The Morning Headlines are Back!

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The Way of Improvement Leads Home blog intern Devon Hearn is back in the saddle after spending the summer in Kenya.  This means that our “Morning Headlines” feature is also back.  Check in every morning to see daily headlines from The New York TimesThe Washington PostThe Wall Street Journal, the BBC, CNN, and Fox News.  And for those who are local, we also post the daily headline from The Harrisburg Patriot News.

We have found that teachers have found these headlines useful not only for getting up to speed with current events, but also for teaching their students how to detect bias in various news sources.

Does “Evangelical” = Trump Supporter?: Three Anecdotes from the *Believe Me* Book Tour

Believe Me 3dThe media and much of the intellectual community seems to equate “evangelical” with “Trump supporter.”  And why not?  81% of white evangelical voters pulled the lever for Trump, a fact I try to explain in Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump.

Here are three pieces of anecdotal evidence:

1. Back in June I was asked to appear on CNN to talk about Trump and evangelicals.  When I asked the producer if I would be appearing on CNN alone or with other “talking heads,” she said that I would be on the air with Dr. William Barber, the African-American progressive minister and outspoken critic of Trump.  I responded to this news by saying something like, “So it sounds like this will be an anti-Trump segment.” The producer did not say anything in response. About an hour later, the same producer called me up and asked me what my book, Believe Me, was about.  I told her it was largely critical of Trump.  She responded by saying something like, “Oh, I thought you were an evangelical.”  When I said that I was an evangelical, but did not support Trump, she seemed confused.  She called me back twenty minutes later to tell me that they did not realize that my position on Trump was so similar to Barber.  They wanted someone to argue with Barber.  The segment was canceled.  (I eventually did find my way back to CNN a couple of weeks later).

2. On July 10, I got up early and drove to Washington D.C. to film a segment for Rising, a new morning news show on The Hill‘s online television network.  Rising is hosted by Krystal Ball, a former MSNBC host and 2010 candidate for Congress, and Buck Sexton, a conservative pundit and radio host.  When I arrived on stage, before the cameras starting rolling, Sexton starting asking me about my background and my work on Believe Me.  When he found out I was an evangelical who was critical of Trump, he obviously did not know what to make of me.  As the cameras started rolling, it was clear that Sexton was incapable of understanding how an evangelical could oppose Donald Trump.  His grasp of evangelicalism was incredibly shallow.  He obviously only understood evangelicals through the lens of politics and he spent the entire segment trying to put me into a political box.  After about 10 minutes, Sexton, obviously frustrated that I was not giving him Christian Right talking points, told the producers that “this segment is going too long.”  I was ushered off the set.  I turned around to thank Ball and Sexton. Neither of them looked up or said anything.  They were already prepping for the next segment.  While I was in the green room one of the producers of the show told me that the segment would air in a day or two.  As far as I know, it has yet to air.  I doubt it ever will.  Too much nuance, I guess.

3. Just the other day I got an e-mail, completely out of the blue, from one of the post-War West’s great public intellectuals.  He asked me to come to Washington D.C. to participate in a civil dialogue about Donald Trump.  This public intellectual was nearly 90-years old, but he still presided over a center devoted to his thought at a D.C. university.  He told me that the event would be televised nationally on C-SPAN.  Needless to say, I was flattered.  But after the two cases mentioned above, I decided to make sure this public intellectual knew who I was and what he was getting by inviting me to participate.  I e-mailed to tell him that I accepted his invitation, but he should also know that I was an American historian and an evangelical who wrote a book critical of Trump.  Thirty minutes later he e-mailed back to tell me that he thought I was a Trump supporter.   He dis-invited me from the event.  He was very apologetic and polite about it.

Apart from the fact that CNN, the producers and hosts of Rising, and this famous public intellectual did not read my book (or apparently even the dust jacket or Amazon description of my book), what should we make of these three cases?

In all three of them, I was invited to contribute to a discussion because I was an evangelical.  But because I was an evangelical, it was assumed I was a Trump supporter.

Thoughts?

Laura Ingraham’s Controversial Remarks are Rooted in a Long History of Fear

In case you missed it, here is CNN’s Brian Stelter’s report on Ingraham’s recent comments about “massive demographic changes.”

Ingraham is correct about the demographic changes facing America today.  This is not the first time we have seen such changes.  It is also not the first time that Americans have responded to such changes with fear-mongering.  This time around the fear-mongers have a cable television channel.

