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“Republicans Don’t Care What Works”: Speaking To The Heart Of What Has Gone Wrong With The Republican Party

What little attention the right wing media machine isn’t devoting to the sordid mudslinging between Ted Cruz and Donald Trump is focused on a statement President Obama made about practicalities and ideologies:

I guess to make a broader point, so often in the past there’s been a sharp division between left and right, between capitalist and communist or socialist. And especially in the Americas, that’s been a big debate, right? Oh, you know, you’re a capitalist Yankee dog, and oh, you know, you’re some crazy communist that’s going to take away everybody’s property. And I mean, those are interesting intellectual arguments, but I think for your generation, you should be practical and just choose from what works. You don’t have to worry about whether it neatly fits into socialist theory or capitalist theory — you should just decide what works.

For Republicans this is tantamount to heresy and treason. The Washington Times is raving about it, as is Michelle Malkin, the Daily Caller and other conservative outlets.

This isn’t terribly surprising, of course, but it speaks to the heart of what has gone wrong with the Republican Party and conservatism itself. While the neoliberal and progressive wings of the Democratic Party are often at loggerheads, the arguments aren’t about pure ideology but about practicality. Clinton’s supporters see her as more electable, more able to work with Congress to implement policy, and more experienced with the policy nuances that will allow incremental progress to be made alongside a GOP Congress. Sanders’ supporters see the economic and political system as fundamentally broken, believe that a more aggressive approach to the bully pulpit and policy negotiation will be necessary to fix what’s wrong, and feel that more holistic and universal government approaches to problems will work better than means-tested half measures. But both sides are making practical arguments about what will actually work from an electoral and political standpoint.

Not so with Republicans. The GOP has devolved into a party that no longer cares about what works. The GOP is now divided between the Trumpists who (like Sanders’ supporters) believe that the system is broken and working against them while also (unlike Sanders’ supporters) raging against a complex multicultural and tolerant modernity, and the Cruzites who are wedded in an almost cult-like fashion to economically objectivist and Christian fundamentalist orthodoxy.

The result of the conservative movement’s failure to acknowledge policy realities can be seen most prominently in Kansas and Louisiana, where the red-state model of governance is failing catastrophically even as blue states like California are booming. In a functional political ecosystem that would be a cause for reckoning and introspection, but no acknowledgement of failure has been forthcoming from the GOP. Instead its candidates are doubling down on more of the same. For them, conservative orthodoxy cannot fail; it can only be failed.

In the days of the Cold War when capitalism and communism vied for supremacy, there was an understanding that one’s preferred system of governance had to actually deliver results or the people would revolt and make a change. The openness of democracies and market economies allowed them to soften the sharp edges and mitigate the flaws of capitalism with a healthy dose of compensatory socialism, while the closed systems of state communism led to brutal totalitarian outcomes. So capitalism won the war of ideas and appropriately so–but that doesn’t mean it’s a perfect system. Modern Republicans have totally lost sight of that fact. For them, markets don’t exist to serve people. Rather, people exist to serve markets.

The obvious human shortcomings of that belief system are what is allowing Trump to run a successful counterinsurgency within the GOP that tosses aside donors’ dearly held shibboleths about trade and taxation. Even David Brooks acknowledges that the GOP has to ideologically change course to account for capitalism’s failure to address rising inequality.

But for now, the leadership and media organs of the conservative movement remain obsessed with promoting ideology over practicality so much that a simple statement from the President that economies should simply pick solutions that work, somehow becomes a fundamental betrayal.

That lack of flexibility and cultish devotion to ideological purity (in addition to an intentional reliance on racial and cultural resentment) is what ruined the Republican Party in the first place. Now it’s paying the price.

 

By: David Atkins, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, March 26, 2016

March 27, 2016 Posted by | Conservatism, Conservative Media, Donald Trump, Ted Cruz | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“The Mantle Of Sanctimony”: Christian Fundamentalism Is Weakening Force In Politics

In the waning days of March, a scandal has engulfed the Alabama State Capitol as Gov. Robert Bentley fired his top cop, who then turned around and accused the governor of having had an extramarital affair. The controversy engines hit high gear with the release of a salacious audiotape, in which the governor is overheard telling his listener how much he loves her and enjoys touching her breasts.

