As a young immigrant, I came to the United States from a war-torn Lebanon, and I will always be grateful for the opportunities to grow and prosper that America has made possible for me and countless others.
One of the first lessons we’ve all learned is the importance of democracy and the institutions and bedrock principles that guide – and protect – us.
Without them, you can’t fight for life or school choice or any particular issue, and you definitely wouldn’t be able to debate whether a mask mandate is right or challenge political outcomes you think may be wrong.
What you can’t do is dance around a January 6 insurrection that sought to end the peaceful transfer of power, discredit the votes of millions of my fellow Americans, and install a monarch over a president with fists and bear spray.
And you definitely can’t say, as Glenn Youngkin has implied, that the destruction of the halls of Congress was really about “election integrity” and the need for machine audits. I know better.
During my time as a legislator serving Virginia, I was a member of the Privileges and Elections Committee in the House of Delegates. I authored in 2013 the online voter registration law, HB2341, and worked with colleagues on both sides of the aisle to guarantee that a vote cast would be a ballot correctly – and automatically – counted.
You should also know that although Terry McAuliffe invited me often to the governor’s mansion to work on common issues like jobs, education, and support of military families. I was a conservative thorn in his side . . . because I was a lifelong Republican who believes in smaller government, and less taxes.
Were this a typical pre-Trump Virginia election for governor, I would be working a poll and handing out Republican sample ballots. But this is hardly a routine election.
Glenn Youngkin has a small number of plans based on little more than dog-whistle rhetoric favored by the divisive former president. On the other side, Terry McAuliffe has the experience, fortitude, and vision – over 20 plans to take Virginia forward.
And when Virginians are struggling through the COVID pandemic and trying to recover, it is prudent to re-elect a candidate who’s already brought Amazon and Nestle to the Commonwealth and knows how government works.
Mind you, it’s not that Glenn Youngkin couldn’t grow to become the leader Virginia needs today. It’s just that he hasn’t.
This is the time to put our country and our Commonwealth first and vote for Terry McAuliffe.
This is why, as a lifelong conservative, I support Terry McAuliffe for Governor.
Saturday, October 30, 2021
As President Biden prepares to travel to Europe to meet with the Pope and our NATO allies next week, there remains a huge national security problem for him to grapple with, one that hasn't been addressed in any meaningful fashion for many years.
It is the root cause of our problems with China. It's why some people don't want to get vaccinated. It's why some people still gleefully follow Donald Trump. It explains why Congress can't get together in a bipartisan fashion to deal with infrastructure, health care and gun control. It's why we have problems understanding climate change. It explains voter suppression. It's why "critical race theory" has become controversial, why elements of our population on the left and right are at war with each other and why some believe the earth is flat and the Holocaust didn't occur. It's why some of us believe we're still the "No. 1" nation in the world when — other than having the largest military — we clearly lag behind other major nations in many critical factors. More than anything else it explains why we fail.
The United States is a nation of militantly ignorant people, arrogant in their beliefs, unable to change their minds and unwilling to try. We lack education.
And the lack of education in this country is such a problem that national security adviser Jake Sullivan described it this week as a critical issue for our national security. "I do consider it a national security problem," he told me during a White House briefing on Tuesday. "In fact, it's Dr. [Jill] Biden who has repeatedly said — and the president frequently quotes her — that any country that out-educates the United States will outcompete the United States, and that is a fundamental national security issue."
[W]e have 500,000 fewer students enrolled in colleges this year. Does anyone really think we can compete in the modern workplace with just a high school education?
I coached high school football for many years. I can tell you firsthand that the quality of education of the "average" student today would have been below the level of a remedial education when I was in high school. There are scores of students who are functionally illiterate as well as scientifically and mathematically illiterate, and have no idea how government works or what their responsibilities in a democracy are. Many scream about "rights." Fewer understand responsibility.
They don't know what socialism or capitalism are — other than thinking that one is bad and the other is American. They don't know our history, have no view of the future and are moribund in a present they fear, hate and don't understand.
We have to do better. The reasons are clear. Biden is correct: Without a competitive education, we sentence our progeny to industrial servitude while those who are educated amass power and wealth. Look around. We're in a new space race with China. We're behind in hypersonic technology. Our scientists say we must have a nuclear rocket to beat the Chinese to Mars, but millions of people believe that Clorox might treat the coronavirus. Some even tried it.
