Back to Tara: Awful White Woman Sarah Huckabee Sanders

Hi Joel,

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.


A definition of ‘toxic masculinity’: The NFL


If you’d like a definition of the (largely misunderstood) phrase “toxic masculinity,” let me refer you to two stories from the last week about the NFL.

First, the retirement of Dallas Cowboys tight end Jason Witten:

For 15 seasons, Witten gave everything he had, even his health. In 2012, he returned to play in the season opener despite a lacerated spleen suffered in a preseason game against the Oakland Raiders. Witten was under doctor’s orders to not really move for two weeks. He barely practiced leading up to the opener. He wasn’t cleared until a few hours before kickoff.

As a rookie, Witten suffered a broken jaw. He could not eat with his jaw wired shut, but he missed only one game — the only one of his career.

Bill Parcells told him that Mark Bavaro missed just one game with a broken jaw, almost daring Witten to be as tough. The Hall of Fame coach told Witten to eat baby food to keep his weight up. In order to play the following week, Witten needed to be at a certain weight. He stuffed rolls of quarters into his sweatpants to make it.

This is all reported as something to be admired.

Then, today at the New York Times:

When the Washington Redskins took their cheerleading squad to Costa Rica in 2013 for a calendar photo shoot, the first cause for concern among the cheerleaders came when Redskins officials collected their passports upon arrival at the resort, depriving them of their official identification.

For the photo shoot, at the adults-only Occidental Grand Papagayo resort on Culebra Bay, some of the cheerleaders said they were required to be topless, though the photographs used for the calendar would not show nudity. Others wore nothing but body paint. Given the resort’s secluded setting, such revealing poses would not have been a concern for the women — except that the Redskins had invited spectators.

A contingent of sponsors and FedExField suite holders — all men — were granted up-close access to the photo shoots.

One evening, at the end of a 14-hour day that included posing and dance practices, the squad’s director told nine of the 36 cheerleaders that their work was not done. They had a special assignment for the night. Some of the male sponsors had picked them to be personal escorts at a nightclub.

“So get back to your room and get ready,” the director told them. Several of them began to cry.

“They weren’t putting a gun to our heads, but it was mandatory for us to go,” one of the cheerleaders said. “We weren’t asked, we were told. Other girls were devastated because we knew exactly what she was doing.

A game that requires slow-motion suicide of its players while robbing women of their agency … yeah. I’d say that fits the idea of toxic masculinity pretty well.

Is there a difference between loving Trump and hating women and people of color?

Hi Joel,

Perhaps I’m a glutton for pain, but I follow several “Deplorable” social media sites. These are the kinds of places where “–isms” (racism, sexism, etc.) are welcome. The participants take great pride in being “free speech zones” where “political correctness” (also factual correctness) is not tolerated. Every once in awhile, someone pops into a conversation to say that, hey, maybe Deplorables should be nicer to each other, especially when someone asks a genuine question or expresses real concern that, uh, maybe the Trump presidency isn’t meeting expectations (The lack of a border wall is a serious concern.). Trump devotees quickly berate anyone who raises a doubt, with the more patient of them arguing that Trump is playing 11 dimensional chess and that we should never have any doubts about someone who is clearly so smart and successful. Others just call names. So, yeah, it’s a real gutter.

There is a lot that interests me about these groups. Do none of them have friends or loved ones who would be hurt by the language they use to describe others? Granted, I doubt any of them know any actual socialists (one of their top insults), but surely they know people with intellectual disabilities (The r-word is their favorite, unfortunately.). They get hugely offended by people calling them racists, but they love to invoke racists tropes, even though the use of an explicit racial epithet might get a post removed, even as they say that people of every race should support Trump. Like, I’m not sure how the personal and political merge with these folks, unless they are as awful to people in their personal lives as they are in their political chatter, which is likely.

