The Way I See It…

The way I see it, I can either worry obsessively about global warming, or I can support organizations that are doing something about it on the ground.

I can worry about Trump and his administration, or I can take small steps to resist and put a check on his power.

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Trump’s Lies Are Many And Broad

The contradictions and hypocrisies of Donald Trump are many and broad, but one that has struck me in particular lately is the illogical chanting of “Lock her up” about Hillary Clinton (!) and Diane Feinstein (!!!), while insisting on the benefit of the doubt for Brett Kavanaugh, Kim Jong Eun, Vladimir Putin, and the Saudi Arabian royal family.

It’s said that no lie can live forever; Donald Trump and his enablers are conducting a real-life experiment to see how long a lie can live. I try to remind myself that theirs won’t live forever either.

No, 80 Percent of Christians Do Not Support Donald Trump

Yes, it is true that 80% of white Evangelical Christians voted for Donald Trump in 2016, according to exit polls, and that polls since then have shown that nearly as many still support him. That statistic dismays much of the rest of the country, as it should.

But somehow, this has hardened into the idea that “80% of Christians support Trump,” which is just not true.

For one thing, white Evangelical Christians aren’t all Christians in America, or even a majority. There are mainline Christians, Catholics, Mormons, Orthodox, and non-Denominationals, plus of course many believers who are Evangelical and aren’t white. (In fact, Jim Wallis has pointed out that if you count Evangelicals of color, which you should, the percentage of approval of all Evangelicals for Trump is more like 50%, which is still too high, but is certainly a lot better than 80%).

Also, remember that only a small number of the world’s Christians live in the United States. I am not aware of any statistics regarding support of Trump among members of the church worldwide, but it is known that Trump and his administration are (deservedly) disliked in much of the world; it stands to reason that many Christians in other countries don’t approve of him.

Yes, it is true that far too many professed Christians were pro-Trump in 2016, and continue to be that way now, in spite of ample evidence then and now that there is nothing devout about him whatsoever. That said, at the very least, those of us who are believers and oppose Trump ought to never think of ourselves as alone; we aren’t, by a long shot. Moreover, we ought to be very suspicious of the idea that the “organized” or “established” church is 100 percent pro-Trump, and only theologically liberal or anticlerical or “red-letter” Christians are anti-Trump.

After September 11th, many liberals aggressively questioned the idea that all, or even very many, Muslims were terrorist or pro-terrorism. We were right to do so; I should know, since I was one of them. We ought to be similarly careful not to paint with too broad a brush about another major world faith, even as we rightly call out professed members of that faith who seem all too eager to embrace leaders at odds with everything else they claim to hold dear.

Another What If

July, 2018. It is now a year and a half since President Hillary Clinton took the oath of office.

Clinton’s first major act in the Oval Office, as promised, was the proposal of a major bill improving Obamacare, increasing the money given to the states for Medicaid spending and strengthening the MCHP program. As expected, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell used his narrow majority to prevent the bill from going anywhere. In response, Clinton, like her predecessor, resorted to executive tweaks to the Affordable Care Act, including a long-sought requirement to use the federal government’s extensive purchasing power to lower drug prices. So far, this and Treasury Secretary Warren’s beefing-up of Wall Street enforcement are considered Clinton’s main domestic achievements.

On the international front, Secretary of State Booker has fought for continued U.N. sanctions against Kim Jong Eun’s regime, but the unpredictable North Korean dictator remains a major threat. He has also reiterated the U.S.’s support for the Paris climate agreement. Defense Secretary Carter (whom Clinton kept in his position from the Obama administration) and the military continue the long, drawn-out fight against ISIS.

The economy continues its acceptable, if not outstanding, recovery from the recession of the late aughts, and in many ways this seems like a period of stasis. As she did when she represented New York state in the Senate, Clinton has governed quietly but generally from the left, and the novelty of the first woman in the White House, much heralded last January, has become routine faster than anyone expected. Clinton has talked a good game on bipartisanship, but attempts at it have made little headway with the McConnell-Ryan Congress. Partly for this reason, the Washington press nicknamed 2017 “the ninth year of the Obama administration.” Liberals like Senator Sanders of Vermont, whose star has risen since he nearly denied Clinton the presidential nomination two years ago, often criticize Clinton for not pursuing a more ideological progressivism, including a higher minimum wage and family leave laws. Their attempts bore some fruit when Booker selected Sanders to represent the U.S. at the Quebec City climate talks, the successor to the Paris agreement, expected to convene in 2019. Still, the progressives hope for more in the next year, especially since the 2018 midterms and their Republican-friendly map are expected to give McConnell several more seats.

