The controversy over appointing a ruthless political operative, perjurer, and probable sexual predator to the Supreme Court has led many people to put the blame on old White males and their culture of privilege. While there is some truth to this argument, it does not go nearly deep enough to shed adequate light on these crimes against the constitution. Going more deeply also sheds light on the rise of NeoPagan religion in this country.
New York Times columnist Paul Krugman recently wrote a particularly good analysis of the issues underlying the Kavanaugh controversy from a mainstream progressive perspective. Krugman emphasized Trump’s base is not motivated by economic issues, but rather from rage at losing their accustomed status in a society where more and more Americans are people different from themselves. The result is hatred of others, racial resentment, and a deep rage by white men in particular.
The influence of Trump’s base is made all the worse by what Krugman terms “high end resentment.” These are successful people who believe they should receive still more recognition than they have. Such people have always existed, but today they are allied with a deeper cultural revolt, at least so long as they can use them for their own ends. It’s a good piece, well worth reading.
And yet it does not probe deeply enough.
Certainly the rage of some white men who think they aren’t respected enough is a part of our problem. But if that were all that was needed to understand Trump, Kavanaugh, and their supporters, why did Trump get a majority of White women’s votes? That majority tipped the scales in the last election even though his opponent was a White woman. Why did his mixed-gender crowd cheer him when he attacked Dr. Ford in Mississippi?
The explanation lies deeper than White men
Probing one level deeper, we can note the Republican Party is now controlled by wanna-be Confederates, centered in the South but with allies in the North and West. This takeover of a major party started with the Republicans’ “Southern strategy,” adopted to lure Southern Democratic into the party. It has continued ever since, until today traditional Republicans have been pushed from power in the party unless they obey the dictates of Southern Republicans. Kevin Phillips, a primary architect of that strategy, now has serious regrets, and in my opinion his American Theocracy. is a must read for anyone wanting to understand the modern Republican Party, how it came to be, and the threat it poses to the nation.
Phillips emphasizes the role of Southern religion, especially Southern Baptists, in shaping Southern culture. The Southern Baptists broke away from America’s Baptists over the issue of slavery, and as they embraced a society where some permanently dominated others, also increasingly emphasized subordinating women to their husbands. They strengthened every dimension of Christianity that decent people find objectionable, ultimately explicitly rejecting the Declaration of Independence and its values.
As Southern NeoConfederates took over the Republican Party they turned it from a conservative party into a radical anti-American one, looking more to the Confederacy for inspiration than to our Founders. (Ever notice the lack of statues to Jefferson, Madison, and other leading Southern Founders in the South?)
Going deeper yet
I argued in my book Faultlines that America is split between a culture rooted in agricultural civilization characterized by patriarchy and hierarchy and a new one rooted in a greater role for feminine values, and much flatter hierarchies. It is receptive to feminine, democratic, and ecological values in ways the old culture is not.
Agricultural civilizations once had many admirable qualities. Their core values were as often violated in practice as ours, but still had influence. The male ideal was a protector, not a dominator. Today as women become more financially independent and equal under the law, this protector role is fading. Those feeling threatened by this decline are embracing values taking increasingly pathological forms. If I cannot be respected as a protector I can at least be a dominator. Ironically, most have sought to avoid actual protector roles, such as in the military. (Compare Robert Mueller, a traditional Republican who served in Vietnam as a Marine, with those, from Trump on down, who criticize him and never served.)
This nihilistic degeneration is deeper than just dominating women.
Consider guns. In the old West, guns were often not allowed to be worn openly in towns. Today insecure men openly wear guns to demonstrate their pathetic sense of being a man. They feel the need to impress others with their power to kill.
Many women who grew up in this culture accept this moral degeneracy. Southern religion infects both genders and the worship of guns demonstrates the problem is not just men’s attitudes towards women. Most fundamentally, it is men’s attitudes towards what it is to be a man. Theirs is the logic of a baboon troop, with most accepting being subordinate to some baboons so long as they can feel superior to others. Theirs is a degenerate caricature of agricultural civilizations’ hierarchical and patriarchal values.
Southern culture once gave us people like Washington, Jefferson and Madison. No more. It has become deeply toxic. Western ‘individualism’ has done the same, where flaunting a gun is ‘freedom’. As these folks, men and women alike, realize their way of life no longer fits the world around them, they become resentful and enraged in the way Paul Krugman describes.
And they want to dominate all who are different from themselves..
The issue here is not racial. “White” matters only because American culture has long been predominately White. The same dynamic would be playing out if we were Brown, Black, or any other color, because it arises from forms of life, not race. Obama actually did remarkably well among White voters. It was in the South, the center of Trump’s support, that racism made a huge impact. Putting today’s problem in terms of race only makes matters worse, because it emphasizes the wrong characteristic. It is culture, not race, that matters most.
Add to this cultural earthquake between two deeply different ways of life with the arrogance of too many of the ultra-wealthy who have always been a problem in any good society, and we have what we have.
The feminine, sacred and otherwise
It is no accident that the most contentious issues Republicans have sought to force down the country’s throats relate to the status of women and feminine values. Many of the rest attack nature, which is thought of in feminine terms.
(The rest serve the worst of our corporations and wealthy. Not every issue is analyzable in the terms I am presenting, but the most fundamental are.)
The most effective opposition to this right-wing nihilism has been from women, from the wonderful women’s marches, to #MeToo, to the unusually large number of women running for office, to the role of empowered women in disrespected fields such as the sex industry, in undermining Trump’s legitimacy, to the current movement against Kavanaugh. All have emphasized respect for women, for feminine values, and rejecting pathological masculinity.
In our various forms, we NeoPagans, exemplify this cultural divide’s spiritual dimension. If the human race is to come out of its political and ecological crises in good shape, it is religions emphasizing feminine values that will speak most directly to their souls, as religions emphasizing the pathological masculine speak to the souls of the deplorables on the right. To be sure, there are powerful movements in mainstream Christianity and Judaism emphasizing their deities’ feminine dimensions, but as my book demonstrates, these movements were often inspired by Starhawk. And this thread continues back to Gardner’s early emphasis that the Priestess was ultimately supreme, as was the Goddess. Far from being a throwback to earlier times, we are in extraordinary harmony with the deepest currents of the modern world.
This essay first appeared in my blog on Witches and Pagans