Ben Sasse is at it again

Ben Sasse criticized Donald Trump the other day. He did in private. But don’t expect him to do much about it.

Let’s remember:

Ben Sasse refused to meet with Barack Obama’s Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland in 2016

In June 2017, Ben Mathis-Lilley of Slate wondered why Sasse would not act on his ideas for “saving American politics.”

In September 2017, Sasse criticized NFL players kneeling during the National Anthem.

Sasse defended Brett Kavanaugh in 2018.

In March 2019, Sasse said that Trump’s declaration of a national emergency for the purpose of funding his border wall was an overreach of executive power, but still voted for the declaration.

Sasse said Trump’s controversial Ukraine phone call was “inappropriate,” but did not believe the impeached president should be removed from office.

Ben Sasse gave a really strange commencement address in May 2020.

Sasse votes with Trump nearly 87% of the time.

Here is Colby Itkowitz at The Washington Post:

Sen. Ben Sasse eviscerated President Trump during a phone call with constituents in which the Nebraska Republican accused the president of cozying up to dictators, mistreating women, flirting with white supremacists and irresponsibly handling the coronavirus pandemic.

Sasse’s comments were disclosed by the Washington Examiner, which obtained an audio recording of the call, a campaign telephone townhall with Nebraska voters. Sasse’s spokesman verified that the reporting was accurate, but declined to answer more specific questions such as when the call happened.

During the call, a woman asked Sasse why he’s so hard on the president. The senator has been among the Republican lawmakers willing to criticize the president from time to time, but has mostly supported him and his policies.

But in the call, Sasse unleashed a torrent of criticisms at Trump.

Read the rest here.

Bernie Wins in the Land of the “Great Commoner”

Tonight Bernie Sanders won in William Jennings Bryan country.   Economic populism in Nebraska is back!

Listen to Bryan take on the “business interests” in his great July 1896 “Cross of Gold” speech


If you prefer text, here is a taste:

Upon which side will the Democratic party fight; upon the side of “the idle holders of idle capital” or upon the side of “the struggling masses”? That is the question which the party must answer first, and then it must be answered by each individual hereafter. The sympathies of the Democratic party, as shown by the platform, are on the side of the struggling masses who have ever been the foundation of the Democratic party. There are two ideas of government. There are those who believe that if you will only legislate to make the well-to-do prosperous, their prosperity will leak through on those below. The Democratic idea, however, has been that if you legislate to make the masses prosperous, their prosperity will find its way up through every class which rests upon them.

You come to us and tell us that the great cities are in favor of the gold standard; we reply that the great cities rest upon our broad and fertile prairies. Burn down your cities and leave our farms, and your cities will spring up again as if by magic; but destroy our farms and the grass will grow in the streets of every city in the country.

My friends, we declare that this nation is able to legislate for its own people on every question, without waiting for the aid or consent of any other nation on earth; and upon that issue we expect to carry every state in the Union. I shall not slander the inhabitants of the fair state of Massachusetts nor the inhabitants of the state of New York by saying that, when they are confronted with the proposition, they will declare that this nation is not able to attend to its own business. It is the issue of 1776 over again. Our ancestors, when but three millions in number, had the courage to declare their political independence of every other nation; shall we, their descendants, when we have grown to seventy millions, declare that we are less independent than our forefathers?

No, my friends, that will never be the verdict of our people. Therefore, we care not upon what lines the battle is fought. If they say bimetallism is good, but that we cannot have it until other nations help us, we reply, that instead of having a gold standard because England has, we will restore bimetallism, and then let England have bimetallism because the United States has it. If they dare to come out in the open field and defend the gold standard as a good thing, we will fight them to the uttermost. Having behind us the producing masses of this nation and the world, supported by the commercial in~erests, the laboring interests and the toilers everywhere, we will answer their demand for a gold standard by saying to them: You shall not press down upon the brow of labor this crown of thorns, you shall not crucify mankind upon a cross of gold.

48 Hours in Crawford, Nebraska

I know I wrote last Saturday night that I would be taking some time off from blogging this week, but I could not resist posting these photos from my recent trip to Crawford, Nebraska.  They were taken by John Erickson, the former Executive Secretary of the United Bible Societies (one of many posts he has held).

I was in Crawford for about forty-eight hours to interview John for the American Bible Society book. John and his wife Nancy have a beautiful home in this Nebraska panhandle town and they showed me some great Lutheran (of the Swedish Augustana variety) hospitality!

Ben Sasse Is Not a "Christian Crusader"

Ben Sasse:  Nebraska’s new senator

Paul Putz, a Ph.D student in history at Baylor University, has written a fascinating post at the blog of the American Society of Church History on the religious beliefs of Nebraska’s new senator, Ben Sasse. As a Lutheran, Sasse embraces a “two kingdoms” approach to Christianity and culture.  This means that he does not believe that Christians should be trying to “transform” or “redeem” the larger culture through politics or any other means.  

