Fundamental dishonesty

It wasn’t a “driveway moment” because I wasn’t in my driveway, I wasn’t sitting in the car listening to the radio to hear the end of a story that had sucked me in.  No, I was still on the road headed home from the grocery store when I heard two words that broke through and provided some clarity of mind, finally, amid the onslaught of distressing rulings from the Supreme Court of the United States.

Just a week ago, the court’s six “conservative” justices ruled that a program in Maine that subsidizes tuition for certain private schools in rural areas of the state cannot exclude religious private schools from the program.  Two days later the same six found that a New York law placing strict limits on carrying guns in public violates the Second Amendment.  And the day after that, those same six members not only found that a Mississippi ban on abortions after just 15 weeks was constitutional, they went the extra step and overturned the nearly 50-year old precedent of their own court that established a woman’s right to an abortion.

The separation of church and state.  The rights to privacy, and to safety, individual liberty, and self-determination.  The targets of this Supreme Court and the “conservative” movement in general couldn’t be clearer.  With each new Republican-appointed justice on the court, and each new ruling by the new majority, they demonstrate their mission to remake America as a paradigm of Christian nationalism.  It seems clear that the decades-long mission to destroy the secular society that has grown up since World War II just can’t be denied, not even when the inconvenience of the facts gets in the way.

It was Nina Totenberg on the radio reporting on the ruling in favor of the high school coach who insisted on holding a prayer circle at midfield after football games, and Justice Neil Gorsuch’s opinion scolded the school district:

“Here, a government entity sought to punish an individual for engaging in a personal religious observance, based on a mistaken view that it has a duty to suppress religious observances even as it allows comparable secular speech. The Constitution neither mandates nor tolerates that kind of discrimination. Mr. Kennedy is entitled to summary judgment on his religious exercise and free speech claims,” Gorsuch wrote.

The three dissenters said that account of the facts blinkered reality (emphasis added). Writing for the three liberals, Justice Sonia Sotomayor said that Kennedy’s prayer was neither private speech, nor benign. She pointed to the fact that the coach conducted a media blitz leading ultimately to the field being stormed and students being knocked down. And she said “schools face a higher risk of unconstitutionally ‘coerc[ing] … support or participat[ion] in religion or its exercise’ than other government entities.”

“This decision does a disservice to schools and the young citizens they serve, as well as to our Nation’s longstanding commitment to the separation of church and state,” Sotomayor wrote. “Today’s decision elevates the rights of a school coach who voluntarily accepted public employment, over the rights of students required to attend public schools and who may feel obligated to join in prayer.” In doing so, Sotomayor claims, the court gives “short shrift” to the constitutions ban on state entanglement with religion.

University of Virginia law professor Douglas Laycock usually files briefs siding with religion advocates. But not in this case. He called Monday’s ruling, “fundamentally dishonest” and pointed to the third sentence of the Gorsuch opinion, which characterizes coach Kennedy’s conduct as “quiet isolated prayers,” stating, “They weren’t quiet and they weren’t isolated. They were leading the students in prayer, and to say that’s okay undermines all the school prayer cases.” By that he means Supreme Court decisions barring teacher- or student-led prayers in public school classrooms, and ceremonies like graduation.

It was like a fire alarm went off inside my head: “fundamentally dishonest.”

Yes—the fundamental dishonesty of these justices, and of the Christian religious extremists who have been fighting the secularization of American society for generations!  They have had a winking understanding with a certain segment of America: anything is permissible—the end justifies the means—when it comes to returning America to be the Christian country we all “know” it should be, including lying under oath in order to gain positions of power.  Don’t believe me?  Look at the video of the confirmation hearings over the years of the “conservative” justices now on the court: is it just a coincidence that when the Senate Judiciary Committees asked these nominees about Roe v. Wade, these individuals had the same answer, in virtually the same words, words meant to leave the impression that they believed in the doctrine of stare decisis in general and specifically for this case?  I think not.

In a concurring opinion on Dobbs, Justice Clarence Thomas says the quiet part out loud about using the wedge they perfected in overturning Roe to take aim at other precedents that guarantee other rights to Americans.

“In future cases, we should reconsider all of this Court’s substantive due process precedents, including Griswold, Lawrence, and Obergefell,” Thomas wrote on Page 119 of the opinion in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health, also referring to the rulings that legalized same-sex relationships and marriage equality, respectively.Because any substantive due process decision is ‘demonstrably erroneous’ … we have a duty to ‘correct the error’ established in those precedents.”

Just coincidence, right, that the other cases on his mind are the ones that guaranteed the rights to same-sex marriage, and same-sex sex, and the use of birth control.  BIRTH CONTROL!?  He wants to return to a time when the use of birth control by married couples in the privacy of their own home could be and was prohibited by states?  Who can even imagine such a thing?

