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“A Kind Of White-Identity Interest”: The Republican Candidates Chose Nativism Over Christian Rhetoric

Where did God come up in Wednesday night’s GOP debate? In two key places: the discussion of religious liberty (vis-a-vis Kentucky county clerk Kim Davis, who recently made headlines by refusing to issue marriage licenses to gay couples) and a brief consideration of Planned Parenthood, which came under fire earlier this summer thanks to a series of videotapes that purported to show Planned Parenthood officials selling fetal tissue for profit.

What was interesting about the candidates’ treatment of these issues and the others that followed was how limited their discussion of Christianity really was, especially compared to their focus on the transcendent values of America itself, more nativist than Christianist. While Christian reasoning likely underpinned much of the reasoning aired on stage—for instance, the unanimous anti-abortion sentiment and distress over religious liberty when it comes to contraception and gay marriage—direct appeals to Jesus and the Bible were rare and muted. In his statements on Planned Parenthood, Jeb Bush said he believed “life is a gift from God”; the remainder of the candidates explored their plans to defund the organization based not on clearly articulated religious objections to its practices, but rather on its impact on, as Carly Florina put it, “the character of the nation.”

Appeals to the strength and identity of the United States rather than specific religious interests also issued from other candidates. When asked about his position on a flat tax based on Biblical tithing procedures, Carson replied: “It’s all about America.” The Biblical reason he had formerly proposed for flat taxation disappeared.

Mike Huckabee, who flew to Kentucky in the wake of Kim Davis’ jailing to offer her support, made relatively little of his excursion. In fact, during his arguments for strengthened religious liberty protections, Huckabee cited the accommodations made for Muslim prisoners as evidence that Christian workers like Davis deserved the same treatment. When prompted to describe his litmus test for a Supreme Court judge, Huckabee said he would demand an appointee recognize fetal life as human, but then listed a series of amendments he would also require an appointee to value, among them the second and tenth. For a candidate who built his entire career on the Evangelical ascendancy of the 1980s, he said remarkably little about, say, the country’s failure to please God.

Former New York Gov. George Pataki stood out in his argument that Kim Davis and other individuals who refuse to carry out their work on religious grounds should be fired, based on a respect for the rule of law. Pataki, who is a Roman Catholic, received applause from the audience when he said he would have fired Davis for her refusal.

The most rousing rhetoric of the night centered around the character of the United States and the preservation thereof: as in, for example, Pataki’s suggestion that allowing Davis and workers like her to refuse to perform their jobs on religious grounds would be tantamount to an Iranian-style theocracy. Given the debate’s setting, there were numerous invocations of former President Ronald Reagan, who seemed to stand in for an age of American greatness which Donald Trump, among others, seem eager to recover. But the description of the nation as specifically Christian as opposed to just great was notably muted.

Even John Kasich, who, in the run-up to the GOP debates was vocally invested in his Christian faith, seemed to pipe down on the Christian rhetoric. “Jewish and Christian principles force us to live a life bigger than us,” he noted at one point, when explaining a position on foreign military policy.

The majority of the debates were spent discussing immigration, the Iran nuclear deal, and economic policy with regard to flat versus progressive taxation schemes. But the Christian issues of yesteryear—the scourge of pornography, the presence of creationism in schools, the nature of the country as a specifically Christian nation—were ignored. Of the original issues that stirred evangelicals during Reagan’s reign, only abortion remained as a prominent issue, and it has mostly zeroed down to a debate about how to deal with Planned Parenthood in light of a specific scandal. In the place of those specifically Christian concerns is the nativist nationalism Trump introduced into the race early on, which his fellow candidates must now echo to compete with him for the support of their base. Nativism is almost never friendly to Christianity as anything more than a kind of white-identity interest, and even then, the international nature of the religion and its roots in the Middle East tend to put the most ardent white nationalists off. While no GOP candidates currently exhibit that level of nativist sentiment, there certainly appears to be a choice of focuses: either hardcore nativism, or Christianity itself. In this debate at least, it’s clear which decision the candidates made.


By: Elizabeth Bruenig, The New Republic, September 17, 2015

September 21, 2015 Posted by | Donald Trump, GOP Primary Debates, Nativism, Religious Liberty | , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

“Organization Has Just One Member”: ‘Veterans For A Strong America’ Draws Scrutiny

Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump hasn’t offered much in the way of policy speeches since launching his campaign, so it was of great interest this week when Team Trump announced plans for a major foreign-policy speech, delivered from a decommissioned battleship. If you’ve watched the show this week, however, you know the speech didn’t quite live up to its billing.

