Everything wrong with American Evangelicalism in “the Best Commencement Speech Liberty University has ever had”


Did you listen to Donald Trump’s commencement address at Liberty University, the dominionist university started by Jerry Falwell and now headed by Jerry, Jr?

As usual for Trump, it included ample bragging about his surprising electoral win in November and another crass reference about how vital their support was for his campaign (“And I want to thank you, because boy did you come out and vote, those of you that are old enough, in other words your parents. Boy oh boy, you voted, you voted.”). The speech has the usual vacuous references to the graduates’ futures, a quotation misunderstanding Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken,” and some lousy theology (“Jerry, I know your dad is looking down on you right now, and he is proud, he is very proud,”) that frankly should have offended the premillennialists, but, really, evangelical Christians have no standards at all any more, so it’s not surprising that they are unbothered by this detail. For Trump, it was almost coherent.

Falwell and Trump

Above, two lying, talentless conmen who have benefitted from nepotism: Donald Trump and  Jerry Falwell, Jr., who has called Trump evangelicals’ “dream president.” They stand in front of a framed cover from Playboy. Jerry Falwell, Sr., campaigned against the placement of pornographic magazines in convenience stores and sued Hustler in a case that went to the Supreme Court. “Jerry, I know your dad is looking down on you right now, and he is proud, he is very proud.”

One passage, though, strikes me as as almost prophetic:

“A small group of failed voices who think they know everything and understand everyone want to tell everybody else how to live and what to do and how to think, but you aren’t going to let other people tell you what you believe, especially when you know that you are right.”

Here, Trump is talking about Washington, DC–a “small group of failed voices” (you know, the ones elected by the people), but, “boy oh boy” could he be describing evangelical Christians. American evangelicalism has failed to turn its adherents into Christians, and those who claim that their evangelical Christianity prompts their conservative politics… well, they are failing too. They can’t persuade the majority of Americans to vote like them, and they can’t staff a Supreme Court who will ignore the Constitution in favor of their dominionist views. But they’ll keep at it because the know that they are right. Sigh.

More repulsive, though, were Jerry Falwell, Jr’s words praising Trump for dropping the largest non-nuclear bomb in the US military’s arsenal in Afghanistan. Falwell sees this as a defense of Christians in the region, who are persecuted by ISIS. Neither Falwell nor I can speak to the theology of Christians who are facing genocide at the hands of ISIS. What I can say is that, whether the US bombs ISIS or not, Christians, even those at Liberty University, should not rejoice in the death of those who would persecute them.


For Mother’s Day, Rod Dreher Decided to be a Jerk


I’ve written the following about Rod Dreher on this blog:

I love Rod Dreher. I hate Rod Dreher. He’s essential reading. I sometimes have to turn off his RSS feed for weeks or months. He’s incredibly thoughtful. He’s a kneejerk reactionary. He’s terrified of the influence that gays will have on American society. He’s really good friends with Andrew Sullivan — who kind of helped kickstart the gay marriage movement decades ago. He’s profoundly human, but I wish he could be a bit more humane and less purely contemptuous of people who think differently than he does. I think there’s stuff we have to learn from him, and for God’s sake sometimes I wish he’d just shut the hell up.

Tonight, I wish he’d shut the hell up. Why? Here’s Twitter.

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Now. Maybe it’s because I just celebrated another Mother’s Day without my mother — the day after what should’ve been my parents’ 45th wedding anniversary.

Or maybe it’s because I saw the image posted earlier in the day, by a friend who spent many years longing to become a parent — she and her husband finally adopted a couple of years back, a joy to them and all who know them — and who, I know, still vividly remembers the pain of that yearning.


Rod Dreher has written not one, but two books substantially centered on his daddy issues. Some people draw memes suggesting flowers for people who have family issues; Dreher’s made an income from his.

And Dreher’s whole shtick is that modern American society is destroying the family, and that civilization will soon follow. So why not make fun of people who yearn for family, or to improve their family relationships?

Dreher’s feelings get hurt easily. We know that from reading his blog and books. But he doesn’t reciprocate the sensitivity he seeks from others. One moment where a bit of humanity might’ve proven beneficial from him, and he chose to go for the hurtful snark.

So screw him. He deserves as much of a respectful hearing as he gives others. Which is to say: None.


P.S. “Participation trophies” are for folks who have lost competitions. Family isn’t — shouldn’t be — a competition.

