Was 2020 the year of the op-ed?

In December, Joseph Epstein said that Jill Biden should not use the title “Dr.” In June, Mike Pence said that we were winning the fight against COVID-19. In the same month, Tom Cotton said that the government should use the military to end racial unrest in American cities. Mitt Romney attacked Donald Trump’s character. We learned that Miles Taylor was “Anonymous.”

Op-eds played a significant role in 2020. Here is a taste of Paul Farhi’s piece at The Washington Post:

The outrage generated by op-eds may be greater now, but it’s debatable whether the range of published opinion is any more daring than when Oakes unveiled his innovation 50 years ago, said media historian Michael Socolow of the University of Maine.

Socolow cites several Times op-eds from the 1970s that would probably prompt an angry reaction, but passed without major controversy at the time. One was a 1971 piece composed of reconstructed quotes from the late Black Panther leader Fred Hampton, who urged people to die in the “international proletarian revolutionary struggle,” effectively an argument for overthrowing the U.S. government. Another in 1978 defended the regime of Cambodian communist leader Pol Pot, and labeled the Times’s own reporting about genocide in the southeast Asian country “a lie,” “ludicrous” and a “myth.” It was written by the editor of a Marxist-Leninist newspaper.

“The acceptable boundaries of discourse have changed” at the Times, Socolow says — they have become narrower. (Times acting editorial page editor Kathleen Kingsbury did not respond to a request for comment).

Read the entire piece here.

A new conservative political party?

Tom Friedman hopes it will happen. Here is a taste of his column at today’s New York Times:

As the Trump presidency heads into the sunset, kicking and screaming, one of the most important questions that will shape American politics at the local, state and national levels is this: Can Donald Trump maintain his iron grip over the Republican Party when he is out of office?

This is what we know for sure: He damn well intends to try and is amassing a pile of cash to do so. And here is what I predict: If Trump keeps delegitimizing Joe Biden’s presidency and demanding loyalty for his extreme behavior, the G.O.P. could fully fracture — splitting between principled Republicans and unprincipled Republicans. Trump then might have done America the greatest favor possible: stimulating the birth of a new principled conservative party.

Santa, if you’re listening, that’s what I want for Christmas!

Wishful thinking? Maybe. But here’s why it’s not entirely fanciful: If Trump refuses to ever acknowledge Biden’s victory and keeps roasting those Republicans who do — and who “collaborate” with the new administration — something is going to crack.

There will be increasing pressure on the principled Republicans — people like Mitt Romney, Lisa Murkowski and the judges, election officials and state legislators who put country before party and refused to buckle under Trump’s demands — to break away and start their own conservative party.

Read the rest here.

Franklin Graham: When Trump “says this election was rigged or stolen, I tend to believe him” (and other court evangelical news)

The waning days of the Trump presidency are upon us. It seems like more and more of Trump’s supporters are accepting this reality, but the president has not. Over the weekend Trump met with Michael Flynn, Steve Bannon, Sidney Powell and Peter Navarro to talk about how to overturn the 2020 presidential election. Meanwhile, outgoing Attorney General William Barr said, once again, that there was no election fraud.

Russia is attacking the United States. But Trump, who rarely reads intelligence briefs, thinks it is China. Barr believes it is Russia. So does Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. So does just about every other else.

More and more people are getting the COVID-19 vaccine. Trump could take credit for this vaccine and thus end his presidency with what Mitt Romney recently described as a “victory lap.” But why would Trump do this when he can get the old gang back together (Bannon, Flynn, Giuliani) and try to overturn the 2020 presidential election?

COVID-19 is at an all-time high right now. Mike Pence got the vaccine. But Trump is retweeting anti-maskers.

Let’s see how many court evangelicals are still riding the Trump train.

The Liberty University Falkirk Center is fighting to the end. Jerry Falwell Jr. might be out at the Christian university, but his legacy at Liberty University lives on through the Twitter feeds of Charlie Kirk, Jenna Ellis, Eric Metaxas, Sebastian Gorka, and others.

Critical thinking?:

Ignore public health officials:

Apparently everything is open on Liberty University’s campus:

Earlier today, I posted about Charlie Kirk’s election fraud claims. Either Kirk knows nothing about basic civics or he is deliberately lying in order to deceive his followers.

Check out Rod Dreher’s “Charlie Kirk’s Hooters Conservatism.”

