“The Hostility Is Clarifying”: Conservatives To Pope Francis: Stick With Salvation; We’ll Handle Politics
In a 1979 column, George Will quoted Chekhov describing a character in these terms: “He was a rationalist, but he had to confess that he liked the ringing of church bells.” To Chekhov’s lovely words, Will added his own smarmy endorsement, writing, “Me too.” In his column, Will was affirming the quote in the most literal way possible: He was writing to celebrate bells. But it’s not hard to discern in the quote a larger attitude toward religion. Will is, as he told an interviewer from this magazine, an atheist, yet as a conservative he finds religion to be socially useful and often praises it for that reason. Like the political philosopher Leo Strauss, who has shaped much of his broader outlook, Will has a utilitarian attitude toward religion: Christianity might not be true, but it helps create a cohesive society. To put it another way, Will believes in philosophy for the elite and religion for the masses.
Not surprisingly given this attitude, Will has been at the head of the conservative chorus denouncing Pope Francis’s advocacy for the environment, for migrants, and for the poor—a chorus that has grown more vehement in the run-up to Francis’s U.S. journey. In a syndicated column published on Saturday, Will came out firing: “Pope Francis embodies sanctity but comes trailing clouds of sanctimony. With a convert’s indiscriminate zeal, he embraces ideas impeccably fashionable, demonstrably false, and deeply reactionary.”
Seeing religion as a tool for political ends, Will quite naturally praises religious figures he sees as politically simpatico (like Pope John Paul II) and savages those whose politics he finds politically unpalatable (like Pope Francis). It’s not surprising that Will is so nakedly partisan in his evaluation of religious leaders. What is perhaps more noteworthy is that the same pattern can be found among conservatives who claim to be genuinely devout. Some of these critics voice the objection that Francis is too political, but on closer inspection their real problem is the same as Will’s: They don’t like his politics.
In a 2005 column, for instance, Will praised John Paul II as one of the great heroes of the 20th century because he made common cause with Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan in fighting communism. Enthusiastically voicing a theme common to conservatives, Will marveled that “[i]n an amazingly fecund 27-month period, the cause of freedom was strengthened by the coming to high offices of Margaret Thatcher, Ronald Reagan, and John Paul II, who, like the president, had been an actor and was gifted at the presentational dimension of his office.”
Yet if John Paul II’s political interventions were held up as crucial in the battle against the enemies of civilization, then his successor Francis, seemingly embodying very different politics, stands condemned as a menace who threatens the very survival of capitalism. As one of America’s foremost climate change deniers, Will has nothing but contempt for Francis’s calls for environmental responsibility. In a 2014 column, Will condemned the Pope as a sanctimonious interloper whose ignorance of worldly matters threatens to leave millions impoverished. “He stands against modernity, rationality, science and, ultimately, the spontaneous creativity of open societies in which people and their desires are not problems but precious resources,” Will thundered. “Americans cannot simultaneously honor him and celebrate their nation’s premises.”
In taking up the cause of the environment, Will argued over the weekend, the church was abandoning its “salvific mission.” Since Will doesn’t actually believe that the salvation the church offers is real, his polemic amounts to a call for the church to continue to offer consoling lies to parishioners and ignore real problems so that the social system continues to work the way Will wants it to. Continue ringing those church bells, Will is saying, so they’ll drown out the protests of environmentalists.
The cynicism of Will’s position hardly needs to be underlined. Yet it is broadly shared by others on the right. Writing at the Federalist, Joy Pullmann, managing editor of the publication and a fellow at the lavishly funded climate change denialist think tank The Heartland Institute, makes many of the same arguments that Will does: that in voicing concern for the environment, the Pope is overstepping his proper duties as a religious leader, and that serious efforts to combat climate change would lead to an economic catastrophe that would have its worst impact on the world’s poor. In an extremely confusing line of argument, Pullmann seems to suggest that an environmental apocalypse might actually be a welcome outcome from a Christian point of view:
We will never achieve utopia in this world. That’s kind of the central story arc of the Bible: How humans screwed themselves and the whole world up, and how Jesus has and will ultimately put things to right. Getting all the way to a perfect eternity, however, requires first an apocalypse.
So maybe Pope Francis should welcome the environmental apocalypse he thinks is coming. That’s partly a joke and partly serious, because every time I see another Planned Parenthood butchering video I am ready for Jesus to take me and my kiddos right up to Paradise and end this sick, mad world.
