One of the founding principles of American democracy is the separation of church and state. The United States is prevented by its Constitution from establishing or endorsing any particular religion. Its founding fathers knew all too well the dangers of religious power and endeavored to make sure America would not be led down that path. This principle has served America well for over two hundred years, allowing it to flourish and progress without the stifling rigidity of religious doctrine. American politicians and the US Supreme Court (SCOTUS) however, have been increasingly willing to blur the line between church and state.
In the last thirty years, a very vocal minority has been flexing their political muscle in America. While their numbers have decreased in that time, so too has overall voter turnout. This has allowed them to exert far more political influence than their numbers warrant. It's important to understand how this is happening. Participation is a large factor in their success. The American conservative religious right votes - in EVERY election. They have largely used their voting percentage advantage to secure statewide victories in low turnout mid-term elections. This has often led to near total control of state governments. After the last census, they used these statewide majorities to redraw voting districts and assure themselves legislative advantages in many state governments and the US House of Representatives for years to come. They have also passed a wave of voter suppression laws which have helped to keep overall voter turnout low. One of the best ways for a minority to win is to keep the majority from the polls.
Candidates once seen as too extreme for widespread support have flourished under these circumstances. Backed by a vocal and motivated minority base, and facing little chance of political repercussions, these ultra-conservative office holders have passed an unprecedented wave of conservative, often religious-based laws. These laws have been laser focused on issues the American religious right finds important. From near-countless numbers of restrictions on women's reproductive rights to a string of new anti-LGBT legislation disguised as "religious freedom", this conservative and vocal minority has been eagerly attempting to impose their will on the larger, more progressive majority. They have used this political power to pass new laws which chip away at the wall that separates church and state and SCOTUS has often been willing to assist them. SCOTUS recently ruled that some employers have the right to exempt themselves from Federal laws if those laws violate their deeply held religious beliefs. We have yet to fully see where this ruling will lead us.
Many Republican politicians have even threatened to upset their once cozy relationships with the business community in order to bolster their standing with their ultra-conservative base. They have largely learned that they can ignore their old allies and rely instead on the support of one or two mega-wealthy donors for campaign funding. SCOTUS, once again, helped enable this turn of events with the Citizens United decision.
On the Right, animosity towards science and education are now commonplace in those seeking higher office. Overt sexism, racism and homophobia are on open display. There has even been a new term coined in recent years to illustrate the similarities between fundamentalist American Christians and fundamentalist Muslims - the Talibornagain. Recent news from California shows how similar the two groups' ideas can be.
Yet many believe that on a national level, America should be safe from such extremes. Recent common wisdom has held that a Republican Presidential candidate must move so far to the right in order to capture their party's nomination, that they make themselves all but unelectable on a national level. However, one weak or flawed candidate on the Left could easily prove that wisdom wrong. It wouldn't take much for ultra-conservatives, who already hold great sway in the House and Senate, to win the Presidency. Combine that with a right-leaning SCOTUS and there would likely be no end to the religious influence on our laws.
What does it mean for America and other nations that the world's only true superpower is flirting with turning more conservative and religious in its politics? History has demonstrated time and again that tidal waves of change begin with mere ripples, which then combine to bring larger and larger dangers to the shores of the complacent. That danger abounds right now in the halls of the US Congress and many American states. It is up to the more centrist, progressive majority to get motivated enough to turn back this tide. They will have to stay involved and vigilant. Most importantly, they will have to make sure that more eligible voters take the time to be informed and make it to the polls to vote. That is the only way America will preserve its democracy and keep from slowly becoming a powerful, and dangerous, theocracy.
How will Donald Trump’s first 100 days impact YOU? Subscribe, choose the community that you most identify with or want to learn more about and we’ll send you the news that matters most once a week throughout Trump’s first 100 days in office. Learn more