Trump’s Supreme Court appointee should get a hearing and a vote

Article II of the United States Constitution states that the President:

…shall have Power, by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, to make Treaties, provided two thirds of the Senators present concur; and he shall nominate, and by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, shall appoint Ambassadors, other public Ministers and Consuls, Judges of the supreme Court, and all other Officers of the United States, whose Appointments are not herein otherwise provided for, and which shall be established by Law: but the Congress may by Law vest the Appointment of such inferior Officers, as they think proper, in the President alone, in the Courts of Law, or in the Heads of Departments.

The President nominates Supreme Court justices and the Senate advises and consents. That’s how it works.

When Antonin Scalia died in February 2016, Barack Obama did his constitutional duty and nominated Merrick Garland to replace Scalia. The Senate, under the leadership of Mitch McConnell, refused to give Garland a hearing. He said that it was inappropriate for Obama to nominate a new justice in an election year. The next Supreme Court nomination, McConnell argued, should thus be left up to the new President. Trump won the November election and appointed Neil Gorsuch.

We are now 43 days away from an election and the recent death of justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has reignited the same debate about the right of a president to appoint a new justice during an election year. The Republicans in all their hypocrisy are now demanding that Trump should appoint Ginsburg’s successor. Here is Lindsey Graham, the head of the Senate Judiciary Committee, 2016:

Graham is now suggesting that Trump should get to pick the next justice.

Of course this should not surprise us. Politics is not about integrity, ethics, or standing by one’s word. It is about power. And let’s not pretend that the Democrats wouldn’t do the same thing if they were in the GOP’s shoes right now. Plague on all their houses!

Two wrongs do not make a right. McConnell was wrong in 2016. Merrick Garland should have received a hearing and an up or down vote. In 2020, Trump’s appointee should receive a hearing and get an up or down vote. If the Senators believe that it is in the best interest of the country to let the next president choose a justice, then they can vote accordingly.

In March 2016, I wrote a Fox News piece on the whole Garland mess while I was in residence at George Washington’s Mount Vernon. Read it here.

Michael Cohen links the “killing” of racy photos to Jerry Falwell Jr.’s Trump endorsement in 2016

Here is Aram Roston at Reuters:

In his book released today, Michael Cohen, the former fixer for U.S. President Donald Trump, ties for the first time the 2016 presidential endorsement of Trump by American evangelical leader Jerry Falwell Jr to Cohen’s own role in helping to keep racy “personal” photographs of the Falwells from becoming public.

As Reuters reported last year, the Falwells enlisted Cohen to keep “a bunch of photographs, personal photographs” from becoming public, Cohen said in a recording, made surreptitiously by comedian Tom Arnold. “I actually have one of the photos,” he said, without going into specifics. “It’s terrible.”

In “Disloyal: The Memoir,” Cohen describes thinking that his involvement in the Falwell photo matter would be a “catch and kill” — the practice of American tabloids to obtain and then suppress unfavorable stories about celebrities — “but in this case it was just going to be kill.”

He later writes: “In good time, I would call in this favor, not for me, but for the Boss, at a crucial moment on his journey to the presidency.”

Cohen has said that he helped persuade Falwell to endorse Trump just before Republican voters gathered in Iowa in February 2016 to nominate a presidential candidate. Falwell not only publicly vouched for Trump’s Christian virtues but also barnstormed with the candidate. His backing of Trump — a twice-divorced candidate who had talked about grabbing women’s genitals and engaged in extramarital affairs — was one of the major surprises of the 2016 campaign.

In the book, Cohen doesn’t explicitly say that the endorsement was the favor he sought in return for his help in having kept the Falwell photos from getting out. But his account marks the first time he has linked the two issues.

Read the entire piece here.

Episode 73: Cowboy Evangelicalism

Podcast

What does it mean to be a man in white evangelical Christianity? In this episode we talk with historian Kristin Kobes Du Mez, author of Jesus and John Wayne: How White Evangelicals Corrupted a Faith and Fractured a Nation. We discuss definitions of masculinity, the Gospel Coalition, Beth Moore, Donald Trump, the 2016 election, the differences between White and Black views of Christian manhood, and how the thesis of her book might be applied to American evangelical culture during the COVID-19 pandemic.

https://playlist.megaphone.fm?p=ADL7692401175
You can also listen at your favorite podcatcher, including Apple Podcasts

Joe Biden’s National Faith Engagement Director is an evangelical Christian

DicksonHis name is Josh Dickson. He was a leader in Campus Crusade for Christ during his undergraduate days at the University of Michigan. Many of his relatives attended Moody Bible Institute. His Christian faith led him to a job as a teacher in the poor neighborhoods of the South Side of Chicago. He voted for George W. Bush in 2004, but was inspired to become a Democrat by reading Ronald Sider’s Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger and Barack Obama’s Audacity of Hope.

