Trump Lawyer: “You cannot be against General Lee and be for George Washington”

washington_lee

Yes, they both own slaves. Yes, they were both Virginians.  One lived in the eighteenth-century, the other in the nineteenth.  Lee was the president of a college that Washington helped to keep alive.

George Washington led an army to fight for liberty against what he perceived to be a tyrannical British government.  Yes, he was the product of a southern culture in which liberty and freedom were only afforded to white people.  And yes, the Revolution that he led was riddled with hypocrisy on this front.  These are essential points and must be acknowledged when we teach the American Revolution.   Washington freed his slaves when he died and the revolution he helped set in motion would, eventually, lead to the end of slavery in America despite the fact that Robert E. Lee did his best to stop such progress.  By all accounts, Lee was a Christian and a noble man.  But he also led an army built to preserve the institution of slavery and the white supremacy that came with it.

John Dowd, the lawyer for Donald Trump’s legal team, recently forwarded an e-mail to conservative journalists for the purpose of defending the comments POTUS made on Tuesday equating the white supremacists at Charlottesville with those who came to protest against them.  In the e-mail he wrote “You cannot be against General Lee and be for General Washington–there is literally no difference between the two men.”

“Literally no difference.”  This is why we need to invest more money into historical education and historical thinking.  As I have said before, we need historians more than ever.  It is NOT a useless major.

Dowd’s e-mail went on to explain that Lee is no different than Washington because:

  • Both owned slaves
  • Both rebelled against the ruling government
  • Both men’s battle tactics are still taught at West Point
  • Both saved America
  • Both were great men, great Americans, and great commanders
  • Neither man is any different than Napoleon, Shaku Zulu, Alexander the Great, Ramses II, etc

Just to clarify:

  • Yes, as I mentioned above, both men owned slaves
  • Yes, both men rebelled against the ruling government.
  • I am not sure if both men’s battle tactics are taught at West Point.  I need some help on that one.
  • George Washington did not “save America” during the American Revolutionary War because it did not exist yet.  If Dowd means that he saved America during his presidency I don’t know of any historians who frame his eight years in office this way.  Lee did not save America.  He rebelled against and, as noted above, his rebellion was rooted in the preservation of slavery and white supremacy.
  • I will let readers decide if either man can be truly called “great.”
  • Actually, both men are different than the generals Dowd references above.  Yes, they were all military leaders, but they all lived in different eras making historical comparison very difficult.

This is just a quick answer.  I hope some historian will respond more thoroughly.

The New York Times broke the story and has some solid commentary from Civil War historian Judith Giesberg.   She reminds us that the Confederacy used Washington’s image, legacy, and role in the War for Independence to justify their own cause. The Lost Cause also invoked Washington.  I don’t know much about the history of Washington and Lee University, but I imagine that it was important to the leaders of the college to attach Lee’s name to Washington’s after the Confederate general died in 1870.

Here is the piece.

Morning Headlines

New York Times: “Trump Opens Breach With Party, Military and Industry”

Washington Post: “Trump has a long history of fostering racial divisions”

Wall Street Journal: “Trump Remarks on Violent Rally Rattle Aides, Risk Agenda”

Harrisburg Patriot-News: “Can we avoid the violence seen in Charlottesville?”

BBC: “North Korea war could be ‘horrific'”

CNN: “Who can lead America?”

FOX: “‘DISGUSTING LIE’: Trump slams Graham over Charlottesville comment”

 

Author’s Corner with John Wigger

9780199379712John Wigger is a Professor of History at the University of Missouri. This interview is based on his new book, PTL: The Rise and Fall of Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker’s Evangelical Empire (Oxford University Press, 2017).

JF: What led you to write PTL?

JW: I was fascinated by how fast PTL grew and how quickly it fell apart. What I really wanted to know was how PTL’s rise and fall were connected. How does deep religious devotion become so entwined with money, sex, and celebrity on a Hollywood scale? A short synopsis might help:

Jim and Tammy started the PTL network with half a dozen employees in a former furniture store in 1974. By 1986 PTL had annual revenues of $129 million, 2500 employees, a 2300-acre theme park, Heritage USA, and a private satellite network that reached into fourteen million homes in the US. That year, six million people visited Heritage USA. Jim and Tammy lived in luxury, buying vacation homes, expensive cars and clothes, and traveling first class with an entourage. Then it all came crashing down. In March 1987 Bakker resigned in disgrace after his 1980 sexual encounter with Jessica Hahn in a Florida hotel room became public. Stories emerged about gay relationships and visits to prostitutes. By the end of the year, PTL was in bankruptcy, headed for liquidation. In 1989 Bakker was convicted of wire and mail fraud and sentenced to 45 years in prison.

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of PTL?

