Whether the current eruption of White Christian Nationalism is–as I profoundly hope– its “death rattle” and not a more permanent, dangerous fixture of our political reality, it may be useful to consider what has triggered its current malevolence.
The road from the Emancipation Proclamation has been a long one, for reasons a number of historians have documented. The resistance of White supremicists, abetted by racist politicians, consistently impeded progress and continues to do so. But little by little, as the boots of those supremicists lifted from Black and Brown necks and as people of color (and women) were able to access education and get hired to do non-menial jobs, the environment has– slowly– shifted.
It has become difficult, if not impossible, to ignore the fact that talent and diligence–just like ignorance and sloth– are pretty widely dispersed among all populations.
Over the years, women, Latinos and Black people who occupy positions of authority have become more prominent and plentiful. Faces in the media and academia, and among co-workers and bosses and neighbors, have become steadily more diverse. And then, for the bigots, the ultimate indignity: a brilliant, classy Black President and his equally accomplished wife were “in the face” of resentful Whites for eight long years.
One way they could diminish Obama was to elect a crude, ignorant, classless racist to succeed him, as if to say: “See. Even a dumb, mentally-ill buffoon can do that job. You aren’t so special.” Another was to oppose and mischaracterize efforts to remedy the still-potent remnants of official racism–to pretend that vote suppression was “prevention of voter fraud” or to insist (falsely) that demonstrations by groups like Black Lives Matter were as violent as their own.
I don’t pretend to understand the attitudes or thought processes (if they can be dignified by describing them as “thought”) of people who believe that a mob of White vandals trashing offices and defecating on the floor of the nation’s Capitol are representatives of a “superior” population.
As the saying goes, I’m not a psychiatrist and I don’t play one on TV. I can only assume that what we are seeing is the inarticulate rage of people who are disappointed with their lives, who feel that the world is not according them the status and/or recognition to which they feel entitled, who have comforted themselves with the notion that (as LBJ memorably put it) at least they were superior to Black people.
Take that comfort away, and they are truly bereft.
The question now is whether this most recent eruption will usher in any meaningful change. In the wake of the insurrection, there have been some encouraging signs that the determined “neutrality” of many people and businesses has been shaken. Donors are withdrawing support from several of the most culpable elected officials–those like Cruz and Hawley who clearly knew better but encouraged the uprising in hopes that indulging seditious fantasies would win them the support of Trump’s rabid base. The PGA will no longer authorize tournaments at Trump-owned golf courses. The Business Roundtable, the National Association of Manufacturers and even the rightwing editorial board of the Wall Street Journal are among those that have called for Trump’s resignation.
Will reaction to this shocking example of sedition go the way of the “thoughts and prayers” responses to mass gun violence? Or will Americans finally, firmly reject racial and religious tribalism, and begin a final and vastly overdue commitment to civic equality?
I have hopes, but no crystal ball.