A Teachable Moment: Dinesh D’Souza Refuses to Take Back False Claim about Republicans Owning Slaves in 1860 (UPDATED)

(UPDATE – 6/11/19) – See below the post for an update.

For Dinesh D’Souza watchers, this headline is as shocking as proclaiming that water is wet. I post this incident because it is a clear and convincing demonstration that D’Souza shows zero interest in academic integrity.  Let me lay out the basics. First, D’Souza claimed in a speech that no Republican owned slaves in 1860. Here is the speech:

He said one Republican who owned a slave in 1860 would require him to take back his claim.

Historians on Twitter, led by Princeton’s Kevin Kruse, quickly rose to the occasion and found ten. Follow the thread below for the receipts.

To go directly to the thread with the breakdown of the ten found thus far, click here.

In essence, the method of finding Republican slave owners involves an examination of those who attended the Republican convention as delegates and then comparing that list with registries of slave owners.

For his part, D’Souza said the instances offered by the historians are “invalid” and he repeated his claim this morning.

I looked for counter evidence in D’Souza’s threads and nothing shows up. D’Souza said no Republican owned slaves in 1860, but in fact at least ten Republicans are on record as being slave owners during that year. It doesn’t change the fact that the Republican party generally opposed the expansion of slavery but it does prove that D’Souza’s specific claim is false. His handling of the matter also shows that he cannot be trusted in a dispute like this (as if there was any doubt).

This incident is a case study in cognitive dissonance for D’Souza followers. Will they believe their senses or go along with their loyalty to D’Souza? There is a solid research base in social psychology which suggests his followers will find some way to ease the dissonance and stick with D’Souza. Most will never know about it because they won’t read any of the historians’ posts. Some will simply assume the historians can’t be right because they are “libs.” Those who do engage with the material will have the most trouble. They will hang on D’Souza’s denials and assertions. A few may file this away as a “rare” mistake on D’Souza’s part so they can hold on to other things about him they like. A very few may actually reconsider his integrity.

Where this challenges to D’Souza eventually may have some benefit is to cause venues like Christian colleges and other organizations who might consider having him in to speak to reconsider. I use instances like this one in my classes as illustrations for concepts like ingroup bias, confirmation bias, belief perseverance, and cognitive dissonance. This one will go to the top of the class.

UPDATE – D’Souza admitted he was wrong on his claim with a sorry, not sorry tweet.

If you click the tweet and read through the thread, you will see the “sorry, not sorry” attitude of the response. He still hasn’t taken down the original tweet. D’Souza insists on promoting a false picture of historiography surrounding party realignment. He tells his followers that historians obscure the role of Democrats in the defense of slavery. They don’t obscure anything. He isn’t a great revealer of hidden truths. What D’Souza obscures is the fact that the parties realigned and that there were Republican racists all along the way. He also insists that the parties now are of the same character as they were 150 years ago.

His admission is striking and had to happen because he was caught red handed. His reputation should be in some jeopardy now for anyone who objectively evaluates his rhetoric. Prior to his admission, his claims were absolute. He said many people had already spent much time trying to debunk his claim. In fact, it took a few historians about 30 minutes to counter it. This was a devastating rebuke. D’Souza’s confident claims should never again be taken at face value by anyone. It isn’t that scholars don’t make factual mistakes, of course they do. However, true scholars aren’t as absolutistic and arrogant as D’Souza. He went out on a limb above a canyon, and it was cut off.

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?

Against Sohrab Ahmari-ism

Subtitle: As Rick Wilson says, “Everything Trump touches dies.”

As I read Sohrab Ahmari’s betrayal of conservative principles in First Things (!), I thought of those who predicted Trump would kill the GOP and conservatism (even this one). If Sohrab Ahmari speaks for Trump supporting religious conservatives, the never-Trump religious conservatives have been vindicated. Here is Ahmari relegating civility and decency to one’s own tribe:

But conservative Christians can’t afford these luxuries. Progressives understand that culture war means discrediting their opponents and weakening or destroying their institutions. Conservatives should approach the culture war with a similar realism. Civility and decency are secondary values. They regulate compliance with an established order and orthodoxy. We should seek to use these values to enforce our order and our orthodoxy, not pretend that they could ever be neutral. To recognize that enmity is real is its own kind of moral duty.

