Saturday, May 13, 2023
It took barely a minute for Donald Trump to say “rigged election.” From there, he rambled. He ranted. He lied. And he lied some more. And that was the response to the first question of the evening to the first President in American history to refuse to concede his defeat and accept the peaceful transfer of power: “Why should Americans put you back in the White House?”
The disaster that was the CNN “town hall” with Trump in New Hampshire on Wednesday night was both predictable and predicted. None of it was a surprise. The Donald Trump running in the 2024 Presidential election is the same Donald Trump he always was, a purveyor of industrial-strength untruths. A demagogue. A hater. The struggle of the interviewer, CNN’s Kaitlan Collins, to fact-check his fire hose of falsehoods was painful to watch. The kindest thing to say is that she tried.
The cheering crowd, in fact, was the tell, the most revealing part of the whole exercise. Trump without the approval of the mob, his mob, would be just another angry old American man, an unwilling Florida retiree shouting at the television after a round of golf. Instead, he still commands his following, which means that he gets to be an angry old man shouting on the television and not merely at it. CNN described the audience on Wednesday night at Saint Anselm College as a collection of Republican and undecided New Hampshire voters who would consider voting Republican in the upcoming G.O.P. primary. But the whoops and cheers for Trump throughout did not convey undecidedness.
The crowd hooted, chuckled, or clapped when Trump called the former Speaker of the House “Crazy Nancy” and when he insisted that his former Vice-President, Mike Pence, had the power to single-handedly overturn the election results on January 6, 2021. They laughed when he insulted Collins. The more offensive Trump’s words, it seemed, the more they cheered. Only a day before the CNN event, a jury in New York had found Trump civilly liable for sexually abusing and defaming the writer E. Jean Carroll . . . Trump’s response was to insult Carroll again on national TV. When he said that he felt sorry for her ex-husband, the audience laughed. When he called her a “whack job,” they laughed once more. When the show was finally over, the audience offered Trump a standing ovation.
The question, of course, was why this was happening in the first place—a question that is ever more pressing, considering that Trump is now and will likely remain the front-runner for the Republican nomination to reclaim the office he lost in 2020. One awful hour of television will not resolve the matter. Right up until Trump finally exits public life, whenever that will be, this debate will continue: Should Trump be given a platform to make his attacks on American democracy, and, if so, should you listen?
In the immediate aftermath of Trump’s 2020 defeat, with the memory still fresh of his summoning of a violent horde to the U.S. Capitol to do his bidding, there seemed to be a clear answer. The answer was no. . . . If anything, he has become more extreme, even saying that the Constitution itself should be subject to “termination” if that is what it takes to reinstate him to power. But the outrage over Trump’s post-election offenses turned out to have an expiration date. His banishment, it seems, came with an unspoken codicil: it was contingent on Republicans repudiating him, which they have not done. The polls are almighty; he leads, so he can speak.
Whatever else it was, the Trump show on CNN certainly did remind viewers, all too clearly, of who he is. . . . It was the same garbled nonsense, empty catchphrases, and nasty gibberish so familiar from his four years in the White House. This 2024 Trump still does not speak in coherent sentences, or make arguments. He’s a demagogue. He demagogued.
Aside from the sheer awful spectacle, it’s hard to say that any actual news came out of the questioning. . . . It certainly was not news that a former President who, according to the Post, made more than thirty thousand falsehoods and misleading statements while in office would ceaselessly lie on air. . . . . No surprise there: a lying liar is going to lie. Trump is nothing if not consistent in that.
He is also a believer in another time-honored technique of the propagandist: repetition. His provocations on Wednesday night were familiar to anyone who has been paying attention. We already knew that Trump does not want Ukraine to win the war, that he will pardon the January 6th insurrectionists, and that he does not want to say where he stands on Republican efforts to further restrict reproductive rights , , , The shocking revelation on Wednesday was not what he said, it was that he was given the platform to say it.
But, as a matter of politics, both Trump and Biden could claim to have benefitted from the evening. . . . Trump critics also saw some gain for their side from the wretched performance. They imagined all the attack ads that could come out of it, all the fresh material Trump had just provided for those millions who loathe him. With a highly unpopular President of their own who has just announced a reëlection bid at the age of eighty, Democrats will need to make the race a referendum not on Biden but on Trump.