JW: PTL helps to explain the persistent connections between religion and popular culture in American life, a connection that runs much deeper than politics alone. PTL grew so quickly because of its embrace of consumer and celebrity culture, much of it through the prosperity gospel, but along the way the money and fame undermined the religious convictions of those at the top.

JF: Why do we need to read PTL?

JW: It’s a story full of human drama, sincere faith, innovations both cultural and technical, financial fraud, secret affairs, and the allure of television cameras. But it also says a lot about why faith continues to be vibrant part of American life. Many of the central characters in the story—Jim and Tammy Bakker, Richard Dortch, David Taggart, John Wesley Fletcher, and of course Jessica Hahn—seem almost too improbable for a novel. But together they helped first to build one of the largest ministries in recent American history and then to bring it down.

JF: When and why did you decide to become an American historian?

JW: History and academia are a second career for me. My undergraduate degree is in Petroleum Engineering. After college I drilled oil and gas wells in California for about six years. Part of that time I lived a few blocks from the beach. One day I woke up and thought, I’m having too much fun and making too much money, what should I do? Grad school seemed the obvious answer. Okay, more seriously, I’ve always been interested in the connections between religion and culture in American life and how those connections have persisted and shifted over time. That’s what led me to switch careers and what this book is about.

JF: What is your next project?

JW: I’m not exactly sure. Hopefully something surprising that will make a good read.

JF: Thanks, John!

The Consumers Of Manufactured Goods vs. The Consumers of the Court Evangelical Message

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First Baptist Church, Dallas

As the CEOs of major corporations are leaving Trump today, I wonder about what is really motivating them.  I want to take them at their word when they say they have serious ethical problems with Trump’s choice to morally equate white supremacists in Charlottesville with those who came to Charlottesville to oppose them.  But as I listen to the news today, several commentators are pointing out that these CEOs are under pressure from their customers and stockholders to repudiate Trump.  In other words, their decision to leave Trump’s manufacturing council was a business decision.

 

I am guessing that both conscience and profits played a role in their resignations.

While we are at it, let’s compare the manufacturers to the court evangelicals. The manufacturers have left Trump’s council.  The court evangelicals have yet to leave Trump’s council.

Two points:

1. The manufacturers resigned out of conscience because they did not want to work with a man who is incapable of condemning what happened in Charlottesville without talking about “both sides.”  The court evangelicals have not been pricked by conscience to resign from Trump’s council in the way that the manufactures have done.  They are happy to stay and work with Trump to advance his agenda.

2.  The manufactures resigned because they were being pressured by their constituencies to abandon Trump.  So far the court evangelicals seem to feel no pressure from their constituencies– the American evangelicals who attend their churches and follow their ministries.

What Are the Court Evangelicals Saying Today?

 

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Not much.

Here is what the court evangelicals have and have not tweeted in the wake of Donald Trump’s statement on Tuesday .  In this statement he once again drew a moral equivalency between white supremacists and those protesting against them.

NOTE:  Many of these court evangelicals HAVE tweeted things about race and reconciliation since Trump’s remarks on Tuesday, but I am interested in their specific responses to Trump’s handling of this issue.  I want to see if they are willing to say anything negative about the POTUS and, in the process, speak truth to power.  I am curious about which one of them will make the hard choice of breaking with the POTUS in the way that the manufacturers did this week.  If they have not said anything about Trump’s comments on Tuesday I have chosen the world “silent” to describe their response.

Finally, I am only looking at Twitter feeds or links that are shared on Twitter.

Michelle Bachmann:  Silent.  (Although to be fair she has not tweeted since February)

A.R. Bernard: Nothing (Retweeted a general statement on hatred from New York Commission on religious leaders, but nothing on Trump)

Mark Burns: Argues for moral equivalency using MLK, mentions,”both sides” several times, and says it’s all the police’s fault:

Tim Clinton:  Silent

Kenneth and Gloria Copeland: Silent

James Dobson: Silent

Jerry Falwell Jr: Silent (I am getting this from others since I am blocked)

Ronnie Floyd: Tweets a link to a blog post in which he says  that “silence and passivity” is not the answer and the church should do something about racism.  Says nothing about the POTUS and his remarks.

Jentezen Franklin: Silent

Jack Graham: Silent

Harry Jackson: Silent

Robert Jeffress:  Links to this recent CBN video.  (Begins at about 6:00 mark).  He condemns racism and white supremacy and even acknowledges that Southern Baptists have been racist in the past.  He also says that “racism” comes “in all colors” and praises POTUS for condemning all kinds of racism.  He completely backs Trump’s statements on Saturday, Monday, and Tuesday, and blames any criticism of POTUS on liberals.  “There is not a racist bone in his (POTUS) body. ”

David Jeremiah: Silent

Richard Land: Silent (To be fair, he has not tweeted since May)

James McDonald: Silent

Johnnie Moore: Will not resign from Advisory Council. He says that it is his job to “give advice” not “take advice.”  I do find it interesting that the members of Trump’s Manufacturing Council (I don’t know how many of them of were Christians) saw this differently.   They were also there to “give advice,” but when Trump made his remarks on Charlottesville at least eight of them resigned.  Moore also calls for “reasoning together” quoting Isaiah 1:18.  It is unclear who he wants to reason with.

