Chuck Armstrong grew up listening to Rush Limbaugh. The Midwest pastor’s kid landed an internship at the Sean Hannity Show at WABC in New York and immersed himself in the world of conservative media and politics. After stints at radio stations in the Midwest, he returned to New York and worked his way up to program director for WABC. Soon he was hobnobbing with Geraldo Rivera, Mike Huckabee, Don Imus, Roger Ailes and, of course, Limbaugh.
Armstrong writes, “I was living the new and improved and unthinkable dream. And it crushed me.”
In his recent piece at Medium, Armstrong tells the story of how he got out of this world and reflects on the passing of Limbaugh. Here is a taste:
But now, as I found myself sitting, for a brief moment, in the captain’s seat for the biggest talk radio station in the country — building relationships with people I never imagined I would even know in my wildest dreams — I was burning out. Burning out from listening to the same thing over and over. Burning out from propping up vitriolic voices that hated the first Black president of the country. Most of all, though, I was burning out from finally trying to reconcile my job and my dreams with my faith, and I was coming up short.
All of a sudden, I no longer felt affirmed. I no longer felt strong. I no longer felt defiant. I no longer felt right. I was depleted.
This was the beginning of a significant change in my heart. No more was I absurdly questioning why President Obama wouldn’t show the American people his birth certificate. No more was I pushing for the arrest of undocumented Americans while turning a blind eye to their heinous treatment. No more was I rolling my eyes at or fighting against those who labored for racial justice. No more was I celebrating my work ethic while ignoring my privilege.
I don’t know exactly what happened, but something changed. That deconstruction of my racist past and alt-right formation began nine years ago. God placed new friends in my life, He led me toward new professional relationships and challenges, He pointed me toward ministry, and He put new, strong, diverse voices in my ears, and He continues to do so as I remain on the journey to this day.
But there have been critics and some of them have found their way to my social media feeds. 🙂
Some do not like the ad’s Christian nationalism. (The chapel has a flag and a cross). This is a fair critique and anyone who reads this blog knows I take this criticism seriously. Last week I wondered about the differences and similarities between Barack Obama’s Christian nationalism and Mike Pence’s Christian nationalism. As I wrote in 2011 about Martin Luther King Jr., and developed more fully in Was America Founded as a Christian Nation?, there is a kind of Christian nationalism that has informed many of our nation’s great reform movements. So yes, liberals also engage in Christian nationalism. A lot of Springsteen’s songs reflect this theme.
Most critics, however, are upset about Springsteen’s use of the term “the middle.” Conservatives remember Springsteen’s criticism of the Bush administration and his political support of John Kerry, Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and Joe Biden. Those on the Left are skeptical about calls for unity in the wake of a presidential administration that incited an insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. Both sides believe that the word “middle” suggests some kind of moral equivalency.
I am not thrilled about the use of the world “middle” in the ad. But Donald Trump also changed the political landscape. I wonder if today Springsteen would welcome George W. Bush, John McCain, Mitt Romney, or even Ronald Reagan into a wide and expansive American “middle” that includes those on the Left and the Right? Those who occupy such a middle would be willing to engage in rational, evidence-based discourse. Such a middle would require people concerned about the future of the United States to make public arguments based on well-grounded interpretations of our founding ideals. I think many of us are exhausted by the latest round of culture wars. We are mindful of worrying illiberal trends on the Left and the Right, and deeply concerned about the state of our fractured democratic institutions. We can debate what is worse: Trumpism or the kinds of identity politics policing that occurs on the academic Left. And we must condemn moral equivalency when it needs condemning. But there are times when neither side operates on a political and cultural playing field that respects open and democratic discourse.
Our cultural institutions are facing a moment of trial. Powerful protests for racial and social justice are leading to overdue demands for police reform, along with wider calls for greater equality and inclusion across our society, not least in higher education, journalism, philanthropy, and the arts. But this needed reckoning has also intensified a new set of moral attitudes and political commitments that tend to weaken our norms of open debate and toleration of differences in favor of ideological conformity. As we applaud the first development, we also raise our voices against the second. The forces of illiberalism are gaining strength throughout the world and have a powerful ally in Donald Trump, who represents a real threat to democracy. But resistance must not be allowed to harden into its own brand of dogma or coercion—which right-wing demagogues are already exploiting. The democratic inclusion we want can be achieved only if we speak out against the intolerant climate that has set in on all sides.
