According to Google Maps, I live twenty-one minutes away from Dealey Plaza, the storied site of John F. Kennedy’s assassination. Earlier this week, as you likely know, a thousand flag-waving QAnon enthusiasts gathered on this sacred patch of real estate to await the arrival of John F. Kennedy Jr.
Since Mike Pence botched his role in the January 6th insurrection, folks in conspiracy-land have been hunting for a replacement. JFK2 was a natural. He was handsome, charismatic, and linked to the most celebrated family dynasty in American lore.
Just one problem. JFK Jr. died in 1999.
Or maybe that’s just what the lamestream media wants you to believe. Maybe he’s been living anonymously all these years, hiding from the deep state, waiting for the right moment to ride to Trump’s defense. It has been proved, using numerology, that the Kennedy’s are direct descendants of Jesus Christ himself.
So, they waited. In the rain. All day. And the man of the hour failed to show.
But wait. The Rolling Stones were in town for a big show at the Dallas Cotton Bowl. Maybe Keith Richards is really JFK Jr. disguised as an iconic rocker. And if that’s true—and it probably is—then Jr. showed up after all.
I should acknowledge that the JFK Jr. theory was too out-there for the QAnon mainstream. It’s the fringe of the fringe. But QAnon orthodoxy is every bit as demented as the JFK2 theory. They believe that Democrats are blindly following a cabal of Satan-worshiping elites bent on controlling our politics and our media while running a child sex ring on the side.
Trump, according to this theory, was poised to lower the boom on the Demonic Democrats, but they stole the election. But, at some point in the near future, there will be heads on pikes, the streets will run with blood, and Guantanamo will overflow with leftist traitors.
After which, life will return to normal. The way it’s supposed to be. We’ll all be on the same page. We’ll all be evangelical Christians. We’ll all embrace the MAGA revolution. Critical Race Theory will be put out to pasture. Feminists will be silenced. MSNBC will file for bankruptcy. And a purified GOP will reign supreme. A monoculture has no need for politics.
It’s a lot like professional wrestling. The crowd is of one accord. There are faces (good guys) and heels (bad guys) and if the bad guy wins it’s only so, a few weeks hence, his comeuppance will be all the sweeter.
As the citizens of Germany learned to their eternal shame, the quest for monoculture is inherently genocidal.
Which brings me back to Pharaoh. (If you’ve been reading this series, you knew I’d get here eventually). The Pharaohs reigned as the sole representatives of a one-party state. A “totalism”, as the scholars like to say. Pharaoh’s Egypt allowed the Israelites to settle in the land of Goshen as a gesture of gratitude to Joseph. In a time of draught and famine, the man with the amazing technicolor dreamcoat helped Pharaoh solve the problem of scarcity. Joseph transformed prosperous landowners into dependent tenant farmers. As we read in Genesis 47, “Joseph bought all the land for Pharaoh.”
But, over the course of centuries, the Israelites grew from a handful of stray cats into a vast nation. Moreover, “a new king arose over Egypt who did not know Joseph.” And this Pharaoh said to his people, “Look, the Israelite people are more numerous and more powerful than we. Come, let us deal shrewdly with them, or they will increase and, in the event of war, join our enemies and fight against us and escape from the land.”
In Pharaoh’s eyes, the Israelites weren’t real Egyptians. They spoke the language, but with an odd accent. They went through the motions of Pharaoh worship, but they bowed the knee to “the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob,” whoever they were.
Things came to a head when Moses announced that this ancestral deity had appeared in a burning bush. And this strange new god had a simple message: “Go down Moses, way down to Egypt land, and tell old Pharaoh to let my people go.”
Suddenly, Pharaoh wanted the heads of Moses, Aaron and Miriam on pikes. He didn’t want the Israelites to leave (he was addicted to the fruits of their labor), but he wasn’t about to give a race of traitorous slaves a piece of the Egyptian pie.
The longing for monoculture is as old as creation. The term is usually applied to an unwise reliance on a single crop. Biodiversity is prized, in this line of thought, because each species, whether plant or animal, functions as part of an ecosystem. The same principle applies to the life of societies.
America is a divided nation and people on both sides of the divide devoutly wish that their ideological opposites would just disappear. Or, failing that, fall silent.
The big issue is diversity. Political, religious, racial, sexual and cultural diversity. Should our differences be celebrated or condemned? Should they be encouraged and repressed?
Earlier this year, the American Enterprise Institute asked 2,000 randomly selected Americans to respond to a series of statements, including this: “Donald Trump has been secretly fighting a group of child sex traffickers that include prominent Democrats and Hollywood elites.” Twenty-seven percent of those who answered in the affirmative were white evangelicals.
Another study found that 50% of white evangelicals either agree or strongly agree with QAnon theory.
Donald Trump prevailed in 2016 because he understood the desire for monoculture. By embracing one side of the culture war, Trump knew he would incense the other side. So, he made the most of it, intentionally triggering liberals at every opportunity. He could spout audacious lies because, like the folks gathered at Dealey Plaza, his followers just wanted to win. And that meant the other side must lose. Decisively.
White evangelicals became Trump’s core constituency because they were so desperate for monoculture that the facts no longer mattered. It wasn’t just that he could shoot a man on 5th Avenue without consequence; he could lie about having committed the crime, and people would believe him.
Few will admit that they are on a quest for monoculture. But even when the issue is framed in economic terms the same zero-sum mentality prevails. There are only so many jobs, the reasoning goes, and if those (fill in the blank) people get work (or collect unemployment benefits) it will be at the expense of real Americans.
Heather McGhee confronts this issue head on her latest book: The Sum of Us: What Racism Costs Everyone and How We Can Prosper Together. Zero-sum arguments, she says, are particularly effective in rural and small-town America, regions in which economic survival is far from guaranteed. But, since 2000, McGhee reports, people of color account for 83% of growth in rural America. “A study of more than 2,600 rural communities,” she says, “found that over the three decades after 1990, two-thirds lost population. However, immigration helped soften the blow in the majority of these places, and among the areas that gained population, one in five owes the entirety of its growth to immigration.”
Whether the issue is argued in economic or cultural terms, the quest for monoculture is killing white America.
America has never been a monoculture, of course. Native Americans had been here for eons when the first European settlers arrived. We imported millions of Africans to pick our cotton. We imported thousands of Chinese workers to build our railroads. We used Mexican nationals to work in our fields. We imported Catholics from places like Ireland, Poland and Italy to labor in our factories. We allowed Scandinavians and folks from Eastern Europe to establish frontier farms.
But these folks were never really part of the story, so they weren’t allowed to tell the story. Like the grandchildren of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, they were other.
Unless, of course, they wished to assimilate to “real America”. This was an option for some, but not for others. Gradually, a nation dominated by white Anglo-Saxon Protestants made room for other forms of white people, with the understanding that America was a WASP nation. In recent decades, the ancient prejudice against Catholics and Jews diminished as both sides in the culture war scrambled to enlist recruits. Now, even Hispanics, Asians and African Americans can find a place in the real America, so long as they don’t try to spin the story.
On the other side of the cultural divide, the very notion of a “real” is heretical. America has always been a diverse nation, liberals say, and it’s about time we stopped viewing our story through an exclusively white lens. What does America look like when the grandchildren of an enslaved people tell their story? How do we look from a Hispanic perspective? How does the story change when women get their hands on the microphone? What’s the LGBTQ take?
When all these stories are told at once, America looks messy. And mean. And desperately in need of reform. It isn’t as if these new voices are making things up. They’re simply unearthing facts that monoculture buried. In unmarked graves.
To American white evangelicals, these new stories feel like a slap in the face, like a plague.
In books like “Forget the Alamo” the heroes of Texas mythology appear as knaves and thieves. What the authors call “the heroic Anglo narrative” is dismissed as pious fiction. Black and Latino voices are unleashed upon an unprepared Anglo public. Monoculture splinters into a thousand shards.
The protest against “critical race theory” concerns the preservation of monoculture.
National identity and personal identity are intertwined. The heroic Anglo narrative made white people feel special. Even in the words of legitimate historians, the story was presented—until very recently—with all the subtlety of a professional wrestling drama. White folks shine, and everybody else is either ignored or demonized.
You don’t realize that you’re addicted to whiskey until your daughter hides the bottle. You don’t realize you’re addicted to the heroic Anglo narrative until it’s subjected to ridicule. Then you start Jonesing. You show up at school board meetings breathing fire and smoke. You say you are just trying to protect the children, but it’s really about you.
What is America? American white evangelicals have inherited the wrong answer. Which is why, like Pharaoh, they don’t know what to do with themselves. Which is why they are vulnerable to conspiracy theory, the blandishments of late-great Rush Limbaugh, and the toxic purr of Fox and Friends.
When your daughter hides the whiskey, moonshine will do. Even if it makes you blind.
- The Science of False Confessions
- What Jonathan Haidt and Yascha Mounk get wrong about the culture war
- Conservatives say no to the human rights revolution
- Can the Never Trump Coalition hold together?
- Organized ignorance is poisoning America
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