Those outraged by legislation promulgated by the majority Republican legislative bodies during this unprecedented Arkansas Legislative Session should know it’s not personal. Many legislators believe their actions are in your best interests and what’s best for the country.
Folks miss the mark if alleging the majority Republican legislative bodies are solely fueled by malevolent intentions. This is my belief because Christian conservative Republicans are my people. They are my family, my friends. I grew up in this world, have heard the sermons, memorized the scriptures, sang the songs and attended the fire-and-brimstone revivals. I was the star camper for two years in a row at a large popular Arkansas Baptist summer camp. Have been there and literally had the t-shirt. (What follows is not to condone, but to analyze the source of their actions.)
Your argument that their philosophy of what made America great relies upon curated lies and a “fable agreed upon” history carries no weight. Ditto for any effort to persuade them of an historically oppressive religious structure that preserves a socio-economic existence which never existed for many Americans. Indeed, to suggest or accept fault in a national destiny determined by their God is not only untenable, but a complex heresy involving the rejection of a deity’s preferred choice of genetics, government, and ends-justify-the-means world status.
And with a changing demographic that includes a growing number who don’t attend church, who don’t share their nationalism, and who rely on science rather than scripture, Arkansas’ Christian conservatives felt cornered, threatened and are responding with what they truly believe is a biblically justified path to save the country. The rejection of anything that smells like liberal ideology became more aggressive in January when Democrats took control of the White House and both chambers of Congress.
“Since the election, large swaths of the Trumpian right have decided America is facing a crisis like never before and they are the small army of warriors fighting with Alamo-level desperation to ensure the survival of the country as they conceive it,” conservative New York Times columnist David Brooks recently noted.
This also explains why Arkansas’ politics have become largely nationalized, and lettering is being prepared to place “Sarah Huckabee Sanders” on the door to the Arkansas Governor’s office.
Progressives, liberals and moderates may attempt to shame GOP legislators and their ardent supporters, but the legislators do not respond to accusations of being hateful, lacking compassion or empathy, or rejecting science. They certainly have no house for your church-state separation arguments. Again, they sincerely believe they are doing the Lord’s work and tough love is required to push back against a society that has or is turning away from God. They reject any history of America that suggests systemic maltreatment of minorities because such history, if pursued at any depth, raises the specter of religious-sanctioned oppression of people of color, the indigenous, women, the poor, children, unions, and less-fervent religions.
They also are nonplussed by any arguments that their laws or policies will prevent people or businesses from moving to or remaining in the state. It’s not that they directly wish good riddance to anyone or any business, but when righteously convinced your beliefs, based on what God has mandated through the Bible, are best for society, you’re willing to accept that some losses will be had. The special pleadings of a Walmart CEO, state chamber president or university chancellor bear no weight on the Biblical scales of justice.
Some Republicans – maybe to include Gov. Asa Hutchinson – believe pragmatic conservative ideas will again lead the party, but a large number in the party have no interest in country club Republicanism. Protecting America’s Christian values requires vigilance and loyalty. Any effort at political pragmatism and compromise are slippery paths toward values-suppressing moderation. There is no tinkering with the formula they believe made America. Men are men. Women are women. We salute the flag and pledge allegiance and make it known in courthouses, school houses, sports venues, and on our currency that In God We Trust. We win wars and walk on the moon. We have the right stuff because Manifest Destiny. If you kneel you’d best be praying or proposing.
Arkansas’ Christian conservative legislators are not monolithic in their religious drive. To be sure, there are some who see the politics of evangelical faith as a path to power, an effort to boost fundraising and the means to garner more paid speaking gigs. There are some who get a kick out of antagonizing the liberal left. But the point attempted with this essay is the start of their journey and the atmosphere that gives them breath is their world of a righteous, immovable faith.
History shows that theocracies, whether in infancy, well developed or merged with a democracy, are countered by a judicial system broadly based on secular law, an active and vocal minority that does not wilt in the wake of frequent and overwhelming political losses, and an evolving demographic.
Depending on your political leanings, the good news or the bad news is Arkansas’ entrenched Christian conservative Republicanism will continue for a decade or two. The political leanings of Gen X’ers and Millenials, and the decline in the number of Americans who participate in religion ensure this political cycle will fade. It’s likely the fade will see a return to the slow-but-steady pragmatic progressivism that has largely defined the state since Reconstruction.
Until then, please know the “establishment” lobbying of yesterday may be ineffective against legislators motivated by the power of pulpits in their districts and policies pushed by Christian nationalist groups. Adjust your political strategies accordingly.