Saturday, April 27, 2024

Bill Barr explains why Christian nationalists are so loyal to Trump

Former Attorney General Bill Barr is in the news again. After basically asserting that the former president is unfit for office, he is now endorsing Donald Trump. 

Barr said, “Between Biden and Trump, I will vote for Trump because I believe he will do less damage over the four years.”Barr went on to describe the difference between both parties in stark terms, insisting that the “the threat to freedom and democracy has always been on the left.”

“I think the real threat to democracy is the progressive movement and the Biden administration,” he said.

This has everyone scratching their heads in an attempt to understand how Barr can suggest that policies he disagrees with are a more serious threat to democracy than someone who attempted to overthrow an election and is now facing numerous felony charges. 

But there are a couple of things to keep in mind about all of this. The first is that Bill Barr (much like his pal Leonard Leo) is representative of the Catholic version of Christian nationalism. Most of us have been scratching our heads for years now trying to understand why this religious sect remains so loyal to Trump. In a speech he gave at Notre Dame in 2019, Bill Barr helped us answer that question. 

The former attorney general began his speech by making the claim that "in the Framers’ view, free government was only suitable and sustainable for a religious people – a people who recognized that there was a transcendent moral order antecedent to both the state and man-made law and who had the discipline to control themselves according to those enduring principles." In other words, he posits that our founders thought that democracy would only work if people allowed religion to control their evil impulses.

Barr went on to claim that "over the past 50 years religion has been under increasing attack" leading to "the steady erosion of our traditional Judeo-Christian moral system." He then says that every social pathology - illegitimacy, mental illness, suicide, drug addiction - is the result of progressives who are militant secularists pushing religion out of the public square. He joins forces with the kind of rhetoric we hear from dominionists.

Secularists, and their allies among the “progressives,” have marshaled all the force of mass communications, popular culture, the entertainment industry, and academia in an unremitting assault on religion and traditional values.

In short, Barr believes that progressives are out to strip this country of it's Judeo-Christian moral system, which will make democracy unsustainable. That is the house of cards around which Christian nationalists have built their support for Donald Trump - at least on the surface. But as Fareed Zaharia explains, it goes much deeper than that. 

Zakaria points out that over the last 30-40 years, women, Blacks, Hispanics, gays, etc, are "rising out of the shadows into the mainstream," which is creating a major backlash not only in this country, but around the globe. Zakaria also suggests that Trump's superpower was his ability to tap into that backlash. Interestingly enough, that is exactly what white supremacist Richard Spencer said back in 2015.

“Trump, on a gut level, kind of senses that this is about demographics, ultimately. We’re moving into a new America.” He said, “I don’t think Trump is a white nationalist,” but he did believe that Trump reflected “an unconscious vision that white people have – that their grandchildren might be a hated minority in their own country. I think that scares us. They probably aren’t able to articulate it. I think it’s there. I think that, to a great degree, explains the Trump phenomenon.”

The reason Barr and his fellow Christian nationalists support Trump is that they are engaging in what Doug Muder called the Confederate mindset (emphasis mine).

The Confederate sees a divinely ordained way things are supposed to be, and defends it at all costs. No process, no matter how orderly or democratic, can justify fundamental change.

The very idea that, as Obama once said, we are continuing to "perfect our union" is anathema to the Confederate mindset.  Those are the stakes we're grappling with today. 

Sunday, April 21, 2024

Did Zelenskyy play a role in Speaker Johnson's about-face on aid for Ukraine?

Since I wrote about the role white evangelical Christians played in influencing Speaker Johnson to support U.S. aid to Ukraine, I found a piece by Jonathan Larsen that expands on that theme. Putting all of the information together indicates the following timeline:

January 1, 2024 - Ukrainian evangelicals met with Johnson and presented him with a letter urging him to support U.S. aid to Ukraine (emphasis mine). 

In the letter, the leaders of the Ukrainian Churches call on the Speaker of the House of Representatives M. Johnson to "continue supporting the struggle of the Ukrainian people for liberty, independence, and freedom of religion with your wisdom and all other possible means, including the weapons, that our defenders at the forefront of freedom and democracy so lack , in particular, those weapons for which the political and military leadership of Ukraine is asking."