This is not a recent development. Our dedication to education has fallen steadily during the last 40 years — and like most of the rot that has occurred in this country, I place the blame at the feet of Ronald Reagan and the ultra-conservatives he used to get elected and that he helped bring into the mainstream.
If you don't want to accept that Reagan was a feckless fool who destroyed unions, education, the free press and health care, and took us down the road to ruin, then look at the stench stirred up by George W. Bush and his infamous "No Child Left Behind" education policy.
That moronic mantra became every child left behind, creating an entire generation of Americans who were taught how to pass tests — but never how to think critically.
Many of those children who grew up being trained to pass tests are adults now and beginning to populate mid-level management positions in the American workforce. They have become part of what H.L. Mencken described as a "vast and militant ignorance" a century ago, which reminds us that arrogant ignorance isn't a new phenomenon — only that No Child Left Behind exacerbated the problem.
What's the most striking example of the lack of education? Two words: Donald Trump.
And I have one real question I'd like answered: Will someone please stop sending me emails from Donald Trump and his children, relatives, underlings and minions . . . Apparently the former president took the White House correspondents' email list with him when he fled D.C. . . . . Trump has shared the email list with his itinerant, angry, brain-dead acolytes.
They all send me content designed to make the uneducated howl at the moon and scratch themselves like a junkyard dog with fleas. These "press releases" from Trump's moronic disciples are met with yelps of pleasure from their fans. Poor grammar and spelling aside, these fecal releases usually make no sense and appear to be the mutterings of simpletons who've ingested tainted hallucinogens.
The idea that the most qualified candidate in the Republican Party for the highest office in the land could once again be a guy who was impeached twice and encouraged us to ingest Clorox and shine ultraviolet light inside our bodies — that's something even an overabundance of psilocybin in your bloodstream can't explain.
But a lack of education explains all of it, including but not limited to Jim Jordan, Matt Gaetz, Lauren Boebert, Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema.
Our lack of education is the single greatest threat to the existence of our nation. Jake Sullivan is right: It's a national security issue.
Be terrified for the future.
Friday, October 29, 2021
Back in July, Kay Ivey, governor of Alabama, had some strong and sensible things to say about Covid-19 vaccines. . . . . Three months later Ivey directed state agencies not to cooperate with federal Covid-19 vaccination mandates.
Ivey’s swift journey from common sense and respect for science to destructive partisan nonsense — nonsense that is killing tens of thousands of Americans — wasn’t unique. On the contrary, it was a recapitulation of the journey the whole Republican Party has taken on issue after issue, from tax cuts to the Big Lie about the 2020 election.
When we talk about the G.O.P.’s moral descent, we tend to focus on the obvious extremists, like the conspiracy theorists who claim that climate change is a hoax and Jan. 6 was a false flag operation. But the crazies wouldn’t be driving the Republican agenda so completely if it weren’t for the cowards, Republicans who clearly know better but reliably swallow their misgivings and go along with the party line. And at this point crazies and cowards essentially make up the party’s entire elected wing.
Consider, for example, the claim that tax cuts pay for themselves. In 1980 George H.W. Bush, running against Ronald Reagan for the Republican presidential nomination, called that assertion “voodoo economic policy.” Everything we’ve seen since then says that he was right. But Bush soon climbed down, and by 2017 even supposed “moderates” like Susan Collins accepted claims that the Trump tax cut would reduce, not increase, the budget deficit. (It increased the deficit.)
Or consider climate change. As recently as 2008 John McCain campaigned for president in part on a proposal to put a cap on U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. But at this point Republicans in Congress are united in their opposition to any substantive action to limit global warming, with 30 G.O.P. senators outright denying the overwhelming scientific evidence that human activities are causing climate change.
Take the claim of a stolen election. Donald Trump never had any evidence on his side, but he didn’t care — he just wanted to hold on to power or, failing that, promulgate a lie that would help him retain his hold on the G.O.P. Despite the lack of evidence and the failure of every attempt to produce or create a case, however, a steady drumbeat of propaganda has persuaded an overwhelming majority of Republicans that Joe Biden’s victory was illegitimate.
And establishment Republicans, who at first pushed back against the Big Lie, have gone quiet or even begun to promote the falsehood. Thus on Wednesday, The Wall Street Journal published, without corrections or fact checks, a letter to the editor from Trump that was full of demonstrable lies — and in so doing gave those lies a new, prominent platform.
