Friday, June 5, 2020

Is Right Wing Populism the Rubric of the Christian Right?

Excerpts from
Chip Berlet and Matthew N Lyons in
New York, NY: Guilford Press, 2000. 


1. Producerism

One of the staples of repressive and right-wing populist ideology has been producerism, a doctrine that champions the so-called producers in society against both “unproductive” elites and subordinate groups defined as lazy or immoral…
White farmers, laborers, artisans, slave-owning planters, and “productive” entrepreneurs; it excluded bankers, speculators, monopolists – and people of color. In this way, producerism bolstered White supremacy, blurred actual class divisions, and embraced some elite groups while scapegoating others.[. . .]In the 1920s industrial philosophy of Henry Ford, and Father Coughlin’s fascist doctrine in the 1930s, producerism fused with anti-Semitic attacks against “parasitic” Jews.
Producerism, with its baggage of prejudice, remains today the most common populist narrative on the right, and it facilitates the use of demonization and scapegoating as political tools [Saxon, A “Rise and Fall of the White Republic, p 313].

2. Demonization and Scapegoating 
Jean Hardesty argues that the contemporary Right has frequently relied on “mobilizing resentment” as an organizing process (Hardesty, JV. “Mobilizing Resentment: Conservative Resurgence from the John Birch Society to the Promise Keepers”. Boston, MA: Beacon, 1999).  
Demonization of an enemy often begins with marginalization, the ideological process in which targeted individuals or groups are placed outside the circle of wholesome mainstream society through political propaganda and age-old prejudice. This creates an us-them or good-bad dynamic of dualism, which acknowledges no complexity or nuance and forecloses meaningful civil debate or practical political compromise.  
The next step is objectification or dehumanization, the process of negatively labeling a person or group of people so they become perceived more as objects than as real people. Dehumanization often is associated with the belief that a particular group of people is inferior or threatening. 
The final step is demonization, the person or group is framed as totally malevolent, sinful and evil. It is easier to rationalize stereotyping, prejudice, discrimination, scapegoating and even violence against those who are dehumanized or demonized (Aho,JA. “Phenomenology of the Enemy.” Seattle: University of Washington Press, pp. 107 -121. Young-Breuhl, E. “Anatomy of Prejudices.” Cambridge, MA: Harvard Univerisity Press, 1996.).  

The word scapegoat has evolved to mean a person or group wrongfully blamed for some problem, especially for other people’s misdeeds. We use the term scapegoating to describe the social process whereby the hostility and grievances of an angry, frustrated group are directed away from the real causes of a social problem onto a target group demonized as malevolent wrongdoers.  
The scapegoat bears the blame, while the scapegoaters feel a sense of righteousness and increased unity. The social problem may be real or imaginary, the grievances legitimate or illegitimate, and members of the targeted group may be wholly innocent or partly culpable. What matters is that the scapegoats are wrongfully stereotyped as all sharing the same negative trait, or are singled out for blame while other major culprits are left off the hook (Alport, GW. “Nature of Prejudice,” Cambridge MA: Addison-Westley, 1954, pp 243-260. Girard,R. “The Scapegoat.” Baltimore, MD: John Hopkins University Press, 1986.).  
Scapegoating often targets socially disempowered or marginalized groups. At the same time, the scapegoat is often portrayed as powerful or privileged. In this way, scapegoating feeds on people’s anger about their own disempowerment but diverts this anger way from the real systems of power and oppression.  
A certain level of scapegoating is endemic in most societies, but it more readily becomes an important political force in times of social competition or upheaval. At such times, especially, scapgoating can be an effective way to mobilize mass support and activism during a struggle for power. 

 3.  Conspiracism 
Conspiracism is a particular narrative form of scapegoating that frames the enemy as part of a vast, insidious plot against the common good, while it valorizes the scapegoater as a hero for sounding the alarm. Like other forms of scapegoating, conspiracism often, though not always, targets oppressed or stigmatized groups. In many cases, conspiracism uses coded language to mask ethnic or racial bigotry, for example, attacking the Federal Reserve in was that evoke common stereotypes about “Jewish bankers.” 
 Far right groups have often used such conspiracy theories as an opening wedge for more explicit hate ideology. Conspiracism differs in several ways from legitimate efforts to expose secret plots. First, the conspiracist worldview assigns tiny cabals of evildoers with superhuman power to control events; it regards such plots as the major motor of history. 

