What Matthew 4 REALLY says about Christians and power

Recently an evangelical pastor who was a college of classmate of mine wrote to me praising Donald Trump’s decision to nominate Amy Coney Barrett as Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s replacement on the Supreme Court. He seemed very excited about the nomination and was surprised when I was not as excited as he was.

As I have argued, I think what McConnell did was wrong in 2016 when he refused to give Barack Obama’s nominee, Merrick Garland, a hearing and a vote in the Senate. As many of you recall, McConnell claimed that since it was an election year the American people, through the ballot box, should decide who would replace the late Antonin Scalia on the bench. Trump won in 2016 and he nominated Neil Gorsuch. The GOP-controlled Senate confirmed him.

2020 is an election year. In fact, the election will take place in about a month. McConnell now seems to have no problem with confirming a Supreme Court justice in an election year. He is hard at work pushing Barrett through the system.

This evangelical pastor friend did not see any problem with McConnell’s blatant hypocrisy. Actually, I don’t even think he understands what McConnell did as a form of hypocrisy. As my old college acquaintance put it in his note to me, we now have a Republican president and a Republican Senate and “elections have consequences.”

Based on other exchanges I have had with this pastor, I highly doubt he would have said “elections have consequences” if the same thing happened with a Democratic president’s nominee and a Democratic-controlled Senate. He would instead be making an appeal to the Constitution or perhaps the scriptures. But I digress.

The GOP is licking its chops to confirm Barrett. Its members thus need some kind of argument to save face and explain that they are not hypocrites. Most of these GOP Senators and pundits believe that the Constitution should be interpreted based upon the original intent of the framers. But they are not consistent in this belief. They only claim original intent when it meets their needs. There is nothing in the Constitution that says a Supreme Court nominee in an election year can only get a Senate hearing if the president making the nomination is of the same political party as the party controlling the Senate. The GOP just made this up.

And if the GOP really believes the original intent of the founders is important, they should be talking about how the founders would be appalled at the rank partisanship driving this whole nomination and confirmation process.

But perhaps most revealing is the way this pastor reconciles 2016 (Obama and Garland) and 2020 (Trump and Barrett) with an appeal to raw power. Again, notice that he did not appeal to the Constitution, the Bible, or some other moral code to defend McConnell’s decision. The exact words he used to justify Barrett’s nomination were “Republicans in power. Elections have consequences.” In a single sentence he confirmed a major part of my argument in Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump.

Of course Jesus had a chance to obtain worldly power as well.

I recall that passage in Matthew 4 when Satan offered Jesus “all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor” if he would just bow down and worship him. When Jesus turned down Satan’s offer (“away from me Satan!”) God sent angels to attend to him. Jesus rejected worldly power and God was there to offer comfort and assurance in the form of the angels. The rest of the Gospel story, of course, is God showing how he would carry out his plan in another way–The Way–a way that did not require the kind of earthly power Satan was offering to Jesus.

But most people don’t know that in the 1980s Jerry Falwell Sr., while conducting a Moral Majority Holy Land tour, discovered early manuscripts of the Matthew 4 that show Jesus actually taking Satan’s deal. According to these ancient manuscripts, Jesus drove a hard bargain with Satan. In this manuscript Jesus specifically defined the “kingdoms of the world” as the future United States and demanded that Satan bring “splendor” to this kingdom by one day raising-up a morally bankrupt pagan leader (similar to King Cyrus of old) who would have the opportunity to appoint three Supreme Court justices. Satan agreed to deal, but fitting with his cunning spirit, took over 2000 years to fulfill his promise to Jesus.

What? You’ve never heard this before? It’s all there in the Lynchburg scrolls. The reason people don’t know about these scrolls is because the fake media won’t report on them.

🙂

The court evangelicals get another chance to execute their political playbook

For many American evangelicals, Christian witness in the political sphere comes down to overturning Roe v. Wade. This is why the court evangelicals are so gleeful about Trump getting another Supreme Court nomination. This is also why they say virtually nothing about the president’s mishandling of COVID-19 (nearly 200,000 dead), his separation of families at the Mexican border, his environmental policies that will one day make the planet incapable of sustaining life, and his racism. Look for yourself. The silence is deafening. Start your research with these names:

Franklin Graham, James Robison, James Dobson, Jenetzen Franklin, Jack Graham, Paula White, Greg Laurie, John Hagee, Tony Perkins, Gary Bauer, Johnnie Moore, Ralph Reed, Robert Jeffress, Eric Metaxas, Jim Garlow, Jack Hibbs, Harry Jackson Jr., Luke Barnett, Richard Land, Jim Bakker, David Barton, Steve Strang, Samuel Rodriguez, Charlie Kirk, Lance Wallnau, and Jenna Ellis.

I imagine (again, I only imagine) that some of these people were on a conference call the moment Ruth Bader Ginsburg died. They no doubt started the session with prayer for the Ginsburg’s family and perhaps even threw-out a prayer or two for those suffering through COVID-19. And then, when the pleasantries were done, they got down to strategizing about how to best support the president’s forthcoming Supreme Court nomination and the most effective ways of spinning their 2016 claims that President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee–Merrick Garland–did not deserve a hearing in the Senate because it was an election year.

As I wrote yesterday, Robert Jeffress said that COVID-19 is mere “background noise” now that Ruth Bader Ginsburg is dead and Trump can appoint another conservative justice. Background noise? Tell that to the families who lost lives from COVID. What kind of world do we live in where a Christian pastor can say that the loss of 200,000 lives is unimportant and get virtually no push-back from his followers, all men and women who name the name of Jesus Christ?

Here is what the court evangelicals have been saying about the Supreme Court story:

Let’s start with Franklin Graham. Let’s remember that Barack Obama nominated Merrick Garland about eight months before the 2016 election:

And now Graham says the country is at a “boiling point” and needs prayer. He has no clue that he is partly responsible for the divisions in the nation and the church.

Southern Baptist seminary president Al Mohler tries to defend Mitch McConnell’s decision to reject Merrick Garland’s nomination in 2016. There is no reference to the Constitution or its interpretation. Mohler’s argument is weak, especially coming from a self-professed Constitutional originalist. I would like to see him defend this argument through a close reading of the Constitution as opposed to the weak reference to 1880 that he offers here. Mohler, who prides himself as an intellectual driven by logic, begins with the assumption that we need another conservative justice and then searches for an argument–any argument–to justify his political desires.

There is no doubt that President Trump will make a nomination to fill the vacancy, and there is now no doubt, thanks to a statement released by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, that the Senate will move forward on a confirmation process once the nomination is announced. Indeed, Senator McConnell stated, “In the last midterm election, before Justice Scalia’s death in 2016, Americans elected a Republican Senate majority because we pledged to check and balance the last days of a lame duck president’s second term. We kept our promise. Since the 1880s, no Senate has confirmed an opposite party president’s Supreme Court nominee in a presidential election year. By contrast, Americans reelected our majority in 2016 and expanded it in 2018, because we pledged to work with President Trump and support his agenda, particularly his outstanding appointments to the federal judiciary. Once again, we will keep our promise. President Trump’s nominee will receive a vote on the floor of the United States Senate.”

Ecclesiastes 10:1. Interesting choice of verse by Tony Perkins:

Here is Gary Bauer. It’s all about the Christian Right playbook. He actually believes that overturning Roe v. Wade will end abortion in the United States. As long as he keeps sticking to this playbook, the lives of unborn babies will remain a political football.

Hey Ralph Reed, why weren’t you making this argument in 2016?

Charlie Kirk of the Falkirk Center at Liberty University does not even want hearings for Trump’s new justice:

Kirk criticizes Ilhan Omar for being a “starter of fires” fueled by religion and skin color. Hmm…

For many evangelicals the 2020 election represents a simple choice: Trump will defend the pro-life movement, Joe Biden is pro-choice; Trump promises to appoint Supreme Court justices who will challenge–perhaps even overturn —Roe v. Wade, and Joe Biden will not. When it comes to dealing with the problem of abortion, the court evangelicals have been reading from the same political playbook for more than four decades. It teaches them that the best way to bring an end to abortion in America is to elect the right president, who, in turn, will support the right justices. Thus far, things seem to be going well: not only has Trump appointed pro-life justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanuagh, but he has appointed dozens of conservative judges to federal district courts across the country. Now, he will most likely get to appoint another conservative justice.

Still, it is not exactly clear how this strategy will bring an end to abortion in America. Chief Justice John Roberts, himself a devout Catholic, has called Roe v. Wade “settled as the law of the land.” Amy Coney Barrett, who appears to be Trump’s top pick to replace Ruth Bader Ginsburg, has said publicly that it is likely Roe v. Wade will not be overturned.

And even if Roe v. Wade is overturned by the Supreme Court, the issue will be sent back to the states. Abortion is very likely to remain legal in the so-called blue states, including California and New York, and illegal in many of the so-called red states, especially in the deep South.

State legislatures will need to decide how they will handle the abortion issue in the remaining states, but a significant number of them will probably allow abortion in some form. To put it simply, overturning Roe v. Wade will not end abortion in America. It may curtail the number of abortions, but it will bring our culture no closer to welcoming the children who are born and supporting their mothers.

The taking of a human life in the womb via the practice of abortion is a horrific practice. Modern technology shows us that a baby in the womb, especially in the last trimester, is alive. Christians should be working hard to reduce the number of abortions that take place in the United States–even working to eliminate the practice entirely.

But we have been under Roe v. Wade for long enough that several generations of Americans now believe that they have a right to an abortion. Such a belief is not going to change anytime soon. Conservative evangelicals and other pro-life advocates spend billions of dollars to get the right candidates elected because they believe that the Supreme Court is the only way to solve the problem of abortion in our society. Yet, most of these conservatives oppose “big government” and want to address social concerns through churches and other institutions of civil society. Imagine if all the money spent to support pro-life candidates was poured into these institutions.