But here is another thing that confuses me: Their obsessions with Hillary Clinton and the Obamas. Their Dear Leader has been president now for a year and a half, but they can’t seem to let go of their anger about Clinton or the Obamas. (Of course, Trump is the same.) They absolutely delight in saying bad things about them. Posts mocking the Clintons and the Obamas get lots and lots of likes–more, often, than posts uplifting Trump–and they go back to issues like the Lewinsky scandal and Whitewater. And while think that the Lewinsky scandal continues to matter for #Metoo reasons, Deplorables just use it as a way to mock Mrs. Clinton for her “failure” to retain sexual control over her husband.

Trump meme.jpg

Above, a pro-Trump meme shows Trump’s face. Above his head are the words “Hello America!” and, at the bottom of the meme are the words “Meet your new set of balls.” Pro-Trump memes often mention his sexual prowess, wealth, and other measures of masculinity. 

Just this week, a poster asked others to share Trump memes. In response, thousands of others posted mostly mean-spirited memes. (Those that were not mean-spirited were over-the-top images of Trump, like the one I share below.) Those that directly referenced Trump frequently used racist, sexist, ableist, or homophobic language, but what was more common were memes showing pictures of Clinton or the Obamas. These images derided them as mentally ill, disabled, intellectually inferior, and sexually “perverse” (Mrs. Clinton as sexually unattractive, Mr. Obama as effeminate, and Mrs. Obama as secretly transgender), and the Obamas are presented, in a variety of racist ways, as unworthy of living in the White House.

It’s not a surprise to me that these themes–ableism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, and racism–are features of pro-Trump memes. These are the themes of the presidency, too. And I shouldn’t be surprised that Clinton and Obama remain targets for that kind of bigotry. Indeed, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama continue to rile up conservative anger so effectively that the GOP is running midterm ads in several states that feature this retired politicians. They are counting on conservative voters to get so mad about Clinton and Obama that they will turn out in what is looking like it could be an election in which Republicans could lose big.

What, exactly, are they so mad about? Clinton, after all, has been relatively quiet since she lost, and the Obamas have been even quieter. Hillary Clinton released a memoir about the election, of course, and Bill Clinton has co-authored a political thriller with James Patterson, while Chelsea Clinton’s public voice is mostly on Twitter. Not exactly real threats. The Obamas are in talks with Netflix about developing a show highlighting inspirational people. You can’t call them sore losers or political threats.

So, why do Republicans keep bringing them up?

I think it’s that, ultimately, their ads use Clinton and Obama in the same way that those memes do: to remind conservative, white Trump voters that the world is changing. Women and people of color are rising, and in the winner-take-all world they value, that has to be a loss for them.

In other words, they’re scared.




Tom Brokaw gives a master class in how not to respond to a sexual harassment accusation


You’ve probably heard by now that former NBC News anchor Tom Brokaw has been accused by two women — one anonymous, the other not — of sexual harassment during the time he was the company’s biggest news star.

I don’t know whether Brokaw is innocent or guilty of the charges, but I do know the letter he sent to colleagues denying the accusations is an ugly piece of work.

The essential message of Brokaw’s letter: I’m a great man. This woman who accuses me is of little consequence! How dare such a little person attempt to bring down the great man! And, oh, by the way: Maybe she”s a slut.

An excerpt. The emphasis added ismine:

I am angry, hurt and unmoored from what I thought would be the final passage of my life and career, a mix of written and broadcast journalism, philanthropy and participation in environmental and social causes that have always given extra meaning to my life.

Instead I am facing a long list of grievances from a former colleague who left NBC News angry that she had failed in her pursuit of stardom. She has unleashed a torrent of unsubstantiated criticism and attacks on me more than twenty years after I opened the door for her and a new job at Fox news.


She came to NY and had mixed success on the overnight news. As I remember her try out [sic] onTODAY did not go well. Her contract was not renewed.