P.S. again: Dreher didn’t like my series of tweets castigating him for his tweet. Apparently he can dish out the “participation trophy” disses, but can’t stand when the heat is redirected. That’s fine.

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OK, Maybe It’s Time for Impeachment Talk


I haven’t been down with talk of impeaching Donald Trump up to now. There were two reasons for this:

• Congress is held by Republicans. As a political matter, it’s highly unlikely, even improbable, that this Congress would impeach this president. Is there a line he could cross that would prove too much for Congressional Republicans? One hopes so, but one hasn’t actually seen sign of it.

• More importantly, I wasn’t convinced until this week that we had grounds for it. “I don’t like the president’s policies” isn’t good enough — elections have consequences — and the emoluments clause is vague enough for it not to get the traction it probably should.

But this week, the president fired the FBI director. Then gave implausible reasons for doing so. And it seemed the only plausible reason was that he didn’t like the FBI investigating whether Russia colluded with his presidential campaign.

Then, this morning, this happened:

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Yes. That’s the president of the United States telling the former FBI director: “Shut up about what you know, or else I might have incriminating information about you.”

Does this meet the legal, chargeable definition of “blackmail” as a criminal offense? I don’t know. As a practical matter, it’s blackmail, the work of a thug done publicly.

The threat came on the heels of a number of stories, but here’s one I found particularly interesting:

As they ate, the president and Mr. Comey made small talk about the election and the crowd sizes at Mr. Trump’s rallies. The president then turned the conversation to whether Mr. Comey would pledge his loyalty to him.

By Mr. Comey’s account, his answer to Mr. Trump’s initial question apparently did not satisfy the president, the associates said. Later in the dinner, Mr. Trump again said to Mr. Comey that he needed his loyalty.

I think we have evidence that President Trump wants his cabinet members to subvert their oaths of office. Those oaths require a fidelity to the Constitution — not any single person within government. I’m not sure Donald Trump knows the difference between himself and the state he leads. I’m not sure he ever did.

All of which is to say: I still don’t think Republicans will impeach this president. But I’m starting to have a firmer sense of the grounds upon which an impeachment might be possible.

— Joel

Wolf by the Ears: Why the GOP Can’t Stop being Racist


This week you quite rightly pointed out the Republican Party’s anti-immigration policies are aimed at reducing the number of Democratic voters. Republicans have owned up to it, just as they’ve admitted that efforts to suppress black votes are efforts to suppress Democratic ones. And this is the history of white people since the founding: to insure that the votes of people of color will never overcome their own votes, that non-whites will not be able to pull the levers of power.


Above, anti-immigrant protestors hold a sign saying “Send them back with birth control.” They don’t just want no immigrants in the US–they want fewer brown-skinned people in the world. 

To the argument you lay out, I will this:

Republicans fear non-white votes because Republicans (who are overwhelmingly white and less reflective of the national population than Democrats) have used elected office and government policy to hurt minorities and bolster structures that maintain their power.  They fear nonwhite power because they themselves has used power to hurt nonwhites. They fear retaliation because they know they deserve it. We can see it in the words of Thomas Jefferson, whose own relationship with slavery was–what is the polite way to say this?–conflicted, though not enough for him to act right. Despite the polymath’s genius in imagining a new form of government and his statesmanship in bringing it to life, he couldn’t see how powerful whites could do anything except maintain power over enslaved Africans and African Americans. Writing in 1820, he said:

But, as it is, we have the wolf by the ear, and we can neither hold him, nor safely let him go. Justice is in one scale, and self-preservation in the other.

Today’s Republicans see a similar issue: to maintain power, they must be racist.  And they have embraced racism as a political strategy with a kind of glee that suggests it might not be strategy alone that drives them.

This isn’t just the hard kick of a dying mule. It’s an immensely cynical strategy and one that is self-defeating. There are good reasons why many immigrants are more politically progressive than the average Republican. Unlike nearly anyone in Congress, they have often seen the effects of US warmongering up close, and the sound of American military jets flying overhead don’t inspire patriotism but fear. They have lost family members killed by American soldiers or with American-made guns and bombs. Too, they have lived in colonies and former colonies in places whose economies and landscapes have been decimated by the forces of capitalism. Today, the largest numbers of refugees settling in the US are from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Syria, Burma, and Iraq–not all places where we’ve messed up, though, historically, we had to take in large numbers of refugee after bungling wars in Viet Nam and other parts of Southeast Asia–but places where our policies have not necessarily helped the local situation. Our undocumented immigrants come mostly from Mexico and points south--places where our economic and foreign policy has long contributed to instability.  They may be fleeing civil wars, genocidal dictators, drug wars, and grinding poverty, but that doesn’t mean that they love Ayn Rand or Paul Ryan.

