Gimme That Red-State Religion
There are things we love about the South, but theocracy isn't one of them
Michael Fitzgerald & Fred Hill
The culture wars
Ever since presidential candidate Patrick Buchanan entered the term into the lexicon in 1992, there has been much debate on when the so-called "culture wars" between red and blue states began--and even whether they actually exist or are just a media hype.
Ruth Murray Brown says this battle began in the 1960s as the so-called silent majority launched a counterattack to the hedonism of the flower-power era. Americans from the heartlands became "disturbed by the loose sexual norms and the acceptance of the drugs that seemed to go along with it."
A similar battle for the hearts and minds of American youth had raged in the 1950s with the advent of rock ën' roll (the term "rocking and rolling" was ghetto slang for copulating). This emulation of black culture challenged and mocked Calvinist norms of chastity--especially in the Baptist South, where dancing is a sin. The popularity of this music among white kids struck a reactionary nerve at a time when the U.S. Supreme Court had recently ordered school desegregation. At exactly the same moment Arkansas Governor Orval Faubus staged a showdown with President Dwight D. Eisenhower over desegregation, pop singer Elvis Presley would be reaching his apex.
The early 1960s would be a replay of the 1950s. Alabama Governor George Wallace would stage a similar showdown with President John F. Kennedy in June 1963. Wallace's brazen defiance of what he saw as federal interference galvanized millions of whites in the South and would later inspire a Republican strategy to divide and conquer the Democrats.
Five months after his showdown with Wallace, Kennedy was dead.
As the country grieved, a pop phenomenon called the Beatles appeared out of left field, rapidly dominating not only the music world, but all media. Other than their long (by military standards) hair, they seemed innocuous enough.
But in March 1966, Beatles leader John Lennon awoke the sleeping giant when he told Maureen Cleave of the London Evening Standard: "Christianity will go. It will vanish and shrink... We are more popular than Jesus now... "
Lennon's prediction would prove prophetic, at least in Europe. According to the 1999 Gallup International Millenium Survey, European Christians are dropping like flies. But what Lennon didn't count on was that the Jehovah of the Bible was alive and well in America.
Five months after the Standard interview, two radio DJs in Birmingham, Ala., got wind of Lennon's remarks and, sensing a PR bonanza, instigated a series of Beatle-record bonfires reminiscent of medieval book burnings--exactly the sort of anti-intellectual ritual for which European existentialists had excoriated Christianity.
The Ku Klux Klan leapt into the fray with protests at Beatles performances in Memphis and Washington, D.C. Klansmen issued death threats, which contributed to the band's decision to quit appearing in public. Threats from the KKK were no laughing matter: Two years earlier, Klansmen had murdered three civil-rights workers in Philadelphia, Mississippi, and one of the men charged was a Baptist preacher.
Apparently, bombing black churches and killing Yankee "nigger-lovers" was good, clean fun in the Klan's book--but mocking Jesus, now, that's criminal.
Lennon found himself confronting the mass of hard working, God-fearing Americans Walter Russell Mead calls Jacksonians in honor of their hero and earliest leader, Andrew Jackson. Do not piss them off. Even U.S. presidents Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon were afraid of them. These are the plain folks, what Mead calls the "folk community." Educated people down south call them "rednecks."
Taking their country back
The modern culture wars Buchanan declared are actually the latest incarnation of a complex struggle that began centuries ago in the British Isles. It's an ethnic struggle between Anglo-Saxon, Norman and Celtic cultures, a religious struggle between Protestant fundamentalists, Anglicans and Catholics, complicated by class divisions within each category.
In what may be one of the dumbest moves in history, the British imported Presbyterian tenant farmers from Scotland as part of a plan to "plant" Protestantism in Ireland. Not satisfied with this, they demanded these transplanted Presbyterians convert to Anglicanism. The conflagration sparked in 1703, when Parliament instituted the Test Acts. Denied the freedom to practice their strict Calvinist creed, the Ulster Presbyterians revolted against the Anglican aristocracy--and their struggle continued even after they fled to America.
