The “Massive Backtracking” at Fox News

Fox News

Here is former Clinton press secretary Joe Lockhart:

Paul Farhi’s and Sarah Ellison’s piece at The Washington Post reminds us that:

  • Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham of Fox News said the news media was stirring “mass hysteria” and were “panic pushers.”
  • Hannity said downplayed the power of this pandemic.
  • Ingraham called the Democrats “the pandemic party.”
  • Ingraham told the elderly to quarantine, but suggested everyone else should go about their daily activities and “don’t take a cruise maybe.”
  • Fox Business News host Trish Regan said the media was using the coronavirus to “impeach Donald Trump.”
  • Only Tucker Carlson has taken the coronavirus seriously.
  • “Judge” Jeannine Pirro said that the idea that the coronavirus is more deadly than the flu “doesn’t reflect reality.”
  • Jerry Falwell Jr., the president of Liberty University, went on Fox and said that the coronavirus was sent to the United States by Kim Jong Un and the Chinese.
  • On Sunday, Devin Nunes went on Fox and told everyone who was healthy to go out to dinner.  Then he made an absolutely disingenuous effort to clean things up.

Now Hannity is referring to the coronavirus as a “crisis” and extolling Trump’s leadership.  Ingraham is calling this a “dangerous health crisis.” Fox took Regan’s program off the air. Trump said he disagreed with Nunes’s “go out to dinner” line.

Fox News has stopped downplaying this crisis.  I am glad to see this.  But we will probably never know the extent of the damage it did. There are so many senior citizens and elderly Americans who watch this network and take what they hear as gospel. I also wonder how much Fox News had to do with so many churches keeping their doors open on Sunday.

What Are the Court Evangelicals Saying About the Coronavirus?

coronavirus_social-copy

According to Ruth Graham’s piece at Slate, they feel pretty calm about.  Here is a taste:

In the 2015 book Countdown to the Apocalypse: Why ISIS and Ebola Are Only the Beginning, Robert Jeffress described a world on the brink of chaos. “Never in my lifetime have I sensed so much unrest in the air,” the Dallas pastor wrote. “Will an Ebola epidemic or an outbreak of some other super virus spread across America?” But today, as an actual “super virus” advances across the United States, Jeffress seems to be feeling much more sanguine. “I do predict this will be under control in the not too distant future,” Jeffress told me on Thursday. “I would encourage any Christian to take sensible precautions without being overrun with anxiety.”

Jeffress, one of Donald Trump’s most full-throated evangelical supporters, plans to preach a sermon on the coronavirus this Sunday at his church, First Baptist Dallas. Its title is “Is the Coronavirus a Judgment From God?” Jeffress strongly suggested to me that the answer is no: “Many times illness is just a consequence of living in the fallen world.” In other words, the virus is nothing to fear nor anything to draw theological or political conclusions from.

Graham asked me to weigh-in:

Few other prominent pastors would speak from the pulpit in such blunt political terms. But that doesn’t mean their politics aren’t influencing their theology. “It’s hard not to think of this as a political story,” said historian John Fea, who has written about white evangelicals’ loyalty to the president. Fea suggested that some Trump-supporting pastors and prophets may be taking their cues from both the president and from Fox News, even if they don’t see it that way. The president himself has gone out of his way to minimize concerns about the virus. In an interview with Sean Hannity this week, Trump said he had a “hunch” that the coronavirus death rate is actually significantly lower than the WHO’s estimate of 3.4 percent. “Personally, I would say the number is way under 1 percent,” the president said. At a Pennsylvania town hall on Fox News on Thursday night, he said that widespread travel cancellations might be good for the economy, since “people are now staying in the United States.”

Read the entire piece here.

Where is this “we have nothing to fear” and “trust God” mentality when it comes to the demographic and cultural changes that they think are undermining their Christian nation?

Peggy Noonan: “Trump Isn’t Easing Coronavirus Forebodings”

Corona

In the last few minutes, The Washington Post reported a second coronavirus case of unknown origins. CNN just identified a third case of unknown origins. There are now sixty-four entire cases in the United States.

Trump’s recent press conference the other day was a disaster.  It was filled with inaccurate and misleading information.

Earlier today, we learned that the Trump administration will not permit Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of  the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, to appear on five Sunday morning news shows.

Conservative media is doing its best to shape the political narrative.  Laura Ingraham and Sean Hannity of Fox News are claiming that the Democrats are trying to weaponize the coronavirus in an election year.  Radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh is telling his audience that the coronavirus is “the common cold.”

Medical and scientific experts are needed to diagnose, stop the spread, and find a vaccine for the coronavirus. But populists do not trust experts or intellectuals. Populism is Trump’s political brand. This is a problem.

Not all conservatives run with the Fox News/Rush Limbaugh crowd. Wall Street Journal columnist and former Ronald Reagan speechwriter Peggy Noonan writes in her recent column: “If coronavirus becomes a formally recognized world-wide pandemic, and if it hits America hard, it is going to change a lot—the national mood, our cultural habits, the economy.”  Here is another taste:

In a public-health crisis the role of government is key. The question will be—the question is—are the president and his administration up to it?

