This post originally appeared on The Hampton Institute September 6th, 2017.
Masters of deceit are not necessarily fascists, but fascists are notorious for their nefarious use of the power of deception effectively with devastating results. The Trump regime is the most diabolical manifestation of that repressive power in US history, to date. Lies, especially big ones, deceptively called “alternative facts,” are its ideological trademark; white supremacists, deceptively sanitized as “alt-right,” form its frontline battalion in America’s culture wars; and Trump’s ruthless and relentless attacks upon the media, which he castigated in a recent rant in Phoenix as “fake news” generated by “really, really dishonest people” and “bad people” who “don’t like our country,” constitute the modus operandi of a regime hell bent on shutting up critics and shutting down any remnants of a free press that remain. This toxic combination of repressive traits is not altogether new on the historical stage. Big lies were the ideological weapons of choice in Hitler’s propaganda arsenal; institutionalized racism degenerated abysmally into the fascist final solution of the Third Reich; and critics of the Nazi regime ended up in foreign exile or in early graves.
However, Trump is no American re-incarnation of Hitler, and his regime is not a fully fascist one. Trump is merely the gateway drug to a fascist America. That is what makes it so ominous, but also so vulnerable to decline and defeat before it transitions any further toward fascism. Its antithesis, America’s democratic institutions and what’s left of the American Left, though battered and bloodied, remains mostly unbowed but only partially unleashed. Essential for a broader and fuller unleashing of anti-fascist forces at this critical juncture in American history is a deeper understanding of the neonatal fascist nature of the Trump regime and its racist reliance upon a perverted faith-based false consciousness for its mass base at the bottom, and a pervasive theological social Darwinism for its delusions of grandeur at the top of our highly stratified and increasingly polarized social order.
While religion in its politically hijacked forms has repeatedly proven itself to the opiate of the masses, the Trump regime represents a contemporary illustration of how a viciously perverted form of Christianity has become the hallucinogen of the elite. An ideological profile of Trump’s evangelical advisory board reveals each of its 24 members (almost uniformly rich white men) to be hopelessly mired in the theological swamp of the Prosperity Gospel or Christian Zionism, or typically both. In true social Darwinist fashion, the money-worshipping Prosperity Gospel (unlike the liberating Social Gospel) embraces the elitist notion that God’s favor rests upon the wealthy, especially the super-rich, who are best equipped spiritually and empowered financially to run a nation under God. Among the most ardent proponents of the Prosperity Gospel on Trump’s evangelical advisory board is Ken Copeland, who has an estimated net worth of $750 million and claims that his vast wealth is “the assignment that the Lord gave me.” He resides in a $6 million mansion and regularly uses his $20 million private jet to spread the “good news” about prosperity through Jesus around the country and world. “God’s Will concerning financial prosperity and abundance is clearly revealed in the scriptures,” according to the website of the Ken Copeland Ministries, which operates from a 1500-acre campus near Forth Worth, Texas, with a staff of some 500 employees. Paula White, who gave Trump a bible signed by the evangelist patriarch Billy Graham and prayed for Trump at the 2016 RNC, successfully solicits large donations for her New Destiny Christian Center in Florida by claiming God will reward generous donors with special favors. Jentezen Franklin, pastor of two megachurches, routinely flies in his private jet between Georgia and California in order to provide Sunday services in multiple locations on the same day. Evangelical advisory board members, along with the nearly one thousand evangelical pastors who met privately with Trump in June 2017 as well the many who prayerfully “laid hands” upon him in the Oval Office, evidently all conveniently ignore the biblical passage (Luke 16:13) clearly stating that “You cannot serve both God and Money.”
To praise the power elite as God’s chosen class, as proponents of the heretical Prosperity Gospel essentially do with their self-serving hijacking of Christianity, is an ideological stratagem to enlist the elite, particularly high-ranking political officials, in the crusade by right-wing evangelicals to create a Christian theocracy in America within a fascist framework. Foremost in that evangelizing crusade is Ralph Drollinger, head of Capitol Ministries, who has for years conducted weekly bible study sessions for over 50 select members of the US House and Senate. With the 2016 election of Trump, Drollinger has been given unprecedented access to the White House and the Cabinet with his indoctrination lessons designed to sanctify their evil deeds and feed their hallucinations of being God’s instruments. In his picture booklet, Rebuilding America: The Biblical Blueprint, Drollinger fancies himself as a modern-day Apostle Paul with a God-appointed mission of “winning government authorities for Christ” (p.4) and “discipling political leaders for Christ” (p. 30) in preparation for the “Future Tribulation Period” when “wars will erupt, natural disasters will occur, and persecution will be common for all of Christ’s followers” (p. 53) followed ultimately by a “1,000-year-long Millennial Kingdom” in which the “redeemed by Christ will be given the privilege to rule with Him, under Him, on earth” (p. 57). This projection of mass slaughter followed by universal Christian hegemony is, of course, sheer madness, but one increasingly embraced by the Trump regime and its deep commitment to Christian Zionism.
