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Sarah Posner: The Evangelical Agenda

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Sarah Posner: The Evangelical Agenda

Sarah Posner is a journalist who has been covering the religious right for decades. Her most recent book, Unholy, explores how race and xenophobia have long been at the core of evangelical Christianity in America.

In this episode, Sarah reveals how many evangelicals have adopted and executed a platform of extremism, citing their support for white supremacists, the corruption of the church, and their attempt to roll back the rights of women and the LGBTQ+ community.

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Sarah Posner:

The notion that Trump flew around in a public jet or had this gold gilded penthouse in New York, these were not problematic ideas for a follower of the prosperity gospel that was evidence of God's favor on him, and that his wealth is not evidence of grift or fraud, but evidence of a reward from God.

Ken Harbaugh:

I'm Ken Harbaugh, and this is Burn the Boats, a podcast about big decisions.

My guest today is Sarah Posner, a journalist who has been covering the Religious Right for decades. Her most recent book, Unholy, explores how race and xenophobia have long been at the core of evangelical Christianity in America.

In an op-ed earlier this week, she appealed to President Biden to call out the Republican Party for harboring and empowering white supremacists. We're going to talk about all that today.

Sarah, welcome to Burn the Boats.

Sarah Posner:

Thanks for having me.

Ken Harbaugh:

In that op-ed for MSNBC, you wrote, “It is not enough for Biden to talk about white supremacist violence as he hits the campaign trail on artists. Biden needs to be far more pointed in calling out how the Republican Party props up and even promotes white supremacists who threaten our democracy from within.”

A conventional political strategy in the run-up to an election would be to maintain as many bridges as possible to potential swing voters in the Republican party.

But it feels to me like the subtext of your op-ed is that we're beyond conventional politics and that facing a Republican party that espouses white supremacy, we need to speak plainly about that threat, the party itself, even if it means burning bridges, is that fair?

Sarah Posner:

Yes, that's absolutely correct. Biden had given a speech over the weekend before I wrote that column at Howard University. It was a commencement speech, so it wasn't a campaign speech per se.

And he called out white supremacist violence, basically as domestic terrorism, and said that it was the greatest domestic terrorist threat to the country right now, which is true.

But the way he spoke about it made it seem disconnected from Republican or conservative movement politics, that it was just this thing that had come out of the shadows spontaneously.

And in the post first term Trump era, where Trump brought all of these white supremacists out from the fringes, out of the shadows and emboldened them and empowered them and mainstreamed them. And now, the Republican Party is following Trump's lead, instead of saying, “No, we're not the party of white supremacy,” they're actually embracing it.

You look at somebody like Marjorie Taylor Greene who talked about calling somebody a white supremacist is the equivalent of calling somebody the N word. Or Paul Gosar who employs a protege of the white supremacist Neo-Nazi, Nick Fuentes.

Ken Harbaugh:

Don't leave out Senator Tuberville (and this is me coming at it as a vet), who said he doesn't see white nationalists in the military, he sees Americans?

Sarah Posner:

Exactly. And so, this is an endemic problem in the Republican Party, this is not a few bad apples. Because if it was just a few bad apples and the Republican party considered that, considered it to be so, just a few bad apples, they would get rid of the few bad apples and say, “We're moving on from this.” They're not doing that; they're harboring them basically.

Ken Harbaugh:

It was the subtitle of your book that caused me to pick it back up. It came out in the aftermath of the 2020 Election when a lot of us, and I include myself in this, breathed a huge sigh of relief. And we thought the forces of democracy and decency had overcome the forces of brutalism and autocracy.

And I think your subtitle reflects that sentiment. It says, how the white Christian nationalists powered the Trump presidency bad and the devastating legacy they left behind. The implication being we've turned a page.

I am going to assume that you've had to reassess based on the last couple of years and even the last couple of weeks, we haven't turned a page. If anything, we are setting up something even worse than the 2016 scenario where Trump emerged almost accidentally out of a busy overpopulated field of candidates. He is so much more powerful than he was during that primary season.

Sarah Posner:

So, the subtitle that you read is the subtitle of the paperback version of my book, which came out after January 6th. And I am talking about that there, the Trump presidency left a devastating legacy behind. Not that they left it behind in the past, that they left it behind in our present politics. So, Trump was out of office, but they left behind this devastating legacy.

And the hard cover of my book came out before the 2020 election, and then after January 6th when the paperback was going to press. I wrote an afterward based following January 6th, and this was the subtitle that we used just to show that Trump is out of office, but he's left something very toxic in our politics.

And we're seeing that in the primary, we're seeing it in the way that he just comports himself even when he's not necessarily running for president. But we're also more importantly seeing it in how the Republican Party acts towards him.

And I'm not just talking about the base, but I'm talking about the leadership of the Republican Party. They are not saying, “This man tried to kill some of us and tried to overthrow the government.” They're saying, “This man is going to make America great again,” they're sticking with him.

And that tells us everything we need to know about where the Republican Party as a whole is right now, even after January 6th.

Ken Harbaugh:

That allegiance to Trump goes beyond the sentiment that he's going to make America great again. And this is where I want to get into the conversation about evangelicalism.

It's a type of prophet worship. The party uses the language of ordination, this idea that Trump was sent by God, and that's a direct reflection of the language of evangelical Protestantism, but it has overtaken the Republican party as well, they just can't quit Trump.

Sarah Posner:

Yeah, I think that what they found is they got a taste of autocracy and they really liked it. For many years, the Religious Right really centered its political strategy on maximizing voter turnout. They worked very hard to get evangelical and conservative Catholic voters to the polls they thought they could — that was their path to winning elections.

That was their path to having an America that could be restored in their view, restored to its Christian heritage by getting more Christians to the polls and getting more Christians in office. But they obviously saw in the Obama era there had been a demographic turn in the country and that strategy wasn't working for them anymore.

They lost two presidential elections in a row to a candidate who sort of represented this change in America, political change, demographic change. And that's what made them willing to embrace a candidate who did not meet their typical or their historic litmus test for what they wanted in a presidential candidate.

They wanted somebody who was biblically literate. They wanted somebody who could talk about their own salvation story and how they were going to restore Christian America. Trump was a libertine from New York City who had been married three times and all the rest of it.

And so, their embrace of him was really about his pursuit of power and his willingness to use power on their behalf and run rough shot over democracy. And they were not only okay with it, they actually thought, “This is really great, this is how we're going to win.”

Ken Harbaugh:

When you talk about using power on their behalf, it's really the exercise of power to malign and put down other parties. And that to me is the most striking thing about this restoration of Christian heritage, as you put it.

It's not really about faith. It's about a reaction to the expansion of rights to other groups. And there's this passage from your book that captures it really well. And I would love your thoughts on it.

You say that, “On the surface, the Christian right is saturated with rhetoric about faith and values. It's real driving force though was not religion, but grievances over school, desegregation, women's rights, LGBTQ rights, affirmative action and more.”

Trump became their hero despite being, as you said, a thrice married philander who talked about dating his daughter, paid off a pornstar to keep quiet and was terrible at God talk. He became their savior because he spoke the language that tied them and him and the grievances of the alt-right together against political correctness, civil and human rights, et cetera, et cetera.

It wasn't really about faith; it was about the contest of interest groups?

Sarah Posner:

Right, I mean, as you point out, as I discussed in the book, now they're calling it wokeism. Like that became the catch word over the past couple of years. When I wrote the book, they hadn't been using that term as exclusively as they are now.

That's a catch word for, we don't like progress, we don't like it that secularism, feminism, LGBTQ, rights, anti-racism, that these forces were changing the society that we live in. That's how progressives would look at it. That they don't like progress, they don't like secularism, they don't like liberal values, they don't like democratic values.