The G.O.P.’s journey toward what it is now with respect to Covid-19 — an anti-vaccine, objectively pro-pandemic party — followed the same trajectory.
Although Republicans like Ron DeSantis and Greg Abbott claim that their opposition to vaccine requirements is about freedom, the fact that both governors have tried to stop private businesses from requiring customers or staff to be vaccinated shows this is a smoke screen. Pretty clearly, the anti-vaccine push began as an act of politically motivated sabotage. After all, a successful vaccination campaign that ended the pandemic would have been good political news for Biden.
We should note, by the way, that this sabotage has, so far at least, paid off. While there are multiple reasons many Americans remain unvaccinated, there’s a strong correlation between a county’s political lean and both its vaccination rate and its death rate in recent months. And the persistence of Covid, which has in turn been a drag on the economy, has been an important factor dragging down Biden’s approval rating.
More important for the internal dynamics of the G.O.P., however, is that many in the party’s base have bought into assertions that requiring vaccination against Covid-19 is somehow a tyrannical intrusion of the state into personal decisions.
And true to form, elected Republicans like Governor Ivey who initially spoke in favor of vaccines have folded and surrendered to the extremists, even though they must know that in so doing they will cause many deaths.
I’m not sure exactly why cowardice has become the norm among elected Republicans who aren’t dedicated extremists. But if you want to understand how the G.O.P. became such a threat to everything America should stand for, the cowards are at least as important a factor as the crazies.
Thursday, October 28, 2021
In the homestretch of the campaign for governor of Virginia, Republican Glenn Youngkin is dredging up a years-old debate over banning the Pulitzer Prize-winning book “Beloved” by the Nobel Prize-winning Toni Morrison.
Youngkin has just released an ad that features Laura Murphy, a Fairfax County mother, who complains about “some of the most explicit material you can imagine” in one of her son’s reading assignments.
It is important to note here that the reading Murphy is referring to was assigned almost a decade ago. The son who was so upset by it, Blake Murphy, is now a lawyer in his late 20s who works for the National Republican Congressional Committee.
In the ad, Murphy says that she met with lawmakers who couldn’t believe what she was showing them and whose faces “turned bright red with embarrassment.” (Just a note here: When you talk about people’s faces turning bright red, Black people know that you are talking about white people; dark-skinned people don’t do that. For us, it is a subtle way of indicating race without ever having to mention it.)
The novel also covers gang rape by white men of a Black woman, who ultimately kills her own child to prevent her from enduring the slavery she has endured.
To be sure, this is not delicate fare, but “Beloved” accurately and brutally portrays slavery as a horrific institution that eats away at the souls and sanity of both enslaver and enslaved. In the presence of that much savage inhumanity, the borders of morality blur or are completely obliterated.
There is no way to teach slavery accurately while omitting sexual violence. Rape and perversion are central to the slave narrative. Violence came not only from the lash, but also from lust.
Sexual violence was pervasive during slavery. As PBS’s “Slavery and the Making of America” series notes:
“Within the bonds of slavery, masters often felt it their right to engage in sexual activity with Black women. Sometimes, female slaves acquiesced to advances, hoping that such relationships would increase the chances that they or their children would be liberated by the master. Most of the time, however, slave owners took slaves by force.”
A 2014 study examining 23andMe data found that the average African American genome was about a quarter European. That genetic material didn’t just drop out of the sky.
The bills that McAuliffe vetoed would have required schools to notify parents of “sexually explicit content,” but as the National Coalition Against Censorship pointed out in a letter:
“The bill is silent on what content would be labelled ‘sexually explicit,’ or how that term would be defined. On its face, however, the term is vague and could apply to a great deal of classic and contemporary literature, including Anne Frank’s ‘The Diary of a Young Girl,’ Geoffrey Chaucer’s ‘The Canterbury Tales,’ Theodore Dreiser’s ‘An American Tragedy,’ Kurt Vonnegut’s ‘Slaughterhouse-Five,’ Gustave Flaubert’s ‘Madame Bovary,’ Sherman Alexie’s ‘The Absolutely True Story of a Part-Time Indian,’ the Bible, and most works by William Shakespeare.”
But, of course, those works were not the object of offense here. The work that offended parents like Laura Murphy positioned white men as uncontrollable, irrepressible sexual deviants, the very pathology that enslavers tried to project onto the enslaved.
“Beloved” was indicted because it was an indictment.
