Evangelical doctors and dentists say those who hold large gatherings are selfish

Christian doctors and dentists are saying that Christians who continue to hold large gatherings “appear to care only about our individual freedoms and don’t care that we may be contributing to others getting illness because of our selfishness.”

Here is Sarah McCammon at National Public Radio:

As coronavirus cases spike, a national group that represents thousands of evangelical Christian doctors and other healthcare providers is asking churches to stop holding services in person.

In a statement provided to NPR, titled, “A Plea to Our Churches,” leaders of the Christian Medical & Dental Associations say that Christians who persist in holding large gatherings at this time could “appear to care only about our individual freedoms and don’t care that we may be contributing to others getting this illness because of our selfishness.”

Churches in several states have violated local rules or filed lawsuits claiming that coronavirus restrictions that limit in-person gatherings violate their religious rights.

The Christian Medical & Dental Associations statement asks congregations to consider meeting online until the current surge is over. The organization had previously urged churches to obey authorities who’ve implemented coronavirus restrictions.

The statement, prepared for release on behalf of the group’s 20,000 members nationwide, also says that the group is “saddened to learn not only that many churches have ignored our guidelines but that congregants have become infected with SARS-CoV-2 as a result of those decisions.”

Read the rest here.

What are the court evangelicals saying today?

Election Day 2020 was fifteen days ago. Let’s see how the court evangelicals are processing it.

Eric Metaxas is calling people to “get involved to save the republic.” (Some might say the republic was saved on November 3, 2020). He claims that election integrity is a “bipartisan issue.” Metaxas assumes that there was election fraud and then tells his followers that if they don’t write letters to state legislators they are contributing to the collapse of American democracy. Actually, American democracy worked just fine. In fact, Chris Krebs, the Director of Homeland Security, said that this was the most secure election in American history. And then Trump fired him.

Tony Perkins, Michelle Bachmann, and Metaxas are still praying for a Trump victory:

It looks like Robert Jeffress has something in common with Joe Biden:

Court evangelical journalist David Brody and fellow evangelical journalist Cal Thomas are pushing the election fraud narrative:

Charlie Kirk of Liberty University’s Falkirk Center continues to rant. Expect him to do the same thing in the coming weeks at an evangelical megachurch near you.

“We are juggling pitchers of ‘Marxaritas”:

The Falkirk Center at Liberty University is leading a revival of American fundamentalism. This kind of black and white thinking is at the heart of fundamentalism. It is all about stoking division in the name of God and Christian nationalism. It makes no effort at finding common ground.

Here is Lance Wallnau:

I believe God’s Chaos Code will be a constantly referenced and updated between 2020–2030 when nations align, Cyrus rulers emerge, and statesmen evangelists take their place. Those who understand the times will be wise and “those that know their God will be strong and shall do exploits!”

Out of the Zoo: Traditions

Annie Thorn is a junior history major from Kalamazoo, Michigan and our intern here at The Way of Improvement Leads Home.  As part of her internship she is writing a weekly column titled “Out of the Zoo.” It focuses on life as a history major at a small liberal arts college. In this dispatch, Annie writes about a Messiah University history department tradition.—JF

Some of my fondest college memories are from Christmas caroling with Messiah University’s history club. We history majors gather on a cold December night, pile into cars with packets of Christmas carols in hand, and weave our way through the greater-Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania area on our way to visit each of our professor’s houses. After singing a few tunes on their doorstep, they invite us in and serve an array of hot drinks, baked goods, and sweets. We chat about our semesters, meet our professor’s spouses, and pet their dogs. They ask whose houses we’ve been to already, and where we’re going next. It’s a beloved tradition, cherished by many, and I hope it continues for a long time.

For a few different reasons, the history club’s Christmas caroling tradition had to take a pause this year. Due to Messiah’s altered schedule this year we won’t be on campus between Thanksgiving and Christmas. I suppose we could have sung “Silent Night” on our professors doorsteps in mid-November, but it wouldn’t have been the same. On top of this, COVID restrictions–which advise against singing in groups and gathering in each other’s houses–added a few more obstacles. We didn’t want to nix our tradition altogether, so we had to be creative. Instead of Christmas caroling, we planned our own little Thanksgiving parade. My friend Chloe, the current president of the history club, planned the event and advertised it as “Thanks-giving back to the professors.” 

Our little caravan wasn’t much when compared to the Macy’s Thanksgiving parade. We didn’t have giant balloons or fancy costumes or marching bands, and we had to keep our numbers small and spread out to maintain social distance. But we did have home-made gifts, colorful signs, determined spirits, and grateful hearts.