As many as 400,000 Ulster Presbyterians flooded the American colonies. They became the backbone of what Mead calls Jacksonian America. In their view, they built this country, and it was taken from them by immigrants and Yankee liberals. Now they're taking it back.
"[Ulster Presbyterians] were the cultural antithesis of those who had founded New England," writes author and former Assistant Secretary of Defense James Webb in Born Fighting: How the Scots-Irish Shaped America.
Although the Ulster-Scots Presbyterians became the backbone of America's Jacksonian movement, it is by no means an ethically exclusive enclave. It's open to anyone who accepts its values and worldview. And though religion remains one of the distinguishing factors characterizing red states from blue, a person does not need to be a Presbyterian or a Southern Baptist to be a Jacksonian. As Mead points out, the Jacksonians' hardheaded, every-man-for-himself outlook would eventually extend to immigrant children, regardless of their ancestry or religion, canceling out whatever socialist or communitarian proclivities their parents had brought with them. What we call the process of "Americanization" is really the process of Jacksonization. Even many African-Americans have internalized the Jacksonian worldview.
Your people, sir, are a great beast
Unlike the English Calvinists--the Puritans who settled colonial New England--the Scots-Irish Presbyterians who came to the U.S. did not have a strong tradition of education. Theirs was primarily an oral culture, which explains their gift for music and storytelling. And even if they had wanted education, there were no schools in the Appalachian backwoods, the only areas available to them.
Education and politics were the province of large landowners, a system that suited the southern planter elite. But with the loosening of property requirements for white males in the early 1800s, the future of American politics would drastically change. White, male voters tripled in numbers from 1824 to 1840. The worst nightmares of Anglo-American elitists, such as Alexander Hamilton, would be realized--the landlords' monopoly on politics would be shattered, and the "plain folks" would win the day.
In 1828 General Andrew Jackson rode into the White House on a wave of populism. A self-styled lawyer, slave trader, land speculator, Indian fighter, war hero and military governor of Florida (Jacksonville is named after him), Jackson's humble origins and notorious belligerence lent him a "plain folks" image despite the fact he was fabulously wealthy at the time of his election. Here was a good-ol' boy who'd made good--by scrapping his way to the top. Jackson created the model for military leadership as a ticket to glory and political power.
Until the Jackson model, there had been two primary schools of American political thought. Hamiltonians took the position that liberal trade and a strong domestic economy would enable the U.S. to compete in--perhaps even dominate--world affairs. This is the viewpoint from which the globalists of the 1990s operated. Jeffersonians, on the other hand, are skeptical of big business and big government, and fervent about individual liberties. In this sense, Jacksonians resemble Jeffersonians--both schools are staunchly individualist, but they diverge vehemently on the definition of "big government": Whereas Jeffersonians see an excess of military power as the most dangerous form of big government, Jacksonians celebrate it.
Jacksonians are susceptible to the anti-government rhetoric of a Ronald Reagan, a George W. Bush or a Grover Norquist. Reagan promised less government, but in fact ran the federal budget higher than any previous president, largely on military spending. Now Bush Junior is beating even Reagan's record. Yet Jacksonians refuse to view the military-industrial complex as "big government." They see the military as their own private entitlement program--a WPA project for the undereducated.
Vietnam brought about a paradigm shift Jacksonians could not deal with, Webb explains. The Jacksonian tradition of military service as a path to respectability was turned upside down as soldiers returned to face not glory but calumny. What's more, Jacksonians loathe "limited" wars--if they're going to fight, they want to go all the way.
One thing Jacksonians will not tolerate is a leader they perceive as a wimp. They do not care for reasoned, intellectual responses to crises. They want action--even if it's wrong. Jimmy Carter found out the hard way when he was seen as indecisive in dealing with the 1979 hostage crisis. George Bush Senior also discovered the "wimp factor."
