Righting America

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Beware the Man in the Blue Suit and the Lady in the Red Dress | Righting America

by Rodney Kennedy

Rodney Kennedy has his M.Div. from New Orleans Theological Seminary and his Ph.D. in Rhetoric from Louisiana State University. The pastor of 7 Southern Baptist churches over the course of 20 years, he pastored the First Baptist Church of Dayton (OH) – which is an American Baptist Church – for 13 years. He is currently professor of homiletics at Palmer Theological Seminary, and interim pastor of Emmanuel Friedens Federated Church, Schenectady, NY. He is also making final edits on his sixth book – Good and Evil in the Garden of Democracy – forthcoming from Wipf and Stock (Cascades).

Matt Gaetz and Marjorie Taylor Greene at their “America First” Tour in Florida. Image via CNN.

Sound like a country song? Well, it’s an entire country of trouble. Representative Matt Gaetz is rolling out his “I Didn’t Have Sex with a Minor Tour,” starting with an appearance in The Villages, the large and overwhelmingly Republican retirement community in central Florida. 

Following the Trump Defense Playbook, Gaetz denies, denies, and denies. Then he attacks, attacks, attacks. As Gaetz boasts, “they never come for the meek, always for the fighters.”

Having “branded the Republican Party,” Donald Trump has unleashed a particular kind of “macho” male image deeply rooted in our patriarchal past, vividly described by Thomas Connelly in Will Campbell and the Soul of the South:

Dixie has a cult of the physical, is a passionate land which for generations has idolized force and power. In effect, violence takes many forms. It is in the football popularity of a Paul “Bear” Bryant or the adoration showered upon NASCAR race-car drivers on the Southern circuit. It becomes the tan-legged [Golden Girls from LSU’s Tigerland] or the adoration for a local football coach in a Southern hamlet. Violence can be the proverbial Good Ole Boy with his gentle disdain for the law. It is assertive male talk at a roadside tavern, beauty contestants trained since puberty like thoroughbred horses, or the admiration for gusto in political oratory. It is an idolatry of bigness, strength, force, extremism, and a mild disrespect for authority.

This is Matt Gaetz. While he is from Florida, and thus not a Southerner, he acts like the stereotypical Good Ole Boy. 

And yet, one chink in his armor is that he does not seem at all confident that he can pull off this macho, hit-em-in-the mouth act. So he has a wing-woman on his tour: Marjorie Taylor Greene, Georgia GOP representative and promoter of the Jewish space laser conspiracy theory.  They make a cute couple: the spoiled frat boy in his blue suit and the hard-core Trump lady in her red dress. I think Matt must have been singing to Marjorie: 

Lady with the red dress on
I love to be your man
(I wanna be your man)
And take you into my world, ski dum dum
Hey, I'll show you lots of surprise
And make you hypnotized
And then you will be my girl!

They intend to take Florida by storm, but it is a risky move. Trump pulled it off. Jerry Falwell, Jr. tried and failed. Maybe Gaetz will fail, and thus further damage the macho, blustery, bragging, disgusting male superiority complex that disguises deep insecurity and fear. Maybe Matt will have to go home to his mama.

There’s an even more insidious man loose, and he’s also wearing a blue suit. 

Some mornings, 1963 feels like yesterday. Prior to the Voting Rights Act, “Southern states maintained elaborate voter registration procedures deliberately designed to deny the vote to nonwhites,” according to the Civil Rights Movement Archive.

Those literacy tests — some of which were literal, some were more general — were specifically designed to discriminate against Black Americans, the CRMA’s Bruce Hartford writes. The literal tests were intentionally complicated, confusing if not nearly impossible to pass. Whites were rarely required to take the tests, and if they were, they were “passed” by poll administrators. To make matters worse, the literacy tests often consisted of more than 30 questions and had to be taken in 10 minutes. You were not allowed to answer any question incorrectly. The result was that an overwhelming number of African Americans were denied the vote.

One sweat-soaked, foggy night a group of Good Old Boys robbed a grave in a Louisiana cemetery, exhuming the body of old Jim Crow. They dressed him a blue suit and red tie and, like King Saul slinking to the cave of the witch of Endor, they conjured Crow back to life again, pronouncing that he had been in good health at the time of his demise and that he should have never been killed. 

The practical result of this grave robbing has been to clear the way for the restoration of voter suppression that had marked Jim’s previous reign of violence. But this time, the Southern strategy has gone national, in keeping with Rodney Clapp’s observation (in Johnny Cash and the Great American Contradiction) that the whole nation now speaks Southern.

As Alan Jackson sang back in 1994, 

He's gone country, look at them boots
He's gone country, back to his roots
He's gone country, a new kind of suit
He's gone country, here he comes. 
The whole world gone country. 

The new Jim Crow not only dresses better than the old Jim Crow, but he is smarter. He now presents himself as a patriot of the highest order, bestowing upon himself the title of “The Man Who Will Make America Great Again.” 

And he has learned a metaphorical language – “free elections,” “stopping fraud,” “standing up for American values.” Every word of these metaphorical extravaganzas speaks a lie, but it is being swallowed whole in Florida, Georgia, Texas, and across the nation. Republicans have decided that since they can’t win a majority of the votes, they will use political power to “rig” the election in their favor.

Make no mistake. Jim Crow is back with a date on his arm – the lady in the red dress. These two are not a joke. Beware the blue suit and red dress. They mask a virulent patriarchal past attempting to make a comeback of anger, resentment, and, as always, violence.