Thursday, February 25, 2016

"Here Comes Trump the Butcher with a Heaping Plate" of the Reddest of Meat: So Why Are White Evangelicals Flocking to Trump?

So how have we gotten here, in the nation with the soul of a church? How have we gotten to the point at which racism, misogyny, homophobia, and xenophobia of the grossest, most blatant and obvious sort has come out of the closet in our political process and is being mainstreamed, normalized, by one of our two major political parties?

Where have our religious leaders and churches been as this alarming process has taken place? What has been their role in preaching against it? — a question people now ask repeatedly about the churches in Germany as Hitler and the Nazis rose to power.

What's that you say? Many people of faith and their churches are behind Donald Trump? And the U.S. Catholic bishops, who have done everything but stand on their heads for some years now to ally themselves with those very same people of faith and with their churches, are totally silent about the rise of Donald Trump.

Do tell.

As Lauren Fox reports, social scientists, journalists, heads of think tanks like Michael Cromartie of the Ethics and Public Policy Center, are baffled at Trump's powerful appeal to white evangelicals. Fox cites Cromartie:

"I must say: I am completely baffled by the Trump and evangelical numbers. Bizarre," Michael Cromartie, the Vice President of the Ethics and Public Policy Center, first said in response to a query on the topic. 
Cromartie said that either evangelical voters are not prioritizing their values when they go to the ballot box or the definition of "evangelical" or "born again Christian" has grown too broad.

And yet as a leading historian of U.S. evangelicalism in the 20th century, Randall Balmer, has long since conclusively demonstrated, it's about the racism, folks. It's about the racism now, and it has been about the racism from the time white evangelical churches mobilized in response to the Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s, and began building separate institutions (e.g., church-sponsored schools) to shield their adherents from having to rub shoulders with people of color who were finally receiving rights long denied to them with the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

It's about the racism. And the entitlement of straight white males. And it has been about that from the Civil Rights period forward, so that it would appear to be . . . odd . . . for us to ask now why white evangelicals are ecstatic about Donald Trump in 2016. White evangelical voters in the South flocked to the Republican party in response to gross racist dog-whistles after the passage of the Civil Rights Act under a Democratic president, and they have become only more ardently Republican as the Republican party became a bastion of misogyny and homophobia, intertwined with that gross racism.

There's a direct, clear — a bright and shining — line from 1964 to Donald Trump today. Here's evangelical commentator Fred Clark this morning at his Slacktivist blog: 

And that is what these white Christians are looking for — for some all-powerful figure to end their exile. Because they imagine they are in exile — that they have been taken out of their land and had their nation taken away from them. And they’re not shy about telling us exactly why they feel like they are in exile: 
"I am thankful there is a man who is willing to STOP illegal immigration, and send back those who came here illegally. I support someone who has strong business savvy. Seriously, consider what we have had for the past 7 years!!!!"
Brown people and a black president. These folks aren't supporting Trump despite of his racism. They're supporting him because of his racism. And because of theirs.

And here's Juan Cole this morning at the Moyers Blog, noting that the "rise of Donald Trump to the presumptive Republican standard bearer for president in 2016 is an indictment of, and a profound danger to, the American republic." As Cole points out, while Trump advances with each new primary, the mainstream media and the leaders of the Republican party have performed dreadfully, and are speaking "in such a way as to naturalize the creepy, weird and completely un-American positions Trump has taken": as he adds,

This is how the dictators came to power in the 1920s and 1930s. Good people remained silent or acquiesced.

And then Cole goes on to note Trump's wild popularity among white evangelicals, a popularity which demonstrates, he thinks (and he's right about this), that American evangelicalism is "in some part a form of white male chauvinist nationalism and only secondarily about religion":

But Trump has made it very clear that he is not interested in a significant proportion of the people in the country. He is a white nationalist, and his message is that he will stand up for white Christian people against the Chinese, the Mexicans and the Muslims. Just as Adolph Hitler hoped for an alliance with Anglo-Saxon Britain on racial grounds (much preferring it to the less white Italy), the only foreign leader Trump likes is the "white" Vladimir Putin. That he won the evangelical vote again in Nevada is helpful for us in seeing that American evangelicalism itself is in some part a form of white male chauvinist nationalism and only secondarily about religion.

Mr. Trump, you inspire us all! declared former Southern Baptist minister and religious right media mogul Rev. Pat Robertson yesterday.

You inspire us all!