Robert Morris: Silent.  Although he did tweet this:

Tom Mullins: Silent

Ralph Reed: Silent

James Robison: Condemns racism and calls for prayer.  Silent about Trump on Twitter. But Warren Throckmorton is reporting on this.

Tony Suarez: Silent

Paula White-Cain: Silent.  But this tweet is interesting.

Sealy Yates: Can’t seem to findTwitter account

OTHER COURT EVANGELICALS:

Franklin Graham: Silent

Eric Metaxas: No idea. I’m blocked

Greg Lurie: Silent

Tony Perkins: Silent  (Perkins is President of the Family Research Council.  Are Trump’s remarks not a family issue?  I know my kids are asking about it).

Cindy Jacobs: Silent

The Ball Is In The GOP’s Court

capitol-hill-washington-dc

Let’s face it.  No one cares what the Democrats in Congress and elsewhere think right now.  That is because we all know that the Democrats condemn Trump’s refusal to distinguish white supremacists from those protesting against them.

But we should all care about what Republicans in Congress and elsewhere are saying. They are the only ones with the power to rebuke the POTUS.  This is not a political issue. Any Republican who fails to speak out strongly against Trump right now either shares his views on moral equivalency or is more concerned about politics than the moral state of the country they serve.  If there is another option I would like to know about it.

Here are some of the Republicans who have spoken out after Trump’s remarks on Tuesday.  Notice that only a few of them name the office of the POTUS by name.  I think that’s significant.

Mark Lilla Returns With a More Sustained Treatment of Identity Politics

LillaLast November, Columbia University humanities professor Mark Lilla released a bombshell in the form of a New York Times article entitled “The End of Identity Liberalism.”  We spent some time here discussing it.  I found Lilla’s argument pretty compelling.

Lilla decided to capitalize on the popularity and controversy of his Times piece with a 143-page book titled The Once and Future Liberal: After Identity Politics.  I have not read the book yet, but just came across a review from Yale historian Beverly Gage.

Here is a taste:

…he identifies some truly important questions that liberals and leftists of all stripes will have to face together: How should the Democratic Party balance diversity with a common vision of citizenship? How and where should concerned Americans focus their energies — on social-movement activism, on “resistance,” on electoral politics? How should universities preserve free speech in an age of impassioned conflict? How, for that matter, can Democrats start winning a few more local races? Lilla acts as if there are easy answers to these questions. “We need no more marchers,” he writes. “We need more mayors.” But isn’t it possible that we need both?

Lilla concedes that many Americans think of themselves at once as members of identity groups and as citizens of a national polity. “Both ideas can be — indeed, are — true.” He argues nonetheless that our particular crisis calls for prioritizing one over the other. “What’s crucial at this juncture in our history is to concentrate on this shared political status, not on our other manifest differences.”

Unwittingly, however, “The Once and Future Liberal” provides a case study in just how challenging that may be. Despite his lofty calls for solidarity, Lilla can’t seem to get out of his own way — or even to take his own advice. He urges fellow liberals to focus on “the hard and unglamorous task of persuading people very different from themselves to join a common effort,” then proceeds to insult his own audience. He denounces the modern university for churning out students “incurious about the world outside their heads,” yet fails, in the end, to get much outside of his own. He decries identity types for “delivering sermons to the unwashed from a raised pulpit” while offering up his own elaborate jeremiad. He reminds liberals that “nothing will turn voters off more surely than being hectored,” and then — on the very same page — scolds the “identity conscious” for treating political meetings as “therapy sessions.”

As it turns out, Lilla himself could have used more rather than less introspection, a healthy dose of examining his own contradictions and biases. He laments that “American liberals have a reputation, as the saying goes, of never missing an opportunity to miss an opportunity.” If so, he has proved his bona fides as a member of the tribe. “The Once and Future Liberal” is a missed opportunity of the highest order, trolling disguised as erudition.

Ouch.

Read the entire review here.  I’ll reserve judgement until I get a chance to read the book. You can also listen to an interview with Lilla at “All Things Considered.”