For all the inevitable handwringing and headlines, though, the accusations of Bentley’s romantic dalliance with a staffer — long-rumored in Alabama political circles and seemingly confirmed when his wife of 50 years filed for divorce in 2015 — are unlikely to damage his political standing. Nothing to see here, folks.

Except this: The disgrace of Bentley — a churchgoing, Bible-thumping moralist — is just one more gaping hole in the mantle of sanctimony that has afforded the Christian right a special place in American politics for the last 40 years. Though you will still occasionally hear rhetoric from the campaign trail that purports to espouse Christian values, fundamentalist Christianity — at least as a potent voting bloc — is pretty much a spent force in GOP politics.

If you have any doubt about that, just survey the current GOP presidential field, which is led by the narcissistic, non-Scriptural, thrice-married hedonist Donald Trump. Ted Cruz bet his presidential run on his bona fides as a true believer in the fundamentalist strain of Christianity, which emphasizes church attendance, public prayer and a narrow-minded moral code (at least for public consumption). But in primary contests so far, Trump has at least held his own with conservative churchgoers.

That’s the only thing about Trump’s baffling rise that prompts me to say a couple of hallelujahs. I don’t mourn the passing of fundamentalist Christianity as a commanding force; its adherents have done little to advance moral or ethical values.

With a precious few exceptions, they don’t promote social justice, or work to eliminate poverty, or campaign for compassion toward the “stranger” — immigrants. Instead, they have tried to impose their mean and rigid religious beliefs on public policy, misinterpreting the U.S. Constitution and misunderstanding the civic underpinnings of a pluralistic democracy.

Their enthusiasm for Trump underscores what has always been true about that group: They have strong nationalist and authoritarian impulses; they’re xenophobes; they’re averse to social change. There is also, among some white fundamentalist Christians, a strong whiff of racism.

It helps to remember the early days of the late Jerry Falwell, who founded the Moral Majority in 1979 and arranged a marriage of convenience with the Republican Party. As pastor of the Thomas Road Baptist Church in Lynchburg, Virginia, he railed against the 1954 Supreme Court decision that desegregated public schools and denounced the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. as a “Communist subversive.”

Falwell abandoned that rhetoric after he became a nationally prominent figure, but he didn’t abandon his right-wing views on race. His foray into national politics began when the federal government moved to revoke the tax-exempt status of the white-only private schools — “seg academies” — that sprang up in the wake of public school desegregation. Falwell had started his own seg academy in Virginia.

Given the animating passions of Falwell’s followers, it’s no surprise that so many conservative Christians have made a seamless transition to Trump. They had already shown themselves to be flexible on their principles, so long as their politicians continued to support the policies that were really important to them. Those include contempt for the poor, suspicion of Muslims, and a nationalist rhetoric that insists on dominance on the world stage.

Bentley has hewed closely enough to that line to make it unlikely he’ll pay any price for his alleged affair. (For the record, Bentley has stated, unconvincingly, that he has not had any “physical” relationship with the staffer.)

For example, the governor supported the state’s extremely harsh law aimed at illegal workers, even though it originally included a provision (since struck down by a federal court) making it a crime to “transport” an undocumented immigrant. Some critics pointed out that could punish a good Christian who offers an immigrant a ride to church.

Neither Bentley nor his supporters minded a bit.

 

By: Cynthia Tucker Haynes, Pulitzer Prize Winner for Commentary in 2007; The National Memo, March 26, 2015

March 27, 2016 Posted by | Christian Right, Donald Trump, Robert Bentley | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Oh Boy, God Is Shooting A Shot Across The Bow”: Pastor Who Hosted GOP; Paris Victims Were ‘Devil-Worshippers’

A Christian pastor who hosted Republican presidential candidates a week before the Paris terrorist attack says its victims received divine retribution for worshipping Satan.

Kevin Swanson of Generations Ministries said last Thursday that the 89 people massacred inside the Bataclan theater were “devil-worshippers.” Two weeks earlier, Swanson headlined his own “Freedom 2015: National Religious Liberties Conference” featuring Ted Cruz, Mike Huckabee, Bobby Jindal.

Swanson believes God will annihilate America for tolerating homosexuality and seemed to say God already made an example out of the Bataclan.

