June 18, 2020 — The Cult to the Shining City on a Hill, by Virginia Heffernan and Jared Yates Sexton

Viriginia Heffernan: “Hello and welcome to Trumpcast. I’m Virginia Heffernan. It is hot where I am, and it’s supposed to be nearly 90 degrees, and humid, and diseased, in Tulsa, Oklahoma, this weekend, where coronavirus cases are soaring — as is enthusiasm for Trump’s exciting rally Saturday night. Trump says one million people have RSVP’ed for a venue of fewer than 20,000 seats. So I guess they’re going to have to pack people to the rafters. Good thing they’re allowed to do that since a Tulsa judge just shot down a legal request that the venue make preparations for social distancing and mask wearing in consultation with scientists who know how diseases spread before they have a risky rally like this. Yeah, that would have been way too much inhibition of civil liberties. Can you imagine? Also in the offing is violence that many black community leaders in Tulsa have said to expect as holding the Trump rally during the two-day Juneteenth celebration of the emancipation of enslaved black people in a state with 100 year history of the worst racial violence in the country. From the Tulsa massacre to white supremacist Timothy McVeigh’s act of domestic terrorism in the 90’s to police brutality against black kids accused of jaywalking. Oh, wait. Was that in history? No, that was two weeks ago. Having the father of birth tourism and champion of police violence and internment camps come to town to spew more bile and Covid-19 pathogens with the backing of the National Guard and the police in case anyone in Trump’s crowd starts brawling with protesters. Well, whatever is deeper than idiocy and louder than insanity — that’s what this is. Anyway, no matter what happens in Tulsa, this would not be OK. The fact that this rally is going forward is just wrong, but since it seems to be happening [in] T-minus two days, it is time to talk about Tulsa. My guest today is the immensely accomplished, learned and prolific Jared Yates Sexton, author of The People Are Going to Rise Like the Waters Upon Your Shore: A Story of American Rage and the forthcoming American Rule: How a Nation Conquered the World but Failed its People… Jared, I’m so glad to have you back here on Trumpcast.”

Jared Yates Sexton: “Listen, it’s one of my favorite places to be. Thanks, Virginia.”

Virginia Heffernan: “So we have a lot to talk about and catch up on. It’s been way too long since you were here last. I do remember that you said, you know, I just wanted to ask you for that, like, existential moment to describe when you fall through the [rabbit] hole like I do, and remember that Trump is the President of the United States. It was early enough in this catastrophe that it was still a shock. And I remember you saying sometimes you’re just [slicing] vegetables and it will occur to you that we are through the looking glass or, you know, on the other side of reality or something. Are you still having those moments?”

Jared Yates Sexton: “Yeah… this idea of [Trump] being President or being in a moment… I think one of the things about not just the pandemic, but also what we’re seeing with Black Lives Matter… It makes you more present in the moment to where you cannot forget that this person is not only president, but also inherently dangerous. And it’s funny you brought up [my] sorting vegetables anecdote because… when he did that stunt with the Bible and declared himself the ‘Law and Order President’ — and basically tried to announce himself as an authoritarian and got rejected… that was what I was doing… I saw it and it was so crystal clear and electric in the moment. And it’s one of those things where… I don’t think there’s any moment going forward… I’m going to not realize that this person, this destructive person is in charge.”

Virginia Heffernan: “So that moment with the Bible… when Trump walked… to the church, the Episcopal Church, held up this Bible… [and] announced that he was the ‘Law and Order President’ — having just attempted to put down, with tear gas, peaceful protesters… That was kind of the end of the road for this because the announcement that he was an authoritarian was so literal and it was so clunky… No one could mistake what happened with the tear gas for some kind of successful military action. I mean, they were peaceful protesters in the extreme and then the mishandling of the Bible, the fumbling of the Bible in this awkward way, all of it seemed like even the people you study, even the rabid evangelicals who believe Trump is God, would have a hard time seeing that as impressive. Was that your impression or did you still say there are people who are going to stay with [Trump] to the end?”

