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Ron DeSantis Has Learned Trump’s Most Important Insight
For Christian nationalists, the cruelty is the point.
Tonight on the TNB livestream I’m going to spend the entire show talking about Ukraine and Russia with Cathy Young and Eric Edelman.
Not going to lie: This isn’t going to be the sexiest conversation ever. (I know how people feel about foreign policy talk.) But events are unfolding, this subject is important, and these two experts will make you smarter about what’s going on.
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1. The Cruelty Is the Point
Ron DeSantis did some premium lib-owning yesterday. He gave Fox the exclusive story about how he’d chartered two planes to fly 50 undocumented immigrants to Martha’s Vineyard.
You may recall that DeSantis previously appropriated $12 million of state money to conduct campaign stunts like this, because, as his comms director told Fox:
States like Massachusetts, New York and California will better facilitate the care of these individuals who they have invited into our country by incentivizing illegal immigration through their designation as “sanctuary states” and support for the Biden administration’s open border policies.
There are some ironies.
First, the Biden administration explicitly rejects open borders.
Second, the governor of Massachusetts is a Republican. (Though I suspect Martha’s Vineyard was chosen not because it’s in a Republican-governed state, but because America’s first black president owns a house there.)
Third, if the problem is being able to care for illegal immigrants then maybe the state of Florida should have spent the $12 million on, you know, caring for illegal immigrants. Instead of using the money to get earned media for the governor.
Fourth, Ron DeSantis is, supposedly, a Christian.
2. Love Your Neighbor. Or Use Him. Your Call.
Here’s DeSantis last February, talking to the Very Fine Kids at Hillsdale College:
Put on the full armor of God. Stand firm against the left’s schemes. You will face flaming arrows, but if you have the shield of faith, you will overcome them, and in Florida we walk the line here. And I can tell you this, I have only begun to fight.
On Monday, the Tampa Bay Times dove into his penchant for invoking Christian and nationalist themes:
The biblical reference DeSantis is using is from Ephesians 6, and calls on Christians to spiritually arm themselves against the “devil’s schemes.” In DeSantis’ speeches, he has replaced the ”devil” with “the left” as he tries to mobilize supporters ahead of his reelection in November and possibly a run for the White House in 2024.
“The full armor of God passage is a favorite amongst certain types of Pentecostals who really do see the world in terms of spiritual warfare,” said Philip Gorski, a comparative-history sociologist at Yale University who co-wrote the book The Flag and the Cross: White Nationalism and the Threat to American Democracy.
DeSantis has made the biblical references in numerous stump speeches. He did it at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Orlando in February. Then, at the Florida Republican Party’s annual gathering in July. And again, in August, while campaigning alongside Doug Mastriano, a right-wing Pennsylvania gubernatorial candidate who has promoted Christian power in America. . . .
On Sunday, DeSantis was a keynote speaker at the National Conservatism Conference in Aventura, a three-day event that featured several sessions about the role of Christianity in politics, including one titled “How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Christian Nationalism.”
Asked about his religious commitments, DeSantis’s press secretary told the paper, “The governor is a Christian and there is absolutely no issue with him sharing his values or utilizing them in his decision-making as a leader.”
Let’s put aside the theology of immigration. Let’s pretend, just for a moment, that Jesus would have nothing to say about whether or not the state should seek to discourage undocumented migrants as a high-level matter of government policy.
Those planes were filled with actual human beings. People with dignity. People with hopes and dreams, problems and challenges. People with names and families.
And this Christian man used them as props. He didn’t clothe the naked or feed the hungry. He literally did the opposite: Evicted them—and not because he felt that he had to, because it was a requirement of the law. But because he saw that he could use them as a means to the ends of his personal ambition.
I’m trying—really trying—not to get too hot here. But Christians should look at this act and be revolted. They should be horrified.
Because using vulnerable human beings for your personal gratification is evil. Full stop.
If you want to construct a Christian ethic for immigration restrictionism, you can do it. It’ll be twisty and tortured. It probably won’t be terribly convincing, by the lights of Christianity. But it’s doable. It would go something like this:
Jesus tells us to love our neighbor as ourselves and to welcome the stranger—actually, to put them at the head of the table.
But we can’t help everyone, everywhere. There will always be evil in the world. The poor will always be with us.
Subsidiarity suggests that we focus our efforts closest to home, where we can touch people.
So we should devote our resources to caring for the needy in our communities first.
Allowing everyone who wants to come to America to come would overwhelm the country and hurt everyone in the end.
So we try to care for our neighbors close to home and send aid to care for our neighbors abroad where they are.
And hopefully, in the fullness of time, we can make their lives abroad safe and fulfilling enough that they don’t need to leave their homes.
Like I said: Not super convincing. The Christian ethic of dignity and life isn’t easy. It can be uncomfortable. It often asks us to do exceptionally hard things. But whatever. You can see the outlines of a defensible position.
But even that position would hold that immigrants who do arrive here illegally must be cared for with love and charity.
And it would look with horror on a politician who sought not just to abdicate this affirmative duty, but to do the opposite: to take advantage of his neighbors.
If this politician were a conspicuous, self-avowed, follower of Christ it would be a thousand times worse. Because now he’s not just doing evil. He’s doing evil while claiming Jesus as his justification.
Let me know if you see any conservative Christians out there denouncing it.
One of the early truths we learned about Trumpism was that the cruelty was the point.
In previous eras, when a political actor pursued a policy that was useful but cruel, he would make excuses. He would pretend that actually the policy was okay. That no one would really get hurt. Or that, if someone was going to get the short end, that tough choices had to be made because there was no alternative. So sorry.
One of Trump’s political innovations was to realize that his followers wanted cruelty. They didn’t care about abstract ideas, like the free market or liberalism. They had various subsets of Americans whom they hated. What they wanted was a strongman who would target these othered peoples and hurt them. They wanted cruelty; policy TBD.
That lesson has been absorbed by Trump’s children, DeSantis first among them.
This episode is one more data point in support of the thesis that Christian nationalism is nationalism first and foremost. In this formulation, “Christian” is not a modifier so much as a marker, useful only to distinguish one nationalist tribe from another.
By now you’ve probably seen the news that Patagonia found Yvon Chouinard has given away his entire stake in the company he built. It’s a tremendous and inspiring example of philanthropy.
You should read his story.
If you want to be even more inspired, go stream the documentary 180 Degrees South. You can stream it for free on Amazon Prime. It’ll make you want to go out and conquer the world.