A Sixoh6 Revisit: George W. Bush is the worst president of modern history.

We don’t typically offer re-runs at Sixoh6, but here’s your semi-regular reminder that George W. Bush was BY FAR a worse president than is Donald J. Trump. If that’s hard to believe, think about whether you’d feel that way if you lived in Iraq or Afghanistan. Trump’s racism is right in our face because it’s right in our nation, so it’s easy to be outraged. Bush’s legacy is of violence and destruction against brown-skinned people half a world away–but it was far more violent and destructive. God may forgive Bush, but we can never rehabilitate his image. 

From October 25, 2017:

“George W. Bush is Not a Friend to Democracy”

Donald Trump is a real gift to George W. Bush’s legacy, and the 43rd president seems to really be making the most of his moment. Next to Trump, of course, Bush is a poet, philosopher, statesman, and successful business leader. So, a few reminders, for those readers who might be too young to remember the thwarting of democracy that was necessary for his election, the pointless, costly, brutal, and illegal invasion of Iraq, the assault on civil liberties, or the economic ruin of GWB’s tax cuts:

See the source image

Above, George W. Bush dresses as Santa, with members of the Secret Service dressed as elves, in order to hand out toys at a children’s hospital in Dallas. His tax cuts fueled economic inequality, handed significantly more money to the already-wealthy, and jacked up the deficit for years. The percent of Americans living in poverty increased under his tenure. Like Reagan before him and Trump after him, he sought ways to put more money into the pockets of the people who already had the most. 


Above, Bush receives a hug from former First Lady Michelle Obama. The two remain friends, despite the fact that Bush’s 2000 presidential primary campaign used fears of interracial sex in a smear campaign against his opponent John McCain. In South Carolina, Bush’s team suggested McCain had had a biracial child. In fact, McCain had adopted a child from Bangladesh, and racists in the Republican party saw her as evidence for the Bush campaign’s claims. Like all Republicans since Nixon, Bush could not have won a presidential campaign without appeals to racism. 


Above, George W. Bush paints portraits of those who have served in the Armed Forces since 9/11.  To date, approximately 7,000 members of the Armed Forces have died in the global War on Terror. If Bush painted one of their pictures every day, he’d have to live be 90 years old to paint them all. 

It is not insightful or noble or brave or courageous for Bush to now criticize Trump. He should have spoken up during the campaign. He should have worked to reduce presidential power so that a future power-hungry white nationalist wouldn’t have had the opportunities that Trump is now using. Bush gave us the template for violating the civil rights of non-citizens. He gave us the structure for spying on people more effectively. He gave us unending warfare and the executive order to bring retired military officers back to the military–an order that Trump has ramped up forty fold. Bush gave the model for tax cuts that hurt the poor to profit the rich. Some of us will never, ever recover from them. His very election sent the message that family status and power–not talent or competency–is what wins elections. Without Bush, we would not have Trump.


PS. A bonus video for those who need a more explicit explanation of how to think about Bush’s effort to rehabilitate his legacy. 


Forgiving Hate Crimes?

Today is the anniversary of the Nickel Mines Amish school shooting. Some of our readers know that this event shoot me pretty terribly, for a variety of reasons: this is very close to the church of my youth, my grandparents work as Amish school taxi drivers (ferrying school teachers to their schools), and I had a long friendship with the killer’s wife, from kindergarten on. At the time of the shooting, I was conducting research on Westboro Baptist Church, and their response to it halted my work for several months. I was eventually able to resume, a process that I have written about elsewhere.

See the source image

In honor of the anniversary, I am sharing this blog post by Luke Brunning and Per-Erik Milam, which you can find at the International Network for Hate Studies blog. “Forgiving Hate Crimes: The Case of Dylan Roof” considers the place of forgiveness in such atrocious crimes.



Truth and Sharpie Art

In early September, President Trump used a Sharpie-altered map to explain the oncoming path of Hurricane Dorian into the state of Alabama. When questioned about whether a permanent marker line was really a scientific part of the presentation, or a hasty addition to help correlate questionable information that had previously been provided, the President doubled down on the error and insisted that Alabama was in the path of the storm.

Image result for trump sharpie

Many words have been written with righteous anger about the President’s strange relationship with facts and truth. Even before arriving in the Oval Office, his campaign often referenced that their truth was the real truth, and that anything else was fake news, even when reality clearly demonstrated that not to be true. 

President Trump insists that he is always right. His public posture is one of absolute and unwavering certainty. It doesn’t seem to matter if this certainty comes at the expense of others, or even if it changes at some point. He will never admit that errors have been made, or that he or his administration are not in perfect control. 

His Sharpied version of truth is never in question. 

