YOU TAKE THEM IN: THEY TAKE OVER

When my brother and I were young our very religious mother saw to it that we attended the small local Church of the Nazarene. The congregation was small and for a considerable time they met in a local one room school. The Nazarenes were “holiness people” who believed that through a second work of grace one could lose their natural “bent to sinning”.

They were also very strict about behavior. The older ones still thee’d and thou’d each other. And, people who had lost their bent to sinning were required to demonstrate that by not going to movies, by not dancing, and by avoiding such Devil inspired behavior as engaging in mixed bathing (the sexes swam separately).

The rejection of mixed bathing was ironic because the church had been founded in California by an industrious pastor named Phineas Bresee. Certainly in more liberated California during the church’s early years mixed bathing had hardly been the horrifying evil inducing behavior it later became.

What really happened was that after its original founding in 1907, the very active leadership of the Nazarenes began to add strings of smaller “holiness” congregations. In order to attract those people and hold onto them, the open and joyful California Church adjusted. They learned a very old lesson anew: If you take them in, they can take you over.

Think about the Republicans after Democrat Franklin Delano Roosevelt had led the country through the Great Depression and then through World War II. The Republican Party of farm owners and small town conservatives (plus a huge majority of northern Black voters) appeared be outnumbered into the foreseeable future.

By the time Richard Nixon ran for the presidency a second time in 1968, the answer for Republicans seemed to be to go after the very conservative, very segregated, church going Democratic white South. Segregated southerners had not been able to bring themselves to vote for the party of Lincoln. So, they had remained as a kind of separate branch of the Democratic Party.

To win the South the northern Republican Party essentially turned their back on their long time loyal northern Black supporters. Republicans in the North had always welcomed white Protestant religious supporters (which explained their very long term support for the prohibition of alcohol in the 1920’s). Now, in order keep the South from returning to the Democrats, the party increasingly came to function as the defenders of the Southern status quo.

By the time Ronald Reagan ran in 1980, Republicans were campaigning directly to church congregations and recruiting campaign workers from them. Evangelicals were invited to the White House and it came to appear that economic decisions were cleared first with evangelical religious leaders. And it worked! The white South became solidly Republican. The South, even though a minority of all Republicans, had gained a major voice.

That brings us to the most recent minority invasion: When Donald Trump decided to run as a Republican in 2016 he knew very little about the government that he was running to lead. With his obsessive need to concentrate on himself over his long career there had simply been no need to learn about the government in any detail.

Even as he began to perform at his famous rallies he had little time for or interest in learning governmental detail. There was a good reason for that. He really didn’t expect to win. He did hope that the publicity he would gain would help promote his “brand”. (Trump had made a business of selling his name).

That meant that he and his managers were careful to avoid critical, politically sophisticated audiences who could demand specifics. He could then concentrate on his imagined “great big beautiful wall” and in locking up Hillary Clinton, things that did not require the kind of knowledge that he lacked.

The Trump campaign had an unanticipated ending. He won! And, having won, he took office but he clearly was more interested in continuing those ego building rallies than he was with dealing with the crushing detail that is the normal lot of every president. He simply continued the rallies after he was in office. He did create a base of working class voters that is remarkably loyal to him. Not to the Republican Party; to him.

In the meantime the larger Republican Party is the real victim. The Republicans as a party seem paralyzed by that cohort of voters. People thinking of running for office as Republicans know that they will be vulnerable to defeat in party primaries by extremist candidates loyal only to Trump. The party has been kidnapped by a tiny group of people that traditional Republicans would never have taken seriously.

The real problem seems to be that organizations with an understandable desire for more members, whether Nazarenes, post Roosevelt Republicans or, the Republicans of today, have not thought through any organized defense against the demands of small ideological minorities of new members.

Organizations can easily become the victims of the people they welcome in! The current Republicans demonstrate how difficult those people can be to resist!

H.J. Rishel

9/07/2021

Retired political science professor of 40+ years. Educated at Olivet, UofM, MSU, Northwestern, & Harvard. Hoping to make politics a fun & exciting topic for all