The 20 Percent

Much has rightly been made about the 80% of white Evangelical Christians who voted for Donald Trump. (It’s important to understand that that 80% represents self-described white Evangelicals, not “80% of Christians” as has sometimes been reported; I’ll talk more about that in another article.) I’ve heard very little said about the 20% who didn’t vote for Trump.

The main question is, what is different about that 20%? Are they urban? Young? In blue states or counties? Union members? Some combination of all of those things?

No doubt some of them aren’t any of those things, but they are simply principled, perhaps otherwise- or previously-conservative people who simply, and understandably, could not reconcile voting for Trump with their faith.

In addition, we know that some large, liberal cities are experiencing genuine religious revival, much of it Evangelical in nature and little-noticed by the mainstream media. This raises fascinating possibilities; how many of the new urban devout are in that 20%, especially given that at least one liberal urban politician has benefitted from strong support from voters of faith?

(By the way, none of this is to imply that the 20% of white Evangelicals are more worthy of interest or appreciation than the vast majority of Evangelicals of color that voted against Trump. Everyone in the majority of voters who opposed Trump, of any background, gets my appreciation. That said, the 20% are clearly the exception to a rule, and that makes it hard for me not to wonder about them, and about the implications for the 2020 election and beyond.  It’s also worth pointing out that the very existence of the 20% reminds us that theological liberalism and political liberalism do not necessarily go hand in hand, as many seem to believe.)

Why I Am Optimistic About the Future of Christianity in America

Much has been made of the 2014 Pew report, and its finding that the numbers of Americans affiliated with churches and other religious institutions have declined.  Indeed, it often seems like the report and Pope Francis have been the two Christian-related news stories of the past four years.  It’s become popular to assume that America will soon become Western Europe, with very few people professing faith in God or going to church, and the long history of the faith becoming a distant memory.  Not surprisingly, some secularists exult at this news, and even many Christian writers seem to accept it with varying degrees of hope or pessimism.

I don’t accept that this is the inevitable future; for a number of reasons, I am more optimistic about the short-term and long-term future of the church in America than these authors are.  These reasons include:

–The very real revival we’ve seen in places that are supposed to be the most secular in the country, like New York and Boston, led by urban ministers like Tim Keller and others.

–The efforts by people like Jim Wallis, the Rev. William Barber, and Pope Francis to separate the association between Christianity and conservatism that many people clearly have in their minds; Pope Francis, in particular, has demonstrably increased interest in his denomination, especially in Europe.

–The Together rally in July of 2016, which brought over 100,000 people to the National Mall with relatively little promotion or publicity, and in which members of many different sects and denominations participated (and continue to participate).

–The fact that the vast majority of people in the country (at least 85% to 90% in every poll taken on the subject) tell pollsters they believe in God, across all age groups (including millenials), and a solid majority in all age groups continue to be involved in an organized church as well.  Attendance figures also remain constant, with at most a slight decline; depending on how you measure it, something between one in 3 and 1 in 4 Americans attends church regularly, a number little changed since the 1950’s.

There are more “nones,” as we all know, but they are still well short of a majority.  (A more recent 2016 report, also by Pew, actually shows a higher number of people attending religious services more often than they did in the past, at 27%, compared with the 23% that attend less often than they used to.)

Granted, the 2016 election stands to blunt all these gains, since it laid bare the hypocrisy of so many white Evangelicals through their willingness to vote for one of the least Christian candidates of all time. That said, there are early reports that Donald Trump’s electoral victory may have inspired more people to go to moderate and liberal churches, so this may end up being something of a wash.  Like many people, I am very bothered by Trump’s large following among Christians, but it is too early in Trump’s tenure to know what long-term effect is going to have on religious adherence, and the trend of fewer people affiliating with a church began well before Trump took office.  (It’s also worth noting that according to the same Pew report, disagreement with the pastor or the church’s philosophy is a reason, but not one of the main reasons, people change or leave a house of worship; practical considerations are the main reasons.)

