If you believe the New Testament, John the Baptist was filthy and bug-eyed, wandering homeless from village to village, terrifying small children and raving about the coming of the Messiah. When amazed residents would ask him whether he himself was the Promised One, the Baptist brushed them aside, muttering, “He who is coming after me is mightier than I.”
In America’s dark mirror of homegrown fascism, white supremacists and Christian nationalism, Donald Trump, whose knowledge of Scripture begins and ends with “In the beginning …” is the alt-right’s John the Baptist. He’s not The One. He’s loud, crude and ignorant, a sociopath who can mesmerize the feeble-minded with his pledge to Make America White Again while galvanizing the opposition because he’s so obviously deranged.
Whether Trump leaves office by electoral defeat, resignation, serving out two full terms, or eventually having his frontal cortex dissolve like wet Kleenex, American fascism won’t be leaving with him. The 63 million Americans who voted for him, knowing plainly he’s an unfit racist, aren’t going away. Neither are the dark money elitists who want to make abortion illegal, restore the United States as a white man’s country, and slash taxes for the rich until even the most basic government services can’t be maintained and will have to be privatized to corporate America.
The One, the person who could succeed in turning the United States into a white Christian fundamentalist corporate theocracy, will follow Trump. She or he will have to be smooth, telegenic and even soothing, convincing even moderates that there’s no threat of a takeover by the American Taliban until it actually happens.
Enter the junior senator from Missouri.
Josh Hawley may not actually be the Antichrist of American religious fascism, but he checks all the boxes. He has a bachelor’s degree from Stanford and a law degree from Yale but complains smoothly about “elitists,” meaning people who oppose him. He thunders about being “pro-life,” yet filed a federal lawsuit to allow medical insurance companies to deny coverage for pre-existing life-threatening conditions. He quotes long-dead theologians to justify his saying that the purpose of government is “… to glorify Christ’s Kingdom,” but stands beside Trump while dismissing comparisons to Watergate as “… history from before I was born.”
At the same time, he’s square-jawed, lanky and telegenic, bright enough to write religious dissertations about how the United States is a Christian nation, yet folksy enough to amble down a country road in jeans in a TV spot, warning people that “Midwestern values” are under assault, presumably from minorities, gays, immigrants, Muslims, Jews and any woman presumptuous enough to demand control over her own body.
Even though Hawley has endorsed all of Trump’s positions, from his white nationalist border crackdown to his abuse of power and incendiary racial rhetoric, Hawley resembles Vice President Mike Pence more than Trump. Pence, in addition to fawning over Trump’s authoritarianism, is a white Christian nationalist, probably best known before Trump as the Indiana governor who supported a law requiring funerals for aborted fetuses.
In a 2012 essay for the Patheos religious blog, Hawley disguised crackpot theology with fifty-dollar syntax when he wrote, “Isn’t immanentizing the eschaton precisely what Christian citizens should be doing?”
“Immanentizing” means “to make something immanent or immediate”; “the eschaton” means “the final event of the divine plan, the end of the world.” Hawley was arguing that “Christian” citizens should do everything they could to speed up the arrival of End Times, so the final battle between good and evil can be waged, believers will be transported skyward in the Rapture, and the earth will be left as a lifeless cinder floating through space. Later in the essay, Hawley wrote, “Government serves Christ’s kingdom rule; that is its purpose.”
These aren’t metaphors. These are precise, clear statements of intent to create a Christian nationalist state. But just as Muslims, Jews and non-believers are excluded from this theocracy, so are progressive Christians and the social justice gospel of many black churches.
Hawley has said that birth control is pretty much the same thing as abortion and that sex trafficking was caused by the sexual revolution of the ’60s. He has said Trump’s clearly racist immigration restrictions and crackdown are necessary for American security. He has verbally and literally embraced Trump, and his actions reveal an extremist political core that makes him Trump’s perfect heir.
Investigations by both the Kansas City Star and the Post-Dispatch revealed that right-wing political consultants took over much of the day-to-day operations of the Missouri attorney general’s office almost the moment Hawley was inaugurated. Running the office as a springboard for Hawley’s national political ambitions rather than as the state’s top prosecutor cost Missouri taxpayers tens of millions of dollars in unnecessary lawsuit settlements.
Hawley successfully argued the Hobby Lobby case before the Supreme Court, so now employers can refuse to cover birth control in employee’s insurance plans because of “religious” objections. Hawley’s still-pending lawsuit would overturn the Affordable Care Act, often called Obamacare, and allow insurers to deny coverage for people with pre-existing conditions.
Hawley’s public persona is so smooth, polished and telegenic that he can take bad policy and deliver it with a calm certainty, not Trump’s volcanic tantrums.
John the Baptist was smart enough to recognize the Chosen One when he saw him. Trump’s not. We should be.