As Jerry Falwell Jr. spoke on the Republican convention’s final night, longtime observers of the Christian Right movement, of which his father was a founder, had to shake their heads in wonder. Gone was the usual claim that the Republican candidate was a Man of God motivated by profound faith and humbled by a sense of religious duty. Gone was any long recitation of Christian Right issue positions or accomplishments. Gone, perhaps most significantly, was any reminder of the covenant between conservative Christians and the Republican Party in which the former took the spiritual risk of political engagement in exchange for the latter’s promise to turn back the cultural clock.
Instead, Falwell emphasized Trump’s pledge to change the half-century-old IRS rule in which nonprofit groups (including churches and other religious institutions) were told they had to choose between tax-exempt status and the ability to endorse political candidates and engage in direct electioneering activities — a pledge the tycoon made in a recent meeting with conservative Evangelical leaders designed to win them over. Like many of these leaders, Falwell, who endorsed this Philistine at the very beginning of the 2016 cycle, has in a crude, transactional manner sold out, like a ward heeler with a constituency that needs favors from the Boss.
Yes, Trump has also gone to some lengths to promise judicial appointments sure to support reversals of the constitutional right to abortion and same-sex marriage. And, even more important, he’s made the Christian Right’s enemies his own — the “elitists” and “cultural relativists” of the secular left and mainstream media, the Muslims that deny Jesus as the exclusive Way, and the disparagers of Israel’s biblical role in the Last Days. Going along with this politician’s ambitions is a small matter of overlooking his crudity and egoism; his instrumental treatment of other people (especially women); his deep involvement in the Babylon of mass popular culture; and his “populist” manipulation of very un-Christian racial and ethnic resentments.
It’s hard to know what goes through the minds of people who consider themselves followers of a messiah who preached love for one’s enemies as they cheer Trump’s declarations that he wants to torture and kill terrorism suspects and their families, and deport millions of Christians and their children into destitution and violence, and reverse years of conservative Christian investment in criminal-justice reform, and intimidate other countries into letting America always be first. Like Falwell, they do mostly refrain from claiming that Trump — who has not been able to bring himself to admit the need for divine forgiveness — is himself a man of faith, though the Christian Right warhorse tried to suggest he was a “Baby Christian” who had only recently found God. But for the most part, they implicitly treat him as the Scourge of God (as Attila the Hun was once described), a pagan sent to smite the wicked.
Some conservative Christian leaders may simply emulate other conservative ideologues who, as a purely practical manner, have decided to go along with the Trump candidacy in hopes of inheriting the GOP after he loses, or cashing in chits if he wins. Or perhaps they are just following their flocks, unlike some (notably Southern Baptist spokesperson Russell Moore and longtime Christian Right and homeschooling advocate Michael Farris) who have made a prophetic stand against Trump. As longtime observer of Christian conservatives Sarah Posner noted:
A July 13 Pew Research Center survey found that 78 percent of white evangelicals intend to vote for Trump — meaning Trump will likely match the level of support among white evangelicals enjoyed by George W. Bush in 2004, when white evangelicals made up 23 percent of the electorate, and were an essential 36 percent of all Bush voters.
This is obviously not the first time in Western history that religious people have followed irreligious politicians who promise to fight against the forces of cultural change that threaten all entrenched sources of privilege. But it must be painful to some to observe that, despite the trappings of religious invocations and the country musicians touting their Bible-believin’ (along with their trucks and their guns) as tokens of defiance toward liberals, this has been a profane convention celebrating profane values. Farris recently said the acceptance of Trump represented the “end of the Christian Right.” That may overstate the case, but the days when the GOP could comport itself as the Christian conservative party are gone for the immediate future. Conservative Catholic columnist Ross Douthat read the draft of Trump’s speech tonight and tweeted: “The speech is basically Buchananism without the religion.” That means culture war with no restraint, and perhaps no survivors. And that’s scary.
By: Ed Kilgore, Daily Intelligencer, New York Magazine, July 21, 2016
So we’re not post-racial yet.
Instead, we are preoccupied with race, chafing along the color line, possessed of wildly divergent views of authority, justice and equality. According to a New York Times/CBS News poll conducted in the aftermath of widely publicized police shootings and the attacks on Dallas police officers, 60 percent of Americans believe race relations are growing worse.
Some among us lay the blame for that, absurdly, at the feet of President Barack Obama, who was supposed to usher in an era of peace, harmony and racial healing — at least according to some utterly naive predictions made at the time of his first election. Instead, it seems, his presence in the Oval Office precipitated a furious backlash, a tidal wave of resentment from those whites who see his ascendance as a sign of their decline.