Ahmari wants to win the culture war and he doesn’t want to be nice about it. For Ahmari, nice in this essay is embodied by National Review writer and religious conservative David French. Curiously, what really set Ahmari off was a drag queen reading a book during a library story time.

I recently quipped on Twitter that there is no “polite, David French-ian third way around the cultural civil war.” (What prompted my ire was a Facebook ad for a children’s drag queen reading hour at a public library in Sacramento.)

I added, “The only way is through”—that is to say, to fight the culture war with the aim of defeating the enemy and enjoying the spoils in the form of a public square re-ordered to the common good and ultimately the Highest Good.

Ahmari complains that French is too nice and too wedded to pluralism to be of much help in winning the day for Christian morality.

Such talk—of politics as war and enmity—is thoroughly alien to French, I think, because he believes that the institutions of a technocratic market society are neutral zones that should, in theory, accommodate both traditional Christianity and the libertine ways and paganized ideology of the other side. Even if the latter—that is, the libertine and the pagan—predominate in elite institutions, French figures, then at least the former, traditional Christians, should be granted spaces in which to practice and preach what they sincerely believe.

Well, it doesn’t work out that way, and it hasn’t been working out that way for a long time…

Here is what I get out of Ahmari’s criticism of David French-ism:

  • Fellow citizens of different faiths and beliefs and moral views are enemies of Ahmari’s brand of morality.
  • To the degree that those citizens disagree with his morality and want to act in accord with that disagreement, they must be opposed without civility and decency.
  • The salvation of individuals is insufficient to achieve the common good.
  • The battle is a zero-sum situation. Ahmari’s team wins or the other side wins. Divergent views of what is morally good cannot coexist.
  • Once the enemy is defeated, the righteous victors (Ahamri’s team) will enjoy “the spoils in the form of a public square re-ordered to the common good and ultimately the Highest Good.”

What else does Ahmari suggest as a conservative answer to moral decay? He leaves a lot to the imagination of his readers. He implies at one point that government might intervene in social media platforms where he believes conservatives have been censored. What about the drag queens? Does he want to violate freedom of expression, speech, and association? If so, how?

What would this re-ordered public square look like? Would businesses close on Sunday? Would store clerks have to say Merry Christmas? Surely, there would be no drag queens in libraries. Would they be allowed anywhere? Who gets to define the Highest Good? Ahmari tells us that culture will never favor Christianity so he must have something more top down in mind. I think he gives us a clue in his piece when he writes:

Conservative liberalism of the kind French embodies has a great horror of the state, of traditional authority and the use of the public power to advance the common good, including in the realm of public morality. That horror is a corollary to its autonomy-maximizing impulse.

This goes back, I think, to its roots in English non-conformism. In Culture and Anarchy, his great Victorian critique of this mode of thought, Matthew Arnold says of the nonconformist that, because he has encountered the Word of God by his own lights, he sees no need for the authority and grand liturgies of a national church (still less the Catholic Church).

But as Arnold notes, while the nonconformist vision of an austere, no-frills, solitary encounter with God might be suitable in one context, it doesn’t satisfy other necessities, such as collective public worship befitting public needs.

Ahmari adds:

Calls for religious revival are often little more than an idle wish that all men become moral, so that we might dispense with moral regulation.

Ahmari doesn’t like French-ism because he claims that French hopes individual salvation will make people moral and lead to a moral culture. Ahmari disagrees. He argues that “public power” and “moral regulation” will “advance the common good.”

So many questions come up. What is this “public power” and what are these “moral regulations?” Is it a state church? A oath to Dear Leader? Would Ahmari regulate drag queens? Libraries? The press? Free speech?

If this is Sohrab Ahmari-ism, I am against it.

David French?

Since attorney French has been a major player in religious liberty court cases, I would never have gone to him as a figure head for Ahmari’s opposition. Apparently, Ahmari doesn’t like French’s refusal to bow the knee to Trump and the fantasy of a Trump crafted “social cohesion.” However, reading French over the past two years, I think he is as fine as anyone to cast as a foil to Ahmari’s grand re-ordering plan. French knows who he is morally and spiritually, but he also writes convincingly about respect for freedom of conscience.

