Tag Archives: Michael Gerson

REALLY Telling It Like It Is

In the wake of the mass shootings in El Paso and Dayton, I’ve seen a number of heartfelt and pointed columns, posts and speeches. I’ve also seen responses by “the usual suspects,” insisting that the problem isn’t the obscene number and easy availability of guns–no, it’s mental health, or immigration (!), or (stupidest of all)  video games.

The “gun nuts”–a term I reserve for people who abandon any and all sanity in defense of unlimited gun ownership–have posted angry responses to Facebook messages advocating gun control measures.

My recent favorite was the idiot who claimed that guns aren’t the problem–evil people are the problem, and laws won’t stop people from being evil. I really do know better than to respond to such people, but I couldn’t help myself: I pointed out that, by his “logic,” America must have more evil people than all those countries where mass shootings don’t take place.

But in one sense, he has a point about “evil people.”

The shooting in El Paso was just the latest in a series of white nationalist terrorist attacks, encouraged by a despicable, racist President (who, among other things, has run 2,200 FB ads since last May using the word “invasion” to describe immigration). Trump’s bigotry is enabled by Republicans who are either equally racist or moral cowards unwilling to speak up.

I should note that there are exceptions. Two recent, powerful indictments of the white nationalist in the Oval Office are from two prominent conservatives who were (and perhaps still are) Republicans.

Conservative Jennifer Rubin has written that there is no excuse for supporting this President. She points to Trump’s vicious attacks on immigrants, his channeling of “replacement” conspiracy theories, his dehumanization of immigrants and his demonization of the media–and notes how often his words have been quoted by perpetrators of horrific racist acts.

 Michael Gerson’s column in the Washington Post is a must-read.

Gerson begins by saying he’d intended to ignore Trump’s latest outrages; he planned instead to write about “the self-destructive squabbling” of Democratic presidential candidates.

But I made the mistake of pulling James Cone’s “The Cross and the Lynching Tree” off my shelf — a book designed to shatter convenient complacency. Cone recounts the case of a white mob in Valdosta, Ga., in 1918 that lynched an innocent man named Haynes Turner. Turner’s enraged wife, Mary, promised justice for the killers. The sheriff responded by arresting her and then turning her over to the mob, which included women and children. According to one source, Mary was “stripped, hung upside down by the ankles, soaked with gasoline, and roasted to death. In the midst of this torment, a white man opened her swollen belly with a hunting knife and her infant fell to the ground and was stomped to death.”

God help us. It is hard to write the words. This evil — the evil of white supremacy, resulting in dehumanization, inhumanity and murder — is the worst stain, the greatest crime, of U.S. history. It is the thing that nearly broke the nation. It is the thing that proved generations of Christians to be vicious hypocrites. It is the thing that turned normal people into moral monsters, capable of burning a grieving widow to death and killing her child.

Trump supporters characterize his racist tweets and white-nationalist-encouraging rallies as “telling it like it is.” But it is Gerson who tells it like it really is.

Racism is the fire that left our country horribly disfigured. It is the beast we try to keep locked in the basement. When the president of the United States plays with that fire or takes that beast out for a walk, it is not just another political event, not just a normal day in campaign 2020. It is a cause for shame. It is the violation of martyrs’ graves. It is obscene graffiti on the Lincoln Memorial.

It is impossible for people of good will to deny the truth of his essay, or his closing words.

Trump’s continued offenses mean that a large portion of his political base is energized by racist tropes and the language of white grievance. And it means — whatever their intent — that those who play down, or excuse, or try to walk past these offenses are enablers.

Some political choices are not just stupid or crude. They represent the return of our country’s cruelest, most dangerous passion. Such racism indicts Trump. Treating racism as a typical or minor matter indicts us.

Click through and read the entire column. Then do whatever it takes to help get out the vote in 2020.

 

 

The Problem With Selective “Liberty”

Michael Gerson has a way with words.

His descriptions of Donald Trump are dead-on; in a recent column in the Washington Post, for example, he considered Trump’s recent attacks on Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), who came to the United States as a Somali refugee, using the 9/11 attack on the Twin Towers and an out-of-context quotation.

