With Sen. Pat Toomey retiring, and the GOP split between Trumpism and traditional conservatism, the 2022 Republican senate primary is going to be a war. There are several potential MAGA candidates for the GOP nomination, including Guy Reschenthaler, Doug Mastriano, and Mike Kelly. Pennsylvania also has a long history of electing moderate Republicans. Ryan Costello (see below) and Charlie Dent (who is all over CNN these days) are possible moderate candidates.
Pennsylvania Republican Sen. Pat Toomey isn’t running for reelection in 2022. But his vote to convict former President Donald Trump is already rocking the race to succeed him.
County parties have censured Toomey, prompting backlash from centrists and even some Trump supporters who think the efforts will hurt the GOP in upcoming elections. Former Rep. Ryan Costello, a moderate Republican eyeing a bid for the Senate, has publicly come to Toomey’s defense in the wake of his vote. Former Trump aides, in turn, are making plans to torpedo Costello before he announces a campaign.
The turmoil is the latest evidence that Trump’s departure from office has not at all diminished his role in the GOP — in Pennsylvania, in fact, the primary is likely to be a proxy fight between Trump loyalists and those who believe the former president damaged the party’s ability to compete here.
“Any candidate who wants to win in Pennsylvania in 2022 must be full Trump MAGA,” said Steve Bannon, a former White House chief strategist to Trump.
The back-and-forth over Toomey’s vote is also exacerbating party fissures in a state where Republicans lost Senate and gubernatorial contests in 2018 and the presidential contest in 2020. The intraparty tensions could damage Republican prospects in 2022, when control of both the House and the Senate will be up for grabs.
The Pennsylvania Senate race in 2022 is a must-win seat for Republicans, and there will be a critical gubernatorial election that year in the state as well.
The number of the president’s advisers and friends is getting smaller and smaller by the day. We are now in a race to January 20, 2020 and are all hoping the lame duck president does nothing stupid. As I type, David Gergen is on CNN saying that this is the “most dangerous point of the Trump presidency.”
Meanwhile, the folks at the Liberty University Falkirk Center are still fighting for the president. They are still talking about “standing on truth.” This is getting embarrassing. What “line” are they holding? What “stand” are they taking? They support a president who pardons murderers and crooks, cannot tell the truth, vetoes aid to suffering Americans, and is trying to undermine the presidential election. Is this standing up for the Gospel? Really?
Humility and repentance? Seriously? Have you read your Twitter feeds lately?
Charlie Kirk is the founder of the Liberty University Falkirk Center. He is upset about the COVID-19 relief bill and wants the government to give more money to the American people. I think Kirk and the Democratic Party may have found some common ground. I am sure Nancy Pelosi would love Kirk’s help in getting more cash to ordinary Americans.
Kirk is saying nothing about Trump’s veto of the bipartisan defense bill. Trump vetoed the bill because it would provide the funds necessary to rename ten military bases currently named for Confederate leaders.
Jenna Ellis, a fellow at the Liberty University Falkirk Center, is also in favor of more government spending on the stimulus. Maybe she should be working for Pelosi instead of Trump.
Eric Metaxas is in legal trouble. But he is still pushing the election fraud narrative. He claims that there are “forces at work that are as wicked as we have ever seen” and Americans don’t truly understand “evil.” Then he compares anyone who “looks the other way” on this so-called “election fraud” to the “evil” of the Chinese communists. “If you can’t take this seriously,” Metaxas says, “I can’t take you seriously.” He says that unless Biden is stopped “we cannot move forward as a country” because God is on Trump’s side. He knows a Trump victory is “God’s will.” Watch:
Lance Wallnau also believes God is on Trump’s side:
Court evangelical David Brody interviews Metaxas. Metaxas thinks Trump will win because “more and more Americans” believe the election is rigged. This is interview clarifies the nature of Metaxas’s mission right now. He wants to instill enough doubt and fear in the minds and hearts of ordinary evangelicals so that they do something to stop Biden’s inauguration. What will happen when the Senate certifies the vote of the Electoral College on January 6 and when Biden is inaugurated on January 20. Does that mean he was wrong about God’s will? Will he call for an insurrection–a holy war of sorts?
Brody also interviewed Newt Gingrich. The former Speaker of the House believes the Democrats stole the election, but the legal team needs to do a better job:
In this tweet Brody makes it sound like he is either waiting for the rapture or a strong weather system:
Christmas is tomorrow, but David Barton is still fighting over the Thanksgiving. In this piece, he tries to argue that there are two Americas. One has its roots in Jamestown and slavery and the other has its roots in the Pilgrims and liberty. And, of course, he calls us to follow the example of the Pilgrims. (Of course he fails to note that much of the theology the Pilgrims brought to America influenced pro-slavery ideas in the 19th century). This reminds me of when Barton was on the Eric Metaxas show and said that both Jamestown and Plymouth were “Christian” colonies, but only Plymouth was “biblical.”
