Trumped Up? Is the Donald’s Support Really Driven by Racist Xenophobia?

The last few months have witnessed the appearance of a burgeoning cottage industry of take-writing about the rise and appeal of Donald J. Trump. In her latest post, Rachel Held Evans has voiced her opinion: Trump’s appeal among evangelicals is down to racism, xenophobia, celebrity worship, and his promise of power to supporters.

This is reassuring for any comfortable middle-class progressive Episcopalians who might momentarily have been afflicted by the nagging thought that Trump’s strong appeal among the white working class and its sizeable constituency of evangelicals might owe something to an unfair marginalization, rejection, and pathologization of valid concerns of that class by those of us who don’t belong to it. Well, crisis averted: It turns out that our prejudices about white working class voters were justified all along.

By vocally articulating our opposition to Trump supporters and confessing our white privilege—those uneducated white working class evangelical rubes just don’t get it!—we can now demonstrate our virtue to others within our social class on social media and tut-tut about how stupid, evil, deluded, and backward wide swathes of our Trump-supporting compatriots and coreligionists are. Continue reading

Might Makes Right: A Response to Matthew Lee Anderson

Editor’s Note: ”Boromir” has been involved with Mere Orthodoxy to varying degrees over the years and anonymously submitted this response to Matthew Lee Anderson’s piece on The Undead Religious Right. We have published it here for the sake of hearing out another side in this controversy.

As a longtime reader, commenter, and writer at Mere Orthodoxy, I was disappointed to see Matthew Lee Anderson’s return to the blog with a flaccid jeremiad against Ted Cruz. While Matt is certainly free to share his opinions, it struck me (and many other commenters) that Matt misunderstands quite a few things about the way that the world works. For the sake of those other commenters and Mere-O readers, let’s set the record straight. Continue reading

Is Not Voting in an Election Nihilistic?

One of the more common complaints about yesterday’s feature by Matt is that refusing to vote for a candidate in an election is nihilistic in a way that goes well beyond whatever nihilism one might see in Dod Crump. (This is henceforth how I will be referring to Donald Trump and Ted Cruz—feel free to join me if you are as sick of them as I am.)

The obvious problem with this argument is that it epitomizes the sort of prioritizing of the presidency above all else that was one of Matt’s main targets yesterday. One of Matt’s chief concerns in yesterday’s piece—and it’s been a concern of his (and mine) for some time—is that a church which subordinates the life of the church to the goal of political power is a church that will be incapable of using political power effectively. You cannot win a culture war without a culture and right now the most pressing problem facing orthodox Christians is the lack of a true Christian culture in many parts of our nation.

To go on arguing that we must continue supporting men who don’t seem to have any actual principles but will vaguely gesture in our direction to win our support because #religiousliberty is to make the very sort of argument Matt has been attempting to rebut for years. Indeed, it shows more clearly than anything else how evangelicals will subordinate the values most necessary to the life of a Christian culture in order to achieve political power. Continue reading

The Undead Religious Right: Why I Cannot Support Ted Cruz

It is a well-known story: The Religious Right first galvanized around Ronald Reagan in 1980. Their ascent was over by 1988, when Pat Robertson’s failed campaign divided its constituency and the Moral Majority was dissolved. But the obituary was premature. Robertson’s campaign rose from the grave as the Christian Coalition, which handed out over 30 million voter guides to help usher in a Republican Congress and Newt Gingrich’s “Contract with America,” securing the Religious Right’s influence on the American political landscape for at least the next decade. George W. Bush (in)famously made evangelicals central to his campaign in 2000 and 2004; by the time his tenure was complete, the “Religious Right” had morphed into “social conservatism” and stories of its demise began reappearing, thanks to the ascendance of Barack Obama and a hopeful media obsession with the moderatish, rapidly maturing “young evangelicals.” In both 2008 and 2012, social conservatives were too divided to do much more than give Huckabee and Santorum the appearance of being serious contenders without any of the substance. In the years since, the stream of stories about the end of the religious right has became a flood, thanks in part the resolution of the gay rights marriage dispute in Obergefell. Continue reading

On Prayer Shaming

If you grew up evangelical, or at least in the fundamentalist brand of evangelicalism I grew up in, one of the things you learned about prayer is that it isn’t gossip if you tell a compromising story about another person and end it by asking for prayer.