Jefferson, Secession, and Monuments

Lee

Last night on CNN, host James Lemon had African-American public intellectual Michael Eric Dyson on his program.  Lemon asked Dyson to respond to the comments Donald Trump made yesterday about historical monuments.  Trump said:

So this week, it is Robert E. Lee. I noticed that Stonewall Jackson is coming down.  I wonder, is it George Washington next week?  And is it Thomas Jefferson the week after? You know, you really do have to ask yourself, where does it stop.

All day the commentators on CNN have been outraged that Trump would compare Stonewall Jackson and Robert E. Lee to Thomas Jefferson and George Washington.  Dyson responded by saying that Lee and Jackson seceded from the union, while Jefferson and Washington, despite owning slaves, formed a “bulwark” against slavery by articulating the ideals that eventually brought the institution to an end.

On one level, I found Dyson’s comment refreshing.  When commentators say that we can’t find a usable past in Western Civilization because it is tainted by the sin of slavery, I often cringe.  Yes, Western Civilization has been inherently racist.  Yes, Western Civilization brought us slavery.  But at the same time, Western Civilization brought us the ideas and ideals–liberty and freedom especially–that were eventually applied to the slavery and ultimately brought it to an end.

I have little patience for defenders of Western Civilization who fail to acknowledge its relationship with race.  I have little patience for those who demonize Western Civilization without acknowledging the historical complexity I wrote about above.  I read several books and articles this summer that propagated both fallacies.

But when it comes to Jefferson, things are even more complicated than this.  If you read Ibram X Kendi’s recent New York Times op-ed you will learn that some of Jefferson’s ideas contributed to secession.

So should the Jefferson monuments come down?

The conversation continues.

(See my last post where I discussed this more fully).

A Court Evangelical Explains Himself

jeffress

Recently court evangelical Robert Jeffress talked about his views of Trump, North Korea, and Charlottesville with Bobby Ross Jr. of Religion News Service.

Here is a taste:

The critics have overreacted, said Jeffress, lead pastor of First Baptist Dallas, whose public observances on current events have not for the first time made him a target. A public pastor with the president’s ear, Jeffress, 61, does not shy away from sharing his belief that Scripture should undergird politics and diplomacy.

“What I said was that the Bible has given government the authority to use whatever force necessary, including assassination or war, to topple an evil dictator like Kim Jong Un,” said Jeffress, elaborating on a Tuesday (Aug. 8) statement in which he said that God has giving Trump “authority to take out Kim Jong-Un.”

“That authority comes from Romans 13. Paul said that government has been established by God to be an avenger of those who practice evil,” Jeffress told RNS. “I made it very clear that Romans 12 says we are to forgive one another when people offend us — don’t repay evil for evil, but overcome evil with good.

“But in Romans 13, Paul isn’t talking about individual Christians. He’s talking about government. Government is an organization God uses to bring vengeance against those who practice evil.”

Jeffress said his statement wasn’t the same as saying that “God ordained President Trump to nuke North Korea.”

But many thought it came too close.

Dallas Morning News columnist Robert Wilonsky questioned “how a man whose calling is supposed to be that of peace could so fervently proselytize in favor of war.”

In a National Review piece, Mark Tooley, president of the Institute on Religion and Democracy, criticized Jeffress’ “bellicosity.”

And Christianity Today editor in chief Mark Galli penned an editorial titled “The Use of Nuclear Weapons is Inherently Evil.” After naming Jeffress, Galli wrote: “One would hope that Christian supporters of the President’s views would at least qualify and nuance their statements.”

Read the entire piece here.

What To Do If You Are Concerned About People “Erasing History”

Confederate_soldier_monument,_Union_County,_AR_IMG_2583One of the arguments against removing Confederate monuments (or any monument, for that matter) is that such an act is the equivalent of “erasing history.”  I don’t think this concern should be dismissed so easily just because a bunch of white supremacists came to Charlottesville to defend a monument of Robert E. Lee.

If you follow me on Twitter, you know that I was appalled at Donald Trump’s failure to make a moral differentiation between the white supremacists in Charlottesville last weekend and the group that opposed them.  But I do think Trump asked a series of fair questions when he said “I wonder, is it George Washington next week? And is it Thomas Jefferson the week after? You know, you really do have to ask yourself, where does it stop.”

So where does it stop?  If you are asking this question, it doesn’t make you a racist, a white supremacist, a member of the alt-Right, or a neo-Nazi.  It is a legitimate historical question about how the past informs the present and how we should remember and commemorate what has happened in bygone eras.

I have done several posts on this issue that might help you to think this through.

  • Here is a post on Annette Gordon-Reed’s response to the very question Trump asked yesterday.
  • Here is a post on the 1776 removal of New York statue to George III.
  • Here is a post on W.E.B. DuBois on Confederate monuments.
  • Here is a post on Yale historian David Blight on this issue.
  • Here is a post on New Yorker writer and historian Jelani Cobb on this issue.