Juan Cole's dead on the money: we did not get to this alarming point in our national political life, our national cultural discourse, without the active assistance of many religious leaders who should have known better, without the pandering of journalists whose duty is to protect our fragile democracy by exposing demagoguery and challenging hate speech, without the collusion of the leaders of the political party Mr. Trump represents. Here's David Corn this morning, underscoring the same points: 

It's been a long run of Republicans accepting, encouraging, and exploiting uncivil discourse, anti-Obama hatred, and right-wing anger. (Republicans also welcomed nearly $300,000 in campaign contributions from Trump since he went birther.) The GOP raised the expectations of its Obama-detesting base and primed the pump for Trump. There is not much wonder that a xenophobic and misogynistic bigot and bully who bashes immigrants and calls for a Muslim ban—and who also slams the Republican insiders for rigging the system—should now find a receptive audience within the GOP's electorate. For years, Republicans gave their voters a taste for the reddest of meat. That increased the appetite for more. And here comes Trump the butcher with a heaping plate. 
Oh, the clichés abound. You play with fire. The chickens come home to roost. Hoisted on your own petard. You reap what you sow. The call is coming from inside the house. The GOP elite laid the foundation on which Trump is building the biggest, classiest—really classy—most beautiful insurgent presidential campaign in all of US history. And there may be no emergency exit.

You xenophobic and misogynistic bigot and bully who bashes immigrants and calls for a Muslim ban, you inspire us all!

And here's the prophetic response of two culturally and religiously marginal religious leaders, both women, one Latina, who are trying to make their voices heard against the "inspiration" that Mr. Trump represents: Bishop Minerva Carcano and Sister Simone Campbell state

Mr. Trump is executing a political strategy that has been around for millennia: channeling anger born of fear. He is not the only candidate to do so, but his microphone seems to be the loudest and the angriest. We understand that much of this fear is coming from those who see their majority status – white and Christian and male – changing. They have not felt that they have someone standing alongside them. But Mr. Trump’s promise to defend their Christianity is merely a political ploy to grab their votes. It’s not just manipulative and cynical, it diminishes the deep wisdom of our Christian faith, and that is offensive to us.

We understand that much of this fear is coming from those who see their majority status – white and Christian and male – changing: this doesn't notably inspire us, as women, one white and one Latina, hoping to hear a message of good news from our churches, and hoping to see the gospel proclaimed by our churches acting as a liberating and not a reactionary force within our culture.

Surely such liberation is sorely needed when, as Inae Oh has just reported, a recent New York Times poll shows 20 percent of Trump supporters disagreeing with the freeing of slaves following the Civil War, and "a staggering 70 percent" wanting the Confederate flag still flown above official grounds in their states. Oh, and there's this, too, from the same poll:

One-third of Trump's primary supporters in South Carolina favored "barring gays and lesbians from entering the country." According to the Times, this is more than twice the support this proposal received by Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio backers."

And so here's where we've ended up, with Mr. Trump's "inspiration" and with the ominous silence of church leaders, the mainstream media, and one of our two major political parties as the "inspiration" spreads: this is Abby Zimet reporting

[Trump] in turn proudly declared "I love the poorly educated," prompting a Twitter storm: "I love the poorly educated, the racists, the bigots, the pro-slavery crowd...Thanks for the shout-out....Does clown college count?...Of course, they're the ones who are going to build his idiot wall." 
To bolster his view, even more questionably educated supporters surfaced Wednesday with new white supremacist robocalls in Vermont, with additional ones  reportedly scheduled for Minnesota on Thursday. The message from American National Super PAC founder William Daniel Johnson, a farmer and self-described white nationalist, echoed similar messages sent out earlier in Iowa and New Hampshire; in response to those, Trump noted that "people are right to be furious" but then technically "disavowed" them in what their authors said was "the nicest possible way." In the new calls, Johnson, who advocates voluntary racial segregation, urges right-thinking Americans, "Don't vote for a Cuban. Vote for Donald Trump." He goes on, "The white race is dying out in America and Europe because we are afraid to be called 'racist.' It’s okay to give away our country through immigration, but don’t call me racist... It’s okay that few schools anymore have beautiful white children as the majority, but don’t call me racist." 

We are, in short, marching ourselves towards a fascist society in which — and this is typical of fascist cultures — white supremacy connects to xenophobic oppression of immigrants connects to racist attacks on people of color connects to beating up on women and LGBT people. As Trump rises to power, "a backlash against LGBT equality is in full swing" across the U.S., Michelangelo Signorile reports several days ago.

And that backlash will become only more pronounced if the "inspiring" Mr. Trump is elected president, so that the progress that LGBT citizens of the U.S. and those who care about us thought we had made with the Obergefell decision and marriage equality could very quickly be reversed — and then some — leaving us once again in the legal and cultural limbo to which the church leaders cheering Mr. Trump on wish to keep us consigned.