None of this is to say that less interest in faith (especially among the Millennial generation) isn’t a problem for those who care about it, or that it should be ignored.  That said, the beginning of any solution is hope, and I share my views to do what I can to spread that hope.

It may be counterintuitive, but I should add that liberals, including secular ones, should not hesitate to embrace this idea and spread it.  The religious right likes the idea of Christianity as a rapidly shrinking minority; it lets them paint a picture of themselves as persecuted martyrs, and helps create a circle-the-wagons mentality.  Good news about the future of their faith in their country undermines these arguments.

(I should add that I am not the only writer making these kinds of arguments; I give a hat tip to Ed Stetzer  and Emma Green, among others.)

Donald. Trump. Did. Not. Win. The. Popular. Vote.

We need to say it loudly, again and again and again.

Amazingly, there are still Washington reporters who believe that Trump’s presidency is the result of a huge groundswell of popular will. They need to be called on this every time they claim it.

The truth is that not only did Trump not win the popular vote, but his popularity has never reached 50%, and he remains the least popular president in modern polling. (The closest he got was shortly after his inauguration, when his ratings did approach 50%; the current uptick in his popularity, for all the hype it has gotten, is still well under 50%.) All this can easily be verified on Pollingreport.com, Realclearpolitics.com, or any number of other polling list sites.  The strong success that Democrats have had, again and again, in special elections all over the country since last January attests to this as well.

One important corollary to Donald Trump not winning the popular vote, is that statements like “Trump is America,” or “America deserves Trump,” don’t really tell the whole story.

Also, yes, it is true that far too many people did vote for Trump, and did so after dozens of revelations that made it absolutely clear that he had no business being in government at all, let alone President of the United States. It is also true that Trump is not without a base of followers, many of whom seem to be loyal to him no matter what. Those things said, we still need to keep in mind that that following is not now, and has never been, anywhere near a majority of Americans.

 

2017 Election Analysis

Writing this analysis was a real pleasure, since I started writing it about Governor-elect Ralph Northam’s resounding victory in Virginia, and was interrupted by Doug Jones’ closer, but still resounding, victory in the Senate special election in Alabama against right-wing firebrand Roy Moore.

Much has been said about African American voters’ turnout in the Heart of Dixie, and the key role it played in Jones’ victory; much has also been said about Jones’ relative success in typically Republican-voting areas, like the Birmingham suburbs. Both statements are right, and I think that this is the way it should be. I have always disliked the idea that elections are won either by turning out your side’s base, or by reaching out to people who aren’t in that base. I believe that most successful campaigns do some combination of both, and Jones certainly did that.

The Washington pundits never got tired of saying that Jones didn’t mention his connection to the national Democrats, but that doesn’t mean that Jones avoided reaching out to traditional party constituencies. He campaigned in northwest Alabama, an area relatively friendly to unions; while Moore still won that corner of the state, he significantly underperformed compared with other recent Republicans. The state chapter of the NAACP, meanwhile, performed an epic get-out-the-vote operation on the ground, and its members disproved forever the tired idea that nonwhite voters don’t participate in off-year elections.

At the same time, however, Jones made inroads into what one might expect to be his opponent’s core constituency, winning 18% of white Evangelical Protestants, which doesn’t sound like much until you compare it with the 10% that Barack Obama won in the more typical year of 2012. I am convinced that Jones’ willingness to talk openly about his religious background (his family have been members of the same Methodist church in their suburban Birmingham neighborhood for 30 years) helped him win over voters he wouldn’t have won otherwise, and that helped make the difference in a close race. That he tied his faith directly to his progressive views matters as well. (It’s a shame that the exit polls only included white Evangelicals, as if they were the only bloc of religious voters; it would be worthwhile to know the voting patterns of mainline Protestants and people of other races and faiths, especially given Jones’ status as a mainline Protestant himself.)

