If you have been paying attention to gossip about the news industry lately, you may have heard that many New York Times readers were not amused when the leaders of the great Gray Lady's editorial pages decided to add another conservative voice to the mix
Ever since the first column by one Bret Stephens -- a piece criticizing how the cultural left pushes climate change (but he does not reject the reality of climate change) -- large numbers of Times nation citizens have been voicing their wrath about this invasion of a beloved safe space, primarily by canceling their subscriptions.
I have not heard of a similar reaction to the recent Times opinion essay by the Catholic scribe R.R. Reno, who is editor of the conservative interfaith journal First Things. The title: "Republicans Are Now the ‘America First’ Party."
Now, let me stress that this Reno think piece does not contain large chunks of theology or commentary about religion. Instead, it's about how one Donald Trump has moved the ground under the feet of Republicans who had, for a long time, assumed that the GOP orthodoxy of Ronald Reagan would last 1,000 years or so.
The central theme: The new GOP enemy is globalism, not big government.
As I read this Reno piece, I kept waiting for religious material, for cultural and moral material, to show up. After all, I read newspapers through the lens of the great historian Martin Marty, as described in an "On Religion" column I wrote a year after 9/11 (at an event that started the dominoes falling that led to the birth of GetReligion). Here is the top of that 2002 column (this is long, but essential):
It is Martin Marty's custom to rise at 4:44 a.m. for coffee and prayer, while awaiting the familiar thump of four newspapers on his porch. ... America's most famous church historian prepared for a lecture in Nebraska by ripping up enough newsprint to bury his table in headlines and copy slashed with a yellow pen.
A former WorldCom CEO kept teaching his Sunday school class. A researcher sought the lost tribe of Israel. Believers clashed in Sudan. Mormon and evangelical statistics were up – again. A Zambian bishop said he got married to shock the Vatican. U.S. bishops kept wrestling with clergy sexual abuse. Pakistani police continued to study the death of journalist Daniel Pearl.
Marty tore out more pages, connecting the dots. Archbishop of Canterbury George Carey feared an Anglican schism. Public-school students prayed at flagpoles. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia explored the border between church and state. And there were dozens of stories linked to Sept. 11, 2001.
"When I read newspapers, I see religion all over the place," said Marty, whose University of Chicago Divinity School career has led to 50-plus books and countless media appearances. "This has always been the case. I simply think it has been easier for others to see this reality during the past year."
For decades, Marty has been America's most quoted expert on the question: "What is religion news?" But the University of Nebraska's journalism school challenged him to answer a new question: "Is There Any Non-Religious News After 9/11?"
So I kept reading Reno's piece on the new American nationalism, and its opponents, waiting for the religion shoe to drop.
It seemed that everything was safely secular. Like this:
... As Mr. Trump recognized, the new schism in American life is not about big versus small government, or more or less regulation. It is about immigration, free trade and the broad and deep impacts of globalization on America’s economy and culture. “Americanism, not globalism, will be our credo,” he told the Republican National Convention.
But then a second theme began to emerge: Who are the champions of the new globalism? What are the essential elements of the worldview of those who seek what Reno calls a "globalist utopianism," the "happy, peaceful and inclusive world without boundaries" promised by Barack Obama and company?
Thus, read carefully and look for the religious and cultural ghosts in the following:
Our country has dissolved to a far greater degree than those cloistered on the coasts allow themselves to realize. The once vast and unifying middle class has eroded over the last generation. Today we are increasingly divided into winners and losers. This division involves more than divergent economic prospects and income inequality. Globalism is an ideology of winners who stand astride our society as it is being remade by dramatic economic, demographic and cultural changes.
Mitt Romney wrote off nearly half the American population as “takers.” Hillary Clinton made her notorious remarks about “deplorables.” These sentiments, widely shared by elites on the right and left, have become toxic. Caterpillar recently announced it is moving its corporate headquarters from Peoria, Ill., to Chicago. The unspoken reason? “C-suite level” talent bridles at relocating to flyover country. In today’s America, the rich, well-educated and globalized people on top, whether Republicans or Democrats, do not want to live among those who populate our country. The leaders increasingly hold them in disdain. ...
In 2017, a growing economic divide and continuing cultural fragmentation, and even animosity, are grave threats that now define our politics. The Cold War is now domestic.
Reno never openly pushes the religion button in this piece, which assumes that the old corporate conservatism of the GOP is now sliding over to support the views of the urbane elites who shape culture.
Are there religious and moral components to this drama?
Remember that this ran in The New York Times. Will many country-club Republicans who take the Gray Lady protest by canceling their subscriptions?