Trump issues a proclamation on character (yes, you read that correctly)

We are living in strange times. This came from the White House last week:

The foundation of any free and virtuous society is the moral character of its people.  Personal responsibility, integrity, and the other values which define our unique American spirit underpin our system of self-government and inspire us to continue working toward a more perfect Union.  As we observe National Character Counts Week, we think of the special individuals in our lives who exemplify the character qualities to which we all aspire.  In looking to these examples of honor and virtue, we recognize that character is a learned attribute acquired through consistent, purposeful action, not an inherent trait.  We must resolve to build lives and communities grounded in moral clarity in order to strengthen ourselves, our families, our communities, and our Nation.

From small acts of kindness to supreme selfless sacrifice, everyday heroes and larger-than-life American historical figures have deepened the roots of freedom of our Nation.  Individuals of integrity and principle lift us all to greater heights, evincing the same core virtues in both the depths of adversity and the heights of success.  We see this exemplified every day by the brave men and women of our Armed Forces who risk their lives to defend the cherished blessings of liberty we hold dear.  We also see it every day in our communities from law enforcement professionals and first responders who devote their lives to the safety and well-being of others and face down danger.  Community volunteers and faith organizations reveal the character of our Nation through their selfless giving of time and assistance to people in need.  In places of learning, teachers and mentors build up our character by cultivating social and cultural awareness, intellectual curiosity, and a sense of responsibility in our future leaders.  And in our homes, family members and loved ones offer compassion and guidance that also play a vital role in shaping our values.

The inherent righteousness of America’s moral character has perhaps never been needed more than in recent months as we have battled the coronavirus pandemic.  In communities large and small throughout our country, acts of kindness have touched millions of individuals and families, uniting us under one common purpose to defeat the virus.  Americans have selflessly supported their neighbors in need, delivering food and essential supplies to the most vulnerable and evincing a deep capacity for generosity and caring.  Medical professionals have worked long hours at great personal risk to provide care to the sick and injured, and military personnel have mobilized to provide critical medical assistance and help keep us safe.  Faith and community leaders have provided vital emotional support for those experiencing social isolation, and countless others have sacrificed to ease the burden on their family, friends, neighbors, and even complete strangers.  This week, as we continue to unite as one Nation to both defeat the virus and safely reopen our country, we are reminded of how far decency and compassion can go in helping others during times of great challenge and uncertainty.

Every opportunity to show consideration for another person is also an opportunity to build habits of kindness and strengthen our character.  Our words and deeds leave imprints in our homes, schools, communities, and places of worship.  Throughout this week, we recommit to being more kind, loving, understanding, and virtuous.  Together, as one national family, we must serve others with giving and grateful hearts to ensure our Republic remains strong, vibrant, and a beacon of hope for future generations.

NOW, THEREFORE, I, DONALD J. TRUMP, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim October 18 through October 24, 2020, as National Character Counts Week.  I call upon public officials, educators, parents, students, and all Americans to observe this week with appropriate ceremonies, activities, and programs.

IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this sixteenth day of October, in the year of our Lord two thousand twenty, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and forty-fifth.

DONALD J. TRUMP

I don’t even know where to begin.

James Dobson in September 1998 vs. James Dobson in September 2020

Court evangelical James Dobson just released his monthly newsletter. It is worth comparing what Dobson said about presidential character in 1998 with what he is saying today about presidential character.

Here is 1998 (italics mine):

As it turns out, character DOES matter. You can’t run a family, let alone a country, without it. How foolish to believe that a person who lacks honesty and moral integrity is qualified to lead a nation and the world! Nevertheless, our people continue to say that the President is doing a good job even if they don’t respect him personally. Those two positions are fundamentally incompatible. In the Book of James the question is posed, “Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring” (James 3:11 NIV). The answer is no.

Read the entire statement here. The president at the time was Bill Clinton

Here is his most recent newsletter:

How will Americans, and how will you, decide who to vote for as our Chief Executive Officer? I have heard from dozens of friends and acquaintances in recent weeks who tell me they will base their decision solely on a candidate’s rhetoric, tone, style, or likeability. Does that describe your thinking process? … This vote has awesome implications for future generations and the nation we love. It is about our Constitution and the immutable, God-given rights it protects. It is about values, and truth, and greatness, and hope. That is why the notion of choosing a president based on frivolous personality characteristics is so unfortunate.

Read the entire letter here.

I think I will just leave it there.

Michelle Obama’s DNC convention speech was deeply Christian

After the first night of the Democratic National Convention I tuned into Fox News. Laura Ingraham was on the air and, as might be expected, she was trashing the convention. I stopped watching after about forty minutes of analysis from Eric Trump, Ted Cruz, and other conservative pundits.

Cruz actually said that the reason the Democrats are pushing for mail-in-ballots and the funding of the United States Postal Service is because they know it leads to voter fraud.  Cruz has no evidence for this claim. Nor is there any evidence to suggest mail-in-voting leads to voter fraud. But I digress.

Former Pennsylvania governor Ed Rendell was also on Ingraham’s show. He is a very patient man.

I was struck by the fact that none of the conservative, pro-Trump pundits mentioned Michelle Obama’s speech. They just couldn’t touch it.

Watch it:

Though Obama only mentioned “faith” and “God” a couple of times, this was a deeply Christian speech.

  • She talked about the inherent dignity of human beings.
  • She talked about truth.
  • She talked about the character of a leader.
  • She talked about health care.
  • She talked about care for the environment
  • She talked about racial justice
  • She talked about the evil of racism and white supremacy
  • She talked about empathy
  • She talked about caring for others
  • She talked about raising children with a strong moral foundation
  • She talked about the coarseness of our culture under Trump
  • She talked about selfishness
  • She talked about greed
  • She talked military violence
  • She talked about using the Bible for a photo-op
  • She talked about being a mother.
  • She talked about being a neighbor
  • She talked about meekness
  • She talked about confronting “viciousness” and “cruelty”
  • She talked about finding common ground based on the value of all human beings
  • She talked about the need to speak truth to power
  • She talked about family
  • She talked about compassion
  • She talked about grief

After covering Trump’s court evangelicals for the last four years, it was nice to hear such a Christian speech in this kind of public venue. I left the speech encouraged in my faith and hopeful for America’s future. Thank you Michelle Obama.

