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“For His Next Trick, Trump Questions Clinton’s Religious Faith”: The Last Person Who Should Question Others’ Faith

Recently, most of Donald Trump’s offensive rants have focused on race and ethnicity, but not religion. Any chance he can pick up the slack and start making faith-based insults, too?

As it turns out, yes, he can.

Donald Trump questioned Hillary Clinton’s commitment to her Christian faith on Tuesday, saying that little is known about her spiritual life even though she’s been in the public eye for decades.

Speaking to a group of top social conservative evangelical Christian leaders at a gathering in New York City, Trump said, “we don’t know anything about Hillary in terms of religion.”

“Now, she’s been in the public eye for years and years, and yet there’s no – there’s nothing out there,” Trump said. “There’s like nothing out there. It’s going to be an extension of Obama but it’s going to be worse, because with Obama you had your guard up. With Hillary you don’t, and it’s going to be worse.”

As The Hill’s report noted, the behind-closed-doors meeting was not open to the public or to journalists, but one faith leader recorded Trump’s comments and posted them online.

The presumptive Republican presidential nominee added that the religious leaders in attendance should “pray for everyone, but what you really have to do is pray to get everybody out to vote for one specific person.”

Let’s unpack this a bit, because even by Trump standards, this is pretty amazing.

First, to suggest Americans “don’t know anything about” Hillary Clinton “in terms of religion” is absurd. The Democratic candidate has spoken about her Methodist faith many times, including lengthy comments about her views on Christianity and the Bible at an Iowa event earlier this year.

Second, I’d love to hear more about why, exactly, Trump and his like-minded friends had their “guard up” about President Obama’s faith. What is it, specifically, that led Trump and his allies to put their “guard up” about his religion?

Third, when Trump urged faith leaders to “pray to get everybody out to vote for one specific person,” he was approaching a potentially dangerous legal line. Under federal tax law, houses of worship and those responsible for tax-exempt ministries cannot legally intervene in political elections. Taking steps to have parishioners “vote for one specific person” is problematic.

And finally, of any political figure in America, Donald J. Trump is perhaps the last person who should be questioning others’ faith.

The GOP candidate’s clumsiness on matters of faith has been a point of concern for some conservative voters before, and last summer, the New York Republican refused to say which parts of Scripture are important to him, saying it was “private.” (Asked whether he’s drawn more to the New or Old Testaments, Trump said, “Both.”)

And now Mr. Two Corinthians wants to complain that “we don’t know anything about Hillary in terms of religion”? Seriously? I don’t expect much from Trump, but for him, there is no upside to picking this particular fight.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, June 21, 2016

June 22, 2016 Posted by | Donald Trump, Faith, Hillary Clinton, Religion | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“We Don’t Need A ‘Christian Left’ To Replace The Christian Right”: We Need A Commitment To Church-State Separation

It was inevitable, I guess, that the latest talk of the Christian Right “dying” — or at least suffering under divisions created or exacerbated by Donald Trump — would revive hopes of a “Christian Left” emerging to compete with, or even displace, the alliance of Republicans with conservative evangelicals and traditionalist Catholics that has played so large a role in American politics since 1980. And now, at Slate, Ruth Graham has expressed these hopes at considerable length. Though I will not blame her for a sub-headline that fatuously refers to Democrats as a potential “party of God,” Graham’s piece begs for a dissent from a liberal Christian perspective. To put it simply, must Christian progressives replicate the politicization of the Gospel that Falwell and Robertson and Colson and so many others undertook?

Yes, Graham is right in identifying this as an opportune moment to disrupt the popular stereotypes (promoted equally by secular and conservative religious folk) of Christian faith connoting conservative politics, or of the only “good” or “real” Christians being the conservative variety. And it never hurts to protect the First Amendment rights of American Christians to vote and think and speak as they wish, which historically (viz. the abolition and agrarian reform and urban reform and civil rights movements) has been on the Left as much as the Right.

But like previous apostles of a Christian Left such as Jim Wallis, Graham implies that the grievous error of Christian Right leaders is misapplying biblical lessons for contemporary culture and society, and elevating concerns about personal morality and “family life” above commitments to peace and social justice. The idea is that God does indeed have a preferred politics (if not necessarily a party) that just happens to be very different from those the Christian Right has endorsed.

