Trump’s inner circle really calls itself “Trump World” now. Don’t laugh: It’s a sign of growing power and strength
Trump’s inner circle really calls itself “Trump World” now. Don’t laugh: It’s a sign of growing power and strength
Tucker Carlson (Fox News, 9/27/21) interviews far-right Polish President Andrzej Duda.
When Fox News host Tucker Carlson (Fox News, 9/27/21) interviewed Polish President Andrzej Duda, Carlson began by lamenting of the United States, “Has a better country ever been led by worse people?” That’s why, he explained, he tries to interview “leaders on this show from other countries who actually care about their people.”
Duda, through a translator, illustrated this by declaring his opposition to
the so-called quota system of which was proposed by some of the EU member states, which means that every single country would have to accept a given number of migrants.
He also pledged his support for the Polish constitutional declaration that “marriage is the union of a man and a woman,” since “families have to be supported as strong as they can, because family is the foundation of every nation. Everything is based on family.”
The policy prescriptions to support families Duda promoted on the show could have come from NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio. The government was offering welfare payments to families with children, Duda boasted to Carlson.
But Duda’s record is much uglier than was reflected in the interview. The Polish president, as Carlson noted, was suggested as a guest by Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, whom Carlson also recently visited and interviewed (8/5/21), heralding his notorious campaign for “illiberal democracy” as a model for the modern US right (FAIR.org, 8/3/21). Carlson has also engaged socially with far-right Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro (Daily Beast, 3/13/20), who has championed anti-environmentalism and anti-gay extremism (NPR, 1/1/19; Washington Post, 2/18/19).
President Andrzej Duda addressed 200,000 people at a march in Warsaw organized by nationalist and far-right groups. (cc photo: Konrad Lembcke)
Poland this year introduced a “near-total ban on abortion,” resulting in “huge protests,” because a “majority of Poles oppose” such strict measures (BBC, 1/28/21). Duda ran on an anti-gay platform, and as a result of his victory, “dozens of Polish municipalities have enacted ‘LGBT ideology free zones,’” forcing “members of the gay community in this European Union member state [to] fear for their safety” (PBS, 8/29/21).
European Union opposition has blunted the homophobic campaign: Reuters (9/27/21) reported that “three Polish regional councils voted…to repeal motions declaring their provinces ‘LGBT-free zones’” after the EU threatened to withhold funds. But Duda signed a so-called “Family Charter” that “opposes same-sex marriage and adoption rights, as well as comprehensive sexuality education in schools” (Human Rights Watch, 2/24/21).
The country’s harsh anti-migration stance has likewise raised concerns within the United Nations and the European Union, especially after “three migrants died on the Polish side of the border” with Belarus (UN News, 9/21/21; Reuters, 9/24/21).
Poland also drew scorn when it approved a “law that will make it harder for Jewish people to recover property lost during and after World War II,” claiming that the government has faced a “period of legal chaos” (BBC, 8/16/21). The Jewish Telegraphic Agency (8/15/21) explained that, in actuality, the law “is a clear continuation of the country’s right-wing government’s longstanding crusade to separate itself from the effects of Nazi war crimes,” as the regime made it “illegal to blame Poland for any Holocaust atrocities, despite the fact that many Poles collaborated with the Nazis.”
The Polish government has attacked press freedom, as the nation “slipped from 18th place in a World Press Freedom Index compiled by Reporters Without Borders…to 64th, its lowest-ever ranking” (Economist, 8/14/21). Using the excuse of trying to deter Chinese and Russian interference in Polish media, lawmakers introduced a controversial bill that would prevent “non-European shareholders from owning a majority stake in Polish media companies” (HRW, 8/12/21).
Most recently, the Committee to Protect Journalists (10/6/21) blasted the Polish government for seizing laptops, phones and other equipment from journalist Piotr Bakselerowicz of Gazeta Wyborcza, Poland’s second-biggest daily. CPJ said the Gazeta‘s “journalists have faced smear campaigns by pro-government media outlets, as well as defamation and privacy lawsuits by politicians and state-linked companies.”
And what has happened to Poland’s independent court system? The EU has fined the country over “new laws that were deemed to undermine judicial independence” (AP, 9/7/21), while Amnesty International (1/9/20) called the court restructuring “the end of the separation of powers in Poland.” A Council of Europe anti-corruption taskforce (9/27/21) noted that Poland’s “developments regarding disciplinary proceedings against judges…have left judges increasingly vulnerable to political control.”
Carlson interviewing Hungarian fascist leader Viktor Orban for Tucker Carlson Tonight (8/2/21).
In many ways, Duda’s Poland resembles the Hungary that Carlson is so enthusiastic about, as Orban’s cultural extremism mirrors Poland’s renegade traditionalism. According to the European Federation of Journalists (12/3/19), Hungary has “dismantled media independence, freedom and pluralism, distorted the media market and divided the journalistic community in the country,” thus creating government “media control unprecedented in an EU member state.”
The Brookings Institution (7/24/19) noted that Hungary’s ruling Fidesz party’s “campaign against immigration exploits Hungarian society’s objection to ‘others,’” and Reuters (7/7/21) reported that Hungary “rejected a demand from the European Commission and many EU lawmakers to repeal new legislation banning schools from using materials deemed to promote homosexuality.” Organized labor’s hatred of the Fidesz regime makes the Hungarian leader a perfect poster boy for the American right: Thousands of workers protested “new law that allows employers to ask staff to work up to 400 hours of overtime per year. Employers can delay these overtime payments for up to three years,” which protesters called a “slave law” (NPR, 12/16/18).
Carlson’s embrace of politicians with these kinds of records is no accident. The Brookings Institution (6/24/21) also criticized then-President Donald Trump—to whom Carlson has remained fiercely loyal—for hosting Duda at the White House, as the group claimed Duda’s “tenure as president has been characterized by democratic backsliding and the shrinking of civic space for the exercise of fundamental rights,” and the New Yorker (7/7/17) reported that Trump gave Duda “a political boost” with his visit to Poland in 2017.
Interviewing a political leader isn’t necessarily an endorsement. Yet Carlson, who is still the top-rated US cable news host (Deadline, 8/31/21), has gone out of his way to overtly support European leaders who have horrified the human rights community: When he described his interview with Duda as part of an effort to spotlight international leaders “who actually care about their people,” he noted “that’s why we went to Hungary this summer to talk to Viktor Orbán.” These aren’t disinterested Q&As. These are public relations events to promote governments Carlson thinks are good.
These two European leaders have prompted revulsion not just because their platforms are politically extreme, but because they stand against the very ideals—multiculturalism, transnationalism, gay rights and openness in media and academia—that were meant to prevent the kind of nationalistic and authoritarian fervor that resulted in World War II.
Tucker Carlson (9/22/21): Biden is trying “to change the racial mix of the country…to reduce the political power of people whose ancestors lived here.”
Carlson (Daily Beast, 9/23/21) has also repeatedly advocated the “great replacement theory,” most recently citing it by name in regard to the ongoing violence against Haitian immigrants by US border enforcement agents. Biden, Carlson (9/22/21) charged, is trying
to change the racial mix of the country…to reduce the political power of people whose ancestors lived here, and dramatically increase the proportion of Americans newly-arrived from the Third World….
In political terms, this policy is called “the great replacement,” the replacement of legacy Americans with more obedient people from far-away countries. They brag about it all the time, but if you dare to say it’s happening they will scream at you with maximum hysteria.
This theory is the cockamamie idea, first espoused in France but later exported elsewhere, that liberal Western governments promote immigration as a kind of quiet genocide, as new, often non-white immigrants “replace” what Carlson called, in this country’s case, “legacy Americans.”
What’s interesting about the “replacement theory” is that Duda, in his interview with Carlson, taunted Poland’s political opposition by noting that his party received the most votes, so therefore the government wasn’t dissuaded by criticism of its actions: The arguments the “opposition are saying about the current Polish government” are “totally untrue,” he declared, “and the best proof of that is the fact that the incumbent government has won the election.”
Leaked chat messages (Media Matters, 3/8/19) show members of white supremacist Identity Evropa see Carlson as “a lone voice of reason in the media,” consciously working to “nudge people further to the right.”
The assertion that any policies are OK as long as a majority votes for them is what US conservatives like to call the “tyranny of the majority,” which is why they defend anti-democratic institutions like the Senate and the Electoral College. But the message Duda and Carlson share is this: If more immigrants come, it will be harder for us to rule them.
Add that to the long list compiled by journalists and civil rights organizations that show Carlson has promoted white supremacist ideas on his show before: His show has been accused of airing nods to white nationalist slogans like the “14 words” (Independent, 7/9/20), and has the support of white nationalist groups like Identity Evropa (Forward, 3/14/19).
Lump that with what Carlson (9/28/21) said just a day after his Duda interview: “What’s dying is the faith that created Western civilization—Christianity,” which has been replaced by “the cult of coronavirus.” As bizarre as that might sound, the eeriness is clear: America’s Christian fabric is being undone by secular reason, so the secular reason must be stomped out not just by religious sentimentalism, but one very specific religion over all others.
Yale philosophy professor Jason Stanley, author of How Fascism Works, told FAIR in a phone interview that Hungary and Poland have many of the same characteristics of Nazi rule before World War II. “We’re not looking at the imperialism that’s characteristic of fascism,” he said, noting that neither country has increased its military might to threaten its neighbors. “But we’re looking at states that are ultra-nationalist, targeting the rule of law, eliminating democratic institutions and targeting the press.”