They say that God ordained America as a Christian nation, and all of these forces have undermined America as a Christian nation. And it's their God-given duty, their God-ordained duty to take America back as God has not only directed them to but given them a mandate to and restore it to its Christian heritage.

And this is the driving force. That is why they are so bent on doing this. They really believe that they have this spiritual duty to engage in what they see as a cosmic battle between good and evil.

Now, a lot of the people in the base really believe that. Really believe that it's this cosmic battle between good and evil. There are a lot of political actors who are cynically using the knowledge that the base really believes this to manipulate them and really control the way they think about our politics.

I'm thinking about somebody like Mike Flynn who goes around the country with his ReAwaken America Tour and really drives home these kinds of messages that we are locked in this spiritual battle between good and evil. And it's your duty as a Christian and as an American to fight these demonic forces.

Ken Harbaugh:

When framed that way as a cosmic battle between good and evil, it doesn't seem like democracy could be an overriding virtue. If anything, it gets in the way. Is that language starting to appear in churches, in conversations about this cosmic battle and how to win if the majority of Americans don't want that?

Sarah Posner:

So, they don't necessarily talk about democracy per se, and when they do, they tend to talk about, “Well we still go to the polls and cast ballots, so that's democracy.” Like that's democracy at work.

And when they do talk about elections, they continue to perpetuate the lie that our elections are rife with fraud and that they can't be trusted. Of course, when they win, the election isn't rife with fraud.

But the evangelical Christians are real believers, not all of them, but a good segment of them are real believers in Trump's stolen election lie that we need to engage in processes to restore election integrity. In their mind, that would be processes that would get Republicans elected instead of Democrats.

So, you're seeing a lot more antagonism towards what they claim is the deep state, which they claim is a liberal infiltration of government against them. And the notion that elections need to be cleaned up or integrity needs to be restored to them.

And you don't see a lot of discussion about January 6th and that terrorism and crimes were committed on January 6th. At best they ignore it and don't talk about it. And at worst, some will talk about how the January 6th criminal defendants are political prisoners and wrongfully detained and wrongfully convicted.

Ken Harbaugh:

How central is Trump himself to this worldview? Because we've talked to a lot of people who've argued that he is just a symptom. But then I think about possible replacements, and there don't appear to be any, I don't think Trump could wear that mantle the same way.

And rereading your book, it made me think about one of the distinguishing features of evangelical Protestantism, which is that personal relationship with Jesus.

I grew up in a Protestant tradition that was supposedly what set us apart from Catholicism. I married into Catholicism, so I get it.

But this idea of a personal relationship with the Savior, and the parallels to the MAGA faithfuls personal relationship with Trump are just striking. When you see them interviewed, they talk about how Trump gets them at almost a soul deep level.

And it makes me think that the people (and I often count myself in this category), who think he's just a symptom, aren't getting the full picture.

Sarah Posner:

He's a symptom, but he's unique in the sense that he has energized the base in a way that other Republicans have not and haven't since him.

When George W. Bush ran for president, he was discussed in not quite the same way, a similar way that it was his Esther moment, that God revealed him to America at this critical point in her history and that he was going to play some special role in rescuing America from dark forces, which after 9/11 became pretty obvious what they thought those dark forces were.

But Trump was different. I think Trump really energized, I think a part of the base that perhaps had a loose relationship with evangelicalism, maybe weren't necessarily weekly churchgoers, but had a kind of cultural relationship with evangelicalism and were open to the idea that a heroic figure could come save America from the left.

And I think he broadened what the evangelical base was. More people began to identify as evangelicals during his presidency than before his presidency. So, he kind of made evangelicals seem cool to maybe some people who were not quite in the kind of core mainstream of evangelicalism.

I think that as far as whether he was a symptom, yes, he was a symptom, but he's also sort of a unique figure to them. If Trump wasn't running for president again and somebody like Ron DeSantis came along, would DeSantis fill that gap? That's not clear to me.

I don't think he can overcome Trump; I don't think he can overtake Trump. Would he be able to win their hearts if Trump wasn't in the picture? And I don't even know.

I think that Trump had this kind of something that really spoke to their desire to stick it to the left and to stick it to the mainstream media. And I think all of his imitators, like DeSantis sort of pale in comparison.

Ken Harbaugh:

Well, DeSantis is trying so hard-

Sarah Posner:

So hard.

Ken Harbaugh:

To replicate that mode to follow in the wake of Trump, and it's just not genuine. I mean, if Trump deserves credit for anything, it's being his authentic, awful self. That authenticity is something that his followers really seem to gravitate, even though it's so full of lies and brutality.

I'm not saying anything new except that I think you have to have an exceptional lack of self-awareness and humility and shame to pull that off. And that is exceedingly rare, even in Republican politics today. Even DeSantis, he's, I think, too smart, too authentic to authentically mimic Trump.

Sarah Posner:

Well, I think another thing sort of beyond rhetoric and that kind of gut emotional appeal that he has, I think that Trump had a lot of relationships with figures in let's call it the prophetic or charismatic movement within evangelicalism.

So, this is relatively speaking, new religious movements within evangelicalism that put a strong emphasis on ideas of spiritual warfare, stronger emphasis than maybe mainstream evangelicalism. And put a very intense emphasis on prophecy and not just the personal relationship with Jesus, but your personal relationship with God where you have a direct relationship with God where he gives you revelations and you can speak them into existence.

So, some of the movements within this wider charismatic world or the Word of Faith movement, prosperity gospel, the new Apostolic Reformation, which holds that there are modern day apostles and prophets that God has sent out into the world to ensure the restoration of Christian America and take dominion over America.

And because of Trump's personal relationships with many of these figures and his willingness to bring them into the mainstream conversation, to invite them to the White House, to invite them to the stage at campaign rallies and so forth, he really energized these sub movements within evangelicalism that really focus on conspiracism and detachment from reality ideas and personal revelations and prophecies and all of that.

And so, I think that that has played a really big role in why the movement seems so out of touch with the reality and conspiratorial in comparison to the past, because he has emboldened those figures and empowered them and thus empowered their followers to bring that kind of conspiratorial thinking into politics.

Ken Harbaugh:

How do you begin to construct a counter argument to that? I mean, I understand how you expose it to people who are already able to see through the lies, but in trying to persuade, if you're arguing with people who believe God is talking to them in this way, it just seems like an impossible hill to climb.

And I'm thinking of leaders within the Republican Party, not just the gullible rank and file, but people like Mark Meadows. And you talk about some of the texts he was sending, I'm trying to pull one of them here, here it is. Actually, Congressman Rick Allen communicating with Meadows after January 6th that our nation is at war, it is a spiritual war at the highest level.

Meadows replies to him, to Ginni Thomas, to others are equally rife with this eschatological language, this terrifying invocation of the end times. I used to ask the question, “Do these people really believe that Trump is their savior? Or can we trust that their cynicism is going to save us in the end?”

But no, a lot of them really believe in this apocalyptic coming battle.

Sarah Posner:

Absolutely. And to answer your first question, I don't know what the answer is in terms of reaching people like that. Because if they believe, for example, this conspiracism makes them very susceptible to like QAnon and QAnon adjacent conspiracy theories, conspiracy theories about the deep state, conspiracy theories about things like what they would consider woke.

That woke people are coming for your children, they're going to make them play sports with trans people or use the bathroom with trans and all these sort of fear migraine. They're all kind of in this big cauldron of fear and grievance and anxiety, so it's all kind of connected together.

And I mean, the only comparison that I can come up with is the many people I've interviewed over the years who were in the thrall of a very authoritarian pastor, and these big megachurch pastors or even some cases not so big, and a lot of them are quite dictatorial in the behavior they require of their congregants at church.

Many of them who adhere to the Word of Faith or prosperity gospel, really are stealing money from their congregants, fleecing the flock, so to speak. And I've written a lot about these kinds of figures and talked to a lot of their former followers.