Jenna Ellis on Bill Barr in June 2020:

Jenna Ellis on Bill Barr in July 2020:

Jenna Ells on Bill Barr in December 2020:

And this:

Eric Metaxas is running a video of a Los Angeles pastor interviewing Mike “My Pillow Guy” Lindell about election fraud. Lindell is a conspiracy theorist on steroids.

And in other court evangelical news:

Lance Wallnau is also pushing the “Trump won more counties than Biden” narrative.

Here is Lance Wallnau on Christian nationalism.

In this video, Wallnau worries that evangelicals are assimilating to the fake news about the Biden victory.

Richard Land is “thinking intensely”:

Jack Hibbs seems excited about Charlie Kirk’s new appointment:

Alt-right Trump adviser Steve Bannon joined Jim Garlow’s prayer meeting for election integrity:

Robert Jeffress goes on Fox News and prays for Donald Trump and Lou Dobbs. No mention of Biden:

Jentezen Franklin has COVID-19

Franklin Graham believes Trump:

Court evangelical Eric Metaxas compares his fight against voter fraud to the courage one needs to stop a heavily-armed man who is trying to murder his child

The election was seventeen days ago. A lot of Donald Trump’s court evangelicals are moving on to other things. Ralph Reed, for example, is now focused on the upcoming Georgia senate run-offs. Robert Jeffress is upset about COVID-19 restrictions.

But others are doubling-down on voter fraud conspiracy theories.

Eric Metaxas, radio host and spokesperson for Liberty University’s Falkirk Center, had Lance Wallnau on his show today to talk about “the prophetic.” Wallnau, who was recently selling “King Cyrus coins” on the Jim Bakker Show, is hawking his new book. He claims that God told him that there would be problems with mail-in balloting and he reads a passage from his book to prove it. The book was published in October 2020 and Wallnau claims that God spoke to him about this in September 2020. Of course the narrative of possible election controversy due to mail-in balloting was all over the news for most of the summer of 2020. Anyone reading the news could have made such a “prophecy.”

Metaxas believes that the “voter fraud” against Trump is “Satanic” and “wicked.” He wants to “die fighting” against voter fraud. Then Metaxas compares his fight against voter fraud to the courage one needs to stop a heavily-armed man who is trying to rape or murder his child. Wallnau then re-ups on his prophecy that Trump will win this election. Metaxas agrees.

Watch:

In other court evangelical news:

Here is Liberty University Falkirk Center spokesperson Sebastian Gorka:

Liberty University’s Falkirk Center spokesperson and Trump lawyer Jenna Ellis on Mitt Romney:

Liberty University Falkirk Center spokesperson Charlie Kirk wants more rallies. As I wrote earlier this week, we are seeing a new Lost Cause.

Lance Wallnau is still pushing the “Trump as King Cyrus” narrative:

Christians are not supposed to hate, but they hate the Clintons. Here is court evangelical journalist David Brody of the Christian Broadcasting Network:

Tony Perkins still believes the election has yet to be decided.

Jack Graham also believes the election has yet to be decided:

Conservative evangelicals and Catholics are holding a “Jericho marches” in capitol cities every day until the Electoral College votes in December. Pro-Trumpers will march seven times around the city and pray, and expect God to give Trump a victory in the same way He gave the Israelites a victory over the pagan city of Jericho. Will they blow horns?

Robert Jeffress: George W. Bush, Mitt Romney, Ben Sasse, and Peter Wehner are all “disgraces to the Republican Party”

But are they disgraces to the church of Jesus Christ?

It looks like pastor Jeffress is now a spokesperson for the Republican Party.

As Jeffress’s fellow Southern Baptist and court evangelical Richard Land put it, “the most dangerous place in Texas is between Robert Jeffress and a television camera.”

Here is Jeffress:

Jeffress also says that Biden looks like he is “aging” and does not have the energy to be president. The worst part is the way Jeffress couches this common pro-Trump political attack with biblical language.

Mitt Romney searches for the center in American political life

I believe the center is there. It is a very large center, incorporating both Left and Right. It is a center where we have real debates informed by reason, facts, science, and truth. It is a center that celebrates nuance and complexity. It is a center that rejects the kind of cross-canceling we see from the fringes of the political spectrum–the Trump right and the academic left are the primary guilty parties here. In intellectual life it is embodied by a letter published earlier this year in Harper’s.

This space needs to be reclaimed and strengthened.

Here is Romney’s recent tweet:

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.