It is cruel because Trump essentially delivered his political rant while standing on desecrated graves. The images he employed not only included burning buildings but burning human beings, drafted into a sad and sordid political ploy. Is nothing sacred to Trump? When said aloud, the question sounds like an absurdity. Trump has never given the slightest indication of propriety, respect or reverence. His narcissism leaves no room to honor other people or to honor other gods. Both the living and the dead matter only as servants to the cause of Trump himself.

In the remainder of the column, Gerson documents what we all know–Trump is an anti-Muslim bigot. (Not that his hatred of Islam is exclusive–like all White Nationalists, he also manages to find room for racism and anti-Semitism.)

Gerson goes through the ugly characterizations, the anti-Muslim rants.

Trump has a long history of animus — raw animus — against one of the Abrahamic faiths. He has said, “We’re having problems with the Muslims.” And: “There is a Muslim problem in the world.” And: “The United Kingdom is trying hard to disguisetheir massive Muslim problem.” And: “Islam hates us.”

The Koran, in Trump’s scholarly opinion, “teaches some very negative vibe.” He has claimed: “You have people coming out of mosques with hatred and death in their eyes.” He once called for a “total and complete shutdownof Muslims entering the United States.” He has variously and publicly considered the closing of mosques, warrantless searches and the creation of a national database to track Muslims. In Trump’s view, “We’re going to have to do things that we never did before.”

Then Gerson gets to the point: liberty is all or nothing, and Trump’s version of liberty as  “freedom only for the faiths he prefers” threatens every religion. When government has the power to “award” liberty to some and deny it to others, the people who are favored aren’t free; they simply have been granted privileges that the government may choose at some future point to withdraw. That isn’t genuine liberty.

As Gerson writes,

Religious freedom is either rigorously equal, or it becomes an instrument of those in power to favor or disfavor religions of their choice. And those believers who are currently in favor may someday discover what disfavor is like.

As a wise person once told me, poison gas is a great weapon until the wind shifts.

 

The Call Of Moral Duty

I empathize with Michael Gerson, George W. Bush’s former speechwriter who is now a columnist for the Washington Post. Closer to home, I’m sympathetic to conservative blogger Paul Ogden. Despite significant policy disagreements with them, I respect these longtime conservatives, because they are two of the few–very few–who have remained intellectually honest during the Trumpification of the GOP.

People like these remind us that there is an intellectually respectable conservative philosophy, and that its basic tenets haven’t changed even if the party that used to espouse them has.

In a recent column for the Post, Gerson confronts the conflict between political philosophy and a desire to exercise power.

Is it time for anti-Trump conservatives to recognize that they have lost the political and policy battle within the GOP and to accommodate themselves as best they can to an uncomfortable reality?

This is the argument of the Ethics and Public Policy Center’s Henry Olsen, one of the most thoughtful political analysts on the right. On issues such as trade, immigration and the Muslim travel ban, he argues, Republican critics of President Trump are dramatically “out of step with conservative[s].”

As Gerson sees it, this is a call to put aside differences on some policies in order to work together on the implementation of other goals upon which there is broad agreement within the conservative movement. In the abstract, that’s normal political realism; even within a particular faction of the same party, policy differences will exist and need to be negotiated.

As Gerson recognizes, however, these aren’t normal times.

If Trump were merely proposing a border wall and the more aggressive employment of tariffs, we would be engaged in a debate, not facing a schism. Both President Ronald Reagan and President George W. Bush played the tariff chess game. As a Republican presidential candidate, Mitt Romney endorsed the massive “self-deportation” of undocumented workers without the rise of a #NeverRomney movement.

But it is blind, even obtuse, to place Trumpism in the same category. Trump’s policy proposals — the details of which Trump himself seems unconcerned and uninformed about — are symbolic expressions of a certain approach to politics. The stated purpose of Trump’s border wall is to keep out a contagion of Mexican rapists and murderers. His argument is not taken from Heritage Foundation policy papers. He makes it by quoting the racist poem “The Snake,” which compares migrants to dangerous vermin. Trump proposes to ban migration from some Muslim-majority countries because Muslim refugees, as he sees it, are a Trojan-horse threat of terrorism. Trump’s policy ideas are incidental to his message of dehumanization.