Here are some quotes from Michael Gryboski’s recent Christian Post piece on Dickson:

Dickson believes some evangelicals are moving toward supporting Biden. An example of this, he said, is seeing evangelical leaders’ embrace of the Black Lives Matter movement.

“We have seen evangelicals marching in the streets, we have seen evangelicals talking about Black Lives Matter and speaking and praising Black Lives Matter,” said Dickson. “We’ve seen a tremendous response from individual pastors who have large followings who have marched in the streets. We’ve seen leaders, elected leaders who have marched in the streets from evangelical backgrounds.”

This level of support leads Dickson to conclude that “the real religious issue in this election is fighting systemic racism.” Biden, he said, has an advantage in handling that issue.

I appreciate Dickson’s arguments here. I hope he is right. But I don’t think many evangelicals believe systemic racism is “the real religious issue” in this election.

If the number of white evangelicals who vote for Trump in November 2020 drops below the 81% that he received in 2016, it will be because evangelicals are just tired of Trump’s lies, disgusted with his tweets, and upset with his handling of the coronavirus. They may not like Trump’s racism or his handling of Floyd protests either, but I am not sure they are going to vote for Biden (or not vote for Trump) because they want to fight systemic racism.

Here is more from the article:

When asked by CP about concerns over Biden’s stance on abortion, religious liberty, and similar issues, Dickson responded that “there’s room for disagreement” on these matters.

“I know that not everyone is going to agree with him on everything. We’re a big tent party as Democrats. Joe Biden is someone who is putting forward a vision that is inclusive,” said Dickson. “We want to be working with as many people as possible.”

“I see the values that Joe Biden lives by. I see the values that have been reflected in the history of his involvement in public life. And I see the ways in which he’s going to lean into this moment right now where our country is hurting.”

If Dickson wants to get white evangelicals who voted for Trump in 2016 into the Biden camp he is going to have to do better than this. He needs to get his candidate to say something concrete about the reduction of abortion in America. The numbers of abortions in the country are on the decline and he needs to show how he will sustain this downward trend.

Dickson needs to convince Biden to connect his policies on poverty and systemic racism to the reduction of abortion. If systemic racism is indeed “the real religious issue” in this campaign, then why not bring up the fact that addressing this problem has the potential to lower the number of abortions in America? In other words, Biden should articulate the connection between racism, poverty, and abortion. This will not win over most white evangelicals, but it could secure votes from those who are looking for any good reason to vote for Biden.

Dickson also needs to convince his candidate that our democracy is better when faith-based institutions such as schools, colleges, hospitals, and social service agencies are allowed to uphold their deeply-held religious beliefs about marriage and abortion. Rather than going after faith-based institutions in order to appease the left of the Democratic Party, Biden can win the hearts and minds of many white evangelicals by articulating a more robust vision of pluralism.

Read the entire Christian Post article here.

Court Evangelicals gather in Georgia

Paula White Georgia

This weekend court evangelical Paula White hosted a face-to-face event in Alpharetta, Georgia as part of the “Evangelicals for Trump” wing of the Trump 2020 campaign. Watch it here.

Speakers included Jenetzen Franklin, Harry Jackson, Ralph Reed, Alveda King, Richard Lee, and White.

Jenetzen Franklin says that evangelicals who believe in the Bible, the sacredness of life, supporting Israel, and law and justice “must “speak now or forever hold your peace, you won’t have another chance.” If Trump does not get elected, Franklin says, Christians will not have freedom of religion or freedom of speech. This line got a standing ovation. Franklin says that we only have three months (November) to save America. This is evangelical fear-mongering 101.

Harry Jackson calls for racial healing in the country. The applause is a lot more tepid than the applause Franklin received. No one seems to think that his support for Confederate flag-loving Donald Trump might contradict this message.

Ralph Reed starts by thanking the “God-fearing, Bible-believing Christians” of the state of Georgia for making sure Stacy Abrams did not win the governorship in 2018. Instead of Abrams, the people of Georgia got this.

Reed calls Abrams the “most radical, extreme, far-Left, governor” in the history of the South. It is worth remembering that Abrams would have been the third Black governor in the history of South and the first woman. Since the Civil War, the former Confederacy has had only two Black governors. P.B.S. Pinchback was governor of Louisiana for about a month (December 9, 1872 to January 13, 1873) and Douglas Wilder was governor of Virginia from 2005-2009. Only about 11% of white evangelicals in Georgia voted for Abrams. Reed, of course, knows how to appeal to the Trump base.