But that’s not the president’s fault. He has studiously tried to avoid stirring the cauldron of race, to bridge the color chasm, to unite the warring American tribes. His only crime is in symbolizing the anxieties of those white Americans who see a black man in power as the bete noire of their nightmares.
It makes more sense to blame the presumptive GOP nominee, Donald Trump, for these troubling times. He enters his nominating convention in Cleveland as the same divisive bully he has been throughout the campaign — a man singularly ill-suited to lead a diverse nation.
Trump has not just pandered to the prejudices of his mostly white supporters; he has also encouraged them with his incendiary promises to limit immigration and his vicious insults of the president, starting with his claim that Obama wasn’t born in the United States. Trump works assiduously to keep us divided, a state that sharpens his political advantage.
But the simple truth is that neither Obama nor Trump created this moment. This unruly time has been more than 200 years in the making. We have not yet put away the old ghosts, so they continue to haunt us.
Take the police shootings that have prompted protests around the country during the last several days. There is nothing new about police violence toward black citizens, nothing unusual about bias in the criminal justice system, nothing unexpected about the institutional racism that conspires to imprison black Americans disproportionately.
Just read Douglas Blackmon’s “Slavery by Another Name,” an account of law enforcement practices in the Deep South following the Civil War. White business owners demanded low- to no-cost labor, and they got it by imprisoning black men unfairly and putting them to work.
To justify their rank oppression and their state-sanctioned violence — black people were lynched with impunity for more than a century — powerful whites trafficked in awful stereotypes about black criminality. Those old biases — those hateful stereotypes — didn’t just fade away with the civil rights movement.
As President Obama put it during his moving and elegant speech memorializing the Dallas dead, “We also know that centuries of racial discrimination, of slavery, and subjugation, and Jim Crow — they didn’t simply vanish with the law against segregation.”
Still, there are many who would dismiss Obama, whose political views demand they grant him no legitimacy. Maybe they’d listen instead to Republican Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina, who rose to the floor of the Senate on Wednesday to give a deeply personal account of his maltreatment at the hands of police officers.
Scott is a rock-solid conservative who rarely agrees with the president about anything. He is also black, and, as he noted, that’s enough to kindle suspicion from some law enforcement authorities.
“In the course of one year, I’ve been stopped seven times by law enforcement officers, not four, not five, not six, but seven times, in one year, as an elected official. Was I speeding sometimes? Sure. But the vast majority of the time, I was pulled over for nothing more than driving a new car in the wrong neighborhood or some other reasons just as trivial,” he said.
That’s a powerful testament to the ways in which the old ghosts still haunt us, even in an age of a black president and two black U.S. senators. We are not post-racial yet, and until we can confront and exorcise the demons of our past, we will never be.
By: Cynthia Tucker Haynes, Pulitzer Prize Winner for Commentary in 2007; The National Memo, July 17, 2016
The revulsion evoked by Donald Trump as he accepted the Republican presidential nomination in Cleveland goes far beyond his speech, which was memorable only for its angry mood, not its vapid content. What repelled so many Americans in that moment was the realization — or simply the intuition — that the candidate of the Grand Old Party in 2016 is a living repudiation of every hope, every principle, and nearly every word that made this country great.
Imagine for a moment what George Washington might have felt in observing the personage of Trump, whose vanity, prevarication, and rage are so opposed to the modesty and restraint that the first president personified. It is impossible to conceive of Washington proclaiming that only he could solve the country’s problems, or insisting that he had never been wrong, or making any of the audacious boasts emitted by the Republican nominee whenever he opens his braying mouth.
Washington refused to accept a crown, leaving office voluntarily so that the new nation could find its way toward a democratic succession. His country’s future was far more important to him than his own aggrandizement. Of Trump, nobody can honestly say that.
To Washington, Trump’s vengeful and bloodthirsty attitude toward the nation’s enemies, real or perceived, would be as loathsome as his monumental narcissism. The seasoned general who led the American revolution — against the overwhelming force of the British empire — refused to imitate the brutal practices of the imperial army, rejecting the mass executions, torture, and mutilation that were then so common in warfare. He ordered that any Continental soldier who abused a British or Hessian soldier be punished severely, and commanded that every prisoner be treated humanely. He would have detested Trump’s vow to imitate the most barbaric conduct of the criminal Islamic State as well as his vile promise to murder the families of alleged terrorists.
Listening to Trump assume the leadership of the Republican Party, a degrading event compared to death by many Republicans, inevitably brought thoughts of that party’s founding president. While Abraham Lincoln remains among this country’s most revered leaders and always will, he is naturally despised by many of Trump’s most ardent supporters, especially those who still lurk in the remnants of the Ku Klux Klan.
