A Reader Struggles with MAGA-Brainwashed Parents

He writes (back in November):

I have been an avid reader of your blog for some years now, since entering the Catholic Church at Easter Vigil in 2011, and have always found you insightful, thought-provoking, and often times very funny as well.  I also cannot emphasis enough how much in agreement I am with you about the terrifying, and profoundly sad current state of our nation, and the complete tatters that the Christian witness is in thanks to the corrupt, autocratic dictator-in-waiting clown currently befouling the Oval Office and his Trumpist movement that have been so passionately embraced by so many “good, decent and upstanding Christian” people.

First off, let me apologize for the extreme slowness of my reply.  I’ve been writing a book since last fall (The Church’s Best-Kept Secret: A Primer on Catholic Social Teaching, due out from New City Press this September October) and have discovered the truth of Churchill’s remark that a book begins as a hobby, becomes a mistress, then a wife, then a tyrant.  That, plus, two other books in the works, pandemic, and economic catastrophe have been keeping me on my toes and out of my mailbox.  Please forgive me!

Thank you for your kind words.  Please know that you are, of course, not alone in the anguish you feel.  Millions struggle with it.  It is our cross to bear in this hour of history.

As this week of impeachment hearings ends – a week that in any sane world would have been the immediate end of this Administration – I am writing you to ask for your advice as a fellow Catholic and brother in Christ.  For Trump has destroyed the witness of the American Christian voice (perhaps only significantly damaging our Catholic Church’s witness, but effectively annihilating any shred of moral standing left for the Protestant Evangelical camp), he is rapidly destroying the foundations of democracy itself, but more intimately for me, Trump has mortally wounded my family relationship with my parents.

Yes.  The catastrophic effect Trump has had on American Christianity (at least in its conservative form) cannot be overstated.  And he does indeed constitute the gravest threat to the US since the Civil War.  And since you wrote me, the Pandemic, the economic catastrophe—and now his treasonous betrayal of our troops with regard to Russian bounties on their heads—have all demonstrated that he is the worst President in US history.  He should be jailed for treason for the rest of his life, pour encourager les autres.  And then we need to begin investigating the GOP Crime Syndicate that defended him and jail them as their crimes are revealed.

But you know all that.  At present, what you are anguished about is not him, but those you love.

Mark, I don’t know what to do, or how to process the irrational, angry, aggrieved, authoritarian cultists that my parents have become.  I cannot reconcile who they are now with the people who raised me, who first taught me the Gospel message of God’s supreme, self-sacrificial love for all of humanity…I no longer recognize them. 

I hear you.  Conservative Christians, Protestant and Catholic, have been brainwashed by Right Wing Media for 20 years.  Indeed, it’s a process that goes back to the Reagan years when prolife Christians were taught to reject the Seamless Garment (which is simply Catholic teaching) and instead pit the unborn against rather than relate them to all those forms of human life the GOP wants to rob, harm, and kill.   After that, they were brainwashed more deeply by FOX.  And with the brainwashing went the promotion of the Southern Strategy.  This was the deliberate courtship of the racist subculture that entered the GOP in droves after the Civil Rights Act of 1964.  White conservative Christian have deeply embraced this and Trump is the apotheosis of this weird, sick alliance of “prolife” culture with naked racism.  In the absence of the Church’s consistent life ethic, the “prolife” movement has become a racist fertility cult of Mammon, Mars, and Moloch that has passed from caring about human life to saying, “Let Granny die.  It’s nature’s way” when they aren’t defending handing American troops over to die on the Russian dime or telling the weak to offer themselves as human sacrifices for the sake of the economy.  It’s like Trump is some kind of enzyme that has activated a bunch of sleeper agents in the Church.

One thing that helps is information.  There is a little film that helps understand how we got here in terms of the brainwashing done by FOX.  It’s called THE BRAINWASHING OF MY DAD.   It’s worth watching if only to help understand how the Right Wing Lie Machine works.  Your folks are what Screwtape calls “patients”.  They have had things done to their hearts, minds, and souls by a long, patiently-played con game and are, to a certain degree—perhaps a very large degree—not fully culpable (though they remain in need of salvation).

