Saturday, July 17, 2021
What do we call a man who turns on everything he once claimed to believe? For a practitioner of petty and self-serving duplicity, we use “sellout” or “backstabber.” (Sometimes we impugn the animal kingdom and call him a rat, a skunk, or a weasel.) For grand betrayals of weightier loyalties—country and faith—we invoke the more solemn terms of “traitor” or “apostate.”
But what should we call J. D. Vance, the self-described hillbilly turned Marine turned Ivy League law-school graduate turned venture capitalist turned Senate candidate? Words fail. His perfidy to his own people in Ohio is too big to allow him to escape with the label of “opportunist,” and yet the shabbiness and absurdity of his Senate campaign is too small to brand him a defector or a heretic.
My friend Preet Bharara, the former U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, tried to describe Vance recently and came up with “pathetic loser poser fake jerk,” but that is a lot of words. To distill the essence of Vance as a public figure, the word that enters my mind is an anatomical reference beginning with the letter a. . . . . I do not use that word lightly or comfortably.
But the word is apt when I consider Vance’s silly and yet detestable moral collapse. Some people back in Vance’s home region of Appalachia thought his memoir, Hillbilly Elegy, was hollow and inaccurate, but for a time, other people—including me—were intrigued by his writing and public speaking. Vance lived as a child in a steel town in Ohio and spent his summers in the hills of eastern Kentucky, while I grew up amid the rotting factories of New England, solidly in the working class but not poor. I welcomed his willingness to cast a critical eye on his (and my) people, especially after years of conservative hand-wringing focused solely on the dysfunction of minority communities.
The American working poor, no matter where they are, do in fact need civic representatives from the center-right, people who can talk candidly about the limits of government and who can make a moral case for tough love and personal responsibility, but one based on a sense of shared experience, common values, and genuine compassion. Someone like Vance could be that candidate.
Someone like Vance, perhaps, but as we now know, not Vance himself. Not so long ago, he talked about the self-defeating bias against education among poor whites. He acknowledged the self-destructive habits of some of the people he grew up around. Vance wrote, in this very magazine, that Donald Trump “is cultural heroin”—a powerful charge from someone who hails from the epicenter of the opioid epidemic—and provided a “quick high” that could not fix what ails the country. All of that vanished once Vance decided he wanted to go to Washington—and after the Trump supporter Peter Thiel dropped $10 million into a political action committee.
Instead of a truth-teller in his own community, Vance as a candidate has become a contemptible and cringe-inducing clown. His attempts at authenticity are so grating because they are so blatantly artificial. His recent tweets, for example, attempting to ingratiate himself with rural Ohioans by slagging New York City were embarrassingly amateurish; we can only wonder which social-media consultant thought them up.
Worse, Vance has not only repudiated his earlier views on Trump, but has done so with ruthless cynicism, embracing the former president and his madness while winking at the media with a What can you do? shrug about the stupidity of Ohio’s voters. “If I actually care about these people and the things I say I care about,” he told Time, “I need to just suck it up and support him.”
Well. One can only imagine their gratitude now that Vance the wealthy venture capitalist has deigned to accept Trump as his political savior.
These incidents are not isolated missteps. The writer Tim Miller recently noted in The Bulwark that within the space of a week, Vance not only tweeted his performative fear of New York, but also “defended a Nazi from being kicked off of twitter … shared a thread defending election fraud conspiracies … fantastically claimed Google was ‘hiding’ his website” and “mocked reporters for saying they were traumatized by the Capitol riot.”
Vance minimized Nick Fuentes, the leader of a white-nationalist group, by referring to him merely as “a giant troll” who should not have been kicked off Twitter by one of the “tech companies” that want to “control what we’re allowed to say in our own country.” And, more recently, he ventured onto the former Trump adviser Sebastian Gorka’s crackpot videocast to claim that the “Democrat” Party—a usage common among educated right-wingers trying for working-class cred—“is a party of childless people” who therefore do not value the future.
Vance has struck back at his many critics across the political spectrum by referring to them all as “degenerate liberals,” which is exactly the kind of thing a smarmy and pretentious asshole would say.
Vance is hardly the most offensive Republican out there. He is no Louie Gohmert, the Republican congressman from Texas, or Marsha Blackburn, the senior Republican senator from Tennessee, people who create an electrostatic field of stupidity around themselves when they speak. Nor is he even the most craven candidate in Ohio; his primary rival Josh Mandel recently filmed himself burning a surgical mask in the name of freedom. The Republican Party is chock-full of such performative buffoons.
