Will a third political party emerge?

Some are suggesting that the Republican Party could split into principled conservatives and Trump populists. The next four years will also reveal the depth of the divisions within the Democratic Party. How hard will the progressives in the party challenge Joe Biden and the moderates? Or maybe we will see a unification of Republican moderates and Democratic moderates.

Whatever the case, I found Sriram Laksham’s interview with presidential historian Jeffrey Engel to be informative. Engel directs the Center for Presidential History at Southern Methodist University in Dallas.

Here is a taste of the interview, published at The Hindu:

Laksham: If appears that people in the Republican party are torn between sticking with Trump or standing for the “real” Republican party. Do you think that there’s going to be a third major political party forming in the near term?

Engle: I’m glad you asked that. That’s what history suggests. Remember that one way to understand the entire Trump presidency and candidacy is as a civil war within the Republican party. That Donald Trump ran against the Democratic party, but also ran against traditional Republicans — the George W. Bush-Mitt Romney wings of the Republican party. Obviously he was successful in controlling the party and then ultimately winning the presidency, but those people haven’t gone away. And I think that what we’re seeing is quite likely a moment where the Republican party, I think, as a brand is going to continue moving forward.

That doesn’t mean everybody who’s in the Republican party is going to continue under that brand, which suggests — especially given that the people who are most antagonistic towards Trump are by and large towards the centre of the political spectrum and there is of course a centre wing of the democratic party as well — that there is a ripe moment here for a coalescing of these two into a new political party.

Now, before Democrats get very excited about that, I should point out that every previous time in American history we’ve seen one party collapse, it takes the other party down with it over the course of the next several election cycles, just because it completely realigns the interest groups and the coalitions and the alliances within the broad electorate. So I think that there’s a good chance of the Republican party is in its death throes. As we currently see it, I think Republicans will continue. I don’t necessarily know that their party is going to continue as is currently formed.

Read the entire interview here.

Arizona GOP: We are “never going back” to the party of John McCain

Both the U.S. senators from Arizona, Krysten Sinema and Mark Kelly, are Democrats. The last time Arizona had two Democratic senators was 1953 when Ernest McFarland and Carl Hayden represented the state in Washington D.C. That was sixty-eight years ago.

In today’s Wall Street Journal, editor Gerald Seib has a piece on the potential Republican Party civil war. Here is a taste:

Two years from now, after this week’s attempt to overturn the results of the presidential election has long since played out, here is a plausible scenario:

A Republican senator or House member, one party leaders are eager to see retain his or her seat, will be challenged in a primary by a disciple of President Trump. The incumbent, after being attacked as a member of a disparaged party establishment, will still win the primary. But that outcome will be challenged by Republican rebels, who, taking a cue from what is happening right now, will charge that the election was “rigged” by the establishment, and go to court to try to overturn it.

Such are the forces being unleashed this week within the GOP, where the prospect of a virtual civil war suddenly feels real. This internal struggle engages the president and his family; lawmakers courting the support of Trump loyalists; and a conservative Republican establishment embodied by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. Part of the struggle is ideological, part is simply about power. In any case, it figures to roll through the next two years and into the 2022 mid-term election.

The irony is that Republicans might instead be uniting in celebration over what actually was a good outcome for them in the 2020 vote, and allowing attention to focus on Democrats’ own considerable internal ideological schisms. Instead, the party is being pulled apart in the last days of the Trump term.

Read the rest here. The piece also mentions this tweet:

Seib adds:

As that tweet shows, there is an important ideological struggle lying beneath the skirmishing. Mr. Trump essentially ran for president in 2016 as an independent populist, with no use for a Republican establishment that largely opposed him. Upon prevailing, he turned the party away from traditional conservative principles of free trade, lower government spending and limited executive authority and toward more of a working-class agenda.

Here are a few more tweets from the official Twitter account of the Republican Party of Arizona:

We are back from break. What happened?

Vacation is over. What did I miss? Here is a small taste of what has happened in American politics over the last ten days:

