Fascistic Christian Nationalism as a GOP Platform?

Fascistic Christian Nationalism as a GOP Platform?

One of the key reasons I founded this Assertive Spirituality project was the disturbing turn of the Republicans, in the 2016 election and beyond, toward embracing the ideals of fascistic Christian nationalism as their party platform. I believe the evidence of this ought to seem disturbing—it very much is a threat to healthy democracy in the US. It can also easily be confusing, though, so in this article I plan to unwrap how some of this rhetoric works, and why it works, with the help of scholars like Jason Stanley, the author of How Fascism Works.

What’s Inspiring This Post

This post is particularly inspired by several recent developments in Republican politics:

Together, these things ought to scare anyone who seeks to maintain the fragile democracy in the US and to look out for the vulnerable. But honestly, this post could also have been inspired by so many other things in recent decades—and especially since the 2016 election.

These things, however, are particularly concerning—and we ought definitely see them as calls to assertive action to maintain our fragile democracy. Give me a few minutes and I’ll help explain how they all tie together through fascistic rhetoric a bit more first, though.

Where I’m Coming From

As always, I’m coming at this from the perspective of a pastor’s kid from a right-leaning moderate denomination who went on to become a communication scholar who studies and teaches about stress, trauma, and conflict communication.

As I’ve mentioned before, my PhD is in communication studies, a field that particularly arose in response to the propaganda from the 20th century World Wars in hopes of deconstructing how things like Holocausts happen in order to prevent them from happening again.

As such, I came into the 2016 election wide-eyed and horrified at Trump’s  embrace and use of fascistic rhetoric, yet aware that if everyone keeps resisting the creep of fascism, its embrace is not inevitable.

Which is why we need to keep speaking up and working against it, however exhausting that may feel.

Why It’s So Important to Define Fascism

At any rate, I don’t want to go too far into this without defining what fascistic rhetoric and policies are and how they tie to the GOP’s embrace of a Christian nationalist platform in 2024.

After all, the GOP claims the Democratic party is fascistic (please read all the eyeroll emojis here), so it’s very worth defining what fascism actually is and isn’t.

Diving into the Definition

Jason Stanley, in his excellent book How Fascism Works, defines fascism as an interlinking set of mechanisms. To sum up his nuanced explanation as well as I can in a sentence, he argues that fascistic rhetoric by leaders is designed to stir up people’s emotions toward embracing a male authoritarian leader, believing propagandistic falsehoods about mythical pasts and immoral and criminal others, working to create anti-intellectual sentiment, and ultimately being led toward normalizing increasingly inhumane and extreme ideals against those who are seen to be other.

A key point in all of this is getting people to accept an ideal that implies that we must maintain various types of purity, particularly purity of blood, of defending mythical traditional family ideals, and of patriarchal ideals in general.

Perhaps if you know anything about white Evangelicalism or the Religious Right, especially since the 1980s, you can already see where this is going.  

So Yeahhhh, Anti-LGBTQ+ Policies, Abortion Bans, and Attacks on Women’s Rights, Oh My

And yeah, if you start thinking about this, the recent platform of the Republican party relating to sexuality and abortion, the key platforms of the white Evangelical “culture wars,” starts to make a lot more sense, as does its insistence on (dark-skinned) immigrants being seen as dirty criminals.

After all, as Stanley points out in his books, “fascist politics distorts male anxiety, heightened by economic anxiety, into fear that one’s family is under existential threat from those who reject its structure and traditions.”

He goes on to quote Julia Serrano’s book Whipping Girl: “In a male-centered gender hierarchy, where it is assumed that men are better than women and that masculinity is superior to femininity, there is no greater perceived threat than the existence of trans women, who despite being male and inheriting male privilege ‘choose’ to be female instead.”

Elsewhere, he unwraps the questions around  quotes Charu Gupta’s summary of Nazi attitudes toward feminist movements: “The movement, it claimed, was encouraging women to assert their economic independence and to neglect their proper task of producing children….By encouraging contraception and abortion and so lowering the birth rate, it was attacking the very existence of the German people.”

So Yeah, Do We Have Any Doubt that the Culture Wars Are Fascistic?

Of course, when I was raised around “soft” culture wars rhetoric as a pastor’s kid in our right-leaning moderate denomination, none of our political concerns around abortion or same-sex marriage were seen to be from these sources at all, naturally.

Nope, it was all because of a few key cherry-picked verses that argued that “God said same-sex relationships and sex outside of marriage were immoral” and “life is worth saving even in its smallest forms because life is valuable to God.” I’ve talked about that previously here.

