Trump’s Failure to Honor WW I Soldiers in France Was Yet Another Sign of His Narcissism

100th anniversary commemoration of the Armistice, in Paris

Here is Fred Kaplan at Slate:

The most disturbing thing about President Trump’s disgraceful performance in France this past weekend is the clear signal it sent that, under his thumb, the United States has left the West.

He came to the continent to join with other world leaders to mark the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I. But the significance of the armistice is not so much to commemorate the fallen in an absurd and ghastly war as it is to celebrate the special peace—grounded in a democratic European Union and a trans-Atlantic alliance—that grew in its wake and the greater war that followed.

And yet, after flying nearly 4,000 miles across the Atlantic, Trump stayed in his room in Paris on Saturday rather than making the additional 50-mile trip to the Aisne-Marne cemetery, where 50,000 American soldiers were laid to rest a century ago. His excuse for not attending was lame, to say the least. His aides said, after the fact, that rainfall precluded a trip by helicopter—a claim refuted by the writer James Fallows, an instrument-certified pilot who, as a former White House official, is familiar with this helicopter.

Read the rest here.

By not showing up to honor these soldiers, Trump once again showed us his narcissism.  He cannot see himself as part of a larger story of American sacrifice.  Here is what I wrote in Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump:

But the problem with Donald Trump’s use of American history goes well beyond his desire to make America great again or his regular references to some of the darker moments in our past–moments that have tended to divide Americans rather than uniting them.  His approach to history also reveals his narcissism.  When Trump says that he doesn’t care how “America first” was used in the 1940s, or claims to be ignorant of Nixon’s use of “law and order,” he shows his inability to understand himself as part of a larger American story.  As Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson wrote in the wake of Trump’s pre-inauguration Twitter attack on civil rights icon John Lewis, a veteran of non-violent marches who was severely beaten at Selma: “Trump seems to have no feel for, no interest in, the American story he is about to enter.”  Gerson describes Trump’s behavior in this regard as the “essence of narcissism.”  The columnist is right:  Trump is incapable of seeing himself as part of a presidential history that is larger than himself.  Not all presidents have been perfect, and others have certainly shown narcissistic tendencies; but most of them have been humbled by the office.  Our best presidents thought about their four or eight years in power with historical continuity in mind.  This required them to respect the integrity of the office and the unofficial moral qualifications that come with it.  Trump, however, spits in the face of this kind of historical continuity….

Believe Me 3d

Are Younger Evangelicals Any Different Than Older Evangelicals?

latin evangelicals

At nearly every stop I have made on the Believe Me book tour I am asked if I see a generational divide in evangelical support for Donald Trump.  I usually say, based on my attendance at an evangelical church, my interaction with students at a Christian college, and my conversations with my 17-year old and 21-year-old daughters, that there IS a generational divide.

The young evangelicals I speak with are pro-life on abortion and divided over gay marriage.  They are also pro-immigration, advocates of creation care (environment), opposed to capital punishment, interested in promoting social justice for the poor and oppressed, and supportive of a more inclusive and pluralistic society.

According to a recent study by political scientists Jeremy Castle, Ryan Burge, and Paul Djupe, the people I know are not very representative of most young evangelicals.  Here is a taste of their recent piece at VOX:

Overall, there isn’t much evidence of a young evangelical voice that is being “drowned out” by elders. On many issues, young evangelicals are quite similar to older evangelicals. When it comes to abortion, a signature issue among evangelicals, Ryan Burge finds that they are just as conservative on abortion as others. As Jeremy Castle shows in his forthcoming book Rock of Ages, one reason for this is that many evangelical churches have mechanisms for socializing members into conservative attitudes on cultural issues, including sponsoring Sanctity of Life Sunday and crisis pregnancy centers. As Andrew Lewis documents, another reason may be that the mandates of abortion politics drive conservatives to maintain support for anti-abortion candidates.

The most notable issue where young evangelicals are more liberal than older evangelical generations is same-sex marriage, but again, context is important. In particular, the change seems to be concentrated among low-commitment evangelicals (those who attend church, pray, and look to religion for guidance on day-to-day matters less). This suggests that changes in the broader society around them, rather than changes in evangelical theology, are behind evangelicals’ liberalization on same-sex marriage. Even so, young evangelicals are much more conservative on same-sex marriage than other young voters.

There also isn’t much evidence that the changing issue attitudes on same-sex marriage (or any other issues) are leading to broader changes in political behavior. In separate research, Castle and Burge find little evidence in nationally representative survey data that young evangelicals are changing their political identities. Both partisanship and self-identified left-right ideology among 18- to 29-year-old evangelicals have remained nearly constant since 1990, though with a demonstrable conservative uptick in 2016.

