Tag Archives: insurrection

So Here We Are…

Can you stand one more post about the January 6th insurrection?

Investigations in the wake of that shocking assault are steadily turning up evidence that it was anything but a spontaneous response to Trump’s crazed rally speech. It had been planned, and not just by the conspiracy-believing members of the rightwing’s radical fringe, but with the connivance of seditionist members of Trump’s campaign, his White House, and members of Congress.

The identities of these conspirators will eventually be made public, but who they are is ultimately less important than what they are–representatives of White Christian Nationalists who see themselves as losing out in today’s America.

Thomas Edsall writes a weekly column for the Washington Post on politics, demographics and inequality. In the wake of the riot on January 6th, he considered how “racism, grievance, resentment and the fear of diminished status came together” to fuel the fury and violence. He began with the obvious: the dominant role played by “out-and-out racism and a longing to return to the days of white supremacy.”

But Edsall also acknowledged the need to probe more deeply–to try to ascertain the roots of the anger and to identify the elements of contemporary life that serve to “trigger”  violent expression.

It may sound trivial at first, in light of what happened, but how important is the frustration among what pollsters call non-college white men at not being able to compete with those higher up on the socioeconomic ladder because of educational disadvantage? How critical is declining value in marriage — or mating — markets? Does any of that really matter?

How toxic is the combination of pessimism and anger that stems from a deterioration in standing and authority? What might engender existential despair, this sense of irretrievable loss? How hard is it for any group, whether it is racial, political or ethnic, to come to terms with losing power and status? What encourages desperate behavior and a willingness to believe a pack of lies?

Edsall posed those questions to a range of academic researchers. Their responses were sobering.

A sociologist at NYU dubbed the rioters “ethnonationalists,” and described  Trump supporters as those who want to return to a past when white men considered themselves the “core of America”–when minorities and women “knew their place.” Since they realize that such a return would require the upending of the existing social order, they’re prepared to pursue violent measures.

Another sociologist, a professor at Johns Hopkins, concurred:

They fear a loss of attention. A loss of validation. These are people who have always had racial privilege but have never had much else. Many feel passed over, ignored. Trump listened to them and spoke their language when few other politicians did. He felt their pain and was diabolical enough to encourage their tendency to racialize that pain. They fear becoming faceless again if a Democrat, or even a conventional Republican, were to take office.

There was general recognition from those Edsall consulted that It is incredibly difficult for individuals and groups to come to terms with the loss of status and power. Before Trump came along to provide a culprit, these individuals lacked what one scholar called “a narrative to legitimate their condition.” Trump provided a narrative that gave “moral certitude” to people who  believed that their decline in social and/or economic status was the result of unfair and/or corrupt decisions by so-called elites.

According to a professor of psychology at Yale, the insurrection reflected angst, anger, and refusal to accept an America in which White (Christian) Americans are losing dominance.

And, I use the term dominance here, because it is not simply a loss of status. It is a loss of power. A more racially, ethnically, religiously diverse US that is also a democracy requires White Americans to acquiesce to the interests and concerns of racial/ethnic and religious minorities.

Others who responded to Edsell’s inquiry noted that contemporary America is especially vulnerable to right-wing anger due to our high degree of income inequality, and lack of a welfare state safety net to buffer the fall of people into unemployment and poverty.

You can click through and read the various responses, but they all reminded me of an exchange in the film An American President. Michael Douglas, playing the incumbent, points to his opponent during a press conference and says something to the effect that “you have a choice between someone who wants to fix the problem or someone who wants to tell you who to blame for it.”

Trump voters chose the guy willing to tell these deeply unhappy people who to blame.

 

 

A Moment Of Christian Truth?

David Brooks column a few days ago related an Evangelical pastor’s truly horrific–albeit edifying–experience.

A conservative preacher, Jeremiah Johnson, had reacted to the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol by issuing a public apology for having supported Trump. He concluded that God removed Trump from office in response to his pride and arrogance, and to humble his supporters, including Johnson.

Readers of this blog can probably guess what happened next. Johnson received multiple death threats and “thousands upon thousands of emails from Christians saying the nastiest and most vulgar things.” He was labeled a coward, sellout, a “traitor to the Holy Spirit, and cussed out at least 500 times.”

As Brooks points out, this is a window into what is happening inside Evangelical Christianity and within conservatism right now. And he defines it accurately:

The split we are seeing is not theological or philosophical. It’s a division between those who have become detached from reality and those who, however right wing, are still in the real world.

As Carey Wallace pointed out in Time Magazine, the willingness of so many “Christians” to become divorced from reality has a long and shameful history. As she says,

In the past few days, I’ve seen all kinds of statements from Christian leaders trying to distance themselves from the violent mob at the Capitol. Christian writers known for their thoughtfulness lament that “somehow” white supremacy has crept into our churches, and the faculty of a major evangelical institution put out a manifesto saying that the events at the Capitol “bear absolutely no resemblance to” the Christianity they teach. That mob, they’re telling us, is a fringe element. They’ve radically misunderstood the real message of American Christianity.