Reed also says that he senses “God’s anointed in this place.” He speaks with an arrogant certainty about the will of God and claims to know that God is on Trump’s side. Reed sees through a glass clearly.

Reed tells a story about how “thunderstruck” and upset he was when Antonin Scalia died in February 2016. He thought God had abandoned the country by allowing Scalia do die so close to the presidential election. But when Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell said that he would not give the Obama nominee Merrick Garland a hearing, and would wait until after the 2016 election to start Senate proceedings on Scalia’s replacement, Reed knew God had intervened in human history and had answered the prayers of all true Christians. This story speaks volumes about the political playbook of the Christian Right. Trump said he can shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and still win in 2016. I think Trump can shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and still have conservative evangelical support in 2020 as long as he appoints conservative justices.

Alveda King, the niece of Martin Luther King Jr., read some scriptures. I am not sure what she was trying to say, but she is Alveda King’s niece and she supports Trump.

Richard Lee, the author of the The American Patriot’s Bible, spoke next. He praised Trump for trying (unsuccessfully) to repeal the Johnson Amendment. I doubt that he ever considered that the Johnson Amendment is actually good for the church.

Lee says we should vote for Donald Trump because he is a “man’s man.” (Later today I am interviewing historian Kristin Kobes Du Mez about her new book Jesus and John Wayne so this kind of tough-guy masculinity is fresh on my mind right now).

In response to mayors and governors who are trying to protect people from the coronavirus, Lee says: “Get your hands off the church of Jesus Christ. Don’t tell me what to do. Don’t you tell my congregation what to do. You think we’re idiots. You don’t think we know to protect ourselves?” He tells evangelical pastors that they should be “scared to the core” because “they’re gonna come for ya!” He even tells them to whistle the theme song to the television show COPS:

White evangelicals have believed that “they” (Thomas Jefferson, the Illuminati, abolitionists, modernists, the Supreme Court, “big government,” the Clintons, Obama) have been “coming for them” for a long time.

Lee concludes that the church should be a “shock force” for a “moral revolution” in this country. Something tells me that this is not the kind of moral revolution that Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove and others are preaching.

The last speaker is Paula White. She tells about her history with Trump and praises the moral character of the entire Trump family. She calls Biden a “trojan horse” who will bring the “radical left” into the mainstream of America. At this point she gets pretty fired-up and starts ripping through Christian Right talking points.

It is hard to get a good look at the crowd, but I do not see many masks. The only person on the stage wearing a mask during the final prayer is Alveda King.

As November approaches, Trump releases his “greatest” hits album

Trump Tulsa

The coronavirus is spiking again. The country is in the midst of what might be an unprecedented conversation about race. And polls show that Donald Trump is trailing Joe Biden by a considerable margin.

Trump is desperate. If he loses in November, he will limp back to New York as arguably the worst president in United States history.  His growing sense of hopelessness and despair is leading him to double-down on the issues that got him elected in 2016. It’s like a Trump greatest hits album.

It’s going to be a really bad album, but a lot of people will buy it between now and November.

Carly Fiorina, Ted Cruz’s prospective running mate in 2016, is voting for Joe Biden in 2020

ap_16118748984473

Here is Edward Isaac-Dovere at The Atlantic:

Republicans who say Donald Trump should lose in November but insist they won’t vote for Joe Biden aren’t being honest, Carly Fiorina argues.

Fiorina was a Republican candidate for president just four years ago, and was briefly Ted Cruz’s prospective running mate. Trump needs to go, she says—and that means she’s voting for Biden.

Fiorina is not going to keep quiet, write in another candidate, or vote third-party. “I’ve been very clear that I can’t support Donald Trump,” she told me, in an interview that can be heard in full on the latest episode of The Ticket. “And elections are binary choices.” She struggled with the decision, and whether to go public. But she said that this struggle is one Republicans need to have—including those who have rationalized supporting Trump despite their disagreements, because of some of his policies or judicial appointments.

Listen to the interview here.

Fox News poll: white evangelical support for Trump in November drops to 66%. Biden is doing better now with white evangelicals than Obama in November 2012.

Trump St. Johns

According to a just-released Fox News poll, 66% of white evangelicals plan to vote for Donald Trump in November 2020.

25% of white evangelicals say they will vote for Joe Biden.

It is worth noting here that Obama got 26% of white evangelical votes in 2008 and 21% of white evangelical votes in 2012. In other words, Biden is doing better than Obama did with white evangelicals in November 2012 and is doing about the same as Obama did in November 2008. Trump got 81% of evangelical votes in 2016. Hillary Clinton got 16%.