Our scientists and health professionals are. (I think people see Tony Fauci of the National Institutes of Health as the de facto president on this.) Is Donald Trump? Or has he finally met a problem he can’t talk his way out of? I have written in the past questioning whether he can lead and reassure the nation in a time of crisis. We are about to find out.

Leaders in crises function as many things. They are primary givers of information, so they have to know the facts. They have to be serious: They must master the data. Are they managerially competent? Most of all, are they trustworthy and credible?

Or do people get the sense they’re spinning, finagling, covering up failures and shading the facts?

It is in crisis that you see the difference between showmanship and leadership.

Early signs are not encouraging. The messaging early this week was childish—everything’s under control, everything’s fine. The president’s news conference Wednesday night was not reassuring. Stock market down? “I think the financial markets are very upset when they look at the Democratic candidates standing on that stage making fools out of themselves.” “The risk to the American people remains very low.” “Whatever happens we’re totally prepared.” “There’s no reason to panic, because we have done so good.”

It was inadequate to the task.

Read the entire piece here.

A Court Evangelical Who Hosts a Patriotic “Freedom Sunday” Warns Christians About Accommodating to the Culture

Here is court evangelical Robert Jeffress talking to Fox Business News host Lou Dobbs:

3 thoughts:

1. Jeffress should be careful about suggesting First Baptist Dallas, a bastion of segregation for most of its history, has never changed a message that he claims is built on “the eternal truth of God’s word.”  Those “six blocks” in Dallas were built on a mixed legacy.  It is a history and legacy that Jeffress and his congregation have yet to address.

2. Jeffress also better be careful when he says that it is only liberal churches that accommodate to American culture. Jeffress holds an annual Sunday morning 4th of July celebration in his church and has proven over and over again that the Republican Party holds him captive.

3. Jeffress suggests that the Bible teaches three things: opposition to abortion, religious liberty, and the support of Israel.  Jeffress knows it is politically expedient in the frenzy of a Fox News interview to boil public Christianity down to these three things.  Since Pete Buttigieg supports “none of these things,” Jeffress says, he should not be referencing the Bible in public.

Last night I picked-up my Bible, randomly turned to the first two chapters of the New Testament book of James, and started reading.  These chapters focus on a few central themes: growing in faith amid religious persecution, the guarding of the tongue, the condemnation of the rich, and the importance of good works as markers of a true Christian faith.  What if these things informed an evangelical public and political theology?

What Can Evangelicals Learn from Adam Schiff?

They can learn something about moral clarity. They can learn something about doing the right thing.  They can learn something about patriotism.

“If the truth doesn’t matter, we’re lost.”

Here is what Fox News had to offer in the wake of Schiff’s speech.

There is nothing here on the content or the merits of the House defense.  They are talking about television ratings and CNN.  They are making vague references to our “Constitution.”  Is this all the Fox News crowd has to offer–gotcha lines and sarcastic jokes?  I am guessing we will see more of this on Saturday when Trump’s defense lawyers take the stage.  Will Cipollone and Sekulow be able to present a counter-narrative to the one presented by the House Managers over the last several days?  Will they even try? Is there a fact-based alternative narrative?

It is only a matter of time before Robert Jeffress gets on Fox News with Lou Dobbs to trumpet the court evangelical defense of Trump.  Expect multiple appeals to Trump’s visit to the March for Life.  They are already weighing in:

Thoughts on GOP Congressman Doug Collins’s Recent Comments About the Democrats and Terrorism

Watch Georgia GOP representative Doug Collins tell Lou Dobbs on Fox Business that Democratic congressmen love terrorists and mourn the death of Iranian military commander Qased Soleimani:

If you don’t want to watch the whole thing, pick-it-up at the four minute mark.

Collins says: “I did not think she [Nancy Pelosi] could become more hypocritical than she was during impeachment, but guess what, surprise, surprise, Nancy Pelosi does it again and her Democrats fall right in line. One, they’re in love with terrorists.  We see that.  They mourn Soleimani more than they mourn our Gold Star families who were the ones who suffered under Soleimani. That’s a problem.”

Thoughts:

  1. The main points of Collins’s statement are not true.  The Democrats are not “in love with terrorists” and they are not mourning Soleimani.  (Although perhaps all Christians might mourn the taking of a human life that is created in the image of God and has dignity and worth).
  2. Collins is an evangelical Christian.  He has a Masters of Divinity degree from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.  He served as the senior pastor of Chicopee Baptist Church.  He currently attends Lakewood Baptist Church in Lakewood, Georgia.
  3. Do you see what Collins is doing here?  He is misrepresenting the truth to score political points.  He is trying to scare ordinary Americans into believing that the Democrats love terrorists.  This is a pretty standard Christian Right strategy.  Frankly, it doesn’t matter whether or not Collins is telling the truth about his Democratic colleagues. He just needs to convince ordinary evangelicals and everyday Americans that what he says is true.  He is betting that most ordinary evangelicals will not fact-check him. It’s a good bet.
  4. Another example of this strategy is Eric Metaxas’s recent op-ed in The Wall Street Journal.  In that piece the Christian author suggests that a vote for anyone other than Donald Trump will lead to the murder of babies, the influx of socialism, the prevalence of cultural Marxism, and an immigrant invasion through open borders.  I addressed all these issues yesterday in this post.  Metaxas’s piece, which is filled with bad theology and unproven statements, is written to Trump’s base, so it doesn’t matter whether or not his theology is bad or his facts are misleading.  Trump’s base will believe him.  Metaxas is doing his part for the pro-Trump cause in the wake of Mark Galli’s Christianity Today editorial.  By the way, has anyone noticed that the court evangelicals have been writing a lot since the “Evangelicals for Trump” rally in Miami last week.  Tony Perkins wrote that Trump is the best president Christians have ever had.”  Charlie Kirk, the new colleague of Jerry Falwell Jr.,  wrote that Trump is our last best hope against socialism.  Ralph Reed praised Trump for “reviving America’s Christian heritage.”  And Metaxas suggests that Trump will protect Christians from “woke mobs.”

Something is happening to American evangelicalism.  Former Ohio governor John Kasich has been noticing:

 

Trump Responds to *Christianity Today* Editorial Calling for His Removal

Here it is, in case you haven’t seen it:

Has Trump EVER read CT?  (Or it it ET?).  I am guessing he has never heard of it until today.

Trump’s tweet reminds me of the fundamentalist opponents of the so-called “neo-evangelicalism.”  During the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s fundamentalists like Carl McIntire, Bob Jones Jr., and John R. Rice thought Christianity Today and Billy Graham were liberals who were compromising the Gospel.

Here is Rice, the editor of the Baptist fundamentalist newspaper The Sword of the Lord, describing Christianity Today at the time of its founding in 1956:

[It is] a mistake for Christian people to put money into a Christian magazine that is not ‘anti-anything’…We do not see any good that can come from a magazine which is not against sin, not against modernism, not against neo-orthodoxy, not against wordliness…We are sorry  to see good men waste their time and good people waste their money on the middle of the road, good Lord, good devil, half-in and half out magazine that tries to please everybody and does not oppose evil.  (The Sword of the Lord, July 134, 1956).

If Rice were living in today’s political culture, a time when conservative evangelicals rally behind Donald Trump and the GOP, he might say that the good folks at Christianity Today are bad Christians because they don’t support the president.

It seems like we are seeing similar divisions in evangelical Christianity today.  These divisions have been there for a long time, but Donald Trump has exacerbated them.  Christianity Today finally drew a line.

To call Christianity Today “a far left” or “progressive” magazine is ludicrous.  Read what the magazine has said about abortion.  Read what the magazine has said about marriage.  Read what the magazine has said about homosexuality.  Granted, Christianity Today has taken more moderate stands on immigration and the environment, but it has done so based on thoughtful reflection on the teaching of the Bible, not on the talking points they get everyday on Fox News.

And speaking of Fox News, I am continually struck by how certain parts of the evangelical community are formed more by what they hear on this cable channel than what they hear from their churches.  Here is what I wrote in The Washington Post back in April 2019:

Many white evangelical churchgoers now see the fight to overturn Roe v. Wade as equivalent to their call to share the Gospel with unbelievers. They subscribe to the message that the only way to live out evangelical faith in public is to vote for the candidates who will most effectively execute the 40-year-old Christian right playbook.

The movement’s message is so strong that even when pastors oppose the politicization of their religion, the message is not likely to persuade congregants. Indeed, many white evangelical pastors do not preach politics from their pulpit. Some speak boldly against the idolatrous propensity of their congregations to seek political saviors.

But these pastors cannot control the messaging their flocks imbibe after they leave church on Sunday. And a massive Christian right messaging machine targets these Americans with precision. Ministries and nonprofit organizations, driven by conservative political agendas, bombard the mailboxes, inboxes and social media feeds of ordinary evangelicals. Many of these organizations appeal to long-standing evangelical fears about cultural decline or provide selective historical evidence that the United States was founded as, and continues to be, a “Christian nation,” even though this never was true.

Evangelicals filter what they hear during weekly sermons through Fox News and conservative talk radio, producing an approach to political engagement that looks more like the Republican Party than the Kingdom of God.

None of this is new. People in the pews (or in the case of evangelical megachurches, the chairs), have always been selective in how they apply their pastor’s sermons in everyday life. Evangelical Christians, from the Puritans to the present, have always mixed traditional Christian teachings with more non-Christian sources as they cultivate their religious lives. Today, however, cable television and social media expose white evangelicals to ideas that come from outside the church but that claim to be driven by Christianity at an unprecedented rate.

This strange but long-standing mix of biblical Christianity and conservative talking points empowers an incompetent and immoral president. It will likely have disastrous consequences for the future mission of born-again Christianity in the United States, as the redemptive message of the Gospel becomes little more than a political agenda that turns off those who otherwise might be longing for the spiritual solace it provides.