It’s alarming that Carlson and Fox are making this so central to their message, he said, because it fits neatly with the Republican campaigns of voter suppression, stacking the courts and discrediting a free press. “You could take over the courts and transform the country into a one-party state with harsh gerrymandering,” Stanley said.
There’s a banal angle here, too, because under all the rhetoric from these regimes is just self-interested corruption: Reuters (3/15/18), for example, exposed how the Hungarian regime lets the prime minister’s friends and family pillage its treasury. The ultimate goal for Carlson, Stanley said, is to emulate how these countries have united voters against minorities and democratic institutions, while economic elites tied to the regime use the country as their own personal piggy bank. “It’s quite clear that’s what the Republican Party wants, to unite the billionaires and the religious right,” Stanley said.
Tucker Carlson tells guest Jesse Kelly (Fox News, 3/25/21; Daily Beast, 3/25/21): “At some point, people are going to say, ‘Why should I follow the rules?’… We are moving toward actual extremism because they’re undermining the system that kept extremism at bay.”
And yet the cataloging of Carlson’s record, and the mounting evidence of his fascist tendencies, appear to lift his status, not just at Fox but in the right-wing generally. After the Anti-Defamation League attacked Carlson for his most recent invocation of the “great replacement theory,” Florida Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz (USA Today, 9/28/21) fired back in defense of Carlson, charging, “The ADL is a racist organization.” The message is clear: a Jewish civil rights organization is clearly a racial enemy if it criticizes Fox’s nativist message, according to this bombastic but influential conservative lawmaker.
At the least, Carlson accepts the notion that the conservative movement is inching in an authoritarian direction, as he agreed that the perceived depravity of the current administration will make it likely that the right will “pick a fascist” to be its leader (Daily Beast, 3/25/21). He is not simply aligning with the country’s conservative movement, which would be par for the course at Fox. He is telling his many viewers that the United States should mimic countries that pine for a world that led us to two world wars, where the press is reined in by strong leaders and where sexual minorities are deemed a deviant threat to the national fabric.
Americans might take comfort in the fact that the United States is too pluralistic, and its constitution too strong, for its political class to sink into the narrowness of Poland or Hungary’s medieval provincialism. But from the recent violence against Haitian immigrants to the near-ban on abortions in Texas taking effect, one can clearly see the emergence of little Polands and Hungaries all over the country. And that very much indicates that Carlson, given his influence as one of the country’s top media personalities, is steering the right into a loose global confederation of illiberal political movements.
She even called out Kevin McCarthy by name for his efforts to obstruct her committee’s investigation into Jan. 6
Author of “White Evangelical Racism” explains how a specific strain of Christianity became a toxic political force
Photo Credit: by nito/Shutterstock
The latest Judith Butler story goes like this: Butler, a renowned philosopher and queer theory bigwig, did an interview with Jules Gleeson of The Guardian. The interview was published on September 7, 2021: social media instantly exploded over Butler’s assertion that so-called “trans-exclusionary radical feminists” (otherwise known by their opponents as TERFs) “have allied with rightwing attacks on gender.” Thus, they “will not be part of the contemporary struggle against fascism.”
In typical social-media style, Lefties were elated; TERFs, vindictive.
In chapter two of the drama, however, The Guardian then released an edited version of the interview that omitted Gleeson’s original question and Butler’s controversial three-paragraph answer. The Guardian explained this stunning journalistic reversal by claiming that Gleeson’s question did not meet its journalistic standards—even though Gleeson offered to revise the question rather than cut the passage.
Cries of censorship exploded all over social media. Of course.
In the aftermath of this mess, I recommend that you read Butler and Gleeson’s original text (hat tip to the Internet Archive’s quick work in saving it). Where the social-media buzz was impassioned and Manichean, the interview itself is refreshingly nuanced, easy to understand, and intellectually rigorous. And let’s be clear: Butler did not, in fact, “call TERFs fascists.” They did something much more useful: they situated TERFs within the context of the larger conservative movement to confine gender to a binary, and described how fascism feeds on biological essentialism, whether it comes from the right or the left.
In other words, TERFs don’t have to be “fascists” to contribute to the political conditions on which fascism thrives.
In the wake of the Texas Fetal Heartbeat Law, Laura Briggs called the statute’s tight control of women’s bodies “creeping fascism.” Butler develops this argument further, challenging us to go beyond simplistic accounts of both conservative backlash and fascism. It’s too easy, and incorrect, to say that conservatives “hate,” and progressives are completely allied with, women and trans people. Analyzing conservatism through the lens of hatred reduces it to an overly simplified war of groups identity: straight people against gays, cis-gendered people against trans people, men against women.
It’s not how the world works, for one. But it also only adds fuel to the fire for conservatives, who are all too eager to claim that the progressive left is nothing more than an army of fragmented identities, each asking for a share of the proverbial pie.
By contrast, Butler rejects identity politics. As they explain in the original interview:
“If we base our viewpoints only on particular identities, I am not sure we can grasp the complexity of our social and economic worlds or build the kind of analysis or alliance needed to realize ideals of radical justice, equality, and freedom. At the same time, marking identity is a way of making clear how coalitions must change to be more responsive to interlinked oppressions.”
What made TERFs so angry? That Butler is a feminist who refuses to reify the category of “woman” as a principle point of knowledge for dismantling patriarchy.
Why does Butler think this way? Because their feminism operates not from a place of fear, but from a place of creativity—a place of, to quote civil-rights icon John Lewis, “good trouble.”
If you’ve ever talked to a TERF, you know that fear is crucial to their feminism. They are afraid of cisgender men, of trans people, of non-binary people—they are even afraid of other cisgender women who refuse the logic of TERFdom. Like many conservatives, theirs is a politics of scarcity: there are not enough resources for “women” as it is, so newcomers to the party are seen as taking things—jobs, starting positions on varsity field hockey, locker room space—that properly belong to what they call “natal women.”
Among its other traits, fascism is an ideology that relies on fear. As a modern ideology, it was built on the principle that for society’s largesse to be equitably shared, the recipients of those benefits need to be pure agents of the ideal state—racially pure, sexually pure, and ideologically pure. For fascists, the role of the state is not to negotiate difference, but to eliminate it. For fascists, gender is not a category, but a fact: a clear, naturally-occurring binary whose opposing poles contribute to a healthy and balanced society that is free from fear.
According to the tenets of trans-exclusionary radical feminism, “women” deserve equality as women. Women have been oppressed by “men.” Men are violent, dangerous, and unrestrained. Trans women, according to TERFs, are “biologically male,” and therefore embody all of the above traits.
In fact, TERFs’ anti-trans agenda is built on the implication that trans women are not just men, but worse than men. Violent and dangerous because of the sex they were assigned at birth, TERFs accuse trans women of willfully invading “single-sex” spaces and—this has emerged most prominently in the debate over athletics—stealing opportunities from cisgender women.
According to TERFs, maleness is the source of women’s oppression and “authentic” femaleness, the source of women’s liberation, and thus something to be cherished and protected. TERFs believe that sexual categories are innate, binary, and unchangeable, and that a just society can only emerge from a balanced gender/sex binary in which maleness is no longer dominant.
Needless to say, queer theory’s central project is to explode not just the binary, but gender itself: thus, for TERFs, queer theory—and the activisms and new identities it has produced—are an aberration of feminism. As one TERF activist wrote in The Guardian in 2017, “Queer politics positions gender as an innately held identity. The radical feminist understanding is that gender exists as a political system, not an identity.”
This is, of course, not only hypocritical, but a gross misunderstanding of queer politics and queer theory. As Butler explains in their own recent interview, the word “queer” was conceived by early activists as a way of “affiliating with the fight against homophobia. It began as a movement opposed to the policing of identity—opposing the police, in fact.”
Like all prominent struggles led by marginalized groups, however, queer movements have been reduced by their detractors to “mere” identity politics (itself a term coined by Black feminists to express the possibility of creating new, broad-based social movements). And ironically, TERFs, like conservative critics of transgender people, discount the radical potential of queerness by claiming that identity is a flimsy basis for politics—while basing their own activism on the need to protect female identity as exclusive and unique.
TERFs share a penchant for vigilante justice with the drafters of Texas’s SB8 bill, which mobilizes private citizens to punish people seeking and providing abortions. For TERFs, any cisgender woman has a “right” to identify and examine anyone she perceives to be “biologically male,” expose them, expel them from the “single-sex” space they have supposedly invaded— whether it is a bathroom, a locker room, or a soccer field. And, like Texas abortion vigilantes, TERFs claim to be “protecting” women—and, increasingly, children, as we’ve seen with the new anti-trans obsession with sports.
But what is really being protected here? The purity of the female body: one that matches the sex it was assigned at birth and carries out the “natural” functions of that sex.
The antidote to fascism is not feminism, but queerness—a theory and a politics built on the notion that nothing is natural and no one owns the truth of gender. Because gender is, as historian Joan Scott puts it, a “primary way of signifying relationships of power,” queerness also teaches us that no one owns, or should own, the key to power. Queerness is not about the right to have an identity, but about the right to question its source and its meaning, and by doing that, question the society that determines those identities.