  • A bomb exploded in Nashville on Christmas morning. We are learning more every day about the suicide bomber. Fortunately, no one other than the bomber himself was killed. As far as I know, Trump did not comment publicly on the bombing. He played golf.
  • Trump refused to sign the Consolidated Appropriation Act. It included $900 billion for COVID-19 relief, including a $600 check for Americans making under $75,000 a year. Secretary of the Treasury Steve Mnuchin negotiated the bill on the president’s behalf while Trump was busy trying to overturn the 2020 presidential election. Trump’s major problem with the bill was the $600 dollar COVID relief check for individual Americans. Trump wanted to give Americans $2000.
  • Trump eventually signed the Consolidated Appropriation Act on December 27. Because he signed it one week late, many Americans did not receive unemployment compensation during the final week of 2021. Why didn’t Trump sign it? It is hard to tell. But he was probably upset with Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell for declaring that Joe Biden won the 2020 presidential election. While Trump held his personal grudge, millions of Americans went without federal help during the Christmas holiday. The president played golf.
  • Meanwhile, Democrats and some Republicans supported Trump’s claim to raise the sum of the relief checks to $2000. David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler, Georgia GOP Senators fighting for their political lives in tomorrow’s Georgia run-off, supported the president. But McConnell did his best to make sure that the American people would only get $600
  • Just before we went on break, Trump vetoed the Defense Authorization Act. This bill, which is the standard act to fund the military, had bipartisan support. In fact, this bill has passed with bipartisan support since 1961. Trump vetoed the bill because it included provisions for renaming military bases named after Confederate leaders. He also claimed it protected social media companies. On December 28, the House of Representatives overturned Trump’s veto by a vote of veto 322-87. On January 1, 2021, the Senate overturned the veto 81-13. It was the first time in the Trump presidency that Congress overturned one of his vetoes.
  • On the same day the Senate overturned Trump’s veto on the Defense Authorization Act, Missouri Senator Josh Hawley said that he would object to the 2020 Electoral College vote when the Senate meets to certify it on Wednesday. Nebraska Senator Ben Sasse, upon hearing about Hawley’s stunt, called it a “dangerous ploy” and added: “Let’s be clear here: We have a bunch of ambitious politicians who think there’s a quick way to tap into the president’s populist base without doing any real, long-term damage.” The next day, GOP senators Marcia Blackburn (TN), Mike Braun (IN), Ted Cruz (TX), Steve Daines (MT) Ron Johnson (WI), John Kennedy (LA), and James Lankford (OK) said they would join Hawley. So did Senators-Elect Bill Hagerty (TN), Cynthia Lummis (WY), Roger Marshall (KS), and Tommy Tuberville (AL). Cruz’s office issued a press release. Let’s be clear. This protest will not change the election results. Both houses of Congress will certify the votes of the Electoral College and Joe Biden will be inaugurated President of the United States on January 20, 2021. It will now just take a few additional hours. Read Peter Wehner’s recent article at The Atlantic if you want to understand what is really going on here.
  • If my calculations are correct, 22,715 people died of COVID-19 since my last blog post.
  • Yesterday, January 3, 2021, The Washington Post released part of a phone call between Trump and Brad Raffensberger, Georgia’s GOP secretary of state. The President urged Raffensberger to “find” 11,780 Trump votes in Georgia. Trump threatened Raffensberger by telling him that if he did not find the votes he might face “criminal” charges. Here is a clip from their one hour conversation:

Listen to the entire phone call here.

So what have Trump’s court evangelicals had to say over the holiday break? I will cover that in my next post, which will appear later this morning. Stay tuned.

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.

David Brooks on the GOP’s detachment from reality

Here is today’s column:

In a recent Monmouth University survey, 77 percent of Trump backers said Joe Biden had won the presidential election because of fraud. Many of these same people think climate change is not real. Many of these same people believe they don’t need to listen to scientific experts on how to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

We live in a country in epistemological crisis, in which much of the Republican Party has become detached from reality. Moreover, this is not just an American problem. All around the world, rising right-wing populist parties are floating on oceans of misinformation and falsehood. What is going on?

Many people point to the internet — the way it funnels people into information silos, the way it abets the spread of misinformation. I mostly reject this view. Why would the internet have corrupted Republicans so much more than Democrats, the global right more than the global left?

Read the rest here.

The coming war in the Democratic Party

We all saw this coming. It’s the centrists versus the progressives. Conor Lamb versus Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Get ready for the war.

Here is a taste of John F. Harris piece at Politico titled “What Planet is AOC On?

It is folly for progressives to avoid the obvious: The reason they are far from achieving their policy aims goes beyond the notion that moderate Democrats are clods who can’t play the game. There are many places in the country where progressives need better arguments to reach people who don’t currently support their goals.

The post-election memo by four progressive groups — New Deal Strategies, Justice Democrats, Sunrise Movement and Data for Progress — came closer to the mark than Ocasio-Cortez’s interview. It called for a new set of policy and rhetorical appeals that seek to merge the Black Lives Matter message with an economic message that would also appeal to less-prosperous and less-educated whites who have been attracted to Trump. There is not abundant evidence that this can be successful, but it is at least more attuned to the genuine challenge than scolding fellow Democrats for not being with it on Facebook.

