For the last year, I’ve been thinking on and off again about what to do with my dissertation on Christianity and populism. The dissertation itself would not make an excellent book as it is, so my options have been either to heavily revise it or else set it aside and pull it’s theoretical content into an entirely different format. For the last week, I’ve finally committed myself to the latter option.
Everywhere I go—in private conversations, at public talks, and all throughout the classes I teach—I find myself fielding the same questions on the perplexing “Why?” of Trumpism and white Evangelicalism. To every question like “Why don’t they understand the facts of X,Y, and Z?” I bring statistics, theory, and personal experience to explore the desire underwriting the (apparent) insanity, which is internally coherent. I want to say, for instance, that to fully understand why parents abuse their children with conversion therapy, you also want to understand how and why Evangelicals enjoy prohibitions on masturbation or sex outside of marriage; you can’t understand climate science denial unless you grasp just how many fellow citizens expect the world to end very soon; you can’t understand the attack on public education unless you know the early links between the rise of private schools and desire to re-segregate; you can’t understand the appeal of the obvious propaganda on Fox News unless you understand the decades spent curating a victim complex. I want a book that takes a perplexing topic and, by the end of the chapter, gives the reader the sense that they fully understand how that desire works.
I want this book to feel like a departure from my prior work in it’s style and content. I read Corey Robin’s The Reactionary Mind this year, which was a really brilliant and accessible history of conservative thought. Ever since, I’ve imagined taking a similarly clear approach to explaining the conservative religious mind. I want to take my first-hand experience and cross it with my theoretical influences to describe the mind that is at once hostile and submissive, assertive and revanchist, pious and nihilist. I want to write a book not on Evangelicalism and Trumpism per se, but instead I want to describe the disposition that blurs the lines between the two: the counterintuitive enjoyment derived from submission, repression, and aggression.
Rather than the theoretically-heavy nature of my prior work, I want this book to be full of original research and reporting, history, statistics, and stories that lend a sense of understanding what these movements desire. My double-full-time teaching schedule will mean this project is written over months instead of weeks, but during the last week I’ve written about 10% of a rough draft (breaks are, after all, a chance for extra work). This is my working title and chapter outline.
Turmoil & Resonance: What Does the White Evangelical Want?
Introduction: Shame, Aggressiveness, and Turmoil
(1) Against Future: Apocalypticism, Climate Denial, and Wall Street Resonances
(2) Against Knowledge: The Rise of Alternative Education, Re-segregation, Assaults on Public Education, and the Erasure of Critical Thought
(3) Against Sexuality: Purity Culture, Heterosexism, and Nostalgia
(4) Against Reality: Persecution Complex and Propaganda Machines
(5) Against Society: Populism and Fascism