A Dystrumpian Vision for LGBTQ People

Co-authored by Scot Nakagawa

San Francisco City Hall. Photo: Tom Hilton via Flickr.

Many are called but few are chosen during any presidential transition. That’s why it’s illuminating to consider who Donald Trump has chosen from the parade of possibilities for his transition team and senior administration appointments so far— and what they may portend for LGBTQ people.

The Christian Right, with few exceptions, backed the Trump ticket, with over 80 percent of White evangelicals voting for him, and now they’re being rewarded with traditional forms of political patronage. They’re scoring major appointments and have won a say in personnel and policy decisions on a scale far surpassing anything seen since the movement first arrived in Washington with the Reagan administration in 1980.

Since Trump himself has never held the kinds of values or displayed the kind of personal behavior prized by conservative Christians—and barely passes as any kind of a Christian at all—he and his backers needed a theological rationale for the Christian Right’s support. They found justification in biblical examples of God-anointed leaders who were ungodly themselves but who nevertheless delivered for God’s people. Christian Right leaders presented Trump in this way, it was broadly accepted by their followers, and Trump is now evidently making good on the deal.

Let’s look first at two early warnings from which all the rest flows.

The first is an important campaign promise affecting LGBTQ people. In November 2016, Trump told 60 Minutes that he was “fine” with gay marriage; at the Republican National Convention he described himself as “a supporter” of the LGBTQ community, and said he considers marriage equality a “settled” matter. But none of those statements amount to promises to LGBTQ people, to whom he is sending mixed messages He has also promised the Christian Right he would consider appointing justices who would overturn Obergefell v. Hodges, the decision that guarantees same-sex couples the right to marry.

Secondly, Trump has also positioned himself in the camp of establishing dangerously broad religious exemptions from all laws aimed at ensuring LGBTQ civil rights. He promised he would sign the First Amendment Defense Act (FADA) if it reached his desk. FADA, which was first introduced in 2015 and now has substantial support in both houses of Congress, would legalize discrimination in the name of “religious belief or moral conviction,” requiring nothing more than someone’s say so. The scope of the Act appears to primarily affect government departments and agencies, and federal contractors and grantees, including entities that may require federal accreditation or licensing, such as universities and hospitals. And maybe more.

Under FADA, denial of service could take many forms beyond matters of wedding cakes, flowers, and photographers, to include allowing hospitals to refuse treatment to LGBTQ people (or their children), businesses to refuse health benefits to a same-sex partner, and child welfare workers to keep a child in foster care as opposed to placing them with a loving and qualified same-sex couple. If that’s not enough, FADA exempts non-profit organizations and businesses from non-discrimination standards. The proposal’s implications go well beyond issues of direct discrimination. FADA might allow federal employees to refuse being involved in processing federal benefits and rights claims to which they conscientiously object, such as any involving married same-sex couples. The bill exempts “any person regardless of religious affiliation, including corporations and other entities regardless of for-profit or nonprofit status” from following non-discrimination codes on the basis of religious beliefs.

If this is the benchmark approach to policy (regardless of the immediate future of the legislation itself) the federal government will be leading efforts to reverse historic gains of recent decades—attacking the basis for LGBTQ freedom and the dignity and rights of everyone else for whom a religious justification for denying service can be made.

But there’s more.

Trump’s selection of Mike Pence as his vice president was a transformational moment in the campaign, and arguably in American history. Pence may be best known for his theocratic political identity, proudly explaining at the 2010 Values Voter Summit in 2010, for example, that he is “a Christian, a conservative, and a Republican, in that order.” Donald Trump, via his son Donald Jr., reportedly called an aide to his first choice for veep, Governor John Kasich of Ohio, and told him that a president Trump would put Kasich in charge of both foreign and domestic policy, while the president himself would be in charge of “making America great again.” Pence hasn’t said whether he got the same deal, but his role as chair of the transition team suggests that he is already among the most powerful vice presidents in American history.