Ocasio-Cortez has earned the right to lecture moderate Democrats like Conor Lamb on how to connect with a rising generation of impatient progressives. Lamb has earned the right to lecture Ocasio-Cortez on how to take a seat that used to be held by Republicans and put it in the Democratic column. But a more promising strategy likely would put listening before lecturing.

“What planet is she on?” a veteran Democratic operative scoffed to me over the AOC interview, which he took as denying the reality that movements like “defund the police,” even while at the fringes of Democratic politics, were a serious headwind in many places that the party urgently needs to win to hold power.

It was a rhetorical question. But let’s answer it seriously. She is on a political planet where she is amply rewarded for her uncommon skill at framing issues in bold terms, for her stylish spontaneity, for her comfort with political combat, for her instinct to open her sails rather than trim them.

What planet is Conor Lamb on? He’s on a political planet where Democrats can’t win unless they constantly practice the politics of reassurance, and he’s been amply rewarded for his self-discipline and skill in softening sharp edges that can be used as a knife against him.

Read the entire piece here.

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:

What do yard signs tell us about the election?

I’m not a lawn-sign guy, but my neighbor, a staunch Democrat, covers her lawn with them. I went over there the other day and took the above selfie.

Over at Politico, Tim Alberta offers three interesting observations about this presidential election:

  1. “Yard signs are telling us something.”
  2. “Turnout is going to make historians do a double take.”
  3. “A Biden blowout will divorce Trump from the GOP establishment–and quickly.”

Here is a taste of the section on yard signs:

I’ve paid an unhealthy level of attention to yard signs over the past year, and particularly since Joe Biden sealed the Democratic nomination this summer. Having logged many dozens of hours this summer and fall driving around the country, two things have stood out.

First, the Trump/MAGA signage has multiplied in mind-boggling ways. Four years ago, it felt like the Republican nominee had reached a saturation point with his name dotting the landscapes of American communities. Not even close. This is obviously ballparking, but whereas in 2016 it seemed like we saw Trump logos on every ninth or 10th lawn, we now see them on every fifth or sixth lawn in those same neighborhoods. It’s a remarkable testament to the passion of the president’s base; it also indicates that the “shy Trump voter” is a thing of the past. The people who flew his flag in 2016 are still doing so; they’re now joined by countless more MAGA devotees, voters who might have once had reservations about Trump, or at least reservations about showing their support for him, but are no longer holding back. Whether the president wins a second term or not, this display of fervency reinforces my belief that we have never seen a politician with such a cult following, and we probably never will again.

The second thing that’s been striking is the Biden signage—not the volume of it, but rather the location. There’s no question Biden banners (and, more recently, Biden/Harris banners) are far outpacing the number of Clinton signs I saw four years ago. But that’s really not saying much. No, what’s been truly interesting is where the Biden posters are popping up. Just in the past few weeks, I’ve seen signs boosting the Democratic nominee (and affiliated liberal causes) in the blue-collar pockets of mid-Michigan and eastern Ohio; in the wealthy, well-educated, heavily Republican suburbs of Milwaukee and Cleveland; in the remote, rural towns of central Pennsylvania; and along the dusty desert highways of northern Arizona. When I say I’ve seen signs in these places, I don’t mean a couple small placards scattered here and there; I mean a conspicuous pattern of support, spread across areas where you wouldn’t expect to find it. And it hasn’t just been pro-Biden material; it’s been Black Lives Matter signs and LGBTQ rainbow flags and banners endorsing scientific expertise and women’s rights.

Read the entire piece here.

My daughter sent me this pic she took while visiting a friend in Latrobe, Pennsylvania:

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.”

Fox News poll: white evangelical support for Trump in November drops to 66%. Biden is doing better now with white evangelicals than Obama in November 2012.

Trump St. Johns

According to a just-released Fox News poll, 66% of white evangelicals plan to vote for Donald Trump in November 2020.

25% of white evangelicals say they will vote for Joe Biden.

It is worth noting here that Obama got 26% of white evangelical votes in 2008 and 21% of white evangelical votes in 2012. In other words, Biden is doing better than Obama did with white evangelicals in November 2012 and is doing about the same as Obama did in November 2008. Trump got 81% of evangelical votes in 2016. Hillary Clinton got 16%.

Only 3% will vote for another candidate in November 2020.

