But Trump’s theatrics were also very convenient because they disguised the fact that he cannot now, or ever, deliver on his signature promise to create a “great” infrastructure program. This is why Trump “infrastructure weeks” have become a standing joke in Washington. LaTourette was right: The Republican Party is no longer interested in spending public money to solve big problems if doing so gets in the way of cutting taxes.
LaTourette explained this in his rough-and-ready way back in 2011 when he called the 2010 tea party class of Republicans “knuckledraggers that came in in the last election that hate taxes.”
One of those newcomers was Mick Mulvaney, now Trump’s acting chief of staff and budget director. From the moment Trump, Pelosi and Schumer announced their convergence on a $2 trillion infrastructure plan last month, Mulvaney began sabotaging it. “Is it difficult to pass any infrastructure bill in this environment, let alone a $2 trillion one, in this environment? Absolutely,” Mulvaney said.
He was far from alone because the entire Republican leadership in Congress is now part of the Knuckledraggers Caucus. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell quickly signaled that he had absolutely no interest in a big infrastructure plan if it required rolling back any part of the GOP’s 2017 corporate tax cut.
Democrats argue that because business is clamoring for infrastructure, it would make sense to ask business to foot part of the bill. They have suggested raising the corporate tax rate to 25 percent from the 21 percent enshrined in the 2017 law and pulling back on some of its other provisions.
No way, say the Republicans. A “nonstarter,” declared McConnell. Faced with the choice of bridges collapsing in a heap or reining in the tax giveaways, the bridges don’t have much of a chance.
Note that the meeting Trump sabotaged was about how to finance the plan. He had no way of coming up with anything constructive because, for all of his bravado, he is totally under the thumb of Congress’s conservative ideologues. His tantrum was part of the coverup no one is talking about: The emperor has no money.
This fact underscores a widespread misunderstanding about our politics. “Normal” Republicans are regularly described as privately horrified with Trump. Trump is said to have engaged in “a hostile takeover” of the GOP.
In fact, it’s Trump who has been taken over. He campaigned as a different kind of Republican, and his infrastructure promise was a major component of his antiideological image. But on all the things the ideologues and right-wing business interests care about —
Trump caves in.
We know the president’s boast that he “could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose any votes.” Perhaps Republicans in Congress wouldn’t go that far. Otherwise, they’ll keep standing with him as long as he prostrates himself before their tax-cutting god, even if this means showing he is too weak and powerless to fix the roads.
last week, Poland challenged the very notion of what it means to be part of the bloc when the country pushed ahead with controversial measures to overhaul its judicial system and essentially put the courts under the control of the governing party. The action set off unprecedented censure from the European Union.
For the first time, the European Commission, the bloc’s executive arm, used the most powerful threat in its arsenal to try to stop the measure, invoking Article 7 of the European Union treaty, which could strip Poland of its voting rights. It accused the government of trying to undermine core democratic values.
.. it also challenged the very notion of how effectively the bloc can deal with countries that step out of line. If Brussels fails to curb what it sees as behavior that undermines democratic values in Poland, other nations with their own populist leaders, like the Czech Republic and Romania, will be emboldened to chart their own course.
.. Poland is not Hungary, where Prime Minister Viktor Orban frequently antagonizes European Union leaders and cozies up to President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia.
.. But when the Constitution was enacted in 1997, no right-wing party was represented, including Center Agreement, a Christian democratic party and the predecessor to Law and Justice, the current ruling party.
“They refused to give this Constitution legitimacy,”
.. this lack of inclusion led to a bitterness that still fuels the governing party and its powerful leader, Jaroslaw Kaczynski.
.. When Law and Justice briefly held power before, from 2005 to 2007, its leader, Mr. Kaczynski, found himself stymied by the courts at every turn. He coined a term for what he viewed as obstructionism: prawny imposybilizm, or legal impossibilism.