The alternative argument is that believing there’s any comprehensive prescription for political behavior in religious scripture or tradition betrays a confusion of the sacred and the profane, and of the Kingdom of God with mere secular culture. That’s what one prominent liberal Christian named  Barack Obama maintained in his famous Notre Dame commencement speech of 2009, in which he described as essential to faith a healthy doubt about what God wants human beings to do in their social and political lives. And it leads not to a desire to replace the self-righteous Christian Right with an equally self-righteous Christian Left, but to a renewed commitment to church-state separation — on religious as well as political grounds. After all, church-state separation protects religion from political contamination as much as it does politics from religious contamination. And what the Christian Right abetted was political contamination, not just recourse to the wrong politics.

Needless to say, Christians who are also political progressives would get along better with their non-Christian and non-religious allies if they stood with them in staunch support of church-state separation instead of implying that progressive unbelievers are pursuing the right policies for the wrong (irreligious) reasons. And they would also tap into the true legacy of this country’s founders, largely religious (if often heterodox) people who understood the spiritual as well as the practical dangers of encouraging the religiously sanctioned pursuit of political power.

So with all due respect to Ruth Graham and others like her who dream of a Church Militant marching toward a progressive Zion under the banner of a rigorously left-wing Party of God, thanks but no thanks. Progressive Christians would be better advised to work quietly with others in secular politics without a lot of public prayer about it, while also working to help reconcile with their conservative sisters and brothers, who may soon — God willing — be emerging from the Babylonian captivity of the Christian Right.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Daily Intelligencer, New York Magazine, May 17, 2016

May 18, 2016 Posted by | Christian Conservatives, Christian Right, Religious Right | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Origins Of The Religious Right”: Still Insisting That Religious Freedom Is A Justification For Discrimination

It is often assumed that the origins of the religious right’s political awakening (known back then as the so-called “moral majority”) was in response to the Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe vs Wade decision. But in an article a friend recently pointed out to me from 2014, Randall Balmer locates it’s origins in another court case: Green vs Connally. It has interesting relevance for some of the issues we are hearing about today.

Balmer first points out that immediately before and after Roe vs Wade, evangelical leaders didn’t see a problem with abortion. He provides several quotes, including this one:

When the Roe decision was handed down, W. A. Criswell, the Southern Baptist Convention’s former president and pastor of First Baptist Church in Dallas, Texas—also one of the most famous fundamentalists of the 20th century—was pleased: “I have always felt that it was only after a child was born and had a life separate from its mother that it became an individual person,” he said, “and it has always, therefore, seemed to me that what is best for the mother and for the future should be allowed.”

Meanwhile, Paul Weyrich was looking around for an issue that would galvanize evangelical support for Republicans. He found it in an edict from President Nixon’s Treasury Department that the provisions of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act precluded a tax-exempt status for private schools that discriminated against African Americans. Schools like Bob Jones University and Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University responded.

Although Bob Jones Jr., the school’s founder, argued that racial segregation was mandated by the Bible, Falwell and Weyrich quickly sought to shift the grounds of the debate, framing their opposition in terms of religious freedom rather than in defense of racial segregation.

In other words, “religious freedom” was used as the justification for discrimination. Sound familiar? That was the issue at stake in Green vs Connally.

It was on the heels of that argument that these religious leaders then turned to theologian Francis Schaeffer and surgeon C. Everett Koop (who later became Reagan’s Surgeon General) to stir up objections to abortion. They did that with the film Whatever Happened to the Human Race?

In the early months of 1979, Schaeffer and Koop, targeting an evangelical audience, toured the country with these films, which depicted the scourge of abortion in graphic terms—most memorably with a scene of plastic baby dolls strewn along the shores of the Dead Sea.

It is hard to avoid seeing a parallel with the doctored videos produced by The Center for Medical Progress that have raised evangelicals in opposition to Planned Parenthood.

All of that laid the groundwork for the involvement of the religious right in the 1980 presidential race between Carter and Reagan, although their positions on these issues were not as well-defined as we have been led to believe.

By 1980, even though Carter had sought, both as governor of Georgia and as president, to reduce the incidence of abortion, his refusal to seek a constitutional amendment outlawing it was viewed by politically conservative evangelicals as an unpardonable sin. Never mind the fact that his Republican opponent that year, Ronald Reagan, had signed into law, as governor of California in 1967, the most liberal abortion bill in the country. When Reagan addressed a rally of 10,000 evangelicals at Reunion Arena in Dallas in August 1980, he excoriated the “unconstitutional regulatory agenda” directed by the IRS “against independent schools,” but he made no mention of abortion. Nevertheless, leaders of the religious right hammered away at the issue, persuading many evangelicals to make support for a constitutional amendment outlawing abortion a litmus test for their votes.

