America is broken and Jared Kushner is partly to blame

Kushner

Last night I finally got around to reading George Packer‘s piece in the June 2020 issue of The Atlantic. It is titled “We Are Living in a Failed State.” It is hard to argue with anything Packer says in this piece. The section on Jared Kushner is particularly damning:

The purest embodiment of political nihilism is not Trump himself but his son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner. In his short lifetime, Kushner has been fraudulently promoted as both a meritocrat and a populist. He was born into a moneyed real-estate family the month Ronald Reagan entered the Oval Office, in 1981—a princeling of the second Gilded Age. Despite Jared’s mediocre academic record, he was admitted to Harvard after his father, Charles, pledged a $2.5 million donation to the university. Father helped son with $10 million in loans for a start in the family business, then Jared continued his elite education at the law and business schools of NYU, where his father had contributed $3 million. Jared repaid his father’s support with fierce loyalty when Charles was sentenced to two years in federal prison in 2005 for trying to resolve a family legal quarrel by entrapping his sister’s husband with a prostitute and videotaping the encounter.

Jared Kushner failed as a skyscraper owner and a newspaper publisher, but he always found someone to rescue him, and his self-confidence only grew. In American Oligarchs, Andrea Bernstein describes how he adopted the outlook of a risk-taking entrepreneur, a “disruptor” of the new economy. Under the influence of his mentor Rupert Murdoch, he found ways to fuse his financial, political, and journalistic pursuits. He made conflicts of interest his business model.

So when his father-in-law became president, Kushner quickly gained power in an administration that raised amateurism, nepotism, and corruption to governing principles. As long as he busied himself with Middle East peace, his feckless meddling didn’t matter to most Americans. But since he became an influential adviser to Trump on the coronavirus pandemic, the result has been mass death.

In his first week on the job, in mid-March, Kushner co-authored the worst Oval Office speech in memory, interrupted the vital work of other officials, may have compromised security protocols, flirted with conflicts of interest and violations of federal law, and made fatuous promises that quickly turned to dust. “The federal government is not designed to solve all our problems,” he said, explaining how he would tap his corporate connections to create drive-through testing sites. They never materialized. He was convinced by corporate leaders that Trump should not use presidential authority to compel industries to manufacture ventilators—then Kushner’s own attempt to negotiate a deal with General Motors fell through. With no loss of faith in himself, he blamed shortages of necessary equipment and gear on incompetent state governors.

To watch this pale, slim-suited dilettante breeze into the middle of a deadly crisis, dispensing business-school jargon to cloud the massive failure of his father-in-law’s administration, is to see the collapse of a whole approach to governing. It turns out that scientific experts and other civil servants are not traitorous members of a “deep state”—they’re essential workers, and marginalizing them in favor of ideologues and sycophants is a threat to the nation’s health. It turns out that “nimble” companies can’t prepare for a catastrophe or distribute lifesaving goods—only a competent federal government can do that. It turns out that everything has a cost, and years of attacking government, squeezing it dry and draining its morale, inflict a heavy cost that the public has to pay in lives. All the programs defunded, stockpiles depleted, and plans scrapped meant that we had become a second-rate nation. Then came the virus and this strange defeat.

Read the entire piece here.

Here is Kushner defending Trump on the Kamala Harris’s birtherism story:

Kushner and other Trump staffers are backpedaling on this birtherism story. But it’s too late. The cat is out the bag and that’s exactly where they want the cat to be. None of Trump’s hardcore followers are going to care if Trump and his team are walking this back. Many of them are not even going to pay attention to how they tried to spin this story yesterday on the Sunday morning news shows. The claim that Harris is ineligible to run for vice-president is a deliberate attempt by the Trump campaign to stoke the racism and racial fears of Trump voters.

The spiritual warfare rhetoric heats-up as court evangelicals go deeper into panic mode.

SamuelRodriguez-a

Samuel Rodriguez, court evangelical

Donald Trump is trailing in the polls and the court evangelicals are praying for a miracle. Many of them see the 2020 election as a spiritual battle between the forces of God and the forces of Satan. And if you have been in a coma for the last five years, you may be surprised to learn that the “forces of God” are on the side of Donald Trump, the former host of The Apprentice.