William Penn on Good Government

a8b0c-penn

Governments, like clocks, go from the motion men give them; and as governments are made and moved by men, so by them are ruined too: wherefore governments rather depend on men, than men upon governments . Let men be good, and the government can’t be bad; if it be ill, they will cure it. But if men be bad, let the government be never so good; they will endeavor to warp and spoil it to their turn.

I know some say, let us have good laws, and no matter for the men that execute them. But let them consider, that though good laws do well, good men do better…

The Frame of the Government of the Province of Pennsylvania in America, 1682

HT: John Daly of Santa Barbara, California via “The Commons” section of the June 2020 issue of The Atlantic.

Trump Does Not Have the Character to Lead the Country Through a Pandemic

Trump corona

Leadership during a pandemic requires character.  It requires honesty and humility. A president should speak the truth to the American people, regardless of how it will affect him politically.  A president must rid himself of his narcissism, swallow his pride, and listen to the scientists and disease-control experts. Trump has done neither of these things. He seems more concerned about his image, his political brand, the 2020 election, and the stock market.

Here is David Remnick at The New Yorker:

The first official act of the Trump Administration was the Inauguration—and, within hours, a lie delivered from the White House press room about how this had been “the largest audience to ever witness an Inauguration, period, both in person and around the globe.” That episode seems so long ago, and many thousands of lies ago. But as the world now faces a pandemic, it has never been more essential to recall that norm-setting performance and to admit what has been demonstrated on a daily basis about the public official who carries ultimate responsibility for the public safety of American citizens: Donald Trump is incapable of truth, heedless of science, and hostage to the demands of his insatiable ego.

Recall, since the start of the coronavirus crisis, the litany of bogus assurances, “hunches,” misinformation, magical thinking, drive-by political shootings, and self-stroking:

“We have it under control. It’s going to be just fine.”

“By April, you know, in theory, when it gets a little warmer, it miraculously goes away.”

“The Obama Administration made a decision on testing that turned out to be detrimental to what we’re doing . . . ”

“We’re going very substantially down, not up. . . . We have it so well under control. I mean, we really have done a very good job.”

“As of right now and yesterday, anybody that needs a test [can have one], that’s the thing, and the tests are all perfect, like the letter was perfect—the transcription was perfect.”

“They would like to have the people come off [the Grand Princess cruise ship, off the coast of California]. I would like to have the people stay. . . . Because I like the numbers being where they are.”

Read the rest here.

Gerson: “This is a world where ethical rules count for nothing. A world where character is for chumps.”

Mitch and Trump

Here is the latest from Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson:

With the impeachment trial of President Trump beginning in earnest, right-wing populism has come full circle. Trump was elected on the theory that American politics had become corrupt and broken. Now he is calling upon his party and his followers to normalize corruption and brokenness as essential features of our political order. It is a bold maneuver by a skilled demagogue. Trump has cultivated disrespect for politics as a dirty business and now seeks to benefit from dramatically lowered public standards.

The question at stake in the Senate trial is plain: Is the use of public funds as leverage to gain private, political benefits from a foreign government an impeachable abuse of presidential power? The matter is so simple that Trump’s Republican defenders are reduced to babbling incoherence in trying to avoid it. When asked whether Trump’s solicitation of foreign interference in the 2020 presidential election was proper, Sen. Richard C. Shelby (R-Ala.) responded, “Well, those are just statements, political. They make them all the time. . . . People do things. Things happen.”

“Things happen.” This is a revealingly ludicrous response to a charge of public corruption. No, trying to cheat in a presidential election is not like losing your keys or getting caught in the rain without your umbrella. Those are the kinds of “things” that just happen. The evidence that Trump cut off military aid to a friendly government in the middle of an armed conflict to compel that government to announce the investigation of a political rival is overwhelming. Several administration officials found this action so unethical, dangerous and disturbing that they expressed their alarm to relevant authorities. Those who dismiss such accusations as a political vendetta or a coup attempt are engaged in willful deception.

And because Trump denies any wrongdoing — pronouncing his own actions “perfect” — senators who vote for his vindication are effectively blessing such abuses in the future. Their action would set an expectation of corruption at the highest levels of our government.

Read the rest here.

Gerson’s words take on added significance in the wake of the release of Midnight Mitch’s rules for the Senate impeachment trial.

Court Evangelical Tony Perkins: “Donald Trump is the best president Christians have ever had.”

Perkins

Of all the court evangelicals, Tony Perkins talks the most about the contractual relationship between Donald Trump and conservative evangelical Christians.  Perkins supported Ted Cruz in the 2016 GOP primaries, but now he is all-in for Trump.

But Perkins has been clear about one thing: if Trump stops delivering on the issues he and other evangelicals hold dear, the president can expect to lose evangelical support in 2020.  So far that is not happening.

In a piece republished at Life News, Perkins calls Trump “the best president Christians have ever had.”  Perkins may be right, assuming that one defines “Christians” as political identity group of white,  right-wing, Christian nationalist, evangelical culture warriors.

There is nothing in Perkins’s piece that we haven’t seen before.  It all comes down to abortion and religious liberty.  I critiqued this two-pronged approach to politics in Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump.

But this time around I was struck by how court evangelicals claim that they “didn’t need a preacher in the Oval Office.”  Here is Perkins:

Christians, the president repeated, “have never had a greater champion — not even close — than you have in the White House right now. Look at the record,” Trump urged. “We’ve done things that nobody thought was possible. We’re not only defending our constitutional rights, we’re also defending religion itself, which is under siege.” That’s important, he argued, because “America was not built by religion-hating socialists. America was built by churchgoing, God-worshiping, freedom-loving patriots.”

And those patriots, President Trump insisted, are the ones being attacked. “Faith-based schools, charities, hospitals, adoption agencies, pastors were systematically targeted by federal bureaucrats and ordered to stop following their beliefs,” he pointed out. That all changed when his teams at HHS, Justice, and Education got involved rolling back the waves of hostility aimed directly at men and women of faith. “The day I was sworn in, the federal government’s war on religion came to an abrupt end,” he said. “My administration will never stop fighting for Americans of faith,” Trump vowed. “We will restore the faith as the true foundation of American life.”