Now, Youngkin wants to resurface this coded debate because it helps Republicans convert schools into battlegrounds, where they can use the protection of children and parental rights as shields behind which to wage a culture war over race, gender and states’ rights disguised as a defense of the innocent.
But picking a fight over “Beloved” and the great Toni Morrison, the ancestral beloved, is an unwinnable battle. Some suburban white women voters may fall for this, and that is precisely whom Youngkin is targeting, but on the merits, on the history, on the piercing devastation of the institution of slavery and the myths that attend it, Morrison wins by knockout in the first round.
Youngkin and his far right supporters are a clear and present danger to the teaching of accurate history and the inclusion of minorities and LGBT individuals in that history.
Wednesday, October 27, 2021
In the final week of the Virginia gubernatorial election, Youngkin has released an ad that quickly went viral, earning more than 1 million views 24 hours after being released. The ad features a “mother” detailing her concern about a “reading assignment” her “child” was given by his teacher.
But this was no ordinary mom, no ordinary book and the child in question was a senior in high school. Let’s take a line-by-line tour through Laura Murphy’s voice-over and provide some missing context.
Viewers might be forgiven for thinking a young child was involved. Laura Murphy’s son Blake was taking Advanced Placement English Literature, which is described by the College Board as “an introductory college-level literary analysis course.” The reading assignment was the best-selling novel “Beloved,” by Toni Morrison, which won the Pulitzer Prize in 1988. When Morrison won the Nobel Prize in literature in 1993, the citation cited her novels as “characterized by visionary force and poetic import, gives life to an essential aspect of American reality.”
The novel is about the abuses of slavery and is dedicated to “Sixty Million and more,” the estimated number of people who died in slavery. The novel is inspired by a real-life figure, Margaret Garner, who tried to escape slavery and, when captured, tried to take her life and those of her children. She only managed to kill her 2-year-old daughter, however, and then was tried in one of the longest and most notable fugitive slavery trials of the mid-1800s.
An online guide to teaching “Beloved” for the AP class notes that a question about the novel appears “time and time again” on the AP Literature exam, which suggests that it is an important text for students. But the guide warns: “It is important to forewarn students of the intensity of the text; they may find themselves hating parts of it or being disgusted by it, and these reactions are appropriate. We can’t turn our heads and pretend like these things didn’t happen. They did. They are woven into the fabric of our history, and sometimes we border on forgetting about this dark part of our country’s narrative.”
In 2013, a Washington Post article on Murphy quoted her son Blake as saying he had “night terrors” after reading the book. “It was disgusting and gross,” he said. “It was hard for me to handle. I gave up on it.”
The two bills, passed in 2016 and 2017, were not entirely the same but both would have required notification if a teacher planned to provide instructional material with sexually explicit content. The bills would have made Virginia the first state to allow parents to block their children from reading books in school that contain sexually explicit material.
The bills passed by wide margins. Fourteen House Democrats and one Senate Democrat supported the 2016 bill and eight House Democrats and one Senate Democrat supported the 2017 bill. Many of the Democrats were members of the Black caucus.
Both times, lawmakers narrowly failed to override McAuliffe’s vetoes. In his first veto message, McAuliffe said “this legislation lacks flexibility and would require the label of ‘sexually explicit’ to apply to an artistic work based on a single scene, without further context.” In his second veto message, he said the Virginia Board of Education had “determined that existing state policy regarding sensitive or controversial instructional material is sufficient and that additional action would be unnecessarily burdensome on the instructional process.”
Murphy is referring to what is considered a flub by McAuliffe in his second debate with Youngkin. “Yeah, I stopped the bill that — I don’t think parents should be telling schools what they should teach,” he said. McAuliffe later accused Youngkin of taking his words “out of context” in campaign ads.
Here’s where Murphy vouches for Youngkin. But she’s not a disinterested party. Her family is well-connected politically and active on behalf of Republicans. Her husband, Daniel R. Murphy, is corporate counsel at the powerhouse lobbying firm BGR Group and an active backer of Republican politicians from across the county. Federal Election Commission records show more than 280 contributions by Dan and Laura Murphy (mostly Dan) over the last 10 years.
Both Dan and Laura contributed $5,600 each in 2019 to the Trump Victory Committee and $5,600 each (the maximum) to President Donald Trump’s 2019 campaign. Dan also contributed $2,000 to Youngkin’s campaign, according to the Virginia Public Access Project.
