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TODAY IN WHAT NOW: It's our weekly Group Chat! Jack Crosbie answers dumb questions, personal questions, and smart questions, such as: what role will religion play in the future organization of the left? And what Mario Kart character would each member of the Trump family pick?

Hello! Wow. Wednesday already. Welcome to the second edition of WHAT NOW?, Discourse Blog’s premium newsletter. That’s right — this is the good stuff that you have to pay for. Not yet, because we’re running a free preview of it this week, but you get the picture. If you like what you see, please subscribe to our Steward tier. (And if you've already subscribed, thank you!!!) Subscriptions start at just $10 a month, and you get a whole bunch of other benefits. Today, you can also get 20% off any annual subscription with the code WHATNOW.

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Anyway, here’s the general structure of the thing. Every Monday you’re going to get an exclusive interview with a friend of the blog: maybe an inside-baseball media thing, maybe a new cause or union or project that we’re excited about, maybe something that we just want to learn more about in general. This week it was a chat with Jared Holt, who researches the far right for the Atlantic Council, about why the media got last week so wrong, and what’s going to happen over the next few days. 


On Wednesdays, however, we’re going to hear from you, mainly through our mailbag, which we're calling our Group Chat. Whichever writer is on Group Chat duty that week will respond to whatever comes through the whatnow@discourseblog.com email address. Today, that’s me (Crosbie) again. So let’s jump in.
—Jack Crosbie

Whit asks: There’s an obvious swelling of leftist sentiment in America right now, especially among younger-ish people. (I’m 35, I feel old on the DSA Slack.) But when I was younger, the big push for socialist values that I saw came from Liberation Theologians, leftist Jewish writers, and radical Christian Communists (commonly quoted Marx lines be, um, damned). Young people in America are now far more secular than previous generations and religiosity, especially Christianity, is much more commonly a dominant cultural force on the right. What role do you think religion will play in the rising leftist sentiment in America?

This is kinda a tough question for me to answer, as I had a pretty intensely secular upbringing (my father taught evolutionary biology at a university), despite living in an extremely rural, religious, and right-wing community. This instilled in me a very healthy sense of the core hypocrisies of right-wing Bible-Belt Christianity, in that many “Christians” a) don’t really know or give a shit about Christ and b) mostly use his teachings to justify being shitty to marginalized groups. 

(I’m going to focus on Christianity here because I don’t think anyone wants me wading into anything resembling a “chatting about Jews, Judaism, things of that nature” situation. You can talk to Rafi about that one.)

There are a lot of reasons for this -- the inextricable link between Christian faith and capitalism in this country being the big one -- but what getting a little older and less angry at the dickheads who told me I was going to hell in 5th grade taught me is that, as you point out, there is plenty of room for leftist thought to reclaim ground in religious spaces in America. Jesus himself was by most accounts a pretty chill guy. The conflict, I think, is going to be finding ways to insert that thinking into the current overwhelming model of worship, which is (in my opinion) dominated by a symbiotic relationship between organized religion and the corporate-capitalist status quo (which we know inherently favors the far-right). This is where I start to get a little bit out of my depth, though: I don’t really know what the best way to organize that push is. I know there’s certainly room for, and should be, dedicated outreach to Christians from leftist organizers, who can show them how their fundamental beliefs line up with a generally kinder, more accepting view of the world. But I’m certainly not the guy to set that up, so I wish you luck. 

James asks: What Mario Kart character would each member of the Trump family pick?

Ok I don’t really have time to do a full explanation of my reasoning on all of these so without further ado: 

Trump: DK
Melania: Rosalina
Ivanka: Peach
Eric: Lakitu
Don Jr. Iggy
Tiffany: Toadette
Barron: Luigi (tall)
Jared: Only plays with his Mii, which looks exactly like him

Sam asks: Assuming a good portion of the Republican Party gets swept up into a personally loud, brash candidate for a 2024 primary, who is most likely to fill those shoes? Who is most likely to try the Trump route and fail miserably, for whatever reason?

So I don’t actually think the Republicans are going to try to do Trump again in 2024. The chance of it to me seems way lower after all this Capitol shit. It doesn’t mean that Trumpism is gone from the party, but it does mean that for the next four years or so the Mitch-side of safe Corporate R’s is going to reassert itself, and then they’re going to run someone in line with that who wasn’t directly a Trump hater in 24. Maybe Nikki Haley? I’m fairly sure it’ll be a woman, but who knows what the primaries will look like.

To the second point: Ted Cruz is going to run again and almost certainly fail. Don Jr. is going to run and definitely fail because he has precisely 0% of his father’s machismo and charisma, and if you try to make him do politics beyond posting Crusader memes on his Instagram account it's going to be a shitshow. Ivanka is… I honestly have no idea. Truly cannot tell you what goes on in her brain.

Andreas asks: That "shaman" Arizona man comes from Florida, right? Also, [was he] inspired by Jebediah Springfield or Davy Crockett?

The guy’s name is Jake Angeli, and he’s actually from Arizona! Or, as I like to call it, “Dry Florida.” So… almost right. And I honestly don’t know what he’s inspired by. I get the feeling that the “Shaman” thing was just sort of a snowball effect of him leaning into that vibe when he got really into the QAnon movement, and then he found the bison head thing at a thrift store or a buddy’s house and just went with it. Actually, on that note, that could be a fun Monday interview, if we get one of the QAnon experts out there to talk about what the freak’s deal is. Moving on. 

Personal question! Adrian asks: What was it like in the DNR/LNR? How was the energy over there? Was it like the East of Ukraine except more explicitly pro-Russian? Were they psyched about what they were doing?

So as a bit of background in 2015 I went to Ukraine to cover the conflict there. For a period of time, I lived on the other side of the conflict line, in the pro-Russian separatist state of the Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR in Russian, DPR in English).

Usually, I’d just respond to this one directly, but I’ve been thinking a lot about my time there recently. The DNR is/was a really interesting place. I’m not going to go into a whole backstory of the region or of the war, but instead to generally note that the people there had experienced a somewhat recent significant economic crisis, and were culturally and linguistically closer to Russia itself than some people in the rest of the country. This meant that there was a certain amount of genuine and organic support for that part of the country being part of, or closely tied to, Russia rather than Ukraine, which had just undergone a revolution inspired largely by general popular support for closer ties with the E.U.

How much of that support was genuine is impossible to tell, because the area was completely and utterly dominated by media and information from an explicitly pro-Russian point of view. Even before the war, most of the people there watched Russian TV, read Russian newspapers, etc, which obviously speak from a certain perspective. Once the war started this effect was only heightened -- certain websites were blocked without a VPN, financial networks and news access got cut off. If you want to clumsily transpose this situation onto the U.S., picture a war breaking out between like, Louisiana and the rest of the U.S., where everyone in Louisiana is locked into Louisiana and largely cannot leave, and the only readily-available sources of information in Louisiana are Fox News and Newsmax (which many people already watched before all this started). 

All that said the people there were largely extremely normal. What was telling I think is that generally the closer you got to the front line, from either side, the simpler the political positions people took got. In the center of Donetsk, sure, you could find some young dudes hanging out with the weird groups of Italian fascists that LOVED the idea of “Novorossia,” asked you if you worked for Sputnik, and were all revved up for their next stint on the front lines shooting mortars blindly into the dark every night once the OSCE neutral observers had gone home. (You could also find similar groups of young dudes hanging out with weird groups of Nazis on the Ukrainian side.) But closer to the front lines, what you mostly saw were old people who mostly loved the idea of either government paying them their pension check (which didn’t happen often) and not blowing holes in their houses’ walls with tanks (which did happen often). 

You can see the parallels. Sure, if you ask a random (white) person in the Deep South what they think about all this you’re liable to get an answer that involves a stolen election or whatever conspiracy theory right-wing media is broadcasting that day. A lot of them will be racist, a lot of them will have really shitty views on one thing or another. The right, or in this admittedly clumsy analogy the pro-Russian side, largely controls the media they consume and tells them what their problems are and who to blame, without actually solving them. Meanwhile, their problems don’t get solved, their lives continue to be bad, because the people in power over them (Russia and its proxy leadership) don’t actually care about them at all. The difference is in the U.S. we ostensibly still have an opportunity for people in power to address these problems and weaken the grasp that right-wing media has on them that does not include a war. My somewhat naive hope is that at some point our leaders decide to address the material concerns of the people living in this country before we run into the problem of tank-holes in walls ourselves. 

See you on Friday for "Man, What the Hell?" And keep submitting your Group Chat questions to
whatnow@discourseblog.com.

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