How did we get to this place. Learn more here:

What the Christian Right, court evangelicals, and GOP said about Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland

In a previous post on whether Trump should pick the next Supreme Court justice I wrote:

Politics is not about integrity, ethics, or standing by one’s word. It is about power. And let’s not pretend that the Democrats wouldn’t do the same thing if they were in the GOP’s shoes right now. Plague on all their houses!

In 2016, the Senate would not allow Merrick Garland, president Barack Obama’s SCOTUS pick, a hearing and vote because the GOP members in the Senate, led by Kentucky’s Mitch McConnell, believed that the next president should choose the next justice.

What did the court evangelicals say about McConnell’s decision in 2016?

Ralph Reed and his Faith & Freedom Coalition issued a statement on March 21, 2016:

We strongly oppose Judge Garland’s nomination to the Supreme Court.  We urge the U.S. Senate to await the final judgment of the American people rendered in the 2016 election before acting on any nomination to the highest court.  We will undertake a muscular and ambitious grassroots effort in the states of key U.S. Senators to defeat the Garland nomination and prevent President Obama from shifting the balance of the court for a generation.”

Here is Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council:

In the end, the Senate’s position isn’t about the person — it’s about the principle. “The only reason that they’re complaining about a hearing on the nominee is because they want to make the process as political as possible,” Grassley said. “And that goes to the heart of the matter. We’re not going to politicize this process in the middle of a presidential election year.” The other 10 GOP members of his committee have already made up their minds. Senator Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) couldn’t have been clearer when he said, “We’re not going to confirm anyone. Period.” But America’s law professor-in-chief still insists: “In putting forward a nominee today, I am fulfilling my constitutional duty. I’m doing my job. I hope that our senators will do their jobs, and move quickly to consider my nominee. That’s what the Constitution dictates…”

Wrong again. As scholars like Noah Feldman remind him, “Here’s what the Constitution says about filling Supreme Court vacancies: nothing.” Yet, as they’ve done with abortion and same-sex marriage, liberals are quite content to point to its invisible ink to suit their narrative. The reality is, President Obama has the right to nominate a replacement for Justice Scalia, just as the Senate has a right to ignore it. This is exactly what the Americans people wanted when it elected a GOP majority: a Senate that would rein in the president’s unchecked powers. Now they have it. And on the biggest decision in a generation, we can all be grateful its leaders are doing their part.

I am sure, based on the above statement, Perkins sees no hypocrisy in McConnell’s decision to give Trump’s nominee a hearing in an election year.

Let’s see if Nebraska Senator Ben Sasse will meet with Trump’s appointee. He refused to meet with Garland in 2016. And what about all those “principled constitutionalists” (like Ted Cruz) who would not give Garland a hearing in 2016, but will support Trump’s nominee?

The Huffington Post has collected the comments of several GOP senators in 2016 about Obama’s appointment of Merrick Garland. Here are some of those comments:

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley of Iowa: “Given that we are in the midst of the presidential election process, we believe that the American people should seize the opportunity to weigh in on whom they trust to nominate the next person for a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court.”

Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina: “As I have repeatedly stated, the election cycle is well underway, and the precedent of the Senate is not to confirm a nominee at this stage in the process. I strongly support giving the American people a voice in choosing the next Supreme Court nominee by electing a new president.” 

Sen. Thom Tillis of North Carolina: “It is essential to the institution of the Senate and to the very health of our republic to not launch our nation into a partisan, divisive confirmation battle during the very same time the American people are casting their ballots to elect our next president.”

Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas: “It has been 80 years since a Supreme Court vacancy was nominated and confirmed in an election year. There is a long tradition that you don’t do this in an election year.”

Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida: “I don’t think we should be moving forward with a nominee in the last year of this president’s term. I would say that even if it was a Republican president.”

Sen. Cory Gardner of Colorado: “I think we’re too close to the election. The president who is elected in November should be the one who makes this decision.”

Sen. Mike Lee of Utah: “We think that the American people need a chance to weigh in on this issue, on who will fill that seat. They’ll have that chance this November, and they ought to have that chance.” 

Sen. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania: “With the U.S. Supreme Court’s balance at stake, and with the presidential election fewer than eight months away, it is wise to give the American people a more direct voice in the selection and confirmation of the next justice.”

Sen. John Thune of South Dakota: “Since the next presidential election is already underway, the next president should make this lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court.”

Trump’s Supreme Court appointee should get a hearing and a vote

Article II of the United States Constitution states that the President:

…shall have Power, by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, to make Treaties, provided two thirds of the Senators present concur; and he shall nominate, and by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, shall appoint Ambassadors, other public Ministers and Consuls, Judges of the supreme Court, and all other Officers of the United States, whose Appointments are not herein otherwise provided for, and which shall be established by Law: but the Congress may by Law vest the Appointment of such inferior Officers, as they think proper, in the President alone, in the Courts of Law, or in the Heads of Departments.

The President nominates Supreme Court justices and the Senate advises and consents. That’s how it works.