The free exchange of information and ideas, the lifeblood of a liberal society, is daily becoming more constricted. While we have come to expect this on the radical right, censoriousness is also spreading more widely in our culture: an intolerance of opposing views, a vogue for public shaming and ostracism, and the tendency to dissolve complex policy issues in a blinding moral certainty. We uphold the value of robust and even caustic counter-speech from all quarters. But it is now all too common to hear calls for swift and severe retribution in response to perceived transgressions of speech and thought. More troubling still, institutional leaders, in a spirit of panicked damage control, are delivering hasty and disproportionate punishments instead of considered reforms. Editors are fired for running controversial pieces; books are withdrawn for alleged inauthenticity; journalists are barred from writing on certain topics; professors are investigated for quoting works of literature in class; a researcher is fired for circulating a peer-reviewed academic study; and the heads of organizations are ousted for what are sometimes just clumsy mistakes. Whatever the arguments around each particular incident, the result has been to steadily narrow the boundaries of what can be said without the threat of reprisal. We are already paying the price in greater risk aversion among writers, artists, and journalists who fear for their livelihoods if they depart from the consensus, or even lack sufficient zeal in agreement.
This stifling atmosphere will ultimately harm the most vital causes of our time. The restriction of debate, whether by a repressive government or an intolerant society, invariably hurts those who lack power and makes everyone less capable of democratic participation. The way to defeat bad ideas is by exposure, argument, and persuasion, not by trying to silence or wish them away. We refuse any false choice between justice and freedom, which cannot exist without each other. As writers we need a culture that leaves us room for experimentation, risk taking, and even mistakes. We need to preserve the possibility of good-faith disagreement without dire professional consequences. If we won’t defend the very thing on which our work depends, we shouldn’t expect the public or the state to defend it for us.
Several important writers and thinkers have signed this letter, including Anna Appelbaum, Mia Bay, David Blight, David Brooks, Noam Chomsky, Roger Cohen, Gerald Early, David Frum, Francis Fukuyama, Todd Gitlin, Malcolm Gladwell, Jonathan Haidt, Adam Hochschild, Jeet Heer, David Greenberg, Michelle Goldberg, Anthony Grafton, Michael Ignatieff, Matthew Karp, Mark Lilla, Damon Linker, Dahlia Lithwick, Greil Marcus, Wynton Marsalis, Deirdre McCloskey, John McWhorter, Samuel Moyn, Olivia Nuzzi, Mark Oppenheimer, George Packer, Nell Irving Painter, Orlando Patterson, Katha Pollit, Claire Potter, Steven Pinker, Jennfer Ratner-Rosenhagen, Salman Rushdie, Anne-Marie Slaughter, PaulL Starr, Gloria Steinem, Erik Washington, Garry Wills, Cornel West, Caroline Weber, Molly Worthen, Matthew Yglesias, and Fareed Zakaria.
I don’t think many of these writers would be comfortable saying they are in the “middle,” but they all have the sensibility we need. They are committed to rational and well-argued discourse, the kind of discourse that is our best hope for moving forward.
In the end, my most significant critique of the Springsteen ad is the timing. I don’t think we are ready yet for grandiose, feel-good calls for unity. The Trump administration did some serious damage to our democracy and a lot of Americans don’t want to talk about healing right now–not as long as people are still defending the insurrection on the capitol, claiming the 2020 presidential election was stolen, electing conspiracy theorists to Congress, and engaging in a kind of lost cause rhetoric about the previous administration.
So I stand by my original comment–the one I posted on the Springsteen/Jeep ad on Sunday afternoon before it was aired during the big game: “A little too optimistic and sentimental? Perhaps. But that’s what Bruce does.”
And now I will take a short break and play “Jungleland” on my record player.
James Ceaser, a professor of politics at the University of Virginia, makes some important points about intellectual inquiry in this piece at The National Review.