You probably also learned that public prayer could be a great opportunity for advertising your extensive knowledge of the Bible and practicing particularly pious sounding phrases in order to impress your friends or, more likely, parents and youth group leaders. Continue reading

Moral Sentimentalism and Mechanized Society

Recently Alastair Roberts and I had the chance to do an email back and forth over an issue I’ve noticed increasingly often in the way that many are reasoning about issues of public ethics. Unsurprisingly, the discussion sprawled out a bit from there and brought in everything from the work of Jonathan Haidt to the bureaucratic state to the way that the internet shapes and constrains our reasoning. It’s a bit long, but hopefully enjoyable. My emails are in bold. Thanks for reading!

Alastair, here’s my basic observation. You tell me if I’m crazy.

In discussions of public policy it is very rare to find the online discussion beginning from a place of inquiry or a felt need to investigate further. There is a kind of instinctive assumption that we just know the good and so the main priority is then advocating for that good, shaming those who are opposed to it, etc. The name I’ve given this so far is “moral positivism.”

It seems like there are a number of things that likely feed into this. One of them is the assumption behind a lot of left-wing writing these days that most public problems aren’t necessarily moral problems, but administrative ones. Find the right public policy to realize the good and we’re sorted. That’s my biggest critique of the Vox.com set. (This is, of course, a quintessentially modern way of approaching social problems and is precisely the sort of thing CS Lewis is attacking in That Hideous Strength.)

Another point is that I think the Overton window on certain issues has become incredibly small. If something can plausibly be framed as being the position in favor of equality or the compassionate position, then it’s almost impossible to make arguments against it. Continue reading

Protestantism and the Benedict Option

The following is less a long-form essay and more a series of semi-connected thoughts concerning the Benedict Option and American Protestantism. I’ve broken them down with headers in hopes of making it easier for readers to pick out which parts are of greatest concern to them.

So far much of the conversation about the Benedict Option has been amongst American Catholics and Orthodox. Part of this, no doubt, is because the very name “Benedict Option” is drawing on traditions of monasticism that are far more at home in Rome and Constantinople than in the various Protestant traditions.

That said, the problems that the BenOp is trying to address will concern all small-o orthodox Christians and so Protestants must have a way of thinking about this and talking about that is plausible for Protestant believers. (Indeed, it’s worth noting that many of the businesses currently tied up in legal battles appear to be run by Protestants.)

Continue reading

On substitutionary atonement and disgraced politicians

Why do disgraced, scandal-plagued politicians like Mark Sanford keep making comebacks?

In one of the great skewerings of both the Washington political establishment and modern language, George Carlin destroyed politicians–here you should think of Mark Sanford and Anthony Weiner–who are caught in a major scandal, but don’t see why that should disqualify them from future “public service.”

“And we know [he must be guilty] because the next thing we hear from him is, ‘I just want to put this thing behind me and get on with my life.’ That’s an expression we hear a lot these days from people in all walks of life. Usually the person in question has committed some unspeakable act: ‘Yes, it’s true that I strangled my wife, shot the triplets, set fire to the house, and sold my young son to an old man on the train… but now I just want to put this thing behind me and get on with my life.’ That’s the problem in this country… too many people getting on with their lives. I think what we really need more of is ritual suicide. Never mind the big press conferences, get the big knife out of the drawer.”