Blake, the former high-schooler, is now associate general counsel at the National Republican Congressional Committee. (His LinkedIn page appears to have disappeared from the Web after the ad posted.) Another son, Michael, was the subject of a failed impeachment drive when, as University of Florida student body president, he invited Donald Trump Jr. to give a speech in exchange for a $50,000 fee.
In response to the ad, McAuliffe accused Youngkin of seeking to ban books from schools and “silencing the voices of Black authors.” At the time of the vetoes, some critics said the law could have led to book banning . . . .
Given this background, the truth is that the aggrieved mother is actually a Trump supporting Republican who has given lavishly to GOP candidates and wants to whitewash American history. I can only image the anamosity she likely holds towards LGBT individuals as well.
Tuesday, October 26, 2021
Monday, October 25, 2021
They sanitized the event space. They scrubbed the speeches. The campaign of Virginia Republican gubernatorial candidate Glenn Youngkin eliminated virtually any indication that Donald Trump had ever existed. Instead, Youngkin invoked George W. Bush’s line about the “soft bigotry of low expectations” and stole a joke of John McCain’s.
But while Youngkin banished Trump, he could not wash away the stench of Trumpism.
At his rally here Saturday night in Richmond’s suburbs, Youngkin debuted his closing argument. It was a Trumpian blend of conspiracy theories, race-baiting and fabrications.
“Terry McAuliffe wants government to stand between parents and their children,” Youngkin said of his Democratic opponent.PolitiFact already identified this baseless claim (that McAuliffe got U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland to order the Justice Department to help combat growing threats against school-board members and educators) as a “pants on fire” lie. But Youngkin keeps repeating it.
“What we won’t do is teach our children to view everything through the lens of race,” Youngkin vowed, adding that “on Day 1, I will ban critical race theory.” It was perhaps the biggest applause line of the night.
Preceding Youngkin onstage, the Republican attorney general candidate, Jason Miyares, argued that “you cannot survive as a nation if you’re raising an entire generation of children to hate their country, and that is exactly what critical race theory is.”
Critical race theory isn’t taught in Virginia schools. It’s a phantom menace, whipped up by Fox News to fill White people with racial terror. Youngkin urged his supporters to fear a “20-year high murder rate,” even though overall violent crime decreased in 2020 in Virginia, among the safest states in the country.
Youngkin complained that “Virginia ranks 50th in the nation in standards for kids to progress in math, reading,” but Virginia kids’ actual proficiency exceeds the national average.
He suggested that Virginia “children cannot pass an 8th-grade math equivalency test” because of pandemic school closures — “so we will proclaim that Virginia’s schools will never be closed again to five-day-a-week, in-person education.” In reality, Virginia’s 38 percent proficiency in 8th grade math topped the national 33 percent. And the test results to which Youngkin referred were from before the pandemic-related closures.
Youngkin claimed that McAuliffe “said there’s no place for parents in their kids’ education” (a line that prompted boos and shouts of “communist”). But McAuliffe didn’t say there’s “no place” for parents. He spoke out against vigilantism in which “parents come into schools and actually take books out and make their own decisions. I don’t think parents should be telling schools what they should teach” and “running down teachers.”
Why does Youngkin traffic in Trumpism? Because it’s the only way he can win. . . . . Republican rallygoers I buttonholed overwhelmingly accepted the “big lie” about the 2020 election and expected fraud in the gubernatorial election, too. “There’s going to be cheating,” one grandmother told me confidently, holding a signpost for support because of recent back surgery.
A guy in an “FJB” cap — as in “F--- Joe Biden” — told me he’s “already” seeing cheating, and he complained about Dominion voting machines (a favorite Trump target) and “corrupt” poll monitors.
Youngkin catered to those held captive by Trump’s lies.
He demonized the liberal Jewish billionaire George Soros.
His running mate showed up at a rally featuring Trump and former Trump aide Steve Bannon, where the crowd pledged allegiance to a flag said to have been carried on the day of the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection.
And he has encouraged the “big lie.”
Sure, he dresses it in a red-fleece vest and non-threatening platitudes: “soar and never settle,” “lift up all Virginians,” “a new day.” But underneath it’s Trumpism through and through.
Sunday, October 24, 2021
“A small group of people, inside and outside this church, coordinated a divisive effort to use disinformation in order to persuade others to vote these men down as part of a broader effort to take control of this church,” David Platt, a 43-year-old minister at McLean Bible Church and a best-selling author, charged in a July 4 sermon.
