Monday, November 7, 2016

"Hillary Wants to Kill Babies": Lazy, Immoral Shorthand for "I Prefer the Misogynistic, Racist, Xenophobic, Homophobic Candidate Because He's 'Pro-Life' "

Patricia Maguire, president of Trinity Washington University, a Catholic university in D.C., writes

What is most surprising about the PRRI poll results is not that Catholic women favor Clinton, but that so many Catholic men favor Trump.

All in one day, several pieces of information about the voting choices of a slice of U.S. Christians (white, conservative) fall into my lap. I'm calling these pieces of information testimony. I'd like to share this testimony with you on the (actual) eve of this monumentally important U.S. election:

1. The following comes from two emails that an acquaintance and correspondent of mine, a cloistered Benedictine nun in England, has just sent me:

I very much fear that Trump will get in.  Apart from the abortion issue why do people hate Hillary so much? . . . I have been sent two homilies by Catholic priests telling people clearly to vote for Trump.  It isn't clear to me why so many think Hillary is "evil"   - surely that can't all be down to the abortion issue?

2. Here's Annika, commenting yesterday in a Bilgrimage thread:

My aunt really surprised me. While I've never directly asked who she votes for, I've had conversations with her about marriage equality and gun control and criminal justice reform--all topics on which she has quite liberal views. Yet somehow, she's voting for Trump because, as she told my mom, "Hillary wants to kill babies." I just don't understand how so many people are boiling this election down to abortion, when there are so many more important issues at stake.

3. Steve and I had dinner last night with a cousin of mine and his friend. My cousin recounted a recent conversation he had with a woman who was fishing to find out his political views. He told her he was voting for Hillary. She drew herself up and replied proudly, "I voted for Trump."

Then my cousin said, "She cited one reason for her vote. Can you guess it?" "Abortion," I replied. He nodded: "You're exactly right."

My cousin's friend grew up in a large Catholic family in Arkansas. Most of her siblings are voting Trump, she told us. Why? Hillary wants to kill babies, they say.

The Benedictine nun whose email I cite is in touch by email with a number of Catholics in the U.S. I know from discussions she and I have had that some of these are very right-wing Catholics, including people associated with Ave Maria University. In her first email to me yesterday, she sent a video clip that a Catholic correspondent of hers had sent her. She asked me what I thought of it.

I can see, without clicking on the video, that it's a typical Hillary demonization piece from a website that has "Christian" in its title. I can infer from the title of the video and what my Benedictine acquaintance tells me that the video attempts to link Hillary Clinton to a worldwide conspiracy of Muslims (of which President Obama is a key player, in this maleficent "Christian" worldview) whose intent is to destroy the Christian West. Why else does she have close ties to Huma Abedin, they ask in a "Christian" video they're sharing far and wide as people go to the polls to vote in the U.S.?

I told my English acquaintance that I don't have the heart to watch what appears to be an ugly propaganda video right now, but will eventually do so, since she sent it to me — after the election is over. I also told her that I can see merely by noting who has produced and is circulating this video that it is of a piece with the kind of propaganda I've seen circulating in "Christian" circles this election period about Hillary Clinton. 

It's of a piece with what the same "Christian" circles have done to President Obama throughout his presidency. I can fully understand that my Benedictine acquaintance, a woman living in another country, in a religious cloister, does not have the same feel that I do for these toxic currents of religious-political thought in the U.S., and doesn't know quite what to believe, when some of her regular correspondents in the U.S. are Catholics to the hard-right who revel in such anti-Hillary (and anti-Obama) propaganda.

I also understand that she's perplexed by the question about why people hate Hillary Clinton so passionately. She finds it hard to believe the hatred all boils down to abortion. And so she's predisposed to think that there must be some other — some reasonable and credible basis — for the hatred. Hence her interest in the possibility that Hillary Clinton is part of an international Muslim conspiracy to destroy the Christian West. 

And so I'm very interested in the testimony of Annika's aunt — Hillary wants to kill babies — which was echoed in precisely the same words by my cousin's friend who grew up in a large Catholic family in Arkansas, most of whose siblings are voting for Trump. Annika, I hope you won't think that in responding to your testimony, I'm in any way trying to attack your aunt personally. I really want to think through what's going on with this charge that Hillary Clinton wants to kill babies.

My cousin's report that a woman he met recently told him she's voting for Trump solely because Trump is pro-life and Hillary Clinton is not (so this person thinks) and the question my Benedictine acquaintance in England is asking — Can it truly all boil down to the abortion issue, this loathing of Hillary Clinton? — lead me to conclude that there actually is more to the hatred of Hillary Clinton among people who claim she wants to kill babies, than that glib phrase reveals.

The phrase itself tells us that these are people who have demonized Hillary Clinton, since when has she ever proclaimed that she wishes to kill babies? Demonize: to associate a person or group of people with the demonic, with Satan; to turn a person or group of people into Satanic agents. "Hillary wants to kill babies" is shorthand for "Hillary is Satanic" or "Hillary is in league with the devil."

There's a worldview lying behind these charges that is bigger than abortion itself. It's quite specifically a white ethno-nationalist worldview that reflects fear and loathing of many Others who seem to have taken over what those mounting these charges are confident is "their" white Christian nation. This is a worldview that is intently patriarchal and completely willing to turn a woman seeking power that the patriarchal worldview refuses to accord her into a witch, a demon, someone who revels in killing babies. Those promoting this white ethno-nationalist worldview full of fear and loathing of many targeted Others are predictably racist, xenophobic, misogynistic, and homophobic.

So, yes to my Benedictine acquaintance in England: it's about more than abortion. It's about how the so-called "pro-life" movement in the U.S. has become a corrosive, anti-life political force in the U.S. that itself deserves the tag demonic, because it has become a vehicle for hateful, socially destructive -isms that are now threatening to rend the social fabric of America — to tear up the social fabric of the nation because a solid core of conservative white Christians do not intend to relinquish their fantasy of some "right" God has given them to control the nation, even as that core of conservative white Christians becomes a minority in an increasingly diverse electorate.

"Hillary wants to kill babies" is lazy shorthand for, "I want my white Christian country back." It's lazy shorthand for, "'They' are destroying my country, and I do not intend to stand for it any longer." It's lazy, duplicitous shorthand for, "God put this country into my hands, not theirs, and all those women/Latinos/African Americans/gays — fill in the blank — need to step down and stop trying to claim rights that were never given to them."

It's lazy shorthand for racism, misogyny, xenophobia, and homophobia, and it — and the behavior of a shocking number of white American Christians this election cycle — reveal to us a demonic potential in American Christianity that is far more deeply anti-life, far more deeply destructive, than  the legal option for American women to have abortions after Roe v. Wade has ever been.

A shocking number of U.S. Christians this election cycle are quite deliberately choosing to vote for racism, misogyny, xenophobia, and homophobia as core Christian values, and are trying to wrap up this filthy, immoral political choice in language that the so-called "pro-life" movement (that is, white evangelical leaders and the U.S. Catholic bishops) has willingly gorged them with over several decades now. Anyone who thinks Christianity has a viable future in the U.S. following this historic election has work cut out for him/her: that work is quite specifically to rescue Christianity and its brand from the truly demonic "pro-life" movement in American Christianity.

No comments: