2020-09-29

The Christian elites have always been more clear-eyed about Trump’s lack of religiosity than they’ve publicly let on

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by Neil Godfrey

The conservative Christian elites Trump surrounds himself with have always been more clear-eyed about his lack of religiosity than they’ve publicly let on. In a September 2016 meeting with about a dozen influential figures on the religious right—including the talk-radio host Eric Metaxas, the Dallas megachurch pastor Robert Jeffress, and the theologian Wayne Grudem—the then-candidate was blunt about his relationship to Christianity. In a recording of the meeting obtained by The Atlantic, the candidate can be heard shrugging off his scriptural ignorance (“I don’t know the Bible as well as some of the other people”) and joking about his inexperience with prayer (“The first time I met [Mike Pence], he said, ‘Will you bow your head and pray?’ and I said, ‘Excuse me?’ I’m not used to it.”) At one point in the meeting, Trump interrupted a discussion about religious freedom to complain about Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska and brag about the taunting nickname he’d devised for him. “I call him Little Ben Sasse,” Trump said. “I have to do it, I’m sorry. That’s when my religion always deserts me.”

And yet, by the end of the meeting—much of which was spent discussing the urgency of preventing trans women from using women’s restrooms—the candidate had the group eating out of his hand. “I’m not voting for Trump to be the teacher of my third grader’s Sunday-school class. That’s not what he’s running for,” Jeffress said in the meeting, adding, “I believe it is imperative … that we do everything we can to turn people out.”

The Faustian nature of the religious right’s bargain with Trump has not always been quite so apparent to rank-and-file believers. According to the Pew Research Center, white evangelicals are more than twice as likely as the average American to say that the president is a religious man. Some conservative pastors have described him as a “baby Christian,” and insist that he’s accepted Jesus Christ as his savior.

To those who have known and worked with Trump closely, the notion that he might have a secret spiritual side is laughable. . . .

Coppins, Mckay. 2020. “Trump Secretly Mocks His Christian Supporters.The Atlantic, October 2020.


2020-09-28

The Idiocy Effect

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by Neil Godfrey

At stake here are differing rationalities of trust, and different ways of signalling to voters that the leader is ‘one of them’ (Manin, 1997, p. 130).

King Lear and the Fool in the Storm by William Dyce (Wikimedia) — Shakespearean irony has been trumped off-stage.

Even Margaret Thatcher was not an oddity in this respect: she famously claimed to run the nation’s finances as a housewife would, with the home in Thatcher’s analogy constituting its moral heart. Jeremy Corbyn is presented as ordinary, well-meaning, quite simple and good, and even – arguably – Boris Johnson’s buffoonery makes him, in effect, an example of what we could call the idiocy of power in democratic societies. Theodor Adorno wrote famously of Adolf Hitler that he combined the qualities of King Kong with those of a suburban barber – the absurd little man condensed into a super-hero (Adorno, 1991, p. [127] – link is to PDF). Of course, idiocy works in different ways: Jeremy Corbyn is appreciated by his supporters as a simple man, a man of principle, and so not like an ordinary politician of the establishment. Corbyn’s style has a kind of anti-charismatic quality that gives him, paradoxically, an odd kind of charisma for his following. Whether he is actually ordinary or not is another matter. Nevertheless, idiocy effects are, we suggest, quite real.

Populist trust can be generated by idiocy in that such a personal style is both an individualizing yet also a hard-to-fake device for signalling trust on the lines of ‘if I am this absurd (or, if Trump, this out of line), I must be genuine’.

The ancient Greek notion of idiocy distinguished it from the rationality of the citizen; in this sense, the idiot is not a fool but a genuine, ordinary person – perhaps one who sees through the tired conventions of politics.

Molyneux, Maxine, and Thomas Osborne. 2017. “Populism: A Deflationary View.” Economy and Society 46 (1): 1–19. https://doi.org/10.1080/03085147.2017.1308059. pp. 5-6


2020-09-24

Overthrowing the 2020 Election, US Safety and the World’s Future

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by Neil Godfrey

Over the past week I have been sifting through tweets, newsfeeds, video clips to collate the evidence that Trump has no intention of allowing the election of November 2020 to result in his removal from office. Yet in the last few days Trump has come out and publicly declared just that. There is no need to direct attention to the signposts that have marked the way over this past year since Trump has now made no secret that he will not accept anything other than his return to power. In his most recent statement he repeated his intention not to accept ballots — add to that his stacking of the courts and his demonstrated willingness to use the army to “dominate” U.S. cities.

The only question is, What is the legitimate and necessary response to his declared intention? It is not just a United States problem. The future of human civilization is threatened by the vanity of a single man and a party spellbound or intimidated by him. If one can blindly deny the world’s highest number of deaths from covid-19 in one’s own nation (or say those who are dying don’t matter because most of them are of little consequence to the national economy) then we are living in Fantasyland to expect a thought for future disasters within the US and beyond. From The Science Show:

Today we have evidence of three domino-like connections.

The first one is that rapidly melting sea ice in the Arctic is speeding up thawing of permafrost, which makes the jet stream meander, which in turn leads to more droughts and forest fires, which in turn causes even faster heating when the forests emit carbon dioxide.

The second domino is when melting of Greenland is slowing down the heat circulation in the North Atlantic, which in turn is reinforcing droughts in the Amazonian rainforest, drying out and resulting in fires and huge emissions of greenhouse gases when the forest irreversibly moves towards a savanna state.

The third domino risk is when ice sheets in the Arctic and Greenland show evidence of being connected via the oceans to Antarctica. When the Arctic melts, the exchange of heat in the ocean from the southern to the northern hemisphere will slow down, and this means that the ocean around Antarctica gets gradually warmer, which will result in huge glaciers being lubricated by hot surface waters and thereby gliding faster into the ocean with an ultimate risk of not just one- to two-metre sea level rise, but over ten metres.

. . . .

Thirty years ago, we could perhaps ignore the fact that the world’s major ecosystems, like the Amazon rainforest, like the temperate forests and the world’s peatlands, were global commons that we need to protect together. Earth was so biologically intact, and thereby resilient, and our carbon footprint was so limited that Earth could absorb national mismanagement without putting living conditions for all of us at risk. Not anymore.

Think about the following. We are at 1.1°C of global warming. We must not exceed 1.5°C and certainly not go above 2°C. We are on track to take us to 3° or 4°C of warming. If we are going to have any chance, global emissions must start to decline this year and then be cut by half by 2030, then cut by half again 2040, and then reach zero by 2050. This is what we call the carbon law; cut emissions by half every decade and you follow science.

But this will only work if the planet does not surprise us. That is, all ecosystems and all the ice sheets and all the storage of energy and conveyor belt heat in the oceans must remain intact. If we were to lose the Amazon rainforest, it could potentially add another 1°C of warming by itself. If we were to lose all of the Earth’s temperate peatlands, this could potentially lead to another 1°C warming. . . .