Maybe that, as Pastor Jentezen Franklin prayed, is what believers appreciate most about this administration. “…America didn’t need a preacher in the Oval Office,” he said, bowing his head. “It did not need a professional politician in the Oval Office. But it needed a fighter and a champion for freedom. Lord, that is exactly what we have.” And more than that, I thought, as I watched pastors lay their hands on the president, we have a fighter who isn’t ashamed of the people he’s fighting for. After all, when was the last time you saw a president of the United States from either party surrounded by faith leaders in a completely public and unscripted prayer? It’s rare, I assure you.

On that last sentence:

Obama Prayer

OBama praying

OBama in prayer

Bush prayer

Bush project prayer

Hillary-prayer_810_500_75_s_c1

I know Hillary has never been president, but this was too good to pass up

I am not sure if Perkins would count what is happening in these images as “public prayers.”  But I am reminded of Matthew 6:6: “But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen.  Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”

But I digress.

So what do the court evangelicals mean when they say “we didn’t need a preacher in the Oval Office?” They seem to be suggesting that they don’t need to have a person of Christian character in the office as long as he is delivering on Christian Right policy.  The court evangelicals are essentially saying that Trump’s character–the lies, the misogyny, the narcissism, the demonization of enemies–don’t matter.  “Sure he is a rough dude, and we don’t like some of his tweets, but look what he is doing for us!”  Or “At least he’s not Hillary!” (Christians are not supposed to hate, but they sure hate Hillary).

The court evangelicals have every right to think about politics in this way.  They are free to ignore Trump’s many indiscretions because he is delivering on the things they hold dear.  But if they are going to take this route they need to stop appealing to the Founding Fathers.  These framers of the Constitution understood that the leader of the United States needed to be a person of character.

Here is James Madison in Federalist 57: “The aim of every political Constitution is or ought to be first to obtain rulers, men who possess most wisdom to discern, and most virtue to pursue the common good of the society, and in the next place, to take the most effectual precautions for keeping them virtuous, while they continue to hold their public trust.”

Supporters of Donald Trump must ask if he has the “wisdom” to lead us, the commitment to the “common good” (not just his so-called “base”), and the character to make us a more “virtuous” people. If the president does not measure-up in these areas, the founders believed that he should not be leading the American republic.

Here is Alexander Hamilton in Federalist 68:

Talents for low intrigue, and the little arts of popularity, may alone suffice to elevate a man to the first honors in a single State; but it will require other talents, and a different kind of merit, to establish him in the esteem and confidence of the whole Union, or of so considerable a portion of it as would be necessary to make him a successful candidate for the distinguished office of President of the United States. It will not be too strong to say, that there will be a constant probability of seeing the station filled by characters pre-eminent for ability and virtue. 

“Low intrigue” and the “little arts of popularity.”  It almost sounds like Hamilton wrote this with Trump in mind.

According to the Founding Fathers, Trump is unfit for office.   The court evangelicals are supporting an unfit president and breaking with the views of the men who supposedly founded a Christian nation.  But look at the bright side: at least we get to say “Merry Christmas” again!

Federalist #69 and the Mueller Report

FederalistDanielle Allen of Harvard University makes the connection in a piece at The Washington Post. Here is a taste:

The Mueller report has finally brought us face-to-face with the need to address the “delicate and important circumstance of personal responsibility” in the nation’s chief executive, as Alexander Hamilton put it in Federalist 69.

To quote the Mueller report: “The President has no more right than other citizens to impede official proceedings by corruptly influencing witness testimony.” In addition, the president bears a second burden of personal responsibility — not merely to execute the powers of his office (for instance, hiring and firing) but also to execute those powers “faithfully.”

That question of faithfulness is what Hamilton had in mind when he referred to the “delicate and important circumstance of personal responsibility.” The constitutional apparatus gave to Congress the power and responsibility of addressing that delicate matter. The most important question now before us is whether Congress will use its power — and indeed, rebuild it after a period of decline — to reinforce two core principles of the Constitution: that the president is not above the law and that he or she should be held to a standard of faithfulness.

Read the rest here.

Here is Hamilton in Federalist 69:

The President of the United States would be liable to be impeached, tried, and, upon conviction of treason, bribery, or other high crimes or misdemeanors, removed from office; and would afterwards be liable to prosecution and punishment in the ordinary course of law. The person of the king of Great Britain is sacred and inviolable; there is no constitutional tribunal to which he is amenable; no punishment to which he can be subjected without involving the crisis of a national revolution. In this delicate and important circumstance of personal responsibility, the President of Confederated America would stand upon no better ground than a governor of New York, and upon worse ground than the governors of Maryland and Delaware.

Gerson: “we are seeing the largest test of political character in my lifetime”

 

paulawhitefranklingraham_hdv

Franklin Graham and Paula White at White House dinner for evangelicals

Washington Post conservative columnist Michael Gerson keeps bringing the heat.  Here is a taste of his latest column:

 

One of the unpleasant surprises of your 50s (among many) is seeing the heroes and mentors of your 20s pass away. I worked for Chuck Colson, of Watergate fame, who became, through his work with prisoners, one of the most important social reformers of the 20th century. I worked for Jack Kemp, who inspired generations of conservatives with his passion for inclusion. I worked against John McCain in the 2000 Republican primaries but came to admire his truculent commitment to principle.

Perhaps it is natural to attribute heroism to past generations and to find a sad smallness in your own. But we are seeing the largest test of political character in my lifetime. And where are the Republican leaders large enough to show the way?

President Trump’s recent remarks to evangelical Christians at the White House capture where Republican politics is heading. “This November 6 election,” Trump said, “is very much a referendum on not only me, it’s a referendum on your religion.” A direct, unadorned appeal to tribal hostilities. Fighting for Trump, the president argued, is the only way to defend the Christian faith. None of these men and women of God, apparently, gagged on their hors d’oeuvres.