But what makes Vance so awful is that he knows better. His intentional distancing from his earlier views shows that he is fully cognizant of what a gigantic fraud he’s become. . . . following the polls and capering to a jig played by rich donors is exactly what Vance is doing. His gooberish tweets, his recent declaration that the most important issue for Ohio is securing the southern border, his multimillion-dollar support from “ordinary folks” like Thiel—these all show that Vance is as mossy a creature as the swamp ever produced.
This hypocrisy makes him indistinguishable from other figures in American politics, such as Senators Tom Cotton and Josh Hawley, who are products of privilege and elite education and who now pretend to be tribunes of the Forgotten People. (Vance, predictably enough, has recently expressed his admiration for both.)
Vance, so far, is less of a hazard to American democracy than aspiring authoritarians like Cotton or Hawley. Nor does he seem to have developed the full dedication to being a soulless careerist like Elise Stefanik, the Republican congresswoman from New York. Mostly, he’s just a … well, you know.
Instead of a candidate who’s willing to speak hard truths to his people, Ohioans now have a native son who has returned to weaponize their resentment and cultural dysfunctions. His ambition is fueled by the money of others who would never deign to live in the Midwest. And like other populist charlatans, he has convinced himself that he should be anointed to lead the rubes out of their misery.
Vance would no doubt welcome terms such as populist, savior, native son. But when thinking of a plastic fraud trying to harvest their votes, poor and working-class voters might come up with a different word.
Sadly, to be a Republican in 2021 with prospects of support from the party's hideous base, one must choose to be morally bankrupt, a liar and a shameless opportunist. The Republican Party I grew up in is truly totally dead.
Friday, July 16, 2021
In September, I wrote that the United States faced a situation akin to the 1933 burning of Weimar Germany’s parliament, which Hitler used to seize power.
“America, this is our Reichstag moment,” the column said, citing the eminent Yale historian Timothy Snyder on the lessons of 20th-century authoritarianism. Snyder argued that President Donald Trump had “an authoritarian’s instinct” and was surrounding the election in “the authoritarian language of a coup d’etat.” Predicted Snyder: “It’s going to be messy.”
Trump enablers such as Sen. Lindsey Graham scoffed. “With all due respect to @Milbank, he’s in the bat$hit crazy phase of Trump Derangement Syndrome,” the South Carolina Republican tweeted, with a link to my column.
But now we know that 1933 was very much on the mind of the nation’s top soldier, Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. “This is a Reichstag moment,” Milley told aides of Trump’s “stomach-churning” lies about election fraud. “The gospel of the Führer,” Milley labeled Trump’s claims.
Milley, as reported in a forthcoming book by The Post’s Carol Leonnig and Philip Rucker, feared that people around Trump were seeking to “overturn the government,” saw that pro-Trump’s protesters would serve as “brownshirts in the streets” — and was determined that “the Nazis aren’t getting in” to block Joe Biden’s inauguration.
American democracy survived that coup attempt on Jan. 6. But the danger has not subsided. I called Snyder, who accurately predicted the insurrection, to ask how the history of European authoritarianism informs our current state.
“We’re looking almost certainly at an attempt in 2024 to take power without winning election,” he told me Thursday. Recent moves in Republican-controlled state legislatures to suppress the votes of people of color and to give the legislatures control over casting electoral votes “are all working toward the scenario in 2024 where they lose by 10 million votes but they still appoint their guy.”
The extinguishing of our Reichstag fire on Jan. 6 made Trump’s failed coup less like 1933 Germany than 1923 Germany, when Hitler’s clownish Beer Hall Putsch failed. Historically, most coup attempts fail. “But a failed coup is practice for a successful coup,” Snyder said. This is what’s ominous about the Republicans’ determination to sabotage investigations that could help us learn from the Jan. 6 insurrection. Also ominous is the move in many Republican-controlled states to ban schools from teaching about systemic racism — “memory laws,” Snyder calls them — which “feeds into this authoritarian turn” by providing cover for the new attempts to disenfranchise more non-White voters. “They’re trying to ban the discussion of things like voter suppression, and it’s precisely the history of voter suppression which allows us to see it for what it is,” Snyder said.
It all boils down to this: “One of our two political parties is currently on an undemocratic track. That’s just the way it is, I think, for the 2022 and 2024 cycles.”
Many others are sounding similar alarms. A survey of 327 political scientists released this week by Bright Line Watch, a project by scholars at Dartmouth College, the University of Chicago and the University of Rochester, found widespread concern: The experts collectively estimated a 55 percent likelihood that at least some local officials will refuse to certify vote counts in 2024, a 46 percent likelihood that one or more state legislatures will pick electors contrary to the popular vote, and a 39 percent likelihood that Congress will refuse to certify the election.
