Peter Beinart on the “Real Authors” of *The New York Times* Op-Ed

Congress

Writing at The Atlantic, Beinart argues that Republicans in Congress are the “real authors of the anonymous New York Times op-ed.  Here is a taste:

In theory, in America’s constitutional system, the different branches of the federal government check one another. When a presidents acts in corrupt, authoritarian, or reckless ways, the legislative branch holds hearings, blocks his agenda, refuses to confirm his nominees, even impeaches him. That’s how America’s government is supposed to work. But it no longer does. Instead, for the last year and a half, congressional Republicans have acted, for the most part, as Trump’s agents. Not only have they refused to seriously investigate or limit him, they have assaulted those within the federal bureaucracy—the justice department and the FBI in particular—who have.

So in the absence of this public, constitutional system of checks and balances, a secret, unauthorized system has emerged to replace it. Because Congress won’t check the president, the president’s own appointees are doing so instead. 

Read the rest here.

Beinart: Will the GOP Stand-Up to Roy Moore’s Anti-Muslim Prejudice?

Roy Moore,Patricia Jones

The Republican nominee for Jeff Sessions’s vacated Alabama Senate seat is a Christian nationalist who appears to see Muslim-Americans as second-class citizens.  Writing at The Atlantic, Peter Beinart wonders why Moore’s fellow Republicans are not condemning his views.  Here is a taste of his piece:

In his hostility to Islam, and his belief that American Muslims should not be allowed to serve in office, Moore stands firmly in the tradition of Cain, Bachmann, Carson and Trump. In 2006, when Muslim Congressman Keith Ellison swore his oath of office on a Koran, Moore comparedit to taking an “oath on Mein Kampf” in 1943, and said Ellison should not be seated in Congress. This July, he called Islam a “false religion.” In August, he said, “There are communities under Sharia law right now in our country. Up in Illinois. Christian communities.” He later acknowledged that he had no idea if that was true. (It isn’t.)

What’s new isn’t what Moore has said. It’s the way leading Republicans have responded. There has been virtually no criticism at all. When CNN asked Wisconsin Senator Ron Johnson how he felt about Moore’s claim that Barack Obama was a Muslim, Johnson responded merely that, “no two people agree 100% of the time.” When asked by the Toronto Star about claims that Moore was anti-Muslim, the Chairman of the Russell County, Alabama, Republican Party replied, “I’m anti-Muslim too.” (He later explained that, “I don’t have any problems with anybody’s religion as long as it’s Christian.”) When Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel declared in an interview on Fox News that, “the voters did the right thing,” Moore’s anti-Muslim comments didn’t even come up. In the age of Donald Trump, most Republican politicians are now too afraid to condemn anti-Muslim bigotry. And increasingly, journalists no longer expect them to.

And where are the court evangelicals?  Why aren’t they speaking out against Moore?  I assume they are too busy petitioning Donald Trump for more religious liberty legislation.

Is Donald Trump More “Politically Correct” Than Barack Obama?

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Peter Beinart of The Atlantic compares the speech Donald Trump gave yesterday in Riyadh to Barack Obama’s 2009 speech in Cairo.  He concludes that Trump was much more “politically correct.”

Here is a taste:

“Political correctness,” as it is used in common parlance, means avoiding hard truths so as not to offend the people around you. And Trump made his hostility to political correctness a centerpiece of his campaign. Nowhere was this more evident than in his discussion of “radical Islam.” Again and again, Trump blamed America’s vulnerability to jihadist terrorism on President Obama and Hillary Clinton’s refusal honestly to speak about the pathologies of Muslims and Islam. At a Wisconsin town hall in March of last year, CNN’s Anderson Cooper asked, “Do you trust Muslims in America?” Trump responded, “We have a problem, and we can try and be very politically correct and pretend we don’t have a problem, but, Anderson, we have a major, major problem.” In June, in defending his proposed ban on Muslim immigration to the United States, Trump declared that, “The current politically correct response cripples our ability to talk and to think and act clearly” to keep America safe from terrorism.

But for all the pillorying Obama received for supposedly whitewashing the problems of the Islamic world, his Cairo speech actually addressed them quite bluntly. Speaking at Egypt’s prestigious Cairo University, Obama condemned Holocaust denial in Muslim countries, calling it “baseless, ignorant, and hateful.” He denounced people who “threaten Israel with destruction” and “repeat vile stereotypes about Jews.” He highlighted the oppression of women in Muslim lands, declaring that “a woman who is denied an education is denied equality. And it is no coincidence that countries where women are well-educated are far more likely to be prosperous.” He referenced the Middle East’s economic failures, arguing that “no development strategy can be based only upon what comes out of the ground, nor can it be sustained while young people are out of work.” And in a clear challenge to his host, Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak, he insisted that “all people yearn for certain things: the ability to speak your mind and have a say in how you are governed; confidence in the rule of law and the equal administration of justice; government that is transparent and doesn’t steal from the people; the freedom to live as you choose. Those are not just American ideas, they are human rights, and that is why we will support them everywhere.”