Soon after the town hall was over, Biden tweeted: “It’s simple, folks. Do you want four more years of that?” This, in short, is the 2024 campaign. It is coming fast upon us. Beware.
Friday, May 12, 2023
CNN’s prime-time broadcast of a raucous town hall with Donald Trump propelled a tsunami of criticism from inside and outside the network Thursday — and renewed questions about how the news media will handle the challenge of covering the serial falsehoods of the Republican Party’s leading candidate going into the 2024 election.
The former president repeatedly dodged or sneered at questions from CNN’s moderator, Kaitlan Collins, during the live, 70-minute forum at St. Anselm College in New Hampshire on Wednesday night. He doubled down on false claims that “a rigged election” led to his 2020 ouster and referred to writer E. Jean Carroll, who just prevailed in her lawsuit against him for defamation and battery, as a “whack job,” to cheers and laughter from the audience, made up of local Republican voters.
And when Collins pressed him on why he removed classified documents from the White House, he replied: “You are a nasty person.”
“Predictably disastrous,” wrote former network TV news executive Mark Lukasiewicz, part of a chorus of media critics and political observers who bemoaned the on-air spectacle. “Live lying works. A friendly MAGA crowd consistently laughs, claps at Trump’s punchlines … and the moderator cannot begin to keep up with the AR-15 pace of lies.”
At a time when CNN has been struggling to turn around viewership decline, the telecast proved to be a ratings disappointment, . . . The more profound impact, however, may be the damage done to the reputation of the network that has long promoted itself as “the most trusted name in news.” It also raised questions about the future prospects of chief executive Chris Licht, who replaced Trump-friend-turned critic Jeff Zucker last year and is charged with striking a more neutral tone at a cable channel that exploded with impassioned commentary during the Trump years.
Journalists at CNN and others outside the organization called the town hall a “debacle,” a “disaster” and “CNN’s lowest moment.” On Twitter, the hashtags and phrases BoycottCNN, DoneWithCNN and ByeCNN trended late Wednesday.
The thrust of the criticism is that CNN’s format, which it has used for other candidates over the years, enabled Trump’s filibustering and thwarted real-time fact checking, allowing him to present a dishonest rehashing of his record. “In terms of sheer control of the stage and WWE-style platform dynamics, the horrible truth is that this outcome was preordained,” tweeted veteran political writer James Fallows.
Licht defended the decision to host Trump in this format during his regular morning meeting with network staff on Thursday.
“I am aware that there have been people with opinions [and] backlash, and that is absolutely expected,” he said . . . . America was served very well by what we did last night. People woke up and they know what the stakes are in this election in a way they didn’t the day before.”
Licht, however, was hammered by his own journalists. “We did it wrong,” said an on-air personality. “We treated him like a normal politician who could be fact-checked. We ended up dancing around a demagogue.”
“It should have been a taped interview where you could fact-check him,” said one CNN correspondent who, like the on-air personality spoke on the condition of anonymity to preserve relationships and careers. . . . Another staffer, also speaking on background to avoid retaliation, suggested Licht and other executives who approved the event should resign.
[T]he Trump town hall is shaping up as another disappointment under Licht’s watch. Despite his tinkering with CNN’s daily lineup and a mandate to reposition the network as a neutral purveyor of news, Licht has been unable to stop its ratings from sliding to historic lows. . . . . Licht’s signature programming effort, the remodeling of CNN’s morning program, has largely fallen apart with the firing of co-anchor Don Lemon last month.
CNN’s daily media newsletter, Reliable Sources, was blunt in its assessment of Wednesday’s event. “It’s hard to see how America was served by the spectacle of lies that aired on CNN Wednesday evening,” reporter Oliver Darcy wrote Wednesday night.
“Putting him onstage, having him answer questions like a normal candidate who didn’t get people killed in the process of trying to end the democracy he’s attempting to once again run, normalizes what Trump did,” Fanone wrote. “It sends a message that attempting a coup is just part of the process; that accepting election results is a choice; and that there are no consequences, in the media or in politics or anywhere else, for rejecting them.”
