Another Monday in Trumpland

Trump press conference 2

Monday, August 31, 2022, in Trumpland began with news that House Minority Whip Steve Scalise, a Louisiana Republican and Trump supporter, doctored a video to make it appear that Biden wants to defund the police. I am expecting Scalise’s GOP colleagues, including the court evangelicals, to mount a full-fledged assault on him for misleading the American people and promoting “fake news.” 🙂

Today Trump will be in Kenosha, Wisconsin despite the fact that governor Tony Evers has asked him not to come. Evers believes that a visit from Trump will only bring more division to a city experiencing racial unrest in the wake of Jacob Blake’s shooting and the Kyle Rittenhouse shooting incident that left two people dead.

Trump will not visit with the Blake family today. He claimed that the reason they will not meet is because the Blake family wanted to bring lawyers. Other reports suggest that Blake’s father has no interest in meeting with the president. And who is this “pastor” that Trump spoke with?

Kayleigh McEnany, the White House press secretary, refused to say that the president condemns the shooting of Jacob Blake or the the Rittenhouse shootings. How hard is it to condemn this? And if he won’t condemn these shootings, why is he going to Kenosha today? What message can he possibly deliver to the people of Kenosha that will bring any sense of healing? Oh, I almost forgot, we are talking about Trump. He doesn’t understand the idea of communal and social healing.

Joe Biden was in Pittsburgh yesterday and he also had a few things to say about the racial conflict in America:

Biden sounds like a “law and order” candidate here. But wait, I thought Biden was a radical socialist who supported violence and thuggery in the streets?  🙂 My favorite line from the speech: “Ask yourself, do I look like a radical socialist with a soft-spot for rioters? Really?”

After listening to Biden speak, Trump called a press conference to respond. He called Biden’s speech “strange” and then described a speech that sounded virtually nothing like the one Biden delivered:

Trump then decided to use his press conference riff on American history in schools. He claimed that our nation’s schools were engaging in “left-wing indoctrination.” Of course we have been hearing about this for a long time. But Trump offered some specifics. He said that students were learning that “America is a wicked nation plagued by racism.” Two quick thoughts on this. First, history teachers are not doing their jobs correctly if they are using morally-charged words such as “wicked” to describe the United States.  Second, history teachers are doing their jobs well if they are calling attention to the “racism” that has “plagued” our country.

Trump wants to restore “patriotic education” to our nation’s schools. This may not be a bad idea. A patriot–someone who loves their country–will acknowledge its successes and its flaws.

Trump defended his supporters shooting paint balls and pepper spray at protesters in Portland. He described them as engaged in a “peaceful protest.” In case you missed what happened:

He also refused to condemn the Rittenhouse shootings.

As has been the case since 2016, it is virtually impossible to distinguish the voice of the court evangelicals from the voice of Trump. If aliens landed on this planet and knew nothing about American politics or American religion, they would assume that there was no difference between the Christianity promoted by the court evangelicals and the rhetoric of Donald Trump:

A conservative Lutheran college in Wisconsin withdraws a speaking invitation to Mike Pence

Wisconsin Lutheran

Mike Pence was scheduled to deliver the commencement address at Wisconsin Lutheran College, a theologically conservative school affiliated with the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod. The school withdrew the invitation to speak at the August 29th event after “careful consideration of the escalating events in Kenosha.”

Here is a taste of Devi Shastri’s and Bill Glauber’s piece at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

Pence’s appearance had already caused some controversy.

When the college announced it last week, it said the selection was not an endorsement of a political party and “cannot” be viewed as a political event.

“We believe it is possible within our context to leave partisan politics at the door and to celebrate America, our freedoms, Christian servant leadership and our graduates’ immense accomplishments,” the statement said.

But more than 100 students and alumni signed a letter calling the invitation “blatantly inappropriate.” 

“The mere invitation of a Vice President of an incredibly divisive and controversial ticket to speak in a swing state months before an election is ignorant and deceptive,” the letter said. “Speaking to young adults months before an election is a political move and not one that WLC can decide is apolitical.”

Read the rest here.

Desperation in Trumpland

Trump at St. Johns

Trump seems desperate after the wildly successful DNC convention. Granted, Biden and his team did not have to do any magic tricks to define themselves over and against Trump. The bar was pretty low. The Biden campaign claims to have raised $70 million during the convention.