All of this has made me wonder whether I also carry a Sharpie with me in different aspects of my life. When are the times when I claim absolute truth certainty, even going so far as to edit the truth to benefit my cause? 

I know I do this with my children. I claim, without a shadow of doubt in my voice that bedtime is bedtime (sometimes because I’ve reached my capacity to parent them well, even if they aren’t actually that tired). I am firm on things like the appropriate amount of candy and desserts (even when I know it probably wouldn’t hurt them if they had a few more pieces of candy from their trick-or-treat bag). I pull out my Sharpie when it comes to school, insisting that they go, even when they don’t want to, because it is the right and correct path forward (even if internally I occasionally question whether our education systems are really the healthiest ways for them to learn). 

If I’m honest with myself, I probably use my metaphorical Sharpie with my friends and loved ones too, making up lines to explain the reasons why I don’t have enough time or energy, or defending decisions that I’ve made in my past retroactively to save face – especially when I’m embarrassed by the truth. 

The reason that I carry a Sharpie is that owning the actual truth is often far more difficult than trying to draw lines around my made up drawings. My Sharpie is also used to pass blame, and to avoid moments of vulnerability. It is easier to blame traffic or a prior commitment when I show up late to an appointment rather than owning up to the reality that I just lost track of time because I was binging YouTube videos. It is easier to use my children as an excuse for why I need to leave a meeting before it has concluded, rather than owning my truth that I’m just tired and need to rest. It is easier to pretend I’m busy on my phone rather than engage the stranger sitting next to me on the bus or in the coffee shop. 

My Sharpie comes out whenever I feel like the truth will be more difficult than I can handle. 

Recently our student organization cohosted the women from the incredible Harry Potter & the Sacred Text podcast. During their visit we discussed the ability of the various characters in that series to speak truth, or their impulse to avoid speaking truth. Often these two postures are done for the same reason. Truth may be spoken as a way to stand up to those abusing their power, truth may also be withheld in an effort to undermine those in power. 

This conversation illuminated that there may be times when momentarily suspending a truth may be more important than actually speaking truth – especially if there are vulnerable marginalized people who will suffer when the actual truth is spoken. My hunch is that this is why we tolerate certainty over truth in our politician’s words. It is because we believe (at least when we affirm specific politicians) that their certainty will bring us to a better and more truthful future even if it means a few Sharpie lines are necessary along the way. 

How do you use your Sharpie, and why? Is there a better way forward when it comes to speaking your truth?

Updates in Hate: Schools and Hate


J. Busher, T. Choudhury, and P. Thomas’ “The enactment of the counter-terrorism ‘Prevent duty’ in British schools and colleges: Beyond reluctant accommodation or straightforward policy acceptance” in Critical Studies on Terrorism considers teacher perspectives on Prevent Duty, which requires UK teachers to report students they feel are at risk of radicalization. To learn more about the Prevent program, check out their earlier article “The fatal flaws in how schools are asked to tackle terror.”

When you reduce bullying in schools, you reduce other measures of hate in schools as well. That is the finding of Brett Lehman in “Stopping the Hate: Applying Insights on Bullying Victimization to Understand and Reduce the Emergence of Hate in Schools,” in Sociological Inquiry.

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Above, image from the Twitter account of Hate-Free Schools Coalition, which seeks to ban hate symbols from public schools.

In “Time for a Teach-In? Addressing Racist Incidents on College Campuses,” published in Journal of Social Work Education, social work professors Joseph Kuilema, Lissa Schwander, Kristen Alford, Rachel Venema, and Stacia Hoeksema consider the history of the teach-in and the role of social work professors in addressing racism on campus.

In “When Hate Circulates on Campus to Uphold Free Speech,” published in Studies in Law, Politics, and Society, Jessica Johnson uses qualitative data from observations at a Milo Yiannopolis speech at a university to examine absolutist and more nuanced approaches to understanding free speech on campus.

Readings: “The Racist American Doctrine of Predestination”

Those of you who like theology should check out Rachel Wagner’s recent Medium piece, “The racist American doctrine of predestination.”


Full disclosure: Rachel has become a friend of mine, and I greatly admire her work. See the source image

Another full disclosure: I’m empathetic to Calvinism though not a Calvinist myself.

While recognizing that Calvinism doesn’t have to be racist, Wagner writes:

The racist American doctrine of predestination… helps to explain why so many powerful white men aren’t held accountable for heinous crimes…. The corollary of original sin is, by implication, original blessedness: some people are born in God’s good light, and any wrong they do is mere opportunity for learning on the way to God’s heavenly kingdom.

Are their religious roots to our prejudices? Theological justifications in how we use Stand Your Ground? I hadn’t put the argument together until I read this piece, but I find it compelling.


Christians in the Same Boat?

