In American politics, where has God gone?
Of course this is an inadequate way of posing the question. God is always present for believers, even if the political workings of the divine can be hard to discern. And religious people continue to occupy points all along the spectrum. Just ask Hillary Clinton about her Methodism.
But especially among Republicans, religious issues have taken a back seat in the party’s discourse and religious leaders are playing a diminished role in the 2016 campaign.
This was not how things started. Many had the remarkable experience during the primaries of hearing Ted Cruz declare to his followers: “Awaken the body of Christ that we might pull back from the abyss.” You can’t get much more religious than that.
But Cruz failed to awaken and unite religious conservatives, a reason why Donald Trump is the presumptive nominee. The split this year among conservative evangelicals was profound.
On the one side were those, mainly Cruz supporters, still voting on abortion, gay marriage and other moral issues. On the other were those among the faithful so angry about the direction of the country and what they saw as the marginalization of conservative Christianity in public life that they opted for the strongman who could push back hard against their enemies.
Robert Jeffress, the senior pastor of the First Baptist Church in Dallas, spoke for the second group. “Most Americans know we are in a mess,” Jeffress declared, “and as they look at Donald Trump, they believe he is the one leader who can reverse the downward death spiral of this nation we love so dearly.”
Jeffress reflects a profound pessimism among conservative Christians that contrasts sharply with the movement’s hopeful spirit in its Reagan Era heyday.
The current gloom grows out of an implicit awareness of the reality shrewdly captured in the forthcoming book, “The End of White Christian America,” by my friend and colleague Robert Jones. Although conservative Christianity will remain important, the sheer force of demography means it will never again enjoy the public influence it once had.
And in imagining that Trump will somehow reverse the trend, Christian conservatives are taking a big risk. As he has on so much else, Trump has been entirely opportunistic in his approach to religion. By some measures, he’s running the most secular Republican campaign since the 1970s.
In the early primaries, particularly in Iowa and the South, Trump tried hard to identify with a constituency he knew would be key to his success. “I love the evangelicals,” Trump said. “Why do they love me? You’ll have to ask them — but they do.”
His efforts were often awkward. He mangled references to the Bible, referred to communion as “my little cracker,” and once momentarily mistook the communion plate when it came around for the donation plate. But none of this seemed to matter.
He also was far-sighted. Long ago, he put some money where his political needs would be. As Betsy Woodruff reported last year for The Daily Beast, The Donald J. Trump Foundation contributed $100,000 in 2012 to the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, and in 2013 gave $10,000 each to The Family Leader, an influential Iowa evangelical group, and to Samaritan’s Purse.
Franklin Graham, Billy Graham’s son, said nice things about Trump early on. But he took Trump to task in April when the candidate distanced himself from North Carolina’s law barring transgender people from using bathrooms that corresponded to their gender identity. Characteristically, Trump quickly walked the statement back and proclaimed himself a states’ rights advocate on the question.
Nonetheless, his initial signal on the North Carolina law marked a new phase in the campaign. As voting moved to Northeastern states with fewer evangelicals, Trump spoke much less about religion and his evangelical love affair. Among his winks to social moderates: praise for Planned Parenthood for having done “very good work for many, many — for millions of women.”
Trump’s comments on immigrants, political correctness and Muslims suggest he is far more anti-multicultural than he is pro-religion. He talks more about symbols and public icons than about faith or morals. “If I become president, we’re gonna be saying ‘Merry Christmas’ at every store,” he said last October. “The ‘Happy Holiday’ you can leave over there at the corner.”
It’s an empty promise, since no president could force “every store” in America to give a Christian greeting. But the fact that he chose to make the media-driven Christmas wars a centerpiece of his argument to Christians shows that his real engagement is with identity politics, not religion.
By: E. J. Dionne, Jr., Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, June 2, 2016
With the Republican nomination contest being essentially over (yes, there’s a primary in Washington, but it doesn’t matter who wins or loses) and the Democratic battle taking a brief break (yes, Washington Democrats will vote, but it’s only a nonbinding “beauty contest” primary), it will be a quiet political Tuesday night except for runoff elections in Texas and down-ballot primaries in Georgia.
In the latter primaries, though, there’s an intriguing right-wing effort to purge two North Georgia Republican congressmen for being insufficiently right-wing: specifically for voting for John Boehner for speaker before the Ohioan quit and for voting to keep the federal government open despite its funding of Obamacare and Planned Parenthood.
What makes it all interesting is that the two solons in question — 11th-district representative Barry Loudermilk and ninth-district representative Doug Collins — would be considered a tad out there themselves in much of the country. Loudermilk (a freshman who ran to the right of another hero of the mad fringe, Bob Barr, in his original primary) is a member of the House Freedom Caucus and an outspoken “constitutional conservative.” Collins, who’s notable for being both an ordained Baptist minister and a lawyer, is probably best known for defending military chaplains (he’s one himself in the Reserves) who get a little carried away with proselytizing.
