Tweets of the Day: Merrick Garland

 

Can a Presidential Administration Run on Loyalty Alone?

jackson-portrait

Over at The Washington Post column “Made by History, Cumberland University history professor Mark Cheathem reflects historically on the idea of “loyalty” in presidential administrations.  Here is a taste of his piece on Andrew Jackson’s presidency:

Chaos seems to dominate President Trump’s White House. From Omarosa Manigault Newman’s secret audio recordings to the anonymous New York Times op-ed, reports from White House officials highlight the dysfunction that has plagued the Trump administration in its first 20 months.

Nearly 200 years ago, Democratic President Andrew Jackson’s White House witnessed a similar situation: a president consumed by conspiratorial thinking, a Cabinet feeling the brunt of the president’s paranoia and accusations of an ambitious vice president waiting to step in for a president who failed to deliver on his promise of democratic populism.

The thread that links the chaos in both administrations is the emphasis on loyalty. Throughout his life, Jackson held positions that demanded loyalty — from the soldiers he led, the enslaved people he owned and the relatives and friends he mentored. Disloyal actions led Jackson to cast aside members of his inner circle. And the political consequences of these falling-outs were significant, helping to shape the two-party system and contributing to the regional strife that eventually produced the Civil War. Similar situations in the Trump orbit also could have serious long-term ramifications.

Read the rest here.

Also check out our recent Author’s Corner interview with Cheathem on his book The Coming Democracy: Presidential Campaigning in the Age of Jackson.

What Will Evangelicals Do if Kavanaugh’s Nomination Fails?

Kavanaugh

An MSNBC White House correspondent believes that white conservative evangelicals will “crucify Trump” if the Brett Kavanaugh nomination fails.

Here is a taste:

MSNBC White House correspondent Yamiche Alcindor said Monday that if President Trump loses his fight to put conservative Brett Kavanaugh on the Supreme Court, his religious base may lose whatever faith they have in the man many of their sect believe was chosen by God to lead the country.

“Sarah Sanders is echoing a lot of the reaction of a lot of evangelical Christians when I asked them how they support President Trump,” Alcindor said. “They say this is someone who can be used even if he’s problematic, even if he in their mind has sinned, that he can still be someone who puts forth policies that can help people’s lives.”

But in the event that Trump fails to appoint Kavanaugh to the court, where he could be the deciding vote on an number of their political goals, conservative Christians will like flee, Alcindor believed. “This is one of the number one things that evangelical Christians wanted out of this president,” she said. “They wanted a Supreme Court that was going to try to overturn Roe v. Wade, that wasn’t going to be pro-choice, that was going to be a pro-life Supreme Court.”

I don’t see it this way.  If the Kavanaugh nomination fails, Trump evangelicals will blame the liberals.  They will not blame Trump.  Trump will nominate another conservative justice off the Federalist Society or Heritage Foundation list and we will go through all of this again.  A failed Kavanaugh nomination will not weaken conservative evangelical support for the president, it will strengthen it.

Brazil is Interested in Trump and Evangelicals

Believe Me 3dBelieve Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump has garnered attention around the world.  Since the book appeared in June 2018, I have done interviews with newspapers in Norway, Netherlands, Germany, Turkey, and France.  My latest interview was with Julia Zaremba of Folhapress in San Paolo, Brazil.  This seems fitting, in light of resurgence (both spiritually and politically) of evangelicalism in Brazil.

Here is a taste of her piece (translated through Google translator) “Evangelicals support Trump in expectation of conservative judges“:

Obama’s support for same-sex marriage, a right that was recognized by the Supreme Court in 2015, did not appeal to evangelicals either. “They saw Democrat management as a threat to the country,” says John Fea, a history professor and author of “Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump” (believe me: the evangelical road to Donald Trump).

The dissatisfaction of evangelicals with the direction of American politics is not recent, Fea explains. In 1960, the Supreme Court banned reading the Bible in public schools. In the 1970s, the Roe v. Wade legalized abortion in the country. More than 20 years later, Bill Clinton, a president defending the right to abortion, became embroiled in a case with his intern at the White House.