This does not bode well.

Pence’s tenure as governor of Indiana was marked by his signing a version of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, a law that would make discrimination against same-sex couples legally defensible. Pence signed the Act in the company of his state’s Christian Right leadership, marking him as a movement leader himself. Following national outcry, the legislature passed an amendment that explicitly stated that such discrimination was not the intent of the law.

Unsurprisingly, given both Trump and Pence’s history and views, much of the Christian Right agenda, particularly with regards to anything that affects LGBTQ people, will probably come wrapped in the flag of religious freedom. Some leading indicators of the direction the administration will take in this regard are visible in the transition team that’s proposing staff for the new administration and the appointments and nominations that have resulted from their work so far.

Ken Blackwell heads domestic issues for the transition team. A longtime Christian Right pol from Ohio, he is Senior Fellow for Human Rights and Constitutional Governance at the Family Research Council, the leading Christian Right lobby in Washington, D.C. Blackwell also serves on the board of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, a Christian Right legal group that promotes religion based exemptions from the law.

Ed Meese leads the transition team for the Office of Management and Budget. He is one of the architects of FADA and served as Attorney General in the Reagan administration. He is joined by Kay Cole James, the former dean of the Pat Robertson School of Government at Regent University and a former head of the federal Office of Personnel Management. These figures know how the federal government works and how to ensure their people are well represented among the 4,000 positions that need to be filled in the West Wing of the White House, and throughout the federal government over the course of the Trump administration and beyond.

Ken Klukowski serves on the part of the transition team focusing on executive authority, responsible for “protecting constitutional rights.” He is the senior counsel for the Texas-based First Liberty Institute (formerly the Liberty Institute), a leading Christian Right legal group focused on religious exemptions from the law, especially LGBTQ rights. He is also the senior legal editor for Breitbart News.

Dr. Ben Carson is one of twelve vice-chairs of the transition team and Trump’s nominee for Secretary of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Carson is a Christian Right leader and anti-LGBTQ ideologue known for harsh rhetoric in support of his beliefs. Carson has associated being LGBTQ with polygamy, pedophilia, and bestiality. He thinks that transgender people are “the height of absurdity” and he claims that marriage equality is a Marxist plot that may lead the country to go the way of the Roman Empire. He has characterized the kind of public housing he would oversee at HUD as “communism” and as Secretary he could undermine if not reverse the Obama administration’s efforts to curb discrimination against LGBTQ people in housing.

Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) is a vice-chair of the transition team and Trump’s nominee for Attorney General. A senior member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sessions is also a co-sponsor of FADA. The Huffington Post headlined an article about his nomination, “Pick Any LGBTQ Rights Issue. Jeff Sessions Has Voted Against It.” His Senate chief of staff, Rick Dearborn, is the executive director of the transition team.

Rep. Tom Price (R-GA) is nominated to be Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). Price’s House voting record received a 0% rating from the Human Rights Campaign. He is a co-sponsor of FADA and supports a constitutional amendment to overturn Obergefell v. Hodges.

Betsy DeVos, Trump’s nominee for Secretary of Education, is a longtime financier of Christian Right projects, particularly in the area of school privatization. Politico reports that DeVos has said her work in education is intended to “advance God’s kingdom.” She and her family, heirs to the Amway corporate fortune, have a long record of underwriting Christian Right and anti-LGBTQ projects and organizations for the same reason. They have donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to organizations that believe in “conversion therapy”; they are major backers of Focus on the Family, whose founder, James Dobson, called the battle against LGBTQ rights a “second civil war.” (Liberty University president Jerry Falwell Jr., who steadfastly supported Trump through the campaign, was Trump’s first choice for secretary. Falwell said he declined in order to attend to other obligations.)

President-elect Donald Trump’s transition team and top level appointments should be taken as clear indicators of the direction of the Trump administration with regard to the dignity and civil rights of LGBTQ people. And if past is prologue, what Mr. Trump says may not be nearly as important as what he does. Continued vigilance regarding what his appointees do in his name will be vital.