They are in so many ways, it pains me to say, the exact people you now so often write about.  They live in a small, rural place in a southern, solidly white and solidly Republican state.  They are in their early 70s, of a fundamentalist, Baptist Christian belief set, they are vocal, ardent “Pro-Lifers” who have been involved in the specifically anti-abortion movement for many, many years.  (As you write so eloquently about, “pro-life” for many in the movement really just means being against abortion, and little, if any, thought is given to how the belief in the sanctity of all life should fit into a consistent overall life ethic, that seamless garment that addresses all other life issues.)  They hated Donald Trump, until he won the Republican nomination…I sat at my kitchen table in the Spring of 2016 while they were visiting and said that I hoped they’d feel the same if he won the nomination, as I, for one, was quite worried that he would from the moment he entered the race.  I flatly told them “If you vote for Donald Trump, he will take your souls, he will rob you of your integrity, and he will give you absolutely nothing in return.”  These words were prophetic, as they indeed voted for him, and have over the three years since become completely enthralled by him.  No evidence in the Impeachment Hearings this week can sway them, no cruelty or ugliness can penetrate, tearing apart refugee families and caging innocent children could not pierce their hearts…as the line about the racist juror goes in “12 Angry Men”, they can’t hear you, and they never will.

We now don’t speak at all anymore, and I don’t even know how to approach things, as I believe deep down they are angry or difficult when we speak not because of me, but because I simply remind them by existing how ugly, degraded and warped their thinking has become, there is cognitive dissonance and emotional pain, I am sure, in needing to believe one is a good Christian while slavishly supporting someone who is so utterly and wholly Anti-Christ.  I am heart-broken to see who they have become…and I must be honest: I have lost significant respect for them for my part.  How does one love a parent that one can no longer respect?  What kind of relationship can there be?  I have prayed about this (obviously), but so far, God is silent.

Any advice you might have would be so very much appreciated.  Thank you.

The main thing I would advise is patience.  This won’t be over till it’s over and there is both frustration and relief in understanding that there is nothing you can to do “convert” them or any other living soul on planet Earth.  That’s the Holy Spirit’s job.  That means you can let go the burden of thinking there is some magic thing you are supposed to do to change them or make them see that you are somehow guilty of not doing.  On the other hand, it remains painful and frustrating to be so helpless while this goes on.

One way to approach all this is simply to make it the focus of your prayers.  Take all the anguish to God, including all the fury and everything you really think and feel about them and the rest of the MAGA cult.  Don’t mince words.  Don’t hold back.  Let it out.  Let God hear it at full volume.  He’s a big God.  He can take it.  If you swear and cuss as you talked about this with your friend or wife, then swear and cuss in God’s presence.  He already knows what you are thinking so it won’t surprise him.  If you discover something truly sinful in what you say, then make a note of it and bring it to Confession and ask for mercy.  Try to hand your folks over to God for him to hold and guide.  They have not arrived anywhere yet.  They are as much on a journey as you are and this is hurting them too.  They are trying to fix it by extremely stupid means at present.  But they can hear and learn from the Holy Spirit too.  Perhaps try placing them before the Blessed Sacrament at Adoration.  That Host is literally and truly Jesus.  Go to him like the father who brought his demon-possessed son to Jesus.  Say, “Lord, I believe.  Help my unbelief”.  Remember Jesus’ counsel about casting out spirits by prayer and fasting and maybe try a weekly offering of that for them.

Above all, put Jesus, not your parents or the rest of the MAGA Cult, in the center of your prayer life.  None of this is happening out of his Providence.  Everything he has permitted, he has permitted for his glory and your good (which are ultimately one and the same).  Jesus, crucified and risen, his blood shed for you and given in complete self-forgetting love for you and your parents and every last deluded MAGA true believer, is purely and perfectly devoted to doing us all good out of pure love.  He has not forsaken you or any of those you love.  Take each anxiety and consciously hand it over to him.  Use, if it helps, a physical gesture to do it.

