Without a Prayer

So, the impeachment stuff is over, and the nation can move on, but it won’t. Donald Trump won’t allow that. He is a vengeful man. He never forgets and he certainly never forgives. Do not cross him. He punished two witnesses who testified in the investigation that led to his impeachment, removing them from their posts in a campaign to exact retribution on his perceived enemies – a staffer on the National Security Council – the Purple Heart military guy – and his ambassador to the European Union – the man who donated a million or more dollars to Trump’s 2016 campaign. None of that mattered. They crossed him. They complied with legitimate subpoenas and provided what they swore was the truth. They were supposed to face the legal consequences of refusing to comply with a legitimate subpoena – possible jail time – and to say nothing at all, no matter what they saw or what they thought of what they saw. They did neither. They’re now gone. And there will be more until anyone who “betrayed” Trump is gone, including that whistleblower who started all this, so there was this:

After being denied by Chief Justice John Roberts last week, Rand Paul used a period reserved for senators’ impeachment speeches to read aloud the name of an intelligence community official alleged to be the whistleblower.

“They made a big mistake not allowing my question. My question did not talk about anybody who is a whistleblower, my question did not accuse anybody of being whistleblower, and it did not make a statement believing that someone was a whistleblower. I simply named two people’s names because I think it’s very important to know what happened,” Paul said on the floor.

It’s the type of move that might have prompted a backlash from within his own party not too long ago, and several senators said they would not have done it, but after three weeks of the impeachment trial, and with Trump’s firm grip over the party, there was little blowback from his colleagues…

They’re united on this. There have to be consequences for embarrassing this president, in spite of the law about retribution in these cases. The thought might be that some armed patriot out there might take out this whistleblower, and his family, as a lesson to those who might think about crossing this president. Chief Justice Roberts tried to stop this sort of thing, but Rand Paul will keep saying the name over and over. And he admits it might not be this guy. But that’s okay. Everyone will have to be careful now. That’ll shut people up, if they know what’s good for them.

But this is old news. The impeachment stuff is over and the nation can move on, but then, like Trump, the nation won’t move one. The ready-made full-color graphic slugs are popping up on everyone’s Facebook feed, reposted by everyone’s conservative friends and family – “Pelosi and Nadler and Schiff are up for reelection this year! Come on, America! Let’s vote them out of office!”

Conservative friends and family may repost this several times an hour. No one knows who supplies the graphic. That might be the Trump folks. That might be the Russians or the Ukrainians. It might be a little old lady in Pasadena, like in the old Beach Boys song. But it’s everywhere, and it’s stupid.

These races are local. Adam Schiff represents California’s 28th congressional district and that includes West Hollywood, the largest gay community south of San Francisco, and Burbank, home of Warner Brothers and Disney and NBC and Universal Studios, and parts of Pasadena, Glendale, the Verdugo Hills communities of Sunland and Tujunga, and parts of central Los Angeles including Hollywood, the Hollywood Hills, Echo Park, Silver Lake, and Los Feliz. As it includes Glendale and East Hollywood’s Little Armenia, it has the largest Armenian-American population of any district in the country, and next to Little Armenia there’s Thai Town. Everyone knows our Thai Town from the Food Network – they’re always filming something over there. The food is good, and Echo Park and Silver Lake are now beyond hip, and the stars live in Los Feliz, where you might run into Natalie Portman or Scarlett Johansson in the bookstore. And here, one block off the Sunset Strip, just above Sunset, Schiff is our congressman. There aren’t a lot of people unhappy with him here in the 28th District.

This is a matter of demographics, or just physical geography. But of course there are pure-white quite-straight evangelical angry Trump-Jesus districts too – and they elect their representatives appropriately. There are “safe seats” everywhere. Perhaps it all evens out.