Former Minnesota congressperson Michelle Bachmann will lead the Pat Robertson School of Government at Regent University. She is hoping to expand the university’s “biblical worldview.” Tony Perkins is very excited about it:
Jack Hibbs supports the president’s decision to veto the stimulus package:
Went to vote today 12/21/2020 early voting and while standing in line; a white car parks across the street in front of Island’s Library on Whitemarsh Island, GA in front of voting entrance. The car is not in a parking space and the driver had on the emergency blinking lights. They rushed to the voting area door and went inside. I took a picture of their car when I noticed it had a Florida tag. A few minutes they returned with a green plastic container. They opened their trunk and then went to the back seat of the car and removed bags that looked like empty suitcases and put them in the trunk. One lady grabbed a small bag that had writing on it saying “Secure the Vote”. They packed the green plastic container, put it in the car and drove off. They could be legitimate but I was left wondering after I enlarged the picture of the container and it said, “Absentee ballots to be processed”. Tell me if you are suspicious?
Robert Jeffress is on Fox News giving leadership advice, praising Trump for his leadership, and attacking Biden. He calls Trump “President Trump” and he calls Biden “Joe.”
Franklin Graham praises Newt:
Finally, I am struck today by how the Twitter feeds of the court evangelicals are filled with tweets about Christmas miracles interspersed, almost seamlessly, with election fraud tweets. This is sad. Because these Christian men and women are enabling the worst president of the United States. This president’s immorality and shamelessness make Andrew Johnson, James Buchanan, and Richard Nixon look like saints.
Today on court evangelical Eric Metaxas’s radio show he played white nationalist Alt-right leader Steve Bannon’s speech to the “election integrity” prayer meeting run by fellow court evangelical Jim Garlow. In August, Bannon was indicted for wire fraud and money laundering in relation to the We Build the Wall fundraising campaign. Metaxas says that “every syllable” Bannon uttered during the prayer meeting was “gloriously important.”
Bannon tells the evangelical leaders on the call:
“If we lose this fight to really secure and close on this massive landslide victory that President Trump won on November 3, we’re gonna cease to be a republic.”
That Trump’s victory in 2016 “was providential” because he “stood up to the elites.”
That Trump “overwhelmingly” won Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, Georgia, Arizona, and New Mexico.
To “put pressure” on their state legislatures.
Not to let Joe Biden “take control of this government.”
To call Georgia governor Brian Kemp and Arizona governor Doug Ducey even if they do not live in that state.
That Trump gave them a voice.
If one of the “contested” states decertifies the election, people will take to the streets and it will make June  look like a church picnic.”
They must “bet it all” on Trump because the “Holy Spirit works through human instruments.”
That on November 3, “we had an election stolen in the dark of night.”
Garlow gets on after Bannon is done and says that this is a “battle between good and evil.” Then he promotes Bannon’s Alt-right radio program.
Metaxas listens and takes notes. I have never seen him this quiet for so long.
The waning days of the Trump presidency are upon us. It seems like more and more of Trump’s supporters are accepting this reality, but the president has not. Over the weekend Trump met with Michael Flynn, Steve Bannon, Sidney Powell and Peter Navarro to talk about how to overturn the 2020 presidential election. Meanwhile, outgoing Attorney General William Barr said, once again, that there was no election fraud.
Russia is attacking the United States. But Trump, who rarely reads intelligence briefs, thinks it is China. Barr believes it is Russia. So does Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. So does just about every other else.
More and more people are getting the COVID-19 vaccine. Trump could take credit for this vaccine and thus end his presidency with what Mitt Romney recently described as a “victory lap.” But why would Trump do this when he can get the old gang back together (Bannon, Flynn, Giuliani) and try to overturn the 2020 presidential election?
The Liberty University Falkirk Center is fighting to the end. Jerry Falwell Jr. might be out at the Christian university, but his legacy at Liberty University lives on through the Twitter feeds of Charlie Kirk, Jenna Ellis, Eric Metaxas, Sebastian Gorka, and others.
Ignore public health officials:
Apparently everything is open on Liberty University’s campus:
Earlier today, I posted about Charlie Kirk’s election fraud claims. Either Kirk knows nothing about basic civics or he is deliberately lying in order to deceive his followers.
