Posts Tagged ‘Climate Change’

How the Republican Party Became a Death Cult, pt. 3

August 28, 2021

            The so-called “Moral Majority” and “Religious Right” jumped into politics just as apocalypticism was on the rise, and they used it as a motivational force to fire up their voters.  It also came to drive much of their thinking on political policy, and these notions in turn began to take over Republican thinking in general.  The Antichrist was predicted to be a “world leader,” so Evangelical “prophets” devised an elaborate fantasy whereby the United Nations and its Secretary General would take over the entire world, which would be pretty amazing given the general fecklessness of the organization to date.  (This had the added advantage that it saved them from asking uncomfortable questions about who really is said to be “the most powerful man on Earth,” the Caesar of the 20th Century’s greatest empire, and thus the most logical applicant for the role of “all-powerful world leader” which they were advertising—POTUS.)  Israel plays a major part in the Apocalypse despite the fact that it wasn’t even an independent nation when either Daniel or John wrote, so the Religious Right became Zionists; but the final Battle of Armageddon takes place in Israel, so the Religious Right had to oppose any possibility of peace that might have ensured Israel’s existence.[1]  Instead, since their vision required a nuclear conflagration before Jesus returns, the Religious Right has consistently pushed for more militarism, more war, more international tension, and either pooh-poohed the dangers of World War III (since the Good People will be raptured away to Heaven) or actively sought to encourage it.  No war, no Jesus, so they have to have their war.  The Religious Right thus pushed the Republican Party to become, quite simply, pro-death, pro-war, pro-Armageddon. 

            The same logic drives GOP contempt for diplomacy also drives much of its contempt for climate science.  The Revelation of John depicts a world in famine, with both land and sea in near-total environmental collapse.  Since this disaster for humanity (not to mention nonhumans, since these superlative Christians never mention them) is actually a blessing for the “true believers” who expect to be raptured away into Heaven before things get really bad and then to return with Jesus to rule over the miraculously restored new Earth, they actually welcome all the dire warnings of environmentalists.  They want the Earth to burn with wildfires and drought. They want crops to fail and fish to die.  All of this is simply the fulfillment of their vision of the End Times.

            I cannot emphasize enough how mistaken and self-serving all of this is.  The original apocalyptic writings have two things in common.  First and most obviously, they are all extremely symbolic.  Many of these symbols are traditional, practically a code which is understood by the community but unintelligible to outsiders.  When the original readers of Daniel read a description of a series of kingdoms ending in a divided kingdom (Daniel 2:31-45) they knew to whom it referred:  the kingdoms of the Persians and the Greeks, to Alexander’s empire which was divided at his death, and which they believed would be replaced by the reign of God.  When John’s readers read a description of a beast with seven heads, they knew it meant Rome and the Caesars (Revelation 13:1-10).  They did not expect a literal beast, and for the most part they were not too surprised when the world didn’t end and they had to reinterpret the prophesies.  We can see this in the Gospels, where the more apocalyptic Mark (the first written) was succeeded by others that depicted the Kingdom of God as an ongoing, growing reality, the Church.  The oldest versions of Mark end at the empty tomb; Luke by contrast wrote a sequel, the Acts of the Apostles, where the Kingdom of God is seen being fulfilled not in the end of the world but in the ministry of Paul in Rome.  The end of the world prophecies that most Christians believed were fulfilled as the world they had known did, in fact, end, replaced by a new and unimaginable reality:  the Roman gods thrown down, and worship of the God of Israel spread around the world.  But the end and the new beginning were different than they’d expected, and for the most part they rolled with it.  Today’s Fundamentalists,  with their selective biblical literalism, demand a literal end of the world, while claiming the authority and mission to change how these ancient symbolic writings were understood to fit the political agenda they desire—their dislikes become demons, their ideological targets become the Antichrist, and so on. 