Here is a part of her story she somehow left out. I think I saw her in the hallways and asked how it was going. She was interested in cable start up [sic] and I said I didn’t think that was going anywhere. What about Fox, which was just building up? She was interested and followed me to my office where, while she listened in, I called Roger AilesHe said, “send her over.”

She got the job. I never heard from her or saw her again. I was aware that she became a big fan of Ailes, often praising his considerable broadcasting instincts in public. But when he got in trouble on sexual matters, not a peep from this woman who now describes her self [sic] as the keeper of the flame for Me:Too.

I am not a perfect person. I’ve made mistakes, personally and professionally. But as I write this at dawn on the morning after a drive by [sic] shooting by Vester, the Washington Post and Variety, I am stunned by the free ride given a woman with a grudge against NBC News, no distinctive credentials or issue passions while at FOX. 

Read the whole thing if you want. Brokaw gives his side of the story in more detail than I’ve quoted here.

But it’s remarkable how much energy trying to diminish the credibility of her accusations by saying: “She’s wasn’t a good TV journalist. She failed. She worked for Roger Ailes.”

There’s a sly undercurrent to the Ailes’ mentions, because Ailes famously lost his job after multiple stories emerged about his sexual harassment of female employees. If Ailes harassed pretty women and Vester did ok at Fox, Brokaw sure seems to be saying, what do you think that means?

The problem here, of course, is that the #MeToo moment has shown that powerful men often prey on less-powerful women in large part because the power differential makes their advances difficult to deny. So it’s weird that Brokaw’s denial of the incidents relies so heavily on reminding people of that power differential.

Maybe it didn’t happen. Maybe Brokaw is lashing out because he’s legitimately angry, and nobody told him that there are better and worse ways to defend one’s credibility.

And a wise man might even consider that his perception of an encounter, rather than being the definitive take, might look different from the perspective of a woman with ess power. In which case, the proper response would be to acknowledge the possibility of Rashomon effect at play: “I do not remember this incident as Ms. Vester seems to. I do not recall forcing a kiss on her. I have tried to conduct myself responsibly and with integrity throughout my career.”

But that’s not what Brokaw did. I’ll leave it to readers to decide why that might be.

Explaining the Fiery Hate of White Supremacists

Hi Joel,

I know, I know–I talk a lot about religion and hate. But what are you supposed to do in this day and age?


Nazis held a rally in rural Georgia this past Sunday. About 24 members of one of the US’s largest hate groups, the Nationalist Socialist Movement, set a swastika and an othal rune ablaze. The swastika, of course, is a symbol of Nazi Germany, and the rune, too, was adopted by some WWII-era Nazis in an effort to revise Nordic religion in support of white supremacy, a move that contemporary white nationalists are making, too, as Damon T. Berry explains in Blood & Faith: White Nationalism in American Christianity. 

Members of the National Socialist Movement, one of the largest neo-Nazi groups in the US, hold a swastika burning after a rally on April 21, 2018 in Draketown, Georgia. Community members had opposed the rally in Newnan and came out to embrace racial unity in the small Georgia town. Fearing a repeat of the violence that broke out after Charlottesville, hundreds of police officers were stationed in the town during the rally in an attempt to keep the anti racist protesters and neo-Nazi groups separated

Above, losers invoke the Klan, Nazi Germany, and racist paganism at a small rally for white supremacists in Georgia this weekend.

Photo by Spencer Platt. 


Speaking of racists setting things on fire, Review of Religious Research has a newish (November 2017) article out about church arsons. Available for free online, “When Faith, Race, and Hate Collide: Religious Ecology, Local Hate Cultures, and Church Burnings” by John P. Bartkowski, Frank M. Howell, Lynn M. Hempel, and Jeremy R. Porter is about church arsons in the US South. Some readers might know that there was a spate of African American church burnings in the 1990s, which is the time period under study. The researchers ask 1) if communities with more congregations are at greater risk, 2) how faith-based and secular civic engagement affect such acts, and 3) how the local hate culture (including a history of lynching and interracial homicide rates, as well as the presence of organizations that combat hate) influences these events.