Some more revealing stuff in the recent Fox News poll:

  • 63% of Biden’s support comes from voters who “fear the other candidate might win.” (31% are “enthusiastic” for Biden to win).
  • It appears that the social and racial unrest in the wake of the George Floyd killing did not really change the way voters see Trump on race. In August 2017, 56% of voters did not think that Trump “respects racial minorities.” In June 2020, the number (56% is exactly the same).
  • 54% of Americans believe that racism is a “widespread” (systemic?) problem in the police department. 41% believe that the cases of police brutality are just “isolated incidents.”
  • 57% of Americans have a “favorable” view of the Floyd race protests.  35% of Americans have an “unfavorable” view of the protests.
  • 56% of American “disapprove” of Trump’s response to the protests. 31% approve.

And here is some specific stuff on white evangelicals:

  • 72% approve of the job Trump is doing as president. 49% “strongly approve” and 23% “somewhat approve.”  9% “somewhat disapprove.” 18% “strong disapprove.”
  • 75% approve of the way Trump is handling the economy.
  • 66% approve of the way Trump is handling health care.
  • 56% approve of the way Trump is handling race relations.
  •  61% are “extremely interested” in the 2020 presidential elections.  20% are “very interested.” 16% are “somewhat interested.” and 2% are “not at all interested.” This is very high when compared to other identity groups.
  • 58% have a “strongly unfavorable” opinion of Hillary Clinton.
  • 48% have a “strongly unfavorable opinion of Joe Biden.
  • 66% believe that Trump “cares about” them.
  • 30% believe that Biden “cares about” them.
  • 61% believe Trump “respects racial minorities.”
  • 37% believe Biden “respects racial minorities.”
  • 51% believe that “corporate influences” are a “major threat” to government
  • 52% believe racism is a “major threat” to the country. (Compare this to 80% of Democrats and 73% of white suburban women).
  • 33% believe that income inequality is a major threat to the country.
  • 59% believe coronavirus is a “major threat” to the country. 31% believe coronavirus is a “minor threat” to the country. 10% say it is “not a threat at all.”
  • 39% are “concerned” about racism. 35% are “somewhat concerned” about racism. 24% are not concerned about racism.
  • 60% believe that police brutality against black Americans are “isolated incidents.”
  • 61% oppose reducing funding for police departments and moving those funds to mental health, housing, and other social service.
  • 50% have an unfavorable opinion of the George Floyd protests. 43% have a favorable opinion
  • 55% approve of Trump’s response to the protests.

Read the entire poll here.

Peter Wehner on Jonathan Haidt

Righteous MindSome of you are familiar with Haidt‘s book, The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion. He argues that ethical judgments “arise not from reason but from gut feelings.” Over at The Atlantic, Peter Wehner has an extended piece based on an interview with Haidt.

Here is a taste:

In 1992, Haidt received his Ph.D. in psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, where he encountered several professors who had interesting things to say about morality that, he said, “set me up to think about a much broader moral domain.” But it was the years immediately following Haidt’s time at the University of Pennsylvania that were transformational. He spent two years at the University of Chicago working with Richard Shweder, an anthropologist, who was his postdoctoral research adviser. Shweder has a motto: If someone asserts it, try denying it and see if that makes sense. If someone denies it, try asserting it and see if that makes sense. “It’s a great way to overcome confirmation bias and to try on new ideas,” Haidt told me. “Richard Shweder in particular just blew my mind wide open.” The experience “really changed me and prepared me to step out of my prior politics, my prior moralism, my prior self-righteousness.”

While he was at Chicago, Haidt received a fellowship to study morality in India. In September 1993 he traveled to Bhubaneswar, in the Indian state of Odisha, where, among other things, he learned the power of rituals and of a commitment to religious purity as a way to knit communities together. While in India, Haidt “really tried to understand a culture very different from my own, and in the process, for the first time, I was able to look at evangelical and conservative Christianity not as a force hostile to me as an atheist, a cosmopolitan, and a Jew, but as a moral community striving for certain virtues—and I could understand those virtues and I could respect those virtues. It was that combination that really drained me of my anger and hostility and, I think, helped me to just listen to people and try to map out what [they are] aiming for. What are the virtues they’re trying to instill? What is the vision of the good that they are pursuing? Without that period, I don’t think I ever could have written The Righteous Mind or been of much use in studying a culture war.”

And this:

In preparation for teaching a graduate seminar in the spring of 2005 on political psychology, Haidt read an introductory essay by the historian Jerry Muller in a book Muller edited, Conservatism: An Anthology of Social and Political Thought From David Hume to the Present. All of a sudden, a whole new world opened up. Haidt discovered that conservatives had some important insights to offer on human nature, the value of institutions, and the importance of moral capital. He felt conservatism offered an important counterbalance to the excesses of progressivism. He also came to appreciate the pedigree of conservatism, from the writings of people like Edmund Burke in the 18th century to Thomas Sowell in the 20th. (Haidt told me he considers himself to be a centrist, engaging with views from multiple sides in order to understand issues. But he’s a centrist who only ever votes for Democrats, because he thinks the Republican Party has been in a state of moral and philosophical decline for many years.

