Biden replaces Andrew Jackson with Ben Franklin

Donald Trump did not find Andrew Jackson; Andrew Jackson found him. When historians and pundits began to compare Trump the populist with Jackson the populist, the candidate took notice. Moreover, Jackson was a favorite of Steve Bannon, Trump’s political adviser and 2016 campaign manager. By the time Trump entered the White House in late January 2017, an 1835 Ralph E.W. Earle portrait of Andrew Jackson was hanging in the Oval Office.

As of January 20, 2021, the Ralph Earle portrait of Jackson is gone. Joe Biden replaced it with a portrait of Benjamin Franklin.

Here is Sarah Cascone at Artnet News:

Biden’s team swapped a portrait of Andrew Jackson—a populist president revered by Donald Trump—for one of Founding Father and inventor Benjamin Franklin, a switch that has been seen as symbolic of Biden’s reverence for science.

The Franklin painting, a 1785 canvas by Joseph Siffred Duplessis, was actually already on view in the Oval Office during Trump’s tenure, but is now in a more prominent position next to the Resolute Desk. The work is on loan from the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery, along with a Martin Luther King Jr. bust by Charles Alston that has been at the White House since the year 2000 and is now on display on the mantlepiece.

On the day of Biden’s inauguration, Trump evangelical John MacArthur tweets that the U.S. is officially “one nation in rebellion to God”

The Biden administration is here. What are the last president’s most loyal evangelicals saying about the inauguration?

John MacArthur, the pastor of Grace Community Church in Los Angeles, fired the first shot:

I will just let this one sit for a while…

Eric Metaxas did not do a live show today.

The Liberty University’s Falkirk Center, the center of Trump evangelicalism, thanked Donald Trump:

And then the Liberty’s Falkirk Center offered a backhanded offer of prayer to Joe Biden:

Charlie Kirk, the co-founder of Liberty University’s Falkirk Center, just couldn’t take a day off from his vitriol:

Liberty University Falkirk Center fellow Jenna Ellis was in rare form today:

I am guessing that Jenna Ellis believes she spent the last several months doing the “will of God” as Trump’s “election fraud” lawyer:

This one is rich:

God and country. Christian nationalism at its worst:

Ellis retweeted the aforementioned John MacArthur tweet about the kingdom of darkness.

I don’t have time tonight to process Lance Wallnau’s latest one hour reflection about whether the prophets got it right or wrong, but it is here if you want to see it.

Christian Broadcasting Network journalist David Brody liked Biden’s speech, to a point:

I don’t remember Richard Land praying to support Donald Trump “when we can do without violating our consciences”:

I hope Land is right about this. As a never-Trumper, praying for Trump was hard. It’s not going to be easy for conservative evangelicals to pray for this president.

On his Facebook page, Jack Hibbs concludes that Biden’s decision to change the U.S. Ambassador to Israel into the “U.S. Ambassador to Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza “insults the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.”

Jim Garlow is still holding his election integrity prayer meetings. Here is Garlow at his Facebook page:

Today was painful. To watch a nation take gigantic steps toward self destruction was overwhelming. The undoing of wonderful prolife policies (as one example) of President Trump by Biden is heartbreaking and will result in even more deaths. Then to watch some “evangelicals” and people from the “holiness movement” (not sure how much “holiness” has survived…and not sure if it is a “movement” anymore) falling all over themselves in delight, ushering in a man who is ….how do I say this respectfully? ….who is, at best, mentally challenged (I think he should be cared for medically & helped; do you REALLY believe this man can handle the world’s most difficult job??), it has been a challenging day. 74,000,000 of us love our country too much to see it end.

And here is Garlow reflecting on his court evangelicalism:

APPROXIMATELY NOON EASTERN TIME – JAN 20, 2021 – I will forever be grateful for the wonderful privilege of serving on (1) the Trump Faith Advisory Board during the 2016 election, (2) the White House Faith Leaders during much of Mr. Trump’s presidency, and (3) as a Stakeholder with Evangelicals for Trump during the 2020 election. It was one of the great honors of my life. The two pictures were sent to me on Election day, November 3, 2020, taken at the same moment – from opposite angles – by two different friends. I did not know these pictures existed until I received them two months ago.