February 4, 2004 - Speaker Johnson said that the bipartisan Senate bill authorizing aid to Ukraine was "dead on arrival" in the House. 

February 5, 2024 - Ukrainians evangelicals addressed a group of Christian nonprofits in Plano, TX.

Speaking through an interpreter, Atonyuk described Russia’s assault on Ukraine as an “evil project” to destroy freedom, including religious liberty.

“We are looking for ideas, projects and partnerships with our fellow Christians in the United States, because together we can stop this evil project,” he said. “Our Lord Jesus Christ will prevail. We are praying for this, and we are looking for partners who will stand with us.”

March 28, 2024 - Johnson spoke with Ukrainian President Zelenskyy.  

April 2, 2024 - Zelensky met with Ukrainian religious leaders (emphasis mine).

"I would like to ask you to communicate with each other not only here, within our country, but also abroad. This dialogue is very important for us now. After all, the church has a great influence on society, on state leaders. And so this is a very important signal for us regarding the support of our partners," [Zelenskyy] emphasized.

April 5, 2024 - Andriy Yermak, Zelenskyy's top aid, wrote an article for The Hill titled "Ukraine's Evangelicals Need U.S. Support."

[S]ince Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea and initial occupation of Eastern Ukraine, Putin stands as an adversary of Christianity, freedom of religion, and the church itself. Churches have been shuttered, ministers detained and tortured, and religious freedom suppressed. The full-scale invasion of 2022 intensified and brought this assault on Protestantism to newly-seized territories...

It is time for American and Ukrainian evangelicals to come together once again to ensure religious tolerance in Ukraine.

April 8, 2024 - Evangelical leaders in the U.S. (including Richard Land) wrote Johnson urging him to support aid to Ukraine. 

As you consider efforts to support Ukraine, we humbly ask that you consider the plight of Christians. The Russian government’s decision to invade Ukraine and to target Baptists and other evangelical Christians in Ukraine has been a tragic hallmark of the war.

April 12, 2004 - Johnson went to Mar-a-Lago to meet with Trump.

“I stand with the speaker,” Trump said at an evening press conference at his gilded private club.

Trump said he thinks Johnson, of Louisiana, is “doing a very good job – he’s doing about as good as you’re going to do.”

April 14, 2024 - Appearing on Fox News, Johnson said, "We’re going to try again this week, and the details of that package are being put together right now. We’re looking at the options and all these supplemental issues.” (emphasis mine)

April 17, 2024 - A second letter was sent to Johnson signed by several U.S. pastors.

We remind Congress that religious freedom is a basic human right that must be protected everywhere. We pray Congress has the courage to stand in solidarity with people of faith. Ukrainian Christians deserve the freedom to worship in peace and embrace their faith without fear.

We call on Congress to provide Ukraine with the financial and military support required to defend herself, stop the bloodshed, and secure freedom of religion within her borders.

April 20, 2024 - Johnson brought a bill for U.S. aid to Ukraine up for a vote in the House. It passed by a vote of 311-112.

It's clear that both Ukrainian and U.S. evangelicals are aware of the fact that using terms like "religious freedom/liberty" will trigger someone like Johnson in a way that details of the battle situation would not.

What stands out to me is the fact that Zelenskyy might have played a critical role in all of this. A few days after he spoke with Johnson - and probably saw that an argument based on Russia's military actions wasn't having any effect - Zelenskyy held a meeting with Ukrainian religious leaders asking them to communicate with their colleagues abroad because "the church has great influence on...state leaders." That was followed a few days later by an article in The Hill (a moderately right-leading publication) suggesting that Ukrainian evangelicals needed U.S. support. 

If my assumption is correct, Zelenskyy is an even more impressive leader than I thought. 

Friday, April 19, 2024

Why did Speaker Johnson change his mind about aid to Ukraine?

Over the last few days, Speaker Mike Johnson has done an about-face on the U.S. providing aid to Ukraine.  In case you didn't know, a group called Republicans for Ukraine gave Johnson an "F" rating for voting against aid every time it came up in the House.  Then, when he became speaker, he continually blocked bills from coming to a vote. 