            The second, and essential reality of apocalyptic writings are that they were addressed to the poor and persecuted.  Both the writings of Paul and contemporary nonchristian sources indicate that most (not all) early Christians were from the lower classes—not too surprising given the demographics of the Roman Empire, but apparently noteworthy enough at the time.  The writings of Daniel were addressed to the victims of persecution by Antiochus; the writings of John were addressed to Christian churches in Asia Minor, which were under pressure from social, political and economic powers around them.  They were messages to inspire hope in those who had no earthly reason to hope.  By contrast, today’s White Evangelical community is culturally and politically dominant, a powerful force worldwide and particularly in the United States, the most powerful nation on Earth.  While the original apocalyptic writings were meant to comfort the afflicted and condemn the comfortable, the new apocalyptic writings of Hal Lindsey and Tim LeHaye, Jerry Jenkins and company are meant to comfort the comfortable, and thus often end up afflicting the afflicted.  They are aimed at showing White, middle-class Fundamentalists that they really do know more about science, economics, politics and everything else, and that those people who didn’t believe them will burn in Hell.  They aim to show that weak and poor nations deserve to be weak and poor, while the United States is rich and strong because God has blessed it for being the home to Christian Fundamentalism.  They aim to reinforce the economic status quo; there’s a direct line between the Christian Dominionism of R. J. Rushdoony, the Christian nationalism of Jerry Falwell, and the Prosperity Gospel that tells the poor that if they show their faith by sending money to the TV preacher God will make them rich.  John of Patmos wrote from exile and imprisonment, but today’s apocalyptic writers are well-funded by the rich who want to wrap themselves in this new gospel that protects their wealth from condemnation.[2]


[1] Mary Jane MacKay (correspondent) and Michael H. Gavshon (producer), “Zion’s Christian Soldiers,” 60 Minutes aired October 6, 2002 (https://www.cbsnews.com/video/zions-christian-soldiers/ transcript https://www.cbsnews.com/news/zions-christian-soldiers/ )

[2] This alliance goes back to the early intellectual fountainhead of the Religious Right, R. J. Rushdoony, who was bankrolled by businessmen opposed to FDR’s New Deal. See Michael J. McVicar, “The Libertarian Theocrats:  the long, strange history of R. J. Rushdoony and Christian Reconstructionism;” September 1, 2007 (https://www.politicalresearch.org/2007/09/01/libertarian-theocrats)

They Booed Trump at the World Series:  What Does That Mean?

October 29, 2019

They Booed Trump at the World Series:  What Does That Mean?

There’s been a lot of discussion in the press about events October 27, 2019.  First, Americans woke up to hear that the founder and leader of DAESH or ISIS had been killed in a nighttime raid in Syria.  He was a brutal and seemingly power-mad terrorist, even compared to Osama bin Laden, and the violent death of a person who celebrated rape, slavery, torture and murder is good news for anyone who loves justice.  As the Commander in Chief of the US military, Donald Trump clearly expected at least a little boost in his popularity.  You could argue that he should have gotten enormous praise and gratitude, not in the sense that he was morally owed anything but rather in the sense that if you light a fuse and it burns down to the dynamite and nothing happens, you say, “That should have exploded.”  Something unexpected and seemingly unnatural happened; instead of cheers or even polite applause, Donald Trump was jeered and booed the very day he announced that one of America’s most vicious enemies had been killed.  Why is that?

There have been many comments made about the way Trump announced the death of Baghdadi.  Obama announced the death of bin Laden with little prior build-up.  It came totally unexpectedly.  In fact, right before the raid he was going through one of the traditional Washington rituals, the White House Correspondents Dinner Roast.  He mocked himself and was mocked by others; he also teased others.  He was funny and seemed relaxed, as if nothing special was happening.  A few hours later, he was in the White House listening in real time while the raid played out, so that if any major decisions needed to be made or major announcements made, good or bad, he’d be there to do so.  When the raid was over and the troops safely on their way home, he made a relatively dignified speech congratulating and thanking all those involved, even the military who weren’t always his biggest fans because he had not served and had made decisions many disagreed with.