Read the rest here.

What Mike Pence Said Twenty Years Ago About Character and the Presidency

Pence Show

CNN found several Mike Pence columns written in the 1990s.  Get the context here.

One of these columns, published at the website of Pence’s old radio show, was titled “Two Schools of Thought on Clinton.”  Here is a taste of that piece:

With the news on August 17th that the President of the United States lied to the American people (and very likely under oath) about an illicit relationship with a college student, readers are no doubt wondering “where to from here?” The two schools of thought can be summed up in the choices presented through various and diverse sources, namely, move on or move out.

The “move on” crowd’s argument goes something like this; ‘the President admitted he made a mistake, you have your pound of flesh, now let’s move on with the serious issues facing the country’. While this approach is appealing even to some of us who have little regard for the policies of this Administration, it’s just not as simple as all that. The ‘Move On Crowd’s argument is predicated on the notion that presidents, just like the rest of us, ought to be entitled to a little privacy. This argument fails on two grounds; (A) President Clinton made this issue public when he denied it eight months ago and (B) President Clinton is not, by definition, ‘like the rest of us’.

On the first count, the President has admitted to having taken advantage of a college intern working at the White House (that’s a public building) who was on the White House Staff (that’s public employment) on many occasion in and around the Oval Office (again a public building). Also, the President lied about the affair in public and (very likely) under oath in Jones vs Clinton. He also may have used the power of his PUBLIC office to cover up the whole sordid matter. This was not a private matter and cannot legitimately be argued as such. A truly private matter in this realm might be an affair between the President and a friend not working in the White House for whom no favors were granted and no cover-up attempted. That, it seems to me, could be argued as part of one’s (immoral) private life. Ms. Lewinski is a part of the President’s public life not his private life.

On the second count, that the President is ‘just like the rest of us’, he is the most powerful man in the world. If you and I fall into bad moral habits, we can harm our families, our employers and our friends. The President of the United States can incinerate the planet. Seriously, the very idea that we ought to have at or less than the same moral demands placed on the Chief Executive that we place on our next door neighbor is ludicrous and dangerous. Throughout our history, we have seen the presidency as the repository of all of our highest hopes and ideals and values. To demand less is to do an injustice to the blood that bought our freedoms.

So we get to the other, and in my view, only school of thought remaining. For America to move on, and we must, the Clintons must move out of the White House. Either the President should resign or be removed from office. Nothing short of this sad conclusion will suffice to restore the institution of the presidency to its former and necessary glory.”

Pence, of course, is not the first pro-Trumper who wanted Bill Clinton removed on the grounds that his character was not befitting of the office.  I chronicle a few more of them in Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump.

Trump Beleive me

Today’s Court Evangelicals Once Believed That “Character is Destiny”

Gary Bauer

At the time Gary Bauer wrote this he was the president of American Renewal, a public policy organization that promotes family, faith and freedom.  He was also the president of the Family Research Council..  Today he is a prominent court evangelical.

A taste:

The highly educated people who daily hold forth at our nation’s universities, on the editorial pages of major newspapers, and in network television studios could learn a great deal if they would stop and listen to the wisdom of children. Take, for example, the children who recently gave the New York Times their reaction to the scandal swirling around President Clinton.

Eleven-year-old Keith Lynch of the Bronx said, “He’s lying to people who love him and trust him. That’s no President to me. He should be ashamed of himself for teaching kids bad things.” Tyrone Strother, 15, also of the Bronx, said, “He went to lie school, not law school.”

Cory Hinojosa, a Houston seven-year-old, knows that lying is wrong. When he lies, he says, he gets a “time-out.” Says Cory, “They should give a punishment like not to be President the rest of the year.”

The point here is that children inhabit a moral universe. There is a law, St. Paul says, “written on the hearts of men” that gives us a sense of right and wrong. These kids know right from wrong. Dare we reeducate them to believe that there is no truth, that there are no consequences for bad behavior?

On inauguration day 1993, Bill Clinton led a children’s parade across the Memorial Bridge into Washington. He sought to symbolize his leadership of this new generation. He would be the President to lead all of us into the 21 st Century.

Children, at least those who have already been born, have been at the center of countless Clinton pronouncements during the past six years. Now, however, his bridge to the 21st Century is crumbling, and the children are at grave risk.

These children cannot be set adrift into a culture that tells them that lying is okay, that fidelity is old-fashioned and that character doesn’t count. Every American parent’s job has been made more difficult by this debacle. The virtue deficit has grown.

Day after day, children hear adults saying that it doesn’t matter if the President lied. After all this is just about sex. Everyone lies about sex, they are told. These messages are abominable, and the messengers must be vigorously rebuked.

Our nation has reached a disturbing pass when the mass of allegations and evidence swirling around our President requires parents in every part of the country to clutch the TV remote for fear that some news about the highest official in the land will reach their children’s ears.

The seamy facts under public discussion are shameful enough. But fascination with this story should not be allowed to obscure the deeper lesson these incidents impart. That lesson is this: Character counts–in a people, in the institutions of our society, and in our national leadership.

In character is destiny. Our founders believed and set down in their own words that only a virtuous people could remain free.

Edmund Burke reminded us that people who are enslaved to their passions only “forge their own fetters”–they cannot be free. Those moral chains, in a world where self-government is eroded, swiftly become physical chains of iron.

There are those who say that we must recognize absolute boundaries between public and private behavior. If all that matters is the quality of the job an individual does, then it is the concern of no one that a corporate executive sexually harasses every woman in his vicinity. Or that a securities expert beats his wife. And the lawmaker with his hand out for a bribe is home free, too, so long as he brings back the pork or the local economy hums.

Whatever we believe about these things, we must recognize this: Our nation’s founders believed otherwise. They understood that the fate of the nation they established was mortally linked to the character of the people who inhabited it.

They called such character indispensable. They knew the human truth that private deeds spill over into public philosophy and public actions. And they also knew that the mixture of power with corrupt character was nothing short of deadly.

Samuel Adams, in a letter written in 1775, told a friend, “He who is void of virtuous attachments in private life is, or very soon will be, void of all regard for his country.”