Trump, for one, expressed satisfaction with the event. “Hope everyone enjoyed CNN tonight,” he wrote on his social media platform Truth Social. “The New Hampshire audience was AMAZING. Thank you!”
But inside CNN, the mood was dark. “I can’t believe anyone thought this was a good idea,” said one staffer, who also spoke on the condition of anonymity to avoid career repercussions. “I’ve been a CNN journalist for many years. I’ve always been so proud to say that. I’ve never, ever been ashamed of CNN until tonight.”
Hopefully other media outlets and journalists will learn for CNN's disaster. Trump cannot be given a platform to lie and the second he begins to lie, his microphone needs to be turned off. Better yet, don't broadcast him at all.
Thursday, May 11, 2023
“Christianity’s got a branding problem,” Phil Zuckerman, a professor at Pitzer College who researches atheism and secularity, told me. It is seen by many as the religion of conservative Republican politics, he said, and there are otherwise believing people out there who “don’t want to be associated with that.”
Zuckerman shared that thought with me before I asked readers about declining religious observance in America and got nearly 7,500 responses within about 24 hours.
Among my questions, I asked readers why they became less religious over time, and the responses were as varied as they were profound. Many said that while they no longer attend church or ally themselves with a particular faith tradition, they still believe in God . . . one trend that stood out bolstered Zuckerman’s assertion: Hundreds of respondents mentioned what they perceived to be the political drift of their churches (or, in a few cases, temples or mosques) as the reason for their disaffiliation or move away. Some who were part of more progressive congregations specifically mentioned the association of the word “Christian” with conservative political views as the root of their alienation.
“I no longer attend services, nor want to. I am simply too angry at what so-called Christians are doing to our children and society,” said Katherine Claflin, 67, who lives in Kansas. . . . she said that “right-wing ‘Christians’” have nudged her away from church attendance entirely, a fact she finds painful.
If you think religious affiliation is socially negligible or even negative, it may not matter so much. But if you see religion as a come one, come all locus of fellowship, you may see it as another upsetting division in a country already rife with ruptures.
[T]here’s a convincing body of research showing that the connection between right-wing politics and some Christians that drew closer in the 1980s and early ’90s pushed other liberal and moderate Christians away from religion.
Political polarization, however, isn’t the only reason for the rise of the “nones” . . . . Nones went from 0 percent to 2 percent of the population in the 1950s, according to Gallup, to somewhere between 20 percent and 30 percent of Americans today, depending on which survey you look at.
Ryan Burge, an assistant professor of political science at Eastern Illinois University, is the author of “The Nones: Where They Came From, Who They Are and Where They Are Going.” In it, he acknowledges . . . there’s enough consensus around the broader trajectory to tell a reasonably coherent story about the past half-century or so.
In their book “American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us,” Robert Putnam and David Campbell describe the 1950s as a boom time for American religiosity, in part because “religion represented patriotism” during the Cold War against “atheistic communism.” . . . Not believing in or subscribing to “Judeo-Christian” values was often considered un-American.
Putnam and Campbell call the counterculture of the 1960s “the shock,” which involved young people questioning nearly every aspect of American institutions and the rise of the gay rights, women’s liberation, antiwar and civil rights movements. “Virtually every major theme in the sixties’ controversies would divide Americans for the rest of the century, setting the fuse for the so-called culture wars,” they note.
The “aftershock” was the backlash in the 1970s and ’80s against what were thought of as countercultural values. With the election of President Ronald Reagan and the emergence of the conservative Christian organization Moral Majority, the political fault lines, in terms of religious observance, became more visible among older baby boomers.
The connection between political conservatism and religiosity has kept many Republicans in the pews, while it’s pushed scores of Democrats away from religion entirely.
While moderate and liberal boomers did move away from religion as they got older, the percentage of American nones really began to increase in the late 1990s. With the fall of the Iron Curtain and the end of the Cold War, it became easier to “come out” as having no religion . . . . Religion became less tightly connected to nationalism, so it was no longer seen as treasonous if you “wouldn’t show up on Sunday at church.”