Frederick Clarkson is Senior Fellow at PRA. Scot Nakagawa is a Senior Partner of ChangeLab, a national racial justice think-act laboratory, and served as Fight the Right Organizer of the National LGBTQ Task Force.

Dr. Ben Carson, the Right’s Latest Great Black Hope

Dr. Ben Carson, speaking at the 2013 Values Voters Summit

Dr. Ben Carson, speaking at the 2013 Values Voters Summit

In 2004, then-Senator Barack Obama burst onto the national political scene with his stirring speech at the Democratic National Convention. Since then, the GOP has been in search of a “Great Black Hope” to counter Obama’s supposed racial appeal to Black voters. From Alan Keyes to Herman Cain, various Black candidates have been floated in hopes that they held the keys to a GOP victory among Black voters (and promptly shunted to the side once they prove otherwise).

The latest in this parade of short-lived political celebrities is Dr. Ben Carson, the retired neurosurgeon and former head of pediatric neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins. Carson’s celebrity status has been on the rise since he lambasted the Affordable Care Act (ACA, or “Obamacare”) in front of President Obama at the 2013 National Prayer Breakfast. Since then, Carson has become a sought-after speaker on the conservative political circuit, including the 2013 Values Voters Summit, and both the 2013 and 2014 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) convenings. Carson received a warm welcome at CPAC 2014, where he delivered a well-attended and well-received speech, landing him in third place in CPAC’s straw poll of possible 2016 presidential candidates. (Carson received 11% of the CPAC vote,  just shy of Ted Cruz’s also 11% second-place finish and well behind winner Rand Paul’s 31%. Carson received 4% of the straw poll vote at CPAC 2013).

Part of Carson’s appeal is his validation of the GOP base through the use of fear-mongering and persecution fantasies validates the GOP base At CPAC 2014, Carson took the opportunity to revisit his controversial comments at Values Voters 2013, where he declared the Affordable Care Act:

The worst thing to happen in this nation since slavery… It is slavery in a way, because it is making all of us subservient to the government, and it was never about healthcare. It was about control.

Carson’s CPAC 2014 speech mocked the “PC police” for allegedly misrepresenting his remarks at Values Voters, as well as his March 2013 comments which implicitly equated being gay with pedophilia and bestiality (The comments touched off a media firestorm that culminated in Carson withdrawing as commencement speaker at the Johns Hopkins 2013 graduation ceremonies). “Of course slavery is worse [than Obamacare],” he scoffed, and anyone who believes “Carson said gay marriage and bestiality are the same thing … is a dummy.” He described criticism of his comments as tactics taken from “the principles of Saul Alinsky” and the only resort of people who have only “ideology” and “cannot argue the actual facts.”

Among his other red-meat rhetoric at CPAC, Carson denounced “extra rights” for LGBTQ people; lectured “minority communities” on the “need to learn how to turn over [a] dollar … and create wealth” and “not [be] a victim”; touted self-determination and faith in God as the keys to “mov[ing] up”; and my personal favorite: declared that America “is about to sail off Niagara Falls, and we’re all going to be killed.”

Perhaps the most intriguing parts of Carson’s comments were his hints at plans for a more overt political role, and further efforts at organizing and recruiting Black conservatives. Carson urged attendees to sign a petition against the ACA, created by Newt Gingrich’s American Legacy PAC— part of a “Save our Healthcare” campaign with Carson as the chair and public face of the project. (See Media Matters on the extremely dubious finances of the American Legacy PAC.)

Carson also announced the imminent launch of a Black conservative digital magazine, which will offer a “different point of view … [not] about being a victim [but] about how we use our collective intellect and our resources to move up.” The magazine will be backed by the Washington Times, where Carson has been a weekly columnist since July of 2013.

