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The Return of the British Israelites and the Age of the Intentional Gaffe

Let us consider that one of the reasons Barack Obama chose Joe Biden over clearly superior running mates like Ted Strickland was for his alleged downside. Biden, the theory goes, is a smart guy and a great campaigner, save his propensity for verbal gaffes. Yet he’s such a loveable, train-riding old codger that the president chose him despite this deficit. According to this theory, Obama was going to announce his support for gay marriage on The View and the VP upstaged him, stealing his thunder and ruining his carefully-crafted policy rollout. Certainly, the White House leaked like a sieve, quite accidentally I am sure, to get that message out.

But let us consider the alternative: what better way could Obama reverse on gay marriage than to be dragged, kicking and screaming into supporting it by a silver-haired, loveable old gentleman from the Upper South, entirely by accident? I, for one, cannot think of better cover for such an announcement. With this rollout, Obama was not making social issues front and centre when Americans really wanted to talk about the economy but instead cleaning up Biden’s mess. Obama could not be accused to leading the charge for gay marriage; instead, he was grudgingly moving with the times, like a late-middle-aged church-going swing-state voter whose nieces, nephews or grandkids watch Glee on the big TV when they come to visit.

What if American political scripting is so good, and given the amount of money going through the US political system, it’s hard not to think it is being done by anyone other than the best and the brightest, that all the really important “gaffes” are also part of the script? That’s certainly my view and the one on which this essay is based.

 

“We are part of an Anglo-Saxon heritage, and [Mitt Romney] feels that the relationship is special… [Obama] didn’t fully appreciate the shared history we have,” one of Romney’s advisors announced to the British media on July 25th, explaining that a key contrast between the two presidential candidates was Romney’s Anglo-Saxon heritage. This apparent gaffe was quickly addressed by Romney who concurrently affirmed the “heritage” argument even while he distanced himself from the attack on Obama, “it goes back to our very beginnings – cultural and historical. But I also believe the president understands that. So I don’t agree with whoever that advisor might be…”

Of course, the Republican base learned months ago how to interpret “I believe the birth certificate is valid,” “I think the birth certificate matter is closed” and “I believe the president was born in the United States.” Tepid denials following swift on the heels of clear signals indicating the opposite view is how Republican leaders’ racist and conspiratorial views of the world remain true in the FoxNews echo chamber while simultaneously being off the table in the mainstream media. And this strategy is spelled-out by Sean Hannity and his ilk for those who are too slow on the uptake to understand Romney campaign double-speak. FoxNews talking heads spell-out to viewers that it would damage Republican chances too much to just come out and explain that Obama is a Muslimatheist communist fascist born in Kenya and raised in a fundamentalist madrassa on Java to destroy America; and so Romney must focus on the economy while his allies like Donald Trump continue speaking the truth.

I class the “Anglo-Saxon heritage” remark with the finest work by Trump or Joe Arpaio on the birth certificate file: a clear signal to the Republican base dressed-up as an unintentional gaffe, yet another of the great orchestrated gaffes of the 2012 presidential election. But if that is the case, what is the point of this move?

As the son of a man born in a Mexican polygamous colony created by refugees in the late nineteenth century and as bishop of a religion practiced by only two percent of Americans, Romney must constantly remind the xenophobic white Republican base that his otherness is exceeded by that of Obama. As a member of the leadership class of a religion that is accused of polytheism, necromancy and fraud routinely by evangelical religious leaders, Romney’s hold on the racist right will remain completely dependent on depicting the president as more alien and unchristian than himself. Without Trump to remind the Haley Barbours of the world, who wax eloquent on the nobility of the Klan, that someone even more alien than him sits in the Oval Office today, the forces of intolerance might just sit this election out. And on that basis alone, the Anglo-Saxon gaffe is fully explicable. Romney’s Anglo-Saxon blood is what qualifies him to be president; whereas the African blood that taints the current president renders him intrinsically unqualified.

But, as intentional gaffes go, there are other, more noteworthy ways in which this one delivers. In both his 2008 and 2012 presidential campaigns, Romney has praised the writings of W. Cleon Skousen. Skousen, a Mormon conservative activist from the 1940s until his death in 2006 produced a massive corpus of writing that largely languished in obscurity during his own life. Skousen dreamed of a united front among fundamentalists, conservative evangelicals and his coreligionists against communists, sodomites and all the usual bogeymen of the far right based on a shared set of teachings that he labeled “Judeo-Christianity,” something that had a very specific meaning for him.

The Five Thousand Year Leap, which was declared “divinely inspired,” vigorously promoted and ultimately republished by Glenn Beck in 2009, achieved posthumously for Skousen that which he had sought his entire life: widespread conservative evangelical endorsement of his teachings. As the top-selling book on amazon.com in 2009, Skousen’s idiosyncratic, Mormon-infused meta-history of the American Constitution elicited praise from Texas governor Rick Perry and a host of other unanticipated fans. As one of the most widely-read books among Tea Party types, Leap serves as one of the best means by which Romney can connect with the deeply suspicious Republican base. Not only does it domesticate and naturalize Mormon thinking into the evangelical worldview; it offers a powerful theory of world history that appears to speak directly to the 2012 presidential race and the urgent necessity of choosing Romney over Obama.

