought any form of inequity and intolerance was anathema to Christian values. Election results show white Christians haven’t noticed the contradiction yet.
I will say Mr. Jones succinctly captures my befuddlement with Democrats as well. Democrats exude an irresistible proclivity for factionalism that makes my head spin. They don’t seem to understand that putting different competent groups together while still cherishing each group’s individual identity doesn’t make a unified whole. Too often Democrats are tossing a salad rather than cooking a stew. Worse is the tendency between groups to in-fight. Sometimes I feel like each component of the Democratic coalition is trying to prove they’re the most persecuted and therefore most deserving of attention. Whether true or not, I don’t see the American melting pot in the crowd very often.
I, like most of my contemporaries, am desperately seeking a third way.
Dear Mr. Jones,
Seems to me this country has been “divided since birth”.
The issue of slavery was, and still is, one of the major “dividers”. Not to mention that the Irish, the Italians and now, apparently, the Muslims have all been subject to rabid discrimination before becoming somewhat assimilated.
Religion has also been a great divider with early Christian preachers touting the reasonableness of ‘slavery’ while pondering such weighty questions as whether it was a good idea to baptize slaves. Apparently, the idea of enslaving ‘Christians’ didn’t sit well with many of them hence, in the South, the slaves were allowed their own religion and places of worship but they were still not allowed to become literate.
To think that Mr. Trump and his minions are new to the scene is a very poor reading of this country’s history.
We’ve never been a single nation but, rather, a squabbling batch of 50 separate fiefdoms with all competing for a share of the take. The Civil War didn’t heal anything and the election of a black president only stoked the fears of the mindless to the tune of 63 million votes or so for Mr. Trump.
That ‘divide’ won’t be fixed anytime soon. Phrases like ‘weaving a new national narrative’ are merely catch phrases for unfettered hatred, bigotry and fear which was unleashed in 2016, a complete disgrace to this country and to the rest of the world.
Unfortunately, the loudest Christian voices we hear are angry and intolerant, trying to force their particular interpretation of biblical text into civic life by law: “I don’t have to serve gays”, “I don’t have to accommodate those different from me”. Well, okay, not in your home you don’t, but in business or the public arena that’s discrimination and you do. If we cede ground on these issues, what’s next? I don’t get a wedding cake unless I’m Christian? I have to remove my hijab to enter your store? That is not a path forward in any diverse society, but a distinct backward step into loss of freedoms dictated by religious oversight.
The evolution to for-profit news programs has shaped this country in ways that will be studied for generations. I grew up watching Cronkite, Huntley and Brinkley, etc. I never saw them rant, I never knew if they had a political affiliation. I don’t understand how conservatives looked at programs like that and saw liberal bias.
The concept of a persecuted conservative white minority that needed a champion has been box office gold for Rupert Murdoch. Conservatives can’t crack the nut that is entitlement programs so they run “news” programs that blame the country’s problems on poor people. The lines between objective and subjective reporting are cleverly blurred. Editorial programs rant against imaginary foes of patriotism making people angry, indignant. Viewership goes up, advertisers love it, but at it’s heart, it divisive and unnecessary.
I live in a neighborhood that has been a portal of immigrants into America for over a century. Weekly shopping involves stops in a Serbian grocery, a Jewish bakery, a Russian vegetable stand, and an Indian-Pakistani grocery store largely staffed by Mexicans. You could say that’s not ‘how it used to be’, because a few decades ago the businesses around here were run by Poles, Irish, Germans, and Jews. What remains is the ‘exceptionalism’ that everyone has equal claim to space in the marketplace. We’re all Americans–or aspiring Americans–here, our standards are just as high, and we have the same level of understanding of the American national project as anyone else. I doubt there is much discussion in this neighborhood about how people somewhere else in America are less American than they are.
I don’t agree with Jones and no one needs to keep up with the Joneses. America is different compared to the last century because it is no longer exclusively B&W. It is transformed into a rainbow nation in the past 50 years, with a new tolerant and different identity but with an ugly tinge of divisive politics. This changed American identity has been mainly due to which continents our wave of immigrants have been coming from in the past 50 years. American flag and values are not tattered, they are just as vibrant and modern as they were when the USA was born. Religious freedoms in our country have been enshrined in our minds and in our physical landscape. Just in my city of Louisville, KY in the heartland of America, people of all faiths are living in harmony. Just in the past 25 years, new temples, mosques, gurdwara and churches have sprung up. Today the defender of American values and ideals in the United nations is not a white American male, but a daughter of Sikh immigrants from India. Our labor secretary is not a white American but a daughter of Chinese immigrants. Our secretary of housing and urban development is a black intellectual with a distinguished past as a neurosurgeon. CEOs of several major US companies are nonwhite and born elsewhere. Google, Microsoft, Pepsi have foreign born CEOs who have consolidated American values and are the chariots of American brain power and innovative American spirit. The face of America may be different but its identity stands tall.