Your parents are just flesh and blood, like you. Take the disrespect you feel and give that to God too.  Were it not for grace, any of us would fail just as hard.  Ask God to give you mercy for them anyway.  We are all of us on trial in this hour and our task is, as much as possible, to love as Christ loves, without cause or limit.  You can’t do that without him.  But with him, you can do a little better today than you did tomorrow.  And you can hope for the day when you have your parents back after they have gone this journey through darkness and back to grace.  He is not through them with yet.  Don’t give up on them either.

I hope this helps!


26 Responses

  1. This is pretty heavy. But I suspect that if anything, time is what’s going to make a difference in the end. As with previous authoritarian figures, once its no longer seen as beneficial to be a sycophant for Trump, many of the people who were previously licking his boots will dump him in a heartbeat. Heck, as he’s tanking in the polls, some of them are doing it right now; because if there is one thing politicians care about more than Trump, it is saving their own career.

    Trump’s mishandling of the current pandemic hasn’t done him any favors either; its the reason his approval rating is going down in every single demographic.He’s actually underwater with Catholics now.

    So I guess we’ll see.

  2. My husband had a socially distanced drink with a sort of a friend of his a couple of weeks ago. They had never discussed politics before. My husband is a healthcare worker, and puts his life on the line — mine too — every day. His “friend“ started saying that he felt the trumpet done a good job as president. Of course, he didn’t mention all of the lies, especially the lies around the Covid crisis, the trillions wasted, the fractures with our allies, the embrace of the religious Reich, and on and on and on and on.


    1. I’ve been having something of this trouble as a teacher. I’m almost certain to be forced back to work (school) in some capacity this next fall and it’s really hard dealing with people who are just brushing off that this is going to mean risking my life, the life of my elderly disabled mother (who lives with me), and the lives of my students and their families. I’m so *angry* that the state didn’t start making preparation for distance learning (internet hot spots, Chromebooks/ipads, support for distance curriculum) at the very start of the summer. But I know they’re going to push us back to in-person learning because anything else would cost $$$. So people are going to die.

  3. The Trump Cult will collapse after, and only after, prominent Republicans publicly disavow him. There’s small sign of this beginning to happen, a cloud no bigger than a man’s hand: yesterday Senator Chuck Grassley (R, IA) announced that he will not attend the Republican National Convention, for fear of COVID-19. Grassley is the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and is the longest-serving R in the Senate. For him to acknowledge that Trump’s Big Show will likely be a Petri dish of human disease – which, by the way, is probably accurate – is a big deal.

    I expect to see more big deals from other Republicans in the near future. Not because they are rediscovering their principles, but because they want to be reelected and the Trump Ship is sinking.

    1. They won’t disavow him. He is the living incarnation of their hopes and dreams. That is why it is far more important that the GOP Crime Syndicate be destroyed root and branch and their power broken for good. Not just this year, but in 2022, 2024, 2026…

      1. Another source of information that I also follow is warning of some other schemes done to try to have Trump re-elected, such as the “strange case of the disappearing voters of colour”:
        “Trump didn’t win in 2016. And I’m not talking about Trump losing the popular vote. Trump lost the Electoral College. That is, he lost if you count all the votes burgled, jacked, swiped, shoplifted, purloined, filched, fiddled and snatched from citizens not of a whitish orange hue.
        And unless we wise up, 2020 will be déjà vu all over again.”
        (Look for a book that is scheduled for publication on July 14: How Trump Stole 2020, by an investigative journalist called Greg Palast https://www.gregpalast.com/)

  4. I have had to face the fact that Christians have ignored and even welcomed the racist elephant in the room– forever– always.

    This whole Trump debacle just brought the boil to a head for some, *hopefully* many of us. There is a silver lining.

    When I was a kid, my parents would complain about PBS, but it was the only channel, along with our local station that they would allow my siblings and I to watch. They enjoyed the arts but would gnash their teeth over the “liberal agenda”.

    My generation and several others after it grew up with the social engineering of Sesame Street, Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood, Zoom…I got to see black kids acting like kids and admired them them for being on my favorite show.

