As reported in the Journal before, a white, male, nativist Christian country is evolving rapidly as we evolve into, "two, three, many Americas." Whether this conservative version of "America" prevails against the new multicultural majority is an open question. Moderates and liberals will have to wake up to the threat and plan a new politics accordingly.
No one wants to appear extreme in response to extremism. Most people share Rodney King's hope of "can't we all just get along?" while forgetting that he was brutally beaten by a unit of LAPD officers whose crime was only revealed by cameras. It is true that significant reform of the LAPD occurred in the wake of the Rodney King assault, giving evidence that our system of checks and balances survives, but the drift during the past two decades has not been towards moderation.
The latest evidence of the white, male theocracy is the US Supreme Court under Chief Justice John Roberts. The thrust of the Court is towards the ultra-right, but in a gentlemanly manner. Their robes are a reassuring black, not a terrifying white. The latest example is the Hobby Lobby decision upholding Christian, or Catholic, "family values" in the case of government-funded contraception. To Roberts' right, justices Thomas, Scalia, and Alito complain the chief justice is "moving too slowly." On the left, David Cole, a contributor to the Nation and the New York Review of Books, is quoted as saying "it could have been worse."
If none dare call this creeping fascism, which it's not, neither is it old-fashioned American pluralism. Under a truly pluralist system, the judges and the two parties that appoint them would respect the norms of public opinion. In this case, the "center" is being steadily pushed to the right, far beyond majority public opinion. This is true on contraception, religion, voting rights, workplace rights, climate change, and the role of Big Money in campaigns. The "moderate" Court exceptions - upholding Obamacare though not its Medicaid provisions, or marriage equality - should not divert a focus on the main trend, which is to enshrine a conservative Christian plutocracy.
What drives the white, male Christian right is an accurate perception that their days as a privileged majority are past. Instead of accommodating to a more tolerant multicultural America, they have chosen to fight. The Tea Party activists are their shock troops, but the institutional support runs deep, putting liberals on the defensive. The Electoral College alone includes affirmative action Senate seating for tiny white state strongholds. The floodgates are open for secret political spending by billionaires like the Koch’s and Sheldon Adelson with a Court-approved red carpet to front row seats for the former fringe.
A successful progressive strategy must follow two tracks simultaneously: a rational federalism driven by local and state progressive initiatives. On the federal side, it is imperative that Democrats retain the White House. Obama's executive powers on environmental policy and his refusal, so far, to redeploy ground troops into lost wars are examples of policies extremely important to a progressive agenda. His appointment powers are vital too, with a looming critical question being whether Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg can be gently persuaded to retire before her seat falls into Republican hands, thus sealing a six-vote Supreme Court majority.
At the same time, a Progressive America is being built at state and local levels, as shown in sharply different policies on the environment, climate change, voting rights, women's rights, labor rights, LGBT rights, the safety net, and Obamacare. This Progressive America represents nearly half the population and GDP, and is growing demographically by the day. These two different Americas are not in equilibrium, but tending toward increasing conflict. There are signs, for example, of right-wing penetration into the former "Rust Belt" states like Wisconsin and Michigan. The Republican choice of Cleveland for their 2016 convention puts that "swing state" in play for the next presidential election. On the Democratic side, there is a possibility that the Latino vote will rescue the party in states like Colorado. These tensions may increase to explosive proportions as the demographics tilt toward the progressives. Having so fully theologized their well-funded mission, the reactionaries are poised to fight a dangerous rear-guard battle for years to come. With much of the planet engulfed in religious warfare, can America be an exception? The evidence isn't good.