This is no time to be treating Trump as “just another candidate” or the election as “just another election” as has been happening throughout history. And it’s no time for other nations to be treating the United States as a “good global citizen”.

 


2020-09-22

Beware the “C” Word — Is the “Cult” Label Always Helpful?

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by Neil Godfrey

I have up till now tended to use the “cult” label somewhat casually in association with Trump and his followers. But the word has many different associations and shades of meaning, and I’m only addressing its use in everyday language today and not the technical term to describe normative religious practices. A warning against the use of “cult” in connection with Trump and even with new religious movements was delivered by Benjamin Zeller late last year in The Cult of Trump? What “Cult Rhetoric” Actually Reveals.

Insofar as the popular idea of a cult is an assembly of people who have been brainwashed and are under some form of mind-control, the term simply wrong, according to Zeller. Zeller stresses that brainwashing and mind-control are concepts that have largely vanished from serious discussion and research among most psychologists. That may be so, but I would like to follow up some disagreement with Zeller that is cited in Response to Benjamin Zeller’s article: The Cult of Trump? What “Cult Rhetoric” Actually Reveals

That does not rule out psychological manipulation, though. But psychological manipulation is not a synonym for “mind control”, Zeller infers.

I don’t have a strong enough background in psychological studies to engage with Zeller’s views on “mind-control” and cults but I do find myself in agreement with Zeller’s alternative explanations that are elided when we use the “cult” label:

The actual reasons for his political success require careful analysis by political scientists, not pseudoscientific concepts such as mind-control. Personally, I think Trump’s rise must be assessed by the way he appeals to the power of tribalism, and with it the fears of others benefiting at America’s expense. It’s a simultaneous appeal to the communal solidarity of patriotism and American exceptionalism, and the resultant desire for isolationism and retrenchment of Us against the menacing Them. Others view Trump’s appeal differently, but the fact is, it’s not mind-control or brainwashing. However, it does parallel the sort of dualistic worldview of us/them, good/evil, insider/outsider seen in many new religions.

There are other problems with viewing Trump followers as a cult:

To call something a cult is to reject its validity.

While not useful from a causal perspective, the claim of brainwashing holds vast rhetorical power, especially for flabbergasted liberals or establishment conservatives wanting to explain the rise of Trump. First, it absolves individuals of personal responsibility and casts a monstrous manipulator as the root cause of a person’s choices (which, under the brainwashing claim, are not choices at all!). Hence when the mother of Rev. Pavlovitz’s friend posts racist material to her social media account and uncritically accepts the claims of political commentators, Pavlovitz and his friend can conveniently blame Trump rather than the mother herself. Sen. Corker does not need to blame his Republican constituents, but rather a “cultish” phenomenon. This is an easier pill to swallow.

Second, and more broadly, brainwashing and related cult language allow us to dismiss the actual claims and experiences of those who we simply reduce to mind-controlled victims. To call something a cult is to reject its validity. The category is inherently pejorative, which is why scholars use alternative terms like “new religious movement.” Members of NRMs never use this term to describe themselves, and the very word “cult” is generally used as an easy way to mark a religious group as illegitimate. As a former mentor of mine once said, “A cult is just someone else’s religion that you don’t like.” Such groups tend to be small and powerless, and as they assume greater cultural legitimacy lose the “cult” label. Witness the slow transformation of Mormonism—not yet complete—from being considered a cult/NRM to simply another Christian denomination.

That reference to Moonies being gradually accepted as “another” mainstream denomination raises questions that bring me back to those I set out at the beginning of the post. I can dispense with the term “brainwashing” but I am not informed enough at present to know how to distinguish between “mind control” and “psychological manipulation”. But leaving that aside, it is surely preferable to analyse Trump’s supporters in the sorts of terms historians generally use in explaining historical movements.

In sum,

It is rhetorically useful to label one’s opponents as manipulated victims, which negates the need to either explain their choices or empathize with them.

. . . [T]he mythology of cultic mind-control . . .  says a lot more about the power of the language than it does the president himself.


2020-09-21

The Free Press Gave America Trump — ?

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by Neil Godfrey

An insider’s view of the first Trump campaign (from Michael Cohen’s Disloyal)

“What about self-funding the campaign,” Trump said to me one afternoon.

I knew there was no way he was going to spend his own money on politics. He was far too cheap, to begin with, and he was far less liquid than was understood by outsiders, but he appeared to be seriously contemplating the idea.

“I don’t want to take money from a super PAC,” Trump said. “A billionaire can’t ask people for five bucks. Maybe I’ll self-fund the primary but do it cheap. I don’t need to spend a lot of money because we’ll get all the free press we want.

Please pause over that final sentence and read it again. And again. And again. Because if you want to understand how Donald J. Trump became president, you have to grasp the essential fact that by far the most important element wasn’t nationalism, or populism, or racism, or religion, or the rise of white supremacy, or strongman authoritarianism. It wasn’t Russia, or lying, or James Comey, though all of those forces were hugely influential. It wasn’t Hillary Clinton, though heaven knows she did all she could to lose the election.

No. The biggest influence by far—by a country mile—was the media. Donald Trump’s presidency is a product of the free press. Not free as in freedom of expression, I mean free as unpaid for. Rallies broadcast live, tweets, press conferences, idiotic interviews, 24-7 wall-to-wall coverage, all without spending a penny. The free press gave America Trump. Right, left, moderate, tabloid, broadsheet, television, radio, Internet, Facebook—that is who elected Trump and might well elect him again.

The underlying reasons were both obvious and hard to discern, and it continues to amaze me that this phenomenon isn’t a central part of the conversation about the current plight of the United States of America.

Start with the proposition that Trump was great for ratings. If you’re a right-wing AM radio commentator, or a lefty Brooklyn political podcaster, you were making bank talking about Trump. It’s like a car crash, with people unable to avert their gaze. The Boss knew this and he knew how to exploit the greed and venality of journalists because he was (and is) an expert on the subjects. But there was something deeper and more primal in the way the media obsessed over Trump, as I did. Trump was a great story. He was chaos all the time. By five a.m. every day, he’d created the news cycle with his stubby fingers sending out bile-flecked tweets attacking anyone or everyone. In this way, as in so many others, he was the absolute opposite of Obama. Instead of No Drama, it was Drama All the Time.

The thing that astounded me, and still does to this day, was that the media didn’t see that they were being played for suckers. They didn’t realize the damage they were inflicting on the country by following Trump around like supplicants. What Trump did was transparent, once you identified it, and this remained a central fact of the campaign. If interest in Trump was waning, even just a little bit, he’d yank the chain of the media with an insult or racist slur or reactionary outrage—and there would be CNN and the Times and Fox News dutifully eating out of his hands. Like so much about Trump, if it weren’t tragic, you’d laugh—or cry.