Here is one of the aforementioned pictures of Garlow in the court:

Robert Jeffress had a word or two at Fox News:

Ralph Reed is already spinning the pro-Trump legacy narrative:

Johnnie Moore wished Biden well:

Gary Bauer thanks Trump, says nothing about Biden:

Tony Perkins give an unqualified call to pray for Biden:

Jack Graham also offers an unqualified offer of prayer:

The same goes for Jentezen Franklin:

Franklin Graham:

Joe Biden’s Bible

Biden will be sworn in on Wednesday with his hand on an old family Catholic Bible. Kamala Harris will use Thurgood Marshall’s Bible.

Here is a taste of Dan Silliman’s piece at Christianity Today:

Presidents are not required to take the oath of office on a Bible—and some haven’t. Lyndon Johnson swore to “faithfully execute the Office of the United States” and “preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution” on a Catholic prayer book. The missal was the most holy text his aides could find on the airplane back to Washington DC, after John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas in 1963.

But almost all the US presidents have taken their oath on a Bible, and frequently they have chosen a historically significant copy. Kamala Harris will be sworn in as vice president on the Bible owned by Thurgood Marshall, the first black justice on the US Supreme Court. Trump was sworn in on Lincoln’s Bible and Obama used Lincoln and Martin Luther King Jr.’s Bibles.

Biden likely had his choice of historically significant copies, ranging from the one used by Kennedy, the first Catholic elected president, to the one owned by Harriet Tubman, the abolitionist leader who risked re-enslavement more than a dozen times to lead scores of people to freedom. One popular choice among American presidents has been George Washington’s copy of the Scripture. Briggs said when presidents choose that, they’re creating a connection with the country’s founding and renewing a commitment to the principles of the Bible.

“The oath of office links us all together as Americans. And it represents the reality that we are drawing together, by way of the president, as one nation under God, on principles of pursuing justice, proclaiming liberty, and loving your neighbor,” he said.

The choice of a family Bible points to another kind of connection too, according to Paul Gutjahr, professor of English at Indiana University and author of An American Bible.

“Biden strikes me as a guy who is very interested in underlining the communities that were formational for him,” he said. “Family. Church. The towns he’s lived in. The continuity seems really important to him. He wants to show the longevity of his rootedness.”

Read the entire piece here.

“You never want to be ranked below William Henry Harrison, who was only president for one month.”

The quote in the title of this post comes from presidential historian Douglas Brinkley. He adds, “if you rank below [Harrison], it means you’ve harmed the country…Now you’re getting into James Buchanan and Andrew Johnson territory. Trump will automatically be in that category.” Over at The Washington Post, several historians discussed the Trump presidency with reporter David Nakamura.

Matthew Dallek:

Trump’s relentless attacks on civic institutions, provoking of racial and social divisions, trampling of political norms, broadsides against the free press and impugning of America’s international allies have raised profound questions about the nature of American governance and the endurance of the values the United States has long professed to cherish, scholars said.

“Trump and Trumpism have brought those flaws into sharp relief,” said Matthew Dallek, a political historian at George Washington University. “The fact that 74 million people could vote for someone who is a conspiracy theorist and a perpetual liar and encouraged violence and the Proud Boys and white supremacy — in that sense, the Trump presidency will be important for those reckoning with: ‘What does it mean to be an American?’ And also: ‘What does it mean to live in what a lot of people thought was the world’s greatest experiment in democracy, when it turns out that experiment is incredibly fragile?’ ”

Joseph Crespino:

Yet scholars said other records, such as memos and interviews with aides, are more tenuous. Some worried that Trump and his associates will destroy documents despite laws meant to preserve them, while others voiced concerns that White House aides, who like their boss have a record of misleading the public, will be unreliable narrators of his presidency.

“I wonder if there will be the same documentation of Trump’s own decision-making and processes that we have with other presidents,” said Joseph Crespino, a history professor at Emory University in Atlanta. “He’s not a reader or a note-taker or a memo writer. That will be a challenge.”

Nicole Hemmer:

Historians “will think less in terms of analogy [to past presidents] and think more in terms of puncturing the mythic past that both Trump and the people opposed to him alight on — that America had a pure form of democracy that we either lost because of Trump or that Trump brought back,” said Nicole Hemmer, a historian who specializes in conservative media and is working on the Obama Presidency Oral History at Columbia University.