As Butler reminds us, gender is “a struggle, a way of dealing with historical constraints and making new realities.” A truly radical feminism is not one that depends on exclusion, but one that questions power—its sources, its language, and its effects—and welcomes anyone who is willing to take part in that questioning to join the fight.
Hannah Leffingwell is a PhD candidate at New York University in the departments of History and French Studies. Her work centers on the intersections of queer identity, feminism, and social justice. Her first chapbook, A Thirst For Salt, was published by Gazing Grain Press in 2018. @hanleffingwell
Authoritarians know how to play on the gender anxieties of insecure men, building up an army of bitter chumps
We are caught between a dying world — which we cannot save — and a new one being born. We must face that choice
“Live free or die: death is not the worst of evils.” — General John Stark, 1809 If you’re a defender of human rights, the news can be a hard thing to read and/or watch. Every day, some powerful piece of crap wearing a suit (or powerful pieces of crap wearing suits) are trying to take […]
By J. Richard Marra
On May Day 2016, well before the election of Donald J. Trump, the Boston Globe published, “‘Never forget,’ the world said of the Holocaust. But the world is forgetting.” In it, Jeff Jacoby worries about its implications for a world experiencing a resurgence of violent right wing political extremism. For American Marxists, the timing may seem ironic. On the day of global celebration for the working class, they are reminded of both the horrors of fascism and their duty to unceasingly oppose it.
Marxist and other commentators appreciate the toxicity of fascism. However, their explanations regarding its features, organization, and operations differ. Each has enriched our understanding, while also introducing a disconcerting complexity and diversity. Accordingly, anti-fascists should aim at simplicity when considering historical fascism and Trump’s ‘neofascism.”
The libertarian commentator George Will understands:
So many excitable Americans are hurling accusations of fascism, there might be more definitions of “fascism” than there are actual fascists. Fascism, one of the 20th century’s fighting faiths, has only faint echoes in 21st-century America’s political regression.
Furthermore, there are problems regarding recognizing fascism and justifying claims about specific political regimes. James P. Cannon recognized this in 1954 with reference to Wisconsin Senator Joseph McCarthy: 
Those who would judge specific American forms of fascism too formalistically by the European pattern, arbitrarily limit capitalist aggression against the workers’ movement in two forms:
They see the democratic form by which the workers are suppressed through strictly legal measures in accordance with the law and the Constitution—such as the Taft-Hartley Law, formal indictments and prosecutions for specific violations of existing statutes, etc….
On the other side they see the illegal, unofficial forms of violence practiced by “stormtroopers” and similar shirted hooligans outside the forms of law, as in Italy and Germany. This is characterised as fascist.
This kind of illegal violence under the outward forms of law has a distinctive American flavour; and it is especially favoured by a section of the ruling class which has very little respect for its own laws….This is, in fact, an important element of the specific form which American fascism will take….
Depending on one’s perspective, contemporary fascism might appear nowhere, or anywhere. It is nowhere in the sense that Hitler and Mussolini are dead; and America’s immigrant detention camps aren’t as horrific as Auschwitz. Yet, it can emerge anywhere because capitalism is everywhere, and capitalism is its necessary and structural accomplice. Given the right theorizing, many current capitalist regimes can exhibit fascist characteristics. For Will, fascism can occur anywhere because truculence toward liberal institutions and manners is common in social climates of political polarization and arrogance.
Three methodological problems contribute to the confusion. Consider, first, Lawrence Britt’s list of the identifying characteristics of fascism. Its items accurately capture salient features and establish a domain of likely candidate governments. Unfortunately, they don’t supply an explanation regarding how any of these, or all of these, characteristics structurally realize the fascist form of governance. Lacking context, lists of attributes can become scattered and unwieldy, and fail to account for time-sensitive social and political contingencies, as Cannon anticipates. In addition, methodologies, and the theories supporting them, evolve over time. Although their theoretical “hard core” remains resistant, subordinate features may change. This may lead to reevaluations of the fascist-ness of political regimes. Finally, although Marxism, unlike capitalism, is fundamentally opposed to fascism, both are nevertheless liable to analytical bias. Will’s commitment to capitalism prevents him from even mentioning it. He strips contemporary fascism of its theoretical and historical significance, dismissing it as merely a problem regarding hostile personalities.
To avoid these problems, this account will keep largely to operational matters, focusing on structures and functions. Parsimony is exercised in establishing necessary and sufficient characteristics, and explaining such features will help us introduce context. To do so, it proposes three fundamental structural components: Governance, economy, and ideology. Following Brecht and Lund, it suggests that capitalism plays a central role in the emergence and operations of fascism. However, unlike some Marxists, this analysis stops short of characterizing fascism as an extreme form of capitalism. Accumulation remains the prime purpose of the capitalist modes of production employed within fascism. Nevertheless, capitalists must routinely acquiesce to state requirements, which conveniently include protecting and advancing profitability. Both capitalists and fascists are keenly aware that workers, unions, and communists can negatively affect accumulation and the capitalist state. This mutual need is addressed by managing unprofitable class conflict through the establishment of state-run “corporations.”
When taken together, the following three necessary characteristics, involving both structural and ideological (especially nationalistic and religious) components, sufficiently define fascism.
Governance: Unitary and authoritarian national state controlled by a despotic “Leader.”
Economy: State control of the economy through a system of sector-based corporations comprised of capitalist enterprises and labor.
Ideology: Traditionalist mythology justifying an exclusive moral exceptionalism in governmental affairs imported from 20th-century Futurism.
The key to recognizing fascism lies in appreciating how these characteristics synergize into a unique system of governance. With this in mind, let us now examine each more deeply.
Governance: The Leader Principle
The fascist state functions according to the “Leader Principle.” The “Leader” (aka Der Fuhrer, Il Duce) is the single sovereign authority over the state and its people. He/she stands atop a hierarchy of sub-leaders that govern the state’s political and bureaucratic organizations. All sub-leaders pledge total obedience to all superiors, but always and primarily to the Leader. The fascist leader is not merely a person, but the ultimate manifestation of a state dynamically driven by its moral “will.” In this way, the leader and the state are structurally and functionally identified. Mussolini writes, “the Fascist State is itself conscious and has itself a will and a personality — thus it may be called the “ethic” State….” For Mussolini and Hitler, those consciousnesses, wills, personalities, and morality are theirs.
Economy: The “Third Way”
The leader dictates the structure and operations of the second necessary feature of fascism, an economic system called the “The Third Way.” To understand the Third Way, let’s compare how capitalists, communists, and fascists manage the class struggle that Mussolini denies.
Capitalists are attentive to class struggle, especially when it interferes with profits. They know that profit comes from their private ownership of the means of production and exploitation of labor. They understand that class struggle between owners and workers is a fact of capitalist social life. Capitalists understand that every rise in workers’ standards of living — living wages, pensions, healthful working conditions — are not only costly, but are costs that directly subtract from their profits. Thus, since workers will naturally demand such benefits, capitalists work continuously to weaken the political power of workers and unions.
For communists, class struggle is a symptom of capitalist social relations; yet they recognize that it is also a tool for working-class liberation. Their aim is to eliminate private control of the forces of production, while relocating ownership across the entire society. “Come the revolution,” society will become classless. With the end of class struggle, a democratic economy is established that serves collective economic planning, and the physical and psychological well-being of workers.
Fascists place the needs of the state over all other national constituencies, including both capitalists and workers. This requires minimizing conflict between these two classes. To do this, fascists merge capitalist enterprises and unions into corporations, pairing them according to distinct economic sectors. Each corporation represents a sector of the economy wherein capitalists and labor are collectively bureaucratized, with all power vested in a state governed by an authoritarian leader.
The fascist leader principle is a relatively simple structural and operational conception, which any authoritarian state, fascist or otherwise, can implement. However, fascism couches the principle within a worldview that rejects the ideological foundations of both impotent liberal democracy and Marx’s materialist sociology. 
…the liberal State is not that of a directing force, guiding the play and development, both material and spiritual, of a collective body, but merely a force limited to the function of recording results…the Fascist State is itself conscious and has itself a will and a personality — thus it may be called the “ethic” State….
…Fascism [is] the complete opposite of…Marxian Socialism, the materialist conception of history of human civilization can be explained simply through the conflict of interests among the various social groups and by the change and development in the means and instruments of production…if the economic conception of history be denied, according to which theory men are no more than puppets, carried to and fro by the waves of chance, while the real directing forces are quite out of their control, it follows that the existence of an unchangeable and unchanging class-war is also denied – the natural progeny of the economic conception of history. And above all Fascism denies that class-war can be the preponderant force in the transformation of society….
To summarize, the ultimate aim of capitalism is to end class struggle by subjugating the working class. The ultimate aim of communism is to end class struggle by eliminating the capitalist class. The ultimate aim of fascism is to corporatize the capitalist class and eliminate a collectivized working class through the formation of an absolutely supreme leader and state.
Ideology: The Nasty Superman
Fascism has three ideological pillars. The first concerns mythology. Mussolini’s fascism is nothing without a myth:
We have created our myth. The myth is a faith, it is passion. It is not necessary that it shall be a reality. It is a reality by the fact that it is a good, a hope, a faith, that it is courage. Our myth is the Nation, our myth is the greatness of the Nation! And to this myth, to this grandeur, that we wish to translate into a complete reality, we subordinate all the rest.