Now all of the sudden, he's risking the ire of Trump and MAGA Republicans (and possibly his speakership) in support of aid to Ukraine. What changed?

There are those who suggest that Johnson showed his hand by saying that he believes intelligence reports that "Vladimir Putin would continue to march through Europe if he were allowed." But hasn't he been getting these kinds of reports all along? Why would he suddenly believe them now?

While we'll never know for sure, I would suggest that something started happening about three weeks ago that ignited the speaker's change of heart.

In a March 26 letter, the Ukraine Council of Evangelical Protestant Churches urged U.S. House Speaker Mike Johnson to vote on providing aid to Ukraine without delay...

Writers of the letter mentioned church buildings being taken away, ministers being arrested and tortured, the Russian bombings of an East Ukraine church, Feb. 28—which killed the pastor—and an apartment building, March 2—which killed 12, including five children and an evangelical pastor’s daughter and infant grandson...

The letter implored Speaker Johnson to come to the aid of evangelical churches in Ukraine because “as Evangelicals, we are being accused of working for the interests of the American Government...Appealing to Johnson’s shared evangelical faith—Southern Baptist—the letter closed by asking for “prayers and action on behalf of 8,000 Evangelical churches in Ukraine.

On March 10th, PBS ran a story titled "Ukrainian Christian Groups Face Violent Crackdown From Russian Forces."

Russia first occupied the southern Ukrainian city of Melitopol in early March 2022.

And Russian Secret Services, after persecuting pro-Ukrainian activists, former government officials and human rights defenders, have since targeted the churches and their pastors and congregants.

That was followed by two different letters to Johnson from Baptist leaders in the U.S. urging him to support aid to Ukraine. The first one, dated April 8th, included the signature (among others) of Richard Land, former president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, on which Johnson once served.

As you consider efforts to support Ukraine, we humbly ask that you consider the plight of Christians. The Russian government’s decision to invade Ukraine and to target Baptists and other evangelical Christians in Ukraine has been a tragic hallmark of the war.

The second letter to Johnson was dated April 17th and signed by several pastors.

We remind Congress that religious freedom is a basic human right that must be protected everywhere. We pray Congress has the courage to stand in solidarity with people of faith. Ukrainian Christians deserve the freedom to worship in peace and embrace their faith without fear.

We call on Congress to provide Ukraine with the financial and military support required to defend herself, stop the bloodshed, and secure freedom of religion within her borders.
I would submit to you that this is the reason Johnson did such an about-face on Ukraine. It was the specter of Putin's persecution of evangelical Christians in Ukraine that changed his mind. 

Don't get me wrong. I'm very relieved at the end result. But it's a good reminder that, to understand someone like Speaker Johnson, you always have to keep in mind where his loyalties lie. They're obviously not with national security or the lives of every day Ukrainians. Instead, they're with his tribe of evangelical Christians.

Sunday, April 14, 2024

Israel owes Obama a huge debt of gratitude

While we don't know the outcome of Iran's attack on Israel yet, it appears as though the worst has been avoided. According to reports, Israel's multilayered air defense systems were effective in stopping the barrage of drone/rocket attacks launched by Iran. As a result, Biden has warned Netanyahu that any further attacks against Iran would not be supported by the U.S. At the moment, that warning seems to have been heeded.

The amount of blood and treasure that would have been spent on an outright war between Israel and Iran is impossible to quantify. So it is important for all of us to be clear about the role played by those air defense systems in potentially avoiding a global catastrophe. It might surprise you to know who is responsible for that. So let's take a walk back through some recent history.

The concept of an "Iron Dome" over Israel dates back to 2004, when Brig. Daniel Gold, a mathematician and head of new-weapons research and development for Israel’s Ministry of Defense, invited the country’s defense contractors to propose innovative systems to protect against aerial bombardment. In early 2007, Israel’s Defense Ministry backed the project’s pilot phase with an outlay of $10 million, but then decided that offensive readiness was a higher priority and didn't allocate any more funds. Instead, Israel approached the Bush administration requesting hundreds of millions in additional support to deploy the Iron Dome. Bush said "no."

