Manufacturing Unnecessary Religious Conflict

At the Plum Line today, Paul Waldman notes the twin memes that conservatives have been relentlessly promoting for years now that have culminated in Islamophobic hysteria and Christian paranoia–and Ben Carson:

The point here isn’t just that Ben Carson’s views are extreme and unsettling, though they most certainly are (and not only on this question). They also bring together two strains running through conservatism in recent years: an often vitriolic Islamophobia, and the belief that the United States is and always has been of, by, and for Christians, with everyone else accorded a kind of ever-so-slightly inferior status. These ideas are commonplace in conservative media and in evangelical circles, and the most prominent pseudo-historian of that movement, David Barton, regularly advises prominent Republican politicians on the exalted place of Christianity in American history.

The idea of Christian supremacy in America is also fed by a campaign in which virtually all Republicans have participated in the last few years, the one that says that Christians are increasingly oppressed as America becomes more inclusive. In its most comical version, it’s manifested in Fox News’ annual “War on Christmas” extravaganza, where the fact that many department stores put up signs reading “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas” is presented as a ghastly act of anti-Christian brutality (I’m not exaggerating — that’s actually what they say).

By the way, the exceedingly idiotic War on Christmas idea, one of Bill O’Reilly’s fine gifts to America, is alive and well, per Donald Trump’s reference to it at a Faith and Freedom Coalition cattle call in Iowa over the weekend (per Breitbart News):

“I want Christmas re-used,” Trump said of the campaign waged to remove the word “Christmas” from society in order to be more politically correct.

“Every year it gets worse and worse,” he said. “We have nobody fighting for us. I’m one of you — just remember that.”

So there’s a toxic dialectic going on here whereby conservatives are manufacturing entirely unnecessary religious conflict via imaginary Muslim threats to imaginary Christian privileges. The only way out of this mess is to fight both premises.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.