Read the entire piece here.

The “Good News” for Trump is that White Evangelicals “Just Don’t Care”


Trump with evangelical Senate candidate Marsha Blackburn

75% of white evangelicals voted Republican yesterday.  Writer Jacob Lupfer offers his take on what this means.  Here is a taste of his Religion News Service piece: “As evangelicals win with Trump, little ‘good news’ is left in the religious right.”

Trumpism is now business as usual for white evangelicalism, and white evangelical politics are inseparable from Trump’s.

This is a dangerous equation for the religious right, which once justified its alignment with the GOP by saying it could dictate social policy because of the votes it could marshal at election time. But now conservative Christians depend on Trump, not the other way around. Democrats may control the House, but the Republican caucus is even more dominated by Trump disciples as many decent GOP members retired or lost their re-election bids.

Across Capitol Hill, the Senate is now another Trump property. The president believes, with good reason, that the new crop of Republican senators owes its election to his strong support. Even the evangelical senators who occasionally challenge the president’s worst excesses (though always through speeches, never their votes) look as weak and irrelevant as ever.

The word “evangelical” comes from the Greek New Testament. It means “good news,” in reference to the gospel of Jesus Christ. Evangelicals at their best are a religious revival movement, not a voting bloc. True Christians would never abide the race-baiting, lying, dehumanizing rhetoric that Trump spews daily.

The “good news” for Trump is that they just don’t care.

Read the entire piece here.

Post-Election Spin From the Court Evangelicals

Here is what the court evangelicals are saying today:

I agree here with Jack Graham. Yes, life and liberty were on the ballot yesterday. Life in the womb and after the baby is born. Liberty for all men and women:

Robett Jeffress makes a prediction:

Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council made a statement.  He thinks that GOP victories last night were largely because of abortion.  His statement also reveals that he has no interest in finding any common ground with his opponents:  “We will stand with President Trump and Majority Leader McConnell in working to repel the Pelosi agenda that is at odds with the values that made America a great nation.”  At least Tony Perkins is honest.

Here is Samuel Rodriguez:

I have no idea what Eric Metaxas and Jerry Falwell Jr. are saying.  They both blocked me.

Was there a court evangelical viewing party?

Interview with VOX on Trump and Evangelicals

Believe Me 3dTara Isabella Burton recently interviewed me about Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump.  Here is a taste of the interview at VOX:

Why do white evangelicals still support Trump in such strong numbers? And what will that mean for the upcoming midterms? I spoke to John Fea, a historian of American religion at Messiah College in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania, and author of Believe Me: the Evangelical Road to Donald Trump, about how Trump has galvanized his Christian base and about the “court evangelicals” who have traded their traditional moral ethos for access to one of the most powerful men in the world.

Tara Isabella Burton

In your book, you make the case that the tendency toward “fear” in white evangelical culture — fear of the immigrant, fear of secularization, fear of modernization — is not just a contemporary phenomenon. Can you talk a little bit about the rhetoric of evangelical fear in American history, and particularly how it has played out in terms of racial politics?

John Fea

If you look closely at American evangelical history, you see fear everywhere. During the early 19th century, white evangelicals in the South constructed a “way of life” built around slavery and white supremacy. When Northern abolitionists (many of whom were also evangelicals, I might add) threatened this way of life by calling for the end of slavery, white evangelicals in the South responded by turning to the Bible and constructing a theological and biblical defense of slavery and racism. After the Civil War, the fear of integrating blacks into white society led to Jim Crow laws and desegregation.

Meanwhile, in the North, many white evangelicals feared the influx of Irish immigrants, especially in the 1850s. These immigrants not only had different religious beliefs (Catholicism), but they were viewed by many as members of a different, inferior race. The same could be said of white evangelical responses to Italian immigrants and Jews at the turn of the 20th century.

In the 1960s and 1970s, as historian Randall Balmer has shown, white evangelicals in the South felt anxious about Supreme Court decisions forcing them to desegregate their K-12 academies and colleges. They claimed that “big government” was intruding on their way of life and their right (based on their reading of the Bible) to segregate. Many of the arguments they made sound a lot like the arguments made by the Confederates against the “Northern invasion” during the American Civil War.

With such a long history, it should not surprise us that so many white evangelicals believed Donald Trump’s accusations that Barack Obama, the nation’s first black president, was not born in this country or was a secret Muslim. A 2015 CNN poll found that 43 percent of Republicans, a political party dominated by white evangelicals, believed that Obama was a Muslim. This, of course, is not true. It can only be explained by racial and religious fear.