Pullmann’s words might seem lurid and even nonsensical, but they follow the basic contours of Will’s: The church should stick to saving souls and leave the job of running the world to big business. She also upholds John Paul II as an example of a pope whom it was possible “to respect and admire”—further proof that what is wanted is not an apolitical pope but a pope who aligned with the Republican Party.
Pat Buchanan, the legendary conservative columnist, takes the right-wing hostility toward Francis to its logical conclusion and sees the current Pope, along with President Obama, as being emblematic of the deep sickness in Western civilization. In a breathtaking recent column, Buchanan opines that Francis is promoting “moral confusion,” and argues that both Putin’s Russia and Communist China show much greater cultural health than either Obama’s America or Francis’s church:
America is a different country today, a secular and post-Christian nation on its way to becoming anti-Christian. Some feel like strangers in their own land. And from the standpoint of traditional Catholicism, American culture is an open sewer. A vast volume of the traffic on the Internet is pornography.
Ironically, as all this unfolds in what was once “God’s country,” Vladimir Putin seeks to re-establish Eastern Orthodox Christianity as the basis of morality and law in Russia. And one reads in The Wall Street Journal on Monday that Xi Jinping is trying to reintroduce his Chinese Communist comrades to the teachings of Confucianism.
The world is turned upside down. Every civilization seems to recognize the necessity of faith except for the West, which has lost its faith and is shrinking and dying for lack of it.
Will is a religious skeptic, while both Pullmann and Buchanan are believers. Will’s prose is elegant and measured, while both Pullmann and Buchanan write shrill screeds. Yet despite these surface differences, they are making the same argument: that the proper role of the church is promoting individual salvation and social morality, a mission Francis is jeopardizing by advocating for political change.
The hostility conservatives of all stripes have toward Francis is clarifying. It shows that issues of belief and non-belief are less important to conservatives than adherence to an ideological party line. Despite their different metaphysics, Will, Pullmann, and Buchanan can unite in opposing Francis as a political enemy. Theology serves merely as a convenient cloak for politics.
By: Jeet Heer, Senior Editor, The New Republic; September 22, 2015
Donald Trump’s political rallies are, if nothing else, an event. While you wait for the Donald to appear—and even during his off-kilter and meandering talk—you can buy snacks. On Monday evening, American Airlines Center wasn’t just a venue for Trump’s next speech: It was open for business, and attendees could grab popcorn, peanuts, nachos, and plenty of beer. This was a spectacle, and the assembled embraced it. People dressed in Trump memorabilia—including one woman in a Trump-branded dress—took selfies in front of Trump signs, and cheered in anticipation of the billionaire’s arrival.
“This is actually my first rally I’ve ever been to, period,” said George Lanier, a well-built personal trainer from nearby Carrollton, Texas. “I was like—what better way to start it off than by seeing Donald Trump, you know? He’s very exciting, it’ll be very entertaining.” Lanier liked Trump’s ideas, but he was much more drawn to the candidate’s affect and style. “I love that he’s talking in everybody else’s language. He’s not trying to be politically correct—he’s just speaking to us like how we’re talking here, or how you talk to your friends.”
We associate Trump with the Republican right wing, but this wasn’t a Tea Party rally. The crowd was diverse, or at least more diverse than you might assume. Chris Nieves was a transplant from New York City who studied at Texas Christian University and came as an undecided voter, interested in Trump as a businessman who could bring jobs and opportunity to minority communities. “He’s not a politician, and I think that’s huge for us minorities, because a lot of politicians like to exploit us,” said Nieves. “I think that he’s an independent voice, and I think that would be especially good for minorities who are in need of that, because of the establishment that has failed us.”
“I wanted to see what this was all about,” explained Lawrence Badih, a real estate agent who lives in Fort Worth but was born in Sierra Leone and immigrated to the United States. “I’ve been registered Republican for a long time, and we need a change. I see Trump is rising in the polls—he’s No. 1. He’s saying things that no one else wants to say—they’re being politically correct.”
For all the Trump-curious voters, however, there were just as many Trump supporters, who were clear-eyed and enthusiastic about their candidate. “We absolutely love Donald Trump, and we are supporting him 1,000 percent,” said Marilu Rumfolo, a retired investment banker who came all the way from Spring, near Houston. Rumfolo thinks Trump will be a strong conservative on immigration. “He hit a home run with immigration,” she said. “People who just walk in and take our country by force, they really don’t have the same values. We want immigrants, but we have to make sure the law is followed.”