I found this section useful:
Begin with higher education, the institution traditionally charged with presenting much of our youth with different perspectives and with asking them to explore alternative points of view. University mottoes often boast of just this kind of commitment, be it Lux et Veritas (“Light and Truth,” Yale), Emet (“Truth, Even unto Its Innermost Parts,” Brandeis), or Scientia et Virtus(“Knowledge and Virtue,” Middlebury College). Many universities and colleges have become renowned for suppressing such inquiry, reversing course on plans to award honorary degrees, as Brandeis did to Ayaan Hirsi Ali, or allowing their students to prevent, through disruption, an invited speaker from giving his talk, as with Charles Murray at Middlebury. Such actions are taken today in compliance with decisions of university presidents or in acquiescence to student-activist demands. The institutions now insist on their new unlimited right to indoctrinate, not their old obligation to present uncomfortable ideas. The greater problem in universities is not, however, in the limits they place or allow on outside visitors, which can prove embarrassing for the media coverage they attract. The deeper challenge is found in the day-in, day-out operation of the institution itself, where the left-leaning positions of the faculty and administration are pervasive. Higher education has become a monoculture, serving as a plantation for progressive and leftist ideas. Conservative perspectives are rarely heard. Just a decade ago, when the imbalance of viewpoints was becoming more obvious, lip service was paid to making an effort to bring to campus a greater diversity of opinions. This concern has now gone by the wayside. The term “diversity” itself now carries a completely different meaning, no longer referring to different ways of thinking but to the gender orientations and ethnic and racial characteristics of the faculty. Applicants for many faculty positions are today required to present diversity statements, testifying to their views on this subject, as a condition for employment, while existing faculty in many institutions are asked to offer a report on their equity activities.
I find myself in general agreement with this part of Caesar’s piece. I actually wrote something similar here. (If you want to see proof of what I am talking about, read the comments).
I have always enjoyed working at a Christian institution because of the academic freedom I enjoy. Do Christian colleges and universities limit academic freedom? Of course they do. I have to affirm the Apostles Creed to teach at Messiah University. But for those who teach from the perspective of faith, a Christian college can be an incredibly liberating place.
But when I read pieces like Caesar’s, I wonder where conservatives draw the line in their arguments for open inquiry and academic freedom. This is an honest question. I understand that there are different views on abortion and sexual ethics. Some faculty are Republicans or, dare I say, Trump supporters. I would argue, as I did in the Aeon piece above, that there should be plenty of room for diversity on these things. I wish there was more intellectual pluralism in universities. (I also wish there was more intellectual pluralism, within the Christian tradition of course, at Christian colleges and universities. But that is another matter for another post).
But what about a scholar who denies the existence of the Holocaust? Should a white supremacist be allowed to teach on a university campus? Someone who thinks COVID-19 is not real? What about a professor who denies systemic racism? How about a climate change denier or someone who teaches a Trumpian view of American history or thinks the earth is 3000-years-old or believes the past is best explained in a history course by invoking divine providence? Certainly free inquiry can’t be completely free, can it?
Since I do not teach at a secular university, I have not spent a lot of time thinking about how to draw such boundaries. Most of my battles on this front take place from within the Christian tradition. But whenever I hear conservatives complaining about a lack of free inquiry, I seldom hear anyone offering positive visions for what they want the university to look like or how to navigate some of the questions I raised above. If there are examples of this, and I have a hunch that there are and I am just not familiar with them, I would like to learn more.
By the way, the National Review is running what looks like an interesting series on American identity, but I can’t read it or engage it because of the paywall. Authors include David French, Joseph Epstein, Allen Guelzo, and Yuval Levin.
Over at The New Statesman, Nick Burns offers a very helpful overview. Here is a taste of his piece “The New Intellectuals of the American Right”:
What is happening on the American intellectual scene? In Washington and New York, it is increasingly common to hear people say they are enemies of neoliberalism. They think liberal democracy is insufficient. They are in favour of government intervention in the economy, sceptical of free-trade deals and long to demolish what they call “zombie Reaganism”.
These people are not Bernie Sanders supporters. In fact, they are not on the left at all. They are Catholic professors, or writers for US conservative magazines. They run tech companies in California or work for Republican senators on Capitol Hill. Meet the new American right.
If you would like to find yourself a place in the vanguard of American conservatism these days, you can choose from a widening panoply of neologisms to describe yourself: national conservative, integralist, traditionalist, post-liberal, you might even be welcome if you are a Marxist. Anything just so long as you’re not a libertarian.