.. The first move was to dismantle the Constitutional Tribunal, which is empowered to review Poland’s laws. They removed unfriendly justices and ensured the once-powerful body was little more than a rubber stamp for the party
“The mechanics of this attack on the Supreme Court are very similar,” he said. “First, you have an attack on judges.”
.. “The whole idea behind these two bills is to have full control over the national judiciary council, which has control over appointing judges,”
.. “And if you have control over the selecting committee, you need vacancies.”
.. He pointed to a new provision that allows for something known as a special extraordinary appeal, which would essentially allow any case over the past 20 years to be reopened.
.. “I am ashamed now,” he said. “We were a paragon of transformation of the rule of law. That has all changed.”
A year in, Trump has delivered on many of his specific promises, particularly where judicial appointments are concerned. At the same time, there’s a great deal of angst within religious circles about what his personal moral defects and his administration’s deep unpopularity mean for Christian cultural witness, and (among evangelicals, especially) whether the Trump era is setting up a kind of generational schism that will contribute to institutional Christianity’s crisis going forward.
.. John Zmirak: Thanks, Ross. So far, I must say that I’m genuinely pleased and impressed by Trump’s performance on most of the issues of concern to socially conservative voters and Christians. It contrasts sharply with how mainstream Republican candidates and presidents treated such voters.
.. Think back to 1996, when a handful of evangelical leaders were able to steer their flocks away from Pat Buchanan — who would have been their champion — to Bob Dole, who muttered reluctant compliance with a few of their interests, but clearly didn’t care a fig about abortion or other culture issues.
.. What we saw in 2016 is that a small group of “respectable” ministers or lobbyists no longer has the power to “deliver” Christian voters. And I think that’s a good, healthy thing. It gives us more leverage, as we seem to have with Trump.
Furthermore, and I have this from pastors who met with Trump for many hours: He genuinely listens to them. They’re the kind of people most playboys from Queens never encounter. He connected with some of them personally. He saw their concern for his soul. And he took and takes their concerns seriously.
Trump sees that the church is a big part of what made America great, and he sees that the state persecution that President Obama began hurts the country. I hope that he sees more, sees Christ as his savior. But in his role as Caesar, protecting our rights is quite enough.
.. I know it’s fashionable to scorn “mainstream” or “respectable” politicians or ministers, but these individuals at least had the virtue — as imperfect as they were — of a degree of personal honor and integrity. The church always must be mindful of its witness, and it can’t sacrifice its moral credibility to a culture by declaring, “I did it for the judges.”
I belong to the camp of Christians who are grateful when Trump makes good decisions but also quite mindful that our political witness is inseparable from our Christian witness. Thus, we have no option but to condemn his worst impulses and work to counteract his toxic influence on our larger culture. While policy positions are important (though Trump’s real impact is often vastly overblown), a nation is ultimately shaped far more by its culture than its policies, and we can never forsake the greater power for the lesser win.
Zmirak: I think it trivializes every issue of justice and life that we both care about to call them public policy “wins.” These are the fates and freedoms of millions of people we’re talking about. Unborn children. Nuns who serve the dying poor. Christians endangered by the Islamic State.
Douthat: But John, do you think there’s anything dangerous in the close association between a Christian politics and a president who is so proudly un-Christian in word and often deed?
Zmirak: Trump’s personal behavior in the past is of no real concern to me — nor to most of the Christian voters I’m in touch with. The more we find out about the disgusting actions in office of not just Bill Clinton but also John F. Kennedy … it helps encourage an Augustinian shrug.
French: I find it curious when Christians declare that the personal conduct of a president is of no real concern — especially since that’s the exact opposite message that Christians have been preaching for a generation. During the latter part of the Bill Clinton presidency, the Southern Baptist Convention put out a powerful statement on the importance of virtuous conduct in leaders, regardless of the state of the economy or the quality of the policymaking. Part of the justification for that statement was the biblical truth that God has judged nations in part for their unrighteous rulers. In other words, Christians can’t and shouldn’t laser-focus on policy but always must be mindful of eternity. Do we believe the Bible? Or are we just another interest group that makes cold, purely political calculations?