So how do we split the political difference on this one? Shall we talk about Mexican migrants as rapists on every other day? Shall we provide rhetorical cover for alt-right bigots only on special occasions, such as after a racist rally and murder?

Gerson continues his analysis: Republicans criticize media bias, but Trump is trying to delegitimize criticism as “fake news” and mainstream journalists as “enemies of the people.”  Politicians being investigated can be expected to push back, but Trump is trying to discredit all federal law enforcement and he deliberately cultivates citizen distrust of a mythical“deep state.”

We have seen similar damage in the realm of values and norms. In the cultivation of anger and tribalism. In the use of language to inflame and demean. In the destruction of a common factual basis for politics, making policy compromise of the kind Olsen favors impossible.

As Gerson says, these choices are not a dialectic requiring synthesis. They’re alternatives demanding a choice. Instead of capitulating to the party’s white nationalists in hopes of policy victories and partisan dominance, Gerson counsels elected leaders to “remind Americans who they are and affirm our common bonds,” and to work for an

agenda of working-class uplift, not an agenda of white resentment — which will consign Republicans to moral squalor and (eventually) to electoral irrelevance. For principled conservatives to hear the call of moral duty and stand up for their beliefs until this madness passes. As it will.

People join political parties for all sorts of reasons. Both parties are mixtures of policy wonks, rigid ideologues and political theorists along with rank and file folks influenced by their parents, co-workers or friends.

Trumpism confronts the dwindling number of intellectually-honest Republicans with a difficult choice: whether to swallow hard and continue to be obedient soldiers in a debased, white nationalist GOP, or remain true to the conservative philosophy that led them to join the party in the first place, even at the cost of antagonizing old friends.

The call of moral duty is clear.

About That Mulligan…

For the past year and a half, many people have tried to understand  the “family values” Evangelicals who support Trump. That discussion has ramped up since Tony Perkins, leader of the Family Research Council, told Politico that Trump gets a “mulligan,” or do-over, on his past moral transgressions, because he’s willing to stand up to the religious right’s enemies.

One recent analysis of that arguably unholy relationship came via Michelle Goldberg at the New York Times. She began by reminding readers that this seeming departure from New Testament exhortations of love and mercy isn’t anything new.

In 1958, the Baptist preacher Jerry Falwell, who would go on to found the Moral Majority, gave a sermon titled “Segregation or Integration: Which?” He inveighed against the Supreme Court’s anti-segregation decision in Brown v. Board of Education, arguing that facilities for blacks and whites should remain separate.

“When God has drawn a line of distinction, we should not attempt to cross that line,” he wrote, warning that integration “will destroy our race eventually.”

He went on to establish what would become Liberty University–as an all-white school.

Goldberg noted the Evangelical community’s later willingness to support Ronald Reagan despite his divorce, although prior to Reagan’s emergence on the scene, a candidate’s divorce had been an absolute bar to the Christian vote.  Access and influence, evidently, are more important than theology. (You might even say they trump theology.)

Given this history, it is not surprising that the contemporary leaders of the religious right are blasé about reports that Trump cheated on his third wife with a porn star shortly after the birth of his youngest child, then paid her to be quiet. Despite his louche personal life, Trump, the racist patriarch promising cultural revenge, doesn’t threaten the religious right’s traditional values. He embodies them.

Earnest evangelicals, of course, are appalled.

As Michael Gerson–himself an Evangelical Christian– wrote in The Washington Post, the “Christians” who support Trump and ignore behaviors previously considered very unChristian 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.”