The existential conception of fascism lies in an identification of a heroic people with its leader and national mythology. Consider the two fascist “philosophers” Alfred Rosenberg and Julius Evola. Rosenberg served as the Nazi Party’s Commissar for the Supervision of Intellectual and Ideological Education between1933 to 1945. Among his “scholarly” accomplishments is “The Myth of the Twentieth Century,” a uniquely turgid and mind-numbing justification of Nazi anti-Semitism and Aryanism. Julius Evola, one of the founders of 20th-century traditionalism, enjoyed a continuing relationship with Hitler, high-ranking Nazis, and Mussolini. He took Rosenberg’s work seriously enough to critique it his “The Racist Conception of History.” With Mussolini, myth and tradition join: “Tradition certainly is one of the greatest spiritual forces of a people, inasmuch as it is a successive and constant creation of their soul.”
The second foundation of fascism involves not bigotry but nastiness, its truculence finding its roots early 20th-century futurism. Evola enjoyed a brief artistic and philosophical relationship with Filippo Marinetti’s Futurist Movement. This connection is important because it exposes the second, and little remembered, ideological foundation of fascism.
Futurism speaks: 
…we shall extol aggressive movement, feverish insomnia, the double-quick step, the somersault, the box on the ear, the fisticuff.
We wish to destroy the museum, the libraries, to fight against moralism, feminism and all opportunistic and utilitarian malignancy.
We wish to glorify War – the only health giver of the world – militarism, patriotism, the destructive arm of the Anarchist, the beautiful ideas that kill, and contempt for woman.
This political grandiloquence finds translation in five of Britt’s characteristics: distain for human rights, scapegoating, hostility toward intellectuals and artists, militarism, and sexism. These attitudes and behaviors are not Trump’s alone. These come from Marinetti’s Futurist Aristocracy (1923), edited by the Italian Futurist Nanni Leone Castelli. Marinetti influenced Mussolini, a person many worldwide view as the epitome of the aggressive and spontaneous futurist hero.
Mussolini the futurist:
The Fascist accepts life and loves it, knowing nothing of and despising suicide: he rather conceives of life as duty and struggle and conquest….
[Fascism]… repudiates the doctrine of Pacifism….war [sic] alone brings up to their highest tension all human energies and puts the stamp of nobility upon the peoples who have the courage to meet it.
Fascism wants man to be active and to engage in action with all his energies….
For fascists, traditionalism and futurism are tools for cultural atonement, redemption, and political power. The cultural historian Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke appreciates Evola’s and Trump’s ideological poison. Fascism:
…speaks directly to those who reject absolutely the leveling world of democracy, capitalism, multi-racialism and technology…[Traditionalists] acute sense of cultural chaos can find powerful relief in his ideal of total renewal.
It is not surprising that Steve Bannon, an Evola enthusiast and Trump’s past political advisor, boasts, “I’m a Leninist. Lenin wanted to destroy the state, and that’s my goal too. I want to bring everything crashing down, and destroy all of today’s establishment.” Bannon’s Lenin isn’t a Marxist, but he is a futurist.
Fascism’s third necessary ideological feature is a moral “exclusive exceptionalism” in public policy and international relations, particularly justified by its traditionalist mythology. The fascist state claims the exclusive moral right to do what it wishes: no individual, group, or other nation can assert the same right. Antonio Salazar, a former Portuguese prime minister and authoritarian corporatist, explains: 
The fascist dictatorship tends towards a pagan Caesarism, towards a state that knows no limits of a legal or moral order, which marches towards its goal without meeting complications or obstacles.
And for Adolph Hitler: 
It’s a matter of indifference to me what a weak western European civilization will say about me. I have issued the command – and I’ll have anybody who utters but one word of criticism executed by a firing squad….
Governance: The Fascist Presidency
Since the Civil War, America has enjoyed reasonably stable governance. It’s democratic republic, separation of powers, and presidential term limits constrain the rise of tyranny. Capitalism is thoroughly imbedded in its politics, ideology, culture, and religion. It’s culture celebrates freedom, democracy, multiculturalism, personal individualism, and egalitarianism; suitably framed in a comforting mythology. It’s religious doctrines profess kindness, compassion, and equality among persons.
Taken together, these blessings provide Americans with a deep sense of self-identity and exceptionalism. They also offer few prospects for the rise of a hell bent authoritarian Fuhrer. Yet, for opportunists like Donald Trump, the 2016 election provided just the right circumstances for a heroic self-actualization.
Trump’s fascist handler Steve Bannon has a plan. It begins by peddling a well-known TV reality superstar and billionaire entrepreneur as a national hero for the 21st century. He is marketed as a blessed, unconventional, and unrelenting savior. His operatives then inject him into a rapaciously neoliberal capitalist party. That party seizes the opportunity to both deflect growing criticism from disgruntled workers still suffering from the 2008 capitalist crisis and a ballooning wealth gap, while simultaneously safeguarding capitalist profits. Republican spin masters publicly celebrate him in their corporate media, offering him a shot at the Presidency.
Once this leader controls the executive branch, and the Republican Party takes control of the Senate and the Supreme Court, an American fascism will command absolute political authority. It can control national production and labor policy, thus removing class struggle from the political equation. This tactic takes advantage of an increasing centralization of power in the executive branch. This situation is significantly different from the weak power structure at the top of the unstable Weimar Republic in 1930s Germany. Trump will exercise his authority, claiming the exclusive right to do what he wishes, and remain unaccountable. Since this impulsive and aggressive fascist leader is the incarnation of the state, all governmental policy and functions obediently follow suit. Anything or anyone getting in the way will be eliminated.
Trump is a worthy inheritor of Mussolini’s political persona. His distain for human rights, scapegoating, sexism, hostility toward intellectuals, and militarism is indisputable. His immigration policy, islamophobia and racism, glorification of sexual molestation, anti-science rhetoric, and massive defense spending all herald a potential American Fuhrer.
Economy and Ideology: Steve Bannon’s ‘Third-Way’
Steve Bannon’s fascism maximizes the operational efficiency of its governance, and coincidently the profitability of capitalism, through their fusion with the ideology of White-supremacist Christianity. The leader commands a Third Way that subjugates capitalist enterprises and labor under his control through corporations, in order to ameliorate class conflict. Capitalists in this new theo-economic state will enjoy growing profits as before, as workers endure neoliberal social and labor policy that reduces their political presence. Workers will live insecure existences living on subsistence wages, fearing illness, and defaulting on their college loans. They will work more hours, save little, and receive fewer benefits.
In contrast to historical fascism, the American form benefits from an enduring capitalist program to weaken labor. Trump is elected on a day when worker participation in unions is historically low. The Taft-Hartley Act, and the damage done through its original anti-communist provision, continues to block mass revolutionary efforts by workers. There are few mass demonstrations and street battles like those in Germany and Italy during the early decades of the 20th century. More recently, the Supreme Court Citizen’s United and “right to work” rulings impair union fund raising and organizing. Trump’s truculence toward both organized labor and Wall Street is consistent with a politic that abhors class struggle.
All of this comes with Bannon’s traditionalism and Judeo-Christian ethos: 
…look at the leaders of capitalism at that time [late 19th- through the 20th-centuries], when capitalism was I believe at its highest flower and spreading its benefits to most of mankind, almost all of those capitalists were strong believers in the Judeo-Christian West. They were either active participants in the [their] faith,…the underpinnings of their beliefs was manifested in the work they did. And I think that’s incredibly important and something that would really become unmoored….I don’t believe that our forefathers had that same belief.
…[S]hould we put a cap on wealth creation and distribution? It’s something that should be at the heart of every Christian that is a capitalist — “What is the purpose of whatever I’m doing with this wealth? What is the purpose of what I’m doing with the ability that God has given us, that divine providence has given us to actually be a creator of jobs and a creator of wealth?”
Bannon imagines America as a restored Judeo-Christian and capitalist nation with Trump as its leader. He revives and consecrates Americans as a new saintly and capitalist volk. The leader leads, and capitalists and workers reap the benefits. Value added: Everyone achieves salvation and immortality, as they are actualized in the form of the fascist state. For Bannon, “What Trump represents is a restoration — a restoration of true American capitalism and a revolution against state-sponsored socialism. This restoration carries the Cross, is wrapped in the American flag, and struts to the tune of a uniquely garish form of exclusive exceptionalism. MAGA emerges as a pathologically narcissistic demon in the form of Trump’s exclusive exceptionalism:
They say I have the most loyal people — did you ever see that? Where I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody, and I wouldn’t lose any voters. It’s like incredible.
George Will places the intersection of futurism and fascism within the broader context of European Enlightenment:
Fascism fancied itself as modernity armed — science translated into machines, especially airplanes, and pure energy restlessly seeking things to smash. Actually, it was a recoil against Enlightenment individualism: the idea that good societies allow reasoning, rights-bearing people to define for themselves the worthy life.
George Will correctly distinguishes “Trumpism” as a populist fad from communism as a political doctrine:
Communism had a revolutionary doctrine; fascism was more a mood than a doctrine. It was a stance of undifferentiated truculence toward the institutions and manners of liberal democracy.