A serious problem with Ahmari’s plan to re-order the public square in his fuzzy image of the Highest Good (note the caps) is that such a re-ordering would have to rely on coercion. Someone’s conscience is going suffer. Ahmari doesn’t want it to be his so to hell with civility and decency. I mean that literally. If it takes hellish strategies to get the job done, then we must be realistic. The other side isn’t squeamish. And remember, the other side is made up of libertine pagans (Ahmari’s words), so they will surely use every demonic method available.

For Ahmari, these pagans aren’t just fellow homo sapiens who happen to see the world differently. On the other hand, French and his fellow French-ists respect the Constitutional freedoms available to all citizens. In his rebuttal to Ahmari, French made a point that is foundational to our ability to be one nation.

My political opponents are my fellow citizens. When I wore the uniform of my country, I was willing to die for them. Why would I think I’m at war with them now?

I agree. I get that Ahmari doesn’t like it when other people see the world differently and act on that difference. Most of us try to make the world more comfortable for us. Our founding documents ensure equal treatment before the law to pursue our aims. Ahmari also wants very much to do that for himself and those he likes. However, his ode to group serving bias isn’t a way forward for me, even though we may share some similar doctrinal beliefs. I can’t reconcile it with basic Constitutional freedoms which conservatives claim they want to conserve.

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.)

White Evangelicals Stand with Trump

Are evangelicals moving away from Trump?

Family Research Council leader Tony Perkins wrote yesterday that any suggestion evangelicals are deserting Trump is wrong. He cited research from the Pew Foundation as a support.

Contrary to media reports, Perkins said white evangelicals, young and old, are sticking with Trump and also sticking with their evangelical identification. He took his information directly from a Christian Post article which reported on a speech given by Pew Foundation’s  Alan Cooperman. One fact that Perkins didn’t report is that evangelical voters are becoming more accepting of gays and same-sex marriage, even as they are becoming more pro-life and supportive of the Republican party. This is a trend I have written about previously.

Regarding Trump, white evangelicals gave him a 71% approval rating. For Perkins, this is a source of happiness; for me, it is a discouraging fact. According to Cooperman, those who attend church frequently are more likely than infrequent attenders to support him.

Something that Perkins doesn’t mention that concerns me is the wide gap between white and black evangelicals. Just 11% of black millennial Protestants identify as Republican whereas 77% of white millennial evangelicals do. While I don’t know what this means, the difference is stunning. On the big political issues of the day, religious similarity isn’t a unifying force. It is a big problem for me that the leader of a group purporting to research the Christian family doesn’t report this as a problem for the church.

This difference jumps out at me more than anything else in this report about Cooperman’s presentation. In general, blacks and whites see many issues differently in the culture. White evangelicals want to believe that the gospel unifies. Those opposed to social justice initiatives claim the gospel is enough to unify. However, in practice, that doesn’t seem to be working out. Instead of crowing about political victories, I think white evangelical leaders should be grieving and listening to our minority brothers and sisters.

 

Could John Kasich Lead a Successful Third Party Challenge?

Since John Kasich dropped out of the race for the Republican presidential nomination, he has been at odds with his party over direction and support for Donald Trump.  Now he is signaling a move to a possible third party run for president in 2020.

According to the Dayton Daily News, Kasich told Whoopi Goldberg on The Political View program that he believes he could win a primary in New Hampshire but not do well in Southern states where Trump is strong.

Despite being quite religious himself, Kasich never really caught on with evangelical voters during the Republican primaries. He was widely viewed as a moderate, a perception which might now help him in a deeply divided nation. At least that’s one way to look at it.

I like Kasich and supported him in the primaries. I would support him as an independent but I don’t know if there are enough voters who would be willing to take the risk on a third party. Even though I think he is a good mix of principle and pragmatism, he was not able to inspire widespread support in 2016. It remains to be seen if the conditions are right for him now.

Image: From Johnkasich.com

 

Open Forum: Post Midterm Election Analysis

The big news from last night is a divided Congress with the Democrats taking the House by a wide margin and the Republicans widening their margin in the Senate.