More than 35 years later, the religious right is still insisting that religious freedom is a justification for discrimination and using deceptive videos to ignite opposition to women’s reproductive health. As the saying goes…”everything old is new again.”

 

By: Nancy LeTourneau, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, April 28, 2016

April 29, 2016 Posted by | Discrimination, Religious Freedom, Religious Right | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Many Republicans Won’t Back Trump, And Trump Voters Hate Cruz”: Could A Downballot Wave For Democrats Be Coming?

David Brooks notwithstanding, this is not a wonderful moment to be a conservative. A new poll out of California highlights the disaster looming for the Republican Party across the nation, but particularly in blue states.

The most troubling problem is that even in a big blue state like California, Trump holds a commanding 7-point lead over Ted Cruz. As Trump will certainly hold the plurality of delegates entering the national GOP convention, Republicans are currently trying to figure out whether to back him and let come what may, or wrest the nomination from him in a brokered convention. But the brokered convention strategy relies mostly on Trump’s not reaching an outright delegate majority–a question that may not be resolved until California’s large batch of delegates is determined. If the business magnate wins big in California, he will probably reach the delegate majority he needs, crushing establishment hopes of subverting his nomination.

But the even more troubling issue for Republicans is that the party is deeply, deeply divided no matter what they do. Many moderate and evangelical Republicans despise Trump and say they will not vote for him. Meanwhile, Trump’s voters cannot stand Ted Cruz:

A quarter of California Republican voters polled said they would refuse to vote for Trump in November if he is the party’s nominee. Almost one-third of those backing Trump’s leading competitor, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, said they would not cast a ballot for Trump. Voters who back Trump, meanwhile, are critical of Cruz, with only half holding a favorable impression of him.

Much of this is probably overblown, of course: when Republicans are faced with the prospect of a Clinton or Sanders presidency, the vast majority will still hold their nose and toe the line for the GOP. But these numbers constitute an unprecedented level of disaffection with their choices. That’s understandable: many ideological and theocratic conservatives don’t feel they can trust Trump on policy, establishment and future-minded Republicans know that his racist appeals will destroy their future, even as more moderate, populist and ideologically flexible Republicans are turned off by Cruz’ oily cynicism and radicalism.

Even a modest drop in turnout by the GOP in blue states and districts could lead to a downballot debacle for the Republican Party, and could even cost them the majority in the House given a big enough wave. The Cook Political Report and other prognosticators have revised their house race projections to account for the Trump effect (and quite possibly for the Cruz effect as well.)

So far, the GOP has latched itself to the hope that even if it must throw away the presidency this cycle, it can count on control of the House, the Supreme Court and most legislatures. With Scalia’s passing the Supreme Court is lost given a Democratic win in 2016, the Senate will likely change hands, and their House majority seems set to shrink or even disappear. Many legislatures may also flip as well given a wave election.

Things can change, of course: an economic downturn or major terrorist attack could alter the landscape significantly. But as things stand, circumstances are ripe for a GOP debacle up and down the ballot.

 

By: David Atkins, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, March 27, 2016

March 29, 2016 Posted by | Conservatives, Donald Trump, Establishment Republicans, Ted Cruz | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Why Trump Won’t Win”: The Demographics Do Not Look Good For Him In A General Election Campaign

Shortly after Donald J. Trump announced for president, I published a blog post on these pages entitled “No Filter and No Chance.” This was followed by a number of pieces lamenting the surprising lack of substance evident in his campaign, the out of control ego and the sad descent into outrageous, violent, racist, sexist comments repeated with abandon. I, like many others, had predicted his downfall. Hmm, brilliant, right?

But now it is more clear than ever that Trump has all the makings of a George Wallace candidacy, only with less experience in government.

So how could this nasty, vitriolic blowhard become president of the United States?

According to Stephen Moore, the conservative writer, here is how he does it: “Trump is remaking the GOP into a populist/reform party of working class/evangelical and entrepreneurial class voters.” And Pat Buchanan writes: “A Trump campaign across the industrial Midwest, Pennsylvania and New Jersey featuring attacks on Hillary Clinton’s support for NAFTA the WTO, MFN for China – and her backing of amnesty and citizenship for illegal immigrants, and for the Iraq and Libyan debacles – is a winning hand.”