She also thinks Trump will be a less divisive leader than President Obama. “I don’t feel like he’s going to create that kind of animosity that we see with Black Lives Matter,” she explained. “Because honest to God, all lives matter, and it’s really an insult to see a person working 40 to 60 hours a week and be told, even if they’ve struggled their whole life, that if they’re white, ‘Your struggle doesn’t count because your skin color isn’t a certain way.’ ”
At 30 minutes after its scheduled time, the event began. An estimated 16,000 people were packed in the center waving American flags and signs for Trump. First onstage: A megachurch pastor who thanked God for Trump’s “selfless public service.” Then, a local Tea Party activist who railed against Republican leaders—citing the Mississippi Senate primary where incumbent Thad Cochran worked with Democrats to beat his challenger, Chris McDaniel—and declared her belief that, with Trump on the ballot, “2016 may be more historic than the election of Barack Obama.” (At that, the crowd went wild.) Finally, Trump sauntered on stage to whoops, hollers, and cheers.
Trump gave the usual. He gestured toward policies and issues (the Iran Deal, China, Mexico); attacked his opponents (“Jeb Bush,” he said to boos, before mentioning Hillary Clinton to even louder ones); praised himself (he was leading the polls, unlike everyone else, he didn’t need the “blood money” of rich people, and if elected president, he was going to win so much “your head will spin”); and leaned in to his anti-immigrant rhetoric. “Many of these gang members are illegal immigrants,” he said to huge cheers. “They’re rough dudes.” He complained about trade with Japan—“They send us millions of cars. Millions. We send them beef. They don’t even want it.”—and promised to make a deal that will force Mexico to “build that wall.” After more than an hour of speaking, he concluded with his slogan: “You’re going to say to your children, and you’re going to say to anybody else, that we were part of a movement to take back our country. … And we will make America great again.”
At this point, the speakers blared with “We’re Not Gonna Take It,” and the crowd filed outside in the glow of Trump’s unabashed nationalism. There, in the plaza outside the center, they were met by demonstrators from the League of United Latin American Citizens. Carrying Mexican and American flags, they protested Trump’s presence and his message. “No more Trump,” chanted a group of activists wearing shirts that said “Latinos Stand Up” on the front and “Fuck Donald Trump” on the back. “We want them to know we’re united,” said Maira Medina, a manager at a local restaurant who was holding an anti-Trump sign. “If this state is going to be united, we have to unite with everybody and put the hatred and derogatory terms aside.”
Most of the Trump rally’s attendees walked by without incident. But some couldn’t resist a confrontation. “Deport illegals! No more illegals!” yelled one older woman who got into a shouting match with a group of protesters. A bald, bearded young man—wearing a T-shirt with the words “Commies aren’t cool”—almost got into a fight with one of the demonstrators before police officers separated the two. And another young man—this one wearing a navy blazer, a pink patterned bow tie, and a pair of gray dress pants—was surrounded by media and bystanders as he argued with a young Mexican American man about “illegals.”
Trump is a sideshow, and in the presence of his personality, it’s easy to overlook the ugliness behind his campaign. But it’s there, a debased successor to the nationalist white resentment of Pat Buchanan and George Wallace. And although spectators may miss it, it’s more than clear for the targets of his xenophobia, and the people who hate them.
By: Jamelle Bouie, Slate, September 15, 2015
“Money Can’t Always Buy Respectability”: Sterling Shielded His Racism With Wealth, Until People Finally Couldn’t Take It Anymore
Pat Buchanan had an interesting column about Donald Sterling and his long history of racism, often self-proclaimed. His point: follow the money.
For years, Sterling has been in court for discrimination and he has made racist comments on the record. He was fined nearly $3 million by the Justice Department for discriminating against blacks and Hispanics in his housing units. Yet, because of his vast wealth, people seemed to look the other way. The Los Angeles chapter of the NAACP was even about to give him a Lifetime Achievement Award.
I don’t often agree with Buchanan on such matters, but he had a point. Why do the Duck Dynasty boys continue to skirt any serious repercussions from racist comments? Why does A&E keep them on and others ignore the racism? Follow the money.
Big, wealthy franchise owners often don’t pay for their outrageous comments and actions. Take Donald Trump – his buffoonery knows no bounds. It really is only when wealth and power with good sense confront wealth and power with bad sense that we see change.