And I thought about a lot of these people while I was covering Trump because a lot of these people would say things like — and this was many years before Trump.

They would say, “Well, the local paper had a story about my pastor and about how he had used money that the congregation had given him to buy a private jet for himself, or that he had sexually abused congregants and said that it was told them that it was what God wanted,” stories like that.

And a lot of these people would say, “I just wouldn't read the story in the paper, or I just refused to believe it because it was in the paper, the newspaper is wrong.”

And that in some of these cases, something would finally happen, and the fever would break, and then they would feel like, “Why did I believe that guy? I'm free now from that kind of mind control. But why did I believe him for so long?” And they spent a lot of time trying to deconstruct what led them to be in the thrall of somebody like that who was abusive.

And I think it's a very similar thing. And Trump has been very adept at convincing them that anything that they read in the newspaper or see on CNN or what have you is fake news. Any criminal investigation of him is a witch hunt.

And once you have people believing that you're going to save them from this imaginary woke mob, which is in their view going to destroy America and endanger their children, then it's not that hard to then convince them that they shouldn't believe anything negative written or said about you.

And so, I don't really know what it would take for the fever to break for people who are that in the throttle of Trump. But I do think that there are also a lot of Trump voters who aren't necessarily that much in the thrall, but also hate the left enough that they just like the idea of Trump sticking it to them.

Ken Harbaugh:

When talking to these former followers of religious leaders, did you come across any common themes in the “somethings,” as you put it, that finally pulled them out of that? I mean, is there anything we can learn from that in coming up ways to challenge the MAGA faithful and what it might take to save them?

Sarah Posner:

Well, one woman I'm thinking of finally realized that the first fruits doctrine that her pastor preached, which was that you have to tithe 10% to your church and that you have to give your first fruits. That is that you tithe the 10% before you pay your rent, before you pay your mortgage, before you pay your car payment.

And this was a woman who was a single mom. She was really, really struggling financially, really struggling financially. And she really believed this first fruit stuff and was tithing to her pastor before she was paying her rent, until finally that became a financially unsustainable thing. And that was what really finally put her over the edge.

And I think about that with regard to like, I don't know if you're on the Trump campaign email list, but anybody who is, it's like you are bombarded constantly with these very scummy offers. “Oh, your gift is waiting for you, or you have to donate so that I can fight Alvin Bragg, or you have to donate so I can fight the deep state.”

And I think that there are probably a lot of people giving Trump money, small amounts to him, but it's probably a large amount relative to their income.

Ken Harbaugh:

His digital fundraising strategy has crossed a line that I don't think I've ever seen in political fundraising, which not long ago, was to call donors who had lapsed traders. I don't know if you remember that email. But it was astonishing to me, and it was, again, reminiscent of these first fruits appeal.

I haven't heard it put that way, but you see this all the time from the pulpit of televangelists who say, “If you haven't given, you're turning your back on God.” The same language of turning your back on Trump.

Sarah Posner:

Exactly, and you know that “spiritual advisor” is the televangelist, Paula White, who preaches that same kind of theology.

Ken Harbaugh:

Yeah, you have referred to his presidency as the televangelist presidency. I think we understand what you mean but it's just such a great phrase, can you build on it?

Sarah Posner:

Well, televangelists preach what I've mentioned just now the Word of Faith or prosperity gospel, which basically says that God will bless you if you give money to your preacher, your pastor, your televangelist. God will reward you with a thousand-fold return on your investment.

So, there's sort of like a carrot and a stick. The carrot is that God will reward you with a thousand-fold return on your investment. And the stick is that God doesn't bless people who don't give money like that to their pastor.

And of course, the televangelists use this money not to — sometimes they use it to build a bigger church, but most of the time they use it to buy a private jet, to buy luxury cars, to buy themselves various mansions and other real estate. They use it for self-enrichment.

