McCain’s Presidential Campaign Chairman Predicts the Demise of the Republican Party
Written by: 
Joe Morris Doss

Steve Schmidt is a bright, politically experienced, and honorable man who greatly admired John McCain as a War hero, effective Senator, and fellow Republican. Schmidt was proud to run his campaign. Nevertheless, Schmidt realized that the Republican Party had come to a point that it was going to be very difficult to elect a standard bearer to national office. He reached for “a game changer” and recommended Sarah Palin as McCain’s running mate. Aside from obvious campaigning talent, she represented the crucial part of the Republican Party that had come to dominate their “base” of support: evangelical Christians, and he hoped her ability to get them all out to vote for his candidate would make the difference.

Steve Schmidt learned his lesson. If you have seen the movie, “Game Changer,” you know that he soon realized that his choice was not only a mistake, but disastrous. It was disastrous not because she hurt the ticket, but because she was not qualified or fit, in any number of important ways, to serve as President — the most important qualification of a Vice-President. The enormity of his mistake overwhelmed him, to the extent that he was the consultant to the movie that made that mistake so obvious.

What Steve Schmidt realized was that his mistake was THE mistake being made by the Republican Party. Last week, just before the second debate, Schmidt articulated why he thinks the crucial mistake the Republican Party has made, and from which it seems incapable of freeing itself — the Grand Ol’ Party, that he had thought of as, “…one of the great institutions of the world,” and on behalf of which he spent his career — is so deeply in trouble. Hypocritical forces, exemplified by religious conservatives who exploit their church’s theological positions as an excuse to support their political, cultural, and social views, have captured it. He spit out the following thoughts about the Trump campaign:

“It has exposed the intellectual rot in the Republican Party. What this exposes goes much deeper into the Republican Party as an institution.”

“With the complicity of much of the leadership of the Republican Party. It has been building for some time.”

He terms the Trump candidacy a disgrace of “unimaginable magnitude to the country… almost impossible to be able to articulate.”

“This exposes a massive hypocrisy inside the Republican Party. Think about people like Gary Falwell, Jr., people who claim to be religious, or evangelical Christians who are apologist for this (Trump’s) behavior….It has exposed at a massive level… the modern day money-changers in the Temple.”

“Mike Pence says, “I’m a Christian; I’m a conservative; I ‘m a Republican, in that order.” If that’s true how did Mike Pence stay on this ticket, unless ‘I’m a career politician’ precedes it all?”

“In this fusion of religion to political conservatism is a toxic element in our politics,” “This hypocrisy is on display for all to see.”

“This party… has great soul searching to do.”


It Comes Down to the Abortion Issue
Written by: 
Joe Morris Doss

The official positions each American church community has taken on issues facing the next President are quite well documented, available, and clear. The fundamentalist evangelicals have decided to vote for Trump despite deep reservations about his actual Christian beliefs and commitments because they agree with him politically. A few examples should suffice: The members are almost all white, dominated by the leadership of men, and demand that America conform to the way they think and live; they are for sending away undocumented aliens and building a wall against Mexico; anti-evolutionist, there is little respect for science – which is pitted against “religion” and “revelation” – and there is almost no concern for protection of the environment or prevention of further global warming; social and economic justice are issues that cause resentment. The stated reason many fundamentalists give for voting for Trump is to prevent appointments a Democrat might make to the Supreme Court, and the primary focus there is on overturning Roe v. Wade.

Almost without exception, the official positions taken by Protestant mainline denominations oppose Trump because of the church’s prophetic tradition and its concern for social and economic justice, especially protection of minority rights. Again, theologically, most agree with the right of women to decide on issues regarding their own bodies, including the right to an abortion and use of contraception. Increasingly mainline Protestant churches are open to marriage equality and rights for LGBT persons.

It is faithful Roman Catholics who face a choice that will force them to choose between opposing but official positions. On the one hand, there are issues of justice and reconciliation that the National Council of Bishops has consistently supported with brilliant theological statements, guiding the faithful to vote for candidates who will follow the dictates of each statement. Perhaps the most dramatic instance of a declaration of belief regarding the issues came from the Pope: “A person who thinks only about building walls… and not building bridges, is not Christian. This is not in the Gospel.” This was a stunning, but not surprising, rejection of Trump’s signature position. It did not take a careful examination of the context for the statement to realize that it was pointing to other such issues in which simple human compassion, internationalism, justice, and equality are rejected by the Republican Party nominee. The Pope came precariously close to taking a stand on the election.

