Category Archives: Trumpism

Heroic Vigilantes

At the time I am writing this blog I don’t know if Kyle Rittenhouse has been found guilty of any the charges against him. I suspect he will be acquitted.  The reason is that self-defense in the US is a pretty robust defence. Added to that, the United States has a rich history of vigilantism, particularly on the border with Mexico, but really everywhere. This is particularly true where white vigilantes are defending the country against non-white threats. Vigilantes are part of American mythology. The country was built on this and frankly I think it is baked into the American DNA. As a result, I will be shocked if Rittenhouse is convicted.

If he is acquitted, I think many Americans, particularly on the right, will immediately make Rittenhouse out to be a hero. I think that would be a bigly mistake. Rittenhouse is no hero. David French wrote a fine essay on the subject in The Atlantic.  He pointed out that “For millions he’s become a positive symbol, a young man of action who stepped up when the police (allegedly) stepped aside.” This is precisely the point.  Millions of Americans don’t trust authority.  The pandemic should have by now made that clear to pretty well everybody.

In America there is a strong distrust of government and pretty well everyone in authority except a few perceived renegades, like the previous president. That distrust is the essence of vigilantism and anti-vaccism. Vigilantes are only needed because we can’t trust the authorities to do the right thing and protect us from harm. That is exactly why millions refused to get vaccinated. They refuse because the authorities tell us that is what we should do. For millions of people no more needs to be said to persuade us not to be vaccinated.

A willingness to dissent from authority can be charming. I often endorse exactly that myself. But as I have said before, it is charming only if the dissent is rational. It must be grounded on good reasons and evidence, not your uncle Ernie’s research on the internet.

Personally, I agree with French that “the Trumpist right is wrongly creating a folk hero out of Rittenhouse.” That does not mean he should be convicted.  I have been trying to follow the case in the newspapers and online. Frankly, I find the evidence mixed. There is significant evidence that Rittenhouse was asking for trouble. He went to Kenosha carrying an AR-15 style automatic rifle to defend American businesses from left wing rioters. So he thought. Then in defence of those businesses he was chased by at least 3 and maybe 4 protesters (or rioters if you like) one of whom had a gun and one of whom assaulted him with a skateboard. He may have legitimately feared for his life even though he had been immensely foolish to go to a riot (as he perceived it, not entirely without justification) with a rifle and basically without being trained to do so.

There are many cases of Americans doing very foolish and even dangerous things and getting shot at as a result, who nonetheless had a reasonable case for claiming self-defence. Remember the police officers who barged into the home of Breanna Taylor without knocking and unsurprisingly were met with gunfire in return from the occupant of her house?  The police fired back and were successful with their claim of self-defence to a murder charge even though they killed her boyfriend in his home. The police initiated the entire incident and were in my opinion entirely at fault, yet they were acquitted.

 

I think the same thing might happen to Rittenhouse. He was white and shot at 4 white men not a black man, so he will have a harder time making the defence work, but it certainly could. Added to that, he was defending white citizens from a perceived black mob. I don’t think he was justified in going to the city with a gun, but I think that defence might work. The American mythology might save him.

None of this makes Rittenhouse hero material. In much of white America though a young man carrying an automatic rifle to defend whites is automatically hero material. As French said,

“Most of the right-wing leaders voicing their admiration for Rittenhouse are simply adopting a pose. On Twitter, talk radio, and Fox News, hosts and right-wing personalities express admiration for Rittenhouse but know he was being foolish. They would never hand a rifle to their own children and tell them to walk into a riot. They would never do it themselves.”

 

That will not stop them from broadcasting their hypocritical support for Kyle Rittenhouse. And if Rittenhouse is made into an American folk hero, as I expect he will be, this will be a dangerous precedent for the next foolish young white man who steps into the next fray to defend his country from the perceived ravages of the next black militant.

