One of my favorite thinkers, Robin Hanson, likes to say that politics isn’t about policy. If it isn’t about policy, what is it about? Here’s a quick stab at my answer.
In America in 2020, politics more than anything is what reflects people’s deepest values. Many people, especially white Millennials, are much more passionate about their political views than their religious views (not that the two are entirely separable). Even as Americans have become more accepting of marrying across religious and racial lines, they’ve become less accepting of marrying across political lines. This isn’t a fluke; it’s a consequence of the fact that in America today politics is religion.
What is a Trump rally? A revival meeting. What is this chant? A liturgy. Who is George Floyd? A martyr. Who is MLK? A saint. What is “All Lives Matter”? Blasphemy. The social and psychological function of politics is increasingly indistinguishable from that of religion. Shias and Sunnis, Protestants and Catholics, Palestinians and Israelis, Leftists and Trumpists—what’s the difference?
And of course politics involves conflict. Power. Money. Alliances. Even literal violence on the extremes. “War is merely the continuation of politics by other means”—and vice versa. Politics is war.
Politics is religion. Politics is war. So: Politics is holy war.
Who are the sides in this war? Not blacks and whites. (You have noticed the white people saying Black Lives Matter, right?) No, the sides in this war are Red and Blue. Not exactly “liberal” and “conservative”—the political landscape is changing (though the Dems and GOP are changing with it). More like coastal elites and flyover country, or Progressives and populists.
Red believes in America First; Blue believes in Social Justice. Red venerates American soldiers; Blue venerates black people. Red hates Blue for hating America; Blue hates Red for being backwards and racist (or insufficiently anti-racist). Red is mostly “middle” (white) America plus (a shrinking share of) white Catholics and Evangelicals; Blue is mostly rich and/or “fashionable” people and most nonwhite Americans. To simplify the socioeconomic and cultural divide greatly, Red vs. Blue is: Middle (the white working class) vs. High (overeducated wealthy elites most of whom are not WASPs) and Low (poor blacks and Hispanics).
Blue controls pretty much all the major cities (where most of the money and power is) and pretty much all the major institutions: corporations (Big Business and Big Gov are on the same side); arts, entertainment, and media organizations (minus Fox and a couple others); universities and most public schools; NGOs; the permanent government (a.k.a. the bureaucracy, a.k.a. “the Swamp”); and so on. Red controls the presidency (for now) and not much else.
Notice that I said that Red hates Blue and that Blue hates Red. And notice that I said Red is Middle and Blue is High and Low. And notice that I said that Blue controls pretty much all the major institutions. What’s the upshot of all that?
- Blue has pretty much all the cultural power. Netflix, Facebook, Twitter, Google, music, Hollywood. The Establishment is Blue. (Not socialist Blue, but “woke” Blue.)
- Because Blue controls pretty much all the major institutions, anyone under the age of 50 is constantly inundated with Blue propaganda. (Boomers were inundated with a different generation of propaganda which was “liberal” fifty years ago but is hopelessly “conservative” now.)
- Members of the Establishment—Blue Highs—openly express their disdain for Red (in the guise of disdain for white people, Christians, men, cops, etc.). They justify this disdain by highlighting all the bad things white people, Christians, men, cops, etc. have done—and of course it’s a long list—and/or by coming up with harmful concepts like “white fragility.”
- Because we’re all inundated with Blue propaganda, lots of people don’t even notice Blue’s disdain for Red, or think there’s nothing wrong with it (because Reds deserve it, or because they’re “privileged” and need to get over it). “There are those who hate Christianity and call their hatred an all-embracing love for all religions.” Blues hate Red and call their hatred an all-embracing love for all people.
- More specifically, Blue Highs scapegoat Red and blame Red (“racism,” “white supremacy,” “the patriarchy”) for everything. So long as enough people blame Red for everything, Blue Highs can stay in power no matter how greedy, corrupt, and incompetent they are. (Blue Lows, although they consistently get shafted by Blue Highs, support them anyway, so the Blue Highs never have to get their act together—especially since plenty of Reds are also greedy, corrupt, or incompetent.)
- Because the Establishment is Blue, the dominant kind of undeserved privilege in America is not white privilege but Blue privilege. (You could almost even say that the United States is Blue supremacist.) White Americans without college degrees in West Virginia or Wisconsin are not living it large; in fact, they’re disproportionately overdosing and committing suicide. And of course most black Americans aren’t living it large, either. Instead, the people living it large are Blues with fancy degrees in Washington, New York, Boston, San Francisco, and LA. (Aren’t rich white people Republicans? Not anymore.)
The game is not white vs. black. The game is Red vs. Blue. The winners are the Blue Highs. The losers are everyone else: both the (Red) Middles and the Blue Lows.
And the game, of course, is not just a game. The game is war. And since the warring parties are both American, the war is a civil war. So: Politics is holy civil war.
How is this war fought? Not with violence (for the most part). With propaganda. Slogans. Memes. Laws. Judges. Schools. Movies. TV shows. Songs. Tweets. Everything is political now. So everything is a weapon.
This picture of American society is probably different from yours in some respects. If you’re not convinced, try it out and see if it fits. Comment with questions and objections. I’ll do my best to answer them.
Why does any of this matter? Well, if politics is holy civil war, then there are at least a couple reasons Christians should at the very least be worried about public political engagement:
- Civil war especially is fueled by hatred—on both sides. If you can’t see the hatred (on both sides), you’re not paying attention.
- There are Christians on both sides of the holy civil war. Maybe you think Christians obviously shouldn’t support Trump. Maybe you think Christians obviously shouldn’t support Joe Biden. But some Christians support each, and the ones who support the wrong guy aren’t all bad people. (If you think they are, you’ve probably drunk the war propaganda Kool-Aid.)
- Christians’ religion should be, well, Christianity. Not politics (even “good” politics.) But politics is replacing Christianity as many people’s religion (especially on the Left).
- America’s holy civil war is being fought by the powers of this world. Primarily with propaganda. So (99% of the time) taking sides in this holy civil war means supporting the propaganda of the powers of this world. That should worry you, because all propaganda oversimplifies and distorts. If you are repeating your side’s propaganda without recognizing its distortedness, you are being played. (“But how could it be bad to say x? It sounds so Christian!” Indeed. Satan disguises himself as an angel of light.)
“But isn’t the Church supposed to fight for justice and stand up for the oppressed?” Yes. If you think the only (or main) way for the Church to do that is to get embroiled in the holy civil war, you have been successfully propagandized.