“There’s a lot more continuity here than we might think,” Hemmer said. “We might not be able to pluck one person out of the past and say that is what Donald Trump is like. But we can understand that throughout American history there has been racism and fascism and anti-democratic forces and say he is drawing from those powerful influences.”

Leah Wright-Rigeuer:

To Leah Wright-Rigueur, associate professor of American history at Brandeis University, Trump’s presidency has been a case study in the “naked, unadulterated pursuit of power and self-interest, at the cost of 400,000 lives and at the cost of the American union.”

She added that Trump’s four years have dramatically exposed what racial minorities and other marginalized Americans have long understood — that the nation’s democracy has always been “brutal, exclusionary and flawed” for many citizens.

Read the entire piece here.

When one member of the House of Representatives tried to impeach Thomas Jefferson

I’ll bet you didn’t know that in 1809 Josiah Quincy (MA), the only Federalist in Congress, tried to impeach Thomas Jefferson. His attempt failed by a vote of 117 to 1.

Andrew Fagal, associate editor of the Papers of Thomas Jefferson at Princeton, tells us more in his recent piece at The Washington Post. Here is a taste:

On Jan. 25, 1809, Quincy rose to denounce the president as he had done numerous times in the past. This time was different, as Quincy alleged that Jefferson had failed to carry out his duties as chief executive. The president’s “high misdemeanor,” according to Quincy, was that he kept Benjamin Lincoln, the customs collector for the port of Boston, in federal office despite the man’s protestations that he was too old, and too feeble, to do his job. In 1806 Lincoln had written to Jefferson proposing to resign his office, but Jefferson asked him to stay on until he had appointed a successor. The president did so to nominate Henry Dearborn, his friend and the secretary of war, to this important position before his eventual retirement to Monticello. Jefferson wanted to reward his longtime ally with the Boston collectorship, but first, he needed to keep the long-serving Dearborn in the War Department until the foreign crisis with Great Britain over trade restrictions and the impressment of American sailors was resolved.

Quincy saw it differently, alleging that Jefferson unfairly allowed a federal official to be paid a $5,000 annual salary “for doing no services.”

Quincy’s motion received intense pushback in the floor debate that followed, as both Democratic-Republicans and Federalists objected to it. Seventeen Congressmen in total spoke against even considering the resolution, a high number for any House debate at the time. Thomas Gholson, an administration ally from Virginia labeled Quincy’s impeachment attempt as a “ridiculous proposition” while William A. Burwell, Jefferson’s former private secretary now a Virginia Congressman, referred to the ploy as something out of “Gulliver’s Travels.”

Read the entire piece here.

Biden inauguration ceremony will include Jennifer Lopez and Lady Gaga

Here is the announcement.

On the religious front, Father Leo O’Donovan, president-emeritus at Georgetown University, will give the invocation. Reverend Dr. Silvester Beaman, pastor of Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Wilmington, will deliver the benediction.

Other participants include Andrea Hall, the President of the International Association of Firefighters Local 3920 and Amanda Gordon, the first-ever National Youth Poet Laureate.

Learn more here.

Today Ted Cruz appealed to the Compromise of 1877. Why that isn’t such a good idea.

Earlier today, Ted Cruz invoked the election of the 1876 and the so-called “Compromise of 1877” as a model for dealing with supposed election fraud in the 2020 presidential election.

Watch:

Let’s set the record straight on what actually happened in the Election of 1876 and its immediate aftermath.

Samuel Tilden, a Democrat from New York, won the popular vote by 250,000 votes over Ohio Republican Rutherford B. Hayes. The GOP challenged the Electoral College votes. Tilden won 184 electoral votes (1 short of the 185 needed for victory) and Hayes won 165 votes. But 20 electoral votes were disputed. Three southern states, Florida, Louisiana, and South Carolina sent two sets of electoral votes to Washington D.C. Who would get these electoral votes?