This is why I write column after column not on the Biden administration, which is governing in conventional ways, but on the totalitarian lurch of the Republican Party. . . . . Republicans have become an authoritarian faction fighting democracy.
This is also why the attempt in Washington to protect voting rights must have primacy if we are to arrest the slide into political violence. “Voting rights is critical,” Snyder explained, because “it makes violence less likely” and it “will make the Republicans become a party that competes again instead of a party which just tries to rig the game at every stage.”
At the moment, Republicans are “digging themselves ever deeper into becoming a party which only wins by keeping other people from voting, and that’s a downward spiral,” he argued. The way to extinguish the next Reichstag fire is to demand — and require — that Republicans honor the right of all Americans to vote.
Be very afraid for the future.
Thursday, July 15, 2021
In the wake of the Civil War, liberals in the North went about establishing Reconstruction, passing the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments, greatly expanding the rights of Black people in America, and putting severe restrictions on Southern states before they could be readmitted to the Union.But of course, the Northern liberals soon grew impatient with and tired of dealing with Reconstruction and the racial issues in the South. At the same time, racial terror was regaining strength in the region.
After Reconstruction was allowed to fail, the last remaining federal troops — who had helped protect Black people from the terrorists — were withdrawn from the South. Even though there was a large percentage of Black voters in many of these states — and Black voters were the majority in some — the terrorists were able to significantly reduce that voter participation through intimidation and violence.
In Mississippi, where Black voters were the overwhelming majority, this suppression succeeded well enough that in 1890 the state called a constitutional convention to write white supremacy into the DNA of the state and to restrict the Black vote. Only one Black delegate was invited to the convention.
When Mississippi established its Jim Crow Constitution, it didn’t submit it to the public for a vote. Instead, it simply declared that “This Constitution, adopted by the people of Mississippi in convention assembled, shall be in force and effect from and after this the first day of November, A.D. 1890.”
If it had gone before the people, Black voters would have surely voted it down.
Without the courts or Congress stepping in to protect voter rights, Mississippi served as the shining beacon of a way forward, and state after state in the South followed, copying the Mississippi example and calling state constitutional conventions of their own, establishing Jim Crow in the South.
The racist South may have fallen in defeat in the Civil War, but it rose in victory in the ballot war.
Once Jim Crow was established, Washington was in no hurry to dismantle it. Liberals simply worked around it. For decades, they simply accommodated Southern racists so as not to offend them and to retain the possibility of earning their votes.
These voter suppression efforts were so effective and so emboldening that they even developed a movement — though unsuccessful — to repeal the 15th Amendment that had guaranteed Black men the right to vote.
In 1903, Representative John S. Williams of Mississippi, a proponent of the repeal, called the 15th Amendment “one of the greatest crimes in political history.”
Fast forward to the present, when Donald Trump is calling his election loss “the greatest fraud in the history of our country from an electoral standpoint,” in part because it was made possible by the votes of Black and brown people.
Most of Trump history was a failure and embarrassment, but one of its great ignoble successes is that it is ushering in Jim Crow 2.0.
Just as in the 1890, the courts and Congress are not doing much to stop the march of voter suppression. In 1890, Benjamin Harrison, a business-minded liberal who believed in Black people’s right to vote, was in office. He endorsed the federal elections bill that would protect Black people from raging voter suppression in the South.
The bill passed in the House but languished and died in the Senate — even though liberals controlled both chambers — in part because those liberals were more focused on other issues.
Then, as The Washington Post reported, around the time of the Mississippi constitutional convention, “African Americans from 40 counties in Mississippi had protested to President Benjamin Harrison, but he declined to intervene.”
President Biden hasn’t declined to intervene, but he has dragged his feet and not used the full force of the bully pulpit and still hasn’t given a full-throated endorsement of ending the filibuster to protect voting rights.
America is having a déjà vu moment, reliving in real time a horrendous history of more than a century ago, and it is impossible for to understand how Democrats in Washington don’t see that.
There is no reason to believe that this round of voter suppression is the end of those efforts, and every reason to dread that any successful implementation of them would serve as an accelerant of further suppressive efforts.
Voter suppression is like an invasive weed. Either snatch it up by the root at the first sign of a sprig or it will spread, unchecked, and consume the whole garden.
Wednesday, July 14, 2021
Something has changed for Trump and his movement since January 2021. You can measure the difference by looking back at the deadly events in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017. Trump made three statements about those events over four days. He was visibly reluctant to speak negatively of the far-right groups. He praised “fine people on both sides” and spread the blame for “this egregious display of hatred, bigotry, and violence on many sides.”