A few more points:

  1. Ingraham says “the America that we know and love doesn’t exist anymore.”  She says this in the context of immigration and demographic change.   And then she says that her statement is not about race or ethnicity.  Seriously?  Then how does Ingraham define the America “that we know and love?”
  2. Tucker Carlson says “no society has ever changed this much, this fast.”  This sounds like something a white Southerner might say during the late 1860s and 1870s, the period of Reconstruction when freed slaves were trying to integrate into southern society.
  3. In her response, Ingraham condemns white supremacists.  But her comments about immigration and “demographic change” seems to be little more than a defense of a white America that she believes is being threatened by people of color.  How is this any different than David Duke and others?
  4. How does Tucker Carlson know that we are undergoing “more change than human beings are designed to digest?”
  5. Ingraham says that “the rule of law, meaning secure borders” is what “binds our country together.”  On one level, Ingraham is correct here.  Immigration restriction and securing the borders once bound America together as a white Protestant nation.  White Protestants did not want Chinese men and women coming into the country, so they “bound our [white Protestant] country together” by passing the Chinese Exclusion Act.  White Protestants did not want more Italians and other southern Europeans coming into the country, so they passed the Johnson-Reed Act (1924) to restrict them from coming.  So yes, Ingraham is correct when she says “the rule of law” and “secure borders” have bound our country together.  It was racist then.  It is racist now.  On another level, Ingraham probably needs a history lesson.  For most of the 19th-century, the United States did have something equivalent to open borders.  So there has been a significant chunk of American history when secure borders did not bind America together.
  6. I will let someone else tackle this, but “merit-based immigration” seems like a racist dog-whistle.  This reminds me of when Trump said that we need more Norwegian immigrants and less immigrants from “shithole” countries.

Often-times fear is propagated by Christians who claim to embrace a religious faith that teaches them that “perfect love casts out fear.”  This faith calls us to respond to demographic change with love, not fear.

By the way, I wrote a book about how fear of such “demographic change” led evangelicals into the arms of Donald Trump.

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Two Minutes of Fame on CNN

As some of you know, I made my CNN debut today. 🙂  I am glad that they featured Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump.  The interview took place via Skype in my small office (more like a bunker) in the basement of my house!

Here it is (starting at about the 30:00 mark):

A few quick comments:

  1. I was honored to share the segment with Nahal Toosi of Politico.  Here is her most recent piece.
  2. I have a large head, but the producers insisted that I move even closer to the camera.
  3. Once they had the camera angle they wanted, they told me not to move!  (So no, I am not usually that stiff!).
  4. I obviously heard the audio, but I could not see Christi Paul or Nahal Toosi.  I was just staring at a black screen for the entire interview.
  5. I used less than 1% of my preparation for the interview on the air.  I guess that’s show business!  🙂

Possible Paul Ryan Replacement: “I have not heard the President lie”

This is pathetic.  Jim Jordan’s response here explains much of what is wrong with our political culture.

Anderson Cooper is masterful here.  Not only does he get Rep. Jim Jordan to say that Donald Trump never lies, but he follows-up by getting Jordan to admit that he is interested in becoming Speaker of the House after Paul Ryan resigns.

If you listen carefully, at one point Jordan implies that it is OK for Trump to lie because he was elected by the American people.

By the way, as of January 10, 2018 the number was 2000 and counting.

Court Evangelical Jerry Falwell Jr. Defends Trump

I wouldn’t be surprised if Falwell Jr. is on the Trump payroll.

Falwell Jr. quotes “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.”  Fair enough.  Hey Liberty University students, did you hear that?  I am sure the person in charge of student discipline at Liberty does not operate this way.

Falwell Jr. also says that only president who was “above reproach” was Jimmy Carter.   I agree that Carter was above approach, but what about Barack Obama?

How Major Media Outlets Covered Billy Graham’s Death

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I haven’t watched much television today, but I have noticed that every time I tuned into CNN on my computer I found very little coverage about the death of Billy Graham, arguably the most famous person in the 20th-century world.  Granted, there are issues related to guns and school shootings in Florida and beyond.  I thus fully understand why Graham took a back seat on my preferred cable news station.

So I decided to cruise around the Internet a bit.  On CNN’s website, I needed to scroll down a bit before I found a link to Graham’s death.  The same was true for MSNBC, Fox News, and The Washington Post.

Graham’s death is front and center at the websites of the BBC, The New York TimesLos Angeles TimesUSA TodayThe Wall Street Journal.  On the BBC site I was able to click on links to two articles on Graham without having to scroll down.

Court Prophet: Jim Acosta of CNN is a “Demon”

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I write a bit about Lance Wallnau in my forthcoming book Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump.  He is the guy who said God told him that Donald Trump is a new King Cyrus.  He represents the INC wing of the court evangelicals.

In this video, Wallnau says that Trump is not afraid of “demonic” journalists like Jim Acosta of CNN because the POTUS has a special anointing to resist the devil and his minions.

Want to learn more about the connection between these “prophets” and the Trump White House?  Pre-order a copy of Believe Me.

