Category Archives: Racial Equality

Christian Grievance

Sometimes, a news article will hit several of my hot buttons. This recent one managed to do so. (Not that it is particularly difficult to piss me off…the older I get, the crankier…)

Here’s the gist of the story: a poll taken by Politico discovered that

about 57 percent of Republicans, and 70 percent of Americans overall, believe the Constitution would not allow America to be declared a “Christian nation.” Respondents were then asked “Would You Favor or Oppose the United States Officially Declaring the United States to be a Christian Nation?”

Sixty-one percent of Republicans were in favor of just that, with 78 percent of Republicans who identify as an evangelical Christian backing the idea. Support was even higher among older Republicans.

Regular readers of this blog know of my preoccupation with America’s low levels of civic and constitutional literacy. These percentages reflect that only 57 percent of Republicans understand–or are prepared to acknowledge– the intended effect of the First Amendment, or the history of America’s constitutional debates.

Then, of course, there’s the little matter of America’s still-pervasive racism. Evidently, there are still a lot of White folks who are dogged believers that the pre-Civil War South should rise again, whether or not it actually will…

Per Politico

Our polling found that white grievance is highly correlated with support for a Christian nation. White respondents who say that members of their race have faced more discrimination than others are most likely to embrace a Christian America. Roughly 59 percent of all Americans who say white people have been discriminated against a lot more in the past five years favor declaring the U.S. a Christian nation, compared to 38 percent of all Americans. White Republicans who said white people have been more discriminated against also favored a Christian nation (65 percent) by a slightly larger percentage than all Republicans (63 percent).

Regular readers are also well aware of my language prejudices; I have this old English-teacher belief that words have meanings, and that communication requires that the people using those words broadly agree upon those meanings.

In any sane world, the assertion that White Americans suffer discrimination would be met with incomprehension. I know that political strategists dislike the contemporary use of the term “privilege”–its users sound elitist, and when one thinks of “privilege,” what comes to mind is unfair advantage. (Actually, White skin does confer advantage, just not the kind of material advantage that this particular word brings to mind.)

The fact remains that, in the good old U.S. of A., what is perceived of as discrimination against White people is a very overdue erosion of the considerably privileged status that skin color has historically  afforded them.

When I express my frequent criticisms of Christian Nationalism (which is, in reality, White Christian Nationalism), I try to be very clear that I am not criticizing Christianity. (To appropriate a phrase, some of my best friends are Christian..) I am happy to report that real Christians agree with me, as the following excerpts from a statement from Christians Against Christian Nationalism makes clear.

Christian nationalism seeks to merge Christian and American identities, distorting both the Christian faith and America’s constitutional democracy. Christian nationalism demands Christianity be privileged by the State and implies that to be a good American, one must be Christian. It often overlaps with and provides cover for white supremacy and racial subjugation. We reject this damaging political ideology and invite our Christian brothers and sisters to join us in opposing this threat to our faith and to our nation.

The statement affirms basic constitutional principles: That “one’s religious affiliation, or lack thereof, should be irrelevant to one’s standing in the civic community,” and that
“government should not prefer one religion over another or religion over nonreligion.” And it affirms others:

Conflating religious authority with political authority is idolatrous and often leads to oppression of minority and other marginalized groups as well as the spiritual impoverishment of religion.

We must stand up to and speak out against Christian nationalism, especially when it inspires acts of violence and intimidation—including vandalism, bomb threats, arson, hate crimes, and attacks on houses of worship—against religious communities at home and abroad.

Whether we worship at a church, mosque, synagogue, or temple, America has no second-class faiths. All are equal under the U.S. Constitution. As Christians, we must speak in one voice condemning Christian nationalism as a distortion of the gospel of Jesus and a threat to American democracy.

So Republicans who want to label America as a “Christian Nation” manage to hit several of my hot buttons: concerns about civic literacy and the normalization of racism, annoyance at the misuse of language, and deep, deep fear of the rise of Christian Nationalism.

Politico did it all with one statistic…

 

Choosing To Believe

In the mid-1990s, after publication of my first book (What’s a Nice Republican Girl Like Me Doing at the ACLU?), I was a guest on a call-in radio show in South Carolina. My publisher had asked for my travel schedule, and booked me on the show–while failing to tell me that it followed three hours of Rush Limbaugh…

It was rough.