Like any other year, we wove through Mechanicsburg and stopped at each professor’s house. At each stop we got out of our cars, held up our signs at the end of our professor’s driveways, and cheered. Some professors waved and thanked us from their windows, while others came outside to chat from six feet away. A few of them requested we sing a Thanksgiving song, and when we couldn’t think of one we laughed and promised that our Christmas caroling would be extra special next year. Some professors still served us sweets, this time prepacked and individually wrapped. I joked that the coffee mugs we dropped off (signed by several history majors) would be worth a lot of money if one of us becomes famous someday. For those few minutes, things almost felt normal again. Even in the midst of all the craziness and change around us, we still found a way to show our professors that we care.

With COVID cases on the rise, schools shutting down and the holidays rapidly approaching, the traditions we love will undoubtedly look a little different this year. History club Christmas caroling may have been the first holiday tradition I’ve had to change, but it certainly won’t be the last. In the next few months my family will have to make tough decisions about gathering with our loved ones. I haven’t seen my grandmother since the summer, but visiting her in the middle of COVID’s second wave could pose a significant risk to her health. As much as I long to go back to church and see all the friends I’ve missed for months, my family might have to have our own candlelight Christmas Eve service at home. We usually head to the cinema to see a movie every Christmas day, but I suppose this year we’ll cook our own popcorn, dim the lights, and pretend our television is about fifty times larger than it is. 

There’s no doubt that a lot of our holiday traditions might have to change this year. But at the same time, a lot will stay the same. COVID-19 may change our family gatherings and our New Year’s Eve parties, but it will never change how much we care about the people we love. It may modify our Thanksgiving dinner, but it will never take away our ability to be grateful for the blessings that we still have. It may alter our church services, but it will never separate us from the love of Christ, Emmanuel, whose birth we celebrate during this season. We can still celebrate him, give thanks and shine his light to our loved ones who are struggling. Our traditions may change, but our love doesn’t have to–we might just have to be a little more creative.

“When the pandemic came and hundreds of thousands of Americans died, he didn’t give a damn”

As many of you know, Michael Gerson is a conservative columnist, former George W. Bush speechwriter, and Wheaton College graduate. Here is a taste of his latest Washington Post column, “Trump is engaging in U.S. history’s deadliest-ever sulk.”

President Trump will be remembered for many things. For the audacity of his mendacity. For his ready recourse to prejudice. For his savant’s ability to rile and ride social resentment. For his welcoming of right-wing crackpots into the Republican coalition. For his elevation of self-love into a populist cause. For his brutal but bumbling use of force against protesters. For his routinization of self-dealing and political corruption. For his utter lack of public spirit and graciousness, even to the very end. And, to be fair, for the remarkable achievement of winning more than 73 million votes without an appealing message, without significant achievements and without a discernible agenda for the future.

But though Trump will be remembered for all these things, he will be judged for one thing above all: When the pandemic came and hundreds of thousands of Americans died, he didn’t give a damn.

How do we know this? It is not easy to read a man’s heart. But it is easier to detect that organ’s absence. Trump is not only refusing to provide leadership during a rapidly mounting health crisis; he is also sabotaging the ability of the incoming Biden administration to cooperate with leaders at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Institutes of Health and other government agencies. By disrupting the presidential transition during an unfolding covid-19 disaster, Trump is engaging in American history’s most deadly sulk.

Read the rest here.

Stanford University’s statement on Dr. Scott Atlas

Scott Atlas is Donald Trump’s leading adviser on COVID-19.

He is a neuroradiologist. In other words, he specializes in “the diagnoses and treatment of brain, spinal chord, head and neck, and vascular lesions using x-rays, magnetic fields, radio waves, and ultrasound.”

Scott Atlas is not an infectious disease expert. In other words, he is NOT an expert in the “diagnosis and treatment of diseases caused by microorganisms, including bacteria, virus, fungi and parasites.”

This weekend, after Michigan governor Gretchen Whitmer announced COVID-19 restrictions on bars, restaurants, casinos, bowling alleys, and schools, Atlas tweeted: “The only way this stops is if people rise up. You get what you accept. #FreedomMatters #StepUp.” (It appears Atlas is also an activist, political commentator, revolutionary, and perhaps an inciter of violence).

Yesterday the editorial board of The Washington Post called for his immediate firing.

Atlas current serves as a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, a think tank affiliated with Stanford University.

Yesterday Stanford issues this statement:

The university has been asked to comment on recent statements made by Dr. Scott Atlas, a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution who is on leave of absence from that position.

Stanford’s position on managing the pandemic in our community is clear.  We support using masks, social distancing, and conducting surveillance and diagnostic testing.  We also believe in the importance of strictly following the guidance of local and state health authorities.

Dr. Atlas has expressed views that are inconsistent with the university’s approach in response to the pandemic. Dr. Atlas’s statements reflect his personal views, not those of the Hoover Institution or the university.

Now it looks like the Republican members of the Michigan legislature want to impeach Whitmer.

Thoughts on Samuel Alito’s recent speech to the Federalist Society

Some say Supreme Court justice Samuel Alito got too political in his recent speech to the Federalist Society. Others say his speech merely repeated arguments he has made in formal Supreme Court decisions.