(Bolded highlighting is mine)

But one still has to factor in the people who actually love the car crash and see in it a promise that the “system” itself will be blown up to the benefit of the “ordinary folks”.


2020-09-19

Essential Reading for Trump Supporters

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by Neil Godfrey

When I was a dedicated member of Herbert Armstrong’s Worldwide Church of God cult I was aware of the existence of “dissident” literature that had led a few fellow members to “fall away” into the clutches of Satan. I had no desire to seek it out and read it because I “knew” it would be full of lies; or if some of it did have nuggets of truth those pieces would be distorted or irrelevant. How could “truth” be irrelevant? Easy: I “knew” Herbert Armstrong was not a perfect saint and that whatever sins he had committed were covered by God’s mercy and the only important thing was that he was now doing “God’s work”. The only time I began to open my mind to at least reading some of that literature was after I had allowed some doubts about the church enter my mind. Even then, I found myself reacting with anger against some of what I had read. The criticisms showed no mercy to my lingering feelings of loyalty to the church that had been the centre and love of my life for so many years so for a while I hated it for the sheer brutality of its truth-telling. So the following reading list is for those Trump loyalists who have allowed niggling questions to enter their thoughts on occasions. Others will simply ignore it or dismiss the works as lies or “irrelevant truths” without bothering to seriously check them out.

I was inspired to post this list after skimming Steven Hassan’s The Cult of Trump: A Leading Cult Expert Explains How the President Uses Mind Control. Many ex-cultists will recognize the name Hassan as the author of Combatting Cult Mind Control. Hassan’s personal cult experience was with the Moonies but his analysis demonstrates the common elements involved in a wide ranging spectrum of religious cults. Hassan writes in The Cult of Trump,

Cult members believe that they are completely in control of their own thoughts, feelings, and actions. That’s true of most, if not all, of us—we believe that we are in possession of our faculties, that we make our own decisions and choose our own path. Yet, as we have seen, we are all continually being influenced by our parents, friends, bosses, colleagues, government, and the media, both traditional and online. We all have an illusion of control. It’s part of being human. This raises the question: how would any of us—Trump supporters or critics—know if we were being unduly influenced? Here is a five-step formula for answering that question, one that requires an investment of time and energy, but that is quite powerful. I have geared this five-step experiment to a Trump supporter but anyone could benefit from it, no matter their political affiliation or group involvement.”

I don’t think it’s quite that simple, though I’d like to be wrong on that point. Hassan’s first point of advice is for anyone to “take a break from your situation — disconnect from all sources of influence that could reinforce your current point of view.” Easy said. But that’s another discussion entirely. The next points get to the “essential reading”.

Educate yourself: Read about social psychology, in particular mind control, and the models created by Robert Jay Lifton, Margaret Singer, along with my BITE model. Educate yourself about social influence techniques, propaganda, and logical fallacies. Libraries are great places. Hopefully this book has given you a good start. You also might contact responsible, ethical mental health professionals to help you.

Certainly, my mind began to open as never before when I heard a psychologist explain cult thinking in a radio interview. I have since explored all forms and ways in which individuals and groups are attracted to “radical” ideas and commitments that are deemed by many to be hostile and harmful to both the individual and the wider society. There are significant overlaps between political and religious “radicalization” as I’ve discussed (from the professional literature) here several times.

But to get to the point of this post: Hassan’s next item —

Listen to critics and former believers: Seek out highly respected, credentialed, or experienced experts who hold views that differ from your own. Look for verifiable facts. The Mueller Report, though a daunting 448 pages long, is an important read, especially since Trump and Barr have stated their biased conclusions. Robert Mueller gave a brief but definitive statement before resigning from the Department of Justice, which is worth listening to or reading. If you are a Trump supporter and think Trump is a great leader, or even God-chosen, seek out the views of critics and evaluate dispassionately what they have to say. Listen to your inner voice as well as your conscience. When you hear trigger words like “fake news,” “deep state,” or “radical Democrats,” adopt a neutral attitude and use your critical abilities to sort through sources, check credentials, and look for supporting factual evidence. Ask probing questions like “Why is that?” or “Is that plausible?” Listen to what others have to say and reach your own conclusions based on research and evidence. Read books, newspapers, blogs, and magazines that run the gamut of political orientation, remembering always that facts do matter. When a leader or group makes extraordinary claims, demand extraordinary proof. The burden of proof is always on the leader or group to prove their claims. It’s not on us to disprove them. If Trump claims that he knows more than anyone else on a subject, fact-check his assertions. I have quoted several resources in this book including books written by David Cay Johnston, Bob Woodward, Malcolm Nance, and James Comey, to name just a few.

Let’s itemize the “essential reading” in that paragraph a little more directly by adding links to the titles. (There are other sources that copyright does not permit me to make public. Private correspondence might be more appropriate for some of those.) Continue reading “Essential Reading for Trump Supporters”


2020-09-12

Obama, the Tea Party, and Assaults on American Democracy

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by Neil Godfrey

Concluding an overview of Peter Kivisto’s discussion of “institutional openings to authoritarianism” in the USA. See Kivisto for the complete series. (Images, bolding, formatting, other sources are my additions.) The takeaway for me in Kivisto’s discussion is the pivotal role racism has played in enabling the presidency of Donald Trump. Little did I suspect that the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 60s would lead what we see today in the political landscape. For another relevant perspective on Obama’s terms in office see the posts on Nancy Fraser’s From Progressive Neoliberalism to Trump – and Beyond. .

The 2008 historic election of Barack Obama set in motion a reaction that was intense, uncivil, and unrelenting. . . . .

. . . . Republican Representative Joe Wilson upended congressional decorum by shouting that Obama was a liar while the President was giving a speech to a joint session of Congress. . . . 

.. . . . The Republican leader in the Senate quickly promised that the one objective of Senate Republicans would be to insure that Obama would not be re-elected, and to that end rejected bipartisanship at every turn. The right-wing media savaged him relentlessly, the Southern Poverty Law Center reported disturbing increases in the size and activities of right-wing hate groups, and funds from right-wing plutocrats flowed freely to mobilize the grassroots. . . . 

.

Obama had been exceedingly careful — too careful for many of his supporters’ tastes — in addressing issues about race. Moreover, he had to simultaneously confront two crises, the first being the blowback caused by the disastrous Bush/Cheney invasion of Iraq and the second being the global financial crisis that began in 2007. Much of his agenda reflected both the need to respond carefully to these inherited problems, but beyond that he pressed what was essentially a pragmatic center-left set of proposals. His one major ambitious plan called for building on the New Deal and Great Society programs in addressing the fact that the United States was the only wealthy liberal democracy in the world that did not treat health care as a universal entitlement. He sought to expand health care coverage, reduce costs, and implement best practices that would make for a more efficient and effective health delivery system. And in so doing, rather than pressing for a single-payer system akin to Canada’s or expanding Medicare to cover all Americans, he hoped for a plan that would elicit bipartisan support. To that end, the plan he proposed bore a family resemblance to one developed by a conservative think tank in the 1990s and a plan that Mitt Romney created in Massachusetts during his tenure as governor. Obstructionism would make bipartisanship impossible, and thus the Affordable Care Act was passed without a single Republican vote in either chamber of Congress.