I know who…so do you.  And I don’t take any comfort—at all—in the protestation from the other five “conservative” justices that “[n]othing in this opinion should be understood to cast doubt on precedents that do not concern abortion.”  When there is fundamental dishonesty, I have doubts.

Know your enemy

On Friday morning, after a night of insomnia fueled by worries about raising children in a collapsing society, I opened my eyes, started reading about efforts by Wisconsin Republicans to seize control of the state’s elections, then paused to let my tachycardiac heartbeat subside. Marinating in the news is part of my job, but doing so lately is a source of full-body horror. If this were simply my problem, I’d write about it in a journal instead of in The New York Times. But political despair is an issue for the entire Democratic Party.

It’s predictable that, with Donald Trump out of the White House, Democrats would pull back from constant, frenetic political engagement. But there’s a withdrawal happening right now — from news consumption, activism and, in some places, voting — that seems less a product of relief than of avoidance. Part of this is simply burnout and lingering trauma from Covid. But I suspect that part of it is about growing hopelessness born of a sense that dislodging Trump has bought American democracy only a brief reprieve.

One redeeming feature of Trump’s presidency, in retrospect, was that it was possible to look forward to the date when Americans could finish it. Covid, too, once seemed like something we’d be able to largely put behind us when we got vaccinated. Sure, Trumpism, like the virus, would linger, but it was easy to imagine a much better world after the election, the inauguration and the wide availability of shots.

Now we’re past all that, and American life is still comprehensively awful. Dystopia no longer has an expiration date.

Last week in the New York Times, Michelle Goldberg worried about the future of our American democracy.  Like thousands/millions of others, I share her concern, and so should you.

The problem isn’t just that polls show that, at least right now, voters want to hand over Congress to a party that largely treats the Jan. 6 insurrectionists as heroes.

(snip)

What’s terrifying is that even if Democrats win back public confidence, they can win more votes than Republicans and still lose. Gerrymandering alone is enough to tip the balance in the House.

(snip)

Meanwhile, Republicans are purging local officials who protected the integrity of the 2020 election, replacing them with apparatchiks. It will be hard for Republicans to steal the 2024 election outright, since they don’t control the current administration, but they can throw it into the sort of chaos that will cause widespread civil unrest. And if they win, it’s hard to imagine them ever consenting to the peaceful transfer of power again.

(snip)

I look at the future and I see rule without recourse by people who either approve of terrorizing liberals or welcome those who do. Such an outcome isn’t inevitable; unforeseen events can reshape political coalitions. Something could happen to forestall the catastrophe bearing down on us.

Here’s a hopeful sign: two long-time contributors to Fox News giving a thorough and public explanation of why they just can’t take it any more.

…there are still responsible conservatives [at Fox News] providing valuable opinion and analysis. But the voices of the responsible are being drowned out by the irresponsible.

A case in point: Patriot Purge, a three-part series hosted by Tucker Carlson.

The special—which ran on Fox’s subscription streaming service earlier this month and was promoted on Fox News—is presented in the style of an exposé, a hard-hitting piece of investigative journalism. In reality, it is a collection of incoherent conspiracy-mongering, riddled with factual inaccuracies, half-truths, deceptive imagery, and damning omissions. And its message is clear: The U.S. government is targeting patriotic Americans in the same manner —and with the same tools—that it used to target al Qaeda.

(snip)

This is not happening. And we think it’s dangerous to pretend it is. If a person with such a platform shares such misinformation loud enough and long enough, there are Americans who will believe—and act upon—it.

This isn’t theoretical. This is what actually happened on January 6, 2021.

Over the past five years, some of Fox’s top opinion hosts amplified the false claims and bizarre narratives of Donald Trump or offered up their own in his service. In this sense, the release of Patriot Purge wasn’t an isolated incident, it was merely the most egregious example of a longstanding trend. Patriot Purge creates an alternative history of January 6, contradicted not just by common sense, not just by the testimony and on-the-record statements of many participants, but by the reporting of the news division of Fox News itself.

There are still many real conservatives who recognize that the Orange Emperor has no clothes, and who have not drunk the toxic brew that has let so many Republicans (and others) show true feelings they have always keep secret, until now.  Jennifer Rubin is one.

When Donald Trump ran for president in 2016, Never Trumpers (now largely ex-Republicans) warned that he would corrupt the party in every way imaginable. His misogyny would morph in the party’s toxic masculinity and degradation of women, they cautioned. His infatuation with brutality and violence (boasting he would kill terrorists’ families, exhorting his supporters to slug protesters) would metastasize to the party as a whole. Boy, did those predictions pan out.

