Founding Principles at Risk as Religious Right Continues Its Takeover of the Republican Party
by Bob Topper
The success achieved by our representative democracy is remarkable, but that achievement is in jeopardy. The Republican party, once the champion of our founding principles, liberty, equality, and democracy, has become a religious body incapable of rational debate and compromise. Conservative Republican leader Barry Goldwater, whom I voted for, first warned of this conversion in 1994 when he said:
“Mark my word, if and when these preachers get control of the [Republican] party, and they’re sure trying to do so, it’s going to be a terrible damn problem. Frankly, these people frighten me. Politics and governing demand compromise. But these Christians believe they are acting in the name of God, so they can’t and won’t compromise.”
Religion has always been at odds with the founding principles, for religions usually deny liberty, equality, and democracy. Religions are mostly autocratic, require strict adherence to doctrine and resist racial and gender equality. Even so, religions had abided American democracy, satisfied with a constitutional guarantee of religious freedom. For Christian fundamentalists that is no longer true. They seek to supplant American values with religious views.
Not all Republicans are Christian, though most are. But they act in unison with religious fervor.
Look at immigration.
People still risk everything to come here in the hopes of fulfilling the American Dream. Today that yearning has overwhelmed our southern border. It is a serious problem.
In 2013, “the gang of eight” US senators, four Republicans and four Democrats, introduced a Bill, titled the “Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act,” a comprehensive rework of immigration policy. The bill quickly passed the Senate but was blocked by the Republican-controlled House. Except for Trump’s border wall, they have blocked every effort since.
Most recently Mike Johnson, House Speaker and Christian fundamentalist, led a group of 60 fellow Republicans on a taxpayer-paid jaunt to the Mexican border to use it as a backdrop while blaming the Biden administration for failing to address a problem for which they are largely responsible. Sure, they want reform, but only on their terms, draconian measures that violate current immigration law and our long-standing traditions regarding asylum.
A popular opinion is that Republicans and Democrats are equally responsible our do-nothing Congress, but the reason there has been no real progress on this issue for past 10 years is Republican intransigence. As Goldwater said, “they can’t and won’t compromise.”
Personal freedoms are under attack.
Republicans have become unhappy with the personal freedoms guaranteed by our Constitution. The traditional GOP had emphasized limited government and personal responsibility. Today’s GOP wants government to intrude into our personal lives to impose religious views…banning abortion and books on Black history, lesbian and gay relationships and meddling in personal health care decisions of women and transgender people.
Texas provides the most appalling examples, forcing Kate Cox, a 31-year-old mother of two to leave her state to abort a fetus that had no chance of survival and endangered her life. Texas has also demanded the private medical records of transgender people from Washington State.
A bedrock principle of American liberty has been that subjective beliefs cannot be imposed on US citizens. But the Dobbs decision does exactly that, which makes it so egregious. Dobbs permitted state legislatures to force subjective religious beliefs on abortion on all citizens, which violates the religious rights of those who believe differently. The GOP, led by Trump and McConnell, stacked a religiously conservative Supreme Court enabling it, for the first time in history, to overturn a constitutional right.
The truth about greatness.
And we have reached a point that just 10 years ago was unthinkable. The grand old religious party is backing Donald Trump who says plainly that he wants to abandon democracy and our constitution. They willingly forsake their principles, believing that a Trump autocracy will bring America back to a time when it was “great,” which for them means “more religious.”
The “make America great” slogan conjures nostalgia and longing for a time that is long gone and frankly wasn’t that “great” for many citizens. Over the last 75 years, American society has become less religious as it moved away from the Christian views on morality. This has happened not because we lost our way, as argued by the Evangelical preachers; society simply no longer believes that many Biblical condemnations are rational, fair, or just. For the majority of Americans, divorce, abortion, homosexuality, gay marriage, and gender dysphoria are no longer seen wrong, just as part of humanity.
We know that society was mistaken to ostracize and persecute people for being different. One need not agree with the way others live their lives. America’s greatness stems from the right each of us has to live the life we choose, to be who we are so long as it does not interfere with the rights of others. The religious fundamentalists can try to convince others to follow their beliefs, but it is wrongheaded and un-American for them to interfere, to insist that everyone to live according to their dubious rules.
Liberty, Equality and Religious Belief
Each of us has the right to believe in Christianity, or Judaism, or Islam, or Buddhism, or Hinduism, or the polytheism of various traditions, or to not believe at all. This freedom requires that we respect one another’s beliefs, that is, accept the primacy of the Constitution. In America to say, “god first country second” is a paradox.
The Constitution cannot be superseded by a “God’s law.” Under Sharia law adulterers are stoned, but not in America, for that would violate fundamental rights guaranteed by the Constitution. To allow Trump and his misguided Christian Nationalist acolytes to renounce our freedom, to reject the separation of church and state is unthinkable, for it would reverse 250 years of human progress.
We believe that “All men are created equal.” The civil war was fought to settle the slavery question and in fundamental ways it did. But racial prejudice persists. Trump and the racial nationalists condone white supremacism and voting districts have been gerrymandered to negate the effect of Black votes. And the GOP continues to deny women equality by curtailing their rights.
Opinion polls, elections, and state referendums show that the majority of Americans reject GOP efforts to constrain our “unalienable rights.” It is time for the Republican party to accept the will of the majority. It is the American way.
But that requires compromise. As Goldwater said, that is something they “can’t and won’t” do. Voting them out is only sure way to restore reason, to stop Trump and this religious crusade from terminating our democracy. That could force a revival of the traditional Republican party that stood for American principles, or it may bring about the formation of a new political party.
Indeed, the success achieved by our representative democracy is remarkable. For that to continue, our political parties must believe in our founding principles and the primacy of our Constitution.
Bob Topper, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is a retired engineer.