Christopher Douglas’s article “The Religious Origins of Fake News and ‘Alternative Facts,'” published yesterday on Religion Dispatches, is a must read for anyone who wants to understand why and how America’s asymmetric polarization–polarization from the Right–has led to Trumpism. You cannot understand this apart from the theocratic element and the relationship between fundamentalist psychology and political authoritarianism.
The key, as I explain in this Twitter thread, is to understand the psychology behind the construction of parallel institutions, of enclave communities, by fundamentalist subcultures. These enclave communities–I grew up in one–are designed defensively to protect the group’s “absolute Truth” against facts that are too difficult and painful to face. As Douglas relates in well sourced detail, fundamentalists’ parallel institutions–like the Christian schools, colleges, and bookstores built by conservative Evangelicals–are “bodies of counter-expertise” meant to oppose and undermine credible science and scholarship that threatens the fundamentalist worldview.
People in enclave communities, of course, are aware of “the world” out there. They know on some level that they are in enclave communities, and, however much they may try to discredit the authentic scholarly expertise of “elites” intellectually, the existence of this expertise is a threat to them. This is important for understanding why enclave communities are not meant to stay that way. If they can, fundamentalists will expand from the enclave, take political power, and try to impose their views on the wider society that threatens them, or at least make them equivalent. This is not something they can achieve in a fair intellectual context, but their sense of identity is so threatened by other possibilities that they are willing to achieve it through coercion. Indeed, coercion is endemic to any sort of fundamentalism.
Fundamentalists–including the vast majority of white Evangelicals in the US–are inherently authoritarian. Authoritarianism, for its part, is a form of abuse on a social scale that depends on gaslighting, hence post-truth politics and “alternative facts.” And as Douglas carefully documents, it is the Christian Right’s #AltFacts, post-truth ethos that has radicalized and overtaken the Republican Party. Having broken one of our two major parties, the Christian Right broke America. It’s been a long time coming, but here we are–and since those of ex-Evangelicals who grew up indoctrinated and mobilized to fight the culture wars have been well aware of the plan, many of us are particularly angered and even retraumatized by the white Evangelical backlash that, with 81% of the white Evangelical vote, has brought us the disastrous Trump presidency.
On Twitter this morning, I suggested we might start using the hashtag #ChristianAltFacts for two reasons. First, as with #SpiritualAbuseIs, the hashtag can give ex-Evangelicals a way to connect with each other and experience catharsis at a time when we are particularly upset by the resurgent theocratic threat in the form of Trumpism. Secondly, the hashtag can help inform outsiders on the Christian Right’s ideology, psychology, and tactics, which it is now urgent for the American public to understand. As I’ve said many times, Evangelicals have been doing fake news since way before it was cool. Now they’ve “crossed over,” if you will, and made it mainstream.