What Matthew 4 REALLY says about Christians and power

Recently an evangelical pastor who was a college of classmate of mine wrote to me praising Donald Trump’s decision to nominate Amy Coney Barrett as Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s replacement on the Supreme Court. He seemed very excited about the nomination and was surprised when I was not as excited as he was.

As I have argued, I think what McConnell did was wrong in 2016 when he refused to give Barack Obama’s nominee, Merrick Garland, a hearing and a vote in the Senate. As many of you recall, McConnell claimed that since it was an election year the American people, through the ballot box, should decide who would replace the late Antonin Scalia on the bench. Trump won in 2016 and he nominated Neil Gorsuch. The GOP-controlled Senate confirmed him.

2020 is an election year. In fact, the election will take place in about a month. McConnell now seems to have no problem with confirming a Supreme Court justice in an election year. He is hard at work pushing Barrett through the system.

This evangelical pastor friend did not see any problem with McConnell’s blatant hypocrisy. Actually, I don’t even think he understands what McConnell did as a form of hypocrisy. As my old college acquaintance put it in his note to me, we now have a Republican president and a Republican Senate and “elections have consequences.”

Based on other exchanges I have had with this pastor, I highly doubt he would have said “elections have consequences” if the same thing happened with a Democratic president’s nominee and a Democratic-controlled Senate. He would instead be making an appeal to the Constitution or perhaps the scriptures. But I digress.

The GOP is licking its chops to confirm Barrett. Its members thus need some kind of argument to save face and explain that they are not hypocrites. Most of these GOP Senators and pundits believe that the Constitution should be interpreted based upon the original intent of the framers. But they are not consistent in this belief. They only claim original intent when it meets their needs. There is nothing in the Constitution that says a Supreme Court nominee in an election year can only get a Senate hearing if the president making the nomination is of the same political party as the party controlling the Senate. The GOP just made this up.

And if the GOP really believes the original intent of the founders is important, they should be talking about how the founders would be appalled at the rank partisanship driving this whole nomination and confirmation process.

But perhaps most revealing is the way this pastor reconciles 2016 (Obama and Garland) and 2020 (Trump and Barrett) with an appeal to raw power. Again, notice that he did not appeal to the Constitution, the Bible, or some other moral code to defend McConnell’s decision. The exact words he used to justify Barrett’s nomination were “Republicans in power. Elections have consequences.” In a single sentence he confirmed a major part of my argument in Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump.

Of course Jesus had a chance to obtain worldly power as well.

I recall that passage in Matthew 4 when Satan offered Jesus “all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor” if he would just bow down and worship him. When Jesus turned down Satan’s offer (“away from me Satan!”) God sent angels to attend to him. Jesus rejected worldly power and God was there to offer comfort and assurance in the form of the angels. The rest of the Gospel story, of course, is God showing how he would carry out his plan in another way–The Way–a way that did not require the kind of earthly power Satan was offering to Jesus.

But most people don’t know that in the 1980s Jerry Falwell Sr., while conducting a Moral Majority Holy Land tour, discovered early manuscripts of the Matthew 4 that show Jesus actually taking Satan’s deal. According to these ancient manuscripts, Jesus drove a hard bargain with Satan. In this manuscript Jesus specifically defined the “kingdoms of the world” as the future United States and demanded that Satan bring “splendor” to this kingdom by one day raising-up a morally bankrupt pagan leader (similar to King Cyrus of old) who would have the opportunity to appoint three Supreme Court justices. Satan agreed to deal, but fitting with his cunning spirit, took over 2000 years to fulfill his promise to Jesus.

What? You’ve never heard this before? It’s all there in the Lynchburg scrolls. The reason people don’t know about these scrolls is because the fake media won’t report on them.

🙂

The court evangelicals get another chance to execute their political playbook

For many American evangelicals, Christian witness in the political sphere comes down to overturning Roe v. Wade. This is why the court evangelicals are so gleeful about Trump getting another Supreme Court nomination. This is also why they say virtually nothing about the president’s mishandling of COVID-19 (nearly 200,000 dead), his separation of families at the Mexican border, his environmental policies that will one day make the planet incapable of sustaining life, and his racism. Look for yourself. The silence is deafening. Start your research with these names:

Franklin Graham, James Robison, James Dobson, Jenetzen Franklin, Jack Graham, Paula White, Greg Laurie, John Hagee, Tony Perkins, Gary Bauer, Johnnie Moore, Ralph Reed, Robert Jeffress, Eric Metaxas, Jim Garlow, Jack Hibbs, Harry Jackson Jr., Luke Barnett, Richard Land, Jim Bakker, David Barton, Steve Strang, Samuel Rodriguez, Charlie Kirk, Lance Wallnau, and Jenna Ellis.

I imagine (again, I only imagine) that some of these people were on a conference call the moment Ruth Bader Ginsburg died. They no doubt started the session with prayer for the Ginsburg’s family and perhaps even threw-out a prayer or two for those suffering through COVID-19. And then, when the pleasantries were done, they got down to strategizing about how to best support the president’s forthcoming Supreme Court nomination and the most effective ways of spinning their 2016 claims that President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee–Merrick Garland–did not deserve a hearing in the Senate because it was an election year.

As I wrote yesterday, Robert Jeffress said that COVID-19 is mere “background noise” now that Ruth Bader Ginsburg is dead and Trump can appoint another conservative justice. Background noise? Tell that to the families who lost lives from COVID. What kind of world do we live in where a Christian pastor can say that the loss of 200,000 lives is unimportant and get virtually no push-back from his followers, all men and women who name the name of Jesus Christ?

Here is what the court evangelicals have been saying about the Supreme Court story:

Let’s start with Franklin Graham. Let’s remember that Barack Obama nominated Merrick Garland about eight months before the 2016 election:

And now Graham says the country is at a “boiling point” and needs prayer. He has no clue that he is partly responsible for the divisions in the nation and the church.