Trump’s convention begins this week. This morning on Twitter we got a pretty good sense of what we can expect:

If there is a problem here, why isn’t Trump working with New Jersey to fix it so as many people as possible are able to vote in November? Instead, he continues to claim that mail-in ballots will lead to a “disaster.” Next week you can expect more attacks on mail-in voting. Here, again, is Barack Obama:

Well, here’s the point: this president and those in power — those who benefit from keeping things the way they are — they are counting on your cynicism. They know they can’t win you over with their policies. So they’re hoping to make it as hard as possible for you to vote, and to convince you that your vote doesn’t matter. That’s how they win. That’s how they get to keep making decisions that affect your life, and the lives of the people you love. That’s how the economy will keep getting skewed to the wealthy and well-connected, how our health systems will let more people fall through the cracks. That’s how a democracy withers, until it’s no democracy at all.

On COVID-19:

Trump is responding to this tweet from June 15, 2020:

Today he is accusing the FDA of participation in a “deep state” plot to slow clinical trials for COVID-19 vaccines in order to hurt his re-election. Expect to hear more of this next week.

On the suburbs:

Two responses to this:

First, let’s remember what is really going on in this tweet. American history tells us that this is a racist dog-whistle. But it is also a bad political strategy since many white low income people, who Trump is trying to keep out of the suburbs, voted for him in 2016.

Second, Trump is working with a 1950s definition of “the suburbs.” Check out this interview with historian Thomas Sugrue.

Wisconsin is a major swing state in November. So we get this:

Trump won 28.6% of the vote in Milwaukee in 2016 (Hillary Clinton got 65.5%). Trump won Wisconsin in 2016 by 22,748 votes. Right now Biden is leading Trump in Wisconsin by about seven points.

And don’t forget God:

Here is what really happened. By the way, if you are an evangelical Christian who believes that removing “God” from the Pledge of Allegiance will leave to the collapse of Western Civilization, here are a few things to think about:

First, Christian socialist Francis Bellamy wrote the Pledge of Allegiance. He was an ordained Baptist minister who worked for the promotions department of a popular family magazine called The Youth’s Companion. Writers for the magazine included Harriet Beecher Stowe, Mark Twain, Emily Dickinson, Booker T. Washington, Jack London, Willa Cather, and Winston Churchill.  The magazine asked Bellamy to prepare a patriotic program for schools in the United States as part of the 400th anniversary (1892) of Christopher Columbus’s arrival in America. Here is Jeffrey Owen Jones at Smithsonian Magazine:

A key element of the commemorative program was to be a new salute to the flag for schoolchildren to recite in unison. But as the deadline for writing the salute approached, it remained undone. “You write it,” Bellamy recalled his boss saying. “You have a knack at words.” In Bellamy’s later accounts of the sultry August evening he composed the pledge, he said that he believed all along it should invoke allegiance. The idea was in part a response to the Civil War, a crisis of loyalty still fresh in the national memory. As Bellamy sat down at his desk, the opening words—”I pledge allegiance to my flag”—tumbled onto paper. Then, after two hours of “arduous mental labor,” as he described it, he produced a succinct and rhythmic tribute very close to the one we know today: I pledge allegiance to my flag and the Republic for which it stands—one Nation indivisible—with liberty and justice for all. (Bellamy later added the “to” before “the Republic” for better cadence.)

The Youth’s Companion published Bellamy’s pledge on September 8, 1892.

Second, the words “under God” were added to the Pledge of Allegiance on June 14, 1954. The bill was part of a lobbying campaign by the Knights of Columbus, a Catholic fraternal organization. Historian Kevin Kruse explains all of this in his book One Nation Under God: How Corporate America Invented Christian America.

Third, the Pledge of Allegiance was recited, with the phrase “under God,” on all four nights of the 2020 DNC convention. Here is Cedric Richmond Jr. before the tens of millions of viewers watching the prime time convention on Thursday night (Day 4):

Fourth, let’s remember that the fate of Christianity does not rest on whether or not we have the words “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance. Christians, don’t let Trump play you like this.

Evangelical Support for Trump in Rural Wisconsin

Forest County\

Wisconsin is a big swing state.  Trump needs to win it in 2020.

Today I was chatting about Trump with fifteen Dutch college students visiting Messiah College during their January term.  One of them asked me if I thought Trump might win again in 2020.  I told him that anything is possible because the country is so evenly divided right now.  In this day and age, American elections revolve around small slices of voters living in swing states.  This means that places like rural Forest County, Wisconsin are important.