Both sides of this debate are correct.

Watch:

Several of you have asked me to comment on the speech. So here goes:

First, Alito’s lecture defends free and open public discourse. He wants a country in which we respect “rational, civil speech on important subjects even if we do not agree with what the speaker has to say.” I appreciate Alito’s use of the word “rational” here. We should respect free speech that is based on facts, truth, and good science. This kind of speech is essential to the health of the republic, but we are not doing a very good job at supporting it. (Again, I point you to the statement on free speech published recently at Harper’s).

Second, Alito is correct to suggest that “tolerance for opposing views” is in “short supply” in the “broader academic community.” I completely agree with this. Some of us experienced this intolerance over the summer when we dared to suggest that the Society for Historians of the Early American Republic (SHEAR) mishandled a paper presentation by historian Daniel Feller.

Third, Alito argues that the pandemic has “resulted in previously unimaginable restrictions on individual liberty.” It is hard to argue with this as a statement of fact. We have had to curb our liberties in order to stay safe. But unlike Alito, I do not see a major problem with this. I think one can make a strong case from American history that there are times when we have placed duty over liberty and the common good over individual rights. The pandemic is one of those cases.

Fourth, Alito takes a shot at the progressive commitment to “expertise.” He is especially upset with the way governors use executive power to enforce pandemic restrictions that reflect what the scientists (experts) are telling them. If I understand him correctly, he believes that legislative bodies, not governors, should make decisions about COVID-19 restrictions.

Fair enough. But in a pandemic like this one it seems as if governors, in consultation with scientific experts, should be the primary decision makers. I am going to sound like an elite founding father here, but I wonder if we really want legislative assemblies–the people– making decisions in a pandemic, especially if they are not in close contact with experts who know how to handle such situations. If some of these state legislatures got their way back in March and April 2020 it is likely that even more people would have died from this virus. I am thankful for the work of governors such as Andrew Cuomo, Gretchen Whitmer, Mike DeWine, Tom Wolf, and Phil Murphy who are leading their respective states through this major health crisis. Let’s remember that these governors are also elected officials.

Fifth, Alito is worried about the future of religious liberty in the United States. He is right to do so. Alito offers three cases that concern him: Little Sisters of the Poor vs. Pennsylvania; Stormans, Inc. v. Wiesman (Ralph’s Pharmacy); and Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission (Jack Philips).

The Little Sisters of the Poor should be allowed to do whatever they want to do with their healthcare plan. If they refuse to provide contraception to their employees because of deeply-held religious beliefs, they should be permitted to do so under the First Amendment.

I am also sympathetic to Alito’s position (and Clarence Thomas and John Roberts) in the Ralph’s Pharmacy case. If I owned a pharmacy I would have a moral objection, because of my pro-life beliefs, to selling morning-after pills.

What about the Masterpiece Cakeshop Case? (The Court defended cake maker Jack Philips with a 7-2 decision on narrow grounds that did not get to the heart of the real religious liberty issues at stake). For me there seems to be a difference between selling an abortifacient and baking a cake for a wedding. But I realize other Christians might think differently and I want to respect their right to do that.

All of Alito’s religious liberty arguments in his Federalist Society speech make sense to me. I appreciate how he understands these issues in the context of efforts to create a more “inclusive” or pluralist society. John Inazu’s Confident Pluralism is the best book I have read on the subject. In terms of legislation, I recommend taking a look at the Fairness for All Act.

Sixth, Alito connects his thoughts on COVID-19 restrictions to his thoughts on religious liberty issues. Over the last several months religious conservatives have complained that Nevada allowed casinos to stay open, but limited the number of people permitted in churches. I am once again with Alito here. Why were casinos privileged over churches? I would argue, contra John MacArthur, that both should have been closed or restricted.

Seventh, Alito argues that COVID-19 restrictions have curbed free speech. He predicts that anyone who says “marriage is a union between one man and one woman” will soon be labeled a bigot. I am not aware of cases where the free speech of someone who believes in traditional marriage has been threatened, but I am sure there are examples out there. (It is also unclear how Alito’s concerns about this issue are related to COVID-19). I hope Alito’s prediction here is wrong, but I don’t think it is.

It is worth noting that not all people who believe in traditional marriage are homophobic or oppose the legality of LGBTQ marriages. (In the same way, people can be pro-life on abortion and still care about women’s health or even oppose the overturning of Roe v. Wade). Most defenders of traditional marriage want society to respect the rights of institutions–churches and schools come immediately to mind–whose members have deeply-held religious views on the matter.

All of this makes me wonder if someone who upholds a traditional view of marriage could land could land a job at public or non-religious college or university today. Probably not. I also imagine that my general support of Alito in this post would eliminate me from consideration for such a position at a college or university. I made a similar suggestion in this 2016 piece at Aeon. But I digress…

In the end, I am persuaded by much, but not all, of what Alito had to say in this speech.