“Trump is a comfort to evangelicals, who are no longer as anxious as ever,” says Fea.

The difference from the predecessors, he says, is that Trump really “fights for the causes” of the group and is seen as a “strong man.” Among white evangelical voters, more than 80 percent voted for Trump in the 2016 election.

The expert says, however, that support for a man who is “adulterous and who often lies” can harm the image of the Gospel. “By making a deal with Trump, they have turned almost to a lobby group that uses the president to get what they want,” he says. “From the standpoint of the Christian belief system, this is problematic.”

Read the entire piece here.

Would Pence Be Worse?

mike-pence-national-anthem-ap-jt-171008_4x3_992 (1)

Historian Neil Young does not think so.

Here is a taste of his Huffington Post piece, “No, President Mike Pence Would Not Be Worse Than Trump“:

…But pretending this would amount to a greater danger than Trump poses to American democracy and global stability is foolish alarmism disguised as rational diagnosis. Unfortunately, it’s perfectly in line with the sort of nihilistic cynicism that has taken over American politics and not dissimilar to the pessimistic fatalism that Trump stokes and enjoys.

An outlook that can’t distinguish the political challenge of a possible Pence presidency from the very real existential threat to the republic that Trump poses is useless for guarding against the disaster taking place in Washington right now.

The American presidency has never been inhabited by the likes of Donald Trump. He constantly and increasingly imperils our system of democracy. His flouting of the Constitution sets hazardous precedents that weaken the rule of law. His volatile and irrational temperament, combined with his disregard for international alliances and friendliness with autocrats and dictators, jeopardizes the safety of all of us.

Pence’s politics, while thoroughly conservative, fall in line with the basic Republican orthodoxy of the last 40 years. That’s an agenda worth resisting, for sure, but it’s one that Democrats will be well equipped — even emboldened — to block, especially if they claim a majority in the House this fall, as appears likely.

Read the entire piece here.  I am mostly with Young here, although I do think Pence is more conservative than Reagan, George H.W. Bush, and George W. Bush.  All of these presidents, to varying degrees, held some views that were compatible with the Christian Right and they appealed to this wing of the party.  But none of them were products of the Christian Right.  On the other hand, Pence’s entire political agenda seems driven and informed by the Christian Right.  He is one of them.

The President Who Made it Illegal to Criticize the Presidency

Adams and Trump

Donald Trump?  Not yet.  I think he’d like to make it illegal to criticize him, but he hasn’t been able to pull it off yet.

We are talking about John Adams and the Alien and Sedition Acts.  Here is a taste of Ronald Shafer’s piece at The Washington Post:

The thin-skinned president of the United States was furious at his critics — like the congressman who wrote that the president was “swallowed up in a continual grasp for power, in an unbounded thirst for ridiculous pomp, foolish adulation and selfish avarice.”

The peeved president wasn’t Donald Trump. He was America’s second commander in chief, John Adams.

Though Adams was a Founding Father of the United States’ democracy, he couldn’t abide personal scorn. In July 1798, he signed the Alien and Sedition Acts that, among other things, made it illegal to “write, print, utter, or publish . . . any false, scandalous and malicious writing or writings” against the president and other executive branch officials.

While the laws no longer exist today, modern presidents have also called for stricter laws to suppress criticism of their office, as President Trump did this week in the wake of journalist Bob Woodward’s new White House tell-all and an anonymous opinion piece by a senior administration official in the New York Times. Trump called for a change in libel laws and also demanded the Times turn over the anonymous author “for National Security purposes.”

Read the rest here.

Even More Fear-Mongering

Eric-Trump

I just got this message in my mailbox.  It’s from Eric Trump.  He is apparently assembling an “army” to fight the “radical agenda” of the “liberal Democrats.”