This could not be further from the truth.

I believe the mob at the Capitol has radically misunderstood the teachings and life of Jesus. But it is an absolutely logical conclusion of white American Christianity.

Wallace proceeds to lay out the long history of Christian White Nationalism, from its approval of taking Indian land (it’s okay to steal from non-Whites and non-Christians) through slavery and Jim Crow.

For the vast majority of American history, Christian ministers have spoken with passion and vigor in favor of slavery, segregation, and white supremacy. 

Wallace insists that there can be no healing without facing up to this past–as she writes, you can’t cure cancer by pretending it’s not there. The White American church can’t pretend that the mob at the Capitol is not part of it.

Scholars of religion agree.The John C. Danforth Distinguished Professor in the Humanities decried the 

persecution narrative of the Christian nationalist who sees Satanic power in feminism, anti-racist efforts, or religious pluralism. I want to think we reject the hubris of imagining ourselves to be God’s violent foot soldiers in the war against such so-called principalities and powers, that whether we are religious or secular, our everyday lives have meaning through caring for others, not fantasizing the bloody deaths of political foes. How to live among those who see life as a cosmic war between good and evil, self-righteously certain of just who is evil and who shall be victorious, is the great test of our time.

A number of others cited in the linked article agreed that what we saw on January 6th was “no random angry mob, but a group led and incited by elected officials, further evidenced by Trump’s affectionate words towards them.”

The next few years are going to be difficult, and not just for Evangelicals willing to confront their past, who will be attacked by those steeped in Christianity’s White Nationalism.  Trump’s success in re-making the Supreme Court is seen as a “full speed ahead” signal by  Republican Christian Nationalists who–thanks to gerrymandering–control Statehouses in states where their beliefs do not reflect those of a majority of their constituents.

The Guardian recently reported that we should expect a “blizzard” of bills rolling back LGBTQ rights and reproductive freedoms, and further eroding Separation of Church and State. These efforts have been supercharged by something called Project Blitz, an effort by rightwing Christian organizations to push through bills furthering their aims. It provides draft legislation to lawmakers across the country, where those drafts are basically copied, pasted and presented in state capitols. In 2018, state lawmakers introduced 74 such bills, ranging from measures restricting same-sex marriage to those allowing adoption agencies to use religious criteria to deny placements.

Have I mentioned that sane Americans have our work cut out for us? 

 

 

 

The Future Of Trumpism

There’s little point in reiterating the obvious–that the insurrection at the nation’s Capitol represented a “security failure” that was very likely abetted by Trump sympathizers within the system. As an article in the usually staid and circumspect Foreign Affairs put it,

Law enforcement, which uses a heavy hand against Black Lives Matter protesters and prepares carefully to stop possible al Qaeda attacks, was apparently unprepared for the mix of white supremacists, anti-government extremists, conspiracy theorists, and other pro-Trump supporters who openly organized to “burn DC to the ground” to overturn an election at the behest of the president. Although it’s too early to point fingers, the Capitol Police and other security forces clearly have some explaining to do.

The ingredients of what we have come to call “Trumpism” are varied and complicated. Although virtually all of those ingredients include racist grievances, other social ills cause racial grievances to grow and metastasize. America’s gaping economic divide is certainly one of those, as is our demonstrably inadequate social safety net. (The irony here is that unwillingness to extend social welfare services to “those people” is a major reason for America’s lack of such a safety net. It’s all intertwined.)

Trumpism’s future will depend in large measure on whether the Biden Administration and those that succeed it can repair the major holes in our national fabric–not simply existing economic policies that are wildly favorable to those who are already well-off, but a range of  failings in areas as disparate as civic education, regulation of digital platforms, policing, environmental justice, and especially election laws.

People who have grievances– legitimate or not–are ripe for induction into what we might call the lost cause brigade. A recent New York Times op-ed by a historian issued that warning. She drew parallels between Trump’s lost cause and that of the Confederacy in 1865, and between Lee’s rhetoric after the South’s defeat and Trump’s.

Mr. Trump’s lost cause mirrors that of Lee’s. His dedicated followers do not see him as having failed them, but as a man who was failed by others. Mr. Trump best represents their values — even those of white supremacy — and the cause he represents is their cause, too. Just as Lee helped lead and sustain the Confederacy over four years, Mr. Trump has also been a sort of general — in a campaign of disinformation.

The author warned of the “dangerous consciousness” of Trump’s supporters, and predicted that– like Lee’s Lost Cause– it will not likely end. When Lee died just five years after the Civil War, the mythology about Confederate defeat was already growing exponentially. “The Lost Cause did not belong to Lee; Lee belonged to the Lost Cause — a cultural phenomenon whose momentum could not be stopped.”