By contrast, during the actual raid to kill Baghdadi, Trump was golfing, enjoying his weekly multi-million dollar taxpayer-funded personal pleasure.  Then he tweeted about an upcoming big announcement, teasing it like it was the new Star Wars trailer or something.  When he finally made his announcement, it seemed to many to be self-congratulatory, to reveal operational details better kept secret, and to be generally undignified and unworthy of the president of the United States.  While Obama had emphasized that the body of bin Laden had been buried with the dignity we’d give one of our own, Trump repeatedly spoke of how humiliated Baghdadi had been, “whimpering” and dying “like a dog.” While Obama had notified leaders of both parties, Trump notified the Russians but not his real enemies, the Democrats, American citizens, most of whom have handled secret materials for years without leaking it.  And many were quick to note that when bin Laden was killed, Donald Trump was one of the first to say that Obama did not deserve any credit because he was merely the President; so why, critics asked, should Trump get any credit now when he had no more to do with killing Baghdadi than Obama had to do with killing bin Laden?

All of this, however, strikes me as beside the point.  Ultimately, while these considerations might have warranted rebuking Trump’s boorish and narcissistic messaging or his hypocrisy, it doesn’t explain the chants of “Lock Him Up!” by tens of thousands of people on live, international television.  Something much more is going on here. 

Tamara Keith of PBS Newshour was onto part of it when she pointed out that bin Laden was a much bigger force in most Americans’ minds than Baghdadi ever was.  Al Qaeda killed thousands of Americans in one day on live television; DAESH sought to establish its caliphate on the other side of the world, and most of its victims were Syrians and Iraqis.  Newshour also pointed out that while Obama got a popularity boost after the killing of bin Laden, it didn’t last; wile he got a month or two versus the hours at most that Trump earned, ultimately it partisanship took hold in both cases.  The difference between the two cases was not as different as it might first seem; still, it’s worth asking why Trump didn’t earn even the temporary boost Obama got.

When Obama took office, there were two great threats hanging over our collective heads:  the Great Recession and radical Islamist terrorism.  Killing bin Laden symbolically took care of one of these, while the Obama economic plan, including the bailout of the auto industry, helped with the other.  Before Obama took office, economists predicted that recovery from the Great Recession would be slow and uneven; some of the jobs lost would never come back, though others would replace them.  Sadly, that prediction proved true; some areas of our country never really recovered, though overall the economy has grown steadily through most of the Obama administration and into Trump’s.  The result was a balkanization of our fears.  In rural areas, and many manufacturing areas, the economy continued to be a source of anxiety; but for most of the nation, things were slowly looking up.  Areas where jobs were scarce and immigrants relatively unknown, the fear of Islamic terrorism grew to a general xenophobia; not only were foreigners seen as terrorists and criminals, but also as competitors for the scarce jobs.  But in more developed areas, there were enough jobs that immigrants were seen not as competitors as much as a necessary part of the work force.  People who knew Muslims first-hand didn’t fear them all, but distinguished between them.  So while Obama addressed the concerns of most Americans, Trump addressed himself to the needs of only a limited portion.