But, while Trump advisor Michael Anton worries that such immigrants have “no tradition of, taste for, or experience in liberty,”  they, like African Americans, should not be presumed to be default Democrats. Very often, immigrants and refugees from the “Third World” that Anton despises so much as well as native-born people of color embrace gender and sexuality norms that align more with Republican’s so-called “traditional family values” than with the Democratic Party’s stances on abortion, divorce, parental authority over children, women’s rights, or gay rights. The Hispanic and African American students at my own university aren’t majoring in Queer Studies or Radical Leftist Rioting, after all, but in business and criminology. (In fact, criminology is the most popular major for black and Hispanic students at my university.)  International students are pursuing degrees in STEM and economics, not The Overthrow of Capitalism.

So why can’t Republicans imagine appealing to the foreign born and people of color? Is it because, like Jefferson, they cannot imagine the victims of their own racism doing anything except murdering them? Is it because they know that a coalition of social conservatives and robber barons doesn’t really make sense and that, eventually, social conservatives will realize it, too? Or is it because their racism isn’t merely strategic but also heart-felt?

It’s not just the Republican Party losing here. (Remember that the GOP has not been able to place a truly new candidate in the White House by popular vote since 1980. I was in diapers. Every Republican president who won the popular vote since then was either an incumbent president or VP.)  Our democracy would be richer if people of color could contribute to the national political conversation without having to go through the Democratic Party. There is no reason why the huge diversity of black voters so overwhelmingly chooses to vote Democrat–except that the Republican Party (and individual Republican voters) are so racist.  If anyone should be angry about the racism of the GOP, it should be conservatives of color.


Our Knee-Jerk Culture


I was napping yesterday when James Comey was fired.

So here’s the thing: When I went to sleep, lots of liberal folks hated James Comey — for his actions that seemed to hurt Hillary’s election, broadly, but also more recently for incorrect testimony to Congress that suggested (again, falsely) a close Hillary confidant had emailed hundreds of thousands of classified documents to her husband.

So when I go to sleep: Comey’s a bad guy. When I wake up, everybody’s outraged that he’s been fired.

It was a little disorienting.

Here’s the dumb thing I did: I started commenting on Twitter, assuming the last bad thing Comey did — the incorrect testimony — was the cause for his firing. Turned out I was wrong! The president says he fired Comey because … Comey handled the Hillary email situation badly. Like liberals have been complaining about for months.

Which, basically, no one believes. And with good reason.

So my own initial reactions were wrong. And it got me thinking: I love Twitter and I hate Twitter.

Good Twitter: Brings me new facts just as quickly as they’re created.

Bad Twitter: Requires the creation of analysis and commentary on that same now-now-now timeline. Which means a lot of us — including me! — make stupid comments until we get properly oriented. (This assumes, of course, that my considered commentary isn’t also stupid. I know, I know.)

Anyway, I was reading Alan Jacobs this morning:

Russell Berman tweets: “15 hours later, not one of the top 4 House Republican leaders have issued a statement on the president’s firing of the FBI director.” This expresses a commonly-held view — just as I write these words I see a post by Pete Wehner asking “Where is the Republican Leadership?” — but I wonder: When did we get on this schedule? That is, when did an overnight wait before commenting on a political decision become an unconscionable delay? I’m old enough to remember when people used to counsel their agitated friends to “sleep on it,” and maybe even seek the opinions of others, before making public statements or highly consequential decisions. Now anything but instantaneous response is morally suspect — at best.

We talk about “resistance” a lot these days. Among the things I feel a need to resist: The speed of the commentary cycle. The group rush to judgment — even when it’s “my” group. The writing off of our political opponents as bad people.

Oh yeah, and Trump.

I feel increasingly lonely in my desire to resist those first three things, though. And I suspect it means I’ll make an occasional error. I might even embarrass myself from time to time! But slowing down, not following the jerk of my knee — hard as it is to resist, it feels necessary.

Restricting Immigration: The Not-So-Secret Political Reason Republicans Want a Wall


We’ve talked a few times about the problems with Trump Era immigration policy. I’d like to talk just briefly about the political problems — wholly intended — of that policy.