In this context, the Tea Party came to represent the crystallization of citizen opposition to Obama. The intensity of their vehement hostility to Obama can be understood by the fact that as right-wing populists, their enemies were twofold:

    • elites — governmental and academic, but not business
    • — and the congeries of “Others,” including blacks, immigrants, Muslims, and freeloaders. . . . 
. . . . Obama signified, was the very embodiment of, both enemies . . . .

. . . . He was the black usurper, his white mother in the end being irrelevant to this particular trope. He was the noncitizen, born in Kenya. He was the closet Muslim. At the same time, the Harvard Law graduate and part-time professor at the University of Chicago was a member of the elite liberal intelligentsia. Those who identified as strong Tea Party supporters, amounting to perhaps one-fifth of the electorate, were vocally unwilling to see Obama as a legitimate President.

Much discussion ensued about the precise character of the Tea Party. Was it a genuine grassroots movement or was it of the Astroturf variety, the product of the Koch brothers and other right-wing plutocrats? In The Tea Party and the Remaking of Republican Conservatism sociologists Theda Skocpol and Vanessa Williamson see it as both, observing that “one of the most important consequences of the widespread Tea Party agitations unleashed from the start of Obama’s presidency was the populist boost given to professionally run and opulently funded right-wing advocacy organizations devoted to pushing ultra-free-market policies.” These include FreedomWorks, the Club for Growth, the Tea Party Express, and Americans for Prosperity. The last of these is the creation of the Koch brothers, a nonprofit political advocacy organization. Its funders have spent millions pushing to privatize Social Security, voucherize Medicare and Medicaid, slash taxes, roll back environmental laws, and crush labor unions. For example, the organization shaped Governor Scott Walker’s assault on public sector unions in Wisconsin and has been a central player in shaping Rep. Paul Ryan’s agenda to roll back the welfare state. As oversight organizations promoting transparency have repeatedly pointed out, these operations are prime examples of the impact of dark money from wealthy right-wing donors who are able to keep their identities anonymous while spending freely to influence public policy.

Continue reading “Obama, the Tea Party, and Assaults on American Democracy”


2020-09-10

The Day the Evangelicals First Met Donald Trump

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by Neil Godfrey

SO HOW DID the amoral Trump come to be beloved by evangelical voters, a question that remains one of the abiding mysteries to this day? Begin with the premise that Donald Trump hadn’t darkened the door of a church or chapel since the age of seven, as he would openly admit in his past incarnation. Places of religious worship held absolutely no interest to him, and he possessed precisely zero personal piety in his life—but he knew the power of religion, and that was a language he could speak.

I lived in Trump Park Avenue and one of my neighbors was an evangelical pastor named Paula White. She had known Trump for more than a decade, after he’d seen her show on TV and he’d invited her to come to Atlantic City to give him private bible studies, her version of prosperity gospel the only conceivable version of Christianity that could appeal to Trump. Self-interested, consumed by the lust for worldly wealth and rewards, with two divorces, one bankruptcy, and a Senate financial investigation—she was a preacher after Trump’s heart. The fact that she was beautiful and blonde didn’t hurt, either.

As part of the division of labor in the campaign, I was assigned to lead the outreach to faith communities on behalf of Trump, mostly because having Roger Stone attempt to make those connections would be a farce. It was at this time that Paula White called me and said that she wanted to put together a group of evangelical leaders to meet with Trump to discuss his potential candidacy and the spiritual and political dimensions of his campaign. The idea was for Trump to solicit their support, so I readily agreed to help put the session together. More than fifty religious leaders came to Trump Tower to meet the Boss in a conference room on the 25th floor. Some of the most famous evangelicals in the country were there, like Jerry Falwell Jr., Pastor Darrell Scott, and Dr. Creflo Dollar, an Atlanta preacher who would later be charged with choking his daughter and ridiculed for soliciting contributions from his parishioners so he could
purchase a $65 million Falcon 7X private jet to “safely and swiftly share the Good News of the Gospel worldwide.”

As an organizer, I went to watch the proceedings, and what I saw was amazing, to put it mildly. Sitting around the long conference room table, the group started to discuss Trump’s three marriages, his views on abortion, homosexuality, family values, America’s role in the world, and God’s place in the Boss’s heart. As a little kid, Trump’s family had attended Marble Collegiate Church in Manhattan, where he listened to the sermons of Norman Vincent Peale. The Protestant preacher was the author of The Power of Positive Thinking and an early radio and television star, sermonizing about the materialistic advantages of American conservative religion, making him a hero to the folks meeting with Trump as a pioneer in blending or conflating wealth and Jesus in a way that somehow found the Son of God was all about the bling.

Trump milked the Norman Peale connection like a dairy farmer at dawn, not letting one drop spill. Peale’s version of God’s word revolved around tall tales he told that were completely unverifiable and calling for the banishment of thoughts or emotions that were negative, which must have penetrated young Donny Trump’s consciousness as a boy. Trump always lived in the present tense. He never looked backwards, except in anger or to blame others, which was part of Peale’s appeal to his followers. When Trump was sitting in the pews as a boy, Peale was one of the most famous pastors in the world, which had to impress the kid, but it was likely the cultlike egomania that he urged Christians to follow that seemed to have penetrated the little Donny’s impressionable brain, no doubt reinforced by his taskmaster father and hyper-ambitious mother.

As the evangelicals inhaled Trump’s Norman Peale horse shit, they solemnly asked to approach him to “lay hands” on him. I watched with bated breath. Trump was a massive germophobe, as I’ve noted, so the idea of dozens of sets of hands touching his clothing and skin would appall him, I knew. But even this didn’t faze the Boss: he closed his eyes, faking piety, and gave the appearance of feeling God’s presence as the assembled group called for guidance in determining the fate and fortune of Donald Trump, America, and the message of Jesus Christ.

If you knew Trump, as I did, the vulgarian salivating over beauty contestants or mocking Roger Stone’s propensity for desiring the male sexual organ in his mouth, as he would say less politely, you would have a hard time keeping a straight face at the sight of him affecting the serious and pious mien of a man of faith. I know I could hardly believe the performance, or the fact that these folks were buying it.