When Antonin Scalia died in February 2016, Barack Obama did his constitutional duty and nominated Merrick Garland to replace Scalia. The Senate, under the leadership of Mitch McConnell, refused to give Garland a hearing. He said that it was inappropriate for Obama to nominate a new justice in an election year. The next Supreme Court nomination, McConnell argued, should thus be left up to the new President. Trump won the November election and appointed Neil Gorsuch.

We are now 43 days away from an election and the recent death of justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has reignited the same debate about the right of a president to appoint a new justice during an election year. The Republicans in all their hypocrisy are now demanding that Trump should appoint Ginsburg’s successor. Here is Lindsey Graham, the head of the Senate Judiciary Committee, 2016:

Graham is now suggesting that Trump should get to pick the next justice.

Of course this should not surprise us. Politics is not about integrity, ethics, or standing by one’s word. It is about power. And let’s not pretend that the Democrats wouldn’t do the same thing if they were in the GOP’s shoes right now. Plague on all their houses!

Two wrongs do not make a right. McConnell was wrong in 2016. Merrick Garland should have received a hearing and an up or down vote. In 2020, Trump’s appointee should receive a hearing and get an up or down vote. If the Senators believe that it is in the best interest of the country to let the next president choose a justice, then they can vote accordingly.

In March 2016, I wrote a Fox News piece on the whole Garland mess while I was in residence at George Washington’s Mount Vernon. Read it here.

Liberty University’s Falkirk Center meets all expectations at its “Get Louder” event

Yesterday, Liberty University’s Falkirk Center, the culture war wing of the largest Christian university in the world, held a 1-day conference titled “Get Louder: Faith Summit 2020.” Evangelical Trump supporters were encouraged to yell and scream more, fight more, and make sure that they were active on every social media platform. This is how the Kingdom of God will advance and Christian America will be saved because in the minds of the speakers, and probably most of those in attendance, there is little difference between the two. There was virtually nothing said about civility, humility, empathy, peace, compassion, the common good, or justice for people of color or the poor.

If there is any doubt that the Falkirk Center, with its angry and bitter political rhetoric and unswerving support of Donald Trump, represents Liberty University, those doubts were put to rest in the first fifteen minutes of the event. The day began with a video from the late Jerry Falwell Sr.:

This was followed by a welcome from Liberty University Provost Scott Hicks. Scott Lamb, Liberty’s Vice President for Communications, also welcomed the audience and praised the work of the Falkirk Center.

Falkirk Center director Ryan Helfenbein introduced the day’s festivities:

The first plenary speaker was former Arkansas governor and GOP presidential candidate Mike Huckabee. He started-off with a real “historical” whopper:

Much of Huckabee’s speech confused identity politics with “collectivism.” It was an ideological mess. The real socialist collectivists in America are no fan of identity politics.

And it wouldn’t be a Huckabee speech without some fearmongering:

Huckabee is disappointed with students on “evangelical campuses”:

Next came Ralph Reed, one of the primary architects of the Christian Right playbook. Reed sings one note:

The “Great Awakening” was ubiquitous at this event:

We’ve written about the “Black-Robed Brigade here.

Falkirk Center’s co-founder Charlie Kirk’s pastor spoke:

A general observation about the day:

And then Eric Metaxas showed-up:

I compared this session on the “Christian mind” to Bruce Springsteen’s convocation address last night at another Christian college–Jesuit-run Boston College:

Next-up, court evangelical Greg Locke:

Next-up, the anti-social justice crowd:

At the end of a long day Eric Metaxas came back for a solo speech:

Please read my recent Religion News Service piece in this context of these texts.

Sunday in Trumpland

 

Trump Barry

Things seem to be business as usual in Trumpland.

Last night we learned that Donald Trump’s sister, retired federal judge Maryanne Trump Barry, had some choice things to say about her brother. Let’s be clear. She didn’t say anything that we didn’t already know about this president.

Readers of this blog might be interested in Maryanne Barry’s comments about the president’s political base: “All he wants to do is appeal to his base. He has no principles. None. None. And his base, I mean my God, if you were a religious person, you want to help people. Not do this.”

The White House released a statement regarding the comments made by the president’s sister. It read: “Every day it’s something else, who cares. I miss my brother, and I’ll continue to work hard for the American people. Not everyone agrees, but the results are obvious. Our country will soon be stronger than ever before.”

It is the eve of the Republican National Convention and the convention website has very little information about what is going to happen. We do, however, finally have a list of speakers. The Trump family will be filling a significant number of speaking slots.

U.S. Senators speaking include Tim Scott, Rand Paul, Marsha Blackburn, Joni Ernst, Mitch McConnell, and Tom Cotton. Some GOP Senators with national reputations will not be speaking. This list includes Lamar Alexander, Susan Collins, John Cornyn, Ted Cruz, Lindsay Graham, Chuck Grassley, Josh Hawley, Jim Inhofe, James Lankford, Mike Lee, John Kennedy, Kelly Loeffler, Martha McSally, Lisa Murkowski, Mitt Romney, Marco Rubio, Ben Sasse, and Rick Scott.