But all the action is now in those evangelical angry Trump-Jesus districts. Michael Gerson looks back on the day-after-the-acquittal emblematic gloating:

At the 68th, and perhaps last, National Prayer Breakfast, the main remarks were made by the former president of the American Enterprise Institute Arthur C. Brooks, who spoke on the themes of his wonderful 2019 book “Love Your Enemies.” President Trump then prefaced his speech by saying: “Arthur, I don’t know if I agree with you. But I don’t know if Arthur’s going to like what I’m going to say.”

It was a strange moment in U.S. religious history. The command to love your enemies, of course, came from Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount. “Love your enemies, bless those that curse you, do good to them that hate you.” It might be expected for a president to express how difficult obeying such a mandate can be. Trump decided to dispute the command itself. And some in the crowd laughed.

Trump had hijacked the National Prayer Breakfast. Jesus might have been a fine fellow, but this was the precise time to hate your enemies:

The purpose of Trump’s sermon at the Hilton was, in fact, to put his enemies on notice. Those who pursued impeachment were “very dishonest and corrupt people.” “They know what they are doing is wrong,” he continued, “but they put themselves far ahead of our great country.” Congressional Republicans, in contrast, had the wisdom and strength “to do what everyone knows was right.”

Trump proceeded to make a thinly veiled attack against Mitt Romney of Utah, the only Republican senator to vote for the president’s removal: “I don’t like people who use their faith as justification for doing what they know is wrong.” And then a shot at House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.): “Nor do I like people who say, ‘I’ll pray for you,’ when I know that is not so.”

The rest of the speech alternated between pedestrian civil religion and Trump campaign riffs. The stock market is up. Do I hear an “amen”? Gallup personal satisfaction numbers are rising. Preach it, brother!

Gerson says this shows three things:

First, the president again displayed a remarkable ability to corrupt, distort and discredit every institution he touches. The prayer breakfast was intended to foster personal connections across party differences. Trump turned it into a performative platform to express his rage and pride – the negation of a Christian ethic. Democrats have every right and reason to avoid this politicized event next year. And religious people of every background should no longer give credence to this parody of a prayer meeting.

That’s why this may be the end of these things – now the National Prayer Breakfast is a Republican rally. Democrats shouldn’t be there. And religious leaders will have to make some hard choices:

Trump has again shown a talent for exposing the sad moral compromises of his followers, especially his evangelical Christian followers. Jerry Falwell Jr., Franklin Graham, Robert Jeffress and Eric Metaxas don’t have it easy after an event such as this one. Not only do they need to defend Trump’s use of a prayer breakfast as a campaign rally. Not only are they required to defend his offensive questioning of religious motivations. They must also somehow justify his discomfort with a central teaching of the Sermon on the Mount and his use of a prayer meeting to attack and defame his enemies.

These evangelical Christian leaders will, of course, find some way to bless Trump’s sacrilege. But he makes their job ever harder and their moral surrender ever more obvious.

And then there’s this:

Trump’s unholy outburst (and the White House event that followed) shows we are reaching a very dangerous moment in our national life. The president is seized by rage and resentment – not heard on some scratchy Watergate tape, but in public, for all to see and hear. He now feels unchecked and uncheckable. And he has a position of tremendous power. This is what happens when a sociopath gets away with something. He or she is not sobered but emboldened. It took mere hours for Republican senators who predicted a wiser, chastened president to eat their words. The senators are, in part, responsible for the abuses of power to come.

But it’s not just them:

At the prayer breakfast, some cheered and whistled for Trump’s bitterness and vindictiveness. Many evangelical Christians seem attracted to the least Christian elements of his appeal – his anger and his cruelty. They are encouraging the president to fight an enemy they have ceased to love.

And that worries Washington Post columnist E. J. Dionne:

Dionne is also a Senior Fellow in Governance Studies at the Brookings Institution, a professor in the Foundations of Democracy and Culture at the McCourt School of Public Policy of Georgetown University, and an NPR, MSNBC, and PBS commentator…

He attended Portsmouth Abbey School (then known as Portsmouth Priory), a Benedictine college preparatory school in Portsmouth, Rhode Island. Dionne holds an AB summa cum laude in Social Studies from Harvard University (1973), where he was elected to Phi Beta Kappa and was affiliated with Adams House. He also earned a DPhil in Sociology from Balliol College, Oxford (1982), where he was a Rhodes Scholar… Dionne is also a columnist for Commonweal, a liberal Catholic publication.