Putnam and Campbell call what happened in the 1990s and 2000s “the second aftershock,” which they describe as “youth disaffection from religion.” Millennials and young Gen X-ers who categorize themselves as nones were, they found, “disproportionately raised in nonreligious backgrounds,” and some of them are, perhaps not surprisingly, the children of boomers who are nones. But others were raised with religion, and what distinguishes them isn’t a particular demographic characteristic (nones are fairly well distributed across the socioeconomic, gender and racial spectrums) but their liberal beliefs about issues like sexual orientation, marijuana legalization and school prayer.
[T]here’s a lot of academic discussion about whether “secularization theory” — the idea that when a country becomes more educated and prosperous, it becomes less religious — applies to the United States. . . .
The Christian “brand” problem feels most critical in our current political era, because what nones are responding to goes beyond what’s happening in their own churches. . . . So what moderate and liberal Christians are responding to might not be explicit conservative messaging from pastors and priests. Some may feel their fellow congregants have moved so far right that they no longer feel the sense of community they once did. Many respondents mentioned the prevalence of inflexible standards on topics like same-sex marriage and the role of women in society that were no longer tolerable to them, and rather than staying and fighting and trying to change minds from the inside, they gave up.
But the public embrace of Trump, particularly by white evangelical Protestants, was the last straw for many respondents. When asked why she became less religious, Cynthia Jackson, 62, of Minnesota, said, “Because evangelicals became apostates who worship Trump, nationalism and the Republican Party.” She continued: “I loosely attend both Episcopal and E.L.C.A. Lutheran congregations but miss the warm interpersonal relationships that were part of evangelical churches before the takeover by right-wingers.
While Jackson has found a not-altogether-satisfying substitute in other churches, many respondents have completely moved away from organized religion.
With the renewed Republican jihad against gays, abortion and a racially mixed society - all to appeal to the evangelicals and Christofascist who dominate GOP primary voters - I see the trend away from Christianity likely to accelerate. Thus, the far right Christians will continue to kill the Christian brand.
Wednesday, May 10, 2023
The perpetual circus and endless scandals that attend Donald Trump, whether in his personal life, business, or politics can obscure the utter strangeness of the circumstances of any one case. So pause to consider what happened today in a Manhattan courtroom: A jury, after fewer than three hours of deliberation, concluded that the former president sexually abused and defamed the writer E. Jean Carroll, though jurors also concluded her accusation of rape wasn’t proven. The jury awarded Carroll about $5 million in damages.
That result is astonishing. This is a former president of America, being found liable by a jury—of his peers—for defamation resulting from an act of sexual violence perpetrated nearly 30 years ago. The verdict is a sign of two competing truths about American society today: The country has become more willing to hold powerful men to account for their behavior and yet, at the same time, is still willing to give them power, again and again.
The shock of the verdict is not because the allegation was particularly difficult to believe. On one side was Carroll, whose account of the incident was clear, consistent, and nauseating in its specificity. Carroll sued Trump for defamation after he brushed off the allegation by saying, “She’s not my type.”
On the other side was Trump. The former president faced a challenge in defending himself in the case. Much of Carroll’s account matched a modus operandi that at least 26 women who accused Trump of sexual assault have described. . . . Trump himself described his approach in the infamous leaked recording from Access Hollywood in which he boasted about sexually assaulting women. “You know, I’m automatically attracted to beautiful—I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything,” he said. “Grab ’em by the pussy. You can do anything.”
Trump also didn’t bother to show up for the trial, claiming that he wanted to spare New Yorkers the traffic jams his presence would cause. Last week, while in Ireland, he said he would fly home to appear in court but, surprising no one, he didn’t. Trump’s absence might have reflected a recognition from the outset that he was likely to lose, and a desire to distance himself from the case. . . . by failing to show up, he sent a message to the jury that he wasn’t invested in defending himself. His lawyers reinforced the message by declining to call any witnesses and instead trying to pick apart Carroll’s case during cross examination.
Carroll’s lawyers made Trump a presence in the courtroom anyway, playing excerpts from a deposition for the case to devastating effect. In one instance, going straight at Trump’s “not my type” defense, Carroll’s lawyer showed him a photograph of Carroll. Asked to identify her, he mistook Carroll for his ex-wife Marla Maples, whom Trump had to admit was his type.
