Where is the demos in democracy?
What do Americans think as a people and a public? That is the eternal question in a country that was made famous by being founded as the first modern democracy. Among serious thinkers, the conventional theory of representative government has been that public opinion generally determines public policy, on average if not in every detail. This is what supposedly gives a public mandate to the political elite to rule on our behalf, as an approximation of self-governance but without direct democracy. Well, that is the theory. Is it true? To question this political dogma, in the past, was considered unpatriotic and seen as an attack on the very ideal of democracy. But times have changed, as has faith in claims of democratic representation.
Let us explore where Americans stand on the issues. This year’s Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) values survey, Dueling Realities: Amid Multiple Crises, Trump and Biden Supporters See Different Priorities and Futures for the Nation (full data and visual summary), brings us some lovely info about the American population and conclusions can be offered (by the way, PRRI is self-described as “an American nonprofit, nonpartisan research and education organization” that Media Bias Fact Check rates as “Least Biased and High for factual reporting” and FiveThirtyEight grades as A/B). There is a decided shift showing a larger pattern across the board. It could be suggested that Donald Trump’s administration does not represent the direction the country is heading in, assuming there is any hope of actual democracy functioning in the slightest.
Neither is the Republican Party in alignment with the general public nor with Independents. And Republican Fox News viewers are shown to be living in a separate alternative reality — older, whiter, and more right-wing than the average American, although not as far right as the audiences of the Daily Caller, Breitbart News, and the Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh radio shows (John Gramlich, 5 facts about Fox News). With total lack of awareness, Pew describes the audiences of most media sources as ‘left-leaning’ while not acknowledging that most Americans are ‘left-leaning’ (John Gramlich, Q&A: How Pew Research Center evaluated Americans’ trust in 30 news sources); but left of what, left of Fox News? Then among the religious, white evangelicals are extremists and, among Christians, a minority. Yet the media and political elite obsess over white evangelicals, as if they were the very definition of religiosity and representative of the religious majority — they are not.
These three combined demographics (Fox News viewers, white Evangelicals, and Republicans) represent a minority — not exactly new information. Based on the acronym FER, they’ll henceforth be referred to as ‘Ferengi’. This demographic is situated within the American public and society somewhat in the way that the patriarchal and profit-obsessed Star Trek Ferengi (with their capitalistic religion) represented an alien presence and minority worldview within the socially liberal United Federation of Planets. Even though the Ferengi were not members of the Federation and held themselves apart from Federation society, they nevertheless were tolerated and accepted as part of the Federation’s open and diverse liberal culture of social democracy and democratic socialism, which included being allowed to do business within Federation territory.
Similarly, the American demographic minority that we shall now call ‘Ferengi’ are opposite of and in opposition to the American majority that is progressive, liberal, and leftist across every category of views and values, issues and policies (the metaphor of a political spectrum being a relative concept; how can the American people be on the political ‘left’ if they are the majority public opinion that defines the ‘center’ of American society?). Yet these American Ferengi are given equal rights and freedoms that are protected by the very social liberalism and social democracy that contradicts their preferred ideology of patriarchal authoritarianism, caste-based social Darwinism, xenophobic identity politics, fascist corporatocracy, and theocratic aspirations. This is the Ferengi vs the Federation, neither equals nor enemies but awkwardly situated together.
This Ferengi demographic is a variety of what one could call Faceless Men, in honor of the masked assassins cult in Game of Thrones. The Faceless Men can change guise, in the way that reactionaries co-opt ideological rhetoric and adopt ideological identities. This makes the Faceless Men hard to pin down, but in the case of the Ferengi we at least have some demographic identifiers to clearly mark boundaries. That is the purpose of naming the Ferengi in creating a specific demographic category that has been defined a favorite disguise of the Faceless Men. Speaking of a ‘conservative’ movement is too vague and misleading. Certainly, not all conservatives are Ferengi and maybe, as one might argue, not all Ferengi are conservatives. Interestingly, a large part of the American population self-identifies as ‘conservative’ while holding views that are mostly or entirely on the political ‘left’ (an equally large but opposite pattern on the political left is not found in any data). These confused and inconsistent pseudo-conservatives (i.e., symbolic ideology) may or may not vote Republican, but it is highly unlikely that most of them are Ferengi in being white evangelicals who regularly watch and trust Fox News. That is an important distinction to keep in mind while reading further on.
Before moving on, let’s clarify what kind of understanding is implied by this insight and analysis. Yes, American society is and always has been broadly liberal, as a product of Enlightenment thought and revolution, not only the American Revolution but also several major populist revolts during the colonial era and continuing revolts over the centuries since — the Spirit of ’76 is the American Spirit, from the War of Regulation and Shays’ Rebellion to the Coal Wars and the Battle of Athens. The word for ‘democracy’ was not as familiar in early America, but the ideals and ideology of democracy (along with proto-socialism, proto-Marxism, etc) had already begun to take hold with the English Civil War, which had immense impact in shaping early American culture and politics. What is often misunderstood is that conservatism is not traditionalism, as conservatism did not exist until after the revolutionary period. Rather, it’s a variant of and reaction to liberalism, both of which followed the failure and fall of traditionalism that conservatives as reactionaries sought to replace. The reactionary mind is the shadow of a liberal society and, as liberalism has increased, the reactionary has intensified. We live in a reactionary age, as the stress and anxiety mounts, with collective insanity taking hold and collective trauma having become a scar — we are in need of healing.
With an immunocompromised psyche, we all are vulnerable to infection from this virulent mind virus (as based on the terrain theory of ideological immunity). We all contain the potential of becoming Faceless Men. The Ferengi are simply an extreme example of the reactionary, among the first victims of the mind plague, and so our purpose here is not to scapegoat them but to explore what is central to defining American society, not unlike the way the Star Trek Ferengi as a contrast helped shape the Federation identity. As such, the demographic of Ferengi in American society are used as a foil to highlight the qualities of liberalism, in terms of both its ideals and failures, its strengths and Achille’s heel. The Ferengi serve a necessary role in the public imagination and the political narrative. Reactionaries become possessed by and identified with the shadow of society, what we have collectively denied and cast out but cannot make go away. They carry the burden of what we haven’t yet learned to handle. And, maybe in line with Arnold Mindell’s thought, they fill an essential social role that must be represented and fulfilled. The reactionary mind is the return of the repressed. It holds up a mirror to our society, if we dare look.
Despite being a miniscule minority, the Ferengi have an outsized influence in society and the psyche. But we should emphasize the most basic point for our purposes here. These overt reactionaries are a minority that are located at the radical fringe. Never forget that. The public opinion of the American public, suppressed and silenced, is something entirely else. The political polarization is not between two equally sized groups but between the broad disenfranchised majority and one specific privileged minority. Still, one way or another, we will be forced to face what the reactionary represents. The reactionary is not only those others but something within us, but that is an issue to be saved for another day. Let us summarize these initial comments with a reassuring thought. Shadow or not, the reactionary mind is not normal and we need to recognize this truth, to constantly remind ourselves of it. We are not defined, as individuals or as a society, by our worst impulses.
What kind of country is America?
In looking at the recent PRRI values survey, we are given a picture of America as seen by Americans, the differences within public opinion and the commonalities. So, what kind of country do we Americans believe we live in? Let’s go straight to the top, God. Most Americans no longer believe God has granted the United States a special role in history. Once having been an article of faith among the majority, only 40% of Americans still hold to this conviction in the shared political religion that dominated during the Cold War, although 64% of Republicans are holding strong to their sense of divine entitlement as the Elect and presumably all of the divine privileges that go with it.
