How Southern newspapers preserved the Confederacy

Mon, Oct 30, 1944 – 8 · Nashville Banner (Nashville, Tennessee) · Newspapers.com

USA Today is running a fascinating and disturbing piece on the way Southern newspapers promoted the Confederacy and the Lost Cause well into the 20th century.

The piece focuses on the Memphis Commercial Appeal, The Clarion Ledger (Jackson, MS), The Montgomery (AL) AdvertiserThe Lafayette (LA) Daily AdvertiserThe Knoxville News Sentinel; and The Nashville Tennessean.

Here is a taste:

The late civil rights leader, U.S. Rep. John Lewis, once exhorted journalists to be “a headlight and not a taillight.”

“You have a moral obligation to pick up your pens and your pencils, use your cameras to tell the story, to make it plain, to make it real,” Lewis said at a Pulitzer Prize event in 2016. But for most of American history, what newspapers in the South made plain and real was the racism that permeated so many facets of life in this country — and they did so with unabashed support for the people and systems that promoted and maintained prejudice and discrimination.

As Southern news outlets cover the latest chapter of our national reckoning with racial divides, a full accounting is not possible without acknowledging the role many of these institutions played in creating and servicing the myths that were used to justify racial oppression, in particular those tracing their roots to the Confederacy. Coverage that takes seriously issues of systemic racism today often marks a sharp departure from what Southern newspapers published in the century following the Civil War.

As part of a collaborative project on the legacy of the Confederacy and its influence on systemic racism today, USA TODAY Network newsrooms across the South have dug into our own archives to examine how our own outlets reported on those issues, as well as their stances on segregation and civil rights. Examples from six newspapers are below, and links to more reporting on each individual paper’s history are at the end of this story. Our hope is that this look back can teach us to look forward — to be a headlight and not a taillight. 

Read the entire piece here.

Take the Trump Inaugural Address History Exam (My Piece This Morning at *USA Today*)

Trump inauguration

Here is a taste of “Did he free us from disease? 15 essay questions for a Trump inaugural address history exam”:

One day soon, students will read Donald Trump’s inaugural address. Good history teachers will understand the speech, as they do with all presidential rhetoric, in the larger context of the Trump presidency.

I recently revisited the speech amid this coronavirus pandemic. I imagined what kind of essay questions I would put on a future exam related to this period in American history. Here are a few:

Trump never had an approval rating over 50%. Considering this fact, how should we explain his calls for national unity? Other presidents saw their approval ratings soar in times of crisis. Why didn’t this happen to Trump?

Trump said that the “Bible tells us, how good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity.” Did this kind of spiritual harmony exist during Trump presidency? Did the church speak truth to power with a united voice? Discuss the state of American Christianity in the age of Trump.

Read the rest here.

Michael Gerson Rips Trump and the National Prayer Breakfast: It Was “Unholy”

Trump USA Today

I just offered my opinion on Trump’s National Prayer Breakfast speech at USA TODAY.  Michael Gerson weighed-in today at Washington Post.  Here is a taste of his piece, “Trump’s politicization of the National Prayer Breakfast is unholy and immoral“:

…Trump has again shown a talent for exposing the sad moral compromises of his followers, especially his evangelical Christian followers. Jerry Falwell Jr., Franklin Graham, Robert Jeffress and Eric Metaxas don’t have it easy after an event such as this one. Not only do they need to defend Trump’s use of a prayer breakfast as a campaign rally. Not only are they required to defend his offensive questioning of religious motivations. They must also somehow justify his discomfort with a central teaching of the Sermon on the Mount and his use of a prayer meeting to attack and defame his enemies. These evangelical Christian leaders will, of course, find some way to bless Trump’s sacrilege. But he makes their job ever harder and their moral surrender ever more obvious.

…Trump’s unholy outburst (and the White House event that followed) shows we are reaching a very dangerous moment in our national life. The president is seized by rage and resentment — not heard on some scratchy Watergate tape, but in public, for all to see and hear. He now feels unchecked and uncheckable. And he has a position of tremendous power. This is what happens when a sociopath gets away with something. He or she is not sobered but emboldened. It took mere hours for Republican senators who predicted a wiser, chastened president to eat their words. The senators are, in part, responsible for the abuses of power to come.

Read the entire piece here.

My Piece on Trump’s Prayer Breakfast Speech is Now Up at *USA TODAY*

Trump USA Today

The editors at USA Today asked me to reflect on Trump’s performance at today’s National Prayer Breakfast.  Here is a taste of my piece:

Prayer is a spiritual discipline. In the Christian tradition, spiritual disciplines take the focus off us and put it on God and others. They are practices that relieve us of our narcissism.

The National Prayer Breakfast is a bipartisan event. It brings politicians and religious leaders together to seek common ground through a shared faith.

While the breakfast is not without its problems, as we saw in the recent Netflix documentary “The Family,” it is the closest Washington comes each year to laying aside political bickering and seeking something akin to what Jesus called for in the Gospel of John, chapter 17 when he prayed that his followers would be “brought to complete unity.”

But President Donald Trump showed at the Thursday morning breakfast that he lacks the spiritual compass and moral understanding to rise to such an occasion.

Read the rest here.

My Piece Today at *USA TODAY* on the Evangelicals for Trump Rally

Miami Trump

Here is a taste of “‘Evangelicals for Trump’ was an awful display by supposed citizens of the Kingdom of God“:

At one point in his speech, Trump rattled off the names of the Fox News personalities who carry his water on cable television. The crowd roared as the president read this laundry list of conservative media pundits. 