More appalling was his discussion of the Access Hollywood tape. Trump, both in the past and in the deposition, wrote that off as “locker room” talk. But he couldn’t bring himself to repudiate or even distance himself from the comments, even now, nearly two decades later.
“Well, historically, that’s true with stars,” he said. “True with stars that they can grab women by the pussy?” Carroll’s attorney Roberta Kaplan asked. “Well, that’s what—if you look over the last million years, I guess that’s been largely true,” Trump said. “Not always, but largely true. Unfortunately or fortunately.” Unfortunately or fortunately.
“And you consider yourself to be a star?” Kaplan prodded. “I think you can say that, yeah,” Trump replied smugly.
In citing the last million years as precedent, he seemed to believe he was still living in them. Trump is not the first man to be both president and a sexual assaulter, but he is the first to have a jury find so. The verdict against him shows that in at least one case, with one high-profile and unrepentant defendant, the old world in which powerful men could do anything they wanted to women has passed away. Things have changed a little in the past 1 million years—or at least in the past 30.
Trump is an utterly vile individual and his cultist followers are equally morally bankrupt. Theyneed to take a long look in the mirror at themselves.
Tuesday, May 09, 2023
The deadline for a debt ceiling hike is only weeks away, with Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen saying the U.S. could run out of money to pay its debts by June 1. Some Republicans, whether serious or bluffing, seem ready to go to the brink of default — if not actually default on the U.S. national debt. Debate has intensified over whether President Biden might sidestep the debt ceiling in order to keep paying what the nation owes.
There are powerful legal reasons and arguments for him to do so. These include the 14th Amendment, which prohibits questioning what we already owe, and the so-called later-in-time rule of statutory construction, which basically means that Congress’s most recent budget legislation trumps any earlier legislated ceiling.
Given the stakes, it’s important to explore the likely consequences if Mr. Biden ignores the debt ceiling — how doing so would affect our economy and the markets, our retirement savings and even our constitutional system. There is encouraging news for the president and those who follow our first Treasury secretary, Alexander Hamilton, in believing we must pay our legally incurred debts. We are far better off doing so, even if it means short-term chaos if Mr. Biden allows the June 1 deadline to come and go.
First, consider the consequences if the United States stopped paying its debts and defaulted on June 1. This would undo what Hamilton and his successors sought to ensure: a national credit rating beyond cavil or reproach. We would see a great tottering — if not worse — of U.S. banking, U.S. financial markets and the world’s capital markets.
Our present regional bank crisis involving Silicon Valley Bank and others is occurring in response to a relatively slight, temporary drop in the value of low-yield Treasuries largely because of the Fed’s interest rate hikes. An outright default would leave us nostalgic for the comparable placidity of this troubled moment.
We would also probably see a rapid plunge in the value of the dollar worldwide as a global reserve asset. Our currency’s value in relation to others’ is rooted primarily in global demand for dollar-denominated financial assets, since we have relinquished our primacy as a goods exporter to China. Since Treasury securities are by far the most voluminous asset, their slide would be the dollar’s slide. This would quickly render imports, on which we continue to rely, far more expensive. Inflation could look more like that of Argentina or Russia 20 years ago than that of the present or even the 1970s.
This is to say nothing of our subsequent incapacity to maintain our military bases and other assets abroad and pay thousands of U.S. military personnel. Only China now would be a world-bestriding global superpower, abetting the moves it is already making with Russia, Brazil and other nations to displace the dollar as what Valéry Giscard d’Estaing once called the United States’ global “exorbitant privilege.”
Finally, even the serious prospect of U.S. default would quickly raise debt-servicing costs, rendering our deficit larger than it currently is — a consequence dramatically at odds with Republicans’ professed concerns about tying the debt ceiling hike to massive budget cuts.
It almost makes you think that fiscal responsibility isn’t what House Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s caucus is after at all.
Now suppose the president decides to challenge or ignore the debt ceiling and instructs Ms. Yellen, on June 1 or before, to continue paying our nation’s obligations, as established by Congress in the most recent budget legislation, no matter what. Assume also that he and his administration carefully explain to the nation the legal and financial bases — not to mention the moral ones — for continuing to pay our debts.