Only 3% will vote for another candidate in November 2020.

Some more revealing stuff in the recent Fox News poll:

  • 63% of Biden’s support comes from voters who “fear the other candidate might win.” (31% are “enthusiastic” for Biden to win).
  • It appears that the social and racial unrest in the wake of the George Floyd killing did not really change the way voters see Trump on race. In August 2017, 56% of voters did not think that Trump “respects racial minorities.” In June 2020, the number (56% is exactly the same).
  • 54% of Americans believe that racism is a “widespread” (systemic?) problem in the police department. 41% believe that the cases of police brutality are just “isolated incidents.”
  • 57% of Americans have a “favorable” view of the Floyd race protests.  35% of Americans have an “unfavorable” view of the protests.
  • 56% of American “disapprove” of Trump’s response to the protests. 31% approve.

And here is some specific stuff on white evangelicals:

  • 72% approve of the job Trump is doing as president. 49% “strongly approve” and 23% “somewhat approve.”  9% “somewhat disapprove.” 18% “strong disapprove.”
  • 75% approve of the way Trump is handling the economy.
  • 66% approve of the way Trump is handling health care.
  • 56% approve of the way Trump is handling race relations.
  •  61% are “extremely interested” in the 2020 presidential elections.  20% are “very interested.” 16% are “somewhat interested.” and 2% are “not at all interested.” This is very high when compared to other identity groups.
  • 58% have a “strongly unfavorable” opinion of Hillary Clinton.
  • 48% have a “strongly unfavorable opinion of Joe Biden.
  • 66% believe that Trump “cares about” them.
  • 30% believe that Biden “cares about” them.
  • 61% believe Trump “respects racial minorities.”
  • 37% believe Biden “respects racial minorities.”
  • 51% believe that “corporate influences” are a “major threat” to government
  • 52% believe racism is a “major threat” to the country. (Compare this to 80% of Democrats and 73% of white suburban women).
  • 33% believe that income inequality is a major threat to the country.
  • 59% believe coronavirus is a “major threat” to the country. 31% believe coronavirus is a “minor threat” to the country. 10% say it is “not a threat at all.”
  • 39% are “concerned” about racism. 35% are “somewhat concerned” about racism. 24% are not concerned about racism.
  • 60% believe that police brutality against black Americans are “isolated incidents.”
  • 61% oppose reducing funding for police departments and moving those funds to mental health, housing, and other social service.
  • 50% have an unfavorable opinion of the George Floyd protests. 43% have a favorable opinion
  • 55% approve of Trump’s response to the protests.

Read the entire poll here.

When evangelicals put their faith and trust in presidents and Supreme Court justices

Gorsuch Trump

Yesterday the Supreme Court of the United States, in a 6-3 decision, held that an employer who fires an individual merely for being gay or transgender violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Trump-appointed justice Neil Gorsuch wrote the majority opinion. Justice Samuel Alito wrote a dissenting opinion. So did Trump-appointed justice Brett Kavanaugh.

Politically, the story centers on Gorsuch. Let’s remember that many white evangelicals voted for Donald Trump in 2016 because they believed he would appoint conservative Supreme Court justice who would overturn Roe v. Wade and protect their religious liberties. When white evangelicals talk about religious liberties, the right to uphold views of traditional marriage and sexuality at their institutions, and still maintain their tax-exempt status and have access to federal funding programs, are at or near the top of the list.

For example, in Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump, I wrote:

Court evangelicals, for example, believe that a Trump administration will protect Christian colleges and universities from losing their religious exemptions, exemptions that allow them to receive federal money despite their religious opposition to the practice of homosexuality and gay marriage. One school that would have a lot to lose if these exemptions were to disappear is Liberty University. Jerry Falwell’s school does not allow faculty members who are gay, and it has taken strong stances against gay marriage and other related matters of sexual ethics. In 2015, Jerry Falwell Jr. no doubt has his eye on the controversy surrounding a bill in the California legislature that would remove Title IX religious exemptions for private liberal arts colleges that are opposed to gay marraige or refuse to hire gay faculty. The sponsors of the bill believed that such rules represented a form of discrimination against LGBTQ students attending those schools. Biola University, a liberal arts college in Los Angeles, along with several other California Christian colleges and universities, argued that the bill, if passed, would not only violate their religious liberties but would prevent low-income students in need of financial aid from attending their institutions.

The California bill had no bearing on federal funding or institutions outside California, but it still raised much fear among Christian colleges throughout the country. Liberty University students received $445 million in federal student loans, the highest today of any four-year university in Virginia and the eighth-highest in the nation. (The high ranking in both categories is due, in part, to the sheer size of the Liberty student body.) 