And a lot of the followers of this theology do not have a problem because they believe that that is evidence of God's favor on their pastor, and therefore they are giving to a pastor who is very much rewarded by God for his faithfulness. And that that will somehow trickle down to them because they're helping to advance that faithfulness and that financial reward for the pastor, and that will trickle down to them as well.

So, the notion that Trump flew around in a public jet or had this gold gilded penthouse in New York, these were not problematic ideas for a follower of the prosperity gospel that was evidence of God's favor on him. And that his wealth is not evidence of grift or fraud but evidence of a reward from God.

Ken Harbaugh:

It's really a brilliant bit of salesmanship because it diverts any possible criticism. I guess that mode of evangelical Christianity really is all about salesmanship. If you can sell the afterlife and get people to pay that much for it and buy mansions with it, you can sell anything. You can sell a presidential announcement on a golden escalator.

Sarah Posner:

Exactly, and he was a student of that.

Ken Harbaugh:

What do you mean he was a student of that? Just in general in understanding how media operated, or did he actually?

Sarah Posner:

He had seen Paula White on TV in the mid-2000s. This is the story that multiple people have told to me, multiple people have told in public that he was in Florida, and he was channel surfing. Her church was based in Florida, and he happened upon her television show and really liked her message, had his secretary invite her to Trump Tower to meet him in New York, and then the rest was history.

They became very good friends. When he became president or during his campaign, she was his “spiritual advisor.” She was an advisor to his office of faith-based initiatives, and they're very close. And he also invited many other televangelists and promoters of the prosperity gospel into his inner circle along with White.

And it's not like these figures were not deemed important in Republican politics before they were, and they were mostly sought after by Republican politicians for their vast audiences.

So, if you could get a little endorsement from a televangelist with a huge audience, that could go a long way, but none of them cultivated them and befriended them and brought them inside in the way that Trump did. And he had clearly studied how they appealed to the base.

And I often would watch Trump campaign rallies and feel like the narratives and cadence and the trajectory of the narrative of his campaign rallies really felt like being in a megachurch to me, it really felt like of the way a lot of them, it sort of starts out slow, it rises to a crescendo, there's a list of grievances, but ultimately you prevail and then everybody feels really good and they cheer you and everybody goes home.

Ken Harbaugh:

I think Paula White is very good at that as are a number of other spiritual advisors to Trump. But I think we're glossing over just how awful some of them are as people. You go into it in some detail in your book. But Paula White, if memory serves once prayed for demon fetuses to miscarry. I mean, it's just some really mean stuff.

Sarah Posner:

Yeah, I mean that's what I'm talking about. Like when they get into this mode of claiming that they're getting a prophecy or they're speaking in tongues or they're doing something and then they just go on this riff and it's often just either cruel or detached from reality or just out of touch.

And this is the sort of stuff that I'm talking about that Trump really brought more into the mainstream and enabled. I think that while both bushes dabbled in reaching out to the audiences of televangelists, I think they very clearly did. But they did not embrace them in the way that Trump did.

And I think one of the things that shows just how much the Republican Party has changed in that regard with regard to televangelists, in the mid-2000s, Chuck Grassley, who was at the time the ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee, launched an investigation into the financial practices of six televangelists, including Paula White.

And they basically found that they had misused tax-exempt donations to enrich themselves. But nothing really came of it because of a lot of pushbacks from the evangelical world claiming that this was an infringement on religious freedom and that it was not fair and et cetera. And so, it kind of fell by the wayside.

But there was a time when there were top officials in the Republican Party who had a problem with churches with a tax exemption using tax-exempt donations to buy private jets and so forth. But now nobody in the Republican Party would dare talk about that anymore.

Ken Harbaugh:

It would be easy to assume that these churches are insulated voting blocks, that they're aging, they're losing less and less influence.

But we've had some really eye-opening conversations with people like Angela Denker and Kristin Du Mez. And I know Anne Nelson is one of your favorites about just how strategic their outreach is, just how thoughtful and strategic their politics are. And they have created a growing community with its tentacles into everything. And there are plenty of young people who are growing up in that.

