In 2013, Frederic C. Rich wrote a dystopian novel called Christian Nation, about a terrifying future where “Sarah Palin becomes president, [and] the reader, along with the nation, stumbles down a terrifyingly credible path toward theocracy … one of America’s foremost lawyers lays out in chilling detail what such a future might look like: constitutional protections dismantled; all aspects of life dominated by an authoritarian law called ‘The Blessing.’”
It’s tempting to recommend reading Christian Nation because it’s often entertaining, albeit unintentionally so – it’s kind of a literary version of The Room where it’s amusing in proportion to how utterly sincere it is. However, the book is often disturbing, such as this description of the narrator’s role in the combat that ensues when Christian Dominionists lay siege to Manhattan.
“I suddenly remember the face of the redheaded kid I killed with a grenade. He ran at my position in Battery Park, alone, screaming, his face twisted in hate,” recalls the book’s narrator. “I couldn’t hear him, but his mouth suggested, ‘Die faggot.’ They called everyone left in Manhattan ‘faggot.’ He exploded in a fine red mist.” The first chapter of the book then ends with this ominous warning about America’s impending totalitarian Christian theocracy: “They said what they would do, and we did not listen. Then they did what they said they would do.”
I thought of Rich’s book because on Sunday, Politico published an article by Joshua Geltzer, a Georgetown University law professor and former senior director for counterterrorism at the National Security Council. In the article, Geltzer quite seriously argues that “widespread closure of polling locations and expanding imposition of voter identification laws [and] escalating purges of voter rolls” means that certain states should be stripped of representation in Congress. Read Geltzer’s argument for yourself, there’s some interesting history there, but to sum it up: something something 14th Amendment something something.
Geltzer’s high-flown legal argument is predicated on a series of assumptions that makes me wonder if the good professor did the slightest bit of research before concocting this nutty idea, because it sure reads like he’s presuming a lot of evil intent he can’t begin to prove. For instance, Geltzer doesn’t appear to know anything about the motivations behind supposedly “escalating voter purges.”
Last year, Los Angeles County settled a federal lawsuit because they had 1.5 million more voting records on file than voting-age adults who lived in the county. In fact, last year the entire state of California had a voter registration rate exceeding 100 percent. A 2012 Pew study – not exactly from a right-wing outfit – found that 24 million voter registrations in the United States, about one out of every eight, are “no longer valid or are significantly inaccurate.”
Further, the claims of Stacey Abrams and others that say voter purges are costing Democrats elections are frankly dishonest. Perhaps purging voter rolls should be done carefully and transparently, but the overall problem is voter rolls aren’t being purged enough.
Opposing voter ID laws is certainly well within the bounds of reasonable political discourse, but citing the mere existence of such laws as justification to strip states of congressional representation is preposterous. So is citing generic problems such as “widespread closure of polling locations” without making a specific argument about how this is occurring and demonstrating it is explicitly unjust.
Then again, I suspect that Geltzer’s immodest proposal lacks specifics for a reason – voter turnout is increasing, and there’s no slam-dunk argument that meaningful amounts of voter suppression are occurring. The problems with American elections are widespread throughout red and blue America, and they are often a result of poor voter infrastructure and a lack of funding, despite whatever partisan dirty tricks are out there. (Speaking of partisan dirty tricks, maybe we can add legalizing ballot harvesting to the list of verboten activities and strip California of congressional representation while we’re at it?)
By any measure, Geltzer’s argument is factually dubious and extremist. Yet, by virtue of his pedigree and a sympathetic media, this idea is given a prominent platform even though it’s frankly undeserving and will add to the divisiveness that defines these debates. Geltzer’s argument isn’t unique in this respect, either. It’s just the latest in a long line of extremist claims coming from the left that get laundered through the media to appear as if they are “mainstream.”
It’s now become practically an article of faith that the Senate must be destroyed because, by constitutional design, states with smaller populations are given equal representation – which is just a thinly veiled way of venting that rural states don’t always vote to further a leftist agenda. Speaking of delegitimizing the authority of a majority-Republican Senate, does anyone believe that the sudden interest in packing the Supreme Court springs from deeply held principles?
The Democratic Party is also on the verge of nominating a full-blown socialist for president who was an enthusiastic booster of Soviet communism, has plans for the government to absorb about 70 percent of gross domestic product, and wants to seize the means of production wrest control of companies from stockholders and give it to workers. The supposedly less radical Democratic candidates in the race have policies such a $22 minimum wage, are fine with abortion up to the moment of birth, or are “feminists” who are fine with athletes born as biological men competing against women.
This brings us back to Christian Nation. Setting aside the disturbing projectionist fantasia, as political prognostication, we can all agree it’s laughable. Far from America being on the precipice of an anti-gay holy war, two years after the book came out, gay marriage became the law of the land thanks to a Republican-appointed Supreme Court justice – and there’s been nothing in the way of an organized or sustained campaign by American Christians to reverse Obergefell v. Hodges.
In fact, three years after the book came out, American evangelicals, including some of the specific religious leaders Rich fictionally portrays as catalyzing the theocratic revolution, all lined up to endorse a thrice-married, pornstar consort who waved pride flags on stage while campaigning. In office, he just appointed the “highest-ranking openly gay official in US government history.”
After three years of this presidency, including two years in which Republicans had total control of the legislature, Obamacare was not repealed and Planned Parenthood still has federal funding. Trump has been fiscally prolifigate and promises not to touch entitlements, much to the dismay of many fellow Republicans. His foreign policy is dovish even compared to the standards of notable Democrats, including his 2016 opponent Hillary Clinton. He passed criminal justice changes, and in key ways has more in common with Bernie Sanders on trade policy than the establishment GOP consensus.
To the extent Trump has governed as a conservative, little on the policy front has been surprising for a Republican president. He passed a tax cut, has appointed two conservative Supreme Court justices, and has pared down regulation. His immigration moves have produced considerable outrage, but Trump’s ultimate goal is border security and skills-based immigration system that looks a lot like Canada or Australia’s immigration policy, so there’s a case to be made Trump’s immigration ambitions are not nearly as radical as portrayed.
Trump’s pugilistic persona and erratic behavior have understandably been a huge distraction. However, from a cultural and political perspective, there’s real case that, for better and for worse, Trump’s America reflects a significant move toward the center for GOP voters than when Christian Nation was published.
At the same time, perhaps it’s worth asking in what ways over the last decade has the left moderated? In recent years, have people on the left or right become more likely to be subject to legal threats, career harm, or public humiliation for expressing sincere, historically acceptable religious or political beliefs? Is the left more predisposed to deplatforming and censorship than they were a decade ago?
How real are the odds that fringe elements in the left, such as a socialists, are on the verge of assuming and implementing disastrous or totalitarian policies? Do institutions such as the Democratic Party and the media effectively call out the extremism in their midst? Are they even capable of this?
In other words, we should probably ask ourselves: Did we listen to what they said they’d do? And are they doing what they said they would?