Evangelicals are naked before the world

“There has never been anyone who has defended us and who has fought for us, who we have loved more than Donald J. Trump. No one!”

This recent statement by religious-right activist Ralph Reed is objectively true, at least when it comes to sloppy kisses for the president. Considered purely as a political transaction, religious conservatives have gotten two appointments to the Supreme Court who set their hearts aflutter. They, in return, have shifted from the language of political realism to the language of love.

Trump has not gone back on the conservative promises of his 2016 campaign. More than that, he has not let up in his attacks against liberal elites who disdain religious conservatives. Reed is correct that Trump has “defended us” and “fought for us.”

But this language itself should raise warning signs. Is this really how most conservative Christians view the political enterprise — as the vindication of their own interests rather than the good of the whole? Were Christian political activists of the 19th century — such as William Wilberforce , Frederick Douglass , Charles Grandison Finney and Harriet Beecher Stowe — primarily concerned with the respect accorded to their own religious community? No, they were known for taking the side of the oppressed and vulnerable.

It now seems like a different world. Maybe even a different conception of God.

Religious conservatives are now firmly allied in the public mind with a leader who practices the politics of exclusion. And there is every indication that this community will hold Trump in an ever-tighter embrace. Even if the Democratic nominee is Joe Biden, the process of securing that nomination will push him further to the left on social issues (which he demonstrated in his about-face support for federal funding of abortion). This will make the contrast between Trump and his eventual opponent all the more dramatic on social issues.

A lot of attention has been given to the risks to the GOP (at the national level) of placing all their electoral bets on white voters who resent and fear a morally and ethnically changing country. In 2008, white Christians constituted 54 percent of the population. By 2014, that figure was more like 47 percent . And the slide continues. Republicans seem doomed to ride a retreating wave.

There is also, however, much to be said about the risk to evangelicalism. Evangelical Christians are tying themselves to an institution — the GOP — that is actively alienating college-educated voters, minority voters and younger voters. Evangelicals are thus entrenching a public perception that their movement consists of old, white Christians who want to restore lost social status through political power. Maybe this is because the perception is often accurate.

But there is no strategy of Christian evangelism that would take the Republican political strategy as a model. There is no conception of the Great Commission that would present Hispanic migrants as villains or encourage millennials to continue their flight from religious association. (Around 36 percent of people age 18 to 34 never attend religious services — a percentage that has roughly doubled since 2004.)

The moral consequences of being a loyal part of Trump’s political coalition come into ever-sharper focus. During the 2016 presidential election, evangelical Christians could comfort themselves that it was possible — just possible — for Trump to grow in office and become something greater than the sum of his tweets. Doesn’t someone whom James Dobson called a “baby Christian ” deserve a chance to grow up? Isn’t that the essence of grace?

This argument was a small fig leaf when it was made. Now, evangelical Christians are naked before the world. Trump’s cruelty (see the treatment of migrant children), his bigotry (see Charlottesville), his obstruction of justice (see any fair reading of the Mueller report), his vanity (see any time he speaks in public), his serial deception (also see any time he speaks in public) have become more pronounced and unrepentant over time. Can there be any question that reelection would result in Trump unbound?

At the same time, some evangelical Christian leaders have become more effusive in their praise of the president. More willing to defend the indefensible on his behalf. More dismissive of the importance of character in public life.

In the process, evangelical Christian leaders have placed themselves — uncritically, with open eyes — into a political coalition that is inspired by ethnic nationalism. Such are the occupational hazards of calling good evil and evil good.

How a smooth Saudi operative charms Washington and defends ‘the indefensible’

Even as evidence mounted last week that a Saudi Arabian hit squad had murdered and dismembered his friend, Jamal Khashoggi, Washington operative Ali Shihabi took to Twitter to do what he does best: defend the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

“Leaders and governments make mistakes, sometimes horrible ones,” the suave 59-year-old wrote in a 13-part Twitter thread on Oct. 20. “At present, the Saudi government has been humbled and chastened … But one horrible murder cannot and will not be allowed to put the country further at risk.”

The reaction from many quarters was scathing.

Keep cashing those checks, Ali,” wrote Karen Attiah, who edited Khashoggi’s columns for The Washington Post. “I cannot for the life of me understand how you sleep at night.”

The global outrage over Khashoggi’s murder has forced many Washington lobbyists and public relations pros to cut ties with the Saudi government. But not Shihabi, a Saudi national who may be the country’s most effective defender in the U.S. capital. Media savvy and politically shrewd, Shihabi has relationships with prominent journalists, Trump administration officials and think tank experts throughout Washington. The Saudi ambassador left Washington earlier this month and reportedly may not return, but it matters less given that many already consider Shihabi, who is close to the Saudi leadership, to be the kingdom’s unofficial envoy.

Unlike some Arab envoys who can be culturally out of step with their host city, Shihabi — whose father was Saudi and mother Norwegian — has a gracious European demeanor, a wry sense of humor and a taste for good wine. His daughter is even an actress.

