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Wednesday, October 16, 2013

The Tea Party Religion

Mike Ashmore of Hooks, Texas, a Marine Corps veteran, waves a Confederate flag in front of the White House during an anti-Obama demonstration on Sunday, October 13, 2013.  As a native Southerner, your Head Trucker understands the gesture, but pities the poor boy for not having figured out yet what is so very wrong about what he's doing.

Well, all the world is heaving a sigh of relief as it appears that the shutdown/debt limit crisis is nearing an end tonight. But don't think the war is over. It's merely this coup attempt that has failed; others will follow. It's no good thinking that in twenty years, when all the grumpy, white-haired old Uncle Joes and Aunt Marthas have died off that sweetness and light and sanity will return to American politics - because there are plenty of young'uns coming right along behind them, with a gleam in the eye and a fire in the belly, to carry on the fight to defeat the Great Satan - America.

Andrew Sullivan nails it in this excerpt:
Dishheads know I believe that you cannot understand the current GOP without also grasping how bewildered so many people are by the dizzying onset of modernity. The 21st Century has brought Islamist war to America, the worst recession since the 1930s, a debt-ridden federal government, a majority-minority future, gay marriage, universal healthcare and legal weed. If you were still seething from the eruption of the 1960s, and thought that Reagan had ended all that, then the resilience of a pluralistic, multi-racial, fast-miscegenating, post-gay America, whose president looks like the future, not the past, you would indeed, at this point, be in a world-class, meshugganah, cultural panic.

When you add in the fact that the American dream stopped working for most working-class folks at some point in the mid 1970s, and when you see the national debt soaring from the Reagan years onward, made much worse by the Bush-Cheney years, and then exploded by the recession Bush bequeathed, you have a combustible mixture. It’s very easy to lump all this together into a paranoid fantasy of an American apocalypse that must somehow be stopped at all cost. In trying to understand the far-right mindset – which accounts for around a quarter of the country – I think you have to zoom out and see all of this in context.

Many of us found in Barack Obama a very post-ideological president, a pragmatist, a Christian, and a traditional family man, and naively believed that he could both repair the enormous damage done by the Bush-Cheney administration and simultaneously reach out to the red states as well. I refuse to say the failure is his. Because he tried. For years, he was lambasted by the left for being far too accommodating, far too reasonable, aloof, not scrappy enough, weak … you know the drill by now. In fact, he was just trying to bring as much of the country along as he could in tackling the huge recession and massive debt he inherited at one and the same time, and in unwinding the 9/11 emergency, and in ending two wars and the morally and legally crippling legacy of torture (about which the GOP is simply in rigid denial).

Obama got zero votes from House Republicans for a desperately needed stimulus in his first weeks in office. So I cannot believe he could have maintained any sort of detente with the Republican right, dominated by the legacy of Palin, rather than McCain. But the healthcare reform clearly ended any sort of possibility of coexistence – and the cold civil war took off again. The first black president could, perhaps, clean up some of the mess of his predecessor, but as soon as he moved on an actual substantive change that he wanted and campaigned on, he was deemed illegitimate. Even though that change was, by any standards, a moderate one, catering to private interests, such as drug and insurance companies; even though it had no public option; even though its outline was the same as the GOP’s 2012 nominee’s in Massachusetts, this inching toward a more liberal America was the casus belli. It still is – which is why it looms so large for the Republican right in ways that can easily befuddle the rest of us.

But it is emphatically not the real reason for the revolt. It is the symptom, not the cause. My rule of thumb is pretty simple: whenever you hear a quote about Obamacare, it’s more illuminating to remove the “care” part. And Obama is a symbol of change people cannot understand, are frightened by, and seek refuge from.

That desperate need for certainty and security is what I focused on in my book about all this, The Conservative Soul. What the understandably beleaguered citizens of this new modern order want is a pristine variety of America that feels like the one they grew up in. They want truths that ring without any timbre of doubt. They want root-and-branch reform – to the days of the American Revolution. And they want all of this as a pre-packaged ideology, preferably aligned with re-written American history, and reiterated as a theater of comfort and nostalgia. They want their presidents white and their budget balanced now. That balancing it now would tip the whole world into a second depression sounds like elite cant to them; that America is, as a matter of fact, a coffee-colored country – and stronger for it – does not remove their desire for it not to be so; indeed it intensifies their futile effort to stop immigration reform. And given the apocalyptic nature of their view of what is going on, it is only natural that they would seek a totalist, radical, revolutionary halt to all of it, even if it creates economic chaos, even if it destroys millions of jobs, even though it keeps millions in immigration limbo, even if it means an unprecedented default on the debt.

This is a religion – but a particularly modern, extreme and unthinking fundamentalist religion. And such a form of religion is the antithesis of the mainline Protestantism that once dominated the Republican party as well, to a lesser extent, the Democratic party.