The once dominant intellectual lodestars of the US right – Friedrich Hayek, John Locke, Milton Friedman, Ayn Rand and Adam Smith – are out. The ideas of Carl Schmitt, James Burnham, Michel Houellebecq and Christopher Lasch are in. Edmund Burke and Alexis de Tocqueville are barely clinging on. What happened?
One explanation for the American right’s leftward turn lies with Catholic opinion. Resentment was already building among US Catholic conservatives by the time of Donald Trump’s election in 2016. From around 2013, as Pope Francis appeared to be compromising on certain social issues, such as acceptance of homosexuality, Catholics began to suspect the grand bargain of the American conservative movement since the 1950s – free markets combined with social conservatism – was heavily tilted in favour of the former. They saw a Republican Party guided less by religion than by money: money which seemed little disposed to advocate on behalf of their beliefs. They saw themselves as foot-soldiers in a culture war their party seemed content to lose. Even worse: for the privilege of fighting, they had been obliged not to think too hard about what Catholic social teaching might have to say on issues such healthcare, for fear of offending the jealous god of the free market.
Nancy LeTourneau of Washington Monthly was one of the first journalists to start using my term “court evangelicals” to describe the evangelical leaders who back Donald Trump. In yesterday’s column, she brings our attention to center-right conservatives, many of whom are associated with a new publication called “The Bulwark,” and their role in saving American Democracy in the so-called age of Trump.
Here is a taste:
At some point, these center-right conservatives must articulate a policy agenda that is distinct from the ethnonationalism that currently fuels the Republican Party. To do so they will have to acknowledge the problem and come to grips with their own role in creating and exploiting it in the first place, which could be the most difficult step. Once articulated, they would have to find a way to garner support for that agenda that doesn’t simply exploit white grievance.
That’s a tall order and, at this point, I think the odds are stacked against them. But I, for one, would welcome the possibility of settling differences by debate and argument in an atmosphere where the truth actually matters, because that is pretty much the definition of democracy.
I thought it was interesting that Schlapp called his own announcement “breaking.” What a sense of self-importance. But I digress.
Let’s remember that Mitt Romney was the Republican Party’s nominee for president in 2012. Today he can’t even get in the door at CPAC.
Let’s also remember that Mitt Romney got dis-invited from CPAC because he thought Trump’s National Security Adviser (John Bolton) could offer additional information to help him make his decision about whether to remove Trump from office. It seems like Romney, in voting for more witnesses, was taking his job seriously. Apparently this is not a “conservative” virtue.
Perhaps Schlapp’s organization should be called TPAC: Trump Political Action Committee. Just look at this year’s lineup. It includes Mark Levin, Diamond & Silk, Nigel Farage, Devin Nunes, Candace Owens, Kayleigh McEnany, Buck Sexton.
Ramesh Ponnuru says Congress needs to prove 4 things to impeach a POTUS:
That the facts of the case are true.
That the facts amount to an abuse of power.
That the abuse is impeachable
That is prudent to remove the president.
Read his recent piece at The National Review to see how he responds to these four points. A taste:
On October 3, Trump was asked to clarify what he had wanted the Ukrainian government to do. “They’d start a major investigation into the Bidens,” he answered. Representative Debbie Lesko (R., Ariz.) nonetheless told a CNN reporter on December 13 that Trump had not asked “a foreign power to investigate a political rival.” Her office later “clarified” that she meant to deny only that Trump had wanted the investigation because Biden is a political rival. The fact that they both want to be president in 2021 was, on her view, just a coincidence.
Take the clarification seriously, and what Representative Lesko was trying to do was to defend that second wall. Sure, the president sought an investigation of Biden, but only as a means of making sure that U.S. aid was not going to a corrupt state. Senator John Kennedy (R., La.) has said that the possibility that Trump was concerned about corruption means that he cannot be proved to have had a corrupt intent.
The argument requires a willful suspension of disbelief. Gordon Sondland, the Trump-appointed ambassador to the European Union, has testified that Trump “didn’t want to hear about” Ukrainian efforts against corruption and that concerns over corruption had not led to the withholding of aid from any other country within his portfolio. The Department of Defense had certified that Ukraine was taking steps against corruption before the administration withheld aid to it.