Southern Baptist seminary president Al Mohler tries to defend Mitch McConnell’s decision to reject Merrick Garland’s nomination in 2016. There is no reference to the Constitution or its interpretation. Mohler’s argument is weak, especially coming from a self-professed Constitutional originalist. I would like to see him defend this argument through a close reading of the Constitution as opposed to the weak reference to 1880 that he offers here. Mohler, who prides himself as an intellectual driven by logic, begins with the assumption that we need another conservative justice and then searches for an argument–any argument–to justify his political desires.

There is no doubt that President Trump will make a nomination to fill the vacancy, and there is now no doubt, thanks to a statement released by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, that the Senate will move forward on a confirmation process once the nomination is announced. Indeed, Senator McConnell stated, “In the last midterm election, before Justice Scalia’s death in 2016, Americans elected a Republican Senate majority because we pledged to check and balance the last days of a lame duck president’s second term. We kept our promise. Since the 1880s, no Senate has confirmed an opposite party president’s Supreme Court nominee in a presidential election year. By contrast, Americans reelected our majority in 2016 and expanded it in 2018, because we pledged to work with President Trump and support his agenda, particularly his outstanding appointments to the federal judiciary. Once again, we will keep our promise. President Trump’s nominee will receive a vote on the floor of the United States Senate.”

Ecclesiastes 10:1. Interesting choice of verse by Tony Perkins:

Here is Gary Bauer. It’s all about the Christian Right playbook. He actually believes that overturning Roe v. Wade will end abortion in the United States. As long as he keeps sticking to this playbook, the lives of unborn babies will remain a political football.

Hey Ralph Reed, why weren’t you making this argument in 2016?

Charlie Kirk of the Falkirk Center at Liberty University does not even want hearings for Trump’s new justice:

Kirk criticizes Ilhan Omar for being a “starter of fires” fueled by religion and skin color. Hmm…

For many evangelicals the 2020 election represents a simple choice: Trump will defend the pro-life movement, Joe Biden is pro-choice; Trump promises to appoint Supreme Court justices who will challenge–perhaps even overturn —Roe v. Wade, and Joe Biden will not. When it comes to dealing with the problem of abortion, the court evangelicals have been reading from the same political playbook for more than four decades. It teaches them that the best way to bring an end to abortion in America is to elect the right president, who, in turn, will support the right justices. Thus far, things seem to be going well: not only has Trump appointed pro-life justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanuagh, but he has appointed dozens of conservative judges to federal district courts across the country. Now, he will most likely get to appoint another conservative justice.

Still, it is not exactly clear how this strategy will bring an end to abortion in America. Chief Justice John Roberts, himself a devout Catholic, has called Roe v. Wade “settled as the law of the land.” Amy Coney Barrett, who appears to be Trump’s top pick to replace Ruth Bader Ginsburg, has said publicly that it is likely Roe v. Wade will not be overturned.

And even if Roe v. Wade is overturned by the Supreme Court, the issue will be sent back to the states. Abortion is very likely to remain legal in the so-called blue states, including California and New York, and illegal in many of the so-called red states, especially in the deep South.

State legislatures will need to decide how they will handle the abortion issue in the remaining states, but a significant number of them will probably allow abortion in some form. To put it simply, overturning Roe v. Wade will not end abortion in America. It may curtail the number of abortions, but it will bring our culture no closer to welcoming the children who are born and supporting their mothers.

The taking of a human life in the womb via the practice of abortion is a horrific practice. Modern technology shows us that a baby in the womb, especially in the last trimester, is alive. Christians should be working hard to reduce the number of abortions that take place in the United States–even working to eliminate the practice entirely.

But we have been under Roe v. Wade for long enough that several generations of Americans now believe that they have a right to an abortion. Such a belief is not going to change anytime soon. Conservative evangelicals and other pro-life advocates spend billions of dollars to get the right candidates elected because they believe that the Supreme Court is the only way to solve the problem of abortion in our society. Yet, most of these conservatives oppose “big government” and want to address social concerns through churches and other institutions of civil society. Imagine if all the money spent to support pro-life candidates was poured into these institutions.

How did we get to this place. Learn more here:

Donald Trump now believes that the president is “constitutionally obligated” to appoint a Supreme Court justice

Trump says he is “constitutionally obligated” to nominate someone to serve on the Supreme Court:

Trump is correct. He is constitutional obligated to nominate someone to serve on the Supreme Court. So was Barack Obama in 2016.

Watch:

And here was Donald Trump in 2016 on whether or not Obama should pick the next Supreme Court justice:

I think the next president should make the pick,” Trump said. “And I think they shouldn’t go forward, and I believe, you know, I’m pretty much in line with what the Republicans are saying. I think that the next president should make the pick. We don’t have a very long distance to wait. Certainly they could wait it out very easily. But I think the next president should make the pick. I would be not in favor of going forward.

What has changed, Donald?

What the Christian Right, court evangelicals, and GOP said about Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland

In a previous post on whether Trump should pick the next Supreme Court justice I wrote:

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

In 2016, the Senate would not allow Merrick Garland, president Barack Obama’s SCOTUS pick, a hearing and vote because the GOP members in the Senate, led by Kentucky’s Mitch McConnell, believed that the next president should choose the next justice.

What did the court evangelicals say about McConnell’s decision in 2016?

Ralph Reed and his Faith & Freedom Coalition issued a statement on March 21, 2016:

We strongly oppose Judge Garland’s nomination to the Supreme Court.  We urge the U.S. Senate to await the final judgment of the American people rendered in the 2016 election before acting on any nomination to the highest court.  We will undertake a muscular and ambitious grassroots effort in the states of key U.S. Senators to defeat the Garland nomination and prevent President Obama from shifting the balance of the court for a generation.”

