One of the poisonous legacies of Donald Trump’s presidency has been to expand the boundaries of expressible prejudice. Through the explicit practice of White-identity politics, Trump has obviated the need for code words and dog whistles. Thus his strongest supporters during the Jan. 6 riot felt free to carry Confederate battle flags and wear “Camp Auschwitz” sweatshirts without fear of reproof from their political allies. Many in the crowd surely didn’t consider themselves racists, but they were perfectly willing to make common cause with racists. In social effect, it is a distinction without a difference.
The result has been an illuminating but horrifying clarity. A periodical called American Greatness — the closest Trumpism gets to an intellectual house organ — recently published an article by Alexander Zubatov that provided a night tour of New York City. Addicts he encountered lay in “piles of rags and filth and the stench of their own excrement.” Some “brown bums” were “like ungainly insects going through the motion of a mating ritual.” The city and nation, he explains, are filled with “a growing mass of fat, lazy leeches, slugs, thugs, gangbangers, rule-breakers, whiners and perpetual ne’er-do-wells.”
Suffice it to say that the New York City tourist office will not be linking to the article. But Zubatov’s reaction is worth quoting in full: “I know the unyielding ukase of my educated pedigree and those who share it is that empathy and compassion are the only sanctioned responses to this sorry spectacle. But that would require me to rationalize my way out of a feeling and override all my sound, sane animal instincts. Those instincts are of pre-cognitive repulsion and disgust, and I refuse to let them go. I refuse to humanize those who cannot be bothered to lift a finger to humanize themselves. The mentally ill need our care. The rest need the whip.”
The intent, of course, is to shock, displaying the transgressive edge of Trumpism. But our lack of shock is a problem. By proposing the whipping of brown people, the author embraces the spirit of “Birth of a Nation.” By comparing human beings to “insects” and “leeches,” he practices a kind of genocide-chic. Yet it is now easy to imagine Zubatov headlining a panel at next year’s Conservative Political Action Conference. In a party led by a man who has embraced Confederate nostalgia, bigotry has been mainstreamed. This has pushed the edge of the Republican coalition deeper into the fever swamps and granted those who dwell there a broader hearing.
All this should create a tremendous philosophic tension within the GOP. The party has been swiftly repositioned as an instrument of white grievance. It refuses to condemn racists within its congressional ranks. Its main national legislative agenda seems to be the suppression of minority voting. Trumpism is defined by the belief that real Americans are beset by internal threats from migrants, Muslims, multiculturalists, Black Lives Matter activists, antifa militants and various thugs, gangbangers and whiners. And Zubatov is correct that this viewpoint implies and requires dehumanization; resisting our animal instincts is the evidence of political correctness. The whole Trump movement, and now most of the Republican Party, is premised on the social sanctification of pre-cognitive fears and disgust.
Yet the largest single group within the new GOP coalition is comprised of people who claim to be evangelical Christians. And the view of human beings implied by Trumpism is a direct negation of Christian teaching (as well as many other systems of belief). Christians are informed — not by political correctness, but by Jesus — that every addict and homeless person you might encounter on a nocturnal walk in New York is the presence of Christ in disguise. And the parable He told inMatthew 25 illustrating this point is a rather stern one. Those who follow their pre-cognitive disgust and refuse to treat the hungry, the stranger, the sick and imprisoned as they would Christ are told: “Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.”
This Christian anthropology does not dictate specific policies. But it requires Christians to ask: How should we act in the political realm if every human being we encounter — everyone we admire and everyone we disdain; everyone we agree with and everyone we disagree with; everyone we love and everyone we hate — were actually the image of Christ in our midst? No one can live in this manner at every moment. But it is an ideal that should cause us to tremble.
No one could possibly accuse White evangelicals of consistently defending this view of humanity in the Republican coalition. There have been only scattered peeps of protest as an agenda of dehumanization has advanced. The complete lack of a debate on these matters is an indictment. At some point, the issue ceases to be hypocrisy, because hypocrisy requires the existence of a standard.