Jared Yates Sexton: “Well, there’s certainly people who [are going] stay with it through the end. And one of the things, if you actually study the history of cults and their movement and their development, they start out much larger and then they winnow down… There’s a moment when, like a leader, either they predict something that doesn’t come true or they change their methods or they become more brutal. People start sloughing off… and you start coming down to like a core group of the true believers… It was like this really bizarre moment because I was raised up in white identity evangelicalism, and it was like the moment that had been foretold in sermons and conspiracy theories [and] some legends for so long. So it did work with a certain group… in the days afterwards, you started seeing a bunch of memes that are… pictures of Christ with ‘All Lives Matter,’ or ‘White Lives Matter’… So it worked with a certain group of people. But I think one of the reasons why it didn’t work is because you’re exactly right. It was all spectacle. And this is a person who has been exposed as not just being ungodly, but being somebody who obviously wags the dog to this group and pays lip service and tips a cat towards them. But there’s nothing behind it. So the people who are still involved for things like white supremacy and the retention of power, they’re still there. But the other people who have sort of put up with it, I think they realized that it was blasphemy… For him, being the Christian God, it was a very odd sort of secular throwback… moment. And I think for people who are fine-tuned: You see it. They saw it. And for everyone else, it just looked like the future. Because how could it not? It was buffoonery, yeah.”

Virginia Heffernan: “Barr obviously had a role in that spectacle. And Bill Barr is… from Opus Day. Several months ago, [he] said that he doesn’t care if Homeric odes are sung in his honor when he dies. That’s a way of saying that he doesn’t care about being on the right side of history. What I didn’t initially take away from the claim about Homeric odes is that he’s rejecting paganism all over again. Right. So he doesn’t care about the opinion of his peers. The opinion of historians. He doesn’t care about his fellows. He has some direct relationship with God that is more vertical and horizontal. And I wonder what you make of [him] as someone who kind of seems to live to defy secularism, to defy paganism, to defy the Enlightenment and to defy, you know, all the… best tools we have for creating a just society. He rejects all of them. And I think there was something in that event with the Bible also.”

Jared Yates Sexton: “…These people are fundamentally obsessed with returning the world to a society beyond multiculturalism and diversity and democracy. This goes back to the idea of like a tradition of Christian conquerors. It’s the idea that, like, you can’t actually have democracy. You need a theocracy. You need some sort of a place where, like, you have traditional rules and morals and all of these things that are imposed on people. So they’re playing a different game. The rest of us are talking about the 2020 Presidential Election or midterms or our local races. These people are actually talking about rewinding time. Yeah. And what you end up looking at when you actually read the literature… they are obsessed with esoteric mysticism and the idea that time is malleable and it’s not always going forward. Which actually was the basis of Benito Mussolini’s fascism. It was the idea of man against time. So when you look at a society — and this is what has come to define white identity, evangelicalism…they say something went wrong. We have to go back before when that thing went wrong. So they’re actually looking to turn the clock back as opposed to — what is the next election for progress and how do we come together and solve our problems, which is what liberal democracy is about. It’s actually about creating a theocracy, which I mean, you and I, I think would look at and say it’s not just madness, but… dangerous and murderous. I mean, it’s elements of fascism.”

Virginia Heffernan: “And I don’t know as much about Mussolini and probably don’t know as much as I should about the Third Reich. But I know that there’s speaking of paganism, at least the Reich had this ideal of kind of Teutonic man… This authoritarian move of trying to put down these protests with the ascendancy of the Christian Bible, which is meant to be, I think, an answer to those… pagan displays of strength or greed or whatever it is. And those two things really clashed in my head because [Attorney General William] Barr, as one of the guardians of whatever intelligence… left… in this Trump venture, is not Christian-aligned in this evangelical way… he’s associated with all the arcane and esoteric of of Opus Dei, and I don’t know what place he wants to return to… This is a mythic past… where, you know, Jesus was our boyfriends and we were all in some cozy relation to Jesus Christ and a light in our whiteness or something… Right. And, you know, you had godlike figures like Trump that put it all down… Is there any coherence to the mythology with the evangelicals, but also with Catholic-identified figures like [William] Barr and [Steve] Bannon?”

Jared Yates Sexton: “No… For instance, let’s start with Bill Barr, which is a really good entry point into thinking about this. So he’s the Attorney General, which means that he is the figurehead and guardian of law. And when we talk about law, we’re talking about supposedly equality under law. The idea that law is blind and it actually is sort of the great leveller… he is interested in using law as a means of control and punishment. And that’s one of the things that’s happened with this Trump thing… one secretary after another. The cabinet is full of people who have a position and their only intent is to actually destroy the machinery that they are in charge of… Going back to the evangelical, particularly white identity, evangelicals, they are not interested in necessarily returning to the past. They are interested in the future. They are interested in an end-times battle… When we hear about the deep state or New World Order… it’s all about a Satanic conspiracy. And it works the exact same way… there are Jewish cabals that are controlling people of color and women and are trying to undermine America. And they use traitors like liberals and Democrats… That’s always the story. And they’re waiting. And this is one of the reasons why Trump would go out and hold up a Bible basically to announce… ‘We are in [an] end-times situation. And who knows if he even understands it? You know, like that’s the other thing that’s really kind of nuts about this is who even knows… what Donald Trump knows and what he intuits and what other people sort of lead him to. But while he’s going one way, you have an entire group of people. And this is why it’s interesting to look at like the influence of people like Steve Bannon and the alt-right… groups that all sort of had their hooks in him for a while. These people, including [Attorney General William] Barr… are very interested in these esoteric ideas that are not on ballots… Nobody [who is] out here talking about whether or not Donald Trump is going to win re-election in November is talking about… things like esoteric non-citizen or Aryan mythology or any of that… But it’s actually underneath all of it… [The] psychological cesspool that’s actually bubbling up underneath this movement is a lot of stuff that people who are motivated by it and pushed by it and fueled by it — have no idea that it’s happening… People that I know who grew up in the church alongside me don’t understand that they’re involved in a white supremacist power cult. They truly believe that they’re on the side of good versus evil when, in fact, it’s more about cultural warfare and it’s more about temporal warfare.”

Virginia Heffernan: “So if, as you said, cults tend to to shrink in power and… on the left you could still run into on a bus or an airplane, sit next to someone who thought that ‘Procter & Gamble’ had the sign of the beast and something something. And they were anti-corporate… but it was such a small group… And now, you know, there’s this fierce group of QAnon people. But what about the people you grew up with? …Even as they’re swimming in white supremacy, [they] must have cognitive dissonance or an uncanny sense that this isn’t quite where they [thought they] were going. I saw this in the Catholic Church when it became clear how extensive the child molestation crisis was and how many people’s priests had protected other priests… a paradigm shift in your brain. ‘Maybe this wasn’t what I need and want it to be. And maybe my level of unhappiness, trying to explain away all these discontinuities, has gotten too much to bear.’ Are your evangelical friends finding that?”

Jared Yates Sexton: “Yes. So one of the things that really broke my heart… they call it red pilling… The idea that suddenly you take the red pill and the world becomes very clear. Then conspiracy starts to organize your life. It started with Trump, which normalized this stuff…. We had the Tea Party, which was, of course, a political movement that sort of trafficked in this stuff. But Trump is just [a] pure, uncut, undiluted [expression of] this. And one of the things I noticed is that the people in my family… they’re struggling… they live in rural America and rural America has been hollowed out by everything from de-industrialization to globalism, whatever you want to call it… As their lives have gotten harder, as the Trump presidency has gone on, they have started to traffic in white supremacy. It will seem like little beginnings, right? You’ll see memes that are sort of underlying racist, and then you see other ones that are just straight racist. And then there are others that, particularly during the protest, are talking about the need for white vigilante justice. Right. Right. Yeah. And while this is happening, the one thing that I had to come around on, because I grew up absolutely flooded in conspiracy theories in this white evangelical world…”

Virginia Heffernan: “What were those [conspiracy theories] in the 80’s, if I can ask?”

Jared Yates Sexton: “New World Order. It was New World Order… it was the idea that Christians were under constant attack by Satan — by a literal Satan — like a Satan / Antichrist situation was trying to work against us. And what I didn’t understand until I started actually researching for my new book, that became very clear, is that these conspiracy theories are simplified explanations of larger, more complex problems… I’ve had to do the research to understand how the globalist structure sort of came about and how free trade started to actually organize our laws and our politics. It’s hard for me to understand — considering the advanced stuff I’ve had to do and the education I’ve had to undertake — trying to go down and explain economics to people who have not had those benefits, it’s almost impossible. So instead, you give them a story. And when you actually look at the New World Order or Deep State or QAnon, it is basically the idea of globalism and de-industrialisation that has hurt middle America. But it involves supernatural evil and it involves heroes and villains as opposed to bottom lines and profits. And when you actually look at it through that, your natural sort of prejudices start to come in. And the more that you’re hurt and the more that you do not have opportunities, the more that you might be drawn into it. So, again, it’s an illusion that is used to create this base and this anger. And when you actually look throughout history, you see that authoritarian states are always based on those groups of people who either had power, or perceived that they had power, feeling like they’re losing power. And then the conspiracy theory fills in the holes. And then also you have a person who comes in and directs the anger, which is what Trump has been doing. And what the Republican Party has done now for decades.”

Virginia Heffernan: “Yeah, crystallizes the anger and as you were saying before the show, surfaces the… real kernel of it. It’s so unvarnished now, to hear people defending, for example, human bondage, or as you pointed out, the conquistadors… These practices that had been, in the 19th century, imagined as antithetical to any kind of working Christian rubric and now are suddenly back in play… It’s not just that it seems morally reprehensible, it seems like a cognitive mistake. Go with me here: you were saying the complexity of globalism is lost on people who have, I don’t know if you’d use this term to describe the people you were just mentioning, but shit life syndrome, as some people call it. They just can’t get out of debt, can’t get a job. There’s drugs in the picture. They have diseases of despair. Suicide and depression and alcoholism and addiction and to get out of that — instead of reaching for something elegant and simple like the idea of forgiveness or the idea of all being part of a universal Christ or the, you know, some of the more beautiful, if vaporous, ideas of the Episcopal Church I grew up in, a lefty church — to turn instead to stuff that takes so much Internet research. I mean, you don’t have to understand globalism… I thought that the beauty of St. Paul’s ministry was that you don’t even have to go get a circumcision, you’re welcome to just fall down on your knees. You don’t have to believe any of the arcana about all the things Catholics would later brew up and then Protestants, again. There is no law… there’s only this law of love… just simply, for the ease of your life, it just becomes much simpler… What I’m amazed at is that, you know, there is no interest in Ockham’s Razor… no interest. I’m just like, let’s keep it simple, and suddenly there are things like John F. Kennedy didn’t die and he came back to life and that has something to do with why we should vote for Trump.”