Mitt Romney Marches With Evangelicals

Here is The Washington Post: “Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) joined a group of hundreds of evangelicals marching Sunday as the tenth day of demonstrations took on themes of faith and prayer.”

 

Scapegoating Mitt Romney

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Thanks to Sightings (University of Chicago Divinity School) and editor Joel Brown for picking up this piece.  A taste:

But whatever support Romney had among these evangelicals quickly faded after the election of Donald Trump in 2016. Trump understood evangelical voters better than Romney. He learned rather quickly that he needed their support in large numbers to defeat Hillary Clinton. Someone handed him the Christian Right political playbook—an approach to politics focused on abortion, religious liberty (as evangelicals define it), and Israel—and he executed it to perfection. Romney did everything he could to stop the reality television star from becoming president, including the delivery of a speech at the University of Utah in March 2016 in which he called Trump a “fraud” and said he was “playing the American public for suckers.” When white evangelicals helped carry Trump to an electoral college victory, the name “Mitt Romney” was already anathema to these voters. Romney’s vote to remove Trump from office during the 2020 impeachment trial was the icing on the cake.

The case of Romney’s relationship with American evangelicals speaks volumes about the current state of Christian Right politics. The leaders of this movement are quick to tweet Bible verses for their followers and teasers about their relationship with Jesus or their latest sermon series, but when it comes to politics, they are ruthless and cutthroat. They claim to pray for their enemies on Sunday, but they prey on their enemies the rest of the week (and often on Sunday morning as well). The Christian Right is no longer a religious movement, it is a political one. The only thing different about Ralph Reed, Robert Jeffress, Franklin Graham, Paula White, Tony Perkins, and the rest of the Christian Right leaders is the content of their political message. Their ruthless, dog-eat-dog tactics are the same as their conservative political counterparts—yet another evangelical accommodation to the larger culture. Like most political movements, the Christian Right sees the world in black and white. It demands absolute loyalty. It understands independent thinking as a kind of betrayal. And as Mitt Romney now knows, it punishes traitors.  

Instead of Booing Him, CPAC Should Have Embraced Mitt Romney.

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This is a piece I wrote on last weekend’s CPAC that was never able to place.  –JF

The name of Mitt Romney was booed relentlessly at last weekend’s Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Fort Washington, Maryland.

This year’s CPAC was noteworthy for the relative absence of Christian Right speakers and the general downplaying of the religious wing of today’s conservative movement, but it still spoke volumes about the nature of the movement’s view of the role of religion in public life.

Donald Trump has used his bully pulpit to attack Romney for voting in favor of removing him from office during the Senate impeachment trial.  At last month’s National Prayer Breakfast, the president made a less-than-veiled attack on Romney’s Mormon faith when he said: “I don’t like people who use their faith as justification for doing what they know is wrong.”

On Saturday, as he spoke to the CPAC faithful, Trump called Romney “a low life.”

Trump’s followers on social media and conservative cable outlets have also excoriated Romney.  Pundit Ann Coulter dubbed him a “useful idiot” for Democrats.  Donald Trump Jr. demanded Romney’s remove from the Republican Party: “He’s now officially a member of the resistance & should be expelled.”

In the immediate wake of Romney’s vote, Matt Schlapp, chairman of the American Conservative Union, the special interest group that stages CPAC each year, tweeted that the 2012 Republican presidential nominee was “formally NOT invited” to this year’s conference.  In a Fox News interview, he added: “This year I’d actually be afraid for his physical safety, people are so mad at him.

Schlapp may have been right about Romney’s safety at this year’s CPAC. Charlie Kirk, a pro-Trump activist who works on college campuses, encouraged the audience to boo every time Romney’s name was mentioned during the conference.

In a relatively successful attempt to work the crowd into a frenzy, Kirk claimed that Romney lied to the people of Utah about his conservative credentials while campaigning for his Senate seat.

These attacks on Romney at CPAC and elsewhere seem counter-intuitive when one considers that the Senator’s deeply held religious convictions informed his vote to remove Trump from office.

“I am a profoundly religious person,” Romney said as he fought back tears during his address on the floor of the Senate on February 5, 2020, the day before the removal votes, “I take an oath before God as enormously consequential.”

Whatever one thinks about Romney’s speech and its references to his Mormon faith, it is hard to argue with the fact that it was exactly the kind of faith-informed, conscience-driven style of politics that Christian conservatives have long championed.

