About That War On Women…

When women point out that “pro life” legislation and Court decisions are really “anti-woman,” far too many men respond with verbal pats on the head. “Tut tut, little woman–don’t you think you are being a bit hysterical?

Well, it appears that Talking Points Memo has “brought the receipts.” The site has acquired a trove of documents from a secretive group aiming to restore White Christian heterosexual men to their “rightful” dominance.

A secret, men-only right-wing society with members in influential positions around the country is on a crusade: to recruit a Christian government that will form after the right achieves regime change in the United States, potentially via a “national divorce.”

It sounds like the stuff of fantasy, but it’s real. The group is called the Society for American Civic Renewal (the acronym is pronounced “sacker” by its members). It is open to new recruits, provided you meet a few criteria: you are male, a “trinitarian” Christian, heterosexual, an “un-hyphenated American,” and can answer questions about Trump, the Republican Party, and Christian Nationalism in the right way. One chapter leader wrote to a prospective member that the group aimed to “secure a future for Christian families.”

The documents spell out the aims and objectives of what TPM calls “a shadowy network occupying the commanding heights of business, politics, and culture, open only to a select, elite few, committed to reshaping the United States to align it with the group’s radical values. ”

The members of this all-male organization are all White, well-to-do, devout Christian traditionalists engaged in politics.

Until TPM began reporting this story several weeks ago, the membership of the group had remained largely secret. Its existence was known and has been previously reported on by The Guardian, but the details of the group’s mission, membership criteria, board, and internal communications remained outside of public view. Beginning late Thursday, some of the leading members of the group identified by TPM through our reporting came forward publicly to acknowledge their memberships in the organization and published an internal document that TPM had already obtained. They said they were doing so in anticipation of another story by The Guardian.

These aren’t the pathetic “Proud Boys,” assorted Incels, or other misfits we’ve come to expect. TPM identified members: the president of the Claremont Institute, several Harvard Law School graduates, and leading businessmen in communities scattered across America. (Evidently, the man who incorporated the group nationally is an “Indiana shampoo tycoon who refers to himself as “maximum leader” and blogs about Rhodesian anti-guerilla tactics and how the must-read dystopian fiction novel for white supremacists, The Camp of the Saints, is actually a vision of America’s present.”)

Group members hold a distinct vision of America as a latter-day ancient Rome: a crumbling, decadent empire that could soon be replaced by a Christian theocracy. To join, the group demands faithfulness, virtue, and “alignment,” which it describes as “deference to and acceptance of the wisdom of our American and European Christian forebears in the political realm, a traditional understanding of patriarchal leadership in the household, and acceptance of traditional Natural Law in ethics more broadly.” More practically, members must be able to contribute either influence, capability, or wealth in helping SACR further its goals.

“Most of all, we seek those who understand the nature of authority and its legitimate forceful exercise in the temporal realm,” a mission statement reads.

And of course, in the time-honored tradition of “follow the money,”

Once in the group, the statement says, members can expect perks: “direct preferential treatment for members, especially in business,” and help in advancement “in all areas of life” from other members.

The report–which you really do need to read in its entirety–traces how TPM uncovered the group’s existence and origins, and confirmed its core mission: “to create a mini-state within a state, composed entirely of Protestant, Catholic, and Orthodox Christian men. It’s explicitly patriarchal, demanding that group members assume a dominant role at home, and celebrates the use of force and existence of authority.”

Two paragraphs ought to alarm any non-male, non-White, non-Christian, non-straight person who reads the extensive, linked report:

What sets SACR apart is that its members come from and are recruited from the upper crust of American society. They are wealthy — independent wealth is a requirement for membership, per documents TPM obtained. And they are credentialed.

SACR offers a redoubt for powerful people who take the culture war extremely seriously and believe in their bones that hemorrhaging church membership, the Obergefell decision on same-sex marriage, and the ebbing status of Christian men in American society are an existential threat to their vision for America, and who have the means to build a society on a different path.

Katie Britt would fit right in…..


Take An Embryo To Lunch?

First we were told that corporations were people; now, according to the  Supreme Court of Alabama, frozen embryos are people too. (Not sure how you’d take either to lunch…)

Last Friday, the Alabama court ruled that frozen embryos should be considered people and as a result, other people can be held liable for destroying them. (The case focused on whether a patient who mistakenly destroyed other couples’ frozen embryos could be held liable for wrongful death.) As multiple legal and medical experts have confirmed, the decision will effectively end in vitro fertilization (IVF) in Alabama. If similar measures pass in the Red states currently considering them, it would affect hundreds of thousands of patients who depend on IVF and related treatments every year.