We can continue to debate what to do with Confederate monuments, but over at The Pietist Schoolman, Chris Gerhz has a message for all of those folks who are suddenly concerned about “erasing history.”

Here is a taste:

But if you’re one of those people who’s up in arms about the dangers of #ErasingHistory, then let me suggest a few ways you might better expend your time and passion in service of the past than by taking up a Lost Cause:

• Encourage your ancient Rome- or WWII-loving teenager to consider majoring in history. “But everyone knows that’s a useless major,” they’ll reply. “No, it’s not,” you’ll calmly respond. And hand them empirical data. (Because that’s how teenagers make decisions.)

• Complain to your alma mater the next time they fail to replace a retiring history professor, or when you find out that most of their history teaching load is born by overworked, underpaid adjuncts.

• Ask your local principal or school district superintendent to explain the budgetary and curricular implications for social studies of that shiny new STEM program they (like all their competitors) keep promoting.

• Call your representative or senator to protest the next federal budget proposal that threatens to defund the public endowment that makes possible dozens of valuable projects in historical research and interpretation.

• Or if you prefer free market solutions… Buy a membership in your local attendance-challenged historical museum or site, and purchase history books by actual historians: like this Davidthis Davidthis David, or this David instead of this David.

Great post!  Read all of it here.

Progressive Values, Secular Values, Religious Values

Coons

Over at The Atlantic, Delaware Senator Chris Coons is the latest Democrat to urge his party to embrace religion.

Here is a taste:

A pro-life church can still work with progressive groups to defend and welcome immigrants. An environmental organization that wants to fight climate change can team up with a faith-based organization that shares that goal, even if their members disagree on other issues. Jews, Muslims, and Christians can unite with Americans who practice no faith to march against a discriminatory ban on refugees.

The Democratic Party has to recognize that progressive values can’t be just secular values. It needs to see that we can only solve our nation’s most urgent problems and shape a more equitable America if we trust each other, listen to each other, and engage with those who are traveling along secular and scriptural paths.

Democrats welcome and celebrate our differences. Whether it’s race, religion, nationality, or sexual orientation, we are fighting for a country that is open, tolerant, and accepting—and we shouldn’t yield an inch in that fight.

But we also need to recognize when we aren’t living up to our own admirable standard. We need to acknowledge when our own disagreements or beliefs keep us from engaging and working with those who might see the world differently.

Social progress is not a zero-sum game. Democrats can open our arms to new allies even if we don’t share all of their views. If we do, I suspect we won’t just move our party closer toward achieving our policy goals—we’ll move our nation closer to the promised land of civility, compromise, and progress.

Read the entire piece here.

The Prophetic Witness of American Evangelicals

wheaton-il

Ed Stetzer, the Billy Graham Distinguished Chair of Church, Mission, and Evangelism at Wheaton College, gets it right in his recent piece at Christianity Today.  According to Stetzer, “if you are unable to critique a president, you’ve lost your prophetic witness.”

Here is a taste:

This is key, and the point of my article today. These events don’t call people’s loyalty into question, they expose the loyalty they already have in their hearts. And that’s concerning when the Rorschach test exposes where their hope truly lies…

I don’t think everyone needs to speak up on everything, but I’m talking about those who defend that which Trump saw that he needed to correct—with him (finally) condemning racism in this instance.

Christians have a prophetic witness, but we can lose that witness when we are unable to see (or speak to) the errors or failings of leaders. And if Christians feel the need to defend even an obvious and divisive mistake (and my Twitter feed is filled with those people), they hurt the church’s witness and tie it too closely to a person, not the truth.

Now, if that’s your job in the White House, I get it. You sometimes have to defend even the errors. But if Christians do the same, it shows the world that our loyalty is to the person in the White House rather than the Person who said He is the Truth.

If you are a Christian, you should be able to speak out against error, injustice, and the depraved strategy of silence. Many did, some said nothing, but some went to the defense of something, ironically, the President two days later felt the need to correct.

If you’re a Christian who acts like President Trump can do no wrong, you’re giving the message that he’s the savior. He’s not. He is fallible, human, and makes mistakes that we, as responsible Christians and members of Christ’s household, should not be afraid to address.

So, rather than defending his error, which he himself felt the need to correct today, search your heart and ask, have I become too connected to a secular leader?

Read the rest here.

Are We Headed For Another Civil War?

monument-gettysburg-P

Historians Judith Giesberg, David Blight, Gregory Downs, and Eric Foner weigh-in on this question with New Yorker writer Robin Wright.

Here is a taste:

Before Charlottesville, David Blight, a Yale historian, was already planning a conference in November on “American Disunion, Then and Now.” “Parallels and analogies are always risky, but we do have weakened institutions and not just polarized parties but parties that are risking disintegration, which is what happened in the eighteen-fifties,” he told me. “Slavery tore apart, over fifteen years, both major political parties. It destroyed the Whig Party, which was replaced by the Republican Party, and divided the Democratic Party into northern and southern parts.”