Fighting corruption would not have required Trump to encourage Zelensky to work with Rudolph Giuliani, Trump’s personal lawyer, who has said that he was working in Ukraine to advance his client’s personal interests; it would have counseled against Trump’s doing that. Nor would the effort have required the secrecy with which it was conducted, or have required dropping around the same time it was starting to attract publicity. Kurt Volker, Trump’s envoy to Ukraine, has testified that Giuliani said that official Ukrainian statements against corruption were insufficient unless they specifically mentioned the investigations touching on the Bidens and on the 2016 campaign.
There is essentially no evidence that either investigation is worth conducting. The theory that Joe Biden acted corruptly holds that he leaned on the Ukrainian government to fire a prosecutor who was looking into a company that had his son on the board. That prosecutor’s former deputy has said that there was no active investigation, and the Obama administration was on record urging the prosecutor to assist a British legal action against the company’s owner.
The case for Trump’s impeachment seemed quite strong more than two months ago, and the evidence provided to the House’s impeachment inquiry has strengthened it further. The president’s abuse of power is not in dispute. It is clear that he used the powers of his office in an attempt to extract a corrupt favor for his personal benefit, and this is precisely the sort of offense that impeachment was designed to keep in check. It doesn’t matter if the attempt succeeded. All that matters is that the attempt was made. It is also undeniable that he has sought to impede the investigation into his misconduct. The president has committed the offenses he is accused of committing, and the House should approve both articles of impeachment.
The president doesn’t have a credible line of defense left. That is why his apologists in Congress and elsewhere have been reduced to making increasingly absurd and desperate claims. The president’s defenders want to distract attention from the fact that the president abused his power, violated the public’s trust, and broke his oath of office, but these distractions are irrelevant.
Wilfred McClay, a rare conservative historian whose prior work is respected across the political trenches, thinks he can explain what made America wonderful without echoing the nonsense Newt and his ilk hawk to the faithful. In a new survey of the nation’s past, McClay, who sports a hefty title as the G. T. and Libby Blankenship Chair in the History of Liberty at the University of Oklahoma, seeks to impart an uplifting message while still telling the story straight. His book bears the title Land of Hope, with a subtitle that appears pitched to acolytes of Trump: An Invitation to the Great American Story. Serious scholars on the right rarely write such sweeping national narratives, and McClay’s conservative publisher has made quite a production out of this one. It’s printed on expensive glossy stock, the images are numerous and mostly in color, and a handsome brochure with a lengthy author Q&A is included in every review copy.
McClay has clearly written the book with its enormously popular competitor on the left in mind. In the promotional interview, he asserts that Howard Zinn’s famous book is “simplistic melodrama” that appeals to “many Americans who have felt disillusioned by our natural flaws.” He’s not wrong about that. A People’s History does reduce the past to a conflict between a tiny elite animated by nothing but power and greed and a vast majority who always seem to get shafted; he never asks why so many Americans were taken in by what he called “the most ingenious system of control in world history.” Still, Zinn at least made a powerful argument in arresting prose: he condemned the enduring exploitation of the 99 percent by the 1 percent and provided readers with a surfeit of quotes from such eloquent voices as Eugene Debs, W. E. B. Du Bois, and Adrienne Rich who resisted the powerful, albeit with more courage than success.
But McClay has entirely failed to create an appealing alternative to his radical rival. He sheds praise on the nation and its people without explaining why and how they accomplished the deeds he finds so worthy of tribute. Unwilling to parrot the conspiracy-mongering of hacks like D’Souza but still determined to present a past brimming with “hope,” he ends up with a history that is dutiful rather than inspiring.
Read the entire review here. Later in the review Kazin compares McClay’s one-volume U.S. history with Jill Lepore’s similar effort, These Truths.
If you want to get conservatives riled-up these days, just mention the “1619 Project.” Last week I published an op-ed about the The New York Times project designed to commemorate 400 years of slavery in America and all hell broke loose. You can read my piece in the Harrisburg Patriot-News here. (Read some of the 155 comments).
Since the appearance of this piece I have received multiple negative voicemail messages on my office phone. It took one guy three messages to tell me that I was wrong. His rant was cut off by the “beep” and then he continued mid-sentence in the next message. Another caller insisted that I call him back and defend myself against his criticisms. Apparently the piece was republished in a Grand Rapids, Michigan newspaper. How do I know this? Because somebody approached me at my daughter’s volleyball game (she goes to college in Grand Rapids) and wanted to politely debate me. My posts on the 1619 Project here at the blog drew some intense push-back from commentators. Some of the comments were so ugly I refused to post them. Eventually I just decided to close down the comments section.