Further indication of Carson’s rising celebrity: the “National Draft Ben Carson for President Committee.” Founded by Black conservative Vernon Robinson, the PAC works to raise money and support for a potential 2016 presidential run by Carson (the PAC may also need to convince their would-be candidate to run, as Carson has repeatedly denied having any plans to do so). Last week, the PAC reported in a press release that it had raised $2.8 million in contributions from “nearly 47,000 individuals” in its first six months of operation, “outpacing similar efforts designed to draft other high-profile candidates into the 2016 presidential race” (namely, the Ready for Hillary PAC).

Robinson has argued that Carson is “the only guy who can broaden the GOP base, get 17 percent of the black vote, get a healthy number of Hispanic voters, while still staying true to conservative ideals”— and therefore the only candidate who can defeat Hillary Clinton, because 17% is, by his calculations, the percentage of Black voters the GOP needs to persuade to make a Democratic presidential win “mathematically impossible.”

It’s clear from such reasoning that race is a huge part— if not the primary reason for— Carson’s appeal to conservatives.  As I’ve written elsewhere for PRA, he and other Black conservatives give the political Right a convenient, “color-blind” cover for its racism, homophobia, and historical revisionism. Words that out of Paul Ryan’s mouth are lambasted as racist—such as his recent comment about “inner cities” having a “culture problem … of men not working”—get a very different reaction when Black conservatives (or, to be fair, even President Obama) make similar statements. And, of course, there’s the obvious usefulness of a famous world-class surgeon as the face of opposition to the first Black president’s healthcare reform.

Carson and other Black conservatives are also useful to the conservative establishment for the bootstrapping narratives they often tell about their own personal histories. In his media appearances, Carson frequently speaks of his upbringing by a single Black mother who, despite being poor and functionally illiterate, accepted “no excuses” about his education. Carson cites this “no excuses” attitude, coupled with faith in God, as the reasons for his considerable accomplishments.

Similar stories can be heard from Black conservatives like Star Parker, whose authority and appeal rests on her history as a single mother on welfare who found God and swore off “dependency” on the government (which she describes as leaving “Uncle Sam’s plantation”). Senator Tim Scott regaled the CPAC audience with his often-told story of being a “poor kid growing up in a single parent household” who nearly failed out of school before turning his grades and his life around when he found a mentor who taught him that “you can think your way out of poverty” (the takeaway: Scott’s “Opportunity Agenda,” which promotes “school choice”).

These personal accounts of rising from poverty, ostensibly through sheer effort and positive thinking alone, are touted by Black conservatives and the conservative establishment as embodied proof that GOP ideology is somehow pro-Black, and that racial disparities have nothing to do with institutional racism or any systemic injustice. When Carson and other Black conservatives speak before overwhelmingly white audiences like CPAC’s, they serve as living rebukes— and often offer literal rebukes, as Carson did— to Black Americans and minority communities for failing to make it as they have done. Unsurprisingly, such rhetoric falls flat with the majority of Black voters.

Nor has the political hype around these Black GOP stars materialized into serious campaigns for national office. Carson has generated buzz and considerable money as a potential candidate despite his zero political experience at any level of government. And there lies the true utility and appeal of Carson and the Great Conservative Black Hopes who have come before him: Not in their potential to win votes or elections, but rather in how they validate and energize the base. If Carson does choose to run for president in 2016, his campaign is unlikely to last long, much less be a serious contender. But in the meantime, his rising star continues to provide credence to racist GOP ideology and opportunities for PACs with dubious finances to cash in.

Conservatism: Racism When You Need It

2012 primary debate

In the Winter 1999 issue of The Public Eye Magazine, PRA printed an excerpt from Founder and President Emerita Jean Hardisty’s book Mobilizing Resentment: Conservative Resurgence from the John Birch Society to the Promise Keepers. In it, Hardisty discussed affirmative action, providing the history of its conception along with the Right-Wing’s stance against the policy.

