Among the more surprising inclusions at the 2020 Republican National Convention was Patricia and Mark McCloskey, the white couple from St. Louis who brandished guns at Black Lives Matter protestors back in June.
What does their inclusion tell us about the RNC’s theme, “The Great American Story”? Quite a bit, unfortunately.
Let’s begin with the theme itself: The Great American Story, which resonates with Trump’s campaign slogan from 2016, Make America Great Again. For Trump and Republicans, it’s predicated on calling to some earlier ideal period, a nostalgic throwback to the “good old days.” It matters not if those days ever actually existed, or if they were indeed good for all or even many Americans.
Central to this narrative is the religious history and character of the United States and how it’s in constant peril. Americans must defend this Christian nation in order to ensure a bright future. Making America Christian in its public policies, national identity, and sacred symbols is of the utmost importance. We call this ideology Christian nationalism. It’s all about privileging Christianity in American society.
In our new book, Taking America Back for God: Christian Nationalism in the United States, we show that Christian nationalism was one of the strongest predictors of support for Trump in 2016, and continues to be for the political wedge issues he routinely highlights. Trump and his supporters have repeatedly emphasized the dangers Christian Americans supposedly face if he’s not reelected. For Trump followers, Christianity is fundamental to telling the Great American Story.
But our research repeatedly shows that the Christianity they endorse—the Christianity at the heart of Christian nationalism—carries with it assumptions about righteous violence, whiteness, and fear of the changing demographics of the United States.
Which brings us back to the McCloskeys.
In their four-and-a-half-minute speech they were adamant about their “God-given right to protect their homes and their families,” by brandishing weapons on their own private property. They and others believe that, in this nation, citizens should be able to defend themselves using firearms against any aggression, real or perceived. Consider for a moment the connection between Christian nationalism and gun control attitudes.
Americans who strongly embrace Christian nationalism, who we call Ambassadors, tend to agree. They’re much more fearful of any form of federal gun control.
Now consider who the McCloskeys brandished their weapons at: protestors, most of whom were Black Americans, marching in support of Black Lives Matter after George Floyd was killed by a police officer. They didn’t feel common cause with the marchers. Rather, these protestors were a threat that needed to be neutralized. In their speech Mark McCloskey referred to them as a “mob” that was “out of control.”
National surveys of Americans demonstrate that those who embrace Christian nationalism are much more likely to believe Black Americans are treated the same by police and are much more likely to believe police are more violent toward Black Americans because they’re inherently more violent than whites. This leads them to be much less favorable toward the Black Lives Matter movement because they don’t see any inequality in how Black Americans are treated by the police.
Even more fundamentally, Americans who embrace Christian nationalism are more fearful of a day in the future when whites are no longer a majority in the United States. In their view, in order to be a Christian nation it must continue to be a majority white nation. The dog-whistle politics of white grievances were on full display in the McCloskeys speech as they stoked fears of suburbs disappearing, crime and lawlessness running rampant, and low-income housing ruining neighborhoods.
Taken together we can see that for many Americans, the “Great American Story” is necessarily bound up with whiteness, Christianity, state-sanctioned violence toward “unruly” minorities, and access to firearms to ensure self-protection.
Americans who embrace Christian nationalism and want to see it privileged in the public sphere are much more fearful of the changing demographic and political landscape of the United States. Expect to see much more of this throughout the rest of the Republican National Convention.
In reality, the McCloskeys are a microcosm of Trump’s base. They’re the GOP’s picture of the “Great American Story”: white, brandishing guns, and protecting their interests against a perceived onslaught of minorities.