Watching Trump, I could see that he knew exactly how to appeal to the evangelicals’ desires and vanities—who they wanted him to be, not who he really was. Everything he was telling them about himself was absolutely untrue. He was pro-abortion; he told me that Planned Parenthood was the way poor people paid for contraception. He didn’t care about religion. Homosexuals, divorce, the break-up of the nuclear family—he’d say whatever they wanted to hear, and they’d hear what they wanted to hear. This was the moment, for me: the split second when I knew Trump would be president one day. It was an intuition, but it was also based on the intangibles. Trump’s answers to their questions were compassionate, thoughtful, Godly, in a way that I knew in no way reflected his beliefs or way of seeing life. He could lie directly to the faces of some of the most powerful religious leaders in the country and they believed him—or decided to believe him, a distinction with a real difference. Trump was imperfect, they knew, with his multiple marriages and carefully cultivated reputation as a womanizer. But he knew what they really cared about—the core, core, core beliefs. Anti-abortion laws, Supreme Court justices, opposition to gay marriage and civil rights, and the cultural war-like rhetoric aimed at godless liberals. That was Trump’s rat-like cunning, and it was a talent I knew then that he would ride all the way to the White House.

The prayer over, Trump opened his eyes as if he had indeed been in deep meditation and conversation with God.

“What do you think about me running for president?” Trump asked Pastor White in a reverent tone.

There was a silence in the room, as bowed heads were raised and eyes opened. This was no longer a question about the ambitions of a billionaire celebrity—it was about the soul of the nation; the Almighty was being summoned to guide the faithful. Paula White was very serious as she talked in a low voice, addressing the assembled in a passionate but measured way, Trump listening with yet more fake piety.

“I don’t think the time is right,” she replied, slowly.

“I don’t either,” Trump said, also slowly, carefully, and thoughtfully.

Cohen, Michael. 2020. Disloyal: A Memoir: The True Story of the Former Personal Attorney to President Donald J. Trump. New York: Skyhorse.

Some interesting visuals in this clip:


2020-09-08

God’s Strongman

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by Neil Godfrey

Here is an observation from another author on the theme of the previous post, the historical pathway taken by the Christian right prepared them to respond to his call to follow him:

The facile explanation for this apparently improbable union between the proponents of “faith,” “values,” and “family” and the profoundly impious real estate huckster and serial philanderer is that the Christian right hypocritically sacrificed its principles in exchange for raw political power. But this purely transactional explanation for the Trump-evangelical merger elides the deeper bond between Trump and his devoted flock. Although Trump is illiterate in evangelicals’ lexicon and spent his adult life flagrantly contravening their sexual mores, his evangelical supporters are nonetheless starstruck. He may not be one of them, but they idolize how he loudly and fearlessly articulates their shared grievances—that alien anti-Christian, anti-American ideologies have taken over the government, judiciary, media, education, and even popular culture and forced edicts upon a besieged white Christian majority, cowing them into submission by invoking “political correctness” that aims to censor, silence, and oppress them.

The Trump-evangelical relationship represents an intense meeting of the minds, decades in the making, on the notion that America lies in ruins after the sweep of historic changes since the mid-twentieth century, promising nondiscrimination and equal rights for those who had been historically disenfranchised—women, racial minorities, immigrants, refugees, and LGBTQ people—eroded the dominance of conservative white Christianity in American public life. Trump apparently has not cracked the binding on the Bible he waves in the air while speaking to evangelical audiences, but he fluently speaks the language of conservative white Christian backlash against the expansion of rights for previously disenfranchised and marginalized Americans. Trump not only gives voice to the Christian right’s perceived loss of religious dominance; he pounds away at grievances over white people losing ground to black and brown people and immigrants, of men losing ground to women, of “originalist” judges under the sway of liberal intruders demanding “special” rights. Trump reassures white evangelical voters that he will restore the America they believe has been lost—the “Christian nation” that God intended America to be, governed by what they claim is “biblical law” or a “Christian worldview.”

The evangelical adoration for Trump is rooted in far more than his willingness to keep a coveted list of campaign promises, like appointing anti-abortion judges or expanding religious exemptions for conservative Christians, such as bakers who refuse to make a cake for a gay wedding. Trump inspires this high regard because he is eager to use strongman tactics in order to carry out those promises. For decades, the Christian right has successfully used the mechanisms of democracy, such as voter registration and mobilization, citizen lobbying, and energetic recruitment of religious candidates to run for office, to advance its agenda. In these efforts, conservative evangelicals are driven not by a commitment to liberal democracy but rather by a politicized theology demanding that they seize control of government to protect it from the demonic influences of liberalism and secularism. Previous presidents pandered to evangelicals, but Donald Trump constitutes the culmination of a movement that has for decades searched for a leader willing to join forces in this battle without cowering to shifting political winds. In Trump, the Christian right sees more than a politician who delivers on promises; they see a savior from the excesses of liberalism.

And for their purposes, Donald Trump arrived on the political scene not a moment too soon. He burst in at a critical moment, when top Christian right leaders were becoming painfully aware they were losing their demographic supremacy. In 2006, white evangelicals made up 23 percent of U.S. adults, a formidable segment of the population. A short decade later that number had dropped to 17 percent, owing to rising proportions of nonwhites and people unaffiliated with religion. But because white evangelicals are uniquely politicized and highly mobilized to vote, they can exert an outsize influence on our elections and political culture if they unify around a candidate or cause. In the 2016 election, white evangelicals made up 26 percent of voters and fully one-third of Republican voters. Eighty-one percent of those people voted for Donald Trump.

Although their overall numbers are dropping, Trump’s presidency has given white evangelicals new life as the most influential political demographic in America. In office, he has been beyond solicitous to the Christian right leaders who support him. He has given them the political appointees and judges to implement their political agenda, delivering in ways that even they likely never imagined. As the veteran operative Ralph Reed, now head of the advocacy group Faith and Freedom Coalition, proudly told his annual conference in June 2019, “there are more Christians serving in the Cabinet, serving on the White House staff, in the subcabinet,” than under “all previous presidents combined.” When a decision needs to be made in the Trump White House, Reed went on, “the people who are writing memos and in the meeting advising the president are on our side, more than ever before.”

Posner, Sarah. 2020. Unholy: Why White Evangelicals Worship at the Altar of Donald Trump. New York: Random House.


2020-09-07

The Historical Road Leading Fundamentalist Christians to Trump

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by Neil Godfrey

This post follows on from Historical Background to President Trump – the Republican Party’s Shift . . .

Enter the Christian Right

The Christian right . . .

. . . was the term widely used during the 1980s to describe a religious social movement, while today the operative term in both self-presentation and in most media coverage is evangelical. The former carries with it a more overtly political dimension and a specific historical context, while the latter is a fuzzier term. For that reason, I prefer the term fundamentalist in characterizing movement leaders and organizations. It can be a term of disparagement, but in fact has greater analytic rigor, thus making it a more serviceable tool for analyzing this segment of American Christianity. (Kivisto, 92)

Fundamentalism

Images from The Public “I”

By the term fundamentalist Kivisto is referring to movements that grew out of those who in the 1920s named themselves “fundamentalists” and who identified their ideas with The Fundamentals (biblical inerrancy, miracles, etc) essays published and funded by Southern Californian oil millionaire Lyman Stewart. The Fundamentals identified a good many enemies of “truth”:

  • socialism
  • feminism
  • Darwinism
  • Roman Catholicism
  • Mormonism
  • modern spiritualism
  • humanistic psychology
  • the Social Gospel
  • and theological liberalism

Very often fundamentalists felt obliged to enforce their views on society through political and legal action. Recall the Scopes “monkey trial” of 1925.