Trump’s evasions triggered a national uproar. As Joe Biden complained in an essay for The Atlantic at the time:
Today we have an American president who has publicly proclaimed a moral equivalency between neo-Nazis and Klansmen and those who would oppose their venom and hate.
But if Trump refused to single out the far-rightists for criticism, he also refrained from praising them. Whatever he felt in his heart, he was constrained by certain political and practical realities. . . . . He himself was still basking in the illusion of his supposedly huge victory in 2016, and hoping for a repeat in 2020. Outright endorsement of lethal extremism? That was too much for Trump in 2017. But now look where we are.
In the first days after the January 6 attack on the Capitol, Trump supporters distanced themselves from its excesses. The attack had nothing to do with Trump, they argued.
In the past few days, leading pro-Trump figures and even non-Trump conservative figures have endorsed a startling Twitter thread by a previously boutique podcaster, Darryl Cooper. Tucker Carlson read the thread aloud on his show.
The thread argued that the January 6 protesters were right to believe that they had been cheated out of power they deserved. They were right to believe that the government and the law were conspiring against them. They were right to believe that their opponents were capable of anything, even assassinating Trump. The implication: They themselves were equally entitled to go just as far. It’s long, but I’ll quote two key passages.
The entrenched bureaucracy & security state subverted Trump from Day 1, b) The press is part of the operation, c) Election rules were changed, d) Big Tech censors opposition, e) Political violence is legitimized & encouraged, f) Trump is banned from social media. 34/x
They were led down some rabbit holes, but they are absolutely right that their gov't is monopolized by a Regime that believes they are beneath representation, and will observe no limits to keep them getting it. Trump fans should be happy he lost; it might've kept him alive. /end
The tweet thread began by claiming that Donald Trump himself shared these beliefs. You might wonder how the podcaster would know. The answer arrived on Sunday morning, when Trump phoned into Maria Bartiromo’s Fox News show to deliver his most full-throated endorsement yet of the January 6 attack on Congress.
He praised the insurrectionist throng: “great people.” He denounced their arrest and jailing as unjust. And he implied that Babbitt had been shot by the personal-security detail of a leading member of Congress. “I’ve heard also that it was the head of security for a certain high official. A Democrat. It’s gonna come out.”
The relentless messaging by Trump and his supporters has inflicted a measurable wound on American democracy. Before the 2020 election, about 60 percent of Democrats and Republicans expected the election to be fair. Since Trump began circulating his ever more radical complaints, Republican confidence in the election has tumbled by half, to barely more than 30 percent, according to polling supported by the Democracy Fund.
The Trump movement was always authoritarian and illiberal. It indulged periodically in the rhetoric of violence. Trump himself chafed against the restraints of law. But what the United States did not have before 2020 was a large national movement willing to justify mob violence to claim political power. Now it does.
Is there a precedent? Not in recent years. Since the era of Redemption after Reconstruction, anti-government violence in the United States has been the work of marginal sects and individual extremists. American Islamic State supporters were never going to seize the state, and neither were the Weather Underground, the Ku Klux Klan killers of the 1950s and ’60s, Puerto Rican nationalists, the German American Bund, nor the Communist Party USA.
Once it might have been hoped that young Republicans with a future would somehow distance themselves from the violent lawlessness of the post-presidential Trump movement. But one by one, they are betting the other way. You might understand why those tainted by the January 6 attacks, such as Senator Josh Hawley of Missouri, would find excuses for them. They have butts to cover. But Hawley is being outdone by other young politicians who weren’t in office and seemed to have every opportunity to build post-Trump identities—including even former Trump critics like the Ohio Senate aspirant J. D. Vance. Why do people sign up with the putschists after the putsch has failed? They’re betting that the failed putsch is not the past—it’s the future.
What shall we call this future? Through the Trump years, it seemed sensible to eschew comparisons to the worst passages of history. I repeated over and over again a warning against too-easy use of the F-word, fascism: “There are a lot of stops on the train line to bad before you get to Hitler Station.”
Two traits have historically marked off European-style fascism from more homegrown American traditions of illiberalism: contempt for legality and the cult of violence. Presidential-era Trumpism operated through at least the forms of law. Presidential-era Trumpism glorified military power, not mob attacks on government institutions. Post-presidentially, those past inhibitions are fast dissolving. The conversion of Ashli Babbitt into a martyr, a sort of American Horst Wessel, expresses the transformation.
If a big-enough movement agrees with Trump that Babbitt was “wonderful”—if they repeat that the crowd of would-be Nancy Pelosi kidnappers and Mike Pence lynchers was “great”—then we are leaving behind the American system of democratic political competition for a new landscape in which power is determined by the gun.