“So,” he said, “watch the parties” as an indicator of America’s health.

In the eighteen-fifties, Blight told me, Americans were not good at foreseeing or absorbing the “shock of events,” including the Fugitive Slave Act, the Supreme Court’s Dred Scott decision, the John Brown raid, and even the Mexican-American War. “No one predicted them. They forced people to reposition themselves,” Blight said. “We’re going through one of those repositionings now. Trump’s election is one of them, and we’re still trying to figure it out. But it’s not new. It dates to Obama’s election. We thought that would lead culture in the other direction, but it didn’t,” he said. “There was a tremendous resistance from the right, then these episodes of police violence, and all these things [from the past] exploded again. It’s not only a racial polarization but a seizure about identity.”

Generally, Blight added, “We know we are at risk of civil war, or something like it, when an election, an enactment, an event, an action by government or people in high places, becomes utterly unacceptable to a party, a large group, a significant constituency.” The nation witnessed tectonic shifts on the eve of the Civil War, and during the civil-rights era, the unrest of the late nineteen-sixties and the Vietnam War, he said. “It did not happen with Bush v. Gore, in 2000, but perhaps we were close. It is not inconceivable that it could happen now.”

In a reversal of public opinion from the nineteen-sixties, Blight said, the weakening of political institutions today has led Americans to shift their views on which institutions are credible. “Who do we put our faith in today? Maybe, ironically, the F.B.I.,” he said. “With all these military men in the Trump Administration, that’s where we’re putting our hope for the use of reason. It’s not the President. It’s not Congress, which is utterly dysfunctional and run by men who spent decades dividing us in order to keep control, and not even the Supreme Court, because it’s been so politicized.”

Read the entire piece here.

Five CEOs Resign from Trump’s Manufacturing Council. Zero Clergy Resign From Trump’s Evangelical Advisory Council

Trump Jeffress

In light of Trump’s failure to directly address white supremacy in Charlottesville on Saturday, five CEOs have resigned from his “American Manufacturing Council.”  The latest, Scott Paul, president of the Alliance for American Manufacturing, just tweeted: “I’m resigning from the Manufacturing Jobs Initiative because it’s the right thing for me to do.”

Earlier, Kenneth Frazier, the CEO of Merck, resigned because he needed to “take a stand against intolerance and extremism.”

Intel Chief Executive Brian Krzanich said yesterday:

…I resigned to call attention to the serious harm our divided political climate is causing to critical issues, including the serious need to address the decline of American manufacturing. Politics and political agendas have sidelined the important mission of rebuilding America’s manufacturing base.

I have already made clear my abhorrence at the recent hate-spawned violence in Charlottesville, and earlier today I called on all leaders to condemn the white supremacists and their ilk who marched and committed violence. I resigned because I want to make progress, while many in Washington seem more concerned with attacking anyone who disagrees with them. We should honor – not attack – those who have stood up for equality and other cherished American values. I hope this will change, and I remain willing to serve when it does.

Kevin Plank, the CEO of Under Armour, tweeted: “We remain resolute in our potential and ability to improve American manufacturing…However, Under Armour engages in innovation and sports, not politics.”

So let’s summarize:

“Politics have sidelined the…mission of rebuilding America’s manufacturing base.”

“Innovation and sports, not politics.”

“The right thing for me to do.”

“Politics have sidelined the mission of the church and God’s witness in the world.”

“The Gospel and the Kingdom of God, not politics.”

“The Christian thing for me to do.”

Just to be clear, the last three lines were never uttered.  I made them up.  I had to make them up because these are things that the court evangelicals would never say in the context of the Trump presidency.

While America’s manufacturing giants take principled moral stands against white supremacy and Donald Trump’s failure on Saturday to renounce racists by name, none of the members of his “Evangelical Advisory Council“–the so-called court evangelicals–have resigned their posts.  Apparently in the United States it is the manufacturers, not the evangelical clergy who advise the POTUS, who now deliver moral messages to the White House.

Over at Christianity Today, Kate Shellnutt has covered the court evangelical response to Charlottesville.  To be fair, many of the court evangelicals condemned the white supremacist groups that came to Charlottesville last weekend.  (Jerry Falwell Jr. was silent).  But none of them criticized Donald Trump for not speaking out more forcefully on Saturday.  In fact, Franklin Graham and Mark Burns both defended Trump.  Here is Graham:

Shame on the politicians who are trying to push blame on President Trump for what happened in #Charlottesville, VA. That’s absurd. What about the politicians such as the city council who voted to remove a memorial that had been in place since 1924, regardless of the possible repercussions? How about the city politicians who issued the permit for the lawful demonstration to defend the statue? And why didn’t the mayor or the governor see that a powder keg was about to explode and stop it before it got started? Instead they want to blame President Donald J. Trump for everything. Really, this boils down to evil in people’s hearts. Satan is behind it all.

