A Look at Some Roots of the Political Paranoia Gripping America
The internet is lit up with it. Facebook is full of it. Anyone who is paying attention right now, mid- to late-December, 2020, knows about it. There is a mounting cry from the far-right in America to overturn the election of Joe Biden as the next president of the United States and keep Donald Trump in office.
This cry, of course, will ultimately fail to achieve its goal. In January, 2021, Joe Biden, now officially elected to the office of the presidency of the United States by the Electoral College, will succeed Donald Trump as president of the United States.
However, some Americans, even some Christians, are circulating dire warnings about a “something” that may or will happen to stop that succession in January. So far, very few of them are willing to say publicly what they hope or expect to happen. But they are spreading veiled rumors about a coming “surprise” that will somehow stop it from happening.
There have been near-violent demonstrations by hordes of far right-wing protestors in major American cities calling for an overturning of the democratic election of Joe Biden and for Trump to remain in office in spite of having lost the Electoral College vote by a near landslide. These people and others are claiming the election was “stolen” from Trump in spite of no evidence for that.
Never in my lifetime have I experienced or seen this kind of attempt to destroy democracy in America. Nor have I read about it before my lifetime. Something new and quite different is stirring in the land. It appears that Trump will never concede that he lost the election; it appears unlikely that he will attend Biden’s inauguration. The question is whether he will voluntarily leave the White House (which is rumored to have many underground bunkers from which the Commander in Chief can control the country).
Personally, I think he will reluctantly leave the White House but keep up the pressure to overturn the election in the judicial courts and in the court of public opinion. Possibly he will run for president again—with or without the support of the Republican Party.
*Sidebar: The opinions expressed here are my own (or those of the guest writer); I do not speak for any other person, group or organization; nor do I imply that the opinions expressed here reflect those of any other person, group or organization unless I say so specifically. Before commenting read the entire post and the “Note to commenters” at its end.*
All of this is conjecture, of course (except that there is a movement to overturn the election of Joe Biden), and only time will tell how things turn out. My concern here is mainly with my fellow American Christians, many of who seem to believe it right and good to agitate by various means against democracy and for a kind of coup to overthrow a democratically elected president-elect.
What is feeding this frenzy among many conservative American Christians?
As a historian of evangelical Christianity in America I believe I have part of the answer.
During the 1950s and 1960s especially, many evangelical Christians in America came to believe very strongly that eventually “real Christians” in America and elsewhere would come under severe persecution by left-wing, communistic forces. We were told that these persecuting forces of the “Antichrist” would hide their true ideological identity but that we—true Christians—would recognize them for what they are. They would be against all true-blue American values including especially worship of God. They would enforce sexual deviance and permissiveness, overthrow “family values” and institute radical and relativistic ethics. In summary, we were told and believed, these ultra-elite, radical political leaders would round up all true Christians and put us in concentration camps and even execute us.
If you think I’m exaggerating, you didn’t grow up in conservative evangelicalism/fundamentalism in America in the 1950s and 1960s.
I well remember how many conservative Christian church and para-church youth groups held “events” in which we gathered for prayer and Bible study “secretly” (in a home, lights out, candles lit) when a group of our own people, dressed like military or para-military police would suddenly “break in” and arrest us for praying and studying the Bible. It was all very dramatic and we conservative Christian teenagers loved it!
If you didn’t live through the Supreme Court decision banning prayer in public schools which then led to prayer being banned in many public events and places, you can’t really understand the horror with which this was greeted by conservative Christians in America. It “sealed the deal”—that America was headed toward perdition.
This conservative Christian paranoia settled into the bones of many conservative Christians in America and evolved into a general fear of all “left-wing” politicians and organizations—including the Democratic Party.
During the 1990s and first decade of the 21st century Democratic-led American governments and some courts began to put tremendous pressure on conservative Christian education institutions to not punish (expel) students or faculty or staff for being openly gay. This was greeted by many conservative Christians as proof that the Democratic Party, which was and is also pro-choice on abortion, is anti-Christian, anti-family values, anti-American, and anti-life. The perception and belief sunk in that the Democratic Party and its politicians were out to revolutionize America into a place where “anything goes” and there is no normalcy or tradition or control over outrageous behaviors.
Here’s my point. All of this may be sheer paranoia, but the political powers-that-be and the mass media chose to ignore it or pooh-pooh it as just a bunch of religious nuts and hillbillies to be swept aside and overlooked. And the result was that many Christians and others who did not necessarily “buy into” the paranoia of the extreme right-wing woke up (they would say) and began to recognize that anti-traditional American forces centered especially in New York and California were going to undo America in terms of its basic traditions and values.
The Democratic Party chose to ignore this phenomenon. So did many Republicans. But the election of Donald Trump in 2016 shocked them. I’m not saying it was predictable; I am saying that hindsight, looking back over decades and the “big picture” of what was happening in America, just might help explain 2016 and what is happening now.
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