Haidt laments the state of contemporary American politics, believing that on both the right and the left we’re seeing populism that responds to real problems but in illiberal ways. “On the right,” he said, “the populism there is really explicitly xenophobic and often explicitly racist … I think we see strands of populism on the right that are authoritarian, that I would say are incompatible with a tolerant, pluralistic, open democracy.”

Read the entire piece here.

The Problem With Providence

c7789-trump

Over the last year I have received a lot of critical e-mails questioning my faith because I am not willing to assert that Donald Trump is God’s anointed servant to save America from the liberals (mostly Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama).

In the last couple months, I have also received e-mails from Christian anti-Trumpers who write to tell me that COVID-19 is God’s punishment on the United States for electing Donald Trump.

Even if you believe in the Christian doctrine of providence,  as I do, both of these positions are theologically problematic.

Does it make theological sense to invoke providence in political debates? Should we build our approach to politics and government on this doctrine? How do we reconcile providential claims–and the sense of certainty that comes with them–with St. Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 13: 12: “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.”  The Christian scriptures teach that God is the “blessed and only Ruler, the King of kings and Lord of lords” who “lives in unapproachable light, whom no one has seen or can see.” (1 Tim. 6:15-15). And let’s not forget Isaiah 55:8-9: “For my thoughts are not your thoughts,/ neither are your ways my ways,’ / declares the LORD.’ / ‘As the heavens are higher than the earth, / so are my ways higher than your ways / and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

St. Augustine is helpful here. In book 20 of The City of God against the Pagans, he reminds us what Christians can and cannot know about God’s work in the world. History will end with the glorious triumph of the Son of God. But as we live with this hope, we must be cautious about trying to pinpoint the specific plan of God in history. We must avoid trying to interpret what is hidden from us or what is incomprehensible, because our understanding is so limited. As Augustine writes,

There are good men who suffer evils and evil men who enjoy good things, which seems unjust, and there are bad men who come to a bad end, and good men who arrive at a good one. Thus, the judgments of God are all the more inscrutable, and His ways past finding out. We do not know, therefore, by what judgment God causes or allows these things to pass.

The Swiss theologian Karl Barth, who had a strong view of God’s providential ordering of the world, warned us about trying to get too specific in explaining the ways in which God’s work manifests itself in the world. In his book, American Providence, the late theologian Stephen Webb notes, Barth went so far in “advising restraint, modesty, and caution in the use of this doctrine that he nearly undermines his own insistence on its importance.”

The great Protestant Reformer Martin Luther was also clear about what Christians can and cannot know about the will of God in human history. Luther always erred on the side  of mystery: God is transcendent and sovereign; humans are sinful and finite. During the Heidelberg Disputation, Luther was quite candid about the human quest to understand God’s purposes in the world. “That person, Luther wrote, “does not deserve to be called a theologian who looks upon the invisible things of God as though they were clearly perceptible in those things which have actually happened.”

When it comes to politics, Christians would do better to embrace an approach to citizenship with a sense of God’s transcendent mystery, a healthy dose of humility, and  a hope that one day soon, but not now, we will all understand the Almighty’s plans for the nations. We should again take comfort in the words of Augustine: “When we arrive at that judgment of God, the time of which in a special sense is called the Day of Judgment,…it will become apparent that God’s judgments are entirely just.” The will of God in matters such as these often remain a mystery. As theologian Charles Mathewes notes, “The lesson of providence is not that history can be finally solved, like a cryptogram but that it must be endured, inhabited as a mystery which we cannot fully understand from the inside, but which we cannot escape of our own powers.

I like to season any providential invocations with words like “perhaps” or “maybe” or “might.” Or as theologian N.T. Wright has argued, “When Christians try to read off what God is doing even in their own situations, such claims always have to carry the word perhaps about with them as a mark of humility and of the necessary reticence of faith. That doesn’t mean that such claims can’t be made, but that they need to be made with a “perhaps” which is always inviting God to come in and say, ‘Well, actually, no.'”

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.

Andrew Cuomo’s “Psychological Game” With Trump

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Those reading this blog and following my Twitter feed know that I have been a big fan of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s handling of this pandemic. I am apparently not alone in my praise. Yesterday my daughters showed me Tik Toks of female college students swooning over the 62-year governor. I know Cuomo is a controversial figure in New York, but he shown us all what leadership looks like in a time of crisis. I wish he were president right now.