Trump’s lost cause is the mythology he has created about voter fraud and fake news. Right now, that mythology is a “cultural and political phenomenon that shows no sign of ending,” because it has been aided and abetted by Republican members of Congress.

Whether the dire predictions in the Times column prove accurate will depend to a considerable degree on whether we can rein in a digital world still in its technological and cultural infancy. The ability of racists, conspiracy theorists and other lunatics to use the Internet to find each other and plan insurrections is more than worrisome, but there are also signs that the data they relinquish can be used to hold them accountable.

Apparently, before Parler was taken offline, a group of hackers captured  the personal data of upwards of  12 million of its users– white supremacists, QAnon adherents, Trumpists,  armed insurgents. ( Despite promises of anonymity, Parler was considerably less solicitous of users’ privacy than Facebook.)  Videos posted to the site captured GPS coordinates and the identities of rioters who carried their phones.  Hackers reportedly captured up to 70 terabytes of data, including users’ driver’s licenses, geolocations, deleted messages, and  videos.

What information technology will ultimately change, destroy or privilege is anyone’s guess.

Perhaps the most important predictor of Trumpism’s future, however, is whether America can finally eliminate gerrymandering. As Talking Points Memo reminds us:

It’s no coincidence that the vast preponderance of those who incited the insurrection by objecting to the counting of electoral votes were politicians who owed their perpetual re-election to gerrymandering. 

Granted, Trump owed his electoral success to the Electoral College, “a system that privileges a handful of unrepresentative swing states and renders the rest of the nation functionally irrelevant.” But the vast majority of Congressional Republicans who incited the insurrection owed their perpetual re-election to the gerrymandering that protects them from democratic backlash–but not from farther-right primary opposition.

Defeating Trumpism absolutely requires eliminating gerrymandering.

In A Way, It Really WAS Obama’s Fault…

Whether the current eruption of White Christian Nationalism is–as I profoundly hope– its “death rattle” and not a more permanent, dangerous fixture of our political reality, it may be useful to consider what has triggered its current malevolence.

The road from the Emancipation Proclamation has been a long one, for reasons a number of historians have documented. The resistance of White supremicists, abetted by racist politicians, consistently impeded progress and continues to do so. But little by little, as the boots of those supremicists lifted from Black and Brown necks and as people of color (and women) were able to access education and get hired to do non-menial jobs, the environment has– slowly– shifted.

It has become difficult, if not impossible, to ignore the fact that talent and diligence–just like ignorance and sloth– are pretty widely dispersed among all populations.

Over the years, women, Latinos and Black people who occupy positions of authority have become more prominent and plentiful. Faces in the media and academia, and among co-workers and bosses and neighbors, have become steadily more diverse. And then, for the bigots, the ultimate indignity: a brilliant, classy Black President and his equally accomplished wife were “in the face” of resentful Whites for eight long years.

One way they could diminish Obama was to elect a crude, ignorant, classless racist to succeed him, as if to say: “See. Even a dumb, mentally-ill buffoon can do that job. You aren’t so special.” Another was to oppose and mischaracterize efforts to remedy the still-potent remnants of official racism–to pretend that vote suppression was “prevention of voter fraud” or  to insist (falsely) that demonstrations by groups like Black Lives Matter were as violent as their own.

I don’t pretend to understand the attitudes or thought processes (if they can be dignified by describing them as “thought”) of people who believe that a mob of White vandals trashing offices and defecating on the floor of the nation’s Capitol are representatives of a “superior” population.

As the saying goes, I’m not a psychiatrist and I don’t play one on TV. I can only assume that what we are seeing is the inarticulate rage of people who are disappointed with their lives, who feel that the world is not according them the status and/or recognition to which they feel entitled, who have  comforted themselves with the notion that (as LBJ memorably put it) at least they were superior to Black people.

Take that comfort away, and they are truly bereft.

The question now is whether this most recent eruption will usher in any meaningful change. In the wake of the insurrection, there have been some encouraging signs that the determined “neutrality” of many people and businesses has been shaken. Donors are withdrawing support from several of the most culpable elected officials–those like Cruz and Hawley who clearly knew better but encouraged the uprising in hopes that indulging seditious fantasies would win them the support of Trump’s rabid base. The PGA will no longer authorize tournaments at Trump-owned golf courses. The Business Roundtable, the National Association of Manufacturers and even the rightwing editorial board of the Wall Street Journal are among those that have called for Trump’s resignation.

Will reaction to this shocking example of sedition go the way of the  “thoughts and prayers” responses to mass gun violence? Or will Americans finally, firmly reject racial and religious tribalism, and begin a final and vastly overdue commitment to civic equality?

I have hopes, but no crystal ball.