 

Authorized From Trump Headquarters

NATIONAL DAY OF ACTION: SEPTEMBER 15TH

Supporter: jfea@messiah.edu
Volunteer Status:
PENDING

Sign up for National Day of Action 9/15

JOIN US NOW

John,

The stakes could not be any higher for this year’s midterm elections.

Liberal Democrats are determined to win and force their radical agenda on all of us.

They want to repeal every successful policy my father has signed and abolish ICE — and they’re willing to do whatever it takes to do it. Including calling for the harassment and intimidation of Trump supporters like you.

But, John, we can stop them.

We are assembling a Trump Army on September 15 — our National Day of Action.

We need every supporter on board to knock on doors and reach voters. We need to reach EVERY patriot and make sure they’re committed to voting this November.

Are you on board? Please, sign up to volunteer here: gop.com/national-day-of-action-september-2018

John, I cannot stress how important it is that you join us. This is the best way to support the MAGA agenda.

Without the support of people like you helping us reach voters, the left could succeed.

You’ve heard what they’ve had to say. You’ve seen their agenda. And you must agree that we cannot let them win.

Please, join our National Day Of Action to help conservatives win this November.

Counting on you.

Eric Trump

Cal Thomas, an architect of the Moral Majority in the 1980s, described the effectiveness of these kinds of messages during the heyday of the Christian Right.  Here is a section from my book Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump in which I quote from Thomas’s book (co-authored with Ed Dobson) Blinded by Might: Why the Religious Right Can’t Save America:

For example, Moral Majority fundraising letters always followed a basic formula: “First, they identify an enemy: homosexuals, abortionists, Democrats, or ‘liberals’ in general. Second, the enemies are accused of being out to ‘get us’ or to impose their morality on the rest of the country.  Third, the letter assures the reader that something will be done…Fourth, to get this job done, please send money.”

This playbook has been around for a long time.

More Politics of Fear

Believe Me 3dMembers of my extended family are sharing this on Facebook.  It has apparently been shared over 479,000 times:

Fear

There are people who say that I was wrong for suggesting in Believe Me that “fear” may have motivated people, especially evangelicals, to pull the lever for Trump in 2016. Fear is often stoked by false information and propaganda.  Without this kind of fear-mongering, Trump has no base.  How did we allow ourselves to elect a president who consistently appeals to the darkest corners of the human mind?

Trump is Holding Us Hostage

trump

Check out Andrew Sullivan recent post at Daily Intelligencer:

Sometimes I think it’s useful to think of this presidency as a hostage-taking situation. We have a president holding liberal democracy hostage, empowered by a cult following. The goal is to get through this without killing any hostages, i.e., without irreparable breaches in our democratic system. Come at him too directly and you might provoke the very thing you are trying to avoid. Somehow, we have to get the nut job to put the gun down and let the hostages go, without giving in to any of his demands. From the moment Trump took office, we were in this emergency. All that we now know, in a way we didn’t, say, a year ago, is that the chances of a successful resolution are close to zero.

Read the entire piece here.

HT

Did Jon Huntsman Write the Anonymous Op-Ed?

db6bf-huntsman-jon2

It is certainly possible.  William Saleton makes the case at Slate:

Who wrote the anonymous op-ed against President Trump in Wednesday’s New York Times? All we know for certain is what the Times disclosed: that it’s a “senior official in the Trump administration.” But the most likely author, based on the op-ed’s content and style, is the U.S. ambassador to Russia, Jon Huntsman.

Huntsman is an obvious suspect for several reasons. The article’s themes are classic Huntsman: effusive about conservative policies, blunt about low character. In 2016, he made the same points for and against Trump. The topic that gets the most space and detail in the piece is Huntsman’s current area, Russia. (As Slate’s Fred Kaplan points out, Trump has been circumventing and undermining Huntsman.) The prose, as in Huntsman’s speeches and interviews, is flamboyantly erudite. The tone, like Huntsman’s, is pious. And the article’s stated motive—“Americans should know that there are adults in the room”—matches a letter that Huntsman wrote to the Salt Lake Tribune in July. In the letter, Huntsman, responding to a columnist who thought the ambassador should resign rather than keep working for Trump, explained that public servants such as himself were dutifully attending to the nation’s business.