Goldberg also notes the (unpersuasive) contortions of contemporary Evangelicals who are trying to distinguish between their former pro-segregation resistance to Brown v. Board of Education and their current support for anti-LGBTQ activists who don’t want to bake cakes or otherwise do business with same-sex couples. The latter are described by their co-religionists as “sincere Christians” whose religious liberties are being trampled by civil rights laws, and she makes the obvious point:

it seems absurd to ask secular people to respect the religious right’s beliefs about sex and marriage — and thus tolerate a degree of anti-gay discrimination — while the movement’s leaders treat their own sexual standards as flexible and conditional. Christian conservatives may believe strongly in their own righteousness. But from the outside, it looks as if their movement was never really about morality at all.

I’d say that’s a fair conclusion.

Of course, Goldberg and those she cites aren’t the only ones who are trying to understand the fervent Evangelical embrace of a repellant man who embodies everything they claim to abhor.

Among the various explanations I’ve come across, my own favorite is this one that I only recently saw: They believe Trump will use nuclear weapons and destroy the world–and that will bring on the long-awaited Rapture.

At least the Rapture is part of their theology, unlike porn stars….

 

The Word Of The Year: Complicit

There was a brief spurt of publicity when Dictionary.com chose “complicit” as its 2017 word of the year. The site defined complicit as follows:

Complicit means “choosing to be involved in an illegal or questionable act, especially with others; having partnership or involvement in wrongdoing.” Or, put simply, it means being, at some level, responsible for something . . . even if indirectly.

And that brings me to today’s Republican Party.

I emphasize that I am talking about today’s GOP, and not the party that used to operate under that name. It’s one thing to disagree with positions taken by either of our major parties (or minor ones, for that matter), and quite another to recognize that a political party that was once a responsible voice for defensible policy positions has disintegrated into equal parts semi-criminal enterprise and White Nationalist cult.

I left the GOP in 2000, when George W. Bush was still the most appalling personification of the party, so I am no longer a credible “ex-Republican.” But I’ve been impressed by several commentators with impeccable Republican credentials who currently are sounding the alarm–and (quaint as it may seem) putting country above party. One of those is Michael Gerson, whose recent column in the Washington Post began:

I find myself wandering in an unfamiliar place. As a pro-life conservative, I am honestly happy — no, positively elated — that pro-choice Democrat Doug Jones won Alabama’s U.S. Senate election.

Gerson enumerated both his discomfort and his reasoning:

Roy Mooreism was distilled Trumpism, flavored with some self-righteous moralism. It was all there: the aggressive ignorance, the racial divisiveness, the disdain for governing, the contempt for truth, the accusations of sexual predation, the (just remarkable) trashing of America in favor of Vladimir Putin, the conspiracy theories, the sheer, destabilizing craziness of the average day.

Gerson considers what it would take to weakenTrump’s hold on the GOP; he dismisses the possibility of moral considerations, and he uses the Word of the Year.

The president has crossed line after line of decency and ethics with only scattered Republican bleats of protest. Most of the party remains in complicit silence. The few elected officials who have broken with Trump have become targets of the conservative media complex — savaged as an example to the others.

This is the sad logic of Republican politics today: The only way that elected Republicans will abandon Trump is if they see it as in their self-interest. And the only way they will believe it is in their self-interest is to watch a considerable number of their fellow Republicans lose.

Most political observers share Gerson’s conclusion that, “In the near term, this is what victory for Republicans will look like: strategic defeat. Recovery will be found only on the other side of loss.” And then, the Word of the Year again.

Trump and his allies are solidifying the support of rural, blue-collar and evangelical Christian whites at the expense of alienating minorities, women, suburbanites and the young. This is a foolish bargain, destroying the moral and political standing of the Republican Party, which seems complicit in its own decline. It falls to Republican voters to end this complicity.

I don’t know whether there are enough old-time Republicans left to make their desertion noticeable. Those polls that show  80% of self-described Republicans still supporting Trump tend not to point out that the number of “self-described Republicans” has been shrinking, and shrinking rather substantially.  The voters who remain in the Grand Old Party are precisely those rural, blue-collar and evangelical Christian whites who cheer the racist, minsogynst and xenophobic rhetoric that is alienating everyone else.

That said, Gerson is absolutely right about one thing: today’s complicit GOP has to lose. Badly.