It isn’t solely a partisan divide and maybe as much about specific kinds of religiosity. White evangelical Protestants, unsurprisingly, are totally into American theocracy as seen with their strong support of Donald Trump hand-picked by God as the Chosen One to rule over the Chosen People, albeit this is a slight interpretation of the data on our part. Then again, if much more weakly, black Protestants are barely holding onto a sense of America’s divine status; and many of those black Protestants would be evangelicals as well, though not Trump-idolizing. But most mainline Protestants, Catholics, etc don’t see it that way. As in the past, the divide continues to be primarily within Christianity, not between the religious and non-religious. For all of American history, Christians have been on both sides of public debates, from slavery to abortion.
Interestingly, back in the 19th century, it was evangelicals, as a minority religious group, who were among the strongest defenders of the separation of church and state — how things have changed. It was also evangelicals who were supporters of Populism, Progressivism, the Great Society, and the New Deal. Evangelicals weren’t always reactionaries (similar to how libertarians, as leftist anarcho-socialists who originated in the 19th century European workers movement, didn’t begin as reactionary right-wingers either). Like the majority of mid-20th century Protestants, some famous leaders of the religious right and political right, supported a pro-choice position for abortion in the post-war era. In how conservative religion has been co-opted by right-wing reactionaries since then, evangelicalism has been taken on as one of the many deceptive guises of the Faceless Men.
Besides those two groups of primarily evangelicals, all other measured demographics are probably more prone to believing America has fallen under a divine curse. As for Christians in general, they’re just not buying this divine patriotism and nationalistic idolatry. On the other hand, no demographic, not even white evangelicals, thinks that America is and always has been a Christian nation, not even after four years of the Chosen One, President Donald Trump, ruling the land. America has not been made great again, even if assuming it ever was great. So, it’s hard to know what God’s favor could mean anyhow, as there have always been much more religiously devout countries out there. Indeed, church attendance in the US has been dropping, particularly in the so-called Bible Belt. God looks down on America and says, “No respect, no respect, I tell ya.”
After these rough past few years, the evidence is becoming less and less clear that we are the Chosen People. This calls into question our American Exceptionalism and hence our divine mandate to rule the world as the largest empire in history. But the survey didn’t ask which country now has gained God’s favor in replacing America’s divine status. We’ll have to wait to find out the results on that one, as God works in mysterious ways. For certain, God doesn’t hold the sway he once did here in the grand ol’ US of A, as only 39% agree that believing in Him is necessary for morality. About an equal number (38%) thinks that religion causes more problems than it solves. So, maybe God should look for a more hospitable place to call home.
America has stopped being the moral beacon for the world, according to Americans (74%), whatever might be God’s opinion on the matter. Huddled masses of immigrants take note. Most Republicans don’t see this nation as a good moral example with 55% taking this negative view, when only 33% agreed in 2018. Not even White evangelical Protestants can get on board with a belief in national moral superiority at this point. So, obviously, Trump’s brand of Christian ethno-nationalism wrapped in an American flag hasn’t inspired a populist flood of moral religiosity to buoy up the erectile dysfunction of flaccid public confidence and impotent patriotism. It turns out that there is more to religion than waving a Bible in the air while posing in front of a camera or at least there used to be. The average Christian doesn’t appear to be swayed by such superficial displays and ritualistic performances. It’s easy to forget that most Christians, like most Americans, hold many leftist views. A large majority of Democrats, liberals, and progressives are and always have been Christian; and this majority might grow as Christians, including evangelicals, are turning left; despite formal religious adherence being on the decline.
As opposed to social dominators using faux religiosity as a symbolic conflation to dress up reactionary authoritarianism, some argue there is evidence that genuine religiosity might actually somewhat lessen the extremes of social conservatism: “religious participation may moderate conservatives’ attitudes on other important culture war issues, particularly matters of race, immigration, and identity. […] Taking these results together leaves us with a surprising finding: conservative, Republican, churchgoing Trump voters take more moderate positions on many culture war issues than their self-identified moderate, independent, nonchurchgoing counterparts” (Emily Ekins, Religious Trump Voters: How Faith Moderates Attitudes about Immigration, Race, and Identity). That is as long as the religious in question are not white evangelicals, the driving force of the present religious right, who diverge not only from most Americans but often also many Christians. Church attendance, of course, will simply exacerbate the tendencies within one’s faith tradition. For white evangelicals, that pulls them further into the orbit of Ferengi identity politics.
Yet others argue this remains true for white Christians in general, as Ferengi sympathizers and fellow travelers. “The results point to a stark conclusion: While most white Christians think of themselves as people who hold warm feelings toward African Americans, holding racist views is nonetheless positively and independently associated with white Christian identity. Again, this troubling relationship holds not just for white evangelical Protestants, but also for white mainline Protestants and white Catholics. Moreover, these statistical models refute the assertion that attending church makes white Christians less racist. Among white evangelicals, in fact, the opposite is true: The relationship between holding racist views and white Christian identity is actually stronger among more frequent church attenders than among less frequent church attenders” (Robert P. Jones, Racism among white Christians is higher than among the nonreligious. That’s no coincidence.). The cold shadow of a dark past won’t be so easily thrown off. Even as conscious attitudes change, racism as a mind virus can burrow deep.
Nonetheless, the symbolic power of rhetoric aside, Christian nationalism itself, as a proxy for white supremacism or otherwise, does not hold much significance at this point. Americans have come to a consensus that America is no longer a Christian nation (74%) with a significant portion thinking it never was (22%). An increasing number think that this decline of Christian dominance is a good thing, at 39% which is up from five years ago when it was 29%. One can see a trend in falling religiosity and the weakening of theocratic impulses, as secular nationalism takes hold among the religious and non-religious alike. Maybe the culture wars and political spectacle of infotainment media (both corporate media and social media) has become our new shared religion, as we do devotedly worship it with the authorization it provides in shaping our sense of reality. People scroll their smart phones like rosary beads, bow their heads to their laptops as if before a shrine, and go into altered states as their eyes glaze over watching the boob tube. Churches have steep competition these days.
What’s the matter with America?
Let’s now move onto more general views of what is seen as mattering, since God no longer holds this place of pride. The majority of Americans generally agree with the majority of Democrats in how they prioritize most issues: coronavirus pandemic (respectively 60% & 85%), fairness of presidential elections (57%, 68%), health care (56%, 73%), jobs and unemployment (52%, 58%), crime (46%, 48%), terrorism (45%, 43%), abortion (36%, 35%), appointment of Supreme Court Justices (40%, 44%), federal deficit (36%, 31%), immigration (33%, 36%), and trade agreements with other countries (23%, 19%).
On the last four issues, Republicans are close to being in agreement as well. But on the first seven, Republicans strongly disagree with both the general public and Democrats. And on three other highly polarized and partisan issues (racial inequality, climate change, and growing gap between rich and poor), the average American is about smack dab in the middle between the two camps. Actually, they are leaning toward the middle on some of the others as well, although they have a general alignment with Democrats while, in those cases, Republicans are found on the complete opposite extreme. Two examples of the latter are 39% of Republicans seeing the coronavirus pandemic as critical and 33% with that opinion about health care, in contrast to 60% and 56% for Americans in general which is about equally distant from Democrats, though on the same side of the minority-majority divide as Democrats. So, in some cases, where Democrats have a strong majority view, that of the general public is a mere moderate majority; but, in both cases, in opposition to Ferengi and most other Republicans.
It gets interesting with a religious breakdown. When looking at the top three issues for each group, there is wide agreement about the coronavirus pandemic and fairness of presidential elections. There is a consensus on these two among most included religious demographics: white mainline Protestants, Black Protestants, White Catholics, Hispanic Catholics, Other Christians, and the non-Christian religious. That makes this the majority religious position about what is seen as central at this present moment. As such, there is a general focus and set of priorities that keeps religious Americans on the same page.
