False Persecution and Dogwhistles: Mike Huckabee Gives Away the Game

False Persecution and Dogwhistles: Mike Huckabee Gives Away the Game March 6, 2018

It’s so harrrd, y’all, to be a TRUE CHRISTIAN™, especially one like Mike Huckabee. He is such a complete, unmitigated embarrassment for his less-toxic religious bunkmates. This failed culture-warrior has thrown himself against the gates of godlessness more times than I can count, and (to be sure) it’s gained him a following among the ever-dwindling pool of racist, sexist bigots-for-Jesus like himself. That said, his behavior has only dragged his religion’s credibility through the dirt with the ever-growing numbers of, well, everyone else. That hasn’t stopped him from grabbing attention whenever possible using the most cringeworthy of underhanded tactics. Mike Huckabee’s latest attempt was a few days ago, when he was appointed to–and then resigned from–the Country Music Award (CMA) Foundation’s Board of Directors (BoD). The whole affair is such a beautiful microcosm of exactly what’s going on in Christianity right now that I find myself drawn to it. Here is what happened and why this episode is such an important part of understanding Evangelical Churn.

thou art twangy beats
“Country Comes Home.” (Ron Cogswell, CC.)

The Skinny.

A few days ago, the CMA Foundation appointed Mike Huckabee to its board of directors–briefly at least. Most of us are familiar with the CMA itself–they do an annual awards ceremony honoring country musicians from the previous year and they also give lifetime achievements for iconic performers like Willie Nelson and Dolly Parton. The Foundation is the CMA’s charity arm. They do stuff like supporting music programs in schools, holding free concerts at the CMA Music Festival, and giving grants to music education programs.

So when the CMA Foundation asked Mike Huckabee to be part of their Board of Directors, it probably sounded like a very logical request from an organization that seemed like a good alignment with Mike Huckabee’s own public persona. As we can see from this pair of photos of Huckabee and his wife attending the CMA Awards in 2013, clearly he’s a fan at some level. Also he plays bass guitar with a band called Capitol Offense.

And who would be surprised by that appointment?

Normally, most folks associate country music with a certain (shall we say) ethos. As far as the public’s perception might go, though, a lot of the folks in that culture don’t give a rip; they’ll stand barefooted in their own front yard with a baby on their hip, exactly as one rousing, award-winning country-rock anthem offers up by way of retort. They know how they’re perceived–and some of them revel in that perception.

This characterization might have a lot of history behind it and a lot of its fans might proudly stand within it, but it’s not entirely accurate–or fair. A Gallup poll from 2004 discovered that country music fans were a bit more politically diverse than most folks know about.

And yes, we find our memories recalling the Dixie Chicks, who vocally opposed Dubya in 2003 even though they got a lot of criticism for doing it from more-conservative country music fans. They’ve still got careers, and they aren’t ready to make nice, a sentiment clearly supported by both the country music industry and fans who propelled the song of that name to multiple awards and damned near a #1 hit on Billboard’s Hot 100 list.

Nor can we forget that when the Nashville Statement was made to drill down on fundagelical bigotry, Nashville citizens and leaders (in both civic and religious arenas) were very quick to leap to their city’s defense by denouncing and condemning in no uncertain terms the bigotry of the fundagelicals making that statement. The overarching tenor of what I heard in the wake of that statement was rejection of it–not acceptance of it. I found next to no people who were happy about bigots-for-Jesus dragging their lovely city into their hatred.

The reality is that Nashville, just like country music itself as an industry, is more nuanced than a lot of folks give it credit for. Maybe it’s not way more nuanced, but it’s a somewhat situation at least.

A Wild Hope-for-Humanity Appears.

And even so it was downright shocking–not to mention really happy-making!–to see that industry’s artists and fans just totally erupting over the idea of Mike Huckabee being involved in any way with one of the most powerful groups representing the music they love.