Read the entire interview here.

Fear Not

I John 4:7-21:

Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. 8Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. 9In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. 10In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.11Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.

13By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. 14And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. 15Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. 16So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. 17By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world. 18There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. 19We love because he first loved us. 20If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannota love God whom he has not seen. 21And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.

Despite these biblical calls not to dwell in fear, it seems like evangelicals have embraced what Washington Post columnist Catherine Rampell describes as the Republican Party’s “closing argument” in the 2018 midtern election: “Be afraid, be very afraid.”

Here is a taste of her piece:

Immigrants are coming for your children and lake houses. Socialists are coming for your Medicare (huh?). Black football players are coming for your flag. And now the Democrats are coming for your 401(k).

Republicans’ closing argument: Be afraid, be very afraid.

The GOP has had unified control of government for nearly two years now. Yet, somehow, Republicans’ promised return to morning in America, that end of “American carnage,” still hasn’t arrived, according to both their own standard-bearer and their terrifying campaign ads.

It’s funny, in a way. Unemployment is historically low. Consumer confidence is buoyant. There actually is a compelling, positive story to tell about the state of the country — or at least, the state of the economy — today. Whether President Trump can legitimately claim credit for recent economic trends is a nonissue; we know he has no problem taking credit for things he inherited, including his personal wealth. So at the very least, he could be emphasizing those economic milestones.

Read the rest here.

Of course “fear” among evangelicals is a central theme in this book:

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“Land of Hopes and Dreams”: Broadway (and Acoustic) Edition

It is certainly fitting that Bruce Springsteen would release this now.

It is a cut from his forthcoming album, Springsteen on Broadway.  It goes on sale on December 14, 2018.  Read more about it here.


Grab your ticket and your suitcase, thunder’s rolling down this track
Well, you don’t know where you’re going now, but you know you won’t be back
Well, darling, if you’re weary, lay your head upon my chest
We’ll take what we can carry, yeah, and we’ll leave the rest

Well, big wheels roll through the fields where sunlight streams
Meet me in a land of hope and dreams

I will provide for you and I’ll stand by your side
You’ll need a good companion now for this part of the ride
Yeah, leave behind your sorrows, let this day be the last
Well, tomorrow there’ll be sunshine and all this darkness past

Well, big wheels roll through fields where sunlight streams
Oh, meet me in a land of hope and dreams

Well, this train carries saints and sinners
This train carries losers and winners
This train carries whores and gamblers
This train carries lost souls

I said, this train carries broken-hearted
This train, thieves and sweet souls departed
This train carries fools and kings Lord
This train, all aboard

I said, now this train, dreams will not be thwarted
This train, faith will be rewarded
This train, hear steel wheels singing
This train, bells of freedom ringing

Well, big wheels roll through fields where sunlight streams
Oh, meet me in a land of hope and dreams

Evangelicals and Trump at *The American Historian*


The American Historian, the magazine of the Organization of American Historians, is running a forum on Donald Trump and American evangelicalism.  I am honored to join Laura Gifford, R. Marie Griffith, and Lerone Martin in this conversation.  You can read it here.  A taste:

2. Considering the longer history of evangelical politics, were there forces of change—both within evangelicalism itself, as well as in American culture and politics writ large—that politically stirred evangelicals in the long lead-up to 2016 in unique and unprecedented ways? Stated another way, was 2016 a pivot in the life of modern evangelicalism and its political expressions and ambitions, or a continuation of existing—perhaps accelerating—trends within the movement?


Both-and. The 2016 election was certainly a continuation of existing anti-feminism; the hatred of Hillary Clinton goes back to 1992 and her perceived insult to traditional stay-at-home women (“Well, I guess I could have stayed home and baked cookies …”). There is a lot to say about this! On the other hand, I also think there was an acceleration of forces such as fear and anger toward both immigrants of color and citizens of color that appeared to mobilize conservative religious voters to an extraordinary degree. Scholars are still parsing this out, of course, and debating the politics of race in white evangelical voting patterns; but there’s no question that white working-class men in many communities have adopted a narrative of victimization in which they are being left behind and displaced by “outsiders” (people of color, immigrants, etc.). A large number of white women seem to support this view and identify with these men’s victimization; I suppose they find some measure of comfort in that narrative, even if it fuels their anger and paranoid fear of outsiders. So what journalists keep seeing locally and calling “economic anxiety” is deeply tied up with racist fears of who the culprits are. This is in no way limited to evangelicals, but many of those who are expressing this sense of victimization are evangelicals, hearing these narratives from pulpits like that of Robert Jeffress and other Trump supporters. The evangelical belief that one is “in but not of the world” and has thus willingly taken on the status of a visitor to this evil world lends itself pretty seamlessly to a sense of one’s own victimhood.