Here is a description of the book:

A historian’s acute take on current American politics 

“Believe me” may be the most commonly used phrase in Donald Trump’s lexicon. Whether about building a wall or protecting the Christian heritage, the refrain is constant. And to the surprise of many, about eighty percent of white evangelicals have believed Trump—at least enough to help propel him into the White House.

Historian John Fea is not surprised—and in Believe Me he explains how we have arrived at this unprecedented moment in American politics. An evangelical Christian himself, Fea argues that the embrace of Donald Trump is the logical outcome of a long-standing evangelical approach to public life defined by the politics of fear, the pursuit of worldly power, and a nostalgic longing for an American past. In the process, Fea challenges his fellow believers to replace fear with hope, the pursuit of power with humility, and nostalgia with history.

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Jerry Falwell Jr: Christ Did “Did Not Forgive the Establishment Elites”

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Court evangelical Jerry Falwell Jr. is at it again.  Last night he was on CNN with Erin Burnett defending Trump’s adulterous affair with a porn star.  Watch the interview here.

Over at the National Review, conservative evangelical Christian David French has covered the Falwell appearance on CNN in a piece titled “Jerry Falwell Jr. Beclowns Himself Again.”

Here is a taste:

He makes three basic, embarrassingly bad theological arguments. First, he actually says out loud, “judge not lest ye be judged.” But it doesn’t require anyone to “judge” to condemn serial adultery and sexual assault. It simply requires reading comprehension. The Bible is clear. God has made the relevant judgment….

Hey Liberty University students:  When you get disciplined by the Liberty administration for disobeying the rules of the school just tell them “judge not lest ye be judged” and demand that you not be punished.

French continues:

Second, he makes the grade school mistake of equating the fact that Jesus said we’re all sinners (we are) with equating sin itself. “It’s all the same,” said Falwell. No, it’s not. All sin is wrong. All men need Christ. But not all sin is equally grave. Throughout scripture some sins are singled out as particularly vile and are punished accordingly…

Third, watch Falwell finish the segment with what can only be described as the Breitbart gospel. After speaking of Christ’s forgiveness, he then says, “He did not forgive the establishment elites.” What? So now the good news itself is wrapped in dime-store populism. 

The last line above is well-put: Falwell’s gospel is “wrapped in dime-store populism.”

I am continually amazed that this man is a college president.  I am continually saddened that this man is the president of the largest Christian university in the world.

Trump is Dragging the “Entire American Experience Down the Toilet”

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As I write this I am listening to CNN.  Don Lemon is talking about man who was just arrested for claiming that he was coming to CNN studios to “kill” the “fake news.”

The President of the United States can be a force for moral uplift or a force for moral degradation.  Thus far, Donald Trump has been a force for moral degradation.  His vulgarity contributes to the coarsening of American culture.  He empowers white supremacists.  His tweets diminish public discourse.

Conservative evangelicals have been fighting the moral decline of American life for decades.  Yet 81% of them went for Trump in 2016.

Over at The American Conservative, David Masciotra discusses “The Darker Implications of Trump’s Vulgarity.”

The ill effects of public vulgarity aren’t as evident as those of bad policy or failures of diplomacy, but they still degrade the American experience, making the general culture less habitable, less enjoyable, and even less beautiful.

Ralph Ellison wrote that one of his goals as an artist and novelist was to “endow inarticulate characters, scenes and social processes with eloquence.” The essentiality of eloquence is indisputable because the interests of art and democracy converge at the point of articulation. “The development of conscious, articulate citizens is an established goal of democracy,” Ellison explains, “and the creation of conscious, articulate characters is indispensable to the creation of resonant compositional centers through which an organic consistency can be achieved in the fashioning of fictional forms.” Literature is what Ellison calls a “symbolic action, a game of as if,” but, like politics at its best, it is also a “thrust toward the human ideal.” Eloquence expresses the ideal, while vulgarity violates it.

Most parents understand Ellison’s wisdom as part of their daily routine. I grew up in a middle class home in the suburbs. As a small child, I once called a classmate’s home on the proverbial “wrong side of the tracks” a “dump.” My mother and father came down on me with swift and severe punishment, making it clear that mockery of another person’s home was morally intolerable.

Now we have a president who talks that way, who not only speaks at the level of a fourth grader, as many linguists have claimed, but uses language that no good teacher would permit in a fourth grade classroom.

Eloquence was essential to the progression of American history, and, through various social and political crises, the maintenance of democracy. The Civil War had Abraham Lincoln. The Great Depression and World War II had Franklin Roosevelt. The civil rights movement had Martin Luther King. The Cold War had John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan. All were superb speakers who used their words to rise to their respective moments, not to cuss out and demean those different from them.

Read the rest here.

The Trump White House Needs Another Lesson in Historical Thinking

beautiful-day-to-seeStephen Miller, a senior aide of Donald Trump, is now telling reporters what is “ahistorical” and what is not.