Also, Hispanic Protestants and the Unaffiliated put the coronavirus pandemic in their top three picks, but not fairness of presidential elections. White evangelical Protestants, interestingly, did agree about fairness of presidential elections, if by that they meant their minority position should eternally rule, while being alone in stating great concern for terrorism and abortion, indicating that they are highly motivated by thoughts of violence and death, if not the slow violence and mass death by other means (poverty, class war, air pollution, lead toxicity, lack of healthcare, racial oppression, war, CIA covert operations, economic sanctions, etc), and of course they love the widespread violence of law-and-order, militarized police, war on drugs, mass incarceration, and the death sentence in order to enforce and maintain social control. As another popular issue, healthcare was held up as important to four of these demographics: Hispanic Protestants, White Catholics, Other Christians, and Unaffiliated.
In general, most Americans want healthcare reform, and specifically universal healthcare with ever growing support and demand. It’s interesting to note how this is so popular with White Catholics who, by using divisive culture war rhetoric, were brought into line with the Republican Party in high rates of voting for Trump, partly as swayed by the Catholic Kellyanne Conway and the Catholic Steven Bannon. By the way, Conway once worked for Richard Wirthlin, the religious right pollster and advisor to right-wing politicians, including Ronald Reagan. This is how voters can be manipulated into betraying their own self-interests through symbolic ideology, how social identity politics as superficial groupthink of ‘values’ rhetoric can undermine the moral force of an actual moral majority.
Are Americans racists or socialists?
Here is a funny one. Almost half of Americans perceive the Republican Party as having been taken over by racists and the Democratic Party by socialists. The people in each party disagrees with that view, but it is amusing because of the lopsided quality of the accusations. Most Democrats don’t identify as socialist even as they wouldn’t take it as a slur against their good character, whereas Republicans understandably freak out when they get called racists. No one wants to be thought of as a racist, not even most racists these days. Despite the well-funded right-wing culture wars and class war, the left is slowly and belatedly winning the war of rhetoric.
That is because a growing number of Americans identify with the socialist label while an ever shrinking minority still openly embraces racist ideology. As Sarah van Gelder, in looking at other polling, explained the former: “While capitalism is viewed more favorably among all Americans than socialism, the reverse is true among those under 29, African Americans and Hispanics, and those making less than $30,000 a year, according to a Pew poll. And more Americans have a favorable view of socialism than of the Tea Party.” As the older generations die off and the country becomes a majority of racial/ethnic minorities, along with inequality growing worse, net positive view of socialism could become common or even mainstream in the coming decades. Socialism might become the new majority position before too long, in response to the extremism, atrocities, and injustice of corporatocratic capitalism and plutocratic social Darwinism.
At the very least, socialism is already part of socially acceptable public debate, albeit still contentious for the moment, at least as portrayed in corporate media and corporate-owned politics. Yet when it comes to racism, even Donald Trump feels compelled to deny it even while he is throwing out blatantly racist rants. The fact that racism has to be hidden behind lies, if open and obvious lies, demonstrates how shameful it is perceived. Everyone understands that racism is no longer acceptable (neither politically correct nor morally good), as public opinion has shifted far left on social issues. At the same time, public opinion is likewise going left on fiscal issues. Attempting to slander Democrats as socialists and fellow travelers doesn’t quite have the sting it did during the Cold War. Instead, it has had the unintended effect of normalizing ‘socialism’, as a word to be bandied about, no matter the lack of any shared understanding of what it means.
These changes are seen all across the board, as a recent Fox News poll proved, not to mention the hundreds of other polls that have shown the same. To take another key example, from 2015 to 2020, the majority switched from agreeing to disagreeing with the statement that the values of Islam are at odds with American values and way of life, and for as long as this question has been asked by PRRI this is the first time this response was seen. As the Cold War is growing distant, so is the War on Terror. But once again, Republicans stand alone in clinging to these old fears and animosities of a prior age of mass propaganda and bigoted xenophobia. Most Americans, instead, are focused on collective problems that are immediate and concrete: economic troubles, COVID-19 pandemic, climate change, etc.
There are some even more damning divides on racial issues. Once a minority position, an emerging majority (56%) has been persuaded that cops killing Blacks is part of a broader pattern, not mere isolated incidents. In 2015, 53% said the opposite was true. Yet, as always, Republicans (79%) and Fox News viewers (90%) cling to their worst hateful prejudices in presently siding with this institutionalized and systemic racist law-and-order, compared to 40% independents and 17% of Democrats. That is a vast gap in public opinion. This further demonstrates the persistent demographic pattern of the reactionary Ferengi as distinct from the progressive and liberal majority. As the rest of America wakes up to this sad state of affairs, the political right has remained steady with their cold hearts unmoved by pleas of injustice and oppression, violence and suffering.
But it is good to be reminded that they are a polling minority in their callous disregard toward racial minorities, whereas white Democrats have fallen almost exactly in line with blacks, such that we could look to radicalized white liberals as the canary in the coal mine. White Independents, now at 46%, have also edged down into seeing racist-driven killings as a problem; although White Americans in general are hovering right on the divide of public opinion with equal numbers going both directions. As for white Christian groups, most of them are still feeling a bit racist while steadily moving away from the hardcore racism of white evangelical Protestants (70%), their former reactionary alignment weakening as white mainline Protestants have dropped down to 57% racist and white Catholics at 58% (Tara Isabella Burton, Study: when it comes to detecting racial inequality, white Christians have a blind spot). For the time being, as summarized by PRRI’s CEO Robert Jones, it remains a conflict of worldviews between “white Christian groups — and everybody else.” That demonstrates that it’s far from only being about the hardcore religious right of evangelicals and fundamentalists, but it also clarifies the toxic brew of religiosity and white grievance.
What is the racial and racist divide?
To really get at racism, PRRI divided the polling sample into demographically equal sub-samples. They received questions about protests that were identical except in one way, by mentioning blacks or by not mentioning race at all. This was a brilliant way to get at people’s honest opinion and what is motivating it. Americans in general agree (61%) with the statement “When Americans speak up and protest unfair treatment by the government, it always makes our country better.” But Americans are almost divided (52%) whether such free speech and freedom to assemble also applies to “Black Americans” or if, instead, we should continue to disenfranchise and oppress racial minorities as is the pervasive, systemic, and institutionalized status quo of American tradition.
The only two measured demographics, as brought up in the PRRI report, that absolutely believe all Americans should have equal rights are blacks and Democrats, although many of the other demographics still mostly favored giving blacks such rights (the views of other races and ethnicities were not mentioned in the report but might be available in the raw data). The demographics of white conservatives all were strongly opposed to blacks not being violently oppressed and silenced, but to be fair they were less supportive and more divided on protesting in general. Even so, most Americans, no matter their race, are equal in their majority support of the citizen’s right to protest. Once again, conservatives are the minority even among whites.
But, of course, America’s racist history rears its ugly head the moment the question is racialized. The variations in demographics, though, are not entirely as expected. As most Americans support protesting on principle, even if only a slim majority holding to the same for blacks, there is nonetheless many white demographics that would defend this right for blacks. There are the college-educated, as always. Gender is the opposite of how typically portrayed. White men (50%) are more supportive of black protests than white women (44%), which might relate to white men being one of the key demographics where Trump saw declining numbers among his voters this past election, while Kellyanne Conway’s professional expertise has always been in helping misogynistic GOP candidates gain the white woman vote (in the 2016 election, Hillary Clinton as a white woman lost the demographic of white women), similar to the role played by the ilk like Sarah Palin. So, white men can’t be blamed for everything. This also indicates that the Ferengi phenomenon is not merely an issue of The Man. The Ferengi do defend white patriarchy, but many of those defenders happen to be white women (for example, in watching Fox News, our mother has become a more rabid conservative and GOP partisan than our father).