Despite its name, Christian Zionism has precious little in common with authentic Christianity or Judaism. Thoroughly embedded in violent racism and virulent dogmatism, Christian Zionism’s uterine sibling is fascism. Both reactionary social movements rely upon widespread false consciousness among a distressed social base easily manipulated and deluded into thinking that an alien Other is the enemy. For the Nazis, the scapegoats were the Jews and many other targeted groups, particularly Marxist political opponents. For Christian Zionists it is Islam and the Muslims, particularly “radical Islamic terrorists,” the label Trump relishes for his denunciation of Muslims and Islam.
Though embraced to varying degrees by every member of Trump’s evangelical advisory board, the most vocal and passionate advocate of Christian Zionism is only a heartbeat away from the presidency. Vice President Pence has a longstanding friendship and close working association with John Hagee, the pastor of a right-wing megachurch in Texas and founder of the influential Christians United for Israel (CUFI), a rabidly anti-Muslim and pro-Israel organization which boasts some 3.3 million members. Ever since its founding in 2006, Pence vigorously and vocally supported CUFI as a US Congressman and Indiana Governor. As the Vice President addressing CUFI’s 12th annual summit in July 2017, Pence had nothing but laudatory praise for “the largest pro-Israel organization in the USA” and its founder, John Hagee, “my friend,” whom he profusely thanked for his “leadership on behalf of this nation and the Jewish state of Israel.” In the course of his relatively short speech before thousands of CUFI members, the Vice President explicitly identified Israel as America’s “most cherished ally” three separate times; he also identified Trump as a “tireless friend of the Jewish state of Israel”; stated his conviction that the formation of modern Israel revealed the “hand of heaven”; proclaimed that he and Trump will “stand with Israel forever”; and ominously declared Iran to be “the leading state sponsor of terrorism”.
Pence is a sponsor of Drollinger’s bible study sessions in the White House; and, given his strong commitment to Christian Zionism, it is no surprise that Drollinger would identify him as a modern-day Mordecai, a high-ranking Jew from ancient Persia who, according to the book of Esther, saved his people from persecution and destruction. However, to do so, Mordecai had the leader of the alleged conspiracy, Haman, along with his ten sons, summarily hanged; issued an order to kill all who would harm Jews; and consequently slaughtered some 75,000 Persians with his retributive pogrom. In this context, it is unnerving to note that Hagee, Pence’s good friend, identified Iran (modern Persia) as equivalent to Nazi Germany and its former leader (Ahmadinejad) as the “new Hitler.” Pence himself defines Iran as the world’s leader in state-sponsored terrorism, and vowed that the US would never allow this Muslim nation to have any nuclear weapons. If people and nations are treated as they are defined, then the operative labels imposed by Christian Zionists upon undesirable others, particularly Muslims and Iran, constitute an open invitation to racist violence, ethnic cleansing and imperialist war, even nuclear war. For all of Trump’s bluster about hitting North Korea with “fire and fury like the world has never seen,” it is perhaps a would-be President Pence, guided by the bizarre and barbaric notions of Christian Zionism which embrace inevitable cataclysmic war in the Middle East as the fulfillment of biblical prophecy, that poses the greater threat to world peace.
Racism, particularly white supremacy, is also no stranger to the Trump regime or its evangelical advisory board. A recent reaffirmation of racism’s operative presence in the Trump White House came with the official pardon in late August 2017 of “America’s toughest sheriff.” Joe Arpaio, who once bragged that his open-air tent city jail was run like a “concentration camp” and who was convicted of criminal contempt rooted in his sordid legacy of illegal Latinx profiling. A more revealing reaffirmation of operative racism in both the White House and its evangelical advisory board came earlier that same month. In the wake of Trump’s revealing “many sides” comments, placing anti-racist protestors on a moral and behavioral equivalency with the violent white supremacists gathered in Charlottesville to spew their hatred and to attack, with murderous results, counter demonstrators, one of Trump’s most ardent supporters and a member of the evangelical advisory group, Jerry Falwell Jr, praised the US President for his “truthful statement” and attacked the media for “trying to paint this as Republican vs. Democrat; Black vs. White; and Jew vs. Gentile.” The only remaining Black board member, Mark Burns, directed his public criticism only at the counter protestors; and a third member, Robert Jeffries, who once labeled Catholicism as a “pagan religion” and claimed God placed Trump into the US presidency, blamed the media for allegedly distorting Trump’s racist remarks. No member criticized Trump for his implicit endorsement of the violent display of fascism and racism at this watershed moment in US history.