Associated Press: “Counties with worst virus surges overwhelmingly voted Trump”

Here is Carla Johnson, Hannah Fingerhut, and Pia Sehpande:

U.S. voters went to the polls starkly divided on how they see President Donald Trump’s response to the coronavirus pandemic. But in places where the virus is most rampant now, Trump enjoyed enormous support.

An Associated Press analysis reveals that in 376 counties with the highest number of new cases per capita, the overwhelming majority — 93% of those counties — went for Trump, a rate above other less severely hit areas.

Most were rural counties in Montana, the Dakotas, Nebraska, Kansas, Iowa and Wisconsin — the kinds of areas that often have lower rates of adherence to social distancing, mask-wearing and other public health measures, and have been a focal point for much of the latest surge in cases.

Taking note of the contrast, state health officials are pausing for a moment of introspection. Even as they worry about rising numbers of hospitalizations and deaths, they hope to reframe their messages and aim for a reset on public sentiment now that the election is over.

Read the rest here.

My case for Joe Biden

Many have asked me to weigh-in on the election. Let me begin by saying that my choice of a candidate was not difficult.

Donald Trump is immoral. He is a pathological liar. He is a narcissist. He is a racist who empowers White supremacists. He is a misogynist. He disrespects American institutions. His presidency draws on some of the darkest moments of our national past. He has manipulated the Christian faith to advance his own unrighteous ends. I made this case in Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump and I stand by it.

Trump has poisoned American culture and cannot continue as President of the United States. He is not a leader. He has no interest in bringing the country together. He is incompetent. He is a con-man. He is a rainmaker. Those who vote for him in 2020 are empowering another four years of this mess and, without another election looming over Trump’s head, it is likely to get worse.

For evangelicals concerned about life:

A Columbia University study recently concluded that Trump’s administration is responsible for up to 210,000 COVID-19 deaths. He continues to ignore the pandemic. Doctors and scientists say things are going to get worse unless the president starts taking this pandemic seriously. As Ed Yong recently argued at The Atlantic: “America is about to choose how bad the pandemic will get.” This election is about life. Trump’s handling of the coronavirus is promoting a culture of illness and death.

Black men and women are dying in America. Those who are still alive fear for their lives because racism is embedded in our culture. Donald Trump does not believe in systemic racism and does not want to address it. Trump does not even have the decency to condemn White supremacy at a nationally televised debate. A good economy will not end systemic racism. A plan to give money to Historically Black Colleges and Universities will not end systemic racism. More evangelical conversions will not undo the damage done by centuries of racial oppression, especially if such converts are taught that systemic racism is a Satanic lie that “cultural Marxists” are propagating on the nation.

Donald Trump wants to overturn Obamacare and replace it with his own healthcare plan. So far the public has not seen this plan. I doubt it exists. Meanwhile, the end of Obamacare will undermine the health care of millions of people. This is not a pro-life position. Joe Biden is the pro-life candidate here.

Many conservative evangelicals connect their “pro-life” convictions to their “pro-family” convictions. But Trump separated thousands of children from their parents at the Mexican border. More than 500 of those children have yet to be reunited with their parents. Is this how a “family values” president acts? Moreover, let’s not pretend that our children are not watching his flawed character, hate-filled speeches at rallies, and Twitter feed. Trump’s garbage has come into our homes via our television and computer screens. Finally, Joe Biden has championed policies related to health care, child care, taxes, working parents, family leave, and education that will help struggling American families.

Donald Trump’s views on climate change will eventually lead to more poverty, more death, and a planet that may be uninhabitable sooner than we think. This is a life issue. It many not affect us right now, but people will die in the future if we don’t care for the creation that God has entrusted to us. Narcissists are selfish. They only care about themselves in relation to the moment in which they live. Republican citizens, on the other hand, understand their place in the larger expanse of the human experience–past, present, and future. Biden’s plan for environmental justice and his pledge to rejoin the Paris Agreement will ultimately result in saved lives.

I am always struck by anti-abortion activists who admit that Roe v. Wade will not end abortion in America, but yet still support overturning Roe because it is part of the work of chipping away at laws upholding a women’s right to choose. Someone recently described this to me as “taking the long view.” I understand this argument, but why do we “take the long view” on abortion, but fail to take the long view on climate change?

And speaking of abortion:

Trump gives lip service to abortion. He knew in 2016 that he needed to be pro-life in order to get the GOP nomination. So he became pro-life. Trump executed the Christian Right playbook to perfection. He appointed the right Supreme Court justices, made an appearance at pro-life events, and mentioned abortion in his speeches to evangelical audiences.