The best-case scenario in this situation is that Mr. McCarthy’s caucus recognizes it has no legal case and its bluff has been called and that it gives up the tactic and passes budget legislation to which the Senate and the president can ultimately agree. This is unlikely but not impossible. . . . . The impact of going to court to argue for defaulting on the nation’s debt, let alone the political optics for Mr. McCarthy, would be very risky.
It’s also possible that Mr. McCarthy’s Republicans howl in protest and stage more hearings and votes on the budget in the House, taking us to the brink of June 1 before legislatively addressing the debt ceiling. But it’s hard to see this availing them of anything other than impotent spectacle, further cementing their public image as unserious, especially if the president formally repudiates the debt ceiling now or this month rather than waiting until June.
But suppose the Republicans take the president to court nonetheless. What then? . . . we’d see the beginnings of some of the nightmare economic scenarios sketched above.
But only the beginnings. The president’s multiple arguments would be compelling, and the markets, in any case, are already pricing in worries of this sort. The prospect of an end to the too-often threatened fiscal terrorism that is debt ceiling gamesmanship, moreover, will surely be more welcome to the markets than would be continued hostage taking and associated uncertainty of the kind that Republicans now regularly impose on the nation and its creditors.
However radical some of the Supreme Court’s right-wing justices might be, even they understand the legal precept that the Constitution isn’t a suicide pact. Even less so is the 1917 Liberty Bond Act, in which the debt ceiling is rooted. As a legal matter, this ceiling has long since been superseded by a new congressional budget process that has determined its own ceiling through budgeting since 1974 and was of doubtful 14th Amendment conformity, at least as now interpreted, in 1917.
Several of the court’s justices are pragmatic people on economic questions. It is exceedingly difficult to imagine Chief Justice John Roberts (who famously upheld Obamacare in 2012 and after) or Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, let alone the court’s Democratic appointees, demanding default — especially if the aforementioned financial tremors have already begun. . . . All but Justice Clarence Thomas and perhaps Justice Barrett, accordingly, look fairly likely to strike the debt ceiling, at least as applied by Republicans, should they try to sue the president out of paying our already legislated obligations come June.
Will invoking the 14th Amendment amount to a constitutional crisis, as Ms. Yellen suggested this week? Not really. For one thing, as noted above, there are multiple grounds upon which Republican hostage taking on the debt ceiling is contrary to law, and not all of them implicate the Constitution. For another thing — and, in my view, yet more important — the present issue is not really a legal issue pitting the president against Congress.
The current debt ceiling nonsense is a case of one faction of Congress being pitted against Congress itself. Our legally contracted debt is congressionally legislated debt; refusal to pay on this debt boils down to the House Republican faction refusing to pay what Congress itself has mandated we pay.
Let us now end the absurdity. Let us bury the  Liberty Bond-era debt ceiling.
Monday, May 08, 2023
On April 25, the far-right network Newsmax hosted a fascinating and revealing conversation about Tucker Carlson with Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, one of America’s leading Christian conservative advocacy organizations [actually, it is a certified hate group]. Perkins scorned Fox News’s decision to fire Carlson, and — incredibly — also attacked Fox’s decision to fire Bill O’Reilly. These terminations (along with the departures of Glenn Beck and Megyn Kelly) were deemed evidence that Fox was turning its back on its conservative viewers, including its Christian conservative viewers.
What was missing from the conversation? Any mention of the profound moral failings that cost O’Reilly his job, including at least six settlements — five for sexual harassment and one for verbal abuse — totaling approximately $45 million. Or any mention of Carlson’s own serious problems, including his serial dishonesty, his vile racism and his gross personal insult directed against a senior Fox executive. It’s a curious position for a Christian to take.
Similarly curious is the belief of other Christians, such as the popular evangelical “prophet” Lance Wallnau, that Carlson was a “casualty of war” with the left, and that his firing was a serious setback for Christian Republicans.
Other prominent Christian members of the American right applauded Carlson’s “courage” or declared — after The Times reported that Carlson condemned a group of Trump supporters for not fighting like “white men” after “jumping” an Antifa member — that Carlson did “nothing wrong.”
As a much younger Christian, I’d read stories of unholy violence and hatred unleashed in Jesus’ name in religious conflicts of even the recent past and think, “Thank God that’s over.” I felt comfortable in my Christian conservatism.
