I was on Facebook minding my own business on the Lord’s day, when Jon McNaughton’s latest piece of right-wing propaganda floated into my timeline. If you have never heard of Jon McNaughton, you need to praise Jesus (or your preferred deity). If you haven’t heard of him, you’ve probably seen his work shared by your favorite alt-right, Tea Party, MAGA flag waving “Bible-believing,” born-again Christian. McNaughton’s work revels in the type of Christian Nationalism that claims to want Liberty and Justice for All (except the Blacks, queer people, women, transgender people, etc.) because Jesus is a white man who loves the United States Constitution.
A lot of art connoisseurs might find McNaughton’s approach to be ham-fisted, lacking subtlety, and even pedestrian in its vision. I disagree. McNaughton’s “fine art” (that’s how he markets himself) does exactly what it is supposed to do: stoke patriotic and religious fervor in those with whom his message resonates, and infuriate everybody else. He knows exactly what he is doing. His work is unabashedly racist, unquestioningly nationalistic, and unreservedly idolatrous. The only people who buy this artwork are the people who share his White Christian Nationalist views. It is hanging in the “man cave” of every Bo, Jake, and Bubba between his “prize” 8-point buck antlers and “rebel” flag.
I normally would not give the likes of McNaughton any kind of airtime or attention, but I saw one of his latest pieces and I thought that I would write about it.
This piece is called Legacy of Hope. Here is what McNaughton’s website says about the piece:
I have been discouraged by the times in which we live—a battered economy, a confusing pandemic, civil unrest, riots, and the blind rage of those who seek to destroy our country. What’s even more troubling, is that many in the mainstream media have seemingly joined forces with those who are actively (and seditiously) trying to burn America to the ground.
While thinking about these things, the White House released a photograph—a photograph that gave me… hope.
The photograph shows a group of black religious and political leaders, surrounding President Trump and praying for him—praying for the nation. To say that this image inspired me would be an understatement. Here stood a group of men and women—Americans—praying for God to help President Trump!
It was a photograph of faith and hope for the future.
And as I thought about that hope, I couldn’t help but think about our HISTORY—our legacy of hope. Contrary to what some might tell you, the United States didn’t begin in 1619, with the first importation of slaves. The United States has a specific birthdate—it began in 1776. It began when we not only declared our independence from a system that introduced slavery to the New World, but our country also began when we declared that all men and women are created equal.
From that day forward, great men and women—people like George Washington, Harriet Tubman, Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson, and Frederick Douglass—have risen up and have fought and died to ensure that this nation lives up to its founding creed.
As Americans, we share a legacy of hope that should never be forgotten.
The original images that inspired this painting were released by the White House and are licensed under a Creative Commons License (CC BY 3.0 US).
Additionally, I want to thank those who stood in the image—those brave men and women who stood with our duly-elected President and continue to stand for our country. Thank you.
What in the actual entire Lake of Fire? This dude is “discouraged by the times in which we live.” Imagine watching Black people be lynched on camera and the only emotion that you can muster is discouragement. The caucasity of it all.
I find this image to be wholly repulsive and violating. It is a literal illustration of what it means to take the Lord’s name in vain.
Imagine having the audacity to paint Martin Luther King, Jr. standing (in the back of all places) next to Robert E. Lee (because who else would that be? Don’t try to convince me that it’s Rutherford B. Hayes. It ain’t)? Imagine having the audacity to have Frederick Douglass laying hands on President Trump? Imagine having the unmitigated gall to put Harriet Tubman anywhere near slave-owning Washington, Jefferson, and Madison? To paint revered Black ancestors anywhere next to the likes of racist Abe Lincoln, Ronald “War on Drugs” Reagan, fake Christian Franklin Graham, and his March on Washington invitation turning down behind daddy Billy takes some kind of gumption.
Now you might be reading this and saying, “But Ally, he has them praying for the President! Shouldn’t we pray for the President? Doesn’t the Bible say to pray for your enemies? Why are you so mad about a depiction of prayer?”
Yes, I believe that we should pray for our leaders. In fact, before the pandemic, I led my congregation in prayer for the President by name as part of the “Prayers of the People” found in the Book of Common Prayer. I try to remember the President regularly in my personal prayer times. As a Christian, I believe in prayer. I believe in praying for my enemies, especially in the Spirit of Psalm 35 and the other imprecatory Psalms. I also try to be “nice” and bless those who curse and persecute me…though I’m not always that saved and sanctified. I think that it is possible to pray for people without endorsing what they stand for, something that I’m sure King, Douglass, and Tubman all understood and likely practiced.
Where this painting and—Jon McNaughton by extension—have got me effed up, though, is the underlying message that the payers being offered are some type of endorsement of Trump. That’s the entire messaging of this painting. It’s also particularly convenient that McNaughton was supposedly inspired by a picture of Black people praying for the President, but could not be bothered to paint more than three black people in his rendition (not that we needed any more Black folks in this clustercuss).
The positioning of the figures in this paining communicates “spiritual impartation;” Trump is in a posture where he is submitting to prayer from the people in the painting. It is communicating that they are both endorsing him and passing something of themselves—their “legacy”—on to Trump. Make no mistake, what is being passed on is the legacy of white supremacy. The Black people are only there to give McNaughton plausible deniability, which is futile since his hood is already showing.