Who The F#&k is Eric Greitens?
By Umar Lee
This past week I attended a small gathering organized by Republican gubernatorial candidate Eric Greitens. It was located in a Bosnian restaurant next to an Iraqi Shia mosque in the diverse Dutchtown neighborhood of South St. Louis.
Everyone in the audience besides Sarah Kendzior and me (with the exception of members of the Greitens entourage and some police officers) were Bosnians who’d come to St. Louis as refugees in the 1990’s.
Greitens has long-time friends in the Bosnian community, served in the Bosnian region in the military, and in attendance was a Bosnian-American guy from St. Louis he served with. When Greitens spoke of Bosnia he sounded like the intellectual he is.
Sitting across the table from Greitens listening to his smooth and polished delivery I kept asking myself “who the fuck is this guy?”.
If you’ve seen Greitens commercials or witnessed him on the campaign trail all you know is he likes to shoot guns, he’s worked to help veterans and he refers to being a Navy SEAL more than Rudy Giuliani references 9–11.
Yet there is much more to the man for whatever reason he’s hiding from Missouri voters. Greitens is a Rhodes Scholar and married to an academic. In a climate of right-wing anti-intellectualism Greitens may have correctly guessed the impressive array of degrees in the living room may hurt more than it helps.
In making campaign commercials focusing on guns and Tourette’s Syndrome like “I’m a Navy SEAL” usage Greitens betrays the thing it is he’s trying to hide.
Married to Sheena Elise Chestnut whom Greitens eagerly states will play an active role in his administration (“we’re running as a family”) one may reach the conclusion she’s already shaping the campaign.
As a scholar of authoritarian regimes and the propaganda they use to elicit support from the masses Chestnut knows a thing or two about the right buttons to press and the fertile exploitable pockets within a cultural landscape.
In the year of Trump (and many years before) a sometimes earned distrust of academics and elites has become ingrained into grassroots Republican politics. The more degrees you have from universities without any football players in the NFL the more suspicious you become. What does some snob with a degree from a fancy university know about rural farmers, dying factory towns, God-fearing church folk and white-flight suburbia? Which combined make up the bulk of the Missouri GOP.
Greitens not only has a degree from a university without a football team he has a degree from Oxford where they don’t even play American football!
In addition to the academic backgrounds of both Greitens and his wife possibly being bad for the image in a four-way GOP primary there are a few more strikes.
Being an ex-Democrat can be explained away. Similar to a “come to Jesus” at the “altar call” moment the more misguided the past has been makes the new commitment that much more meaningful. If the message of Christ can save a rapist, a killer, or a commie then praise the Lord there is power in the name! If the message of conservatism, law and order, American Exceptionalism, and limited-government can win over a liberal Democrat then Rush must be right!
Living in the Central West End is a more difficult sell. There are two political parties in St. Louis (black Democrats and white Democrats). The City GOP is basically a collection of eccentrics and a political version of a middle-school Dungeons & Dragons Club.
Quite simply few conservatives choose to live in the city much less a supposedly liberal-bastion like the Central West End known as a hub for the young, the beautiful, academics, students, and liberal geezers. Now I’d argue the CWE in particular, and the Central Corridor as a whole, isn’t as liberal as it’s believed to be and on issues of economics and policing veers mostly to the right, but that’s a discussion for another day. The fact is living in the CWE isn’t a plus with the current version of the Missouri GOP. Good St. Louis area conservatives live in West County or St. Charles County and don’t prance around sipping wine and ordering hard to pronounce shit on the menu.
Then there is the issue of religion. I didn’t know Greitens was Jewish until it was brought up to me in a conversation with a group of local Jews. Then I began to take notice Greitens never talked about being Jewish in the campaign. When GOP VP candidate Mike Pence came to St. Louis several weeks ago he said “if you pray like I do and like Eric Greitens does” I couldn’t help but think there was a degree of deception going on.
No candidate should be required to talk about their faith or be a person of faith. Trying to pull a fast one on dimwitted Missourah voters is another thing.
Greitens chose to run as a Republican and as it currently stands that party in the state of Missouri is dominated by white Evangelicals. Looking through the writings of Evangelical political thinkers time and time again the importance of having “people of faith” in office is seen as paramount. Specifically people of one faith, Christianity, and people within that faith who subscribe to their narrow theology.
Making matters worse for Greitens is the fact the Trump campaign has embolden anti-semites and openly embraced many. Jewish journalists who’ve written less than flattering pieces on Trump have been the victim of organized anti-Semitic troll campaigns.
The tragedy of all of this is we don’t know what role his Jewish faith has played in the life of Greitens. Has his public service been influenced by tikkun olam? Or was this Jewish boy growing up in Maryland Heights on the fringes of St. Louis Jewish life who went on to be a Navy SEAL and combat sports participant influenced by the David Ben-Gurion call for the creation of the warrior-scholar “New Jew” rising from the ashes of the holocaust?
Greitens is as silent about his Jewishness as he and other Republicans are about the rising tide of hate Trump has stirred up. I can excuse the ignorant for this; but Greitens isn’t ignorant. Greitens can read the code-language, he knows the history, he knows where this all leads, his wife studies guys like Trump for a living, and yet his deafening silence stands as consent.
In a climate where Greitens can’t run as a brainy scholar married to an academic, an urban sophisticate, or a thoughtful Jewish kid from a good family, Greitens doubles down on what gets the Missouri GOP base going.
There is nothing that excites the Missouri Republican base or stirs the masculinity of Viagra-popping beer-guzzling hunters more than war. Go into any GOP stronghold and the Wal-Mart purchased “We Support Our Troops” and other pro-military bumper-stickers are affixed to the back of pickups as a form of virtue-signaling in a similar manner as the “City” and NPR stickers are on the back of Volvos in Greitens hood.
It doesn’t matter the war or the reason the base Greitens is speaking to loves it some war. In particular a war in which there is an identifiable enemy. In this case Muslims. Most Greitens voters believe President Barack Obama is a Muslim. Many believe shariah-law is spreading across America and ISIS members are pouring across the border with the help of Obama.
Greitens hunted “Muslim terrorists” in Iraq and Afghanistan and that may make him enough of a hero to erase all of his negatives for most Missouri Republican voters. In fact he is handing out “ISIS Hunting Licenses” to his supporters. Given the expertise Missouri Republican voters in places like St. Peters and Springfield have on ISIS they’re liable to do something really brave and patriotic like harass a Muslim family at Wal-Mart or even shoot up a mosque with their licenses.
Back to the meeting at the Bosnian restaurant. Greitens was asked twice, once by me, what he thought of the climate of fear and hate towards Muslim refugees. The answers given were smooth and boiler-plate. The “there’s no vetting process” lie was repeated. The “ISIS” is slipping in fighters with refugees deception was also told. While the base Greitens is courting may be so geographically illiterate they don’t realize the logistical difference between getting to Europe and getting to North America, he certainly does.
Furthermore, in a room full of refugees, Greitens sat with a straight-face and didn’t answer the concern Bosnian families could be the targets of his “ISIS Hunting Permits”.
When I looked into the eyes of Greitens I just thought to myself “what could’ve been”. What that lust for power will make people do. The cynic in me says Greitens only chose to run as a Republican this year sensing this year would be a “wave election” for the GOP. Along with most others I believe his ultimate goal is the White House.
Ultimately I think Democratic candidate Chris Koster will narrowly prevail based on his NRA and cop endorsements although he’s as exciting as a dental appointment. A Greitens win wouldn’t shock me; but at this point I’m not putting money on it. Whoever wins this race the State of Missouri has lost in this campaign and Greitens has a huge diagnosis of wasted potential.