    I feel sorry for our parents. Nobody was helping them to see how utterly evil and disgusting racism is. They were born into a world at war with itself that called every other race something ugly. It was completely normalized for them AND wed to the idea that as citizens of the U.S. they had somehow made the cut and stood head and shoulders above the rest of the world. That their own country sold them out for a buck is something utterly unfathomable to them. They think they are fighting for a way of life that is slipping away from them. That their country made it about “the other” who invaded their fair shores, or polluted it by their bad genes (when they *themselves* were “the other” when they got here) is a nearly comical bait-and-switch.

    Trump didn’t make anyone racist, we were always racist. We just couldn’t see it either.

    My own mother WHO SENT TRUMP MONEY ON HIS BIRTHDAY, is afraid, and wants her wonderland of Fred Astaire, Bob Hope, Doris Day and big Cadillacs to come back.

    I for one, have a brother that reminds me of Donald Trump, (if Trump was less tacky, could speak a complete sentence and was better looking.) They are always selling and share the same superiority complex. I think that this is why I found my future spouse among “the other”. The good old boy frat rats like Brett Kavanaugh always inspired a specific revulsion in me.

    1. Acts 2 notwithstanding, Catholics have often either encouraged, enabled, or ignored the problem of racism. It is sad and shameful.

  5. The Trump cult is a trend and Trump isn’t it’s leader, he’s a trend spotter. It’s foolish to think any of this will stop by getting rid of Trump. As if BLM terrorists and vandals will be satisfied or mass migration will end or globo-corporate hegemony will suddenly cease or Chinese diseases will be ended. I personally almost wish Trump had been thrown in prison, it would probably expedite the sequence.

  6. My catholic parents taught me that if blacks don’t do well it’s because of their culture. The idea that systemic racism had anything to do with anything wasn’t even considered.

    Now I know that all these stories about blacks committing crime at high rates are Trump Cult propoganda. We have a prison system that it is worse than stalins gulag with the entire purpose of re enslaving Blacks

    1. …if blacks don’t do well it’s because of their culture.

      My reaction when presented with this is to agree that, perhaps, there is some truth to that – and then to ask, “How do suppose their culture got that way?”

      All answers boil down to two: some form of racism (“oh, they brought this stuff from Africa, they’re just that way”); or, in some cases – not, alas, enough – a certain reflexion on what happens to a people who had been made legal property for 250 years, and virtual property and definitely underclass for 150 after that.

    2. If black people aren’t responsible for what they do today, why are whites responsible for what their ancestors did hundreds of years ago?

      1. You are like 7 second Tom on 50 First Dates. Every moment is a new moment completely unconnected to the previous moment.

        No one is talking about personal responsibility because it is a different topic. You only bring it up to distract from the fact that you support structures of sin that oppress real people. Why don’t you take personal responsibility for that?

      2. It also isn’t just about what was done hundreds of years ago. A lot of racist policies were still going strong within living memory. I recall talking to an older black woman who was recounting her childhood and mentioned, in passing, that her father owned a business on the only street where blacks were allowed to own businesses. They couldn’t live or work outside of a very specific neighborhood far removed from the busy Main Street city core – which meant they didn’t have the same opportunities to advance financially.

      3. If black people as a whole aren’t responsible for what they do today why are white people as a whole responsible for what they do today?

  7. As I tried to say earlier: There is a good possibility that Trump’s base could shrink, given all those rallies where people sit too close to each other and do not like to wear masks, an ideal situation for the Pandemic to spread even further because Trump himself is “feeding the beast”. Plus, Trump is 74, thus belongs to the more vulnerable group. If he keeps avoiding most precautions and taking every chance possible to catch the virus, maybe, just maybe, he will not be around comes election time. And it will be his own fault.

  8. I have friends — Catholic or Catholic-leaning friends — who told me that God told them to vote for Trump. How do you argue with that? When they saw Trump do his infamous Bible photo-shoot, they saw a strong and compassionate leader standing up for the principles of our country and defending the church from hordes of vandals and hooligans. I saw a strongman wannabee using the armed forces to violently clear out protesters for the sake of cynical posturing with what he views as a magical talisman worshiped by morons. We’re watching different movies. The thing is, my movie has slowly shifted in tone, a bit like an innocent dream turns gradually into a nightmare. They’re still watching the same movie they started when they cast the ballot.

Leave a Reply

Follow Mark on Twitter and Facebook

Get updates by email