This muscular reflex action of the bullying fascist fist — to beat up on women and LGBT folks — is part and parcel of the fascist mindset, according to novelist Umberto Eco, who died recently. After Eco's death, Christopher Dickey has pointed us to an interesting essay on fascism that Eco published in 1995 in New York Review of Books. In that essay, Eco states, 

Since both permanent war and heroism are difficult games to play, the Ur-Fascist transfers his will to power to sexual matters. This is the origin of machismo (which implies both disdain for women and intolerance and condemnation of nonstandard sexual habits, from chastity to homosexuality). Since even sex is a difficult game to play, the Ur-Fascist hero tends to play with weapons—doing so becomes an ersatz phallic exercise.

Attacks on women and sexual minorities are part and parcel of fascist polities because these polities want to normalize war. War cannot be waged incessantly outside the national borders of any nation, however. And so it goes internal: the bellicose impulse of the fascist leader — his bullying fist — is expressed in acts of hostility inside the national borders, targeting women and queer people. 

The Trump show, with its racism, misogyny, homophobia, and xenophobia, is being brought to us by the political party that, as the Pew Research Center has just reminded us, enjoys exceptionally strong support among Mormons and white evangelicals. But what of the Catholic bishops, who have allied themselves politically with those very same religious-political groups?

Where are they, as Donald Trump rises to power? What are they talking about? 

Well, they're talking about the Girl Scouts. And whether it's moral to buy Thin Mints. As Patricia Miller notes, for St. Louis Catholic Archbishop Robert Carlson, the big moral question of our period of history has turned out to be, Can I buy Thin Mints? (His Excellency's response: "Each person must act in accord with their [sic] conscience. It is also our duty to form our consciences and learn the issues.")

Miller notes:

[W]hat has Carlson concerned isn't anything specific Girl Scouts or Girl Scout troops in St. Louis are doing. His concerns include a rehash of charges against the national Girl Scouts organization ginned up by conservatives associated with the Ethics and Public Policy Center and given credence by an "investigation" by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. These charges boil down to the organization’s membership in the World Association of Girl Guides and Girls Scouts (WAGGGS), which, according to the bishops, advocates for "so-called ‘sexual and reproductive health/rights'. " . . . 
In fact, Carlson seems to have a bee in his bonnet about "transgender and homosexual concerns."

As Amanda Marcotte points out, this beating up on the Girl Scouts is part and parcel of the U.S. Catholic bishops' assault on women in general — a bullying assault that goes hand in hand with Trump's women-bashing, so why on earth would we expect the U.S. Catholic bishops to speak out about the dangers Trump clearly represents? Marcotte writes, 

The real lesson here is that the right clearly doesn't intend to stop with the war on Planned Parenthood. Any organization perceived as helping women achieve independence and equality with men is subject to  a campaign involving heavy usage of the word "abortion" until they are marginalized, even a group as asexual as the Girl Scouts. Because this is not and never was about abortion, but about rolling back the gains women have made in the home and the workplace.

So, finally, this is who we've succeeded in making ourselves, as we — and our church leaders — lionize the "inspiring" Donald Trump despite how he so blatantly belies the "family values" celebrated by those same leaders: Lynn Stuart Parramore notes

Kardashian and Trump appear to represent a kind of capitalist abundance and freedom. What they really signify, however, is the imprisonment of the self and a future of further restricted possibilities. 
When our connections to each other fall away and our self-absorption intensifies, Americans' chances to act collectively to redefine the terms of our lives diminishes. Trump's loud talk of building walls and roughing up those who get in the way is really the whisper of an authoritarian future where the freedom and abundance are reserved for elites who will protect their privileges at any cost. 
The real wall will be around us — to keep us in our place. And we will have helped build our new reality.

Where are American Catholics and American Catholic leaders as all of this is going on? Well, they're talking about the Girl Scouts. And Thin Mints and the morality thereof. 

And, at Catholic blog sites and the Catholic media, about the dangers of birth control pills. And whether Pope Paul VI did or did not say that nuns in the Congo living in danger of rape might use those dangerous and evil pills to avoid pregnancy (hint: he did say this, though even centrist Catholics are now acceding to a nasty Trumpian disinformation campaign mounted by the Catholic right, which calls into question the veracity of this report and of the current pope himself, as he cites Paul VI in noting that contraception might be morally legitimate to prevent pregnancy in face of the Zika epidemic).

And they're talking, the best and brightest among us at Catholic blog and news sites, about how inspiring Mr. Scalia was, with all that "optimism"  he had.

God save us from ourselves, and our ignorance and venality and the hardness of our shriveled little hearts and the puniness of our tiny, uneducated moral imaginations. Though we hardly merit saving, it seems, as Mr. Trump rises to power, and we natter on about Thin Mints.

(Later: When I posted this earlier today, I meant to append a note of thanks to my friend Brittmarie Janson Pérez for sending me the link to Lynn Stuart Parramore's article. Thanks, Brittle!)

No comments: