The Toxic Side of “States’ Rights” & The Electoral College

The Toxic Side of “States’ Rights” & The Electoral College

Okay, so in the wake of the anniversary of 1/6, I find my mind increasingly drawn back to the disruption of the counting of electoral votes. Which makes me think about bullying regarding representation overall, including this conservative political rhetoric we’ve long had about STATES’ RIGHTS! As you’ll see, this often ties back to the Electoral College. In this blog piece I plan to unwrap this conservative rhetoric both from personal experience and my scholarly training to help us process how authoritarianism can attempt to hijack our systems in the kinds of deeply toxic and violating ways we saw on January 6, 2021.

The Goal

I’m hoping to help us all understand this a bit better so we can realize the urgency in continuing to speak up against the insidious forms of the rhetoric that underlies and supports extremist events like 1/6. This is complex; thanks for giving me a few minutes to unwrap it.

My Background

Okay, so just as a reminder, I’m coming at this from having been raised as a PK in a moderate Protestant denomination and also as a communication scholar who studies stress, trauma, and conflict communication as well as fascistic rhetoric.

And yeah, having grown up mostly on the right-leaning side of a denomination that toes the line between conservatives and progressives, I’m starting to realize how much the demographics of our own denomination mirrored the situation in the country overall.

A Microcosm of the Country at Large

See, much like the broader country, the people in the churches in the more “urban” demographics (in this case, small cities) tended to skew more “progressive” in our denomination, both in terms of theology and politics.

And those in rural areas tended to skew significantly more conservative in both.

Seeing “Both Sides”—And That They Weren’t Equal

And yeah, since we ended up moving around as a family, including lots of stints in the small towns and also several stints in the small city areas both as I grew up and after leaving the house, it feels like I grew up with a microcosm of our broader political rhetoric within a church context, even to the point where conservative rhetoric around the Electoral College wended its way into our denomination’s politics.

That means I also grew up with clear awareness of the unhealthy strategies used to “keep the peace” and ignore conflict, which is why I’ve been focusing so much on the toxic sides of Christian nice. (There’s a whole series on that starting here.)

Ew, Gangrene Developing

And eventually I began to see that both sides were not actually equal at all. And all those calls to bury the toxic sides of Nice were causing much much deeper problems that were hurting everyone.

How This Tied in to the Toxic Sides of “States’ Rights”

It’s also meant, though, that I’m super super aware, and especially since the 2016 election, of what happens when the questions of states’ rights and the Electoral College come into play.

See, I saw it in our denomination. There it was: concerns about whether (small) churches would really be heard. Even though they already had a disproportionate amount of power in the denomination.  

Anxieties of Influence (And Losing Status)

And I can see it so clearly now, especially combined with studying and teaching about the way things like stress, shame, and shadow get tossed around in group decision-making procedures.

So yeah, that combined with my experiences means I absolutely can see the way conservative rhetoric taps into people’s natural anxieties about being heard. About having influence.

And about losing status.

Fear of Being “Steamrolled”

See, like the country as a whole, those smaller rural churches were terrified at the idea that somehow the urban churches would steamroll them and refuse to validate their at-times genuine concerns about being taken seriously. Naturally this was because of number differentials.

Oops, Look! The Viking-Victim Complex

And I can absolutely see how these some of these concerns were real. But others were being driven by a weird form of Viking-victim complex.

That is to say, some of these concerns were driven by a toxic combo of ego and shame that presume there are no other options than a zero-sum reality in which there are only extreme winners and extreme losers. In which even those who are winning still perceive themselves and/or portray themselves as “underdogs.”

And Yeah, Let’s Be Clear: It Isn’t ALL Toxic

The thing is, while their concerns have a lot of toxic parts, having been on both sides of the fence, I can absolutely see how some of their concern was normal vigilance. After all, people in the urban areas weren’t terribly good at seeking out knowledge of and understanding of what was really going on in the churches in rural areas.

As a result, people in the more urban areas both weren’t always great either at picking up on and addressing the valid concerns of smaller churches. They ALSO weren’t educated well enough in the dynamics of the smaller churches to get a sense of how very toxic things had gotten there.

And yeah, the more progressive churches were also socialized into the broader political culture as well, and had their own issues with that at times.

And without any of these things being addressed, I can see now how the gangrene has grown under the surface for a very long time.

Shifting Back to Politics: and the Electoral College

And yeah, I can absolutely also see how the large bulk of this concern was fueled by a super toxic set of concerns for status and power that came out in discussions I’ve had with people in those rural church areas about the electoral college.

Oh Yeah, That Thing Built on That Racist 3/5s Compromise Back at the Founding

Remember the Electoral College? You know, that thing that was built in our country that was even originally connected to giving the plantation owners in the rural areas more power by counting their non-voting slaves as part of the rural population.

To give them extra power by literally giving slaves—who obviously weren’t allowed to vote—to be counted as 3/5 of a person toward giving the plantation owners more power.  

In order to keep those plantation owners happy.

Oh, THAT electoral college? Yeah, THAT electoral college.

Yup, that electoral college, whose proportions have privileged rural areas (like those the plantation owners had a lot to do with), I don’t know, forever.

The Shift to Cities and the Resulting Vulnerability

Even though industrialization in the late 19th and early 20th century brought on a huge exodus from the rural areas to the cities. Especially in the Midwest, where I was raised. And then corporate agriculture moved in in the mid- to late 20th century, changing the landscape significantly.

See, it’s hugely telling that the small towns I grew up moving around in are made up of the people who are left after this exodus.

Exploited by Global Corporations

These towns and areas are struggling for a whole host of reasons.

Mostly connected to globalization and corporate monopolies and corporate exploitation of people around the world.

How The Plight of the Rural Midwest Connects Back to the 13th Amendment

And this is intensely ironic (in a dark humorous sense), because it was the 13th amendment that corporations used to start to argue, during the Reconstruction period after the Civil War, that they should be treated as individuals with the “same rights” as everyone else.

You know, that 13th amendment that ended slavery. The one that finally on paper struck down the 3/5s compromise at the heart of the unhealthy sides of the Electoral College since the beginning.

(Lots of historians, and documentaries like 13th, are great resources to check up on this.)

What’s Really Going On

Soooo, you know, that brings us to a place where an agricultural giant corporation like Monsanto is seen legally to have some sort of “personhood” without the moral responsibility. And that “personhood” is legally seen to be legally equal to that of a person doing the modern version of sharecropping one of their corn fields to make corn syrup for other giant corporations.

And guess who are the REAL bullies in that equation?

That’s right, the giant corporations that are acting like modern-day plantation owners in all of these near-deserted rural states.

And Yet—Disturbingly—Rural Folks Have a Trauma-Bond with These Corporations’ Political Propaganda

It’s a deeply disturbing truth that many of those same corporate owners are the ones fueling conservative political propaganda. Of course they have all the money to fuel the conservative propaganda. That propaganda that gets these folks to vote for representatives that do the opposite of caring about their interests.

Exploiting the Shame and Vulnerability to Get People to Bully Others

See, they seem to be deeply aware of the shame that comes with the genuinely fragile and vulnerable positions these rural towns and areas have. Certainly they are digging into that shame with the propaganda. And ALL the rhetoric encourages these otherwise genuinely goodhearted folks to displace their underlying shame and anger onto—you guessed it—the opposition.

And those who they see as further down the ladder from them in society.

Many of the opposition and minorities alike have honestly fled to the cities, not just for jobs, but also because this propaganda and displacement creates a frankly unsafe environment for more progressive folx as well as minorities and other vulnerable and marginalized populations.

Definitely Not Happy about Any of This

And yeah, I can’t tell you how much my heart breaks to see this process. Because the corporate exploiters and their right-wing propagandist toadies and others who profit from the situation are absolutely exploiting vulnerability to get abused people to avoid feeling their feelings and to displace them outward in order to support and reinforce their position in the world.

And in the process they’re both reinforcing and creating more bigotry. And bullying.

The Corporate Robber Barons’ Vulnerabilities

See, the thing is that the corporate exploiters are themselves vulnerable. If people rise up assertively against their propaganda machine and vote for something different, these corporate exploiters will have to work much harder to maintain their power.

Their system only holds up if people actually vote for their guys so they can maintain their power to exploit.

Oh Good, Fascistic Authoritarian Rhetoric! Yay?

So their fascistic authoritarian rhetoric is designed to create divides between the parties. To promote bigotry among conservatives, including rural conservatives.

And that process didn’t start with the president that served before Biden. It’s been going on for decades.

Understanding How My Rural Folk Can Fall for It

I can totally see, in retrospect, how much these fears about progressives in these small towns have come from this same shame about losing a status the rural areas once had in this country.

And I can absolutely see how, when reflecting on the toxic slavery history in this country, how figures like Rush Limbaugh and others (I talked about my history with Rush here) found an audience in these areas that were being forced into the incredibly fragile dependent on outside sources for their livelihoods situation that is the current rural town.

(And I can see how these rural voices still actually have much more power than they think they do. And honestly, than they should have.)

Displacing the Feels You’re Not Socialized to Deal With

But yeah, if you’re so dependent on these huge corporations for the factory in town to stay open, or for the loans and equipment to be able to farm your land, you’re going to have a huge amount of fear to displace into fears of “bigger towns” that seem to be all ready to take away your people and your livelihood, forcing you too to move away from places that have become your whole identity.

The Great Transference

It’s easy, from that vantage point, to toxically dig in your heels and buy lies that “liberal coastal elites” are really the problem.

That if somehow if the Electoral College were shifted or abolished that your identity and worth would entirely collapse and the world would end. See, some of the rural states actually have more power in both the Senate and the Electoral College than the more populace states. So, say, if the Electoral College went away, a voter in the extremely sparsely populated Montana or Wyoming no longer had 16 times the voting power in terms of Presidential elections of someone in the extremely populous state of California .

(You can see more about overrepresented and underrepresented states in the electoral college here.)

Not Okay, My Midwest (White) Rural Folks!

Because yeah, if you’re, say, a white man living in one of these towns, you have rightful trauma about being exploited by larger entities. But those same entities have convinced you to displace it on the people who are humanly clueless about some of your concerns but are actually way more likely to help you than you can possibly realize.  

Hey Look, Identity Issue Displacement as Well

And yeah, your trauma about exploitation by major corporations is successfully transferred into the only properly diverse places in the US. So it makes sense that these small towns folx where I was from in the Midwest, already digging in their feels about (largely white) rural identities, would be fully ready to displace their own anxieties on the tentativeness of their survival in the world onto other identity issues as well.

Sigh—How It Translates into Perpetuating Things Like White Supremacy

See, when you’re so busy trying to ignore your own vulnerabilities and your fears have already been directed to the dangers of large cities, it starts to make a total toxic twisted sense that you’d start to see “people from Chicago” trying to move into your towns as the “real problem.” (NOTE—these are never white people that are being referred to.) Never mind that these Black folx are typically basically trying to get out of unhealthily redlined areas that have become violent.

And from there, it’s barely a stop to take in and spew lies about how BLM or “antifa” were the “real perpetrators” causing riots. Not those “nice (white) tourists” praying and carrying nooses next to crosses in the Capitol building.

And Poor Public Health

And that mask mandates and vaccination mandates from those “big city folx” are really the problem.

I could go on, but you get the idea.

Back to My Denominational Peops

And yeah, going back to the denomination I came from, I can absolutely see how all of this fear and anxiety bled into the urban/rural divide in our denomination’s churches.

And I can totally see how these dynamics were exacerbated both by people who hadn’t lived in both places AND theologies that worked WAY harder to “keep the peace” and “reach toward unity” than to try to make the denomination a safe place for vulnerable populations.

Because yeah, I can see now how my denomination, as in US politics for decades but especially since the rise of the Tea Party, has reflected the same dynamics as the broader US.

The Need to Recognize Worth and Turn It to Good

The situation, as I see it now, is this: the rural folks who are being exploited by unhealthy larger entities are actually running the show on behalf of those who are exploiting their vulnerability and shame.

And yeah, all of the members of our denomination has been trained in the spirituality of Nice. Which has trained our folx both in and out of cities that it’s downright unspiritual to speak up against abusers and bullies, as I discussed here among other places.

And unfortunately, I can see now, how that has led to some really toxic forms of church politics and are connected to and feed off of the broader political dynamics.

Not Just My People

I wish I could say that this problem only existed in my denomination. But we’re, again, only a microcosm of the broader issues, both in US politics, in other churches, and in the world.

The Urgency of Speaking Up Against the Toxic Crap

THIS, I can realize increasingly as I continue to understand more and more of these dynamics, is why it’s so d*mned important for us to retrain both our unhealthy aggressions AND our Nice stress responses to move toward more assertiveness, both in and out of the church.

And THIS is why we need to speak up when toxic crap is going on, on whatever level.

The Gangrene Needs to Be Dealt With For Healing to Occur

Because, as both US politics and the book Jesus and John Wayne and Lee McIntyre’s book Post Truth and Heather Cox Richardson’s voice and so many other books and resources are helpful in helping us see, really bad things happen when we don’t do what we can to speak up against the toxic crap where we are with what we’ve got.

How Devaluing Our Own Voices Can Contribute to Toxicity

Because yeah, having written this all out, I can see that the deepest lie in all of this is that the people in the rural communities I grew up in believe that their voices aren’t already mattering.

Because that is sooooo not the truth.

And the fact that my rural peops aren’t gathering that that’s truth on a deep visceral level because of their trauma means that their voices are in turn actually doing a lot of damage. Because of the lies they’ve swallowed.

And that breaks my heart so hard.

Oops, This Bleeds into the Theology Too

It’s even more intensely ironic to me because all of this has crept into a religion with sooo d*mned much emphasis on repentance. One that prides itself on its introspection. And yet the twisted forms of theology it has bled into—the ones that are dominating too much of the narrative—are flat out designed to resist calling out the bullying and bigotry that has risen so alarmingly to control so much of the denomination’s narrative.

And That Hurts Everyone, Especially the Vulnerable

The truth of it all is that so much unnecessary damage is being done. And much of it against vulnerable populations. As it has been–let’s be clear–since the founding of this country when the Electoral College was started with the 3/5s compromise.

Working Toward Healing for All As Much as Possible

So yes, friends, let us continue to work on healing ourselves so we can speak up against the toxic crap. We can pursue both things at once. In the wake of 1/6 when bullies are continuing to try to avoid accountability, even with an incredibly helpful change of political leadership almost a year old, it’s super important we not assume that only our representatives are the ones who can speak up.

We aren’t responsible to heal the world on our own of course. And we’re living in ridiculously stressful times. But we can ALL do what we can where we are with what we’ve got to speak up against the toxic crap.

Building Healthier More Assertive Habits Toward the Greater Good

And I know this much is true from my own experience both in and out of this project: the more we heal ourselves from our trauma, and the more we work to overcome the unhealthy forms of conditioning so many of us hold inside of us that keep us from assertiveness, the easier it gets to handle more speaking up.

It’s a muscle that can absolutely be built. And the more of us do that important if challenging work, the better everything will be for all of us. The less the bullies and toxic systems will be causing us and others damage.

And that, my friends, is the end goal. For the whole world to be healthier. Freer from trauma. Because this bullying and bigotry helps no one, not even the populations it pretends to help. Let’s keep working to do the hard work of building genuinely healthy communities for us all.  

A Final Charge

Go team #AssertiveSpirituality! Let’s continue to do what we can where we are with what we’ve got to continue to speak up against the toxic crap toward a healthier world for us all. We can do this thing. Seriously, we can.

Looking for more resources toward speaking up for what’s right and dealing with the conflict that results?

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4 thoughts on “The Toxic Side of “States’ Rights” & The Electoral College

  1. Good concepts, and yes this “toxic crap” has so many twists and turns and influencers both political, social, and religiously that it may be very hard for many people to keep up with the issues. I think it is very hard for many “religious right” proponents to realize and understand the influence of the Christian Nationalist movement and their goals of dominionism which they see as “God’s will and mandate” for them to push towards. I like your inclusion of Du Mez and there are so many other authors who discuss this trend: Michelle Goldberg, Francis Fitzgerald, Andrew Seidel, Katherine Stewart, Antea Butler, co-authors Andrew Whitehead and Samuel Perry, Steve Walden, Tony Kiddie, Sara Diamond,…and those are just the ones I am acquainted with.

  2. On, “The Toxic Side of “States’ Rights” & The Electoral College”: Mr D.S.: Frankly, I had been copying and saving your messages for some time because they helped me think out of the box that I was raised in (third generation Unitarian/Universalist), now practicing Unity),
    but your last few blogs were kinda repetitive;
    I read them but did not save them;
    but glad that you wrote more this time and added more substance (body) and then expressed from the heart (as you usually do) about “why” you feel about the ways that we all think (quite diversely too – well explained):
    As a 10th generation descendent of pre-USA government immigrants, I also feel a lot of the “wrongs” that we as immigrants have done to ourselves (our fellow USA residents and voting citizens) as well as the other peoples of this country (the African-Americans, the Asian-Americans, the Spanish-speaking-Americans, and especially the prior residents – the Native Americans (and others as well): These ‘sins’ (errors, mistakes, etc … done to make sure that we dominated and made sure we were always ascendant and in charge and in control) are finally coming home to roost, and so – this is why 30+ million voted for an avowed bigoted bully who had been found as a rapist and liar and etc… as president, and why 10 million today have been found out as resolved to do violence to the federal government if their party is not in power in the next Presidential election: Sadly, fear and rage are perpetuating the bullies you so well describe in your blog, and happily you also speak in broad strokes of the sources of why the fear and rage continue to be exacerbated in the coming minority. As a descendant of slave-owners, of native american land thieves, of native american missionaries and proselytizers, and more (after reading the ancestry records – I know this to be true) – who has resolved “no more” to be a part of this kind of fear and rage thinking / reacting: I say to you, Good Work. Keep it up: Keep on using the thoughts of the mind with the impulses of the heart and the body of actions in your blogs! Best wishes and good fortune to you and yours.

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The Toxic Side of …

by DS Leiter Time to read: 14 min