Here is Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council:

In the end, the Senate’s position isn’t about the person — it’s about the principle. “The only reason that they’re complaining about a hearing on the nominee is because they want to make the process as political as possible,” Grassley said. “And that goes to the heart of the matter. We’re not going to politicize this process in the middle of a presidential election year.” The other 10 GOP members of his committee have already made up their minds. Senator Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) couldn’t have been clearer when he said, “We’re not going to confirm anyone. Period.” But America’s law professor-in-chief still insists: “In putting forward a nominee today, I am fulfilling my constitutional duty. I’m doing my job. I hope that our senators will do their jobs, and move quickly to consider my nominee. That’s what the Constitution dictates…”

Wrong again. As scholars like Noah Feldman remind him, “Here’s what the Constitution says about filling Supreme Court vacancies: nothing.” Yet, as they’ve done with abortion and same-sex marriage, liberals are quite content to point to its invisible ink to suit their narrative. The reality is, President Obama has the right to nominate a replacement for Justice Scalia, just as the Senate has a right to ignore it. This is exactly what the Americans people wanted when it elected a GOP majority: a Senate that would rein in the president’s unchecked powers. Now they have it. And on the biggest decision in a generation, we can all be grateful its leaders are doing their part.

I am sure, based on the above statement, Perkins sees no hypocrisy in McConnell’s decision to give Trump’s nominee a hearing in an election year.

Let’s see if Nebraska Senator Ben Sasse will meet with Trump’s appointee. He refused to meet with Garland in 2016. And what about all those “principled constitutionalists” (like Ted Cruz) who would not give Garland a hearing in 2016, but will support Trump’s nominee?

The Huffington Post has collected the comments of several GOP senators in 2016 about Obama’s appointment of Merrick Garland. Here are some of those comments:

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley of Iowa: “Given that we are in the midst of the presidential election process, we believe that the American people should seize the opportunity to weigh in on whom they trust to nominate the next person for a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court.”

Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina: “As I have repeatedly stated, the election cycle is well underway, and the precedent of the Senate is not to confirm a nominee at this stage in the process. I strongly support giving the American people a voice in choosing the next Supreme Court nominee by electing a new president.” 

Sen. Thom Tillis of North Carolina: “It is essential to the institution of the Senate and to the very health of our republic to not launch our nation into a partisan, divisive confirmation battle during the very same time the American people are casting their ballots to elect our next president.”

Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas: “It has been 80 years since a Supreme Court vacancy was nominated and confirmed in an election year. There is a long tradition that you don’t do this in an election year.”

Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida: “I don’t think we should be moving forward with a nominee in the last year of this president’s term. I would say that even if it was a Republican president.”

Sen. Cory Gardner of Colorado: “I think we’re too close to the election. The president who is elected in November should be the one who makes this decision.”

Sen. Mike Lee of Utah: “We think that the American people need a chance to weigh in on this issue, on who will fill that seat. They’ll have that chance this November, and they ought to have that chance.” 

Sen. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania: “With the U.S. Supreme Court’s balance at stake, and with the presidential election fewer than eight months away, it is wise to give the American people a more direct voice in the selection and confirmation of the next justice.”

Sen. John Thune of South Dakota: “Since the next presidential election is already underway, the next president should make this lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This interview tells us a lot about John MacArthur and the movement he represents

MacArthur

Chris Hutchison, the pastor of Grace Covenant Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Blacksburg, VA, brought this to my attention today via Twitter.

Watch John MacArthur speaking to Ryan Helfenbein of the Liberty University Falkirk Center about his battle with the state of California and why no Christian could ever vote for Joe Biden:

Notice what MacArthur does here. He equates biblical teaching with abortion, homosexual marriage, and transgenderism. That’s it. For MacArthur, biblical thinking about politics essentially comes down to these three things. As a result, he believes Christians cannot vote for Joe Biden or any member of the Democratic Party.

Instead, MacArthur wants his church to vote for a Republican candidate whose policies will hurt the poor, who uses racist dog whistles, who has brought pornography into the news, and who lies to the American people multiple times a day. Last time I checked, the Bible says a lot about human dignity, truth, lust, and the poor.

What are the historical forces that have led MacArthur to believe that abortion, homosexual marriage, and transgenderism are the only issues Christian voters should be concerned about? We need to keep asking this question because MacArthur thinks that his view of politics is shaped by a reading of the Bible untainted by social and cultural forces.

About midway through the clip, Helfenbein asks MacArthur about critics who say the members of the Christian Right are single-issue voters. MacArthur responds:

That sounds like 25 or 30 years ago when the differences were sociological or economic between you know ownership and labor. That is long gone.

I have no idea what MacArthur is talking about here. But it sounds like he is trying to say that economic inequality is no longer an issue in the United States in the way that it was “25 or 30 years ago.” (Does he really think that the Christian Right did not push single-issue voting in 1995 or 1990?).

MacArthur seems unaware of the success of democratic socialist politicians like Bernie Sanders who have called attention to economic inequality. Sanders attracted millions of American voters–including many young evangelicals–in 2016 and 2020. MacArthur may not like Bernie’s ideas, but the Vermont senator’s views on income inequality have resonated with Americans. It sounds as if MacArthur has had his head in the sand.

MacArthur says that the Democrats are assaulting American and Christian values, namely the conscience, the family, government, and the church. If a biblical view of the conscience, family, government, and church is indeed eroding as MacArthur says it is, then what does this tell us about the influence of Christians in American life over the last 50-75 years? MacArthur’s diagnosis seems to suggest that Christians have failed miserably in their efforts at sustaining a moral culture. Christians like MacArthur should look into the mirror instead of blaming the Democrats. The church is on the hook here.

Why has the church failed? Have the forces of secularism been too strong? Perhaps.

Or maybe evangelicals have placed too much trust in politics to preserve a moral culture. If you need evidence of this, just consider evangelical support for Donald Trump.

MacArthur believes that the best way to protect the conscience is to vote for a man with no conscience.