A significant part of this problem is the collapse of public education in favor of self-isolating charter schools assisted by vouchers. The public schools were the great melting pot of the tribes, but we’ve done away with that enforced meet-greet-befriend by allowing every subset to have their own flight destination school the way the creation of suburbs allowed people to flee the cities.
Ross Doutat of the NYT wrote a column in the last couple of months citing a new book titled, “The Benedict Option,” by Rod Dreher, which calls upon Christians to prepare for a coming “Dark Age.” One of Dreher’s directives is for all Christians of his persuasion to immediately remove their children from public schools and put them in “Christian” charter schools where they will be protected from other moral compasses as well as other cultures/ethnicities.
Charter schools and eventually vouchers may have had their start in the Clinton presidency, but they were proposed and pushed by the Republican party that wanted to let whites self-segregate at taxpayers expense. We are seeing the results now in the gutting of funding for truly public schools, and the polarization the Republican party has enshrined over decades of control of the school boards.
The irony is that these same “Christians” elected, and continue to support, as president, a man with no moral compass, a serial assaulter of women, a welsher on contracts and promises.
There is no bridge –a national voice that we all hear at the same time to help bind us together today. The days of Johnny Carson, news programs that show us largely the same pictures and commentary are gone. A splintered nation…we watch, listen and hear a different narrative of life and become members of our custom made tribe.
Maybe we make a national show focused on finding the touchstone of America that’s worth protecting, nurturing and defending. Is it our Institutions that make America unique; perhaps it’s the signature line from the 50’s TV show Superman…Truth, Justice and the American way; or maybe it’s just our basic motto: e plurbis unum–out of many one . What is our collective US core…or what should it be that we can glob on to…If we can find it …the future, I think, will be a whole lot better
I am a 67 year-old while male, and I call myself a Christian; I am theologically liberal, so I am I constantly saddened that my identity is painted over with the broad brush of conservative Christianity that is used by the press and pundits. My understanding of the meaning of the Gospel texts is simple: I embrace the commandment to love the neighbor and understand that the “neighbor” as described in Gospel parables includes foreigners. I abhor the tribalism that is rampant in conservative Christianity that lays out markers of exclusion based on gender identity, religion, and ethnicity. Consequently, I struggle daily at respecting and loving my more conservative brothers and sisters and recognize that they are no more of one mind than liberal Christians.
As a citizen I try to adhere to my Christian values when making observations and decisions about politics. I seek candidates who show respect for others rather than degrading others. I favor candidates who begin from a position of humility and self-reflection rather than blind self-promotion. My hope is that the current chaotic situation will move everyone to dig deep into their own consciences and discern what is within them that has brought us to a place of hate, anger, and distrust. This pattern is not sustainable and is out of tune with the values of all of the world’s religious wisdom traditions including Christianity. We can do better.
It should not surprise us that hypocrisy has become evident in every political position: on the left regarding the persistence of class inequality, on the right regarding morals and race bigotry. As long as we are servants of money rather than community, nothing will change.
Capital does not care about community or religion. Capital does not care about your free time or whether you even work. Capital does not care about pollution, about the minimum wage, about town planning, not even about health or education. Capital cares about efficient returns and growth; there is no better system ever created for that.
We do NOT have to become socialists; we do have to put the economy into the service of the middle and working classes. The Democrats have historically aimed at reform but have recently failed badly; the GOP continues betraying its voters, always protecting wealth no matter what they call it. But there is a common task.
Our task is to make the economy work for working people. Culture matters but a fundamental commitment to inclusion, to community, matters more. There was in fact, and there still is one candidate who understands the actual nature of the problem. Perhaps Senator Sanders will inspire by his example a little more honesty and clarity in our debates. Perhaps in 2020 we won’t waste so much time and treasure electing an obviously unqualified, deceitful and ignorant man as our leader.
How about just not having a narrative?
I don’t feel I identify with either side. A good part of me is enraged and irritated at Trump supporters, white male patriarchy, and Sunday-picnic Christianity. But the other part of me is skeptical, bored and untrusting of leftward identity politics, despite being a college graduate, a lifelong Democrat, and a single woman. In other words – there is NO one on the right, or the left, that I would like to have a beer with. I don’t feel like I have role models in either camp. I long for the role models of my Seventies childhood (who tended to be a mix of Democrats and moderate Republicans) but neither side is offering anything like that. I feel like I was trained as a child with values and skills that are not being asked for today. Whatever happens, I will be ready to deal with it. My narrative is my own.
The problems outlined by Mr. Jones have left many centrist leaders searching for solutions. We are badly split, with access to all sorts of information that can feed terrible confirmation biases that haunt both partisan landscapes. Standards of evidence–such as they might exist–are altered to meet those arguments most comfortable for our group. Congress has been driven by the extremes, each trying to “get even” for past wrongs.