Many white evangelicals hoped that Trump would end these problems by appointing Supreme Court justices who would make sure that schools like Liberty, Biola, and dozens more Christian colleges, including my own institution, Messiah College, would get religious exemptions.

Again, here is Believe Me:

When conservative Supreme Court justice Antonin Scalia died suddenly on a quail hunting trip in Texas, and it became clear  that the Republican-controlled Senate would not provide a hearing for Merrick Garland, Barack Obama’s appointee to replace Scalia, the presidential election of 2016 became a referendum on the future of the high court. Scalia was a champion of the social values that conservative evangelicals hold dear, and it was now clear that the newly elected president of the United States would appoint his successor.

[Texas Senator Ted] Cruz seized the day. Two days after Scalia died and five days before the 2016 South Carolina primary, Cruz released a political ad in the hopes of capitalizing on evangelical fears about the justice’s replacement. With a picture of the Supreme Court building as a backdrop, the narrator said, “Life, marriage, religious liberty, the Second Amendment. We’re just one Supreme Court justice away from losing them all.” In an interview with NBC’s Meet the Press, Cruz said that a vote for Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders or Donald Trump could lead American citizens to lose some of their rights. “We are one justice away from the Second Amendment being written out of the constitution altogether,” he said, “and if you vote for Donald Trump in this next election, you are voting for undermining our Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms.” Cruz pushed this appeal to evangelical fear even harder at a Republican Women’s Club meeting in Greenville, South Carolina. He told these Republicans voters that the United States was “one justice away” from “the Supreme Court mandating unlimited abortion on demand,” and for good measure he added that it was only a matter of time before the federal government started using chisels to “remove the crosses and the Stars of David from the tombstones of our fallen soldiers.”

“One justice away.” That  one justice was Neil Gorsuch.

Cruz, of course, did not get the nomination. But as a I argued in Believe Me, Trump watched him (along with Marco Rubio, Ben Carson, and other Christian Right favorites) carefully in order to learn how to tap the white evangelical vote. Here is more from the book:

…Trump pulled out his most important move to win over conservative evangelicals who were still skeptical about his candidacy on May 18[,2020]. On that day, the soon-to-be-GOP nominee released the names of eleven judges whom he said he would consider nominating to the Supreme Court. It was a move straight out of the playbook. The list was put together with input from the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think thank known for defending traditional marriage, opposing abortion, and fighting for the right of religious institutions to avoid government interference. On July 13, 2016, the Pew Research Center released a study showing that evangelicals were rallying to Trump, and it predicted that 78 percent of white evangelical voters would support him in November.

Neil Gorsuch was on that list.

Many court evangelicals are not happy with Gorsuch’s majority opinion:

Franklin Graham has responded here.

We will see how this all plays out politically, but there are still some serious religious liberty questions that need to be addressed in the wake of this Supreme Court decision. Stay tuned. In my next post on this subject, I will address the way other evangelicals and faith-based institutions are responding to this decision, particularly as it relates to religious liberty.

Senate Intelligence Committee Unanimously Concludes that Russia Helped Trump Win in 2016

trump putin

Here is Ellen Makashina at The Washington Post:

The Senate Intelligence Committee has unanimously endorsed the U.S. intelligence community’s conclusion that Russia conducted a sweeping and unprecedented campaign to interfere in the 2016 presidential election.

The heavily-redacted report, based on a three-year investigation, builds on a committee finding nearly two years ago that the January 2017 intelligence community assessment (ICA) on Russia was sound. The spy agencies also found that Russia sought to shake faith in American democracy, denigrate then-candidate Hillary Clinton and boost her rival Donald Trump.

Read the rest here.

It is worth noting that the Senate Intelligence Committee includes Republican Senators James Risch (ID), Marco Rubio (FL), Susan Collins (ME), Roy Blunt (MO), Tom Cotton (AR), John Cornyn (TX), Ben Sasse (NE), and Richard Burr (Chairman-NC).

No tweets yet from Trump.

Out of the Zoo: Hindsight is 20/20

election_2016-1

Annie Thorn is a sophomore history major from Kalamazoo, Michigan and our intern here at The Way of Improvement Leads Home.  As part of her internship she is writing a weekly column titled “Out of the Zoo.”  It focuses on life as a history major at a small liberal arts college.  In this dispatch, Annie reminds us that history “finds character in its unpredictability.” –JF

Though three years have passed since I sat inside my 11th grade world history classroom, I can still picture it vividly. Our tables were arranged in a horseshoe shape which opened up to face our teacher’s desk, a large whiteboard, and a projector screen that extended from the ceiling. Another table in the front of the room displayed a few miscellaneous figurines including one mangled statue of Santa Claus donning Michigan State gear. 