This rhetorical flourish was all very appropriate on such an occasion because Fox News, more than anything else, including the Bible and the spiritual disciplines, has formed and shaped the values of so many people in the sanctuary. Trump’s staff knows this. Why else would they put such a roll call in the speech?

At times, it seemed like Trump was putting a new spin on the heroes of the faith described in the New Testament book of Hebrews. Instead of Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Sarah, Joseph, Moses, David, and Samuel, we got Sean (Hannity), Laura (Ingraham), Tucker (Carlson), and the hosts of Fox and Friends.

Read the entire piece at *USA TODAY*.

White Evangelicals Fear the Future and Yearn for the Past

Believe Me 3dAs we have already noted, today is the release of the paperback edition of Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump.  As part of the roll-out, I am going to republish some of the piece I wrote back in the summer of 2018 when the hardback appeared. This piece was published at USA TODAY on July 8, 2018:

Donald Trump is about to name his second conservative Supreme Court justice now that Anthony Kennedy is retiring. Conservative evangelicals are celebrating. They have been waiting, to quote the Old Testament book of Esther, “for a time such as this.”

For the last year I have been thinking deeply about why so many of my fellow evangelical Christians support Donald Trump.

I have wondered why they backed his zero-tolerance immigration plan that separated families at the border. I have tried to make sense of why some of them give him a “mulligan” (to use Family Research Council President Tony Perkins’ now famous phrase) for his alleged adulterous affair with adult film star Stormy Daniels. Why did so many evangelicals remain silent, or offer tepid and qualified responses, when Trump equated white supremacists and their opponents in Charlottesville, Virginia last summer?

What kind of power does Trump hold over men and women who claim to be followers of Jesus Christ? Evangelical support for Trump goes much deeper than simply a few Supreme Court justices.

Like most Americans on Nov. 8, 2016, I sat in front of my television to watch election returns, fully expecting that Hillary Clinton would be declared the country’s first female president. When this did not happen, I was saddened and angry. But my emotions were less about the new president-elect and more about the way my fellow evangelicals were using their social media feeds to praise God for Donald Trump’s victory.

I sent off a quick tweet: “If this is evangelicalism — I am out.”

Five days later, I could barely muster the will to attend services at my central Pennsylvania evangelical megachurch. As I stood singing Christian worship songs, I looked around the room and realized that there was a strong possibility, if the reports and polls were correct, that eight out of every 10 people in that sanctuary — my brothers and sisters in my community of faith — had voted for Trump.

I eventually calmed down and decided that, at least for now, I would still use the word “evangelical” to describe my religious faith. The word best captures my belief in the “good news” of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I have experienced the life-transforming message of this Gospel and I have seen its power in the lives of others.

My raw emotions gave way to my training as a historian and my study of American religion. My distress about Trump’s election did not wane, but I should have seen this coming. Trump’s win was just the latest manifestation of a long-standing evangelical approach to politics.

Read the rest here.

Yesterday’s Piece in *USA Today*

Trump court evangelicals

Yesterday USA Today published a piece I wrote about Trump and evangelicals.  The editors chose the following title: “White evangelicals fear the future and yearn for the past.  Of course Trump is their hero.”  The article draws heavily from the introduction to Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump.

Here is a taste:

Donald Trump is about to name his second conservative Supreme Court justice now that Anthony Kennedy is retiring. Conservative evangelicals are celebrating. They have been waiting, to quote the Old Testament book of Esther, “for a time such as this.”

For the last year I have been thinking deeply about why so many of my fellow evangelical Christians support Donald Trump.

I have wondered why they backed his zero-tolerance immigration plan that separated families at the border. I have tried to make sense of why some of them give him a “mulligan” (to use Family Research Council President Tony Perkins’ now famous phrase) for his alleged adulterous affair with adult film star Stormy Daniels. Why did so many evangelicals remain silent, or offer tepid and qualified responses, when Trump equated white supremacists and their opponents in Charlottesville, Virginia last summer?

What kind of power does Trump hold over men and women who claim to be followers of Jesus Christ? Evangelical support for Trump goes much deeper than simply a few Supreme Court justices.

Read the entire piece here.

Believe Me 3d

My Column at *USA Today*: Evangelicals Are the Prize in South Carolina

e3b01-cruz-at-value-voters-summit-2015

I am told that this piece will be in the print edition of USA Today later this week, but in the meantime, you can read “Evangelicals are the prize in S.C.” online at usatoday.com

Regular readers of The Way of Improvement Leads Home will find little new here.  I have been writing about these themes for the last several months.

Here is a taste:

…Whatever evangelical votes Kasich wins in South Carolina and beyond will be votes taken away from Rubio. The Florida senator has put together a religious liberty advisory board made up of scholars and religious leaders from the evangelical thinking class. This suggests that he is targeting suburban evangelicals who normally avoid Pentecostal prayer meetings and change the channel when televangelists show up on their big screens. They read religious opinion pieces in The Wall Street Journal and subscribe to Christianity Today.

These are evangelicals who send their kids to schools like Wheaton College (the alma mater of Eric Teetsel, Rubio’s Director of Faith Outreach) or Moody Bible Institute or even Liberty University (despite Jerry Falwell Jr.’s endorsement of Trump). In South Carolina they relate more to the warm-hearted piety of Columbia International University (formerly Columbia Bible College) than the militant fundamentalism of Bob Jones University. These evangelicals attend churches with pastors who have seminary degrees from places like Fuller Theological Seminary,Dallas Theological Seminary, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, Southern Seminary, and Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.

Read the entire column here.