Romney’s speech seemed to bolster, not undermine, what Kirk calls his “conservative credentials.” It was an exercise of religious liberty, one of the major political issues that led many conservatives to support Trump in 2016 and will lead them to pull a lever for the president again in November.

Why then would Jerry Falwell Jr., the president of Liberty University, a Christian RIght school founded by his father in 1971 to fight for conservative evangelical values and the freedom to express those values in the public square, tell Romney, in a Fox News interview, to “keep his religion in his personal life?”

Falwell and Kirk recently founded the Falkirk Center, a Liberty University think tank designed to advance Judeo-Christian values and defend “religious liberty.”  Perhaps Falwell and Kirk should hire Romney as a spokesperson for their new center.

When Romney delivered his anti-Trump speech on the Senate floor, he was bringing religious belief and conviction to what John Roberts described during the impeachment trial as the “world’s greatest deliberative body.”  Romney’s integration of faith and politics was a direct assault on secularism in government.

Romney exercised his religious-shaped conscience at a crucial moment in our nation’s political history.  When future school children study his speech, they will inevitably think about it in this light.

Those who care about religious liberty for all Americans should cheer, not boo, Romney’s invocation of faith on the floor of the Senate.  Unless, of course, Christian conservatives care only about faith-informed politics and religious freedom when it benefits Trump or their own political agenda.

Will Future Students Read Mitt Romney’s Speech Against Trump’s Acquittal?

Eliot Cohen, Dean of the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies, thinks Romney’s speech will be read for a long time.  Here is a taste of his piece at The Atlantic, “In the Long Run, Romney Wins“:

Political speeches derive their power and durability from authenticity, from the way in which phrases and sentences seem to emanate directly from a personality and its vision. That is why Lincoln’s speeches will never lose their force: They captured the dignity, simplicity, and courage of the man who made them. Romney is no Lincoln, but he wrote the speech, and the voice is his.

Yet more is at work here than the powerful words. The speech contained all the elements of drama: the man of quiet faith, whose presidential campaign underplayed his charitable works; the handsome politician, whose political career involved both high office and the failure to achieve it; the public figure, who briefly became a hero to opponents who had shamefully vilified him seven years earlier; the successful businessman, who returned repeatedly to public affairs; the patriarch of a large and loving family, whose own niece repeatedly yielded her conscience to the man he rightly condemned. Comparing Romney with the grifter president and his venal clan yields an instructive contrast.

The Romney story plays to something very deep in the American self-conception, to myth—not in the sense of fairy tale or falsehood, but of something Americans want to believe about who they are and who, because of what they want to believe, they can become. Americans embrace the story of the lone man or woman of conscience who does the right thing, knowing that the risks are high. They remember Rosa Parks refusing to give up her seat for a white passenger on a Montgomery bus in 1955, but forget the three other passengers who prudently moved. They relish the staple theme of Western stories and films—John Wayne in Stagecoach saying, “Well, there’s some things a man just can’t run away from.” They honor John Adams for defending British soldiers accused of shooting down his fellow Americans, in an era when tar and feathers could be the consequence of that act. In an altogether different vein, they laud Henry David Thoreau for choosing civil disobedience and marching to the beat of his own drum, resolved to remain indifferent to what his fellow Yankees thought of him.

Read the entire piece here.

Court Evangelical Steven Strang Takes a Shot at Romney and Says Impeachment Was From the “Pit of Hell.”

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Most Americans have never heard of Steven Strang.  I’ve written about him here and in Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump.  Strang is the editor of Charisma Magazinea magazine and website that represents Pentecostal and charismatic Christians in the United States.  Many of the court evangelical “prophets” who think Trump is the new King Cyrus are regularly featured in Charisma.  In 2005, Time named Strang one of the 25 Most Influential Evangelicals in America.”  According to WikipediaCharisma had a circulation of 250,000 in 1997.  I don’t know if the circulation has grown or declined since then.

Here is a post we published in January 2018:

I have read Strang’s God and Donald Trump.  I think it provides the best (primary source) introduction to the Independent Network Charismatic (INC) wing of the court evangelical coalition.  Strang and many of the folks who read Charisma believe that God anointed Trump for such a time as this.  These spiritual leaders claim that God spoke to them and told them that Trump is a new King Cyrus, an unbelieving pagan monarch chosen by God to lead His people out of bondage and into the new promised land of a Christian nation.  When Christians get control of the culture, Jesus will return.

