White Christian Nationalism Is Not Our Country’s Biggest Threat

One of the few things that keeps me returning to the dumpster fire of Elon Musk’s X is the “New York Times Pitchbot” account. The anonymous tweeter (I refuse to write “X’er”) brilliantly satirizes the pretentiousness of, arguably, the world’s most influential newspaper by pretending to be the bot that creates headlines for its writers.

The account often lambasts the white-moderate-moral-superiority of David Brooks or the high society acerbic musings of Maureen Dowd.

The account user returns to a handful of templates for laughs. One mocks the Times’ apparent belief that the key to understanding where the U.S. public stands on any given issue is talking to patrons in rural Ohio diners. Another plays on the paper’s tendency to name Ron DeSantis the “real winner” of random political events that have nothing to do with him.

However, none elicits more laughter from me than the mock thesis that follows this simple format: “I have never been a supporter of Donald Trump, but if (fill in the name of a Democrat, usually Joe Biden) doesn’t (fill in the name of an action that no Democrat in their right mind would ever do,) then I will have no choice but to vote for him a third time.”

The tweet is aimed at the “anti-anti-Trump” movement of establishment conservatives. These are folks who want to be considered “thoughtful Republicans,” not afflicted with MAGA hysteria. At the same time, they can’t stand any critique aimed at Trump that doesn’t come directly from their own mouths or keyboards.

They wouldn’t be caught dead at a MAGA rally or a white Christian nationalist worship gathering. They are, however, far more dangerous than those who would. These anti-anti-Trumpers have done more to normalize extremism than the cult members who would follow Donald Trump into hell.

It has become somewhat cliche to compare our current times to “The Handmaid’s Tale,” but cliches are cliches for a reason—usually because they are true.

The Hulu television series is based on Margaret Atwood’s novel of the same name. It tells the story of a dystopian not-too-distant future in which much of the current United States is controlled by Gilead, a theocratic regime that makes a Duggar family reunion look like Burning Man.

In Gilead, freedom of movement is forbidden and anything less than complete loyalty to their understanding of God is punishable by death. Suspicion of homosexuality can lead to genital mutilation. Freedom of speech is considered heresy.

In Gilead’s extreme, institutionalized patriarchy, even the most elevated classes of women are treated like animals. Women are valued for their ability to produce children and failure to do so can lead to banishment, unless they are married to a powerful man. Handmaids, raped and forced to carry and deliver the children of their masters, are admonished to consider it a blessing that their children will be raised by someone other than them.

Consider Gilead a Disneyland for Mercy Culture and Turning Point USA.

In the television series, retrospective snippets reveal what is known about the “before times” leading up to Gilead’s ascension. The viewer gets glimpses of a world where fertility rates were dropping and ecological disasters were on the rise. Impending doom opened the door for theo-fascist movements to arise and give “hope” in the form of certainty to those who couldn’t see the benefits of liberal democracy.

Sound familiar?

The result of all this chaos was the creation of a theocratic society built on trauma and control, one that benefited only a few. But this reality didn’t come into being through a battle of the “good guys” vs. the “bad guys.” Like our own political situation, things came into being through alliances between “true believers” and those who had their own, somewhat different goals in mind.

One of the most fascinating characters in the television series is Commander Joseph Lawrence. (“Commanders of the Faithful” are the highest social class in Gilead.)

Commander Lawrence is sometimes referred to as an “architect of Gilead,” believed to have created the economic and political blueprint for operating society after the revolution.

He is an enigmatic and complicated figure. He upholds the oppressive structures of Gilead, but participates in a mission to help save women and children from it. He refuses to participate in ritualized rape culture, but also fails to condemn it when it matters.

What is clear about Commander Lawrence is that he isn’t a “true believer” in the religious and social underpinnings of Gilead. But in the “before times,” he also disdained the same people and ideas that the religious zealots disdained.

You might say he was “never a supporter of Gilead”, but when things didn’t change, he had “no choice” but to actively and continually make it the dominant cultural movement in the world.

The “before times” in The Handmaid’s Tale were a lot like our current political environment. Even in our two-party system dominated by extremes, nothing of consequence happens without alliances between disparate factions.

Presidential races are now determined more by a party’s ability to hold together their loosely aligned constituencies than by their ability to reach out to the mythical “undecided voter.” We may very well see this played out in 2024, as President Biden’s moral complicity in Israel’s atrocities against Palestinians threatens to disband his already-tenuous alliance.

At the same time, much of our focus on the legitimate dangers of White Christian Nationalism ignores the fact that there aren’t enough White Christian nationalists in our country to attain power on their own. Instead, they rely on an army of Commander Lawrences, the “thoughtful conservatives” who are willing to allow the ascendancy of theo-fascism to attain their own, primarily economic goals.

If the White Christian Nationalist agenda is realized in our country, it will owe its success to the folks who have “never been a supporter of Donald Trump,” but still did everything they could to place him in power. They hold the keys. Right now, they are the most dangerous faction placing our democracy on the brink of collapse.

What these “thoughtful conservatives” may learn, however, is that they have miscalculated who the theo-fascists will go after once they ascend to power.

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