The notoriously bellicose Jackson was himself part of the wave of Ulster-born Presbyterians who came looking for land to farm and an escape from Anglican repression. Angry from decades of civil war, they arrived cocked and loaded. They landed at Philadelphia and went to the westernmost frontier, lands no one but the Indians cared for.
Wealthy planters ensconced in the fertile eastern plains saw the Ulster immigrants as a buffer against the Indians. From their base in the hills of Appalachia--hence the nickname "hillbillies"--they continued to push westward. They wanted land and no heathen would stop them from having it.
Jackson is less well known for his role in Indian Removal, a euphemism for ethnic cleansing. By the 1800s, 17,000 "Americanized" Cherokees in northern Georgia had taken up farming, lived in European-style houses, built roads, schools and churches, and had become Christians. None of that mattered to the ever-increasing numbers of Ulster Presbyterians, who viewed territory occupied by Native Americans as "empty wilderness" to be tamed by white Christians. White Georgians decided that, civilized or not, treaty or no, the Cherokees had to go. In 1830, Congress passed the Indian Removal Act, which Jackson quickly signed. The Cherokees sought justice in the Supreme Court, and Chief Justice John Marshall ruled in their favor.
But Jackson was President. His constituency was the Scots-Irish masses who dominated the backwoods South. As far as Old Hickory was concerned, the Cherokee savages were impeding the progress of his people. "Marshall has made his decision," Jackson reportedly remarked: "Now let him enforce it." Marshall, of course, had no army, but Jackson did--an army filled with Ulster Scots who idolized him. Thus the Cherokees were forced to march--with little food and inadequate protection from a harsh winter--more than a thousand miles to lands deemed unappealing to Anglo-Americans. Thousands perished on the "Trail of Tears."
Many U.S. presidents would model Jackson's populist posturing. Some, such as James Knox Polk (Jackson's protégé), William McKinley and Theodore Roosevelt, were as bellicose as Old Hickory himself. Many were also of Ulster Scots ancestry. Roosevelt was Ulster Scots on his mother's side--she was a Bullock from Georgia.
Roosevelt himself writes if it weren't for the ferocity of this group, who formed the core of our pioneer movement, we wouldn't have what we call the U.S. today: "[T]hey were a bold and hardy race who pushed beyond the settled regions of America and plunged into the wilderness as the leaders of the white advance... All others have merely followed in [their] wake."
This westward push for lebensraum was a primary reason behind the Revolutionary War: the British government intended to reserve lands west of the mountains for Indians. "The first voice publicly raised in America to dissolve all connection with Great Britain came not from the Puritans of New England or the Dutch of New York or the planters of Virginia, but Scots-Irish Presbyterians," writes 19th-century historian George Bancroft. So the Ulster Scots settlers kicked out the hated British, then went after the Indians with a free hand
Despite whatever efforts the new federal government exerted in honoring treaties with conquered Indian tribes, nothing could stop the Jacksonian push to the Pacific. By the 1830s, the northern half of Mexico would be in their sights.
Once the continental areas had been tamed, and the last of the heathen savages were brought to heel for daring to defend their homelands, other frontiers were sought. Roosevelt subscribed to the warrior credo of the Jacksonians, aching to make his mark in war, and pushed for war with Spain, resigning his post as undersecretary of the navy to raise and lead a militia in Cuba in 1898. White Southerners again fought for the nation, putting down an uprising in the Philippines, which had been "liberated" by the U.S. The Filipinos were barbarous heathens who needed to be Christianized, President William McKinley asserted--never mind that they'd been Catholics for centuries.
Jacksonians are always in search of new frontiers to conquer. The wagon trains, the pioneers, the cowboys, the gunslingers, John Wayne, even the Marlboro Man--all these icons are representations of Jacksonian America. Among the favored passions and pastimes of modern Jacksonian culture are:
* Fundamentalist and charismatic religion.
* Militaristic culture with focus on machismo.
* Football (a quasi-military sport).
* Country music.
* Western movies.
* NASCAR racing (descended from moonshine running).
* Xenophobia, jingoism and racism
Though there is a strong correlation between red states and fundamentalist Protestantism, religion doesn't tell the whole story. The culture wars are a complicated clash of regions, religions, ethnicities, social classes, traditions and education levels, with complexities, cross-currents and ironies.
Yet a primary feature of Jacksonian culture does seem to be its religious zeal, usually some form of Calvinism. Jacksonians cite the Bible as their only true authority--superseding even the laws of the land.
The typical Jacksonian, like Augustus Longstreet's "honest Georgian," likes his "whiskey straight and his religion and politics red-hot." During the Great Awakening in the 1730s, southern Presbyterians began abandoning that church's staid liturgy for freewheeling, non-liturgical Baptist and Methodist services, and many later left those for more exhilarating Holiness, Pentecostal and Assembly of God services.
Though they diverge widely in their services, what these churches have in common is an insistence on literal interpretations of the Bible. They believe God created the universe in six days, period. This accounts for their objection to Darwin's theory of evolution, widely dramatized by the 1925 Scopes trials in Tennessee.
Pentecostalists--often referred to as "holy rollers"--are a bit more creative in their interpretations than Baptists and Methodists, embracing such practices as speaking "in tongues" and faith healing, as mentioned in Mark 16, verse 18:
And these signs will accompany those who believe: by using my name they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up snakes in their hands, and if they drink any deadly thing, it will not hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover.
For literal interpretation, nobody beats the Church of God with Signs Following, which emerged in the hills near Cleveland, Tennessee around 1908. Its members believe that if their faith is strong enough, they can handle snakes and drink poisons. Many members, including the group's founder, have perished from snakebites.
Religion and slavery
Religious fervor spread like wildfire across the U.S. in the early 1800s, in a diffusion known as the Second Great Awakening. It sparked a reformist movement in the North, most extreme among descendants of New England Puritans, who took it as their moral duty to attack the evils of intemperance, Catholicism and slavery. Their movement would become a holy crusade. Southern churches, however, remained "defenders of slavery and a slave society."
Schisms in the churches provided a preview of what was to come. "[T]he split in the churches was not only the first break between the sections but the chief cause of the final break," suggests historian William W. Sweet. With each side citing the Bible as justification, Southern Presbyterians split with their northern counterparts in 1838, as did Methodists in 1844, followed by Baptists in 1845. The Southern Baptist Convention is now headquartered in Jackson's Tennessee hometown, Nashville,
The Southern Era
For 50 of the nation's first 62 years, Southern men such as George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, James Monroe and Andrew Jackson dominated the executive branch. In keeping with the Scots-Irish penchant for bold leaders, Washington, Jackson and Zachary Taylor were elected thanks to their reputations as war heroes.
Southern presidents were also largely responsible for the country's great expansion: Jefferson with his Louisiana Purchase and James Knox Polk with his Mexican War. But by the 1850s southerners were losing their grip on national power. With waves of immigration, the populations of the northern states had outstripped the southern slave states, and the south lost control of the House. With the admission of California as a free state in 1850, the Senate balance too was lost.
Polk, nicknamed "Young Hickory," was, like his mentor, a Scots-Irish Tennesseean. His mother was the bearer of a family name "that could be traced all the way back to John Knox, the grim founder of Scots Presbyterianism... " Shortly after attaining the presidency in 1845, Polk provoked a war with Mexico for the purpose of obtaining more slave states.
"Polk's plan" was countered by a bill introduced by Pennsylvania Representative David Wilmot barring slavery in those territories. Wilmot's bill was blocked in the southern-dominated Senate. South Carolina Senator John C. Calhoun called slavery "a great good," and asserted, "There cannot be a durable republican government without slavery."
Another scheme for an expanded southern empire came to light in 1859, when self-styled Kentucky general George F. Bickley took control of an underground group called the Knights of the Golden Circle. Bickley's plan proposed the acquisition of the remainder of Mexico, along with all of Central America, plus Columbia, Venezuela, Cuba and every island in the Caribbean. This would have resulted in the addition of 25 new slave states and monopolized the world's sugar, tobacco and slave trades. Bickley claimed more than 100,000 members, mostly from Texas.
Bickley's secret society--some say it was founded in 1835 by Calhoun with British backing--may have been the template for the Ku Klux Klan (the Greek word "kuklos," from which "ku klux" is said to be derived, means "circle"). Several Klan leaders were members of the KGC as well as high-level Scottish Rite masons.
The southern slavocracy's plan was to spin off its own country. President Lincoln was determined not to let this occur, and much blood would be shed. Not surprisingly, uneducated men of Scots Irish descent were eager for a fight on both sides.
During Reconstruction, former slave owners and their descendants turned to their Bibles, where they found certainty in the righteousness of their cause--and solace in their new status as martyrs. Even in defeat, their rebellion persisted. For another century, through terror and legal chicanery, lynchings and Jim Crow laws, they prevented blacks from exercising their Constitutional rights.
In 1896, the U.S. Supreme Court would appease the south with its Plessy v. Ferguson decision, essentially giving its blessing to forced segregation in public facilities.
Hell breaks loose
In 1948, the South would begin feeling its oats again. The culture wars would remain in the usual mode, with a plurality of Southerners opposing the rights of Blacks and harboring smoldering resentments against Yankee interlopers.
In reaction to President Harry Truman's desegregation of U.S. armed forces, South Carolina Senator Strom Thurmond would lead a revolt among Democrats, forming the States Rights Democratic Party, commonly known as "Dixiecrats." Thurmond, a Southern Baptist and strict segregationist, ran against Truman, winning only 2.4 percent of the U.S. popular vote, but carrying four states: Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and South Carolina.
In 1954, the Supreme Court would reverse the Plessy decision, and the civil-rights movement would begin in earnest. And so would the backlash. Proponents of segregation and white supremacy would stop at nothing, not even murder and terrorism, in their futile efforts to turn back the tide.
ERA: Reactionary lightning rod
Although stymied in its efforts to block civil rights legislation in the 1960s, religious reactionaries later mustered their forces to successfully prevent the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment. Fundamentalist conservatives feared the ERA would undermine their Biblical interpretation of the role of women. It made its way through both houses of Congress in 1972, but at the same time it became a lightning rod for conservative groups, symptomatic of everything wrong in American society.
Later that year, ultra-conservative political activist Phyllis Schlafly, a devout Catholic from Missouri and an unsuccessful candidate for Congress, formed STOP-ERA ("Stop Taking Our Privileges") with the aim of preventing its ratification. Schlafly's rhetoric resonated predominantly in the traditionalist, fundamentalist South, which provided the bulk of the 15 states that did not ratify the ERA. Schlafly's campaign also included such Jacksonian goals as "fighting a big federal government, dismantling the Department of Education, opposing the UN [and] stopping globalism."
STOP ERA was one of many reactionary groups that aimed to roll back the increasing liberalism in American society. One of the earliest ultra-conservative groups was the John Birch Society, founded by Robert H. W. Welch in 1958 with funding from Texas oil billionaire H.L. Hunt. Later groups included Jerry Falwell's Moral Majority, James Dobson's Focus on the Family and Beverly LaHaye's Concerned Women for America. CWFA blames the breakdown of the family on feminists.
Among the key contributors to these organizations were billionaires Nelson Bunker Hunt (H.L. Hunt's son) and Joseph Coors, both of whom belonged to the John Birch Society and the Council for National Policy, a "who's who" of prominent fundamentalists. All would pitch in to wage political combat against feminism, abortion, pornography, open homosexuality, the teaching of evolution and the ban on official prayer in public schools, and everything else they found abhorrent in the culture that surrounded them.
For a long time, Bible-belt voters had been depoliticized, but thanks to the pro-family movement's defeat of the ERA, the new "religious right" discovered organizing and lobbying could get real results.
Republicans and the religious right
As early as 1952, presidential candidate Dwight Eisenhower had recognized the need for courting the evangelical vote. He arranged a meeting with the most popular televangelist of the day, Southern Baptist preacher Billy Graham. Eisenhower took Graham's advice, joining Washington D.C.'s New York Avenue Presbyterian Church.
Eisenhower's vice-president, Richard Nixon, soon forged his own relationship with Graham; after losing his bid for the presidency, he found himself losing out to Lyndon Johnson for Graham's attentions. Johnson, confronted with the Voting Rights Act of 1965, signed, but said in doing so he might as well be handing Southern Democrats over to the Republican Party.
In the election of 1968, Nixon took advantage of this opportunity. Renewing his association with Graham, he snagged the evangelical vote, a move that tied in with his "southern strategy" of converting southern Democrats still carrying grudges over desegregation.
By 1976, the voting power of 40 million evangelicals was evident. Graham declared the evangelical vote strong enough "to turn a presidential election."
Southern Baptist Jimmy Carter had been the first president to openly label himself "born again." But hard-core Jacksonians quickly wrote him off as a liberal and a wimp: He had failed to arrest America's moral decline and had lost his battle with the Iranian hostage takers.
The pro-family movement metamorphosed into the Moral Majority in 1979, under the guidance of Southern Baptist evangelists Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, and Tim Lahaye, just in time to endorse Ronald Reagan's run. "Reagan acknowledged white evangelical voters and embraced--at least rhetorically--their concerns."
By 1988, Reagan's successor, George H.W. Bush, discovered that a presidential candidate didn't need the Catholic vote, nor the Jewish vote--he didn't get either. All he needed were the evangelicals. Though Bush didn't actively court the Moral Majority, 80 percent of evangelical Protestants voted for him. All he had to do was point out that his opponent, Massachussets Governor Michael Dukakis, had called himself a "card carrying ACLU member." Since the ACLU opposes religion in schools and supports women's reproductive rights, Dukakis didn't stand a chance of getting the evangelical vote. Add to that Dukakis was the son of Greek Orthodox immigrants from liberal Massachussetts, hence out of touch with Jacksonian America, a fact driven home by Republicans.
Bush roped in the evangelical vote with help from his former opponent in the primaries, Pat Robertson. After losing the Republican nomination, Robertson endorsed Bush, effectively hand-delivering his votes to the Republican party. The religious right's real aim was to take over the party, marginalizing "country club Republicans"--and it succeeded, some say. But not all Republicans are pleased with the religious right's influence.
Marc Wolin, a San Francisco Republican who ran unsuccessfully for Congress in 1992, said, "We have a lot to fear from these people. They want to set up a theocracy in America."
Carried into office by the evangelical vote, the elder Bush was never comfortable--nor convincing--hawking religion, and lost his bid for re-election to Southern Baptist Bill Clinton. But Clinton quickly angered Jacksonians when he proposed to lift the ban on gays in the military.
George W. Bush had worked on his father's election campaign and understood the growing impact of the evangelical bloc. Junior had gotten saved just in time to help deliver evangelical votes to his dad in 1988, and more importantly, used his newfound religious credentials to garner the governorship of Texas. In the presidential election of 2000, the ostentatiously pious Bush Junior out-testified Southern Baptist Al Gore. Running against Massachusetts Senator John Kerry, a Catholic, in 2004, Bush enjoyed a slightly more comfortable margin.
Ever since Bush Senior stomped Dukakis, the message has been crystal clear: a candidate must brandish a Bible in one hand and a gun in the other if he wants to carry Jacksonian America.