It’s hard not to consider Carlin’s now decade old remarks given the ubiquity of the second chance politician in the contemporary United States. Recently the shameless adulterer Mark Sanford was reelected by a cowardly batch of South Carolina Republicans who sold their morals for a seat in the House. More recent still, the disgraced former congressman Anthony Weiner who famously sent pictures of his genitals to multiple young women is looking a strong candidate for mayor of our nation’s largest city. We can also mention David Petraeus, who recovered from an ongoing affair with his biographer to rise to a top position at a major Wall Street investment firm. And there’s also the disgraced former New Yorker writer Jonah Lehrer, who both plagiarized and fabricated quotations in a recent book and is now, only a year later, shopping a new book to publishers. Continue reading

The Meaning of the 2012 Election

Last night’s election is going to be dissected for a long time to come.  Gay marriage passed at the ballot box for the first time, marijuana was legalized in two states, and Republicans generally got it handed to them.  Mitt Romney gave some brief, but very classy remarks in defeat, while President Obama managed to remind us of one major reason why he’s a political force to begin with.  His speech was one of the best I’ve heard from him, and maybe one of the most eloquent in recent memory, period.

I’ll have a few thoughts later on disagreement in politics over at Q, which I encourage you to read.  But I wanted to add a few hasty reflections that didn’t quite fit there about the meaning of last night’s elections.

How bad was this for social conservatives? 

Conservatives have been arguing for quite some time that they had more marriage support than polls and media coverage indicated, and they pointed to the polls to do it.  That narrative is now dead.  Whatever else we make of gay marriage, it seems clear that (along with marijuana use) it is slowly becoming the law of the land.

That means that there’s going to be on socially conservative voters to switch our public positions because they don’t get enough votes.  And I understand why.  But the paradox is that we just nominated a man who many people distrusted for being  politically unprincipled (his principles elsewhere having been clearly demonstrated to be admirable) and socially moderate, and look how that went.  A Republican party that shifts on an issue like marriage to pick up votes will win no more trust from the electorate than it had before.  Trust is formed when politicians are able to make their case effectively and cheerfully, and from a strong sense of conviction.  The failure of the political leadership to do that on social conservative issues is more a problem than the issues themselves.

One more point on this:  we’ve heard plenty about the demise of the Religious Right and the subsequent end of the culture wars.  I’m not sure about the former yet—I’d have to look at exit poll breakdowns to see how young evangelicals voted—but the latter turns out to be utterly false.  Ross Douthat pointed out the President’s social issues strategy very early on, only unlike before it went the President’s way.  Social issues became more important, not less, and conservatives now face the very real possibility that their core concerns no longer resonate with the majority of people in this country.  Nor will they, I suspect, going forward either.  See Matthew Schmitz for more, whose points I agree with wholeheartedly.

The Demographic Base

'Obama Victory Party at Jeff's House' photo (c) 2008, Joel Washing - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/There is going to be a lot of talk about how Republicans need to reach the Hispanic community.  That’s true, but again, how they do so is massively important.  And here, they should learn from how they “reached” the socially conservative community.  It is possible to shift the rhetoric and make the appeals in such a way that a community’s core concerns and issues are listened to, but not understood or properly integrated into a platform.  Social conservatives went along with that, and have remained on the edges of the Republican party leadership for it.  For all the successes, social conservative candidates have been pretty atrocious—and almost universally rejected by the party leadership.  And now that social conservative issues (marriage) is on the outs, they’re about to be told to take a back seat again.

That sort of outreach is little more than pandering—and I don’t think it will work with Hispanics, who already have a comfortable home (evangelicals, remember, were somewhat adrift before Reagan).  And ironically, if social issues took on a greater importance, it might help Republicans with Hispanics.  They are much more inclined, for instance, to make abortion illegal than the black community is.  In other words, the outreach to Hispanics cannot be outreach at all.  It must be an authentic, serious attempt to listen and think through conservative issues with Hispanic voters.

One other point:  it’s interesting how single people overwhelmingly voted for Obama.  I don’t quite know what to make of that.  One possibility is that the reason has more to do with youth than with singleness.  However, it is also possible that a weakening marriage culture gives the case for Republican issues less resonance.  It’s hard to be the party that thinks family is the foundation of liberty when people aren’t having them.  That has given my conservative friends hope—it’s common for me to hear that when they marry and settle down, they’ll eventually learn.  However, they’ll have much longer to get comfortable with their outlook and political affiliations, which makes me doubt that fact a lot.