God and Donald Trump is endorsed by court evangelicals within and without the INC movement, including Michelle Bachman, Kenneth Copeland, Robert Jeffress, and Mike Huckabee. In telling the story of the campaign from the INC perspective, Strang claims Trump is a Christian because he opposes abortion, reads the Bible, prays every day, stands up to liberals, defends religious freedom, and believes in the “American Dream.”  Strang relishes in the anger displayed by anti-Trumpers in the wake of the election.  His book reads like a Trump victory lap.  Strang accepts Trump’s claims of election fraud, attacks Trump’s critics for their “divisiveness,” labels Trump’s opponents “demonic,” defends Fox News, and proclaims Trump a “spiritual remedy for America.”

Strang recently weighed-in on the Trump impeachment trial:

Here are his thoughts on Mitt Romney:

The only surprise and huge disappointment to me was Mitt Romney, who rejected what all of his Republican counterparts thought was right and sided with the Democrats. I regret that I ever endorsed him for president in 2012. We knew then he was not a strong leader and that he had flip-flopped his entire political career, and he has done it again. He will live to regret his decision.

And here is Strang on Trump’s opponents and the supports of impeachment and removal:

In my book, I wrote that dishonesty on the other side was one reason why he actually might win. Let me reemphasize what I’ve said in the past. The impeachment was not about what Donald Trump may have said in a phone call with the Ukrainian president in July. It’s about the fact that this president has been standing for religious liberty and righteousness. He has stood with Israel. He is strong. He can’t be intimidated. The attacks were, in my opinion, from the pit of hell. As a Christian, I believe Satan is behind this. He is trying to steal, kill and destroy. I believe Donald Trump has been raised up by God to stop our nation’s headlong plunge into total depravity. Trump’s presidency has been God’s mercy on America, since we deserve judgment.

I’m amazed at how many sincere Christian friends have been surprised by all these demonic attacks against the president. Why should they be surprised? Satan hates it when America stands with Israel. He hates it when righteousness and religious freedom are championed. No wonder he and his minions have focused their hatred toward Donald Trump.

Read Strang’s entire piece here.  Strang now joins Robert Jeffress as court evangelicals who believe that Satan is behind the impeachment of Donald Trump.

Donald Trump’s Revenge Tour: Religion Edition

Trump USA Today

Vengeance is mine, says Donald Trump.

Earlier this week, the Senate acquitted the president in the third impeachment trial in American history.  The GOP Senators who acquitted him will now get a chance to see an unchecked and unfettered president get his revenge.

Maine Senator Susan Collins, who voted for acquittal, said that Trump has “learned his lesson” through the impeachment trial.  She now regrets that she said that.

As I wrote this week at USA Today, Trump’s revenge tour began on Thursday when he used the National Prayer Breakfast to attack the religious convictions Mitt Romney and Nancy Pelosi.

Here is what I wrote:

No one following American politics over the last several days could have missed Trump’s not-so-veiled attack on Utah’s Mitt Romney, the only Republican senator who voted this week to remove him from office.

In a moving and emotional floor speech Wednesday, just before the impeachment trial ended, Romney said his Mormon faith played an important role in his decision to vote against Trump’s acquittal. But Trump was having none of it: “I don’t like people who use their faith as justification for doing what they know is wrong,” he said.

Trump also revisited his earlier Twitter attacks on Pelosi, who has said on more than one occasion that she prays for the president: “Nor do I like people who say ‘I pray for you,’ when they know that that’s not so.”  He added, “So many people have been hurt.  And we can’t let that go on.”

Think about those last two sentences: “So many people have been hurt. And we can’t let that go on.”

In the first sentence, Trump (again) plays the victim.  He still believes the impeachment was a “witch hunt.”  He does not think he has done anything wrong. He remains confident in his “perfect call.”  He is convinced that Mitt Romney and Nancy Pelosi have “hurt” him and his family.

Notice that Trump bears absolutely no responsibility for anything.  Some GOP Senators agree with him.  Other GOP Senators do not agree with him, but still voted to acquit.

Whatever “hurt” that Trump, his family, and his associates have “suffered” during this impeachment ordeal is largely of their own making.

Let’s now take the second sentence in this statement.  What does Trump mean by “we can’t let that go on?”  Well, we got a glimpse later in the day on Thursday when he spoke to his followers in the White House.