It appears the suburban areas of the country rejected Trump and the rural areas moved a little closer to him.

Trump has already challenged Democrats by suggesting that he controls the Senate.

I don’t think that is going to persuade Democrats not to exercise oversight, do you?

What are your reactions? What are the important races and stories in your opinion?

Discuss in the comments section.

This Migrant Caravan Isn’t The First; Trump is Exploiting This One

For years, caravans of migrants from Central America have traveled through Mexico without a military response from the Trump administration. Like the current movement, refugees flee violence in their home countries and travel in groups to try to make the journey safer.

When the asylum process works some refugees are granted a hearing. Wearing an ankle monitoring bracelet is better than being threatened with violence back home.

Trump and the Republican leadership know that these caravans are not dominated by criminal types. Criminal types prey on the caravans. These are people who seek asylum and want a better life. There is a history of people presenting themselves at points of entry wanting to be vetted. Trump is deliberately obscuring that history by referring to the most recent caravan as an invasion and overreacting by sending troops to the border.

On average, such persons do contribute to the U.S. and benefit the economy and contribute to the social good. Trump’s stereotyping of asylum seekers as murderers and criminals and the recent caravan as a new threat is dishonest.

 

In Honor of Kanye: Historian Kevin Kruse Explains the History of Political Parties and Civil Rights

Princeton University history professor Kevin M. Kruse is a Twitter Ninja Warrior. He can slice and dice and bring the facts with a devastating wit.

Kevin M. Kruse – From Twitter page

In this Twitter thread he educates and illuminates a topic which has been muddied by Christian nationalist history writers such as Dinesh D’Souza and David Barton: The history of political parties and civil rights advocacy.
This thread is a wealth of information all in one spot and as such I highly recommend it. About the only thing I would add is a link to information on Lily White Republicans which he implied but didn’t name when he wrote:

That said, both parties in this period had their share of racists in their ranks.
When the second KKK rose to power in the 1920s, it had a strong Democratic ties in some states; strong GOP ones elsewhere.

As Kruse documents, the story of the evolution of the Democrats from Jim Crow to Civil Rights is one of the major stories of American political history. Thanks to Kevin for this thread.

PA's 18th Congressional District Special Election Candidates Conor Lamb and Rick Saccone Square Off in Debate

Conor Lamb (from Conorlamb.com)

Earlier today, Democrat Conor Lamb and Republican Rick Saccone met for a debate moderated by KDKA Pittsburgh. The candidates tackled gun control, abortion, Russian interference, tax cuts and their own qualifications.
Saccone has been endorsed by David Barton and is an unabashed supporter of President Trump. Lamb is a moderate Democrat who is new to elective politics. The latest polls have them within 3 points.
In the debate, there was common ground. Both men felt existing gun laws should be enforced. Both men agree that due process is important in allegations of misconduct.
The candidates disagreed about many other matters including medical marijuana – Saccone voted against legalizing medical marijuana in PA. Lamb sides with medical opinion which favors the use of marijuana. Lamb asserted his concern for the deficit while Saccone touted the GOP tax bill.

Saccone’s Record on Draining the Swamp

When asked why voters should support the candidates, Saccone answered:

“I have never been part of the swamp. I have always been there cleaning up the swamp in Harrisburg. Most of my bills have passed unanimously or nearly unanimously,” Saccone said. “I have a record of doing what I say and my opponent has no record. A candidate can say anything he wants. How many times have you been disappointed by people who say they are going to do something, get into office and don’t do it. I’ve actually done what I said and I have the record to prove it.”

The facts don’t fully support this claim. When Saccone ran for U.S. Senate, he portrayed himself as a swamp cleaner. However, according to a report in the Allentown Morning Call, Saccone didn’t miss many opportunities to cash in on his status as a legislator.
As a state rep, Saccone sponsored a bill which prohibits public officials from accepting anything of value including “hospitality” as a gift from someone who wants to do business with the government. However, he does it all the time. According to the Morning Call, he also brings along his wife for the free meals.
Saccone has also billed PA taxpayers for office space owned by a campaign donor. Over his seven years in office, he has spent over $400,000 of tax dollars on expense accounts according to an Intercept report. In contrast to his claim, he has been involved in filling the swamp.