Source:  Gary Bauer, “Clinton Corrupts Our National Culture,” Human Events, September 25, 1998. (Cover story).

This article is not online, but you can look it up through Academic Search Complete if your institution subscribes.

Here is Bauer in the Oval Office earlier this year.  He is standing to Paula White’s right.  (White is in the red dress).

Quote of the Day

From this article in The Atlantic:

The week of October 15 was supposed to be set aside to reflect on character.

“We celebrate National Character Counts Week because few things are more important than cultivating strong character in all our citizens, especially our young people,” President Trump said in declaring it. “The grit and integrity of our people, visible throughout our history, defines the soul of our Nation. This week, we reflect on the character of determination, resolve, and honor that makes us proud to be American.”

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Here Comes Mike Huckabee

Huck

In case you have not heard, Mike Huckabee will be hosting a show this October at the Trinity Broadcasting Network.  According to Emma Green at The Atlantic, the show will feature “music, faith, and some good old-fashioned politics.” His first guest will be Donald Trump.

The Atlantic is running Green’s recent (and long) interview with Huckabee.  Below is a taste of the part of the interview where Huckabee actually defends Trump’s character. For many Trump evangelicals, “character” has now become something akin to being “the same in public as you are in private.”  He even defends Trump’s tweets along these lines.

Green: You once wrote a book called Character Makes a Difference, and you’ve observed that “character is that which causes you to make the same decision in public as you would make in private.” We’ve seen evidence not just that the president isn’t acquainted with the Bible, or perhaps isn’t a Sunday school teacher, but that he’s made comments or taken actions in private that don’t necessarily show strong character. Are you troubled by this at all?

Huckabee: Many of the things that have been attributed to him, that he even in fact admitted saying, were things that were 12, 15 years ago—20 years and beyond. Would I like for him to speak every day with the most extraordinary sense of faith? Sure.

But I’ll tell you what I’d rather have. To me, character is if you’re the same in public as you are in private, and I think that in many ways, that’s what’s appealing about him. It’s also what gives a lot of his critics their ammunition. Even his tweets, for example, are very transparent about what he’s thinking, what he’s feeling. But some of the more harsh things that have been attributed to him were things that were said many years ago, and there’s been no indication that during his campaign and during his presidency has he said things that would cause people to just be aghast at what he had said. We’ve had presidents that have done things while they were in the Oval Office that frankly were very destructive and embarrassing. And I don’t think anybody has made those allegations about this president.

Evangelicals Have Suddenly Become More Forgiving of the Sins of Elected Officials

First_Baptist_Church_of_Dallas,_TX_IMG_3043

First Baptist Church–Dallas

Hmm….  I wonder what explains this?

Back in 2011, the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) asked voters if “an elected official who commits and immoral act in their personal life can still behave ethically and fulfill their duties in their public and professional life.”

In 2011, evangelical Christians were the least forgiving.

In October 2016, when PRRI asked the same question, evangelical Christians were the most forgiving.  In other words “white evangelicals went from being the least likely to the most likely group to agree that a candidate’s personal immorality has no bearing on his performance in public office.”

PRRI CEO Robert P. Jones calls this “a head-spinning reversal.”

I’m not sure how “head-spinning” this is.  Seems pretty par for the course.  Just ask Dr. James Dobson and Dr. Wayne Grudem.

Read all about it in this piece at The New York Times.

What Did Christian Scholars of Religion and Public Life Say About Bill Clinton in 1998?

Clinton Tix

Tickets to the Clinton Impeachment Trial (Wikimedia Commons)

One of my Facebook followers recently called my attention to a 1998 document that has some implications for our present moment.  The “Declaration concerning religion, ethnics and the crisis in the Clinton presidency” was signed by religious leaders and scholars seeking to bring some moral clarity to the nation during the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal.

Look closely at the people who signed this statement. The signers include Catholics, theological liberals, mainline Protestants, progressive evangelicals, evangelicals who might be described as theologically “conservative,” and everyone in-between.

There are parts of this statement that are still useful as we deal with our current president.  I am struck that the writer of this statement is reflecting on how to deal with a president–Bill Clinton–who has asked forgiveness for his indiscretions.  How does this statement hold up today with a president who does not believe in asking for forgiveness?

Here is the entire document:

Declaration concerning religion, ethics, and the crisis in the Clinton presidency

POSTED ON NOVEMBER 16, 1998 BY ADMIN IN PRESBYTERIAN NEWS AND ANALYSIS

Declaration concerning religion, ethics, and the crisis in the Clinton presidency

The following declaration can be found at moral-crisis.org, November 16, 1998

The following declaration can be found at moral-crisis.org

To be released on 13 November 1998

As scholars interested in religion and public life, we protest the manipulation of religion and the debasing of moral language in the discussion about presidential responsibility. We believe that serious misunderstandings of repentance and forgiveness are being exploited for political advantage. The resulting moral confusion is a threat to the integrity of American religion and to the foundations of a civil society. In the conviction that politics and morality cannot be separated, we consider the current crisis to be a critical moment in the life of our country and, therefore, offer the following points for consideration:

1. Many of us worry about the political misuse of religion and religious symbols even as we endorse the public mission of our churches, synagogues, and mosques. In particular we are concerned about the distortion that can come by association with presidential power in events like the Presidential Prayer Breakfast on September 11. We fear the religious community is in danger of being called upon to provide authentication for a politically motivated and incomplete repentance that seeks to avert serious consequences for wrongful acts. While we affirm that pastoral counseling sessions are an appropriate, confidential arena to address these issues, we fear that announcing such meetings to convince the public of the President’s sincerity compromises the integrity of religion.

2. We challenge the widespread assumption that forgiveness relieves a person of further responsibility and serious consequences. We are convinced that forgiveness is a relational term that does not function easily within the sphere of constitutional accountability. A wronged party chooses forgiveness instead of revenge and antagonism, but this does not relieve the wrong-doer of consequences. When the President continues to deny any liability for the sins he has confessed, this suggests that the public display of repentance was intended to avoid political disfavor.