As the election gets closer, and the court evangelicals become more desperate, expect to see more and more outrageous appeals to God, providence, Satan, and a host of other twisted theological (if you can call them that) assertions for the purpose garnering votes.

For example, last week Robert Jeffress’s said that the only evangelical Christians who will vote for Joe Biden in November are those who have “sold their soul to the devil.”

James Robison is the latest court evangelical to invoke the evil principalities and  powers at work in undermining Trump’s re-election bid.  Kyle Mantyla of Right Wing Watch recently brought to my attention a Robison interview with fellow court evangelical Samuel Rodriguez. Mantyla posted this clip from interview:

https://player.vimeo.com/video/445564244

You can watch the entire interview here.

Watch Rodriguez at the 2:28 mark. He says:

It seems right now that the church is following culture. Culture is saying right now do jumping jacks and the church is doing jumping jacks. The culture is saying repeat the following mantra and the church is repeating the following mantra. The culture is saying everyone go like this [Rodriguez puts his hands over his eyes] and the church is playing peek-a-boo. We are called to be the head and not the tail….We are following instead of leading.

This is ironic coming from a guy who carries water for Donald Trump. Trump says do jumping jacks, and Rodriguez jumps. Trump says, “Make America Great Again” and Rodriguez repeats the “mantra” over and over and over again. When Trump lies, cheats, demonizes his enemies, and promotes all kinds of unjust policies, Rodriguez has his hands over his eyes playing “peek-a-boo.”

Listen to Rodriguez closely here. He talks about the church as an institution with the potential to transform the culture and then quickly shifts to defending the American flag. The church, he says, needs to “stand up” and defend America. Sorry, but this is not what the church is called to do. Watch Rodriguez move seamlessly between Christianity and American nationalism as if there is no tension between these two belief systems.

Then Rodriguez says this:

The church needs to stand up, stop drinking the Kool-Aid, and stop being silent because you’re more afraid of political correctness and the number of followers than speaking the truth of the Gospel of Christ with love. That’s my message and I’m sticking to it.

Interesting. If this statement was presented to me without any context or sourcing, I would probably say “Amen.” But my training as a historian will not allow me to read this without understanding who said, it, when he said it, and why he said it. The key here is not what these words are saying, but what these words are doing. And we can’t understand what they are doing without context. This is what I mean by reading and thinking like a historian.

Rodriguez gets Robison fired-up. Robison claims that the court evangelicals have entered the court and proclaimed biblical truth to Donald Trump. I don’t know what goes on when the court evangelicals meet with the president. All I see are photo-ops. But let’s not pretend that the court evangelicals are speaking truth to power. The only time they speak publicly is when Trump says something about abortion, religious liberty, Israel, or the Supreme Court.

Robison’s claim that he has “never played partisan politics” is disingenuous. Have you ever read his website The Stream or listened to one of his editors, John Zmirak, on the Eric Metaxas Show? Robison is an agent of the Christian Right. And let’s remember that the Christian Right is a political movement.

At the 7:30 mark, Robison says that everything was going well in America under Donald Trump until “Satan…went ballistic” and brought the pandemic and racial unrest. He claims that Satan “stopped the progress that was being made because we were glimpsing a spiritual awakening….” Rodriguez responds by saying “it is not a coincidence” that the coronavirus and anti-racism protests have come in this “limited span of time.” He adds that the “Enemy” was upset that the “Lamb’s agenda was advancing” so Satan “released the krakens” on America. Notice how the “Lamb’s agenda” is reduced to pro-life politics and religious liberty, which Rodriguez thinks is all about governors closing churches.

Rodriguez also takes credit for criminal justice reform. He seems to suggest that no one in American politics had thought about criminal justice reform until he said something to Jared Kushner about it during a White House dinner.

When American historian Richard Hofstadter wrote “The Paranoid Style of American Politics” I don’t think he imagined any of this.

“How Can I Make This Crisis Worse?”

Trump corona

Here is David Frum at The Atlantic:

At every turn, President Trump’s policy regarding coronavirus has unfolded as if guided by one rule: How can I make this crisis worse?

Presidents are not all-powerful, especially not in the case of pandemic disease. There are limits to what they can do, for good or ill. But within those limits, at every juncture, Trump’s actions have ensured the worst possible outcomes. The worst outcome for public health. The worst outcome for the American economy. The worst outcome for American global leadership.