Besides conservatives, it’s the white religious, including among mainline Protestants, who are among the most racist on this issue, as their majority support for protests drops to 35-38% when applied to blacks. This reminds one of why most Americans now assume that believing in God is not necessary for being moral, and increasing number actually takes religion as problematic for a free and democratic society. Obviously, the religious faith of these whites has not helped them to see all humans as the children of God with souls that are equal before God. When blacks are at issue, they don’t see souls at all, much less the content of their character, but just their bodies and the color of their skin.
A similar pattern is seen with White Christian groups being most likely to view Confederate flags and monuments as symbols of Southern pride, rather than racism. It’s strange that racism among whites tracks so closely with religiosity or at least religious identification, although other data shows many of these people don’t actually attend church (e.g., lower religiosity rates in the so-called Bible Belt). This says a lot about religion in America, at least as a symbolic ideology. Indeed, anyone familiar with American history knows that churches and religious leaders played an important role in defending and maintaining slavery, Jim Crow, sundown towns, etc. Yet religion was also central in blacks fighting back against oppression and injustice, as seen with the civil rights movement that included support of particular mostly white religious groups (e.g., Quakers).
The divide over racism within American Christianity is itself racial. The vast majority of black Christians believe in a God who loves all people equally, but this view of God’s universal love is not nearly so strongly held by white Christians. For all of our cynicism, this is a bit shocking to our egalitarian sensibilities in having been raised in a liberal church that was majority white. It might not be expected that the racial division would be this stark along religious lines, although it is a tired truism well known in the South that Sunday morning is the most segregated time of the week. And this is an area where the Ferengi hold immense sway in creating the sense of a divided and polarized country.
Is there unity in diversity?
Even so, white conservatives and white Christians aren’t completely lost in fear and bigotry. Among Republicans, only 17% claim (or admit?) to prefer the U.S. to be made up of people of western European heritage. That is barely above the national average of 10% in support. Similarly, a mere 18% are bothered by the idea of America where most people are not white. It’s a little bit higher with Republicans at 27%, but that isn’t too bad with nearly three-quarters not in support. The numbers would have been starkly different not that long ago. The increase of immigrants and the growing number of minorities, not to mention the rise of interracial relationships, is having an impact on changing attitudes. It’s become normalized to show diversity in the media. It’s no longer perceived as strange and scary.
Still, the full and open embracing of diversity remains a divisive issue and the population is about evenly split. That is to say, even though white supremacy is not seen as the solution, Americans hold onto concerns about multiculturalism or whatever it is a symbolic proxy for (breakdown of communities? loss of culture of trust? social stress from rising inequality?). As expected, those who more fully embrace diversity are Blacks, other non-whites, the multiracial, and college-educated whites. It should be noted that these are growing demographics and, when combined, already represent the American majority. This is one of the many anti-Ferengi alliances, if typically unacknowledged in ‘mainstream’ media and politics.
Gender roles and social norms were another area the PRRI survey looked into. In a mirror image of opposing views, most Americans disagree (60%), contrary to most Republicans that agree (60%), that society punishes men just for acting like men. About an equal number of Republicans also think that society has become too soft and effeminate (63%). Both Democrats and Independents are in line with the majority in opposition to Republicans. The religious are evenly divided on this issue, as are men. That is quite intriguing, though, that half of men have no worries about these conservative or rather reactionary fears of a supposed decline of masculine and male-dominated society. Most women, of course, have little concern about this area of male identity politics. All combined, it’s a minority issue that has been held up as a banner of culture war by a single sector of the reactionary ruling elite.
These kinds of social issues related to egalitarianism vs authoritarianism unsurprisingly tend to sync with political issues, specifically attitudes about democracy. A two-to-one majority says the popular vote, not the electoral college, should determine the presidency. Once again, Independents (68%) side with Democrats (86%), opposite of Republicans (39%), in demanding greater democracy and a more representative government such that all voters are treated as equal no matter where they live. There is some other demographic variance, but still the majority are in favor — whites and non-whites, men and women, young and old. Republicans, especially Fox News viewers, are the outlier in being absolutely opposed to equal rights and full self-governance for all other Americans, no matter their residence or skin color. The Ferengi are fighting against the democracy that most Americans want, and this has been useful for the reactionary ruling elite in both parties by using the Ferengi to distract from the majority’s demands for fair representation — one of the ways lesser evilism guarantees continuously greater evil. In a society claiming to be a representative democracy, what greater political evil is there than a conspiracy to attack and destroy any possibility of a free society of self-governance?
The fear of certain demographics being given a seat at the table has been largely motivated by racism and xenophobia. It’s similar to how the ruling elite manipulate many whites to oppose social programs that help whites out of fear that they will also help minorities. This has been slowly changing in mainstream society, a sign of hope. “Majorities of Americans,” reports PRRI, “say that there is a lot of discrimination against Black people (75%), Hispanic people (69%), and Asian people (55%). Far fewer say that there is a lot of discrimination against either Christians (37%) or white people (32%).” Fewer and fewer Americans, across most demographics, want to continue the scapegoating of minorities as the portrayed enemies of a sought-after white supremacy, ethno-nationalism, and Christian patriotism. Following the pattern of declining bigotry and xenophobia, this includes majorities, in this case large majorities, of Independents and Democrats; as opposed by the Ferengi, of course (Emma Green, Most American Christians Believe They’re Victims of Discrimination; Samuel L. Perry, Andrew L. Whitehead, & Joshua T. Davis, God’s Country in Black and Blue: How Christian Nationalism Shapes Americans’ Views about Police (Mis)treatment of Blacks).
A large number of Republicans (52%) also feel compelled to admit that blacks face major discrimination, even as they hold to self-serving identity politics in believing that white people (57%) and Christians (62%) are the most oppressed people in the world. It’s worse with those Republicans (27-36%) who, in trusting Fox News, don’t think any minorities at all have anything to complain about, in contrast to whites (58%) and Christians (73%) who are experiencing genocide. On a positive note, there is no religious group that believes whites are more discriminated against than blacks in broad terms, but those in the snowflake demographic of white evangelical Protestants (66%) do self-identify as the most victimized Americans. The Ferengi once again stand out as unique and atypical; and, in this case, even being distinct from other religious whites.
Continuing open support of bigotry and prejudice, for certain, can’t be blamed on whites in general: Not All Whites! Strong and overt white identity politics is largely limited to Republicans, Fox News viewers, and certain Christians, especially white evangelicals. But even combined, these people do not form anywhere close to a majority among whites. Most white Americans disagree with this strong racialized worldview. They may not see the prejudice as applying as much to Asians (47%), but most of them do very much think it is undeniable among Hispanics (61%) and blacks (67%), whereas it’s not so much for Christians (38%) and whites (39%). So, on this issue, maybe about one third of all white Americans are either part of the Ferengi or in alignment with the Ferengi. It’s a significant minority, but still relatively small for how loud their voice is amplified by the power structure of media and politics.
Victimhood politics holds little merit with the typical white. The same goes across the education spectrum, as both those with and without a college degree agree with other whites, if to varying degrees. As for the majority of minorities, they are maintaining solidarity in agreeing they all experience more prejudice as compared to whites and Christians. The last part stands out considering non-whites have higher religiosity rates than whites, and yet the prejudice they experience is not identified with their religion. That makes sense. No police officer ever killed a black guy because he was Christian and no ICE agent ever deported a Hispanic because they attended church too often.