MacArthur believes that the best way to save the family is to vote for a man who cheated on all his wives, has been divorced twice, sleeps with porn stars, and has been heard on tape saying he wants to sexually assault women.

MacArthur believes that Trump, with his endless lies and incompetent leadership, is the best man to lead a just and moral government.

MacArthur believes that Christians getting into bed with Trump is good for the church and the proclamation of the Gospel.

Something doesn’t seem right here.

Finally, MacArthur says:

Joe Biden said the other day he’s going to fill his cabinet with Muslims. That is as anti-Christian a statement as you could possibly make. That is a blasphemy of the true and living God.

Yes, it would be blasphemous to fill a cabinet with Muslims if we were living in a Christian theocracy. But we don’t live in a theocracy. We live in a democratic society that celebrates pluralism. As Hutchinson notes in his tweet, we have no religious test for federal office in this country. The United States Constitution, as originally written and ratified by the states, makes one reference to religion. Article 6 affirms that “no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public trust under the United States.” So Biden is perfectly within his constitutional rights to fill his cabinet with Muslims.

But MacArthur goes on about this:

No thinking person, no person who wanted any kind of life for anyone in the future could possible affirm that kind of behavior.

Last time I checked, the founding fathers who wrote the Constitution were “thinking people” who cared about the “future” of the republic.

Hutchinson wonders if MacArthur’s claim about Biden filling his cabinet with Muslims is true.

Of course Ryan Helfenbein nods his head in agreement with everything MacArthur says. In this interview we get one of our best views into what is really going-on with both the Grace Community Church controversy and the Liberty University Falkirk Center.

Thanks again to Chris Hutchinson for bringing all of this to my attention. Things are getting really strange.

19th Amendment anniversary roundup

Suffrage Wilson

Today is the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment to the United States constitution. The amendment gave the right to vote to all American women.

As you might expect, some people are writing about this important anniversary. Here is a short roundup of what is out there:

President Donald Trump celebrated the day by giving a posthumous presidential pardon to Susan B. Anthony. She was arrested in 1872 for voting and fined $100.00.

The irony of this move cannot be overlooked. Trump is trying to stop mail-in-voting during the pandemic by defunding the post office. Yesterday he claimed that the only way he would lose in November is if “the election is rigged.” And he could not pass-up the opportunity to take a shot at a former First Lady.

Anna North has a nice piece at VOX. She cites historians Martha Jones, Lisa Tetrault, Catherine Cahill, and Stephanie Sellers.

The New York Times offers an amazing photo essay titled “Suffrage at 100: A Visual History.” It includes insights from historian Susan Ware, Martha Jones, and Ellen Carol DuBois.

Historian Rosemarie Zagarri reminds us that women voted in New Jersey as early as 1776:

Over at Time, Olivia Waxman debunks some myths.

Treva Lindsey reminds us that “virulent racism, classism and xenophobia” plagued “a storied movement for women’s right to the elective franchise.”

Dayton, Ohio is proud of its role in the women’s suffrage movement.

Over at The Anxious Bench, Chris Gehrz offers a religious history of the 19th Amendment.

Sean Wilentz on Tom Cotton and slavery

1619

The Princeton University American historian Sean Wilentz has been a harsh critic of The New York Times 1619 Project. But that doesn’t mean he is going to give Arkansas senator Tom Cotton a pass for his recent comments about slavery and the founding fathers.

Here is a taste of his recent piece at The New York Review of Books:

Senator Tom Cotton, Republican of Arkansas, has introduced a bill in Congress that would punish school districts that use The New York Times’s 1619 Project in their curriculum by withholding federal funding. In so doing, he announced in a newspaper interview that America’s schoolchildren need to learn that the nation’s Founders said slavery “was the necessary evil upon which the union was built.” His statement is as preposterous as it is false: presuming to clarify American history, Cotton has grievously distorted it.

(As this article went to press, Cotton supported his argument by citing me along with several other liberal historians who have criticized the 1619 Project; with my colleagues, I have fundamental publicized objections to the project, but these in no way mitigate Cotton’s serious misrepresentations of the historical record for evident political gain.)

None of the delegates who framed the Constitution in 1787 called slavery a “necessary evil.” Some of them called slavery an evil, but not a necessary one. Gouverneur Morris of New York, for example, declared to the Constitutional Convention that he would “never concur in upholding domestic slavery,” that “nefarious institution” based on “the most cruel bondages”—“the curse of heaven on the states where it prevailed.” The great majority of the Framers joined Morris in fighting to ensure that slavery would be excluded from national law.

Read the rest here.

Jerry Falwell Jr. supports Trump’s decision to delay the election

Of course he does

File Photo: U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump shakes hands with Jerry Falwell Jr. at a campaign rally in Council Bluffs, Iowa

Here is Falwell Jr., the president of Liberty University:

Indeed, Trump confidant Jerry Falwell Jr., the president of Liberty University, said he would support Trump’s call to delay the election “until things are normal so people can walk in.”

“If it takes a few more months, then so be it,” Falwell said in an interview, raising the prospect of limiting the president’s powers if the delay extends beyond his first term.

The founder of the Federalist Society is not even with Trump on this one.

Should a statue of Roger Sherman come down?

Sherman

The statue in question

Here’s one to talk about over coffee.

Richard Kreitner, a writer at The Nation, makes a case for why a monument to founding father Roger Sherman should be removed from the United States Capitol. His argument is two-fold:

  1. At the Constitutional Convention, Sherman helped to broker the compromise that allowed small states to have equal power in the Senate.
  2. At the Constitutional Convention, Sherman compromised with the slaveholding South.