You only have to look at the vicious imagery showing the murder of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) deployed by Rep. Paul A. Gosar (R-Ariz.), the verbal attack on her from Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Tex.) last year — and Republicans’ defense of both — to understand that their refusal to dump Trump after the “Access Hollywood” tape came to light was merely the prelude to an era of normalizing violence (especially against women), culminating in the Jan. 6 violent insurrection, which many Republicans, including Trump, tried to paint as nonviolent.

Threats and portrayals of violence against women have turned into a badge of honor for a party in which traditional notions about gender (back to the 1950s!) have become a key predictor of Republican support. Casting men (even a Supreme Court nominee) as victims of aggressive, “nasty” or unhinged women accusing them of wrongdoing has become standard fare in the Trump party.

Rubin cites Robert P. Jones, CEO and founder of Public Religion Research Institute, who is willing to lay the blame for the violence we’re seeing now at the core of Republican party voters: White evangelicals.

Today, for an alarming number of white conservative Christians, the mark of Christian faithfulness is not a love that inspires them to lay down their lives for their friends, but a defensiveness that lures them to take the lives of their fellow citizens.

The anti-democratic and white supremacist core of this worldview snaps into focus as soon as we ask just one question: What is the “America” they are saving? This question is at the heart of the MAGA ideology that has now fully overtaken one of our two major political parties.

That second “A,” for “again,” is the hermeneutical key that unlocks the obfuscation.  This nostalgia for a White Christian America has become the weapon of choice in the culture wars. In that vision of the country, white law and order reign, and with refreshments and pats on the back, white vigilantes are informally deputized as partners. And Black people protesting in the streets or even shopping in the local CVS are seen as suspect for not playing their properly deferential roles or staying in their assigned subservient places.

If Trump has done anything for us, he has peeled back a thin veneer of patriotic- and Christian-sounding words to reveal the core claim underneath it all: That God intended America to be a white Christian nation. That claim has literally generated—for those among the chosen— a license to kill anyone who threatens that norm and the confidence that those actions will not only be free of negative consequences, but be rewarded both here on earth and in heaven.

“Christian nationalism” is the threat.  Let’s start by defining the terms, thanks to Paul D. Miller at Christianity Today.

There are many definitions of nationalism and an active debate about how best to define it. I reviewed the standard academic literature on nationalism and found several recurring themes. Most scholars agree that nationalism starts with the belief that humanity is divisible into mutually distinct, internally coherent cultural groups defined by shared traits like language, religion, ethnicity, or culture. From there, scholars say, nationalists believe that these groups should each have their own governments; that governments should promote and protect a nation’s cultural identity; and that sovereign national groups provide meaning and purpose for human beings.

What is Christian nationalism?

Christian nationalism is the belief that the American nation is defined by Christianity, and that the government should take active steps to keep it that way. Popularly, Christian nationalists assert that America is and must remain a “Christian nation”—not merely as an observation about American history, but as a prescriptive program for what America must continue to be in the future. Scholars like Samuel Huntington have made a similar argument: that America is defined by its “Anglo-Protestant” past and that we will lose our identity and our freedom if we do not preserve our cultural inheritance.

Christian nationalists do not reject the First Amendment and do not advocate for theocracy, but they do believe that Christianity should enjoy a privileged position in the public square. The term “Christian nationalism,” is relatively new, and its advocates generally do not use it of themselves, but it accurately describes American nationalists who believe American identity is inextricable from Christianity.

What is the problem with nationalism?

Humanity is not easily divisible into mutually distinct cultural units. Cultures overlap and their borders are fuzzy. Since cultural units are fuzzy, they make a poor fit as the foundation for political order. Cultural identities are fluid and hard to draw boundaries around, but political boundaries are hard and semipermanent. Attempting to found political legitimacy on cultural likeness means political order will constantly be in danger of being felt as illegitimate by some group or other. Cultural pluralism is essentially inevitable in every nation.

Is that really a problem, or just an abstract worry?

It is a serious problem. When nationalists go about constructing their nation, they have to define who is, and who is not, part of the nation. But there are always dissidents and minorities who do not or cannot conform to the nationalists’ preferred cultural template. In the absence of moral authority, nationalists can only establish themselves by force. Scholars are almost unanimous that nationalist governments tend to become authoritarian and oppressive in practice. For example, in past generations, to the extent that the United States had a quasi-established official religion of Protestantism, it did not respect true religious freedom. Worse, the United States and many individual states used Christianity as a prop to support slavery and segregation.

There is much more here you should read.  Know your enemy, while there is still time to win the fight.

This is not about all Christians, or even all Christian evangelicals.  But those who think “freedom of religion” means everyone is free to practice their particular strain of Christian faith in their houses of worship and through the imposition of their religious beliefs in secular law, those who harbor a “nostalgia for White Christian America,” and who have been succeeding politically at achieving their goals since at least the days of the Moral Majority, those are the political enemies we need to get serious about defeating.  Right now, political despair be damned.