In the process, Trump continued to promote the idea that the best way to end abortion in America is to overturn Roe v. Wade. For nearly 50 years, white evangelicals have funneled their money to, and casted their votes for, “pro-life” candidates who promised to reverse this Supreme Court decision. That is nearly a half of a century with no results. As I have argued multiple times here at this blog, and as Christian writer and podcaster Skye Jethani has shown in an excellent video, the pursuit of political power will not end abortion in the United States.

If Christians really want to reduce the number of abortions, they will elect a president who wants to fund health care for women, deal with the systemic racism that keeps many black women in poverty, raise the minimum wage, and address the income gap between White people and people of color. The abortion rate has been dropping consistently since the 1990s. Spend some time on the Guttmacher Institute’s website.

Christian and pro-life voters should urge Joe Biden, if elected, to talk more about how he plans to continue this reduction of abortion. I hope he changes his mind about the Hyde Amendment and goes back to his original position. But if you care about the reduction of abortions, Biden is still the best candidate.

Some will say that it doesn’t really matter if abortions are in decline because it is still immoral for a Christian to vote for a nominee of a party that supports the ending of a baby’s life in the womb. Ramesh Ponnuru & Robert George recently made this argument in a piece at The National Review. I agree with much of their article. Abortion is a moral atrocity. But they offer no realistic or pragmatic solution for ending the practice. Ponnuru and George want us to vote our conscience. It is an argument rooted in moral purity.

I am a realist on this issue. In an imperfect world, politics is about achieving things that are possible. Abortion has been part of American life from the beginning and our culture has inherited this immoral practice. We thus must do everything possible to reduce the number of abortions in America. But purity of conviction is not going to accomplish this. While we take our moral stand and wait for the Supreme Court to act, babies will continue to die in the womb. Without a change of strategy, more poor women of color, and families who don’t believe they can afford another baby, will continue to choose abortion as an alternative. We need to create a world in which abortion is not the default option for an unwanted pregnancy.

In Believe Me, I quoted theologians Stanley Hauerwas and Jonathan Tran:

When Christians think that the struggle against abortion can only be pursued through voting for candidates with certain judicial philosophies, then serving at domestic abuse shelters or teaching students at local high schools or sharing wealth with expectant but under-resourced families or speaking of God’s grace in terms of ” adoption” or politically organizing for improved education or rezoning municipalities for childcare of creating “Parent’s Night Out” programs at local churches or mentoring young mothers or teaching youth about chastity and dating or mobilizing religious pressure on medical service providers or apprenticing men into fatherhood or thinking of singleness as a vocation or feasting on something called “communion” or rendering to God what is God’s or participating with the saints through Marion icons or baptizing new members or tithing money, will not count as political.

We must accept the fact that legalized abortion is not going away. Pro-lifers will never have complete victory. This is why we should support candidates who are dealing with the social, cultural, and economic issues that lead women and families to consider abortions. Ironically, Joe Biden, a representative of a pro-choice party, is that candidate. Donald Trump, who has the support of the Christian Right, is not.

Finally, what should we think about potential threats to religious liberty in a Biden campaign? If Biden is elected, I will work to push the new president to consider what John Inazu describes as a “confident pluralism.” Inazu asks Americans to work at living together with people of different ideological commitments. This will require creative thinking about how to find common ground without abandoning our deeply held beliefs. Confident pluralism requires mutual respect and a willingness to tend to our democratic life. One example of such creative thinking is the legislative bill known as “Fairness for All.” We need to create a culture that takes such bills seriously as a way of moving forward.

There is a good chance that a Biden administration may threaten the deeply-held convictions of religious institutions. But the Supreme Court has a strong track record of upholding religious liberty. As conservative writer and former religious liberty lawyer David French said in a debate with court evangelical Eric Metaxas:

[On] Religious liberty things have been fine. But I’ve got news for you, they have been fine for a long time. There is a fifteen case winning-streak on religious liberty at the Supreme Court of the United States dating back to the Obama administration….Most of those cases are won by 7-2, 6-3, no matter what screaming voices on Fox News will tell you, your religious liberty does not hang in the balance.

And if we do lose, we should take John Piper’s advice to pastors seriously:

May I suggest to pastors that in the quietness of your study you do this? Imagine that America collapses. First anarchy, then tyranny — from the right or the left. Imagine that religious freedom is gone. What remains for Christians is fines, prison, exile, and martyrdom. Then ask yourself this: Has my preaching been developing real, radical Christians? Christians who can sing on the scaffold, “Let goods and kindred go; This mortal life also; The body they may kill; God’s truth abideth still; His kingdom is forever.”

That is the crux of my case. I delivered my sealed ballot today. I checked the box for Biden-Harris.

I like how Christian theologian John Stackhouse puts it in his book Making the Best of It: Following Christ in the Real World.