As long as the Christian right continues to hold sway in white evangelical churches, and as long as parachurch organizations encourage its agenda, the support for Donald Trump among these Christians who attend church regularly will remain steady.

Read the entire piece here.

We are living in a time when truth does not matter.  If Donald Trump says something, even if it is wrong or misleading, his evangelical followers believe it.  Trump continues to manipulate the facts to serve himself.  In the process, he manipulates his evangelical followers.

Todd Starnes, the Fox News Radio Host Who Gave a Platform to the Court Evangelicals, is Out

Starnes and Jeffress

Former Fox News radio host Todd Starnes often referred to court evangelical Robert Jeffress as the official chaplain of his Right-Wing radio program.  Just recently, Jeffress appeared on Starnes’s program and said that Democrats worship the Old Testament god “Moloch, who talks about child sacrifice.”  Starnes responded by saying “I believe that.”  Read all about Jeffress’s appearance here.

Starnes was fired today.  Apparently these comments were even too much for Fox News, although an article at The Wrap suggests that the firing was in the works well before the Moloch incident.   It will be interesting to see how Jeffress will respond.  How can he blame the liberal mainstream media for firing Starnes?

And here is an even more interesting question: Will Jeffress, another employee of Fox News, be next?

But before we leave this story, let’s reflect on some of the memorable Todd Starnes-Robert Jeffress-court evangelical moments that we have covered here at The Way of Improvement Leads Home:

  • Jeffress tells Starnes that 16-year-old environmental activist Greta Thunberg needs to look at a rainbow and read Genesis 9.
  • Jeffress supports Donald Trump’s view that no good Jew can vote for a Democratic candidate.
  • Starnes defends Jerry Falwell Jr.’s tweet telling McLean Bible Church pastor David Platt to “grow a pair.”
  • Richard Land tells Starnes that Trump was the “lesser of two evils” in 2016 and adds that Hillary Clinton will always be the “greater evil” in any election in which she runs “unless she is running against Lucifer.”
  • Starnes describes Christians who oppose patriotic worship services “so-called evangelical Christians.”  Jeffress calls Christianity Today “fake news.”

Yes, I am Doubling Down on the Fear Thesis

Believe Me 3dMy friend John Wilson, the evangelical bibliophile who once manned the editor’s desk of Books & Culture, has never quite embraced my argument about fear in Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump.  I will let him explain why he finds it so distasteful by citing a passage from his review of my book in The Hedgehog Review:

As a mea culpa of sorts, Fea has written three chapters—“The Evangelical Politics of Fear,” “The Playbook,” and “A Short History of Evangelical Fear”—that together make up more than half of his book (not counting the footnotes) and that precede his extended treatment of the court evangelicals. “Evangelical Fear”: That’s the answer! Oh, dear. It’s not just dismaying to me, it’s shocking (to borrow a word from Fea himself) to see such an excellent historian relying on the tired trope of “evangelical fear” to reduce the story of a many-sided movement and its infinitely various membership over several centuries to a simple morality play. “It is possible,” Fea says, “to write an entire history of American evangelicalism as the story of Christians who have failed to overcome fear.” Possible, yes, just as it’s possible to write triumphalist histories of evangelicalism (of which we’ve had all too many). But are those our only choices?

Read the rest here.

And here is my response to the review.

Earlier this evening I did a post on the Religion News Service’s interview with Franklin Graham.  Journalist Yonat Shimron asked Graham all the right questions.  I am quoted in the piece:

Sounding the alarm about a nation in peril is a tried-and-true evangelical strategy, said John Fea, professor of American history at Messiah College in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania.

“I’ve argued this has been a typical part of evangelical political engagement for centuries — fear mongering,” said Fea. “You can’t make an argument to support what the president did on his phone call with the Ukrainian president. So what do you do? You play the traditional game of instilling fear in the electorate so they will see us falling off the cliff as a nation and this apocalyptic language will convince them they have to vote for Trump again in 2020.”

When I tweeted the article, John Wilson posted a sarcastic tweet in response:

I responded to much of Wilson’s argument in this tweet in my aforementioned (and linked) post to his review in The Hedgehog Review, but let me write a few more words here.

Am I afraid of the legacy that Donald Trump and the court evangelicals will leave for the nation and the church?  Yes.  I am very afraid.  But I also realize that I cannot dwell in this fear and, through the spiritual disciplines of my faith, respond to such fears with hope.  In other words, I need to trust God more.  As the writer Marilynne Robinson once said, “fear is not a Christian habit of mind.”

But I should also add that any fear I might have about Trump, the court evangelical agenda, and their legacy is based on truth and facts.  This is different from the fear I see among many of Trump’s evangelical supporters.