From an anti-immigration protest in Rockville, MD. Yikes.

Bottom line: Republicans intend that restrictive immigration policies will result in fewer Democratic voters.

No really. It’s right there in “The Flight 93 Election,” the ur-text of Intellectual Trumpism. I’ve quoted some of the following few sentences over and over, because I’ve found something new to think about — and object to — every time. I’m not sure this passage is key to understanding Trumpism as a project, but it probably comes as close as any.

In it, the author — then writing under a pseudonym, now known to be Michael Anton, a Trump advisor — complains that the deck is stacked against Constitution-loving limited government Republicans. One of the reasons, naturally: Immigrants.

It needs to be quoted at length:

The ceaseless importation of Third World foreigners with no tradition of, taste for, or experience in liberty means that the electorate grows more left, more Democratic, less Republican, less republican, and less traditionally American with every cycle. As does, of course, the U.S. population, which only serves to reinforce the two other causes outlined above. This is the core reason why the Left, the Democrats, and the bipartisan junta (categories distinct but very much overlapping) think they are on the cusp of a permanent victory that will forever obviate the need to pretend to respect democratic and constitutional niceties. Because they are.

It’s also why they treat open borders as the “absolute value,” the one “principle” that—when their “principles” collide—they prioritize above all the others. If that fact is insufficiently clear, consider this. Trump is the most liberal Republican nominee since Thomas Dewey. He departs from conservative orthodoxy in so many ways that National Review still hasn’t stopped counting. But let’s stick to just the core issues animating his campaign. On trade, globalization, and war, Trump is to the left (conventionally understood) not only of his own party, but of his Democratic opponent. And yet the Left and the junta are at one with the house-broken conservatives in their determination—desperation—not merely to defeat Trump but to destroy him. What gives?

Oh, right—there’s that other issue. The sacredness of mass immigration is the mystic chord that unites America’s ruling and intellectual classes. Their reasons vary somewhat. The Left and the Democrats seek ringers to form a permanent electoral majority.

Some of this is misleading. If Donald Trump is so leftist — and this is written during the election — why is Michael Anton, longtime conservative Republican man about town, advocating for him?

Put aside that bit of disingenuousness, though, and the thought process is clear:

  1. Immigrants vote for Democrats.
  2. If enough immigrants vote for Democrats, Republicans won’t have a chance to win elections.
  3. So, it’s time to restrict immigration.

There’s plenty that’s offensive here — the idea that voting Democratic makes you opposed to liberty, or that brown people somehow are predisposed against liberty, and I dislike ideas that describe ideology as a near-inborn fact of demographics — but Anton isn’t alone in thinking that immigration will help Democrats. Here’s Ian Smith writing in National Review in 2015:

The Census Bureau includes aliens (both legal and illegal) in the statistics used to apportion our 435 congressional districts. This has the perverse effect of helping states with bigger immigrant populations to inflate both their representation in Congress and the number of Electoral College votes they are allotted (the latter is a function of the former). Just through their illegal-alien numbers, the states of New York, New Jersey, California, Florida, and Illinois, which all went for Obama in 2012, received eight additional congressional seats in the last reapportionment, with over half of those gains coming from their sanctuary cities and counties. It’s clear, then, why Democrats resist enforcing our immigration laws: More bodies mean more power.

Mark Krikorian of the Center for Immigration Studies told me the same thing in an interview I did with him before the election last year: “”The broader issue is that mass immigration is a boon for Democratic candidates. It moves politics to the left, always, not just here but in Western democracies.”

There’s some good thinking to be done about why that’s the case, but let’s focus on the politics of this: Simply put, the anti-immigration movement is an anti-Democratic movement. And an anti-democratic movement; Republicans must restrict voting to white people as much as possible to hang on to power.

And if Dems favor immigration because it empowers them — I have no doubt there are more than a few — it means that Republicans dislike it because it disempowers them. When they talk about immigrants coming to take good jobs away from good Americans, they’re talking about jobs in Congress, and in the legislatures, and on county commissions, and so forth.

This, of course, continues a grand tradition: Republicans believe that disenfranchising brown people is their best path to electoral success. On one level, you can’t blame them. On the other hand, one shouldn’t mistake Republican nativism for populism. It’s not about helping poor people fed for themselves. It’s about holding and keeping power.

Twas ever thus, right?

— Joel