One caller shared a “quote” by James Madison to the effect that the Founders gave the Bill of Rights to people who lived by the Ten Commandments. I responded by saying that, not only had that “quote” been debunked by Madison scholars, it was contrary to everything we know Madison did say. The caller yelled, “Well, I choose to believe it!” and hung up.

Today, echoes of that conversation are everywhere. The phenomenon even has a name: belief polarization.

Belief polarization has been the subject of substantial scholarly research, as Thomas Edsall recently reported in an essay for the New York Times.

In a paper that came out in June, “Explanations for Inequality and Partisan Polarization in the U.S., 1980 — 2020,” Elizabeth Suhay and Mark Tenenbaum, political scientists at American University, and Austin Bartola, of Quadrant Strategies, provide insight into why so much discord permeates American politics:

Scholars who research polarization have almost exclusively focused on the relationship between Americans’ policy opinions and their partisanship. In this article, we discuss a different type of partisan polarization underappreciated by scholars: “belief polarization,” or disagreements over what people perceive to be true.

In a finding that is especially disheartening to naive people who (like yours truly) harp on the importance of credible evidence, scholars have found that two people with opposing prior beliefs often “both strengthen their beliefs after observing the same data.”

In a 2021 paper, researchers found

“ample evidence that people sustain different beliefs even when faced with the same information, and they interpret that information differently.” They also note that “stark differences in beliefs can arise and endure due to human limitations in interpreting complex information.”

Edsall quotes an explanation of belief polarization authored by professors of philosophy at Vanderbilt.

Part of what makes belief polarization so disconcerting is its ubiquity. It has been extensively studied for more than 50 years and found to be operative within groups of all kinds, formal and informal. Furthermore, belief polarization does not discriminate between different kinds of belief. Like-minded groups polarize regardless of whether they are discussing banal matters of fact, matters of personal taste, or questions about value. What’s more, the phenomenon operates regardless of the explicit point of the group’s discussion. Like-minded groups polarize when they are trying to decide an action that the group will take, and they polarize also when there is no specific decision to be reached. Finally, the phenomenon is prevalent regardless of group members’ nationality, race, gender, religion, economic status, and level of education.

Short version: humans of all kinds are irrational.

The most recent examples of belief polarization, of course, involve Trump: in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary, MAGA supporters remain convinced by the “Big Lie” that the election was stolen; Democrats and independents are equally certain it wasn’t. And more recently, Right-wingers (and of course, Fox News) are calling the F.B.I. search of Mar-a-Lago a corrupt politicization of federal investigative authority. The rest of us counter that the raid is consistent with the rule of law, a reassuring demonstration that no one, no matter how powerful, is above the law.

Edsall explores Americans’ polarized beliefs about the economy, poverty,  climate change, and gender identity. Then he delivers a profoundly depressing statement: “There is further evidence that even people who are knowledgeable about complex issues are sharply polarized along partisan lines.”

He quotes from a paper titled “More Accurate, but No Less Polarized: Comparing the Factual Beliefs of Government Officials and the Public,” demonstrating that even though “political elites are consistently more accurately informed than the public,” that increased accuracy doesn’t translate into reduced belief polarization”. The study challenged the assumption that we will disagree less about the facts if we know more.

And most depressing, albeit unsurprising: it turns out that racism plays a central part in America’s polarization Researchers have found that–while political campaigns don’t change levels of prejudice–” they can prime these attitudes, or make them more or less salient and therefore more or less politically relevant.”

As one set of researchers found,

Trump not only attracted whites with more conservative views on race; he also made his white supporters more likely to espouse increasingly extreme views on issues related to immigration and on issues like the Black Lives Matter movement and police killings of African Americans.

In other words, political rhetoric can sharpen racial attitudes–and (like my long-ago caller) reinforce and legitimize what we choose to believe.

