Writing in The Atlantic, Peter Beinart has launched yet another debate about America’s ideological direction. Asserting that the country is becoming more liberal, Beinart argues that Occupy and Black Lives Matter activists have commandeered the national debate far more effectively than the radicals of the past, to the point that the next Democratic president is likely to be more liberal than Barack Obama and the next Republican president more liberal than George W. Bush. I think not. All evidence suggests that America is growing both more liberal and more conservative. The Left is moving Left, and the Right is moving Right.
From Bill Clinton to Al Gore to John Kerry to Barack Obama, each successive Democratic presidential nominee has run either slightly or substantially to the Left of his predecessor, and the party has won the popular vote in five of the last six national elections. Americans have moved left on sexual issues with astonishing speed, growing supportive of gay marriage and transgender rights in just a few years’ time. Young voters increasingly express support for socialist policies, and the polls record widespread support for immigrants and immigrant rights. The average Democratic legislator is more liberal than at any time in recent memory. For a movement liberal, the future looks bright indeed.
What remains clear is that America is more politically polarized than ever. The Left is growing more Left, and the Right is growing more Right. This is entirely consistent with other patterns, including the polarization of American religious practice, which is so pronounced that “nones” — those unaffiliated with any faith — and Evangelicals are on pace to soon become the two largest religious demographics in the country. America is growing both more secular and more religious, more liberal and more conservative. The middle is vanishing.
America is growing both more secular and more religious, more liberal and more conservative. The middle is vanishing.
Our nation’s shared love for Star Wars can take us only so far, and polarization can’t continue indefinitely without truly significant fault lines emerging in American culture. To a liberal living in Manhattan, the facts on the ground confirm a progressive view of reality. To a conservative living in Tennessee, the real ideological competition and real energy both seem to be on the right. A nation that respects federalism and core constitutional liberties can survive and even thrive in the face of profound ideological divisions. But what if the Left isn’t content to let Tennessee be Tennessee or to allow Christian institutions to be Christian? Then the political stakes will be raised, polarization will increase, and America will move into some truly perilous waters.
— David French is an attorney and a staff writer at National Review.