3. We are aware that certain moral qualities are central to the survival of our political system, among which are truthfulness, integrity, respect for the law, respect for the dignity of others, adherence to the constitutional process, and a willingness to avoid the abuse of power. We reject the premise that violations of these ethical standards should be excused so long as a leader remains loyal to a particular political agenda and the nation is blessed by a strong economy. Elected leaders are accountable to the Constitution and to the people who elected them. By his own admission the President has departed from ethical standards by abusing his presidential office, by his ill use of women, and by his knowing manipulation of truth for indefensible ends. We are particularly troubled about the debasing of the language of public discourse with the aim of avoiding responsibility for one’s actions.

4. We are concerned about the impact of this crisis on our children and on our students. Some of them feel betrayed by a President in whom they set their hopes while others are troubled by his misuse of others, by which many in the administration, the political system, and the media were implicated in patterns of deceit and abuse. Neither our students nor we demand perfection. Many of us believe that extreme dangers sometimes require a political leader to engage in morally problematic actions. But we maintain that in general there is a reasonable threshold of behavior beneath which our public leaders should not fall, because the moral character of a people is more important than the tenure of a particular politician or the protection of a particular political agenda. Political and religious history indicate that violations and misunderstandings of such moral issues may have grave consequences. The widespread desire to “get this behind us” does not take seriously enough the nature of transgressions and their social effects.

5. We urge the society as a whole to take account of the ethical commitments necessary for a civil society and to seek the integrity of both public and private morality. While partisan conflicts have usually dominated past debates over public morality, we now confront a much deeper crisis, whether the moral basis of the constitutional system itself will be lost. In the present impeachment discussions, we call for national courage in deliberation that avoids ideological division and engages the process as a constitutional and ethical imperative. We ask Congress to discharge its current duty in a manner mindful of its solemn constitutional and political responsibilities. Only in this way can the process serve the good of the nation as a whole and avoid further sensationalism.

6. While some of us think that a presidential resignation or impeachment would be appropriate and others envision less drastic consequences, we are all convinced that extended discussion about constitutional, ethical, and religious issues will be required to clarify the situation and to enable a wise decision to be made. We hope to provide an arena in which such discussion can occur in an atmosphere of scholarly integrity and civility without partisan bias.

The following scholars subscribe to the Declaration:

1. Paul J. Achtemeier (Union Theological Seminary in Virginia)

2. P. Mark Achtemeier (University of Dubuque Theological Seminary)

3. LeRoy Aden (Lutheran Theological Seminary in Philadelphia)

4. Diogenes Allen (Princeton Theological Seminary)

5. Joseph Alulis (North Park University)

6. Charles L. Bartow (Princeton Theological Seminary)

7. Donald G. Bloesch (University of Dubuque Theological Seminary)

8. Carl Braaten (Center for Catholic and Evangelical Theology)

9. Manfred Brauch (Eastern Baptist Theological Seminary)

10. William P. Brown (Union Theological Seminary in Virginia)

11. Don S. Browning (University of Chicago)

12. Frederick S. Carney (Southern Methodist University)

13. Ellen T. Charry (Princeton Theological Seminary)

14. Karl Paul Donfried (Smith College)

15. Richard Drummond (University of Dubuque Theological Seminary)

16. Jean Bethke Elshtain (University of Chicago)

17. Edward E. Ericson, Jr. (Calvin College)

18. Gabriel Fackre (Andover Newton Theological School)

19. Robert Gagnon (Pittsburgh Theological Seminary)

20. Joel B. Green (Asbury Theological Seminary)

21. Robert H. Gundry (Westmont College)

22. Scott J. Hafemann (Wheaton College)

23. Roy A. Harrisville (Luther Theological Seminary)

24. Stanley M. Hauerwas (Duke University)

25. Gerald F. Hawthorne (Wheaton College)

26. S. Mark Heim (Andover Newton Theological School)

27. Frank Witt Hughes (Codrington College)

28. Robert Imbelli (Boston College)

29. Robert Jenson (Center for Theological Inquiry)

30. Robert Jewett (Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary)

31. Jack Dean Kingsbury (Union Theological Seminary in Virginia)

32. Paul Koptak (North Park Theological Seminary)

33. John S. Lawrence (Morningside College)

34. Walter Liefeld (Trinity Evangelical Divinity School)

35. Troy Martin (Saint Xavier University)

36. James L. Mays (Union Theological Seminary in Virginia)

37. S. Dean McBride (Union Theological Seminary in Virginia)

38. Sheila E. McGinn (John Carroll University)

39. John R. McRay (Wheaton College)

40. Robert Meye (Fuller Theological Seminary)

41. David Moessner (University of Dubuque Theological Seminary)

42. Grant Osborne (Trinity Evangelical Divinity School)

43. Carroll D. Osburn (Abilene Christian University)

44. William A. Pannell (Fuller Theological Seminary)

45. Jon Paulien (Andrews University)

46. John Piper (Bethlehem Baptist Church)

47. Stephen Pope (Boston College)

48. J. E. Powers (Hope College

49. Mark Reasoner (Bethel College),

50. John Reumann (Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia)

51. David Rhoads (Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago)

52. W. Larry Richards (Andrews University)

53. Daniel E. Ritchie (Bethel College)

54. Joel Samuels (University of Dubuque Theological Seminary)

55. David Scholer (Fuller Theological Seminary)

56. Keith Norman Schoville (University of Wisconsin)

57. J. Julius Scott (Wheaton College)

58. Mark Seifrid (Southern Baptist Theological Seminary)

59. Christopher R. Seitz (St. Andrews University)

60. Klyne Snodgrass (North Park Theological Seminary)

61. Max Stackhouse (Princeton Theological Seminary)

62. W. Richard Stegner (Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary)

63. Jeanne Stevenson-Moessner (University of Dubuque Theological Seminary)

64. R. Franklin Terry (Morningside College)

65. David Tiede (Luther Theological Seminary)

66. Reinder Van Til (Eerdmans Publishing Company)

67. Warren Wade (North Park University)

68. J. Ross Wagner (Princeton Theological Seminary)

69. David H. Wallace (American Baptist Seminary of the West)

70. Timothy P. Weber (Northern Baptist Theological Seminary)

71. Merold Westphal (Fordham University)

72. Jonathan R. Wilson (Westmont College)

73. Edward and Anne Wimberly (Interdenominational Theological Center)

74. Harry Yeide (George Washington University)

Alan Jacobs to Evangelicals: If Character No Longer Counts, Then What Does Count?