Here is a taste of Kreitner’s piece at The Baffler:

As we commence a thorough and long-delayed reassessment of our national history, the compromise tradition Sherman represents—and the specific bargains attributed to him—ought also to be reconsidered. It is long past time to embrace the righteousness of those rare and visionary anti-slavery critics who, during the struggle over ratification of the Constitution, called for rejecting it because of the protections it afforded slavery. Accepting those compromises, as one put it, would make Americans “partakers of each other’s sins.” “If we cannot connect with the Southern states without giving countenance to blood and carnage, and all kinds of fraud and injustice,” another Anti-Federalist argued, “I say let them go.”

Roger Sherman, by contrast, epitomizes the kind of moral complicity with evil, as pernicious as the evil itself, on which the endurance of the Union has always been predicated. His statue should be removed from Capitol Hill as a symbol of a broader reckoning with the history and nature of the country he helped create. Mississippi legislators recently made the brave if belated decision to take the Confederate battle flag off the state’s official banner. Michigan’s congressional delegation—well, at least its Democratic members—called for the removal of Lewis Cass, the heretofore much-heralded “founding father” of the state, from the Capitol Hill collection, in acknowledgment of his advocacy for slavery’s expansion and Indian removal. Why shouldn’t Connecticut’s leaders act with similar vision and boldness by admitting their own state’s sordid contributions to the perpetuation of slavery and minority rule?

Up to now, Northerners and other Americans without personal connection to the antebellum South have largely luxuriated in the assumption that they have nothing to apologize for and no heroes in need of reconsideration. But perpetuating the Union on the basis of slavery, right up until the Civil War, was a national project that enjoyed, but for a few scattered abolitionists, national support. Similarly, much of the federal government’s current paralysis is directly the fault of the Constitution’s enshrinement of colonial-era divisions and states’-rights ideology in the structure of our governing institutions. Taking Sherman off his Capitol Hill pedestal would mark a worthy beginning, but one that is ultimately symbolic. Of far greater substance and significance would be doing away with that even more prominent monument to the founders’ fetish for compromise and corrupt bargains: the Senate of the United States.

Read the entire piece here.

Discuss. 🙂

By the way, Kreitner anticipates the “where do we draw the line?” argument:

Conservatives immediately resort to the “where does it all end?” argument. What about slave-owners George Washington and Thomas Jefferson? Is Abe Lincoln next? Yet the answer is not complicated: we shouldn’t endeavor to remove every person who ever uttered an unwoke word or did any kind of dastardly deed. There ought to be a high bar for removal—some kind of equation balancing the degree of the wrong the person did with the magnitude of its consequences.

I submit that Roger Sherman meets the necessary threshold. He is memorialized by one of the statues representing the state of Connecticut. We have Sherman to thank for two of the most celebrated and most odious compromises that made it into the Constitution. One nearly destroyed the Union; the other may yet. Yanking Sherman out of the Capitol would be a gesture worthy of our growing realization of how deep the roots of white supremacy reach, how thoroughly our political system has been tainted by the protections it affords to the power and privilege of wealthy white men. This is unlikely to occur, however, for to repudiate Roger Sherman would be to effectively repudiate the Constitution of the United States, even the Union as we have always known it.

Based on Kreitner’s logic, wouldn’t everyone who signed the Constitution be “morally complicit?” But perhaps that is his real point.

Tuesday night court evangelical roundup

COurt Evangelicals

What have Trump’s evangelicals been saying since yesterday’s update?

Franklin Graham is on the stump for Trump. This is from his Facebook page :

In the last presidential election in 2016, I reminded people across the country that the election was not about Donald Trump’s previous lifestyle or Hillary Clinton’s lost emails, but it was about the courts—Who do you trust to appoint conservative judges to the courts? Donald J. Trump won the election, and in the next few days he will be making his 200th judicial appointment. That’s more than any president in the last four decades during the same time frame. Thank you Mr. President! This will be a legacy that truly will keep on giving—in the lives of our children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren.

And Twitter:

Al Mohler is questioning science and COVID-19 experts and promoting a Trumpian populism:

Charlie Kirk is running a “Students for Trump” convention in Arizona featuring Donald Trump.

A few observations:

  • In the opening prayer of this convention, the minister thanked God that “All Lives Matter.” The prayer was filled with Christian nationalism, law and order, and Trump talking points. The crowd cheered during the prayer at the appropriate points.
  • Ryan Fournier, the founder of Students for Trump, calls the event “the most aggressive political outreach movement in political presidential campaign history.” Wow!  That’s specific.
  • Florida Matt Gaetz spoke. So did Donald Trump Jr.
  • Trump said nothing new to the 2000 students who showed-up. It was just another campaign rally.

Eric Metaxas interviews one of his “mentors in terms of thinking of race in America,” conservative talk show host Larry Elder. Elder talks about his new documentary film “Uncle Tom.” Elder makes the common claim that the Democrats opposed the 13th Amendment (ending slavery), 14th Amendment (equal protection under the law for African.Americans), and 15th Amendment (African American right to vote). This is largely true, but he fails to consider that the Democratic Party of the 1860s and 1870s is not the Democratic Party of today. See Princeton historian Kevin Kruse’s debate (if you can all it that) with conservative pundit Dinesh D’Souza. This entire argument ignores a fundamental element of historical thinking: change over time. Metaxas totally endorses Elder’s approach, claiming that Americans “don’t know the facts.” Elder and Metaxas are peddling some really bad history here.

Elder claims that racism “is no longer a problem” in American life. This reminds me of a family member who recently told me that I was “living in the past” by suggesting that the history of racial discrimination in America might have something to do with race in America today.

In his second hour, Metaxas and his crew argue that the division in the country is the work of Satan, “the accuser.” Metaxas has the audacity to say that Satan “takes things that are true and twists them into a lie.” Wait, I thought Metaxas supported Trump! 🙂

Metaxas wants a view of history that celebrates all that is good in America. He extols all the Bible-believing Christians who were abolitionists. Yes, this is true. There were many good Christians who fought against slavery. But the present always shapes how we think about the past. As the country is trying to come to grips with racism–both individual acts of racism and the deeper problem of systemic racism–now is the time to take a deep, hard look at how we got here. That will mean taking a hard look at the dark moments of the white evangelical past. This is not the time to get defensive and engage in whataboutism. (Hey, what about Harriet Beecher Stowe!).