 

 

Perspectives…

During family gatherings, one of my sons often retells the story of a long-ago visit to the Rice Museum in Georgetown, South Carolina, and an accompanying tour guide/docent’s  description of a couple of the displays. (Docent may be an overly grand title; the museum is tiny and its displays are, shall we say, homegrown).Georgetown was the rice capital of the world back in the 1700s, and as we viewed a painting of Black folks working in a rice field, she explained that one of the most egregious injustices of the Civil War was the fact that, when the slaves were freed, plantation owners weren’t compensated for the loss of their property.

In her view, if the government was going to deprive them of the use of their “property,” it had an obligation to reimburse them…

At the time–well over twenty years ago– it was all I could do to keep my son from delivering  some very non-genteel observations about the definition of property. The incident clearly made an impression on him, because every so often he still marvels at the culture that led this otherwise pleasant-seeming woman to view other human beings as the equivalent of cattle and their “appropriation” as tantamount to theft.

I thought about that incident when I read a Talking Points Memo report on a recent Fox “News” segment. Here’s the lede:

Today’s little Fox News gem was a segment on what a huge bummer it is to visit Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello these days, what with all the focus on slavery and what not at what was built as a slave plantation.

A bow-tied, bespectacled guest for the segment was billed hilariously in one chyron as a “recent Monticello visitor.” Turns out there’s a little more to the story.

The bow-tied visitor–one Jeffrey Tucker– complained that even Monticello hadn’t been protected from “this disease of wokeism.” It turned out that Tucker had some history of his own–and that history was illuminating.

One thing about the internet–once something is posted, it is there forever…(I hope that’s true of those deleted Secret Service texts. But I digress.)

A 20-year-old report by the Southern Poverty Law Center about the Neo-Confederate movement had identified Tucker as a founding member of something called the League of the South–a proudly racist organization. He denied being a founder, but he was listed on the League’s Web page as a “founding member,” and he has written for League publications. Furthermore, several League members have lectured at events held by Tucker’s Ludwig von Mises Institute.

As the story from Talking Points Memo concluded,

Tucker’s star turn on today’s Fox segment came just a few days after he served as a named source for a New York Post story headlined “Monticello is going woke — and trashing Thomas Jefferson’s legacy in the process.”

It’s usually a little more difficult to pinpoint the origins of the newest right wing hobbyhorse. Tucker’s presence makes this one easy.

On the right, “going woke” is a current, favorite slur. (A recent, contending meme floating around defines “woke” individuals as people “who didn’t sleep through science and history classes.”)

We all occupy informational and value bubbles. In my bubble, where conversations tend (mostly but admittedly not always) to be based on credible, verifiable evidence,  a recurring discussion revolves around the question “how can any sane person believe [fill in the blank].

It’s one thing to recognize the political lens through which MSNBC and CNN, among others, view events. It is exceedingly misleading to equate that perspective with the out and proud dishonesty of outlets like Fox and OAN. There is a significant difference between a point of view and the constant dissemination of intentional propaganda carefully crafted for, and aimed at, a constituency desperate to confirm belief in a patently false narrative.

Apparently, it would take something like cult deprogramming to dislodge the profoundly racist paradigms through which far too many Americans continue to view the world. We can only hope that most of the Americans who continue to embrace that worldview are elderly and will eventually die off–leaving Fox and its clones with a significantly smaller audience for their deliberate disinformation.

I’m a member of that older cohort, but I’m convinced it’s past time to turn the levers of government over to a younger generation. If my former students were representative, they were far more inclusive, far less credulous, and far more concerned with the common good than my cranky and curmudgeonly generation.

Don’t Just Take It From Me

Several readers have shared a recent, stunning post from Pastor John Pavlovitz. I’ve been a fan of Pastor Pavlovitz, although not a regular reader–Facebook friends pretty regularly share his online “sermons.”  After reading them, I usually think how nice it would be if all self-identified Christians were like him–you know, really Christian. ( I revisited that thought after reading the revelations about sexual abuse in Evangelical churches…)

At any rate, I’m ceding my space today to his message, because–like those who sent it to me–I think it is important to hear it from someone with first-hand knowledge and an “insider’s” perspective.

________________________________-

I’ve been a pastor in the church for over two decades, much of that in predominantly white churches in the American South.