But while both congressmen are facing multiple opponents all shrieking at them for their alleged betrayal of True Conservatism, Collins has drawn the marquee challenger: his former House colleague Paul Broun, a favorite of extremism aficionados everywhere.
Until he left the House for a failed Senate bid in 2014, Broun was one of those pols who said incredible things with every other breath. Perhaps his most famous moment was when this member of the House Science Committee delivered a speech in his district referring to evolution and various other scientific teachings that conflict with his conservative Evangelical views as “lies from the pit of hell.” So notorious was Broun as a proud know-nothing that a significant number of write-in votes in his district were cast for Charles Darwin.
Now Broun is aiming his peculiar brand of thunder and lightning at Collins, and he has the advantage of having represented about half the current ninth district before the last rounds of redistricting. But Broun is being dogged by ethics charges dating from his congressional service that recently led to a criminal indictment of his former top chief of staff.
Both Loudermilk and Collins are expected to come out on top in tonight’s returns. But the catch is that Georgia requires majorities for nominations, and being knocked into a crazy-low-turnout runoff would be perilous for either incumbent. A wild card is that North Georgia right-wing activists have already been stirred up by the treachery of another of their own: Governor (and former ninth-district congressman) Nathan Deal, who recently vetoed a “religious liberty” bill aimed at making anti-LGBT discrimination easier. (On the principle of in-for-a-penny, in-for-a-pound, Deal, who is safely in his second and final term, subsequently infuriated the gun lobby by vetoing a “campus carry” bill getting rid of restrictions on shooting irons at colleges and universities. Where will the betrayals end?)
The one thing we know for sure is that there’s no degree of extremism in the GOP that will give Democrats a chance at either House seat. These are two of the most profoundly Republican districts east of Utah. And, so far as we know, Charles Darwin’s not even in the race.
By: Ed Kilgore, Daily Intelligencer, New York Magazine, May 26, 2016
“Trump Drives Spike Into Culture War Politics”: Trump’s Second-Best Contribution To The Quality Of America’s Civic Life
Days before the Indiana primary, Ted Cruz paraded his two young daughters in matching pink dresses and spoke darkly of “putting little girls alone in a bathroom with grown men.”
This was a visual that, frankly, we could have done without. Thankfully, Donald Trump locked it in Ripley’s museum of the politically bizarre by trouncing Cruz in that conservative state’s primary.
It was Trump who had said that transgender people should use “whatever bathroom they feel is appropriate.” It was he who noted that there have been “very few problems” with transgender people using ladies’ rooms. Trump didn’t say — but could have — that men presenting themselves as women have been using women’s facilities for a long time, with the other occupants none the wiser or unconcerned.
So has Trump deep-sixed the culture war gambit in Republican politics? The formula is to draw votes by pounding on some controversy of little consequence to most people, preferably with a sex angle attached. The 2004 presidential election in Ohio was a textbook case. Placing a measure to ban gay marriage on the ballot probably gave George W. Bush — whose main game was tax cuts — a narrow victory.
Our friends the Koch brothers routinely give money to socially conservative groups to win over middle- or working-class followers otherwise not served by the family’s economic agenda. The brothers themselves have shrugged at gay marriage, saying they have no problem with it.
Perhaps, just perhaps, the working-class whites targeted by culture warriors don’t really care all that much about these issues — or care a lot less about them than they do about their falling incomes. Perhaps they’ve been voting all these years for an attitude, hitting back at the “liberal elites” who they feel rap them on the knuckles when they speak their mind. Trump’s magic potion involves adding attitude while subtracting threats to Social Security, Medicare and other government programs average folks depend on.
Trump has stomped on so many of the right wing’s most cherished wedge issues — while winning majorities among the Republican base — it gets you wondering how big that tide of moral umbrage really was. How much of it was a mirage pulled off with talk radio’s smoke and mirrors?
Abortion is a truly difficult issue. Your writer believes an abortion should be easy (and free) to obtain early in a pregnancy and limited later on. Others oppose abortion altogether, and it is this group’s genuine concerns that the right seeks to stoke.
As a result, it’s the rare Republican who will put in a good word for Planned Parenthood, a nonprofit that provides a variety of women’s health services in addition to abortions. But Trump praised the organization for doing the former without apology. And he won races in the heart of value-voter America — including the entire Deep South.
For liberals and moderates alike, Trump deserves gratitude for putting away Cruz. (Too bad about John Kasich, though.) It spared us from having to hear his running mate, Carly Fiorina, go on about Planned Parenthood’s harvesting “body parts” from a kicking fetus, a complete fiction.