As French explained,

“But these public poses still matter. When you turn a foolish young man into a hero, you’ll see more foolish young men try to emulate his example. And although the state should not permit rioters to run rampant in America’s streets, random groups of armed Americans are utterly incapable of imposing order themselves, and any effort to do so can lead to greater death and carnage. In fact, that’s exactly what happened in Rittenhouse’s case. He didn’t impose order. He didn’t stop a riot. He left a trail of bodies on the ground, and two of the people he shot were acting on the belief that Rittenhouse himself was an active shooter. He had, after all, just killed a man.”

Americans who encourage young white men to become vigilantes will have a lot on their conscience when the next young man, whether a white vigilante, or a black victim of vigilantism, is killed.

As French said,

“If the jury acquits Rittenhouse, it will not be a miscarriage of justice. The law gives even foolish men the right to defend their lives. But an acquittal does not make a foolish man a hero. A political movement that turns a deadly and ineffective vigilante into a role model is a movement that is courting more violence and encouraging more young men to recklessly brandish weapons in dangerous places, and that will spill more blood in America’s streets.”

 

I am very interested to see what justice comes out of this trial. it will tell us a lot about that country.  I fear the “justice” will be a pretty thin and toxic gruel. After all, vigilantes are rarely heroes.

Evangelical Christians must Decide which Side they are on

 

Fortunately, there is opposition to Christian Nationalism in America even among Christians. Thomas Edsall in his New York Times article, referred to a group called Christians Against Christian Nationalism with many well-known supporters. This group was formed in 2019. As well more than 16,000 ministers, pastors, and parishioners signed a statement that read in part this way:

“As Christians, our faith teaches us everyone is created in God’s image and commands us to love one another. As Americans, we value our system of government and the good that can be accomplished in our constitutional democracy.”

 

Yet Christian nationalists are still a strong force in America. As some of its Christian opponents told Edsall,

“Christian nationalism seeks to merge Christian and American identities, distorting both the Christian faith and America’s constitutional democracy. Christian nationalism demands Christianity be privileged by the State and implies that to be a good American, one must be Christian. It often overlaps with and provides cover for white supremacy and racial subjugation. We reject this damaging political ideology and invite our Christian brothers and sisters to join us in opposing this threat to our faith and to our nation.”

 

It remains to be seen which part of American Christianity will rise up. Right now, the Trumpers and Christian Nationalists are speaking with a loud voice. Over time we don’t know which group will prevail. Sometimes loud voices don’t win out and saner and quieter voices prevail. We can only hope for the best. Evangelical Christians should not just pray for the best. They should do more than that. They should act to support the best. Too often as the poet W. B. Yeats warned, the “worst are filled with passionate intensity, while the best lack all conviction.”

 If you want something to worry about consider what author Robert E. Jones told Edsall in his email:

“It’s also worth noting that even AFTER the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, PPRI’s final favorability poll showed white evangelical Protestant’s favorability toward Trump remained at 62 percent — double the level of Trump’s favorability rating among the public (31 percent).”

Trump might be right. No matter what he does the evangelicals will continue to support him with religious fervour. Only Christians can decide where they stand. It will be interesting to see. I think they will have to decide who is their savior. Trump or Jesus.

Authoritarian Christianity

Evangelical Christians rightly complain when their religious freedom is attacked. But trying to impose their religious is not freedom. That is authoritarianism.

Gerardo Marti, a professor of sociology at Davidson College, in an email to Edsall of the New York Times, said that modern American evangelicals have shifted to a more militant approach to imposing their religious views:

“the accumulated frustrations of not being able to ease their sense of religious decline, their continued legal struggles against abortion and gay marriage, and the overwhelming shifts in popular culture promoting much less religiously restrictive understandings of personal identity have prompted politically active religious actors to take a far more pragmatic stance.”

 

For that reason, Marti said revivalism has largely

“been abandoned as a solution to changing society. Their goal is no longer to persuade the public of their religious and moral convictions; rather, their goal has become to authoritatively enforce behavioral guidelines through elected and nonelected officials who will shape policies and interpret laws such that they cannot be so easily altered or dismissed through the vagaries of popular elections. It is not piety but policy that matters most. The real triumph is when evangelical convictions become encoded into law.”