Baptists at the helm
The core of the fundamentalist movement consists of Southern Baptists. They have ruled southern politics for generations; now they're setting their sights on national policy. As Robertson announced in 1990: "We have enough votes to run this country, and when the people say, ëwe've had enough,' we're going to take over."45 Robertson's protégé, Ralph Reed, was Bush Junior's Southeast campaign director for reelection.
Among the prominent items on fundamentalists' political agenda are:
* To overturn Roe v. Wade.
* To put religion--their religion--back in public schools.
* To put gays back in the closet.
* To put women back in their place--the home.
Perhaps the biggest victory for the religious right has been getting Southern Baptist Tom DeLay (R-Texas) installed as House majority leader. "DeLay's America would stop gun control, outlaw abortion, limit the rights of homosexuals, curb contraception, end the constitutional separation of church and state, and adopt the Ten Commandments as guiding principles for public schools." DeLay is so rabid that even Dubya asked him to tone down his dominionist rhetoric.
Dissident Southern Baptist D. Marty Laskey says his Baptist brethren have been on the wrong side of all major social controversies in the last 155 years: "Southern Baptists favored slavery, Jim Crow laws, segregation, and fought against women's suffrage, federal lynching laws, desegregation and civil rights. Now [they] assert the spiritual inferiority of women, and call for women to submit to their husbands... "
Not coincidentally, Southern Baptists are the least educated group in the U.S.
The growth of the religious right in the U.S. is indicative of a more alarming phenomenon: an anti-intellectual movement among a mass of people who prefer to be told what to think.
Ironically, by joining the Republican party, Jacksonians have thrown in their lot with the WASP Episcopalians they've historically hated. And the ultimate irony is that the hero of the redneck right is none other than a wealthy, Yale and Harvard-educated, Connecticut Yankee who says "nucular."
"He talks the talk but rarely walks the walk, and still gets the support of the Christian Right," writes Texan Molly Ivins, who's been following Bush's career since before he became governor. But Bush is "willing to cut these folks off at the knees if they get in his way," she notes.
Bush deliberately stirred the sleeping giant with his call to ban gay marriage. Jacksonians as a group tend to be easy to manipulate--throw them a religious or "moral" issue they can chew on, and they become monomaniacal. Mix in some culture clash and/or class struggle and you've got a winner. In the words of journalist Greg Palast:
What we witnessed on November 2, 2004 was a 59-million strong army of pinheads on parade ready to gamble away their social security so long as George Bush makes sure that boys kill each other, not kiss each other ... [they] can't bring themselves to vote for a guy with a snooty Boston accent who's never been to a NASCAR tractor pull... 
The rise of the religious right and its mounting grasp on political power could be the manifestation of a long-threatened revolution by the Jacksonian working class. But it's just as likely that the "sleeping giant" will fall back into somnolence until awakened by the next histrionic cry to save America's soul. But if Pat Robertson is to be believed, a real revolution of sorts is in the offing.
Some commentators already perceive an environment ripe for fascism. Certainly there are links between fascism and theocracy. Both are authoritarian forms of government; both "adore the head of state as a godlike figure ... with a special connection to the Creator... "
Fritz Stern, professor emeritus of history at Columbia University, who lived in Germany as a child in the 1930s, sees parallels between the anti-intellectualism and groupthink of Nazi Germany and the current wave creeping in in the U.S. There was a longing for "a new authoritarianism with some kind of religious orientation" in Europe even before the term "fascism" was coined, Stern said in a November 2004 speech at Princeton University. Hitler saw himself as an "instrument of providence," he said. "It was the pseudo-religious transfiguration of politics that largely ensured [Hitler's] success."
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Michael Ray Fitzgerald has written for Utne, The Humanist, Free Inquiry, was a correspondent for the Jacksonville Business Journal and is a contributor to Jacksonville's Folio Weekly. He is a writing-lab instructor at the University of Florida's College of Journalism and Communications in Gainesville. Fred W. Hill is a regular columnist for the First Coast Freethinker.