The gospel, from the get go, has been about the offer of salvation to all human beings without any exception whatsoever. But in America, the gospel has long had to battle the lie that some human beings are more equal than others and has long been co-opted in many ways to be utilized as an instrument of oppression even while, at the same time, it has been the source and driving force of things like abolition and the Civil Rights Movement. Both things are true, but only one thing has been in accord with the teaching of the apostles. You will search in vain in the teaching of Christ or the apostles for the idea that in Christ Jesus, white is better than black or brown or rich are the natural masters of the poor. That is solid American antichrist Christianity. But it is not and never has been the gospel. That is why I don’t hesitate to call the monstrous theopolitical mutation known as MAGA religion “antichrist”. And like all modern antichrist religion, it loves to mimic Christian aesthetics to perfume the dung hill. The devil always dresses as an angel of light.
I think of that as I read this piece on the efforts of the now thoroughly white racist sect of Mammon worshippers that are the GOP MAGA cult as they labor to destroy our Constitutional order and institute and authoritarian regime so that they can keep a grip on power:
A few weeks ago, Team Trump claimed in court that their efforts to nullify Joe Biden’s victory could not possibly have been fraudulent or be described as a criminal conspiracy, because those in and around the White House had merely been acting on the basis of sincerely held suspicions.
This sparked the latest round in the never-ending debate over whether or not Republicans actually believe that the election was stolen from them. Politically, it is important to push back against the opportunistic ways in which Republicans up and down the country have been using the “big lie”. But if we are trying to understand what is animating the right’s rapidly accelerating radicalization against democracy, binary assumptions of Republicans as either true believers or power-hungry cynics are not very helpful and actually obscure more than they illuminate. In some fundamental way, Republicans are both. What we really need to grapple with is why so many Republicans are convinced the outcome of the election was illegitimate regardless of whether or not there were specific procedural irregularities.
Surveys have consistently indicated that a clear majority, probably about two-thirds, of Republicans consider Biden an illegitimate president. It’s highly likely that many of them are well aware that some of the specific conspiratorial claims emanating from the right – fake ballots? Lost ballots? “Illegals” voting? – are bogus. But they don’t seem to care about the specifics. They just believe Biden shouldn’t be president.
What is most alarming is the underlying ideology that leads so many on the right to consider Democratic victories invalid – even if they concede there was nothing technically wrong with how the election was conducted. It has become a core tenet of the Republican worldview to consider the Democratic party as not simply a political opponent, but an enemy pursuing an “un-American” project of turning what is supposed to be a white Christian patriarchal nation into a land of godless multiracial pluralism. Conversely, Republicans see themselves as the sole proponents of “real” America, defending the country from the forces of radical leftism, liberalism and wokeism.
Even if they don’t subscribe to the more outlandish conspiracies propagated by Trumpists, many Republicans agree that the Democratic party is a fundamentally illegitimate political faction – and that any election outcome that would lead to Democratic governance must be rejected as illegitimate as well. Republicans didn’t start from an assessment of how the 2020 election went down and come away from that exercise with sincerely held doubts. The rationalization worked backwards: They looked at the outcome and decided it must not stand. In other words, accusations of fraud gain plausibility among conservatives not because of empirical evidence, but because they adhere to the “higher truth” of who is and who is not legitimately representing – and therefore entitled to rule – “real” America.
It is worth paying attention to how reactionary intellectuals have been dealing with the 2020 election. We certainly wouldn’t expect Trump, most Republican officials, or the conservative base to devour rightwing treatises. As much as they would like to believe it, these reactionary thinkers are not leading the movement. But they tend to articulate the radicalizing authoritarian spirit that is threatening American democracy in strikingly stark terms. In this way, the rightwing intellectual sphere provides a crucial window into the energies and anxieties that are animating the right more broadly.
In March 2021, the magazine American Mind published a particularly instructive essay by Glenn Ellmers, entitled “‘Conservatism’ is No Longer Enough”. American Mind is a publication of the Claremont Institute, a rightwing thinktank in California that has become home to some of the most outrightly pro-Trumpian intellectuals. It is notable that Ellmers makes no claim that the 2020 election was “stolen” – he doesn’t allege manipulation, voter fraud, or conspiracy, and in fact explicitly acknowledges that more people voted for Biden than for Trump. He does not peddle conspiracy theories. Yet Ellmers maintains that the outcome of the 2020 election is illegitimate and must not be accepted.
According to Ellmers, Biden’s presidency represents an “un-American” idea of multiracial pluralism – something that is fundamentally in conflict with what he refers to as “authentic America”. In his view, everyone who voted for Joe Biden and his “progressive project of narcotizing the American people and turning us into a nation of slaves” is also “un-American” and therefore not worthy of inclusion in the body politic. Ellmers declares that “most people living in the United States – certainly more than half – are not Americans in any meaningful sense of the term”. Only “authentic Americans” are allowed in Glenn Ellmers’ United States – a racialized idea of “the people,” most clearly represented by “the vast numbers of heartland voters”.