Read the rest here.

Who Has Denied Writing the Anti-Trump Op-Ed in *The New York Times*?

Times Op-Ed

Mike Pence, James Mattis, Mike Pompeo, Jeff Sessions, Steve Mnuchin, Dan Coats, Ben Carson, Nikki Haley, Mick Mulvaney, Rick Perry, Wilbur Ross, Betsy DeVos, and John Bolton have all denied it.

Of course this means nothing.  All of these cabinet members and senior officials are complicit with a presidential administration that lies to the American people multiple times a day.  Should we really believe them now?

Peter Beinart on the “Real Authors” of *The New York Times* Op-Ed

Congress

Writing at The Atlantic, Beinart argues that Republicans in Congress are the “real authors of the anonymous New York Times op-ed.  Here is a taste:

In theory, in America’s constitutional system, the different branches of the federal government check one another. When a presidents acts in corrupt, authoritarian, or reckless ways, the legislative branch holds hearings, blocks his agenda, refuses to confirm his nominees, even impeaches him. That’s how America’s government is supposed to work. But it no longer does. Instead, for the last year and a half, congressional Republicans have acted, for the most part, as Trump’s agents. Not only have they refused to seriously investigate or limit him, they have assaulted those within the federal bureaucracy—the justice department and the FBI in particular—who have.

So in the absence of this public, constitutional system of checks and balances, a secret, unauthorized system has emerged to replace it. Because Congress won’t check the president, the president’s own appointees are doing so instead. 

Read the rest here.

The 25th Amendment

 

Ford

Yesterday’s anonymous op-ed in The New York Times noted that some of Trump’s senior staff have talked about the 25th Amendment in the context of his inept presidency.

If you are unfamiliar with the 25th Amendment, I recommend this piece at National Public Radio.

Here is the text of the amendment:

Section 1.

In case of the removal of the President from office or of his death or resignation, the Vice President shall become President.

Section 2.

Whenever there is a vacancy in the office of the Vice President, the President shall nominate a Vice President who shall take office upon confirmation by a majority vote of both Houses of Congress.

Section 3.

Whenever the President transmits to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives his written declaration that he is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, and until he transmits to them a written declaration to the contrary, such powers and duties shall be discharged by the Vice President as Acting President.

Section 4.

Whenever the Vice President and a majority of either the principal officers of the executive departments or of such other body as Congress may by law provide, transmit to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives their written declaration that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, the Vice President shall immediately assume the powers and duties of the office as Acting President.

Thereafter, when the President transmits to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives his written declaration that no inability exists, he shall resume the powers and duties of his office unless the Vice President and a majority of either the principal officers of the executive department or of such other body as Congress may by law provide, transmit within four days to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives their written declaration that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office. Thereupon Congress shall decide the issue, assembling within forty-eight hours for that purpose if not in session. If the Congress, within twenty-one days after receipt of the latter written declaration, or, if Congress is not in session, within twenty-one days after Congress is required to assemble, determines by two-thirds vote of both Houses that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, the Vice President shall continue to discharge the same as Acting President; otherwise, the President shall resume the powers and duties of his office.

“I am Part of the Resistance”

trump

By this point, many of you have seen the anonymous New York Times op-ed written by  a senior official in the Trump White House.

Read it here.

I don’t know what to make of this piece.  On the surface, it seems to square with everything we have heard about the chaos of the Trump White House.  But what is the motive?  Does the author want to paint Trump as a sympathetic character whose administration is being undermined by spies, leakers and other potential “deep staters”?  Does the author want to assure Americans that there are rational people trying to hold the republic together?  Is this an attempt to get Trump to do something irrational so that he can be removed from office?

I don’t know what qualifies as a “senior official” in the Trump administration, but apparently the editors of The New York Times thought this person was important enough to protect her or his anonymity.