In other words, many Christian Nationalists have moved towards authoritarianism. They want their religious views to be enshrined in laws. This is not freedom of religion. This is freedom to impose religion on others.

No better example could be found than the recent insurrectionists on Capitol Hill. What better example could one think of than rioting at the Capitol in a country that is still (to some extent) democratic? That is certainly not a case of trying to persuade; that is trying to impose. That is what authoritarianism is all about.

Christian White  Supremacists

 

 

One more remarkable aspect of the rioters at the Capitol on January 6, 2021 was that most of them were white. Not only that, but many of them were White Supremacists who had been encouraged by Trump to attend. Many of them claimed to be Christians as well.  Many of them, claimed they were there because Trump had invited them. The close ties between white supremacists and Christian nationalists have deep historical roots.

The founder and C.E.O. of P.R.R.I., a non-profit organization that conducts research on religion and politics, Robert Jones, claimed in his book White Too Long: The Legacy of White Supremacy in American Christianity, that

“Christianity in America has a long history of serving as a cloak for a racist political agendaThe norms of white supremacy have become deeply and broadly integrated into white Christian identity, operating far below the level of consciousness…The story of just how intractably white supremacy has become embedded in the DNA of American Christianity.”

 

As I said, often the offspring of marriage of politics and religion are ugly monstrosities. They are sometimes ugly but we don’t realize it because we have become so accustomed to it. We don’t even notice it.

That does not mean that all American Christians adopted this point of view. Some like the 21 Baptist leaders that included Steve Harmon, professor of theology at Gardner-Webb University School of Divinity said this on the day following the riot on the hill in Baptist News a mainstream publication:

“Minister friends, we must confront directly the baseless conspiracy theories and allegations that our own church members are embracing and passing along. They are not just wrongheaded ideas; they have consequences, and to tie these falsehoods to the salvation of Jesus is nothing less than blasphemy.”

The fact is however, that the violent and disruptive views of the evangelicals I have been mentioning are common among American and Canadian evangelicals. There are so many that support the more extreme views that it would not be fair to characterize them as fringe views. Trump has always received broad support among evangelicals. Polls have consistently showed that about 80% of American evangelicals have supported Trump and continue to support Trump even though his racist statements and positions are pretty plain to see. Trump himself often admitted they were his staunchest supporters. To me the reasons for this have always been mysterious, but no less real for that.

The close ties between racism and evangelicalism are disturbing and should not be swept under a carpet.

 

Messiahs don’t come around every year.

 

Donald Trump called his followers to the Washington Capitol on January 6, 2021 and like dutiful followers they came. They came to put a wrecking ball to what they considered false government and fraud. Their spiritual leader called them, so Trumpists arrived from all over American to the Washington Capitol as he had asked. He asked them to “fight for their country.” Was he being metaphorical?

To his faithful followers they were on a religious mission. It was their sacred duty to come to the Capitol to defend the leader of the faith and the country. It was a holy cause. So, men and women who would normally be going to work, their Bridge club, or doing laundry, or sending their kids to school, turned up instead in Washington ready to riot. Many of them actually planned a riot. After all, as one of their posters said: “Jesus is my Savior; Trump is my president.”

 

And, like so many sacred causes in the past they were deceived by their leader. He told them to march to the Capitol and he would be right there with them. That was a lie. He stayed back at the White House where he could be safe to watch the action on his big screen TV instead. To his followers it was a sacred cause. To Donald Trump is was entertainment.

Now you might ask why would anyone believe a New York real estate developer who had a notorious aversion to the truth?  That didn’t matter to the true believers. The leader called; they came. After all, 2000 years ago,  who would believe a young man who appeared to be the son of a poor carpenter?

 

But Trump was no Jesus. In the case of Trump, the true believers were sad fools. We pity them. They made a horrible choice. Some of them like the QAnon Shaman with his wide grin, bare muscular chest, coon skin hat, horns, spear, and face painted with the colors of the American flag, came all the way from my “home” state of Arizona. He thought if he got into trouble, as he did, his spiritual leader and savior Donald Trump would pardon him or save him in some other manner. The Shaman was sadly deluded. That’s what his “true belief’ was—a sad delusion. Too late he realized he had been a fool.