Because that, friends, is exactly what happened. Jason Owen is “one of country music’s most powerful executives” and co-president of one of the bigger labels there. He immediately fired off an email to the foundation calling Huckabee’s appointment “a grossly offensive decision.” USA Today notes that Mr. Owen and his husband Sam are parents–and he’s concluded that Huckabee has “made it clear my family is not welcome in his America.” Digital Music News contains a bit more about that letter, namely that it also threatened to withdraw all of his support from the CMA Foundation if Huckabee were allowed to serve on the BoD.

Also in that USA Today article: CMA member Whitney Pastorek, the manager of Kristian Bush (who is one of the artists in Sugarland, a popular band in the industry), wrote a letter protesting the decision as well. The main reason given for the protest was that Huckabee “has spent the last ten years profiting off messages of exclusion and hatred (not to mention the gun lobby).”

There was more besides, and it all made the decision to appoint him seem all the more ludicrous. (The reason the CMA gave– that he seemed like a “dynamic leader” who could help them “advance social change” –sounds laughable to anybody who’s ever read anything about Mike Huckabee, but I’m just reporting what they said.)

Immediately, as in within that same day, Mike Huckabee faced a veritable firestorm of pushback. Artists and fans alike wrote impassioned essays about why they didn’t want him involved in the group. This one by singer Chely Wright is probably the best I’ve seen along those lines, though it was released after Huckabee resigned.

Because that is what happened. Mike Huckabee, faced with that firestorm and the potential losses for the CMA Foundation if he actually served there, resigned the very same day he’d accepted the appointment.

And then he did something we’ve come to expect from Christians on the wrong side of history: he claimed that he was being persecuted for “jus’ bein’ Christian.”

This letter he wrote in his resignation is all we need to see to know that Christianity is falling apart. Seriously. The writing is on the wall, and even Mike Huckabee knows that it is. That’s why he did it.

I’ll show you the foot-outlines on the floor so you can swing and kick along with me.

The New (Failing) Strategy.

The Huckabee letter deserves to be preserved in every single history-of-religion textbook from now till we are all characters in storybooks written by rabbits. It may well be one of the finest and most singular examples of a modern fundagelical false persecution fantasy.

I’ve written before about this new tactic of fundagelicals. You can see it going on with Ross Douthat in his plaintive pleas for favorable terms for the Christian Right’s surrender. You can see it in the way that the Christian Right is trying to borrow terms from their enemies to create a sort of cargo-cult of victimhood for themselves. That impulse is behind the newest push for Christian dominance, these false boo-hoo cries for pity for their “jus’ bein’ Christian” claims and their demands for “religious liberty” that are absolutely nothing but attempts to re-seize the powers of coercion that they have lost.

Mike Huckabee hasn’t caught on yet that we are wise to this tactic.

Anatomy of a Lie for Jesus.

The full letter is found on that Digital Music News link.

In essence, Huckabee finds the criticisms leveled at him to be “intolerant and vicious.” He tries to defuse it by blathering about how he lurrrrrves music and has all his life. He touts his service as governor, where he claims that he tried to protect music education and other funding for public schools (which I’m hearing is fairly accurate, not that it matters ultimately; he just clearly thinks it should cancel out his bigotry).

His attempt to claim some vast qualification for being on the board comprises most of the letter. Afterward, he enters a new phase of the letter in which he states that he “hates no one” and wouldn’t wish “the loss of life or livelihood” of anyone who “sees things differently from me.” Why gosh, he actually hopes that “the music and entertainment industry will become more tolerant and inclusive,” though he’s deeply saddened that “kids wanting to learn music” are now “the victims of adults who demand that only certain people can be in the room or be heard.”

That whole last part’s the lie. That part’s him lying for Jesus. Did you hear it? That sweet little handbell noise that sounds suspiciously like an AC/DC riff? That’s the sound of another ex-Christian who just got their wings.

In order to understand the letter, you have to be able to interpret Christian dogwhistles like that new ex-Christian can. But I know the language, and I’ll walk you through it.

The Dogwhistle Language.

Mike Huckabee exists in a wacky Bizarro universe where up is down, left is right, and black is white. There, gravity doesn’t quite work the same way. A yes means no there, and a no means yes.