Read the rest here.

Trump and “Expressive Individualism”

Republican U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks in Janesville

Some good analysis here by Ronald E. Osborn:

In a 2011 article in First Things, the Eastern Orthodox theologian David Bentley Hart pondered why so many literary depictions of the devil present him as attractive, witty, stylish and debonair. If there is a devil, Hart ventured, he is a thug and a bore, “probably a monomaniac who talks about nothing but his personal grievances and aims, and in the bluntest, most unrefined language imaginable—the sort of person you try your best to get away from at a party.”

Hart recalled a legal case from 1993 in which a poor, elderly New Jersey woman, Vera Coking, fought to keep her home while a ruthless developer used all his power to have the land seized by eminent domain so he could buy it at a discount and turn it into a limousine parking lot for one of his Atlantic City casinos. Hart then offered the following verdict on that developer and on the nature of the diabolical: “Cold, grasping, bleak, graceless, and dull; unctuous, sleek, pitiless, and crass; a pallid vulgarian floating through life on clouds of acrid cologne and trailed by a vanguard of fawning divorce lawyers, the devil is probably eerily similar to Donald Trump—though perhaps just a little nicer.”

Osborne continues:

Conservatives have long decried the relaxing of sexual ethics and the loss of codes of etiquette as markers of liberalism’s moral impoverishment and as political perils to Western civilization. Yet with the rise of Trumpism, they are themselves now deeply and irreversibly implicated in the expressivist turn. All of the old pieties, it turns out, are completely fungible for most conservatives as well. Basic principles of rationality, truth-telling, civility, decency and restraint have been laid waste by the reality television star’s hostile takeover of the Republican Party and ascent to the White House on a tsunami of emotive tweets and hyperbolic promises of “better deals.” Yet an astonishing number of Americans, abandoning their own earlier proclamations of the necessity of virtuous character for wise and just political leadership, now cheer the unraveling—and the cruelty.

Read the entire piece at America.

“It is only a witch hunt if the accusations are untrue”


Check out Jonathan Beecher Field‘s piece at Boston Review: “This is Not a Witch Hunt.”  Here is a taste:

But even as Trump’s persistent denunciations of the Mueller investigation as a “witch hunt” trivializes the deaths of accused witches, it also performs the sleight of hand of making the accusations against the president’s camp seem trivial and baseless. In order for Trump’s “witch hunt” claims to be true, the evidence against him would have to have no empirical basis. The future and outcome of the Mueller investigation is impossible to predict, but it is safe to say that Mueller’s team has collected evidence that does not come from dreams and visions. Therefore, when Trump insists that he is the victim of a witch hunt, we would be wise to see this as a prime example of another current meme: gaslighting.

Read the entire piece here.

Epps: “The Citizenship Clause Means What It Says”


Here is Garrett Epps on Donald Trump’s latest nativist scheme:

In an interview with Axios on HBO, Trump confirmed what had been suspected since last summer: He is planning an executive order that would try to change the meaning of the Constitution as it has been applied for the past 150 years—and declare open season on millions of native-born Americans.

The order would apparently instruct federal agencies to refuse to recognize the citizenship of children born in the United States if their parents are not citizens. The Axios report was unclear on whether the order would target only American-born children of undocumented immigrants, children of foreigners visiting the U.S. on nonpermanent visas—or the children of any noncitizen.

No matter which of these options Trump pursues, the news is very somber. A nation that can rid itself of groups it dislikes has journeyed far down the road to authoritarian rule.

The idea behind the attack on birthright citizenship is often obscured by a wall of dubious originalist rhetoric and legalese. At its base, the claim is that children born in the U.S. are not citizens if they are born to noncitizen parents. The idea contradicts the Fourteenth Amendment’s citizenship clause, it flies in the face of more than a century of practice, and it would create a shadow population of American-born people who have no state, no legal protection, and no real rights that the government is bound to respect.

Read the rest at The Atlantic.

