The Rise of the New Confederacy: How America-Hating Right-Wingers Took Over the GOP
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America on its knees?
Pundits argue that our current dysfunction stems from disagreements about the proper scope and size of government or the limitations of “free markets.” These explanations miss the heart of the matter. America’s divisions involve fundamental questions of trust and truth: What authorities do you believe? Whose definition of truth do you accept?
For the pragmatic and progressive America that grew out of secularized higher education, truth has a provisional, this-worldly orientation. It’s more evolutionary than eternal in character–a fluid body of knowledge and interpretation, subject to revision and expansion.
For the Confederacy that now dominates the GOP, truth is solid and fixed and divinely embedded in the structure of the universe. Humanity’s responsibility is to accept and believe the truth rather than test ideas against actual experience. The Confederacy’s obsession with “originalist” interpretations of the Constitution–a twin of biblical literalism–is the classic example: truth must be eternal, universal.
Pragmatists and progressives defer to experts and professionals. They expect truth claims to be supported by evidence that emerges from research and testing. They put their faith in this process, and in the communities of inquiry–the disciplines–legitimized by secular institutions of higher education.
The new Confederacy rejects that process wholesale. Its leaders and authorities are the spiritual descendants of the conservative Christians and charismatic radio preachers who broke away from religious modernism in the 1920s and 1930s. For these leaders and their followers, faith justifies–and verifies–itself. You don’t believe an idea because it’s true. It’s true because you believe it.
This is why, in the “real America” of Bachmann, Palin and Perry, it is self-evident that cutting taxes increases revenues; the founders were evangelical Christians; evolution is bunk; climate change is a hoax; the United States has the best healthcare system in the world; we can transform the Middle East into a garden of democracy; Kenya native Barack Obama has slashed the military budget; the war on drugs is worth the cost; and so on. These are all leaps of faith. The new Confederates flat-out reject or ignore any counter-evidence, because they have their own fount of truth. FOX News is the obvious example, but decades before the rise of FOX–going back to the early 20th century radio evangelists–conservatives had been quietly building their own media and networks for “truth” telling.
And here is the unsettling thing for anyone concerned about this fraught moment in the American experiment. Though they’re clueless, the leaders of the new Confederacy do offer a seductively egalitarian vision. The solutions to all our problems can be found, they promise, not through actual experimentation or so-called knowledge, but from the simple faith of ordinary citizens.
Rick Perry, the governor of Texas, summed up the egalitarian fatalism at the heart of the new Confederacy this summer, in a letter inviting fellow politicians to his prayer rally in Houston. “Some problems are beyond our power to solve, and according to the Book of Joel, Chapter 2, this historic hour demands a historic response,” he wrote. “There is hope for America. It lies in heaven, and we will find it on our knees.”
In 2009, Perry flirted with the idea of Texas leaving the Union–a fact that is astonishing yet unsurprising. It is astonishing because it’s hard to believe a politician of Perry’s rank and visibility would openly muse about secession–and remain a viable presidential contender. Imagine the outrage on FOX News if Barack Obama had once said anything similar.
It’s unsurprising because the truth is right there: Perry, Bachmann and Palin and the segment of the GOP they represent have already seceded from the Union. Spiritually speaking, they live in a radically different vision of “America,” one with its own faith-based realities and aspirations.