That’s a landscape for which a lot of pro-Trump writers and thinkers seem to yearn.
We understand that there were and are many varieties of socialism. We forget that there were varieties of fascism as well, and not just those defeated in World War II. Peronism, in Argentina, offers a lot of insights into post-presidential Trumpism.
Juan Perón, a bungling and vacillating leader, attracted followers with a jumble of often conflicting and contradictory ideas. . . . The only thing he knew for certain was the target of his hatred: anybody who got in his way, anybody who questioned him, anybody who thought for himself or herself. An expatriate Argentine who grew up under Perón’s rule remembered the graffiti on the walls, the Twitter of its day: Build the Fatherland. Kill a student. As V. S. Naipaul astutely observed, “Even when the money ran out, Peronism could offer hate as hope.”
We’re past the point of pretending it was antifa that did January 6, past the point of pretending that Trump didn’t want what he fomented and what he got. In his interview on July 11—as in the ever more explicit talk of his followers—the new line about the attack on the Capitol is guilty but justified. The election of 2020 was a fraud, and so those who lost it are entitled to overturn it.
I do not consider myself guilty. I admit all the factual aspects of the charge. But I cannot plead that I am guilty of high treason; for there can be no high treason against that treason committed in 1918.
Maybe you recognize those words. They come from Adolf Hitler’s plea of self-defense at his trial for his 1923 Munich putsch. He argued: You are not entitled to the power you hold, so I committed no crime when I tried to grab it back. You blame me for what I did; I blame you for who you are.
Trump’s no Hitler, obviously. But they share some ways of thinking. The past never repeats itself. But it offers warnings. It’s time to start using the F-word again, not to defame—but to diagnose.
Tuesday, July 13, 2021
Over the weekend J.D. Vance, the author of “Hillbilly Elegy” and now a Trumpist candidate for U.S. senator in Ohio, tweeted that he was planning a visit to New York, which he has heard is “disgusting and violent.” Vance, a graduate of Yale Law School who currently works as a venture capitalist, surely knows better. But he presumably hopes that Republican voters don’t.
But why do so many Americans still believe that our major cities are hellholes of crime and depravity? Why do so many politicians still believe that they can run on the supposed contrast between urban evil and small-town virtue when many social indicators look worse in the heartland than in the big coastal metropolitan areas?
And if you wanted to single out some region as being in crisis, New York is hardly the place you’d choose. Our biggest social problems are in the “eastern heartland,” an arc running from Louisiana to Michigan. This is where an alarmingly large number of men in their prime working years don’t have jobs and where “deaths of despair” — that is, deaths from alcohol, suicide and drug overdoses — are running high.
The social deterioration of the eastern heartland pretty clearly has economic roots: The rise of a knowledge economy has led to a growing concentration of jobs and wealth in large, highly educated metropolitan areas, leaving much of small-town and rural America stranded. And this loss of opportunity has ended up being reflected in social disintegration, just as the disappearance of jobs did in many inner cities half a century ago.
Strange to say, however, self-proclaimed “populists” like Vance — or Donald Trump — aren’t drawing the obvious parallels between the heartland’s troubles and those of other Americans at other times, or proposing anything that might improve the situation.
Instead, they’re still demagoguing like it’s 1975, contrasting an idealized vision of the heartland that bears ever less resemblance to reality with a dark vision of urban life that’s decades out of date.
And the mythical contrast between bad big cities and good small towns is having destructive, even deadly effects on policy.
Some reporting suggests that one of the reasons the Trump administration downplayed the Covid-19 pandemic in its early stages was the belief that it was solely a large-city, blue-state problem; there were definitely many assertions that the risk was severe only in places with dense populations. And there were many pronouncements — some of them with an unmistakable tone of glee — to the effect that the pandemic would kill big cities and the states that contain them.
In reality, Covid-19, although it initially hit New York hard, was in no way a big-city problem; density doesn’t seem to have mattered at all. For example, South Dakota has roughly the same population as San Francisco; it has had four times as many Covid deaths. And right now rural, Republican-leaning states have much lower vaccination rates than blue states, so that if there is another wave of infections it will turn the myth of cities as hotbeds of disease on its head.
Oh, and while you may have heard that vast numbers of people are fleeing urban, liberal California, this may be just another myth. California has a serious NIMBY-driven housing crisis, but as with New York, if you’ve heard that it has become a terrible place to live that’s because you’ve heard right-wing propaganda.