Can you talk about the Jericho generation and the fact that as much faith as we put in young people to drive change, that these churches still have a lot of influence as well?

Sarah Posner:

They have a lot of influence, particularly in the Republican Party, and I think that that is the issue. So, while white evangelicals are a shrinking part of the population as a whole, they retain this very strong, unbreakable hold in the Republican Party.

And as far as young people go, I think the general public maybe doesn't fully grasp the breadth and depth of the ways in which young people are drawn in and kept in the movement.

So, starting with homeschooling and Christian schooling, but also there's several hundred Christian colleges and universities where students have to adhere to very strict honor codes and behavior codes that they wouldn't at a secular university.

And a lot of them come out of there rejecting those codes and even rejecting their evangelicalism. But these schools still exist.

They have very intense training grounds for getting involved in politics for evangelical Christian law students to become Christian lawyers and to advance the cause of what they would say is religious freedom in the legal profession.

And so, there's just so many ways beyond politics and beyond religion itself, or religious institutions itself, that they perpetuate these ideas and draw young people in despite more diverse opportunities to not be evangelical that are available to young people.

And so, I think that periodically, there's polling data that among young people evangelicalism is not as popular.

The problem is that because of their hold on the Republican Party and because of the asymmetry of our national politics, meaning the Senate and the Electoral College, they play this outsized role in our politics.

And they play an outsized role in the law because of the resulting, because of the Senate and the electoral college, Republicans have stacked the Supreme Court with sympathetic Supreme Court justices.

So, it's not enough to just look at the demographics, you have to look at the ways in which they have used money and political power and now legal power to get such a strong foothold in our politics and the law.

Ken Harbaugh:

Well, the stacking of the Supreme Court and that subversive anti-democratic trend is one piece of it. The other piece of it is just how long they have been planning. I mean, the Dobbs decision was a 50-year game plan.

When I think about young people in this movement, I mean, they have been (I'm going to use a loaded word), grooming young people to arise to these positions of power since the Federalist Society was formed.

Sarah Posner:

Before that, yes. I think that evangelicals in particular think about these issues in what they would call a multi-generational way. So, they're not just thinking about the next election cycle, even though they are thinking about the next election cycle, they're also thinking about the longer term.

So, when they set out to overturn Roe one day, they knew that it wouldn't happen tomorrow. And they went on this multifaceted campaign to make abortion illegal. So, it wasn't just the courts, although it was the courts. It was also figuring out ways to get like-minded legislators elected in state legislatures so they could pass abortion bans.

And they very carefully figured out ways to slowly chip away at abortion rights in the states. It started with some of these parental consent laws or laws restricting that abortion clinics had to have all of these features like a hospital, trap laws. And it just went on and on and on, until they overturned Roe.

Now that we have Dobbs, now they're figuring out ways to make it happen in the states and maybe at the national level to make it crime.

And so, they've been playing this game. They're not just happy to have the Dobbs decision, they want every state in the union to make abortion a crime. And if they can't get that done in Blue States, then they're going to try to get a national abortion ban.

So, there's always another layer that they're aiming for, and this is exactly their strategy with LGBTQ rights.

I mean, the assault on trans rights in particular is just a piece of it. They aim to treat Obergefell just like they treated Roe, that one day they will overturn it, and in the meantime, they'll just make the lives of LGBTQ people utterly miserable until that happens.

Ken Harbaugh:

Well, we had Jim Obergefell on the show, just such an amazing groundbreaking person. And we talked about Dobbs and how that debate is so perfectly revelatory because it describes a linear continuum.

And the Republicans got exactly what they wanted, and we can see them walking back from 20 to 12 weeks to 10 to 6 to outright ban in a way that something non-linear would be a little tougher to recognize. But you see that being mapped onto the assault against LGBTQ+ rights, trans rights. And it begs the question, where do they stop?