He’s constantly borrowing terms from his tribal enemies and then weaponizing them by redefining them and then deploying them in an attempt to seize power for himself at others’ expense.

In that Bizarro universe, you see, he doesn’t hate gay people. Why, he’s not screaming in their faces. He isn’t advocating to have them executed by the state. To him, that’s hatred. He just doesn’t want them to have the same slate of civil rights that he has. Sure, that might lead to them becoming a sub-citizen class that his tribe feels free to abuse and slander all the day long, but it’s not hatred. It’s really love, because he wants them to get all better and be happy and cis and straight like he is! If his tribe’s sworn enemies are allowed their rights, then his tribe might actually become “criminalized” in turn, and that’s such a big problem for him (a member of a religion warning adherents repeatedly of future martyrdom which they are expected to endure with a big toothy smile) that he opposes the very idea.

(Yes, folks, that’s a onetime contender for the Presidency saying that his religion can literally only survive in an atmosphere of its own self-created inequality through the grabbing of unwarranted privilege at others’ expense. And Christians wonder why their religion is falling apart.)

Really, the real hate, in his Bizarro universe, is the pushback against Christians just like him who seek to disenfranchise others, deprive them of rights, and keep them in sub-citizen status. He should be allowed to let his opinion–a poorly-informed and dysfunctional one that demonstrably leads to terrible outcomes for children in particular–run roughshod over other people. He should be allowed to control others in the name of his religion. That is the only love that matters, and anything less than totalitarian control for his tribe is hatred.

In the same vein, he doesn’t actually want anyone to lose “life or livelihood” for not agreeing with his view of things. Sure, that happens. All the goddamned time. But he is saying it’s happening to him right now. He actively opposes human rights and engages in a lobbying interest that is murdering American children, and now that this past is coming home to roost, this rejection is totally, totally unfair to him. That is the real tragedy here. That is the great injustice that he sees. That is the big problem here.

So when he whines that he’s losing his position due to “dislike for someone or a group of people because of who they are or what they believe,” he’s positioning his loss of the BoD position as a form of genuine, real live Christian persecution on par with the mythical persecutions Christians have luridly described for centuries. He’s artlessly negating the fact that his tribe is doing exactly that, and has for decades, to millions of other Americans. He’s already forgotten all those dead children his tribe has murdered and brought to death.

Instead of remembering the damage his tribe has done, he’s positioning this loss of his–a personal loss, a personal rejection–as something that’s happening to his entire tribe of bigots-for-Jesus, moreover, so that he can enjoy their outraged solidarity with him over what he sees as a rejection of not just him, but his entire sickening way of life.

And when he ends his diatribe by evoking the sad widdle image of “kids wanting to learn music” becoming, instead, “the victims of adults who demand that only certain people can be in the room or be heard,” he is 100% pointing his stubby finger at the Fabulous Gay Glitter Mafia (FGGM), who are maliciously and cruelly taping closed the mouths of TRUE CHRISTIANS™ like himself–why he doesn’t say, though he doesn’t need to. The notion of mean ole godless heathen atheist liberals trying to stop “God’s people” from abusing others and controlling people they have no right to control is ingrained in their tribal imaginations by now. In that world, they, the FGGM, are the ones being mean here. Not Mike Huckabee, never. He just wanted to “jus’ be Christian” and teach kids music and maybe jam a little on his GEE-tar. They won’t let him.

Sure, that shadowy conspiracy theory simply isn’t true. But the truth would scare him worse. Perfectly regular folks in the country music industry really want inclusion and tolerance, and they have spoken. The thing is, though, they want real inclusion and tolerance–not the Bizarro dogwhistle definitions Huckabee prefers. His version of those words looks a lot more like letting TRUE CHRISTIANS™ run roughshod over everything. When he says he wants inclusion and tolerance, he means he wants that for his tribe and no others–and he means he wants coercive powers back in his grabby little hands. Exclusion, to him, means us not letting him control anything he grabs for. Intolerance, to him, means us not letting him have his way.