Besides helping to cripple our pandemic response, the myth of rural virtue and urban vice means that many Republican voters seem unaware that they are among the major beneficiaries of the “big government” their party says it wants to eliminate. That is, they still imagine that the government spends money on urban welfare recipients, not on people like them.
For example, do red-state voters know that federal spending in their states — much of it taking the form of benefits from Social Security and Medicare — greatly exceeds the taxes they pay to Washington? In Kentucky, the most extreme example, the annual inflow of federal money per capita is $14,000 greater than the outflow.
The problem, instead, lies with cynical politicians who disparage some parts of the country and suggest that those regions aren’t part of the “real America.” That cynicism has effectively killed thousands of people in the pandemic — and it could, all too easily, end up killing democracy.
Monday, July 12, 2021
The pastor was already pacing when he gave the first signal. Then he gave another, and another, until a giant video screen behind him was lit up with an enormous colored map of Fort Worth divided into four quadrants.
Greed, the map read over the west side. Competition, it said over the east side. Rebellion, it said over the north part of the city. Lust, it said over the south.
It was an hour and a half into the 11 a.m. service of a church that represents a rapidly growing kind of Christianity in the United States, one whose goal includes bringing under the authority of a biblical God every facet of life, from schools to city halls to Washington, where the pastor had traveled a month after the Jan. 6 insurrection and filmed himself in front of the U.S. Capitol saying quietly, “Father, we declare America is yours.”
Now he stood in front of the glowing map, a 38-year-old White man in skinny jeans telling a congregation of some 1,500 people what he said the Lord had told him: that Fort Worth was in thrall to four “high-ranking demonic forces.” That all of America was in the grip of “an anti-Christ spirit.” That the Lord had told him that 2021 was going to be the “Year of the Supernatural,” a time when believers would rise up and wage “spiritual warfare” to advance God’s Kingdom . . .
The church is called Mercy Culture, and it is part of a growing Christian movement that is nondenominational, openly political and has become an engine of former president Donald Trump’s Republican Party. It includes some of the largest congregations in the nation, housed in the husks of old Baptist churches, former big-box stores and sprawling multimillion-dollar buildings with private security to direct traffic on Sundays.
It is a world in which demons are real, miracles are real, and the ultimate mission is not just transforming individual lives but also turning civilization itself into their version of God’s Kingdom: one with two genders, no abortion, a free-market economy, Bible-based education, church-based social programs and laws such as the ones curtailing LGBTQ rights now moving through statehouses around the country.
This is the world of Trump’s spiritual adviser Paula White and many more lesser-known but influential religious leaders who prophesied that Trump would win the election and helped organize nationwide prayer rallies in the days before the Jan. 6 insurrection, speaking of an imminent “heavenly strike” and “a Christian populist uprising,” leading many who stormed the Capitol to believe they were taking back the country for God.
They also began advancing a set of beliefs called dominionism, which holds that God commands Christians to assert authority over the “seven mountains” of life — family, religion, education, economy, arts, media and government — after which time Jesus Christ will return and God will reign for eternity.
None of which is new, exactly. Strains of this thinking formed the basis of the Christian right in the 1970s and have fueled the GOP for decades.
What is new is the degree to which Trump elevated a fresh network of NAR-style leaders who in turn elevated him as God’s chosen president, a fusion that has secured the movement as a grass-roots force within the GOP just as the old Christian right is waning. Increasingly, this is the world that the term “evangelical voter” refers to . . . .
[T]he pastor was standing on the stage to deliver his sermon, the essence of which was repeated in these kinds of churches all over the nation: America is in the midst of a great battle between the forces of God and Satan, and the forces of Satan roughly resemble the liberal, progressive agenda. Beware of the “seductive, political, demonic, power-hungry spirit that uses witchcraft to control God’s people.” Beware of “freedom that is actually just rebellion against God.” Beware of confusion. Beware of “rogue leaders.” Beware of a world that “preaches toleration of things God does not tolerate,” and on it went for a full hour . . .
Those inside the movement have heard all the criticisms. That their churches are cults that prey on human frailties. That what their churches are preaching about LGTBQ people is a lie that is costing lives in the form of suicides. That the language of spiritual warfare, demonic forces, good and evil is creating exactly the sort of radical worldview that could turn politics into holy war. That the U.S. Constitution does not allow laws privileging a religion. That America does not exist to advance some Christian Kingdom of God or to usher in the second coming of Jesus.
These people and churches are scary and need to be defeated in their political efforts, Here in Virginia, Glenn Youngkin is the darling of these anti-democratic forces.