I’ve spent countless hours in church staff meetings and men’s Bible studies and youth pastor conferences.

I’ve stayed connected on social media with thousands of people still there in those churches. I read what they share and post and amplify and I know how they think and what they believe.

I need you to understand something and I say it without any hyperbole: white Evangelicals need to be stopped, now.

If the 2022 midterms elections allow Republicans to gain control of Congress, Conservative Christians will decimate this nation, and LGBTQ people, Muslims, women, people of color, and non-Christians will never have equality under the law again. We will all be at their mercy—and they will no longer have use for mercy.

This is not alarmist, sky-is-falling histrionics, it is the clear and sober forecast from someone who knows these people better than anyone. Over the last decade and a half, as my theology shifted and my beliefs grew more and more progressive, I’ve been a kind of undercover Liberal in an increasingly extremist movement, that while once relegated to minor fringe noisemakers is now at the precipice of Roman Empire-level power. They are less than two years away from having a dominance that they will wield violently and not relinquish.

I watched it all unfold from the inside:

I was at a North Carolina megachurch when Obama was elected and I saw the shift take place firsthand. I saw the fear slowly being ratcheted up and the agenda become solidified and the prejudices leveraged.

I was speaking regularly at the Billy Graham headquarters when Fox News reporters and Republicans like Sarah Palin started walking the halls with frequency.

I saw the messages at pastor’s conferences grow more incendiary and urgent, and heard the supremacist dog whistles become louder and more frequent.

While many decent people around this nation celebrated the progress of a black president and the many civil and human rights victories and gradually let down their guard—the white Conservative church set off the alarms and prepared for a holy war.

Yet, they were still a largely powerless, dying dinosaur until 2016, when Donald Trump acquired the presidency and gave the Evangelicals the perfect amoral partner to serve as the biggest bully pulpit they’ve ever had. Combine that with a fragmented Left, a general fatigue by the larger population, a ceremonial victory in Congress (thanks to Joe Manchin and Krysten Sinema), and Republican attacks on voters’ rights— and we are now a hair’s breadth from the subjugation of diverse humanity here.

These are not followers of Jesus despite the trappings and window dressing. They are Jesus-less extremists: blind zealots for nothing but power. They have been conditioned by decades of polluted theology and FoxNews alternative facts to see diversity as a threat, to see progress as attacks on America, and to interpret more people being treated with dignity as oppression of white people.

Trust me when I tell you that we won’t recover from the theocracy Evangelicals are constructing once it is established. If we fail in 2022, they will have a political power that will render every election null and void, and we will never have a voice again in our lifetimes.

Women will lose autonomy over their own bodies.
LGBTQ people will have the rights to marry and adopt taken away.
People of color will be fully squeezed out of the electoral process.
Immigrants will be denied access to opportunity and refuge here.

These are not creative projections. They are precisely what Evangelicals have repeatedly stated as their intentions, and they’re closer than they’ve ever been to having a rubber stamp.

We can still stop it, though.
We just need a unity and coordination that transcends theirs.
We need a sustained, passionate, dedicated defense of humanity that rivals their relentless assaults on it.

I hear many people say they’re terrified, but being terrified alone doesn’t do anything but help these people.
Be terrified and get angry.
Be terrified and get busy.
Be terrified and go to work.
Be terrified and fight like hell.

I wish more decent people in America remembered they are among the vast majority instead of acting as if they are helpless victims of Republican Christians. We could defeat them, and we need to. We just need to stop lamenting how much damage they are doing and start doing something to oppose them.

We’ve seen this play out throughout history and we know how it ends. We know what the unchecked religious extremist is capable of and we know the cost of the silence and inaction of good people. We also know what people are capable of when they refuse to accept fascism and white supremacy cloaked in the Bible and wrapped in the flag, when they fight for something inherently good together.

As someone who knows just how much these Christians have lost the plot of their faith tradition, believe me when I tell you that they cannot be allowed to steer this nation. It will not end well for the disparate people who call it home or who one day wish to.

Love and equity and diversity are in the balance.

It’s time we made a choice.

It may be the last one we get.”