Sometimes, then, some of us must improvise. As Bonhoeffer reminds us, in certain extreme situations we cannot settle for living ‘correctly’ according to some neat ethical calculus we have devised and congratulating ourselves for our integrity…We are responsible to care for the earth and to love our neighbor as best we can, and if we think we can do that better in an unusual way that leaves us vulnerable to second-guessing and maybe even to error, we nonetheless should do it. For what is the alternative? It is to shrink back from this possibility and settle for the safety of the rule book, the comfort of the clear but circumscribed conscience. Most of the time, then, we know what to do and must simply do it. Sometimes, however, the politician has to hold his nose and made a deal…So we hold on to God’s hand, and each other’s, and make the best of it.”

I’m holding on to God’s hand.

The utter hypocrisy of the Trump administration on COVID-19

By this point I am pretty tired of hearing evangelicals say that Trump is a pro-life president. We did a post yesterday that referenced a Columbia University study that found that Trump’s failure to act early on COVID-19 led to the loss of between 130,000 and 210,000 lives. I am not a scientist, but I prefer to get my science from Ivy League scholars and researchers and not from Fox News or, sadly, the President of the United States.

Last month, the White House sponsored an event to announce the nomination of Amy Coney Barrett. A lot of people got COVID-19 at that event.

Last night the White House hosted the swearing-in ceremony for Amy Coney Barrett. According to CNN, 200 “socially distanced chairs were spread out across the White House south lawn for the event.” Masks were required.

So let’s get this straight. The powerful Washington insiders (and others) who came to Barrett’s swearing-in have to social distance and wear masks. But the people who come to Trump’s campaign rallies are packed-in like sardines and are not required to wear masks.

So the people at the White House get treated one way, while the people at the rallies get treated another way. Of course most of the people who attend the rallies do not believe in masks or social distancing anyway, but the double-standard here reveals a lot about what Trump really thinks about his base. He’s a rainmaker.

And then there is Mike Pence. The vice-president is also on the campaign trail despite the fact that at least five of his aides, including his bodyman and chief of staff, have COVID-19.

Center for Disease Control (CDC) protocol requires people who have been in close contact with someone with COVID-19 to quarantine for 14 days. The White House claims that Pence does not have to quarantine because he is an “essential worker.” Since when is campaigning “essential work” in a pandemic?

Let’s also remember that Mike Pence leads the White House Coronavirus Task Force. If I understand the task force correctly, its primary job is to make sure CDC guidelines are followed.

The number of COVID cases are rising again. Trump and Pence need to go.

“Out of Work in America”

The New York Times teamed-up with local news agencies in Buffalo, New York; Victoria, Texas; Frenchtown, Montana; Carlisle, Pennsylvania; Grand Rapids, Michigan; Sarasota, Florida; Tucson, Arizona; Eau Claire, Wisconsin; Santa Ana, California; August, Georgia; Las Vegas, Nevada, and Owensburg, Kentucky to chronicle the economic devastation COVID-19 is bringing to ordinary Americans. It’s a powerful piece of reporting.

Here is the story from my neck of the woods:

Anthony Lucier, 34, lives alone in Carlisle, Pa. He was laid off from his job as an inventory coordinator at a local Toyota dealership in June after six years. We first spoke with Mr. Lucier in July.

I worked really hard for those guys for six years. I gave them my all. I was given the old-fashioned “You stay, you put your time in, you work hard, you move up.” Then Covid happened. I was furloughed for a few weeks in March, and then we qualified for a loan. Then they brought us all back to work even though we were in the red phase of the pandemic. Near the end of that loan, I was told my position with the company was going to be eliminated. There were other positions, and I applied for all of them, but for whatever reason, I wasn’t given an opportunity to move to a different area of the business.

When I was furloughed, I was fine. It wasn’t until I was laid off where I was like, “OK, I can’t just mope around, I gotta go do something.” So I started throwing out applications everywhere. I figured, “OK, something’s bound to happen. I’m bound to get a call back.” Second week goes by: “Oh, all right.” After about the third week, that’s when I started to get concerned because I’ve never really needed a job before. That was weird. I was shocked, I was afraid and I was out of my comfort zone. The only callback I received was from a fine wine and spirits store in York County. They hired me. I’m hoping that with time it’ll grow into something that’s more full time, and it’ll turn out to be something that I can actually pay my bills and my rent on.

I found myself on unemployment, and that was weird. And I’m still technically on unemployment to make up for any pay that I’m not receiving compared to what I used to receive. I’m filling out web pages full of information and hopefully getting some income from the government. I think it’s great, but it is weird. I didn’t think at any point in my life that I would be here, especially in my mid-30s.

This is hypothetical, but let’s say Gov. Tom Wolf hits the newsstand tomorrow and says, “Hey, sorry. The bank’s tapped. We’re not going to be able to offer you any more unemployment.” If I get laid off again, that’s probably it for me. At that point, I’m not going to be able to pay my rent, I’m not going to be able to pay my bills. I won’t be able to make my car payment. At that point, I’m either going to be out on the street or maybe I can move back in with my parents, which is not something a guy in his 30s is looking forward to.