In short, he is a devout Catholic high-level intellectual apologist for his faith who now sees this:

If you wonder why young people are leaving organized religion in droves then look no further than last week’s National Prayer Breakfast. Many who care about religion and its fate have condemned President Trump’s vindictive, self-involved, God-as-an-afterthought speech at the annual gathering. By contrast, his backers were happy to say “Amen” as they prepared to exploit religion in one more election.

That’s the central problem here:

There has always been something troubling about the prayer breakfast. I don’t doubt the sincerity of the faith of many of its organizers. There have been moments when politicians, including presidents, have used the occasion to promote humility in the face of God’s judgment and call each other to fellowship across their political differences.

Nonetheless, the whole exercise seems idolatrous. The gatherings encourage the suspicion that many politicians are there not because of God but because of their own political imperatives. They want to tell the world how religious they are and check the faith-box on the advice of their political advisers. You worry that this is as much about preening as praying.

And, as historian Kevin Kruse pointed out in his book “One Nation, Under God,” the prayer breakfast was a component of a public elevation of religion in the 1950s designed at least in part to serve the cause of conservative politics.

Those were the days – the words one nation “Under God” were added to the Pledge of Allegiance. We weren’t like those godless atheist Commies over there, damn it! Or gosh darn it! Those were the days when Joe McCarthy was finding communists everywhere – and they were all Democrats – except for Eisenhower, who was a communist sympathizer, really. But then God-talk would fix that, and a prayer breakfast.

Is that cynical? Dionne would say that it’s not:

In his always crude but always revealing way, Trump has exposed the underside of long-standing political habits and practices. He is not the first politician to exploit religion. He just does it in a way so at odds with the core tenets of the Christian faith he claims to uphold that he pushes the hypocritical aspects of public religion to a breaking point.

And that has consequences:

Trump’s religious supporters, most of whom preach the most conservative versions of Christianity, either don’t realize or don’t care that they are ratifying what so many young people have come to believe about religion: that it is nothing but a cover for conservative politics, that it is far more about identity than faith, that it upholds a static traditionalism rather than a living tradition.

That is why 4 in 10 Americans under 40 declare that they have no religious affiliation whatsoever. They are far from devoid of profound moral commitments, and some of them still think of themselves as spiritual. But organized religion just doesn’t speak to them anymore.

But it doesn’t have to be that way:

Faith has a lot to teach us about public life. For the believer, separating faith from politics is neither desirable nor possible.

My own political views have been deeply influenced by such religious thinkers as theologian Reinhold Niebuhr, Martin Luther King Jr. and, more recently, Pope Francis. There can be no denying that many acts of justice and mercy have been prompted by moral demands more elevated and important than the imperatives of this world.

This is why Utah Republican Sen. Mitt Romney’s reasoning for voting to convict Trump was so blessedly subversive. He invoked God not to sacralize a regime but to challenge his conscience – thus did he offer an indirect but unmistakable rebuke to Christians who say Trump deserves their fealty because he is protecting their interests and defending their culture…

Of course, I agreed with Romney. I admired the courage both he and Sen. Doug Jones (D-Ala.) demonstrated in casting politically and personally difficult votes to convict the president.

So, in the end, faith and politics can mix, if everyone stirs in a bit of humility:

I acknowledge you have every right to be suspicious that I’m as inclined as anyone to see faith as blessing my own politics. Nonetheless, Romney showed us how religion is most usefully invoked in public life: when it prompts self-doubt rather than self-celebration, when it encourages us to build solidarity with those unlike us and when it promotes dissent rather than conformity.