That doesn’t mean all such beliefs are delusions. Not all prophets are false, but certainly enough of them are false to make us wary. We should recognize that and use some critical judgment. Messiahs don’t come around every year. Or even every four years

The Christian Holy War for Trump

 

Many American pastors, including particularly evangelical or fundamentalist pastors have endorsed Trump since 2015 and continue to do so,  reinforcing Trump’s view that he could kill people and not lose support. On January 6, 2021 that was clearly demonstrated. The only difference is that Trump did not have to do the actual killing or fighting. Like a true Mafia Don he just asked his followers to do it and they followed his instructions. Trump asked them to fight to defend the country and they did exactly that.

 

One of the American pastors was conservative evangelical pastor Greg Lock the founder of Global Vision Bible Church in Mount Juliet, Tennessee. He wrote this in his book This Means War, ““We are one election away from losing everything we hold dear.” The battle, Locke continued, is “against everything evil and wicked in the world.” Thomas Edsall of the New York Times interpreted these remarks this way: “It is a rallying of the troops of God’s holy army. This is our day. This is our time. This means something for the Kingdom. As a matter of fact, THIS MEANS WAR.”

The day before the riot at the capitol Greg Locke tweeted his faithful followers in a manner not unlike Trump but with religious language:

 “May the fire of the Holy Spirit fall upon Washington DC today and tomorrow. May the Lamb of God be exalted. Let God arise and His enemies be brought low.”

 Obviously, these are not the views of all Christians, but frankly I am shocked by how many feel this way. I wonder if police are considering charging  any of these pastors with inciting violence.  Their language is certainly incendiary.

Sometimes the marriage of politics and religion breeds monsters.

 

Christian Nationalism on Capitol Hill

 

In my recent blog post, Thomas B. Edsall from the New York Times pointed out that the recent insurrection on Capitol Hill could not be understood except as an act of Christian Nationalism.  The rioters were not there to fight for their religion, they were there to impose their religion on others. That is precisely what the American Constitution and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms try to block in their different ways.

As Edsall said,

“While much of the focus of coverage of the attack on the halls of the House and Senate was on the violence, the religious dimension went largely unnoted (although my colleagues Elizabeth Dias and Ruth Graham made the connection)”

 

It may have gone unnoted by some, but not by me and others who watched the events unfold. First, I heard prayers uttered (blasphemously in my opinion) inside the Capitol by the insurrectionists. A number of the participants bowed their heads to acknowledge the prayer. I also saw numerous signs carried by rioters that made their religious affiliation clear. For example, one sign mimicked perfectly the Republican poster that read, “Trump and Pence 2020 on a sign that showed the exact same colors, and said, “Jesus and Trump 2020.”

 

Samuel Perry one of the authors of the book emailed Edsall the following statement: “The Capitol insurrection was as Christian nationalist as it gets.” Perry actually expanded on this in his email to Edsall, as follows:

“Obviously, the best evidence would be the use of sacred symbols during the insurrection such as the cross, Christian flag, Jesus saves signs, etc. But also, the language of the prayers offered by the insurrectionists both outside and within the Capitol indicates the views of white Americans who obviously thought Jesus not only wanted them to violently storm the Capitol in order to take it back from the socialists, globalists, etc., but also believed God empowered their efforts, giving them victory.”

Perry explained in his email to Edsall that taken together the evidence

“reflects a mind-set that clearly merges national power and divine authority, believing God demands American leadership be wrested from godless usurpers and entrusted to true patriots who must be willing to shed blood (their own and others’) for God and country. Christian nationalism favors authoritarian control and what I call “good-guy violence” for the sake of maintaining a certain social order.”

There is no doubt that the insurrection had a religious taint. It was striking to see. What we all learned that day is that the commingling of religion and politics can be a dangerous thing. That does not mean it is always like that. For example, Christian pastors were instrumental in England in getting slavery abolished. But when religion gets violent or oppressive ion the political sphere, all of us had better look out.

