We Believe They’re Evil: Party and Diversity in America

My good friend, Hank, alerted me to a recent survey and blog article that reported “many Americans think people in the other party are ignorant, spiteful, evil and generally destroying the country… About half of Democrats think Republicans are ignorant (54%) and spiteful (44%). Likewise, about half of Republicans think Democrats are ignorant (49%) and spiteful (54%). Twenty-one percent of Democrats think Republicans are evil, and about the same share of Republicans (23%) think Democrats are evil.” This is according to a November 2018 Axios poll first aired on HBO.

First of all I must respond by simply saying, “Wow!” Our country is, apparently, far more socio-politically divided than I imagined, but I haven’t had my head stuck in the sand either. Let me say for the record that, even though I identify as a democratic-socialist who aligns more comfortably with the Democrat Party, I do not believe most conservative Republicans are backward, ignorant, sexist, racists who are intent on destroying our country. In many, if not most cases misinformed and even misguided, perhaps, but not fiendish, nefarious individuals dedicated to wrecking society.

The results of the poll do point to an important divide in conviction and deeply held perception, though. How is it we’ve come to this point where so many folks in each party not only look at the “other side” with suspicion but even with disdain and loathing? Specifically, how is it each “side” has come to claim the moral high ground while at the same time condemning the other side as iniquitous and even malevolent? Well, perhaps part of the answer is that this is really not so completely new after all. It may be that when we look back upon the history of our country we may find some deep and wide moral-ethical ( as well as cultural and religious) divisions all along.

My friend, Hank, quoted the blog author (whom I’ve not had an opportunity to read) as opening his article by observing, “Our political and cultural environment has become so intensely moralized, in the sense of seeking with zeal virtue, absent prudence, that to compromise seems like giving in to evil.” And I agree with the second part of his statement — that is, that for many people compromising feels like giving in to evil — however, even though our political and cultural environment is very divided, it has not just now become so “intensely moralized” in its zealous quest for collective, socio-political and economic virtue, thus leading members of the two (or more) parties to harshly condemn members of the other (or some other) party.

Hank, quite gifted and deeply intelligent, surmises that if the blog author’s assessment is correct, then:

[T]he only way … it is correct is that fundamental change to our system, which includes change to the fundamental worldview of that system … is giving up what made us great as a country… The multi-cultural pluralism message is only a message because it doesn’t take into account the reality of fundamental transformation of our country and way of life … Everything may be already ‘gone with the wind,’ but there is a vast residual, in that case, who never were informed of the transformation and who never had a choice or chance to have themselves heard as the changes took place. So, the evil is what people expect to happen when the last vestige of our tradition is no more.

One might justly ask, however, precisely who is meant by “our” and specifically what is meant by “tradition.” In other words, just what is “our tradition?” To many white, Anglo-Saxon Protestants (the WASPs of old), the answer seems to come rather easily … but it also betrays gross over-simplification of American history. For in fact, America has always been multi-cultural, and the embryonic promises of the unique, constitutional, American democracy have only grown and matured down through the generations.

Yes, as Hank also observes, the newly formed United States was informed by an overall Judeo-Christian worldview, broadly speaking, and this broad worldview continued to influence our country at least until somewhat recently, historically speaking. Yet beneath the umbrella of Judeo-Christianity there existed quite some variety marking very important differences between groups, sects, and denominations. From the beginning, there were Quakers and Roman Catholics, Methodists and Presbyterians, Baptists and Congregationalists. There were also Jews and, among the slave population, even Muslims. And we certainly cannot forget the number of Deists and Unitarians to be counted among the Founders of this country… So there we have it: Diversity.

big-time-cover.jpegAnd culturally, there were, of course, English and Scottish, French and Germans, Africans and Spanish, and many Indigenous Peoples, as well as others. Each race and ethnic group brought with it their own cultural history and heritage, norms and habits, traditions and ways of life. This was all part of what made the American colonies so very unique, and the founding of the United States so different and even astonishing. That all of these disparate groups came together under the broad panoply of Judeo-Christianity is an important fact of history, yet one that ought not distort our view of that same rich and variegated history.