Speakers from the House of Representatives include Steve Scalise, Matt Gaetz, Jim Jordan, Dan Crenshaw, Elise Stefanik, Lee Zeldin, Kevin McCarthy, and Jeff Van Drew.

Others noteworthy speakers include former U.N. ambassador Nikki Haley, Donald Trump Jr.’s girlfriend (and former Fox News pundit) Kimberly Guilfoyle, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds, South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem, Trump staffer Kellyanne Conway, Eric Trump’s wife Lana Trump, and Rudy Giuliani.

There are also several speakers who represent our nation’s ongoing culture wars. They include court evangelical Franklin Graham, Covington Catholic High School student Nicholas Sandman, court evangelical Charlie Kirk, and the St. Louis’s gun wielding couple Mark and Patricia McCloskey.

Trump is still tweeting about God.

He is still obsessed with the pledge of allegiance:

For a full treatment of what happened read this post from yesterday.

Trump had another tweet today about God:

This tweet, of course, is a blatant attempt to win the votes of evangelicals in November. But it also tells us what Trump really thinks about evangelicals. He believes that we will gravitate to any political candidate who mentions the name of God. We will blindly follow the sound of the “We want God” mantra–like zombies–into the voting booth. Sadly, this may actually be the case for many of my fellow evangelicals.

The court evangelicals seem to welcome Trump’s appeal to his base. This morning a megachurch pastor in California turned his pulpit over to Charlie Kirk of Liberty University’s Falkirk Center:

I wonder what Kirk will say. Perhaps some of his most recent tweets (last 24 hours) will make it into his Lord’s Day sermon:

Liberty University Falkirk Center fellow Jenna Ellis loves Trump’s tweet about God:

Self-pointed prophet Lance Wallnau is still talking about Kamala Harris as a “Jezebel” (and hawking a book).

 

Court evangelical journalist David Brody believes Trump is the only biblical candidate:

I am curious about what Brody means by “traditional biblical policy positions.” Most evangelicals didn’t really see abortion as a political issue until the mid-1970s.

Robert Jeffress was on Fox News this morning.

First, he seems to believe that one can “remove God” from public life. It this theological possible? I think most evangelicals, myself included, believe God is bigger that this.

Second, Jeffress also ignores the fact that the Pledge of Allegiance was recited every night at the DNC convention with the phrase “under God” included. But why would the pastor bring this up when he can twist the truth for political advantage?

Third, Jeffress implies that people of faith in the Democratic Party are not true Christians.

Fourth, Jeffress continues to promote this idea that abortion is the only political issue evangelicals should be concerned about. Perhaps he should read conservative evangelical David French’s column today in which he challenges this idea.

Watch:

Stay tuned. Classes start this week at Messiah University, but I still hope there is time to watch the GOP convention and write a few words.

Court Evangelicals gather in Georgia

Paula White Georgia

This weekend court evangelical Paula White hosted a face-to-face event in Alpharetta, Georgia as part of the “Evangelicals for Trump” wing of the Trump 2020 campaign. Watch it here.

Speakers included Jenetzen Franklin, Harry Jackson, Ralph Reed, Alveda King, Richard Lee, and White.

Jenetzen Franklin says that evangelicals who believe in the Bible, the sacredness of life, supporting Israel, and law and justice “must “speak now or forever hold your peace, you won’t have another chance.” If Trump does not get elected, Franklin says, Christians will not have freedom of religion or freedom of speech. This line got a standing ovation. Franklin says that we only have three months (November) to save America. This is evangelical fear-mongering 101.

Harry Jackson calls for racial healing in the country. The applause is a lot more tepid than the applause Franklin received. No one seems to think that his support for Confederate flag-loving Donald Trump might contradict this message.

Ralph Reed starts by thanking the “God-fearing, Bible-believing Christians” of the state of Georgia for making sure Stacy Abrams did not win the governorship in 2018. Instead of Abrams, the people of Georgia got this.

Reed calls Abrams the “most radical, extreme, far-Left, governor” in the history of the South. It is worth remembering that Abrams would have been the third Black governor in the history of South and the first woman. Since the Civil War, the former Confederacy has had only two Black governors. P.B.S. Pinchback was governor of Louisiana for about a month (December 9, 1872 to January 13, 1873) and Douglas Wilder was governor of Virginia from 2005-2009. Only about 11% of white evangelicals in Georgia voted for Abrams. Reed, of course, knows how to appeal to the Trump base.

Reed also says that he senses “God’s anointed in this place.” He speaks with an arrogant certainty about the will of God and claims to know that God is on Trump’s side. Reed sees through a glass clearly.