A friend sent me a review of the court case from 1970 when the Kenwood Country Club in Bethesda, Md., was forced to change its discrimination policies. I remember it because my old boss, Sen. Frank Church, along with others such as former Republican Sen. Robert Griffin, Federal Communications Commission Commissioner Nicholas Johnson and Rev. Richard Halverson (later Senate chaplain), filed a suit against Kenwood.
The tony neighborhood of Kenwood had a long history of covenants prohibiting sales of homes to anyone who was not “Caucasian” – no blacks, no Hispanics, no Asians, no Jews. Not only was membership denied in the Kenwood Club, but as a member you could not even bring a non-white guest to the club. Many were unaware of this until a women member wanted to have a Wellesley College lunch in 1968 and invited the then-Mayor Walter Washington as the speaker. No can do, said the club.
The result was the successful lawsuit and the resignation of members such as Secretary of State William Rogers, Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird, former Postmaster General Edward Day and the President of George Washington University, Lloyd Elliot. Wealth and power confronted wealth and power. But that was more than 40 years ago and maybe it is time that we don’t just ignore the slights and side comments and behavior of the Donald Sterling’s of the world, but rather stand up to those who think they are untouchable because of their bank accounts.
Many still believe they can buy respectability. Many believe they can accumulate great wealth and escape responsibility for their actions. It is a shame that we still have to follow the money, even if it finally was successful with Donald Sterling.
By: Peter Fenn, U. S. News and World Report, May 1, 2014
Last week, President Obama and civil rights luminaries went to the Lyndon B. Johnson Presidential Library to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act. That legislation, signed in July 1964, was a stunning achievement, a herald of a dramatic transformation in the nation’s social and cultural landscape.
Yet the anniversary comes at a confusing moment in America’s racial journey. While a generation is growing up associating presidential power with a black man, evidence of a pernicious, race-infused backlash is inescapable. And bigotry played a role in the unjust shootings of two young black men, Trayvon Martin and Jordan Davis, who were almost certainly victims of racial profiling.
Few suggest, anymore, that the election of President Obama is evidence of a “post-racial” America in which no one notices skin color or takes into account racial and ethnic heritage. In fact, Obama’s rise has fueled the fears and hatred of a small but vocal minority who believe their America — a country run by and for white heterosexual Christians — is disappearing. If you think I’m exaggerating, just read Pat Buchanan’s 2011 screed, Suicide of a Superpower: Will America Survive to 2025?
It is easy enough to be pessimistic. Harvard political scientist Robert Putnam, who has conducted research on diverse communities, told me he was surprised that Obama’s election had seemed to revive racism rather than quelling it. That revival plays itself out quite vividly in our national politics, where a retrograde faction of the Republican Party dedicates itself to the notion that, if racism still exists, white people are its victims.
Still, it would be foolishly myopic to argue that little has changed in the half-century since President Johnson arm-twisted the Civil Rights Act into history. I’m old enough to remember a landscape that was much more hostile to black Americans, that conspired to limit us in ways too myriad to count. Black and brown millennials don’t know what it means to be refused service in a restaurant, to be shoved to the back to the bus, to be turned away at a hotel because of skin color, to be ushered to a separate (and often filthy) restroom. And their white counterparts would rightly find such policies absurd.
The America that elected Obama is a very different place from the nation over which Johnson presided. Not only do black Americans eat in any restaurant they can afford, but they also star as celebrity chefs on TV. Black men and women preside over corporate boardrooms, head major non-profit institutions and reign as single-name cultural icons.
Yes, there are still major disparities in health and wealth, incarceration rates and even school suspensions. Much work remains before full equality is more than a distant mountain peak. But we ought to be able to discuss the road ahead without pretending that we’ve not made any progress at all. To do that would be to disparage the work of our civil rights heroes and to deny ourselves the inspiration we need to keep plodding along.
Besides, pessimism breeds defeat. It infects its victims with a self-limiting lethargy that fails to take big risks, to reach for the skies, to dream big dreams.
Last month, for example, USA Today profiled high-school senior Kwasi Enin, a first-generation Ghanaian-American who was accepted by all eight Ivy League colleges, an extremely rare accomplishment. Enin has a lot on the ball, but the fact that his parents, as immigrants, likely focused on America’s opportunities — not its race-based limitations — undoubtedly played a role in his remarkable story. That didn’t shield him from any racism prompted by the color of his skin, but it certainly gave him the confidence and the gumption to think he could succeed.