Chris McGreal, a reporter at The Guardian, spent some time with evangelicals in this Wisconsin county–a county that went for Obama in 2012 and Trump in 2016.  Here is a taste of his piece:

Pastor Franz Gerber is worried that so many members of his congregation appear to idolise Donald Trump more than they worship Jesus.

The preacher at the Praise Chapel Community church was among those who voted for Trump in rural Forest county, Wisconsin, which swung heavily from Barack Obama to the Republican in 2016 and so helped deliver a state that put the president in the White House.

Gerber now has some regrets about his vote but what really disturbs him is an unquestioning and even aggressive adulation for Trump within his flock.

“It seems like there are many evangelical Christians that are willing to die on the hill of supporting the Republican president, supporting Donald J Trump. And to me, that hill is not worth dying on. No matter who the candidate is, no matter who the individual is,” he said. “To put all your hope into that individual is a dangerous road. Scripture would warn us against that.”

Gerber’s concern reflects a deepening political polarisation within sprawling Forest county, home to about 9,000 people and two Native American reservations across about 1,000 square miles, where friendships are strained over Trump and more than a few people shy from talking politics.

Read the rest here.

Sadly, pastor Gerber may not have a chance.  His influence over his congregation pales in comparison to the influence that Fox News and other conservative media have over his congregation.

Trump Must Win Wisconsin Evangelicals in 2020

Wissy

In 2016, Trump won Wisconsin by 23,000 votes. According to the Public Religion Research Institute, white evangelicals make-up 17% of the state’s population.  Trump needs to win these evangelicals in order to win the state again.

Jess Bidgood of the Boston Globe talked to Wisconsin evangelicals.  Here is a taste of her piece “Trump’s evangelical support mystifies his critics, but in Wisconsin, it looks stronger than ever.”

Here is a taste of her piece:

NEW LONDON, Wis.—After it was clear that neither of her preferred candidates, Ben Carson and Ted Cruz, was going to be elected president in 2016, Linda Behm prayed.

Behm is an evangelical Christian and keeps a calendar filled with volunteer shifts at a thrift store and a food pantry in this small community an hour away from Green Bay. She wasn’t sure about supporting Donald J. Trump, the New York business magnate with a penchant for insults and crude behavior. But after asking God whether she should back him or Democrat Hillary Clinton in the general election, she decided Trump was the lesser of two evils.

These days, Behm, 69, finds the president to be coarse and exasperating, especially his tweets — and she took issue with his summertime missive urging four Democratic congresswoman of color to “go back” to other countries.

“We should be treating them like Christ should treat them,” Behm said. “Trump has to figure that out.”

But still, she feels better than ever about her decision to vote for the president, because she thinks he has delivered on the two issues she cares most about: curtailing abortion rights and protecting Israel. Behm expects to vote for Trump again in 2020.

“He’s our only choice,” she said.

In 2016, Trump’s alliance with white evangelical voters was obvious — 80 percent of white, self-identified born-again or evangelical Christians supported him, according to exit polls — but, for some of those voters, it was also uneasy. The president’s personal behavior and some of his core political beliefs, including his hostility toward refugees, seem at odds with the major moral tenets of Christianity. What’s more, many of his evangelical supporters weren’t exactly sure what they were getting from a nominee who was neither deeply religious nor a lifelong Republican and who described himself some years ago as “very pro-choice.”

Read the rest here.

The University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point Saves 7 Liberal Arts Programs, History is Not One of Them

University-Wisconsin-Stevens-Point-1024x622

Back in March we covered the goings-on at the University of Wisconsin Stevens-Point.  See our coverage here and here.  At that time the university proposed cuts to the following programs: American Studies, Art, English, French, Geography, Geoscience, German, History, Music Literature, Philosophy, Political Science, Sociology, and Spanish.

Eight months later, it looks like seven of these departments avoided the chopping block.  History was not one of them.  Read all about it here.  A taste:

As for the history department, it has seen a 48-percent drop in the number of majors over the past five years, from 146 to 76 students, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports.

The department remains on the list of cuts to help meet budget reductions, said Lee L. Willis, a history professor and department chair.

The history department has 14 full-time faculty members, including 11 who are tenured. The department will most likely be reduced to 10 faculty members, and at least one tenured professor will be let go, he said.

The changes are ultimately a response to the evolving demands of career-oriented students, Summers said.

“Our students are laser-focused on the cost of higher education and the return they’re going to get on their investment,” he said. “They’re looking for careers with multiple pathways and the skills they know they need to succeed in those careers.”

Read the entire piece here.

