"False gospel": The new GOP attack on Dolly Parton is a tactic borrowed from the Christian right

Fundamentalists disparage mainstream culture as "demonic" — Republicans just substitute the word "woke"

By Amanda Marcotte

Senior Writer

Published June 11, 2024 6:00AM (EDT)

Dolly Parton and Donald Trump (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)
Dolly Parton and Donald Trump (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)

It was inevitable that Republicans would go after Dolly Parton. Under the leadership of Donald "Make America Great Again" Trump, Republicans have grown to loathe most everything they used to hold in high regard. Forget patriotism — nowadays, Trump rallies are replete with claims that the United States is a "s__thole." The Super Bowl is now derided as an "election interference psyop." Once-beloved Budweiser beer has become a hate object. The same conservative forces who used to pretend they were defending American icons like Dr. Seuss and Mr. Potato Head from imaginary "cancelation" are now mostly in the business of canceling anything and everything that Americans might enjoy. 

Parton's "love they neighbor" view is downright banal to most people, but it does run directly against the "hate and fear your neighbor" message of MAGA.

"There’s Nothing Loving About Dolly Parton’s False Gospel," the wet blankets at The Federalist recently declared. The much-derided essay from Ericka Andersen castigates the beloved singer-songwriter for "condoning immoral sexual behavior," by which Andersen means being gay or queer. Andersen doesn't directly come out and claim Parton is lying about being a Christian, but gets close with terms like "secularized spiritual leader" and "false gospel." 

The faux-theology is a paper-thin cover for what is really a political attack. It's not just that Andersen resents that Parton offers innocuous statements of love and acceptance of LGBTQ people, sentiments shared by most Americans. As with the attacks on the NFL, Taylor Swiftand the "Barbie" movie, it's about encouraging paranoia in the Republican base. The message, from Trump down through the right-wing media, is that white conservative Christians are under attack from every corner of society. As New York Times writer Jamelle Bouie explained on Bluesky, this allows conservatives to "see themselves as involved in revolutionary action that justifies anything under the sun." Including lying, committing crimes, and, as we saw on Jan. 6, violence. 

Want more Amanda Marcotte on politics? Subscribe to her newsletter Standing Room Only.

The invocation of religious language isn't surprising. This tactic is borrowed directly from the world of fundamentalist Christianity. For decades, far-right Christian pastors have used a similar strategy to alienate their congregations from the outside world, leaving pastors with total control of their flock's lives. Believers are routinely threatened with hell for even thinking about whatever pop culture is trendy. 

In the 80s, of course, this was the notorious "Satanic panic," where everything from daycare centers to popular rock albums to Dungeons & Dragons role-playing games was said to be a gateway directly to demonic possession. In the 90s, fundamentalists declared that Pokemon "teaches children how to enter into the world of witchcraft." For the past couple of decades, Christian fundamentalists have been freaking out over the "Harry Potter" series, which only seems to have quieted a bit as the author JK Rowling has so loudly championed the far-right opposition to trans rights. Lately, the biggest target for hyperventilating accusations of demonic possession is, of course, Taylor Swift, as well as most other big pop stars. If it might create a chance for young people to bond with those outside of the church, it gets demonized. 

Separating people from any connection to the outside world is an effective tool for control, which is why everyone from abusive husbands to cult leaders uses it. As the GOP morphs into the cult of Donald Trump, then, it's not surprising that they've also grown fond of telling their followers to shun any interests outside of Trump rallies and MAGA media. After all, even a casual conversation about football with a dreaded liberal might be a reminder that Democrats are normal people and not the "evil" and "sick" people who need eradication, as Trump regularly claims. 

The need to keep his followers in a constant state of fear of the outside world goes a long way to explaining why Trump has bizarre diatribes about sharks — yes, sharks — in his speeches. It's hard for those who aren't fluent in MAGA-ese to get what Trump is talking about when he said he saw "some guys justifying" shark attacks by saying, "they were not hungry, but they misunderstood." Obviously, this didn't happen. But the moral of the story, for those unfortunate souls who know Trump's pattern well enough to translate, is that the "crazy" world outside of MAGA is so evil that they'll let sharks eat you. So it's best to stay far away from the "they" of Trump's endless fear-the-world rants. 

Parton's "love they neighbor" view is downright banal to most people, but it does run directly against the "hate and fear your neighbor" message of MAGA. It's especially unsettling to Republicans, as Andersen explicitly writes, because it's a direct allusion to what was recently a common Christian message: "Let him who is without sin cast the first stone." As New York Times writer Elizabeth Spiers argued on Bluesky, the Trump base now openly embraces "a bastardized version of Christianity that’s reverse engineered from their biases," rejecting compassion in favor of "permission to judge people they don’t like and punish them for deviations from conservative norms."

Russell Moore, who was once a leader in the Southern Baptist Convention but got pushed out for, among other things, being anti-racist, agrees. He has spoken publicly about how Christian ministers can no longer preach about the Sermon on the Mount, in which Jesus famously blessed the meek, the peacemakers, and the merciful. If ministers try to teach this scripture, Moore said congregants will revolt, calling it "weak." The relentless cruelty of Trumpism is their true faith. 

We need your help to stay independent

Andersen's attack on Parton is part of a larger trend where the GOP is becoming an arm of the once-fringe Christian nationalist movement. As Paul Rosenberg has explained at Salon, these are folks who believe their rigid version of Christianity must "exercise dominion over every aspect of society by taking control of political and cultural institutions." To justify stripping freedom of religion away and imposing theocracy on Americans, Christian nationalists, including Trump, claim to be acting in self-defense. They make false accusations that they are somehow "canceled" by the "woke mob," and thus the only way to restore their "rights" is to take rights away from everyone else.

Andersen employs this dishonest tactic by claiming "the culture is on a constant witch hunt for those who would call homosexuality sinful." Never mind that LGBTQ people have suffered imprisonment, violence, and discrimination. Ignore the fact that, if conservatives had their way, queer people would lose their right to marry, would be denied health care, be fired from their jobs, and be put in jail for having consensual sex. She wants readers to believe the real victims are homophobes, because people accurately call them bigots. And that all those terrible things they want to do to LGBTQ are justified, because they feel "witch hunted" by having people disagree with them.

Journalist Katherine Stewart and Rachel Laser of Americans United for Separation of Church and State joined Dahlia Lithwick on her Amicus podcast last week, and they pointed out that this Christian nationalist attitude leads directly to violence. Whether they're explicitly complaining about "demons" or using sanitized political language like "woke," the MAGA argument remains the same: They are beset on all sides by evil forces they believe are out to get them. Therefore, they are entitled to do whatever it takes to "protect" themselves. It's all a phantasm, of course. The freedom to be a loud-mouthed bigot remains untouched in the U.S., protected as always by the First Amendment. But it's a useful lie to justify a fascistic crackdown on America, and so a lie that MAGA is embracing. Even if doing so means attacking an icon like Dolly Parton. 

By Amanda Marcotte

Amanda Marcotte is a senior politics writer at Salon and the author of "Troll Nation: How The Right Became Trump-Worshipping Monsters Set On Rat-F*cking Liberals, America, and Truth Itself." Follow her on Twitter @AmandaMarcotte and sign up for her biweekly politics newsletter, Standing Room Only.

MORE FROM Amanda Marcotte

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Christian Right Commentary Dolly Parton Donald Trump Gop Maga Republicans