Screen Shot 2018-04-26 at 5.47.45 PMAbove, a map of church arsons in the mid-1990s. Almost 150 churches were burned. At the period of highest activity, a church was burned every five days. 

The research is complex and addresses a number of variables, but I want to pull out just a few findings of interest:

  • Where African Americans had higher unemployment rates compared to whites, church burnings were more likely.
  • In communities where more African Americans were elected to public office, church burnings were more likely.
  • Where African American congregations are more common, church burnings are less likely.
  • Where churches participate in faith-based and secular civic engagement, church burnings are more likely.
  • Where civil rights organizations are present, church burnings are more likely.
  • A history of lynching in the area corresponds to an increased likelihood of church burnings.
  • Black-on-white, but not white-on-black, homicides corresponds to an increase of church burnings in an area.

As the authors note:

In short, the coalescence of historical and contemporary violence perpetrated by whites against blacks is significantly linked to the number of black churches burned in the South during the 1990s.

The authors don’t go this direction, but, looking at their results, I can’t help but see evidence for a broader claim that some of us have been yelling about since the rise of Trump: that white anger toward people of color is not about economic anxiety but about fear of the loss of white power. To summarize the findings: it’s not black economic advancement that provokes white rage but the exertion of power by African Americans–their election to public office, the use of their churches to impact a community, their defense of their civil rights.


PS. Readers who want a regular update on scholarship on hate should sign up for the International Network for Hate Studies’ free newsletter. 

Confusing Honesty and Cruelty: Shania Twain Edition

Hi Joel,

If you don’t follow Country Music news, you might have missed the story: Canadian singer Shania Twain told an interviewer at The Guardian that, if she could have voted, she would have voted for Trump.  In that interview, she said: 

“I would have voted for him because, even though he was offensive, he seemed honest…. Do you want straight or polite? Not that you shouldn’t be able to have both. If I were voting, I just don’t want bulls—. I would have voted for a feeling that it was transparent. And politics has a reputation of not being that, right?”

It’s a frustrating moment in the interview, which is really a compelling piece of writing from a woman who is admirable in many ways. And Twain knew about it–and heard about it, especially from the many LGBTQ+ who have made her into a kind of country queer icon. So, yesterday, she came out with an apology and an explanation on Twitter:

Twain 1Twain 2Twain 3Twain 4

I think her answer probably wasn’t merely strategic, mostly because I don’t think you can attract a strong queer following if you are lying about being inclusive. 

See the source imageAbove, Shania Twain. And, dammit, just looking at this pictures means I’m going to have “Whose Bed Have Your Boots Been Under?” in my head all day now. 

What interests me in her initial signal of support for Trump is that all of us are tired of dishonest politicians, and we want someone who is a straight-shooter. It’s something I hear all the time in defenses of Trump: that he tells it like it is. 

The set-up for the defense is usually something like this: “Trump might be offensive, but he’s honest.” I think that the more accurate version of how Trump defenders think is this:I believe that Trump is honest because I think that people who are offensive are more honest than people who aren’t offensive. 

And that makes sense, if you are a person who cares for others. For those of us who are kind and considerate and who care about the dignity of others, the only time we would say something potentially hurtful is when it was honest and necessary. If a person with a normal ability to empathize with others says something that risks pain for others, it likely means they ARE being honest, because they wouldn’t say something hurtful just to be hurtful–they would only say it to move the relationship to a better place.  I’m embarrassed by how much you are drinking when we go out with friends or You’re boyfriend is a jerk to you are things that partners and friends say to each other, even if they are blunt and cause a moment of pain. For most of us, our lies are pleasant and our honesty is what causes others pain, so if we are hurting someone with our words, it’s because we are being honest. 