Here is Trump on his opponents, including Pelosi:

We did a prayer breakfast this morning, and I thought that was really good. In fact, that was so good it might wipe this out. But by the time we finish this, we’ll wipe that one out, those statements. I had Nancy Pelosi sitting four seats away, and I’m saying things that a lot of people wouldn’t have said, but I meant every word, okay?

Also this:

So I always say they’re lousy politicians, but they do two things. They’re vicious and mean. Vicious. Adam Schiff is a vicious, horrible person. Nancy Pelosi is a horrible person. And she wanted to impeach a long time ago when she said, I pray for the president. She doesn’t pray. She may pray but she prays for the opposite. But I doubt she prays at all. These are vicious people.

And here is Trump, at the same event, on Mitt Romney:

Then you have some who used religion as a crutch. They never used it before. An article written today. Never heard him use it before. But today, you know, it’s one of those things. It’s a failed presidential candidate, so things can happen when you fail so badly running for president.

Expect more of this, especially because the court evangelicals are now defending Trump’s attacks on the Christian faith of Pelosi and Romney.

Trump has even managed to convince one court evangelical, Robert Jeffress, that he is indeed a victim.  Jeffress, the pastor of First Baptist Church in Dallas, said that Trump’s attack on Pelosi’s prayer life was “completely right.” He recently told the Associated Press  that “when you have been under nonstop attack for the last three years from people who want to destroy you and your family, it’s a little hard to hear them say, ‘I want to pray for you.'”

Jeffress also said that Romney’s vote against acquittal “seems more based on self-promotion than religious beliefs.”  It is worth pausing here to note that Jeffress once said that Romney was a member of a cult.  So maybe he truly believes that Romney’s religious convictions are not legitimate.

Here is what Jeffress tweeted last night:

The “biblical answer?” Seriously?

Jeffress should stop twisting the Bible & giving oxygen to Trump’s victim complex as way of advancing the political fortunes of this immoral president. And Fox News is irresponsible for putting this man on television as a representative of Christianity.

I watched Jeffress’s appearance on Lou Dobbs–the one he teased in the tweet above.  As it turns out, he did not get a chance to offer the “biblical answer” on prayer that he promised.  Instead, he said that anyone who opposes Trump is “evil” and described the impeachment ordeal as a battle between “good” and evil.”  Click on the tweet to watch:

Franklin Graham must have also enjoyed Trump’s comments at the National Prayer Breakfast.  He retweeted the speech.

Get ready.  This is going to be an ugly campaign.  Trump will continue to use evangelical Christianity as a political weapon and the court evangelicals will continue to provide cover.

The Complex Nature of Mormon Politics

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I haven’t seen this much writing about Mormons since Romney ran for president in 2012.

Over at NBC News,  historian Benjamin Park puts Mitt Romney’s impeachment trial vote to remove Donald Trump from office into some historical and religious context.  Here is a taste of his piece, “How Mitt Romney’s Impeachment Vote Was Influenced by His Mormon Faith“:

Members of the Mormon tradition once refused to fit into traditional political boundaries: Early members of the church typically threw their votes behind candidates on a case-by-case basis, predicated upon pledged support. And when political circumstances looked dire, they were not afraid of bold actions. Joseph Smith, the founding prophet of the faith, ran for president in 1844 and, once the church was settled in Utah, they formed their own political party in opposition to the national establishment. It was only in the 20th century, when the church and its members yearned for credibility and acceptance, that they embraced America’s two-party system.

But as the decades evolved, Utah’s vote transitioned as well. While the state at first featured two vibrant parties, after World War II — and especially following the culture wars of the 60s and the 70s — the “Mormon vote” became more or less synonymous with the “Republican Vote.” This was primarily due to a vocal LDS leadership who echoed anti-communist policies and anti-liberal social ideas, but it was also rooted the demographic makeup of Utah that positioned them with similar red states in the post-war era. Pew polling even revealed Mormons to be the most Republican religion in the nation.

So the fact that entrenched dissatisfaction with the current Republican establishment among the Mormon population has continued well into Trump’s administration is not surprising. A number of Trump’s most prominent Republican critics — including Romney, McMullin and Flake — are Mormon. And polling demonstrates that support for Trump continues to lag among Latter-day Saints voters compared to other Republican constituencies. It appears Mormons are less likely to simply overlook the morality issues that other white Christians broadly ignore, and less willing to make a pragmatic, silent sacrifice of principles for party unity.

Read the entire piece here.

Thank You Mitt Romney!