Martin Marty, who led a major American Academy of Arts and Sciences project on fundamentalism, offered a succinct account of what fundamentalism is and what it is not:

  • “it is not the same thing as conservatism, traditionalism, classicism, or orthodoxy, though fundamentalists associate themselves with such concepts.”
  • “most fundamentalists do not conceive of themselves as being antiscientific or antirational on their own terms. . . But most fundamentalist movements dedicate themselves to representing alternative and, in their eyes, ‘proper’ science and reason.”
  • “fundamentalists are seldom opposed to technology as such, or to many of its specific artifacts. Technology, one might say, helped make fundamentalism possible.”
  • fundamentalists are not always poor, uneducated people who rationalize their hopeless lower-class circumstances through a religious movement. “Deprivation theories” are among the more discredited explanation today in respect to Fundamentalism. Indeed, many such movements prospered in America as old religious conservative groups moved into the middle class, and it is among the university-educated and professionally mobile Jews, Mormons, Muslims, and others that fundamentalism grows.”
We never see the term fundamentalism applied to movements which are not absolutist. The enemies of fundamentalisms everywhere are relativism, pluralism, ambiguity. (Marty p. 21)

In identifying the core components of fundamentalism, Marty begins by stating that it “is always reactive, reactionary,” forever responding to “perceived challenges and threats” posed by a “force, tendency, or enemy” that is “eroding, corroding, or endangering one’s movement and what it holds dear.” As such, fundamentalism is about defining boundaries, and defining them in bright, not blurred, terms: the world is us against them, with them being a sometimes shifting target. This means, Marty continues, that fundamentalism “is always an exclusive or separatist movement” predicated on beliefs that are defined in absolutist, black-and-white terms. It is for that reason that fundamentalists are dismissive of interfaith or ecumenical understanding and dialogue, opting instead for an oppositional stance against anyone who does not share their worldview. Marty concludes that fundamentalists are inherently absolutist, and, “With absolutism comes authoritativeness or authoritarianism” (Marty, 1988, pp. 20—21). (Kivisto, 93f)

Sociologist Martin Riesebrodt points out that fundamentalists, in their rejection of the world, either elect to withdraw from it or to control it. The latter option often means they seek to impose their beliefs and practices on the world through political activity of various kinds.

The strain of world mastering fundamentalists engaging in American politics since the middle of the past century includes such now largely forgotten figures as Carl McIntyre, a dissident Presbyterian and fervent anti-communist crusader — engaged as he saw it in a civilization struggle between the Christian West and the atheistic core of Soviet communism. He was hostile to anyone seen as fellow travelers, which included groups such as the ecumenically oriented National Council of Churches, making his views known to a radio audience via his “The 20th Century Reformation Hour.” He and like-minded fundamentalists represent the precursors to the contemporary Christian right. (Kivisto, 94)

1970s Movement Mobilization and Christian Nationalism

If the Southern strategy pushed the Republican Party into the camp of white nationalists, the Christian right’s self-understanding is shaped by an ideology of Christian nationalism.

The two most well known leaders were Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell. Both evangelized extensively through mass media. Robertson created Regent University and the American Center for Law and Justice, “which aimed to shape legislative agendas and fight judicial battles”. Falwell founding Liberty University in 1971 and Moral Majority in 1979.

Certain issues have been constant ever since the 1970s:

  • attempts to overturn the Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion
  • challenges to the separation of church and state by pressing for school prayer and abstinence-only sex education

Underpinning all of the particular issues preoccupying the Christian right is the conviction that the United States is a Christian nation and that, as the name of Falwell’s organization indicates, the movement represents the beliefs of a majority of the citizenry. At the same time, the Christian right sees itself as under assault from enemies who threaten the cultural integrity of the nation. If the Southern strategy pushed the Republican Party into the camp of white nationalists, the Christian right’s self-understanding is shaped by an ideology of Christian nationalism. (Kivisto, 95)

These “world mastering fundamentalists” set themselves against “liberals, Hollywood, the media, the American Civil Liberties Union, and often, academics”, those they deem to be “enemies” who, because they are “hostile to religion and . . . are antipopulist” are therefore “fundamentally un-American“. [Compare the post on Americanism as an ideology and the treason of “un-Americanism”.] With such an outlook they (the fundamentalists) “reveal their anti-pluralist and thus intrinsically anti-democratic view of politics” (Rhys Williams). Continue reading “The Historical Road Leading Fundamentalist Christians to Trump”


2020-09-06

Historical Background to President Trump – the Republican Party’s Shift

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by Neil Godfrey

Peter Kivisto

This post begins a bare-bones outline of a few key historical developments that have brought us to where we are now. Anyone with a deep knowledge of U.S. history will find my treatment very basic indeed. I am using as a convenient source a book that sets out a basic overview of selected background developments that led to Trump’s ascendancy, Peter Kivisto‘s The Trump Phenomenon: How the Politics of Populism Won in 2016. (You can read the book online at Scribd. A couple of reviews will give you some idea of what others have seen as its strengths and weaknesses.) I am only selecting a few areas of Kivisto’s discussion in these posts. Developments in the media and political propaganda are most significant but I want deeper preparation before posting on that side of things. A related blog series is Fraser: From Progressive Neoliberalism to Trump; also, America’s Radical Right in Context (Lipset Revisited). I have added hyperlinks copiously for the benefit of anyone (like me) who uses these sorts of outlines as springboards for further reading.

. . .

From World War 2 to the 1960s the two major political parties were both centrist:

DEMOCRATIC PARTY : Center-Left
a coalition of . . .
REPUBLICAN PARTY : Center-Right
a coalition of . . .
labour unions big business and traditional main street conservatives
leftists who had moved toward the political center from the New Deal forward fiscal conservatives, libertarians, and social liberals
Southern conservatives — the Dixiecrats a core of right-wing radicals, during the 1950s associated in particular with the John Birch Society, a virulently anti-communist organization that operated with secret cells and abounding in conspiracy theories about communist penetration of the federal government and other institutions.

On the John Birch Society:

Fred Koch

One of the founding members of the Society was Fred Koch, the founder of Koch Industries and the father of Charles and David. Party leaders saw these extremists as a threat to conservatism and undertook campaigns to contain rather than encourage them. Efforts were made, for example by William F. Buckley, to keep the Society’s members in particular and the extremist right in general out of influential roles in the party. However, over the course of several decades, as the success of the brothers Koch attests, the radical right has succeeded in reshaping the party and moving it far from its nineteenth-century roots. The turning point in the party’s remake began in the wake of the tumultuous 1960s — an era in which the combined impact of

the civil rights movement,

growing opposition to the Vietnam War,

and the counterculture

set the stage for what has played out for over a half-century later.