Sarah Posner:

Well, they are so past the point of the autopsy that they did when Obama got elected. Thinking like, “Well, maybe we should try to appeal to non-white voters and maybe we should focus less on the “social issues.” I mean, they've got a bullet bill past that. They've just gone way beyond that and there's no looking back.

I think that until they just lose elections very badly and can no longer have the desire to continue to press election fraud claims like someone like Kari Lake is doing in Arizona, even though she keeps losing her court fights, I think that they're just going to keep doing it.

I think that they are high on their own supply, and they have pretty good reason to be in light of what the Supreme Court has done and will continue to do and their hold on many state legislatures.

And I think also, you see it with the Mifepristone case where the 5th Circuit was extremely sympathetic to them, and the thrust of the judge's questioning was that they were upset that people had been unkind to the district court judge.

So, I think that it'll take a while for that fever to break, and I think no one should underestimate what they're willing to do to accomplish what they're setting out to accomplish.

Ken Harbaugh:

Well, that sets up the dangerous possibility of continued subversion of the Democratic will. The systems are already in place. The undemocratic Senate, the Supreme Court, which I believe six of the nine were appointed by presidents who had a minority of the popular vote.

If the Republican Party realizes that it can maintain power without the majority of the public supporting it, is that a mode that they'll be able to continue? Can we out organize voter suppression and intimidation?

Sarah Posner:

I think we've seen signs of hope of that in some of these off-year elections or special elections like the one in Wisconsin, the Supreme Court election in Wisconsin, and some other off year votes that seem to really indicate that a majority of voters are unhappy with the abortion situation in particular.

I don't believe the idea that voters are single issue voters, I think there's a lot of things that factor into it. But I think with the abortion stuff, I think the Republicans have just gone so far and you read these stories of women dying of sepsis or these horrible situations where women can't get a DNC, or they have a miscarriage, and their doctor is afraid of going to jail.

And it's just like these horrific, horrific stories. And I think everybody knows a woman. They either are a woman, or they know a woman and love a woman. And so, I think hopefully the backlash to that abortion extremism will continue to make itself seen at the pulse.

Ken Harbaugh:

Hopefully, and I hope that that backlash and that sympathy for this group extends to other marginalized groups that are next on the target list.

Sarah Posner:

Absolutely.

Ken Harbaugh:

Because you're damned well sure that there are other groups in line to be targeted by the zealots.

Well, it's been wonderful having you, Sarah, thank you so much for coming on. One last question for you, because this young man gives me incredible hope, Andrew Hartzler. I don't know if you know him, but he called out his aunt for her homophobic rant and we had him on the show to talk about what it was like being a gay kid at Oral Roberts University as evangelical as they come, and he found a way to fight back.

Sarah Posner:

Yep, I know Andrew, because I wrote a story about him even before he called out his aunt, former representative Vicky Hartzler. Yeah, so I know Andrew well.

And he has an incredible story of perseverance. I mean, his childhood, he had a very intense experience with growing up gay in this very, very, very austerely, anti-gay environment, and that he has become an LGBTQ rights activist is really kind of incredible.

Ken Harbaugh:

Well, thanks again, we'd love to have you back.

Sarah Posner:

Absolutely, anytime. Thanks, Ken.

Ken Harbaugh:

Thanks again to Sarah for joining me. Make sure to check out her book, Unholy, the link is in the show description. Thanks for listening to Burn the Boats. If you have any feedback, please email the team at [email protected]. We’re always looking to improve the show.

For updates and more, follow us on Twitter at @Team_Harbaugh. And if you enjoyed this episode, don't forget to rate and review.

Burn the Boats is a production of Evergreen Podcasts. Our producer is Declan Rohrs and Sean Rule-Hoffman is our audio engineer. Special thanks to Evergreen executive producers John Andrews, Michael DeAloia and David Moss.

I'm Ken Harbaugh and this is Burn the Boats. A podcast about big decisions.


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