The Trump presidency is imploding and its all happening less than a week before the Republican National Convention. So what is going on?
Former Donald Trump campaign strategist Steve Bannon, the man who shaped Trump’s alt-Right message during the 2016 campaign and in the early months of his presidency, was arrested today and charged with defrauding donors as part of a fundraising campaign to build Trump’s border wall. Trump is trying to get as much space as possible between the White House and his former strategist.
Back in 2017, Bannon said he was on a crusade to remove “fake Republicans” from office. He got full support from Jerry Falwell Jr., the disgraced president (on indefinite leave) of Liberty University. He was often confused about American history and brought Andrew Jackson’s populism into the White House. Pope Francis condemned Bannon’s “apocalyptic geopolitics.” Bannon was also behind Trump’s January 2017 Muslim ban.
The list of criminals associated with the Trump presidency continues to grow. Bannon joins a list that includes Michael Cohen, Paul Manafort, Chris Collins (who seconded his nomination at the 2016 RNC convention), George Papadopouloos, Roger Stone, Rick Gates, Michael Flynn.
Here are some of my tweets from last night with additional context.
My twitter followers seemed to be split 50-50 on this take:
Obama could not get away w/his 2004 national unity speech today. After night 1 of #DNC2020, it seems like the 2020 #DemocraticParty is a hodgepodge of identity groups that seems ready to shatter at any moment. In this cycle anti-Trumpism is the only thing holding it together.
Yes, the Democratic Party is putting aside their differences for a few months in order to remove Trump, but as I watch the convention and the surrounding news coverage there appears to be a lot of division behind the mask of party unity. The progressives in the party did not like the fact that members of the GOP, especially John Kasich, took speaking slots away from people of color. Bernie Sanders told the convention that Biden was moving to the left. Kasich promised independents that Biden was staying in the center. Ocasio-Cortez, one of the most recognizable faces in the party, nominated Bernie Sanders. Julian Castro, in the midst of the convention, is saying that Biden’s election will hurt the Democratic Party’s support among Latinos. And a clear generational divide exists in the party.
Meanwhile, the GOP is likely to put on a unified front next week. None of the dissenters–George W. Bush, Jeb Bush, Mitt Romney, etc.–will be speaking, but apparently speaking slots have been reserved for Nick Sandman of Covington Catholic High School and the St. Louis couple who pulled their guns on Black Lives Matter protesters.
I have been thinking a lot about these connections lately, especially after reading Adrienne LaFrance’s piece at The Atlantic, Katelyn Beaty’s piece at RNS, and seeing court evangelicals like Jack Graham and Greg Laurie connecting post-COVID19 economic revival with spiritual revival and the opening of churches. I was struck by this quote from LaFrance’s piece:
[Qanon conspiracy theorist David] Hayes tells his followers that he thinks Q is an open-source intelligence operation, made possible by the internet and designed by patriots fighting corruption inside the intelligence community. His interpretation of Q is ultimately religious in nature, and centers on the idea of a Great Awakening. “I believe The Great Awakening has a double application,” Hayes wrote in a blog post in November 2019:
“It speaks of an intellectual awakening—the awareness by the public to the truth that we’ve been enslaved in a corrupt political system. But the exposure of the unimaginable depravity of the elites will lead to an increased awareness of our own depravity. Self-awareness of sin is fertile ground for spiritual revival. I believe the long-prophesied spiritual awakening lies on the other side of the storm.”
I hope to write something about these connection soon. In the meantime, as my tweet indicated, I also hear a lot of “rise-up,” “awakening,” and “revival” language coming from the Democrats during this convention. It is not meant spiritually–at least in a Christian “revival” sense of the world–but it does seem to be tapping into some kind of renewal or revival of the American spirit. I realize that this is a pretty common political message, but it seems to take on a new meaning in light of all this talk of #GreatAwakening.
I know people must have said this already, but John Schlossberg looks so much like his uncle JFK Jr. #DNC2020
Court evangelical Eric Metaxas yucking-it-up with Ted Cruz
David Remnick, the editor of The New Yorker, was going to interview former Trump adviser and Alt-right leader Steve Bannon at the magazine’s annual festival. When other guests at the festival said they would drop-out unless Bannon was disinvited, Remnick folded and Bannon was dumped. Learn more here.
Not everyone–even those who are not part of the Alt-right–were happy with Remnick’s decision.