At least 11 states have passed state laws broadly defining “personhood” as beginning at fertilization. As one report noted (no link available):

To say that mandating fertilized eggs and frozen embryos be given the same protections as fully-gestated babies sets a terrifying precedent is an understatement. This ruling is a win for the anti-abortion movement, which has long sought to regulate IVF as a means to further expanding the limits of “fetal personhood.” Alabama voters passed a ballot measure in 2018 that granted fetuses full personhood, and after the fall of Roe vs. Wade, the state enacted a near-total abortion ban. According to Pregnancy Justice, nearly half of all criminal cases related to pregnancy in the United States come from Alabama. In Friday’s ruling Alabama State Supreme Court Justice Tom Parker quoted the Bible in his written opinion as justification for the decision, because I guess we’re just treating separation of church and state as a light suggestion these days!

Bible-quoting would-be theocrats are increasingly visible in today’s Christian Nationalist MAGA world. Justice Alito–he of the heavily Christianist Hobby Lobby and Dobbs decisions–has once again expressed his view that the Court should “revisit” its decision on same-sex marriage, and Politico has reported on the Christian Nationalist agenda “waiting in the wings” for a second Trump administration.

An influential think tank close to Donald Trump is developing plans to infuse Christian nationalist ideas in his administration should the former president return to power, according to documents obtained by POLITICO.

Spearheading the effort is Russell Vought, who served as Trump’s director of the Office of Management and Budget during his first term and has remained close to him. Vought, who is frequently cited as a potential chief of staff in a second Trump White House, is president of The Center for Renewing America think tank, a leading group in a conservative consortium preparing for a second Trump term.

Christian nationalists in America believe that the country was founded as a Christian nation and that Christian values should be prioritized throughout government and public life. As the country has become less religious and more diverse, Vought has embraced the idea that Christians are under assault and has spoken of policies he might pursue in response.


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.


It’s Worse When They Know Better

I tend to attribute a significant percentage of America’s governance problems to either stupidity or ignorance. Those aren’t the same thing; ignorance is simply a lack of knowledge, and it can be remedied by providing individuals with the relevant information. Stupidity, on the other hand, is an inability to understand or learn–lack of intellectual capacity.

When we view the antics of the loony-tune members of the misnamed “Freedom Caucus,” we are mostly looking at people who either lack intellectual capacity or who are too emotionally disabled to grasp complexity, nuance or the difference between fact and fiction. Or both. (Which raises significant questions about the people who voted for them, but that’s a separate issue….)

Policymakers who simply don’t “get it” can do a lot of harm, but generally, that isn’t their intent. They just don’t know what they don’t know.

The people who make my skin crawl, however, are those like Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley, elected officials who dishonestly pander to the MAGA cult despite clearly knowing better.

Hawley recently raised eyebrows with a phony Patrick Henry quote.It was actually a quote from 1950’s white supremacist paper that Hawley attributed—surely knowingly—to Patrick Henry.

When people responded by pointing out the falsity of the attribution, Hawley tweeted that he’d “owned the libs” and appended a quote supportive of Christian Nationalism, this time attributed to a speech by John Quincy Adams, “The Declaration of Independence first organized the social compact on the foundation of the Redeemer’s mission on earth.”

Now, Hawley attended Stanford as an undergraduate. He went to Yale Law School, where he was on the law review. It is highly unlikely that he is unaware of the wide variety of religious beliefs held by the nation’s founders. As the linked article notes, they ranged from guys like

Patrick Henry, who went around handing out Bible tracts and whose theology seems to have been something that would still be recognized as “evangelical Christian” today. There were guys like George Washington, who belonged to the Anglican Church but attended services at a variety of churches and was deliberately vague about endorsing any particular form of religious belief. There were a large number—including Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, James Madison, Ethan Allen, and James Monroe—who styled themselves as Deist. To get a couple of Founding Mothers into the mix, Abigail Adams and Dolly Madison were also Deists….

The truth is that a diligent search by anyone seeking to find a founder who agrees with their own view can almost certainly find it, because those guys had a lot of very different views on religion. That includes Franklin, who just didn’t seem to think about it much, and who when religious friends told him he should study up and get himself “saved” near the end of his life, informed them that he didn’t think it was worth the bother as he would know the truth soon enough.

Just about the only thing this diverse group really agreed on when it came to religion was that they wanted to keep it out of their government. Their own experience with state religions of all types showed that religion was harmful to the state, and the state was harmful to religion.

While the linked article does a good–and factually correct–job of correcting the record, what it doesn’t do is speculate about the motives for Hawley’s particular form of dishonesty. Those motives confound me.

It is one thing for an intelligent man to be conservative (although in all fairness, today’s right-wingers are radicals, not conservatives). It’s another thing entirely to knowingly and intentionally lie–and worse, to choose a lie that is blatantly obvious and easily challenged–in the service of Christian Nationalism.

