The 1970s Through The 1980s
There were two big changes in this period.
White Evangelical Voters.1 There was a massive shift from 1960 to 1990 of white evangelical voters away from the Democrats to the Republicans. There were two reasons.
First, the moral codes that evangelicals derived from their interpretation of the Bible included no abortions, women as homemakers, and no homosexuality. The social culture shifted in the 1970s and the 1980s toward women’s equal participation in work, women’s control of reproduction including abortion, and choice of sexual preference. The Democratic Party encouraged these trends because of that party’s mission of inclusion and equal opportunity. White evangelicals no longer felt at home as Democrats.
Second, some evangelical preachers teamed up with Republican politicians, in particular Reagan as president, to actively court white evangelicals. They were successful due to the huge radio and TV audiences for these preachers, who openly cooperated with Republican operatives in a strategy of bringing these evangelicals into the Republican fold.
Therefore white evangelicals were both pushed out of the Democratic party and pulled in to the Republican party.
Big Money. Big corporations and oligarchs increasingly got involved in politics, bankrolling candidates and lobbying the US government administration and Congress. A favorite theme of big money up to the present has been tax cuts. Under Reagan, false economics were used to claim that the tax cuts would pay for themselves through greater entrepreneurship by corporations and individuals. That did not and will not happen, but the same argument has been used up to the present day.
Most of the politicians who favor domestic limited government and low taxes were already Republicans, so most of the big money went to that party except that the banking and financial industry sometimes supported Wall Street Democrats.
The 1990s Through the Election of Obama
The Republican Party did not change much during this period, but their political stance with some local exceptions moved toward a consolidation of the various interest groups who had become part of the party. This led their elected politicians increasingly to adopt a combination of the views of their different constituents: for small government at home and big government abroad; for white supremacy and pushback against attempts to provide equity and inclusion for all; pushback against sexual preference and women’s control of their reproduction; and for tax cuts.
2009-2016: The Obama Years
President Barack Obama from the beginning and throughout his eight years as president said “I am the president of all Americans.” He made it a point to assert the power of the US government to recognize the enormous diversity of the people who reside in the United States of America and to assure equity and equal opportunity for all. Given the Republican Party politicians and operatives and like-minded voters of that period, it is not surprising that they opposed Obama in his person and in his programs with enormous anger and vitriol. One can understand this better in the light of the centuries-old assertion of white supremacy. The special rage against the Affordable Care Act reminds me of the rage against Franklin Roosevelt in the 1930s, and I think for the same reason: giving subsidies to people who cannot afford medical expenses offends the core values of those who work hard and have managed to shoulder those expenses themselves.
The Trump Election
The four principles we discussed earlier that were developed by the Party to form its coalition induced many people to vote for Trump, as they might have voted for any other Republican candidate. But what put him over the top was another group. The largest party of registered voters in the United States is “unenrolled”. These people normally don’t vote in primaries. However, many of these voted the Republican ballot in primaries held in states that allow it, to choose Trump. In addition, many white former or continuing Democrats voted for him in the election.
Much ink has been spilled to try to understand these latter groups – again, as I stated in the beginning, those of us who discuss the subject are college-educated intellectuals living comfortably who have limited capability to understand people of a very different background. However, we know statistically that there is a growing group of middle-class working-age white Americans who find their lives economically difficult with no prospect of improvement. In fact, in many cases their parents were better off during their working lives than they are.
Trump appealed to this group. He instinctively has a bond and rapport with them, making promises that he will bring jobs back to the United States. All I can say is, that the combination of the early 2000s Republican coalition with these disaffected white voters can be formidable to overcome in future elections.
Let’s look at Mussolini. He gained power in the late 1910s by preaching to disaffected workers who were having hard times; then he solidified his public backing by saying that he wanted to make Italy great again, invoking the Roman empire as a model. He got control of the media, because his goons destroyed the presses of rival newspapers. In the early 1920s he achieved absolute power, stripping the legislature of any authority and then dissolving it altogether. He solicited support from the large corporations and formed a government-industry partnership to run the country. He called this political system “Fascism”. The origin of the term is the Roman fasces, a bundle of sticks tied around a symbolic axe indicating the power of the civic magistrate, and by extension collective power.
Trump is on the same path. First, he collected popular support from a massive number of disaffected white people, saying “Make America Great (subtext White) Again.” Second, he confused the media and the public with an unending string of lies, repeated on Fox News and all over the Internet. Third, he increasingly governed by executive order, for example building the Southern wall without appropriation from Congress. Fourth, he is chummy with large corporations, spurred Congress to reduce tax rates on the wealthy, and appointed corporate executives to positions in the Federal government in order to lessen government regulations on corporate activities.
I wish more people would understand that we’re on the road to Mussolini. The mainstream media used to say it’s just politics. In July 2019 I wrote letters to my Senators and Representative about how important it was to override the president’s veto of a resolution denying funds for the wall, but they did not get the point – “it’s just politics”. With the impeachment process, Congress and the media seem to finally understand.
Fortunately, Biden prevailed in the 2020 election. But Trump’s 74 million voters are a large legacy. The issues for the Republican party leadership and elected officials are, will they continue to unite around Trump for the next four years? If they dump him, will they unite around another autocrat? And will they allow or enable the Republican Party to become the party of white supremacy?
The issue for we the people is, with the Republicans’ vote suppression and manipulation tactics and intransigence in Congress, can we avoid a permanent Republican authoritarian hegemony over the nation, similar to Viktor Orban and the Fidesz party in Hungary?
1I have been greatly assisted by a study titled From Left to Right? White Evangelical Politicization, GOP Incorporation, and the Effect of Party Affiliation on Group Opinion Change by Devon B. Shapiro of Bowdoin College. Mr. Shapiro pointed out that black evangelicals have very different political attitudes and could not be included with whites.