By the way, the tipping point for public acknowledgment of systemic racism was clearly seen years ago, as shown in previous PRRI polling. “The most striking thing about the numbers is their uniformity. Between August 2013 and August 2014, Americans of all stripes — Democrats and Republicans, young people and old, Hispanics and whites — showed an increase in the belief that minorities are unfairly targeted. And while a majority of seniors and Republicans [i.e., old conservatives ~BDS] still think the two groups (whites and minorities) are treated equally, each category showed a significant uptick in the number who see racial bias as a systemic feature of the U.S. justice system” (Sophie Kleeman, How Ferguson Changed America for Good, in One Striking Chart). In general, the leftward trend appears to have been going on for centuries, if we only have polling data to show the specific demographic details across recent decades and generations.
In this US, this kind of thing is mostly a non-issue at this point. Besides the standard ultra-right demographics, the average white individual doesn’t feel threatened by racial/ethnic minorities and diversity. It’s a minority of white Americans (40%), if a sizable minority, including white Americans without a four-year college degree (46%), that thinks that increasing diversity always comes at a cost to whites. As with a third of Americans overall (34%), only 35% of Independents and 17% of Democrats agree with this assessment of racial politics as a zero-sum game. If the Ferengi view of American society ever was the moral majority, which is highly questionable, it certainly no longer is and hasn’t been so for a long time.
It should be noted that as early as the 1980s, during the Golden Age of the Reagan Republicans, it was known that the reactionary right-wing of fundies was not a majority, moral or otherwise. In fact, the very concept of a “moral majority” was openly advocated and promoted as a defense against majoritarian rule and against democracy in general. Bill Moyers, in an interview with David Daley (Republicans Admit They Lose When Elections Are Fair and Free), said that,
I agreed with the Republican strategist, Ben Ginsberg, who said that David Daley has exposed, “The strategy of shadowy, but thus far, legal hacking, splicing, and dicing of congressional districts to secure Republican domination, and in turn, subvert the will of the American voter.”
That’s a Republican saying that. Admitting that gerrymandering was crucial to the Republican party’s strategy of undermining democracy. Some people were shocked, David. But I wasn’t. And I wanna take a step back here, I mean, back to 1980.
I was reporting for a documentary on the founding of the Moral Majority. Thousands of religious conservatives gathered in Dallas, Texas, to launch what is now the most influential base of the Republican party. Ronald Reagan running for the Republican nomination, spoke to them.
And one of the most influential Republicans of the past 60 years was there. Paul Weyrich was his name — right-wing Catholic, brilliant strategist, outspoken partisan [who] founded the Heritage Foundation, founded the Moral Majority, on and on and on. He really was an architect of the Republican domination today. Here’s a brief excerpt of what he said. It brought cheers from those religious conservatives.
Paul Weyrich: “Now many of our Christians have what I call the goo-goo syndrome — good government. They want everybody to vote. I don’t want everybody to vote. Elections are not won by a majority of people, they never have been from the beginning of our country and they are not now. As a matter of fact, our leverage in the elections quite candidly goes up as the voting populace goes down.”
This wasn’t anything new, not even in the 1980s. Ronald Reagan helped make conservatism respectable again, but he didn’t do it by winning majority support for hard right issues. His victory was rhetorical but highly effective, following the defanging of the once powerful political left by union busting, McCarthyism, Hollywood blacklisting, and FBI’s COINTELPRO; not to mention the propaganda and perception management campaign of the right-wing Shadow Network. The conservative rule he established was an elitism in defiance of the American people. Republicans were able to take advantage of racist dog whistle politics and covert class war to divide the voting public, even though the American majority was in many ways even more economically progressive than it is now. Support for extremely high taxes was so strong that it was barely part of public debate prior to that shift.
Republican presidents, from Dwight Eisenhower to Richard Nixon, didn’t dare to speak a negative word about liberalism. It was a consensus among the majority in both parties that liberalism was how governments should be run, as Ike once argued. Reagan switched this around by incorporating a progressive attitude and co-opting liberal rhetoric for the purpose of conservative ends. He couldn’t have won the election by having been honest with the American people, as they fundamentally didn’t want what he was selling. So, it had to be deceptively packaged with empty and vague rhetoric of ‘values’.
The strategy was devious (Starve the Beast, Two Santa Claus theory, Wirthlin Effect, etc), in weaponizing symbolic ideology that was divorced from operational ideology (Poll Answers, Stated Beliefs, Ideological Labels) — that is to say rhetoric usurped reality and so narrative framing, not public policy, became the driving force of American politics. It no longer mattered what most Americans wanted, and that became even more true with the rise of dark money and oligopolistic corporate media. The winning narrative became a potent, if toxic, identity politics — specifically white grievance and victimhood made virulent through an old racist, elitist, and supremacist narrative of ethno-nationalism and xenophobia, politicized class anxiety and racialized class war.
This rhetoric of reactionary backlash and right-wing populism, combined with anti-democratic tactics (voter role purges, precinct closures, gerrymandering, ex-con disenfranchhisement, etc), simultaneously inspired and empowered a specific minority, the Ferengi, while demoralizing and disenfranchising not only all other minorities (Blacks, Latinxs, Native Americans, Asian Americans, Muslims, Buddhists, Catholics, social justice Christians, progressive Evangelicals, mainstream Protestants, democratic socialists, Marxists, anarchosyndicalists, etc) but also and, more importantly, the majority of potential voters. When the political right talks about protecting the minority against the mobocracy of majority oppression, they’re only referring to one specific minority, the Ferengi demographic overlap of viewers who trust Fox News, white Evangelicals, and partisan Republican voters — basically, a specific segment of mostly older whites raised on white privilege and rabid Cold War propaganda that they internalized as the core of their identity; although also including some former white liberals and progressives that were indoctrinated later in life by the right-wing media machine (Jen Senko, The Brainwashing Of My Dad; documentary and book).
How bad is inequality?
Where the real debate is happening is whether racial inequality is tightly linked to economic inequality. Is a historical legacy of institutionalized and systemic racism, specifically the transgenerational effects of slavery and discrimination, from sundown towns to redlining, still contributing to a lack of economic opportunities for blacks? Is it holding many of them back from being able to work their way out of the racial caste of a permanent underclass? Americans in the past slightly leaned to answering ‘no’, but are now almost evenly split. With the shift continuing, the full acknowledgement of ongoing racial prejudice and oppression will be the majority position in the near future.
As with other issues, Republicans, Fox News viewers, and white Christians (i.e., the Ferengi) believe blacks are whiny and lazy losers who need to get over it, a culturally and/or genetically inferior sub-group that should passively submit to their deserved subjugation. These are the same people who think blacks shouldn’t be allowed to protest and so many of these concern trolls have started counter-protests to complain about blacks acting like they are equal to others when they demand to be treated as such. Independents did side more with Republicans in the past (62%, 2015), but have since (46%) moved toward Democrats (20%) with Democrats having likewise moved further left since five years ago (39%).
The same movement toward the ‘left’ has been happening with whites overall in following the example of Independents. So, most whites are forming a consensus with non-whites, which leaves the Ferengi ever more stranded in isolated extremism. Like the pressure building along a fault line, the realignment of public opinion will fully set into a new position with seismic tremors followed by a political earthquake. Even though building up slowly over generations and centuries, the final result will feel sudden and dramatic. The response by the Faceless Men will be ever more reactionary, likely involving increased violence. We will probably go through a period of right-wing hate crimes, terrorism, vigilantism, mob actions, insurrection, coups, etc before it settles back down into a new perceived social norm and established social order.
