• Less than two months ago I wrote about “The Switcheroo” as the boiled-down essence of MAGA politics. This is a form of shoplifting based on feigned indignation. You take the price tag of something inexpensive, stick it on a far more expensive item, then demand that the cashier give you the lower price, shouting “How dare you not honor the advertised price!?!”
This is Trumpism at its core: 1) A fake pose of fake victimhood that’s used to, 2) rip off other people, but that 3) only works if you fully inhabit the fake pose and come to believe it yourself, replacing your actual identity with an identity you yourself know to be counterfeit. The scam also parallels Trumpism in that, 4) even when it “works,” it fools no one except maybe the perpetrator, and 5) it’s a mug’s game in that any potential benefit is vastly outweighed by the potential criminal penalties and the certain damage to one’s own soul.
Just this month, a right-wing MAGA troll had a viral tweet in which he attempted this very same “slow-witted attempt at pulling a fast one.” He found the one-penny dummy tag for a display at a Target and then tried to bully the store into selling him the actual product for that price:
— David Leavitt (@David_Leavitt) January 17, 2020
• Barry Hankins writes about the 1920s for Christianity Today, asking what lessons 21st-century white evangelicals might learn from 100 years ago. There’s some fascinating history there — Billy Sunday, Sister Aimee McPherson, the Scopes trial, Prohibition, anti-immigrant fever — but also quite a bit missing. For discussion of what that is, see:
- Joshua Rothman, “When Bigotry Paraded Through the Streets“
- Kevin Kruse, “The Second Klan”
- Becky Little, “How Prohibition Fueled the Rise of the Ku Klux Klan”
- Randall J. Stephens, “The Klan, White Christianity, and the Past and Present”
In the 1920s, some 40,000 Protestant ministers were members of the KKK. Billy Sunday wasn’t one of them, but he was really cosy with his Klan buddies.
• The morning of May 17, 1954. According to Root writer and Twitter raconteur Michael Harriot, that’s the precise moment, the exact day and time of day, that Donald Trump is referring to as the bygone golden age of American greatness to which he will return via MAGA. It’s not a big spoiler to tell you Harriot’s conclusion first, as the whole fun of his elaborate and hilarious investigation is watching him trace us back to that ultra-specific moment with the kind of calculation that would have made Bishop Ussher proud. Read the whole thread.
I’ll just note one additional point about that moment of American Greatness: In May of 1954, college was basically free. The University of California system charged no tuition for California residents. That wasn’t something strange or exceptional — most state schools or state-run university systems charged only nominal fees or what amounts to, in 2020 dollars, only hundreds of dollars in tuition — not the thousands, or tens of thousands, or hundreds of thousands they charge today.
When Liz and Bernie campaign today for cheaper higher education — derided by critics as “giving away free college” — they’re only arguing that American absolutely can and should simply return to the former system that helped to generate American prosperity and opportunity.
The cost of college has skyrocketed ever since 1954 for a whole host of reasons. Part of that was just the same “I got mine, screw you” dynamic that still causes Americans to vote against school taxes once their kids have graduated. But a huge factor rarely discussed is what Harriot notes happened in the afternoon of May 17, 1954: the Supreme Court’s school desegregation ruling in Brown v. Board of Education, which in turn sparked the desegregation of state universities throughout the country.
“Free” college was the norm right up until the courts said that norm applied to black Americans and not just to white people. Once that became the case, white Americans began withholding support for state universities, setting them on the path of runaway tuition increases that have put entire generations deep into educational debt.
The same dynamic drives a lot of the exceptional American resistance to any publicly funded health care system of the sort that every other developed nation enjoys and easily affords. White Americans would happily enjoy such a system here, but only if those people didn’t get to enjoy it too.
• Speaking of college and of the American legacy of racism that holds us all back, here’s a nice profile of my alma mater’s most famous alum: “Just Mercy shows that Atticus Finch was fiction, but Bryan Stevenson is real.”