Compare that to Trump, who said virtually nothing that caused his hosts any discomfort. Trump criticized terrorist groups like ISIS for their “persecution of Jews,” and he condemned Iran for pledging “the destruction of Israel.” But since ISIS and Iran are Riyadh’s most bitter foes, those condemnations won’t have bothered the Saudi monarchs at all. Unlike Obama, Trump avoided the broader problem of anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial in Islamic countries, a problem in which his Saudi hosts are deeply complicit. Nor did he even hint at the fact that Saudi Arabia still does not recognize Israel.

On the question of women’s rights, it was much the same. Trump attacked jihadist terrorists for “the oppression of women.” But he described King Salman’s government as a virtual beacon of women’s rights. “Saudi Arabia’s Vision for 2030 is an important and encouraging statement of tolerance, respect, empowering women, and economic development,” Trump declared. You would never have known that women in the Kingdom still can’t drive.

Read the rest here.

Beinart: Secularism is Bad for American Politics

Nones

I am not used to seeing Peter Beinart write about religion, but his recent piece in The Atlantic makes sense to me.  Here is the argument:

As Americans have left organized religion, they haven’t stopped viewing politics as a struggle between “us” and “them.” Many have come to define us and them in even more primal and irreconcilable ways.

And a taste:

When pundits describe the Americans who sleep in on Sundays, they often conjure left-leaning hipsters. But religious attendance is down among Republicans, too. According to data assembled for me by the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI), the percentage of white Republicans with no religious affiliation has nearly tripled since 1990. This shift helped Trump win the GOP nomination. During the campaign, commentators had a hard time reconciling Trump’s apparent ignorance of Christianity and his history of pro-choice and pro-gay-rights statements with his support from evangelicals. But as Notre Dame’s Geoffrey Layman noted, “Trump does best among evangelicals with one key trait: They don’t really go to church.” A Pew Research Center poll last March found that Trump trailed Ted Cruz by 15 points among Republicans who attended religious services every week. But he led Cruz by a whopping 27 points among those who did not.

Why did these religiously unaffiliated Republicans embrace Trump’s bleak view of America more readily than their churchgoing peers? Has the absence of church made their lives worse? Or are people with troubled lives more likely to stop attending services in the first place? Establishing causation is difficult, but we know that culturally conservative white Americans who are disengaged from church experience less economic success and more family breakdown than those who remain connected, and they grow more pessimistic and resentful. Since the early 1970s, according to W. Bradford Wilcox, a sociologist at the University of Virginia, rates of religious attendance have fallen more than twice as much among whites without a college degree as among those who graduated college. And even within the white working class, those who don’t regularly attend church are more likely to suffer from divorce, addiction, and financial distress. As Wilcox explains, “Many conservative, Protestant white men who are only nominally attached to a church struggle in today’s world. They have traditional aspirations but often have difficulty holding down a job, getting and staying married, and otherwise forging real and abiding ties in their community. The culture and economy have shifted in ways that have marooned them with traditional aspirations unrealized in their real-world lives.”

Read the entire piece here.

Donald Trump is “Making Journalism Great Again”

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It’s times like this that I wish I had followed my childhood love of journalism. I am doing my best to bring historically-informed analysis here at The Way of Improvement Leads Home, but I also have a day job that includes, in addition to teaching (which I see as my primary vocation), a lot of paperwork, meetings, and, occasionally breaking bad news to colleagues.

Over at The Atlantic, Peter Beinart reports on the way traditional American “institutions”–the press, the judiciary, and the people–have been resisting and restraining the Trump administration.  His thoughts on the press and journalism caught my attention:

But no president faced with a dissatisfied bureaucracy and a vigorous press has been able to keep the internal workings of government secret. And Trump is facing the most energized American press corps in decades. America’s prestige newspapers have seen dramatic increases in circulation over the last year. The Post alone recently announced that it was hiring sixty new journalists.  Trump, in Jack Shafer’s words, “is making journalism great again,” and great journalism is, to some degree, restraining his power.

I am hoping that Trump might do the same for history and the humanities.