 

 

How Deep It Goes

I left the Republican Party in 2000, but for several years after my departure I held to the belief that the changes I’d seen–the growing radicalization and disregard for evidence that concerned me–remained an essentially fringe phenomenon. Yes, the fringe was growing; yes, it was exerting a troubling amount of control over the reasonable folks who still were in the majority, but it wasn’t (I fondly believed) a wholesale abandonment of sanity and reason in service of bigotry.

I was wrong.

There are undoubtedly people who remain part of the GOP from inertia, or denial, but it is no longer possible to view the Republican Party as anything but a threat to American liberty and equality. In the wake of the horrific massacre in Buffalo, Dana Milbank described the GOP’s transformation from a traditional political party to a White Nationalist cult. He cited statistics for the proposition that the problem–the moral rot– goes “well beyond the rhetoric of a few Republican officials and opinion leaders. Elected Republicans haven’t merely inspired far-right extremists. They have become far-right extremists.”

The study, released on Friday by the Institute for Research and Education on Human Rights, a decades-old group that tracks right-wing extremism, found that more than 1 in 5 Republican state legislators in the United States were affiliated with far-right groups. The IREHR (which conducted a similar study with the NAACP in 2010 on racism within the tea party) cross-referenced the personal, campaign and official Facebook profiles of all 7,383 state legislators in the United States during the 2021-22 legislative period with thousands of far-right Facebook groups. The researchers found that 875 legislators — all but three of them Republicans — were members of one or more of 789 far-right Facebook groups. That works out to 22 percent of all Republican state legislators.

I haven’t had time to access the study to ascertain how many of those state-level legislators are members of Indiana’s Statehouse, but I’m sure the number is significant.

The numbers reported are hair-raising enough, but the study excluded from its definition of far-right groups what it called “historically mainstream conservative groups” such as the National Rifle Association and even pro-Trump and MAGA groups. It included  contemporary iterations of the tea party and selected antiabortion and Second Amendment groups, white nationalists, neo-Confederates and sovereign citizen organizations that claim to be exempt from U.S. law.

In other words, the study looked only at the most radical of the reactionary groups.

Arguably, then, the study understates the true overlap between state-level Republican legislators and the far right. (Also, for obvious reasons, researchers couldn’t count legislators who belong to the several extremist groups that keep their memberships secret.)

Some of these far-right figures already have high profiles. ProPublica last fall identified 48 Republican state and local government officials — including 10 sitting state lawmakers — on the membership roster of the Oath Keepers, a militant extremist group. One Arizona state senator, Wendy Rogers, gained national attention for a speech to a white-nationalist conference in February during which she called for violence. Her remarks to the gathering (which Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) and Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.) also addressed) earned her a rebuke by her fellow GOP state senators but proved to be a fundraising bonanza.

Proponents of “replacement theory” have been growing in number since Fox News’s Tucker Carlson has been championing the claim.

Though based in actual demographic trends — Americans of color will gradually become a majority in coming decades — “Great Replacement” holds that Democrats and the left are conspiring by nefarious means to supplant White people.

This idea, expressed by the alleged Buffalo killer (11 of the gunman’s 13 victims were Black), has found support from Stefanik (N.Y.), the No. 3 House Republican. She accused Democrats of “a PERMANENT ELECTION INSURRECTION” in the form of an immigration amnesty plan that would “overthrow our current electorate.”

Variations of this have been heard from Republicans such as: Rep. Scott Perry (Pa.), chairman of the House Freedom Caucus (“we’re replacing … native-born Americans to permanently transform the political landscape”); Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin (Democrats “want to remake the demographics of America to ensure … that they stay in power forever”); Rep. Gaetz of Florida (Carlson “is CORRECT about Replacement Theory”); Vance, the party’s Senate nominee for Ohio (“Biden’s open border is killing Ohioans, with … more Democrat voters pouring into this country”); and Gingrich, former Republican House speaker (“the anti-American left would love to drown traditional, classic Americans … to get rid of the rest of us”).

It’s one thing to name (and–one hopes–shame) the highly visible Republicans promoting this racist bilge, but they aren’t the real problem. The real, very scary problem is that these  people are garnering votes and winning elections.

The real problem is the rank-and-file Republicans who support them.