Questioning the Conservative Silo

The real soul-searching that should happen is in the conservative punditry world.  I saw countless tweets and updates that proved, in retrospect, astonishingly optimistic.  The war against the polls turned out to be utterly, ridiculously wrong.  Erick Erickson at Redstate defended the polls and was pilloried for it.  But now that it’s all shaken out, it turns out that the objecting and questioning was nothing more than false consolations.  The fact is, conservatives have spent a lot of their media time talking to their own.  I’m generally a fan of some parts of talk radio—I like Hugh Hewitt and Dennis Prager, for instance, though I don’t listen much anymore.  But the silo is really a problem, as if anything conservatives need to learn better how to make their case when people don’t agree.

A Final Thought

Four years ago, I proposed a cheerful conservatism.  I haven’t always been the best representative of that, but it’s an ideal to which I’d like to aspire.   It’s not going to be an easy season for social conservatives, especially for those who are younger.  The pressures from the most natural party for us, from our peers, and from the media to switch and soften positions are going to be very strong.  And as people no longer share or understand our first principles, our ability to make our case in public is going to be much harder.

But none of this is reason for discouragement.  Or if it is, it is also a reason for hope, that virtue which Chesterton aptly said arises when the situation is hopeless.  Or take this bit from Tolkien, which was going around the social networks last night:

‎”I am a Christian…so that I do not expect ‘history’ to be anything but a ‘long defeat’ — though it contains (and in a legend may contain more clearly and movingly) some samples or glimpses of final victory.”

It’s hard to find a posture that is more fitting.  We need not worry about being the party out of power.  If anything, we should get used to it.  The challenge is becoming the sort of people whose witness endures beyond our own generation, and making the sort of case in public that can have an impact long after we are dead.  We need, Alan Jacobs said recently, a modern day Augustine.  I have often thought the same thing.  But it was not at the height of Roman glory that Augustine wrote, but its decline.  Just as it was at the beginning of the decline that Plato and Aristotle wrote.  The victories in this life will be few.  But that means that our efforts must not be aimed toward them, but toward that—and Him—which will outlast our political orders and outlast us all.

Five Reasons I’m Voting for Mitt Romney

My vote won’t matter at all in California, but I sent in my ballot last week anyway, voting for Mitt Romney. Am I super excited about everything Romney stands for? Not at all. I’m uncomfortable with his Mormon faith, regret that he supports drone strikes & the use of torture, and absolutely wince when he says things like “America is the hope of the earth.”

speaking at CPAC in Washington D.C. on Februar...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’m also not one of those people who thinks Obama is an unqualified disaster of a president. I like a lot of things about him and had high hopes for his presidency four years ago. I think he’s a good guy, a family man, and not the villain the Ann Coulter Fox News crazies would label him.

But for this moment in America, I think it’s wise to switch course and give Romney a chance. Here are a few of my personal reasons for voting for him:

Abortion. I’m pro-life and this will always be a deal-breaker for me. Fighting for the “reproductive right” to destroy a living being will always be sickening to me, and I’ve been particularly sickened this year with the Democrats’ tactic of equating the pro-life cause with some sort of “war against women.” That’s just silly and makes disturbing light of the real issue: the war on unborn children, which takes more than 1.2 million lives a year in America.

The Economy: I have real concerns about the U.S. economy, both in its current state and its long-term viability. And so much else depends on a solid, growing economy: national security, the effectiveness of our foreign policy, our education system, the plight of the poor, and so on. The federal government is addicted to accumulating debt and spending money that isn’t there. On the track of spending and debt-accumulation we’re currently on, the world my children will inherit will look something like the landscape of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. Dire. I have hopes that Mitt Romney’s business-savvy and focus on private-sector growth and job creation will prove much more effective for America’s economic recovery and long-term fiscal stability.

Religious Liberty.  Continue reading