Where is the American public heading?
Most Americans are going left on most issues like this while a small minority on the right is often going further right, the latter particularly involving the symbolic ideology of reactionary identity politics. A polarization is happening but it’s between a growing majority on the left that is just now finding its voice and a shrinking minority on the right that is ever more isolated and radicalized, much of it having to do with who is and who is not caught in the right-wing news media bubble, social media echo chamber, and the political outrage machine. About continuing racial biases and disparities, it’s also polarization within religion such that non-white Christians, non-Christians, and the religiously unaffiliated (both non-white and white) are in opposition to a large sector of white Christians, particularly white evangelicals.
Now for a really divisive set of issues look at affirmative action and reparations. Slim but growing majorities support efforts to remedy racial bias and historical legacies in education and employment. It splits up, as expected in the mainstream narrative, with partisans on the two extreme ends and Independents closer to the middle. Also, blacks and Hispanics strongly favor such policies and practices, whereas whites are still slightly holding back their support but making strides in that direction. Quite likely, in the next decade if trends continue, the demand to help those disadvantaged and disenfranchised by transgenerational oppression will finally become a majority position for whites and a strong majority for the entire American public. That is to say a Scandinavian-style social democracy could become more probable or at least increased egalitarianism in general, although far from a predetermined outcome.
That brings us to another oft racialized issue, that of immigration. Most people think of it as a polarized topic in how it is used as a political football by politicians and gets used in dog whistle politics, but the reality is there is almost unanimous agreement across all of society. Even among Republicans, a large majority views immigrants as hardworking (79%) and as having strong family values (76%), along with a significant number acknowledging that immigrants make an effort to learn English (38%). The positive attitude toward immigrants is stronger among other demographics. Only a tiny minority disagrees about most immigrants being good people who contribute to their adoptive communities and potentially are a net gain for American society.
Generally speaking, Americans don’t see immigrants as a problem. They aren’t perceived as a cause of crime or disease in communities. Although divided in other areas involving immigration issues, there still isn’t an overwhelming majority who are drawn to scapegoat this population. Still, it is true that there is vociferous debate about whether or not immigrants burden local social services and compete for jobs, about which Americans are divided down the middle. As before, it’s only Republicans with a clearly negative view of immigrants. Among Democrats and Independents, it’s some combination of positive and neutral, depending on what is being asked about.
Other than the Ferengi demographic of Republicans (57%), specifically those who trust Fox News (67%), few Americans (31%), Independents (28%) or Democrats (15%), and few whites (36%), Hispanics (24%) or blacks (24%) would agree that “immigrants are invading our country and replacing our cultural and ethnic background.” Only 51% of largely non-Ferengi Republicans who don’t trust Fox News go along with those who do trust it, and that is considering so many Republicans who distrust Fox News probably have left the party at this point. It’s as much a media divide as anything else, between Fox News viewers and everyone else. But the divide probably would also be seen between white evangelicals and all others.
To be fair, there are also surprising divides emerging within demographics such as a significant minority of Hispanics having voted for Donald Trump (Natalie Jackson, Religion Divides Hispanic Opinion in the U.S., PRRI report). These intra-demographic divergent voters might have been larger in the second election. And, if so, this might have been partly motivated by his tough-on-immigration stance. To put it in historical context, even though the legal framing of immigration is a more recent invention by the political right, it must be admitted that public opinion on the topic goes in generational cycles following the pattern of increasing and decreasing immigration. With that in mind, one could note that immigration numbers these past couple of decades have been at a historical low point, which is probably why right-wing hysteria of moral panic hasn’t gained purchase in the public mind, beyond a few select demographics.
It goes on and on. Most Americans, including majorities of Americans in every major demographic mentioned but excluding Republicans and Fox News viewers (and possibly excluding white evangelicals), oppose building a border wall between the United States and Mexico (57%), oppose passing a law to prevent refugees from entering the country (62%), support immigrants brought illegally to the U.S. as children (i.e., Dreamers) to gain legal resident status (66%), and support a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants (64%). It’s mostly a non-issue, despite all the noise among a desperate elite attempting to ramp up the lingering support of the shrinking Ferengi fringe.
On the last issue of a pathway to citizenship, Republicans distrusting Fox News support it and all religious groups also support it, and among opponents of citizenship there are those who would still support permanent residency status (16%). Most Americans, even including most Republicans, along with every religious group, oppose an immigration border policy that separates children from their parents and charges parents as criminals (76%). This is an issue that is a bit more divided for the Ferengi with many Republicans and white evangelicals siding with the majority, with the only exception being the Fox News faithful. The dividing line is not conservatives vs liberals, not right vs left, but those trusting Fox News vs all others. Fox News, possibly being replaced by Newsmax, has been the dark beating heart of the most extreme element within the reactionary Ferengi.
What is wrong and what is irrelevant?
Let’s wrap this up. Most Americans across most demographics agree that something is amiss in American society and governance, some kind of failure or corruption or decline, but this has not made them entirely cynical and hopeless. The majority does want the government to do more, as a Fox News poll shows, in such a way that would actually benefit the public good and help everyday Americans. This faith in a government that could and should do right by the American people remains steady, despite the fact that polls show the majority no longer trusts big government, along with no longer trusting big biz and big media.
The thing is they want a government in which to place their trust with politicians who will honestly and fairly represent them. American idealism may be on life support, but it’s still hanging on with tenacity. This faith in good governance toward the public good includes guaranteeing all Americans access to affordable childcare (83%), guaranteeing all Americans a minimum income (70%), making college tuition-free at public institutions (63%), and a “Medicare for All” plan that would replace private health insurance with government-backed health insurance coverage for all Americans (62%). This is what Americans want and have wanted for a quite a while, much of this public support having developed during earlier administrations.
It’s far from limited to a supposed radical left-wing fringe. Along with Democrats and Independents, Republicans support guaranteeing all Americans access to affordable childcare (95%, 85%, and 71%, respectively) and guaranteeing all Americans a minimum income (88%, 69%, and 52%, respectively). But Republicans are mixed in what they support and what they oppose, and there is that ever present contrarian thorn in the side of the American public, that of Ferengi subset of Republicans under the sway of Fox News propaganda who always take the opposing position. It’s not that the Ferengi are more opposed to government but, rather, opposed to democratic governance that serves all Americans. Along with being reactionaries, they are hardcore right-wing authoritarians.
Most Americans, other than Ferengis, have a common vision of the kind of society they want to live in and what they consider important. There is a strong sense that climate change poses a threat that people fear will cause personal harm to themselves, their families, and communities (58%). Other polls show that most Americans want government to do more with stronger environmental regulations and protections. This isn’t abstract culture war bullshit but concrete threats in the real world and Americans fully appreciate what this could mean as it gets worse. Democrats and Independents of all races are in agreement. Many Republicans, outside of the Ferengi fringe, likewise agree. The same presumably would be true among self-identified conservatives, as seen in other data.
