Since the late 1970s, the American conservative movement has been an uneasy — and unstoppable — alliance of big-business-friendly finance boosters and poor, evangelical Christians whose major issues were things like gay marriage, abortion, and forcing women into "traditional" gender roles, not taxation and "small government."
The alliance between "fiscally conservative" bankers and "morally conservative" working class voters that Jerry Falwell forged in the late 1970s has been fracturing through the past three or four election cycles, but as the split in today's GOP shows, it's all but shattered.
The most tangible evidence of this division can be see in the southern states that have passed spiteful, unconstitutional bills punishing trans people for using public restrooms, a pandering, dogwhistle move that is purely symbolic, a way for the dwindling bigots of America to assert their significance.
These states are seeing a predictable backlash from entertainers and other traditional progressive actors, but also from a surprising quarter: giant corporations.
When companies like Disney, Paypal, Pepsi and Dow Chemicals take up arms against the GOP leadership of states, it's hard to see how the relationship between the religious right and big business can be salvaged. The religious right is now adopting an anti-"big business" rhetoric, calling the biggest companies in America "bullies."
It's a way to understand the rise and rise of Trumpism — and also Sanders. Things are shifting.
The implications for modern conservatism are even more consequential. Social conservatives were an essential part of the Republican coalition that Ronald Reagan assembled—composed of pro-business conservatives, national-security hawks, and the Christian right. The coalition always entailed fudging policy differences: not all social conservatives were true believers in big tax cuts and deregulation; business élites often didn't feel strongly about abortion and prayer in schools. But, as Daniel Williams, a historian at the University of West Georgia and the author of a history of the Christian right, told me, "Even though the relationship between the two sides was always complicated, they were willing to make a bargain, because each side needed the other."
The L.G.B.T. fight shows how far that bargain has eroded. To many conservative business leaders, today's social-conservative agenda looks anachronistic and is harmful to the bottom line; it makes it hard to hire and keep talented employees who won't tolerate discrimination. Social conservatives, meanwhile, think that Republican leaders are sacrificing Christian principles in order to keep big business happy. "There's more than a fair amount of anger and a great deal of disappointment," Williams said. Evangelicals have called companies like Apple and Disney "corporate bullies," to whom Mammon matters more than morals.
[James Surowiecki/New Yorker]
(Image: LGBT flag map of Georgia, Fry1989, CC-BY-SA)