An article in Vanity Fair pointed out that Hawley–who also fancies himself an expert on “masculinity”– helped spread Trump’s election lies. In fact, Hawley’s lies have kept Politifact busy. But being routinely called out on those lies hasn’t deterred him.

One study of habitual liars found that the more a person lies, the easier it becomes for them to prevaricate, which in turn makes them more likely to lie. Clearly, Hawley–and Cruz and others like them–believe that pandering to a MAGA base composed primarily of people who lack the knowledge to recognize the falsehoods will serve them politically.

People who know better probably aren’t their voters anyway.

If this behavior is, as it appears, the result of cold calculation, it’s chilling. Unlike the Congressional dingbats, politicians like Hawley and Cruz are by definition very bad people, and the evil they do is anything but inadvertent.

Evidently, power really is an aphrodisiac.


Cautionary Tales

A reader recently shared an article from Politico, titled, “Gun Violence is Actually Worse in Red States. It’s Not Even Close.” It began by quoting the rhetoric of various ambitious Republicans on the subject: 

In October, Florida’s Republican governor Ron DeSantis proclaimed crime in New York City was “out of control” and blamed it on George Soros. Another Sunshine State politico, former president Donald Trump, offered his native city up as a Democrat-run dystopia, one of those places “where the middle class used to flock to live the American dream are now war zones, literal war zones.” In May 2022, hours after 19 children were murdered at Robb Elementary in Uvalde, Texas, Republican Gov. Greg Abbott swatted back suggestions that the state could save lives by implementing tougher gun laws by proclaiming“Chicago and L.A. and New York disprove that thesis.”

As the article points out, this is pure propaganda.

In reality, the region the Big Apple comprises most of is far and away the safest part of the U.S. mainland when it comes to gun violence, while the regions Florida and Texas belong to have per capita firearm death rates (homicides and suicides) three to four times higher than New York’s. On a regional basis it’s the southern swath of the country — in cities and rural areas alike — where the rate of deadly gun violence is most acute, regions where Republicans have dominated state governments for decades.

There are a number of reasons beyond policy for these disparities, including the differing cultures of those who originally colonized various areas of the country. But the current assaults on even minimal efforts to reduce gun violence employ outright lies to play on deep-seated, mostly rural fears of urban life.

There are mounting, disquieting “cautionary tales” about America’s deepening divisions into rural and urban, Red and Blue. A week or so ago, the Washington Post ran a truly terrifying story about the radical Right takeover of a small Michigan county. It deserves to be read in its entirety, but the introductory paragraphs are instructive. 

The eight new members of the Ottawa County Board of Commissioners had run for office promising to “thwart tyranny” in their lakeside Michigan community of 300,000 people.

In this case the oppressive force they aimed to thwart was the county government they now ran…. 
The new commissioners, all Republicans, swore their oaths of office on family Bibles. And then the firings began. Gone was the lawyer who had represented Ottawa County for 40 years. Gone was the county administrator who oversaw a staff of 1,800. To run the health department, they voted to install a service manager from a local HVAC company who had gained prominence as a critic of mask mandates.

As the session entered its fourth hour, Sylvia Rhodea, the board’s new vice chair, put forward a motion to change the motto that sat atop the county’s website and graced its official stationery. “Whereas the vision statement of ‘Where You Belong’ has been used to promote the divisive Marxist ideology of the race, equity movement”… 

Rhodea proposed to unite the county around America’s “true history” as a “land of systemic opportunity built on the Constitution, Christianity and capitalism.’”

County Commission meetings everywhere tend to be lightly attended, but the article reports that ensuing meetings of this particular board were “packed with so many angry people calling each other “fascists,” “communists,” “Christian nationalists” and “racists” that the county would have to open an overflow room down the hall.”

The Guardian reports a similar takeover in Blue California.

In a seemingly long gone era – before the Trump presidency, and Covid, and the 2020 election – Doni Chamberlain would get the occasional call from a displeased reader who had taken issue with one of her columns. They would sometimes call her stupid and use profanities.

Today, when people don’t like her pieces, Chamberlain said, they tell her she’s a communist who doesn’t deserve to live. One local conservative radio host said she should be hanged.

The escalation of America’s culture wars isn’t only visible in small, rural counties. Consider a recent report out of Alabama.

The state of Alabama’s top early education official was forced out Friday by Gov. Kay Ivey over a teacher resource guide—one that promotes inclusion of various kinds of families and acknowledges the reality of racism in the nation’s history—the Republican leader denounced as too “woke.”

After an apparent refusal to denounce the book or accept its removal, Barbara Cooper, head of the Alabama Department of Early Education, was compelled to tender her resignation, which Ivey accepted.

And speaking of gun culture, the Guardian also reported on an event held by Idaho Republicans that “honored” Kyle Rittenhouse, the teen who shot and killed two people at an anti-racism protest.

There really are two (very different) Americas.