Sunday, July 11, 2021
“You start out in 1954 by saying, ‘N*****, n*****, n*****.’ By 1968 you can’t say ‘n*****’ — that hurts you, backfires. So you say stuff like, uh, forced busing, states’ rights, and all that stuff, and you’re getting so abstract. Now, you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is, blacks get hurt worse than whites.… ‘We want to cut this,’ is much more abstract than even the busing thing, uh, and a hell of a lot more abstract than ‘N*****, n*****.’ ”
Lee Atwater’s strategy in this quotation from Alexander Lamis’s 1984 book, The Two-Party South, is on full display in the current Republican apoplectic aneurysm over Critical Race Theory (CRT).
As Sir Winston Churchill is credited with saying, “Never let a good crisis go to waste.” Apparently, if there isn’t a crisis to use, the modern GOP will simply create one.
There is a long history of success using this strategy:
-Black Lives Matter
-Critical Race Theory
The names change, but the strategy remains. The strategy, however, is not racism; that is merely the tool. The strategy is fear.
In their book, The Long Southern Strategy: How Chasing White Voters in the South Changed American Politics, Angie Maxwell and Todd Shields state:
“It is more than ‘backlash politics.’ It is orchestrated backlash politics. Campaigns made choices, set fires, and even poured on the gasoline if accelerant was needed, which is why the passage of time has not, in fact extinguished such prejudice. It is kept aflame as long as it is stoked.”
Critical Race Theory is not being taught in any elementary, middle, or high school in Virginia. However, across the Commonwealth, school boards are being asked to prove a negative, and when they can’t, because one cannot prove a negative, that is used as irrefutable proof that the schools are hiding something. It is a self-created political sleight of hand.
So when Glenn Youngkin stands in front of the Loudoun County school administration building and declares that he will fight CRT, he is using a page directly out of the Atwater playbook. When his wife comes to Prince William County and announces that it was parents who first stood up against CRT, not politicians. This opposition, she claimed, was due to remote learning and parents seeing for the first time that their children were being brainwashed.
Of course, her argument leaves out the obvious fact that this political juggernaut did not gain any steam until after children left school for the summer and presumably had returned their CRT-laced textbooks while also assuming that the parents now completely invested in protecting their children from CRT never checked those very same children’s homework before the pandemic.
Fear and distraction have replaced bread and circuses as the chief tools of modern politics. While CRT is not happening in any Loudoun County school today, in November 2020 those same schools were found to have violated the Virginia Human Rights Act, Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment to the Constitution, and Titles IV and VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.
Instead of reflecting on how Loudoun County schools were found to have been discriminatory against African-American and Latino students when the county was red, Republicans have decided that they will use the response to that suit, an equity policy, as the basis to falsely claim that a graduate-level legal theory is being taught to elementary school children, thus distracting from the original issue while purposefully creating a fear among parents that their children are going to be taught to hate themselves because they are white. Atwater was right; that is much more abstract than simply yelling “N*****.”
So why bring this up on a conservative blog? Because truth matters. . . . Stop using fear, distraction, and lies as campaign strategies. Admit that CRT is not being taught in schools. Acknowledge that after exhaustive searches in Michigan, Arizona, and Georgia, there was no voter fraud. Stop pushing to pass voting restrictions that have a higher impact on minorities. In other words, back away from fear and step towards truth.
Machiavelli’s advice in The Prince still holds true: “Whosoever desires constant success must change his conduct with the times.” The times have changed, and so too must the Republican Party.
Ashli Babbitt, the 35-year-old QAnon supporter and Trump superfan who was killed in the U.S. Capitol building on Jan. 6, is already far more famous in death than she ever was in life. Her fate reminded me of a famous 1963 episode of "The Twilight Zone," "He's Alive," in which Adolf Hitler's ghost (Curt Conway) returns from the grave to teach a young neo-Nazi named Peter Vollmer (Dennis Hopper) how to manipulate a crowd. Hitler explains that exploiting the death of an obscure follower transforms that individual into a heroic martyr. "This is an act of friendship," says the spectral Führer. "We are allowing him to serve the cause."
Whether or not Donald Trump and his movement think they are doing Babbitt a favor by lionizing after her death, she has clearly become a sacrifice to the ex-president's ego and glory. Trump's supporters are eager to uncover the name of the police officer who shot Babbitt, but much less eager to remember that she died after Trump urged an angry right-wing mob to storm the Capitol. The video of her shooting, which makes clear that Babbitt and other members of the mob were literally trying to break into the House chamber and attack members of Congress, is likewise swept under the rug. That's without even mentioning the obvious fact that Babbitt died in service of the bogus cause of Trump's Big Lie about the 2020 election.