In January 1877, Congress created an Electoral Commission made-up of five senators, five representatives, and five Supreme Court justices. This is the commission Ted Cruz referenced in his speech today. Eight members of the commission were Republicans and seven members of the commission were Democrats. The commission voted on partisan lines and gave twenty electoral votes from Florida, Louisiana, and South Carolina to Hayes. Democratic congressmen said they would try to block Hayes’s inauguration. This led to the so-called Compromise of 1877, an agreement that gave Hayes the presidency in exchange for a new transcontinental railroad running through Texas, a Southern cabinet member (Hayes appointed a postmaster general from Tennessee), the removal of northern troops from the South, and the right to deal with freed slaves without northern interference.

The Compromise of 1877 brought an end to the Reconstruction era, the post-Civil War movement that freed the slaves and gave them citizenship and the right to vote. The U.S. military, under the direction of the radical Republican Congress, enforced Reconstruction in the South. After Hayes took office, he removed U.S. troops from the South and gave the region “home rule.” In other words, the president abandoned the freed slaves and all those working for racial justice and Black civil rights. With the troops gone, Southern leaders started the work of “redeeming” the region. This meant that they stopped enforcing the 14th Amendment (Black citizenship), the 15th Amendment (the right to vote), and the Civil Rights Acts of 1866. Segregation and Jim Crow would follow. It would last until the 1960s and we are still dealing with its aftermath today.

As South Carolina senator Lindsey Graham said tonight on the floor of the Senate: “if you are looking for historical guidance, this [the Compromise of 1877] is not the one to pick.”

Some quick thoughts on the CNN documentary “Jimmy Carter: Rock and Roll President”

I’ve always been a Jimmy Carter fan, so I was eager to watch Mary Wharton‘s documentary “Jimmy Carter: Rock and Roll President” last Sunday night. On one level, it did not disappoint. I knew very little about Carter’s relationship with Bob Dylan, Willie Nelson, the Allman Brothers, Johnny Cash, and Jimmy Buffett. For example, the part of the documentary that covered the 1976 Democratic primary was fascinating. The Allmans, Cash, Nelson, and Buffett backed Carter. The Eagles and Linda Ronstadt backed California governor Jerry Brown. It was no contest. Carter and his southern rockers crushed Brown and helped the Georgia peanut farmer win the presidency against Gerald Ford in November.

As you see above, the documentary includes interviews with some heavy hitters, including Carter and his son Chip. The former president tells some hilarious stories about his relationship with some of these artists, including one about Chip smoking pot on the roof of the White House with Willie Nelson.

This is a great documentary, but I wish Wharton would have said more about how Carter thought about the connections between his love of popular music and his evangelical faith. Wharton includes footage of Carter teaching Sunday School. She occasionally shows the interior and exterior of Carter’s church in Plains, Georgia. She includes a clip of Carter talking about how he explained his Christian faith to Bob Dylan when the folk hero visited the Georgia governor’s mansion. Carter also seems to have had an influence on the faith-based music and activism of Bono. But the faith angle is too peripheral to the story Wharton tells. For example, what did Carter and Dylan talk about? Did Carter have a theology of popular culture that allowed him to reconcile rock music with his Christian faith? How did he respond to his evangelical critics, the kind of critics who would eventually rally against him to form the Christian Right and boost Ronald Reagan’s victory over Carter in the 1980 election? Christianity shaped Carter’s moral core, but Wharton doesn’t seem interested in how his Christianity informed his love of Dylan, Nelson, Cash, etc. This was a missed opportunity.

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.

The Library of Congress’ Presidential Papers are now online

Here The Smithsonian:

Though it’s not quite the same as being in the room where it happened, poring over Thomas Jefferson’s handwritten rough draft of the Declaration of Independence—complete with edits and scratched-out words—will likely offer any American history buff a thrill.

Thanks to the completion of a major digitization project by the Library of Congress (LOC), that 1776 document and millions of others are now available for all to study and explore. As the Washington, D.C. cultural institution announced this week, a two-decade campaign to digitize all of the presidential papers in its collections has drawn to a close with the archives of presidents Grover ClevelandBenjamin HarrisonWilliam Howard Taft and Calvin Coolidge.

All told, archivists digitized the papers of 23 American presidents, from George Washington to Coolidge. Per a statement, staff uploaded more than 3.3 million images to the online portal. (The National Archives and Records Administration, which is also based in D.C., oversees the presidential libraries of 31st President Herbert Hoover and his successors.)

