American Greatness Quietly Withdraws Bayonet

The name calling has gotten hot and heavy in the recent Ahmari v. French dust up but I haven’t seen any calls for anyone’s death. For that, you need to go to the inappropriately titled Center for American Greatness. In a recent column about Trump’s threat to impose tariffs on Mexico, associate editor Pedro Gonzalez took exception to Cato Institute’s David Bier’s views of Trump’s proposals. In response to Trump’s threat to impose tariffs if Mexico did not reduce the number of asylum seekers getting to the U.S. through Mexico, Bier tweeted:

In response, Gonzalez wrote:

Not only do we have troops at the border now, but on the same day Bier called on Mexico to open the floodgates from Central America, a U.S. Marine fired his weapon while on duty along the southern border. The Marine reported he had been attacked inside his vehicle by three people. Around the same time, a mob of angry Hondurans attacked the U.S. embassy in Tegucigalpa. Technically, this was an act of war. Bier doesn’t seem to mind.

In a perfect world, as opposed to this clownish vale of tears, Bier’s remarks would put him at the business end of a bayonet—and to say so is not more incitant than calling on a foreign power to facilitate Invasion U.S.A.

Nevertheless, Bier’s reaction is what we have come to expect from the libertarian-right.

According to Gonzalez, David Bier should die for expressing his views on Trump’s immigration policy. Sohrab Ahmari wrote that civility and decency are secondary values. In practice, this means civility and decency don’t matter. Winning is primary. Re-ordering for that Highest Good is primary. In Gonzalez’s perfect world (re-ordered?), Bier’s First Amendment expression would put him at great risk. Apparently dissent and disagreement isn’t a characteristic of American greatness at American Greatness.

But that glorious day is not now. Apparently, someone got to Gonzalez and let him know that the re-ordering is not complete. He removed the suggestion that Bier’s immigration views made him worthy of death. The link above is the Google cache (preserved here). There was no explanation for the removal. Was it because a funding source complained? Or did some secondary value bubble up somewhere but without courage to say so?

Special Day of Prayer for the Enemies of the President

Franklin Graham is holding a “special day of prayer” for Donald Trump on June 2nd. Graham says the president needs prayer because he has been attacked more than any other president in history. Trump needs prayer, Graham proclaimed, because the entire nation will suffer if his enemies prevail.

I think Graham is going about this in the wrong way. If he really believes Trump is being attacked and persecuted, he should pray also for those he sees as the enemy.

Matthew 5:45 tells us:

 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.

However, since he and his group of court evangelicals have chosen sides and decided their course of action, I will cover the part of the prayer territory Graham is leaving uncovered and encourage others to do the same.

Enemies Prayer List

We can pray for the House of Representatives investigators. They are having a devil of a time getting people at the White House to abide by the rule of law. They issue subpoenas and legitimate requests for information only to have them ignored. We should pray for them to have better results and that the rule of law will be followed.

We can also pray that judges quickly rule according to law and not political loyalties. So far, the results look promising.

We could pray for our allies. Often Trump seems to consider them enemies. He often has been nicer to Russia and North Korea than leaders of our traditional allies. The Graham group can pray for Trump, Russia and North Korea; we can take England, France, and Canada.

Let’s add the press to our prayer list. They have a hard job but are maligned on a daily basis simply for reporting what Mr. Trump says and does. Some are bad actors but they are on the left and right. We can pray extra for them.

Apparently, Trump thinks poor Central American refugees are his enemies. I will gladly set aside more time to pray for them. Surely, they need it. They also qualify as being members of the “least of these” Jesus told us to pray for. They should get a double portion.

Who is with me?

If you have other suggestions for our prayer list, please leave them in the comments.

Whatever you pray about, I urge you not to turn Sunday worship into a political pep rally for or against Trump. Whatever you do, do it on your own.

What Will Court Evangelicals Pray on Trump’s Special Day of Prayer?

In a helpful gesture, well over 200 court evangelicals have gone on record as supporters of Donald Trump in a solicitation to fellow evangelicals to pray for the president on June 2. Many of the usual suspects are on the list, but I must admit I am having a hard time getting over former DC Talk member Michael Tait being there.