Jared Yates Sexton: “Yeah… it’s funny, I’m thinking about the conversation that we are having right now and how, if you would take this conversation and transplanted it into my youth, my pastor would be terrified. You know, the idea of there being other religions that could hold truth or comfort or justice is antithetical to the whole thing… So the church that you’re talking about…I grew up in mixtures of Baptist churches and Pentecostal churches. And again, this is all about supernatural evil, the idea of there being spiritual warfare. In this case, the racism was still there, because the social justice aspect of Christianity that a lot of other faiths and sects have, was ripped out in the 1950’s and 1960’s, particularly when Southern Neo-Confederate preachers like Jerry Falwell started to break away from things like Martin Luther King’s civil rights ministry. And so you actually start having this entire part of American religion, this white identity evangelicalism, and they start worshiping the God of the Confederacy — a supremely racist, white supremacist God that is completely for the Confederacy, and it’s one of the reasons why they broke off from America. They believed that they had the one true God as opposed to this other God. What ends up happening in these churches is if you talk to people about racism, it’s not that they think that African-Americans are evil, they think that African-Americans are inferior. And so as a result, they want to protect them. You will see this all the time in words on social media or sometimes you will even see Republicans come out and say this. They’ll say, well, the Democratic Party has just ruined African-Americans by making them into victims, and teaching them learned helplessness, and all this stuff. And the underlying language is that white people know better than [African-Americans], which is sort of the revised myth of the Confederacy, which is that it was a paternal loving state.”

Virginia Heffernan: “…we just heard this from some right wing nut…”

Jared Yates Sexton: “Exactly and the idea is that slave masters were actually taking care of [African-Americans] because they were woeful creatures and they couldn’t take care of themselves. And so this is why the myth of the lost cause and the Confederacy. And this is why they’re all out there defending Confederate statues. The line that runs from that to the place that we are now, is that the benevolent white slave masters have been replaced by secret cabals, and that African-Americans are just being manipulated right now and it’s always George Soros and Jewish conspiracies and Protocols of the Elders of Zion… This faith that is inherently about paranoia and conspiracy theories and white supremacy, has just continued on, but everybody within it doesn’t understand where it came from. They just think that they’re talking about morality. They don’t think that they’re actually talking about white supremacy or they’re talking about power. They’re talking about good versus evil.”

Virginia Heffernan: “A professor of mine in college at Southern, James Cox, used to say that you could tell who was going to win the Civil War by their anthems… Where the North had, ‘Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord,’ — you know, righteousness — …the [anthem of the] South was well, ‘I wish I was in the land of cotton.’ That suggests that there was something small-minded or something… The other thing is that, ‘My eyes have seen the glory,’ has its own imperialist, you know, shortcomings, that everything has to be done our way. But the Dixie thing, it just seems so small and and twisted and… particular-ist in a way that I know some people admire, but it is at odds with the Enlightenment and it is at odds with a robust Christianity, for that matter.”

Jared Yates Sexton: “Exactly. You are dead-on because the Confederacy, again, was about stopping progress and rewinding the clock. Actually, the idea of the Confederacy was based on Thomas Jefferson’s dream of an agrarian world where America would just be farmers and we would never have to bring in machinery or industry, and we would be free of the blight of it… it goes back to everything, from [Attorney General William] Barr, to [Steve] Bannon, to actual fascism. Fascism is always about the idea that progress is going to lead to equality and, as a result, hurt society. So we have to rewind time. The Confederacy, weirdly enough — and it’s odd to think about it like this because a [public] education just teaches us about the military maneuvers and how good Robert E. Lee looked on a horse — but the truth is, [the Confederacy] was a willful attack on progress and modernity, and it was a willful rewinding of time. And you’re exactly right, because when you actually look at what happened between the two nations, the North and the South, the North was about moving into an industrial future and the South was about pausing time at a place of advantage and power.”

Virginia Heffernan: “OK, Tulsa is coming up, and it is astounding to me. I’ve just been listening to the governor, this morning on local Tulsa TV, talking about his commitment to doing this, in spite of all the dangers. What do you? What is happening there? Let’s say there are die-hard Trump supporters, and then there are die-hard coronavirus deniers or whatever they are. There must be some people who love Trump at the end of time and believe he’s God, but for whatever reason, just don’t want to be all packed together in a non-socially distant, unmasked place. It has nothing to do with their love of Trump; that is pure. But they have a strange idea that right now, they don’t want to risk their lungs to a lung-devouring pathogen. So who’s going to show up at this thing? And there may be coronavirus-deniers, who don’t love Trump that much, but just want to show up to spite the liberals — to own them, as they say.”

