tags: gender, masculinity, racism, Christianity, patriarchy, eugenics, Donald Trump
Bethany Moreton is Professor of History at Dartmouth College and a founding faculty member of Freedom University, which offers college coursework without charge to Georgia high school graduates regardless of immigration status. Her most recent article, “Our Lady of Mont Pelerin: The ‘Navarra School’ of Catholic Neoliberalism,” appears in Capitalism: A Journal of History and Economics.
Don’t look it up, because you cannot unsee it: a blanched and scowling Trump strides through a lurid flood scene, a bawling white baby under each arm. Behind him, a shadowy band of skeletons and hooded reapers looms on a receding shoreline. Pastor Jeff Jansen, the founder of Global Fire Ministries International in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, posted the image to his Facebook and Instagram accounts on May 6, as the news of his firing for “unbiblical behavior” (he left his wife and children “to pursue his own desires”) went viral. Jansen had been among the evangelical pastors and self-described prophets confidently predicting a Trump re-election in 2020. In April he had denounced the modern church as “so neutered and so turned effeminate, almost homosexual” that it was cruising for a bruising from the Heavenly Father. “Where are the men?” he demanded of an audience in Oregon. “Where’s the maleness? Where is the: ‘I will defend the children, I will protect the family?’”
This demented crypto-Christian phallus-worship is to Reagan-era family values what the Charlottesville tiki-torch brigade was to the Docksider-wearing Orange County Young Americans for Freedom of the 1980s. QAnon-fueled fantasies of white child rescue and the once-and-future king have drained any nuance from the ideology of white possession and domestic dominion.
The murderous hysteria over white patrimony—“blood and soil,” anchor babies, the birther movement that launched Trump into political life—is inseparable from the private capture of both economic opportunity and political authority. In his surprise best-seller Capital in the Twenty-First Century, economist Thomas Piketty demonstrated that inherited wealth is almost as decisive a factor in current levels of inequality in the United States as it was in the Gilded Age. The gains in equality that marked the middle decades of the twentieth century have almost completely been undone by the policies pursued since the 1980s. These developments were born of a union of neoliberal economics and neoconservative traditionalism.
For all their incompleteness, the social investments of the New Deal and Great Society definitively broadened access to healthcare, education, stable housing, and secure retirement, thus dampening the advantages of inherited wealth. The wartime federal investment in production, followed by the postwar boom and alongside the decriminalization of collective bargaining, meant that more productivity gains were retained by those workers who made them. Young white men of modest backgrounds who lacked a significant patrimony in property could nevertheless expect to advance beyond their parents’ standing.
These public benefits, however, depended on a different form of private patrimony: the inheritable property of whiteness. In deference to the profoundly unrepresentative legislative power of the Dixiecrats, New Dealers ratified and extended the link between property in whiteness and other forms of property. They did so in a legal regime equipped to restrict that inheritance through miscegenation and immigration laws and the policing of sexuality. White men begat many a child across the color line both before and after slavery, but those children didn’t automatically receive the status of “free” or “white”—categories with clear-cut economic meaning. When a segregationist debating James Baldwin on television objected to Black men marrying his daughters, Baldwin made the implicit meaning clear: “You don’t want us marrying your wives’ daughters,” he corrected his opponent. “We’ve been marrying your daughters since the days of slavery.” Through the 1930s, most miscegenation cases brought in court were intended to invalidate a longstanding interracial relationship in order to prevent property from passing to or through a non-white wife.
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