Today, nearly half a million copies of Leap line the shelves of America’s hardcore birthers and theocrats. Unfolding a story that Skousen spent six decades repeating in various forms, it begins on Mount Sinai where Moses received two documents from God, the Decalogue and the American Constitution. Upon receiving these documents from the Lord, Moses came down the mountain and was elected President of Israel, with Aaron as his Vice President. For centuries the Israelites lived under the American Constitution until they became involved in sodomy and miscegenation.

Following what was a scriptural principle in Mormon historiography until 1981, the skin of the iniquitous Israelites began to darken; and so the true, white Israelites fled north to the present-day Ukraine to avoid being tainted by this impure blood and the impure teachings that axiomatically accompanied it. After living there for a few centuries, they were led by Odin, a white Israelite prophet to present-day Saxony where they became – you guessed it – the Anglo-Saxon race.

Americans, Skousen explains, must understand that they, like their English progenitors, are the true Chosen People, the elect, pure Israelites of the Bible unsullied by the pagan sacrifice, miscegenation and sodomy practiced by the corrupt Jews who stayed in the Promised Land. Following their invasion of England in the six century, the Anglo-Saxons, who had maintained biblical law by oral tradition, re-established the American Constitution, under which they lived until the Norman Conquest of 1066. King Alfred the Great, according to Skousen, should really be remembered as the most successful president of the English republic.

According to Leap and the rest of the Skousen corpus, what makes America great is its Anglo-Saxon (i.e. white Israelite) blood. While the Constitution is divinely-authored and the basis of all virtuous states that have existed at all times on all possible worlds, it cannot be used to govern people who are not the Lord’s elect, a group that, for Skousen, is racially bounded. That is why high-level miscegenation is one of the greatest dangers an elect people can face. And he blames interracial marriage for the failure of Moses’ republic and David and Solomon’s kingdom.

For anyone who accepts Skousen’s theory of world history, like Perry, who, despite his anti-Mormonism, promoted the book far more vigorously than Romney, there is no greater imperative than to remove a dark-skinned, racially mixed person from high office in latter-day Israel. Indeed, the fate of the entire world hinges on the racial purity of the man in the White House. To do otherwise would be to invite the kind of scourging God visited on his people in the past for miscegenation and tolerance of sodomy. Anglo-Saxons, like any group of Israelites, might disagree about important matters but they must come together to protect the racial purity on which their nation’s elect status depends, even if it means electing a polytheistic necromancer who follows a false prophet for the next four years.

No Demographic Apocalypse for Republicans

I read yet another article the other day reiterating some comforting falsehoods that opponents of the US Republican Party like to repeat to themselves.

The argument goes like this: non-white people just don’t vote Republican in large numbers. And because America keeps getting less white, little by little, the GOP will be destroyed by simple demographics. Democrats living in red states like Texas are especially enticed by this line of thought. It seems to offer some kind of permanent future victory that flies in the face of the country’s increasingly conservative turn over the past four decades. This analysis, if it can be called that, has a very serious flaw: it assumes that race is heritable, permanent and unchanging, a belief typically only held by racists. It is a theory that accepts the falsehoods on which American racism is based.

In reality, there is no fixity to what whiteness is in America. With the exception of the Republican lock on black voters from the 1850s to 1930s, the Democrats, since their inception under Andrew Jackson, have been the party of the non-white and the newly white. And it is this second category to which those predicting demographic Armageddon for the Republicans would do well to pay attention.

A century and a half ago, it was impossible to be Catholic and white at the same time in America. More recently, it was impossible for light-skinned people with black parents or grandparents, people like me, in other words, to be white. But this is no longer true.In the mid nineteenth century, the Irish started turning white; a couple of generations later, the Italians did the same, soon followed by the Poles and then other Slavs. The Japanese and Turks were briefly white in the early twentieth century but it didn’t stick. On the other hand, the Jews only turned white about ten years before I did.

Many Latin American immigrants to the US are white in their country of origin and, to their surprise, turn into non-white “Mexicans” after crossing the border, irrespective of their country of origin, people like Florida Tea Party senator Marco Rubio. How hard would it be for America’s ever-changing racial system to re-evaluate their whiteness? Not so hard, I would suggest. Or how about proud members of the Aryan race like Republican governors Bobby Jindal or Nikki Haley?

It may be that the prominent place of Jindal, Rubio and Haley in today’s Republican Party is indicative not of the party branching out and seeking support from non-whites but of America’s colour line shifting again. Just as Catholic voters have gradually shifted towards the Republicans the whiter they have become and the longer they have been able to stay white, let us consider the possibility that the increasing number Hispanics and South Asians are emerging into leadership roles in the GOP is evidence of the whitening of subsets of these racialized communities. Similarly, the Republican-Likud bloc among Jewish Americans continues to grow at the expense of the Democrats, a process also intimately tied to the community’s increasing whiteness.

To believe that race has an inflexible and historically consistent relationship to ancestry, skin colour or physical features is to buy into the junk science of racists and to ignore four hundred years of race-making and unmaking in America. Democrats who imagine some kind of triumphant demographic eclipse of the Republican Party are missing the flexibility and dynamism of racism; if racial categories were inflexible, America’s racial hierarchies would have collapsed under their own weight long ago.

Gradually, over the coming decades, not only will Marco Rubio and millions of other Hispanic Americans who would be white in Latin America will turn into white Americans and so will all of their ancestors, just like Nikki Haley’s are about to. And then the Republican Party’s demographic problem will vanish again, just as it has so many times before in the past century and a half.