 

Politics and Religion: A Strange Brew

 

When I watched live the insurrection at the Capitol in Washington D.C. on the afternoon of January 6, 2021 I was astonished. I witnessed rioting that I had contemplated, but actually never thought I would see. It was a shocking day.

One of the things that struck me that day was the proliferation of signs carried by rioters that made it clear that to many of them the insurrection was a religious act. They felt they were defending the faith.  The insurrection was a religious event. I now realize that is exactly what they were doing. They were defending the faith of Trumpism. That was their religion. These people believed in Trump without reservation.

 

As New York Times opinion columnist Thomas B. Edsall said, “It’s impossible to understand the Jan. 6 assault on the Capitol without addressing the movement that has come to be known as Christian nationalism.”

Trump had said that during the first election campaign that he could shoot someone on 5th Avenue in broad daylight and he would not lose any supporters. Now I know that for once he was telling the truth. That was literally true. That is what it means to have religious devotion to a leader. Trump started a riot. & people died as a result.  Yet Trumpers still support him. Trump was right.  I think that is pretty clear by now. He summoned his followers to Washington on January 6, 2021 and thousands showed up. Then he filled them with rage and asked them to march to the Capitol. He even said he would walk with them. He exactly said  that.  It was a lie but there is nothing unusual about that. Then he filled them with hatred for his Vice-President who had been his faithful disciple for 4 years and they marched on the Pentagon shouting “Take the Capitol,” “Hang Mike Pence,” and other insurrectionary statements.  His followers rampaged the Congress looking for politicians like Pelosi and Pence and looked like they wanted to kill them. They built a gallows with a noose hanging from it.

Many of them carried signs like “Jesus and Trump. 2020.” They actually prayed in the House Chambers that they were occupying.

This was a religious event. Is this not what religious devotion is all about?

 

 

Patriotism as fascism

 

I heard Trump is saying he will start a new party and he wants to call it the Patriot Party. That has a ring to it doesn’t it? Yes I think it has the ring of fascism. Bill Maher said there was something “brown shirty” about it.

Oscar Wilde said “Patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel.”

Nesrine Malik, an astute observer of politics offered a

“rule of thumb: the more that “patriotism” is invoked by a country’s political elites, the less healthy its political culture will be. From McCarthyism in the US to the Chinese Cultural Revolution, the imperative to love one’s country has often been used as pretext for persecution and submission.”

I don’t have a problem with love of country. I love my country. But I don’t love it blindly. I reserve the right to criticize it when I think it has gone astray. I don’t want to sacrifice my critical judgment to love of country. I don’t believe in love of country right or wrong. I don’t like patriotism that has been weaponized. As Malik added,

“What has passed for patriotism for too long in this country is, in fact, chauvinism: an attitude that defines itself by who it excludes, rather than who it brings together…Sometimes loving your country involved kicking up a fuss. It means telling the uncomfortable truth about a government that is letting its people down.”

Malik was talking about her country—England. But it applies just as well to any country. Particularly to mine. And yours.

Sometimes patriotism really means fascism.

F bombs

F bombs

 

For quite some time I was reluctant to call Donald Trump and some of his followers fascists. That was then; this is now.

After the attack on the Capitol when after Trump’s urging the mob invaded the Capitol and while chanting “Hang Mike Pence” over and over again, I started to re-think.  When CNN reported that many of the rioters were intent on catching police officers and killing them, I began to change my mind. Some of the rioters in the Capitol said, they “were invited here by the president.” Now, that I see Republican leaders in Congress sucking up to Trump again and once more endorsing his phoney claims of a stolen election in order to keep his base of supporters fired up, I think “fascist” is the right word to describe them.

It reminds me of what happened in Germany in the 1930s when the Nazis who had been elected used the fire in the Reichstag to begin hunting Jews and curtailing freedoms. We must always remember Hitler and the Nazi’s were elected.

Fascists is what they are. The only question is how many of the Trumpists would go that far. It seems to me a lot of them were willing to go that far.