Nothing in the call to prayer calls Trump to repentance for his many lies, for his support for ruthless dictators around the world, for his obstructions of reasonable Congressional oversight, or for the authorization of cruel treatment of asylum seekers at the border. The Scripture used by Franklin Graham as foundation for the event calls on Christians to pray for kings and those in authority. In our system, that includes the president, but it also includes Congress. The House Democrats are trying to exercise oversight but are being thwarted by Trump and his supporters. I pray for the investigators to continue having victories in the courts. Republicans once believed in the rule of law. Now they believe in protecting Trump. Just what is it that Graham and his court evangelicals want us to pray about when it comes to the subpoenas?

I do and plan to continue praying that the right thing will happen and the House investigators will prosper. From my own perspective, I believe that should lead to an impeachment inquiry. I don’t know for certain how that would end up because one can’t know the findings until the hearings are held and the investigations are completed. However, I think the Mueller report as well as other actions by Trump have more than warranted such hearings.  Many Christians are praying for the truth to come out via the investigations; what are Graham’s Christians praying for?

It isn’t clear to me what the court evangelicals are praying for. From an outsiders perspective, it looks like they are praying to preserve a person and not the office. It appears they are asking God to keep Trump in office no matter what he does. If that’s not true, then I think they need to work on their messaging. If it is true, then they have the wrong message.

Pay to Pray: Jim Bakker Sells Trump Benefit Coins as Point of Contact with God

In the “Grifters Gonna Grift” category, I report to you a story I saw on Right Wing Watch. Watch:

So Jim Bakker and Lance Wallnau want people to send them $45 for this gold plated coin to use as a “point of contact” between them and God to pray Trump’s reelection. Wallnau says that unbelievers think coin believers are “crazy” but actually the believers are the “sane ones.”

I don’t think Wallnau and Bakker are crazy. I think they are cynically fleecing people. Grifters gonna grift.

If they are sincere, what a strange and weak god these guys have. From their point of view, their god started a miracle but he needs people to buy a coin to make contact with him to “keep the miracle going.” The miracle is that there are people who will actually do this. Wallnau and Bakker need Trump to stay in office so their scams can continue.

It should be obvious that there is no place in Protestant teaching for financially enhanced prayers. One’s faith isn’t enhanced or released by an amulet or talisman. These people are preaching some other religion.

Is Trump Lying or Just Clueless about Tariffs?

Anyone who pays attention to what Trump says on a regular basis is already aware of this doozy:

Trump has doubled down on the claim that China pays tariffs to the U.S. as if we are getting revenue from the Chinese government. In fact, American importers pay the higher prices imposed by Trump’s administration. Ultimately, American businesses frequently raise prices which hurts consumers, especially those in the lowest income brackets.

Larry Kudlow grudgingly admitted that China isn’t paying the tariffs.

Here is one of Trump’s Ohio 2016 voters coming to his senses and realizing Trump has made a mess of things.

Of course, China is not paying duties on imported goods imposed by the U.S. administration. American businesses are. Is Trump lying or is he really that clueless?

I don’t know. There are good reasons to believe either possibility. He lies easily but he also is so narcissistic that he thinks he is right when he is clearly wrong. Either way, this issue illustrates that Trump is simply incompetent. I look forward to the defense strategies of his sheep.

Poll: 59% of White Evangelicals Will “Definitely” Vote for Trump in 2020

In a Washington Post/ABC News poll taken from April 22-25, 59% of white evangelicals say they will “definitely” vote for President Donald Trump in the 2020 election. Another 23% say they will consider voting for him. Only 15% say they definitely will not vote for him.

Despite widespread coverage of the Mueller report, evangelical voters seem fixed on Trump. Perhaps white evangelicals don’t believe there is much to worry about. In the same poll, 57% of evangelicals said they don’t think Russian interference will be a threat to the 2020 election. Nearly 8 in 10 (78%) didn’t think the interference had an impact on the 2016 election. Compared to other groups, evangelicals led the way in skepticism about the influence of Russian meddling.