Read the rest here.

When it comes to presidents quoting scripture and spiritual writers, Joe Biden may surpass Barack Obama

In 2012, I asked readers of my now defunct Patheos column if they would vote for a man who:

…gives praise and honor to God before a public audience?

…wants to seek God’s face with other believers?

…admits that prayer humbles him?

…extolls the benefit of turning to our Creator and listening to Him?

…is motivated by faith and values in the midst of troubled times?

…wakes up every morning and prays, reads the Bible, and has “devotions?”

…is being spiritual mentored and discipled by evangelical pastors?

…claims that his Christian faith motivates him as a leader?

…tries to practice God’s command to love our neighbors as ourselves?

…believes in Jesus’s words: “for unto much is given, much shall be required”?

…tries to follow the biblical call to care for the “least of these.”

…quotes C.S. Lewis in speeches?

…believes that Christians should be “doers of the word and not merely hearers?”

…wants to work toward building the kingdom of God on earth?

…is a loving husband and supportive father?

…prayed with Billy Graham?

…believes the Holy Spirit intervenes in his life, prompting him toward action?

I continued:

If you answered yes to a majority of these questions, you might consider voting for Barack Obama in November. Check out his recent remarks at the National Prayer Breakfast. It’s all in there.

Obama may be the most explicitly Christian president in American history. If we analyze his language in the same way that historians examine the religious language of the Founding Fathers or even George W. Bush, we will find that Obama’s piety, use of the Bible, and references to Christian faith and theology put most other American presidents to shame on this front. I think there may be good reasons why some people will not vote for Obama in November, but his commitment to Christianity is not one of them.

Read the entire column here.

Joe Biden may give Obama a run for his money.

Here is Jack Jenkins at Religion News Service:

President-elect Joe Biden marked his Electoral College win with a religious flair, citing Scripture and the Prayer of St. Francis during his victory speech.

Members of the Electoral College voted in all 50 states and the District of Columbia on Monday (Dec. 15), formalizing Biden’s 306-232 win over incumbent Donald Trump. 

The president-elect marked the moment with a speech in Delaware, where he declared “the rule of law, our Constitution and the will of the people prevailed” over multiple efforts by Trump and his allies to challenge the results of the election. 

Biden’s rhetoric took a turn for the spiritual near the close of his speech, when he made reference to the biblical passage of Matthew 16:18.

“As we start the hard work to be done, may this moment give us the strength to rebuild this house of ours upon a rock that can never be washed away,” he said.

Biden, a Catholic, then invoked the Prayer of St. Francis by name, saying, “for where there is discord, union; where there is doubt, faith, where there is darkness, light.”

Read the rest here.

This year Biden also quoted Ecclesiastes 3, Psalm 28, referenced a song based on Isaiah 40, and said that human beings are created in the “image of God.” Not a bad start.

John Gehring of Faith in Public Life thinks there is more to come:

Barack Obama talks about writing his memoir

I am reading Obama’s memoir A Promised Land with my daughter. Actually, Caroline is listening to the audio version and I am reading the text. She is about a chapter ahead of me. This morning we exchanged notes at lunch. “Fired up, ready to go!”

Over at The New York Times, Michiko Kakutani has a nice piece on Obama the presidential memoir writer. She writes about what Obama has read and how his reading informs his writing.

While he was writing “A Promised Land,” Mr. Obama did not read a lot of books — maybe because he was “worried about finding excuses to procrastinate,” maybe because he gets swept up in books he particularly enjoys and can hear those authors’ voices in his head. But when he finished writing “A Promised Land,” he eagerly turned to his friend Marilynne Robinson’s new novel “Jack,” the latest in her Gilead series, and Ayad Akhtar’s “Homeland Elegies,” which he describes as “a powerful and searching examination of contemporary American politics and attitudes.”

What literature would he recommend to someone who just arrived in America and wanted to understand this complex, sometimes confounding country?

Off the top of his head, says Mr. Obama, he’d suggest Whitman’s poetry, Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby,” Ellison’s “Invisible Man,” Steinbeck’s “The Grapes of Wrath,” Morrison’s “Song of Solomon,” “just about anything by Hemingway or Faulkner” and Philip Roth, whose novels capture that “sense of the tension around ethnic groups trying to assimilate, what does it mean to be American, what does it mean to be on the outside looking in?”