On the other hand, there is the Roman Catholic Church’s position regarding human sexuality and the role of women (e.g. contraception) that gets summarized in the question of abortion. Since Roe v. Wade abortion has been the signature position for this denomination. Many American faithful have taken a position so extreme that they actually claim murder when a woman decides to have an abortion. The issue has become YUGE, as Trump would say, overwhelming all others.

Push now has come to Shove: Is allowing a women to have an abortion such an absolute wrong that it trumps – as it were – all of the wrongs and dangers that the church has long identified but that Trump now supports? Is changing the law of the land on abortion, two generations after it has been established, so crucial that it is worth having a man with Trump’s temperament, political and governmental inexperience, and remarkable ignorance hold the office of President? Will Roman Catholic leaders put out a word, however nuanced or blared out, for how the faithful should choose between wrongs? It is going to be interesting to see the faithful Roman Catholic choose.


A Comparative Look at the Core Beliefs of Jesus and Mr. Trump
Written by: 
Joe Morris Doss

At the Threshold is not in the business of judging the claims of people to be a Christian, and when someone running for office says they are a believer we take them at their word. However, we do accept a responsibility to place before our readers the clearly stated beliefs of a candidate for President of the United States so that they can be compared to the core and unchallenged Christian beliefs.

Forgiveness:

Jesus offers us forgiveness for our sins, “For,” as St. Paul proclaimed: “all have sinned and fallen short….”  

Donald Trump said last year that he has never asked God for forgiveness. When questioned by CNN’s Jake Tapper, Trump said ”I am good. I don’t do a lot of things that are bad.” Then, when challenged by conservative commentator Cal Thomas, Trump said, “I hope I don’t have to ask for much forgiveness,” and immediately turned to his real and personal concern about that issue: “I think I will be doing very well during the election with evangelicals and with Christians.”

The Cross:

Jesus, who was cursed, humiliated, and crucified by the powerful said, “…my strength is made perfect in weakness;” “Blessed are the meek…blessed are the poor in spirit.” St. Paul said, “…the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God…we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block…and foolishness…(to others).”

As President, Trump would function under the rubric: “Might Makes Right.” He has declared – often – that what counts is power, and that the way “the score” is kept in this society is “money.” Trump’s “gospel” is success, and precisely in the terms of what Paul names as the “world’s wisdom,” which is revealed in the cross as “foolishness.” In his book, any soldier who lets him or herself get captured, even if that person’s behavior proves heroic, is “a loser.” His confusion about strength and weakness extends to the church. Speaking to a gathering of pastors, he chided them, “You don’t use your power.” (“You’re…powerful. Because you have men and women, you probably have something like 75, 80 percent of the country believing. But you don’t you your power.”) What Trump admires is not meekness, or any sort of impoverishment, but only strength, worldly success, and power. (Raise your hand if you can imagine him embracing “spiritual poverty,” or grasping even a tiny bit what this strong and lasting Christian tradition means.)

The Truth:

Jesus: The truth will set you free.

Donald Trump uses falsehoods that he feels free to contradict with other falsehoods. For Donald Trump there is no “truth,” and no “facts.” As conservative commentator Michael Gerson put it, “It is not surprising that Trump inhabits his own factual universe in which truth is determined by usefulness and lies become credible through repetition.” Gerson listed some examples by use of statements he made and then flatly denied during the first debate: “When confronted with his claim that global warming was a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese, Trump replied, ‘I did not [say it].’ He did. When Trump’s claim that he could not release his tax returns because of an IRS audit was exposed as false, he still insisted on it. When charged with saying he could personally negotiate down the national debt, he said this was ‘wrong.’ The charge was right. When Trump’s transparently deceptive claim to be an early opponent of the Iraq War was debunked, he doubled down in a babbling defense, citing Sean Hannity as he ultimate arbiter.” In that debate Trump again repeated that which finally drove the NY Times to use the word “lie”: the claim that Clinton aides started the question of our first black President’s American birth (in 2008).

Enemies:

Jesus: love them; pray for them.

Trump: Demonize them. Dehumanize them. The person who disagrees with Mr. Trump, stands up to him, or oppose him, will be declared worthless, stripped of dignity, and made the object of derision. Each human being is, in his view, either “a winner” or “a loser,” and there is no more awful thing in his book than to be “a loser.” This attitude is central to his campaign, it is central to how he works (as those of us who found ourselves having to work with him almost always discovered), and it seems to be central to his belief system.

Discipleship:

Jesus: Followers are to be “the salt of the earth,” “…do justly, and to love kindness and mercy, and to humble yourself and walk humbly with your God.” Christians are to defend human dignity, welcome the stranger in our midst, stand for justice, offer the blessing and dispense the grace of God, behave as agents of reconciliation where there is brokenness and division.

Trump: ‘nuf said, I would think. Surely so, if attention is being paid at all to his campaign of “walling-off” and “rejecting” and “condemning” and “dividing” and, and, and…

Conclusion: Whether or not Mr. Trump is a Christian, the worldview he proclaims and represents is absolutely incompatible with the teaching of Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ.

 


PR – “Making the Sell”
Written by: 
Joe Morris Doss

Americans feel that we, as individual citizens, lack agency – a sense that we have too little say in what is going on and that we are relatively helpless to do anything about what bothers or concerns us. At the Threshold is offering a series that is intended to examine the causes of that frustration.

Scene: a bar in Chelsea, New York City
Date: Spring, 1970
Event: A Seminary Class on Issues of Moral Theology in American Society
Guest: CEO of a major Madison Avenue PR Firm

Student Question: What is the strength of modern advertising?
CEO: The ability to sell anything, anything at all.

Student Question: What is the weakness of modern advertising?
CEO: The ability to sell anything, anything at all.

Student Question: What is the most vexing moral issue in the field of advertising?
CEO: The ability to sell anything, anything at all.

Student Question: Please explain.
CEO: Let me put it this way. Our firm refuses to advertise for the sale of cigarettes, because we know enough to know that they kill. They cause cancer. Someday that will become accepted public knowledge, and in that day we so not wish to find ourselves explaining to our children why we chose to convince people to kill themselves. That’s the deal. We have a moral responsibility to choose what to sell, because we can convince people to buy anything.

Student Question: You are saying that you can convince people to kill themselves.
CEO: Oh yes. We can make people want what is dangerous enough to kill them – probably even if they know it will. So we don’t advertise cigarettes.

Student Question: What else do you avoid selling?
CEO: God help our democracy, which may not survive our ability to sell candidates.

Americans know they are being manipulated by advertising, and except for those who use it, most people claim to hate it. But they embrace it.

Americans claim that they are sick and tired of the way campaigns come down to raising money for TV, sound bites, and negative campaign spots. But watching them over and over is how they make up their mind.

Americans claim to hate the way candidates are “handled,” the way they rely on an invented persona instead of genuine individuality, the way they “stay on message” instead of opening up to offer honest and creative ideas, the way they say what is safe and contrived instead of stating personal beliefs. But these are the very campaign techniques that work to convince American votes.

We claim to hate the selling of our political leaders, yet we force our candidates into the “PR product-for-sell” roles because advertising sells. We just keep making the empty content of PR work, for buying commodities and for the democratic election of political leadership.

In so many ways, while lamenting our lack of agency due to the manipulative ability of PR to sell us, we choose to go along with the shaping of the political market and the marketing process. We not only go along, we rely on it.

No single group has been worse about all of this than the parts of the church that have entered into the process of elective politics. Ever since Reagan gave an important role to the moral majority, churches Catholic and Protestant and non-denominational Christians have bowed to PR marketing and jumped into “the game.” The result is that the church has been wounded and weakened, in sharp decline institutionally in membership and moral authority. It is time for this to cease.

Masses have turned to the candidacy of Donald Trump as a reaction against “the sell,” seeming to overlook how this, in so many ways, is the very climax of political salesmanship – using every technique, going from old standard theories like the “big lie” to new lessons learned with reality TV. He has been sufficiently discovered and cannot be elected, but we know there are creatures lurking in the background darkness, taking notes and learning.

On the other hand, surely there must be smart and well intentioned people who see new opportunities for the political process, new ways to offer themselves or to find and bring forward candidates in whom they can believe and offer them to an American public that is genuinely at rope’s end with “the sell.”

One of the leading “mad men” of the 60’s, a Madison Avenue PR giant who saw what was developing raised the issue: God help our democracy, which may not survive our ability to sell candidates.

The question seems wildly radical and the negative answer seems unimaginable. But in fact the question remains an open one. Pray sisters and brothers of the church, pray and prayerfully decide to do something about it.

(Disclaimer: Your reporter was not present at the class, but the accuracy of what was communicated is certainly verifiable.)