That’s not how Trump operates. His lies are overwhelming cruel, intended merely to put others down. Rather than seeing his bluntness as evidence of his honestly, we need to see it as evidence of his dishonesty. His meanness doesn’t mean he’s a straight shooter; if he is being mean with his words, you can bet he’s actually lying. 

So, how come we keep hearing this defense of him, even as we see him lying? 

I get the appeal of strong opinions and frank talk. I’m drawn to them myself, and shutting up was one of the hardest tasks of young adulthood for me. I truly feel for the speaker in Pete Bernhard’s “Orphan:” 

My heart goes backwards, my heart drops down 

I hear my voice say things I told it not to

Don’t know who it’s directed at

Or why I chose to say something like that

And now what’d I truly plan to do

Dude, I’ve been there–confusing anger for passion, thinking I was being persuasive when I was just being pushy. And when I sometimes still veer that direction, that’s me stumbling in a very long race that I intend to win. I’ve had to learn, as the song says, “It was important, but it wasn’t worth dyin’ for”–which also means that rarely is an argument worth hurting someone else for. (But sometimes it is, and so I will. The question, I think, is if you are punching up or down.) 

But, for Trump, that’s the very point, and so hurting others becomes evidence of his forthrightness, which means the crueler he is, the more honest he looks. 

Why do people buy it? In part because they believe that he is like a normal person. (He is not, and those who have left abusive relationships can see in his behavior the behavior of their abusers.

But to get there, they have to think that his honesty outweighs his cruelty. That means that they think the bad things he says about others are true (his honesty) and that the objects of his cruelty–people of color, immigrants, women–can, at minimum, be sacrificed to it and, at worst, deserve it. 

So Twain is right: Trump speaks to “a portion of America like an accessible person they could relate to.”

Which is exactly the problem. 


Above, Pete Bernhard’s video for “Orphan.” 

He sings, “But a lot of people don’t like me
Not my music, I mean personally.” Have a listen.



Kris Kobach, Incapable of Decency or Shame or Compassion

Doesn’t anyone love Kris Kobach enough to tell him to stop? Doesn’t he have a mother or a friend who can speak to him earnestly, kindly, and directly and say, “Kris, you look like a monster?”

The Kansas Secretary of State is organizing a pro-gun rally on the capitol steps for tomorrow–the same day that Kansas students are joining other students nationwide in a walk-out to commemorate the anniversary of the Columbine shooting and call for an end to gun violence.

At least some of Kobach’s supporters will be open-carrying.

Kobach is attempting to make Kansas “the most pro-gun state in America,” which is a really revealing phrase: He doesn’t say that he wants to make it a place where people have the fewest restrictions on their 2nd Amendment rights or where the laws are sturdy around the right to gun ownership. For normal people, believing in the right to gun ownership does not mean that a person advocates for more guns–just like a person can believe in the right to an abortion without believing that more abortions are a good thing. But, for the Secretary of State, rights are less important than guns. Guns, more guns, more powerful guns, in more hands, in more places–that is the goal.


Above, Kris Kobach ponders his agenda for the day. Who should I harass first? Immigrants? Non-white voters? Children who live in terror of being gunned down in school? So many vulnerable people to be mean to, so little time! 

In defending this tasteless event, Kobach says that there are people, post-Parkland, who are trying to “challenge America’s gun culture.” They are trying to argue that “firearms themselves (are) no longer legitimate in America.” He, of course, means, this is a bad thing. But, first of all, it’s perfectly legal to challenge the culture and to argue that guns aren’t legitimate. Everyone, including those too young to vote, is allowed to argue for a different vision of America.

And, second of all, we can change the culture without changing anyone’s rights. Why the hell wouldn’t someone hoping to shape the future of Kansas’ politics want to get rid of American gun culture? Whether you love guns or hate them, whether you think we have an individual right to stockpile weapons or you think that arms are for well-regulated militias, you have to be able to see that our gun culture as it is is not working. We don’t have to change the law to change the culture.