Certainly we must recognize that socio-political (and economic) controversy, and in the process claiming the moral high ground, has been part and parcel of American history. After all, the very nation itself was predicated upon self-evident, moral truth, and right from the beginning our Founders wrangled over the question of slavery. And there was some controversy in some states over tax-supported churches, and then there was the question of our relationship with the various Indigenous Peoples. And what about women and their “rightful place” in society? And the manufacturing and selling of alcohol? And the rights of common laborers? Safety in the workplace, quality standards for meats sold on the market, regulation of medications for public safety?

There is so much more from early on in our history that we can mention: Should we maintain a strong military or be more pacifist? Should we invade and conquer the West as part of our “Manifest Destiny” or respect the boundaries of Mexico? Should slaves be counted in the population of a state or not … or partly counted? Should an atheist be allowed to hold public office? And, yes, this was a question, but by the first half of the 20th century was, for the most part, answered in the affirmative. If the majority of voters vote someone into an office, then that individual should be allowed to serve, period. 

But my friend nevertheless laments, “we have lost something great in this country and that is character,” and I do agree with him, though perhaps not in quite the same way. Character includes, among other virtues: honesty, integrity, and courage with love and compassion, and I simply do not see this currently issuing from the White House or the Republican Party in general. Still, we should not conclude that there has been some great overturning of the American society, or that what was established and generally accepted before is now “gone with the wind.” The wind has always been blowing in this part of the world, at least, and still blows today. Where it carries us largely depends on how we set our sails, and that is largely up to us, to be decided by “we the people.”

Now we should conclude by observing that, yes, as a matter of fact Judeo-Christianity has waned in this country, its influence much diminished, but why is that? Perhaps it is not so much that the larger population has rejected truth or, especially, the love of Christ Jesus presented in the Gospel, but rather has altogether and quite understandably rejected an overly-politicized, sham gospel that Jesus of Nazareth would also reject just as vehemently as he renounced the message of the religious leaders of his own day and time. Perhaps it is time for self-professing Christians, especially of the evangelical ilk, to “get back to the basics,” so to speak, in order to re-present the light, life, and love of Christ to the whole of the hungering world suffering in darkness, sin, and death. Maybe then the masses would listen once again. Maybe then the Judeo-Christian worldview would be taken seriously… Perhaps. 

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Trumped Up ‘Crisis’ and Reality: Will It Just Go Away?

In an 1861 address delivered in Cleveland, Ohio, Abraham Lincoln said, “This crisis is altogether artificial. It has no foundation in fact. It can’t be argued up, and it can’t be argued down. Let it alone, and it will go down of itself.” Ah, well, tragically enough the crisis at that time did not “go down of itself,” but his words still sound very applicable to the present situation we face in our country.

Trump has created an artificial crisis at the southern border, all in order to build an unnecessary and (would-be) largely ineffectual wall. We discussed the proposed merits of building such a wall in a previous article, “To Build or Not to Build: Educate Thyself.” Looking at the raw facts, we found (I believe) that a wall all along our southern border with Mexico is simply unnecessary at best.

However, the President dragged out his same worn-out arguments, false claims, and misleading (mis)information in his address to the nation last night to hopefully convince the American people that we really do, indeed, face a “crisis” in illegal immigrants flooding into the U. S. from Mexico. As we showed in the above-cited article, and as plenty of media outlets, think tanks and other groups have reported, this is not true.

What is, perhaps, more disconcerting at this point, though, is the seeming intransigence of the Republican establishment. They seem determined at all costs, no matter the consequences, to follow Trump even should he lead them into the depths of hell itself … but why? It has been amply proven there is no crisis at the southern border, but if there is, does it make any sense to keep the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) largely shuttered in a continuing (non-sensical), partial government shutdown?

Think about it? If we were at war, would we expect the President and Congress to do something stupid to cripple our Armed Forces? Ha! would you lay off more than half your army smack dad in the middle of an armed conflict with another nation? Of course not, so it would only make sense for the Republicans ~ and particularly the Republicans, because they supposedly believe there is a crisis ~ to push to at least temporarily fund DHS … if not the other gov’t departments as well, but at least DHS!

Some other things to note regarding the curious Republican lemming-like devotion to Trump: 1) the President’s approval ratings have never been high, but now they’re hovering somewhere around 38 to 40%, 2) Most Americans believe, adamantly, that the continuing government shutdown is nonsensical, detrimental, and completely unnecessary, 3) a majority of Americans fault Trump for the government shutdown, as opposed to blaming Democrats, and 4) most Americans really don’t want a wall anyway!