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I tweeted this last night:

I think it’s fair to say that Michael Gerson agrees with me. (Or maybe I agree with him).  Here is a taste of his recent Washington Post column:

Romney’s response on the Senate floor was brief and direct. He stood up for institutionalism. The Constitution, he argued, grants an essential role to voters. But removing a president for high crimes and misdemeanors is a power specifically delegated to the U.S. Senate. The punishment of presidential corruption and abuse of power is not entrusted to a plebiscite. It is the responsibility of senators, who are not serving the constitutional order by surrendering their proper role within it.

Romney stood up for the role of facts in our public life. The truth, he argued, does not depend on the needs and demands of our political tribe. At the center of impeachment was a factual question: Did the president commit an act so serious that it rises to the level of a high crime and misdemeanor? “Yes,” said Romney, “he did.”

And Romney stood up for the role of individual conscience in our political life. “Were I to ignore the evidence that has been presented,” he said, “and disregard what I believe my oath and the Constitution demands of me for the sake of a partisan end, it would, I fear, expose my character to history’s rebuke and the censure of my own conscience.”

Read the entire piece here.

My Piece on Trump’s Prayer Breakfast Speech is Now Up at *USA TODAY*

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The editors at USA Today asked me to reflect on Trump’s performance at today’s National Prayer Breakfast.  Here is a taste of my piece:

Prayer is a spiritual discipline. In the Christian tradition, spiritual disciplines take the focus off us and put it on God and others. They are practices that relieve us of our narcissism.

The National Prayer Breakfast is a bipartisan event. It brings politicians and religious leaders together to seek common ground through a shared faith.

While the breakfast is not without its problems, as we saw in the recent Netflix documentary “The Family,” it is the closest Washington comes each year to laying aside political bickering and seeking something akin to what Jesus called for in the Gospel of John, chapter 17 when he prayed that his followers would be “brought to complete unity.”

But President Donald Trump showed at the Thursday morning breakfast that he lacks the spiritual compass and moral understanding to rise to such an occasion.

Read the rest here.

Why Romney Did It

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Here is McKay Coppins at The Atlantic:

Mitt Romney didn’t want to go through with it.

“This has been the most difficult decision I have ever had to make in my life,” he told me yesterday afternoon in his Senate office. Roughly 24 hours later, Romney would deliver a speech announcing that he was voting to convict President Donald Trump on the first article of impeachment—abuse of power. For weeks, the senator from Utah had sat silently in the impeachment trial alongside his 99 colleagues, reviewing the evidence at night and praying for guidance. The gravity of the moment weighed on him, as did the pressure from members of his own party to acquit their leader. As his conscience tugged at him, he said, the exercise took on a spiritual dimension.

Romney, a devout member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, described to me the power of taking an oath before God: “It’s something which I take very seriously.” Throughout the trial, he said, he was guided by his father’s favorite verse of Mormon scripture: Search diligently, pray always, and be believing, and all things shall work together for your good. “I have gone through a process of very thorough analysis and searching, and I have prayed through this process,” he told me. “But I don’t pretend that God told me what to do.”

In the end, the evidence was inescapable. “The president did in fact pressure a foreign government to corrupt our election process,” Romney said. “And really, corrupting an election process in a democratic republic is about as abusive and egregious an act against the Constitution—and one’s oath—that I can imagine. It’s what autocrats do.”

According to Romney’s interpretation of Alexander Hamilton’s treatise on impeachment in “Federalist No. 65”—which he says he’s read “multiple, multiple times”—Trump’s attempts to enlist the Ukrainian president in interfering with the 2020 election clearly rose to the level of “high crimes and misdemeanors.” (He told me he would not vote to convict on the second article of impeachment, obstruction of Congress.)

Read the rest here.

Wehner: Mitt Romney is a “Profile in Courage”

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Here is a taste of Wehner’s piece at The Atlantic:

This also needs to be said: Romney’s views are not all that rare among his Republican colleagues, who know in their hearts that what Trump did was inexcusable and indefensible, the crossing of a once unthinkable moral and ethical red line. Had a Democratic president done the same, it would easily have cleared their bar for impeachment and removal from office. What is rare, however, his Romney’s courage. He acted honorably, and he acted alone.

To see so many Republicans who know better tie themselves into ethical knots to justify their fealty to Trump—and then to watch them lash out defensively when they are called on it—is a sad and pitiable thing.

Read the entire piece here.