There's a disturbing historical echo behind Trump and his supporters' effort to manipulate Babbitt's death this way, an echo also clearly referenced in Rod Serling's script for the "Twilight Zone" episode. That would be the case of Horst Wessel, who became for Hitler and the Nazi Party what Babbitt may now be for the Trump.
Born in the German city of Bielefeld in 1907, Wessel was a law school dropout who joined the SA or "brownshirts," the Nazi Party's paramilitary organization, during the waning days of the Weimar Republic in the late 1920s. He was perhaps more like a member of the contemporary Proud Boys or Oath Keepers; we still don't know how deeply Ashli Babbitt was involved with right-wing extremism. At any rate, Wessel impressed future Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels, helped organize the Nazi youth movement in Vienna and staged or led numerous violent street clashes in Berlin with Communists — the antifa of their day, more or less. Wessel fancied himself as a tough guy and sought out situations where he could act out his macho impulses. Given that, his death almost had elements of farce. After a dispute with his Communist landlady — which was likely over unpaid rent, not politics — Wessel was shot on the street by two other Communists on Jan. 14, 1930. He died in a hospital a few weeks later, three years before the Nazis took power in Germany.
Wessel looks like a distinctly mediocre individual in the historical rear-view mirror, but the Nazis transformed his life and death into legend. In a campaign approved by Hitler and led by Goebbels, Nazi propaganda outlets depicted him as a hero. His funeral procession was viewed by 30,000 people who lined the streets of Berlin. He become the subject of a major motion picture and was honored by numerous monuments and books. A song Wessel had written for the SA the year before he died, later universally known as the "Horst Wessel Song," became an unofficial anthem of the Third Reich: According to a 1934 law, every German citizen had to give the "Hitler greeting" upon hearing it.
As far as we know, Ashli Babbitt didn't write a song and had no previous history of right-wing violence. But like Wessel, she cannot be described as a peaceful protester or even an overzealous advocate for a dubious cause. She died in a violent attack against democracy, as part of the first serious effort in American history to overturn an election by force. She died based on the lies of a would-be authoritarian dictator, the first American president to resist leaving office after losing an election. Her death was a personal tragedy, no doubt. But now the cynical movement that sent her to die in the Capitol wants to exploit that tragedy by turning her into a martyr for fascism. We've seen that before, and we've seen where that can lead — to a place even darker than the Twilight Zone.
A new survey from the Public Religion Research Institute shows white Evangelicals last year experienced “the most precipitous drop in affiliation” among American religious groups since 2006, shrinking from 23 percent of Americans that year to 14 percent in 2020. Their mainline Protestant peers, however, have enjoyed something of a resurgence, picking up members as Evangelical numbers declined.
There are inescapable political implications to any religious trend, and the fortunes of white Evangelicalism are no different. In particular, they present potential problems for the GOP, which still relies on white Evangelicals as a key portion of its base.
Among Republicans, two-thirds identify as white Christians of some persuasion, according to PRRI, with 29 percent identifying as white Evangelicals specifically, a decline from previous years that reflects the general downward slope of white Evangelical affiliation. People who identify themselves as white Evangelicals remain highly enthusiastic about Donald Trump. A recent Pew Research study found that he actually expanded his share of the Evangelical vote in 2020, rising from 77 percent in 2016 to 84 percent four years later.
While white Evangelicals are shrinking as a share of the population, they’re also getting older. PRRI reports that they “are the oldest religious group in the U.S., with a median age of 56, compared to the median age in the country of 47.” This isn’t exactly a sign that a religious tradition has a robust demographic future; it’s also, again, a problem for the GOP, . . . . Confronted with a demographic crisis that affects its core constituencies, the party could double down on nationalist rhetoric and on voter suppression as a means of keeping power. Trumpism, in other words, may be the glue that keeps its base intact, even though it alienates a larger share of the population.
The Republican Party’s traditional coalition has far to go before it fades altogether; liberal triumphalism won’t win elections or protect anyone from the conservative movement’s encroaching hostility toward multiracial democracy. Demographics are not destiny after all. Even so, the decline of white Evangelicals sends a deeper message. The marriage of religion and politics — and quite specifically, religion and the nativist, far-right politics of the GOP — might help win an election here and there.
White Evangelicals haven’t lost their grip on political power quite yet, but their moral power is in question. As they shrink, they may lose their ability to fulfill the religious calling at the heart of their identity. If Evangelism is going to work, it requires some moral authority. Perhaps by siding with Trump, white Evangelicals are losing theirs, fast.
From following the so-called "Christian Right" for over three decades, there are few demographic in the nation more morally bankrupt than evangelicals. Their allegiance to Trump has thankfully made that moral bankruptcy easier to see for the larger population.