So, what are these GOPers thinking? Especially Mitch “Turtlehead” McConnell? Do they imagine they’re gaining anything? Perhaps they’re just playing politics and protecting their positions of power… Maybe. But even though I’ve never claimed to be a political prophet, I fully expect two (or three) things to happen:

1) the Republicans will lose control of the Senate, which means, of course, that several GOPs will lose their bid for reelection, 2) Democrats will very easily maintain control of the House, and 3) if Trump even makes it to 2020, he will most assuredly not be reelected.

It would really be nice if this manufactured “crisis” would “go down of itself,” but that’s not going to happen. So … it seems Trump and his Republican cohorts will have to go down, and go down they surely will. Independents and moderate Republicans are more than tired and aggravated by this administration, and they’re growing impatient with Republican senators, especially, who refuse to exercise the duties of their office, all in blind adherence to POTUS. Time will tell … but that time is quickly drawing near.

 

The Evangelical Rump of Trump

Can we expect an unprincipled man to lead with wholesome values? Can we expect an immoral leader to lead with virtue? Can we expect an arrogant and domineering man to lead in the humility of a servant? No, and yet the vast majority of evangelical Christians are doing just this, having sold their souls, and sullied their reputation, in following Donald Trump with a loyalty that would impress Napoleon Bonaparte.

Once upon a time, evangelicals were known for their adherence to Holy Scripture and Biblical standards of living. They were committed to “demonstrat[ing] that Jesus is real and that his salvation radically changes … lives through … faith, actions, service, relationships and community…”[i] And an integral part of this involved living a virtuous life, as well as promoting such virtues in the larger society.[ii]

Now, however, the larger part of the evangelical Christian culture in America has taken a fortress mentality, surrounding itself and the current President with unquestioning and practically unbelievable walls of defense, not only overlooking Trump’s obvious blemishes, but also somehow excusing his blatantly anti-Christian attitudes, perspectives and actions:

Trump’s unapologetic materialism—his equation of financial and social success with human achievement and worth—is a negation of Christian teaching. His tribalism and hatred for “the other” stand in direct opposition to Jesus’s radical ethic of neighbor love. Trump’s strength-worship and contempt for “losers” smack more of Nietzsche than of Christ.[iii]

And how any self-respecting American, much less an evangelical Christian, can do anything less than cringe at the innumerable kitschy tweets, caustic remarks, unbridled imprudence, and callous quips is beyond imagination. But “the moral convictions of many evangelical leaders have become a function of their partisan identification. This is not mere gullibility; it is utter corruption,” according to self-professing, evangelical Michael Gerson.[iv]

Then again, evangelical associations, groups and leaders have benefitted from Trump in very tangible ways. For example, the Donald J. Trump Foundation donated $10,000 to Iowa’s Family Leader (in 2013), $10,000 to Samaritan’s Purse (2013), and a whopping $100,000 to the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (2013). On top of this, Trump drew the largest convocation audience in the history of Liberty University in 2012, and was referred to by Jerry Falwell Jr. as “one of the great visionaries of our time.”[v] And yet as Gerson points out:

Trump’s court evangelicals have become active participants in the moral deregulation of our political life. Never mind whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, and whatever is of good repute. Some evangelicals are busy erasing bright lines and destroying moral landmarks. In the process, they are associating evangelicalism with bigotry, selfishness and deception. They are playing a grubby political game for the highest of stakes: the reputation of their faith.[vi]

And this is a high-stakes game that the evangelical Christian community is already losing, as witnessed by the continuing, mass exodus of professing Christians from traditional, evangelical churches.[vii] There is an undeniable hemorrhaging that can only be stopped by evangelicals actually being  what they profess to be, and genuinely living the way they say they believe Christians ought to live … and this decidedly does not include playing the rump of Trump.