Most evangelical fear is built upon endless lies. These include the false idea that America was founded as a Christian nation and needs to be reclaimed, the straw man that all Democrats are socialists, Marxists, and atheists trying to undermine American liberty, the idea that impeachment will lead to a civil war, the belief that immigrants will kill us if they get too close, or the conviction that abortion will end if we just overturn Roe v. Wade.   The overwhelming majority of conservative evangelical Christians who I know and talk to on a regular basis believe one or more of these false claims.  They get their talking points from Fox News and then read the Bible to make it fit with these talking points.  They believe that there is a deep state–an illuminati working to undermine God’s anointed president.  They are so afraid of Hillary Clinton that they think she should be locked-up.  They believe that demonic forces are unraveling America.  And if anyone offers an alternative view to these beliefs they will be castigated as a purveyor of “fake news.”  Again, I have spoken at length to evangelical family members, readers of this blog, and members of my church who believe one or more of these things.  I get their nasty e-mails, social media messages, and multi-part voice messages.

John Wilson–you need to get out more. The fearful people I am writing about here do not read back issues of Books & Culture or attend the Calvin College Festival of Faith and Writing.  They do not talk theology in the coffee shops of Wheaton, Illinois.  There is an entire world of evangelical Christians out there who you have not yet met. They are very afraid.  They seek comfort in strongmen of both the political and religious variety.  Donald Trump and the court evangelicals are exploiting their fears for political gain.

Court Evangelical Robert Jeffress is Getting Desperate

You can sense the fear and anxiety in Robert Jeffress’s voice.  He is speaking with more urgency.  He is getting louder.  The fearmongering is growing.  The pastor of the First Baptist Church is doubling-down on his “civil war” comments he made Sunday on Fox News and he is trying to scare conservative evangelicals with his apocalyptic language.  Yesterday he was back on the Todd Starnes Show on Fox News.  Watch:

A few things worth highlighting quickly:

  1. Jeffress calls Trump a Christian “warrior.”
  2. Jeffress says: “If the Left gains control of this country again our nation is finished.”
  3. Jeffress is now mocking Nancy Pelosi’s call to pray for the county with a baby-voice imitation.
  4. Jeffress says that the Democrats worship both a “god of their imagination” and the Old Testament god “Moloch, who talks about child sacrifice.”
  5. Jeffress still has not addressed what Trump did in the phone call to the Ukrainian president. So far, it appears that the court evangelicals defense of Trump in this season of impeachment inquiry boils down to them going on Twitter and conservative media outlets yelling “The Left! The Democrats! Socialists! Civil War!”

Expect the culture war to heat-up in the next few months.

And for more Jeffress coverage, check out Robert Wilonsky’s piece at The Dallas Morning News.

One more point.  Jeffress has been everywhere lately.  He is on Fox News, CBN, and talking to reporters.  When does he carry-out his pastoral role at First Baptist–Dallas? Are members of his congregation concerned that their pastor, charged with the spiritual care of the congregation, is a political pundit?

The Chief Court Evangelical Weighs In on Impeachment

Last Friday The Washington Post published my piece titled “How evangelical leaders surrounded Clinton during the last presidential impeachment process.”  In that piece I wrote:

In his memoir, Clinton specifically mentions Campolo and MacDonald as two of three pastors he asked to counsel him for at least once a month for an indefinite period. (The third pastor was Philip Wogaman, a Methodist.)

Like the Old Testament prophet Nathan who confronted King David for committing adultery with Bathsheba, Campolo and MacDonald entered the president’s “court” as pastors — Christian leaders charged with the task of calling out sin and facilitating spiritual healing.

It’s hard to imagine something similar happening should Congress impeach Trump. The evangelical leaders he surrounds himself with are flatterers who are not likely to confront the president’s sin. They need Trump to continue to deliver on their agenda. I imagine most of them will affirm Trump’s belief that he has “done nothing wrong” and perhaps offer a lesson about the demonic forces seeking to undermine his presidency.

Yesterday on Fox and Friends, we saw one of Trump’s court evangelicals, Robert Jeffress of the First Baptist Church in Dallas, make me look like a prophet.  Watch:

As we all know by now, Trump was watching Jeffress on Fox News and decided to take the pastor’s counsel and run with it on his Twitter account:

Trump has learned a lot from his court evangelical counselors.  Perhaps most importantly, he learned how to fight a more aggressive culture war.

Jeffress remarks deserve a bit more analysis.  Some thoughts:

  1.  Jeffress seems to be making his pro-Trump political position the only conduit through which God hears our prayers.
  2. Jeffress says that Nancy Pelosi’s call to pray for the nation “reminds me of a pyromaniac with a match in hand about to set fire to a building saying ‘please pray with me, but the damage I’m about to cause isn’t too severe’. If you’re really sincere about that prayer then put down the dang match.” Of course Jeffress is incapable of seeing how he has been the “pyromaniac” of pyromaniacs since Trump announced his candidacy.  His divisive rhetoric has contributed to the fire raging in our nation and the church.
  3. Jeffress is angry and passionate.  He often behaves this way when he gets on his political high horse for Fox News.  This, after all, is why they pay him to go on television.  I imagine that Jeffress thinks he is exhibiting righteous anger.  But all I see is a deeply bitter and fearful man who has allowed politics to transform him and his character.
  4. Jeffress says that this week he has been traveling around the country speaking to “literally thousands and thousands” of evangelical Christians. “I have never seen them more angry over any issue,” he says ‘than this attempt to illegitimately remove this president from office, overturn the 2016 election, and negate the votes of millions of evangelicals in the process.”  First, if Jeffress is correct when he says he has never seen evangelicals more angry over “any other issue,” then what does this say about American evangelicals or the kinds of evangelicals he hangs out with?  Heck, Trump separated parents and kids at the border! Or lets take one of Jeffress’s favorites: babies are being aborted in the womb.  Are these cases not worthy of more evangelical anger than an impeachment?  Second, there is no way that Jeffress would be able to solicit the beliefs of thousands and thousands of evangelicals in a week of travel.  Having said that, he is probably right to suggest thousands upon thousands of evangelicals are upset (see my previous point).  Third, impeachment is in the United States Constitution.  It is not an “illegitimate” way of removing the president from office.  Fourth, the United States House of Representatives, the congressional body responsible for impeachment, is made up of men and women who were elected by the people.  In the 2018 midterm elections, the people of the United States gave the Democratic Party a majority in the House.  There is no illegitimacy here.  Congress is a co-equal branch of government woth the power to impeach.
  5. Jeffress says “the only impeachable offense” Trump committed was “beating Hillary Clinton” in 2016. Notice how Jeffress tries to rile-up the base here with his slick and deliberately vague talking points.  This is fear-mongering 101.  At no point in this interview does Jeffress come face-to-face with the reality of what Trump did on that phone call with the president of Ukraine.
  6. And then the punch-line: “If the Democrats are successful at removing the president from office, I’m afraid it will cause a Civil War-like fracture in this nation from which this country will never heal.”  First, this is the kind of appeal to fear that I wrote about extensively in Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump. Second, as historian Kevin Kruse has already pointed out, “Trump can only be removed through impeachment if two-thirds of the Senate votes to remove him. To do that, 20 Republicans would need to join the 45 Democrats and 2 Independents. Removal would be bipartisan. Framing it as some kind of civil war isn’t just dangerous. It’s dumb.”  Third, I want to encourage history teachers to debate Jeffress’s Civil War comment in their classrooms.  Jeffress seems to forget that the United States had a real Civil War in which over 700,000 lives were lost.  Did we heal?  Well, that’s up for debate.  The United States still exists.  So I guess some healing took place.  On the other hand, the racial backlash that came with this largely white “healing” process is still with us today.  In fact, Robert Jeffress’s First Baptist Church of Dallas is partially responsible for why the open wounds of race and slavery still need more healing.
  7. Jeffress says that evangelical Christians need to “act” by calling their representatives and telling them to support Trump.  He quotes Daniel 11:32: “The people who know their God will stand firm and take action.”  This verse is part of a larger passage in the Old Testament book of Daniel that mentions Jews standing up for the “holy covenant” between God and Israel after a Syrian invasion.  These Jews stood firm and took action to defend this covenant.  By invoking this verse in this context, Jeffress is once again implying that evangelical Christians, like the Jews before them, need to stand up and defend their chosen status.  We can trace this “New Israel” language back to the Puritans of Massachusetts Bay Colony, the first group in America to claim to have an exceptional or covenantal relationship with God.  Jeffress is engaging in Christian nationalism here.  The Bible does not teach any kind of special relationship or “covenant” between God and the United States of America.

Expect more of this from the court evangelicals in the days, weeks, and months to come.

What Impeachment Talk is Doing to Fox News

Trump and Hannity

Writing for Vanity Fair, Gabriel Sherman describes the current climate at Fox News as “bedlam” and “madness.”  Even Sean Hannity thinks the whistleblower’s revelations are “really bad” for Trump.

Here is a taste:

Trump’s final bulwark is liable to be his first one: Fox News. Fox controls the flow of information—what facts are, whether allegations are to be believed—to huge swaths of his base. And Republican senators, who will ultimately decide whether the president remains in office, are in turn exquisitely sensitive to the opinions of Trump’s base. But even before the whistle-blower’s revelations, Fox was having something of a Trump identity crisis, and that bulwark has been wavering. In recent weeks, Trump has bashed Fox News on Twitter, taking particular issue lately with its polling, which, like other reputable polls, has shown the president under significant water. Meanwhile, Trump’s biggest booster seems to be having doubts of his own. This morning, Sean Hannity told friends the whistle-blower’s allegations are “really bad,” a person briefed on Hannity’s conversations told me. (Hannity did not respond to a request for comment). And according to four sources, Fox Corp CEO Lachlan Murdoch is already thinking about how to position the network for a post-Trump future. A person close to Lachlan told me that Fox News has been the highest rated cable network for seventeen years, and “the success has never depended on any one administration.” (A Fox Corp spokesperson declined to comment.)

Read the entire piece here.

Fox News Tackles My “Thoughts and Prayers” *Washington Post* Piece

Here is last night’s Shannon Bream show on Fox.   Fast forward to the 36:40 mark to see court evangelical Robert Jeffress and radio host Ethan Bearman discuss my recent Washington Post article on the connection between abortion and gun control.