Over at Vanity Fair, Chris Smith suggests Cuomo is playing a “psychological game” with Donald Trump. Here is a taste:

The phone conversations themselves are usually unremarkable in tone. Governor Andrew Cuomo and President Donald Trump talk about what medical supplies are urgently needed to fight the coronavirus pandemic in New York. The chat seems productive. They hang up. And then Trump tweets a potshot, saying Cuomo needs to “do more.” Or the president suggests that New York is somehow profiteering, sending hospital masks “out the back door.” Or he goes into the White House briefing room, as he did on Wednesday, and snipes that Cuomo “shouldn’t be complaining because we gave him a lot of ventilators…The problem is with some people, no matter what you give, it’s never enough. It’s never enough.”

Cuomo, who has a serious temper, hasn’t taken the bait. At times he has gotten publicly angry about the Trump administration’s failures; at times he has praised Trump for delivering, without descending into obsequious flattery. “One-on-one, it’s perfectly cordial with Trump,” a political veteran familiar with both men says. “Because the show isn’t on. Backstage, before the lights go on, he’s a different guy.” Crucially, though, Cuomo has let the personal stuff roll off his back, not allowing the Trump noise machine to interfere with the governor working the federal bureaucracy to, for instance, grant New York permission to send coronavirus tests to in-state labs instead of the Centers for Disease Control laboratory in Atlanta.

“The governor is a guy who knows when to pull, when to push, when to praise, and when to hit,” a New York and Washington political insider says. “You’ve seen it especially in his dance on ventilators. He’s walking the line of, ‘I’m not criticizing them yet, but I’m making the need clear. Trump can say I’m not using them—here’s why I’m not using them. I need these ventilators for the surge.’ And whether the top-level dealings with Trump have been successful or not, Cuomo has been very successful in dealing with the next level down, in the federal agencies.”

Read the rest here.

“It is part of the inalienable task of God’s people…to speak the truth to power.”

Wright God in PublicI have been reading a lot of N.T. Wright lately.   The Anglican New Testament scholar and theologian has been helpful as I try to think about how to speak faithfully in our current political moment in the United States.  In his book God in Public: How the Bible Speaks Truth to Power TodayWright offers what he calls a “rough sketch of a Christian political theology.”  His sketch includes four points:

First:

…the creator God wants the world to be ordered, not chaotic. The order in question is to be a human order: that is to say, God intends that there should be human structures of government.  God does not want anarchy.  Just as God intends the world of plants and crops to work under human management, so God intends that human societies should be wisely ordered under human stewardship.  This pattern, of delegated authority if you like, goes all the way back to the human vocation to be God’s “image bearers.” It corresponds to the pattern of God’s actions in and through Jesus Christ.  That is what Paul says in Colossians 1:15-17.

Colossians 1:15-17: “The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him.  He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.”

Second:

…if God intends that there should be power structures; if he wills that humans should find ways of running the world and bringing it to wise order–then, within a world in rebellion, this call to power translates all too easily into a temptation to the abuse of power.  As soon as you make someone a steward of creation…you challenge them to navigate past the temptation to use that power for their own advantage, to become, in other words, part of the problem to which they are supposed to be part of the solution….

Third:

…it is part of the inalienable task of God’s people, of those who worship the creator God, whom we see in Jesus and know through the Spirit, to speak the truth to power.  This calling will mean reminding governments, local councillors, authorities in every sphere, including church leaders, of their calling to selfless stewardship. It will mean pointing our fearlessly (but also humbly: arrogance will spoil the whole thing) where this trust is being abused, in whatever way. Once more, God is not nearly so interested in how rulers get to be rulers as he is in how they behave as rulers. That is why the church has the vital task of reminding them of their proper vocation and of calling them to account.

Fourth:

…it is the task of the followers of Jesus to remind those called to authority, in whatever sphere, that the God who made the world intends to put the world rights at the last. It isn’t simply a matter of reminding the authorities of duties they have always had.  It is a matter of calling them to acts of justice and mercy which will anticipate, in the present time, God’s final setting of all things to rights, God’s wiping away of every tear from every eye. This calling–which many authorities and rulers dimly recognize, though many alas glimpse it and turn away to more seductive options–is, whether people recognize it or not, the call to live under the lordship of Jesus Christ.

Wright summarizes:

The doing of justice and mercy in the present time by those called to power locally, nationally and globally is thus to be seen within the framework of the historical victory of Jesus in his death and resurrection and of the future, coming, final victory of God over all evil, all violence, all arrogant abuse of power.

And this:

It’s no good saying “Jesus is telling you to do this” to someone who has no time for Jesus. But if the church can translate what we believe Jesus would say into the language, and the coherent argument, of the wider world then such obedience can become a possibility.