Columnist Clarence Page of the Chicago Tribune on the meaning of the Confederate flag today:

Dr. Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite of the Chicago Theological Seminary writes in the Washington Post:
Our politics is a cosmic war, a theologically fueled conflict where our politics itself is seen as the battleground between good and evil. That is the larger frame that can contain both a confederate flag and Islamophobia. At a related demonstration in Washington, D.C. yesterday, Freedom Watch founder Larry Klayman said, “I call upon all of you to wage a second American nonviolent revolution, to use civil disobedience, and to demand that this president leave town, to get up, to put the Koran down, to get up off his knees, and to figuratively come out with his hands up.”

Klayman carefully added terms such as “nonviolent” and “figuratively” and yet declared our politics as war. The subtext, conveyed in language such as “come out with his hands up,” for example, is very aggressive. If we do not understand that the political and religious right-wing sees American politics as a cosmic war, we might think that there will be a political resolution achieved when the government shutdown is ended, and the debt ceiling raised.

Don’t relax. This has just been a skirmish. The war continues. It will, I believe, even accelerate. Yes, there will be a political “deal” to most likely get a continuing resolution on the budget until early 2014 and raise the debt ceiling, but the war will go on. There will very likely be another government shutdown in early 2014 and another threatened default on our debt. This will occur not for any policy reasons, but because the Tea Party caucus is fighting Satan; they are engaged in a cosmic war with evil in American politics.

The theology of the shutdown is “Christian dominionism” as Morgan Guyton has so well demonstrated. Christian dominionism is the idea that the nation should be governed by Christians according to a conservative understanding of biblical law.

As Guyton showed in his article, Senator Ted Cruz, an architect of the government shutdown, has theological roots in Christian dominionism through the work of his father, Rafael Cruz, a pastor with a Texas charismatic ministry. At an Iowa Family Leadership Summit this summer, the elder Cruz preached, “When you hear this attack on religion, it’s not really an attack on religion. The fundamental basis is this. Socialism requires that government becomes your God.” This explains “homosexual marriage” as it is designed to destroy your “loyalty to the family.” What has to happen is that “kings” will fight “war” to gain “spoils” and establish dominion over the country. . . .

Government shutdowns, threatened debt default, racism, homophobia and Islamophobia can seem like discrete political struggles for democracy, good governance, and equal rights. Progressives and moderates make a huge mistake when they do not see the connections extremists make among them. It is crucial to see that to the extreme right-wing that is hijacking our political process right now, these are not discrete issues but part of a cosmic war on Satan played out in our American political life.

It is my belief that theological struggles need to be engaged as theological struggles and not allowed to mask themselves as ‘politics by other means.’ We are in a struggle not only for the future of our democracy, but also for a Christianity centered on the life and work of Jesus of Nazareth who taught us to pray for “daily bread” on “earth,” not just in heaven, not on some imagined cosmic war fought for political gain.

That will not be over this week. In fact, it is just beginning again.

Oh and one more thing - don't any of you Yankee boys go a-pointing fingers with dirty hands attached. Here's the New Yorker's map of where the Republican "suicide caucus" lives - the red dots indicates districts of those 80 representatives who signed an August letter to John Boehner demanding that he defund Obamacare or shut down the government - and half of them are outside of the South:

Click to enlarge.

Which only goes to show that prejudice, ignorance, hatred, and fanaticism know no boundaries.

Update, 10:20 p.m.: The shutdown is over. Until January. The temporary budget and debt ceiling bill passed the Senate 81-18, and the House by 285-144, including 85 Republicans voting for passage and 198 Democrats. No Democrats voted against the bill, but two Dems abstained - I wonder who they were.

And as a coda to this bizarre episode, while the vote was being tabulated tonight, a House stenographer grabbed the microphone in front of the Speaker's chair and began ranting something about people mocking God and praise Jesus! 



Stan said...

That idiot waving those flags no way represents the USMC. Many died for his right to do that.

You are so very right to point out Russ that there are tea baggers everywhere through out the country. Cory Booker was elected Senator in NJ tonight with 55% of the vote. The A-hole he ran against had full tea party support which scares the hell out of me even here in a blue State like NJ.

Russ Manley said...

I'm glad Booker won but you are right to be scared. Those people are not going to stop until they take over the government or destroy it.

Frank said...

Excellent commentaries by Andrew Sullivan and Susan Brooks. I cannot gloat over the fact that there are no dots on the map of New England. I know there are plenty of Tea Party sympathizers up here and they are just as scary.

Russ Manley said...

Our only hope is that they continue to make such insane public screw-ups that eventually they fade into irrelevance like the John Birchers, America Firsters, the Know-Nothings, the Anti-Saloon League, the Anti-Masonic Party, and all the other rightwing fanatics in our history.

Sooner rather than later, please God.

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