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The Nixon Effect, The Money Cult, Ratf**ked
Posted on Jan 27, 2017
By Allen Barra
“The Money Cult: Capitalism, Christianity, and the Unmaking of the American Dream”
The controlled yet righteous anger of Chris Lehmann’s writing makes most commentary by the political left seem like pap. “The Money Cult” is about the transformation of American religion into moneymaking corporations. The “individual, spiritual entrepreneurs” can be “aspiring political power brokers, in the vein of Pat Robertson or the late Jerry Falwell. They can be garden-variety TV hucksters like Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker. They can be purveyors of healing power and off-the-rack success mantras like Benny Hinn or Robert Schuller. Or they can be manic strategists of the megachurch expansion, such as Rick Warren.”
However, “Deriding high-profile preachers as nothing more than hucksters … may satisfy the very broad dictates of left-leaning secular cultural superiority, but it tells us almost nothing about what the followers of the new gospels of wealth actually think and believe. …”
Lehmann, editor-in-chief of The Baffler and a columnist for In These Times, is author of “Rich People Things: Real-Life Secrets of the Predator Class,” which one reviewer correctly described as being about “the ideas, institutions, and individuals he sees as tools for the rich to keep themselves rich — or make themselves richer.” Lehmann picks his targets carefully and shoots to kill. He aims not at Jesus Christ but “the apostles of our money faith [who] go ahead and conscript the figure of Jesus himself into the front ranks of the Money Cult — a ploy revived most recently by the redoubtable Catholic culture warrior Bill O’Reilly, whose mammoth best seller Killing Jesus argues that Jesus was crucified for protesting the Roman system of taxation. (In the great tradition of many predecessor prophets of the money faith, O’Reilly has also claimed a divinely inspired vocation for himself: a direct visitation from the Holy Spirit instructing him to write the book.)”
Lehmann artfully traces the evolution of American Protestantism, as it shed its links to the Old World and reinterpreted the New Testament as “the founder of modern business,” down to the creation of “a free-standing, well-financed evangelical subculture dedicated to promulgating the message that the end might well be at hand.”
“Money Cult” isn’t just about religious pitchmen but “rather, just how America’s once-austere and communal version of dissenting Protestantism developed into such a ripe recruiting ground for the sanctified capitalism of our financialized, upward-skewing, and uniquely destructive market order.”
Though the book was written before the presidential campaign of 2016 got underway, Lehmann provides the clearest answer yet as to why evangelical Christians would support a twice-divorced candidate who made his fortune from gambling casinos.
“Ratf**ked: The True Story Behind the Secret Plan to Steal America’s Democracy”
The two asterisks in “Ratf**ked” are u and c — spell it out for yourself — and although the term has been around in one form or another for nearly 100 years, the current usage of the word comes from the definition of political sabotage in “All The President’s Men” by Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein. Here it stands for the ingenious way in which the Republican Party — particularly strategist Chris Jankowski with an able assist by Karl Rove — redistricted the political map, traditionally known as gerrymandering. In 2010 the Republicans literally made gerrymandering into a science. Their plan, REDMAP — Redistricting Majority Project — redrew congressional districts, especially in battleground states, in their party’s favor. “Control redistricting,” Daley writes, “Rove understood, and you could control Congress.”
The best parts of “Ratf**ked” are the details illustrating the treasure trove the Republicans bought for the mere $30 million that REDMAP cost. For instance, “A commanding 65-42 Democratic advantage in Michigan’s House was wiped out with REDMAP’s help. Republicans spent another $1,000,000 in alliance with the Michigan Republican Party and the Michigan House Republican Campaign Committee, which paid off with 20 seats and new GOP leadership.” And “Alabama turned its state house red for the first time in 136 years with $1.5 million from REDMAP.”
According to David Wasserman of the Cook Political Report, “the maps have become so tilted that to retake the House of Representatives, ‘Democrats would need to win the national popular vote by between six and seven points in order to win the barest possible House majority.’ As Rolling Stone observed, that would require 100 Democrat voters to turn out for every 84 Republicans.”
This is a great subject, one that shows how a relative minority of a political party can defeat a party with more voters. But “Ratf**ked” asks not so much why the Republicans did it, as why the Democrats weren’t prepared for it.
Daley cites several things the Democrats could do to reverse the process. For instance, “Brian Beutler, the astute New Republic analyst, has suggested that Democrats can flip enough chambers in 2020 to play a bigger role in redistricting … [and] should offer a permanent gerrymandering disarmament plan. ‘Neither party would be allowed to draw districts that structurally favor one party over the other for the sole purpose of partisan gain.’”
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