The delayed secularization of the right (manifested partly by the nomination of a thrice-married casino magnate who pays off porn stars and talks about grabbing women by their privates) was a major departure from the compassionate conservatism of George W. Bush and the LDS faith of Mitt Romney. Since 2016, the right has been working overtime to catch up; cult-like support for Donald Trump manifested itself earlier this year in the form of a golden idol displayed at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC).
The decline of church membership will not lead us to some better, more rational, world. Lacking the moral clarity that comes from a belief that our fellow humans are all made in His image, politics eventually becomes about tribal identity and the will to power. “What we are seeing is an evolution from religion to race as the organizing principle of conservative American politics,” said David Frum on a recent episode of the Bulwark podcast.
If you think our politics has gotten better since 1999 (before the decline of church membership started to drop off a cliff, Republicans were pearl-clutching about Bill Clinton’s sins and stressing “family values”), then go right ahead and ignore this warning. As conservative columnist Ross Douthat put it: “If you dislike the religious right, wait till you meet the post-religious right.”