Jared Yates Sexton: “When we were talking about recording this podcast, I said to you that I think this is going to be a pretty raucous event, because I think what we are looking at, is a group of people who, to just put it frankly, they are pissed off. They are upset that the cultural conversation in this country has changed. They have been told that they cannot gather together. And if there is anything that they love, it’s poking their finger in the eye of liberal consensus… I believe the people who are going to show up are the same ones who were going to church on Easter Sunday. And I’m sure you probably saw it as well… CNN was interviewing the people leaving church, and they asked, ‘Aren’t you worried about the coronavirus?’ And they said, ‘No, I have been washed in the blood of Christ.’ And actually that’s sort of what I have come to call the, ‘Cult to the Shining City.’ They see themselves as being protected from [the coronavirus] because — if they believe it’s real — they believe that it’s either a plague from God on the wicked or that it’s a manufactured mark of the beast-sort of a situation. So you’re going to have a lot of people from both sides of that conversation who are going to be at this rally. This is going to be a release of pressure, and if I had to guess, and I hope that I’m wrong, I really, really hope and pray that I’m wrong — I think this is going to feel less like the sort of standard Trump rally that we’ve all gotten used to and more like what we saw in Chicago leading up to the election in which for any protester… it could lead to violence, it could lead to threats. This is going to be a really negative catharsis, I think, for a lot of people.”

Virginia Heffernan: “And it’s been a long time since there’s been a rally, a relatively long time. There’s pent up something. And they’re losing. Yes, they’re losing, and that’s never a good place for Trump or Trump-ites to be or to feel themselves to be. So it’s not just coronavirus that makes the timing so bad for this rally, but also the fact that Tulsa is at its ninety-ninth anniversary of the 1921 Tulsa massacre… 300 people killed, firebombing from the sky, the National Guard and the police backed up these white terrorists… a white mob that came and laid to waste one of the wealthiest, or the wealthiest, black neighborhood in the nation, that was really building Tulsa and a black community in Tulsa that the world had never seen. And then it was wiped out. So you have that on the one hand, and the on-going George Floyd protests, and coming to town is the President who tried to put down the protests that have such widespread support. Now we are moving ahead with police reform in a way that didn’t we didn’t expect would happen, reckonings on all fronts with racism, but more to the point, policy changes and a diminished importance of the police. Whatever they keep saying about their ‘God-given rights as white men,’ they are also getting fired and getting imprisoned and getting tried, so they can say it all they want. But the power of the police is shrinking and especially the power of the police to be brutal. So you have all that going on. The governor right now is saying race relations in Oklahoma have always been great… and the coronavirus is exaggerated. [Donald Trump] doesn’t feel like he has to wear a mask. And he did say that people are not compelled… He’s not forcing people to go to the rally, which is big of him. But otherwise, he is showing complete indifference to anyone who sees this as a provocation and who sees this as dangerous to their health. And that just seems like a recipe for an explosion.”

Jared Yates Sexton: “Yeah, I love that they are not being compelled to wear masks, but they are being required to sign a release form before they go. I find that infinitely fascinating. But yeah, I think what you just said is important because until I started doing research for a book, I had no idea about the Tulsa massacre. And, you know, I would actually just lay the cards on the table — like I would talk to people [and ask] ‘Have you heard about this?’ And nobody had, but then I would talk to my black friends. And they were like, oh, absolutely, you didn’t know about that? What has happened? Weirdly enough. it’s like two alternate dimensions have just come together. It’s like white America’s suddenly being woken up to a reality that has either been shielded from them by intentional shielding or, you know, it’s our own personal privilege and ignorance. And this rally on its face is such a such a gross racial blasphemy, but he would do this. Particularly the idea that it was being going to be held on Juneteenth. Even today, while he was smarting from the Supreme Court ruling, he said, oh, I’m making people aware of the Tulsa riots or Juneteenth, I’m making people aware of the freedom, and most people didn’t know it. And it’s very weird what he has done. But, Donald Trump’s continued brutality and cruelty and vulgarities and ineptitude is making very clear that the myths about America, and exceptionalism, and the idea about the moral arc of history and all that, that those were all myths, and the meritocracy was a myth and that the idea that we are a colorblind society is a myth. And so this rally, again, is really an obscenity. It’s really gross that they are doing this and what it could end up being. It is also kind of amazing that it’s also bringing moral and racial clarity along with it, because there’s this moment now, where you have to reckon with this, a little known part of history that actually defines who we are and where we’ve come from. This person who denies it, and gains power from, quite frankly, a base that is all about personal perceived persecution. That’s one of the reasons why I think it’s dangerous, because they’re losing. I mean, the poll numbers are underwater. What is this? Seventy three percent of Americans now understand what the idea of systemic inequality is.”

