The Election Apocalypse of 1992, and 2000 and 2008 and 2016

The Election Apocalypse of 1992, and 2000 and 2008 and 2016 November 9, 2016

I woke up today after a day that sucked on every conceivable level. I mean, it wasn’t just my imagination. One of my major appliances went belly-up, I had a really bad back day, Bother’s decided she mistrusts cat boxes, and a swarm of angry religious nuts, white supremacists, and ignorant malcontents have somehow elected a complete buffoon to the top leadership position of my country.

At least the car is running.

(Jason Jenkins, CC-SA.)
(Jason Jenkins, CC-SA.)

Not An Awesome Day.

Today has not been the day I wanted to have.

After taking in Democrats’ shocking defeat at the polls, I threw a load of laundry into the washer, made coffee, sat down, and began writing. I only gradually noticed–when I returned to the kitchen for my second third cup–that the floor under my bare feet was quite, quite damp. I gasped and looked down the hall. Bumble was sniffing delicately at the carpet at the doorway to the bathroom, where a stain was visibly–and rapidly–spreading into the fibers.

“Aw, SHIT,” I said, and rushed in to assess the damage and start fixing it. Mr. Captain was summoned home, the appliance guys were summoned back, and my day has been pretty awful so far. I mentioned the bad back day, right?

Gang, I know we’re freaked out right now. We have a right to be. We just got a stunning reality check: that swarm I mentioned above still has the power to deliver national elections when manipulated and pushed in the right directions. Hemant Mehta wrote that evangelical Christians in particular “should be ashamed of themselves.”

This victory is on them as much as any other group, and they showed their true colors in electing a man who will come to represent them as Billy Graham once did. They didn’t just reluctantly vote for Donald Trump. They embraced him.

Libby Anne wrote, succinctly,

Last night, my daughter lost her innocence. She had thought we lived in a world of possibilities, a world where a woman could be president and her young immigrant friends could share in the American Dream. Today that world has changed. Today she lives in a country that elected Donald Trump.

I completely agree with my colleagues.

I know that far from being ashamed of themselves, fundagelicals are exulting today. Far from thinking that the world is one of lost possibilities, they think that those possibilities have only come alive with this election. They’re too focused on joy to realize what a terrible thing they have wrought.

At the same time, I can’t help but remember the last 25 years.

Democracy is a two-edged sword. One side wins, and one side loses. That’s how America works, for good or ill. And in our polarized climate, a stunning victory for one side means a huge loss for the other. This isn’t new.

I have seen this exact process happen repeatedly–from both sides of that deplorable basket.

1992.

I was a very fervent Christian in 1992, when Bill Clinton got elected. My church was simply devastated. We had prayed so hard for Republicans to win, but our democracy elected instead a man who was–we were positive–the Antichrist. We were sure that the world was about to end. There’d be borshuns on every street corner and gay people shoving their gayness in our faces by, um, holding hands and getting married I guess? And of course this new President would be undermining Jesus at every turn and bringing about Armageddon.

At first we were positive that all our fears were coming true. Bill Clinton and his wife Hillary–who at first didn’t even use her husband’s last name, ZOMG!–palled around with sex-obsessed, wealth-glorifying, immoral elite creeps like Donald Trump and were responsible for every single bad thing that’d ever happened. We were positive that they were only pretending to be Christian, because certainly they were not TRUE CHRISTIANS™ like us. Republican smear campaigns were accepted by us without a second thought: Whitewater. Assassinations. Secret meetings with the most nefarious sorts.

The weird thing was, though, how little anything changed. Some stuff suffered; other stuff improved. We prepared for the worst, but after a couple of years even the most fanatical of us had to concede that this president hadn’t done that much damage to our cause (though the most optimistic claimed that all that prayer had been behind the decided lack of Armageddoning going on). Next time, we’d make sure to get “our guy” elected.

Before that could happen, I deconverted.

It was weird seeing the election of the same man from two very different life-positions. In 1996, I was a newbie ex-Christian who was still feeling her way out of the cave. I was actually living in Canada by then, having dumped Biff and fled the whole country to escape him, so the entire election was a surreal spectacle for me. I actually wanted Bill Clinton to win, and looked forward to seeing his presidency.