Right off the bat, Trump’s speech on matters of national security had very little to do with national security. There weren’t even any references to ISIS. Military Times published a report noting that the remarks “featured few new ideas for military policy or Veterans Affairs reform but plenty of promises to crack down on illegal immigration and ‘make our country great again.’”

The GOP frontrunner did, however, vow to “come out with some plans in a very short time,” which struck an odd note given that this was supposed to be a speech about Trump’s plans.

And while all of this matters – presidential candidates with vague platforms who promise to deliver a major address on foreign policy should keep that promise – it’s not the most interesting part of the story.

As it turns out, the event aboard the USS Iowa was less of a campaign speech and more of a fundraiser for a group called “Veterans for a Strong America” – an organization that Trump claims represents “hundreds of thousands of veterans.”

As best as we can tell, Veterans for a Strong America does not, however, have a sizable membership base. In fact, as Rachel noted on the show on Wednesday, the group does not appear to have any members at all.

What’s more, the organization staff itself appears to consist of just one individual: Joel Arends of Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

And Joel Arends of Sioux Falls, South Dakota, has quite a political background.

In the 2014 election cycle, he worked with a Republican U.S. Senate candidate who was recently convicted on election-related crimes – which the candidate blames on advice she received from Joel Arends.

Arends’ group has also been under investigation by two Arizona agencies for alleged election irregularities. Arends is also facing allegations in Texas of being involved in a super PAC scam.

And just in case that weren’t quite enough, the Associated Press published this report Wednesday:

The Internal Revenue Service revoked the nonprofit status of the veterans benefit organization that hosted and sold tickets to a foreign policy speech by Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump aboard a retired U.S. battleship, The Associated Press has learned. The group’s endorsement of Trump at the event also could raise legal problems under campaign finance laws.

So, taken together, this story raises some questions that deserve answers. A political operative facing some legal scrutiny appears to be the sole official at a group, Veterans for a Strong America, which, according to the IRS, has lost its nonprofit status for failing to file tax returns. And yet, the frontrunner for the Republican nomination headlined a fundraiser for the group this week – the organization sold tickets to Trump’s event for up to $1,000 a piece – and repeated a claim about the group’s dubious membership. How did this happen, exactly?

As Rachel concluded, it now seems as if the Trump campaign “is either in on some kind of scheme with this group that is not a non-profit, or Donald Trump and his campaign got duped and taken for a ride by a guy who, you could suss out pretty easily, with literally one page of Googling and 30 spare seconds. In either instance, that is the kind of base-level failure in a presidential campaign that doesn’t bode well for the long-term viability of that candidate – just in terms of the basic functions of what it takes to run.”


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, September 18, 2015

September 21, 2015 Posted by | Campaign Financing, Donald Trump, Veterans for A Strong America | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Making Congress Do Its Job, Anyway”: It’s Time For Congress To Start Living In The Real World, Either Do Your Job Or Don’t Get Paid

In the wake of county clerk Kim Davis’ refusal to give out marriage licenses to same sex couples a series of internet memes circulated with individuals in jobs that required them to do things they preferred not to do, but did their job anyway. It’s a funny concept, but one that doesn’t apply to Republicans in Congress who repeatedly threaten to shut down the government, failing to do their jobs in order to throw a temper tantrum over the conservative outrage du jour.

It has almost no chance of passing (see, Republicans in Congress) but a bill has been introduced to incentivize Congressmembers to actually govern responsibly:

Rep. Rick Nolan (D-Minn.) introduced a bill Friday that would prevent members of Congress from getting paid in the event of a government shutdown.

“It’s time to put an end to government by crisis management,” Nolan said in a statement. “And it’s time for Congress to start living in the real world — where you either do your job — or you don’t get paid. If hundreds of thousands of other federal employees are to go without their salaries — twisting slowly in the wind in a government shutdown — then the Congress should not be paid either.”

Under Nolan’s bill, members of Congress would go unpaid for the duration of the shutdown. He introduced similar legislation during the 16-day government shutdown in 2013 that left 800,000 federal workers furloughed without pay. While his bill never got off the ground, Nolan donated the money he was paid over the shutdown to charities in his district.