Metaxas then interviews Jenna Ellis of the Liberty University Falkirk Center.  In this interview, Metaxas says that “the only reason we abolished slavery is because of the Bible.” This is not entirely true, as I argued in Believe Me.  Slaveholding southerners actually used the Bible to justify slavery and accused northern abolitionists of not being biblical enough. As multiple historians have shown, the Bible was used to fortify racial discrimination to a much greater extent than the Bible was used to end slavery or advance racial justice in America. But Metaxas doesn’t care about that. He needs a usable past. Everything else can be conveniently ignored.

Speaking of the Falkirk Center at Liberty University:

And Lance Wallnau brings the fearmongering:

Until next time.

“Genuine Christian Faith is Larger Than the Constitution”

Corona Church

It looks like more than 1200 California pastors will hold in-person services this weekend in violation of Governor Gavin Newsoms’s stay-at-home order. Read their letter to Newsom here.

Here is Peter Marty, publisher of The Christian Century:

What’s motivating this willingness to put the lives of church members at risk in order to assert First Amendment rights? I don’t think it has anything to do with an honest conviction that various governors can’t stand religion. It has everything to do with an obsession over rights.

The language of rights is the language of power. “No right is safe unless it can be carried to an extreme,” conservative political philosopher Harvey Mansfield once remarked. This may be what we’re witnessing at the moment. Even though all rights have limits—you can’t shout “Fire!” in a crowded movie theater—the absolutizing of rights has become a distorted feature of American politics.

Legal scholar Mary Ann Glendon calls it “the illusion of absoluteness.” In her 1991 book Rights Talk, she points out that when talk of rights turns absolute it inhibits conversation, silences responsibility, and downplays obligation toward the common good. She writes that the “relentless individualism” promoted by such rights talk “fosters a climate that is inhospitable to society’s losers, and systematically disadvantages caretakers and dependents, young and old.”

Rights are certainly important. But there’s a reason the Bible shows little interest in individual rights. If I see my life primarily as a prepackaged set of guaranteed rights owed me, instead of as a gift of God, what motivation is there to feel deep obligation toward society’s most vulnerable? If I’m just receiving what’s my rightful due, why would I ever need to express gratitude? What’s the point of looking outward toward others if I’m chiefly responsible for looking inward and securing the personal rights that are mine?

I want a faith that’s larger than the US Con­sti­tution…. 

Read the entire piece here.

Is Trump’s Authority “Total” When It Comes to Reopening the Economy?

Trump Press Conference

Short answer: No.

Although he would obviously like it to be.

The Washington Post talked to some constitutional scholars.  Here is a taste of Meagan Flynn’s and Allyson Chiu’s piece:

When President Trump was asked during Monday’s news briefing what authority he has to reopen the country, he didn’t hesitate to answer. “I have the ultimate authority,” the president responded, cutting off the reporter who was speaking.

Trump later clarified his position further, telling reporters, “When somebody is the president of the United States, the authority is total and that’s the way it’s got to be. … It’s total. The governors know that.”

The local leaders, Trump said, “can’t do anything without the approval of the president of the United States.”

Trump’s eyebrow-raising assertions about the reach of his office during national emergencies, which were also echoed by Vice President Pence at the briefing, came on the same day governors on both coasts announced their own plans to begin working toward reopening their states amid the ongoing global coronavirus pandemic.

While the president appears convinced he is the only one empowered to make the critical determination, his extraordinary assertions of authority over the states astounded legal scholars, leaving them wondering, as they have before about Trump’s broad claims, where on earth he got them.

“You won’t find that written in the Federalist Papers anywhere,” Robert Chesney, a law professor at the University of Texas at Austin, told The Washington Post.

Not only does the power Trump asserted have no basis in reality, experts said, but it’s also completely antithetical to the Constitution, the concept of federalism and separation of powers — whether during a time of emergency or not.

“This isn’t ancient Rome where there’s a special law that says in the event of an emergency all the regular rules are thrown out the window and one person, whom they called the dictator, gets to make the rules for the duration of the emergency or for a period of time,” Chesney said. “We don’t have a system like that.”

On Twitter, Steve Vladeck, another professor at the University of Texas School of Law, rebutted Trump’s “authority is total” remark.

“Nope,” Vladeck wrote. “That would be the literal definition of a *totalitarian* government.”

Read the rest here.

Andrew Cuomo: No governor should watch Trump’s press conferences. They are “infuriating,” “offensive,” and “frankly ignorant of the facts.”

He is not “King Trump.” Watch:

We are now in a strange moment in our political history.  A Republican president with a constituency that values the 10th Amendment is claiming to have absolute power over the states.

Here is an revealing take on all of this from historian Seth Cotlar:

 

The Trump Impeachment Has Revealed Three “Deep Flaws” in the Constitutional System

22c0d-united-states-constitution

Michael Gerhardt, a constitutional law professor at the University of North Carolina, writes at The Atlantic:

…few think that the acquittal of President Trump is a triumph for the Constitution. Instead, it reveals a different, disturbing lesson, about how the American political system—and the Constitution itself—might be fundamentally flawed.

Since the writing of the Constitution, three developments have substantially altered the effectiveness of impeachment as a check on presidential misconduct.

They are:

  1. Extreme partisanship
  2. The internet and social media
  3. The direct election of Senators

See how he develops these points here.

Would the Founders Have Recognized GOP Arguments Against Trump’s Removal?