But the temptations — including the will to power and the quest for vengeance — that plagued the Christians of the past still plague the Christians of today. These temptations can plague people of any faith. If you infuse an issue or set of issues with religious intensity but drain a movement of religious virtue, then profound religious conflict — including violent conflict — is the inevitable result. Indeed, we saw religious violence on full display when a mob stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, and it is no coincidence that one of Carlson’s most mendacious projects was his effort to recast the Jan. 6 insurrection and its aftermath as a “patriot purge.”
Within conservative circles it has always been surprisingly difficult to tie a decline in Christian political virtue to the rise of Donald Trump. . . . In countless personal conversations with Christians who are staunch Republicans, I heard some variation on the same plaintive question, “What do you want us to do? Hand an election to Hillary Clinton? Or to Joe Biden?”
But the Carlson question is different, and in some ways his loyal Christian support is even more troubling. What are the “lesser of two evils” or the “binary choice” arguments for sitting down and devoting an hour of your life, each night, to a cruel, dishonest man, much less hailing him as a “secular prophet?” The more the Christian right latches on to cruel men, the more difficult it becomes to argue that the cruelty is a bug, not a feature.
The great tragedy is that a moment of dangerous national polarization is exactly when a truly Christian message that combines the pursuit of justice with kindness and humility would be a balm to the national soul.
But not when the right-wing pursuit of its version of justice overwhelms its commitment to kindness, much less any shred of humility. This is how the religious right becomes post-Christian. Its “secular prophets” become even more influential than its Christian leaders, and it actively discards clear biblical commands for what it perceives to be the greater good.
That’s not Christianity. It’s a primitive form of consequentialism, the idea that the morality of an action is to be judged solely by its consequences. Many Christians fear that kindness doesn’t “work,” so they discard it. This is how even decency itself becomes a “secondary value.” Aggression, not virtue, becomes the touchstone of political engagement, and anything other than aggression is seen as a sign of weakness.
Is there a single public figure not named Donald Trump who had more real-world influence over evangelical political engagement than Carlson?
But that influence was dark and malign. For the sake of contestable political issues, he abandoned necessary moral virtues, and he taught his followers to do the same. His daily example demonstrated that honesty and grace — indispensable qualities in every sphere of life — have no place in the politics of the new religious right, and the new religious right thus repeats ancient sins. Christian political engagement must include Christian moral virtue, or it will tear this nation apart.
The "Christian" right is again proving that religion is a force for evil in the world.
Sunday, May 07, 2023
In red and blue states, Democrats are consolidating their hold on the most economically productive places.
Metropolitan areas won by President Joe Biden in 2020 generated more of the total economic output than metros won by Donald Trump in 35 of the 50 states, according to new research by Brookings Metro provided exclusively to The Atlantic. Biden-won metros contributed the most to the GDP not only in all 25 states that he carried but also in 10 states won by Trump, including Texas, Missouri, Nebraska, Iowa, Utah, Ohio, and even Florida . . . Almost all of the states in which Trump-won metros accounted for the most economic output rank in the bottom half of all states for the total amount of national GDP produced within their borders.
Biden’s dominance was pronounced in the highest-output metro areas. Biden won 43 of the 50 metros, regardless of what state they were in, that generated the absolute most economic output; remarkably, he won every metro area that ranked No. 1 through 24 on that list of the most-productive places.
The Democrats’ ascendance in the most-prosperous metropolitan regions underscores how geographic and economic dynamics now reinforce the fundamental fault line in American politics between the people and places most comfortable with how the U.S. is changing and those who feel alienated or marginalized by those changes.
Just as Democrats now perform best among the voters most accepting of the demographic and cultural currents remaking 21st-century America, they have established a decisive advantage in diverse, well-educated metropolitan areas.
And just as Republicans have relied primarily on the voters who feel most alienated and threatened by cultural and demographic change, their party has grown stronger in preponderantly white, blue-collar, midsize and smaller metro areas, as well as rural communities.