Harvard Divinity School Podcast: Trump and Evangelicals

beyond beliefListen to this episode of the Beyond Belief podcast here.  Host Jonathan Beasley interviews Dudley Rose, Professor of Ministry Studies at Harvard Divinity School. Here is a taste of the transcript:

Jonathan Beasley: So, Professor Rose. We’ve heard and read about how Evangelical Christians feel as if they are being left behind or perhaps looked down on as a kind of besieged minority. Trump really has stood up for these people and he’s told them, effectively, that he’s here to protect them, and he’s here to protect those values. Could you talk more about this? And is one of the main reasons that white evangelicals support Trump out of fear of perhaps losing that way of life or those values that they hold so dear?

Dudley Rose: That’s a fascinating question, I think, Jonathan. If you think about it, the doctrines, like the right of discovery, Manifest Destiny, a new promised land, sound pretty aggressive to our ears today, right? We’ve become more sensitive to the language of racism and sexism, for example, and the rights of the powerless and the oppressed—at least at a lip-service level we have. And one genius of Christian nationalism espoused by many white Evangelical Christians is a real sleight of hand: They claim that they are victims of the progressive left and that they are the oppressed party. It’s genius. People of enormous privilege and political power turn the argument on its head and claim protections designed to safeguard people without privilege and power.

It has skewed debates on issues such as religious freedom, for example. Religious freedom was a concept devised to protect the freedom of religious expression of people in minority religious traditions and movements. But some evangelical Christians have argued, with some success, that their religious freedom is compromised by those who have different beliefs from them—for example, that marriage can be between two people of the same gender who love each other.

This has nothing to do with an evangelical Christian’s freedom to practice their religious tradition; it has to do with the desire to prevent someone else from practicing theirs. So, the real issue at play with Christian nationalists is the belief that they should have dominant control of the culture, and for them, not having that dominant control feels like oppression.

The podcast ends with a quote from my June 2018 piece at The Atlantic:

Writing in the Atlantic Monthly, John Fea, a professor at Messiah College and self-described evangelical, wrote the following:

“Evangelicals are people of hope, not fear. The practice of Christian hope points us to a life beyond this world, but it also requires us to act in such a way that models God’s coming kingdom. The Kingdom of God is characterized by the love of enemies, the welcoming of strangers, the belief in the human dignity of all people, a humble and self-sacrificial posture toward public life, and a trust in the sovereign God of the universe. Fear is a natural human response to social change, but evangelicals betray their deepest spiritual convictions when they choose to dwell in it.”

Read the entire transcript here.



The *Believe Me* Book Tour Comes to Laurel, Maryland

emmanuel umc feature 5.64485789

I had a wonderful morning last Sunday with the good folks at Emmanuel United Methodist Church in Laurel, Maryland.  I spoke on the theme of hope in both the morning services and then met with about thirty church members who have spent the last several weeks reading and discussing Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump.  Thanks to Rev. Stephanie Vader for inviting me.

Emmanuel is a small church, but the members of the congregation are thoughtful Christians who are filled with spiritual life and vitality.  I was blessed by my visit and found myself on the drive home wishing I could be part of their community on a more regular basis.  Emmanuel is a church striving to speak truth to power in the age of Trump by living lives defined by justice, compassion, mercy, love, peace and humility.

You can watch the service here.

Newt Gingrich is Getting Nervous


I received this e-mail letter today.  (Yes, I am on the Donald Trump campaign mailing list).


I was one of the conservatives who believed President Trump could win the White House. The energy in our country in October 2016 was like nothing I had ever witnessed. I knew the polls were missing something.

I want you to know that I’m not one to be swayed by doomsday polls put out by the media. But I must admit that I’m concerned that our House Majority could be in jeopardy.

Races are too close for comfort. The Left is fired up. With our final end-of-month deadline coming up, this is our moment to fight or lose.

Please make a contribution to help the President invest in the most important races that will decide the fate of the people’s House — and ultimately even the White House.

As Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi would be third in line for the presidency.

All work that has been done to secure funding for the wall, provide resources for border security, slash Obama’s regulations, grow our economy, cut taxes, and protect miners, farmers, and all workers would be lost.

Instead, Democrats would use the people’s House as a weapon to attack President Trump.

Please make a game-changing contribution of $5 to help the President invest in the most important races that will decide the fate of the midterm elections ONLY 7 DAYS AWAY.

Thank you,

Newt Gingrich

Some Historical Perspective on the Trump Evangelicals

I am happy to contribute to this video posted today at The New York Times.

Retro Report spent over an hour interviewing me at Messiah College back in August.  I was apparently not as engaging as Cal Thomas, Jerry Falwell Jr. and Randall Balmer since I only got a quick soundbite.  (They even made me go home and change my shirt because it had too many stripes and did not look good on the camera!)

Whatever the case, it is a nice piece: