Distinguishing Duke and Trump From Other Politicians

Written by: Joe Morris Doss

Author’s Note: The church should be non-partisan in elective politics. This includes organizations like At the Threshold that are not official but purport to speak to issues theologically and on behalf of concerns of the church. It is extremely rare for the church to find itself having to speak out against a serious candidate for office, much less a nominee of one of the two major parties of the United States, much less a nominee for President. But there are examples in history – too important to ignore – in which it is clear that the obligation of the church demands, or should have demanded, that it take a stand against certain leaders and forms of leadership. Without identifying reasons in the abstract, At the Threshold has been offering a series of statements about the candidacy of Donald Trump that should reveal why we think just such an exceptional case has arisen. Please be aware that these statements are not written due to political opinion, but are based on careful employment of well-honed moral theology.

Recently I asserted on behalf of At the Threshold that the voter who supports Donald Trump on certain selected matters, and thus chooses to support his election, is supporting all of what will happen if he becomes President. The point was that Trump has promised to take actions and positions as President so toxic that voters should balk at supporting some of his positions unless willing to take responsibility for all. An analogy was drawn to the White Supremacy position of David Duke.

Someone I dearly respect asked: “What is the precise distinguishing factor(s) between applying this ‘if support some, then support all’ principle to Trump and Duke but not to all candidates?”

The difference is that there are some candidates who take certain defining positions that are “out of bounds” of what is tolerable and become personifications of actions and ideas that must be rejected unconditionally by the electorate. Their leadership is to be categorically rejected. David Duke has been recognized as one such politician; Donald Trump should be another.

David Duke could not be supported on ordinary matters, like tax reform, because standing by him on anything would have conferred on him more power and standing to use in his fight for white supremacy, hyper-nationalism, and thuggish authoritarianism. In the story that was previously used, for the State Treasurer to support him on an issue such as tax reform would have been taken to mean that the official was supportive, or at least open to, his stand on race.

Normally it is appropriate to support candidates without agreeing with them across the board. To support Bernie Sanders on equalizing pay for women does not mean one must oppose the international trade agreements he criticizes. Nor is it clear that a majority agrees with him on either issue; they are matters currently being debated and not yet settled. But to support Trump on his stated plan for tax reform, and thus to vote for him on that basis, is as well a vote to endanger the world, to exclude people of certain religious beliefs and affiliations, to denigrate and discriminate against women, to elect someone who will say and do anything without regard to truth or even to personal belief in what he himself is saying, etc., etc., etc. He cannot be supported in one or more parts deemed desirable without bringing about proposals that must be avoided. It is an either/or vote. That indeed is unusual, but in this case it is very real.

The distinction we are talking about has to do with how absolutely positions taken by a candidate must be avoided. In something like nuclear proliferation it is damningly close to absolute. Throughout my adulthood, the greatest fear has always been that some crazy person, some greedy maniac, or some terrorist group might get their hands on nuclear power and use it against a city or region. If the nuclear power is available, “the market” will find it. Do we no longer fear that rogue leaders and/or nation states will gain the use of nuclear bombs and use them?

A policy like excluding Muslims may not be absolute — eventually the policy could be corrected — except in how real flesh and blood human beings and families will suffer the consequences in the meantime, and especially except for the great violence done to our values, traditions, and identity as a nation. Then, there are the issues that were once in conflict, but finally have become settled. Often a minority of citizens may continue to hold to a position after the controversy over right and wrong has been clarified and decided, and even when it would be unacceptable to go back on that settled resolution. For example, we have decided that slavery is wrong and being the United States of America is good. Yet, 38 percent of those who voted for Donald Trump in South Carolina acknowledged that they wish the South had won the Civil War; another 38 percent say they aren’t sure which side they wish had won, while just 24 percent say they are glad the Union won. Thirty-five percent of Cruz supporters said they thought the U.S. would be better under the Confederacy.

There must be a line drawn between disagreement and political “debate” over a controversial issue, such as when the south largely refused to allow most black citizens to vote, and when that issue has been settled, as after the civil rights movement and voting act. To revive the previous controversy is unacceptable and must be avoided. Trump’s candidacy has raised several of these kinds of issues.

Then, there are issues on which we have been moving rapidly toward political resolution, but on which Trump would reverse course. We could decide that women are just less worthy as workers and deserve less pay, but women are about done with that kind of suppression. We can rely on fear for our basic motivations, but that is doomed to become exhausting, oppressive, and counter-productive. The United States can try to become a modern empire on a model like the old Roman Empire – but that is fantasy and immoral. We could try to maintain a white majority in the US, but that will prove a simple denial of reality. We could raise established and fundamental issues of civil rights again, but that is just asking for pervasive pain. Racism in many of its manifestations is definitely at stake in this election, but we must move forward instead of backwards. Keeping Muslims out of the US and many of Trump’s other promises comes pretty close to the sort of ridiculously negative standard exemplified in slavery. But there are other proposals that are even closer to an absolute “NO”: like a proposal to proliferate nuclear weapons! 

Another valued friend that I deeply respect opined that change is needed and that it is Trump who would bring it about. I can appreciate the way most of us are sick and tired of all politicians seeming to play the same game in which “the fix” is on and “we the people” are not in on it; I share the yearning for some genuine political reform. But going where Trump would take us is only to jump from the frying pan into the fire.

Message to Christians – including Fundamentalists and anti-abortion Roman Catholics – and traditional Republicans: Do Not Drink the Trump Cool Aid!

This is hard for me to say. I take a person at her or his word in the claim to be a Christian. Of course, I disagree with certain positions people take in their view of Christianity, and I believe there are opinions that would fall within the old categories of “heresy.” But “wrong belief,” even if deemed heretical, does not place a baptized believer outside of the Christian faith community. So, it is hard for me to say definitively and publicly that Donald Trump would not govern according to Christian values and principles. But that is the conclusion to which I have arrived. Morality, personal or social, is a non-issue for Mr. Trump, and the Christian worldview seem to be equally irrelevant — matters to be stepped around or used manipulatively on his way of the acquisition of power as a goal in and of itself. Traditional twentieth century Republican beliefs seem as to be viewed as secondary, or even something to be jettisoned when they get in the way. So, to Christians and to traditional Republicans I say: Do Not Vote for Donald Trump.

This conclusion about Christianity is mine, but it is based on Trump’s own words, such as:

when he acknowledged that he had never asked God for forgiveness and declared that he has never needed to;

when he demeans and belittles those with whom he differs or in any way is opposed and even suggests that violent action should be used against them, in particular Muslims, women, and people of other cultures who have immigrated to the United States without legal status;

when he ignores any international role of the United States for enhancing human rights, justice and peace, but instead declares that he wants America to be “number one” in order to “lord it over” other nations on the basis of raw power and fear, and when he glibly and with wildly negligent responsibility proposes to allow nuclear power to spread and become rather commonly used as a force of war.

He offends other Christian doctrines that must not be compromised, but let us focus on three.

Sin and Forgiveness: Donald Trump does not believe in the profound need of every person to be forgiven or in the divine forgiveness that is offered in the dying and rising of Jesus of Nazareth. He believes in a theology of “justification,” not by grace, but through “winning,” and proposes that money is the way “the score” is to be kept.

Human Dignity: Donald Trump does not respect the dignity of every individual human being as a child of God or believe that human life is sacred. Trump ignores the ecumenical claim that the “dignity” of the human person is a sound foundational standard for a moral vision for society. Instead the human being is of value according to other measures less eternal and far less precious. By any other name, he is a white-supremacist, taking political advantage of the frustration white citizens, especially white males, feel about becoming a minority in the land.

Justice and Peace: Donald Trump does not believe in the ultimate goals of justice and peace in and for the world. He would have the United States become the new Roman Empire with its old theology in which “Caesar is Lord;” the “Senatorial class” is wealthy beyond any ability to use it; the home land has the vast majority of the earth’s resources to use and even waste; other peoples are to be considered and treated as having a status of secondary humanity.

A noted columnist, Robert Mann, recently coined the term that is apt for traditionally minded Republicans who give in and support Trump: “Vichy Republicans.”

The Conservative Movement unintentionally produced the Trump candidacy as a result of its gradual but steady take-over of the Republican Party. That ultimately had led to a remarkably small group of the wealthiest elite, including a few women, becoming Party gatekeepers – and all but grinding legislative government to a halt. Then, as though the propitious moment had arrived, an enormously wealthy businessman, but one who was an outsider to that inner group and also far more experienced and insightful about TV and digital communications moved through them to take center stage. Surely the small and easily identified group of wealthy political activists led by libertarian radicals like the Koch brothers would never have wanted a Donald Trump to emerge and take over the party they had commandeered.

Surely, Republicans who value such traditional goals as less government regulation, fiscal responsibility with business growth, and defense security cannot truly desire the Republican Party of Donald Trump or the government he would lead.

What we are facing is a temptation to totalitarianism’s great and intrinsic evil: the abrogation of traditional values that depends not only on the surrendering of those values but also on the fashioning of elegant rationalizations to justify it.

Education In the Way? Starve It, Run Over It, Go Around It, Subvert It
Written by: Joe Morris Doss

In the latter part of the twentieth century the increasingly successful Conservative Movement decided to target its enemies. One was “the academy,” the American institutions of education. Public education was placed under special attack.

At least two relevant issues have to be identified that already had created grave problems for public education of elementary and high schools when the Conservative Movement went to work; these then contributed to its emerging strategy: vouchers and competition between schools. The early leaders of the civil rights movement understood that the achievement of racial integration and equality of opportunity depended in large measure on improving the quality of education by equalizing it. Thus, instead of such targets as segregated housing and unequal job opportunities, the civil rights movement focused on integration of schools. Private schools cropped up all over the place, and especially private religious schools. As it turned out, many of these new private schools taught religious and political views that have proved supportive of the conservative movement, e.g. creationism v. evolution. Meanwhile, Roman Catholic schools were increasingly under financial stress due to the decline in numbers of priests, nuns, and others called to vocations that provided teachers and staff. The demand soon developed for publicly funded vouchers to support private schools of personal choice. As for the underfunded and unequally underfunded public schools, especially within districts serving a high percentage of students living in homes of poor and uneducated adults, the turn has been to the fundamental conservative principle of competition judged by markets forces. (1) The competition between the public schools within a given location – those publicly run and privately run – provides a choice. The use of vouchers widens the choice to one between public and private schools. (2) The competition between teachers is based on norm-referenced, group-administered comparative achievement testing of their students.

The attack at the level of higher education has been even more direct, though far more covert. The academy, that source of information, ideas, and facts that too often run counter to the aims and policies of the Conservative Movement, such as persistent concerns regarding global warming and macro economics that enjoyed scholarly consensus, is countered first with a generalized anti-intellectual message, belittling scholarship and appealing to “common sense.” But more directly the public institutions of education, especially higher education, are to be squeezed financially, under the rubric that government should be smaller and should not be in the business of paying for the “commodity” termed education; rather the individuals that profit from it should pay for their own. That is, the idea developed that schools should operate like a business – one that sells services for which a consumer pays according to market value – and leave government out of it. Public education is to be underfunded to the extent that it would finally become unaffordable for the masses of young people, such as working class children, immigrants, and high school graduates whose parents lack have the necessary resources to pay tuition and costs.

Meanwhile, those educational institutions and organizations on campuses that were more in line with the Conservative Movement, such as Liberty University, are boosted; for example, recruiting and promoting their students into the political working of the Republican Party and its various administrations. Conservative students join groups like the Federalist Society, which is not only highly helpful career move but a practical necessity for a lawyer to move up the ladder in the conservative legal and political structures, e.g. Chief Justice Roberts of the U. S. Supreme Court. Such societies are as old and diverse as education itself, but it is unique for them to be established and funded from the private coffers of a political movement.

Finally, it was decided to infiltrate established educational institutions by convincing them to offer classes that would present the “party line,” such as conservative economic theory for classes in “Law and Economics”. “Infiltrate” is an appropriate word since there was no embarrassment about using stealth to implant these classes that would not ordinarily be of the quality demanded by such institutions like George Mason, Brown, and Yale.

But perhaps the most effective tactic was the enhancement of the effectiveness of the conservative “think tanks” and the creation of several new ones. Scholars of these institutions were to counter directly the liberal ideas and facts to be expected from educational and research institutions of higher learning, as well as from the think tanks the Movement considered liberal. For example, while scientists enjoyed broad agreement regarding the dangers to global warming, the supporters of fossil fuel could point to scholars within purportedly objective and public-minded think tanks who disagreed, creating an effective smoke screen for policies dangerous to the earth.
The following is an indication of the extent of the problem caused by evaporating state support of its colleges and universities. In some states the results are moving toward what many consider catastrophic reductions in financial support. The amount of general state funding for the support their schools of higher learning fell from 14.6 percent in 1990 to 9.4 percent in 2014.

“Despite modest increases in 2013 and 2014, state support for public higher education per full-time equivalent student remains nearly 30 percent below spending in 2000, after adjusting for inflation using the State Higher Education Finance cost adjustment. Source: State Higher Education Executive Officers (SHEEO) Association, SHEF: FY 2014—State Higher Education Finance (Boulder, Colo.: State Higher Education Executive Officers Association, 2015).

Higher education has suffered relative to other priorities…According to one recent analysis, “eleven states spent more of their general funds on corrections than on higher education in 2013. And some of the states with the biggest education cuts in recent years also have among the nation’s highest incarceration rates.“ (Mitchell, Palacios, and Leachman, States are Still Funding Higher Education below Pre-Recession Levels.)


Some Analogous History Lessons? A Picture of the Future Republican Party?

Friends were recently thinking about what it is that we may be discovering in the current Presidential Campaign. One person observed that there are always “…major ebbs and flows in party orientation,” but “…we may be currently seeing one of the biggest shifts ever.”

Indeed, there are people talking about the destruction of the Republican Party, while others are talking about it finally becoming what it always should have been, the Conservative Party. But what does “conservative” mean? If the Conservative Movement succeeds in co-opting, or even replacing, the Republican Party as it has been constituted in recent memory, will it be a united and coherent force with a clear and unequivocal platform for the future?

Thoughts turned to history: considering the successes and failures, and even the rising and the falling, of political parties in the history of the United States. Jay Hakes, retired from serving different White Houses and most recently as Director of the Jimmy Carter Library, pointed out that it is useful to remember that Teddy Roosevelt was more progressive on race than Woodrow Wilson and that Eisenhower appointed better judges in the South than Kennedy.  The “Reagan revolution” fused religious conservatives of the Bob Jones type (often less educated than average) with business interests both large and small (often better educated than average), always a potential train wreck.  Now, many big corporations want openness to gays, etc. (all potential customers) and unhindered trade (access to even more customers); the other side of the party wants the right to discriminate and shut the door to foreigners.

Perhaps it will help to consider the foundation and subsequent development of the Republican Party into what is now is threatened with radical change or even a new identity. The GOP emerged largely from the demise of the Whig Party. Whigs were, by and large, the party of the elite with land and new commercial interests, combined with southern protectors of states rights, and a range of particularized “special interests.” By the late 1840’s it was trying to keep the peace and stability desired by the fiscal conservatives, while satisfying the anti-slavery movement of the north but supporting the states-rights proponents of the south. When their leadership produced the compromise of 1850 in an attempt to hold together antislavery Whigs and proslavery Whigs, the latter split to join the more congenial Democratic Party.

The Republican Party came into existence as a combination of most northern Whigs, which included fiscal conservatives and business interests determined to modernize the economy, and anti-slavery citizens that were becoming more radicalized. Abolitionist church leaders in the north became a major force in the new party. The anti-slavery forces became dominant over the period of two elections and during the time of civil war the radical wing soon took over the party.

Afterward, Reconstruction failed as a program, and it did not take terribly long for the old wealth and business interests that had transferred to the Republican Party from the Whigs to move back into control, leading directly to the Gilded Age. Soon, in the name of national unity and business interests, the Jim Crow Laws of the south were an accepted reality both within the dominant Republican Party and the periodically successful Democratic Party.

With the identity of the Republican Party almost entirely captured by the old Whig landed wealth and business interest, the Party of Lincoln no longer represented the interests of black Americans any better, and finally worse, than the Democrats. It was within a remarkably short period of time that the Republican Party lost the entire black vote. Indeed, it took a period of time no longer than that which has passed for us since WWII for the Republican Party to lose the constituency of the slaves, and heirs of the slaves, freed by Abraham Lincoln, and lose them to the party of Stephen Douglas.

Has the Conservative Movement of the last forty years which has succeeded in making Americans blame government for all that is wrong — most recently by a radical refusal to cooperate with the disagreements and compromises necessary for productive legislation, together with insistence on trickle down economics — produced the fiscal responsibility, smaller government, and success in foreign affairs so long touted as the aims of the Republican Party?

In reaction to globalization and the internal growth of minority populations since WWII, is the Conservative Movement to become a middle-American-white-supremacy-international bully-isolationist Nationalistic Party, politically supported by the anti-regulation wealthy?

What is the dynamic to be observed in today’s electoral politics as the Conservative Movement strengthens its hold over the Grand Ol’ Party? Where is it headed?