A half-century after Johnson pushed through a law that helped to transform a nation, racism is hardly dead. But it’s a shadow of its former self, a limited force no longer able to define the lives of the nation’s citizens of color. That’s change we can believe in.
By: Cynthia Tucker, Visiting Professor at The University of Georgia; The National Memo, April 12, 2014
“This Isn’t Complicated, People”: Joe Scarborough Will Never Be President For Many Very Obvious Reasons
I guess we’re doing this again? Morning show host and coffee chain pitchman Joe Scarborough has a book out, about how the Republican Party can save itself by being less angry and extreme, and trying to do more to appeal to “swing voters” and “moderates.” Scarborough has been giving lots of interviews about his book and its very original thesis. Ronald Reagan is on the cover of the book. Now people are asking Joe Scarborough if he is going to run for president, and he “won’t rule anything out.” He should. He definitely should rule it out, as soon as possible.
Now TPM says that Scarborough will be among the potential candidates in a survey taken at the Northeast Republican Leadership Conference in New Hampshire. That doesn’t really mean a whole lot. It’s not “proof” that Scarborough is dumb enough to actually run for president. He is, hopefully, just indulging the 2016 speculation to promote his book. But if he does even slightly well in this poll — and Northeast Republican Leaders are probably the closest thing to Scarborough’s “crowd” in the modern GOP, so it’s not impossible — there will be a lot of very insufferable words written, by the sort of people who appear or want desperately to appear on “Morning Joe,” about how Scarborough could make a serious run for the presidency. Mike Allen and Dylan Byers will say that “insiders” are “buzzing” about Scarborough 2016.
OK. Let’s be absolutely clear about this: Joe Scarborough is not a serious potential presidential candidate. That is nonsense.
The people who write credulously about candidate Scarborough tend to imply that because Scarborough is a television host, that he has built-in national name recognition and popularity. That is not actually true. Scarborough’s show is popular among people who follow politics closely. Most Americans don’t. And so, most Americans are watching something else most weekday mornings. Among Beltway (and New York) political journalists and media people, it is not a huge stretch to say that “everyone” watches “Morning Joe.” But in the real world, only a couple hundred thousand people watch it. That’s (a lot) fewer people than watch “Community.” I’m not trying to be harsh on Scarborough’s ratings, I am just trying to explain that the man is not, by normal standards, a huge television talk show star. He is more like the most popular local news guy for the Acela corridor.
Meanwhile, a million people watch Fox’s brain-dead morning program. Based on popularity as measured by ratings — a decent measure of popularity, I think — Joe Scarborough would be a less successful political candidate than Bill O’Reilly, Megyn Kelly, Chris Matthews, Chris Hayes, Rachel Maddow and the Rev. Al Sharpton. In a Republican primary, in any state, for any office, nearly any Fox News host — probably even that old rascal Shep Smith — would almost certainly beat Joe Scarborough.
Suggesting that Scarborough run for president because political junkies like his show is like saying a “Crossfire” panelist should have run for president in 1992. Except that when that actually happened, it wasn’t a total disaster. Pat Buchanan, a former speechwriter turned TV pundit, ran for president three times. The second time, in 1996, he actually won New Hampshire, and came in close in Iowa. Still, he didn’t win. What can Scarborough learn from Buchanan’s campaigns? What made Buchanan a popular enough figure to actually win Republican primaries, beating the more experienced choice of the party elite?
Well, he was not a moderate pragmatist. Just not at all. The key to Buchanan’s almost-victory was that he was an outspoken white populist (and, in certain respects, white supremacist) who ran as the true conservative, opposed to the Washington establishment. He expressed anti-free trade beliefs that white working-class voters weren’t hearing from any other candidate in either party. He went big on the culture wars. His campaign semi-jokingly referred to its supporters as “the peasants with pitchforks.” It was, essentially, a proto-Tea Party campaign. That’s how Buchanan came close (though never that close) to winning the GOP nomination for the presidency: by doing exactly the opposite of what Joe Scarborough believes Republicans ought to do to win.
It is hard to believe that Joe Scarborough, coastal pro-business “moderate” who works for MSNBC, would do as well as Pat Buchanan, populist anti-corporate member of the Sons of the Confederate Veterans, in a GOP primary campaign, even in 2016. A third-party or independent run would be a colossal waste of time and money. Please, stop suggesting that this could actually happen.
By: Alex Pareene, Salon, March 13, 2013