Virginia Heffernan: “Yeah, I think Trump just copped that there is some-something systemic, something to it, but I mean, he just learned the word systemic, so who knows.”

Jared Yates Sexton: “Well I think after he heard it, he went outside and said it again as soon as possible, like an essay question. I feel like something has shifted here, and this group that has felt perceived loss of power, is watching actual loss of power. I think that’s when it becomes dangerous. So on one hand, it’s great that this hidden history is coming to the forefront. We are starting to understand these things. But on the other hand, any time you look at moments of change and change in power, you see a great potential for violence, particularly from the power group that feels like they’re losing power.”

Virginia Heffernan: “Gloria Steinem always says that women are most likely to get killed as abused women when they are leaving their houses, and the same could be said for any kind of feminists leaving patriarchy. Trump is a violent abuser of women — accused rapist, almost certainly a harasser or assailant — and has said horrible things about women. It is not a dog whistle. It is cruelty. [The President] raped a friend of mine, E. Jean Carol. I mean, that’s astounding. [But then there’s] the pressure of the women’s march, the greatest march in history, and I think the same thing may be happening around race, just sort of right on the way out. As you said, that’s when the particular ‘caged animal of feeling,’ that maybe some of the Trump-ites have, might come out. Do you think this is going to be a violent event? — Coronavirus cases are spiking in the city, it’s expected on Saturday night to be about 90 degrees, and it just seems like a Greek tragedy in the making.

Jared Yates Sexton: “It feels bad. I know one of the things that 2016 taught me is not to prognosticate, but I like to talk about possibilities. And so on one hand, I am sure that listeners have noticed… this kind of bizarre protest where people have been requesting tickets who are anti-Trump people… The question is whether or not they will go to protest. I covered the 2016 Trump campaign. I went to all of those rallies. And one of the first things that you would notice is, at all of these places, they are looking for the traitors, right? They are looking for spies. They are looking for people who don’t fit in or maybe are going to protest. There’s a lot of intimidation that goes on there. In fact, there are a lot of altercations that have gone on. So the question is whether or not the protest movement that we are talking about right now will show up there, and if they do, you have a lot of Trump supporters who not only perceived loss of power, they are feeling a loss of power. They feel that this conversation has gone beyond their control. On top of that, we are nearing an election and tensions are high. So there is a real possibility for this thing to be not just a tragedy because people might catch coronavirus, but also some sort of venting of anger. The place for hostility. I mean, when you look out across the country right now, Trump supporters are showing up in the streets with baseball bats and weapons. There is an opportunity, there is a tinderbox waiting to go up, and unfortunately, these things follow a narrative structure. The rising tension just goes up and up and up until you reach some sort of a climax. It feels almost damned to reach some sort of a point like that, and whether or not this rally is it, or whether or not the can gets kicked down the road, I’m not sure I want to end on the ‘Cult to the Shining City.”

