A Brief Note on Culture War Grievances

David Roberts, a sensible person on Twitter, explains the rationale behind right-wing culture war grievances:

Consider the “War on Christmas.” I view it as the paradigmatic right wing culture war grievance, not because it particularly matters or has any grand significance, but because it exposes the basic form that all these grievances take.

Asking everyone in a public role to say “Merry Christmas” is asking everyone to impose and reinforce a particular culture and a particular set of traditions, and thereby exclude others. Saying “happy holidays,” on the other hand, is a neutral, agnostic greeting — it makes room for everyone.

Conservatives specifically object to “happy holidays” because they do not *want* to make room for everyone. They want to exclude! The whole point is to prioritize and elevate a particular culture above others. They do not like or want multiculturalism or pluralism.

This, then, is the basic form of right wing grievance: if we stop imposing a particular dominant culture, and instead allow for more individual choice and variation, we are “attacking” the dominant culture. Attempts at pluralism are framed as an assault on the dominant culture….

The right wants a single narrow culture…. The left wants [or accepts] variation and pluralism.

Reactionary psychology is quite literally unable to process a genuine devotion to pluralism, so it can only interpret these reforms as attacks on its specific culture by some other specific culture (“Marxism” or whatever). They are dominant … or else persecuted. No other option.

Which explains why they said letting different kinds of people get married was an attack on marriage. Someone else suggested that another element of reactionary thinking is zero sum: if something is good for other people, it must be bad for them.

Finally, a personal note on variation and pluralism. If you run a website that requires a working cellphone to get past security, give your users another way to do it, e.g. email. Let a hundred flowers blossom.

Understanding the Plague of Christian Nationalism

The political ideology known as “Christian nationalism” has little to do with Christianity. Journalist Sarah Posner explains it for Talking Points Memo:

Christian nationalism has been all over the news lately, but it is neither a new term nor a new phenomenon in American politics. The label gained greater usage during [the former administration] because of [that president’s] mobilization of the Christian right around his strongman politics. Interest in the ideology — and the term — grew even more following the January 6 insurrection, where Christian nationalist rhetoric and symbols were on full display, sometimes violently. …Its threat to democracy has never been more vividly apparent.

Many on the Christian right have long rejected the term, but Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene has embraced it, and even started selling “Proud Christian Nationalist” t-shirts. “I am being attacked by the godless left because I said I’m a proud Christian Nationalist,” she tweeted in response to criticism. “They hate America, they hate God, and they hate us [no, but we do hate you].

Although Greene made it more popular, not all Christian nationalists wear the label on their sleeve, or a t-shirt. So how can you tell who is a Christian nationalist?

The Christian Founding Mythology

Christian nationalists believe that God had a “providential hand” in America’s founding. They contend that, carrying out God’s will, the founders intended America to be a “Christian nation.” They insist, falsely, that the founding documents prove both this intent and that the separation of church and state is a “myth.” God also intended government to play a limited role in people’s lives, they assert — but to the extent government carries out its functions, it should be done from a “biblical worldview”….

The leading proponent of this revisionist history undergirding contemporary Christian nationalism is David Barton, a prolific writer and energetic speaker whose false and misleading claims about this history have been thoroughly debunked by historians and researchers. Nonetheless, his extensive writings and lectures maintain a kind of doctrinal status within the religious right. Barton first made national headlines in 2004 when the Republican National Committee hired him as a political consultant during the presidential campaign to mobilize evangelical pastors and their flocks. Today, he remains an influential fixture in Christian right circles through his extensive writings, lectures, radio show, and other programs produced by his WallBuilders organization.

The impact of the perpetuation of this ideology is clear. A recent poll by the University of Maryland found that 61 percent of Republicans support officially declaring the United States a Christian nation. That number is far higher — 78 percent — among Republicans who identify as evangelical or born-again.

Restoration and Dominionism

A corollary of the Christian nation founding myth is that if the founders were carrying out God’s will, then any erosion of America’s “Christian heritage” must be fought by patriotic Christians who seek to rescue America from ungodly forces and “restore” it to its Christian foundation. Based on claims that the Bible calls on Christians to “take dominion” over earthly institutions, Christian nationalists contend that it is the duty of Christians to run for office and seek political and judicial appointments to ensure the government crafts law and policy from a [supposed “biblical” perspective].

In nearly two decades of reporting on the Christian right, I have seen this directive manifest itself in myriad ways: activists engaging in “spiritual warfare” and vetting political candidates, evangelical pastors mobilizing “to restore America to her Judeo-Christian heritage”, candidates running for president to Christianize government, governors holding mega-prayer rallies in professional basketball stadiums — all building toward the movement attempting to foment a coup. Greene’s call for the GOP to “lean into biblical principles” showed how the decades-long quest to elect “biblical worldview” representatives continues to bear fruit, and in increasingly radical ways.

