On a recent episode of the Alisa Childers podcast, Alisa interviewed Rod Dreher, author of several books, including his latest, Live Not By Lies. Their discussion centered on totalitarianism, and how immigrants from the former Soviet bloc point out that they see things happening now in the United States that they witnessed 40-50 years ago in the countries they fled, specifically the “increasing inability to say what you really think without risking your job, without risking your personal reputation, or some kind of terrible blowback.”
Dreher defines totalitarianism as “a system in which everything is politicized to where you cannot escape politics.”
Dreher says, “Rather than using pain and terror and fear to compel people to comply, our totalitarians are using social pressure, and they’re using people’s fear of losing status and losing access to middle class comforts to get them to conform. It is a softer form of totalitarianism, but it is still totalitarianism.”
Childers goes on to describe soft totalitarian culture “where if you have a specific political opinion or you have a specific religious opinion, and you feel like you can’t say it publicly, or even if you feel you have to lower your voice, that can be a sign that some of these things are beginning to be in place.”
While in the interview Childers and Dreher focus on leanings toward totalitarianism on the left—whether by liberal politicians or liberal-leaning tech magnates and cultural elites—there also exists a tendency toward totalitarianism on the right (see Trevin Wax’s article).
I know people on the conservative Christian side of the equation who admitted they had been afraid in the past to speak out about racial injustice, because they were afraid it would offend their donors and hurt their ministry budget. When George Floyd was killed in 2020, they realized they could no longer stay silent just to protect their income.
No one can deny that former President Trump had an “all-or-nothing” attitude when it came to demanding total loyalty, not to principles, but to him on a personal level. Someone could agree with the President 98% of the time on policy, but dare to call him out where he was wrong on something (or in the attitude with which he approached people), and you risked being kicked to the curb. Even if you weren’t in Trump’s personal/staff circles, or were so unknown in the political realm that he personally never came after you, those in your own network of friends, family, and associates would accuse you of being a liberal sympathizer, or ask, “So I guess you would rather Hillary have won?”
I know a fellow minister in my own state who ardently advocated for Trump and GOP candidates, speaking of the dangers to our freedoms if the Democrats were to take control of the White House and both chambers of Congress. After the GOP lost the two senate runoff races in Georgia in January 2021, my friend pointed out that Trump, by making his campaign rally in Georgia the week of the runoff vote all about himself and how the presidential election had been “stolen” from him, rather than focusing on the importance of the Republican candidates winning those two Senate races. He basically stated what many political analysts were saying: Trump’s insistence on proving he had been wronged led to the GOP losing those seats, and thus the majority in the Senate. Commenters on his Facebook post asked, “How was the Kool-aid?”
A mutual acquaintance then proceeded to denounce the two ordained ministers in the discussion (my friend and myself), accusing my friend of not offering hope to the masses by accepting that Trump lost the election, and accusing me of “name calling” for just mentioning that former President Trump had a narcissistic personality that kept him from putting the Senate candidates’ (and broader Republican party’s) needs ahead of his own. “Shame on both of you,” he commented.
There are many other examples that could be given of people on the conservative, religious side using tactics of fear, intimidation, and shaming in an attempt to keep fellow Christians “in line.” I’m sure if you’ve been paying much attention on social media, you could provide many yourself.
UPDATE: This article came out before I wrote my post, but I had not yet read it. It gives a prime example of the totalitarian tendencies on the right that try to silence any dissent from the "accepted orthodoxy." Betraying Your Church—And Your Party