Then And Now

A week or so ago, my husband and I watched an American Experience episode titled  “Nazi Town”–a PBS documentary about the extent of pro-fascist opinion in the United States in the run-up to World War II.

The documentary left me both saddened and (unexpectedly) hopeful.

I  was saddened–to put it mildly– to learn of the enormous numbers of Americans who had embraced Nazi ideology. Until recently, I had assumed that the great majority of Americans actually believed in democratic government and the protection of civil liberties. I knew, of course, that a minority of my fellow-citizens harbored less comforting views, but I had no idea of the extent to which the American people endorsed truly horrific hatreds and were ready–indeed, eager–to hand the country over to a strongman who would relieve them of any responsibility for political decision-making.

In the 1930s, the nation had dozens and dozens of “Nazi camps,” where children were indoctrinated with White Nationalism. The German-American Bund enrolled hundreds of thousands of Americans who affirmed the notion that the country was created only for White Protestant Christians, and endorsed a “science” of eugenics confirming the superiority of the Aryan “race.” Racism and anti-Semitism were rampant; LGBTQ folks were so deep in the closet their existence was rarely recognized.

All in all, “Nazi Town” displayed–with scholarly documentation and lots of footage of huge crowds saluting both the American flag and the swastika –a very depressing reality.

But the context of all that ugliness also gave me hope–even in the face of the MAGA Trumpers who look so much like the Americans shown giving the “heil Hitler” salute.

I’m hopeful because we live in a society that is immensely different from that of the 20s and 30s.

During those years, the country experienced a Depression in which millions of Americans were jobless and desperate.  America was also in the throes of Jim Crow, and most White and Black Americans effectively occupied separate worlds. Thousands of people–including public officials– wore white robes and marched with the KKK. Europe’s age-old, virulent anti-Semitism had not yet “matured” into the Holocaust, and Hitler’s invasion of Poland–and knowledge of what came after–were still in the future. Few Americans were educated beyond high school.

World War II and discovery of the Holocaust ultimately ended the flirtation with fascism for most Americans, and in the years following that war, the U.S., like the rest of the world, has experienced considerable and continuing technical, social and cultural change. As a result, the world we all inhabit is dramatically different from the world that facilitated the embrace of both fascism and communism. (In fact, it is the extent of those differences that so enrages the MAGA culture warriors.)

Today, despite the contemporary gulf between the rich and the rest, America overall is prosperous. Unemployment has hit an unprecedented  low. Many more Americans are college educated. Despite the barriers that continue to face members of previously marginalized populations, people from different races and religions not only live and work together, they increasingly intermarry. Many, if not most, Americans have gay friends, and some seventy percent approve of same-sex marriage. Television, the Internet and international travel have introduced inhabitants of isolated and/or homogeneous communities to people unlike themselves.

Although there is a robust industry in Holocaust denial and other forms of racial and religious disinformation (I do not have a space laser), Americans have seen the end results of state-sponsored hatreds, and even most of those who harbor old stereotypes are reluctant to do actual harm to those they consider “other.”

The sad truth is that many more of my fellow Americans than I would have guessed are throwbacks to the millions who joined the KKK and the German-American Bund. The hopeful truth is that–even though there is a depressingly large number of them–they are in the minority, and their numbers are dwindling. ( It’s recognition of that fact, and America’s changing demography, that has made them so frantic and threatening.)

I firmly believe that real Americans reject the prejudices that led so many to embrace Nazi ideology in the 20s and 30s.

Today, most of us understand that real Americans aren’t those who share a preferred skin color or ethnicity or religion. Real Americans are those who share an allegiance to the American Idea–to the principles enumerated in the Declaration, Constitution and Bill of Rights.

In order to send that message to today’s fascists and neo-Nazis, we need to get real Americans to the polls in November.


A Speech Worth Revisiting

It’s probably a sign of just how suspicious I am these days of quotations on the Internet, but when I saw a post on Daily Kos that purported to be a lengthy portion of a speech by Ulysses Grant, I checked with two separate academic sites to confirm its accuracy.

It turned out it was accurate–and prescient.

Grant might have been commenting on our current national woes when he spoke in Des Moines in 1875.

I do not bring into this assemblage politics, certainly not partisan politics, but it is a fair subject for soldiers in their deliberations to consider what may be necessary to secure the prize for which they battled in a republic like ours. Where the citizen is sovereign and the official the servant, where no power is exercised except by the will of the people, it is important that the sovereign — the people — should possess intelligence.

The free school is the promoter of that intelligence which is to preserve us as a free nation. If we are to have another contest in the near future of our national existence, I predict that the dividing line will not be Mason and Dixon’s, but between patriotism and intelligence on the one side, and superstition, ambition, and ignorance on the other.