As Jane Mayer has chronicled in Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires behind the Rise of the Radical Right on the funding sources of the radical right, the Koch brothers are an important component of a much larger group of donors, including prominent family names like Bradley, Olin, and Scaife. Their collective attempt to reshape American conservatism into something considerably more reactionary was immeasurably aided by Citizens United, the 2010 Supreme Court decision opening the floodgates for “dark money” campaign funding.

(Kivisto, 88)

From Johnson’s Great Society to White Nationalism

Both passed with bipartisan support. (Democrats controlled both houses of Congress and the legislation was advanced by the Democrat President Lyndon Johnson.) But in each case the Republican Party marshalled a larger percentage of its members in support of each bill than the Democrats did.

Why was there less support for these bills among Democrats? Answer: the Dixiecrat faction in the Democratic Party.

Compare the reactions to the Social Security Amendments Act (1965):

    • Republicans opposed it because they saw it as “creeping socialism”
    • A minority of Democrats also opposed it even though they had supported the idea of social security legislation in the 1930s — then such legislation was deemed of benefit to “their white constituents”.

Despite Republican support for the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts, Johnson saw the writing on the wall: the Democratic coalition was about to unravel as the South, a once solidly Democratic region, was about to exit the party. Bill Moyers, then an aide to Johnson, reported that the President told him, “I think we just delivered the South to the Republican Party for a very long time to come” (Moyers, 2004, p. 167).

The unravelling followed. Southern Democrats defected to the Republicans. Republican Richard Nixon implemented the “Southern strategy“:

For its part, the Republican Party opened its arms, with Richard Nixon implementing his “Southern strategy.” In researching a biography of Nixon, John A. Farrell discovered a document in which Nixon, during the 1968 presidential campaign, promised these new arrivals to the party that he “would retreat on civil rights and ‘lay off pro-Negro crap’ if elected” (2017, p. 9).

From Politico

The Republican Party of Lincoln was also sliding into another place:

At the same time, liberal and moderate Republicans elsewhere in the country were confronted with challenges from the right by opponents who were hostile to their centrism and their commitment to civil rights. Thus began what Purdum describes as “the long process by which the Party of Lincoln became the party of white backlash, especially |but not only] in the South” (2014b, p. 3).

Republican strategist Kevin Phillips foresaw the outcome clearly:

    • Blacks, given the right to vote by the Democratic Party, naturally supported the Democratic Party
    • Southern whites responded by flocking to the Republican Party

Also, the shift of the once Democratic South to a solid Republican base was secured . . .

    • As blacks continued to migrate to Northern states . . .
    • . . . Northern whites would migrate south, establishing a strong Republican base in the south.

Into the 1970s . . .

The 1970s set the stage for the final destruction of a center-right conservative party and the solidification of a reactionary one — a party in which people associated with the former were increasingly condemned by those in the latter camp as being Republicans in Name Only (Kabaservice, 2012).

Into the 1980s . . . 

The rise of Ronald Reagan to national prominence . . . in 1980 further signaled this rightward shift. Thus, Reagan launched his 1980 post-convention campaign in Philadelphia, Mississippi, the site of the brutal murder of three civil rights workers in 1964. Far from being there to memorialize their martyrdom, he was there to inform whites that he was on their side, using the coded language of states’ rights. The person who arranged this visit was Republican operative Paul Manafort, who would serve the Trump campaign until his Russian connections made it too problematic for him to continue in that role. His place in Republican politics from Reagan to Trump reflects a white nativism that has, arguably, defined the party ever since the implementation of the Southern strategy. It led to recurrently stoking racial fears and antagonisms, as with Lee Atwater’s Willie Horton (a convicted murderer who went on a crime spree while on furlough) television advertisements on behalf of his boss, George H. W. Bush. (Kivisto, 91f)

The bodies of slain civil rights workers James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Mickey Schwerner lie in an earthen dam June, 1964 just southwest of Philadelphia, Mississippi. — The Intercept

The next two historical waves are the emergence of the Christian Right and then the reaction to Barack Obama’s election. Those developments will be discussed next.


Kivisto, Peter. 2017. The Trump Phenomenon: How the Politics of Populism Won in 2016. Bingley, UK: Emerald.



2020-09-01

The Shape of the New World Dawning?

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by Neil Godfrey

American readers closer to the mises en scène will be able to help this outsider more clearly focus his observations.

From here in Australia I see

    • a President of the U.S. who speaks out against one side involved in violent clashes there, and speaks defensively on behalf of the others involved and who are his supporters;
    • a President of the U.S. who blurs into one violent image both peaceful and violent protests (those whom his own supporters oppose) as if they were all one and the same and all violent and destructive;
    • a President who focuses almost to the exclusion of all else the violence and destruction of one side without at any time addressing the issues, the complaints, the causes both immediate and long-term, that has led to the protests in the first place;
    • following from the point above, a President who frames all the protests (all of them being portrayed as violent) as a “law and order” issue, that is, as nothing more than a situation that needs to be crushed by force.

Is the above a fair synopsis?

Oh, and one other thing that keeps bugging me. An Australian Prime Minister who happens to be a Pentecostal fundamentalist and a bit of a narcissist (Australian style) and comes across as a pet puppy keen to make a good impression for his master so has dutifully acted on his master’s wishes and called on an investigation into a prejudged assessment of China’s criminal negligence with respect to the coronavirus. That’s all fine except that China is now powerful enough to throw around the sort of bully beef we expect the U.S. to apply to disobedient small-fry. Now Australia is subject to early trade sanctions and other disincentives (putting a squeeze on our hitherto lucrative Chinese student intake into our universities) from its largest trading partner as well as “arbitrary” detention of its citizens who happen to be in Chinese territory. Nice one — that sort of thing is supposed to happen to “them”, not to “us”. I still envy New Zealand for maintaining a degree of independence that seems far too rare in modern Australian history.

Posts on Vridar have been somewhat patchy in regularity lately with extended family business taking over priorities at the moment, but the above thoughts have been playing on my mind. So here they are.


2020-08-18

America’s Radical Right in Context (Lipset Revisited)

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by Neil Godfrey

S. M. Lipset

Trying to understand what is happening in the United States has led me to new areas of reading, including The Politics of Unreason: Right-Wing Extremism in America, 1790-1970 by Seymour Martin Lipset and Earl Raab. The opening paragraph of the Preface to that book:

This particular analysis of right-wing extremism in America began to emerge in reaction to the McCarthyism of the early 1950’s. Lipset’s article attempting to place that phenomenon in a historical and sociological context was the first to apply the concept of the “radical right” to American social movements.1 That article briefly surveyed some of the earlier movements from the Know-Nothings to the Ku Klux Klan, and pointed to ways in which American values made for a greater degree of political intolerance here than in other relatively stable democratic countries. (p.xv)

1. S. M. Lipset, “The Radical Right,” British Journal of Sociology, I (June1955), pp. 176-209 . . . 

So back to the 1955 article I went as my starting point. The first part of the article posits several “sources of right-wing extremism in American society”.