Former Democratic Presidential Candidate Michael Bennet Reads Books

Michael Bennet during the New Hampshire Primary

I really enjoyed this New York Review of Books interview with Colorado Senator Michael Bennet. Susannah Jacob writes about Bennet: “Before he ran, he read history and journalism for “six or eight months” to moor himself by gaining a long view on the present threats to American democracy.  The authors he read included Frederick Douglass, Emma Lazarus, Jill Lepore, Nancy Isenberg, George Packer, Matthew Desmond Plutarch, Montesquieu, and David Blight.

Here is a taste of the interview:

You write about expanding the notion of our founders and adding people in our history and in contemporary life who expanded America’s progress—Frederick Douglass, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, José Martí, others. I would love for you to continue to explain and elaborate, but also clarify precisely what that means.

I think that the job of Americans since the founding—which we’ve never done perfectly, ever, including at the founding itself, obviously—has been to make this country more democratic, more fair, and more free. Small-d democratic, more fair, and more free. And to fight to force America to keep the promises that America made on the page, as Martin Luther King Jr. put it the night before he was killed in Memphis.

I still think that’s our job as American citizens. I believe every single one of us has the responsibility to be a founder. In our time what that means to me is, among other things, making sure that every single person that’s eligible to vote actually casts a vote in this country, and making sure that every kid in America who’s born poor has the chance to get out of that poverty, get a quality education, so they, too, can participate in the democracy.

How should we reckon with the original founders’ mistakes and, at the same time, take direction from them? How do you approach that?

I do that every single time I have a middle school class or a high school class come visit me. We talk about how the building they’re sitting in was built by enslaved human beings. Not this building, but the Capitol across the street.

And that leads to a discussion about Frederick Douglass, about the Civil War, about what was at stake, because I tell them the founders did two astonishing things in their generation: they led an armed insurrection against the colonial power that succeeded—we call that the Revolution—and they wrote a Constitution that was ratified by the people that would live under it.

They [also] did something horrific and reprehensible, which is that they perpetrated human slavery. It took other Americans to correct that terrible wrong, just as it took generations of Americans to fight so that women in this country would have the right to vote, so that my daughters could have the right to vote. I think of those people as founders, too, as consequential and as substantial as the people who wrote the Constitution.

How do the middle schoolers respond?

I hope what they take away from it is a sense that this wasn’t all just here. Two hundred and thirty years ago, none of this stuff was here, and there’s no reason to expect that it will still be here two hundred and thirty years [from now], unless we do our job.

How did your reading come up in conversations with people you met while campaigning?

George Packer’s Unwinding(2013), which is on that table somewhere, and Matthew Desmond’s Evicted (2016) both speak exactly to the underlying contemporary issues that we’re facing in our economy, an economy that for fifty years has not worked well for most Americans. When I’m on the campaign trail I hear people say, “We’re working really hard [and] can’t afford housing,” [or] healthcare, some combination of housing, healthcare, education, early childhood education. I think about the families in my school district who say, “We are killing ourselves, no matter what we do, we can’t get our kids out of poverty.”

Desmond does a very, very good job of close-quarter reporting back to America on the effects of federal housing policy, how it has made working peoples’ lives more difficult in many cases, not easier. And I think in Packer’s reporting, what you see is the strains on a democracy when you’ve got an economy that works well for the people at the very top but not for everybody else.

What about the history? Were there times when you were learning from exposure to people on the campaign trail, where you saw the parallels between observations made in the history to people you were meeting or what they were describing?

There’s really nothing new under the sun. I think we have a tendency to over-assess the novelty of new conditions that arise, and we also have an under-appreciation for the effect we can have as individuals on history. Including elected officials, but I wouldn’t say just elected officials.

Read the entire interview here.

The Trump Impeachment Has Revealed Three “Deep Flaws” in the Constitutional System

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Michael Gerhardt, a constitutional law professor at the University of North Carolina, writes at The Atlantic:

…few think that the acquittal of President Trump is a triumph for the Constitution. Instead, it reveals a different, disturbing lesson, about how the American political system—and the Constitution itself—might be fundamentally flawed.

Since the writing of the Constitution, three developments have substantially altered the effectiveness of impeachment as a check on presidential misconduct.

They are:

  1. Extreme partisanship
  2. The internet and social media
  3. The direct election of Senators

See how he develops these points here.

E.J. Dionne on Political Idolatry

Trump USA Today

Donald Trump at the National Prayer Breakfast

This morning I was on a local radio show in the Boston area.  When the host asked me what I thought about Christians getting involved in politics, I said, as I have before, that Christians who want to enter political life must be very careful about letting political ideology (of either party) co-opt their faith.