I still want Jeffress to turn to his Twitter feed and his media outlets and propose serious gun reforms as an extension of his commitment to human dignity and life.

ADDENDUM:

It looks like Fox News removed the video. I think you might be able to see it on Jeffress’s Twitter feed:

 

I am Glad to See That the President’s Meetings with Survivors Today Had Such a Big Effect on Him

 

Fox News Pundit Tucker Carlson Says White Supremacy is a Hoax

FBI Director Christopher Wray does not seem to agree:

Conservative columnist Jonah Goldberg tweeted:

CNN completely debunked the claims Carlson made to his 3 million viewers.

I also don’t know what happened to Victor Davis Hanson.  Back in the day I read his book The Land Was Everything: Letters from an American Farmer and I really learned a lot from it.  Now he goes on shows like Tucker Carlson and claims that people get their DNA tested by Ancestry.Com so that they can find some native American or African blood they can use to their political and career advantage.  He seems to deny that white supremacy had something to do with the El Paso shootings and other shootings.  He implies that immigrants should assimilate to white culture through marriage.  He goes on Fox News and spews Trump talking points.  And Tucker Carlson says that his comments are “deep.”

ADDENDUM:  By the way, according to the Cato Institute, the number of undocumented immigrants who commit crimes can also fit into a college football stadium.  I am guessing that Carlson takes these people as a serious threat to the United States.

Dinesh D’Souza Thinks He Knows Something About How African-American History is Taught

David Garrow, the Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer of Martin Luther King Jr., will drop a bombshell tomorrow (Thursday) when Standpoint magazine will publish an article, based on memos that discuss FBI tapes, that paints the Civil Rights icon in a very unflattering light.  Here is what Garrow claims:

  • FBI documents from the 1960s allege Martin Luther King Jr. had affairs with 40 women and stood by as a friend raped a woman, a new report said.
  • An article by the King biographer David Garrow set to be released on Thursday in Standpoint magazine will detail the FBI memos, London’s The Times reported.
  • Garrow said the memos say King engaged in orgies, solicited prostitutes, and “looked on and laughed” as a pastor he knew raped a woman.
  • The memos were part of a huge US National Archives data dump in early 2019.
  • The FBI secretly recorded King in a years long effort to discredit him. The tapes themselves remain under seal in the US National Archives. And Garrow’s article was rejected by more prominent news outlets. So the story carries many unanswered questions about the accuracy of the FBI material.
  • The King Center, which chronicles King’s life, has not yet commented on the allegations.

Learn more here.  Let’s see how this unfolds tomorrow as Civil Rights historians respond to Garrow’s article.

In the meantime, Laura Ingraham and the Fox News crowd are all over this story.  I am guessing they could not find a legitimate historian of King or the Civil Rights movement to comment on Garrow’s article so, as Fox News is prone to do, they turned to conservative pundit Dinesh D’Souza. Watch:

D’Souza seems to be basking in all of this.  By the way, who are all of these progressive historians who “hate” and “do not want to teach” Frederick Douglass, Ida Wells, and Harriett Tubman?  I don’t consider myself a “progressive historian,” but I certainly consider myself a critic of D’Souza. I have been teaching Douglass every semester for two decades.  David Blight of Yale just won the Pulitzer Prize for his biography of Douglass.  Douglass’s Narrative remains a fixture on history syllabi across the country.  I am sure scholars of Wells and Tubman can weigh-in as well.

And D’Souza continues to think the Republican Party has not changed on issues related to the plight of African Americans and race since the Civil War. I wrote about this here, but I will defer to Princeton’s Kevin Kruse.

The Mueller Report and the Trump Evangelicals

Mueller Report

I spent part of the weekend reading the Mueller Report. Nothing I have written below is new if you have been following the news coverage of the report or read it for yourself, but I thought I would use this space to jot down some of my notes as I processed it.