Huh. Call me old-fashioned. But I would have thought that the point of a festival of ideas was to expose the audience to ideas. If you only invite your friends over, it’s called a dinner party. https://t.co/VwkL4zOrbX
Jack Shafer of Politico described Remnick decision as a “screwup” and said:
The primary objection to the invitation coalesced around the idea that the New Yorkershould never present a bigot or a fascist or a xenophobe like Bannon to such a distinguished audience, thereby normalizing hate. Exactly how a hardball Remnick interview with Bannon would normalize anything has yet to be explained. How many New Yorkerreaders—you know who you are—attending the festival were likely to start thinking of Bannon as “normal” after Remnick cross-examined him? Too few to count, I reckon. So the Bannon ban wasn’t designed to protect New Yorker fans….
Is Bannonism so contagious and corrosive that it must be suppressed? If you really fear Bannon’s thoughts, isn’t it better to allow a mind like Remnick’s to dissect and refute them rather than trying to no-platform them into oblivion? Talking to a monster is not necessarily an endorsement of a monster’s ideas. The whole episode is enough to make you wonder whether the celebrities who bailed from the festival even read the magazine, which routinely steers its way into conflict and controversy.
I lean toward Gladwell and Shafer here. A fair case can be made that Steve Bannon was influential in the election of a President of the United States. Bannon does have ideas. And those ideas have been pretty influential among a certain sector of the American population. They need to be confronted by talented interviewers like Remnick.
Now that Bannon will not be at The New Yorker festival, author, radio host, and court evangelical Eric Metaxas has decided to enter the fray. According to a piece by Michael Gryboski at the Christian Post, Metaxas will interview Bannon “at a future event.”
Here is a taste of Gryboski’s article:
In an episode of his podcast “The Eric Metaxas Show” that aired Tuesday, the conservative Christian author announced that he was going to interview Bannon at a future event.
Metaxas explained that he reached out to Bannon’s representatives and they agreed, though a specific date had not yet been chosen. Driving his decision, explained Metaxas, was the New Yorker’s cancellation.
“It’s very important in this country, folks, I just want to say this, that we keep our mind open and that we allow people to have their say,” stated Metaxas.
Metaxas bemoaned Remnick’s decision to cancel Bannon’s interview, noting that he “could have asked him anything,” including critical questions. This led Metaxas to believe that “I need to do something.”
I am guessing that Remnick invited Bannon because he thought it might be important to have some intellectual diversity at the New Yorker Festival. I commend him for this decision and, like Shafer, I think he folded under pressure when his liberal friends got mad about Bannon’s appearance.
But what is Metaxas’s motive? This seems like little more than a publicity stunt. It is yet another attempt by a court evangelical to rally the Trump base.
The New Yorker plans to interview Steve Bannon and chaos ensues. A Christian celebrity agrees to interview him and Christian Twitter yawns. Has Metaxas been written off or is the alt-right okay with the evangelical establishment? https://t.co/gb0m64P1vF
On Sunday, Robert Jeffress invited Sean Hannity to talk politics in his Sunday morning worship service. Not to be outdone, fellow court evangelical Jerry Falwell Jr. is now backing Steve Bannon’s attempt to oust “fake Republicans” from office. Breitbart has published an article based on an “exclusive interview” with the Liberty University president. I am assuming this is not fake news.
Here is a taste:
“I’ve coined the term ‘Fake Republicans,’” Falwell, a key early endorser of President Trump in the 2016 GOP primaries, told Breitbart News. “There are four or five ‘Fake Republicans’ in the Senate and many in the House. If they can be replaced in 2018—the political class needs to go. If the people can go out and find candidates like Donald Trump who have been successful in the private sector and go out and primary those people—I’m talking about, I know it’s not going to happen in Maine, but I’m talking about people like Susan Collins, [Lindsey] Graham, [Jeff] Flake, [John] McCain, [Mitch] McConnell. Even the ones that don’t—I heard somebody on the radio this morning, one of Mitch McConnell’s friends, bragging about how the Republicans have gone 95 percent with Trump’s agenda. Well, the five percent is always the one—the issues that matter. It’s always the issues that matter. They don’t always, the group of ‘Fake Republicans,’ they don’t always vote against it. They just make sure enough of their buddies vote against it to kill it. It’s all done behind closed doors. They got to go. And I think if they go, Trump is going to be the greatest president since Abraham Lincoln.”
When asked specifically about Bannon’s season of war, Falwell says: “I love it.” Falwell also praised nationally syndicated radio host Laura Ingraham, who’s another leader in the movement to oust “Fake Republicans.”
“I knew when he left the administration, he was doing it for a reason,” Falwell said. “A good reason. And now we all know what it was. He sees that for Trump to be successful, those guys got to go. I’m so proud of him for going after them and leading the effort and Laura Ingraham is out there helping the effort too. She spoke here last week. Actually, she did her radio show live from Liberty.”