Trumpism…is a mood masquerading as a doctrine, an entertainment genre based on contempt for its bellowing audiences. Fascism was and is more interesting.
Fascism is interesting precisely because it offers a compelling doctrine, a powerful system of governance, and is doggedly persistent over time and space. But, it’s also rare. Unfortunately, small samples resist generalization. Cultural, geographic, and historical variables make comparisons difficult. While Marxists understand that the boom-and-bust cycles of capitalism can lead to fascism, they don’t often synchronize with other potent proto-fascist interventions. Fascism requires a unique convergence of causes and conditions. Economically, a major crisis of capitalism, significant economic distress among workers, a burgeoning wealth gap, and strong anti-union sentiments and policies prevails. There is a social climate of fear and hostility regarding vivid internal and external threats; citizens distrust distant and detached governance. They are mesmerized by a nativist and nationalist mythology energized by mythic traditions and beliefs. The spark that ignites the inferno of fascism comes as a uniquely clever and hell-bent futurist demagogue.
It is astonishing that an otherwise intelligent species would establish such profligate stupidity, wastefulness, and destructiveness as a system of governance. But it is here and continues to threaten humanity. History begs that we never forget what fascism represents, what it does, and what it takes to remove it from our presence.
 Jeff Jacoby, “‘Never Forget,’ the world said of the Holocaust. But the world is forgetting,” Boston Globe, May 1, 2016, https://www.bostonglobe.com/opinion/2016/04/30/never-forget-world-said-holocaust-but-world-forgetting/59cUqLNFxylkW7BDuRPgNK/story.html (accessed June 5, 2021).
 George Will, “The difference between Trumpism and fascism,” The Washington Post, July 10, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/the-difference-between-trumpism-and-fascism/2020/07/09/377ae76e-c208-11ea-9fdd-b7ac6b051dc8_story.html (accessed June 8, 2021).
 James P. Cannon, “Fascism and the Workers’ Movement,” Marxist Internet Archive, Original publication March – April, 1954, The Militant, https://www.marxists.org/archive/cannon/works/1954/mar/15.htm. (accessed June 23, 2021).
 See Bertholt Brecht, “Fascism is the True Face of Capitalism,” Off Guardian, Original publication 1935, https://off-guardian.org/2018/12/01/fascism-is-the-true-face-of-capitalism/. (accessed June 23, 2021). Ernest Lund, “Fascism Is a Product of Capitalism,” Marxist Internet Archive, Original publication Labor Action September 27, 1943. https://www.marxists.org/history/etol/writers/erber/1943/09/fascism.htm. (accessed June 23, 2021).
 Lawrence Britt, “The 14 Characteristics of Fascism,” Free Inquiry Magazine, 2003, https://ratical.org/ratville/CAH/fasci14chars.pdf (accessed June 5, 2021). See also umair, “Are Americans (Really) So Dumb They Don’t Know Fascism When They See It?,” Eudiamonia, April 6, 2019. https://eand.co/are-americans-really-so-dumb-they-dont-know-fascism-when-they-see-it-34cae64efa72 (accessed May 29, 2021).
 “Nazi Conspiracy and Aggression,” A Teacher’s Guide to the Holocaust, Florida Center for Instructional Technology, 2005, http://fcit.usf.edu/HOLOCAUST/resource/document/DOCNAC3.htm.
 Benito Mussolini, “What is Fascism?,” Marxist Internet Archive, Reference Archive, Original publication 1932, Italian Encyclopedia, https://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/mussolini/works/fascism.htm. (accessed September 4, 2021).
 Franklin Le Van Baumer, ed., Main Currents of Western Thought (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1978), 748.
 Alfred Rosenberg, “The Myth of the Twentieth Century,” Internet Archive, Original publication 1930, https://archive.org/details/the-myth-of-the-20th-century-alfred-rosenberg/mode/2up (accessed September 4, 2021).
 Andrew Joyce, “Review: Julius Evola’s ‘Myth of the Blood: The Genesis of Racialism,'” Occidental Observer, September 18, 2018, https://www.theoccidentalobserver.net/2018/09/18/review-the-myth-of-the-blood-the-genesis-of-racialism/ (accessed June 9, 2021).
 Benito Mussolini, “The Doctrine of Fascism (1932),” World Future Fund, http://www.worldfuturefund.org/wffmaster/Reading/Germany/mussolini.htm (accessed September 10, 2021).
 N. L. Castelli, ed., Futurist Aristocracy (Rome: Prampolini, 1923).
 Le Van Baumer, op. cit.
 Mussolini, “The Doctrine of Fascism (1932).”
 Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke, Black Sun: Aryan Cults, Esoteric Nazism and the Politics of Identity (New York: New York University Press, 2001).
 Seth Millstein, “13 Quotes From Steve Bannon That Show The Toxic Worldview He Took To The White House,” Bustle, August 18, 2017,
https://www.bustle.com/p/13-steve-bannon-quotes-that-paint-a-diabolical-worldview-he-took-to-the-white-house-77612 (accessed May 24. 2021).
 Charles L. Stevenson, “Value-Judgments: Their Implicit Generality,” in Ethical Theory in the last quarter of the twentieth century, ed. Norman E. Bowie (Indianapolis: Hackett, 1983), 13 – 37.
 “Corporatism,” Wikipedia, Wikipedia Foundation, August 30, 2021, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Corporatism.
 Louis Paul Lochner, What About Germany? (New York: Dodd, Mead & Company, 1943), 11–12.
 “The Concept of the Imperial Presidency,” UKEssays, May 16, 2017, https://www.ukessays.com/essays/politics/the-concept-of-the-imperial-presidency-politics-essay.php (accessed September 6, 2021).
 Here, I allude to the fascist self-branding of being fundamentally opposed to both capitalism and socialism, offering a third way of social organization. See Roger Eatwell, “The Oxford Dictionary of Political Ideologies,” Oxford Handbooks Online, edited by Michael Freeden and Marc Stears, December 2013,
https://www.oxfordhandbooks.com/view/10.1093/oxfordhb/9780199585977.001.0001/oxfordhb-9780199585977-e-009 (accessed September 6, 2021).
 Jennifer A. Quigley, Divine Accounting: Theo-Economics in Early Christianity (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2021).
 U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2016 Union Membership In The United States, https://www.bls.gov/spotlight/2016/union-membership-in-the-united-states/pdf/union-membership-in-the-united-states.pdf. (accessed September 6, 2021).
 Mack Harden, “What is Taft-Hartley and Why Is It Bad?,” Emergency Workplace Organizing, April 5, 2021, https://workerorganizing.org/what-is-taft-hartley-and-why-is-it-bad-1291/. (accessed September 6, 2021).
 J. Lester Feder, “This Is How Steve Bannon Sees The Entire World,” November 16, 2016, https://www.buzzfeednews.com/article/lesterfeder/this-is-how-steve-bannon-sees-the-entire-world (accessed June 8, 2021).
 James Hohmann, “The Daily 202: Bannon will be the id, Priebus the super-ego in Trump’s White House,” The Washington Post, November 14, 2016,
https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/powerpost/paloma/daily-202/2016/11/14/daily-202-bannon-will-be-the-id-priebus-the-super-ego-in-trump-s-white-house/58292237e9b69b6085905df2/ (accessed May 31, 2021).
 Katie Reilly, “Donald Trump Says He ‘Could Shoot Somebody’ and Not Lose Voters,” Time, January 23, 2016,
https://time.com/4191598/donald-trump-says-he-could-shoot-somebody-and-not-lose-voters/ (accessed May 21, 2021).
 Will, op. cit.
Donald Trump visits the International Church of Las Vegas in October 2016. (Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images)
Outside observers and critics confronted white evangelical support for Donald Trump — not exactly a Christian-family-values figure — as a puzzle to be solved. But while many saw hypocrisy, historian Kristin Kobes Du Mez identified a number of continuities. In her book Jesus and John Wayne: How White Evangelicals Corrupted a Faith and Fractured a Nation, Du Mez argues that evangelicalism has evolved into a right-wing movement, and Trump was exactly the man many had been waiting for.
Du Mez is a professor of history at Calvin University and a Calvinist who grew up in the Christian reformed church. Her book has become a best seller and a sensational topic of debate within evangelical America.
On a recent episode of The Dig, Dan Denvir sat down with Du Mez to discuss her book, the history of American evangelicalism, and how that history got us to where we are today.
There are a lot of debates over Trump voters’ demographics and their motivations, but there’s maybe no better representative of the red-hot core of Trump’s base than white evangelicals.
There was a lot of effort to understand what was perceived to be evangelical hypocrisy. “How could family values voters support such an icon of brazen sexual immorality?” One common answer was that it was about instrumentality — that they reconciled to the candidate who could pick Supreme Court justices. But you write that Trump did not contradict evangelical values but was rather their fullest embodiment. Why?
On the surface, it absolutely seems like hypocrisy. But historically speaking, what evangelicals mean by “family values” always comes down to white patriarchal power.
If you go back to the 1960s and 1970s, during the emergence of the religious right, you see that the issues they originally mobilized around were the authority of white parents to make choices about their children in light of racial desegregation efforts, and the assertion of traditional masculinity against both feminism and antiwar sentiment in the Vietnam era. What links these things together is the assertion of white patriarchal authority. To the extent that Trump symbolized the same kind of ethos, we really aren’t talking about hypocrisy or a betrayal of evangelical values.