  • The Russians interfered in the 2016 presidential campaign against Hillary Clinton and in favor of Donald Trump.  In other words, it is possible that Donald Trump won in 2016 because of Russian help (Vol. 1:1).  Future historians should put an asterisk next to Trump’s victory in 2016.  We may never know how the Russians helped Trump, but they clearly interfered.
  • There are “numerous links” between the Russian interference in the U.S. election and the Trump presidential campaign (Vol 1:1).
  • The Trump campaign did not conspire or coordinate with the Russian government in its election interference activities (“collusion” is not a legal term), but it certainly came close.
  • The Russian Facebook campaign played to American fears.  These Russian-authored social media accounts and ads were promoted through retweets and responses to tweets by Sean Hannity, Roger Stone, Kellyanne Conway, Donald Trump Jr., Eric Trump, and Michael Flynn.  (Vol I: 26-27).  In other words, these people helped make the Russian interference effective.  (Of course none of these people knew they were retweeting and promoting the work of Russians).
  • The report presents the Trump campaign as chaotic and disorganized.  Several members of the campaign were working with Russia to help Trump get elected.  Some lied about it and got caught.  Others seemed to just get lucky that they did not do anything reaching the level of criminality.  Those who told the American people that there were no links between the Trump campaign and Russia included Paul Manafort, Donald Trump Jr., Kellyanne Conway, Mike Pence, and Sarah Huckabee Sanders, and Trump himself.  (Thanks to Lawfare Blog for identifying these names and providing links).
  • It seems like most Trump supporters stopped reading the report after Volume 1.
  • Mueller says up-front that he respected the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) and agreed not to indict a sitting President.  Yet he also says his office uncovered “potentially obstructive acts related to the Special Counsel’s investigation itself.” (Vol. 2:1)
  • Mueller reminds the readers that “a President does not have immunity after he leaves office.”  Why would he put that in the report if he did not think a legitimate case of obstruction could be made against Trump? (Vol 2:1). Perhaps the answer comes on p. 2:2: “if we had confidence after a thorough investigation of the facts that the President clearly did not commit obstruction of justice, we would so state.  Based on the facts and the applicable legal standards, however, we are unable to reach that judgment.  The evidence we obtained about the President’s actions and intent presents difficult issues that prevent us from conclusively determining that no criminal conduct occurred.  Accordingly, while this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.” In other words, Mueller may have found evidence of a possible indictment for obstruction, but could not bring an indictment because of the OLC guidance.  As several scholars have shown, including historians Julian Zelizer and Yoni Appelbaum, this is Mueller’s way of suggesting that it is the job of Congress to handle such behavior.  (Also 2:156-182).
  • Volume 2:3-7 reads like Mueller’s case for impeachment:
    • Trump lied about contacts with Russia
    • Trump tried to intimidate former FBI Director James Comey to end the investigation into  Michael Flynn’s ties with the Russian government. According to Mueller, there is “substantial evidence” to support Comey’s side of this story.  Trump denied that he asked everyone in the room to leave so he could pressure Comey to drop the investigation.  He lied about this.
    • Trump tried to get Jeff Sessions and several other members of the federal government to bring an end to the ongoing Russia investigation.  How is this not obstruction?
    • Trump fired FBI director James Comey and tried to make it look like he was fired for incompetence unrelated to the Russia probe. We now know that Comey was indeed fired because Trump did not like the Russia probe, despite the fact that the FBI director insisted that Trump was not under investigation.
    • Trump tried to get White House attorney Don McGahn to remove Mueller as Special Counsel.  McGahn told Trump that such a request was “silly” and “not real.” He would not do it.  Trump then told McGahn to deny press reports confirming that the president ordered him to have the Special Counsel removed. (2:114)
    • Trump tried to get Corey Lewandowski to tell Attorney General Jeff Sessions to publicly declare that the Mueller investigation was “very unfair” to him.  Trump also wanted the probe limited to future election interference, rather than focus on the Russian election interference in 2016.  Lewandowski asked White House aid Rick Dearborn to get the message to Sessions.  Dearborn never delivered it.  This is one of many examples of Trump’s staff protecting an out-of-control and incompetent president motivated by his own narcissism, self-image, and personal vendettas.
    • Trump edited Donald Trump Jr.’s statement about a June 9, 2016 meeting at Trump Tower with a Russian lawyer who claimed to have dirt on Hillary Clinton to make it appear that the meeting was about adoption.  He and his personal lawyer then lied about the fact that he did this.
    • Trump pressured Jeff Sessions, on more than one occasion, to unrecuse himself from heading the Mueller investigation because he thought Sessions might fire Mueller.
    • After Flynn began cooperating with the Special Counsel, Trump tried to get Michael Flynn to give him a “heads up” about any “information that implicates the president”
    • Trump tried to manipulate Trump Organization executive Michael Cohen’s testimony before the Special Counsel. (2:138, 146)
  • On pages 2:9-12, Mueller lays out the five kinds of obstruction of justice under the heading “The Legal Framework of Obstruction of Justice.”  Wow!  It seems like Trump violated all five of these forms of obstruction.

The Bottom Line:

Donald Trump is a liar who clearly obstructed justice.  He has forced others to lie to the American people on his behalf.  Some, like Sarah Huckabee Sanders, a self-professed evangelical Christian, lied for the president on multiple occasions.  (That is a lot of slips of the tongue). Others refused to lie for him. The Mueller report reveals that Trump’s presidency lacks a moral center.  He should be impeached.

And what about the court evangelicals and all of those other white evangelicals who still support Trump?  They will double down in their support for the president.  He is God’s chosen instrument and his evangelical supporters will invoke biblical examples of how God’s anointed instruments will always suffer persecution.  They will claim that the Mueller Report is biased (except, of course, the parts that say there was no collusion).  They will continue to stoke the “witch hunt” metaphor.   They will continue to take their marching orders from Fox News and claim that the report proves that Trump did not commit a crime.  They will argue that the country should simply move forward as if nothing happened.  They will ignore the parts of the report that show Trump’s immorality and lies.  Court evangelicalism blinds one to the truth.  For example:

What document are these guys reading?  It can’t be the Mueller report.  🙂

But perhaps a few pro-Trump evangelicals will see the light and finally realize, like Billy Graham eventually did with Richard Nixon, that Trump is not worthy of their support