Speaking of Evangelical voters, much has rightly been made of the large majority of whites in that category who found themselves able to vote for a man banned from a mall after trolling it for teenagers. Less talked-about is that Jones actually won several majority-white, rural counties, including Talladega County east of Birmingham and Pickens, on the opposite side of the state. Of course, not so long ago in historical terms, plenty of rural whites in Alabama voted for Democrats; I have to wonder if there wasn’t a bit of a return to this form in these results.

The more you look at it, the more impressive Jones’ achievement was (and saying that doesn’t diminish the fact that it wasn’t just his achievement). Jones will have a challenging re-election in 2020 even if that year is favorable to Democrats, especially if the Republicans pick someone without Roy Moore’s baggage, but I think it is unwise to count him out.

Ralph Northam’s victory in Virginia over GOP operative Ed Gillespie was less of a surprise, given the more competitive nature of his state. What was surprising is its accompaniment by a whole state’s worth of Democratic successes, including nearly wresting control of the state House of Delegates from the Republicans and the win by Lt. Governor Justin Fairfax, the first African American candidate to win statewide since Doug Wilder in 1989. Like Jones, Northam ran a campaign that was centrist in tone but genuinely liberal in views, making it hard to argue that such a message can’t win. On the other hand, I think Northam relied more on his base than Jones did (granting that said base is larger in his state). He expanded only slightly on Hillary Clinton’s totals in Republican areas like southwestern Virginia and the Shenandoah Valley, but turned out the vote massively in northern Virginia and urban areas like Hampton Roads.

This is not to say that Northam didn’t reach into his opponent’s territory at all. Virginia Beach, the Commonwealth’s largest city, normally votes Republican but not by much, making it decisive in statewide elections. Northam actually carried it, perhaps reflecting his military background, which matched many residents of that city. Similarly, Chesterfield County, an affluent suburb outside of Richmond and historically a staunchly Republican and conservative municipality, actually went Democratic by a small amount. Nelson County, a rural and majority-white county near Charlottesville which Trump carried last year, still went for Gillespie, but by all of four votes.

Compared with Jones, Northam talked about his faith relatively little (although he didn’t hide it, either); he emphasized his background in the military, as a doctor, and as a resident of the Eastern Shore much more. Fairfax actually talked about his beliefs more often–and won a much closer election.

Elsewhere in the country, Democrats also did well. A special election in Washington State gave them complete control of the government there (the governor’s mansion and the two state houses). In New Jersey’s gubernatorial race, Democrat Phil Murphy came out on top over GOP Lieutenant Governor Kim Guadagno. This was a widely expected victory given the unpopularity of the incumbent, Chris Christie, but Murphy’s vote total was still lopsidedly high. Bill de Blasio, the outspoken liberal mayor of New York City, also coasted to re-election, as many predicted.

More interesting was a referendum vote in Maine that required the state government to accept the Medicaid funding that Trumpist Governor Paul LePage previously refused to take; it won in most of the state, including both urban and rural areas. Referenda such as this one remind us that contrary to what they often say in Washington, there is popular support for liberal change in much of America, and it is remarkable how often voters take the opportunity to express this support when issues are voted on directly.

Lastly, it is impossible to look at these results honestly and not see in them a massive repudiation of Donald Trump. In Virginia, twice the number of voters, a full 34%, voted to express opposition to Trump as those who voted to support him (17%). In New Jersey, the percentages were even more lopsided; 11% wanted to express support for Trump, but more than double that, 28%, cast their vote in opposition to him.

Granted, in the Alabama race, Trump was not as much of a factor; in fact, more voters said their vote for Moore was an expression of support for Trump (27%) than said that their vote for Jones was to express opposition to him (19%). Still, the fact that Trump’s preferred candidate lost a year after the president won the state by over 20 percentage points cannot be dismissed.  (The exit polls I used in my research can be found here and here.)

More importantly, Gillespie, Guadagno, and Moore all ran Trump-style, fear-based campaigns, and all of them were repudiated by the electorate.  Seeing this happen gives me something I haven’t had enough of in the past year: hope for the future.