Thus, the bottom line for the Trump trumpeters is that he mobilizes large numbers of new voters who are angry and fed up with Washington, pulls in the Reagan working-class Democrats and independents, and carries states that have voted Democratic over the last 25 years.

There are several problems with this analysis.

First and foremost, Trump is not a candidate who is appealing to the majority of Americans – 67 percent can’t see themselves voting for him in November, according to a March NBC/WSJ poll. He has a 25 percent positive rating and a 64 percent negative rating and is trailing Hillary Clinton by 13 points and Bernie Sanders by 18. (This was before the Clinton sweep of five primary states on March 15.)

Furthermore, 43 percent of Republicans believe he will be harmful to their party; 27 percent of all voters feel Trump’s version of change for the country would be right and a full 52 percent believe it would be wrong.

And even before most of the violence at the Trump rallies and the latest Trump rhetoric, 50 percent believe “Trump’s comments are frequently insulting and he has the wrong approach to the issues.” Only 18 percent believe Trump “tells it like it is and has the right approach on many issues.”

My guess is that these numbers are not going to get better as the campaign progresses but will only get worse for Trump. This is not a zebra who will change his stripes – if anything, the numbers will become more pronounced. Can you imagine the recording of Trump from Howard Stern’s radio show turned into political advertisements? More and more examples of his inconsistencies and outright falsehoods? His complete and total lack of knowledge about policy and failure to articulate issue positions?

He is also outright dangerous. Is this the person Americans want two feet from the nuclear codes?

Many of Trump’s supporters are arguing that he will bring to the polls millions of new voters – basically angry white males. Data on this is very sketchy given where we are in the primaries. There has not been a huge surge in voter registration beyond normal numbers and there is some evidence that turnout models may, in fact, hurt Trump and the Republicans, as Robert Schlesinger argues so persuasively in this space.

Here is a run-down of Trump’s problems:

Hispanics: Washington Post polling shows 80 percent have an unfavorable opinion of Donald Trump. Romney got 27 percent of the Hispanic vote, Trump will be lucky to reach the upper teens. According to Pew, 48 percent of Hispanics voted in 2012 and more than 1.4 million new registrations have been recorded since 2008. Clearly, the number of Hispanic voters will only continue to grow. You better believe that turnout in 2016 will be closer to the mid-60 range for whites and blacks, not the upper 40s of the past.

African-Americans: It may be difficult to match the Obama numbers but given Trump’s treatment of blacks at his rallies and his talk of “political correctness,” it will be close.

Women: Of course, women will be a majority of the electorate in 2016. Trump’s problems with them, I believe, are just beginning. The more women see of him, hear of his past statements, view the treatment of Fox News’ Megyn Kelly and others, the more they will be turned off by his antics. Never mind his position on issues affecting women, which will be highlighted and are of grave concern.

Millennials and younger voters: Sen. Bernie Sanders may have excited them, but it is hard to believe they will sit on their hands if Trump is the nominee against Hillary Clinton. Voters in this age group are growing fast and flexing their political muscle.

Educated voters: This is a serious problem for Trump. Turnout for people with advanced degrees is over 80 percent: about 75 percent for those with bachelors degrees, 64 percent for those with some college, a bit over 50 percent for those who are high school grads and less than 40 percent for those without a high school degree. Trump’s strength right now is with less-educated voters. The big question is: Can he put together an organization that produces a sea change in registering and bringing to the polls the less educated, non-voters? There’s not much evidence yet that he can.

Finally, as we all know, the electorate is more diverse with each passing year. Close to 30 percent of 2016 voters will be non-white. Given the failure of the Republican Party, and particularly Donald Trump, to appeal to those voters, this is a serious problem. The current and future demographics do not bode well for a Trump or any other candidate who fails to appeal to all of America.

It is still possible that Trump will not be the nominee, but most Republicans who are worried about their party are looking right now at a train wreck come November. And maybe for years down the tracks. Unless things change, 2016 could make the Johnson-Goldwater election of 1964 look like a nail biter.

 

By: Peter Fenn, Head, Fenn Communications; U. S. News and World Report, March 21, 2016

March 22, 2016 Posted by | Donald Trump, Establishment Republicans, George Wallace, GOP | , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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