Platt said church members had been misled, having been told, among other things, that the three individuals nominated to be elders would advocate selling the church building to Muslims, who would convert it into a mosque. In a second vote on July 18, all three nominees cleared the threshold. But that hardly resolved the conflict. Members of the church filed a lawsuit, claiming that the conduct of the election violated the church’s constitution.
Platt, who is theologically conservative, had been accused in the months before the vote by a small but zealous group within his church of “wokeness” and being “left of center,” of pushing a “social justice” agenda and promoting critical race theory, and of attempting to “purge conservative members.” A Facebook page and a right-wing website have targeted Platt and his leadership. For his part, Platt, speaking to his congregation, described an email that was circulated claiming, “MBC is no longer McLean Bible Church, that it’s now Melanin Bible Church.”
What happened at McLean Bible Church is happening all over the evangelical world. Influential figures such as the theologian Russell Moore and the Bible teacher Beth Moore felt compelled to leave the Southern Baptist Convention; both were targeted by right-wing elements within the SBC. The Christian Post, an online evangelical newspaper, published an op-ed by one of its contributors criticizing religious conservatives like Platt, Russell Moore, Beth Moore, and Ed Stetzer, the executive director of the Wheaton College Billy Graham Center, as “progressive Christian figures” who “commonly champion leftist ideology.” In a matter of months, four pastors resigned from Bethlehem Baptist Church, a flagship church in Minneapolis. One of those pastors, Bryan Pickering, cited mistreatment by elders, domineering leadership, bullying, and “spiritual abuse and a toxic culture.” Political conflicts are hardly the whole reason for the turmoil, but according to news accounts, they played a significant role, particularly on matters having to do with race.
“Nearly everyone tells me there is at the very least a small group in nearly every evangelical church complaining and agitating against teaching or policies that aren’t sufficiently conservative or anti-woke,” a pastor and prominent figure within the evangelical world told me. (Like others with whom I spoke about this topic, he requested anonymity in order to speak candidly.) “It’s everywhere.”
Michael O. Emerson, a sociology professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago, told me that he and his research team have spent the past three years studying race and Christianity. “The divisions and conflicts we found are intense, easily more intense then I have seen in my 25 years of studying the topic,” he told me. What this adds up to, he said, is “an emerging day of reckoning within churches.”
The aggressive, disruptive, and unforgiving mindset that characterizes so much of our politics has found a home in many American churches.
The coronavirus pandemic, of course, has placed religious communities under extraordinary strain. . . . . Not being in community destabilized what has long been a core sense of Christian identity.
But there’s more to the fractures than just COVID-19. After all, many of the forces that are splitting churches were in motion well before the pandemic hit. The pandemic exposed and exacerbated weaknesses and vulnerabilities, habits of mind and heart, that already existed.
The root of the discord lies in the fact that many Christians have embraced the worst aspects of our culture and our politics. When the Christian faith is politicized, churches become repositories not of grace but of grievances, places where tribal identities are reinforced, where fears are nurtured, and where aggression and nastiness are sacralized. The result is not only wounding the nation; it’s having a devastating impact on the Christian faith.
How is it that evangelical Christianity has become, for too many of its adherents, a political religion? The historian George Marsden told me that political loyalties can sometimes be so strong that they create a religiouslike faith that overrides or even transforms a more traditional religious faith. The United States has largely avoided the most virulent expressions of such political religions. None has succeeded for very long—at least, until now.
The first step was the cultivation of the idea within the religious right that certain political positions were deeply Christian, according to Marsden. Still, such claims were not at all unprecedented in American history. Through the 2000s, even though the religious right drew its energy from the culture wars—as it had for decades—it abided by some civil restraints. Then came Donald Trump.
“When Trump was able to add open hatred and resentments to the political-religious stance of ‘true believers,’ it crossed a line,” Marsden said. “Tribal instincts seem to have become overwhelming.” The dominance of political religion over professed religion is seen in how, for many, the loyalty to Trump became a blind allegiance. The result is that many Christian followers of Trump “have come to see a gospel of hatreds, resentments, vilifications, put-downs, and insults as expressions of their Christianity, for which they too should be willing to fight.”
Some of the most distinctive features of the evangelical movement may have left it particularly vulnerable to this form of politicization. Among religious believers, evangelicals are some of the most anti-institutional, Timothy J. Keller, the founding pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church, in Manhattan, told me. The evangelical movement flourished in this relatively anti-institutional country at a particularly anti-institutional time. Evangelical ministries and churches fit the “spirit of the age,” growing rapidly in the 1970s, and retaining more of their members even as many mainline denominations declined.
