“Yeah, if I was in Germany during World War II, I probably would have been a Nazi.”
And with that, Eric ruined our meal at Chick-Fil-A. Trying to lighten the mood, I asked if he needed to talk with our Bible professors about in my best deadpan.
He laughed. “No. But pretty much everybody in Germany thought Hitler was great. And the ones who didn’t gave in anyway. Only a few people really stood up to him.” He dipped his waffle fry and took a bite. “And since I’m not the ‘stand up to authority’ type, that wouldn’t have been me. I would have followed the crowd.”
Anyone who’s ever been to college will recognize this conversation. I’d been doing lots of pseudo-philosophizing lately–usually in my dorm over video games after a late-night Taco Bell run. But considering where we’d just come from, the timing for this conversation was . . . awkward.
Two hours earlier, Eric and I stepped out of his car, careful to avoid the field’s ruts and divots. Ahead, the airline hangar was a monolith against the grey sky. We joined the people streaming toward it. Fellow True Believer: there were American flag bandanas, don’t-tread-on-me-flags, military camo, and hunting camo as far as I could see. We all filtered into the hangar and pressed as close to the stage as we could.
It was Fall 2006, just days before a pivotal mid-term election.1 President Bush was travelling to key battlegrounds to rally the Republicans.
“This is crazy,” I tell Eric, surprised by how loud I had to talk above the crowd. Driving up, Eric and I were clear that we were going to this rally with an attitude approaching irony. Sure, I was a firebrand conservative. But, as I discussed last week, I also wanted to be special. So I planned to be the observer amid the fray, coolly assessing the President’s words and noting their political implications.
But now, trapped in the fervor, the anticipation was electric. And when jet engines reverberated overhead, Eric and I joined the crowd’s applause. Straining toward the runway, we gaped at Air Force One, monstrous and impossible, floating toward us. Several minutes later, scurrying assistants lowered the stairs and the man himself emerged.
I don’t remember his specifics, but I do remember Bush wowing me to my core. Even we firebrands had a hard time shaking the media’s image of him as a dunderheaded yokel. But there at the rally, he was charming and eloquent as all get-out.2
Even though I prided myself on standing above the crowd, there was something about Bush. The cadence of his lines about lowering taxes and winning the war and leaving no child behind. I found myself nodding along, then clapping along, then cheering along.
At one point, Bush listed all the area towns that needed to rally the Republicans: Springdale and Bentonville and Rogers and Gravette. But when he got to Gravette, he pronounced it wrong,3 and the crowd murmured the correction to him. Rather than get flustered, he got a twinkle in his eye and his mouth spun into a smirk. “You know I’m not too good at pro-NUN-ciating.”
A wave of laughter, followed by someone shouting “That’s why we love you,” and even louder cheers.
“Arkansas, I’ll leave with one simple message: We. Can. Win!”
The crowd erupted, and Bush strode off the stage back toward Air Force One, waving and grinning as he went. Air Force One rose into the clouds, off to its next stop, but the cheering continued long after it was gone. Bumping into a man dressed in a Harley Davidson jacket, I realized that I was not only roaring along with the crowd, but also pumping my fist.
And I didn’t care.
Eric and I were still buzzing on the drive back to campus–the main reason we stopped at Chick-Fil-A was to stick it to liberals. During the meal, we started talking about Eric’s World War II seminar.
And that’s when talk turned to Nazis . . .
Discomfort at the Chick-Fil-A
Like I said, most of us have a similar realization as young adults: lots of our beliefs depend on where we grew up. We like to think we believe the way we do because all our beliefs are true. But then we look over to ISIS-controlled Syria, or antebellum plantations, or the Third Reich. All those people were sure they were right, too. But they believed horrible things. Does that mean that some of my . . . at this point, most of us distract ourselves with Twitter and junk food.
But no matter who you are, it’s helpful to stay with the discomfort for a while. I saw a photo of some young administrators at Auschwitz. We like to believe they were obvious monsters whose evil radiated through the camera. Instead, they looked . . . normal. A typical group of twenty-somethings, hamming for the camera and trying to make their friends laugh. If they’d have grown up in America today, they probably would have been just like us. And that means if we’d grown up in Germany then, we’d . . .
If you’re an SJW in Portland railing against southern segregationists during Jim Crow, it’s comforting to think your beliefs stem from inherent moral superiority. Not simply from the fact you were fortunate enough to be born in a time and place that realized how horrible Jim Crow was.
And for me, sitting in that Chick-Fil-A and holding a volunteer card from the Arkansas Republicans, I wanted to believe I was a conservative because it flowed naturally from being an evangelical.
Obviously, I didn’t leave that Chick-Fil-A believing that all Republicans are Nazis.4 But I did start questioning the fit between my faith and the GOP.
For some issues, like being pro-life, the fit was natural.
But for others, like trickle-down economics, there wasn’t an obvious connection. Sure, Religious Right folks could find a smattering of Bible verses that kind-of supported it if you read them the right way. But there were plenty of other verses that seemed to say the opposite.
And some issues, like immigration and preemptive wars, seemed like we had to jump through hermeneutical hoops simply to explain ourselves.
Did I have Republican views because of my faith, or because I grew up in a Rush Limbaugh household? Eric started the car, and transitioned to another pseudo-philosophical college topic: “Do you ever wonder if the colors I see are the same ones that you see? Because sometimes I think that maybe…”
I barely followed. Slurping the last of my milkshake, I wondered something else: were there other ways for an evangelical to think about politics?
1 Those who keep track of such things will remember that the Republicans got walloped.
2 “All get-out” is me trying to be folksy. Did it work?
3 In case you’re wondering, Bush pronounced it Grav-ET, when it’s really GRAV-it. I like Bush’s pronunciation better…
4 Really, I can’t make this point clearly enough.
Photo by Bussi