If Republicans want to run government like a business, this would be a good way to start. If you don’t do the work you’re supposed to do you don’t get paid. But the GOP only pays lip service to wanting the government to run efficiently.

At some point in the future when Democrats finally retake Congress, this should be one of the first bills they pass. The era of government by crisis hostage taking needs to end.


By: David Atkins, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, September 20, 2015

September 21, 2015 Posted by | Congress, Government Shut Down, Republicans | , , , , | 2 Comments

“Ben Carson’s Fear Of A Muslim President”: Islam Is ‘incompatible With The Constitution’; So Much For Constitutional Conservatism

What a week to be Muslim! Last Monday, 14-year-old Ahmed Mohamed was arrested for making a homemade clock and bringing to school. But by Tuesday, we saw an outpouring of support for Mohamed on social media and from celebrities like Mark Zuckerberg and even President Obama.

Then on Thursday, Donald Trump refused to counter a supporter spewing vile anti-Muslim crap at a Trump event. But come Saturday, Trump was declaring, 

“I love the Muslims. I think they’re great people.” 

Trump even said he would “absolutely” be open to appointing a Muslim American to his cabinet or have on his ticket as a running mate. (Good luck finding a Republican Muslim after this week!)

That brings us to Sunday. Ben Carson, currently running second to Trump for the GOP presidential nomination, gave us this gem while on NBC’s Meet the Press“I would not advocate that we put a Muslim in charge of this nation. I absolutely would not agree with that.

Why would Carson be adamantly opposed to a Muslim president, you may ask? Because Carson believes that Islam is “incompatible with the Constitution.” 

The glaring irony of Carson arguing that a Muslim should not be president simply because of his or her faith is that his position is what’s actually incompatible with the Constitution. Carson is calling for a religious test for the presidency.  But that’s expressly banned by Article VI of the Constitution, which provides that “no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.

Our nation’s Founding Fathers could not have made it more clear that Carson’s view that a person’s faith should disqualify him or her for federal office violates the values and principles of our nation.

Carson’s words are truly no different than the anti-Catholic and anti-Semitic rhetoric heard in American politics in the past. For example, during the 1960 race for president, John F. Kennedy was attacked for his Catholicism.  As Shaun Casey noted in his book The Making of a Catholic President allegations against Kennedy included that the “Roman Catholic faith was ultimately incompatible with principles” of our nation.

And anti-Semitism was part of the American political landscape in the 1930s.  For example, Father Charles Coughlin was a wildly popular radio host who had spewed anti-Semitic diatribes including the idea that Jews weren’t loyal to America.  But that didn’t stop American politicians from partnering up with him. In fact Coughlin spoke at the 1932 Democratic National Convention

So you see, what Carson and other Republicans have said about Muslim holding beliefs inconsistent with American values or not being loyal to America has been said before about Catholics and Jews.

Now the good news for Muslims (and bad for Carson and his ilk) is that a poll from July found that 60 percent of Americans would support a Muslim candidate for president. Maybe Carson is jealous because he will never see that level of support?!

And even more upsetting for Carson is that the poll found 76 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds would support a Muslim, as would 67 percent of 30- to 49-year-olds. That means the future for a Muslim candidate for president is far brighter than Carson’s.

Now Carson’s point that somehow Islam is incompatible with American values is astoundingly wrong. Islam is grounded on Judeo Christian values, which is why all three of these religions are known as the Abrahamic faiths.  I guess Carson is clueless that Jesus, Abraham, and Moses are revered by Muslims.

In fact, this Thursday marks one of the most important Islamic holidays known as Eid Al Adha, or the Feast of the Sacrifice.  Does this day celebrate something to do with the Prophet Muhammad? Nope, it commemorates the moment when God appeared to the prophet Abraham and asked him to sacrifice his son as an act of devotion.  Yep, that’s the same Abraham the Jews like.

Putting all of this side, what’s truly the most alarming about Carson’s words is that he’s feeding the narrative we hear from others on the right that Muslims are threat to America. He’s stoking flames of fear about Muslims that not only leads to hatred, it may bring some to the doorstep of violence.  And sadly some have crossed through that threshold. For example, right-winger Glendon Scott Crawford was convicted in April for plotting a terrorist attack to kill Muslim Americans with a weapon of mass destruction and will soon be sentenced to 25 years to life.

And Robert Doggart, a Christian minister, is about to start trial on charges of plotting to slaughter Muslims in upstate New York using M-4 military assault rifles, explosives, and a machete to cut the Muslims “to shreds.”