Not all conservatives are opposed to the way the 1619 project frames American history. One of them is Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson. Here is a taste of his recent piece:
I am thinking instead of conservative writers who argue that the 1619 Project is a prime example of leftist ideological overreach — that its (mainly African American) authors see the country entirely through the prism of its sins and intend to “delegitimize” the American experiment. In making this case, some conservatives have offered excuses — or at least mitigations — for the moral failures of the Founders on matters of race. The institution of slavery, we are assured, was historically ubiquitous. The global slave trade, we are reminded, involved not just Americans but Arabs and black Africans. Other countries, we are told, took more slaves than America, treated them worse and liberated them later.
The attempt here is to defend the honor of the American experiment by denying the uniqueness of its hypocrisy on slavery. In one way or another, all these arguments ask us to consider the inadequacies of the Founders within the context of their times.
But to deny the uniqueness of American guilt on slavery is also to deny the uniqueness of its aspirations. Americans are required to have ambiguous feelings about many of the country’s Founders precisely because of the moral ideals the Founders engraved in American life. The height of their ambitions is also the measure of their hypocrisy. It should unsettle us that the author of the Declaration of Independence built a way of life entirely dependent on human bondage.
This leads to an unavoidably complex form of patriotism. We properly venerate not the Founders, but the standards they raised and often failed to meet. This is their primary achievement: They put into place an ideological structure that harshly judged their own practice and drove American democracy to achievements beyond the limits of their vision.
Here we go again. This time conservatives are upset that American Pageant, a popular school American history textbook, says negative things about Donald Trump. According to Christopher Vondracek’s piece at The Washington Times, the American Pageant describes Trump as a “New York City real estate mogul and reality-television personality” who “bullied, belittles, and bamboozled sixteen rivals to snag–some said hi-jack–the Republican nomination.” It also says that Trump has a “cavalier disregard for the facts” and is the “prince of plutocrats.”
A few quick responses:
First, much of this description of Trump is true. In fact, I think Trump would probably agree with some of this description. If I were writing the textbook I don’t think I would say that Trump “hi-jacked” the nomination. I also think the “prince of plutocrats” is a bit over the top. But everything else seems pretty accurate. Whatever Trump does in his last fifteen months in office, this will all be part of his legacy. To quote Lin-Manuel Miranda in Hamilton, “history has its eyes on you.”
Second, Vondracek and The Washington Times wrongly believe that most students learn American history from reading the textbook and memorizing the facts within it. This assumes that students actually read the textbook. And when they do, they don’t remember much after the exam.
Third, if I were a high school history teacher I would be offended by this piece. It assumes that history teachers are in the business of merely delivering facts. Good history teachers use knowledge to teach students how to think about the world in terms of context, causality, contingency, complexity, and change over time. The best teachers “open-up” the textbook (to use Sam Wineburg’s phrase) by comparing the narrative with primary sources and secondary sources with different slants on the given subject.
Andrew Sullivan‘s recent piece at New York Magazine is helpful and worth your time. Here is a taste:
But there is a place where conservatives and reactionaries find common cause — and that is when the change occurring is drastic, ideological, imposed by an elite, and without any limiting principle. This is not always easy to distinguish from more organic change — but there is a distinction. On immigration, for example, has the demographic transformation of the U.S. been too swift, too revolutionary, and too indifferent to human nature and history? Or is it simply a new, if challenging, turn in a long, American story of waves of immigrants creating a country that’s an ever-changing kaleidoscope? If you answer “yes” to the first, you’re a reactionary. If “yes” to the second, you’re a liberal. If you say yes to both, you’re a conservative. If you say it’s outrageous and racist even to consider these questions, you’re a card-carrying member of the left.
In a new essay, Anton explains his view of the world: “What happens when transformative efforts bump up against permanent and natural limits? Nature tends to bump back. The Leftist response is always to blame nature; or, to be more specific, to blame men; or to be even more specific, to blame certain men.” To be even more specific, cis white straight men.
But what are “permanent and natural limits” to transformation? Here are a couple: humanity’s deep-seated tribalism and the natural differences between men and women. It seems to me that you can push against these basic features of human nature, you can do all you can to counter the human preference for an in-group over an out-group, you can create a structure where women can have fully equal opportunities — but you will never eradicate these deeper realities.
