I wrote the other day how the world before around 2005 suddenly seems distant to me now. My friend Brian mentioned changes in the legal status of gay men and women since then, and that got me thinking some more. Back in 2004, Bush pushed for a constitutional amendment outlawing gay marriage, and his campaign very effectively flogged that issue to get religious conservatives to the polls. These days marriage equality is proceeding at a brisk pace, and Republicans have begun soft-pedaling their opposition, lest they lose the broader electorate. Other once fringe causes, such as marijuana legalization, have scored major victories.
In general, the so-called "values voters" that so many credited for putting Bush over the top in '04 and who have played a crucial role in national elections going back to the Moral Majority's support of Reagan in 1980, now look pretty toothless. Much of this I feel has to do with the rapidly growing number of Americans who no longer express any religious affiliation. Pandering blatantly to the Christianists alienates the growing non-religious so much that doing so is no longer politically advantageous. The pandering has been done recently on abortion and contraception, and is being deployed in the Bible Belt, not in terms of national policy.
Not only is America becoming a more secular country, it is also (not coincidentally) becoming a more urban nation as well. Urban living has recaptured much of its allure for the youth, and the in the wake of the housing crisis, the new exurban subdivisions are choked with weeds. When the Atlanta Braves announced this week that they were moving their team to a new stadium in whiteflightville, er I mean "Cobb County," much of the surprise had to do with a baseball team relocating to a suburban location when city centers have been the preferred home of new stadiums in recent years.
The increasingly secularization, urbanization and changing racial demographics in America are fueling the Tea Party and other revanchist movements. The country is changing, and these participants in white identity politics want to "take our country back." That brand of populist nationalism is the new, volatile force in American politics, and one that threatens division, conflict, and just generally crazy behavior. I have the feeling that our politics is going to be defined for quite some time by the fact that a large percentage of Americans who have the financial backing of corporate interests will stop at nothing to have their reactionary vision put in place. Hold on, it's already been a bumpy ride.