Evangelicals are with Trump on immigration as well. They are the leading group to say his immigration policies make them more likely to support him in the next election. Sixty-three percent believe Trump’s immigration policies are good compared to 16% who oppose them.  Among all voters the breakdown is 34% who support Trump due to his immigration policies versus 42% who oppose him for that reason.

I don’t think it goes too far to say that white evangelicals as a group see the world about like Donald Trump. This is a frightening and sobering thought.

The Charlottesville Rally Wasn’t about Robert E. Lee as a General

President Trump doubled down on his claim that very fine people were in Charlottesville to show support for the statue of Robert E. Lee. When asked about that comment, he said he answered that question “perfectly.” Then he discussed his view of why some of the people were there. Watch:

A review of Trump’s comments from the Charlottesville news conference shows that he condemned neo-Nazis and white supremacists in one breath but in other comments he suggests that there was some other group of Lee statue supporting people who gathered with the neo-Nazis and white supremacists. In this theory, these “very fine people” were there only to support the statue which isn’t a bad thing in his mind. I maintain it is entirely right and proper to question the wisdom and character of anyone showing up to a rally convened by neo-Nazis and and white supremacists. If neo-Nazis show up in my town and rally against drunk driving, I am not going to carry a sign in that march even though I oppose drunk driving.

In my view, it is not noble to support the myth of Lee as a great statesman and General. However, I do know that some people do think that and do so sincerely. Their desire to uphold the Lost Cause blinds them to a complete picture of Lee. What makes me think Lee worship is a smokescreen is that the activities of the weekend were not about Lee. When the tiki torch marchers gathered around Lee’s statue, they didn’t sing tributes to Lee or chant “General Lee is my favorite General.” They chanted, “You will not replace us.” Watch:

The “us” in this chant referred to white people not members of the “Lee is my favorite General” club.

Those people weren’t there because of their love of military history. If they were there for Lee at all, it was because he represents white supremacy. What is very fine about that?

Giving cover to Trump’s distraction, people like Dinesh D’Souza and Matt Walsh want to make Charlottesville about Robert E. Lee as a General. It wasn’t.

 

Image: By Cville dog – Own work, Public Domain

Why Aren’t Evangelical Trump Supporters More Curious About Trump’s Behavior Toward Russia?

The easy answer is that evangelical leaders don’t want to mess up their power relationship with the president. It is easier to rationalize his actions. Even though the same actions from a Democrat president would bring outrage, they have tasted political dominance and don’t want to give it up.

There may be other factors. Social psychologists study the role of consistency and cognitive dissonance in maintaining attitudes. Taking a public position helps to solidify that attitude. Also, dissonance over a position can often be resolved by finding a sufficient justification for it. Subjects in studies have been induced to lie and say dull, boring tasks were fun. Subjects only paid a small sum to lie later said the tasks were interesting in contrast to those who were paid 20 times as much money to lie. The well paid group had sufficient justification to lie whereas the low pay group did not. The low pay group resolved their dissonance by later rating the tasks as more interesting than all other subjects.

Evangelical leaders may tell themselves that getting judges or support for some other policy or access to the president is justification for lack of scrutiny of the president’s behavior toward Russia. They may tell themselves that Russia isn’t really that bad after all. However, to people outside of the circle of his evangelical supporters, the president’s actions are very troubling.

If this article interested you, you probably have heard that the FBI investigated Trump’s possible ties to Russia after he fired FBI Director James Comey. Over the weekend, it was also reported that Trump has taken steps to keep his meetings with Vladimir Putin highly secret. There are other signs which have been documented elsewhere and summarized below. In short, Trump has deferred to Putin and Russian interests in ways that depart sharply from previous U.S. policy.

Even actions which appear to signal a willingness to respond firmly to Russia raise questions. Some supporters of the president point out the administration imposed tough sanctions on Russian interests, including those very close to Putin. An incurious supporter of the president will stop there. However, even the tough actions aren’t always what they seem to be.

For instance, in April 2018, the U.S. imposed tough sanctions on a group of Russian interests. One such person whose name is recently in the news was Oleg Deripaska. However, the action was delayed by the Trump administration almost a year past the time when it would have done the most good. Congress wanted sanctions imposed much earlier but for reasons never made clear, Trump delayed imposing them. In that time frame, the targets (who were well aware they were coming) had time to move funds into locations which are not covered by the sanctions.