“There’s certainly a providential irony here,” Swanson said of the fact that California rock band Eagles of Death Metal reportedly played “Kiss the Devil” as terrorists began firing AK-47s into the crowd. “They went from singing about the devil to meeting the devil face-to-face.”

“When you get a wake-up call like what happened at France’s 9/11 last Friday night at the concert,” he said, “I think we all need to pay attention to what’s happening: This is a message from God. God is shooting a shot across the bow and we better be paying attention to this.”

Swanson had a message for those who weren’t killed, too.

“I think we need to ask the concertgoers, at least those who survived, did you love the devil? Did you love the devil’s works as your friends were being shot up in the massacre?”

Swanson then claimed he wasn’t taking sides between peaceful victims and Islamic terrorists, though.

“These ISIS devil-worshippers have pitted themselves against humanist devil-worshippers. I’m not on either side here. I’m not taking the side of the devil-worshippers performing the concert; I’m not on the side of ISIS who are slaughtering the devil-worshippers inside the concert. I’m not on neither side.”

Cruz and Huckabee’s presidential campaigns did not respond to a request for comment about Swanson.

Previously, Swanson has said that gays should face the death penalty; that the movie Frozen turns little girls into lesbians; that natural disasters are the fault of godless fornicators.

 

By: Andrew Kirell, The Daily Beast, November 23, 2015

November 24, 2015 Posted by | GOP, Paris Attacks, Terrorism | , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“The Religious Fundamentalists Are Losing”: Overall, The World’s Faithful Are Becoming More Open-Minded And Liberal, Not Less

This past weekend, over 2,500 Mormons showed up en masse outside the Latter-day Saints headquarters in Salt Lake City, Utah, to submit their resignations to the church. They were protesting a new decree excluding wedded same-sex couples from the church and granting baptism to the children of gay couples only if the children disavow their parents. As one devout Mormon put it in expressing her disappointment with the policy: “I feel like we are going backward when I thought we were moving forward slowly.”

Her statement encapsulates the current paradox of religious extremism: How is it that as humanity as a whole seems to be evolving to be more inclusive and less dogmatic in general, certain religious strains are doubling in their extremism? It’s possible to conceive of kernels of extremism as intrinsic within particular faith traditions. But it’s also possible to understand the current rise of extremism as a reactionary backlash against the overall liberalization of faith.

“We live in a world where every single person is challenging everything, where every single person has a voice” Amanullah De Sondy told me. De Sondy is a senior lecturer in Contemporary Islam at University College Cork (Ireland) and author of The Crisis of Islamic Masculinities.

“The extremists want conformity and detest plurality and differences. Being different, being an individual who states that it is their individual relationship with the divine is a huge challenge to those who want the strict order of organizing society.”

Put another way, strict religious ideology requires strict conformity, and people aren’t confirming anymore.

Between 2007 and 2014 in the United States alone, the portion of the population that identified itself as Christian declined by 7.8 percent. During the same period, the percent who consider themselves Jewish, Muslim, Hindu or some other non-Christian faith increased by 1.2 percent—still not enough to keep pace with the overall population growth of 7.9 percent during the same period.

The most significant shift came from the increase in those who consider themselves atheist, agnostic, or otherwise unaffiliated (an overall increase of 6.7 percent). Within this shifting landscape, the United States reached its lowest level of religiosity since 1952.

The phenomenon is similar in Europe. According to data culled by the Islam in Europe blog:

The number of church-goers has dropped steadily for decades, but now there [is] also a lot of space in mosques around Europe. Recent data from the extensive European Social Survey (ESS) show that the number of Muslim immigrants who regularly go to the mosque drops significantly after they’ve lived in their new homeland for some time.

So how is it that in the face of declining religiosity, we nonetheless find ourselves swept up in almost unprecedented magnitudes of religious struggle—from the brutality of Daesh (as ISIS hates being called) in Paris and throughout the Middle East, or the far less extreme yet still perpetual hostility of Christian fundamentalists toward the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender community?

“The three major Abrahamic religions—Judaism, Christianity, and Islam—all have groups that espouse some type of eschatology, or belief about the end of time,” says Valerie C. Cooper, associate professor of Black Church Studies at the Duke Divinity School. “Among these groups, eschatological fears that the end times are near may be stoked by perceptions that the group is being persecuted.”

That sense of persecution can come from the fact of declining religiosity. Or, say, a war being launched against an entire religion—whether it’s the supposed “War on Christmas” or a kind of “War on Islam” that some on the far right call for.

In this context, it’s reasonable to interpret any surge in fundamentalism within a given denomination as a reactionary backlash to the overall trend of liberalization. In Islam, for instance, “Many believers continue to believe in God but not in the place of worship,” says De Sondy. “Even if they don’t go and tender a resignation letter, they attend the Mosque and listen but at some level have checked out and do something different outside.”

De Sondy cites as an example the increasing acceptance of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Muslims outside formal religious structures—akin to the demonstration made by rank and file Mormons. These shifting beliefs seriously challenge the orthodox structures and ideas of the faiths, says De Sondy.

And so, unable to propagate their narrow view through ideological cohesion alone, dogma resorts to force—in mild forms like pro-discrimination laws against LGBT people pushed by Christian extremists in the United States, or murderous forms like the brutality of Daesh, which is disproportionately used to punish other “unfaithful” Muslims.

In fact, like other fundamentalist religious groups in this era, Daesh is overreacting to a shifting global climate in which its ideas are increasingly marginalized. The trick to defeating Deash is to see for what it is—a desperate backlash by a declining ideology.

 

By: Sally Kohn, The Daily Beast, November 20, 2015

November 22, 2015 Posted by | Christianity, Mormons, Religious Extremists | , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“I Believe That We Can Win”: The Christian Right Has Lost Political And Cultural Influence

Investigative journalist Brad Friedman has observed that America is moving in a progressive direction, despite the mainstream media’s “center-right nation” shibboleth. Despite the obstacles that have been placed in the pathway of progressives, Friedman is correct beyond dispute.

Think back to a decade ago. Same-sex marriage was considered an abomination in large parts of the country. Christian fundamentalists were flexing their muscles as never before. Rush Limbaugh and Fox dominated the American media landscape. The Bush administration had launched a war on climate science. Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney was gay-bashing his way to national prominence.

Today, marriage equality is the law of the land. The Christian Right has lost political and cultural influence. Limbaugh’s career is in freefall, and Fox may soon follow. Pope Francis has called upon the world to fight for climate justice. As for Romney, well…

The signs of progressive power are everywhere: the growing momentum of Bernie Sanders’s campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination, the profound failure of the right-wing effort to “repeal and replace” Obamacare, the increasing acceptance of transgender Americans as full and equal citizens, the smashing success of the fossil-fuel divestment movement.

No, we haven’t reached the promised land yet. There are still so many forces of right-wing depravity in our country–some with positions in Congress, some with platforms on cable, some with pistols in churches. Those forces of depravity will not retreat quietly. However, they can and will be defeated.

We’re moving forward. We’re going to make America into what it should have always been all along: a country were any man or woman can rise to the height of his or her potential regardless of race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, disability or income; a country where our public schools never have to lack for adequate funding; a country where we don’t shuffle off to war unless we absolutely have to; a country where we recognize the separation of billionaire and state; a country where we look out for future generations by dramatically reducing our greenhouse gas emissions; a country where a woman can exercise her right to choose in peace; a country where maniacs don’t have easy access to guns; a country where knowledge is embraced and ignorance is scorned.

We’re getting there. Yes, it’s been a long road. We’ve had to endure the racist savagery unleashed by the Southern Strategy. We’ve had to endure that force demonic known as Reaganomics. We’ve had to endure an impeachment over an erection and two stolen elections. We’ve had to endure a lie-based war for oil which left innocent blood on Iraqi soil. We’ve had to endure six years of deranged drama from the bigoted enemies of Barack Obama. It’s been a long time coming…but we’re getting there.

We will leave our children and grandchildren a proud progressive country.

We will repair the damage the right wing has inflicted upon our fair land.

We will remedy the injustices that hurt so many of our fellow citizens.

We will declare independence from ignorance and fidelity to fact.

We will move this country forward forever.

 

By: David Atkins, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, June 28, 2015

June 29, 2015 Posted by | Christian Right, Marriage Equality, Progressives | , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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