It wasn’t a campaign that Texas Senator Ted Cruz launched at Liberty University last week. It was a crusade, whose radical purpose and unsettling emptiness comes into stark relief when his vision for America is distilled to its essence:
“My father gave his life to Jesus Christ.....our rights don’t come from man….God Almighty……the purpose of the Constitution…..chains to bind the mischief of government……American exceptionalism…..a shining city on a hill.....Give me liberty or give me death…..millions of courageous conservatives rising up together…..unison…..half of born again Christians aren’t voting……millions of people of faith…..voting our values…..government regulators….tax collectors kept at bay.....defend the sanctity of human life.....uphold the sacrament of marriage.....repealing every word of Common Core....stands unapologetically with Israel….honor the Constitution…..defeat radical Islamic terrorism...call it by its name….defend the United States of America.... Ronald Reagan....Cold War….Berlin Wall….grace of God….God’s providential blessing....repealing Obamacare….abolishing the IRS…..stand for liberty....text the word constitution....reclaim the Constitution….. reclaim the mandate.....people of faith....God bless you.”
Like most right wing conservatives, Ted Cruz does not even pretend he would be the President of all the American people. Instead, he would be the chosen representative of just one faction of them. And so, Cruz chose the perfect venue to begin his crusade: the late Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia.
The Cruz for President announcement was “larded” with the Republican Party’s customary “patriotic fanfare,” “unearned chutzpah,” and “carefully staged, color-coded, gender-designated patriarchal family posing,” says writer and historian Jarret Ruminski in Salon.
As the condensed version of Cruz’s announcement above attests, what is most disturbing about Cruz’s White House run is that it, as Ruminski says, “embodies the modern conservative propensity toward a fundamentalist American civil religion and its attendant, overly simplistic myths.”
To the American conservative subculture that forms the Ted Cruz base, the United States is no longer just a nation but a religion, says Ruminski. And so Americans are not only God’s chosen people since America itself is now “a divine project.”
Before there can be a union between church and state a precarious fusion between nationalism and faith must first take place. This “civil religion” is one that, as Ruminski says, “casts the United States as a divine world power shaped by a series of comforting myths that, in the eyes of fervent believers like Cruz, make it the ultimate political Promised Land.”
A civil religion is a set of beliefs, symbols, and rituals that purport to express the shared experience of being American, he says. It's a worldview inspired by Christian notions of redemption and spiritual fulfillment where America is “a beacon of secular and sacred hope in a fallen modern world.”
Moreover, a civil religion is “not a set of laws but a collection of myths,” such as the idea that America is “the last best hope for mankind.” These myths cannot be empirically confirmed.
As a hybrid of nationalism and traditional religion, civil religion has “an ideological flexibility that is intoxicating because it is so evocative, elastic, and deceptively complex,” writes historian Raymond Haberski.
If the concept of America as a divinely inspired Promised Land bent on a mission of world redemption seems open-ended and ripe for abuse, “that’s because it is,” says Ruminski.
Ted Cruz packed his Liberty University speech with the simplistic and historically inaccurate myths that characterize the American conservatives’ approach to civil religion, says Ruminski. It’s a “steaming pot of moral absolutes, anti-intellectualism and redemptionist history” that burns away all nuance and context and leaves only “a distilled political elixir of fundamentalist dogma that absolves America of any of the human faults that plague other nations.”
Cruz and other conservatives don’t see America as being part of the world “community.” Indeed, they hate the very term “world community” since they see America “as a nation apart from world history.”
An America defined by a future President Cruz would be one that “sees itself as blindingly perfect, naively innocent, incapable of critical reflection over both its strengths and weaknesses and utterly convinced of its capacity to shape the world in its own image.”
Needless to say, followers of Cruz’s civil religion also see themselves as belonging to a sacred community apart from the rest of their fellow Americans as well, and so utterly convinced of their own righteousness and responsibility to reshape this “godly” nation of ours in their own graven image.
The “clash of civilizations” tearing apart the world today is not between Christianity and “radical” Islam, as is so often advertised. The war being fought for the hearts and minds of the earth’s inhabitants is over the ultimate victory of one of two competing ways of organizing human societies.
One is modern, secular and liberal and enables peoples of different races, faiths, interests and points-of-view to peacefully co-exist with one another according to universal principles of justice and equality.
The other is traditional and tribal and seeks political power to achieve the supremacy of a single sub-group or faith whose followers can then reshape the legal, political and cultural foundations of an entire society to their liking. It’s a society in which words lose their conventional meaning as notions of “division” and “divisiveness” become synonymous -- not with hatred, intolerance and violence -- but with the stubborn refusal of “nonbelievers” to “conform.”
And now that Ted Cruz became the first major candidate to announce for president last week, it’s “game on” for 2016.