Now the administration is lobbying to remove sanctions from companies previously associated with Deripaska. It isn’t clear to me how much Deripaska personally would benefit from the action but the timing of request should raise questions. However, Trump supporters don’t seem to ask questions.

As a child of the 60s, I am in disbelief to see evangelicals numb to Russian efforts to destabilize our elections. To hear Trump excuse Russian aggression is jarring and raises so many red flags. Trump’s behavior with Putin and in relation to Russian interests are truly and objectively troubling. Even Andy McCarthy, a Trump defender writing at the National Review, saw it recently. McCarthy doesn’t support the Mueller investigation but wrote, “If Mueller’s highly elastic warrant is to probe Trump “collusion” with the Kremlin, why would he stop if the president keeps giving him reasons to continue?”

McCarthy then lists Trump’s unbelievable support for Russian rationale for the invasion of Afghanistan, his praise of Putin as a leader in the face of evidence that he ordered the murder of dissenters, his obsequious response in Helsinki to Putin’s denial of election meddling, and his lies about having business dealings in Russia as reasons why someone might want to investigate. Trump supporter McCarthy doesn’t think Trump is a Russian agent, but he understands why someone might question Trump’s behavior.

In contrast, evangelical and other supporters of Trump just close their eyes and minds. Although I think it is highly likely that there is compromising information known by the Russians which motivates Trump, I will withhold judgment until Robert Mueller completes his work. However, whatever motivates our president, his actions are not helpful to the U.S. and demand a response from Congress and the people.

 

Jerry Falwell is Wrong About the Poor

There are several head scratching quotes from Jerry Falwell, Jr. in his New Year’s Day interview with Joe Heims in the Washington Post. One such quote which caught my eye is this:

Why have Americans been able to do more to help people in need around the world than any other country in history? It’s because of free enterprise, freedom, ingenuity, entrepreneurism and wealth. A poor person never gave anyone a job. A poor person never gave anybody charity, not of any real volume. It’s just common sense to me.

While job creation might be out of reach for many low income people, charitable giving is something the poor do often. As Relevant magazine pointed out, Christian college president Falwell appears to have forgotten Jesus’ teaching about the widow and her few cents. Beyond Falwell’s insensitivity to the Bible, he is wrong about the poor and charitable giving. Actually, low income people as a group give a lot and on average they give more as a percentage of their income than rich people.

Given Falwell’s role as a fund raiser for his college, I am surprised he isn’t aware of this. In philanthropy literature, the link between income bracket and giving is well known. Although the truly poor don’t often itemize charitable gifts, lower income brackets are responsible for significant amounts of charitable giving compared to higher brackets. This is especially true of religious giving.

A 2007 Indiana University study found that donors making under 100,000/year gave nearly $60 Billion to religious organizations compared to $8.6 Billion given by donors making over $1 million/year. The per donor gift was much smaller in the lower income group, but together the lower income group represented nearly 60% of all giving to religious causes. In contrast to Falwell’s claim, that’s some real volume. No doubt Falwell’s college gets many widow’s mites on a monthly basis to help keep those doors open.

I realize that $100,000/year is not poor. However, this bracket is more likely to include large families with limited resources. As noted above, people in the lowest income groups don’t often itemize contributions and so it is harder to capture those data via the Indiana U. methodology. However, other research supports the contention that lower income persons give more as a percentage of income than the rich.

For instance, a 2014 study published in the Chronicle of Philanthropy showed that the wealthy reduced their giving during the economic downtown while lower and middle income donors increased giving. The lowest income bracket – those making less than $25,000/year – increased their giving by 17% from 2006 to 2012. The lowest income group demonstrated the highest percentage increase of all groups.

The 2014 study wasn’t unusual. Much prior research has found that those in low income brackets give more as a percentage of income than the wealthy. According to researcher Roger Barnett, “Research in the area has established that, on the average, high income donors give more to charitable causes than do people with low incomes. However, in Britain (and in the United States) the poor have for decades been observed to donate proportionately higher shares of their income to charity than the financially better off (emphasis in the original) (p. 520).

