Rules of Law, and Gods, and Politicians

Topics in this post:

  • How MAGAites think their god (Trump) is above the law, with wise insights from John Scalzi;
  • how Republicans want the dumbest parents to control school curricula;
  • the link between white supremacy and anti-abortion politics;
  • how owners of AR-15s see opportunities to battle everywhere, and how this aligns with the decline of traditional hobbies;
  • and Bart Ehrman’s take on two kinds of Christians.

Back from a weekend in LA, as described previous post. What happened while we were gone? Oh, yes, the former president was charged with 34 felonies. Out of all the news coverage of that event, what struck was the theme from his supporters that “if they can target Trump, they can target you” or words to that effect. What does that mean?

Here’s a representative article on the topic.

Vanity Fair, Molly Jong-Fast, 3 Apr 2023: Trump’s Biggest Trick: Making GOP Voters Feel His Indictment Is Targeting Them, subtitled “Donald Trump is facing criminal charges for his actions covering up a sex scandal. But he’s convinced Republicans the indictment is government villainy at work, so much so that his critics are even rallying behind him.”

My take: If they can go after Trump… Well, if he’s committed crimes, he should be gone after. As should anyone. No one is above the law. Except apparently in the minds of MAGA cultists, who elevate their glorious leader into a realm where mere laws do not apply.

There must be another hierarchy here, like this one about morality, that parses levels of justice. At the simplex end would be authoritarian leaders who simply make pronouncements that everyone is expected to follow. Somewhere above that are societies that codify laws, or at least basic principles (like commandments, or contitutions), that even authoritarian leaders are expected to adhere to. Above that are complex societies where rules and regulations are necessary to maintaining the functioning of that society. Somewhere at the top is the broad concept of “justice” that might in cases trump (sorry) individual laws where they don’t apply; that’s presumably what the Supreme Court is meant to find.

But this hierarchy is an arc from base human nature to the cultural institutions necessary for a complex society. Yet we see that many if not most people are happy being led by authoritarian leaders who feel they are above mere laws that simply don’t apply to them, as long as those leaders tell the masses what to do. Thus charges against Trump violate this cosmic order, and if such an injustice can be targeted to Trump, presumably (in their minds) the evil democratic (small d) government of law and order can just as arbitrarily target anyone else. Like you, MAGAites.


I’ve mentioned before how I’ve found the political commentary of science fiction writer John Scalzi, on his blog, even-handed and wise. He should write a nationally-syndicated political column. Here’s how he handles this very point.

John Scalzi, 31 March 2023: Trump Indicted and What That Means

“If they can do this to Trump, they can do this to you” — well, yes. If I were, say, running for township representative here in Darke County, Ohio and paid hush money to an inconvenient sex partner in a way that invited legal scrutiny, and the local DA (whose politics, I assure you, largely run counter to mine) found out, I would 100% not be surprised to be hauled up under an indictment. Because that’s actually how the law is meant to work. You either believe no one is above the law, or you don’t. Former presidents of the United States are no more above the law then I am, or you are, or any of us is.


What else in recent days?


As I was saying

Salon, Amanda Marcotte, 31 Mar 2023: “They banned Dolly”: Republicans want the dumbest parent at the school to control the curriculum, subtitled “The anti-education bill from House Republicans would empower a single parent to censor what all students can learn”



Salon, Anthony DiMaggio, 1 Apr 2023: War on women: The link between white supremacy, “men’s rights” and anti-abortion politics, subtitled “My research finds a strong connection between white supremacy, support for “men’s rights” and anti-abortion views”

A while back I noted how certain attitudes, not necessarily related on any level of rationality, nevertheless seem to go together; where you find one, you often find the others. Thus followers of one conspiracy are likely to follow others; the religious are prone to conspiracy theories; being anti-gay is more likely to make one an anti-vaxxer. I’ll stop short of generalizing why, to all these observations; but I need to gather these ideas and formalize them somehow into some kind of provisional conclusion. The article linked here is another example.