Recently, journalist John Stoehr said it plainly:

“[W]hite evangelical Christian support for Donald Trump isn’t rooted in hypocrisy, contradiction or merely straying from the straight and narrow. The reason they support a fascist president is simple: They’re sadists.”

Here, Stoehr isn’t talking about sexual sadism but about a broader meaning, one he cites to philosopher Richard Rorty. Stoehr explains that “[s]adists are sadistic not because they are cruel. It’s much simpler than that. They are cruel because being cruel to people deserving cruelty feels good.”

Stoehr suggests a link between a theology of hell and this good feeling that comes from being cruel. I would argue that it’s not just their belief in hell but runs through American Christianity: the prolegomena, Christology, soteriology, eschatology, and pneumology. It’s one path to getting garbage like this.

So, what does that mean for Christians who don’t want to be lumped together with sadists? What do we do?

It’s a question that emerged during the Trump primary run and has stayed with us since. Can we just call the overwhelming majority of white evangelicals who supported Trump not-Christians? That’s a dodge.

What happens when we do share core elements of our faith with people who also believe that it’s okay to lock children in dog kennels or snatch their parents from them while they are at school?

Here, I think we might be tempted to take a lesson from the Religious Right.

Here is my simple definition of that term: those people who believe that their conservative religious beliefs drive their conservative political beliefs.

Now, this does not mean that their religious beliefs are actually orthodox–very often, they are based on the inventions of the 19th century crackpots John Nelson Darby or Cyrus I. Scofield. Proponents of dispensationalism, their radical ideas dramatically changed Protestantism–though many Protestants don’t even realize that these ideas are relatively new in the history of theology, not concepts rooted in Biblical traditions. And this is just one example of an invented Biblical tradition that doesn’t have very deep roots.

Nor does it mean that their politics are driven by their religion. They are mostly driven by racism and a broader fear of difference. But they claim that their vote for a racist misogynist is inspired by their religion, not his and their racism and sexism.

It’s their politics–a politics of resentment–that keep them together, with their religion offering cover.

What is interesting to me about this approach to religion and politics is that the details of the religion don’t matter much. Now, I don’t mean to say that Muslims could join (They can’t, no matter how politically conservative they might be.), so there are limits.

But fundamentalist Protestants who otherwise think that the Pope is the Anti-Christ (Pope Francis in particular, but all the other popes, too) will rally with devout Catholics if its to protest abortion rights. Evangelicals who decry the high church tradition as idolatry will hang with conservative Lutherans if the political goal is the same. General Baptists who believe that Particular Baptists are deadly wrong on their beliefs about free will work together to support the same candidate, provided he’s homophobic enough.

Its like that old Emo Phillips joke: they’ll kill each other over the most minute theological differences.

But, boy, all that disappears when the candidate is right.

If theological differences don’t matter in pursuit of political power for the Religious Right, it’s tempting to say that theological similarities to such folks don’t matter. I mean, if theology isn’t important to so many religious and political conservatives (and it’s not, despite their accusation that it’s liberals who “don’t take the Bible seriously”), why should it matter to those of us on the religious and political left?

It would be a relief to say, after all, that our shared belief in God isn’t enough to hold us together. That we’re not the same kind of Christians so don’t lump us together.

I’m not willing to go there, not because I want to be in the same boat as these folks. My inclination is the one Phillips describes, with a variation. I don’t much care about which confession you sign on to, but I would have to fight myself hard not to push you off a bridge if you support child internment camps.

So I definitely don’t want to be in the same boat as the majority of white evangelicals. But here I am, sharing major points of their theology.

Jumping ship–or pushing out other Christians from the boat–would be too easy, would relieve me of the burden I should have to carry: to continually return to those core beliefs and ask myself which of them are useful and which are dangerous, which give cover to hate.

I have more in common with these Christians than I want to admit. If I jump out of the boat–or throw them overboard–I get to pretend that’s not true. Staying here–admitting that I have a history with these folks that shapes my present way of being in the world–is the work of this moment for me.







Engaging Judges in Art: Kevin ‘Kevissimo’ Rolly

I shared previously that I’ve been thinking deeply about the book of Judges, which I’ve found to be a rich way of understanding our present political situation. That’s inspired me to look at art that engages the stories there, which led me, in turn, to the work of Kevin ‘Kevissimo’ Rolly, and L.A.-based artist who works in analog photography and oil painting. He sometimes produces “oilgraphs” in short periods of time using real people.

I’ve been using his In the Time of the Judges series as a guide for my own reading. Here is one of my favorites from the series. The Defender of Thebz is a depiction of the killing of Abimelech, a favorite story of mine. I love that the artist shows her as pregnant.


I’m not sure that the artist meant to inspire further contemplation of these difficult stories, but I’ve been engaging with them in a new way since viewing this series.