Oh, and naturally, WE weren’t Christian nationalists. It was those extremists over there that were Christian nationalists. (Usually the ones with the guns.)

But looking back in light of the passages above, all of this was putting lipstick and God on fascistic concerns.

Of Course, Putting Lipstick and God on Nasty Policies Is Exactly What Fascistic Politicians Do Too

The thing is, putting God and morality on “our side” and immorality and corruption and criminality on anyone else isn’t just what even our “soft Christian nationalism” was doing—these things lie at the heart of fascistic rhetoric as well.

Stanley discusses this too, in his chapter on propaganda: “Political propaganda uses the language of virtuous ideals to unite people behind otherwise objectionable ends.”

Being Dragged into Single-Issue Straight-Ticket Voting for So Much Unhealthy Stuff

I can certainly see this, looking back at how the culture wars encouraged me that voting Republican—in other words, against abortion and same-sex marriage—was the only moral thing to do.

After all, voting single-ticket on the strength of those two issues led me to ALSO vote for SO MUCH ELSE that my careful Bible reading had taught me was Christian—including caring for the stranger and the least of these, and loving the babies who would be born of these banned abortions, for example.

Of course, since then I’ve been fortunate enough to see through this nonsense. Now my single-issue voting tends to be on the other side: against this kind of fascism and for the side that is at least trying to maintain some semblance of democracy.  

Speaking of Democracy Being a Threat to Fascistic Republicans These Days…

So yeah, that whole theme of the far-right Republicans these days about furthering and building on January 6 as part of the Republican platform?

That too is so noncreatively boilerplate fascistic rhetoric and policy.

Stanley discusses this, too: “For the fascist,” he says, “the principle of equality is a denial of natural law, which sets certain traditions, those of the more powerful, over others. The natural law allegedly places men over women, and members of the chosen nation of the fascist over other groupings.”

Stanley later goes on to say that “Corruption, to the fascist politician, is really about the corruption of purity rather than of law. Officially, the fascist politician’s denunciations of corruption sound like a denunciation of political corruption. But such talk is intended to evoke corruption in the sense of the usurpation of traditional order.”

I Can See This Too, Looking Back…

And yes, however much I was raised to believe that Christianity was all about the last being first, and all that, I can see these ideas lurking underneath our theology and politics.

My people would have never outwardly owned them, mind you. They weren’t for Obama being president because of his skin color—how dare you even think that?—it was because they disagreed with his policies.

Mind you, the policy differences lay with things around trying to increase democracy, women’s rights, LGBTQ+ rights, etc. etc. etc.

But it wasn’t because he was Black. Anymore than it was because Hillary was a woman. (Sigh–all the eyeroll emojis.) It was because–wait for it–they were Democrats! And Democrats were bad because of the above things. Which, you know….

So yeah, let’s just leave it that we were a helluva lot more Christian nationalistic and fascistic than I would have realized at the time.

Wrapping This Up

At any rate, I’m running out of steam for today, but here’s the crux of the matter: The current plans for the Republican platform to take on characteristics of Christian nationalism ought to be deeply horrifying, something we should be working against.

This is part of how the Republican party has become increasingly fascistic and is trying to push even further in that direction.

But let’s be clear: as can be seen by the above analysis, absolutely none of this is totally new. (Nor is it all that innovative, honestly.)

Looking to the Past in a Clear-Eyed Way to Forge a Healthier Future

As Stanley eloquently states, the US was absolutely based in ideals of democracy, but from the beginning there were also roots of fascism there, especially relating to slavery but also in treatment of women and other vulnerable groups.

One way to fight for democracy in the US is to remind ourselves and each other that we’ve never been some sort of “pure” unsullied nation.

It is, in fact, at least in part in recognizing that our history has been extremely checkered in these areas that we can continue to gather the strength to fight the good fight against these new forms of these ongoingly unhealthy impulses.  

Because paradoxically, moving forward into a healthier, less fascistic  future means working to conserve the roots of the democratic impulses that ALSO founded this country. It is to appreciate the work of all of those who have worked hard in this area, and make sure their work is not in vain.

It won’t be easy, but I trust that we can keep fighting the good fight and do this thing.

A Final Charge

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

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3 thoughts on “Fascistic Christian Nationalism as a GOP Platform?

  1. Great article! I cannot stand the hypocrisy of the Republican Party, using the Bible as an opportunity to attack and put fear in people. God’s message is love thy neighbor as thyself, which they seem to not understand.

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