Michael Gerson continues to bring the fire. He starts his October 16, 2017 Washington Postcolumn with this line: “At the Family Research Council’s recent Values Voter Summit, the religious right effectively declared its conversion to Trumpism.”
The president was received as a hero. Stephen K. Bannon and Sebastian Gorka — both fired from the White House, in part, for their extremism — set the tone and agenda. “There is a time and season for everything,” said Bannon. “And right now, it’s a season for war against a GOP establishment.”
A time to live and a time to die. A time to plant and a time to uproot. A time to mourn and a time to embrace angry ethnonationalism and racial demagoguery. Yes, a time to mourn.
There is no group in the United States less attached to its own ideals or more eager for its own exploitation than religious conservatives. Forget Augustine and Aquinas, Wilberforce and Shaftesbury. For many years, leaders of the religious right exactly conformed Christian social teaching to the contours of Fox News evening programming. Now, according to Bannon, “economic nationalism” is the “centerpiece of value voters.” I had thought the centerpiece was a vision of human dignity rooted in faith. But never mind. Evidently the Christian approach to social justice is miraculously identical to 1930s Republican protectionism, isolationism and nativism.
Do religious right leaders have any clue how foolish they appear? Rather than confidently and persistently representing a set of distinctive beliefs, they pant and beg to be a part of someone else’s movement. In this case, it is a movement that takes advantage of racial and ethnic divisions and dehumanizes Muslims, migrants and refugees. A movement that has cultivated ties to alt-right leaders and flirted with white identity politics. A movement that will eventually soil and discredit all who are associated with it.
But Moore represents a peculiar challenge to the GOP future. He holds to a particularly rigorous vision of a Christian America, ultimately ruled and legitimated by “biblical law.” In his conception, the freedom of “religion” in the First Amendment is limited to the Christian (and presumably Jewish) version of the creator God. So the protections of the Constitution do not extend to, say, Buddhism and Islam. “Buddha didn’t create us,” explains Moore. “Muhammad didn’t create us. It’s the God of the Holy Scriptures.”
The absurdity of this claim is just stunning. Moore is contending that when the First Amendment says, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion,” the document was actually intending to establish a religion. This indicates a type of zealotry willing to call night day and day night.
Stunning indeed. I need to do some checking, but I think Moore’s position is an even more consistent Christian nationalism than the stuff peddled by David Barton.
Gerson argues that Moore is less theonomist and more Bannonist:
It is easy to imagine Moore sleeplessly considering American decadence, because his version of biblical law is ceaselessly violated. It is worth asking: What is his limiting principle in enforcing the voice of Heaven? The Ten Commandments set aside the Sabbath for rest. Should that be mandated? How about Old Testament recommendations of the death penalty for adulterers, apostates, blasphemers and incorrigible children? Why not enforce the Apostle Paul’s admonition against “foolish talk”? But that would leave Moore speechless.
No, Moore is not really a theonomist. The boundaries of his worldview, it turns out, almost exactly coincide with those of the Breitbart agenda. Moore’s study of divine law has led him, in the end, to the shabby, third-rate gospel of Stephen K. Bannon.
Read the rest here. I also wonder how much longer we should call Gerson an “evangelical” or a “conservative.”
Over at America, Bill McCormack, a Jesuit and political philosopher at Saint Louis University, is the latest to speak out against what he believes to be the inappropriate line of questioning that Amy Coney Barrett received during her hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Unlike other critiques, McCormack also criticizes the anti-Catholic rhetoric of former Trump adviser and Breitbart chief Steve Bannon. It is worth noting that McCormack’s critique of both Bannon and the Democrats are less constitutional and more religious in nature.
Here is a taste of the section on the Senate hearings:
Senator Dianne Feinstein, the senior U.S. senator from California, recently questioned a prospective federal judge’s fitness for office. It turns out the nominee, Amy Barrett, is just a little too Catholic for the Democratic senator’s taste:
Whatever a religion is, it has its own dogma. The law is totally different. And I think in your case, professor, when you read your speeches, the conclusion one draws is that the dogma lives loudly within you, and that’s of concern when you come to big issues that large numbers of people have fought for for years in this country.
This is sad coming from Senator Feinstein. I doubt she has any problem with the Gospel call to serve the poor, and she is known for the strength of her own convictions, convictions that she is generally happy to force on others. But the minute a truth comes up that she dislikes, in this case, arguments against abortion, then suddenly conviction becomes “dogma” and the truth loses its right to a public voice.