.. Shihabi can often be seen on the D.C. circuit, hitting book parties hosted by the likes of the operative-hostess Juleanna Glover and dining at spots like the Monocle and the Four Seasons with such A-list media figures as Fox News host Tucker Carlson.

.. He calls himself a provocateur, but Shihabi can be just as on-message as any official Arab envoy. He is tall and bespectacled, with a booming voice he uses with little restraint, often talking over his opponents with a wide smile as he rationalizes beheadings as a means of executions, Saudi efforts to counter Iran’s government, and even conditions for the country’s imprisoned dissidents.

.. “Prison in Saudi Arabia is quite benign,” Shihabi once said during a television appearance with Khashoggi. “They are nothing like the dungeons of the Middle East.” (He later clarified he meant jails for political prisoners, but regretted the way he’d articulated the comment.)

.. Despite such head-scratchers, Shihabi has developed a sterling reputation among Washington foreign policy elites who consider him a loyal — but not completely doctrinaire — interlocutor between Washington and Riyadh.

.. “I would describe him as one of the sharpest people I’ve met in this town,” said Walter Cutler, a former U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia. “I have high regard for him personally.”

“I’ve had conversations with him where I’ve said, ‘The Saudi government just did X. I don’t get it. It doesn’t strike me as smart,’” said Elliott Abrams, a former official in the George W. Bush administration. “He’d say, ‘I don’t think so either. I’m trying to get it reversed.’”

.. Shihabi’s skills are being tested as never before. He’s defending a Saudi version of events — that Khashoggi died after a fistfight with Saudi officials waiting for him in the consulate – that has been widely dismissed.

.. “He’s trying to defend the indefensible, and that never works out very well,” a former Obama administration official said on condition of anonymity. “The fact of the matter is that the story that the Saudis have concocted is so blatantly false that he damages his own standing, his own reputation, by trying to argue in defense of it.”

Further complicating matters is the fact that Shihabi had known Khashoggi for many years. The pair had even appeared on TV together to debate Saudi policy.

.. Shihabi calls himself a foreign policy “realist,” or “certainly not an idealist.” He is skeptical that liberal democracy can take root in his homeland anytime soon and prizes the idea of stability in Saudi Arabia.

.. “Do I worry about criticism going too far?” he told POLITICO. “Sure. Because I want to maintain access.”

Shihabi’s primary organ of influence in Washington is the Arabia Foundation, which he established in early 2017. He says he launched the organization after coming to believe that the Saudi monarchy was getting poor results for the millions it spent on lobbying and public relations in Washington.

.. Shihabi’s background is unusually varied for a Saudi citizen: His late father, Samir Shihabi, was a Jerusalem-born Saudi diplomat

.. He first wrote a novel, “Arabian War Games,” that explored what would happen if Iran invaded Saudi Arabia just as Israel tries to expel its Israeli-Arab minority into Jordan.

.. While Saudi Arabia is known for promoting an austere form of Islam that many experts say breeds terrorism, Shihabi comes across as relatively open-minded and liberal – up to a point.

.. “Ali’s been very clear that the death of Jamal is wrong, is horrible, is indefensible,” said Adam Ereli, a former U.S. ambassador to Bahrain who serves on the advisory board of the Arabia Foundation.

But at the same time, the death of a journalist is what it is. It’s not the end of the world,” he added. “What are we supposed to do, stop doing everything? And just put the Middle East on hold while we vent our rage and punish everybody?”

Giuliani’s Bark Won’t Put Off the Mueller Investigation

Although the former mayor says that he is acting as Donald Trump’s outside legal counsel, it’s increasingly clear that his main role is that of attack dog. His principal assignment: to bloody Mueller, and, if possible, disable him.

.. During his sitdown with Ingraham, Giuliani extended this argument, arguing that for “the same reason they can’t indict him, they can’t issue a subpoena to him.”

These statements raise an obvious question: If Mueller really has nothing on Trump, and if, in any case, he is barred from bringing an indictment or issuing a Presidential subpoena, why are the President and his attorneys so concerned about the investigation?

.. As the Republican congressman Trey Gowdy remarked to Trump’s former lead attorney, John Dowd, after he called on Mueller to wrap it up, “If you have an innocent client … act like it.”

the special counsel’s team has proceeded methodically for the past twelve months on at least five distinct but connected fronts:

  1. Russian trolling and voter-targeting on social-media platforms;
  2. the hacking and release of Democratic e-mails;
  3. direct contacts between members of the Trump campaign and individuals connected to the Russian government;
  4. Trump’s business dealings with people and entities connected to Russia; and
  5. possible obstruction of justice.

.. Strictly speaking, that is a separate probe. But nobody on Trump’s team doubts that if and when Cohen decides to coöperate with the prosecutors, Mueller’s investigators will be all ears.

.. as early as last fall, Mueller’s team demanded information from some of the companies that hired the Trump fixer as a consultant after the election. This suggests that the investigation is running many months ahead of the media, and also, perhaps, ahead of the White House’s knowledge of its activities.

.. we know, courtesy of a leak to the Times by Trump’s lawyers, is that Mueller wants to pose at least forty-nine questions to the President himself. Despite Trump’s constant refrain that there was no collusion with Russia, many of these questions also relate directly to what happened before the 2016 election.