But conformity may be the issue here. David French is a highly conservative deeply religious pro-life writer and he sees this:

Let’s talk for a moment about a common Christian Trump supporter. And I’m going to pull real-life examples from countless conversations, including with many close friends.

Imagine a kind, sweet Christian woman – a person so nice in person that you’d hardly think it’s real. But she loves Trump, and she loves Trump because she’s sick and tired. She’s sick and tired of the elite media deriding her faith as bigoted. She’s sick and tired of a political party that rejects the humanity of unborn children. She’s appalled at the way she believes the media have gone out of their way to destroy good men…

Donald Trump says “Enough!” Sure, he’s rude, and she wishes he wouldn’t tweet quite like he does. But the bottom line is that he fights. He punches back. And that’s what we need.

She doesn’t necessarily like Trump’s lying, but the Democrats lie too, and if you read what she writes on social media, and you hear what she says to her friends, it’s full of condemnation against Adam Schiff, the Steele dossier, and the other laundry list of Resistance sins.

She doesn’t like Trump’s personal insults, but her political conversations are full of shock and anger at the opposition’s disrespect for a president she appreciates. That’s where she invests her emotion. That’s where she focuses her activism.

And that’s where she and French part ways:

Here’s the end result – millions of Christians have not just decided to hire a hater to defend them from haters and to hire a liar to defend them from liars, they actively ignore, rationalize, minimize, or deny Trump’s sins. They do this in part because they can’t bring themselves to face the truth about Trump and in part because they know it is difficult to build and sustain a political movement if you’re constantly (or even frequently) criticizing the misconduct of its leader. To criticize Trump even a quarter of the time he does something wrong would be to unleash a constant drumbeat of criticism against the man they hope to re-elect.

It’s at this point that many Christian Trump supporters will deploy the, err, trump card – the statement that’s supposed to settle the argument. What about the babies? If push comes to shove, they tell themselves, I’m going to support the person who seeks to end the slaughter of unborn children in the womb over the candidates who wants to expand legal protection for abortion and even publicly fund that horrible practice.

And that shuts everything down, no one can say anything now, and that appalls French:

Hate has no place in pro-life America. None. And embracing or defending hate – even hatred of the movement’s most vigorous opponents – for the sake of life contradicts the spirit of the movement and stands to do more harm than good to the political cause that so many Christians value the most.

And that leaves this:

American Evangelicals represent one of the most powerful religious movements in the world. They exercise veto power over the political success of any presidential candidate from one of America’s two great parties. Yet they don’t wield that power to veto the selection of a man who completely rejects – and even scorns – many of their core moral values.

I fully recognize what I’m saying. I fully recognize that refusing to hire a hater and refusing to hire a liar carries costs. If we see politics through worldly eyes, it makes no sense at all. Why would you adopt moral standards that put you at a disadvantage in an existential political struggle? If we don’t stand by Trump we will lose, and losing is unacceptable.

Ah, but there is the bigger loss, and this way to avoid it:

Obey the creator of the universe when he tells me to love my enemies and then trust that justice will still be done and that God’s will still prevails. I’m an imperfect man, but when I’m aware of my sin, I repent. And I make a simple vow – by God’s grace, I will love my enemies, and I will not hire anyone to hate them on my behalf.

That’s a dangerous thing to say:

Political commentator Bill Kristol, a supporter of the Stop Trump movement, named French as his choice to run for U.S. president as an independent conservative candidate to defeat presumptive Republican nominee Trump on May 31, 2016. On June 5, French announced that he had considered running, but ultimately decided otherwise. In a June 18, 2016, interview with The Daily Herald, French revealed that he had strongly considered entering the presidential race, but ultimately decided that he had neither the name recognition nor the financial support to mount a viable campaign.

In 2016, French and his wife and family were the subject of online attacks when he criticized then-presidential candidate Donald Trump and the alt-right. French was bombarded with hateful tweets, including an image of his child in a gas chamber.

This is not getting better. Donald Trump never forgets and he certainly never forgives. Now no one else does. America doesn’t have a prayer.

About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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