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
Usually when there’s an election cycle full of passionate intensity and near-universal perceptions of high stakes, the compensation for the teeth-grinding angst is a sense of resolution, with voters answering big questions and providing something of a policy mandate. Yes, 2000 was a muddle because the results themselves were hotly disputed (not that this kept the new Bush administration from behaving as though it had a mandate to cut taxes massively and look for excuses to topple Saddam Hussein to avenge that plot to kill Poppy). But usually we know more about the direction of the country after rather than before Election Day. And we could sure use some public guidance after six years of a Republican Congress making the total obstruction of a Democratic president its central, holy mission.
But the closer we get to November 8, the more that hope seems forlorn. Brian Beutler explains part of the problem:
Trump has completely upended the platonic notion of elections as tools to settle public policy debates. His agenda, such as it is, either can’t or won’t be implemented, even if he wins. Mexico is not going to pay for a wall along the border, and the U.S. government is not going to expel 11 million unauthorized immigrants, much less ban Muslims from entering the country. It is altogether more likely that were he to win, the movement conservatives who still control Congress would present him the kind of plutocrat-friendly legislation that alienated their voters and drove them to Trump in the first place. His supporters would be rewarded for their triumph with a vision of change they don’t share and didn’t vote for.
In the likelier event that Clinton wins, but does not secure majorities in both the House and Senate, the public will have rejected Trump’s ugly vision of a resentful, bigoted America, but will not see that verdict translated into any policy changes that reflect Clinton’s vision of a more inclusive, cosmopolitan society.
But it’s actually worse than that. If Trump loses, what Barack Obama used to call “the fever” of conservative extremism won’t “break,” for the simple reason that the keepers of the ideological flame loathe Trump as a heretic and won’t for a moment accept responsibility for anything about his campaign. The lesson many of them would “learn” from a Trump loss is the same they “learned” from McCain’s loss in 2008 and Romney’s in 2012: Only a rigidly orthodox conservative GOP can win national elections.
If, somehow, Hillary Clinton loses, it’s unclear Democrats will “learn” much of anything, either, other than the peril of going into a competitive election with a nominee who has high unfavorable ratings fed by decades of conservative attacks. There is no way a defeated Hillary Clinton runs again in 2020, and the most obvious alternative this time around, Bernie Sanders, will be pushing 80 by then. And there’s nothing about this campaign that suggests Democrats would be open to much cooperation with President Trump.
Now, should things go the opposite way with a solid or spectacular Clinton win and a Democratic conquest of both houses of Congress, there’s a chance things would open up. But as Barack Obama’s experience in 2009 demonstrated, it would almost certainly require not only a workable majority in the House but a majority in the Senate willing to undertake radical filibuster reform (at least for Supreme Court nominations, though possibly for regular legislation). And the window for accomplishing anything would be narrow: If Democrats hang on to the White House this year, 2018 would likely shape up as another GOP midterm landslide (especially in the Senate, where the landscape will be insanely pro-Republican then).
The kind of atmosphere we are more likely to see was, interestingly enough, described by Hillary Clinton herself in her recent interview with Ezra Klein:
“A lot of governing is the slow, hard boring of hard boards,” she says. “I don’t think there’s anything sexy, exciting, or headline-grabbing about it. I think it is getting up every day, building the relationships, finding whatever sliver of common ground you can occupy, never, ever giving up in continuing to reach out even to people who are sworn political partisan adversaries.”
No wonder so many Democratic primary voters thrilled to Bernie Sanders’s talk about a grassroots-driven “political revolution” that would make this “hard boring of hard boards” unnecessary. It would be nice if an election cycle or two could mobilize a previously hidden majority and sweep away all of the gridlock. Ideologues of both flavors (Ted Cruz along with Bernie Sanders) endlessly fantasize about this magic solution; the fact that it’s equally plausible for people in both parties is a pretty good sign it’s an illusion. So any way you slice it, 2017 is likely to feel familiar, and frustrating.
By: Ed Kilgore, Daily Intelligencer, New York Magazine, July 13, 2016
It was just a few months ago when state policymakers in Utah approved a measure condemning pornography as a “public health crisis.” Gov. Gary Herbert (R) signed a resolution, approved by the GOP-led legislature, calling for new policies to combat the porn scourge.
And at the time, much of the country had a good laugh about this, recognizing that Utah is one of the nation’s most conservative states, more likely than most to overreact to a pornography “crisis” that doesn’t really exist. But as Yahoo News reported yesterday, Republicans in Utah evidently aren’t alone on the issue.
Republican delegates unanimously adopted an amendment to their draft platform Monday morning that called pornography “a public health crisis” and a “public menace” that is destroying lives.
The language went further in its condemnation of porn than the 2012 GOP platform, which condemned child pornography and encouraged the enforcement of obscenity and pornography laws.
The new amendment, which will be added to the national party’s 2016 platform, reads, “Pornography, with its harmful effects, especially on children, has become a public health crisis that is destroying the life [sic] of millions. We encourage states to continue to fight this public menace and pledge our commitment to children’s safety and wellbeing.”
Now take a moment to read that exact same quote, only this time, replace “pornography” with “gun violence.” The national Republican Party’s platform committee unanimously approved the porn measure yesterday; is there any doubt it would have unanimously rejected the same language if it pertained to guns?
The point of a national party’s platform is to articulate its core values and priorities. Unfortunately, the RNC platform is doing exactly that.
The document, which won’t be formally approved until the Republican convention next week, also opposes “policies that encourage cohabitation,” supports crackpot “gay conversion therapy” in which sexual orientation is changed through prayer, expresses concern over electromagnetic pulse threats, declares coal power as “clean,” and seeks to turn back the clock on marriage equality.
The contemporary Republican Party, in other words, appears committed to looking backwards, and restoring policies of the past. If GOP officials are lucky, the American mainstream won’t read or hear much about their 2016 platform.
By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, July 12, 2016
In conservative circles, Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts used to be a respected figure, held in high regard. Roberts enjoyed a lengthy record as a center-right jurist, and when then-President George W. Bush nominated him to the high court, Republicans everywhere were delighted.
Roberts did not, however, stay in the right’s good graces. After the chief justice voted to uphold the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act – twice – quite a few conservatives, and even some Republican presidential candidates, turned on Roberts, questioning his judgment, intellect, and integrity.
Right about now, I suspect FBI Director James Comey can relate to how Roberts must feel about his former admirers abruptly changing their opinions.
Comey, in case anyone’s forgotten, is a lifelong Republican who served as a top official in the Bush/Cheney Justice Department. He cut his teeth as a public-sector attorney in the 1990s, when Comey signed on “as deputy special counsel to the Senate Whitewater Committee,” where he went after, of all people, Hillary Clinton.
I’m not aware of anyone on the right questioning Comey’s abilities or professionalism ahead of yesterday’s announcement in the email matter. On the contrary, Republicans gave Comey a vote of confidence as recently as June. Politico published this report one month ago today:
Should the FBI not recommend an indictment of Hillary Clinton following its investigation of the setup of her private email server, House Oversight Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) on Monday said he and his Republican colleagues would “probably” accept the outcome.
“Oh, probably, because we do believe in [FBI Director] James Comey,” the Utah Republican said during an appearance on Fox News’ “Outnumbered.” “I do think that in all of the government, he is a man of integrity and honesty.”
Yesterday, however, Chaffetz said the exact opposite, and accused Comey of failing to carry out his duties. Other GOP members of Congress made related arguments, while some Republican pundits adopted an even harsher posture.
The pattern matters. John Roberts was an excellent justice, Republicans said, right up until he strayed from the partisan script. Trey Gowdy was the perfect person to lead the GOP’s Benghazi Committee, they said, right up until he failed to dig up dirt on Hillary Clinton.
And Jim Comey was a fine FBI director, right up until he left his party dejected by exercising independent judgment.
In reality, Roberts, Gowdy, and Comey aren’t guilty of corruption or partisan betrayals – their “failures” exist solely in the minds of lazy ideologues. What their Republican critics don’t seem to appreciate is that their ostensible allies asked them to go too far, ignore their responsibilities, abuse an otherwise legitimate process, and look out for the “team,” whether the facts warranted it or not.
Comey didn’t play along with a partisan game, and his reward is a round of condemnations from the same people who, up until 24 hours ago, sang their praises.
By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, July 6, 2016
“Trump Flunks Supreme Court Arithmetic”: Counting To Five Should Be Pretty Easy, Unless You’re Donald Trump
For the typical adult, counting to five should be pretty easy. It makes Donald Trump’s trouble with Supreme Court arithmetic that much more puzzling.
On Monday, the Supreme Court handed down arguably the most important abortion-rights ruling in a generation, prompting the Republican presidential hopeful to say … literally nothing. To the consternation of some of his social-conservative allies, Trump acted as if the court’s decision didn’t exist, offering no response in speeches, interviews, or social media.
It took a few days, but this morning the presumptive GOP nominee broke his unexpected silence in an interview with conservative radio host Mike Gallagher.
“Now if we had Scalia was living, or if Scalia was replaced by me, you wouldn’t have had that, OK? It would’ve been the opposite.”
Actually, no, it wouldn’t have. This week’s ruling was actually a 5-3 decision. Yes, Antonin Scalia’s passing meant the Supreme Court was down one justice, but it doesn’t take a mathematician to know 3 +1 does not equal 5.
Remember, the decision was on Monday, and today’s Thursday. Trump and his team had three days to come up with the candidate’s response to a major court ruling, and this is what they came up with.
In the same interview, the New York Republican complained about Chief Justice John Roberts, telling the host, “He could’ve killed [the Affordable Care Act] twice and he didn’t. That was terrible. And that was a Bush appointment. That was so bad, what happened. And you know, to me, you know, almost not recoverable from his standpoint. Very, very sad situation.”
Actually, the second time the justices considered the constitutionality of “Obamacare,” the law was upheld in a 6-3 ruling. When Trump said today Roberts “could’ve killed” the ACA, his math is still wrong – because 6 – 1 does not equal four.
Do you ever get the impression that Trump hasn’t really thought this issue through? Ever wonder if there’s an issue he has thought through?
Postscript: Trump’s math troubles notwithstanding, the GOP candidate, who used to describe himself as pro-choice, continues to talk about how eager he is to restrict reproductive rights. In this morning’s interview, the host added, “So just to confirm, under a Donald, a President Donald Trump-appointed Supreme Court, you wouldn’t see a majority ruling like the one we had with the Texas abortion law this week.”
The candidate replied, “No, you wouldn’t see that.”
By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, June 30, 2016