For many other issues, Americans show fairly strong and broad support. This is seen with once supposedly divisive culture war issue like abortion (60%), which is seen as perfectly fine even among majorities of the religious, the fundies aside. Most Americans think it should be legal in all or most cases. Many polls show this, including from Fox News — an ironic piece of data considering Fox News so heavily pushes this issue onto their viewers. Interestingly, previous PRRI data shows that immigration plays a role in shifting public opinion to the right, which is ironic in how native-born conservatives oppose the very immigrant groups that could bolster their numbers as a conservative movement. They might want to rethink that opposition considering that, though still a majority among Republicans, white Christians are in the minority for the first time in US history (Rachel Zoll, White Christians are now a minority of US population). Many Hispanics are also embracing the white identity, which could help maintain the ideological perception of white Christianity, although as Hispanics assimilate they become more liberal — so, a double-edged sword; maybe the Ferengi can’t win for losing. Here are the specifics from a 2018 PRRI poll:
“The largest divide is by place of birth. A majority (57%) of Hispanics born in the U.S. believe abortion should be legal in most or all cases, compared to 36% who say it should be illegal in most or all cases. Among Hispanics born in Puerto Rico, 41% support abortion legality, compared to 53% who say it should be illegal in most or all cases. By contrast, only 33% of Hispanics born outside of the U.S. say abortion should be legal in most or all cases, while nearly six in ten (59%) say it should be illegal in most or all cases. Place of birth also stratifies age groups. More than six in ten (63%) young Hispanics ages 18-29 born in the United States support abortion, compared to just 38% of young Hispanics born outside of the United States. Among seniors ages 65 and over, 44% of U.S.-born Hispanics favor abortion legality, compared to just under one in three (31%) foreign-born Hispanic seniors” (The State of Abortion and Contraception Attitudes in All 50 States).
The same goes for LGBTQ rights, as seen in the PRRI data. The majority, including among the religious, is on board with allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry legally (70%) and in enacting laws that would protect gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people against discrimination in jobs, public accommodations, and housing (83%). In fact, the American majority were in favor of same sex marriage years before even DNC leaders (Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, etc) came out publicly in support, demonstrating it isn’t a liberal and intellectual elite leading the way or manipulating the masses with cultural Marxism or whatever other conspiracy fear-mongering that Machiavellian demagogues and social dominators obsess about in their rhetorical bullshit.
Anyway, here is the demographic breakdown within the broad 70% support on the first of those issues: “Politically, the majority of Democrats (80%) and 50% of Republicans support same-sex marriage. Majorities of every major religious group support marriage equality, PRRI says. That includes support from 79% of white mainline Protestants, 78% of Hispanic Catholics, 72% of members of non-Christian religious groups, 68% of Hispanic Protestants, 67% of white Catholics, 57% of Black Protestants, and 56% of members of other Christian religious groups. The strongest opposition of same-sex marriage within religious communities comes from white evangelical Protestants, the study finds, with 63% opposing allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry” (Russell Falcon, American support for same-sex marriage is higher than ever, study finds). Once again, it’s within the Ferengi that minority opposition is found, and in this case even there it’s rather weak. The polarized divide is not within the general public nor between partisans but cleaving Republicans neatly in half. Give it a few years and the majority of Republicans will also be on board. It’s probably only Fox News and other heavily-funded right-wing media that is maintaining a countervailing force of resistance, without which the social liberal majority might already be absolute across all demographics.
Here is an important point. These issues are largely moot in the American mind, whatever may have been the case last century. Few think there is anything meaningful left to be debated. Basic tolerance and equality, rights and protections are central to democracy and most Americans want democracy, specifically with a lean toward more direct democracy and social democracy. Hence, culture war issues are now non-issues. Yet somehow these ideological corpses are resurrected from the dead by a corporate media and political elite that trot them out on a regular basis, presumably as a distraction from the issues Americans actually do worry about. As far as the average American is concerned, such issues don’t determine their vote nor much affect their life. So, to respond to the naysayers and malcontented, just shut the fuck up about it. Do what the American people want or get out of the way, quit being authoritarian assholes, and let’s move onto what really matters. The age of tolerating intolerance is over, let us hope.
And what might we conclude?
Here is the main takeaway point, as shown with this and so many other polls/surveys. We Americans are not a divided people. We are not fundamentally polarized within the larger population or rather the only polarization involves the leftist majority of the democratic demos on one side and the reactionary fringe manipulated by the authoritarian elite on the other. Most Americans agree about most things, but this is a silenced and suppressed moral majority. The American people want some combination of representative democracy and self-governance, probably for the very reason we undeniably know it is lacking and experience it’s lack in our everyday lives. Most of what politicians do is severely out of alignment with what most Americans support and value, and political elites seem conveniently oblivious to this self-serving corruption or else cynically antagonistic to it. The media elite are equally clueless or devious, as the case may be (Eric Alterman, America is much less conservative than mainstream media believe). Sadly, this has has led to much mind-fuckery where Americans become disconnected from their own values, a gaslighting of the American soul — as Eric Alterman has written about:
“A significant part of the problem appears to lie with the inaccurate use of labels. Without a doubt, self-professed conservatives consistently outnumber liberals in polls when Americans are questioned about their respective ideological orientations. Politicians, pundits, and reporters tend to believe that this extends to their views on the issues. It doesn’t. In fact it represents little more than the extensive investments conservatives have made in demonizing the liberal label and associating it with one unflattering characteristic after another. I delved deeply into this phenomenon while researching my 2008 book titled Why We’re Liberals. In the book, I noted that as a result of a four-decade-long campaign of conservative calumny, together with some significant errors on liberals’ own part, the word “liberal,” as political scientist Drew Westen observed, implied to most Americans terms such as “elite, tax and spend, out of touch,” and “Massachusetts.” No wonder barely one in five Americans wished to associate himself or herself with the label, then as now. Yet at the very same time, detailed polling by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press demonstrated a decided trend toward increasingly “liberal” positions by almost any definition.”
We Americans are far left of the elite. They do not speak for us. They do not represent us. They do not act on our behalf. This has been proven beyond any doubt. See: Larry M. Bartels, Unequal Democracy; Martin Gilens, Affluence and Influence; Martin Gilens & Benjamin I. Page, Democracy in America?; Lawrence R. Jacobs & Benjamin I. Page, Who Influences U.S. Foreign Policy?; Jarron Bowman, Do the Affluent Override Average Americans?; Matt Grossmann & Zuhaib Mahmood, How the Rich Rule in American Foreign Policy; Shawn McGuire & Charles Delahunt, Predicting United States Policy Outcomes with Random Forests; Patrick Flavin, State Campaign Finance Laws and the Equality of Political Representation; etc. Yet the political theater of partisanship is trotted out each election for yet more left-wing punching and lesser-evil voting.
How did it get this way? Consider the most important point. There is a single demographic, as repeatedly shown above, that is consistently far right on every issue and consistently in disagreement with the rest of the population. That demographic is partisan Republicans and Trumpian Republicans who are trusting of and indoctrinated by Fox News propaganda as aligned with an unprincipled religious right of white evangelicals that use politicized religion and symbolic religiosity (Trumpism After Trump? How Fox News Structures Republican Attitudes, PRRI report), as expressed through pseudo-populist demagoguery, social conservatism, right-wing authoritarianism, and the Dark Tetrad (sociopathy, narcissism, sadism, & Machiavellianism); not to mention gun culture, militias, hate groups, hate crimes, and terrorism (e.g., decades of anti-choice violence). This isn’t a normal voting bloc but a militant movement seeking totalitarian power or rather manipulated by such ruthless and anti-democratic power-mongers, as seen with an aspiring strongmen like Donald Trump (and his Machiavellian sidekick Steven Bannon) who led an insurrectionist attack on the seat of government while president.
These Ferengi are opposite of Democrats, for sure, along with living on a different planet than most Americans. And they aren’t even like other Republicans, specifically not the disappearing moderate conservatives and civil libertarians, anti-fundamentalist Goldwater Republicans and anti-Bircher William F. Buckley Jr. Republicans, liberal-minded Eisenhower Republicans and laissez-faire Log Cabin Republicans; et cetera. But, maybe more importantly, they don’t slightly resemble the audiences of other corporate media; such as how those on the political left, as the data shows, tend to seek out a wider variety and more balanced selection of media sources (including right-wing media like Fox News and the Wall Street Journal). The rise of Fox News and right-wing talk radio, along with the alt-right media funded by dark money, as a nationwide echo chamber and ideological reality tunnel, was an entirely new phenomenon in history. In implementing the propaganda model of news media, it is an outrage machine that is highly effective in manufacturing consent by altering opinion, perception, and identity.