During the 2008 presidential campaign, Barack Obama visited Israel. 

All the cameras were on Barack Obama as he gave an emotional speech against the backdrop of the remains of around 100 spent Hamas rockets in Sderot...It was then that he made his memorable statement about someone sending rockets into his house where his daughters were sleeping, and promising that if he were elected, he would do everything in his power to protect Israel from Hamas rockets.

In 2010, President Obama proposed that the U.S. spend $205 million to spur Israel's production of the Iron Dome. Congress complied as part of a package that also included the following:

The Pentagon's Missile Defense Agency has three initiatives with Israel to boost its home-grown capability to defend against short- and medium-range ballistic missiles.

The so-called David's Sling Weapon System is for short-range defense; the Arrow Weapons System targets medium-range missiles; and the Arrow-3 interceptor is an upper-tier system under development.

The United States is also developing interoperability between the U.S. ballistic missile defense system and the Israeli architecture to make sure Israeli systems can be stitched in to a global umbrella.

Those are the systems that were used to deflect all of the drones/rockets that Iran launched against Israel on Saturday. Another middle east (and possibly global) war may have been prevented - all because President Obama had the foresight to take steps to prevent war. We all (including Benjamin Netanyahu and the people of Israel) owe him a huge debt of gratitude. 

Thursday, April 11, 2024

Trump doesn't care about abortions

Natasha Korecki put together a helpful timeline on the way Donald Trump has bobbed and weaved on the issue of abortion. For example:
  • In 1999 - before running for president as a Republican - he said, "I am very pro-choice." 
  • Two years later, (when he was considering the idea of running against Obama in the 2012 election) he claimed to be "pro-life." 
  • By March of 2016, he said that women who have abortions should be punished and vowed to appoint Supreme Court justices that would overturn Roe. 
  • Since that happened in 2022, he has been on-and-off again about a federal ban on abortions.
  • When the so-called "red wave" didn't materialize in the 2022 midterms, Trump blamed it on Republicans who insisted on abortion bans with no exceptions. 
This week, the bobbing and weaving has continued. On Monday, the former president put out a statement claiming strong support for IVF and for leaving the decision on abortion up to the states. He also warned that state and local legislators should keep in mind the need to win elections - telegraphing that he recognizes that a pro-life stand could hurt Republicans. 

Then on Tuesday, the Arizona Supreme Court lifted a ban on an 1864 law that made abortion a felony punishable by two to five years in prison for anyone who performs one or helps a woman obtain one. When asked about that on Wednesday, Trump said that the Arizona law "went too far" and released a video claiming that overturning Roe was the only goal. He said that, from the beginning, it has always been about bringing the issue back to the states - nothing else. 

All of these mixed messages stem from the fact that Trump doesn't really care about the abortion issue. When he decided to run for president as a Republican, he had to take a stand against it - and when it turned out that a majority of his base was made up of Christian nationalists, he catered to what they wanted in order to win/maintain their support. 

But what the former president doesn't seem to understand is that, for the pro-life folks, abortion is murder. And these days, most of them are coalescing around the argument that life begins at conception. So when he says things like "leave it up to the states," they hear him saying that it is OK for blue states to murder children during a pregnancy. 

Here's how Trump's former vice-president responded on Twitter:
President Trump’s retreat on the Right to Life is a slap in the face to the millions of pro-life Americans who voted for him in 2016 and 2020...a majority of Americans long to see minimum national protections for the unborn in federal law. But today, too many Republican politicians are all too ready to wash their hands of the battle for life. Republicans win on life when we speak the truth boldly and stand on the principle that we all know to be true – human life begins at conception and should be defended from womb to tomb.

Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of SBA Pro-Life America, said that abortion "has always been a human rights issue — not contingent on geography. Where you live shouldn't determine whether you live."

Steve Peace, BlazeTV host, is ready to give up on the whole GOP.

Now that Republicans have a chance to show they are sincerely pro-life, and act on decades of speeches and promises, they are by and large punting and cowering -- starting with the guy responsible for overturning Roe itself. Now plenty of our own teammates are also showing they're fine sacrificing kids on the altar of personal convenience...