.. “During the campaign, what did you know about Russian hacking, use of social media, or other acts aimed at the campaign?” and

“What knowledge did you have of any outreach by your campaign, including by Paul Manafort, to Russia about potential assistance to the campaign?”

.. if Mueller found evidence of a serious crime involving the President, and he believed it should be prosecuted in an ordinary court of law, he could go to Rosenstein, who in this case would be the acting Attorney General—and the ultimate decision would fall on Rosenstein’s shoulders.

.. Most people in Washington don’t expect Mueller to bring criminal charges against Trump. If he doesn’t, and Trump doesn’t fire him before he completes his investigation, the key issue—whether or not to impeach Trump—may well be left to Congress. And since Congress operates in the court of public opinion, this would ultimately be a political decision.

That, of course, is another reason that Trump brought in Giuliani—to stick up for him and his family in public, even if that involves defending the indefensible

.. we can rest assured that they won’t be put off by Giuliani’s bluster.

Trump’s Efforts to Oust Mueller Show the ‘Cancer’ on This Presidency

The president’s attempted ouster of Mr. Mueller seems plainly to have been intended to squelch Mr. Mueller’s investigation. Moreover, Mr. Trump’s attempts to conceal the obvious with a rank, virtually comical explanation provide additional evidence of guilty intent.

Mr. Mueller, the president argued, could not serve because, years before, he had resigned his membership at the Trump National Golf Club in Virginia because of a dispute over fees; or he needed to be fired because he had worked at the law firm that previously represented Mr. Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner.

Why strain to concoct such feeble rationales unless the truth is indefensible?

.. The threat to resign carries with it the possible implication that he saw more: a crime, even a continuing conspiracy, that he wanted to distance both Mr. Trump and himself from.

.. It’s also consistent with the Washington tradition of self-serving conduct with an eye toward ensuring that you don’t go down with the ship.

.. Mr. McGahn’s pushback starts to look like a John Dean moment in the Trump administration: the juncture when actors in the White House, including the White House counsel, began to realize that there is, in Mr. Dean’s famous phrase, “a cancer on the presidency.”

.. And they know that there is more to come, beginning with Steve Bannon’s interview with the special counsel.

.. The events it details happened over six months ago but are only now coming to light. For whose benefit? The Times report is sourced to four people

.. Some number of people in the know have decided, perhaps in concert, to drop a bombshell now, one they kept to themselves for many months.

.. Perhaps from their insiders’ perches, they see that Mr. Mueller is wrapping up a case of obstruction that the president probably cannot defend against, because he is guilty. And perhaps they are jockeying to position themselves favorably, in the belief that Mr. Trump may be impeached (if not removed from office) and that there will be a broad reckoning,

.. he has every reason to think as he looks around him that his staff is wondering who will be next to go — by discharge or criminal charge — and there is nobody whose loyalty he can be sure of

Maybe liberals are so ‘P.C.’ because conservatives keep excusing bad behavior

I’m not naive enough to be stunned by Akin, King, O’Reilly or Trump, but as a Republican, I continue to be dismayed by the willingness of fellow Republicans and conservatives to overlook, rationalize and make excuses for this type of behavior. And each time I see conservatives defending, or looking away, in the face of other conservatives’ noxious behavior, I become less and less sure that liberals aren’t justified in taking the sometimes-condescending, always-disapproving “politically correct” approach that they do in these all-too-predictable episodes.

.. I didn’t always think this way about liberal highhandedness toward Republicans. I used to co-sign the typical conservative rejoinder to political correctness, which generally goes something like: Life’s not fair, so please get over yourself.

.. Yes, House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) was rewarded for choosing expediency over morality by endorsing Trump’s candidacy, even as he condemned Trump’s attack on Judge Gonzalo Curiel’s Mexican heritage as “the textbook definition of a racist comment.” In doing so, Ryan confirmed an unsettling truth: When some in the Party of Lincoln witness racism, it’s not necessarily a dealbreaker. Indeed, the GOP won big in 2016 embracing the same rhetoric I’m calling out now — rhetoric we said we were leaving behind in the 2013 autopsy report commissioned after Mitt Romney’s 2012 defeat.

.. Trump lost the popular vote with our current demographic landscape by a margin of almost 3 million, and demographics are rapidly changing, not in his favor. Republicans who treat 2016 as the rule rather than the exception will come to regret it.

.. it’s not political correctness to expect common courtesy and respect. And it’s not a burden on a politician or anyone else to refrain from making sexist and racist remarks. It’s both the right thing to do, and an approach in keeping with the values that the Republican Party is supposed to stand for, including judging all people as individuals, not caricaturing them because of their race or gender.

.. It’s hard to deny that we’ve become a society where people are put out by the smallest slights, real or perceived.

.. every time conservatives and Republicans let an O’Reilly slide — rather than take a stand in favor of common decency — the “politically correct” scorn of liberals becomes just a bit more justified.

.. no longer defending the indefensible would be a start.