Falwell, Jr.’s college has been helped out in the past by big gifts (e.g., self-proclaimed messiah Sun Myung Moon) so perhaps he is influenced by the big donors. However, as a group, the poor do give and they give a lot. He is wrong and shouldn’t spread this misinformation. If I were a low income donor to Liberty University, I would have to rethink my contribution.

 

Trump’s Dirty Deeds: Is This an Off-Ramp for Evangelicals?

Yesterday President Trump’s former lawyer Michael Cohen was sentenced to 3 years in prison for several crimes, including campaign finance violations. In his remarks prior to receiving his sentence, Cohen said he was sorry he helped cover up Donald Trump’s “dirty deeds.”

According to Cohen, Trump directed him to make hush money payments to two women for the purpose of influencing the 2016 presidential campaign. If Cohen (and Dept. of Justice prosecutors) are right, Donald Trump deceived the American people when he told reporters that he didn’t know about the hush money payments. Putting aside the intricacies of campaign finance laws, the evidence is mounting that Trump told the nation a story he knew wasn’t true.

Evangelicals in 1998 and Evangelicals Now

I am old enough to remember when presidential lying about personal moral behavior set off spasms of indignation among evangelicals. In 1998, some of them put pen to paper with an admonishment and solemn call for integrity.* They said the Clinton presidency was in “crisis.” Now, many evangelicals think we are in the best of times. My, how times have changed.

The entire statement is here. Let me bring out a couple of segments which could be written about the current crisis, if only it was seen as one.

We are aware that certain moral qualities are central to the survival of our political system, among which are truthfulness, integrity, respect for the law, respect for the dignity of others, adherence to the constitutional process, and a willingness to avoid the abuse of power. We reject the premise that violations of these ethical standards should be excused so long as a leader remains loyal to a particular political agenda and the nation is blessed by a strong economy. Elected leaders are accountable to the Constitution and to the people who elected them. By his own admission the President has departed from ethical standards by abusing his presidential office, by his ill use of women, and by his knowing manipulation of truth for indefensible ends. We are particularly troubled about the debasing of the language of public discourse with the aim of avoiding responsibility for one’s actions.

Remember this was written by evangelicals in 1998. Now we hear that a good economy and Supreme Court justices trump violations of ethical standards. Evangelicals of 1998 were “troubled about the debasing of the language of public discourse.” Now they join in the debasing.

It appears clear to me that evangelical leaders no longer believe “the moral character of a people is more important than the tenure of a particular politician or the protection of a particular political agenda.”

Neither our students nor we demand perfection. Many of us believe that extreme dangers sometimes require a political leader to engage in morally problematic actions. But we maintain that in general there is a reasonable threshold of behavior beneath which our public leaders should not fall, because the moral character of a people is more important than the tenure of a particular politician or the protection of a particular political agenda. Political and religious history indicate that violations and misunderstandings of such moral issues may have grave consequences. The widespread desire to “get this behind us” does not take seriously enough the nature of transgressions and their social effects.

This statement finds new relevance in the presidency of Donald Trump for reasons which go far beyond hush money payoffs to women. It is absolutely stunning what is now acceptable to evangelical leaders. Current evangelical leaders clearly have flipped this statement. It appears to me that they believe that their political agenda is more important than the “moral character of a people.”

At least that is how it has seemed up to now. I have to wonder: Could the Michael Cohen sentencing and surrounding events be the off-ramp for evangelical leaders? It was also revealed yesterday that the National Enquirer entered into a cooperation agreement with prosecutors regarding the hush money to one of the two women. The effect is that they acknowledged the money was paid to influence the campaign which contradicts Trump’s story. In other words, the magazine sided with Cohen’s version of events. Will evangelicals stick with Trump if it becomes crystal clear to them that he directed felonious violations of the law in contrast to his claims?

 

*(Declaration concerning religion, ethics, and the crisis in the Clinton presidency. The following declaration can be found at moral-crisis.org, November 16, 1998. To be released on 13 November 1998.)