Our A.P. World History instructor, Mr. Minehart, used a variety of tactics to foster our understanding of course content–many of which involved food. After learning about Hinduism and Buddhism at the beginning of the year we took a trip to a local Hindu temple, stopping at a buffet for Indian cuisine before heading back to the high school. Months later we held a Cold War cocktail party, mingling with other students posing as world leaders while sipping on glasses of punch and eating snacks.

There’s another day of class in particular that I can picture clearly–November 8, 2016. It was the day of the long-awaited Presidential election between Hilary Clinton and Donald Trump, and the whole country seemed to be holding its breath. When election day finally came around, Mr. Minehart, out of his own curiosity, asked if any of us thought Donald Trump would win the presidency. In a class of nearly 30 students, only two raised their hands. Needless to say, most of us were in for a surprise.

History, though so often defined by a search for patterns, finds character in its unpredictability. The ugliness of the 2016 election was nothing new–American politicians have spewed insults at each other in the press since the founding era. Yet President Trump being elected was something very few of us (at least very few of us high school students) could predict. 

If I’ve learned anything from studying history, it’s been that things never happen the same way twice. It proves true that we humans have been known to make the same mistakes time and time again, but every year, every day, every hour even something else happens that no one saw coming. I doubt Jackie Robinson knew when he was nine years old that he would be chosen to break baseball’s rigid color barrier; likewise I’m confident Barack Obama had no idea as a child he would be the United States’ first African American president. Surely British colonists in the early 18th century would not have been able to predict that in 100 years they would be calling themselves Americans.

When we study historical figures, we must always keep in mind the fact that our past is their present. Sure, we can look back and see the way events unfolded, make claims about causes and point out warning signs, but we must remember that we see their lives from an entirely different perspective.  Just because we, as historians, can look back and learn about how people’s lives turn out doesn’t mean they were afforded any such privilege. For in truth none of us can be sure about what the next year, the next month, or even the next day will bring. We can take some educated guesses, but in reality we don’t know with any kind of certainty what the future has in store. Yet in 100 years historians will look back on our lives and see many things we couldn’t see at the time. We must remember that when we study the past, though we may have a widened scope, we must never forget about the uncertainty that defines the present.

Why Did Christians in the “Red States” Vote for Trump?

Red StateA new book by Lutheran minister Angela Denker seeks to answer this question in her new book Red State Christians: Understanding the Voters Who Elected Donald Trump.

Here is a taste of her recent interview with Joseph Preville at World Religion News:

JRP: How diverse are Red-State Christians in their religious beliefs and political values?

AD: Quite diverse, though I will say that they were unified by a distinct dislike of Hillary Clinton that often surpassed their admiration for Trump. They were also diverse in the extent to which their Christianity influenced their vote. Many voters, especially in the rural Midwest and Appalachia – still theoretically sought to keep what they heard and believed and church separate from their decisions in the voting booth and what they heard on the news.  However, I distinctly found in Southern Baptist congregations, especially across the South, an unqualified embrace of Christian nationalism that led to a unique embrace of Trump and the Republican Party.

JRP: What is the “shared language” between Donald Trump and Red-State Christians?

AD: A man who worked in a steel mill in Appalachia told me how frustrating his career was because the company had been outsourced. Instead of a local family running things, the owner’s son had moved operations. Now they got their checks from New Jersey instead of the local bank. It was clear that he preferred the local owner to the distant one. I compare that to many Red-State Christians’ embrace of Trump. Yes, he is often wealthier than them – but he’s “their rich guy.” He eats Taco Bell on Cinco de Mayo, he’s slightly overweight and his suits don’t fit right, he spells words wrong, he curses, he’s “politically incorrect.” Trump has an instinctual knack for speaking in ways that make people who are very different than him feel as if they’re close to him, such as the times he served fast food to championship athletes: food many Red-State Christians would connect with their day-to-day lives as well.

Read the entire interview here.

David French and the Fear Factor

Meme-believeme 2Today I received multiple e-mails, tweets, and messages asking me if I know David French or if I have given him a copy of Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump.  His recent piece in Time, “Evangelicals Are Supporting Trump Out of Fear, Not Faith,” sounds quite familiar.

Here is a taste:

White evangelicals are largely Republican, and they’re generally going to vote for Republicans. And proximity to power has always had its attractions for religious charlatans of all stripes. But I’d suggest the real reason for the breadth and depth of evangelical support is deeper and–perversely–even more destructive to its religious witness.