As if working in tandem, Senator Dick Durbin, a Democrat from Illinois and himself Catholic, asked Ms. Barrett directly, “Do you consider yourself an orthodox Catholic?” When did the Democrats start requiring religious tests for public office?
Again, you can argue that these senators’ views do not represent their party. But at its worst, the Democratic Party is deeply skeptical of any claims to truth or authority. That is bad for Catholics who recognize the salvific truth of the authority of Jesus Christ and want to assert it on behalf of the poor, vulnerable and marginalized, including the unborn.
America was in the eyes of so many people. and its what people respect America for, [a place where people] can come…, find a place, contribute to the economy–that’s what immigration had been in America. And you seem to want to turn it around, and stop it.
And here is how Bannon answered:
You couldn’t be more dead wrong. America was built on her citizens. … Look at the 19th century. What built America’s called the American system, from Hamilton to Polk to Henry Clay to Lincoln to the Roosevelts. [It was] a system of protection of our manufacturing, financial system that lends to manufacturers, OK, and the control of our borders. Economic nationalism is what this country was built on. The American system.
So was Bannon use of history correct here? NPR’s Steven Inskeep sets him straight. Here is a taste:
First: Alexander Hamilton was an immigrant. He was born in the West Indies. In the 18th century he fought for his adopted country in war (as immigrants often have) and then, as treasury secretary, he contributed immensely to his adopted country’s economy (as immigrants often have). He argued for the government to pay Revolutionary War debts, dreamed up a sophisticated financial system, and ended up on the $10 bill. Even in the 21st century, he continues to generate economic activity as the subject of a Broadway musical.
Bannon is close enough in calling Hamilton a citizen, since he was present at the founding of the country — although all Founding Fathers were immigrants or the descendants of immigrants, who arrived in the territory of native nations. This illustrates the essential problem in claiming the country was built by citizens and not immigrants: Immigrants often contributed and also became citizens.
It’s meaningful that Bannon cites Abraham Lincoln, too, in his argument about immigrants. In 1862, Lincoln signed legislation supporting construction of a transcontinental railroad, which began a few years later. It was difficult to find laborers willing to work in harsh conditions, so railroad executives hired immigrants. Chinese workers were among those who laid tracks over the mountains from the west, until they met crews of Irish laborers coming from the east. Their meeting in Utah was an iconic American moment.
Recently on Facebook I saw a picture of a statue of Christopher Columbus in Buffalo covered in red paint. It is pictured above. The person who posted the photo wrote “When good things happen to bad people.” The responses to the post were similar.
I have also seen a variety of Facebook posts by folks who demand that monuments of Confederate soldiers and anyone who owned slaves be torn down immediately. These folks reject the idea of contextualizing the monuments or deliberating about how they should be handled. Sadly, many of these folks identify themselves in their Facebook bios as history and social studies teachers.
Perhaps the time for civil conversation is over. Maybe the monuments should come down–Lee, Stonewall, Washington, Jefferson, Columbus, etc…. Maybe as one teacher put it, the “erasing history” mantra is getting old. Frankly, it scares me that these history and social studies teachers might be bringing such views into their classrooms. And let me be clear–this is not about white supremacy. This is about a civil debate how to handle these monuments that bring good history to bear on their meaning and purpose.
I thought about these Facebook posts again after I read Robert Kuttner‘s recent piece at Huffington Post. Kuttner is the co-editor of the progressive magazine American Prospect, but he is also the guy who landed the last interview with Alt-right policy wonk Steve Bannon before the Trump senior adviser was fired. Kuttner worries that we are playing directly into Bannon’s hands on this whole monument debate.
Here is a taste:
Last week in Baltimore, some far-lefties took a sledgehammer to a statue of Christopher Columbus. A video uploaded to YouTube declared:
“Christopher Columbus symbolizes the initial invasion of European capitalism into the Western Hemisphere. Columbus initiated a centuries-old wave of terrorism, murder, genocide, rape, slavery, ecological degradation and capitalist exploitation of labor in the Americas. That Columbian wave of destruction continues on the backs of Indigenous, African-American and brown people.
“What kind of a culture clings to those monuments in 2017? Part of our evolution as humans requires tearing down monuments to destructive forces and tearing down systems that maintain them.”
Now, this requires some careful thought. The speaker is not entirely wrong, but he manages to sound like central casting’s parody of a lefty. Unless we all want to “return” to Europe or wherever our ancestors came from, America is our home and Columbus was among the first European explorers.
