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Daddy Issues

The murderous hysteria over white patrimony is inseparable from the private capture of both economic opportunity and political authority.

Don’t look it up, because you cannot unsee it: a blanched and scowling Trump strides through a lurid flood scene, a bawling white baby under each arm. Behind him, a shadowy band of skeletons and hooded reapers looms on a receding shoreline. Pastor Jeff Jansen, the founder of Global Fire Ministries International in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, posted the image to his Facebook and Instagram accounts on May 6, as the news of his firing for “unbiblical behavior” (he left his wife and children “to pursue his own desires”) went viral. Jansen had been among the evangelical pastors and self-described prophets confidently predicting a Trump re-election in 2020. In April he had denounced the modern church as “so neutered and so turned effeminate, almost homosexual” that it was cruising for a bruising from the Heavenly Father. “Where are the men?” he demanded of an audience in Oregon. “Where’s the maleness? Where is the: ‘I will defend the children, I will protect the family?’”

This demented crypto-Christian phallus-worship is to Reagan-era family values what the Charlottesville tiki-torch brigade was to the Docksider-wearing Orange County Young Americans for Freedom of the 1980s. QAnon-fueled fantasies of white child rescue and the once-and-future king have drained any nuance from the ideology of white possession and domestic dominion.

The murderous hysteria over white patrimony—“blood and soil,” anchor babies, the birther movement that launched Trump into political life—is inseparable from the private capture of both economic opportunity and political authority. In his surprise best-seller Capital in the Twenty-First Century, economist Thomas Piketty demonstrated that inherited wealth is almost as decisive a factor in current levels of inequality in the United States as it was in the Gilded Age. The gains in equality that marked the middle decades of the twentieth century have almost completely been undone by the policies pursued since the 1980s. These developments were born of a union of neoliberal economics and neoconservative traditionalism.

For all their incompleteness, the social investments of the New Deal and Great Society definitively broadened access to healthcare, education, stable housing, and secure retirement, thus dampening the advantages of inherited wealth. The wartime federal investment in production, followed by the postwar boom and alongside the decriminalization of collective bargaining, meant that more productivity gains were retained by those workers who made them. Young white men of modest backgrounds who lacked a significant patrimony in property could nevertheless expect to advance beyond their parents’ standing.