Virginia Heffernan: “That’s what you have been calling it, which I think is a really interesting idea, because having just listened to the governor of Oklahoma talk this morning, [he was] well, just out to lunch, whistling in the dark, ideas about coronavirus, but also about race. I think he flatly said all the races of Oklahoma have always gotten along. Two weeks ago… two ‘alleged jaywalkers,’ on a country street with no traffic, who were pushed to the ground and handcuffed — black teenagers. So, you know, there is nothing like that. Also… the biggest act of domestic terrorism on American soil was brought about by the white supremacist, Timothy McVeigh. It’s crazy that an Oklahoman made this claim, but speaking of racial harmony, this guy sounds like a typical Republican and he’s very much happy that while Juneteenth is a two-day celebration in town, the very day of emancipation was protected from Trump’s rally. He thinks he’s done done a lot of good that way, and he intends to go to the site of the massacre to stand with the African-American community. So he says those things, which are very ‘Shining City on a Hill.’ They are very what we used to hear, the ‘colorblind society.’ Everybody now marched with Dr. King, whether or not they were even born. And he sounded like that Trump… he will occasionally make gestures: ‘Frederick Douglass is being recognized more and more. And I brought Juneteenth to everyone’s attention. And, you know, no one’s less racist than I am.’ He can barely muster this kind of whitewash of racism. I mean — he slips in to, ‘We need to dominate that,’ kind of language and it just seems so native to him, so quick and easy for him, to use that language. Where did those two views stand in your awesome master idea of the ‘Cult to the Shining City’? Because they seem very different to me.”

Jared Yates Sexton: “Well, the weird part is that they are actually completely connected. And so… going back to what I was saying about Jerry Falwell moving against Martin Luther King’s sort of social justice ministry, I will throw a term out there that some people have heard, which is the ‘prosperity gospel,’ which is the idea that American capitalism — God’s invisible hand, as Adam Smith would tell you — sort of crowns people with riches and wealth and power. A big part of that entire structure was a guy named Norman Vincent Peale… who created the ‘Power of Positive Thinking.’ He actually officiated Donald Trump’s first wedding. It is the only thing that Donald Trump has ever had nearing some sort of religion. But the idea is that corporate raiders, and CEO’s, and the wealthy, and the powerful, are wealthy and powerful because they have been crowned by God. It is the same idea that America runs through with exceptionalism. The reason why I call it the ‘Cult to the Shining City,’ is because a lot of it has to do with the marriage between Falwell and Ronald Reagan. Everyone likes to pretend like [Ronald Reagan] was some sort of disciple of Christ, but he was actually not religious at all. He was into [stuff like] astrology and soothsayers… Reagan actually believed in this myth of America. [Ronald Reagan] would tell people there was this guy, Manly P. Hall, who was like a mystic in California, and he was one of the gurus that Reagan followed. Reagan started peppering all of his speeches, talking about the ‘Shining City on the Hill.’ This idea wasn’t like what we think of — that America is like a beacon of hope — but it’s the idea that it was created by God in these secret societies to be like the pinnacle of God’s will. He actually tells these stories that are just completely made-up, like… an angel showed up at the Declaration of Independence and inspired the founders. And that America has been God’s crusading nation… [because of Ronald Reagan] it becomes the ethos of not just the Republican Party, but eventually, in order to be successful in American politics, you have to sort of bow down to the idea of America as a ‘Shining City.’ What we are watching now with Trump is the combination of those two ideas, but they are so obviously false in a time of pandemic. All you have to do is look at the numbers. We are not exceptional. We are failing, and the economy that was supposed to be fair and colorblind — it is very obvious that it is based on white supremacy and the maintaining of power. One of the things that’s happening — and I think the shift in numbers shows this — is a lot of Americans have been living in a dream and they are waking up. They are looking around and they are like, ‘What the hell was that… in my childhood? What I got taught, and what my education gave me, was not true.’ What you actually received was mythology. The mythology of America is what is power to us, and what gave us power over the rest of the world, but it is crumbling, right now, before our very eyes.”

-Transcript courtesy of Trumpcast, Slate.com: https://slate.com/podcasts/trumpcast/2020/06/white-supremacy-tulsa

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