Beyond the Civil War and the Emancipation Proclamation, what Americans remember most about Lincoln was a brief address whose most indelible lines — “With malice toward none, with charity for all” — could never be comprehended, let alone uttered, by someone like Trump. For if there is anyone who literally embodies malice, both personal and political, it is this bullying braggart. He would not “bind up the nation’s wounds,” as Lincoln died trying to do, but delights in inflicting pain on the defenseless, the crippled, and the weak.
The third American titan whose shadow loomed over Trump’s triumph is Franklin Delano Roosevelt, whose creative government rescued the country from Depression and the world from Nazism. The crude promotion of fear in nearly every line of Trump’s convention speech is precisely the opposite of Roosevelt’s injunction in his famous first inaugural address, when he said, “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” That same message lifted the nation through the searing challenge of the Second World War, when harbingers of evil and their dupes, both at home and abroad, predicted that American democracy lacked the strength to endure. Now only our chronic historical amnesia allows Trump to scream “America First,” the name of a movement that sought to undermine this country’s resistance to fascism, and was secretly subsidized by the Nazis for that purpose.
Like Washington and Lincoln, FDR would have regarded Trump and all that surrounds him as abhorrent.
It is not that any of these presidents was perfect, or that America has adhered in every hour to the ideals they tried to uphold. We know that they, and this country, veered too often from those aspirations, to say the least. But we now confront the rise of an authoritarian pretender who admires despotism and abandons fundamental principles, a political figure whose character is so deficient that his candidacy mocks our history. The only way to honor what is best in our heritage, to deliver what we owe to our ancestors and our heirs, is to defeat him in November with resounding force.
By: Joe Conason, Editor in Chief, Editor’s Blog, The National Memo, July 22, 2016
“A ‘Base’ Election?”: The Trump Campaign Seems To Be Forgetting That Its Real Audience Isn’t In Quicken Arena
Thursday night’s official Republican National Convention theme is “Make America One Again.” After the first three nights, displaying Donald Trump’s campaign as a force for unity anywhere — even just in Cleveland’s Quicken Loans Arena — will take some doing.
On Wednesday night, Team Trump deliberately provoked what can only be described as a lose-lose confrontation with Ted Cruz that created a nasty and divisive scene overshadowing the maiden speech of the vice-presidential nominee. With each such decision, you get the impression the people in charge of this convention have forgotten that the real “arena” is the general election, and that their real audience is an electorate far beyond this bowl seething with unaccountably angry delegates.
Otherwise it’s hard to credit the constant, interminable, over-the-top feeding of red meat to the crowd, beginning with Willie Robertson’s first-night taunting of people who are not “real Americans.” It may be understandable that speakers are tempted to interact with the people on the floor howling for Hillary Clinton’s incarceration, but the job of convention managers is to remind them that these people are TV props — ignore them and remember the whole world’s watching!
It’s almost as though the Trump people are treating the convention as the culmination of the mogul’s campaign: an opportunity to glory in their extremely unlikely conquest of one of America’s two major parties, to gloat over the shattered Establishment that’s being forced to accept them, and to shake their fists at the unbelievers who still mock their orange-tinted champion. That there is still a difficult election ahead and that this convention is a priceless earned-media opportunity to reach out beyond their own ranks seems to be lost on this wild show’s organizers and participants.
Perhaps they have oversubscribed to the idea that this is a “base” election with virtually no swing voters that will be decided strictly on the basis of who can get supporters so whipped up into a hate-frenzy that they vote at unprecedented levels. Or maybe they decided in advance that conventions don’t really matter as anything other than a reward to core supporters who are cavorting over the supine bodies of their class and ideological enemies in the GOP.
In any event, Donald Trump has set quite the challenge for himself in making unity, of all things, his announced theme for the climactic convention address, the one thing that could make people forget the atavistic images from the first three nights. As I noted in an earlier column, Paul Manafort says the tycoon is modeling his speech on Richard Nixon’s reasonably successful (if retroactively ludicrous) 1968 acceptance speech effort to pose as a moderate third-way alternative to the raging forces of left and right. In this case it would be like George Wallace seizing the podium at that 1968 convention and denouncing the furies he had himself conjured up.
Short of self-criticism, which does not seem to be in his repertoire, Donald Trump is going to have a hard time projecting himself as a unifying figure. But to have any chance of success, he needs to begin by reminding himself that it just doesn’t matter whether the delegates physically before him in the arena go away slightly disappointed that he passed up an opportunity to reflect their excited rage.
By: Ed Kilgore, Daily Intelligencer, New York Magazine, July 21, 2016