The left is correct that Americans are racist and sexist; but so are all humans. The question is whether, at this point in time, America has adequately managed to contain, ameliorate, and discourage these deeply human traits. I’d say that by any reasonable standards in history or the contemporary world, America is a miracle of multiracial and multicultural harmony. There’s more to do and accomplish, but the standard should be what’s doable within the framework of human nature, not perfection.
By now you should know about the recently released audio recording of Ronald Reagan calling African people “monkeys.” Reagan, who was governor of California at the time, made the remarks to Richard Nixon in 1971.
When I learned about this recording I thought about the debate between conservative pundit Dinesh D’Souza and Princeton University historian Kevin Kruse. For several years D’Souza has been making the case that the Democratic Party is the real racist political party, while the Republicans, as the party of Lincoln, is the party of equality and civil rights.
Southern Democrats were indeed racist in the nineteenth and early twentieth-century. Many Republicans were also pretty racist, but they championed abolitionism, led a war to end slavery, and fought for the equality of African-Americans in the decades following the war. But things change. Historians study change over time. While Southern Democrats opposed the civil rights movement, so did conservative Republicans such as Barry Goldwater and others. Meanwhile, other Democrats, such as John Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, Hubert Humphrey, and the leaders of the civil rights movement, all sought to end Jim Crow in America. Today the overwhelming majority of African Americans vote for Democratic candidates because of this legacy.
So what does D’Souza do about Reagan’s racist comments? If the GOP is not the party of racism, then how does D’Souza explain the recorded remarks of the party’s conservative flag bearer?
I wasn’t going to respond to this nonsense, but now it keeps popping up in my timeline.
Arguing that I can’t condemn a man for having three wives, having sex with porn stars, and appearing in Playboy films because I watched the equivalent of an R-rated movie is . . . a take. https://t.co/VuPCifoDHG
Sometimes you just have to stand back and admire the gymnastics. He actually turned this into a class thing. I like GOT because it’s “prestige.” I only oppose Playboy because it’s downscale porn. The porn of the people. Imagine the class dynamics if Trump was in Hustler. https://t.co/dPlLM06tpd
As I noted above, I am not really following this debate. But when Alan Jacobs weighs-in on something I read it. Here is a taste of his piece at The Atlantic:
A story commonly told these days on both the left and the right says that American Christians, and especially evangelicals, are solidly behind President Donald Trump. The real story is far more complex, and has led many Christians to some fairly serious soul-searching, and others to ask hard questions about whether we even know what an “evangelical” is. Among Christians, as among so many other Americans, one of the chief effects of the rise of Trump has been to widen some fault lines and expose others that we didn’t even know existed. It is at least possible that some good will come from this exposure.
You can see some of these fault lines opening up in a recent controversy that has greatly occupied many journalists, scholars, and ordinary people who care about the relations between Christianity and conservatism. The controversy began when Sohrab Ahmari, the op-ed editor of the New York Post, tweeted, “There’s no polite, David French-ian third way around the cultural civil war”—referring to the lawyer, former soldier, and senior writer of National Review who has often made the case that Christians in the public arena need to practice civility. Ahmari then expanded that tweet into a full-scale attack on French, and since then, the conservative world has been fairly obsessed with adjudicating the dispute.
It’s important to note that Ahmari sees the differences between him and French as rooted, ultimately, in their different Christian traditions: Catholicism for Ahmari—who recently published a memoir of his conversion—and evangelical Protestantism. But whether this is indeed the heart of the matter, the dispute so far hasn’t fallen out that way. Some Catholics are with French, some Protestants with Ahmari. And in any case, I’m more interested in the ways this dispute illuminates questions that all Christians involved in public life need to reckon with than in choosing sides. How Christians choose to reckon with these questions will have consequences for all Americans, whether religious or not.
The United States is not quite an empire, but one little mind was on full display during President Trump’s speech this past weekend to the Conservative Political Action Conference. It was two hours of Trump unplugged, unleashed, uncensored, unreconstructed and unhinged. It was a vivid reminder that the president of the United States, when he is most comfortable and authentic, is a rude, arrogant crank yelling profanities at the television. Correction: through the television.
