All posts by Cole Winstanley

Map for RBA on rise of evangelical Christians in America

My RBA will argue that evangelical Christians in America have benefitted from the discriminating views of the more extreme members of that group. This arises from the discrimination thrusting evangelicals into the center of the American social identity, which puts more political emphasis on their traits. A link to my current map/outline is below.

https://www.mindmeister.com/794681995

Advertisements

Evangelicals and Islam

I am researching the relationship between American evangelical Christians and Islam, how this relationship changed after 9/11, and how it affects American attitudes and policy as a whole. This topic is relevant to the containment attitudes that formed towards Islam after 9/11, especially since these two groups form the centers of the sides of the current dichotomy between “American” and “terrorist.”

There are two major areas of research which I will incorporate into my research. The first category is studies on the political rise of evangelical Christians in America. For example, they were very influential in the school desegregation controversies in the 1950s, but are much more influential in today’s politics. They receive outsize attention as a bloc in the electoral process even though they are not particularly politically homogenous. Many politicians’ rhetoric has hosted evangelicals up above the rest of the American population as the epitome of Americanism. On the other hand, research into political and religious rhetoric points to a serious animosity of evangelicals towards Islam, strengthened by the attacks on 9/11. Many books that strongly attack Islam were written by evangelical leaders after 9/11, and many of the same politicians that court evangelicals also spew seriously prejudiced views and rhetoric against Muslims. In addition, evangelicals, being more intrinsically religiously motivated, are more likely to respond to religious rhetoric in politics, eventually resulting in a wedge driven between them and other politically active groups, which are more likely to respond negatively to religious rhetoric in politics. The gap that my research fills is at the intersection of these two areas, studying the effect that 9/11 had on this new political emphasis of evangelicals. While these two events have been studied separately, a causal connection between them has never been studied.

Science Fiction as Safe Commentary

Star Trek was a science fiction TV series about a United States-like interplanetary alliance. The creator of the series, Gene Roddenberry, and others involved in its production readily admit that certain episodes intended to provide allegorical commentary on American foreign policy. As Nicholas Evan Sarantakes describes in his Cold War Pop Culture and the Image of U.S. Foreign Policy: The Perspective of the Original Star Trek Series, one such episode was “Patterns of Force,” which commented on American superiority and interventionist philosophy. The plot of the episode leads the protagonists to encounter a Nazism based planet where they choose to intervene with the system of government for the sake of the constituents. The characters comment extensively about the superiority of a democratic power structure: “the main problem [with the Nazis] was the leader principle.” However, they also regret intervening in the politics of another society, noting that “The non-interference directive is the only way.” This is a clear allegory to the American interventions in the Third World and a comment that they are unwise.

Science fiction offers a number of benefits as a medium for political commentary. Since by definition many aspects of a science fiction piece are infeasible or unrealistic, a science fiction artist can always claim that their world cannot be an exact homomorphism to the real world on which it comments. For example, “Patterns of Force” includes a leader who is drugged into being a puppet for another leader, which cannot occur with current technology. On the other hand, the very medium of science fiction allows the artist to say whatever he or she wants since the world is completely made up. Therefore any commentary is possible.

One excellent example of pop culture that comments on American policy is Invasion of the Body Snatchers, a movie released in 1956. This film commented severely on the McCarthyism-Red Scare era political scene, bordering on mocking the paranoia that it created. The mass hysteria depicted in Invasion of the Body Snatchers is a direct rebuke to the paranoia and hysteria propagated by McCarthy-supporting politicians.

Safety and the Exodus to the Suburbs

In Disaster and Decentralization: American cities and the Cold War, Matthew Farish argues that the suburban explosion of the Cold War era was as much due to a desire to be the ‘average American’ or to ‘fit in’ with the suburban image of America as a desire to separate oneself from the cities. A few pages into the essay, he remarks that “salvation, for some families, meant moving […] ‘beyond the radiation zone'” of the cities. This “radiation zone,” however, represents more than just the radiation from a hypothetical nuclear attack. It embodies the cities’ growing perceived inhospitality for the middle class, for they “are becoming a place of extremes.” The “salvation” from nuclear attacks meant salvation from attack by the ‘other.’ This had the circular effect of concentrating those Americans who could be thought of as ‘other’ in the cities as the white, middle class families fled to the suburbs. In turn, white families also fled the concentrated extremes of the cities, creating a feedback loop of separation between the cities and the suburbs: the more different they became, the more desire there was to separate them. Adding even more to the feedback loop, immigrants tended to settle in the cities, pushing out the white ‘normal, true Americans’ out even more.

The incessant imagery of the twin towers falling on 9/11 has significantly affected the American lifestyle since the attacks. A new and different obsession with safety has emerged, and it is most visible at TSA checks at airports. Just like the urban radiation radius offered no actual guarantee of safety since nuclear attacks could be off-target, studies have shown the TSA checks to be relatively ineffective for stopping terrorists. The TSA checks offer a warm fuzzy feeling of safety just like the suburbs. In addition, a new obsession with immigration has emerged from the fact that the 9/11 attackers were, in some cases, immigrants. Politicians like Trump and Cruz regularly invoke terrorism in justifying what amounts to xenophobia. Overall, the pervasive imagery of 9/11 has created a pervasive fear, from which Americans have sought out elements of society which make the feel safe (but which don’t necessarily make them actually safer).

Obama as an “outsider”

A point that McDuffie makes in his essay that I found interesting was that in many ways, the Tea Party Movement sprang up from the idea that President Obama is an “outsider” — that he falls into the category of un-American because he is black. This has resulted in people misconstruing his economic and social policies as supporting “un-American” ideas. For example, he is very often labeled a socialist, even though his policies are well to the right of even European Socialist agendas. This label is an obvious conflation with communism, associated with Obama simply because he is other. In addition, people have claimed that Obama was not born in the United States, which would certainly not occur if he was white. The claim that he is secretly Muslim is an obvious conflation between Obama’s “otherness” and the terrorists, furthering Bush’s dichotomy between those who are with us (with Americans as Americans have defined) or with the terrorists (since Obama is not the stereotypical “perfect” American, he is probably either a terrorist or “with” the terrorists. This conflation is rather odd since black Americans are overwhelmingly Christian and religious compared to the rest of the population. But there is no reasoning here–only associations.

State of the Union in 2002: reverting to Cold War philosophy

The behavior of the United States Government in the months following the terrorist attacks of 9/11/01 represents an American reflex towards Cold War policy. This shift is particularly apparent in the interface between the government and the populace. Politicians’ speeches are media events that encapsulate the state of the government-people interface and offer useful clues about the state of the American people and government.

On January 29th, 2002, President George W. Bush gave the first State of the Union address after 9/11. While the entire speech is too long to study in a blog post, the opening lines–the part intended to grab people’s attention, are rich with rhetoric resembling that of the Cold War. President Bush begins his speech by listing America’s challenges: an economic recession, a new War on Terror, and vague but “unprecedented” challenges to civilization. Abruptly after his pessimistic list, he simply states, “yet, the state of our Union has never been stronger.” How could such a claim follow from those challenges? The answer is that Americans have bought into a duality: there is a threat to the American way of life, but America is now stronger for it. This is analogous to the principal duality of the Cold War: paranoia about nuclear war somehow coexisted with a stronger and more “secure” family life. Even though in neither case America truly neutralized the threat, America was said to be stronger for the mere existence of the threat.

After his unfounded claim of America’s strength, President Bush goes on to describe America’s accomplishments and partnerships in the Middle East. He proclaims that America “saved a people from starvation” and “freed a country from brutal oppression.” These descriptions of American activities in the Middle East represent a renewed moral superiority of American foreign policy, a direct reversion to Cold War era attitude. The description of freeing Afghan mothers and daughters from being “captives” is a potent symbol of America exerting its values on a foreign country.

The 2002 State of the Union was more than just an address by the president; it is was a seismic shift in American policy and how America talks about that policy.

A link to President Bush’s speech is at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wghP2JWloIo and the transcript is at http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/index.php?pid=29644# .