Impeachment Image

As we enter the 2020 election season I have been trying to do more writing for local and regional outlets here in Pennsylvania. This morning I have an op-ed on the impeachment trial at LNP/Lancaster On-Line (formerly Intelligencer Journal-Lancaster New Era).  Here is a taste:

Other Republican senators, including Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Ben Sasse of Nebraska, and Pennsylvania’s own Pat Toomey, argued that Trump’s phone call with the Ukrainian president was “inappropriate,” but did not rise to the level of impeachment.

This last group of senators justified their acquittal votes in two ways.

First, some of them argued that the Founding Fathers would have opposed a partisan impeachment. (No House Republicans supported impeachment.)

This is not true.

In Federalist Paper No. 65, Alexander Hamilton, one of the most prolific defenders of the Constitution during the ratification debates of 1787-1788, predicted that impeachments would always be political. As a result, the Senate should always proceed with caution, prudence and wisdom.

Moreover, the framers of the Constitution would never have referred to an impeachment trial as “bipartisan,” since at the time of its writing there were no political parties in the United States.

The second way that this cohort of Republican senators justified their acquittal vote was by claiming that “the people” should decide whether Trump should be removed from office and this should be done when they cast their ballots during the November presidential election.

The Founding Fathers would not have recognized such an argument.

Read the entire piece here.

Alan Dershowitz on the Academic Margins

Dershowitz Senate

Alan Dershowitz‘s case against the removal of Donald Trump may have won over many GOP Senators during the president’s impeachment trial, but it has failed to convince law professors, legal scholars, and historians.  At one point during the trial, Dershowtiz ripped into his academic colleagues, suggesting that they are all “influenced by their own bias, by their own politics and their views.”  As I wrote last week, this plays into the belief, popularized by Fox News and other conservative media, that the opponents of Trump are liberal, ivory-tower elites who are out of touch with real people.  This is the kind of anti-elitism driving conservative activist Matt Schlapp’s recent tweet defending Donald Trump after the president thought the Kansas City Chiefs played football in Kansas.

Over at Inside Higher Ed, Colleen Flaherty has an informative piece on how Derhowitz’s views on impeachment are well outside the academic mainstream.  Here is a taste:

Does any of this challenge Dershowitz’s standing in academe? Is his expert analysis so left of field that he can no longer be deemed an expert, especially one affiliated with Harvard?

Bowman said Dershowitz has never really had such standing, and that he’s “never done any serious legal scholarship.” Instead, Bowman said he’s focused on op-eds and trying his own cases. (Perhaps most famously, Dershowitz defended O. J. Simpson.)

That Senate Republicans hail Dershowitz as an expert “just shows how desperate they are to find somebody, anybody, to tell them what they wanted to hear,” Bowman added.

Harvard had no comment on the matter of Dershowitz’s status, while Fried said that “even Harvard faculty members sometimes make arguments with absurd entailments.”

Dershowitz, of course, disagrees with his detractors. He says that he’s been intellectually alone often in his career, including in being against the death penalty in the 1960s and, more recently, for the limited use of what he’s called emergency “torture warrants.” He also said he wasn’t afraid to “impugn” his colleagues in asserting that they would not, in some alternative universe, support the same impeachment case against former Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton.

“The burden of proof here is on those who ignore the plain language” of the Constitution on impeachment, which specifically mentions treason, bribery and high crimes and misdemeanors, he said.

“I think professors often allow, consciously or unconsciously, politics to seep into their constitutional analysis,” he added. “I’ve been proved right more often than not, and I think history will prove me correct here. The next time there’s a Democrat president and a Republican-controlled House, the president will be impeached and all the scholars criticizing me now will be making similar arguments.” (For the record, Dershowitz said during the trial that he voted for Hillary Clinton.)

Dershowitz is currently writing a book on impeachment.

Read the entire piece here.

What Happened in the Senate Yesterday?

Impeachment Image

CNN has a nice overview. Here is a taste:

Republicans have variously argued that Trump did nothing wrong, the Democrats made up impeachment charges or that there was no quid pro quo in Ukraine. But they have apparently been pushed to this final, fallback position in the light of Bolton’s claim in a manuscript for his new book first reported by The New York Times that Trump did indeed tell him to withhold aid to Kiev until it opened probes into his domestic foes.

The legal reasoning from Dershowitz — while outside the mainstream — is giving Republican senators political cover to stand with the President.

The Harvard emeritus professor claimed on the Senate floor that if a politician thinks his reelection is in the national interest, any actions he takes towards that end cannot by definition be impeachable.

“And if a president did something that he believes will help him get elected, in the public interest, that cannot be the kind of quid pro quo that results in impeachment,” Dershowitz argued.

Lead House impeachment manager Adam Schiff however argued that such a position suggested an interpretation of the Constitution that held it acceptable for a President to abuse his power and Congress could do nothing about it.

“You can’t do anything about it because if he views it as in his personal interest, that’s just fine. He’s allowed to do it. None of the founders would have accepted that kind of reasoning,” Schiff said, adding later, “In fact, the idea that the core offense that the founders protected against, that core offense is abuse of power, is beyond the reach of Congress through impeachment would have terrified the founders.”

CNN legal expert Carrie Cordero said that Dershowitz’s arguments — that CNN reporters in the chamber said were warmly received by Republican senators — were nonsensical.

“It basically means that a President can do anything and they can make a subjective determination that their reelection is in the national interest,” Cordero said.

“It invites and opens the door to anything that is in the realm of foreign influence.”

Dershowitz reacted angrily later on in the question-and-answer session to suggestions by the House impeachment managers that he was in a slim minority of legal thought, claiming that constitutional experts who did not agree with him treated Republican and Democratic presidents by different legal standards.

“These scholars are influenced by their own bias, by their own politics and their views should be taken with that in mind. They simply do not give objective assessments of the constitutional history,” Dershowitz said.

The spectacle of Republicans adopting such arguments is remarkable since the party that once saw itself as the epitome of limited government is coalescing in an effort to broaden the unrestrainable power of the presidency. But it is also thematically compatible with the idea of a “unitary executive” — a theory that grants expansive powers to the presidency and is advanced by some conservative lawyers — including current Attorney General William Barr. In his own way, Trump has argued similar points, claiming that Article II of the Constitution gives him the power to do anything he wants.