Making things up happens to be a Trump specialty, so there’s some poetic justice in his volleying back some outright fabrications. His suggestion that Cruz’s father helped John Kennedy’s assassin is a classic of the genre.
Putting an end to culture warmongering as a political strategy — or at least dialing it back — could go down as Trump’s second-best contribution to the quality of America’s civic life. His best contribution would be to lose badly in November. Luckily, on getting himself not elected in the general, Trump has made a strong start.
By: Froma Harrop, The National Memo, May 5, 2016
“Losing The Biggest Game Of His Life—To A Woman”: How Winning The Nomination Could Be Trump’s Worst Nightmare
GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks at a news conference Tuesday, April 26.
We had been promised something of a new candidate, one more “presidential” in demeanor than we’re accustomed to seeing in the ostentatious settings at which he stages his post-primary speeches. But when Donald J. Trump, the Republican presidential frontrunner, stepped up to the mic in Manhattan’s Trump Tower to celebrate his epic sweep of Tuesday night’s GOP nominating contests in all five of the states in play, what we saw was a Trump more subdued in tone but as misogynist in substance as ever.
After declaring himself to be “like, a very smart person,” Trump made an astonishing claim: If Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton—who won four of Tuesday’s five Democratic primaries—were a man, he said, “she’d be at 5 percent” in the polls. As if being a woman granted the female politician some great advantage. Were that the case, each chamber of Congress, one might assume, would be a body in which women represented 80 percent of the membership, rather than the other way around. Surely, given such great gender privilege, the 50 states might muster more than a grand total of six female governors among them.
Trump appeared to be grasping at some explanation for why, in general election match-up polls, he trails behind a woman. (It must be because she’s a woman! The system is rigged!)
“I’ve always been very good at math,” Trump told us, though apparently that prowess ended before the probability exam began.
The only thing that Clinton had going for her, Trump said, was “the women’s card,” perhaps failing to notice that in the 2012 presidential election, according to U.S. Census Bureau data, 71.4 percent of women reported voting, while only 61.6 percent of men did. Add in the fact that there are more eligible female voters than male voters, one might see that very card maligned by Trump as something of a trump in and of itself.
“Women don’t like her,” Trump said of Clinton, apparently not aware of the fact that in all but three states since the beginning of the presidential campaign season, Clinton has won the majority of the women’s vote. Meanwhile, Gallup reports, 7 in 10 women have an unfavorable view of Trump.
The ancient Greek philosophers saw misogyny as evidence of fear of women. Whatever the original roots of the showman’s misogyny, the polls would indicate he has good reason to fear women in November—those, at least, who turn up at the voting booth. Which may explain Trump’s urging, in his latest victory speech, of Bernie Sanders, Clinton’s flagging Democratic challenger, to run as an independent in the general election. An independent progressive would presumably peel off votes that would have otherwise gone to the Democrat.
But then Trump went on to echo Sanders’s allegation that Clinton is “unqualified” for the presidency, an attack that many women, including this writer, heard as distinctly gendered in nature. (Sanders has since walked back that claim, which he said was based on the fact that, while serving in the Senate, Clinton had voted to authorize the use of force in Iraq during the presidency of George W. Bush.) But given Trump’s free-associative invocation of that particular Sanders attack on Clinton, coupled with the Bernie Bro phenomenon and Sanders’s dismissal of Planned Parenthood as an “establishment” organization, one could wonder whether an independent Sanders candidacy might just peel off misogynist voters from Trump.
Before the night’s end, the Sanders campaign issued a statement that suggested the U.S. senator from Vermont was no longer in it to win it, but would instead stay in the contest in the hope of injecting his campaign’s driving issues—income inequality and the break-up of big banks—into the Democratic Party platform at the national convention in Philadelphia.
Meanwhile, pundits were once again using such words as “unstoppable” to describe Trump’s march to his party’s nomination, what with the establishment types who had once seemed so vehemently opposed to him on moral ground now submitting, between sighs, to what suddenly seemed inevitable. (Both U.S. Senator Ted Cruz of Texas and Ohio Governor John Kasich fared poorly in Tuesday’s contests—in the Eastern states of Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Delaware, and Maryland—and the non-aggression pact they had forged for next week’s contests unraveled soon after it was announced.)
As Clinton’s nomination became all but sealed on Tuesday night, the pundits barely seemed to register the historic nature of it. For the first time, a woman was almost certain to be the standard-bearer of one of the two major political parties in a presidential election. But Donald Trump surely noticed.
With his male challengers falling away, Trump is now faced with two outcomes he likely once deemed improbable, if not impossible: that he could win the nomination of the Party of Lincoln, and that he could lose the biggest game of his life—to a woman.
By: Adele M. Stan, The American Prospect, April 27, 2016