Trump fans

In an essay in the Spring 2017 issue of National Affairs, Baylor humanities professor Alan Jacobs wonders why so many evangelicals no longer value character in their presidential candidates.  He writes:

One of the most surprising developments of the 2016 presidential campaign was the wholesale abandonment by many conservative Christians, including many Catholics and most evangelicals, of a position that they had once held almost unanimously: In politics, character counts. It is not difficult to understand how this happened, though people who share many fundamental religious convictions will be debating for a long time the wisdom of replacing the familiar standards for evaluating political candidates.

All this has received a good deal of attention in the press. But one very important element of this change of emphasis has been neglected: If character no longer counts, or at least is no longer definitive, then what does count? What criteria should determine a Christian’s attitude toward a political candidate? There is no uniform answer to this question, but the most common answer given by Christian leaders supporting Donald Trump is a troubling one. It replaces the public assessment of virtue with the private judgments of pastors. And it has consequences not only for Christianity in America, but also, thanks to the sheer number of Christians in America, for the whole social order and political culture of our country.

The piece critiques the pro-Trump arguments of William Bennett, R.R. Reno, Mark Bauerlein, Jerry Falwell Jr., David Barton, and others.

Read it here.

Donald Trump and the Liberal Arts: A Guest Post

wharton

The liberal arts teaches judgement informed by virtue, wisdom and prudence.  Donald Trump seems to possess none of these character traits.  This guest post comes from Matthew Boedy, Assistant Professor of Rhetoric and Composition in the Department of English at the University of North Georgia.  –JF

President-elect Donald Trump more than once has told us how smart he is. He has also touted his education, specifically his University of Pennsylvania bachelor’s degree in economics.

Penn’s Wharton School offers a B.S. in economics with a caveat that it does not have “traditional” majors, but concentrations that are defined by four upper-level courses in one area. It’s unclear if this was what Trump faced in the late 60s, when he attended.

Most importantly, Wharton also makes it clear its degree is not a liberal arts degree. Wharton notes to its prospective students the main difference between its degree and a BA: “When you are deciding on where to go to college, you should ask yourself whether you want to focus on the theory of economics (BA) or the application of economics and business knowledge (BS).”

The theory/application divide is an old canard, and sadly, to see it used by one of the most prestigious business school in the world is sad. That said, Wharton’s BS degree is somewhat of a typical liberal arts degree, with a diverse course load. Wharton notes that more than “30% of the classes you need to graduate must be taken outside of Wharton…” But Wharton notes in its undergraduate catalogue that “studying economics in a liberal arts program” is “very different” than getting the BS at Wharton. The latter is focused “on solutions” not theories primarily. It adds that the diverse course load – that “studying business within social, political, and historical context” – “makes you a better agent of change.” This is the best argument for a liberal arts degree that I can make.

Let’s assume for a moment that Trump has a “liberal arts” degree. How it is performed or promoted is important. He promotes incessantly the central aspect of a liberal arts degree, long its hallmark: a formation of judgment, the use of intelligence on a range of issues. But it is also important to note that the traditional judgment acquired through such a degree is not the same as Trump’s version.

It is not merely that Trump’s repeated phrase “I alone can fix it” is authoritarian; it is a twisted exaggeration of this central discipline instilled by a liberal arts degree. What makes Trump’s line twisted is that he has removed from his liberal arts training the central controlling element: the virtuous, wise, or prudent judgment.

If we are going to defend the liberal arts from its usual critics – and the Wharton School here will stand in for many – and their rhetoric of useless, jobless liberal arts graduates roaming the streets with only theories and not solutions to the world’s problems, we must do it by touting this type of judgment. And not without irony, this judgment is the very thing needed to answer and respond to – to stand up against – Trump, the demagogue.

That is why it is important to contrast the judgment claimed by Trump and the one offered by a traditional liberal arts degree. Undergraduate degrees such as History, English, and the rest are based on two central features – a specific techne of the discipline and the ethos created by that discipline. These two terms are based in one of the original humanities, rhetoric. The first term can be defined as skills, or craft. We learn how to think like a historian or think historically, for example. This is why a broad course load is important. Thinking like a historian includes the broad contextual study Wharton argues is taught to its students. This balance between a particular discipline and its application over a broad range of contexts is one definition of not only the humanities but being human. We are more fully human when we think in these ways. Organizing, schematizing, or in general prioritizing complexity is one result of a liberal arts degree. And this is in part the kind of judgment Trump assures us he has. He is not a stupid person, cunning even.

What is missing is ethos. This is another Greek term that can be defined as character. And it is important to note ethos is based on a collection of virtues. Like the broad context of study, these virtues appear across the educational spectrum and humanize us.

In many ways, the central virtue though is judgment. But it is not intended to be a cunning or divisive judgment, a way to move amid issues for personal gain, a “gut instinct” for reading people and moments for deals. It is what Aristotle called “practical wisdom.” This wisdom is to be used toward a more just society, a freer one.

The liberal arts offers this judgment based on centuries worth of human thought, progress, regressions, and religious ideals. It offers then a tradition through which to assess our own judgment. This tradition is non-existent in Trump. It is not that he does not read or read widely, it is that he has taken his education as a formation of self, a self now above and beyond education. He is, like, a smart guy. Indeed. Like smart. He touts a judgment akin to the one offered by liberal arts. But it is only “like” it – cunningly similar enough to allow him to twist ethos into a call for authoritarianism. Liberal arts offers the kind of judgment one needs to be a true change agent, one that can offer solutions to the issues we face. Liberal arts is a public good, not a private, divisive education.

The Olympics Doesn’t Build Character, It Reveals It

Solo

A person with character exemplifies constraint and self-control.  How one behaves on a big stage says a lot about a person. Whether it’s Donald Trump, U.S. Olympic soccer goalie Hope Solo, or African-American swimmer Simone Manuel, character matters.