Many of the white supremacists gathered in this “Unite the Right” demonstration in Charlottesville carried symbols of Christianity as part of their self-identification to continue the racist legacy of the KKK and its iconic burning cross. Members of the Traditionalist Worker Party, a fascist group that advocates for racially “pure nations” and an end to “anti-Christian degeneracy,” wore a shirt adorned with an Orthodox Christian cross, the logo of the Neo-Confederate League of the South (LOS), whose goal is to establish a Christian theocratic state. And the leaders of the Traditional Youth Network (TYN), another prominent group in the “Unite the Right” movement, describe ideal activists for their racist causes as “warriors for the cross.” Even loudly chanted by many torch-bearing fascist marchers, many proudly displaying the swastika, was the Nazi call for “blood and soil” (Blut und Boden). These are among the openly Christian fascist groups and individuals in America, all of which warmly welcomed the triumph of the Trump regime and envision it as a major breakthrough toward the eventual realization of white nationalism and white supremacy as official ruling forces in a future fascist America.
For their demonic goal to be thwarted, a qualitative change in both objective and subjective conditions is needed. Fascism relies upon two major conditions for its existence and growth: failed or failing systems in objective reality and mass false consciousness in subjective social reality. Both are present at alarming levels in contemporary America, and have been for some time. Objectively, the gap in wealth/income/power between the elite and the mass population in the United States has never been greater than it is today. Similarly, with perhaps the exception of the Great Depression, there has never before been a time of greater systemic failures in the social fabric of American life than now. Such dysfunctional objective conditions are fertile ground for right-wing political extremism propelled by false consciousness at the bottom and unbridled greed at the top of an increasingly polarized racial and social hierarchy. Pronounced false consciousness has been a standard feature of American society for decades, especially when it comes to the concept of class. Rather than defining class on the basis of ownership of sources of wealth and means of production, it is commonly defined and treated, even within social science, as nothing more than an income level resulting in the mass perception of a normative middle class and two deviant groups, one commonly hated and the other functionally envied, known as the poor and the rich. The poisonous harvest of this rampant false class consciousness came in the electoral victory of a racist, misogynistic billionaire perceived by millions of working-class voters as somehow representative of their interests.
A false political consciousness echoes this false class consciousness. Once vibrant and diverse enough to encompass every and any modern political allegiance, the viable political spectrum in American has narrowed itself to a functional dichotomy of only “liberals” and “conservatives” along with their operative political parties, Democrats and Republicans, two wings of the same bird of prey. The extent to which politicians and voters march lock step to these designations is as common in practice as it is dangerous to democracy in theory. Objectively, most Americans are not affiliated with either major party and therefore have their interests effectively marginalized or entirely excluded from representation. Subjectively, however, most would define themselves as conservatives in the raging culture wars, and identify liberals as an out-group which does not embrace traditional American values, but instead promotes calls for sinful and deviant behaviors. Such false consciousness is an ideal setting for fascist wolves in conservative shepherd clothing, a reality which has increasingly confronted the Republican Party in recent years leading to the Trump triumph.
However, the greatest vehemence in politics is reserved for false faith consciousness. Christian fascism, an oxymoron in reality, relies upon an inversion of Christianity in the mindset of its deluded evangelical mass base, which overwhelmingly voted for Trump and continues to unabashedly support him despite his plummeting approval ratings within the general population. The only “real Christian.” in their warped worldview, is an “evangelical born-again Christian,” an identity which precludes being a liberal but mandates allegiance to conservative principles and politicians, especially ultra-right ones. Only those who explicitly identify themselves as “evangelical born-again Christians” (i.e. social conservatives) are among the chosen few destined to deliver a chosen people and nation under God into the promised land. All others are not only marginalized out-groups, but outcasts ultimately destined to spend eternity in hell after desired exclusion from political office on earth. Such is the operative mindset of Christian fascism, and it is rampant within influential segments of American society today. The Trump regime has catapulted it, along with Christian Zionism and white nationalism, into the highest offices of our troubled land, an unmitigated American tragedy which should and must be a clarion wake-up call to us all.
To paraphrase a bit of social wisdom, all that is necessary for this emergent evil to triumph totally is for good folks to do nothing. As our Declaration of Independence, composed by a former resident of the Charlottesville area, Thomas Jefferson, exhorts American citizens then and now: “when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.” And as a great American, Frederick Douglass, prophetically proclaimed: “power concedes nothing without a demand… The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress.” It is time for Americans, the openly and latently oppressed, to do our duty and firmly close the gate on this tyrannical gateway drug known as the Trump regime before more damage by more potent and pernicious forces of fascism is inflicted upon us and all of humanity.