At the same time, Keller argues, that anti-institutional tendency makes evangelical communities more prone than others to “insider abuse”—corruption committed by leaders who have almost no guardrails—and “outsider-ism,” in which evangelicals simply refuse to let their church form them or their beliefs. As a result, they are unrooted—and therefore susceptible to political idolization, fanatical ideas, and conspiracy theories.
“The evangelical Church in the U.S. over the last five decades has failed to form its adherents into disciples. So there is a great hollowness. All that was needed to cause the implosion that we have seen was a sufficiently provocative stimulus. And that stimulus came.”
“Culture catechizes,” Alan Jacobs, a distinguished professor of humanities in the honors program at Baylor University, told me. Culture teaches us what matters and what views we should take about what matters. Our current political culture, Jacobs argued, has multiple technologies and platforms for catechizing—television, radio, Facebook, Twitter, and podcasts among them. People who want to be connected to their political tribe—the people they think are like them, the people they think are on their side—subject themselves to its catechesis all day long, every single day, hour after hour after hour.
On the flip side, many churches aren’t interested in catechesis at all. They focus instead on entertainment, because entertainment is what keeps people in their seats and coins in the offering plate. . . . “So if people are getting one kind of catechesis for half an hour per week,” Jacobs asked, “and another for dozens of hours per week, which one do you think will win out?”
But when people’s values are shaped by the media they consume, rather than by their religious leaders and communities, that has consequences. “What all those media want is engagement, and engagement is most reliably driven by anger and hatred,” Jacobs argued. “They make bank when we hate each other. And so that hatred migrates into the Church, which doesn’t have the resources to resist it.
For many Christians, their politics has become more of an identity marker than their faith. They might insist that they are interpreting their politics through the prism of scripture, with the former subordinate to the latter, but in fact scripture and biblical ethics are often distorted to fit their politics. . . . The reality, however, is that a lot of people, especially in this era, will leave a church if their political views are ever challenged, even around the edges.
“Many people are much more committed to their politics than to what the Bible actually says,” Dudley said. “We have failed not only to teach people the whole of scripture, but we have also failed to help them think biblically. We have failed to teach them that sometimes scripture is most useful when it doesn’t say what we want it to say, because then it is correcting us.”
[T]he early Christians transformed the Roman empire not by demanding but by loving, not by angrily shouting about their rights in the public square but by serving even the people who persecuted them, which is why Christianity grew so quickly and took over the empire. I also know that once Christians gained political power under Constantine, that beautiful loving, sacrificing, giving, transforming Church became the angry, persecuting, killing Church.
How many people look at churches in America these days and see the face of Jesus? . . . The former president normalized a form of discourse that made the once-shocking seem routine. Russell Moore laments the “pugilism of the Trump era, in which anything short of cruelty is seen as weakness.” The problem facing the evangelical church, then, is not just that it has failed to inculcate adherents with its values—it’s that when it has succeeded in doing so, those values have not always been biblical.
Trump represents the fulfillment, rather than the betrayal, of many of white evangelicals’ most deeply held values. Her thesis is that American evangelicals have worked for decades to replace the Jesus of the Gospels with an idol of rugged masculinity and Christian nationalism. (She defines Christian nationalism as “the belief that America is God’s chosen nation and must be defended as such,” which she says is a powerful predictor of attitudes toward non-Christians and on issues such as immigration, race, and guns. . . . conservative evangelicals insist that they are rejecting cultural influences,” she said, “when in fact their faith is profoundly shaped by cultural and political values, by their racial identity and their Christian nationalism.”
“Evangelical militancy is often depicted as a response to fear,” she told me. “But it’s important to recognize that in many cases evangelical leaders actively stoked fear in the hearts of their followers in order to consolidate their own power and advance their own interests.”
“Much of what is distinctive about American evangelicalism is not essential to Christianity,” Noll has written. And he is surely correct. I would add only that it isn’t simply the case that much of what is distinctive about American evangelicalism is not essential to Christianity; it is that now, in important respects, much of what is distinctive about American evangelicalism has become antithetical to authentic Christianity. What we’re dealing with—not in all cases, of course, but in far too many— is political identity and cultural anxieties, anti-intellectualism and ethnic nationalism, resentments and grievances, all dressed up as Christianity.