The second time around, the Christians from my onetime tribe freaked out just as hard as they had when I’d been one of them–but about the same results came of his second term. Some stuff changed, but mostly the effects of his election were the same as we’d seen in the first: a firm slap in the face to fundagelicals–a visible sign of the beginnings of the erosion of their dominance.

2000.

George “Dubya” Bush was a genuine embarrassment to America. Woefully underqualified, belligerent, and strikingly ignorant, he bumbled his way to an election that was largely carried by Christian fundagelicals. I was way out of Christianity by then and back in America–and appalled at how nakedly and opportunistically he and his Republican friends manipulated Christians and smeared his opponents. It was a real clown car election, but he stumbled to victory and then proceeded to mortify the entire free world–except for fundagelicals, who were overjoyed at being back in power.

His core base of voters could see no faults in their idol. I personally met people later, after his term ended, who were totally convinced that Dubya was an awesome President. These people have universally been fundagelicals. Their unalloyed joy at his election largely came from their relief at being back on top–and from getting confirmation of their dominance. They aren’t happy unless they’re in control.

And in that respect as well as many others, Dubya was One of Them. He told his tribe what they wanted to hear, and they believed him. And he helped usher in a new era of ultra-polarized, ultra-delusional fundagelicalism–one concerned with vengeance, dominance, control, and magical thinking in a way that even in my day would have been completely unthinkable. I trace the religion’s most serious shortcomings and disastrous aspects to Dubya’s election–not because of Dubya himself, because I doubt even now that he had that kind of intelligence (though the cunning and shrewdness of a conjob, yes), but because of the people who buoyed him to victory.

He did a lot of damage, too, no doubt about it. He got us into wars we didn’t need to enter and tried to turn the Presidency into his own compensation fantasy kingdom. He may bear some responsibility for the 9/11 attacks and the housing crisis that destroyed the middle class, as well as the student-loan fiasco we’re in right now. And he helped his cronies enact policies that wrecked unions, did nearly-irreparable harm to the environment, demonstrably harmed minorities, and made life much harder than it had to be with draconian cuts to welfare and tax cuts favoring the wealthy at the expense of the lowest-paid workers in our country.

He was an inept president, and he may well have been the one we needed before we could get an Obama.

The Reprieve: 2008, 2012.

Fundagelicals saw their grabby little hands slapped away again when Barack Obama was elected. He was the biggest possible sign that fundagelicals were losing dominance. I saw countless op-eds and blog posts about how Christians were finally coming to the end of their time as political juggernauts.

I have a relative who threatened to move to Canada, even, because she was so outraged by the idea of Obama raising taxes and instituting universal healthcare. (I’m not kidding.) She wasn’t the only one making that threat. The rest of us had a good laugh about this spectacle, because we knew that it wouldn’t be that horrible for them to live under a Democratic president. And indeed, it hasn’t. At all.

But this progress is a fraction of what it could have been. After Obama’s inauguration, Republicans immediately sprang into action to deliberately obstruct everything this new, hated President did. Everything. It didn’t matter what he did; they took pride in blocking him–and then in blaming him for everything that resulted from their own inept handling of the country’s business.

Out of every President I can remember, Obama may well have been one of the best. He’s gracious, kind, charitable, intelligent, and genuinely seems to want to do the right thing. Fundagelicals, predictably, seethed at the idea of him leading the country. A big part of their worldview is the idea that only fundagelicals can possibly do well at leadership because they think they have the light of Jesus in them. Though Obama is a firm Christian, he is critical of fundagelicalism–and so therefore he is a false Christian in their eyes, and quite possibly the harbinger of the end of the world.

As much of a boner as fundagelicals have for the Endtimes, you see, they want to be the ones causing it.

Maybe liberals got complacent. Maybe we underestimated the rage of fundagelicals, racists, and misogynists (not that there isn’t a lot of overlap between those categories), who all saw their power dwindling and their members mocked constantly. We definitely underestimated the resentment and fear of the fading middle class, many of whom can be counted upon not to understand that Republican policies and their own fundagelical culture have led directly to their current misery.

Hopefully we can learn from our errors. We have a little time on our hands to do it, apparently.

This is Probably Not the End of the World.

