This commentary was originally published in CT Viewpoints.
Since Election Day, a story has been told about those of us who live in Connecticut or along the coasts or who voted for the Democrat. We are told that we don’t get it. We don’t understand the working class or rural culture — the Real America.
We are “coastal elites,” we are told. Obsessed with “trigger warnings” and political correctness, we have lost touch with America’s fundamental values. I’m so done with this story.
Thank God, I’m not alone.
Democrats, liberals, and other “coastal elites” have begun taking back the mantle of God and country that has been denied them since 1980. With Ronald Reagan’s ascent, no one could be more patriotic than a Republican, according to Republicans. But with an authoritarian’s ascent, the Republicans are forfeiting, eagerly, the exclusive claim they once had to “restoring” the Constitution.
Last Friday, President Donald Trump signed an executive order closing the borders to people from seven Muslim nations. He fulfilled a campaign promise, the Muslim ban. It doesn’t beef up security. It doesn’t enhance screening. It simply excludes Muslims, and validates everything our enemies say about America. Some have tried spinning the ban into “temporary suspension,” but Trump himself called it “the ban.”
That alone would satisfy any reasonable definition of a religious test, an indefensible practice in a democracy claiming to honor and protect individual liberty. But there’s more to this. Trump made clear his preference for Christians. That’s not just a religious test. That’s the establishment of a religion — an abomination.
That’s why Connecticut Sen. Chris Murphy and other Democrats said the ban is “illegal.” They plan to introduce legislation to stop it. That’s why Sally Yates, the acting attorney general, said Monday the Justice Department would not defend the ban in court. That’s why the Democratic National Committee said, after Trump fired Yates Monday, that he “cannot silence the growing voices of an American people now wide awake to his tyrannical presidency.”
Let’s say that again, with feeling.
The Democrats are accusing a Republican of tyranny.
They are right.
The first freedom enumerated in the Bill of Rights is the freedom to worship as you wish. “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” The founders believed an agnostic government would permit religion to flourish, and they were right. The U.S. is singular among western nations for its widespread religious practice.
How often did Republicans suggest that Barack Obama was a lawless, illegitimate president who threatened freedom? How often did they suggest Democrats, and liberalism generally, stood opposed to God and country? Republicans voted over 60 times to repeal the Affordable Care Act. They suggested repeatedly and shamelessly that “Obamacare” was another name for tyranny.
Obamacare was not tyranny. It was a blessing. But when actual tyranny occurred this weekend — when the president prioritized Christianity; when his administration implemented a religious test for entry; when border authorities duped legal residents into surrendering their green cards; when presidential power beggared due process, and separated children from mothers — these “constitutional conservatives” were deafening in their silence.
If Trump’s executive order raised questions about appropriate levels of vetting, there would be two sides to this story. There would be two views, arguing over the same facts, both legitimate, both representing constituencies. But this is not one of those issues.
The only way a religious test could have two sides is if one side stood for democracy and the other stood for something that is not democracy, something that does not value religious liberty. In other words, we have arrived at moment in which Republicans will defend the indefensible, and in doing so, they betray not only conservative principles but the Constitution they say they love.
Meanwhile, we the “coastal elites” are actually defending the God-given right to worship as you wish, actually fighting against the religious test of immigrants fleeing God-forsaken lands, actually protesting Trump’s unthinkable establishment of a religion.
We haven’t lost touch with fundamental American values.
Trump and the Republicans have.
John Stoehr is a lecturer in political science at Yale and a New Haven resident.
IMAGE: U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer talks to journalists after attending the Senate Democrat party leadership elections at the U.S. Capitol, November 16.