What’s required is a long-overdue process of truth, reconciliation and healing. Even before the latest outburst of virulent racial hate encouraged by our president, Confederate statues were coming down all over the former Confederacy. That’s a good start.
But do we really want to tear down statues of Washington, Jefferson and Columbus? In some ideal, utopian world, that may feel overdue. But in the real world of politics, will it contribute to healing―or serve as raw meat to the Bannons?
For better or worse, there is no central committee of American progressivism. Most of us may conclude that the right place to draw a bright line is at statutes commemorating the Confederacy and slavery. But that doesn’t stop people acting on their own behalf.
The bitter truth is that half the founding fathers held slaves. And the other half assented to the continuation of slavery under the Constitution. That’s why we had to fight a civil war almost a hundred years later.
We can’t undo that history. But we need to come to terms with it. And we need to rectify the shameful parts of the legacy that live on in the present. I can’t believe that taking sledgehammers to statues of Washington, Jefferson, and Columbus will help.
The piece was written by Antonio Spadaro S.J., the editor of the publication, and Marcelo Figueroa, a Presbyterian pastor and journalist in Argentina. It offers a stinging critique of the Trump administration and its ties to Christian nationalism.
The first paragraph says it all:
In God We Trust. This phrase is printed on the banknotes of the United States of America and is the current national motto. It appeared for the first time on a coin in 1864 but did not become official until Congress passed a motion in 1956. A motto is important for a nation whose foundation was rooted in religious motivations. For many it is a simple declaration of faith. For others, it is the synthesis of a problematic fusion between religion and state, faith and politics, religious values and economy.
Another interesting aspect is the relationship with creation of these religious groups that are composed mainly of whites from the deep American South. There is a sort of “anesthetic” with regard to ecological disasters and problems generated by climate change. They profess “dominionism” and consider ecologists as people who are against the Christian faith. They place their own roots in a literalist understanding of the creation narratives of the book of Genesis that put humanity in a position of “dominion” over creation, while creation remains subject to human will in biblical submission.
In this theological vision, natural disasters, dramatic climate change and the global ecological crisis are not only not perceived as an alarm that should lead them to reconsider their dogmas, but they are seen as the complete opposite: signs that confirm their non-allegorical understanding of the final figures of the Book of Revelation and their apocalyptic hope in a “new heaven and a new earth.”
Theirs is a prophetic formula: fight the threats to American Christian values and prepare for the imminent justice of an Armageddon, a final showdown between Good and Evil, between God and Satan. In this sense, every process (be it of peace, dialogue, etc.) collapses before the needs of the end, the final battle against the enemy. And the community of believers (faith) becomes a community of combatants (fight). Such a unidirectional reading of the biblical texts can anesthetize consciences or actively support the most atrocious and dramatic portrayals of a world that is living beyond the frontiers of its own “promised land.”
Pastor Rousas John Rushdoony (1916-2001) is the father of so-called “Christian reconstructionism” (or “dominionist theology”) that had a great influence on the theopolitical vision of Christian fundamentalism. This is the doctrine that feeds political organizations and networks such as the Council for National Policy and the thoughts of their exponents such as Steve Bannon, currently chief strategist at the White House and supporter of an apocalyptic geopolitics.
“The first thing we have to do is give a voice to our Churches,” some say. The real meaning of this type of expression is the desire for some influence in the political and parliamentary sphere and in the juridical and educational areas so that public norms can be subjected to religious morals.
Rushdoony’s doctrine maintains a theocratic necessity: submit the state to the Bible with a logic that is no different from the one that inspires Islamic fundamentalism. At heart, the narrative of terror shapes the world-views of jihadists and the new crusaders and is imbibed from wells that are not too far apart. We must not forget that the theopolitics spread by Isis is based on the same cult of an apocalypse that needs to be brought about as soon as possible. So, it is not just accidental that George W. Bush was seen as a “great crusader” by Osama bin Laden.
He wrote the History of the Peloponnesian Warand is considered one of the first historians in the Western world. He also seems to be a favorite of some members of the Trump administration.
Over at Politico, Michael Crowley tells the story of how Thucydides made it to the White House.
Here is a taste:
Thucydides is especially beloved by the two most influential figures on Trump’s foreign policy team. National security adviser H.R. McMaster has called Thucydides’ work an “essential” military text, taught it to students and quoted from it in speeches and op-eds. Defense Secretary James Mattis is also fluent in Thucydides’ work: “If you say to him, ‘OK, how about the Melian Dialogue?’ he could tell you exactly what it is,” Allison says—referring to one particularly famous passage. When former Defense Secretary William Cohen introduced him at his confirmation hearing, Cohen said Mattis was likely the only person present “who can hear the words ‘Thucydides Trap’ and not have to go to Wikipedia to find out what it means.”