According to opinion polls, more Americans are worried about mass shootings and domestic terrorism than they are about Mexicans or ISIS.  More Americans worry about Russian hackers than about whether #MeToo is unfair to men.  While Trump voters fear illegal aliens voting, voters in other areas have dealt with real election fraud:  the Republican Secretary of State in Georgia sabotaging voting machines in black neighborhoods, the Republican candidate in North Carolina literally stealing ballots from Democratic voters, thousands of legal citizens being blocked from voting around the nation by Voter ID laws designed to handicap legal citizens, and so on.  The problems most Americans fear are not being solved by Trump.  In fact, Donald Trump seems to exacerbate those problems.  He doesn’t fight mass shootings; he defends the NRA, which even the GOP-controlled Senate concedes is a Russian asset, and which fights to preserve the rights of suspected terrorists, domestic abusers and the mentally ill to have military-grade weapons.  He doesn’t fight to ensure that all citizens can vote; he supports voter suppression and voter suppressors.  He doesn’t fight foreigners undermining our elections; he encourages and even forces them to intervene to help him.  And most tellingly, while he touts his fight against Islamic terrorism, more Americans have been killed or threatened by white supremacist terrorism which often cites Trump-favored information sources like Breitbart and InfoWars, or even quotes Trump himself.  We’ve had mass shootings, white supremacist riots, and bombing attempts, all citing Trump’s words in support and loyalty to him as their motive.  In short, to most Americans, Donald Trump is a more obvious and all-encompassing danger than Baghdadi was on his best day. 

Why did they boo Donald Trump at Game 5 of the World Series?  Because they hate Trump, sure.  But why?  Is it, as Trump supporters claim, because those 40,000 people simply hate America?  That would be stupid; this is where we keep our stuff, so why would we blow it up?  Is it “Trump Derangement Syndrome,” an irrational blind hatred of all things Trump?  Again, no.  The hatred and anger flows from the fact that Trump is felt to be a threat, a greater threat than any other, the nexus of most or all of the fears and anxieties of the majority of Americans.  He supports the terrorists most of us fear, the ones who shoot up schools and shopping malls and churches:  the white supremacists, the incels, the people who just collect guns so that when their anger boils over they’ll be ready to make the universe pay.  He accepts the praise of those who literally proclaim him the new Christ, and who threaten to unleash civil war in God’s name if he is opposed. 

I don’t think most of the people in that ballpark thought about this explicitly.  They reacted emotionally, as a result of conscious reasoning and unconscious perception.  The two things Trump can most credibly brag about are simply not the two things most people fear the most; and the things they do fear the most are things they associate with him.  Booing Donald Trump feels like booing Nazis and other “very fine people,” like booing the El Paso shooter and the Charlottesville driver and all the other terrorists who have quoted him, like booing climate change and all the entitled billionaires who fight to keep it happening, like booing the corruption of government officials who funnel tax money into their businesses while brazenly shaking down lobbyists for “donations.”  In a real sense, Donald Trump is a symbol, a bigger-than-life character, the way bin Laden was and Baghdadi is not, at least not for Americans.  And while for many Americans he’s a symbol of fighting social and economic changes that unsettle traditional values, for a return to the America they remember from their childhood, when America was Great, for many more he’s a symbol of chaos, random violence, political violence, oppression, environmental chaos of floods, fires, melting glaciers and mass extinctions, of religious oppression, and an attack on Hope itself. 

I side with the jeering masses, the booers, the chanters, the displeased.  I see two great forces struggling for control of America.  One saw itself as the Culture Warriors, but they’ve largely lost that war so rather than fight to win the culture they fight to establish rule by force over it.  Their slogan, Make America Great Again, is a formula for going backwards, for stasis and even degeneration.  The best days are behind them, so they seek to drag everyone and everything back into the past, back to when it was simple.  The other side’s slogan is “Yes We Can!”  It is optimism, It was Hope and Change, It is growth.  Anything not busy being born is busy dying; so this other side seeks to guide the change but not to fight it.  Trump famously, proudly resists learning, resists change, resists advice or other perspectives or other voices than his own.  Obama studied and read and questioned all through his presidency, and changed course when he had to.  Obama said, “You are the change you’ve been waiting for.” Trump said, “Things are a mess, and I alone can fix it.”  I guess, for all my cynicism, my self-esteem is simply not low enough for me to bow down to a mere mortal who claims perfection and omnipotence, and who demands that I shut up and follow meekly where he leads.  I’d rather have leaders who demand my effort, my attention, my mental engagement, my work, but not my soul.  And so, apparently, do 40,000 or so baseball fans at the fifth game of the 2019 World Series.