Former Trump chief of staff John Kelly says Trump “is the most flawed person” he’s ever met

Here is Jake Tapper at CNN:

Former White House chief of staff, retired Marine Gen. John Kelly, has told friends that President Donald Trump “is the most flawed person” he’s ever known.”

The depths of his dishonesty is just astounding to me. The dishonesty, the transactional nature of every relationship, though it’s more pathetic than anything else. He is the most flawed person I have ever met in my life,” the retired Marine general has told friends, CNN has learned.

The reporting comes from a new CNN special scheduled to air Sunday night, “The Insiders: A Warning from Former Trump Officials,” in which former senior administration officials — including former national security adviser John Bolton, former Health and Human Services scientist Rick Bright and former Department of Homeland Security general counsel John Mitnick — explain why they think the President is unfit for office.

Read the rest here.

It is only a matter of time before we hear the typical court evangelical rhetoric about “we are all sinners” and how “God uses flawed people.”

Greg Thornbury, the former president of the The Kings College’s in New York City, nails it:

The Complicit Court Evangelicals

COurt Evangelicals

I just finished “Collaborators,” Anne Applebaum‘s brilliant essay in the July/August 2020 issue of The Atlantic. It is subtitled: “What causes people to abandon their principles in support of a corrupt regime? And how do they find their way back?”

Applebaum writes about Trump supporters and members of the administration who have abandoned longstanding principles in order to support the corrupt presidency of Donald Trump. Throughout the essay she compares and contrasts people like South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham and others with similar “collaborators” drawn from her experience covering Eastern Europe under communism.

She writes

Czeslaw Milosz, a Nobel Prize-winning Polish poet, wrote about collaboration from personal experience. An active member of the anti-Nazi resistance during the war, he nevertheless wound up after the war as a cultural attache at the Polish embassy in Washington, serving his country’s Communist government. Only in 1951 did he defect, denounce the regime, and dissect his experience. In a famous essay, The Captive Mind, he sketched several lightly disguised portraits of real people, all writers and intellectuals, each of whom had come up with different ways of justifying collaboration with the party. Many were careerists, but Milosz understood that careerism could not provide a complete explanation. To be part of a mass movement was for many a chance to end their alienation, to feel close to the “masses,” to be united in a single community with workers and shopkeepers. For tormented intellectuals, collaboration also offered a kind of relief, almost a sense of peace: It meant that they were no longer constantly at war with the state, no longer in turmoil. Once the intellectual has accepted that there is no other way, Milosz wrote, ‘he eats with relish, his movement take on vigor, his color returns. He sits down and writes a ‘positive’ article, marveling at the ease with which he writes it.’ Milosz is one of the few writers to acknowledge the pleasure of conformity, the lightness of heart that it grants, the way that is solves so many perceived and professional dilemmas.

And this:

20 months into the Trump administration, senators and other serious-minded Republicans in public life who should have known better began to tell themselves stories that sound very much like those in Milosz’s The Captive Mind. Some of these stories overlap with one another; some of them are just thin cloaks to cover self-interest. But all of them are familiar justifications of collaboration, recognizable from the past. 

Applebaum then lists the “most popular” forms of collaboration or complicity:

  1. “We can use this moment to achieve great things.”
  2. “We can protect the country from the president.”
  3. “I personally, will benefit.”
  4. “I remain close to power.”
  5. “LOL nothing matters.”
  6. “My side might be flawed, but the political opposition is much worse.”
  7. “I am afraid to speak out.”

I could not help but think about Applebaums’s seven forms of collaboration in light of my own work on Trump’s court evangelicals. (She does mention a few of them in the essay).  It seems like most of these forms of complicity, to one degree or another, explain why so many conservative evangelicals stand with this immoral president.

1. “We can use this moment to achieve great things.” When most conservative evangelicals talk about “great things” they have abortion, traditional marriage, and religious liberty in mind. They are thus willing to collaborate with Trump in order to accomplish these things. Applebaum tells the story of a man named Mark, a Trump administration official. Mark works for the administration, he claims, because he believes Trump is going to help the Uighurs.

She writes:

I thought I had misheard. The Uighurs? Why the Uighurs? I was unaware of anything that the administration had done to aid the oppressed Muslim minority in Xinjiang, China. Mark assured me that letters had been written, statements had been made, the president himself had been persuaded to say something at the United Nations. I doubted very much that the Uiguhrs had benefited from these empty words: China hadn’t altered its behavior, and the concentration camps built for the Uighurs were still standing. Nevertheless, Mark’s conscience was clear. Yes, Trump was destroying America’s reputation in the world, and yes, Trump was ruining America’s alliances, but Mark was so important to the cause of the Uiguhrs that people like him, in good conscience, keep working for the administration.

(Since Applebaum published this essay, John Bolton has written that Trump endorsed the mass detention of Uighur Muslims).

Many court evangelicals justify their support of Trump because they believe he will act on the policy issues they care about. They can use Trump to accomplish “great’ things and make the world a better place.

2. “We can protect the country from the president.” I am not sure many court evangelicals are making this argument. Why would they want to protect the country from a president who derives his power from almighty God?

3. “I, personally, will benefit.” On this one Applebaum writes:

These, of course, are words that few people every say out loud. Perhaps some do quietly acknowledge to themselves that they have not resigned or protested because it would cost them money or status. But no one wants a reputation as a careerist or a turncoat.

Of course no court evangelical will ever say that she or he supports Trump to gain a greater following or to become a Christian “leader” or to get rich. But we would be kidding ourselves if we think that this has nothing to do with it. Much of the court evangelical phenomenon can be explained by ambition and money and branding. They know where their bread is buttered. Just listen to Greg Thornbury talk about Eric Metaxas. Or head to Google and type in your favorite court evangelical’s name followed by the words “net worth.”

4. “I must remain close to power.”  I wrote extensively about the court evangelical pursuit of power in Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump. Virtually every Christian Right operative who has left the movement or criticized it has said something similar to former Moral Majority leaders Cal Thomas and Ed Dobson. Here is what I wrote in Believe Me:

…in 1999, Dobson and Thomas reflected soberly on their experience with Falwell and the Moral Majority in their book Blinded by Might: Can the Religious Right Save America? They concluded that the answer to the subtitle’s question was a definitive “no.” Neither Dobson nor Thomas left evangelicalism or ceased their commitment to conservative causes; but they were forced to admit that the political strategy they helped to forge in the 1980s had failed. Despite their efforts, Roe v. Wade had not been overturned. The Internet had made pornography more accessible than ever. Drug use had not subsided and crime had not dissipated in any significant way. In the process, the prophetic witness of the evangelical church was subordinated to political power and all its trappings. As Cal Thomas put it, in a reference to Palm Sunday, “Who wanted to ride into the capital on the back of an ass when one could go first class in a private jet and be picked up and driven around in a chauffeured limousine?

Thomas, who parlayed his Moral Majority fame into a nationally syndicated newspaper column, did not mince words when he disparaged the evangelical pursuit of political power. “Christian faith is about truth,” he tells his readers, and “wherever you try to mix power and truth, power usually wins.” Through his years with Falwell, Thomas learned how power is the “ultimate aphrodisiac.” It is not only seductive, but all affects the judgment of the one who “takes it.” Thomas warned his evangelical readers who the case for political power threatens the spread of the gospel. He quoted the late Catholic priest Henri Nouwen: “The temptation to consider power an apt instrument for the proclamation of the gospel is the greatest temptation of all.” Thomas pointed to the myriad ways in which the Moral Majority–and the Christian Right agenda that it spawned–played to the fears of white evangelicals. 

5. “LOL nothing matters.” I don’t think any court evangelical would embrace the kind of nihilism Applebaum writes about under this category, but I wonder if the rapture beliefs of some conservative evangelical Trump supporters might be relevant here. If the world will end at any moment, and true believers will be lifted from this earth to be with Jesus in heaven, then why not take a risk on a chaos candidate? If he defends the rights of churches, there will be more opportunities to preach the Gospel and get people to heaven.

6. “My side might be flawed, but the political opposition is much worse.” On this point, Applebaum addresses court evangelicalism. She writes:

The Republican senators who are willing to express their disgust with Trump off the record but voted in February for him to remain in office all indulge a variation of this sentiment. (Trump enables them to get the judges they want, and those judges will help create the America they want.) So do the evangelical pastors who ought to be disgusted by Trump’s personal behavior but argue, instead, that the current situation has scriptural precedents. Like King David in the Bible, the president is a sinner, a flawed vessel, but he nevertheless offers a path to salvation for a fallen nation.

The three most important members of Trump’s Cabinet–Vice President Mike Pence, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and Attorney General Willial Barr–are all profoundly shaped by Vichyite apocalyptic thinking. All three are clever enough to understand what Trumpism really means, that is has nothing to do with God or faith, that it is self-serving, greedy, and unpatriotic. Nevertheless, a former member of the administration (one of the few who did decide to resign) told me that Pence and Pompeo “have convinced themselves that they are in a biblical moment.” All of the things they care about–outlawing abortion and same-sex marriage, and (though this is never said out loud) maintaining a white majority in America–are under threat. Time is growing short. They believe that “we are approaching the rapture, and this is a moment of deep religious significance.”

If one’s political philosophy is shaped by this sense of apocalyptic urgency, it makes sense the Hillary Clinton (and now Joe Biden) may be the Antichrist. It would also make perfect sense to instill fear in followers about what might happen if Trump is defeated in 2020.

7. “I am afraid to speak out.”  Applebaum writes:

In the United Sates of America, it is hard to imagine how fear could be a motivation for anybody. There are no mass murders of the regime’s political enemies, and there never have been. Political opposition is legal, free press and free speech are guaranteed in the Constitution. And yet even in one of the world’s oldest and most stable democracies, fear is a motive. The same former administration official who observed the importance of apocalyptic Christianity in Trump’s Washington told me, with grim disgust, that “they are all scared.”

They are scared not of prison, the official said, but of being attacked by Trump on Twitter. They are scared he will make up a nickname for them. They are scared that they will be mocked, or embarrassed, like Mitt Romney has been. They are scared of losing their social circles, of being disinvited to parties. They are scared that their friends and supporters, and especially their donors, will desert them…They are scared, and yet they don’t seem to know that this fear has precedents, or that it could have consequences. They don’t know that similar waves of fear have helped transform other democracies into dictatorships….

To what extent are court evangelical leaders and pastors scared to stand-up to Trump’s immorality because they might lose their congregations or donations for their evangelical media empires? Sometimes this kind of fear is covered-up by pious rhetoric about “civility” and “unity in the body of Christ.” Christian leaders of all stripes don’t want to rock the boat because they might offend Trump supporters.

You can read Applebaum’s entire piece here.

Why an evangelical college president quit after Trump got elected

This is an amazing Warren Throckmorton interview with Greg Thornbury, former president of The Kings College. He talks about his nervous breakdown, why he quit, and when he realized he would never be an “evangelical leader.”

The stuff on Eric Metaxas, who was one of Thornbury’s best friends, is priceless: “Eric actually passed away in 2012 and was re-inhabited by tiny micro-robots which are now controlling his body like a ‘Weekend at Bernie’s’ situation.”

Thornbury spent a good part of his early career in the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) where he was mentored by Al Mohler. He thus has a lot to say about the SBC.

He also has a lot to say about fear.

This is worth your time:

What It’s Like to Talk With Pro-Trump Evangelical Family Members

Court

A gathering of court evangelicals

Check out Alex Morris’s Rolling Stone essay “False Idol–Why the Christian Right Worships Donald Trump.”  Morris talked to a lot of the right people, including commentators Greg Thornbury, Randall Balmer, Peter Montgomery, Charles Marsh, and Diana Butler Bass and court evangelicals Robert Jeffress and Eric Metaxas.

The most telling part of her piece is her description of a conversation with her pro-Trump evangelical mother.  Here is a taste:

In a dimly lit room, with a bottle of red wine, my mom, my aunt, and I pull our chairs close. I explain that I’m taping our conversation, that I love and respect them, and that I want to discuss why my Christianity has led me away from Trump and theirs has led them to him.

For a while, we just hit the typical talking points. There’s some discussion of Trump being a baby Christian, some assertions that the lewd behavior of his past is behind him, that in office he would never actually conduct himself as Bill Clinton had. But when I really double down, my mom and aunt will admit that there are flaws in his character. Though not that those flaws should be disqualifying.

“I don’t think he’s godly, Alex,” my aunt tells me. “I just think he stands up for Christians. Trump’s a fighter. He’s done more for the Christian right than Reagan or Bush. I’m just so thankful we’ve got somebody that’s saying Christians have rights too.”

But what about the rights and needs of others, I wonder. “Do you understand why someone could be called by their faith to vote against a party that separates families?”

“That’s a big sounding board, but I don’t think that is the issue,” says my mom.

“But it’s happening, and I’m not OK with it.”

My mom shakes her head. “No one’s OK with it.”

“If that’s your heart, then vote your heart,” says my aunt. “But with the abortion issue and the gay-rights issue, Trump’s on biblical ground with his views. I appreciate that about him.”

“As Christians, do you feel like you’re under attack in this country?” I ask.

“Yes,” my mom says adamantly.

“When did you start feeling that way?”

“The day that Obama put the rainbow colors in the White House was a sad day for America,” my aunt replies. “That was a slap in God’s face. Abortion was a slap in his face, and here we’ve killed 60 million babies since 1973. I believe we’re going to be judged. I believe we are being judged.”

Read the entire piece here.  Morris’s conversation with her family is almost identical to some of my conversations with Trump supporters over the past several years.

Why Should the Devil Have All the Good Music?

Do you want to know what evangelicalism was like before the Christian Right came along and politicized it?  Check out Greg Thornbury‘s piece at The Washington Post: “What evangelicals looked like before they entered the political fray.” Thornbury has just completed a biography of Larry Norman, one of the founders of “Christian rock” music.  His book is titled Why Should the Devil Have All the Good Music?: Larry Norman and the Perils of Christian Rock.

Here is a taste of Thornbury’s piece in The Post:

In spring 1978, a young man named Mike Pence did two seemingly incongruous things, almost simultaneously. During one moment, he fist-pumped at a rock festival outside of Lexington, Ky., and in the next he knelt to pray and “receive Jesus Christ into his heart.” One of the artists headlining that concert had unwittingly created a new musical genre called Christian rock. His name was Larry Norman, and little did he know way back in 1969 when he recorded an album called “Upon This Rock” and wrote anthems such as “Why Should The Devil Have All the Good Music?” he was pioneering what would become a cultural phenomenon and a billion dollar industry. Nor could he, as a person of faith making albums for secular record companies, have envisioned a time in which the majority of Christians thought of themselves locked in a “culture war” with the rest of society. Pence would go on to embody much of that culture war as governor of Indiana, and now as vice president of the United States. But less is known about Norman, the rocker whom Pence went to see.

Read the rest here.

I must admit that Norman came along a bit before my time.  I joined the evangelical ranks in the early 1980s.  Norman was still popular, but I never really connected with his music.  When evangelicals of a certain age think about Norman, his hit “Why Should the Devil Have All the Good Music?” comes immediately to mind.  But as a young evangelical I was always more intrigued (and often time scared to death) by his “I Wish We’d All Been Ready.”  It served as the soundtrack to the cheesy (and frightening) 1972 evangelical rapture movie “A Thief in the Night.”  (The song picks up around the four minute mark):