With Donald Trump’s recent election to the presidency of the United States, it would appear all bets are off. After 9/11, and the passage of the Patriot Act in 2001, Vice President Dick Cheney said the United States had entered “the new normal.” As a retort, some said the United States had passed through the Looking Glass, a reference to Lewis Carol’s story in Alice in Wonderland. On the other side of the Looking Glass nothing seems the same. The world is unrecognizable. Welcome to the Age of Trump, featuring Christian dominionist Vice-President, Mike Pence.
Thousands of people marching in the streets in major cities, expressing their discontent with the president-elect Trump, signals that we’re in for a time of great unrest and unpredictability. There are telltale signs of what’s on the horizon. What’s likely coming is an era of Christian Dominionism, an ideological orientation committed to the belief that the Bible and fundamentalist Christianity ought to serve as a guide and backdrop for governing the American body politic.
In his classic book The Politics of Communication, Claus Meuller says, “Domination. . .is the control by a limited and relatively small number of people over the allocation of resources and the access to significant participation in the decision-making process.” The relatively small number of people that will end up in the Trump-Pence administration will also share a similar religio-political orientation, premised on a particular dominionist view of the Christian religion.
In his 1973 book The Institutes of Biblical Law, dominionist theologian Rousas John Rushdoony, says that “Law is in every culture religious in origin.” (original emphasis) He further states that “there can be no tolerance in a law-system for another religion.” Additionally, Rushdoony asserts that “no disestablishment of religion as such is possible in any society.” And, importantly, he further states: “Every law-system must maintain its existence by hostility to every other law-system and to alien religious foundations, or else it commits suicide.”
David Lane is an influential dominionist who is described as a leading Christian Right electoral organizer. Lane is quoted as saying:
I don’t think there’s any such thing as a separation of church and state. This [the U.S.] was not established as a secular nation, and anybody that says it is, they’re not reading American history. This [country] was established by Christians for the advancement of the Christian faith.
Lane’s statement is in sync with an earlier era in the United States. The dominionist thinking of that era resulted in the era of Termination, and a 1954 U.S. legal brief that the Justice Department submitted to the Supreme Court in the case Tee-Hit-Ton v. The United States. In that brief, the Justice Department argued in the Tee-Hit-Ton people should not receive monetary compensation for a taking of their timber because “the Christian nations of Europe had acquired jurisdiction [dominion] over the lands of heathens and infidels” during the so-called Era of Discovery. In 1955, the U.S. Supreme Court handed the United States a victory in the Tee-Hit-Ton case, which means the Court sided with the U.S. government’s Christian dominionist arguments.
The nascent Trump-Pence Era raises a key question: Will the coming administration enable us to sharpen and intensify our critique of the Christian dominionist thinking that has resulted in U.S. federal Indian law and policy? (In Johnson v. M’Intosh (1823), Chief Justice John Marshall used the dominionist term “ultimate dominion”) Or, will the Trump-Pence era make it all the more difficult for us to raise that critique because Christian dominionist thinking will begin to seem ordinary and normal as the supposed “civic religion” of the United States?
Nearly twenty-five years into the global campaign that Birgil Kills Straight and I started back in 1992, when we began calling on the Vatican to formally revoke the Inter Caetera papal edict of May 4, 1493, more than 520 clergy people from throughout the United States convened at Standing Rock. They directly challenged the dominionist Doctrine of Christian Discovery. Some were even arrested. In an act of protest, the clergy burned copies of the Vatican papal decrees of 1493, and challenged the U.S.’s use of the doctrine to engage in militarized actions against Standing Rock and the Oceti Sakowin.
It is ironic, to say the least, that this powerful historic event, by Christians, against a system of Christian dominionism, took place on the eve of a U.S. election which handed the power of the executive branch of the United States to Christian dominionists. We are indeed on the other side of the Looking Glass. Now it’s a matter of being all the more determined to increase our resolve and our efforts against the doctrine of Christian discovery and domination.
Steven Newcomb (Shawnee, Lenape) is co-founder and co-director of the Indigenous Law Institute, and author of Pagans in the Promised Land: Decoding the Doctrine of Christian Discovery (Fulcrum, 2008). He is a producer of the documentary movie, The Doctrine of Discovery: Unmasking the Domination Code, directed and produced by Sheldon Wolfchild (Dakota), with narration by Buffy Sainte-Marie (Cree). The movie can be ordered from 38Plus2Productions.com.