You write that evangelicals, more than any other religious group, support preemptive war, torture, and the death penalty. They’re the most likely to own guns, to support gun rights, to be anti-immigrant and anti-refugee.
A key part of your argument is that the culture wars were never just about what we thought they were about — about sexuality and reproduction in this narrow sense. What are the culture wars really, and what do we miss when we see them as just simply about a tradition or biblically informed objection to gay rights and abortion in particular?
There is so much more to being an evangelical than holding particular doctrinal views on sexuality or reproduction. Although these are very important, they primarily function as a kind of bridge between religious faith and nonreligious cultural ideals and political values, binding them together.
What evangelicals mean by ‘family values’ always comes down to white patriarchal power.
If you observe evangelicals and see what motivates and shapes them, the religious and the cultural and the political are always deeply intertwined. They are bound together through the media they consume, through the words they hear from the pulpit. We have to think of evangelicalism as a religious, cultural, and political identity. It’s all mixed together and impossible to separate out.
In terms of theology, you argue that the finer points don’t matter that much, at least not anymore, and that most white evangelicals are quite theologically illiterate.
Yes. The way that evangelicalism has traditionally been defined by scholars of evangelicalism and by evangelicals themselves, at least elite evangelicals, is through these four distinctives, which have come to be known as the Bebbington Quadrilateral. This four-point definition was coined by historian David Bebbington a couple decades ago. If you go to the website of the National Association of Evangelicals, you’ll find those four points.
As I was researching, I came to realize that definition didn’t get me very far at all to describe the movement. For example, on the issue of race, if you take that theological definition of evangelicalism then you can actually categorize the majority of black Protestants in America as evangelicals. But the vast majority of black Protestants who can check all of those theological boxes do not identify as evangelical. That’s because to black Protestants, it is very clear that there is so much more to being an evangelical than these theological distinctives.
And then for white evangelicals, you see that theological distinctions matter less over time. They used to matter a great deal. Questions like: What happens with the return of Christ? When does it happen? Disagreements over the existence of spiritual gifts, speaking in tongues, infant baptism versus adult baptism.
These issues have traditionally been really important in distinguishing one denomination from another. What I saw in my research is that in the last fifty to seventy-five years, those theological distinctions have receded into the background for most evangelicals. What emerged instead were these cultural and political flash points.
Instead of theological criteria, what comes to define evangelicalism is instead your stance on issues of gender and sexuality, the embrace of patriarchal authority, belief in female submission. That’s how you determine who is in and out of the fold. So we’ve arrived at the point where progressive evangelicals who can check off all those ideological boxes but have a different opinion on LGBTQ issues, for example, fall outside the evangelical fold and are ostracized. This realignment and redefinition of boundaries takes place in the last half century or so.
You write that “militant, white masculinity serves as the thread, building all of these issues into a coherent whole. A father’s rule in the home is inextricably linked to heroic leadership on the national stage, and the fate of the nation hinges on both.” How is it gender that serves as the hinge connecting what we think of as evangelical family values to evangelicals’ broader right-wing Christian nationalist worldview?
When we think of evangelical politics, often people go immediately to the family-values politics, domestic issues, and issues of sex and gender. There’s good reason for that. Evangelicals talk about that an awful lot. What is often forgotten is just how distinctive evangelical views on foreign policy are as well. I wanted to explore the connection.
The first time I became curious about the topic of evangelical masculinity was actually more than fifteen years ago, when I read John Eldredge’s Wild at Heart, which sketches a very militant and militaristic conception of Christian manhood. God is a warrior-god and men are made in his image. Every man has a battle to fight. I was startled by this. I’m a Christian myself, and that’s not really my conception of Christian manhood or Christianity. This was also back in 2005 or 2006, the early years of the Iraq War.
The book went on to sell more than four million copies. Every evangelical man, boy, and many women were reading that book. At that time I was also seeing all this survey data that white evangelicals were much more likely than other Americans to support the Iraq War, to support preemptive war in general, to condone the use of torture, to embrace aggressive foreign policy. It was just a basic question to me as a historian of gender: What might one of these things have to do with the other?
This conception of warrior masculinity is almost everywhere in conservative evangelical spaces. It is used to defend masculine leadership in the home, which is seen as the building block and fundamental organizing principle of society. Patriarchal authority — a husband’s authority over his wife and children — is directly linked to God’s will for society. You need strong leaders in the home, strong leaders in the church — also men — and strong leaders in the nation as well. You need to ensure that these men are not emasculated, that their authority is not challenged, whether it’s in the home, in the church, or in the nation.
The conventional history is that fundamentalists retreated from politics and from public life after the John Scopes “Monkey Trial” over evolution in 1925, but they then bided their time and then just exploded on the scene suddenly with Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority in the ’70s. But you write, “It was in the 1940s and 1950s that a prudent mix of patriarchal gender traditionalism, militarism, and Christian nationalism coalesced to form the basis of a revitalized evangelical identity.”
What’s revealed that’s otherwise obscured when we put the early evangelical movement where you argue it really belongs — at the center of Cold War American life?
The original narrative is that evangelicals retreated to lick their wounds after humiliating defeats, including the Scopes Trial and a failure to regain or take control of major Protestant denominations, and that they essentially disappear until they reemerge in the 1970s. That’s what it looks like to liberals and secularists.
They understood that their role was to defend American Christianity, and that required a military defense, because the threat of communism was a military threat.
But historians of evangelicalism have long argued that is not the case. Where did these people go? They started their own institutions, their own denominations, their own bible colleges, their own newsletters, their own publishing houses, and they were doing quite well.
In the late 1920s and 1930s, you see a lot of these smaller institutions being established. And then, in the early 1940s, they get together and say, “You know what, we’re doing a lot of really good work across the country, but imagine what we could do if we came together.” In 1942, they form the National Association of Evangelicals. It’s their explicit plan to exercise strength in numbers and to assert their influence over American culture and society.
They say, “We need magazines with subscribers in the tens of thousands or the hundreds of thousands. We need to take to the radio. We need to embrace Christian publishing. We need bookstores in every town and city across this country.” What’s really remarkable is that within fifteen years, they’ve accomplished all this and then some.
They believed that they were the most faithful Christians, the “faithful remnant,” the ones that held God’s truth, and so it was their duty to make sure that they exerted their influence widely over American society. This was during World War II, and we see patriotism also infusing this sense of evangelical purpose. They were the true Christians and the true Americans.
This sense of special purpose is only sharpened after the Second World War, with the arrival of the Cold War. Suddenly there was this great threat to both the nation and to Christians in the form of communism. Communism was anti-God, anti-family, and anti-American — all of the things they held most dear. They understood that their role was to defend American Christianity, and that required a military defense, because the threat of communism was a military threat.
The thing is, these values that conservative evangelicals held dear in the late ’40s were not all that different from the values held by many Americans, particularly white middle-class Americans.
That’s why they don’t, in retrospect, stand out so much, and people can think they weren’t there at all.
Exactly. This was the postwar baby boom, so traditional family values were all the rage and supported by government spending through the GI bill, for white middle-class Americans in particular. Given the Cold War consensus, they weren’t that distinctive. But what that meant is that they very much felt at the center of things, which they continued to be throughout the ’50s with the rise of their key popular figure Billy Graham.
The Cold War allowed evangelicals to map the holy war between the forces of Christ and the Devil onto America’s terrestrial geopolitical conflict with communism. How did it also play this key role in taking evangelicalism in a more thoroughly patriarchal direction as well?
The US government was really trying to emphasize the threat of communism and mobilize opposition to it. But a lot of Americans, especially coming out of World War II, didn’t really care that much at first. So there was a conscious effort on the part of the government to ratchet up a sense of urgency and crisis, and evangelicals helped in that effort. They added their own spin, which was that the fight against communism was synonymous with the fight against the Devil.
As that fight moves to the battlefields of Vietnam, things don’t go as planned. People start to ask, “What’s wrong with American manhood that we can’t defeat this enemy?” And there’s also the opposite reaction, which is you start to see a rise in antiwar activism.
The other thing that’s going on at the same time, in the 1960s and early 1970s, is dramatic social change in terms of feminism challenging “traditional” gender roles. As a historian, you always have to use scare quotes around the word traditional. In this case, we’re really talking about this breadwinner economy that only applied to certain white middle-class Americans in the 1950s and early 1960s.
Both feminism and what’s happening in Vietnam are raising some fundamental questions about gender: about what it means to be a man, what kind of men we need, what it means to be a woman. They’re also raising questions about authority.
You have student protesters disobeying university authorities. You have the antiwar movement challenging state authority. You not only have hippies who are challenging US military action but men growing their hair out and wearing flowered shirts. All of these things seemed to strike at the God-given, God-ordained social order.
That’s when evangelical values shift from being consensus values to being oppositional values in the broader culture, and also develop a particular emphasis on authority.
This first became clear to me when I looked at the writings of James Dobson. I’m not sure how familiar James Dobson is.
He’s pretty famous.
James Dobson was a household name for generations, and I would argue that if you’re going to understand the history of white evangelicalism in the last half century, he’s your guy. He’s at the center of things. He comes to prominence in the early 1970s as a child psychologist writing about how to discipline your children.
He’s like the anti–Doctor Spock.