Read the entire piece here.

I was struck by Dershowitz’s statement that all other Constitutional scholars are “influenced by their own bias, by their own politics and their views should be taken with that in mind.  They simply do not give objective assessments of constitutional history.”

Such a statement implies that Dershowitz is the only true, objective constitutional scholar in the world.   Everyone else is biased.  Only he is right.  This is like Trump saying “I alone can fix it.”

Dershowitz’s absurd argument is an appeal to the Trump base.  Dershowitz is telling Trump supporters that there is a deep state of elite liberal law professors who are out to get them and their president.  I have not had a chance to watch Fox News today, but I am imagine they are running with this argument.

“Mr. Dershowitz is an expert on civil liberties and criminal law and procedure, not constitutional law generally”

Dershowitz

Steven Harper is a lawyer, graduate of Harvard Law School, and an adjunct professor of law at Northwestern University.  While at Harvard he took a class with Alan Dershowitz, a member of Donald Trump’s impeachment defense team.  I think it is fair to say that Harper speaks for the overwhelming majority of legal scholars in the country.  Sure, Dershowitz might find someone who supports his defense of Trump, but this would be like a climate-change denier trying to find a legitimate climate scientist who says climate change is a hoax.

Here is a taste of Harper’s post on Dershowitz at The New York Times:

Two months before President Bill Clinton’s impeachment hearings began in 1998, Larry King asked Mr. Dershowitz whether he agrees that “some of the most grievous offenses against our constitutional form of government may not entail violations of the criminal law.”

“I do,” he answered. If those offenses “subvert the very essence of democracy.”

In the same interview, Mr. Dershowitz also said: “It certainly doesn’t have to be a crime if you have somebody who completely corrupts the office of president and who abuses trust and who poses great danger to our liberty. You don’t need a technical crime. We look at their acts of state. We look at how they conduct the foreign policy. We look at whether they try to subvert the Constitution.”

But on Sunday, Mr. Dershowitz was acting as one of Mr. Trump’s lawyers when he said to George Stephanopoulos that abusive or obstructive conduct is not impeachable and that an “actual crime” is required. And although the evidence demonstrates that Mr. Trump has committed crimes, Mr. Dershowitz asserted that, unless those crimes are explicitly stated in articles of impeachment, they cannot lead to Mr. Trump’s removal from office.

Mr. Dershowitz said that he was defending Mr. Trump to protect the Constitution, but serious constitutional scholars didn’t buy his argument. Another of my former professors, the constitutional law expert Laurence H. Tribe, responded with an op-ed essay in The Washington Post. “The argument that only criminal offenses are impeachable has died a thousand deaths in the writings of all the experts on the subject,” he wrote. “There is no evidence that the phrase ‘high crimes and misdemeanors’ was understood in the 1780s to mean indictable crimes.”

Mr. Tribe likewise debunked Mr. Dershowitz’s argument that the president could not be impeached for “abuse of power,” noting, “No serious constitutional scholar has ever agreed with it.” Among those scholars is the Republicans’ designated constitutional law expert, Jonathan Turley. He testified before the House Judiciary Committee that impeachment could result from conduct that was not technically a criminal act.

Mr. Dershowitz is an expert on civil liberties and criminal law and procedure, not constitutional law generally. Facing widespread criticism and trying to reconcile his 1998 statements with his new position, he now says that Congress doesn’t need a “technical crime” to impeach, but there must be “criminal-like” conduct, or conduct “akin to treason and bribery.” To the extent his earlier statement “suggested the opposite,” he retracts it.

Read the entire piece here.  I am not an expert on the legal profession, but it seems like this is the equivalent of picking a historian of China to provide expert testimony on Alexander Hamilton.  I am sure Jonathan Spence would be great in court, but if you had to pick a true expert wouldn’t you go with someone like Joanne Freeman or Ron Chernow?

What Did the Founding Fathers Say About Impeachment?

House Managers

House managers in the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump filed their brief to the Senate today.  The brief describes Trump’s behavior with Ukraine “the Framers’ worst nightmare.”

So what did the Framers of the United States Constitution say about impeachment?

Here is a nice summary from the United States Constitution Center:

One of the most hotly debated clauses in the Constitution deals with the removal of federal government officials through the impeachment process. But what did the Founders who crafted that language think about the process and its overall intention?

The need for the ultimate check, and in particular the removal of the President, in a system of checks and balances was brought up early at the 1787 convention in Philadelphia. Constitutional heavyweights such as James Madison, Benjamin Franklin, James Wilson and Gouverneur Morris debated the Impeachment Clause at the convention, and Alexander Hamilton argued for it in The Federalist after the convention.

Today, impeachment remains as a rarely used process to potentially remove the “President, Vice President and all civil Officers of the United States” if Congress finds them guilty of “Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.”

In all, 19 federal officials have been brought up on impeachment charges by the House of Representatives since 1789, with eight people convicted after a Senate trial. Two Presidents – Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton – faced Senate trials but were not found guilty by a two-thirds majority of the Senate.

The threat of impeachment remains a power check, at least in theory, against the abuse of power, and it is sometimes discussed in times of political controversy, as well as in cases where there is a clear issue with personal conduct in office. Of the eight persons impeached and convicted in Congress, all were judges who faced charges including perjury, tax evasion, bribery, and in one case, supporting the Confederacy.

At the 1787 convention, delegate Edmund Randolph quickly brought up the subject as part of his Virginia Plan. William Patterson’s rival New Jersey Plan had its own impeachment clause. National Constitution Center scholar-in-residence Michael Gerhardt explained the differences in his book, “The Federal Impeachment Process: A Constitutional and Historical Analysis.”

Read the rest here.