Reed tells a story about how “thunderstruck” and upset he was when Antonin Scalia died in February 2016. He thought God had abandoned the country by allowing Scalia do die so close to the presidential election. But when Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell said that he would not give the Obama nominee Merrick Garland a hearing, and would wait until after the 2016 election to start Senate proceedings on Scalia’s replacement, Reed knew God had intervened in human history and had answered the prayers of all true Christians. This story speaks volumes about the political playbook of the Christian Right. Trump said he can shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and still win in 2016. I think Trump can shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and still have conservative evangelical support in 2020 as long as he appoints conservative justices.

Alveda King, the niece of Martin Luther King Jr., read some scriptures. I am not sure what she was trying to say, but she is Alveda King’s niece and she supports Trump.

Richard Lee, the author of the The American Patriot’s Bible, spoke next. He praised Trump for trying (unsuccessfully) to repeal the Johnson Amendment. I doubt that he ever considered that the Johnson Amendment is actually good for the church.

Lee says we should vote for Donald Trump because he is a “man’s man.” (Later today I am interviewing historian Kristin Kobes Du Mez about her new book Jesus and John Wayne so this kind of tough-guy masculinity is fresh on my mind right now).

In response to mayors and governors who are trying to protect people from the coronavirus, Lee says: “Get your hands off the church of Jesus Christ. Don’t tell me what to do. Don’t you tell my congregation what to do. You think we’re idiots. You don’t think we know to protect ourselves?” He tells evangelical pastors that they should be “scared to the core” because “they’re gonna come for ya!” He even tells them to whistle the theme song to the television show COPS:

White evangelicals have believed that “they” (Thomas Jefferson, the Illuminati, abolitionists, modernists, the Supreme Court, “big government,” the Clintons, Obama) have been “coming for them” for a long time.

Lee concludes that the church should be a “shock force” for a “moral revolution” in this country. Something tells me that this is not the kind of moral revolution that Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove and others are preaching.

The last speaker is Paula White. She tells about her history with Trump and praises the moral character of the entire Trump family. She calls Biden a “trojan horse” who will bring the “radical left” into the mainstream of America. At this point she gets pretty fired-up and starts ripping through Christian Right talking points.

It is hard to get a good look at the crowd, but I do not see many masks. The only person on the stage wearing a mask during the final prayer is Alveda King.

What about all those Confederate statues in the U.S. Capitol?

eb4c8-united_states_capitol_-_west_front

Here is a taste of William Hogeland‘s piece at Boston Review:

Eleven statues of Confederate officers, including Robert E. Lee and Jefferson Davis, stand in the National Statuary Hall Collection in the U.S. Capitol. In response to House Democrats’ recent effort to fast-track their removal, Senator Mitch McConnell and other rearguard cultural defenders have said that to do so would erase history.

Many Americans are startled to learn that Confederate statues are in the Capitol at all. On Twitter, this surprise has often taken the form of a question: “Why in the hell are there Confederate statues in the Capital?” “Wait—there’s a statue of Jefferson Davis, Alexander Stephens and nine other confederates in the US Capitol building?” “Good Lord, what are they doing there?”

Good questions. Amid the widespread defacings, topplings, and official removals of statuary representing not only enslavers but also racist leaders of many kinds, the presence there of Confederate monuments—not in former slave states but in the seat of the government that the Confederacy fought—seems bizarre indeed. People who remember, as I do, seeing the statues on childhood visits to the Capitol will be less surprised, but I suspect that even we have thought little about the National Statuary Hall Collection’s contents, or even its existence. A large, oddball batch of mostly old memorials, the collection is centered in the National Statuary Hall, beside the Rotunda, and scattered about in other rooms; many of its subjects are at best obscure. At first glance, the collection might seem, aside from the outrageous presence of the Confederacy, innocuous enough, if a bit antique.

But the stark reality is that the U.S. government’s peculiar relationship to the Civil War made those Confederate statues a defining feature of the whole National Statuary Hall Collection—a fulfillment, even, of what became its purpose. What Confederate figures are doing in the collection is worth knowing, because it bears on larger, even more unsettling political and cultural processes that have marked U.S. public discourse regarding race and racism in the past three centuries.

Read the rest here.

Mitch McConnell: Trump’s “Enabler-In-Chief”

mitch-mcconnell-trump

Check out  Here is a taste of Jane Mayer‘s profile of Kentucky Senator and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. It is titled “How Mitch McConnell Became Trump’s Enabler-In-Chief“:

On McConnell’s family:

McConnell also appears to have lost the political support of his three daughters. The youngest, Porter, is a progressive activist who is the campaign director for Take On Wall Street, a coalition of labor unions and nonprofit groups which advocates against the “predatory economic power” of “banks and billionaires.” One of its targets has been Stephen Schwarzman, the chairman and C.E.O. of the Blackstone Group, who, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, has, since 2016, donated nearly thirty million dollars to campaigns and super pacs aligned with McConnell. Last year, Take On Wall Street condemned Blackstone’s “detrimental behavior” and argued that the company’s campaign donations “cast a pall on candidates’ ethics.”