Now in this centennial year of our national existence, I believe it a good time to begin the work of strengthening the foundation of the house commenced by our patriotic forefathers one hundred years ago, at Concord and Lexington. Let us all labor to add all needful guarantees for the more perfect security of free thought, free speech, and free press, pure morals, unfettered religious sentiments, and of equal rights and privileges to all men, irrespective of nationality, color, or religion.

Encourage free schools, and resolve that not one dollar of money appropriated to their support, no matter how raised, shall be appropriated to the support of any sectarian school. Resolve that the State or Nation, or both combined, shall furnish to every child growing up in the land, the means of acquiring a good common-school education, unmixed with sectarian, pagan, or atheistic tenets. Leave the matter of religion to the family altar, the church, and the private school supported entirely by private contributions. Keep the church and state forever separate. With these safeguards, I believe the battles which created the Army of the Tennessee will not have been fought in vain.

Grant eloquently addressed what I have called “civic literacy”–the need of a “sovereign people” to be both patriotic and informed. As is clear from the context of his words, Grant’s definition of “patriotic” is very different from the jingoism displayed by today’s MAGA Republicans. True patriotism requires an allegiance to the principles of America’s Constitution and Bill of Rights, an allegiance based upon a proper understanding of those documents and the philosophy that animated them.

Grant was very clearly aware that such allegiance and understanding comes from instruction “unmixed with sectarian, pagan or atheistic tenets”–that such religious precepts must be left to the family, the church and private schools “supported entirely by private contributions.”

An eon ago–in 1980–I was a Republican candidate for Congress. I even won a Republican primary.  Despite the fact that I was pro-choice and pro-gay rights, among other things, I was considered–and considered myself– to be a conservative. Then and now, I believe the proper understanding of that label includes a commitment to conserve the values that Grant enumerated in that long-ago speech.

I continue to believe that labeling today’s GOP “conservative” is a travesty that works to normalize what is a truly frightening and very unconservative approach to politics and American governance.

True conservatism requires a commitment to uphold the individual liberties protected by the Bill of Rights: freedom of speech and press, Separation of Church and State, freedom of conscience and personal autonomy, among others.

I don’t know the proper label for the MAGA fanatics who have taken over what was once my political party. Culture warriors? White Christian Nationalists? Fascists? Today’s GOP is probably a blend of all those, together with a heavy sprinkling of people who are too civically-illiterate to understand how very unconservative–and dangerous– their party has become.

Grant eloquently defended the extension of “equal rights and privileges to all men, irrespective of nationality, color, or religion.” Today’s Republicans would call him “woke,” and angrily reject him (along with Lincoln) as “anti-American.”


They Aren’t Even Pretending

It’s an election year, and we are already–predictably–being inundated with commentaries exploring the roots of MAGA devotion to a mentally-ill would-be dictator. The punditry digs into sociology, political science research–even psychiatric diagnosis– and the result is to obfuscate and excuse what most honest Americans recognize as the roots of MAGA’s attraction: racism and a fear of  Americans who can be considered “Other.”

As the more complicated (and generous) “analyses” mount, however, so does the evidence of the bigotry and White Christian Nationalism that is powering support for Trump. There are a lot of areas of our common lives that are genuinely complex, but evidence abounds that Trumpism/MAGA is not one of them.

This blog has frequently highlighted that evidence, and today I am offering yet another example of the willingness of bigots to be “out and proud.” Increasingly, they are willing to be forthright about the world they are trying to create, and candidly, I find it terrifying.

This report from the Guardian is the latest example:

A venture fund and a real estate startup – both with links to far-right organizations – are promoting a residential development in rural Kentucky as a haven for fellow right-wingers.

The promoters have presented the planned development as an “aligned community” for right-wingers who want to “disappear from the cultural insanity of the broader country” and “spearhead the revival of the region”.

The move is the latest effort by the far-right to establish geographical enclaves, following in the footsteps of movements like the so-called “American Redoubt”, which encourages right-wingers to engage in “political migration” to areas in the interior of the Pacific north-west.

Unsurprisingly, the development was announced on X, which is being turned into a racist and anti-Semitic cesspool by Elon Musk. It was also announced  in a special edition of the “New Founding” by Joshua Abbotoy, who is described as the “managing director of venture fund New Founding and principal of real estate developer Kentucky Ridge Runner LLC.”

According to Abbotoy, “Most of the leadership is going to be led by Protestant Christians.” (Take that, Catholics!!)

The Guardian contacted Abbotoy via email, asking whether he reserved the right to refuse to sell parcels to prospective purchasers who weren’t members of the “aligned community” and on what basis. He didn’t respond.

Actually, this appeal–closely targeted to a White Protestant Christian market–is a fascinating amalgam of market capitalism and bigotry.