I’m dead serious: You can have a conversation with a person like Mike Huckabee and you’ll be lost in the dogwhistles he uses all the time.

And of course he knows he’s doing it. That’s why he’s misusing them this way, and why he’s steadily gotten more and more incomprehensible and wackadoodle over the years. By warping language like this, he hopes to reframe the conversation in a way that makes giving him back his onetime dominance a little more palatable to the rest of us.

See, here’s the big secret he’s hiding: He knows he can’t get his power back without us giving it to him.

So in a lot of ways, this letter is a major sign that a Christian Right leader understands that his time in power has ended. His goal now is to shore up the donations and support of his tribemates before they, too, dwindle away.

And dwindle they will. You know something downright eye-opening? 

Not one single credible religious-studies group I have ever seen gives even the slightest chance of Christians turning around their decline, which is now halfway through its second decade with no sign of bottoming out whatsoever. Even the only-semi-credible groups, like Barna Group, know this truth.

Mike Huckabee is a big part of the reason why nobody thinks Christians will turn this trend around. He literally can’t stop talking like this. He literally can’t change his behavior to reflect something that’ll even halfway attract back the people who are right now so disgusted with him and everything he stands for that they wouldn’t piss on a conservative church if it was on fire. He’s got to just keep going further and further off the deep end into Bizarro World to keep his remaining tribemates happy. They’ll just keep getting worse and worse and worse until they’re this little weird fringe religion, like snake handlers are now. There’s no other direction this train runs. There’s no other way the story ends.

You think he’s going to win a lot of new blood to his tribe like this? You think this is going to do anything but push people further away from him, or do anything but hasten the rate of people leaving his tribe right now this second, amid a cacophony of silvery AC/DC riffs? Because I sure don’t.

That’s why we can’t let up. This is the last lap, people. We can’t do the victory dance quite yet. This is the most dangerous part of the race. If Mike Huckabee’s tribe loses a million million Christians this very next year but still manages to re-enshrine their religion into our government before the midterm election, then it’s going to be that much harder to get that engorged tick out of our skin.

Vigilance, Vigilance.

Just let us have this little bit of land that isn’t actually ours, and we shall ask for nothing else. Poor little us. We need your protection against the big bad world that hates us for absolutely no good reason at all. We’ve done nothing to deserve this. We just want you to grant us this tiny little corner that belongs to someone else. That’s all we’ll ever want.

I’ve seen that sort of wheedling request before–where people hoped to appease the bloodlust of a monster.

And they didn’t.

They didn’t by half.

One imagines that human rights and personal liberty died similar deaths-of-a-thousand-cuts in places like Iran, where women once openly hung out in mod 70s clothes, and men wore long hair and flared pants without fear. You wouldn’t recognize those free-spirited youths in the people there today.

I want to make this crystal-clear:

You can’t argue with zealots.

You can’t reason with fanatics.

There is never a point at which people like Mike Huckabee will finally be content. There is never a level of control over others that will sate their terror of powerlessness or their greed for more power. There’s never a level of dominance that is enough for them. 

The only reasonable response to these people is to push back with all the legal force we can muster. We must expose their hypocrisies, debunk their constant stream of filthy baldfaced lies, openly mock their pomposity and their grandiosity, and laugh at their attempts to control and reframe conversations. We must do it until they have withered away. We must firmly oppose their attempts to seize power at others’ expense, and we must slap away their grabby hands each and every goddamned time they reach out for that what ain’t theirs.

Christian sites all over the internet are characterizing this whole uproar as “Hate Wins,” a nasty little riff on the LGBTQIA slogan “Love Wins.” And it doesn’t matter, because the people who actually give a hot damn about human rights already know what love and hate look like. They reject what Mike Huckabee is defining it as. They refuse to buy into the warped redefinition those Christians are using.

Love really does win–but Mike Huckabee wouldn’t know anything about either love or winning, so he won’t learn anything from this event.

And that’s fine. We learned plenty enough.


Endnote: Here’s an interesting post about those “everything but rap and country” declarations that people make sometimes, and the comments are a refreshingly serious discussion too.


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