Porter McConnell has also publicly criticized the Senate’s confirmation of Justice Kavanaugh, which her father considers one of his greatest achievements. On Twitter, she accused Kavanaugh’s supporters of misogyny, and retweeted a post from StandWithBlaseyFord, a Web site supporting Christine Blasey Ford, one of Kavanaugh’s accusers. The husband of McConnell’s middle daughter, Claire, has also criticized Kavanaugh online, and McConnell’s eldest daughter, Eleanor, is a registered Democrat.

On Obama:

McConnell’s opposition to Obama was relentless. In 2010, the Senate Majority Leader famously said, when asked about his goals, “The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term President.” Carroll, the Courier-Journal reporter, was dumbstruck by McConnell’s attitude when the Senator allowed him to listen in one day as he took a phone call from Obama, on the condition that Carroll not write about it. “McConnell said a couple of words, like ‘Yup,’ ‘O.K.,’ and ‘Bye,’ but he never said, ‘Mr. President,’ ” Carroll recalls. “There was just a total lack of respect even for the office.” McConnell preferred to deal with Obama’s Vice-President, Joe Biden. (In his autobiography, McConnell mocks Biden’s “incessant chatter” but also says, “We could talk to each other.”)

On Russian interference in the 2016 election:

In the closing weeks of the campaign, McConnell gave more assistance to Trump than many knew. In the summer of 2016, while the Senate was in recess, Obama’s C.I.A. director, John Brennan, tried to contact McConnell about an urgent threat to national security. The agency had strong evidence that President Vladimir Putin of Russia was trying to interfere in the U.S. election, possibly to hinder Hillary Clinton and help Trump. But, for “four or five weeks,” a former White House national-security official told me, McConnell deflected Brennan’s requests to brief him. Susan Rice, Obama’s former national-security adviser, said, “It’s just crazy.” McConnell had told Brennan that “he wouldn’t be available until Labor Day.”

When the men finally spoke, McConnell expressed skepticism about the intelligence. He later warned officials “not to get involved” in elections, telling them that “they were touching something very dangerous,” the former national-security official recounted. If Obama spoke out publicly about Russia, McConnell threatened, he would label it a partisan political move, knowing that Obama was determined to avoid that.

Read the entire piece here.

“You Don’t Have the Votes”

In case you’ve missed it, Mitch McConnell does not have the votes to block impeachment witnesses.

Here is Fox News:

The White House’s plans for a speedy impeachment trial were thrown into doubt Tuesday with Senate Republicans floating competing proposals on how to deal with new explosive revelations from ex-national security adviser John Bolton — and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell telling Republicans he doesn’t yet have enough votes to block the calling of impeachment witnesses.

GOP senators were all over the map on Tuesday as President Trump’s defense team called Bolton’s manuscript “inadmissible” and warned against opening the door to new wild-card information in the ongoing trial. Democrats have repeatedly called for Bolton to testify.

A source with knowledge of McConnell’s comments confirmed to Fox Business that the Kentucky Republican told people in a private meeting Tuesday that the GOP did not have the votes to block impeachment witnesses. A second source stressed that McConnell said he didn’t yet have the votes, with other sources saying Senate GOP leadership didn’t think the fight was over, and conversations were ongoing. The Wall Street Journal first reported McConnell’s comments.

Read the rest here.

Chief Justice John Roberts Needs to Attend Oral Arguments Tomorrow on a Religious Liberty Case

ROberts

Is Roberts getting sleepy?

Mitch McConnell is going to let this first day of the impeachment trial go late into the night.  I wonder if he knows that John Roberts needs to get up early tomorrow morning for oral arguments on the Supreme Court case Espinoza v. Montana.  I would think that the GOP might want the Chief Justice to be well rested and fresh for these particular oral arguments.

Here is the excerpt from the SCOTUS calendar:

And on January 22, the justices will hear oral argument in Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue, a dispute over a Montana law that created tax credits to provide scholarships for families who send their children to private schools, including religious schools. The Montana Supreme Court struck the law down, ruling that it violated the state’s constitution because it helped religious institutions. Three low-income mothers who used the scholarships to send their children to a Christian school in Kalispell, Montana, went to the Supreme Court, arguing that excluding religious schools from the scholarship program violates the federal Constitution.

Read more about this case here.

Engel on Trump’s Impeachment Trial: “guilty, yet acquitted”

mitch-mcconnell

Mitch McConnell is calling the shots in the Senate impeachment trial

I am really excited about chatting today with presidential historian Jeffrey Engel, director of Southern Methodist University’s Center for Presidential History.  Engel is the co-author of Impeachment: An American History and is often seen commentating on presidential impeachment at CNN.

Engel’s visit to The Way of Improvement Leads Home Podcast–Episode 62– will be released shortly.  Stay tuned.