Women’s soccer, especially the United States National Team, is a big deal in our house. My youngest daughter, now 15-years old, has been playing and watching since elementary school.  We were thus very disappointed with Hope Solo’s comments about the Swedish team that knocked the U.S. out of the Olympic soccer competition.

We are also big swim fans.  Simone Manuel’s victory in the 100 freestyle, the first win in an individual event for an African-American woman, was a great opportunity for all of us to learn a bit more about the history of racial segregation, especially as it related to community swimming pools.

As sportswriter Bill Plaschke reminds us all in his recent LA Times column, the Olympics does not build character, it reveals it.

Here is a taste:

In a stadium far north of the Olympic heart, a goalkeeper spewed ugly.

“We played a bunch of cowards,” Hope Solo said. “The best team did not win today. I strongly believe that.”

In a news conference room in the center of the Olympic soul, a mom spread grace.

“We started talking to [Simone] about how swimming isn’t just going to be about her,” said Sharron Manuel, the mother of the first black woman to win an Olympic gold medal in swimming for the United States.  “She will have to share that gift with the world and it will carry a message”

In the stadium, the goalkeeper reacted to the U.S. women’s soccer team’s stunning Friday afternoon shootout loss to Sweden by epitomizing the word she had assigned the Swedes. Hope Solo ran from responsibility and accountability like a coward.

“Sweden dropped off, they didn’t want to open play, they didn’t want to pass the ball,” Solo said. “I don’t think they’re going to make it far in the tournament.”

In the news conference room, the mom reacted to daughter Simone’s historic gold medal in the 100-meter freestyle the previous night by epitomizing wisdom and grace. Sharron explained how she had spent years preparing Simone for this milestone moment.

“As an 11-year-old she did come to me asking . . . why she had not seen many others like herself in a sport of swimming,’’ Sharron said. “I said . . . I don’t know, let’s look it up, so we got on the Internet. . . . That was the moment she realized she had a bigger role to play in what she was doing in the sport of swimming.”

Like the sports it celebrates, the Olympics doesn’t build character, it reveals it. In an illuminating few moments about 600 miles apart Friday, the world saw America at its best and worst.

Read the rest here.

Should “Trump-Loving” Evangelicals Apologize to Bill Clinton?

TRUMPBILL-facebookJumbo-v2

James Dobson made a strong case for the moral character of the President of the United States during the Clinton impeachment crisis in 1998.  You can read about it here.

So did Wayne Grudem.  You can read about it here.

It has now been well-chronicled that Dobson and Grudem have come out in support of Donald Trump’s presidential candidacy.

So does moral character still matter?

Writing at The Atlantic, Jonathan Merritt calls attention to what seems to be the hypocrisy of these “Trump-Loving evangelicals.” He demands that “Trump-loving evangelicals should either apologize to Bill Clinton or admit, after all these years, that they too, have a character issue.”

He adds:

“Character counts.” That was evangelicals’ rallying cry in their all-out assault against Bill Clinton beginning in 1993. In response to what they perceived as widespread moral decline, some religious groups had become aligned with the Republican Party during the Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations. To them, the allegedly draft-dodging, pot-smoking, honesty-challenged womanizer symbolized everything that was wrong with America.

More than two decades after Clinton’s first inauguration, many evangelical leaders of that era have endorsed the draft-dodging, foul-mouthed, honesty-challenged womanizer named Donald Trump for president. Only a handful refuse to follow suit, including Albert Mohler, the president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. During the Clinton years, he regularly argued in mainstream media outlets that the Arkansan was morally unfit to serve as Commander-in-Chief.

“If I were to support, much less endorse, Donald Trump for president,” Mohler says, “I would actually have to go back and apologize to former President Bill Clinton.”

At least Mohler is consistent, which is more than can be said for some of his peers in leadership. While prominent evangelicals tied Bill Clinton to the public whipping post for nearly a decade to make him pay penance for his character defects, they now celebrate a reality-television star who is at least as flawed. As Mohler said, if these Christian leaders want to endorse Trump, they should apologize to Bill Clinton…

…Evangelicals during the ’90s were not merely concerned with Clinton’s private behavior; they were worried about its effect on a society they felt had already abandoned traditional values. In September 1998, James Dobson of Focus on the Family sent a letter to 2.4 million conservative Christians claiming Clinton should be impeached because his behavior was setting a bad example for our children about “respecting women.” Dobson’s apparent concern for women back then feels like a partisan political move now that he’s given Trump an enthusiastic endorsement.

While Clinton, at least, hid his indiscretions, Trump has paraded his affairs down Broadway for decades. In The Art of the Deal, Trump actually bragged about bedding multiple married women. He’s slept with so many women that he called his ability to avoid STDs “my personal Vietnam.” He’s objectified or insulted the women he hasn’t married, divorced, or slept with, labeling those he finds unattractive with terms like “fat pig,” “dog” or “slob.” In numerous interviews with Howard Stern, he talked in graphic detail about his sexual exploits and discussed which female celebrities are worth a “bang.” How exactly do evangelicals reconcile this behavior with claims that they value respect for women?

Read the entire piece here.

OK, now some thoughts for my evangelical and Christian readers:

There have been a lot of arguments in the evangelical community about whether one should or should not support Trump.  As I argued yesterday, the pro-Trump argument centers on his promise to appoint conservative Supreme Court justices. But I hear very little conversation within evangelical circles about how support for Donald Trump impacts Christian witness in the United States and beyond.  No one is talking about how a Trump-loving evangelical bears testimony to his or her faith with unbelievers.  (Last time I checked evangelism was a fundamental tenet of evangelical belief).

Whether we like it or not, or whether it is fair or not, we live in an age when religious conviction and politics are closely linked in the minds of many Americans. If you are an evangelical who supports Trump you are going to have a lot of explaining to do when unbelieving friends and acquaintances ask you how you claim the name of Jesus Christ and still affiliate with the immoral candidate that Merritt describes above.  Somehow I don’t think “well, Hillary is a lot worse” or “we need to win the Supreme Court” is going to be an adequate answer.