We can’t deny that we were warned in 2006 during the height of the anti-LGBTQ+ crusades: “Consciously or unconsciously, fundamentalist Christians are using their anti-homosexual campaign to test how much intolerance the American people will tolerate.”
Since that time, just as insider Mel White predicted then in his Religion Gone Bad: The Hidden Dangers of the Christian Right, their success in openly trashing, demeaning, and disenfranchising LGBTQ+ people has led these right-wing religious reactionaries to inspire the Republican Party to produce and follow a leader who openly embodies and emboldens all the forms of bigotry, from racism to sexism to sectarianism to xenophobia, that underlie right-wing Christianity.
In about a month, Americans will decide if this leader and his party represent the future of the country. It’s too easy to ask everyone to just play nice during this test of who America is, especially if we’re the privileged who have lost little compared to those who have died in the pandemics, chaos, economic collapses, and militaristic responses championed by a president who for his whole first term has portrayed all the cruel signs of a narcissistic psychopath.
While right-wing Christian extremists and the leaders of the Party for which they’re willing to die care only about wielding power and lustfully destroying those who disagree with them as satanic enemies, all of this is a challenge to any fanciful ideas about them that liberal people still hold on to, ideas that the right-wing has learned to take advantage of skillfully.
The current occupant of the White House in these times will continue to do the only thing he knows to do — sow fear, anger, division, and threats of destruction. He cannot escape from the only thing he knows — to act like a despotic bully who also whines about the fact that others don’t see him the way he sees himself and therefore treat him as less than a stable genius and welcomed savior.
His world revolves only around himself, and he believes that if he says something it’s true. There is nothing in him or his toadies that bothers them about outright lying even if caught. Pointing out their lies and hypocrisy only affirms the attention they need.
First, then, especially now, we’ve got to recognize this and adjust our thinking in terms of the fact that nothing will change him or his cohorts. Trying to change them only solidifies their feeling that we’re out to get them.
This means recognizing that those who are members of his personality cult are stuck, unable to see beyond the con that they’ve bet their lives on and that owns their egos. They are “authoritative followers” in the sense of personalities who need an authority to whom they will surrender:
“Approximately 20-23% of Americans fit the definition of authoritarians extensive research uncovered. These are people who value obedience to authority as the most effective way to deal with their fears, inability to live with ambiguity, need for clear structure and certainty, perception of threats all around, and belief that domination of others is a way to control reality.”
Second, recognize that winning this president’s supporters over is not only a losing strategy because it disempowers the Democrat’s natural base, but it has not won in the past. The best evidence is that turning out those who already agree with us is the key to winning. So whatever we do must not discourage those who are prone to side with progressives.
Give up on those who still back the current regime. This doesn’t mean being unkind, but letting them go for now.
Further, we’ll need to stop reposting what they say on social media, stop giving them any attention, and thus not be a part of the echo machine. Refuting their arguments only reenforces the validity of their arguments in their followers and in any others who are still unsure but listening to our posts.
To those who are with us, repeating right-wing arguments, even to rebut them, also increases the fear and uncertainty of those listening to us who might agree with us. Putting the positions out there even to negate them sows further confusion and angst as if just the fact that you are arguing gives their positions legitimacy and power.
Debating on social media at this point is futile, counter-productive, and a waste of the energy we can put into what will work. “Pause” these people until the election is over.
Third, concentrate instead on giving people hope and empowerment to do what they can. This immediately contradicts the narrative of the right-wing, the President, and the President’s party who thrive instead on despair.
Debating whether the current Democratic presidential candidate is progressive enough is a losing strategy that results in people not supporting your own choice and generates confusion at this time. It’s discouraging and promotes hopelessness while actually ignoring what’s really slowly happening to the Party.
It too smacks of the privilege of those who aren’t currently suffering from the present regime.
Save all that for pushing the winner forward. Put that energy in prompting your own local, state and U.S. representatives and senators to do what you consider is the right thing.
Speak and act instead in terms of what you and others can do to support, vote, help others vote (even if it’s only one other), and participate so that they don’t feel their only option is to become victims of circumstances.
Recognize that this election takes place in extraordinary times, and, thus, that giving people hope is also about all those other non-political, gracious, everyday activities that respond to needs of neighbors and friends. They’ll be able to think more clearly and act more empowered if they’re reminded that they live in a community that’s better than the political fray often portrays.
Fourth, do what it takes to re-create, to affirm your deep humanity, and take good care of yourself. Working hard for a cause now doesn’t mean there’s no time for yourself.
Take a few minutes every day away from the noise and remember what’s important, who you are, and why you care to be involved at all. Feel your wounds, but try also to remember why these things matter beyond winning any political contest.
Winning, after all, is a means to greater ends. And the hope we choose to convey to others can be that this election will be a step in the direction of a better world for all.
People need a hope you must embody and share, and they need it now.
Professor Emeritus of Religious Studies at the University of Kansas where he taught for 33 years and was department chair for six years, Robert N. Minor (he/him), M.A., Ph.D is the author of 8 books as well as numerous articles and contributions to edited volumes. He is an historian of religion with specialties in Biblical studies, Asian religions, religion and gender and religion and sexuality. His writing has been published in Whosoever since 2005 and he continues to speak and lead workshops around the country. In 1999 GLAAD awarded him its Leadership Award for Education, in 2012 the University of Kansas named him one of the University’s Men of Merit, in 2015 the American Men’s Studies Association gave him the Lifetime Membership Award, and in 2018 Missouri Jobs with Justice presented him with the Worker’s Rights Board Leadership Award. He resides in Kansas City, Missouri and is founder of The Fairness Project.