As defenses of Sarah Huckabee Sanders have flown around the internet this week, there is one detail I keep seeing repeated in conservative–and especially conservative Christian–commentary on Michelle Wolf’s comedic critiques of her. They come from a Politico profile of Sanders that appeared the day before the White House Press Corp dinner, so perhaps it’s not surprising that they were fresh in the minds of conservative commentators, but still… That so many of them sharing their thoughts on the non-attack on Sanders chose this particular detail about Sanders really strikes me. Here it is:
Before every briefing, Sanders prays and reads from a book of devotions in her office overlooking the White House lawn. Artwork by her children hangs on a board behind her desk, and across the room is a shelf with a few books, including The Christian Life and Character and Gone With the Wind. She’s the first mother to serve in the job, and nearly everyone who deals with her marvels at her ability to balance work and life.
Many of the articles I’ve been reading invite outrage by suggesting that liberals will “go crazy” when we find out that Sanders prays before she heads into a press conference. While my sampling isn’t scientific, I know lots of liberals, and I bet that 1) they would support Sanders having her own practices of self-care, centering, and, yes, even prayer, if that is how she approached her job, as long as she doesn’t pressure others to participate and use tax-payer funds on her religious practice or 2) they don’t care. Now, I hope her pastor cares that she lies like a rug, and I imagine that Jesus cares that she tries to get him to bless her lying mouth, but I doubt very much that many liberals are surprised to find another white evangelical Christian who isn’t practicing the 10 Commandments. And, indeed, I’m not seeing much (actually, any, but it could be out there) liberal outrage at her prayer life.
But it’s a different detail in here that I find interesting: that she has a copy of Gone with the Wind in her office.
In her performance at the White House Press Corp dinner, Wolf searched for the right word to describe Sanders. “What’s Uncle Tom but for white women who disappoint other white women?” she asked, then answered her question with “Oh, I know. Aunt Coulter.”
Here, Wolf gives white women too much credit. In every income bracket, the majority of us voted for a sexist sexual assaulter. He–and, by extension, Sanders–might disappoint us now, but he won our votes then, and many of us stand by him.
In an early post, I asked the question “Why are white women so awful?” and included an image of one of the worst white women ever: Scarlett O’Hara, the entitled, scheming heroine of Gone with the Wind. I included the image as an illustration of the awfulness of white women: the entitlement, the way we grasp for white men when we should instead stand with people of color, our unearned racial privileges, our insistence that we suffer like no one else, our manipulative tears.
Above, Sarah Huckabee Sanders practices the raised eyebrow that Vivien Leigh’s Scarlett O’Hara perfected. The resembles between these women doesn’t end there.
There is probably a more critical reading of Gone with the Wind that complicates O’Hara, but I doubt that Huckabee is sensitive to it. Instead, the book sits–among only a few others, lest conservative anti-intellectuals get the impression she’s a reader–alongside The Christian Life and Character.
I am unfamiliar with a book of that title, but I AM familiar with Benjamin Mooris’ The Christian Life and Character of the Civil Institutions of the United States. (If I’m wrong and she was reading Stanley Hauerwas’ Character and the Christian Life: A Study in Theological Ethics, I’ll eat my sun bonnet.) That book is published by American Vision Press, which has as its mission to “Restore America to its Biblical Foundation—from Genesis to Revelation as the foundation of biblical worldview studies.” Titles include books such as Is Public Education Necessary?, The Christian Culture Builder: Blueprints for Victory, The United States: A Christian Nation, Moral Capitalism, The Gog and Magog End-Time Alliance: Israel, Russia, and Syria in Bible Prophecy, and American Christian Rulers: Religion and the Men of Government. For those worrying along home, yes, there is plenty of Gary North, a pioneer in Christian dominionism in its harshest forms, in the catalog.
And Morris’ book is what it sounds like: an extended argument that American government was, is, and always should be, fundamentally Christian. The full text can be found online.
If you haven’t heard of it, that might be because it was published in 1864.
In other words, Sanders’ favorite reads (or, at least, the ones that Politico finds worth mentioning) are from or about the Civil War era. Morris’ book promotes a Christian nationalism that continues to resonate with Trump voters, while Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind promotes the Lost Cause. For white evangelical Christians, these are too often the same thing.