Carson’s words also contribute to a climate where hate crimes versus Muslims are five times higher today than pre 9/11. And I’m not exaggerating when I tell you that weekly, I see incidents of everything from threats against Muslim Americans to defacing of Muslim houses of worship to actual physical assaults on Muslims. (I mention these events every week on my SiriusXM radio show in the segment “Islamophobe of the week,” and we are never at a loss to find three or more nominees.)

I have no doubt that Carson will lose this race. But sadly his views will continue on in the GOP until we see a real leader in that party stand up and make it clear that this type of fear mongering against fellow American is no longer acceptable. I just wonder if we will see that day any time soon?


By: Dean Obeidallah, The Daily Beast, September 20, 2015

September 21, 2015 Posted by | Ben Carson, Donald Trump, Muslims, U. S. Constitution | , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

“Ornery People R Us”: Anxiety Is Pervasive On Both Sides Of Political Spectrum

In achieving their improbable surges in presidential polling, Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump have profited from the same wellspring of anxiety, a deep-seated fear about the future that is rising across the land. Their answers to that anxiety are very different — as their followers are very different — but they have both tapped into an undercurrent of unease that affects a broad swath of American voters.

And that unease is well-founded. In mid-September, the U.S. Census Bureau issued its annual report on wages, poverty, and health insurance. Its findings come as no surprise: Though the official unemployment rate is down to its lowest level in seven years, the percentage of people living in poverty — around 14 percent — hasn’t budged in four years.

Equally worrisome is the stagnation in wages, which haven’t risen significantly for more than a decade. “Anyone wondering why people in this country are feeling so ornery need look no further than this report. Wages have been broadly stagnant for a dozen years, and median household income peaked in 1999,” Lawrence Mishel, president of the Economic Policy Institute, a research group, told The Associated Press.

And ornery people are. That’s the only thing that explains Trump, who for weeks has enjoyed the top spot in GOP presidential primary polls. Full of bombast, narcissism, and blame, the real estate titan has pinned Mexican immigrants as the purveyors of all that is destructive to the American way of life. It’s astonishing how much support he’s received for his proposal to deport the estimated 11 million who are here illegally.

There’s no doubt a good portion of racism and xenophobia among the Trump crowd; they are largely voters uncomfortable with the country’s increasing diversity. But they are also anxious about a future in which the American dream is out of reach for their children and grandchildren.

On the other side of the political spectrum, Sanders, Vermont’s self-described socialist in the U.S. Senate, is giving Hillary Clinton a run for her money, attracting large crowds, and leading in New Hampshire, which holds the first presidential primary vote. His answers, at least, are not xenophobic: Among other things, he would increase taxes on the wealthy and end some longstanding trade agreements.

Sanders has long warned about income inequality, which has been growing for decades but was exacerbated by the Great Recession. Suddenly, ordinary workers saw their jobs disappear, their savings evaporate, their homes taken by the bank. Many of them have not recovered the ground they lost, and their traumas have invited fear bordering on panic.

Meanwhile, the rich have only gotten richer. The top 1 percent own 40 percent of the nation’s wealth, and they hold a larger share of income than at any time since the 1920s and the Great Depression.

These trends are evident throughout the industrialized world; they’re not the fault of any single politician or ideological philosophy. According to economists, they’ve grown from a convergence of factors, including the technological revolution and the globalization of labor.

Still, the wealth gap is quite worrisome. It’s a recipe for revolution, the sort of gulf between the haves and have-nots that is characteristic of developing countries, where the ties of the civic and social fabric do not bind. It’s hard to overstate the potential for upheaval in a country such as this, where a diverse population is not held together by a single language or race or religion, but rather by the belief that opportunity is available to all. What happens when a majority of the people no longer believes that?

You’d think, then, that income inequality would dominate the campaign trail. But the subject was hardly mentioned during Wednesday’s marathon GOP presidential primary debate, where such pressing priorities as possible Secret Service code names were discussed.

That’s not good. While it’s hard to see either Trump (his bubble may already be bursting) or Sanders as a presidential nominee, the voters they represent aren’t going away. Neither is their anxiety, which could prove a disruptive force in American political and civic life.


By: Cynthia Tucker Haynes, Pulitzer Prize for Commentary in 2007; The National Memo, September 19, 2015

September 21, 2015 Posted by | Bernie Sanders, Donald Trump, Economic Inequality | , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

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