Status and Class Politics

Class Politics: During periods of economic depression political movements or parties seeking economic reform, a redistribution of income, have gained the upper hand.

Status Politics: Periods of prosperity, full employment, with many able to improve their economic position, we have the rise of those seeking to preserve the status quo. As groups aspire to maintain or improve their social status conflicts ensue. Some groups feel frustrated at being excluded and others feel their status is threatened by new aspirants.

For a clear analysis of the 2016 neo-liberal context of the rise of Trump see the posts on Nancy Fraser’s article.

Enter Scapegoats

The discussion is about status politics. (Of course, in 2016 we had economic growth but at the same time many were being left behind. This was surely a significant difference from 1955.)

The political consequences of status frustrations differ considerably from those resulting from economic deprivation, in that there is no clear-cut political solution for the problem. There is little or nothing which a government can do to relieve these anxieties. It is not surprising, therefore, that the political movements which have successfully appealed to status resentments have been irrational in character, that they focus on attacking a scapegoat, which con- veniently symbolizes the threat perceived by their supporters.

Who are the scapegoats? They are ever the same . . .

Historically, in the United States, the most common scapegoats have been the minority ethnic or religious groups. Such groups have repeatedly been victims of political aggression in periods of prosperity for it is precisely in these times that status anxieties are most pressing.

Compare today, immigrants especially from the south, and Muslims.

Scapegoats: the historical pattern

Before the Civil War there was widespread anti-Catholic and anti-immigrant sentiment throughout the nation (e.g. the Know-Nothing or American Party)

Late 1880s, another period of prosperity, another anti-Catholic movement, the American Protective Association (A.P.A.).

Latter day Know-Nothingism (A.P.A.ism) in the west, was perhaps due as well to envy of the growing social and industrial strength of Catholic Americans.

In the second generation American Catholics began to attain higher industrial positions and better occupations. All through the west, they were taking their place in the professional and business world. They were among the doctors and the lawyers, the editors and the teachers of the community. Sometimes they were the leading merchants as well as the leading politicians of their locality.
(Humphrey J. Desmond, The A.P.A. Movement, 1912, pp. 9-10)

1920s saw the height of the Ku Klux Klan (the 1930s Depression saw its relative demise).

1900-12, another period of high prosperity, the Progressive Movement.

Richard Hofstadter has suggested that the movement was in large measure based on the reaction of the Protestant middle class against threats to its values and status. On one hand, the rise of the “robber barons”, the great millionaires and plutocrats of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, served to threaten the status of many old families, upper middle class Americans who had previously considered themselves the most important group in society. Their position was challenged by the appearance of the new millionaires who were able to outdo them in philanthropy and in their styles of life. On the other hand, this movement, like previous expressions of status politics, was opposed to immigration. It viewed the immigrant and the urban city machines based on immigrant support as a basic threat to American middle-class Protestant values. The Progressive movement had two scapegoats—the “plutocrat” millionaires, and the immigrants. (pp. 178f)

Lipset was able to write that protest movements arising out of economic depressions lack scapegoats. Scapegoats are attacked when people see a threat to “the American value system rather than its economy.”

And it is this concern with the protection of traditional American values that characterizes “status politics” as contrasted with the regard for jobs, cheap credit, or high farm prices, which have been the main emphasis of depression “class politics”. (179)

It is interesting to reflect on the above in the light of the more complex economic situation since 2016 and the dramatic change in economic hopes since the COVID-19 crisis in 2020.

The State of Tolerance in America

Depressingly, Lipset was able to write in 1955

The historical evidence, some of which has been cited above, indicates that, as compared to the citizens of a number of other countries, especially Great Britain and Scandinavia, Americans are not a tolerant people

Continue reading “America’s Radical Right in Context (Lipset Revisited)”


2020-07-04

The Darkest Side of White Supremacy: The Hanging of Martin Robinson

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by Tim Widowfield

By the time Union troops had begun to make deeper incursions into the western frontier of the Confederacy, well before they cut the South in two by taking command of the Mississippi, the acting abilities of captured rebels had gained legendary status. They lied about enemy strength, location, troop movements, and command structure. They told fabulous tales of starving and discouraged comrades and said they’d rather lose their liberty among the bluecoats than die like dogs in the muddy trenches.

Their ability to recount such stories, which tugged at the heartstrings, did not seem to upset the Northern troops. Instead, they marveled and often laughed at their resourceful Confederate cousins, slapping a thigh and shouting, “Oh, that Johnny Reb!”

It was all part of the game. White soldiers generally forgave other white soldiers. Why, after all, blame a good person for resorting to subterfuge when their lives and homes were in danger? American culture, since whites first began to settle the discovered territories of Massachusetts and Virginia, tacitly accepted the fact that white people are mostly good. As proof, we may point to the gift of white civilization, which we bestow upon all who fall beneath our gentle heel. And there’s more.

A hanging tree

If you search the web today, you can, for example, learn much from conservative thinkers who trumpet the good fortune of slaves who were taken from Africa to live in the greatest country on Earth. How else would they have been led to Christianity? Surely, white apologists tell us, masters would not abuse their valuable property. It just stands to reason. And can you imagine all the bountiful food and fresh air? They were clearly better off. Such attitudes lie at the root of white complaints about the ingratitude of inferior people.

As you might suspect, the playful disinformation game was strictly a whites-only affair. You should understand that white superiority wasn’t (and isn’t) based on the idea that whites score higher than anyone else on the intelligence tests they have written. A careless reader who skims the surface of caucasian apologia might think we reached the top of the pecking order thanks to our brainpower.

But intelligence plays only a minor role here. The manly virtues of strength, courage, righteousness, trustworthiness, and honor mark the true nature of the white gentleman. Here we find the foundations of the benefit of the doubt we still extend exclusively to whites. When the gentleman resorts to violence to defend his property or his supposed honor, we presume he must have had good reason. When a white man brandishes a weapon, we must do our utmost to hear him out and talk him down.

White superiority is chiefly about moral superiority, not intellectual superiority. After all, the inferior person may frequently demonstrate shrewdness, using innate intelligence for dark purposes. Presumption of innocence does not apply here. Heaven help the sly person of color who outsmarts the morally superior white man.

Heaven did not help Martin Robinson, an African American guide, hanged on March 1, 1864. I first encountered this sad tale while reading the second volume of Shelby Foote’s The Civil War: A Narrative. You can find a somewhat fuller account in Historic Records of the Fifth New York Cavalry, a day-to-day chronicle of the regiment by the good Reverend Louis N. Boudrye. Continue reading “The Darkest Side of White Supremacy: The Hanging of Martin Robinson”