I share your fears and dreads, because fear and dread are perfectly normal responses to have when one side’s candidate has lost an election. We’re just out of practice with losing, is all.

We need to remember that there is good news piercing the darkness, like stars in the night sky twinkling to remind us of the big picture.

First, young people overwhelmingly selected Hillary. Nones typically skew Democratic. Minorities do as well. As Vox wrote, if young people alone had been voting, “Trump would have been crushed.” All of those demographics are on the rise, and four years of a full-meal deal Republican government will only hasten that trend. I’ve been telling y’all for years that Christians have been imploding from the inside–with no help needed from us. Four years of them trampling over America is not going to help them at all.

Second, the popular vote also favored Hillary. The deplorables carried it with electoral votes, yes, but more of us voted Democratic in the aggregate–narrowly, but still. That’s a message that Republican leaders won’t fail to notice. Combined with demographic shifts, they may well see the writing on the wall and start behaving themselves better just out of self-preservation.

Third, Donald Trump is about as far from being a fundagelical as it’s possible to get without being a scarlet-letter atheist. I’d hesitate to call him anything more than the most nominal and opportunistic of Christians. He’s no true-blue believer. You know how people sometimes joke about pretending to be re-converted and then going into ministry just to fleece gullible Christians? That’s Donald Trump in a nutshell. (This is actually why so many fundagelicals didn’t support him–he wasn’t anti-gay and forced-birther enough for them!) If we had to have a Republican president, then one with his religious convictions–or lack thereof–might be the best-case scenario. Considering how his competitors in the primaries viciously fought to out-fundagelical each other, we might well have gotten lucky there. His habit of flip-flopping whenever it’s expedient drove fundagelicals spare, but it can only benefit the country.

There’s a lot of trouble coming into port, friends. I won’t minimize that fact. The next four years are probably going to suck. I won’t tell you it’ll be smooth sailing or that Trump won’t do a lot of damage to the country while he’s in power–I know Republicans too well for that. They’ll look at this win as confirmation from Jesus of their fitness to rule–just as they viewed all their losses as confirmation from Jesus that the Endtimes were about to happen. And they’ll be desperate to do as much damage as they can before they lose their chance. They now control everything–and that’s right where they like to be.

In light of that reality, it’s totally okay to be disappointed and frustrated with how things turned out. I know.

All I’m suggesting is that, while in public, people not make sweeping proclamations or say or do anything precipitous. Take care of yourself; take all the time you need. Until you’ve got your sea legs under you again, please don’t do anything undignified that’d greatly embarrass yourself or your allies later on.

Please especially think twice about posting Twitter and Facebook videos of yourself screaming and crying. Try to avoid flouncing or making threats about moving out of the country. I’m already seeing Republicans who are taking great glee in seeing these signs of distress and discomfort in their sworn enemies. They are already forgetting their own temper-tantrums over losing the last two elections. I respectfully suggest that we give them as little ammunition as we can manage.

A Proud Tradition.

Kansas has already found out how well Republicans do with unfettered power, what with their governor turning the state into a Republican-fundagelical theocratic dystopia–and then running it into the ground. Maybe that social experiment needs to happen on the national scale before Christians figure out that their pastors and AM radio friends are totally wrong about how to run a country. Swinging from extreme to extreme is one of America’s proudest traditions, after all.

I hope that our country’s democracy, with its system of checks and balances, will protect us and our rights. And I can’t help but think that our country’s other proud tradition of dithering, bickering, arguing, and blathering (as well as moving glacially regarding big changes) will protect us during the years ahead.

We got a big wake-up call yesterday: fundagelicals still deliver national elections. We have to address this problem. But that’s in the future. Trump won’t even be inaugurated for a few more months. Let’s have our “AW, SHIT” moment like I did today, and then let’s hitch up our jeans and wade in to repair the damage we see now. That’s how America works. Democracy spoke, for good or ill. We lost. Okay. Someone had to. Now let’s do our best to make sure it works out. We got through Dubya and they got through Obama, and we’ll all muddle through Trump. And afterward, just as my bathroom floor is now spotless and I’ve got better appliances than I had yesterday, we’ll very likely be in a better place as a nation after having done that muddling.

Hang in there.

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