Persecution

A key element of this dominionist vision is the claim that Christians are persecuted by social, cultural, political, and legal changes that they claim have undermined the Christian nation. Much of the supposed subversion of Christian heritage and values, and the attendant claimed persecution, stems from both conspiratorial thinking about political adversaries and apocalyptic claims about their ambitions. From the Cold War to the present, perceived enemies of the Christian nation have included Communism, Marxism, socialism, the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., mainline Protestantism, atheism, secular humanism, feminism, abortion rights, the “homosexual agenda,” Islam, political correctness, President Barack Obama, “gender ideology,” COVID mitigation policies, the “deep state,” critical race theory, and “wokeness.” Many of these figures, beliefs, and policies might ostensibly have little in common, but they are imagined as conspiring to form a single movement to undermine America — as Greene put it in her tweet, the “godless left.”

In practical legal and political terms, these persecution claims, litigated in the courts and in the court of public opinion by well-funded lawyers and activists, have led tocataclysmic erosions of church-state separation, the reversal of Roe v. Wade, ongoing assaults on LGBTQ rights, and the accompanying elevation of religious freedom rights — for right-wing Christians. 

Anti-Democracy

Subversions of church-state separation, and the imposition of fundamentalist religion to deprive others of their civil and constitutional rights, are in and of themselves signs of a democracy in danger. But since the 2020 election, the Christian right’s embrace of [the] stolen election lie — fueled by the belief that [the unreligious, con man president] is a savior of the Christian nation — has contributed to direct threats to the electoral process itself….

The QAnon movement, which claims that a deep state cabal of satanic pedophiles is running a secret sex trafficking ring inside the government … is not just a conspiracy theory. It is another means of energizing right-wing white Christian voters, who have been steeped in this kind of conspiracism for decades, to take extreme steps to “save” the Christian nation that (they believe) [the ex-president] has so ardently defended. Polling by the Public Religion Research Institute has found that QAnon adherents “express strong Christian nationalist beliefs,” with 71 percent agreeing with the statement that “God has granted America a special role in human history,” and 55 percent saying they believe being a Christian is “at least somewhat important to being a ‘true American.’”

Finally: Is [You Know Who] A Christian Nationalist?

The Bible is just a prop for [him], and, like autocrats throughout history, he uses religion and religious leaders to consolidate the support of enraptured followers. It doesn’t really matter whether [he] himself is a Christian nationalist, since he is a salvific figure to Christian nationalists, one who can achieve their long-sought goals by crushing the “godless left” and giving them more power. One of the leading contenders to be [the former president’s] successor, Florida governor Ron DeSantis, is abusing his current office to engage in fascistic crackdowns on migrants, public education, and LGBTQ kids while making direct Christian nationalist appeals. In recent political speeches, DeSantis has been using a verse from Ephesians 6 (“Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes”), but with a notable substitution: instead of “the devil’s,” he has said “the left’s.” The meaning is not lost on evangelical audiences, who are well familiar with the actual words of the verse….

While I Was Away

Here are a few things from the past week or so I wanted to share:

From Paul Krugman at the New York Times:

Wonking Out: The Tax Cut Zombie Attacks Britain

I’ve written a lot over the years about zombie economic ideas — ideas that have failed repeatedly in practice, and should be dead, but somehow are still shambling around, eating policymakers’ brains. The pre-eminent zombie in American economic discourse has long been the belief that cutting taxes on the rich will create an economic miracle.

That belief is still out there: Even as its infrastructure was collapsing to the point that its largest city no longer had running water, Mississippi tried to raise its economic fortunes with … a tax cut….

The important point to understand is that there isn’t a serious debate about the proposition that tax cuts for the rich strongly increase economic growth. The truth is that there is no evidence — none — for that proposition….

Of course, people on the right, raised on the legend of Saint Reagan, believe that his tax cuts did wonders for the U.S. economy. But the data don’t agree [he has charts, etc.]

From Jamelle Bouie, also at the New York Times:

In political writing about the federal judiciary, there is a convention to treat the partisan affiliation of a judge or justice as a mere curiosity, to pretend that it does not matter that much whether a jurist was nominated by Ronald Reagan or Bill Clinton or George W. Bush or Barack Obama so long as he or she can faithfully uphold the law.

The issue with this convention, as we’ve seen in the legal drama over the classified materials found … at Mar-a-Lago, is that it isn’t equipped to deal with the problem of hyperpartisan, ideological judges who are less committed to the rule of law than to their presidential patron….

Thankfully, there is a solution, and it takes only a simple vote of Congress: expand and reorganize the federal court system [well, actually it would only be a partial solution and important votes in Congress are rarely simple].

The practical reason to increase the number of courts and judges is that the country is much larger than it was in 1990, when Congress made its last expansion….

In the 32 years since 1990, the United States has grown from a population of roughly 250 million to a population of over 330 million….. And the federal judiciary is swamped. Last year, the Judicial Conference of the United States, a nonpartisan policymaking body for the federal courts, recommended that Congress create 79 new judgeships across existing district and appeals courts.

Congress, and here I mean Democrats, should go further with a court expansion to rival [Jimmy Carter’s in 1978]…. The goal is simple: to account for growth and to deal with the problem of a cohort of hyperpartisan and ideological judges whose loyalty to [the orange-ish ex-president] may outweigh their commitment to the law.