Of course I don’t know the details of what is going on at Stevens Point, but I have a few comments/questions:

  1.  If I am reading this correctly, it looks like American studies, sociology, political science, English, philosophy, and music literature survived the cuts, but not history.  Why?  Was this merely an issue of numbers (of majors)?  I would love to hear from a member of the history department.  (You have an open invitation to explain what happened at this blog).
  2.  I am saddened that Stevens Point is dropping history, but I am not surprised.  Universities now operate on a completely business-oriented model in which students are consumers.  Universities no longer give students what they need to contribute to a healthy democracy.  Instead, they provide students with professional skills to contribute to American capitalism with minimal commitment to the development of citizens.  While we certainly need people with professional skills, we also need educated women and men who can contribute to our democratic life together.  And we need them more than ever in the age of Trump.
  3. What will all of this mean for liberal arts colleges or colleges with distinct missions to prepare students for life in church and society? How long before these kinds of colleges start dropping humanities programs?

UW-Stevens Point Students Will Protest Cuts to the Liberal Arts

University-Wisconsin-Stevens-Point-1024x622

We have covered this story here.  Chris Gehrz wrote about it much greater detail here.

It looks the students at the University of Wisconsin–Stevens Point will be staging a sit-in to protest the university’s decision to cut the following majors:  American studies, art, English, French, Geography, Geoscience, German, History, Music literature, Philosophy, Political science, Sociology, Spanish.

The Way of Improvement Leads Home reader Catherine Martin writes:

My son is a student at UWSP and is participating in this demonstration. The university also proposed something similar three or four years ago when my daughter was a student there. The students were up in arms at that time as well and the university system backed down at that time. We’ll see what they do this time.

Catherine also shared this article from Stevens Point Journal.  A taste:

University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point students intend to stage a sit-in of the campus administration building on Wednesday to protest proposed changes to academic programs.

The demonstration, called Save Our Majors, will take place from 1 to 5 p.m.. Participants will gather at the sundial at 12:30 p.m. and then march to Old Main at 1 p.m. to conduct a sit-in for 13 minutes, a minute for each major that is up elimination under a university proposal. 

The student-led and -organized protest is in support of the 13 humanities and social science majors that the university is considering cutting in its proposal.

Outcry from the campus community and surrounding areas continues after UW-Stevens Point unveiled a proposal in early March to eliminate 13 liberal arts degree majors, including English, history and political science. The cuts of 13 majors and the additions or expansions of 16 majors are part of university efforts to deal with a projected deficit of $4.5 million through two years because of declining enrollment and lower tuition revenues.

After the sit-in, students will deliver a list of demands and requests to the university and then march back to the sundial, said Valerie Landowski, a 2014 political science and international studies alumna of UW-Stevens Point.

Read the entire piece here.

What is Going on at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point?

University-Wisconsin-Stevens-Point-1024x622

First it was the University of Wisconsin-Superior, now it is the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point.

UW-Stevens Point is expanding its programs in Chemical Engineering, Computer Information Systems, Conservation Law Enforcement, Finance, Fire Science, Graphic Design, Management, Aquaculture, Captive Wildlife, Ecosystem Design, Environmental Engineering, Geographic Information Science, Business Administration, Natural Resources, and Physical Therapy

They are discontinuing their programs in American Studies, Art, English, French, Geography, Geoscience, German, History, Music Literature, Philosophy, Political Science, Sociology, and Spanish.

Read all about it here.

Let’s just call UW-Stevens Point a professional school.  It is no longer a university or a college.

I concur with philosopher James K.A. Smith’s Twitter warning:

Jamie: It’s already happening.

What is Going on at the University of Wisconsin-Superior?

This decree from the administration of the University of Wisconsin-Superior has been making the rounds today:

Superior 2

Superior

How can you claim to be a college without programs in Math, History, Economics, Chemistry, Social Science, Politics, Sociology, and Visual Arts?  Is the University of Wisconsin-Superior now appears to be little more than a professional school.