As for nonfiction: autobiographies of Frederick Douglass and Malcolm X, Thoreau’s “Walden,” Emerson’s “Self-Reliance,” Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address, Dr. King’s “Letter From Birmingham Jail.” And Alexis de Tocqueville’s “Democracy in America,” which makes us remember, Mr. Obama said, “that America really was a break from the old world. It’s something we now take for granted or lose sight of, in part because a lot of modern culture so embodies certain elements of America.”

Read the entire piece here.

Barack Obama on the possibility of America

Barack Obama believes in America. Conservatives who think he is a socialist may not believe him. The champions of identity politics who have given-up on America will be angry with him. Christian nationalists will not like how he thinks about the “possibility of America.” Neo-Anabaptists will offer critiques of his nationalism.

The Atlantic just published an excerpt of Obama’s new memoir, A Promised Land. I find myself in agreement with most of these words:

Beyond the struggle to put words on a page, what I didn’t fully anticipate was the way events would unfold during the more than three and a half years that have passed since that last flight on Air Force One. The country is in the grips of a global pandemic and an accompanying economic crisis, with more than 230,000 Americans dead, businesses shuttered, and millions of people out of work. Across the nation, people from all walks of life have poured into the streets to protest the deaths of unarmed Black men and women at the hands of the police. Perhaps most troubling of all, our democracy seems to be teetering on the brink of crisis—a crisis rooted in a fundamental contest between two opposing visions of what America is and what it should be; a crisis that has left the body politic divided, angry, and mistrustful, and has allowed for an ongoing breach of institutional norms, procedural safeguards, and the adherence to basic facts that both Republicans and Democrats once took for granted.

This contest is not new, of course. In many ways, it has defined the American experience. It’s embedded in founding documents that could simultaneously proclaim all men equal and yet count a slave as three-fifths of a man. It finds expression in our earliest court opinions, as when the chief justice of the United States bluntly explains to Native Americans that their tribe’s rights to convey property aren’t enforceable, because the court of the conqueror has no capacity to recognize the just claims of the conquered. It’s a contest that’s been fought on the fields of Gettysburg and Appomattox but also in the halls of Congress; on a bridge in Selma, Alabama; across the vineyards of California; and down the streets of New York—a contest fought by soldiers but more often by union organizers, suffragists, Pullman porters, student leaders, waves of immigrants, and LGBTQ activists, armed with nothing more than picket signs, pamphlets, or a pair of marching shoes. At the heart of this long-running battle is a simple question: Do we care to match the reality of America to its ideals? If so, do we really believe that our notions of self-government and individual freedom, equality of opportunity and equality before the law, apply to everybody? Or are we instead committed, in practice if not in statute, to reserving those things for a privileged few?

I recognize that there are those who believe that it’s time to discard the myth—that an examination of America’s past and an even cursory glance at today’s headlines show that this nation’s ideals have always been secondary to conquest and subjugation, a racial caste system and rapacious capitalism, and that to pretend otherwise is to be complicit in a game that was rigged from the start. And I confess that there have been times during the course of writing my book, as I’ve reflected on my presidency and all that’s happened since, when I’ve had to ask myself whether I was too tempered in speaking the truth as I saw it, too cautious in either word or deed, convinced as I was that by appealing to what Lincoln called the better angels of our nature I stood a greater chance of leading us in the direction of the America we’ve been promised.

I don’t know. What I can say for certain is that I’m not yet ready to abandon the possibility of America—not just for the sake of future generations of Americans but for all of humankind. 

Read the entire excerpt here.

Oklahoma Senator James Lankford: “I can assure you there will be a peaceful transition of power in the United States”

In an interview with a Tulsa radio station, James Lankford, a conservative Republican Senator from Oklahoma, said Joe Biden is “entirely in his right” to start preparing for the presidency, but he also defends Trump’s right to wait for recounts and all the votes to be counted. This is the best we can expect from a conservative like Lankford.

I really appreciate the way the host of the show pushed-back on some of Lankford’s answers. He forced Lankford to say that Biden deserves to get presidential briefings. If this does not happen by Friday, Lankford said, he will “step-in” to make sure it happens.