In case you did not hear, today Trump and two United States Senators rolled out the “RAISE Act.”  In a nutshell, this law will limit future legal immigration to “highly skilled” workers and those who already speak English.

Today Miller met with reporters to answer questions about the RAISE Act.  Jim Acosta of CNN asked him if a bill limiting immigration to skilled workers and English-speakers violates the spirit of the words behind Emma Lazarus’s 1883 sonnet “The New Colossus.” Lazarus wrote “The New Colossus” to raise money for the construction of the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty.  The statue was dedicated in 1886.  The “New Colossus” was engraved on a plaque inside the statue’s lower level in 1903.

I quote it here in full:

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
MOTHER OF EXILES. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.

“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

Here is the exchange between Miller and Acosta:

Several thoughts:

  1. Miller is technically right.  “The New Colossus” was added seventeen years after the Statue of Liberty was dedicated.
  2. Miller is wrong when he says that “The New Colossus,” with its reference to the “tired, poor, and huddled masses yearning to breathe free,” was not connected in any way to the Statue of Liberty.  As noted above, Lazarus wrote it to raise money for the statue.
  3. Miller is probably correct to suggest that the addition of “The New Colossus” to the Statue of Liberty in 1903 turned the statue into a symbol of immigration.  One could even argue that the Statue of Liberty did not become associated with immigration until well after immigration to the United States dried in the wake of the 1924 Immigration Act.
  4. But all of these points miss Acosta’s argument.  Acosta wanted to know if the RAISE Act violates the spirit of American immigration as embodied in the words of Emma Lazarus.  Miller said that Acosta’s argument was “ahistorical” because he did not know that “The New Colossus” was added after the Statue of Liberty was raised.  Do you see what Miller is doing here?  He is practicing a form of misdirection.  His correction of Acosta on the facts is little more than a sneaky attempt to avoid the real question the CNN reporter asked about the connections between the past and present.  When Acosta asked about the relationship between the RAISE Act and the spirit of American immigration, he was asking a pretty good historical question. It deserved a better answer.  There is a difference between knowing facts about the past and doing history.
  5. Acosta could have responded to Miller’s misdirection without throwing the National Park Service under the bus.  The way Miller dealt with the past today bears little resemblance to the way the National Park Service promotes history.

This is Racism

Here is Chris Cuomo’s interview this morning with Iowa congressman Steve King:

Here is a transcript of the last minute or so:

CUOMO: There are a lot of people teaching hatred in their families who are white, Irish, Italian, who are Muslim. A lot of people preach hate. There’s hate in a lot of different groups. I get you have Muslim extremism that there’s a concern in this country about it. But I asked you something else. These people are either all equal or they are not in your view. A Muslim American, an Italian American, German American like you and your blood, your roots. They are either all equal or they are not in your mind. What is the answer? 

KING: I’d say they’re all created in the image of God and they’re equal in his eyes. If they’re citizens of the United States they’re equal in the eyes of the law. Individuals will contribute differently, not equally to this civilization and society. Certain groups of people will do more from a productive side than other groups of people will. That’s just a statistical fact. 

CUOMO: It’s not as a function of race. It’s a function of opportunity and education. You’re not more likely as a Muslim American to contribute to American society. It’s about your education and your opportunity, not what your blood is. 

KING: Chris? 

CUOMO: Yes. 

KING: It’s the culture, not the blood. If you can go anywhere in the world and adopt these babies and put them into households that were already assimilated in America, those babies will grow up as American as any other baby with as much patriotism and love of country as any other baby. 

It’s not about race. It’s never been about race. In fact the struggles across this planet, we describe them as race, they’re not race. They’re culture based. It’s a clash of culture, not the race. Sometimes that race is used as an identifier. 

This idea that some cultures and races are inferior to others and are thus incapable of making meaningful contributions to American society has a long history in the United States.

Here is Ben Franklin in 1751 writing about the influx of Germans in Pennsylvania:

Those who come hither are generally of the most ignorant Stupid Sort of their own Nation…and as few of the English understand the German Language, and so cannot address them either from the Press or Pulpit, ’tis almost impossible to remove any prejudices they once entertain…Not being used to Liberty, they know not how to make a modest use of it…I remember when they modestly declined intermeddling in our Elections, but now they come in droves, and carry all before them, except in one or two Counties…In short unless the stream of their importation could be turned from this to other colonies, as you very judiciously propose, they will soon so out number us, that all the advantages we have will not in My Opinion be able to preserve our language, and even our Government will become precarious.

Here is King again. This time he is promoting something similar to the racial hierarchies that motivated the 1924 Immigration Restriction Act:

I noticed that King did not include Southern Europeans in his definition of “Western Civilization.”  Yup.  My ancestors have been there.

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Why doesn’t King just take his remarks to their logical conclusion by naming those groups that will be less “productive” members of American society.