Could you imagine Billy Graham saying these things?

Burns made a video.

I don’t expect resignations coming any time soon.

Sadly, What Happened in Charlottesville IS American

Charlottesville

As Bruce Springsteen likes to say, “I have spent my life judging the distance between American reality and the American dream.”

Sadly, there is often a great gulf that separates the promise of America and American reality.  I thought about Springsteen’s quote as I read Joshua Zeitz‘s piece at Politico: “What Happened in Charlottesville Is All Too American.”

Here is a taste:

Politicians and pundits often invoke the idea of American Exceptionalism with little understanding of its origins. A woolly concept with roots that extend back to the era of colonial settlement, it views the United States as somehow immune from the forces of history. The term assumed prominence in the middle part of the 20th century, as social scientists working in the aftermath of two world wars attempted to understand why endemic social, economic and political divisions that drove a century of combat, ethnic cleansing and genocide in Europe were seemingly non-operative in the United States. Was it because America lacked a feudal past? Because it was a land with greater material bounty? Was it the leveling influence of the frontier that made us different?

The entire debate was an exercise in national innocence. In retrospect, it’s remarkable that some of the country’s best minds even stopped to ponder the question. To believe that the United States had been immune to the forces that produced blood-and-soil fascism, they had to write off a great deal of recent history.

By a conservative estimate, from 1890 to 1917 white Southerners lynched roughly three black people each week. “Back in those days, to kill a Negro was nothing,” a black man from Mississippi later recalled. “It was like killing a chicken or killing a snake.”

Read the rest here.

Two quick thoughts.

This history should make us cringe whenever Trump says “Make America Great AGAIN.”

Trump obviously did not have this history in mind on Saturday when he told us to “cherish our history.” Or maybe he did.  I don’t know if this was a dog-whistle to the Alt-right, but it sure sounded like one.  Think about this. The President of the United States addressed the nation after a series of racial hate crimes that stemmed from white nationalists protesting the removal of a monument to Robert E. Lee and he told them to “cherish our history.”

Moral Clarity and Academic Virtues at Christian Colleges

Messiah

University of Virginia German professor Chad Wellmon‘s piece at the Chronicle of Higher Education has been getting a lot of attention.  Wellmon argues, in the wake of the white supremacy march at UVA, that universities are not in a position to offer moral clarity to students or the larger society.

Here is a taste:

The contemporary university, at least in its local form in Charlottesville, seems institutionally incapable of moral clarity. Individual faculty members had spent the days and weeks before Saturday’s rally denouncing and organizing against the white supremacists. But as an institution, UVa muddled along through press releases, groping for a voice and a clear statement. By late last night, the dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, Ian Baucom, had written to faculty members to decry “the evil of racism, the evil of violence, the evil of hate.” But Sullivan’s missives, especially her initial ones, read like press releases from the bowels of a modern bureaucracy, not the thoughts of a human responding to hate.

And that makes a lot of sense. What can the president of a contemporary university say? The University of Virginia is many things — a health center, a federal contractor, a sports franchise, an event venue, and, almost incidentally, a university devoted to education and knowledge. It is most often, as Clark Kerr wrote in 1963, a multiversity, with little common purpose but the perpetuation of itself and its procedures. Why should my colleagues and I look to our chief executive for moral leadership? As a university president, Sullivan is, in the words of Thorstein Veblen, a captain of erudition, not the leader of a community bound to a common moral mission.

Wellmon adds:

Yet even Weber acknowledged that the university is not without its own values and virtues. And whatever Stanley Fish might think, these values are not simply bureaucratic or professional procedures. They are robust epistemic virtues —— an openness to debate, a commitment to critical inquiry, attention to detail, a respect for argument —— embedded in historical practices particular to the university. They provide those within and outside the university with essential goods.

As the hate on display in Charlottesville made clear, however, these scholarly practices and virtues are also insufficient. The university has moral limitations. Universities cannot impart comprehensive visions of the good. They cannot provide ultimate moral ends. Their goods are proximate. Faculty members, myself included, need to acknowledge that most university leaders lack the language and moral imagination to confront evils such as white supremacy. They lack those things not because of who they are, but, as Weber argued, because of what the modern research university has become. Such an acknowledgment is also part of the moral clarity that we can offer to ourselves and to our students. We have goods to offer, but they are not ultimate goods.