Most Americans, I suspect, would judge the speech as bad and rambling. To a former speechwriter, it was like watching a wound drain; it was like eating toothpaste canapés, it was like holding centipedes on your tongue; it was like hearing a ringtone of “Macarena” during a funeral, and no one can find the phone.
This last point — that the size of his inaugural crowd was maliciously underestimated by evil forces — seems to be the Ur-myth of Trumpism. It was the subject of his first order as president compelling a minion (poor Sean Spicer) to utter an absurd falsehood on his behalf. Given the flood of lies that has followed, it must have felt darn good. Those who are willing to believe this original lie are the truest of believers — a core of supporters who will stomach absolutely anything.
And the politics of fear continues. This sounds like the New England Federalists after Jefferson got elected in 1800. Some of them thought Jefferson and his henchman would invade New England, steal their Bibles, and close their churches. The video embedded in Aaron Rupar’s tweet confirms a major part of my argument in Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump.
*They want to take your hamburgers and make you eat dog food to survive* — Here’s a supercut of all the insane things CPAC speakers have been saying Democrats and cows pic.twitter.com/HfmBnlRGyo
To understand what’s potentially at stake, one need turn only to Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, an abortion-rights supporter who led the ACLU’s Women’s Rights Project in the early 1970s. Ginsburg has long argued that Justice Harry Blackmun’s polarizing 1973 Roe v. Wadedecision—on the surface an abortion rights victory—was actually a poison pill for the movement. By predicating abortion rights on an expansive but implied right to personal privacy, Ginsburg observed years after the fact, “the Court ventured too far in the change it ordered and presented an incomplete justification for its action.” What’s more, the decision “stopped the momentum on the side of change.” It provided little impetus for advocates of reproductive rights to win hearts and minds, one legislative or ballot initiative at a time, and instead inspired opponents of reproductive freedom to do just that.
As they stand poised to overturn Roe v. Wade, political conservatives may be in danger of extreme overreach. Indeed, they may fall into the same trap that befell abortion rights activists in the 1970s. In the mid-1970s, most Americans—54 percent—told Gallup that abortion should be legal in some but not all cases; far fewer Americans responded that abortion should never (21 percent) or always (22 percent) be legal. In effect, there was a broad political center, and in the wake of the court’s decision, the abortion rights movement no longer faced as much urgency in persuading abortion-rights moderates.
But in the years since, although abortion opponents have animated their base in ways that fundamentally shifted the political landscape, they haven’t succeeded in moving public opinion their way. Today, Gallup finds that only 18 percent of respondents believe that abortion should always be illegal. Fifty percent believe that abortion should be legal in some circumstances, and 29 percent support abortion rights without condition. In other words, the center has contracted, hard-line opposition has dropped, and supporters of reproductive rights have increased their share of the Gallup sample.
If Roe v. Wade sparked a political revolution in an era when hard-line opposition to abortion was soft, one can only imagine the strength of the counter-reaction should a conservative court all but criminalize a right that currently enjoys the qualified support of 79 percent of the American population.
Will overturning Roe v. Wade mobilize the pro-choice movement like never before? Perhaps. But I think most social conservatives are willing to take that chance. History cannot predict the future, but it is worth reflecting on whether overturning Roe will, in the very long run, lead to more abortions and not less.
Perhaps more salient a factor than his age, however, is that the former Trump aide is an unabashed booster and staunch defender of the president—and Salem Radio is interested in more talent like him and fewer dissenters and Republican squishes.
Multiple sources tell The Daily Beast that in the Trump era, Salem has unambiguously encouraged their radio hosts to be as pro-Trump as possible. This trend also extended as far back as the 2016 presidential campaign, according to private Salem messages obtained by CNN earlier this year.
An idea being pitched around Salem Radio is to have Gorka replace nationally syndicated host Michael Medved, a veteran of conservative media who happens to be a vocal on-air critic of President Trump. According to sources, Medved’s three-year contract expires at the end of the year and the long-time radio host intends to continue going on-air for the duration of it.
Some people familiar with the internal deliberations predict a wider dismissal of Trump skeptics, perhaps similar to Salem Media-owned RedState.com’s “purge” of its prominent anti-Trump writers earlier this year. One source described the current Salem Radio atmosphere and chatter as clear indicators of an incoming pro-Trump “coup,” while others simply hope for the best.