 

[i] William Dyrness and Veli-Matti Kärkkäinen, Global Dictionary of Theology, 298

[ii] David J. Atkinson, David F. Field, Arthur Holmes, Oliver O’Donovan, New Dictionary of Christian Ethics & Pastoral Theology, 881

[iii] Michael Gerson, “The Last Temptation: How Evangelicals, Once Culturally Confident, Became an Anxious Minority Seeking Political Protection From the Least Traditionally Religious President in Living Memory,” The Atlantic, April 2018 Issue as published at https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2018/04/the-last-temptation/554066/

[iv] Ibid

[v] Betsy Woodruff, “Why Evangelicals Worship Trump,” The Daily Beast, August 2015 as published at https://www.thedailybeast.com/why-evangelicals-worship-trump

[vi] Michael Gerson, “The Trump Evangelicals Have Lost Their Gag Reflex,” The Washington Post, January 22, 2018, as published at https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/the-trump-evangelicals-have-lost-their-gag-reflex/2018/01/22/761d1174-ffa8-11e7-bb03-722769454f82_story.html?utm_term=.2c9d531bb063

[vii] Terry Heaton, “Evangelical Christianity’s Big Turn-Off,” Huffington Post, September 12, 2017, as published at https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/evangelical-christianitys-big-turn-off_us_59b2b0f3e4b0bef3378cdf91

The Project

Millions pray, millions cry, many even die
All for wars to cease and for peace to reign,
And the truth is most people do get along
Just as fine as well-aged wine and would
Gladly dine with one another in harmony;
So who is it that incites violence and war?
Who first tore the delicate fabric of peace?
We need a new lease on life in this world,
And this is the daunting project haunting
And taunting those of us who love to love
And live in serenity with all of humanity;
Ah! But this is quite a feat even as we hear
The drumbeat of the battles to be fought
By those who have been sold and bought
And brought into the service of those who
Will never see the field soaked with blood;
Most of those who have seen the horror
Of war want war no more for they know
How high the price to pay
And will not roll the dice!
Oh, but somebody does . . . who are they?
And how do they hold at bay peace
In our day; how do they block the way?
Ah! How do we go about this, our Project?

Your Cozy Little Eggshell

Not that I’m angry but you never seem to see
What is as obvious to me as a great big tree!
Temperatures are rising causing tidal waves
As oceans misbehave while you calmly claim
That it’s all the same without a bit of shame;
And you don’t seem to hear the cries of fear
From around the earth in all your jolly mirth,
And I ask you why ‘n try to talk but you balk;
Meanwhile masses starve and ruffians carve
Their weapons of terror ‘n it’s a bloody error
To be so blind and to bind your whole mind
Against all the world around you,
But you’re bound and determined
To be whatever it is you will to be
And see only what you want to see!
No, I’m not angry, only bound to be astounded
How you can live in such a cozy, little eggshell!
And I know hell will crack that shell one day . . .
Hell will crack your shell

No Romero, Not Here! Not Here!

Dearest Romero, you cannot come here out of fear;
You see, we don’t know you and only a few want to;
You have made your pilgrimage at such a young age,
But all for not for we have bought this wall
As a clarion call that we’re surely not for all,
Even the weak and small like you, O Romero!
Say, can you see the torch held high up into the sky?
Fire once burned there to light the night sky
As a bright beacon of hope for those who cry;
But now we must say ‘good bye’ and just let you die,
For we have no place for your face ‘n no more grace;
O Romero, what are you thinking as you’re blinking?
Skies here are not blue for you,
And your skin is the wrong hue!
From sea to sea shall we be ever so discriminatory?
Dearest Romero, you cannot come here out of fear!
Not here, lad, not here . . . for we are filled with fear!


Note: Romero is both a Spanish and an Italian surname meaning: A person on a religious journey or pilgrimage . . . (also) an herb of rosemary symbolizing remembrance and fidelity.

Idiocracy

Some say that democracy is the best form of government,
And perhaps this form of governance should be the norm;
However, it can breed a storm from dorms to living rooms,
From kitchens to legislative halls that fall to self-interest;
And what happens, then, when government is truly an icon
Of the people governed, and becomes of cupboard of idiots?
When entertainers are pundits and tweets become so sweet
That they make daily news and kindle views from officials?
When pictures that should be trashed are brashly shown
In public buildings as art by the self-designated oh-so smart?
When unimportant issues call for tissue to wipe crying eyes?
When the rest of the world calls for the best, but the best
Are given a vest in lieu of the grave and are called to invest
In the circus as government becomes more like giant Argus?
What happens, I ask, when democracy becomes an idiocracy?
I say the Revolution is long over, and God Save the Queen!

Or . . .

kakistocracy