December 7, 2023

I don’t know Mike Johnson, the brand-new speaker of the Home of Representatives, however I really feel as if I do as a result of we’re from the identical neck of the woods. He’s from Shreveport, in Caddo Parish, La., the place I used to be born and the place one among my brothers died.

Johnson’s district encompasses my childhood hometown, Gibsland, about 40 miles east of Shreveport, and residential parish, Bienville, which is the place most members of my household have lived for so long as I can monitor them again. My mom and two of my brothers nonetheless reside there.

He graduated from Louisiana State College. Just a few years earlier, I had turned down a scholarship to L.S.U. to just accept one at Grambling State College, a traditionally Black school a few half-hour east of Gibsland. He additionally wrote opinion essays for the newspaper the place I minimize my tooth as a working journalist, The Shreveport Instances.

We by no means crossed paths, however we got here of age politically in the identical locality, a spot I do know higher than virtually some other on Earth, formed by most of the identical cultural forces.

And for that purpose, I consider that he’ll almost certainly be capable to keep away from being tagged as an extremist — not less than within the brief run — as America will get to know him.

In an announcement after Johnson was elected speaker, the Democratic Nationwide Committee castigated him as an “election-denying, anti-abortion MAGA extremist” who was “a mastermind behind Home Republicans’ efforts to overturn the 2020 election” and “is a loyal foot soldier to the true chief of the Republican Get together — Donald Trump.”

All that’s true, however not like Trump’s, Johnson’s efforts to undermine American democracy are served like a comforting bowl of grits and a glass of candy tea. He’s not abrasive. He’s likable.

He’s from part of the nation the place your nemesis will smile at you and promise to wish for you, the place folks will rapidly submit that they “love the sinner however hate the sin,” the place one hand can maintain a Bible whereas the opposite holds a shackle. He’s from a spot the place folks use faith to model their hatred as love in order that they act on it cheerfully and with out guilt.

He’s what many have feared: an instance of second-wave Trumpism — politicians rising in Trump’s wake who include the identical coverage priorities and ideological proclivities, however in a much more congenial and urbane package deal, propelled by one thing greater than private grievance. Trumpism is a faith developed to serve a person. What occurs when it evolves right into a pillar of a longtime creed and is considered as a option to serve God?

Johnson has taken that ethos into his politics.

In an interview final week on Fox Information, Johnson stated: “Somebody requested me right now within the media, they stated, ‘It’s curious, persons are curious. What does Mike Johnson take into consideration any difficulty beneath the solar?’ I stated, ‘Properly, go choose up a Bible off your shelf and browse it.’ That’s my worldview.”

Johnson tried to create some daylight between his zealotry and his politics, saying that not all lawmakers’ deeply held beliefs can turn into regulation. He additionally stated that when the Supreme Court docket dominated that same-sex marriage was constitutionally protected it grew to become “settled” regulation and “the regulation of the land,” and as a constitutional lawyer, “I respect that.”

However does he? Anticipating that call in 2015, he launched a failed spiritual exemption invoice within the Louisiana State Legislature geared toward blunting the ruling’s impact. He said on the time in regards to the courtroom’s eventual ruling, “It’s troublesome to overestimate the harm it will do to our tradition and deep spiritual heritage that has outlined America since its founding.”

On one other event, he said the courtroom had determined “to usurp the authority of the folks and pressure same-sex marriage on all 50 states by judicial fiat.”

Does that sound like respecting a ruling to you? After all not. It’s an instance of Johnson’s fundamentalism in motion: his Captain Ahab-like obsession with opposing L.G.B.T.Q. rights.

He has a longstanding friendship with Tony Perkins, a former Louisiana legislator who’s the president of the Household Analysis Council, a corporation whose web site says that “gay conduct” — not simply same-sex marriage — just isn’t solely “dangerous to the individuals who interact in it” however “additionally dangerous to society at massive.”

Like Perkins, Johnson is on a campaign to advance a spiritual agenda, even when it comes on the expense of constitutionally protected liberty.

As Peter Wehner wrote for The Atlantic, Johnson “makes use of his Christian religion to sacralize his fanaticism and assault on fact.” Johnson’s worldview appears to be that the need of God is bigger than the rights of man — a view nurtured by the place that nurtured him.

The 12 months after same-sex marriage grew to become authorized nationwide, the American Bible Society ranked Shreveport the nation’s fourth most “Bible-minded” metropolis, a measure of Bible studying habits and beliefs in regards to the Bible.

This patina of piety affords Johnson a way of cheerfulness, the sense that he’s a innocent, comfortable warrior within the conservative Christian trigger: After Johnson’s invoice was killed within the State Legislature in 2015, he smiled for photos with two of the activists who had helped kill it.

The place he and I are from, even would-be oppressors could be affable. It’s not simply good manners; it’s the Christian manner, the correct Southern manner. And it’s the final deception.

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