Spock was the nurturer. Dobson looked at Spock and said, “This is exactly what’s wrong with American society. By coddling your children, you’re setting them up to become hippies.” In fact, Doctor Spock himself did become an antiwar activist, so there might be something there.
Dobson said the exact opposite of Spock. He said you need to discipline your children; you need to spank your children; you need to assert your dominance so that they learn to submit to parental authority, because the fate of the nation depends on submitting to proper God-ordained authorities. He wrote a book called Dare to Discipline.
What a title.
James Dobson is mainstream white evangelicalism, family values evangelicalism. But he was drawing from and had a lot in common with more fringe figures.
There’s another person I write about in tandem with James Dobson named Bill Gothard. Bill Gothard is this kind of shadowy figure. When I initially set out to write this book, I had no interest in writing about him because he seemed too fringe. He’s an ultra-authoritarian advice giver who also has a lot of views on how to raise and discipline children. Unlike Dobson, who was on the radio and very outward facing, Gothard did his thing through these not quite secretive, but not super open, seminars.
Hundreds of thousands of conservative evangelicals attended these Gothard seminars. In the course of my research, many mainstream evangelicals pulled me aside to ask if I’d be discussing Bill Gothard. Over time I realized just how deep his influence ran and how broad it was, just beneath the surface. You’ve heard of James Dobson, but most of your listeners probably haven’t heard of Bill Gothard.
He was drawing on the teachings of a Christian Reconstructionist theologian named Rousas Rushdoony? What is Christian Reconstructionism and how does its vision compare to the relatively more vanilla model put forward by someone like Dobson? How did that model, which is really far-right reactionary — Rushdoony was an apologist for chattel slavery — spread so far and wide throughout American evangelical Christianity?
Rushdoony was an apologist for chattel slavery, white supremacy, and misogyny. He espoused a harsh chauvinism: women shouldn’t vote, women shouldn’t go into college, women shouldn’t work outside of the home, the husband has absolute authority over every single aspect of his wife’s life. He was very far right, very extreme, very fringe. But this is part of the problem. It’s tempting to write off some of these fringe figures like Rushdoony, or even Gothard, as irrelevant extremists.
But when you start to look at the networks and start to look at the teachings and beliefs of ordinary evangelicals, you realize that it’s really difficult to distinguish the fringe from the mainstream. That actually became a theme of my research. When you look at somebody like Dobson, who is emphasizing patriarchal authority, a hierarchical authority structure, the need to submit to the God-ordained authorities, and the idea that the fate of the nation hangs on our ability to achieve proper submission to authority, and then you look at somebody like Gothard, there is not a lot of distance between the two. One is, yes, harsher and taken to the extreme, but there’s a lot of overlap.
A lot of scholars before me wouldn’t touch somebody like Rushdoony, because really quickly you can get accused of making a mountain out of a molehill. Who’s ever heard of Rushdoony, even in evangelical spaces? It’s very much, like Gothard, kind of under the surface. But if you look at popular writings on family life and child-rearing, if you look at textbooks in the homeschool network and in Christian school networks, what are they saying about chattel slavery? What are they saying about Christian America? What are they saying about gender roles? That’s where you can see the fingerprints of this Christian Reconstructionism, this very hierarchical and patriarchal structure to all of society.
Some people will only ever dabble in the mainstream version. Some people will be hardcore homeschool far right. Many people are going to be somewhere in between, and they’re going to be promiscuous consumers. If you shop in a Christian bookstore or go to your church library, or now if you go online, chances are that you’re going to have sources available to you across the spectrum. And if you venture into the more extreme articulations, they’re not going to be super shocking to you, perhaps, because you’ve already been introduced to the slightly less extreme versions of these teachings.
Phyllis Schlafly’s emergence as an evangelical star is a particularly striking illustration of theology’s fading importance as unity on these cultural principles comes into focus. Schlafly, of course, was Catholic. Evangelicals traditionally held some pretty strongly negative views about Catholics and Catholicism in the United States. What did it mean for evangelicals to unite behind a Catholic in the culture war?
Throughout much of American history, evangelicals and Catholics were not good friends. Catholics were seen as the enemy. They were not true Christians. If we look at abortion, conservative evangelicals were not lockstep pro-life, not by any stretch in the 1960s, in part because that was seen as a Catholic issue, and who wants to be like the Catholics?
But Schlafly and the evangelical movement had a lot in common. Schlafly started out as an anti-communist, rising to fame with her book A Choice Not an Echo. It wasn’t until the early ’70s that she started to care about gender and feminism. A friend brought the ERA to her attention and she initially thought, “I have bigger fish to fry here. I’m focused on anti-communism and foreign policy. Don’t waste my time.” Then she took a closer look and realized, just as evangelicals did, just how gender was linked to foreign policy — the idea that this strength of the American nation needs strong men and rugged men.
The counterpoint to that is that you need submissive, domesticated, very feminine women to play their proper role. And you need both together in the form of the nuclear family to strengthen the nation and act as a bulwark against communism, among other things, by raising boys to be strong men to fight the communists on the field of battle.
Anti-communism and gender conservatism fit so neatly together in Schlafly’s work, and this is inspiring for evangelicals. She articulates their own nascent ideas for them and puts the pieces together in a way that just makes perfect sense. Very soon they start offering their own versions of this.
From the nuclear family to the nuclear arsenal.
Exactly. And ultimately it didn’t matter so much that she was a Catholic, as she was clearly on their side where it mattered — again, not theology but cultural and political values. The traditional theological distinctions and cultural distinctions between Catholics and Protestants start to recede as we start to see these conservative values unite conservative white Catholics with conservative white evangelicals.
Later on, followed by more unity with conservative Jews and conservative Mormons.
Yes. With conservative Mormons, at this point already as well, we can see a parallel story, particularly around the issues of gender. You have conservative Mormon women also advocating these same values and they come together.
The end of the Cold War posed a problem for militarized American evangelicalism. You write, “For decades anti-Communism had been a lynchpin in the evangelical worldview, justifying militarism abroad and a militant pursuit of moral purity at home. The victory of the free world was something to celebrate. But it was also disorienting. Without a common enemy, it would be more difficult to sustain militant expressions of faith.”
Evangelicals, you write, initially found their new enemy in a so-called New World Order, which I didn’t realize was such a thoroughly evangelical idea. What was this new evil, the New World Order, that evangelicals discovered?
In the ’90s, evangelicalism was thrown into disarray. You had Pat Buchanan and the old guard saying, “We need to double down. There’s a war on. It’s not the Cold War, but it’s a war for the soul of America.” But you also had people casting about for something new and saying, “Let’s focus on global poverty. Let’s focus on global persecution of Christians. Let’s engage in anti-trafficking activism. Let’s put the old ways behind us.”
The New World Order emerged as a candidate for the new threat. There’s a longer history here too, in twentieth-century conservative fundamentalism, of different interpretations of the scriptures as prophesying an evil global order. This pops up in theology and also in Christian fiction, the idea of a totalizing force that presents itself as standing for world harmony but is not of God and therefore can only be evil. The idea is, “This is Antichrist so don’t be fooled. We have to stand against them.”
Purity culture pretty much dominated evangelical youth culture for more than a generation.
It’s a way to carry over Christian nationalism, with its emphasis on American sovereignty and exceptionalism, into a world without communism. The New World Order stuff is definitely tied to conspiracy theories of the ’90s, but again we can’t just write it off as fringe, because you see elements of it within mainstream evangelicalism too. Evangelicals started to show a lot of antagonism toward things like the UN Human Rights Commission. You would think, “Well isn’t that a good thing? Can’t we all be for human rights?” No, not at all. Some evangelicals felt it was really of the Devil and needed to be fought at every turn.
Another strand that took off in the ’90s and aughts was this vast purity culture. It emphasized both abstinence and the joys to come of marital sex. How did that movement arise and what sort of activities and institutions did it entail?
Again, there’s a longer history of teachings of sexual morality within Christian circles. But the purity culture of the ’90s is distinct. It’s inextricably linked to patriarchy, placing enormous emphasis on female modesty and female purity. The explicit idea was that a girl would be ruined if she lost her virginity before she was married. She would be cheating her future husband out of what was rightfully his, and it would probably ruin their sex life.
Meanwhile, for this whole thing to work out, boys, too, needed to not be having sex before marriage. But there was less shame there. The shame was more around masturbation and porn. In men’s circles, there was a little bit more forgiveness — boys will be boys — in terms of actually having sex before marriage. But boys were promised that they’d have mind-blowing sex as soon as they got married, if they waited.
That’s just scratching the surface in terms of what purity culture was. It was a culture. Joshua Harris’s I Kissed Dating Goodbye — he was a homeschool kid and wrote this book when he was twenty-one years old — was a massive bestseller. This really took things to an extreme: you don’t date; you court. And you court with the father’s permission. You might not even hold hands. Maybe you can hold hands, but you don’t kiss until the wedding day. And it wasn’t just Josh Harris; there was a whole market for this kind of media.
Purity culture pretty much dominated evangelical youth culture for more than a generation. If you were an evangelical kid in the ’90s, this is what you talked about in youth group. There was a whole speaking circuit where speakers would go to church youth groups and Christian schools and talk about all the bad things that happened if you had sex.