Over at CNN, political reporter Chris Cilizza tries to guess who is behind the op-ed.  Some of these suggestions are outrageous (Kellyanne Conway?  Mike Pence? Javanka?), but anything is possible in this administration.

Now Trump is demanding that The New York Times reveal the identity of this person.

Sorry Donald, it doesn’t work that way.  We have something in the United States called the First Amendment.

When “Christ’s Kingdom is just another demographic in the US electorate”

Trump court evangelicals
Reformed theologian Michael Horton reflects on a lot of the same themes I wrote about in Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump.  Here is a taste of Horton’s Christianity Today piece, “What are Evangelicals Afraid of Losing?“:

And yet, swinging from triumphalism to seething despair, many pastors are conveying to the wider, watching public a faith in political power that stands in sharp opposition to everything we say we believe in. To many of our neighbors, the court chaplains appear more like jesters.

Something tremendous is at stake here: whether evangelical Christians place their faith more in Caesar and his kingdom than in Christ and his reign. On that one, we do have everything to lose—this November and every other election cycle. When we seek special political favors for the church, we communicate to the masses that Christ’s kingdom is just another demographic in the US electorate.

Let’s face it. Liberal and conservative, Catholic and Protestant, have courted political power and happily allowed themselves to be used by it. This always happens when the church confuses the kingdom of Christ with the kingdoms of this present age. Jesus came not to jump-start the theocracy in Israel, much less to be the founding father of any other nation. Even during his ministry, two disciples—James and John—wanted to call down judgment on a village that rejected their message, but “Jesus turned to them and rebuked them” (Luke 9:54–55). He is not a mascot for a voting bloc but the savior of the world. He came to forgive sins and bring everlasting life, to die and rise again so that through faith in him we too can share in his new creation.

Read the entire piece here.

“Crazytown”

Trump Woodward

Don’t mess with Bob Woodward, one of my childhood heroes.

Over at The Atlantic, Olivia Paschal has published some choice quotes from Woodward’s new book Fear: Trump in the White House.  Here is a taste:

Defense Secretary James Mattis

Following a contentious National Security Council meeting, Mattis told people close to him that the president had the understanding of “a fifth- or sixth-grader.”

Chief of Staff John Kelly

“He’s an idiot. It’s pointless to try to convince him of anything. He’s gone off the rails. We’re in Crazytown. I don’t even know why any of us are here. This is the worst job I’ve ever had.”

Former Top Economic Adviser Gary Cohn

“A professional liar.”

Read more here.  I am eager to see if there is anything in the book about the court evangelicals.

Court Evangelicals and “Secular Hedonism” in the Oval Office

Court evangelical dinner

Bill Leonard, the southern Baptist church historian, reflects on evangelicals in the White House and the current state of evangelical politics.  Here is a taste of his piece at Baptist News Global titled “Birthrights and Bibles“:

In Living Faith (1996) former President Jimmy Carter recalls this White House encounter: “A high official of the Southern Baptist Convention [SBC] came into the Oval Office to visit me when I was president. As he and his wife were leaving, he said, ‘We are praying, Mr. President, that you will abandon secular humanism as your religion.’ This was a shock to me. I didn’t know what he meant. I am still not sure.” Carter, who taught Sunday school at Washington’s First Baptist Church while president, also remembers that in his 1976 run for the White House, “the evangelist Jerry Falwell condemned me because I ‘claimed’ to be a Christian.”

Some four decades later certain conservative Christian leaders, including Jerry Falwell Jr. and J.D. Greear, president of the SBC, paid another visit to the White House for a “state dinner” hosted by Donald Trump, a president whose politics they strongly support, but whose life of secular hedonism they seem willing to overlook. Indeed, some 100 of the ministers in attendance signed a Bible that they presented to the president, with an inscription that reads: “History will record the greatness that you have brought for generations.” (Greear later released a statement defending his decision to attend the dinner, reaffirming his desire to depoliticize the SBC, and noting that he did not sign the Bible.)

Read the entire piece here.