Lankford also says that he would not have fired former Secretary of Defense Mark Esper.

Listen here.

How Donald Trump changed the presidency

The Washington Post reporter David Montgomery offers twenty ways Donald Trump changed the presidency.

  1. He profited personally from his official business as president
  2. He did not release his tax returns
  3. He refused oversight
  4. He interfered in Department of Justice investigations
  5. He abused appointment power
  6. He “insulted allies while cozying up to authoritarians”
  7. He coarsened presidential discourse
  8. He politicized the military
  9. He attacked judges

Read the rest here.

*The Atlantic*: “Mr. Trump, Tear Down This Wall” (around the White House)

If you have visited Washington D.C. lately you have seen Trump’s wall. Jeffrey Goldberg, the editor of The Atlantic, echoes Ronald Reagan’s 1987 words to Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev.

Here is a taste:

Do not say that Donald Trump failed to build his wall. He built it. But he built it in Washington, D.C., not along the southern border, and he built it to shield himself from his fellow citizens, not to shield his fellow citizens from the existential threat posed by Mexican job-seekers.

The White House today is hidden behind a welter of barricades, anti-scale fencing, bollards, and Jersey barriers. The tens of thousands of people who flooded downtown D.C. in a celebratory release of pent-up anti-Trump feeling this weekend could barely see the people’s house. Lafayette Square, the scene of one of Trump’s most vulgar assaults on core American values, is now impenetrable. The White House fortress is a physical manifestation of Trump’s loathing for transparency and accountability, and it should be undone. The decent thing for Trump to do—though he seldom declines an opportunity to do the indecent thing—would be to disassemble this crude obstacle course before he leaves Washington for good.

Most presidents have taken seriously the idea of the White House as the “people’s house.” Most have not gone as far as Andrew Jackson (a hero of Trump’s), who let a mob of his supporters overrun the house on Inauguration Day (something Trump would never do, given the way he actually feels about his supporters), but most presidents understand the nature of their tenancy. The house is meant to be the home of a citizen chosen by other citizens to lead the executive branch for a finite period. It is definitively not meant to be a palace.

Read the rest here.

Thoughts on Biden’s speech tonight

This morning Joe Biden became the president-elect. Tonight he celebrated. Kamala Harris spoke first and then introduced Biden.

I live-tweeted:

Harris began with John Lewis. Who is John Lewis? Get up to speed with these posts.

Harris gave a shoutout to the real heroes of this election. Democracy survived this week because of the work of these women and men:

Kamala Harris was wearing a white pantsuit, presumably to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the 19th amendment. Here is historian Chris Gehrz:

Kamala Harris is the first woman VP in American history. I am the father of two daughters:

There was a pro-family vibe tonight that I have not seen since Obama:

Biden came out looking fit and ready to go. And yes, Springsteen was involved!

I wrote a piece about this Springsteen song back in 2012:

A great day for educators, especially those of us who study and teach in the humanities. Jill Biden is a professor of English at Northern Virginia Community College. She plans to continue teaching during Joe’s presidency. One of our own is in the White House!

There was a lot of historical references–direct and indirect–in tonight’s Biden speech:

And some American civil religion:

Biden wants to bring the country together. He will have his work cut out for him:

In addition to Ecclesiastes, Biden referenced this popular Christian song:

And yes, this was sung at my wedding in 1994.

Evangelicals liked this song too, Kevin! 🙂 It was a fixture of the evangelical “praise song” movement:

It was a good day for the United States of America

A reading group has read a biography of American president

This is a great story. Here is Southwest Journal (MN):

Every few months for more than a decade, Lynnhurst residents Jan Emerson and Tama Pudvah have met up with Linden Hills resident Lynne Nyustek at a local restaurant to share food over a lively discussion of an American president’s biography.

Starting in 2009, the three women have chronologically read the biographies of the first 44 American presidents, averaging about four books a year. Born out of a love of history, the book club will soon discuss the biography of Barack Obama. Then they’ll most likely take a break.

“We’ve been debating, honestly, whether we can stomach Trump at this point,” Pudvah said.  “I think Obama’s our last one for now.”

Read the rest here.