Unemployment is nice because it’s a safety net. I knew I wouldn’t starve. But I feel like the quicker you can get off of it the better, especially right now, when there are millions of other people who are also collecting unemployment. I want to make a move as quickly as possible and try to get my life back on track.

Read the entire piece here.

Tonight’s debate

Some thoughts on the final debate of the 2020 presidential campaign.

On the format:

The mute button definitely worked. Kristen Welker did a solid job as moderator. Trump was under control. He started-out very mellow:

Symbolic gestures are important, especially in a pandemic:

This continues to be the essence of Trump’s approach to the coronavirus:

I have no idea what Trump meant when he criticized Biden for “selling pillows and sheets”:

Trump focused on Hunter Biden’s laptop, Burisma, and Biden’s houses (he owns two). No one cares unless you watch Fox News:

Seth Cotlar gets it right:

When Trump attacked Biden’s family, Biden did not get into the mud. (There is a lot of material about the Trump family he could have used). Instead, he appealed to American families:

When Biden talked about American families and their “dinner table” concerns, Trump accused him of being a “typical politician.”:

Trump kept pushing lies about Biden’s positions on health care and fracking:

In one the better moments of the debate, Biden said that Trump was confused about the identity of his opponent in this election, especially as it relates to health care. Biden does not support socialized medicine. He actually won the Democratic primary against the likes of Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren who do favor socialized medicine. He reminded the viewers who Trump was running against:

The moderator, Kristen Welker, asked Trump about how his administration manage to lose the parents of 545 immigrant children. Trump claimed that they these children were brought to the country not by their parents, but by “coyotes.” Biden pushed back hard, saying that these children came to the United States with their parents and they were separated. Trump’s failed to exercise any degree of empathy for these children. It was painful to watch.

As a side note, I had interesting exchange on Twitter on this issue with court evangelical and GOP operative Ralph Reed:

I am not holding my breath about Reed’s decision to revisit this issue 10 days before an election.

Welker asked Biden and Trump about “the talk” African-American parents give their children about the dangers they will face in a racist society. Bruce Springsteen summarized this well in his song “American Skin”:

Here is the lyric:

41 shots, Lena gets her son ready for school
She says, “On these streets, Charles
You’ve got to understand the rules
If an officer stops you, promise me you’ll always be polite
And that you’ll never ever run away
Promise Mama you’ll keep your hands in sight”

Biden responded to this question with a clear statement about systemic racism, lamenting that such a “talk” is necessary in the United States of America. Trump never answered the question. Instead he said this:

Trump claimed he was the “least racist” person in the room. Then he backpedaled a bit, saying he couldn’t be entirely sure that he was the “least racist” person in the room because the lights were too bright and he was unable to see everyone.

Trump then went after Biden for his role in drafting the 1994 Crime Bill. This bill was controversial because it increased incarceration in an attempt to stop crime. It led to more prison sentences and aggressive policing that hurt people of color who are disproportionately likely to be incarcerated.

Biden has said that his support of the 1994 bill was a mistake and he regrets it. He said the same thing last night. But what confuses me is why Trump always criticizes him on this front. Wouldn’t a “law and order” president like Trump who does not believe in systemic racism be in favor of such a bill? After Trump’s response to racial unrest this summer, one might think he would have been chomping at the bit to support such a bill. Biden lost a chance to point this out.

New York Times columnist David Brooks weighed-in on the debate:

Biden said that he wanted to phase out the oil industry because it is bad for the environment. Trump implied that Biden’s statement alienated people in Texas, Pennsylvania, Oklahoma, and Ohio. Perhaps it did, but Biden stood his ground. Historian Andrew Wehrman put it succinctly:

Biden’s claim to be the president of all Americans reminded me of Thomas Jefferson’s first inaugural address:

Trump did fine. As CNN’s Dana Bash put it, the “bar was very low” for Trump and he managed to clear it.

Biden did fine as well. He had some nice moments.

I don’t think the debate changed much, especially since Trump is probably going to stay some more stupid stuff tomorrow and everyone will forget about last night’s debate.

Trump mocks Biden for “listening to the scientists”

And there it is.

How dare Biden listen to the scientists!! 😉

Even worse, if Biden is elected, Christmas will be canceled:

Chris Christie’s statement about COVID-19 and his failure to wear a mask

Here it is:

I am happy and fortunate to inform you that I have recovered from COVID-19.

Before this good news, however, I spent 7 days in the Intensive Care Unit of Morristown Medical Center to get treatment and insure this good result for me and my family. I want to thank the doctors and nurses for their skillful and compassionate care. I want to thank the manufacturers of Remdesivir and the Eli Lilly monoclonal anti-body cocktail for giving me access to their extraordinary treatments. I am confident that all of those factors contributed to my good health today.