That reason is fear.

Talk to engaged evangelicals, and fear is all too often a dominant theme of their political life. The church is under siege from a hostile culture. Religious institutions are under legal attack from progressives. The left wants nuns to facilitate access to abortifacients and contraceptives, it wants Christian adoption agencies to compromise their conscience or close, and it even casts into doubt the tax exemptions of religious education institutions if they adhere to traditional Christian sexual ethics.

These issues are legally important, and there are reasons for evangelicals to be concerned. But there is no reason for evangelicals to abandon long-held principles to behave like any other political-interest group.

Instead, the evangelical church is called to be a source of light in a darkening world. It is not given the luxury of fear-based decisionmaking. Indeed, of all the groups in American life who believe they have the least to fear from American politics, Christians should top the list. The faithful should reject fear.

Read the entire piece here.

And no, I have never met French, nor, as far as I know, did Eerdmans Publishing send him a copy of Believe Me.

French also writes:

But in 2016, something snapped. I saw Christian men and women whom I’ve known and respected for years respond with raw fear at the very idea of a Hillary Clinton presidency. They believed she was going to place the church in mortal danger. The Christian writer Eric Metaxas wrote that if Hillary won, America’s chance to have a “Supreme Court that values the Constitution” will be “gone.” “Not for four years, not for eight,” he said, “but forever.”

This is true, and I write about it in Believe Me, but I go one step further by showing that 2016 was not the first time that white evangelicals have played the fear card.  In fact, it is a longstanding (three centuries!) feature of evangelical political engagement.

Last Night’s Court Evangelical Tweetstorm

For those who missed it (the link in the first tweet is now correct):

Joe Biden and the Catholic and Evangelical Vote

Biden grab

How will Catholics respond to Joe Biden in 2020?  John Gehrig, Catholic program director at Faith in Public Life, has some thoughts.  Here is a taste of his piece at Religion News Service:

Data from the 2018 midterm election analyzed by Ronald Brownstein of CNN shows that Trump’s favorability among white working-class voters who are not evangelicals — think white Catholics in Biden’s hometown of Scranton, Pa. — has already fallen.

Catholic women will be a critical part of this demographic. Democrats, the analysis found, “ran particularly well this year among white working-class women who are not evangelicals, a group that also displayed substantial disenchantment in the exit poll with Trump’s performance,” Brownstein wrote. “Those women could be a key constituency for Democrats in 2020 in pivotal Rust Belt states such as Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, where relatively fewer blue-collar whites are also evangelical Christians.”

Right now a fired-up base of progressives is setting the tone in the Democratic primary, making Biden, with his baggage of Anita Hill’s treatment during Clarence Thomas’ Supreme Court hearings, a cozy relationship with the banking industry and his record of opposing busing to desegregate schools, a very tough sell.

But don’t sell him short. If Biden can emerge from the necessary challenges on his left to articulate a compelling vision for an inclusive America, one that honors the dignity of work and affirms the vital immigrant character of our nation, Catholic voters could punch his ticket back to the White House as the first Catholic president since JFK.

Read the entire piece here. I think Gehrig is right.

I also think  Biden is going to have to make some kind of an appeal to American evangelicals.  He will not win many of them, but he doesn’t have to win many to take the White House.  Biden is pro-choice, but he has often talked about his personal opposition to abortion.  This might be enough for some 2016 evangelical Trump voters to peel away and vote for him.  In 2016, there were many moderate evangelicals who were looking for a reason–any reason–to vote for Hillary Clinton.  Unfortunately, Clinton never gave them one.  I wrote about this here, two days before the election.

I also wrote about this in Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump:

Though Clinton would never have come close to winning the evangelical vote, her tone-deafness on matters of deep importance to evangelicals may have been the final nail in the coffin of her campaign.  In 2015, when a conservative pro-life group published videos showing Planned Parenthood employees discussing the purchase of the body parts and the fetal tissue of aborted fetuses, Clinton said, “I have seen the pictures [from the videos] and obviously find them disturbing.”  Such a response could have helped her reach evangelicals on the campaign trail, but by 2016 she showed little ambivalence about abortion, or any understanding that it might pose legitimate concerns or raise larger ethical questions.  During the third presidential debate, she defended a traditional pro-choice position and seemed to dodge Fox News host Chris Wallace’s question about her support for later-term abortions.  There seemed to be no room in her campaign for those evangelicals who didn’t want to support Trump but needed to see that she could at least compromise on abortion.

Let’s hope Biden learns from the Clinton campaign.