Trump’s Oval Office speech of March 11 was the worst action yet in a string of bad actions. 

Of course this ended badly. This is what happens when you have nativist Stephen Miller and son-in-law Jared Kushner shaping policy.  All the best people.  Miller wrote the speech and Trump read it.  That’s how it works in this White House.

And this:

More people will get sick because of his presidency than if somebody else were in charge. More people will suffer the financial hardship of sickness because of his presidency than if somebody else were in charge. The medical crisis will arrive faster and last longer than if somebody else were in charge. So, too, the economic crisis. More people will lose their jobs than if somebody else were in charge. More businesses will be pushed into bankruptcy than if somebody else were in charge. More savers will lose more savings than if somebody else were in charge. The damage to America’s global leadership will be greater than if somebody else were in charge.

There is always something malign in Trump’s incompetence. He has no care or concern for others; he cannot absorb the trouble and suffering of others as real. He monotones his way through words of love and compassion, but those words plainly have no content or meaning for him. The only thing that is real is his squalid vanity. This virus threatens to pierce that vanity, so he denied it as long as he could. What he refuses to acknowledge cannot be real, can it?

And even now that he has acknowledged the crisis, he still cannot act, because he does not know what to do. His only goal now is to shove blame onto others. Americans have to face the fact that in the grip of this pandemic, the Oval Office is for all practical purposes as empty as the glazed eyes of the man who spoke from that office tonight.

But hey, we got Kavanaugh and Gorsuch and a speech about the Johnson Amendment.

Read the entire piece here.

What Court Evangelical Robert Jeffress Said Tonight on Fox Business News

It’s been a “great” week for the President of the United States.  Think about it:

  1.  Trump’s former lawyer testified before Congress and called president a liar, a racist, an adulterer, a con man, and a cheat.  And then he produced evidence which seems to implicate Trump in federal crimes.
  2. Trump went to Vietnam to meet with the North Korean dictator.  While he was there, the North Korean dictator told Trump that he was unaware that an American college student was imprisoned and tortured in his country.  Trump believed what the dictator told him, stating “I will take him at his word.”  The parents of the now-dead college student are outraged at this act of insensitivity.
  3. New York Times story uncovered that Donald Trump insisted that his son-in-law be given a top-secret security clearance despite the fact that intelligence officials and the White House top lawyer said this what a bad idea.  This is blatant nepotism.  The story also proves that Trump has lied about this on multiple occasions.

You would think the court evangelicals might lay low on a week like this.  Nope.  Robert Jeffress, pastor of First Baptist Church at Dallas, went on Fox Business News tonight and praised Trump:

There are so, so many problems with this video:

  1. Jeffress takes a victory lap because 80% of Americans claim to believe in God.  He says anyone who does not believe in God is a moron.  As long as Rev. Jeffress is throwing around Bible verses, perhaps he should consider Matthew 7:13-14: “Enter through the narrow gate.  For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it.  But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it. ”  How does he reconcile this verse with his triumphant running-of-the mouth about a Pew poll that says 80% of Americans believe in God?
  2. If Robert Jeffress is a minister of the Gospel, why does he condemn Democrats and others on the “Left” who do not believe in God by attacking them with such provocative and angry rhetoric?  Is this helping him reach the lost souls he claims to care so much about?  His choice to take a pay check from Fox News and serve as the conservative network’s evangelical culture warrior seems counterproductive to his calling a soul-winner.
  3.  Jeffress continues to make the claim that the United States was founded and continues to be a Christian nation.  He is wrong.  I address these claims in both Was America Founded as a Christian Nation: A Historical Introduction and Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump.  In Believe Me, I engage Jeffress directly.  Much of his understanding of American history comes from political activist David Barton.
  4. Lou Dobbs’s decision to talk to Jeffress about sexual abuse in the Roman Catholic church is thick with irony.  Dobbs is talking to the pastor of one of the largest Southern Baptist churches in the United States.  He does not seem to realize that the Southern Baptist Convention is plagued with sexual abuse scandals right now.  Jeffress has said nothing to condemn the sexual abuse scandals in his denomination and he says nothing about them in this interview.  Shame on him!
  5. Finally, for a a nuanced view on late-term abortions, see Michael Wear‘s recent piece in The Atlantic.

