Move over Mike Pence, Mike Johnson is in the big chair—and in a position to try to enact all of his Christian nationalist dreams.
The challenge of Christian nationalism has resurfaced over the last week with a tale of two Mikes. The first concerns conservative Christian Mike Pence dropping out of the race for president. The charisma black hole that is the former vice president under Donald Trump never really stood a chance, even against the aging Joe Biden. Sometimes reality is unassailable.
But while Pence was debating with himself whether to continue his campaign, another Mike was throwing his hat into the political ring. It got to a point where congressional Republicans were keenly aware of the embarrassing situation of not having a majority leader in the House of Representatives. After a number of potential candidates failed to get enough support, including the controversial Jim Jordan, it appears that the GOP lawmakers ran out of patience. The first person to come along who appeared to be a safe pair of hands would command quite an advantage.
Appearances can be deceptive. Dangerously so.
It is amazing how much a calm voice, a pair of spectacles, and a nicely tailored suit can do for a politician. (I am reminded of the book Snakes in Suits: When Psychopaths Go to Work including the chapter, “The Case of Dave: Would a Snake Wear Such a Nice Suit?” Not to cast aspersions…) He seems such a sensible person, and his voice is so moderate!
That’s his physical voice, not his political voice. The tone of his speaking belies a now rather typical MAGA-style conservative Christian agenda. So much so that controversial MAGA frontman Matt Gaetz said of Mike Johnson in an interview given to Steve Bannon, “If you don’t think that moving from Kevin McCarthy to MAGA Mike Johnson shows the ascendance of this movement and where the power in the Republican Party truly lies, then you’re not paying attention.”
Don’t be entranced by the slippery gyrations of “MAGA Mike.” This cobra has a very poisonous bite.
Former Biden press secretary Jen Psaki dropped her own mic on her MSNBC show: “Another deeply religious conservative Republican just ascended to the speakership… The problem with Johnson isn’t at all his faith. He is entitled to his personal beliefs as everyone is…even if they come from the 18th century.”
The problem, as she points out, is when those beliefs encroach on the rights of others. Christian nationalism in a pluralist society is something of a headache in a secular country. This might be Roe v. Wade, which Johnson believes “gave constitutional cover to the elective killing of unborn children in America. Period.” He believes that if women were able to bring more “able-bodied workers” into the world to foot the bill, then politicians wouldn’t need to slash Social Security and Medicare:
He even blames school shootings on abortion, as Irin Carmon sets out in the New York Magazine:
At the time, Johnson was a lawyer defending Louisiana’s abortion restrictions — purported safety regulations designed to shut down clinics — in court and had just been elected, unopposed, to the State House of Representatives. I remember thinking how anodyne the office was, like a small-town personal-injury firm, as he cheerfully told me that soon the pro-lifers would outnumber the pro-choicers who aborted all their babies. I no longer have a recording, just a 27-page transcript, but my memory is that he kept his voice smooth and pleasant as he said, “Many women use abortion as a form of birth control, you know, in certain segments of society, and it’s just shocking and sad, but this is where we are. When you break up the nuclear family, when you tell a generation of people that life has no value, no meaning, that it’s expendable, then you do wind up with school shooters.”
He has also supported legislation to limit the teaching of race-related topics in schools, and Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” law. His blend of Christian nationalism looks very much like a white one: He has also often repeated promotion of the “Great Replacement Theory.” Usefully, Politico have released a piece detailing where he stands on many political issues.
Beware the quiet man. When he addressed his colleagues on the first day of being the new Speaker in the US House of Representatives, Johnson shared the following: “I don’t believe there are any coincidences. I believe that scripture, the Bible, is very clear that God is the one that raises up those in authority, he raised up each of you, all of us. And I believe that God has ordained and allowed us to be brought here to this specific moment and time.”
This should come as no surprise to anyone who has been following him. In 2016, he said, “You know, we don’t live in a democracy . . . It’s a constitutional republic. And the founders set that up because they followed the biblical admonition on what a civil society is supposed to look like.” And very worrying to those of us who find the separation of church and state crucial to the political operation of the United States, he added: “Over the last 60 or 70 years our generation has been convinced that there is a separation of church and state . . . most people think that is part of the Constitution, but it’s not.”
He has also expressed his belief that the founders wanted to protect the church from the state, not the other way around, and that the US is indeed a nation with Judeo-Christian roots under threat from secular forces.
In case anyone was in any doubt, Johnson confirmed his moral-political worldview in an interview with Fox News: “I am a Bible-believing Christian. Someone asked me today in the media, they said, ‘It’s curious, people are curious, what does Mike Johnson think about any issue under the sun?’ I said, well, go pick up a Bible off your shelf and read it. That’s my worldview.”
Same-sex marriage is also another talking-point issue where Johnson appears to be on the wrong side of history but the right side of the Republican Party. As Time reports in their piece “The Christian Nationalism of Speaker Mike Johnson“:
As an attorney working for the Alliance Defense Fund, now known as Alliance Defending Freedom (founded by leaders with similar Christian nationalist commitments, like James Dobson, D. James Kennedy, and Bill Bright), Speaker Johnson opposed the decriminalization of homosexual activity through Lawrence v. Texas in 2003 and in 2004 proposed banning same-sex marriage.
He argued how both will “de-emphasize the importance of traditional marriage to society, weaken it, and place our entire democratic system in jeopardy by eroding its foundation,” and that “experts project that homosexual marriage is the dark harbinger of chaos and sexual anarchy that could doom even the strongest republic
As the same article points out, “Americans who embrace Christian nationalism are more likely to support anti-democratic tactics and approve of political violence if an election does not return favorable results.” It is wholly unsurprising, then, that Johnson was a pivotal figure in the attempt to overturn the 2020 presidential elections. He wasn’t shy of repeating debunked Dominion voting machine claims and even wrote an amicus brief for a case concerning Texas having results thrown out.
There is enough to worry about when surveying the world’s democratic backsliding—seeing institutions and mechanisms, checks and balances, being repealed and pulled down— without having to worry about the corridors of power in the US Capitol.
In a time of growing pluralism, the only sensible map to navigate this increasing diversity is secularism of the sort envisaged and enshrined by the founders. But pluralism and diversity, difference and understanding, are not the purview of Christian nationalists. And it appears very obvious indeed that Mike Johnson is a staunch Christian nationalist. This should be of grave concern. Time finishes their article as follows:
It is critical to recognize the influence of Christian nationalism on Mike Johnson’s vision for the US. “Christian nationalism” isn’t a political slur. It’s a term that accurately describes an ideology that is antithetical to a stable, multiracial, and liberal democracy—an ideology clearly guiding the now-ranking Republican in the US House of Representatives.
Political polarization and division are more pronounced than they ever have been. It appears that the Republicans have not changed tack after the 2020 elections or the fallout to Dobbs v. Jackson but instead have doubled down, piling into culture war issues and divisive policies.
It appears that now more than ever, the nonreligious and secular need to be on their guard. Now more than ever, constitutional foundations must be secured and supported. Now more than ever, the quiet man must be listened to. Every single word.
Don’t lean too close, though. That snake can bite.