Fox News has increasingly become the propaganda wing of the Republican Party, particularly since Donald Trump’s takeover but going back several decades. “According to the poll, 55% of Republicans who say Fox News is their primary source of news say there is nothing Trump could do to lose their approval. This contrasts with only 29% Republicans who do not cite Fox News as their primary source of news who say the same.” (Rosie Perper, Fox News is part of the reason many Republicans don’t support impeaching Trump, a new poll reveals). Heck, even lacking college education doesn’t make one as dogmatically partisan as being brainwashed by right-wing media, in how mindless groupthink of the lesser educated still remains below majority level: “45% of Republicans who do not have a college degree say there is virtually nothing Trump could do to lose their support, compared to 35% of college-educated Republicans who say the same” (Fractured Nation: Widening Partisan Polarization and Key Issues in 2020 Presidential Elections). Watching Fox News is apparently the ideological equivalent to being reborn in the blood of Christ: “Virtually all Republican white evangelical Protestants (99%) and Republicans who say Fox News is their primary source of news (98%) oppose Trump being impeached and removed from office.” White evangelicalism, as the most extremist strain of white Christianity, does seem to be key.
“While the PRRI poll found that 77% of white evangelical Protestants approve of the job Mr. Trump is doing in office, only 54% of white mainline Protestants and 48% of white Catholics approve of his job performance. There are also divides along racial lines: 72% of Hispanic Catholics and 86% of black Protestants disapprove of Mr. Trump’s job performance. There is also widespread disagreement over whether Mr. Trump has encouraged white supremacist violence while in office. Seventy percent of white evangelical Protestants, 51% of white mainline Protestants, and 46% of white Catholics say that Mr. Trump has not had an impact on white supremacist groups, according to the PRRI poll. However, 78% of black Protestants say that Mr. Trump’s decisions and behavior have encouraged white supremacist groups” (Grace Segers, 99% of Republican white evangelical Protestants oppose impeaching and removing Trump, new poll finds). Racism, unsurprisingly, remains a schism in American Christianity and, as has always been true in American history, it largely falls along racial lines. Yet this schism is shrinking in the population overall, as even non-evangelical whites slowly but steadily turn away from America’s racist past.
This points to a central problem for the GOP and their Ferengi base. ““While White evangelical Protestants have declined as a proportion of the population over the last decade, from 21 percent in 2008 to 15 percent in 2019, they have maintained an outsize presence at the ballot box, somewhere between one-fifth and one-quarter of voters,” [Robert P. Jones, head of PRRI] said. He described this as a “time machine,” whereby the White evangelical Christians’ outsize vote “has the effect of turning back the demographic clock by nearly a decade. In other words, we’re living in the demographic realities of 2020, but our elections are being conducted, demographically speaking, in 2012 America.” […] White evangelical Protestants are the backbone of the GOP, but their geographic concentration and population decline mean Republicans are living on borrowed time” (Jennifer Rubin, Opinion: What the election tells us about religion in America). About Trump’s “underlying political bet he is imposing on the GOP,” it has been noted that, “Comparing the election results in 2018 with those in 2016, [political scientist Brian Schaffner’s] research found that House Republican candidates lost more ground among voters who agree that racism and sexism remain problems than they gained among those who do not” (Ronald Brownstein, The partisan chasm over ‘systemic racism’ is on full display).
That isn’t promising as a winning strategy heading into the demographically uncertain future. As the old pillars of conservatism can no longer be depended upon because of societal shifts, the right-wing elite will be forced to ever more turn to right-wing media machines to manufacture consent and rile support or otherwise demoralize the majority, disenfranchise voters, and undermine democracy. Public opinion and public policy might now be drastically further to the left, if not for the authoritarian influence of weaponized media and concentrated wealth, not to mention the destabilizing and anxiety-inducing high inequality. Yet no matter how large is the audience, Republican viewers of Fox News are a small percentage of the total population, as Fox News has proven with their own polling in showing how far left is the American majority. So, why does this miniscule minority have such an outsized influence in being treated as equal to the vast majority on the opposite side of public opinion? Why do the supposed ‘liberal’ Democrats and the supposed ‘liberal’ media figures accept this framing of false equivalency that silences not only most Americans in general but also most Democrats, Independents, and those portrayed on the political ‘left’? Why does all of the corporate media play along with this false narrative that is implemented as social control in disenfranchising the majority, even most moderate conservatives and principled libertarians?
However we answer that line of questioning, just for a moment imagine what the United States would be like without reactionary media, without endless outrage and fear-mongering. Imagine if Fox News politics wasn’t the dominant model of propaganda for an oligarchic rule. Imagine if all of the corporate media was broken up to the extent that most media was once again locally owned and operated or at least much smaller scale and diverse. Imagine if all big money was removed from politics, all legal bribery was made illegal, all corporate lobbyists were frozen out of public decision-making. Imagine if public opinion mattered, if the moral majority wasn’t silenced and suppressed, if government actually represented the American People. Otherwise, what is the point of all this public polling? If and when we the American public realize we are the majority and far to the left of the elite, then what? Maybe we are the ones we’ve been waiting for. The revolution has already happened in the public mind. Now all that remains is to follow through to where it leads.
* * *
More on PRRI polling:
- Weekly Roundup: Hunter Biden Explained, Pope and Civil Unions, and the American Values Survey
by Bradley Onishi and Daniel Miller
- America the exceptional: Why a majority of Americans no longer believe this is true
by Jennifer Graham
- New Survey Shows The ‘Only Topic That Most Americans Agree On’
by Gina Ciliberto
- Republicans Long for the 1950s, Democrats Crave Change
by Susan Milligan
- The White Elephants In The Room
hosted by Gene Demby
- Poll: White evangelicals are religious outliers on every issue of concern to voters
by Yonat Shimron
- For many white evangelicals, the Supreme Court makeup solidifies their support for President Trump
by JP Keenan and Ivan Pereira
- Trump’s election support from evangelicals shows we’re the biggest obstacle to racial justice
by Robert P. Jones
- Trump’s racist appeals powered a White evangelical tsunami
by Dana Milibank
- Questions raised about White evangelicals, Trump & racism
by Doug Thompson
- What white Christian support for Trump reveals about systemic racism
by Robert P. Jones
- We Need to Talk About White “Evangelicals”
by Crystal Holmes
- Why so many Hispanics voted for Trump and other misunderstandings of America’s diversity
by Mark Wingfield
- I’m a Transgender American. My Rights Are Not a Wedge Issue | Opinion
by Nicholas Talbott
- Good News: Most Non-Evangelical Americans Support a Broad Slate of LGBTQ Rights
by Val Wilde
- Gay marriage support rises to new high in poll — with half of Republicans now in favor
by Summer Lin
- Support for gay marriage reaches all-time high, survey finds
by Dan Averie
- 70% of Americans support same-sex marriage — a new high — a new survey finds
by Scottie Andrew
- Highest ever level of support for same-sex marriage recorded in new national poll
by Cameron Jenkins
- Most Americans want protections for LGBTQ people. Biden could finally make that happen
by Marco della Cava
- What to do about America’s great racial divide
by Jennifer Rubin
- How Racist Are Republicans? Very.
by Harold Meyerson