And then there were the purity balls, which still happen today. The idea is that a dad has to show his daughter what a proper romantic relationship looks like, and that her virginity is her father’s ultimate responsibility. So he will take her to one of these balls and she’ll be all dressed up, and there will be a ceremony where he bestows upon her a purity ring. As she accepts it, she promises to keep it on and remain a virgin until her wedding day, when the father literally hands her over to her husband. She is then under her husband’s authority, and can have sex and please him as God intended.
In reality, many evangelicals who received these teachings or participated in these rituals did not wait for marriage to have sex, and that has caused them decades of guilt, which many still carry. If their marriages didn’t work out, that was why, or so they were led to believe. Meanwhile, many who did wait discovered, to their deep disappointment, that married sex or their marriage itself wasn’t all that great. Overall, this culture has generated a lot of disappointment, guilt, and shame.
You write that the Promise Keepers declined after their ’90s heyday because the appeal of their soft patriarchy was fading. What filled the void were outfits like Mars Hill Church, founded in 1996 in Seattle by Mark Driscoll. It was tattooed, cursing, beer-drinking, hypermasculine, and really quite misogynistic.
Driscoll called on women in the congregation to give their husbands oral sex, warned against men being “pussified,” described women as being created by God to be “homes for men’s penises.” By 2019, Mars Hill had more than seven hundred churches all over the world.
Mars Hill was part of something called the New Calvinist movement. What was the New Calvinist movement, and how did it affect the evangelical movement?
I grew up in Calvinist Christianity. I teach at Calvin University. I still identify as a Calvinist. I came of age in the 1990s, right when we started to see this rise of New Calvinism, and at first I thought, “Yes! Good for us!”
Fun and tattooed.
I very quickly realized that there was no place for me in this New Calvinism. It was part of this swing away from the softer, gentler, kinder evangelicalism of the 1990s. The pendulum was swinging back. There was a backlash against things getting a little too soft. People started to think, “We need to toughen up. We need more rugged men. We need more masculine men in the American church.”
The book I referenced earlier, Wild at Heart, came out in 2001. James Dobson’s Bringing Up Boys also came out in 2001. Doug Wilson, again a fringe character who can tell us something about what was happening in evangelicalism, promoted a theology of fistfighting. All these folks are on the shelves in 2001 — right when terrorists strike the United States.
After 2001, this more militant, crass, misogynistic, and deeply troubling Christian masculinity starts to go mainstream. When you listen to some of Mark Driscoll’s sermons and teachings on sex, he’s absolutely abusive — shutting women down, commanding women to serve their husbands sexually because God told them to perform sex acts even if they weren’t comfortable with it. And Driscoll becomes a celebrity and role model for evangelical pastors and for an entire generation of young evangelical men. He’s platformed by eminently respectable evangelicals who at worst think he’s a little rough around the edges, but fundamentally think he gets complementarianism right.
Complementarianism is this idea that men and women are designed by God to be extremely different and have to come together to make a whole. Men are supposed to lead, preach, and fight. Women are supposed to stay at home, be feminine, and be beautiful. This is not a new idea, but a journal from the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, a theological think tank, began to spread these teachings far and wide.
The men who were most vocally promoting this militant conception of Christian manhood were also virulently Islamophobic and were promoting these horrific stories of the ‘Muslim threat,’ so reminiscent of the Communist threat a couple of generations earlier.
Meanwhile, by the 2000s, somebody like Doug Wilson, who is a blatant racist — he would contest that, but you can read his writings on slavery and how good it was — are being platformed and defended by very mainstream evangelical men like John Piper. You see somebody like Mark Driscoll saying extremely problematic things about sex and women, and exhibiting an abusive leadership style, and he is being not just platformed but praised because he’s on the right side of gender and patriarchy.
Evangelical elites are essentially saying: “We can tolerate racism. We can tolerate abuse. But cross the line on gender or sexuality, and you’re dead to us. You are out. Your books will not be sold at Lifeway Christian Books. You’re kicked out of your church. You’re going to lose your pulpit.” And that’s how these boundaries are enforced.
How did evangelicals use 9/11 to both reassert gender norms and once again steer evangelicalism ever more intensely toward Christian nationalism and militarism?
9/11 was so critical. The pendulum was already swinging and they were already rejecting this softer, gentler patriarchy of the 1990s. But after 9/11, with this new militaristic mood, the Promise Keepers suddenly seemed so embarrassing and overly emotional. So the Promise Keepers got on board, toughened up, and rebranded as warriors.
Now we have this rugged Christian manhood on steroids. Things get really colorful in the early 2000s. You have MMA [mixed martial arts] ministries. You have one account of men at a rally literally singing about their balls. But it makes perfect sense, and it fuels a very aggressive foreign policy as well. What I came to see is that many of the men who were most vocally promoting this militant conception of Christian manhood were also virulently Islamophobic and were promoting these horrific stories of the “Muslim threat,” so reminiscent of the Communist threat a couple of generations earlier.
This was the new Cold War. It was like, “Boy, things were confusing there for a decade or so, but we are back on track. We have our enemy and God is on our side.”
Does the evangelical embrace of Trump represent a turn toward the domestic liberal enemy?
It seems to be that way. We’re now at a point again where we don’t have a clear external threat to focus on and unite against. It could pop up quite quickly, as we saw after 9/11. But in the meantime, the enemy is us. Liberals, feminists, secular humanists, and so on have always stood in as one of evangelicalism’s enemies, usually aiding its biggest enemy, but now they’re kind of the primary enemy.
This is Christian nationalism — this myth that America was founded as God’s chosen nation, that it was an explicitly Christian nation, that our founding fathers were devout Christians.
Along comes Donald Trump. He is not evangelical, but he promises to protect evangelicals. And then he’s kind of baptized by James Dobson. Yes, he swears. He says bad words. He doesn’t know how to talk the talk. But he will protect us. So they give him their vote, and he gets in the White House.
Trump’s brilliance, with regard to winning and maintaining evangelical support, was his ability stoke this fear, this existential dread that “they are out to get us.” The “they” were other Americans. Not real Americans. They were immigrants, they were non-white people, they were anybody who wasn’t a Trump voter. Anybody who wasn’t an adoring Trump voter was against us.
What do you make of the fact that so many white evangelicals believe in QAnon?
It’s reminiscent of the ’90s focus on the New World Order. Evangelicals have been primed for QAnon by a decades-long suspicion of mainstream and secular media. There’s also a prophecy tradition within evangelicalism and certain evangelical bible study practices of “the mystery will be clear to you, you can read the biblical texts and you can discern what it means for you and what message it has for your life,” kind of encouraging independent interpretation. Like, “We have our own sources of truth.”
And, in part, there was the communist evil empire supplanted by Muslims and now there was a void filled by a liberal elite pedophile cabal.
What’s interesting is that evangelicals who are loyal to Trump and QAnon are in some cases turning against their own leaders, the elites in their own movement. One of the things that we’ve seen in the last five years is many evangelical pastors coming up against the limits of their own authority. If a pastor decided to speak out against Trump, there is a not insignificant chance that he would be fired and removed from his pulpit. There are voices against Trump, voices against QAnon, voices for masking and other COVID-19 measures within evangelicalism. But they get so much thrown at them that they finally say “enough is enough,” and you’ve got high-profile figures leaving the Southern Baptist Convention. So what happens to those institutions? They’re doubling down and becoming even more reactionary.
The right wing’s central obsession right now is arguably the 1619 Project and Critical Race Theory (CRT), both of which suggest that the United States is fundamentally bad in some ways.
This was one of the things that, in significant part, fueled this recent ultra-right-wing takeover attempt of the Southern Baptist Convention, a denomination that was already taken over by right-wing insurgents in 1979 and is already one of the most right-wing religious groups in this country.
Evangelicals are so protective about what America was, but then also the most pessimistic and negative about what it is now and what it has become. What does the evangelical history that you tell teach us about what has brought us to this point where politics is so polarized, in a way that I don’t know has ever happened, around US history?
It’s quite a time to be a US historian. History is a battleground. Just watching this anti-CRT movement emerge in real time has been fascinating the last couple of years. There’s a much longer history here. Right now it’s called CRT or anti-CRT, but conservative evangelicals have long worked to set their own historical narratives about America. This is Christian nationalism — this myth that America was founded as God’s chosen nation, that it was an explicitly Christian nation, that our founding fathers were devout Christians.
Historians, including legitimate evangelical historians, have picked this mythology apart. But they haven’t made much of an impact in terms of popular histories, and history is very popular in evangelical circles. You’ve got somebody like David Barton, who’s writing these pseudohistories for adults. You also have a whole homeschool network and Christian school network. Their textbooks have now for generations been teaching this mythical version of American history in which America was founded as a Christian nation, and everything was wonderful and good including through the nineteenth century, and slaves had it good and were actually really good friends with their masters, and so on. This is all in the textbooks.
Evangelicals’ identities are rooted in their calling, their task, which is to return America to its Christian origins, because only then will God give this nation his blessing. Evangelicalism, remember, has been this way since World War II. They’ve always had this special mission.
Of course, they will never achieve their task, because their version of America was never real to begin with. But it is an incredibly powerful way to rally the troops, mobilize conservatives, and make them feel like they have lost something that is rightfully theirs — that this is our country, we were once at the center of things, and what needs to happen is that we need to be back in charge because then we can Make America Great Again.