I don’t know if this is a Florida quirk, or maybe it’s a thing in all states where Democrats don’t control the state government: our local daily newspapers sometimes scold the state and/or national Democratic Party and urge it to fix things to save us all from Republicans. I’ve written about it here before when the Tampa Bay Times did this, with some justification, as I wrote at the time.
This week, it’s the Miami Herald‘s editorial board, which is begging the party to figure out how to stop Republicans from consolidating the support of religious people and replacing democracy with a white Christian nationalist theocracy. The op-ed starts off by affirming that the U.S. is a secular nation and criticizing DeSantis’s use of Christian nationalism as a political weapon, then urges Dems to do more to counter that GOP strategy by appealing to moderate religious folks. Some excerpts:
It doesn’t seem like a coincidence that, at the same time the GOP ramps up its rhetoric on religious and culture wars, the party makes gains with Hispanic and non-white voters in places like Miami-Dade…Yes, Democrats appear in some church pulpits to rally their base during election season, and high-profile politicians like President Biden, who’s Catholic, have been open about their faith. But given the onslaught of religious talk in Florida — and the use of government to promote one conservative religious view — Democrats must find a better way to acknowledge the importance of religion and spirituality in people’s lives without crossing the line into proselytizing…
DeSantis and other conservative leaders are trying to erode the separation of church and state, a concept Thomas Jefferson wrote of in an 1802 letter and cited in landmark court rulings. Florida taxpayers are now paying for training sessions for public school teachers that deny the Founding Fathers wanted that separation. The Founding Fathers had very nuanced views about religion, as the Herald Editorial Board previously explained.
DeSantis is not alone in this. The majority-conservative U.S. Supreme Court chipped away at that wall of separation with a series of recent rulings. With Evangelicals proving to be such an important and faithful voting bloc for Trump, there’s incentive for our ambitious and savvy governor to continue to court them.
Whereas the governor’s Christian nationalist shtick only separates us, the Democrats need to counter it more boldly and bring back into their tent voters who feel that, on the issues of religion and faith, the party has nothing to say to them.
After reading it twice, I’m still not sure exactly what they want Democrats to do. Almost 90% of the people in Congress are Christians, which is far more than Christianity’s share of the general public. Every single president ever elected at least claimed to be a Christian, and I can’t recall either party ever nominating a presidential candidate who didn’t identify as a Christian.
Do you think either party would nominate an out atheist or agnostic for president? I’d like to think the Dems would, but I don’t know, even though about a quarter of Americans are unaffiliated. Based on this, my guess is that anyone who thinks the Democratic Party is hostile to religion is already a Republican and unlikely to be lured to the Dems by more professions of a candidate’s faith or acknowledgement of religion’s role in daily life.
In my opinion, the appropriate thing to say on the issue is that religious liberty means not imposing one group’s views on everyone else, and this is something most Democratic candidates already say. So do our founding documents, for what it’s worth, which is apparently nothing to the Republican religious fanatics on the Supreme Court.
One fruitful angle Dems here in Florida could perhaps exploit is the evangelical griftopia DeSantis and the Republican statehouse have built, where they funnel public education money to outfits like Michigan’s extreme right-wing Hillsdale College for charter schools and teacher training. Given a chance, Florida Republicans will shovel even more taxpayer dollars to hard-right “crisis pregnancy center” outfits as they impose more restrictions on reproductive health.
Anyhoo, the Herald may be barking up the wrong tree here. DeSantis is open about who and what he is, and Democrats are offering an alternative for voters who want to get off the autocracy expressway. It’s up to voters to take that exit. Or not.