Much of this begins to sound like the modern Middle East, where sectarian fights seem endemic in the air, water and soil. The most partisan among us often prowl the halls of Congress. We now have a president who does not care about uniting an already fractious nation, separated by political beliefs and often by geography. Our president does not read books and gets his “news” from the most fractious sources. He says deeds matter more than words, but are his lifelong behaviors good models?
Our inability to deal with the legacy of slavery is another major contributor to current problems. Our historical tendencies to demonize entire groups (Germans, Japanese, now Muslims) are still in evidence. All these continue to feed our partisan divides.
Mr. Jones says “this end is not inevitable.” It will be if we cannot stop lifelong political careers built largely on wedge issues. If the far left insists on tactical behaviors resembling the outlandish House “Freedom” Caucus, there will be no way to heal divides–only more calls for recrimination.
I thank the author for this enlightening, thought-provoking and (for me) frightening article about ‘The Collapse of the American Identity.’ It is clear that we are a very divided nation. As I see it, we Americans have two distinct identities. One is open to and embraces diversity. The other seems to have a huge dislike for people who do not look like them and who often don’t pray like them, if at all.
We seem to be at opposite poles with little common ground. We, as a nation, seem to be highly polarized around many areas. The campaigns of the two nominees last fall highlighted these very significant differences. Trump appealed to largely rural, non-college educated working class whites, many of whom have deeply felt Christian beliefs. Clinton appealed to more educated, more sophisticated urban and suburban people of all stripes. While it appears to me that Democrats seem to be more open to diversity, many Republicans shun it. Many of these Republicans live in rural areas where there is virtually no diversity at all. Many Republicans have deeply Christian beliefs. A recent NY Times article said that those with deep Christian identity don’t trust science; rather, they believe in God and in the bible. Hence, they don’t believe the science of (man made) climate change. While Democrats seem softer in their beliefs and in the embrace of diversity, some on the far right are extremely combative when it comes to people who don’t believe as they do.
There has always been a strong element of concern bout the “other”. Benjamin Franklin was concerned about the influence of German immigration into America. The No Nothing Party opposition to non English (mostly Irish at the time) immigration. The KKK grew out of it hatred of African Americans, Jews and Catholics. My Italian grandparents were as unwelcomed by the “Americans” of their time as were my Irish grandparents. Go back only to 1960 and listen to the hatred and fear of Catholics during the election of Kennedy.
Yes, Trump has appealed to the baser side of many Americans especially as some of them see the loss of economic opportunity. But he follows in a long tradition of using cultural differences to divide Americans. We never were of one mind on religion, equality, ethnicity or the role of government.But we share one powerful belief at least since the Civil War, the peaceful transition of power.
Missing is the most obvious point of all: To identify as Christian is not at all the same as actually living according to Christian values. To embrace a political party that seeks to do the bidding of the powerful and wealthy, while harming the poor, the defenseless, the “Other” and the environment is antithetical to Christian values. Recent proposals to gut health care, while providing massive tax cuts for the wealthiest, lay bare the vile hypocrisy of today’s GOP. The Republican party is the radical party of intolerance.
To be brutally honest, I do NOT share a sense of identity with people who can claim they worship a god and have huge piety and yet vote for a man who is a racist, who lies without remorse, mocks the disabled, brags about assaulting women and grabbing their most private parts, stiffs his business vendors, and on and on and on. Nope, no shared identity at all. In fact, I left Tennessee 30 years ago to get away from just that type of person. You couldn’t drag me back there to live among those willfully ignorant, proudly bigoted people. Let them secede again. This time, we cut ’em loose!
One might have tolerated difference if there were a promise of a brighter future. But getting screwed over for thirty years with no relief insight, except an influx of opiates to keep you high, and then dead, does not inspire unity.
The American working class has been hammered by lowered expectations and increasing poverty. Again, this is the first generation in over a century that can expect to do worse than its parents. You think this doesn’t inspire anger, helplessness, and scapegoating?
And I don’t know what US history books you are reading, but I have read about Goons busting workers’ heads, lynch mobs executing black men, women not allowed to vote, then not allowed to work, then not allowed to be CEO (exceptions prove the rule), and now Trans people getting murdered. I see videotape of Watts, Detroit, the Bronx, and read about underground terrorist organizations blowing up post offices to protest the Vietnam war.
The only thing that seemed to keep the whole thing from blowing off like it did in the civil war was that people had a chance for a decent life. That’s just not true anymore. People don’t have a chance. They’re screwed. Who would want to go along with that?
It’s sick to see fascism rising in America as the right wing scapegoats everyone except the economic system and elites that sold them out. But this is the effect of the corrosion a society run by capital. Profits over people, and now the people want blood.
Conservative white Christians have confused “Discrimination” with “Loss of power” and “can’t say/do bigoted things anymore”. I.e., they can’t be politically incorrect without repercussions so they have conflated that with being discriminated against.
I am sorry, but not being able to discriminate against gay couples (in the name of Jesus) is not the same thing as actually being discriminated against.