Putz does a really nice of job of showing the theological illiteracy of many in the press who want to paint Sasse as a “Christian crusader.” Lutherans (and those of the Reformed persuasion who also hold to this “two kingdoms” model) do not usually engage in the kind of cultural transformation associated with the Christian Right and other Reformed groups. 

I will let Putz explain:

But Sasse’s scholarly contributions are not the only item of interest for ASCH folks. His personal religious views are worth considering, too, since years down the road Sasse may find himself as a subject of study for an enterprising young scholar’s dissertation analyzing conservative Christianity and American politics in the early twenty-first century. Baptized at a Missouri Synod Lutheran church (LCMS) in Plainview, Nebraska, Sasse attended an LCMS elementary school in Fremont, Nebraska before moving on to Fremont High School and then to Harvard. After Harvard he became associated with the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals, served as an editor of Modern Reformation, and co-edited Here We Stand: A Call from Confessing Evangelicals (1996). That background (and Posner’s essay) was enough for an alarmed writer for Salon to declare him a “hardcore member of the Christian right” and a “conservative Christian crusader.” If we take that description at face value, then Sasse (the Lutheran evangelical culture warrior) perfectly symbolizes the LCMS’s turn to the political right and its increasing connection with conservative evangelicalism, a turn described by James Burkee in Power, Politics, and the Missouri Synod: A Conflict that Changed American Christianity (reviewed in the March 2012 issue of Church History).

It seems to me, though, that the story is a bit more complicated. For one, Sasse apparently had a dalliance with Presbyterianism (see page 81), although he is now apparently back within the Lutheran fold. Second, a steady critic of the Christian Right, D.G. Hart, is a friend and supporter of Sasse. Hart (whose book on Calvinism was reviewed in the latest issue of Church History) is adamant that Ben Sasse is a “2K [Two Kingdoms] Reformed Protestant.” That is to say, Sasse believes that “[t]he affairs of the civil and temporal realm are one thing, the politics of God’s kingdom another.” Hart’s claim is supported by Sasse’s connection with other Reformed 2Kers like Michael Horton and R. Scott Clark.
If Sasse is a 2Ker somewhat in the mold of Hart – and nothing from what I’ve seen of his rhetoric indicates otherwise – then the Christian Right’s dreams of Christianizing America and/or restoring America to its Christian roots are not part of Sasse’s vision. This may be a distinction without a difference for some: although Sasse’s rhetoric does not rely on “return America to God” themes, his views on nearly every current political issue line up with those of the Christian Right. But then again, as Daniel Williams and others have shown, this is true for most GOP members. Perhaps we are at the place where any Republican with a well-known affiliation with Christianity is by default considered part of the Christian Right. At any rate, I’m not prepared to offer a definitive statement of categorization – I’ll leave that to the experts, or maybe even someone who actually sits down with Sasse and talks to him about the subject.

Springsteen’s Nebraska

Over at The Pietist Schoolman, Chris Gehrz offers some thoughtful reflections on Fred Goodman’s The Mansion on a Hill: Dylan, Young, Geffen, Springsteen, and the Head-On Collision of Rock and Commerce.  In the process, he provides a nice review of Springsteen’s Nebraska, an album which I once said “captures the human condition more than any album he has ever produced.”  Last year Nebraska celebrated its 30th anniversary.

Here is a taste of Gerhz’s post:

Even more propulsive is the one song recorded with an electric guitar: “Open All Night.” I can’t really improve on the Wikipedia description: “…a Chuck Berry-style lone guitar rave-up, does manage a dose of defiant, humming-towards-the-gallows exuberance.”

• Then there’s the eery “State Trooper,” with the guitar playing a one-note heartbeat while Springsteen’s voice murmurs as minimalist a melody as he’s written. The lyric takes us into the desperate mind of a criminal (“License, registration, I ain’t got none, but I got a clear conscience / ‘Bout the things that I done”) driving the New Jersey Turnpike in the “wee wee hours.”

Though worlds apart musically, “State Trooper” inhabits the same universe as “Open All Night,” which not only takes place in Jersey’s “wee wee hours” when your “mind gets hazy” and the “radio’s jammed up,” but also has its character close with the same prayer: “Deliver me from nowhere.”

There are hints that such a prayer can be answered: “Atlantic City” hopes that “maybe ev’rything dies, baby, that’s a fact / But maybe ev’rything that dies someday comes back,” and “Used Cars” for the day when “I ain’t ever gonna ride in no used car again”; the album-closer decides that “at the end of every hard earned day people find some reason to believe.” But Nebraska is daring not simply as a business decision, or even an artistic risk, but because a songwriter whose central theme is redemption has most of his characters question whether there truly is salvation from the sins (structural and personal) that bind, perplex, and torment us all. “I guess there’s just a meanness in this world,” says the mass murderer of “Nebraska” when asked “why I did what I did,” while “Johnny 99″ has “debts no honest man can pay” and tells the judge at sentencing, “I do believe I’d be better off dead.” While “My Father’s House” “shines hard and bright / It stands like a beacon calling me in the night,” it’s ultimately “so cold and alone / Shining `cross this dark highway where our sins lie unatoned.”

Good stuff.