NY Times, guest essay by Matthew Walther, 4 Apr 2023: What the Owner of an AR-15 Sees in Every Single Place He Goes

First, I didn’t know this:

The primary selling point of the AR-15 is that it can be endlessly modified, configured, reimagined. It can become louder or quieter, easier to carry, wield, fire and reload, or more lethal. It is meant to be combined with a seemingly endless array of customizable stocks and grips, blast mitigation devices, piston uppers and conversion kits. These components are themselves paired with a vast assortment of accessories — vests, helmets, straps and other gear unfailingly designated as “tactical.”

So what does the owner of an AR-15 see everywhere?

To the would-be tactician, every place that humans inhabit — housing developments, apartment complexes, stores, strip malls, hotels, churches, hospitals and, yes, schools — is another opportunity to imagine oneself taking part in military-style maneuvers. Where would you go for cover if you were here? How would you hold this position? What weapons and gear would you use?

A state of mind that is forever alert to danger, and thrilled by the opportunity to engage in battle. Base human nature.

But this idea is especially insightful:

I suspect that part of the reason for the rise of AR-15 fandom is the decline of other American hobby cultures: auto repair, darkroom photography, ham radio operation and the like. Automobiles have become hulking mobile computers that often can be repaired only by manufacturer-approved dealerships; anyone with a smartphone can now take high-quality pictures; no one needs limited-frequency radio bands anymore to talk with people on the other side of the world. Gun ownership is among the last preserves of community for those who might once have enjoyed the opportunities for the innocent pursuit of mastery and refinement afforded by those innocuous pastimes.

I’ve noted before how the growing complexity of our technology has meant that people (mostly men) can no longer fix their cars in their driveways or garages, or tinker with their radios or TV sets, or fix those or other appliances themselves. Many of them are playing games — the vast expansion of video game playing — but not all of them.


One more for today.

Salon, Chauncey DeVega, 5 Apr 2023: Treating Trump like Jesus: Indictment proves MAGA is a cult, subtitled “The elevation of Donald Trump to the level of god or prophet by his followers represents a much larger trend”

More of the same, to an extent. What strikes me here is the identification of MAGA with cults that have famously in the past kept moving the goalposts. The article begins:

The book “When Prophecy Fails” is a classic work of social psychology that examines a UFO doomsday cult waiting for the end of the world. Of course, the special day arrives, and the world does not end. How do the cult members respond to this failure? By becoming more convinced that the prophecy is correct.

Donald Trump is at the center of a similar pseudo-religious cult prediction as well. His most loyal followers truly believe him to be a type of divine, messianic, and all-powerful leader. In reality, there is nothing divine or messianic about Donald Trump. He is a mere mortal who has been credibly accused of many serious crimes. Nevertheless, right-wing Christian evangelicals and Christofascists (to the degree those two groups are distinct and separate from one another) have rationalized their support of Donald Trump (and Trumpism) through the biblical myth of Cyrus. The belief is that God uses a wicked man as a tool of divine destiny and will.

This kind of lunatic thinking is, of course, very dangerous.


Finally, on the drive home on Monday we found an NPR station and heard Terry Gross interview Bart Ehrman, a religious scholar and former evangelical Christian. (Just as Michael Shermer writes books about skepticism and is a former evangelical Christian.) Ehrman has a new book out, Armageddon: What the Bible Really Says About the End.

At the end of this interview, Ehrman contrasts the Jesus of the gospels with the apocalyptic visions of the author of Revelation. How to reconcile them?

So I think it really comes down to a choice. And the frightening thing is, I think increasingly in Christianity, especially in American Christianity, people are really more entranced with the violent, vengeful, wrathful Jesus of Revelation, even if they don’t read it. That’s the side they take, rather than the loving, caring, merciful Jesus of the Gospels.


[T]here’s a lot of violence being sponsored by conservative Christians who are in support of, well, taking over the government, for example, who are in support of all sorts of opposition to social policies that might help people – so opposition to immigration, wanting to cut the budgets so that we don’t help out the poor. We cut down on helping those who are desperately in need. But let’s build up the defense budget, and let’s invade some more.

And so I’ll just say, you know, there are some wars that I think are completely justified. I think America has been in wars that are not justified. And most of these unjustified wars, in my experience, have been supported by people who call themselves Christian who want to take over the world in one way or another. So I think the violent Jesus of Revelation resonates with people more than the innocent Lamb of the Gospels.

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