"Does Scott Walker Speak in Tongues?" Follow-Up

Some of you have been following this story every since I posted about it last week.  Since then Jud Lounsbury, the author of the two stories about Walker and tongues-speaking at The Progressive, has joined the discussion in the comments section of the post.  So has Dave, a former member of Elmbrook Church and someone whose theological sensibility on these matters I respect.  Dave has sniffed out some of the problems with the Lounsbury stories.  Here is his comment:

I’m kind of late to the conversation, but since I was a member of Elmbrook for several years, and have maintained several friendships despite moving away, I was very surprised by what I read here. Speaking in tongues was not a practice at Elmbrook, nor at any of its sister churches when we we there. I believe Mr. Lounsbury has some unfortunate wires crossed here. There are two Meadowbrook churches in Wisconsin, and they both have websites. The one in Wauwatosa (a suburb of Milwaukee) has a website that can be found at http://www.mbctosa.org. The website for the church in Green Bay can be found at http://www.themeadowbrookchurch.com. Mr. Lounsbury weaves back and forth in quoting the Milwaukee Journal article and the church website, so it’s hard in this comment to isolate them, but all the doctrinal statements that are backed up by expired links in the article match quite well with the doctrinal statements on the website of the Green Bay church. If that is the church Governor Walker goes to, then Mr. Lounsbury has a point. But if Walker goes to the church in Wauwatosa, then I would say that the statements about that church’s beliefs and practices are not accurate (specifically the roles of women, and speaking in tongues).

I should add here that Walker attends the Wauwatosa church.

How Far Should We Go With the Separation of Church and State?

Elmwood Church

A few weeks ago I did a post and an episode of the Virtual Office Hours on the controversy over whether or not the Ground Zero Cross should be displayed at a publicly funded museum devoted to the tragic events of 9-11.  In those pieces I argued that this was not a church-state issue, but a public history issue.  If the cross gave meaning to the people of New York and the nation in the wake of the attacks, then it had historical significance and thus belonged in the museum.  A federal court agreed.

In yesterday’s Washington Times, Robert George, a law and politics professor at Princeton (currently in residence at Harvard), told the story of another church-state case that has found its way to the federal courts.  Today the Supreme Court will decide whether to a hear a case on the “constitutionality of holding a high school graduation in a church auditorium.”  Secular groups do not want the Elmbrook, Wisconsin  School District to hold its graduation ceremony in a local megachurch because to do so would “cause students to believe that the district was endorsing Christianity.” The 7th U.S. District Court of Appeals agreed with them.

As George informs us, the Elmbrook School District chose the church auditorium because it was the best, most affordable place in town to hold a graduation ceremony.  It has a bigger space than the school gym, has more parking, has more seating, and has air conditioning. As far as I can tell, the religious character of the building had nothing to do with the decision.

The church in question is Elmbrook Church, a non-denominational evangelical megachurch located in the Milwaukee suburbs.  Some of my older evangelical readers will recall that the long-time pastor of this church was popular Christian writer and speaker Stuart Briscoe.  (Others may be familiar with his wife, Jill Briscoe). I think I am safe in saying that Elmbrook Church was a megachurch before megachurches were popular.  It has been a flagship congregation on the American evangelical landscape.

Megachurches like Elmbrook Church are known for massive auditoriums, gymnasiums, spaces for post-service sociability and fellowship, audio-visual technology, and excellent sound systems.  In many communities the megachurch has better facilities than any other building in town.  Some megachurches do not even contain religious imagery because their leaders want to be sensitive to newcomers and those who are uncomfortable at more traditional churches filled with crosses, icons, altars, and stained glass windows. Many megachurches rent their facilities for weddings, basketball practices, and conferences.  (My daughter’s 6th grade public school basketball team occasionally practices in one).

Here are two of the spaces in the Elmbrook Church:

Why can’t the evangelical propensity for building large spaces make a contribution to the common good in towns like Elmbrook, Wisconsin?  When does a multipurpose space become a religious space?  When does a religious space become a multipurpose space?

Robert George gets the last word:

…Faced with expensive lawsuits over their graduation venues, most school districts simply will capitulate moving graduation to worse or more expensive venues and harming students and school budgets. One school district in Wisconsin already has been forced to do just that: It moved its graduation ceremony from the Elmbrook church auditorium to a cavernous, 42,000-seat baseball stadium at triple the price of the church.

All of this calls for a deep breath and a dose of common sense. The Supreme Court has long held that the Constitution permits the government to be neutral toward religion meaning that the government can treat religious entities on the same terms as nonreligious entities. That was just what the school district did here: It examined all available venues and chose the best facility for the price. The fact that the best facility happened to be a church did not make a neutral, common-sense decision unconstitutional.

Any other result would require the government to be overtly hostile to religion. No longer could school districts compare religious and nonreligious venues on equal terms and choose the best venue for the price. Instead, they would have to avoid religious venues, even when doing so harms students and school budgets. The Constitution does not require such a counterintuitive result.

…Let’s hope the Supreme Court takes the Elmbrook case and spares us and our school districts and students unnecessary expenses.