“Utopian communities have long been a feature of the American landscape, but this may be more of a money-driven land speculation project with a culture war angle than an effort to create a utopian project in the classic sense”, said Katherine Stewart, author of The Power Worshippers, a key book on Christian nationalism.

There are two “aligned community” developments underway, and The Guardian calculated the profits if lots sell at the asking prices: in one, the company paid around $6,011 an acre, but buyers will pay up to the equivalent of $88,500 an acre for unimproved lots, or up to fourteen times the rate HRP paid. In the other, sellers will collect a total of at least $2.27 million on 550 acres of land for which they paid $900,000.

Nice work if you can get it….

It’s hard to escape the suspicion that pious Right-wing folks are seen by these enterprising developers not as comrades in utopian “aligned communities,” but as patsies.

The website advertising the lots says the developers seek to “build and back companies defined by American ideals and a positive national vision”,  and adds that it “explicitly oppose[s] DEI/ESG and the bureaucratization of American business culture” and targets “customers disfavored by corrosive ideologies.”

The explicit rejection of “diversity” and “inclusion” telegraphs the basis for the appeal.

Financial matters aside, Stewart said the move tracked with the preferences of the contemporary far right.

“This is typical of the far-right’s emotional need for a ‘safe space’,” she wrote.

“It’s not just that some members of this extremist cohort disagree with liberals, feminists, or any number of people who don’t share their views; it’s that they really can’t stand having those people anywhere nearby,” Stewart added.

“The mere existence of people not like them counts as an insult.”

I used to believe that such people were a small percentage of the American public. Now, I’m not so sure. The good capitalists who are targeting them obviously think they comprise a substantial and thus-far untapped market.

It’s scary.


They Aren’t Even Pretending Any More

Jim Banks and J.D. Vance–two MAGA Republicans–have introduced a new bill, “The College Admissions Accountability Act.” It would create “a dedicated office for investigating race discrimination in college admissions.” A rightwing publication calls it  “the most dramatic effort yet to enforce the Supreme Court’s ban on affirmative action.”

Wow…just wow.

As described in glowing terms by the Washington Free Beacon (the rightwing publication), the Act

would establish a special inspector general within the Education Department—separate from the Office of Civil Rights—to probe potential violations of the colorblind standard set forth in Students for Fair Admissions v. Harvard, which ruled that race-conscious admissions programs violate the 14th Amendment. The bill would also bar schools that flout the decision from receiving any form of federal aid…

The bill would create a new mechanism for applicants and university employees to file discrimination claims against admissions departments. Those claims would be investigated by the special inspector general—nominated by the president and confirmed by the Senate—who could then recommend enforcement actions, including the revocation of federal funds, to the secretary of education and attorney general.

The office would also submit quarterly reports to Congress on the allegations it has received and what corrective steps have been taken. That means the secretary of education and attorney general, while theoretically free to ignore the office’s recommendations, would face public pressure to lay down the law.

Universities, meanwhile, would be at constant risk of humiliation if they adopt the sort of race-based policies that have become de rigueur throughout higher education. Though focused on admissions, the bill also covers “financial aid determinations” and “academic programs,” empowering the inspector general to go after scholarships, fellowships, and research programs that exclude non-minorities.

“The federal government has given the universities free rein to discriminate against white and Asian students,” Christopher Rufo, the conservative activist behind numerous state laws banning critical race theory, said of the bill. “Senator Vance’s proposed legislation will put a stop to this.”

Rufo, you will recall, is Ron DeSantis’ go-to guy on education…

The questions just ask themselves…like, where were these proud opponents of racial discrimination when it was Black kids who were being discriminated against? (Answer: Nowhere to be found.) And what happened to those intrepid conservative warriors  who were battling big government and regulatory over-reach? (Answer: It doesn’t count as over-reach if government is imposing policies that benefit White Christian guys.)

I note from the above description of the bill that these Paladins of Non-discrimination are also working hard to ensure that those greedy Black kids who somehow manage to get admitted don’t get any “extra” consideration when it comes to financial assistance. 

Given Banks hostility to LGBTQ Americans, I’m only surprised that he didn’t manage to work some homophobia into his new appreciation for having government oversight and “accountability.” (Of course, I haven’t read the entire bill…)

When the Supreme Court  handed down its decision on affirmative action, the Congressional Black Caucus warned that ending the consideration of race in admissions policies in higher education would have far-reaching, negative consequences. Even that Caucus, however, could not have foreseen the way White Supremicists have rushed to bully and threaten universities in order to ensure that Black applicants receive absolutely no “special” consideration. (And clearly, from the language of Banks’ bill, White guys hostile to Black kids will be the ones who get to decide what “special” consideration looks like.)

