COMMENTARY: Rallying the Troops with Self-Righteous Fury

By Tom Ehrich 02-18-2014

Tom Ehrich is a writer, church consultant and Episcopal priest based in New York. Photo courtesy of Tom Ehrich/RNS

If you wonder what a right-wing political agenda laden with phony morality would look like, here are two signs.

First, from the increasingly shrill patriarch of Silicon Valley, venture capitalist Tom Perkins, the argument that rich people like him should get more votes in elections than poorer people.

Second, from the ever vigilant Kansas Legislature, a bill that would legalize segregation of gays in the name of protecting the religious freedom of those who loathe gays.

Perkins, of course, rode the gravy train to great wealth by backing those who actually did the work, took the risks, and built something.

He recently compared criticism of the 1 percent to Nazi persecution of Jews. Playing the victim card, as if the mega-wealthy were remotely close to being victims, he exploited actual persecution in Europe to mock growing complaints about an arrogant, self-serving Gilded Age class who take whatever money passes by and then consider themselves superior.

He then brandished his $382,000 wristwatch as proof of his superiority.

Now, a proposal to overturn American democracy — one person, one vote — in order to guarantee a never-ending gravy train for the precious few.

Meanwhile, in Kansas, Republicans in the state House pushed a bill that would have allowed government workers and private service providers to discriminate against gays because their religious principles shun gays. Imagine signs saying, “No gays served here” and “No gays allowed” cropping up at hospital emergency rooms, schools, motor vehicle offices, hotels, restaurants, banks — wherever an anti-gay zealot can claim his religious freedom is violated by having to obey a Constitution guaranteeing equal access to public services.

Such outlandish proposals make lesser assaults by the right wing seem less extreme, like moves to deny affordable health care in certain states, to shut off unemployment benefits, to allow corporations to buy elections, to deny collective bargaining to workers, and to make public schools for the wealthy better than schools for everyone else.

And maybe that is the point. Put some wild-eyed extremes out there, and people won’t notice the everyday decimation of the middle class, shredding of safety nets, and funneling of wealth to the few.

More likely, extremists feel emboldened to reveal exactly what they would do if they got power. Perkins’ “more votes for me” idea probably makes sense to people who mistakenly believe it was their effort and excellence alone that scored riches and that wealth confers greater rights.

Kansas’ re-targeting of Jim Crow laws probably makes sense to people who believe gays and lesbians shouldn’t have freedom, dignity, or rights anyway.

The pairing of right-wing politics with right-wing religion is consistent, too. Christian fundamentalism argues that it is the target of conspiracies, discrimination, cultural attacks such as a “war on Christmas” and persecution of the sort that would make Jesus proud.

Nothing rallies the troops better than self-righteous fury. Tell those who are indeed being victimized — by the mega-wealthy and a predator class — that they are under assault by a vulnerable minority, turn attention away from those actually gunning for their money and freedom, and create a scapegoat.

If it worked against the Jews, why wouldn’t it work against gays?

Calling this a faithful Christian agenda is obscene — and to their credit, the state’s Episcopal bishops said so before Senate leaders shelved the bill. The bill in Kansas has nothing to do with preserving religious freedom. But it has everything to do with using religion to take away freedom.

Tom Ehrich is a writer, church consultant, and Episcopal priest based in New York. He is the author of Just Wondering, Jesus and founder of the Church Wellness Project. His website iswww.morningwalkmedia.com. Follow Tom on Twitter @tomehrich. Via RNS.

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