Court Evangelical Support For Kushner May Be More Than Just Political

Kushner

Earlier today we published a post on the court evangelical’s support of Jared Kushner as he testified before Congress this week.

Over at The Washington Post, Sarah Pulliam Bailey points out that many of these court evangelicals like Kushner because he is an orthodox Jew.

Here is a taste of her piece:

While there is a deep divide in the Southern Baptist Convention over whether pastors should continue to vocally support Trump, several Southern Baptist pastors continue to support the president. Jeremiah, a pastor of a Southern Baptist megachurch in California, said that Kushner and Ivanka Trump, who are Jewish, may have been chosen by God to help Christians.

“It’s just like God to use a young Jewish couple to help Christians in the United States, defend their rights, and secure their religious freedom for now, and for subsequent generations,” Jeremiah wrote in his statement.

Moore said that many evangelicals feel “a connectedness” to Kushner’s Orthodox Jewish faith because it’s so “seamlessly integrated in his life. ”

Many white evangelicals have warm attitudes toward Jews because they believe God has set them apart as chosen. White evangelicals rate Jews more positively than any other non-Christian religious group, but Jews rate white evangelicals least positively among Christian groups, according to the Pew Research Center.

Read the entire piece here.  I wonder if the court evangelicals believe that Donald Trump’s “Presbyterian Christian faith” is “seamlessly integrated in his life.”

The Court Evangelicals Back Kushner

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

The court evangelicals have remained largely silent about the President’s moral indiscretions and tweets. But when the President’s son-in-law and adviser testifies before Congress about possible Russian ties, the court evangelicals come out of the woodwork.

ABC News reports:

A host of Christian leaders, from South Carolina Pastor Mark Burns to Liberty University president Jerry Falwell Jr., have been taking to Twitter and releasing statements voicing their support for Kushner as he spends two days speaking with congressional investigators on Capitol Hill.

“I’ve known Jared for many years. He’s a man of integrity, character, and a great, personal friend,” wrote Paula White, a gospel preacher and Trump friend who prayed at Trump’s inaugural. “(E)nough-is-enough,” she wrote.

Liberty University president Jerry Falwell Jr. blasted the “endless attempts by the media to keep the fake Russia collusion story alive— solely to obstruct the president’s agenda” in a statement Monday.

“In Jared Kushner, they’ve picked the wrong fight. I don’t know a more competent person. He is brilliant and he is a man of the highest integrity,” Falwell wrote.

Kushner insisted Monday that he had done nothing improper during the campaign as he met with members of the Senate intelligence committee for nearly three hours behind closed doors. He’s set to meet with lawmakers on the House intelligence committee Tuesday.

Read the rest here.

Pence vs. Kushner/Ivanka on Religious Liberty?

PenceThis is an interesting report from Jon Ward at Yahoo News.  Next week Donald Trump will apparently be issuing an executive order on religious liberty.  Trump has promised evangelicals that he will protect their views on marriage (and other issues) by exempting them from anti-discrimination statutes.  Vice President Mike Pence is as evangelical as they come on these issues.

Yet, as Ward notes, Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner and daughter Ivanka are “more aligned with gay, lesbian and transgender groups on these issues.”

Here is a taste of War’s article:

“The Jared and Ivanka thing, that’s real,” said one congressional aide.

One Senate aide said the rumor on Capitol Hill was that “President Jared has it on hold. … I haven’t seen any evidence that Pence has the pull to trump Jared.”

And that gets to the heart of the matter. Pence has a long history with the issue of religious liberty, having been embarrassed by a bungled attempt in Indiana when he was governor to implement a law on the matter.

Pence, widely criticized after signing the Indiana legislature’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act in the spring of 2015, then bowed to pressure and altered the legislation in a way that angered religious conservatives. So in the view of some in the community, the vice president has an obligation to make it up to them.

But a fight with Trump’s own family is a formidable task. This is not the only issue that Pence cares about, though it is a high priority one for him and many others in the faith community. So the question for Pence has been how much political capital is he willing to expend on this matter.

The broader context is that Pence is always thinking about how to gain influence in the Trump administration while also keeping a certain distance from the president.

Keeping that distance will help Pence if the Trump presidency ends up being judged a failure, giving him the vice president the deniability he would need to mount a credible run for the White House himself.

Read the entire article here.