What all of this means for Trump (and other Republicans on the ballot in 2024) is that what they want first and foremost is for this issue to quietly go away and get back to talking about the so-called "invasion" at our border. But that's not going to work. If the Christian nationalist base demands a federal ban on abortion - Trump is going to have to give them one. In the process, he loses everyone else.  

Monday, April 8, 2024

Right wingers use racism to deny systemic racism

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 dismantled the Jim Crow laws of the South, but seven years later the Supreme Court made it clear that simply eliminating the "no Negroes need apply" wasn't enough when it came to employment discrimination. Writing for the majority, Chief Justice Burger said:

...good intent or absence of discriminatory intent does not redeem employment procedures or testing mechanisms that operate as "built-in headwinds" for minority groups and are unrelated to measuring job capability.
That decision codified "disparate impact" as discriminatory, and therefore illegal.
Disparate impact refers to policies, practices, rules, or other systems that appear to be neutral, but result in a disproportionate impact on protected groups.

For years now I've been writing about the right wing assault on disparate impact being led by none other that Chief Justice John Roberts. If they can remove that standard, victims will be required to prove that the perpetrator intended to discriminate against them - which is almost impossible to do. 

Because of my interest in this topic, I wasn't surprised that - in this era of right wing extremism - Heather Mac Donald, a fellow at the Manhattan Institute, wrote the quiet parts out loud in a piece titled, "Disparate Impact Thinking is Destroying Our Civilization." 

The most consequential falsehood in American public policy today is the idea that any racial disparity in any institution is by definition the result of racial discrimination...

As a result of this falsehood, we are eviscerating meritocratic and behavioral standards in accordance with what is known as “disparate impact analysis.”

By now you've probably noticed that this is supposed to be the "intellectual" argument behind all of the right wing attacks on systemic racism and "diversity, equity, and inclusion" (DEI) initiatives.

Mac Donald goes on to describe how "disparate impact analysis" is dumbing down the fields of medicine, law, and criminal justice. But the problem she faces (just like all of the other arguments against DEI initiatives) is that when you deny systemic racism, you have to come up with another explanation for all of the racial disparities in medicine, law, education, employment, the criminal justice system, etc. So yes, Mac Donald goes there.

We need to face up to the truth: the reason for racial underrepresentation across a range of meritocratic fields is the academic skills gap. The reason for racial overrepresentation in the criminal justice system is the crime gap. 

In other words, she claims that the disparities experienced by African Americans in this country are because they have an "academic skills gap" (ie, not as intelligent) and are more prone to commit crimes. That, my friends, is the very definition of racism. 

People who know their history will recognize Mac Donald's argument as the same one that was used as the basis for scientific racism. For decades researchers tried to prove scientifically that Black people were biologically inferior to whites in order to justify their racism. That didn't end well.

Disparate impact analysis and DEI measures are an attempt to weed out systemic racism like this:

Numerous formulas or "algorithms" used in medical decisions — treatment guidelines, diagnostic tests, risk calculators — adjust the answers according to race or ethnicity in a way that puts people of color at disadvantage.

Given how embedded these equations are in medical software and electronic records, even doctors may not realize how widely they impact care decisions.

And there's this when it comes to African American boys and the criminal justice system:

Black boys as young as 10 may not be viewed in the same light of childhood innocence as their white peers, but are instead more likely to be mistaken as older, be perceived as guilty and face police violence if accused of a crime, according to new research. “Children in most societies are considered to be in a distinct group with characteristics such as innocence and the need for protection. Our research found that black boys can be seen as responsible for their actions at an age when white boys still benefit from the assumption that children are essentially innocent,” said the lead author.

I could go on with other examples of systemic racism, but I'll leave it there for now. My point is that those who are attacking DEI measures and want to do away with disparate impact as the standard for proving discrimination are forced to rely on racism to back up their claims. A clear-eyed view of reality tells a very different story.

The root of the problem is a theology that enables sexual abuse

As someone who was raised in a white evangelical Christian family and church, it deeply saddens me every time we hear that another leader o...