Would it be a partisan move? Yes. But it is a truth of American politics going back to the early days of the Republic that partisan problems — like the one engineered by Mitch McConnell … and the Federalist Society — demand partisan solutions.

From Charles Pierce for Esquire:

In the End, Climate Change Is the Only Story That Matters

To pretend otherwise is just to build the walls of your sandcastle higher.

While we watch the disembowelment of various lawyers in the employ of a former president* and wrap ourselves in the momentum of the upcoming midterm elections, the climate crisis—its time and tides—waits for no one. Every other story in our politics is a sideshow now. Every other issue, no matter how large it looms in the immediate present, is secondary to the accumulating evidence that the planet itself (or at least large parts of it) may be edging toward uninhabitability….

To stand on the bluffs above the Chukchi Sea [between Siberia and Alaska], looking down at a series of broken and ruined seawalls that have already failed to hold back the power of the ocean, and to consider that there are politicians in this country who are unwilling to do anything about the climate crisis, or who even deny it exists, is to wish they all could come and stand on these bluffs and look out at the relentless, devouring sea.

It probably doesn’t matter, but:

From Verlyn Klinkenborg for the New York Review of Books:

Endless Summer [not a great title]

Brian Wilson’s songs still have the power to astonish on their own terms, from their own time….

I have trouble accepting that Smile—the album he abandoned in 1967—was finally finished in 2004, because I question the continuity of the creative mind that “finished” it nearly forty years after it was begun. My skepticism makes me wonder whether I’m simply clinging to the memory of my own experience of the Beach Boys when I was young. But I don’t think so. They’re the same doubts that apply, say, to Wordsworth’s late revisions to The Prelude.

The joy I experience listening to those early Beach Boys records—through “Good Vibrations” and “Heroes and Villains” and slightly beyond—has nothing to do with nostalgia, with memories of where I was or who I was when I heard them. They don’t evoke for me an idealized California or even my adolescent yearnings. I don’t hear them from [Iowa] or Sacramento. I hear them from now. Wilson’s songs still have the power to astonish on their own terms, from their own time. What makes them so remarkable isn’t just the artistic fulfillment they achieve. It’s the artistic promise they embody. You can feel the explosive, disruptive, but ultimately controlled power of Wilson’s musical imagination—usually in three minutes or less….

Wilson marvels, in one of the documentaries I’ve mentioned, how quickly he wrote the melody of a song like “Caroline, No.” To me, that’s a sign that he’s allowed himself to misunderstand—in wholly conventional terms—what’s most remarkable about his work. It isn’t the melodic line or the speed with which it was written that stuns me now and stunned me then. It’s the shape of the mind in which the intricate shapes of his music entangled and resolved themselves. That mind has only ever been captured in one place: in the music as Brian Wilson recorded it long ago. 

Finally, two conclusions about France:

Louis XIV’s Versailles estate is too damn big. Did any of those 18th century aristocrats walk great distances in their 18th century shoes? The “gardens” are not somewhere to stroll around. They’re somewhere to hike or ride around.

And almost every French waiter was extremely nice, even the one who spilled the orange juice. Aren’t they supposed to be mean and snooty? Or is that only at the more exclusive establishments?

One More Comment from Prof. Zimmer on the Pathetic Circus We Call American Politics

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That’s Florida’s thuggish Republican governor Ronald DeSantis using his own state’s funds to gather up immigrants in Texas and put them on a plane to Massachusetts (where the arrivals were greeted warmly by local residents). History professor Thomas Zimmer had a reaction:

Leading Republican elected officials: “Let’s round up human beings under false pretenses and treat them like cargo in order to use them as props in an illegal stunt to trigger the Libs and rile up the base!”   New York Times: “Here’s a new political tactic we haven’t seen…”

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There is almost nothing so vile, so inhumane, so outrageous that the mainstream media can’t press it into the established politics-as-horse-race framework, thereby sanitizing it and presenting it as just the latest development in the struggle between Team Red and Team Blue.

Since mainstream journalism is predicated on the idea that politics is a game between two teams that are essentially the same and journalists aspire to “neutrality,” which they define as equidistance from either side, whatever comes from the [Republican Party] has to be elevated to credibility.

Sometimes that happens by presenting bad-faith nonsense as serious policy proposals – that’s what we get after every mass shooting, when Republicans claim the answer to gun violence is more guns or maybe school buildings with just one entry point, remember that one?

If that doesn’t work, then the sanitizing effect is achieved by simply ignoring the actual substance of what Republicans have done and focusing solely on the “playing politics” part, the horse race and how it may or may not be affected by these actions.

It’s one of the most bizarre features of the American political discourse that it demands we pretend these are serious political actions, coming from serious political actors, instead of denouncing them as the extremist culture warriors they so clearly are.

In a healthy political culture, anyone involved in such a deranged scheme would be shunned and ostracized, the party that elevated them would have to pay a hefty political price. In the U.S., that’s evidently not the case. And until that changes, nothing changes.

Unquote. 

There’s more to this story coming out. According to a lawyer representing the immigrants, officials from the Department of Homeland Security participated in this fiasco and falsified government documents, filling in random addresses around the US as the immigrants’ mailing addresses. If this actually happened, there needs to be serious jailtime.