On January 6, 2021, an attempted civilian coup of American democracy occurred as a brainwashed mob, with the encouragement of a disgruntled sitting president, stormed our nation’s Capitol, intent on overturning a legitimate election. How did the Republican Party undergo such profound change from an admirable Dwight D. Eisenhower, and in what direction is it heading?
In the post WWII decades, there were business leaders and Libertarians who seethed at the New Deal socioeconomic revisions to society. They detested the redistribution of wealth, Social Security, Medicare, Unemployment Insurance, Minimum Wage, etc. Many of these people were motivated by greed or ideology, others by fear of communism. By the late 1970s, they were a force with which to be reckoned.
At the same time, Christianity in American was growing into a business with megachurches, televangelists, and expanding Christian universities. Increasing political activism by evangelicals such as Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson arose. As elucidated in Katherine Steward’s latest book The Power Worshippers, one of the most pressing concerns to evangelicals was that, due to their policy of racial segregation, the IRS would be successful in ending the tax-exempt status of their Christian schools.
Economic Libertarians and evangelicals have a long history of parallelism, for they have a common origin in the individualistic, pro-capitalist theology of Calvinism, and they both view government as an obstacle to their goals. American evangelisms also grew out of hatred for the federal government’s slavery ending, public schools, and women-promoting policies.
According to Steward, modern organizational fusion occurred in 1979 when social-conservative activist Paul Weyrich, representing the business-friendly New Right, realized that his movement could gain strength by recruiting religion. He, therefore, began courting Jerry Falwell and other conservative pastors to his cause.
Evangelicals saw the benefit of adding political muscle to both their financial and ideological concerns and aspirations, so they eagerly joined the plutocrats and have hence received enormous support from numerous billionaires. And, for their part, plutocrats enjoy the support at the polls and theological legitimization provided by the ultra-capitalistic, antigovernment stance of the evangelicals.
From this coalescence came the Moral Majority and Reagan-era Republicans. They vowed an aggressive, no compromise attitude which has only hardened through time. Moreover, many of these people are little concerned with, or outright antagonistic toward, the Constitution and democracy.
The new movement lacked a strong rallying cry. They couldn’t very well admit they were motivated over potentially losing their tax-exempt status at racist schools, or that they really wanted to concentrate 80% of the nation’s wealth into the hands of the top 1%. But then they had an idea: abortion.
The Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision (1973) had, interestingly, been reached six years prior without excessive uproar, and many of the conservative religious and political leaders, such as Ronald Reagan, had not shown concerns over abortion earlier in their careers.
But now they saw abortion as the ideal issue with which to galvanize and ignite their religious base. Christianity would have to be somewhat reinvented, true; for Jesus is not reported to have spoken out against abortion, nor was he an avid capitalist. But facts were not to be an encumbrance. What better issue to paint their party as saintly and their opponents as villainous? Thus developed the Religious Right and eventually the lofty claim that the GOP is the ‘Party of Life’.
Exploiting the abortion issue also fit well with their patriarchal religion and could draw in people opposed to the Women’s Rights Movement. A standard practice of suppressing women has historically been to control their reproduction, including access to birth control and abortion. As the two ideologies (New Right and Religious/Christian Right) acclimated to one another and converged, economic deregulation and low taxation miraculously became mounting Christian values.
One can easily see how the reactionary nature of this expanding movement would also appeal to people who had a problem with the Civil Rights Movement. Next, the NRA was incorporated, and the combined forces that made up the Religious Right became a true political juggernaut. Their timing was perfect, for numerous social and economic difficulties were fragmenting the ‘managed capitalism’ model of the progressives.
Liberals often say, “How could someone so devoid of Jesus as Donald Trump possibly be supported by people calling themselves Christians?” But conservative Christian leaders in America have a long tradition of supporting whoever gives them what they want, regardless of their personal flaws. Moreover, numerous far rightists espouse their admiration for the willingness to play dirty pool. Not only did Donald Trump’s authoritarian, uncompromising, anti-science, and undemocratic nature match their own, but radical conservatives see those traits as better equipping Trump to defeat their humanistic and globalist foes.
The rank-and-file citizens of America’s right wing are often unaware of the actual motives of their leaders. Numerous everyday Republicans truly believe their issues are the protection of capitalism, babies, gun ownership, and religious freedom. But they’re not! The real issues are money, power, racism, patriarchy, tribal domination, and a desire to impose Christian fundamentalism.
When the ultraconservative juggernaut emerged in the late 1970s and early 80s, it still included many authentic Republicans who were dedicated to the norms and values of democracy. But, with its dubious goals and nefarious tactics, the crusaders slowly culled those Republicans out of the flock. It took four decades, but now the radicals almost completely control the GOP. Many of Trump’s appointees, such as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, reportedly remarked they believe that Donald Trump is a god-sent phenomenon.
The evangelical/ultraconservative movement, moreover, is not limited to America, for its tentacles are now worldwide, such as in Central Europe and Brazil. Ominously, one of the most influential leaders of this anti-democratic steamroller is Vladimir Putin, who wields it as a weapon to attack Western society.
Numerous evangelical leaders and plutocrats (both in and out of the GOP) are now engaged in a slow-motion coup attempt, via massive voter suppression and the appointment of radically conservative judges. Moreover, their confused, gun-wielding army of Trumpies is still standing by. Today’s conservative leaders are trying to take us under their authoritarian rule, which will be a bizarre mixture of theocracy, plutocracy, kleptocracy, and fascism.
Mark Mansperger is a Teaching Professor of Anthropology researching cultural ecology, societal development, and political economy.
Photo by Ant Rozetsky on Unsplash.