After the passing of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, Lyndon Johnson and his administration sought to eliminate discrimination in the hiring and promotion process by issuing Executive Order 11246, which required affirmation action from employers who had contracts with the federal government, and sanctions for the ones who didn’t. In 1972, Richard Nixon signed into law Congress’s Equal Opportunity Act, which expanded anti-discrimination protections for women and people of color. The Right, of course, cried “reverse discrimination” then, and is still finding ways to explain the “needlessness” for affirmative action now.

One of the Right’s tactics that Hardisty examined was their appropriation of civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. and his “I Have a Dream” speech, which conservatives still interpret as an endorsement for colorblind ideology. The right has warped MLK from a radical for justice into essentially these few words: “not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” They ignore the context of this quote, which addressed King’s opposition to White power, the root cause for judgment of race in the first place. In his 1964 book, Why Can’t We Wait, however, he made it evident that race is very important because, unless people of color are provided some type of assistance, their rights will never meet with that of White people’s. King wrote:

It is obvious that if a man is entering the starting line in a race three hundred years after another man, the first would have to perform some impossible feat in order to catch up with his fellow runner.

Hardisty discussed how the right had undergone a transformation in the 1980s, which created a “new racism.” Rather than upholding Jim Crow laws and practices—something that had “declined steadily since the 1940s”—the right attempted to use policies like affirmative action against people of color, utilizing a colorblind argument. This new racism, ignoring a person’s race, and suggesting that group identifiers are “unnecessary”—that cultural backgrounds have no place in today’s society because “racism is a thing of the past”— modernized discrimination in the hiring process.

Republicans, especially White male Republicans, expect marginalized groups to be able to rise above oppression on their own accord because, in their minds, race should not affect their merit and skill.

During the 2012 presidential primaries, Republican candidates played to this colorblind strategy. Mitt Romney objected to the extension of voting rights for convicted felons, despite it being “an issue that disproportionately affects African-American and Hispanic males…[as] a direct result of…the drug wars implemented during the Reagan administration.” Newt Gingrich, when asked by Juan Williams about why Newt insisted on “talk[ing] about why the African-American community should demand paychecks and not be satisfied with food stamps,” said he did not see why it was an insult to Black Americans. Rick Santorum, during one of his campaign stops, offered the statement, “I don’t want to make black people’s lives better by giving them somebody else’s money. I want to give them the opportunity to go out and earn the money.” These Republicans refused to consider that institutionalized racism caused much of the disparities between White people and people of color—that somehow Black and Latino Americans were content with living off food stamps, or that they expected to be given free money, which are racist stereotypes and assumptions in and of itself.

Hardisty then went on to note the distancing of the Right from the Far Right’s White supremacy philosophy throughout the 1980s. While the Far Right—White supremacists and neo-Nazis—had no issue with openly promoting “White rights,” the Right Wing attempted to remove themselves from bigoted attitudes and activities. The New Right Republicans of the time, if discovered making racial slurs, were denounced quickly by their leaders and prompted to apologize soon afterward. This trend of immediate condemnation of racist statements made by conservatives is still present today. Some recent examples of this include:

By protesting against the most egregious of violations within their own Party, Republicans can defend against accusations of racism against themselves. To them, eradicating affirmative action is nothing like the overt racist language of their prejudiced peers.

Affirmative action cases are being closely watched today because of how race issues in the United States have developed. The Justices appointed to the Supreme Court by Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, and George Bush—according to Jean Hardisty—have created a rightist tilt, and thus have halted much of the progress made by civil rights leaders. Evidence of this is found in their lack of ruling on the case at the University of Texas and their divided opinions on how to handle the case for Michigan schools.

In situations where affirmative action has already been banned, statistics show decreases in enrollment numbers of students of color, particularly for Black students. At the University of Michigan, Black student enrollment dropped 30 percent in their undergraduate and law schools after they prohibited race as a factor for consideration. After California’s passing of Proposition 209 in 1996, University of California schools found major drops as well; the percentage of first year Black students at UC Berkeley fell from 6.5 percent to under 3 percent in 10 years, and UCLA first years dropped from 7.3 percent to under 2.7 percent. The University of Florida also saw a decrease from 11.3 percent to 9.4 percent from 2000 to 2005 after the policy was changed.

