Wednesday, May 3, 2017

More from Frances Fitzgerald's The Evangelicals: The Struggle to Shape America: Race and the Shift of White Evangelicals to Republican Party

And, as a complement to what I have just posted about Trump's analysis of the Civil War and Andrew Jackson and how both reflect white supremacist ideology, here aresome more excerpts from Frances FitzGerald, The Evangelicals: The Struggle to Shape America (NY: Simon & Schuster, 2017).  These are not in the least unrelated to Trump's remarks about the Civil War and Jackson:

The most important change in American politics since the New Deal, the shift [of white Southerners to the Republican party] owed largely to the general southern reaction to the federal civil rights laws, but evangelicals – who made up two fifths of white southern voters – played a critical role, particularly from the late 1970s on (p. 330).

FitzGerald highlights the testimony of right-wing Catholic* religious right activist Paul Weyrich about how he helped fashion the religious-right alliance of the U.S. Catholic bishops and hardline anti-abortion white Catholics in the U.S. with right-wing white evangelicals:

Later Weyrich told an interviewer, "What galvanized the Christian community was not abortion, school prayer, or the ERA. I am living witness to that because I was trying to get those people interested in those issues and I utterly failed. What changed their mind was Jimmy Carter's intervention against the Christian schools, trying to deny them tax-exempt status on the basis of so-called de facto segregation" (p. 304). 

As Randall Balmer and others have noted, the religious right movement got off the ground due to the determination of white evangelicals and the U.S. Catholic bishops to resist federal "intrusion" in Christian schools when the federal government began to rule that church-based schools could not legitimately claim federal tax support and tax exemptions while they flouted federal non-discrimination laws. Many such schools were set up in the American South following the integration of public schools to circumvent the integration process. They wanted both to ignore federal non-discrimination laws and to receive federal tax benefits — and when the federal government judged otherwise, notably in the Supreme Court ruling in Bob Jones v. United States, white evangelicals, with the active collusion and prodding of the U.S. Catholic bishops, went ballistic. The religious right (and the fetishization of a "right" to discriminate against LGBT people today while crying "religious freedom") was the result.

The religious right movement was born in resistance to the rights of African Americans and to the process of desegregation. The aborion issue became an instrumentally useful issue for holding together the right-wing Catholic and right-wing white evangelical alliance after the religious right movement had come into existence due to animosity to the process of desegregation.

Here's Frances FitzGerald on how the key religious right leader Jerry Falwell viewed the process of integration:

In the fall of 1958 he [Falwell] preached a sermon ("Segregation or Integration, Which?") against the implementation of Brown in which he rehearsed a number of the arguments being made in southern fundamentalist circles: integration was "the work of the Devil’" that would lead to the destruction of the white race; "the true Negro" did not want integration, and "We see the hand of Moscow in the background" (p. 284).

And then, to draw the line from these historical events to the present, here's FitzGerald on the Tea Party, which pollsters and commentators find significantly overlapping with the religious right:

. . . Tea Party activists did not entirely share the free market fundamentalism and the hostility to government spending that characterized the business elite that financed the movement. Yes, they resented taxes and government regulations, but like many in the Christian right they had a positive view of government programs such as Social Security, Medicare, and veterans’=' benefits. What they vehemently opposed were programs, such as Obama's Affordable Care Act, which helped the young and the poor. The distinction they made was between government programs they perceived as going to hardworking, productive members of society, such as themselves, and "handouts" that went to undeserving "freeloaders" – a category that seemed largely to be made of African Americans, Hispanic immigrants, and the young (p. 596).     

As FitzGerald notes,

Many conservative evangelicals, including their principal activists, had joined the Tea Party and had elevated opposition to higher taxes and Obama's health care reform to the status of biblical absolutes (p. 613).

And, finally:

The Christian right was an equally forceful reaction, not against liberal theology, but rather against the social revolution of the 1960s. Its dominant theme was nostalgia for some previous time in history – some quasi-mythological past – in which America was a (white) Christian nation (p. 626).

As Robert P. Jones has been telling us (and here and here) for some time now, what has driven the turn of the Republican party to the hard right that has brought us Donald Trump is white Christians, especially white evangelicals. They are furious that they are losing control of "their" country, and they're determined to take it back — or, failing to accomplish that, to blow it up, an attitude that puts many of us who remember the Civil Rights struggle of the 1950s and 1960s, when the prevailing attitude of white Southerners was, "If 'they' get to go to 'our' schools and use 'our' swimming pools, we'll shut the damned things down." 

All of this, which has never died in the white South and among the white Southern evangelicals who are his strongest base of support, has brought us Donald Trump.

Jones writes in New York Times two days ago, 

White Christians are today struggling to face a new reality: the inevitable surrender of table ownership in exchange for an equal seat. And it's this new higher-stakes challenge that is fueling the great partisan reorientation we are witnessing today. 
The temptation for the Republican Party, especially with Donald Trump in the White House, is to double down on a form of white Christian nationalism, which treats racial and religious identity as tribal markers and defends a shrinking demographic with increasingly autocratic assertions of power.

*Weyrich eventually shifted from the Roman to the Melkite Greek Catholic church because he thought the latter rite (which is in union with Rome) was more conservative than the Roman one.

The photo of the cover of Frances FitzGerald's book is from its Amazon page.

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