That’s not true in the Trump White House, where another Peloponnesian War aficionado can be found in the office of chief strategist Steve Bannon. A history buff fascinated with grand conflict, Bannon once even used “Sparta”—one of the most militarized societies history has known—as a computer password. (“He talked a lot about Sparta,” his former Hollywood writing partner, Julia Jones, toldThe Daily Beast. An unnamed former colleague recalled for the New Yorker Bannon’s “long diatribes” about the Peloponnesian War.)
In an August 2016 article for his former employer, Breitbart News, Bannon likened the conservative media rivalry between Breitbart and Fox News to the Peloponnesian War, casting Breitbart as the disciplined warrior state of Sparta challenging a decadently Athenian Fox. There’s also NSC spokesman Michael Anton, a student of the classics who owns two copies of Thucydides’ fabled work. (“The acid test for me is: Do you read the Hobbes translation?” he says. “If you’ve read that translation, you’ve got my respect.”)
Today Richardson gave me permission to publish a piece she recently posted to her Facebook page.
Richardson is probably right in assuming that Steve Bannon is behind Trump’s recent Executive Order on Muslim refugees. She describes what Bannon is doing as a “shock event.” This is an attempt to throw the country into confusion and chaos so that the administration can present itself as the only entity capable of restoring order.
What Bannon is doing, most dramatically with last night’s ban on immigration from seven predominantly Muslim countries– is creating what is known as a “shock event.” Such an event is unexpected and confusing and throws a society into chaos. People scramble to react to the event, usually along some fault line that those responsible for the event can widen by claiming that they alone know how to restore order. When opponents speak out, the authors of the shock event call them enemies. As society reels and tempers run high, those responsible for the shock event perform a sleight of hand to achieve their real goal, a goal they know to be hugely unpopular, but from which everyone has been distracted as they fight over the initial event. There is no longer concerted opposition to the real goal; opposition divides along the partisan lines established by the shock event.
Last night’s Executive Order has all the hallmarks of a shock event. It was not reviewed by any governmental agencies or lawyers before it was released, and counterterrorism experts insist they did not ask for it. People charged with enforcing it got no instructions about how to do so. Courts immediately have declared parts of it unconstitutional, but border police in some airports are refusing to stop enforcing it.
Predictably, chaos has followed and tempers are hot.
My point today is this: unless you are the person setting it up, it is in no one’s interest to play the shock event game. It is designed explicitly to divide people who might otherwise come together so they cannot stand against something its authors think they won’t like. I don’t know what Bannon is up to– although I have some guesses– but because I know Bannon’s ideas well, I am positive that there is not a single person whom I consider a friend on either side of the aisle– and my friends range pretty widely– who will benefit from whatever it is. If the shock event strategy works, though, many of you will blame each other, rather than Bannon, for the fallout. And the country will have been tricked into accepting their real goal.
But because shock events destabilize a society, they can also be used positively. We do not have to respond along old fault lines. We could just as easily reorganize into a different pattern that threatens the people who sparked the event. A successful shock event depends on speed and chaos because it requires knee-jerk reactions so that people divide along established lines. This, for example, is how Confederate leaders railroaded the initial southern states out of the Union. If people realize they are being played, though, they can reach across old lines and reorganize to challenge the leaders who are pulling the strings. This was Lincoln’s strategy when he joined together Whigs, Democrats, Free-Soilers, anti-Nebraska voters, and nativists into the new Republican Party to stand against the Slave Power. Five years before, such a coalition would have been unimaginable. Members of those groups agreed on very little other than that they wanted all Americans to have equal economic opportunity. Once they began to work together to promote a fair economic system, though, they found much common ground. They ended up rededicating the nation to a “government of the people, by the people, and for the people.”
Confederate leaders and Lincoln both knew about the political potential of a shock event. As we are in the midst of one, it seems worth noting that Lincoln seemed to have the better idea about how to use it.
“Like [Andrew] Jackson’s populism, we’re going to build an entirely new political movement,” he says. “It’s everything related to jobs. The conservatives are going to go crazy. I’m the guy pushing a trillion-dollar infrastructure plan. With negative interest rates throughout the world, it’s the greatest opportunity to rebuild everything. Ship yards, iron works, get them all jacked up. We’re just going to throw it up against the wall and see if it sticks. It will be as exciting as the 1930s, greater than the Reagan revolution — conservatives, plus populists, in an economic nationalist movement.”