When I read the language of this bill, it prompted a twinge of nostalgia for the dear departed days of the “dog whistle.” MAGA Republicans like Banks have substituted a bugle for that whistle. 

Ohio is responsible for J.D. Vance (about whom Mitt Romney recently wrote, “I don’t know that I can disrespect someone more than JD Vance”), but voters in a Hoosier Congressional district are the ones who inflicted Jim Banks on the country. Now Banks wants to take his fetid brand of MAGA fundamentalism to the U.S. Senate. WE CANNOT ALLOW THAT TO HAPPEN.

As Brian Howey wrote when Banks was supporting Jim Jordan for speaker, “Indiana has a history of Senate lions; Banks is a House hyena.”

We have a chance to get rid of Banks in 2024. Democrat Marc Carmichael is the antithesis of Jim Banks; he would be a Senator Hoosiers could be proud of. He actually wants to be a Senator for ALL Indiana citizens.

Go to his website. Volunteer. Send him money. Tell your friends. 

Help him defeat the hyena.


Intentional Amnesia

I recently saw a cartoon that asked a very telling question: “If ignorance is bliss, why are so many Americans unhappy?”

Good question. Given the extent of Americans’ ignorance–of civics, of science, of history–if ignorance really was bliss, we’d all be on cloud nine….

Ignorance defined as a lack of knowledge is one thing; intentional ignorance is something darker. A lot of what Americans “know” simply isn’t so, and that isn’t due to inadvertence.

It’s intentional.

Jennifer Rubin recently interviewed Robert P. Jones, the chief executive of the Public Religion Research Institute. The interview  focused on one of the causes of American “amnesia” about episodes in our national history–and the fact that the perpetuation of  amnesia about the atrocities committed against Black people and Native Americans has been intentional.

Jones began by recounting the omissions in his own Southern Baptist education.

My formative education was in the Jackson Public School system and at my local Baptist church and Mississippi College, both institutions affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention. I graduated at the top of my class in both educational institutions and attended Sunday school every week. While I learned at church about the pious lives of early Baptist leaders, I was never taught that the word “Southern” in our denomination’s name was a reference to our forebears’ commitment to making chattel slavery compatible with the gospel. While I learned about Confederate General Robert E. Lee at my high school, home of “the rebels,” I was taught virtually nothing about important civil rights activists such as Medgar Evers, who lived and was gunned down by a White, churchgoing Episcopalian just 9 miles from my childhood home.

My college’s mascot was “the Choctaws,” yet, I was taught nothing about the genocide and forced removal of members of the Choctaw, Chickasaw and Creek tribes from the land on which the college sits. It is a testimony to the power of white supremacy that such histories could remain suppressed with the evidence of the crimes kept so close at hand.

Jones notes that America has struggled with a “fundamental contradiction.” Our philosophical framework is that of a democratic society, but the country was built on a foundation of mass racial violence. The conflict between our ideals and our actions has been “papered over” with what he terms “an audacious religious claim”– the Doctrine of Discovery, the claim “that this nation was intended by God to be a promised land for European Christians.”

When social movements and other voices threaten to expose these contradictions, White Americans have acted powerfully in their defense. After the Civil War, for example, the United Daughters of the Confederacy organized to build their version of American history into granite, bronze and into public school textbooks. More recently, we’ve seen similar reactions following the retreat of White students into Christian segregation academies following school desegregation. And in the wake of the election of our first African American president and the Black Lives Matter movement, we’re experiencing another desperate wave of willful amnesia and historical denial.

Jones insists that confronting this history is in the self-interest of contemporary White Christian churches–churches he characterizes as unhealthy.

Centuries of complicity in violence and oppression, followed by denial and repression, have taken their toll. Across the board, attendance is dramatically declining, seminaries are closing or merging, Christian colleges are struggling, and churches are facing widespread sexual abuse scandals.

Jones counts himself among the Christians who are struggling to keep their faith despite what they recognize as their co-religionists intentional refusal to confront the past.  When Rubin asks him how he is reconciling his current understandings with the church of his youth, he responds:

I’m still thinking, writing, and struggling to hang onto my Christian faith. But it was, ironically, the experience of going to a Southern Baptist seminary that confirmed — for me and many others — that it was not going to be possible to live a life of integrity within the denominational boundaries of my childhood. During those years, it became clear to me that most White evangelical denominations were already in bed with Christian right politics. Even before this led to White evangelicals’ devastating marriage to Donald Trump and the MAGA movement, I knew that was a union I couldn’t be a part of.

I’d never heard of the “Doctrine of Discovery,” but it has clearly influenced a significant part of the culture–and not for the better.

America could use more Christians like Jones and a lot fewer MAGA Christian Nationalists.