In the meantime, here is Engel at today’s Washington Post.  His piece is titled “The key to understanding President Trump’s impeachment trial“:

Criminal trials weigh evidence to determine whether wrongdoing occurred. By contrast, the Senate impeachment court is charged with weighing a president’s worth. Less restrained by rules and due process than a traditional court, it reviews an impeached president’s record not merely to determine whether his actions harmed the people he’d sworn to protect, but instead to ask whether he has proved himself likely to endanger them in the future. After all, the Constitution gives the Senate no means of punishing a guilty president other than to relieve him of his responsibilities and bar him from holding a post of public honor or profit for the rest of his days…

With apologies to the representatives and staffers on the House side of the Capitol who sweated every word and clause of their impeachment articles, senators therefore don’t even need to read them. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) may be impolitic in announcing his verdict even before swearing his requisite oath to administer impartial justice, but if he believes that the nation is best served by Trump’s continuation in office for reasons beyond those covered in Trump’s trial, he has the constitutional right to do so. By the same token, House managers need not try to insert evidence from Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation or of Trump’s other alleged misdeeds (such as violation of the emoluments clause or campaign finance law) into a trial ostensibly about Ukraine. Senators may of their own volition consider this evidence in determining Trump’s continued fitness for office. A judge in a criminal case may bar jurors from hearing improperly obtained evidence because legal principles matter more than one defendant’s fate, but with the national interest to consider, this Senate court can consider everything.

This is why Trump is likely to remain in office even if irrefutable evidence of treason, bribery or commission of a high crime appears. Senators may know to their marrow that he committed every crime detailed in his impeachment, yet if they believe that the American people would be best served by Trump’s continued service, they may nonetheless justifiably vote to sustain his presidency. At least one-third of this unique court undoubtedly likes the direction he is taking the country. He’ll therefore be guilty, yet acquitted.

Read the entire piece here.

Gerson: “This is a world where ethical rules count for nothing. A world where character is for chumps.”

Mitch and Trump

Here is the latest from Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson:

With the impeachment trial of President Trump beginning in earnest, right-wing populism has come full circle. Trump was elected on the theory that American politics had become corrupt and broken. Now he is calling upon his party and his followers to normalize corruption and brokenness as essential features of our political order. It is a bold maneuver by a skilled demagogue. Trump has cultivated disrespect for politics as a dirty business and now seeks to benefit from dramatically lowered public standards.

The question at stake in the Senate trial is plain: Is the use of public funds as leverage to gain private, political benefits from a foreign government an impeachable abuse of presidential power? The matter is so simple that Trump’s Republican defenders are reduced to babbling incoherence in trying to avoid it. When asked whether Trump’s solicitation of foreign interference in the 2020 presidential election was proper, Sen. Richard C. Shelby (R-Ala.) responded, “Well, those are just statements, political. They make them all the time. . . . People do things. Things happen.”

“Things happen.” This is a revealingly ludicrous response to a charge of public corruption. No, trying to cheat in a presidential election is not like losing your keys or getting caught in the rain without your umbrella. Those are the kinds of “things” that just happen. The evidence that Trump cut off military aid to a friendly government in the middle of an armed conflict to compel that government to announce the investigation of a political rival is overwhelming. Several administration officials found this action so unethical, dangerous and disturbing that they expressed their alarm to relevant authorities. Those who dismiss such accusations as a political vendetta or a coup attempt are engaged in willful deception.

And because Trump denies any wrongdoing — pronouncing his own actions “perfect” — senators who vote for his vindication are effectively blessing such abuses in the future. Their action would set an expectation of corruption at the highest levels of our government.

Read the rest here.

Gerson’s words take on added significance in the wake of the release of Midnight Mitch’s rules for the Senate impeachment trial.

Ted Cruz’s Commitment to Original Intent Will Be Tested Tonight

The death of Justice Antonin Scalia will shape tonight’s GOP debate and will, of course, shape the rest of this presidential campaign. That almost goes without saying.  I fully expect that tonight in Greenville, South Carolina the debaters will use Scalia’s death to stress the importance of this election.  Yes–all three branches of government are now “up for grabs” in November.

Ted Cruz has already weighed in on Twitter:

Here is what Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell had to say: “The American people‎ should have a voice in the selection of their next Supreme Court Justice. Therefore, this vacancy should not be filled until we have a new President.”

I am trying to be objective as possible here.  I have my views about what I would like to see in the next Supreme Court justice, but I am not going to go there in this post.  I am curious, however, about the proper procedure for nominating Supreme Court justices.

According to Article 2 of the Constitution, the President of the United States is responsible for the appointment of Supreme Court justices.  If I understand the original intent of the Constitution, this is to be done by a sitting president, not a future president.  Unless I am missing something, Barack Obama is the sitting president of the United States.  He still has about 25% of his term left.

So I guess I don’t understand the argument that Cruz and McConnell are making.  The framers of the Constitution did not say that the people have a direct role in choosing Supreme Court justices.  They have an indirect role.  In other words, the people elect the POTUS (well, technically the Electoral College does, but we won’t go down that road right now) and the POTUS picks the justices.  In 2012, the American people chose Barack Obama as POTUS.

I don’t see how someone like Cruz–a defender of “original intent”–can see this any other way.  Unless, of course, Cruz and McConnell think it is OK for politics to trump original intent.

What am I missing?

Antonin Scalia R.I.P.