“Evangelical” Churchgoers and “Evangelical” Non-Churchgoers Rode the Trump Train in the 2016 GOP Primaries

US-VOTE-IRAN-POLITICS

A lot of people in my social media sphere are making a big deal about Timothy Carney’s piece at The American Conservative arguing that Trump’s evangelical support came from self-described evangelicals who do not go to church.  Read it here.

Meanwhile, over at his blog “Religion in Public,” political scientist Ryan Burge sees very little difference among the evangelicals who voted for Cruz in the GOP primaries and the evangelicals who voted for Trump.  Read his piece here.

A taste:

If anything, I think I can make more sense of why white evangelicals so easily shifted their support from Ted Cruz to Donald Trump when it was clear that he was going to be the GOP nominee. It’s for two reasons: many of them supported Trump in the first place. As described above: Cruz only did well with a small portion of white evangelical voters. The other reason is that the jump that many of them had to make from Cruz to Trump was relatively small. Most of the Cruz supporters were statistically the same as Trump supporters on a wide variety of issues, especially fiscal questions. The upshot is this: white evangelicals are fairly monolithic. Sure, some are more socially conservative than others but by and large they are shockingly similar. The idea that there was a strong and significant bloc of socially conservative evangelical Cruz voters who had to drastically change their mind to vote for Trump is not supported by the data that I analyzed.

Burge’s analysis is closer to what I argued in Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump

Hey Liberty University, This is What Happens When You Get Into Bed with Donald Trump and “All the Best People” Who Work for Him

U.S. Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump shakes hands with Jerry Falwell Jr. during a campaign event in Sioux City Iowa

A top-level administrator at one of the largest universities in the world rigged online polls to promote Donald Trump as a great businessman.  These polls were used to puff Trump in preparation for his presidential run.  Cohen paid John Gauger, Liberty University’s Chief Information Officer, to manipulate the polls in Trump’s favor.  Gauger claims that Cohen paid him between $12K and $13K in a blue Walmart bag.  (Cohen claims he paid with a check, but that’s not really the point here).  Cohen says that Donald Trump directed him to find someone who could rig the polls.

Lindsay Ellis of The Chronicle of Higher Education reports:

President Trump’s former top lawyer paid Liberty University’s chief information officer to manipulate online polls in an effort to raise Trump’s profile before his successful presidential campaign, The Wall Street Journal reported on Thursday. The news shows a deeper relationship than previously reported between the president and employees of the university, a private Christian institution located in Virginia and led by Jerry L. Falwell Jr., a prominent Trump ally.

The Liberty technology administrator, John Gauger, also created a Twitter account, @WomenForCohen, to promote the president’s lawyer, Michael Cohen, according to the Journal. “Strong, pit bull, sex symbol, no nonsense, business oriented, and ready to make a difference,” the account’s description read on Thursday.

In one post reviewed by The Chronicle, the @WomenForCohen account shared a photo of Cohen, Falwell, and his wife. “Love to see good #Christian people on board the #TrumpTrain #Liberty #Trump2016,” the account wrote. The Journal reported that a female friend of Gauger operated the @WomenForCohen account.

Gauger told the Journal he had been paid by Cohen with a blue Walmart bag filled with $12,000 to $13,000 in cash, as well as a boxing glove once used by a Brazilian athlete. Cohen disputed that characterization, telling the Journal that Gauger had been paid by check, not cash.

Those previously unreported connections are the latest in a longstanding series of ties between Trump and Liberty. Trump has delivered multiple speeches at Liberty in recent years, including at a 2017 commencement. An administrator and Liberty students also produced a film about a former firefighter who said he had heard God say that Trump would be the next president.

Read the entire piece here.

Jerry Falwell Jr, the president of Liberty University and a prominent court evangelical, said that he knew Gauger was working for Trump, but claims he did not know the nature of the work.  Frankly, I find the latter claim hard to believe.  When it comes to Trump, Falwell seems to know just about everything that happens on his campus.  He refused to allow the student newspaper to run an anti-Trump story. He prevented anti-Trumper Shane Claiborne and others from coming on campus to pray.  And he forced an anti-Trump member of the Board of Trustees (and longtime Falwell family friend) to resign.  Falwell is thorough.  How could he have missed the fact that one of his administrators was rigging polls to try to manipulate the American public on behalf of the man who Falwell has described as the evangelical “dream president.”

When I read this story I decided to take a look at Gauger’s @womenforcohen Twitter account.  The tweets reveal that this Liberty University employee got into political bed with Michael Cohen and, by extension, Donald Trump.  As I argued in Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump, this is what happens when you get too close to political power  As you read these tweets, please recall that Cohen is going to jail for violation of campaign finance laws and the person responsible for the tweets is a senior administrator at Liberty.