And so universities need to look outside themselves and partner with other moral traditions and civic communities, as my inspiring faculty colleagues here in Charlottesville have done for months in anticipation of this weekend. Universities may not be able to impart comprehensive visions of the good, but they are uniquely positioned to help students engage in open debates and conversations about the values they hold most dear.

Acknowledging the limitations of the academy might help us to reconsider the bromides issued by university press offices in our name — the automatic incantation of “our values” of diversity and inclusion. What kind of goods are these, and why do we defend them?

They are not ends in themselves, but they contribute to the primary purpose of the modern university —— to create and care for knowledge and to pass that knowledge on by teaching our students. Diversity is good for learning. The knowledge project of the university is sustained and best served through what the Harvard political theorist Danielle Allen calls “epistemic egalitarianism,” the idea that “we can cultivate collective intelligence that is better than what any individual can achieve.” Our common pursuit of knowledge is richer and truer when it seeks contributions from the broadest diversity of peoples.

I largely agree with Wellmon’s assessment of large research universities. When functioning at their best, these universities should indeed be places of intellectual diversity.  And yes, such communities of  inquiry do have moral limitations.  (I say “functioning at their best” because often times intellectual diversity is lacking. Moreover, the lefty professors that dominate most humanities departments are often some of the most outspoken moralizers on campus).

I don’t teach at one of these places.  I teach at a relatively small Christian college.  Many view this kind of college as a place that combines liberal learning with the “moral traditions,” the “civic communities,” the “moral imagination,” and the “comprehensive vision of the good” that Wellmon writes about.

So what might Wellmon’s piece mean for Christian colleges?

First, it is worth noting that all Christian colleges are different.  Colleges connected directly with a denomination or a religious tradition will be able to articulate a “moral tradition” or “comprehensive vision of the good” more effectively because they represent the educational arm of a very particular spiritual community.  At other Christian colleges, perhaps those without a specific church connection (mostly products of early 20th-century non-denominational fundamentalism), moral clarity comes from very carefully defined statements of faith or community expectations.

My college prides itself in its commitment to Christian diversity and intellectual hospitality for all who confess Christian faith at its bare minimum (the Apostles Creed). At schools like this, a common approach to the Christian (moral) tradition, or a “comprehensive vision of the good,” is harder to come by.  When there is not a common vision of the Christian faith, rooted in a particular creed or tradition, it makes conversation very difficult because there are few commonly-shared presuppositions about how Christianity should work in an educational institution or in the larger world. At least at public universities there is a shared secularism that requires everyone in a faculty meeting to speak in a language that other members of the community can understand.

Second, I often wonder if Christian colleges have the opposite problem from the one Wellmon describes at the University of Virginia and universities like it.  Christian colleges are very good at moralizing.  Ask students to read a text written by an author with whom they disagree and their initial response will be moral condemnation. Sometimes faculty might even think that casting judgement upon the author is part of their “prophetic” responsibility as Christians.  The classroom thus becomes a church, not a space for intellectual engagement with ideas.

Christian colleges need to do a lot better job at teaching Wellmon’s academic virtues: “openness to debate, a commitment to critical inquiry, attention to detail, [and] a respect for argument.” Christian colleges are not four-year camps to train Christian activists. Residential life and other co-curricular staff need to attend to the spiritual, emotional, and moral dimensions of students’ lives, but their contribution to the life of the college should also be measured by the degree to which they create extracurricular spaces in which the academic virtues of debate, clear thinking, the art of argument, and intellectual diversity are cultivated.  This might mean that it is necessary for faculty to live in the dorms.  There is a reason some of the best institutions of higher education have residential colleges with faculty masters.  (Wellmon’s entire piece is framed around his work as the resident principal of UVA’s Brown College). Academic virtues are best taught by academics.  Sadly, I am unaware of any Christian colleges that have such a system.

Allow me to restate Wellmon’s argument: The secular academy provides the kind of academic virtues that allow graduates to make thoughtful contributions to society, but it is unable to provide moral clarity on the most pressing issues of the day.

Christian colleges, it seems to me, are in a unique position to offer students both training in the the academic virtues and a sense of moral clarity.  But without cultivating the former, the the latter will be little more than shallow sermonizing.

Morning Headlines

New York Times: “Trump, Bowing to Pressure, Rebukes White Supremacists”

Washington Post: “Trump tries to quell outrage over Va. remarks, denounces white supremacists”

Wall Street Journal: “North Korea Backs Off Guam Threat”

Harrisburg-Patriot News: “Gettysburg Park hasn’t received complaints about Confederate monuments, won’t remove any”

BBC: “N Korea leader holds off on Guam threat”

CNN: “CEOs turn against Trump”

FOX: “SCARAMUCCI: I’D LOSE BANNON Ex-WH staffer takes aim at Trump’s chief strategist in late-night interview”