The banality of MAGA

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In the evangelical part of my youth, from my late teens to my late twenties, I, like others of the tribe, was principally concerned with two enthusiasms, the advent of the Lord and the identity of the Antichrist. It was our naive conceit that we were born precisely in that confluence of history when both these mighty events would come to pass.

I now see it all clearly as an excess of solipsistic zeal, of course. It lent our ordinary lives a real sense of excitement, one that I still vividly recall. So I understand the source of our fervour. Upon awakening I was reasonably sure it was a folly that every Christian generation for the last two thousand years had fallen prey to, and I saw no reason to expect that folly wouldn’t continue for two thousand more.

Until now. This is new. For the first time that I’m aware, the evangelical community has found its best candidate for Antichrist since Hitler, and instead of renouncing him as such they’ve confused him with the Second Coming.

I have no doubt how Donald Trump would have been received had he come along in my day. Back then we had to settle for such banal Antichrists as Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger. Trump would have ticked all the boxes and been elevated immediately to Antichrist status.

Today I am convinced that the men and women I knew back then, many of whom are today full-on MAGA, would not have been taken in by Trump. They would have seen him for the evil that he is.

So what happened? I think I can answer that. When Ronald Reagan came along, most of us were already set to declare him our latest Prince of Darkness. We even noticed that the number of letters in Ronald Wilson Reagan had six letters each. By the time Reagan finished his second term, I’d fallen entirely away from the evangelical community, and many of them had transformed into full-blown Reaganites.

I think what happened is the fixers and schemers in the Reagan camp noticed how successful Jimmy Carter was in beguiling many of us with his identification with the “born again” set. So they repackaged Reagan the same way, and it worked. All they had to do was teach their ex-movie star to make the right noises and in a stroke they began to convert evangelicals from Democrats to Republicans.

Meanwhile the likes of Francis Schaeffer and C. Everett Koop were pronouncing abortion as murder. You may find this hard to believe, but back then Billy Graham was pro-choice. Up to that point opposition to abortion was seen largely as a Catholic position. Now it was becoming the battle cry of evangelicals everywhere.

So Republicans found a magic formula. They were rebranded as the new evangelicals and they had their self-righteous, so-called “pro-life” position to fool the terminally naive. While some of us were turning atheist and agnostic, the evangelicals who remained were converted, and the new emerging evangelical generation were similarly taken in.

I realise these are broad strokes, and this sociological shift was far more complicated than that. But I think there’s much truth in those broad strokes, and it accounts for much of the unbelievable evil that Donald Trump is able to get away with, right under the very noses of today’s so-called “Christians.”

The problem is one that’s inherent in religion in general. Religion tends to imbue its self-anointed truths with a capital T, so any evil done in the name of that religion begins as special dispensation, and quickly evolves into unchecked hypocrisy. Thus is the white-hot, white-knuckled hatred and intolerance that has emerged from the MAGA cult instantly reconciled, in their perverted and brainwashed minds anyway, with a religion of supposed universal love and tolerance.

Today the MAGA cult worships Donald Trump almost as a full fledged deity. If things continue in this way it will require perhaps one more generation for the next Trump, whomever that turns out to be, to become the actual Second Coming of Christ. Thus are Christ and Antichrist merging among evangelicals. The staggering hypocrisies we observe daily are not a bug but a feature. Indeed, it could be the inevitable evolution of any religion.

None of this is exactly new, of course. Religion has always been co-opted by fascism. Trumpism is just a new twist on a very old theme. It’s also a reminder of how easy it is, and how quickly supposedly good people can be corrupted by the banality of this kind of evil. And it’s a further reminder of just how dangerous they can become in combination. And, as ever, ladies and gentlemen, brothers and sisters, comrades and friends, stay safe.p

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