Comparably, because the public-sector has historically provided fair and impartial job opportunities for women and people of color, government jobs show far more diversity than private institutions. Not only are the proportions of public-sector workers more balanced, they “face smaller wage disparities across racial lines” as well.

Hardisty noted that recipients of programs such as welfare and affirmative action are met with shaming by Right-Wing politicians. They were labeled as “‘undeserving’ individuals” who benefited “at the expense of ‘deserving’ taxpayers.” Present-day conservatives continue this victim-blaming and colorblind practice. During his 2012 presidential campaign, Mitt Romney called the “47 percent” who were going to vote for Barack Obama entitled, that they believed the “government has a responsibility to care for them.” He continued, “I’ll never convince them that they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.” His statements were echoed by Glenn Beck, who said on his radio show, “That is the problem with government welfare and everything else, get a damn job,” and Newt Gingrich, who said “[Republicans] believe in work and education, [liberals] believe in food stamps and dependency.

The Right readily pretends that racial injustice does not exist, and that anyone can overcome obstacles if they simply tried hard enough, which is blatantly false.

In discussing how White the Right is, it is important to understand there are conservatives of color. Jean Hardisty discussed how they “play a politically important role in the Right’s attack on affirmative action.” By using a person of color, especially a Black person, to make their argument publicly, White conservatives can then use the “legitimacy” of that argument to back their own hostility. Denouncing affirmative action appears more authentic when a person of color says they have no need for it. White conservatives can shield themselves from the adverse reactions of people for trying to dismantle these policies.

It wasn’t hard to find examples. Just take a look at this year’s Values Voters Summit, when Dr. Ben Carson compared the Affordable Health Care Act to slavery. His talking point was immediately embraced by White conservatives such as Bill O’Brien, John Fleming, Rush Limbaugh, and more who would never have dared make such an audacious comparison on their own. His Blackness allows White republicans to say that their Black representative was the one to issue such a statement, not them. They can hide in the background—the focus on conservatives of color—while supporting the racist proclamations made by people such as Ben Carson.

When former Democrat Elbert Guillory announced why he switched to the Republican Party, calling for other Black Americans to abandon the “government plantation and the [liberal] party of disappointment,” pundits such as Glenn Beck had no issue publishing about it as if it were a step in the right direction.

Conservative activist Samuel Wurzelbacher, better known as Joe the Plumber, posted an article on his website that said, “Wanting a White Republican president doesn’t make you racist, it just makes you American,” written by Kevin Jackson, a Black conservative. Rather than writing this piece himself, Wurzelbacher used Jackson’s article as a means to voice his own opinions without taking on full responsibility.

Some members of the Right ironically reject affirmative action while favoring racist policies such as racial profiling. Writer and columnist Victor Davis Hanson wrote a piece that advised individuals to “watch out if you see young black men on the street or approaching your house or vehicle—they commit ‘an inordinate amount of violent crime.’” On the other hand, he does not favor affirmative action, offering the question, “what exactly is the justification for affirmative action’s ethnic preferences or admissions [?]”

Conservatives claim that by discussing the tragic death of Trayvon Martin, President Obama is “race baiting;” yet they are colorblind when it comes to acknowledging the racial disparities that Black Americans go through in the United States, such as New York City’s Stop and Frisk program. Colorblindness ignores the racial discrimination that people of color go through on a daily basis.

As racial justice gains more in ways of equality, the right will continue to push back against it. While it’s clear conservatives continue their firm colorblind belief that any individual, regardless of race, can earn their way into a higher institution of learning or the workforce, revealing their hypocrisy and showing the actual race issues people of color face is the only way to make progress.