Conspiracism blames individualized and subjective forces for political, economic, and social problems rather than analyzing conflict in terms of systems, institutions, and structures of power. Second, conspiracism tends to frame social conflict in terms of a transcendent struggle between Good and Evil that reflects the influence of the apocalyptic paradigm. 
In its efforts to trace all wrongdoing to one vast plot, conspiracism plays fast and loose with the facts. While conspiracy theorists often start with a grain of truth and “document” their claims exhaustively, they make leaps of logic in analyzing evidence, such as seeing guilt by association or treating allegations as proven fact (Hofstadter, R. “Paranoid Style in American Politics and Other Essays.” New York, NY: Knopf, 1965, pp 37-38.).  

Conspiracist attacks can be directed either “upward” or “downward.” Antielite conspiracism (or antielite scapegoating) targets groups seen as sinister elites abusing their power from above. Countersubversive scapegoating targets groups portrayed as subversives trying to overturn the established order the established order from below or from within...
What these versions share, and what especially defines antielite conspiracism, is that the scapegoat is seen as a subjective, alien force that distorts the normal workings of society. Thus, despite its “radical” veneer, antielite conspiracism shares the mainstream assumptions that the United States is fundamentally democratic, and that any injustice results from selfish special interest groups, not from underlying systems of power and oppression.  
 As Donner argued, “In a period of social and economic change during which traditional institutions are under the greatest strain, the need for the myth is especially strong as a means of transferring blame, and outlet for the despair [people] face when normal channels of protest and change are closed (Donner, FJ. “Age of Surveillance: The Aims and Methods of America’s Political Intelligence System.” New York, NY: Knopf, 1980, pg 11.)  
In these ways, countersubversive scapegoating has played an important role in this country’s system of social control, bolstering elite privilege and power. 

4.  Apocalyptic Catastrophizing
Apocalypticism – the anticipation of a righteous struggle against evil conspiracies – has nfluenced social and political movements throughout US History. In its generic sense, the word apocalypse has come to mean the belief in an approaching confrontation, cataclysmic event, or transformation of epochal proportion, about which a select few have forewarning so they can make appropriate preparations.  
Those who believe in a coming apocalypse might be optimistic about the outcome of the apocalyptic moment, anticipating a chance for positive transformational change; or they might be pessimistic, anticipating a doomsday; or they might anticipate a period of violence or chaos with an uncertain outcome (Bromley, DG. “Constructing Apocalysm.” pp 31-45. Wessinger, C “Millennialism With and Without Mayhem.” pp 47-59. Both in Robbins, T and Palmer, SJ (ed.). “Millennium, Messiahs and Mayhem: Contemporary Apocalyptic Movements.” New York, NY: Routledge, 1997.). 

5.  Millenial Visons
Millennialism is a specific form of apocalyptic expectation. Most contemporary Christian fundamentalists believe that when Christ returns, He will reign for a period of 1,000 years – a millennium. Yet not all contemporary Christians promote apocalyptic demonization. Within Christianity, there are two competing views of how to interpret the apocalyptic and millennial themes in the Bible, especially the book of Revelation.  
One view identifies evil with specific persons or groups, seeking to identify those in league with the Devil. A more optimistic form of interpreting apolcalyptic prophecy is promoted by Christians who see evil in the will to dominate and oppress. Apocalyptic thinking, in this case, seeks justice for the poor and weak.  
The two interpretations represent a deep division within Christianity. The dangerous form of millennialism comes not from Christianity per se, but from Christians who combine biblical literalism, apocalyptic timetables, demonization and oppressive prejudices… These social movements sought to influence public policy, social conduct, and cultural attitudes, sometimes coming into conflict with the established order and state power.