When the one-way ratchet goes local (and other news)

When the one-way ratchet goes local (and other news) July 29, 2021

I’m waiting to hear back from an actual Maytag repairman before heading in to work where I will, among other things, re-interview for my current position. So my brain isn’t working well enough to offer more than just some links and bullet-points:

• This Rick Perlstein piece from June of 2020 is just as relevant now: “Market Logic Is Literally Killing Us.”

Laura Levens surveys the annual reports of white Baptist associations in Texas. If that sounds dry and arcane, I assure you it’s not. The language of these reports may be dry, arcane, and bureaucratic, but they’re full of mass-murder, terrorism, torture, and theft.

The treatment of Black Baptists by white Baptists in Texas throughout the 19th Century makes the religious wars of Europe look like a picnic.

• Some congregants at white evangelical mega-church McLean Bible, near Washington, DC, have created a Facebook page pushing conspiracy theories about church elders and pastor David Platt. These congregants are pretending to believe that Platt is a sleeper-agent of “wokeness” and “cultural Marxism” who is secretly plotting to sell the church and replace it with a mosque (a mosque, apparently, for a culturally Marxist form of Islam). They’re pretending to believe a lot of very strange and impossible things and they’re enjoying this game so much that they’ve gone to the trouble filing a lawsuit over church bylaws: “Megachurch pastor warns of false rumors, takeover attempt at his church.”

This ultra-local controversy is another example of the “one-way ratchet” of white conservatism and the way it empowers and emboldens ever-more paranoid and whackadoodle factions. But that same ultra-local aspect also helps shed some light on how the alternative media ecosystem of the white right influences their lives even on matters far removed from the national spotlight. The attacks on this insufficiently far-right pastor aren’t being directly fueled by national media — Tucker and Hannity aren’t doing segments on David Platt’s choice of Sunday school materials. So the local group has had to invent and fabricate their own local issues, spinning these out of the raw material provided by the agenda-setting talking points of that national media. (In this case, strained attempts to create local angles for the anti-CRT hysteria mixed with a Golden Oldie throwback from the days when the “Ground Zero Mosque” conspiracy topped the charts.)

In the mid-20th Century, the crafty segregationist William F. Buckley was smart enough to realize that if he didn’t fight back against the loony fringe of the John Birch Society, they would use the one-way ratchet to push him aside, reshaping conservatism in their image (at least until they, too, were ratcheted aside by an even more paranoid, more extreme form). But over the past 30 or so years, Republican leaders have tried to accommodate that loony Bircher fringe, rebranded first as the “Tea Party” and now as “MAGA,” imagining they could control it for their own purposes. This is why those Republican leaders are no longer leaders, but merely the fearful followers of a Bircher “base” they’re terrified to ever challenge.

The same dynamic is now playing out on a very local level at McLean Bible. I suppose we’ll see whether Platt turns out to be more like Buckley or like Lindsey Graham.

• For a somewhat-related but also not look at another ultra-local example of our national culture war, here’s a fine piece of local reporting from Jonathan Gallardo. The headline — “Campbell County library board receives both support and calls for resignation” — is nowhere near as lively as what follows:

“Mr. Anderson, I am exercising my free speech and I am not intimidated by you because what you are doing is child indoctrination,” Bennett said. “It’s child endangerment, and guess what? It’s pedophilia.”

The comment was met with some laughs from the audience.

“Why would anybody laugh at children being indoctrinated in this way?” Bennett asked.

“I’m laughing at you,” a man in the audience said.

“You’re laughing at me?” Bennett asked.

“Yes,” the man replied. “I’m laughing at you because you’re making an ass of yourself.”

The specifics of the dispute are intensely local. But we all know exactly what national media sources Mr. Bennett does and does not listen to.

• Just came across this old (2005) post today: “The Scandal of the Originalist Mind.” It’s about the “judicial philosophy” of the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, which turns out to be precisely the same as fundamentalist literalism that Mark Noll vivisects as “naive Baconianism” in his excellent book The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind. Or, in other words, judges like Scalia are doing to the Constitution what fundies like Ken Ham are doing to the Bible. And they’re doing it just as hard.

I’d amend that post now, from the vantage point of 16 more years observing the application and function of Scalia’s naive “originalism.” Because it turns out this “judicial philosophy” has another huge common factor with white fundamentalist hermeneutics: It’s all about slavery.

As should’ve been obvious even before Shelby County, and as is now undeniable after it, the driving purpose of this feigned “originalism” is the desire to dismiss and diminish the legitimacy of the Reconstruction Amendments. This is why when “originalists” speak reverently of the “Founders,” they’re never talking about Thaddeus Stevens or John Bingham. “Originalism,” like white fundamentalism, claims to revere and sanctify the text, but only works if huge, essential chunks of the text are clipped away and burned with fire.



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