Neither party is entirely comfortable with this stark new political alignment. Much of Biden’s economic agenda, with its emphasis on creating jobs that do not require a college degree, is centered on courting working-class voters by channeling more investment and employment to communities that feel excluded from the information age’s opportunities. And some Republican strategists continue to worry about the party’s eroding position in the economically innovative white-collar suburbs of major metropolitan areas.
Yet the underlying economic forces widening this political divide will be difficult for either side to reverse, Mark Muro, a senior fellow at Brookings Metro, told me. The places benefiting from the new opportunities in information-based industries, he said, tend to be racially diverse, densely populated, well educated, cosmopolitan, supported by prestigious institutions of higher education, and tolerant of diverse lifestyles. And the information age’s tendency to concentrate its benefits in a relatively small circle of “superstar cities” that fit that profile has hardly peaked.
The trajectory is toward greater conflict between the diverse, big places that have transitioned the furthest toward the information-age economy and the usually less diverse and smaller places that have not. Across GOP-controlled states, Republicans are using statewide power rooted in their dominance of nonmetropolitan areas to pass an aggressive agenda preempting authority from their largest cities across a wide range of issues and imposing cultural values largely rejected in those big cities; several are also now targeting public universities with laws banning diversity, equity, and inclusion programs and proposals to eliminate tenure for professors.
This sweeping offensive is especially striking because, as the Brookings data show, even many red states now rely on blue-leaning metro areas as their principal drivers of economic growth. Texas, for instance, is one of the places where Republicans are pursuing the most aggressive preemption agenda, but the metros won by Biden there in 2020 account for nearly three-fourths of the state’s total economic output.
“State antagonism toward cities is not sustainable,” says Amy Liu, the interim president of the Brookings Institution. “By handicapping local problem solving or attacking local institutions and employers, state lawmakers are undermining the very actors they need to build a thriving regional economy.”
[T]he metros Biden carried generated 50 percent or more of state economic output in 28 states, and a plurality of state output in seven others. States where Biden-won metros accounted for the highest share of economic output included reliably blue states: His metros generated at least 90 percent of state economic output in Rhode Island, Massachusetts, New Jersey, California, Connecticut, New York, and Maryland. But the Biden-won metros also generated at least 80 percent of the total economic output in Arizona, Nevada, and Georgia, as well as two-thirds in Michigan and almost exactly half in Wisconsin and Pennsylvania—all key swing states.
The metropolitan areas Trump carried accounted for the most economic output in only 15 states. Twelve of the states where Trump metros accounted for the most economic activity ranked in the bottom half of all states for total output . . .
All of these results reflect the emphatic blue tilt of the largest and most economically productive metro areas. In 37 states, Biden won the single metro that generated the largest economic output. The results in the 50 metros that contributed the most to the national GDP regardless of their state were even more decisive: Biden, as noted above, not only carried 43 of them—and won the two dozen largest—but carried more of the highest-performing metros in red states than Trump did. The list of high-performing red-state metro areas that Biden carried included all four of the largest in Texas—Houston, Dallas, Austin, and San Antonio.
“The states that are most invested in the knowledge economy are overwhelmingly Democratic; large metros [in almost every state] are essentially universally Democratic; and affluent voters in these large metro areas are now overwhelmingly Democratic too,” Jacob Hacker, a Yale political scientist, told me. “The basic story seems to be that where you are seeing rapid economic growth, where the nation’s GDP is produced, you are seeing an ongoing shift toward the Democratic Party.”
Biden won about three-fourths of the metros with more college graduates than average and Trump won about two-thirds of those with fewer college grads than average. Biden likewise won almost two-thirds of these states’ metros that are more racially diverse than average, and Trump won two-thirds of those that are less diverse.
This economic configuration has big implications for national politics. Hacker believes that over time, ceding so much ground in the most economically vibrant places “is not a sustainable position for the Republican Party to be in.” While the party is “benefiting from the undertow” of backlash against the overlapping economic and social transformations reconfiguring U.S. society, he added, “the places that are becoming bluer are growing faster; they are bigger … and they are also, as Republicans lament, setting the tone” for the emphasis on diversity and cultural liberalism now embraced by most big public and private institutions.
The result could be a sustained standoff between a Republican political coalition centered on the smaller places that reflect what America has been and a Democratic party grounded in the economically preeminent large metros forging the nation’s future.