At Values Voters Summit, Racist Revisionism the Order of the Day

Conservative pundit Dr. Ben Carson (left), Martin Luther King Jr.'s niece Alveda King (center), and American Values president Gary Bauer

Conservative pundit Dr. Ben Carson (left), Martin Luther King Jr.’s niece Alveda King (center), and American Values president Gary Bauer (right)

There were many disturbing takeaways from the first day of Values Voters Summit (VVS) sessions. The one that struck me most forcefully is that the cognitive dissonance and historical revisionism of the white supremacist Religious Right on the issues of race and racism is very much here to stay. In fact, they’re digging their heels in—and they’re using Black conservatives and other conservatives of color to do it. From the 7:00 am breakfast session – “Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition! (The 2nd Amendment and the Right to Bear Arms)” – to the final panel on “The Future of Marriage,” omissions, half truths, and breathtaking equivocations on America’s racist history, and present, were the rule of the day.

In the breakfast session, Black former Cincinnati mayor Ken Blackwell claimed that we have the Second Amendment to thank for America being the most diverse and free nation in the world—citing as an example the Deacons for Defense, a 1960s Black Power group who advocated armed self-defense against white supremacist violence. He framed gun-ownership as crucial to resisting and defending oneself against government tyranny and giving the ludicrous implication that all it took to end Jim Crow was for Black Americans to own guns.

How to square this with the reality that the Deacons and similar groups were violently targeted by the white Right and the U.S. government in the 60s—or with the present-day reality that the Right Wing routinely smears unarmed Black men like Trayvon Martin or Ramarley Graham as dangerous thugs who deserve to be shot and killed—I cannot tell you. Yet Blackwell’s comments about the heroism of armed Black men were applauded by the (at least) 90% white audience.

The parade of Black speakers at VVS seemed at least partially calculated to absolve the white Religious Right of its ongoing racism and rewrite its supremacist past. To hear them tell it, conservatives are the true champions of civil rights, liberals are the real racists, and Black communities are sad, ignorant dupes of the Democrats.

This has, of course, become fairly standard rhetoric from Black and white conservative leaders, but it was taken to extremes at the Summit that I literally breathtaking. There were three moments where I gasped out loud at racist or racialized comments from speakers:

  • Dr. Ben Carson called “Obamacare…the worst thing to happen in this country since slavery”
  • MLK’s niece Dr. Alveda King declared that “white people didn’t kill [her] uncle, the Devil did”
  • Gary Bauer, president of American Values and former head of the Family Research Council, asserted that “because of Judeo-Christian civilization, the slaves were freed.”

King’s and Bauer’s statements where met with applause. From the surprised murmur that swept the crowd after Dr. Carson’s comment, it seemed that even the Values Voters crowd was slightly stunned by the comparison—or perhaps that a Black man was the one who made it. A conservative blogger who struck up a conversation with me later in the day volunteered that Carson’s speech was easily the most surprising and controversial of what he’d heard so far.

In any case, the common thread between all three statements is how thoroughly they rewrite the legacy of white supremacy in American evangelicalism. I was particularly struck by Alveda King’s speech, when she called the ideas of racial reconciliation and interracial unity a “confession” – including an admission that she once “blamed…all white people” for the assassination of her uncle.

Taken with the reframing of evangelical “Judeo-Christian” culture as freeing the slaves – rather than the reality that white evangelicals were financially, theologically, and violently invested in the institution of slavery and perpetuating white supremacy—it adds up to a disturbing picture. White conservative Christians, in the narrative of VVS, are and always have been champions of racial equality, while Black people who name white racism are not only irrationally hateful, but in fact sinning against white people. As PRA’s own Rachel Tabachnick and others have noted, this claim that the Religious Right is working for “racial reconciliation” is a ruse for concealing “proselytizing – for both charismatic evangelical belief and right wing politics.” Judging from the first day of Values Voters, it’s a strategy that this crowd is committed to for some time to come.