Did George H.W. Bush Enable the Christian Right?

Bush and Falwell

Yes.

Check out Neil J. Young’s piece at The Washington Post:

Following Wednesday’s state funeral for George H.W. Bush at Washington National Cathedral, the former president’s casket will be flown to Houston where a memorial service will be held at St. Martin’s Episcopal Church the following day.

Unlike his son George W. Bush, the elder Bush, a lifelong Episcopalian, was less known for his religious faith. He was certainly not thought of as a champion of the religious right, the powerful political movement most associated with his predecessor, Ronald Reagan.

Yet it was Bush, the moderate establishment Republican whose family helped found Planned Parenthood, who secured the religious right’s permanent place in American politics. While historians largely credit Reagan’s presidency with helping religious conservatives move from the shadows of American public life into its spotlight, it was the Bush presidency, particularly its disappointments and defeat, that entrenched the religious right as the center of the Republican Party and guaranteed its ongoing influence.

From the moment he entered the 1980 Republican presidential primaries, Bush drew the ire of religious right leaders — so much so that people like Moral Majority founder Jerry Falwell objected to Reagan’s selection of Bush as his running mate. Conservative organizations tracked Bush closely throughout the primaries, scrutinizing his conservative credentials, reviewing his record and documenting his every misstep. Bush’s questionable history included having written the foreword to a 1973 book advocating the benefits of family planning in developing countries. As a congressman from 1967 to 1971, Bush’s enthusiastic support for federal funding for Planned Parenthood and other family planning groups was so well-known it had garnered him the nickname “Rubbers.”

Read the rest here.

Would Pence Be Worse?

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Historian Neil Young does not think so.

Here is a taste of his Huffington Post piece, “No, President Mike Pence Would Not Be Worse Than Trump“:

…But pretending this would amount to a greater danger than Trump poses to American democracy and global stability is foolish alarmism disguised as rational diagnosis. Unfortunately, it’s perfectly in line with the sort of nihilistic cynicism that has taken over American politics and not dissimilar to the pessimistic fatalism that Trump stokes and enjoys.

An outlook that can’t distinguish the political challenge of a possible Pence presidency from the very real existential threat to the republic that Trump poses is useless for guarding against the disaster taking place in Washington right now.

The American presidency has never been inhabited by the likes of Donald Trump. He constantly and increasingly imperils our system of democracy. His flouting of the Constitution sets hazardous precedents that weaken the rule of law. His volatile and irrational temperament, combined with his disregard for international alliances and friendliness with autocrats and dictators, jeopardizes the safety of all of us.

Pence’s politics, while thoroughly conservative, fall in line with the basic Republican orthodoxy of the last 40 years. That’s an agenda worth resisting, for sure, but it’s one that Democrats will be well equipped — even emboldened — to block, especially if they claim a majority in the House this fall, as appears likely.

Read the entire piece here.  I am mostly with Young here, although I do think Pence is more conservative than Reagan, George H.W. Bush, and George W. Bush.  All of these presidents, to varying degrees, held some views that were compatible with the Christian Right and they appealed to this wing of the party.  But none of them were products of the Christian Right.  On the other hand, Pence’s entire political agenda seems driven and informed by the Christian Right.  He is one of them.

The National Rifle Association’s Turn From Its Own History

Image: US-POLITICS-CONCERVATIVES

Historian Neil J. Young reminds us that the NRA did not always behave like a gun “cult.”

Here is a taste of his Huffington Post piece “The NRA Wasn’t Always A Front For Gun Makers.”

…But the NRA’s delusion exposes not only its moral rot, but also its continual turn from its own history. Begun as an organization devoted to education and safety, it’s only in the last 50 years that the NRA has instead dedicated itself to preserving the very circumstances that most endanger Americans’ lives today, especially the nation’s schoolchildren.

In 1871, the NRA was founded by William Church, a lawyer, and George Wingate, a former newspaper reporter. Wingate explained his new organization’s purpose as working to “promote and encourage rifle shooting on a scientific basis.”

To that end, the NRA operated mostly as a sporting club and hunting association for its first 100 years. It put a heavy emphasis on gun safety education and training, especially for young people. Church and Wingate had been inspired to create their organization in part from their experience as soldiers during the Civil War, where they had been appalled by the poor marksmanship skills of their fellow fighters. Guns were dangerous, especially in untrained hands, the two men understood. The NRA organized safety clinics and target-shooting competitions to teach young men (and later women) proper gun use and the obligations of responsible firearm ownership.

Read the rest here.

Evangelical Identity in the Age of Trump

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Neil J. Young offers his perspective on the meaning of evangelicalism in the age of Trump.

Here is a taste:

On Tuesday night, white evangelicals set fire to what remained of Reagan Republicanism and overwhelmingly endorsed Trumpism, a toxic brew of white ethno-nationalist populism spiked with heavy doses of misogyny and xenophobia. In doing so, they may have also destroyed their witness to the nation.

According to exit polls, 81 percent of white evangelicals voted for Donald Trump. That number should stun on its own, but its historical outrageousness becomes clearer when considering it represents higher support than George W. Bush received from white evangelicals in his two election bids.

Despite that enthusiastic endorsement, some conservative Christian leaders are already trying to distance evangelicals from their complicity in the results. On his blog at Christianity Today, Ed Stetzer wrote that evangelicals needed to “accept the outcome and what it means,” as if evangelicals had to struggle to come to terms with a result they had in fact created.

Other evangelicals, in an attempt to separate themselves from the full meaning of what they have done, have been busy recirculating a Washington Post article from earlier this month that detailed how “deep disgust” for Hillary Clinton drove evangelicals to vote for Trump, a desperate attempt to pretend this election was about rejecting Clinton rather than backing Trump.

But “votes against Clinton” is not what history will record.

Instead, white evangelicals will forever be associated with Donald Trump in the minds of the American people. And they will pay the price for that association.

Read the rest here.

Mormons Reject Trump; Embarrass Evangelicals

YoungNeil J. Young, author of We Gather Together: The Religious Right and the Problem of Interfaith Politics, offers an interesting take on Utah’s repudiation of Donald Trump in Tuesday night’s caucuses.

Mormons are disgusted with Trump and they showed this disgust on Tuesday night. Trump (14%) finished third behind Cruz (69%) and Kasich (17%).

Evangelicals, on the other hand, continue to support Trump in droves.  Is this embarrassing for evangelicals? The answer should be yes.

Here is a taste of his piece at Religion Dispatches:

That Mormons have so thoroughly repudiated Donald Trump while American evangelicalism wrestles with its complicated relationship with him only elevates evangelical leaders’ concerns about the strength of their faith. Rather than seeing Mormon opposition to Trump as a moment to celebrate, evangelical leaders may understand it as an embarrassing exposure of the messy matters within their own fold.

Read Young’s entire piece here.