In the current issue of The Atlantic, Peter Beinart has an essay arguing that the decline in religiosity among American voters is what allowed for the election of Donald Trump and contributes to the bitter state of American politics:
Some observers predicted that this new secularism would ease cultural conflict, as the country settled into a near-consensus on issues such as gay marriage. After Barack Obama took office, a Center for American Progress report declared that “demographic change,” led by secular, tolerant young people, was “undermining the culture wars.” In 2015, the conservative writer David Brooks, noting Americans’ growing detachment from religious institutions, urged social conservatives to “put aside a culture war that has alienated large parts of three generations.”
That was naive. Secularism is indeed correlated with greater tolerance of gay marriage and pot legalization. But it’s also making America’s partisan clashes more brutal. And it has contributed to the rise of both Donald Trump and the so-called alt-right movement, whose members see themselves as proponents of white nationalism. As Americans have left organized religion, they haven’t stopped viewing politics as a struggle between “us” and “them.” Many have come to define us and them in even more primal and irreconcilable ways.
Beinart doesn’t shy away from the controversial arguments involved—including the suggestion that the Black Lives Matter movement isn’t persuasive, because unlike previous civil rights movements, it rejects the moral authority of the church. “Black Lives Matter activists may be justified in spurning an insufficiently militant Church,” writes Beinart. “But when you combine their post-Christian perspective with the post-Christian perspective growing inside the GOP, it’s easy to imagine American politics becoming more and more vicious.” (The Atlantic’s own Ta-Nehisi Coates, arguably the preeminent civil rights writer of the age, once wrote an essay where he admitted he had no idea who St. Augustine was, despite being a key allusion in Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letter From a Birmingham Jail”—also published in The Atlantic.)
It should also be noted that New York Times columnist Ross Douthat has been making this same argument for a while. However, Douthat is a conservative Catholic, whereas a liberal like Beinart making this argument is somewhat surprising. And Beinart’s piece is an honest assessment of the problem and well worth reading.
This post originally appeared on Weekly Standard