E.J. Dionne makes a similar point today at The Washington Post.  Here is a taste:

If you wonder why young people are leaving organized religion in droves, look no further than last week’s National Prayer Breakfast.

Many who care about religion and its fate have condemned President Trump’s vindictive, self-involved, God-as-an-afterthought speech at the annual gathering. By contrast, his backers were happy to say “Amen” as they prepared to exploit religion in one more election.

My Post colleague Michael Gerson, a beacon of moral clarity in the conservative evangelical world, noted that Trump’s address was a tribute to his “remarkable ability to corrupt, distort and discredit every institution he touches.”

Gerson is right, but I confess that there has always been something troubling about the prayer breakfast. I don’t doubt the sincerity of the faith of many of its organizers. There have been moments when politicians, including presidents, have used the occasion to promote humility in the face of God’s judgment and call each other to fellowship across their political differences.

Nonetheless, the whole exercise seems idolatrous. The gatherings encourage the suspicion that many politicians are there not because of God but because of their own political imperatives. They want to tell the world how religious they are and check the faith box on the advice of their political advisers. You worry that this is as much about preening as praying.

And, as historian Kevin Kruse pointed out in his book “One Nation Under God,” the prayer breakfast was a component of a public elevation of religion in the 1950s designed at least in part to serve the cause of conservative politics.

Read the rest here.

The *Believe Me* Book Tour Comes to Mechanicsburg Church of the Brethren

Church of Brethren

I had a great visit yesterday with an adult education class at Mechanicsburg (PA) Church of the Brethren.  The class is reading Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump and it was a privilege to be present to answer questions and talk more about the book.

We spent a lot of time exploring theological, political, and historical factors that led so many evangelical to support Trump in 2016, but we also talked about a vision for Christian politics defined by hope, humility, and an informed understanding of American history.  Class members had questions about abortion, “end times” theology, environmentalism, the 2020 election, and how to think more Christianly about political engagement.

As Christian political scientist Glenn Tinder explains, politics requires “attentiveness” and “availability.”  Attentive people are aware of what others are “doing, suffering, [and] saying.” But they also make themselves available.  They see the needs of the world and ask: “Is there anything I can do about it?”  If we think about politics this way, then churches are always engaged in political activity.  And if churches are always engaged in political activity, then it also has a responsibility to think deeply about how to exercise such engagement in accordance with scripture.

Thanks to Warren Eshbach for the invitation.

The Class War Within the Class War

It was going to happen sooner or later. The progressive wing of the Democratic Party appears to have split.  Some support Bernie Sanders.  Some support Elizabeth Warren.  Their non-aggression pact has apparently dissolved.

Over at FiveThirtyEight, Clare Malone argues that Sanders and Warren appeal to two  different progressive constituencies.  Here is a taste of her piece:

Sen. Elizabeth Warren played to a friendly crowd when she visited Brooklyn last week. The rally at King’s Theatre on Flatbush Avenue — an ornate people’s palace kind of joint with fleur de lis in the molding and vaudeville ghosts in the rafters — was a 4,800-person shot in the arm for her campaign, which had been flatlining of late. Julián Castro, young, Latino and recently out of the presidential race, had just endorsed Warren and there seemed to be a sense in the air — with a heavy hint from the mass-produced “We ❤ Julián” signs circulating — that the campaign was looking for a little good news out of the evening. The crowd scanned as largely young and professional, and a little girl sitting just in front of me waved another sign: “I’m running for president because that’s what girls do.”

Just under a week later, the Warren campaign would be at war with Sen. Bernie Sanders over Warren’s claim that Sanders told her in a private 2018 meeting that he didn’t think a woman could win the 2020 presidential election. This salvo from Warren’s camp was seen as a response to reports that talking points for Sanders volunteers characterized Warren as the choice of “highly educated, more affluent people,” a demographic both key to Democratic electoral success and associated with Hillary Clinton’s supposed out-of-touch elitism. Within a few hours, what had been a cold-war battle to define the left wing of the Democratic Party had gone hot. The handshake-that-wasn’t between Sanders and Warren at Tuesday night’s debate seemed to inflame tensions even more.

What’s curious, though, is that the rift isn’t over policy particulars. The Warren vs. Sanders progressivism fight seems to be more stylistic, an unexpectedly tense class war of sorts within the broader progressive class war. Should progressive populism be wonky and detail-oriented and appeal to college-educated former Clinton voters? Or a more contentious outsider assault on the powers-that-be from the overlooked millions of the middle and lower-middle class?

Read the rest here.