When you have seven days in isolation in an ICU though, you have time to do a lot of thinking. I did and have come to the following conclusions:


I believed that when I entered the White House grounds, that I had entered a safe zone, due to the testing that and I and many others underwent every day. I was wrong. I was wrong to not wear a mask at the Amy Coney Barrett announcement and I was wrong not to wear a mask at my multiple debate prep sessions with the President and the rest of the team. I hope that my experience shows my fellow citizens that you should follow CDC guidelines in public no matter where you are and wear a mask to protect yourself and others.

Having had this virus, I can also assure those who have not had it of a few things. It is something to take very seriously. The ramifications are wildly random and potentially deadly. No one should be happy to get the virus and no one should be cavalier about being infected or infecting others.

But as a former public official, I believe we have not treated Americans as adults, who understand truth, sacrifice and responsibility that I know them to be. I have also concluded that like much else in 2020, that the virus is governed by our two dominant political and media extremes: those who believe there is nothing to this virus and those alarmists who would continue to close down our country and not trust the common sense of the American people. Both are wrong. This is not an either/or proposition. The public health consequences of ignoring the virus and the responsible safeguards that we need to take will be additional illness and death caused by COVID-19. The public policy consequences of continuing to shut down or re-shut down our country will be further economic devastation to families, even more loss of education by our students and the continuing loss of life through the drug abuse, suicide and depression caused by taking away people’s ability to support their families. There is another way.

Every public official, regardless of party or position, should advocate for every American to wear a mask in public, appropriately socially distance and to wash your hands frequently every day. At the same time, we should be reopening in every corner of this nation under these guidelines. Reopen all those places which have taken the brunt of these shutdowns and allow our country to get back to a life where citizens can support their families using common sense. Even during a contentious election year, we must trust the American people with the truth. I believe that these two steps can bring our country together while our pharmaceutical companies invent the therapeutics and vaccines which will rid us of this virus.

While we may seem very divided today, I do believe we can use this public health tragedy to bring us together. It is never too late to start. It will take leadership that both challenges and trusts the American people. After all, we are America, the world’s greatest hope.

Court evangelical Charlie Kirk is glad colleges are closed because “left-leaning students probably would not vote.”

An organization called the Council for National Policy held meetings in February and August to address issues related to the 2020 election. According to Washington Post reporter Robert O’Harrow, who obtained videos of these events, the following things happened:

  1. Court evangelical Charlie Kirk, the founder of the Falkirk Center at Liberty University, was thrilled that college campuses are closed due to coronavirus since this means “left-leaning students probably would not vote.”
  2. Bill Walton (not the former NBA player), the president of this group, said in regard to the coming election: “This is a spiritual battle we are in. This is good versus evil. We have to do everything we can to win.” Indeed, everything and anything. After all, that’s what God would want.
  3. Tom Fitton, the president of an organization called Judicial Watch, claimed that Democrats were “war-gaming” a plan to delay the election results until January 20, 2021 so Nancy Pelosi could become acting president. More fearmongering.
  4. Fitton also tried to undermine the validity of mail-in ballots and it said this practice could lead to civil war.

Read the entire piece here.

Is the GOP pro-coronavirus?

It sure looks that way. Trump has held two rallies so far this week and, with the exception of some people behind the stage, few people wore masks. Trump claimed that he may be “immune” from the virus. He is so immune that he wants to kiss people:

And then there is this:

Over at The Week, Ryan Cooper wonders if the Republican Party is “objectively pro-coronavirus.” Here is a taste:

Monday saw the beginning of the Senate Judiciary Committee hearings on the nomination of Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court. Staggeringly, Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) actually appeared in person, a mere 10 days after testing positive for COVID-19. He apparently has not tested negative or even been examined by a physician to confirm he has no symptoms — and removed his mask before giving his opening remarks. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), meanwhile, who was exposed to Lee in an Oct. 1 hearing and had one negative test, has since refused to take another one even as a precaution. In one particularly ghoulish moment, both Lee and Graham stood chatting over Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), who is 87 years old (and has also refused to get tested).

Read the rest here.

Did Abraham Lincoln infect his valet with smallpox?

Trump may not be the only president to spread a deadly disease. Here is Michael Rosenwald at The Washington Post:

On his way home from delivering the Gettysburg Address in 1863, President Abraham Lincoln was overcome by a splitting headache.

A fever was coming on. He grew quiet. Not knowing what else to do, the president who had just given one of the most famous speeches in American history went to his drawing room and bathed his head in cold water. Then he lay down.

At his side on Nov. 19, 1863, helping take care of him was one of the most important yet historically overlooked people in Lincoln’s life — William H. Johnson, a 30-year-old Black man the president had brought with him from Illinois to be his personal valet.

In today’s political lexicon, Johnson would be called a body man, there for every need the president might have, both personal and official. A body man’s proximity to the president places him inches from history on a daily basis.

But when the president contracts a dangerous infectious disease, a body man is just a breath away from potential death.

Read the rest here.