.. Zmirak: We’re fallen creatures trying to render unto Caesar as well as unto God. The nexus between those two is how we as sovereign citizens direct our government to treat the vulnerable.
We supported Constantine, and Harry Truman, and many other imperfect men who were better than the alternatives.
I don’t even expect saintly behavior of popes, much less of presidents. If the circumstances in which God saw fit to place us make us choose between the “squeaky clean” persecutor of the unborn and the Little Sisters of the Poor, or between Barack Obama and Donald Trump, the choice is obvious. If we pick the persecutor because he pleases us more aesthetically, better fits our internal self-image, then we will answer for that on the Day of Judgment.
.. Douthat: So when we see polls showing a wild swing between the 1990s and the present in the share of evangelicals who think character matters in a politician, John, you think evangelicals are actually coming around to a more sensible view than they held in the Clinton era?
Zmirak: Yes. Just as evangelicals are coming around to using Natural Law (philosophical) arguments — rather than biblical proof-texts for their political positions, I think they are moving closer to the skeptical prudence that always marked Catholic, Lutheran and Anglican political thinking. Read what the Family Research Council, or National Organization for Marriage, publish on social issues. They’re not thumping the Bible. They’re citing Cicero and Aristotle.
French: I’m sorry, but the transformation of the evangelical public from the American segment most willing to hold leaders to a high moral standard to the segment now least likely smacks of pure, primitive partisanship, not high theological principle. Evangelicals aren’t coming around to using Natural Law at all. It’s pure instrumentalism. They’ve made an alliance of convenience. They haven’t made some sort of thoughtful intellectual shift.
.. A person can simultaneously say that Trump has accomplished good things while also seeking to hold him to a proper standard of conduct. My great disappointment during this first year of the Trump presidency is not with evangelicals who have rightly lauded, say, the Neil Gorsuch appointment, but rather with Christians who’ve defended, rationalized and excused conduct they’d never, ever condone in a Democrat. There are not two standards of morality depending on judicial appointments or regulatory reform.
.. For groups outside the Republican coalition, especially — like millennials drifting from religion and the churchgoing African-Americans who just turned out in droves to defeat Roy Moore — isn’t there the potential for them to be scandalized by lock step religious conservative support for a presidency that most of America sees as failed from Year 1?
.. Zmirak: I think much of the drift is driven not by politics but by internal scandals, like the sex abuse crisis among Catholics, and financial scandals among evangelicals.
.. But to politics: Were Christians scandalized by the spectacle of George W. Bush leaving Iraqi Christians to face jihadi violence? They should have been. It was far worse than anything Trump has done. I must confess that I am deeply embittered by the callousness that George W. Bush displayed toward the lives and liberties of religious minorities in Iraq — when as U.S. commander in chief, he had essentially absolute power over that occupied country. Of about one million Christians, some 900,000 were ethnically cleansed, most of them while our troops still occupied the country. I can put up with Donald Trump’s old Howard Stern tapes all day long, compared with that.
.. I don’t think the savage hatred of Donald Trump is mostly driven by his genuine excesses. Trump is serving as a catalyst to expose just how unhinged, anti-Christian, anti-Western, and frankly anti-rational the dominant factions on the left have become.
.. to blame the plight of Middle East Christians on Bush is to magnify his influence far too much. They have faced worse in countries America didn’t invade.
.. The Democratic nomination of Hillary Clinton was far more important to Trump’s success than anything that George W. Bush did. Don’t forget, older Republicans (which is most Republicans) had been fighting Clinton for the better part of a quarter-century. The rallying cry of the G.O.P. wasn’t to turn the page on the Bush era but rather to defeat Hillary. As of today, Bush has a higher approval rating than Trump.
.. what would have to happen in the next few years to make you think that he’s right, and that the negative consequences of the Trumpist bargain will ultimately eclipse Neil Gorsuch’s influence on the legal and political order?
Zmirak: If Trump follows bad advice, and gets us mired in some foreign intervention where thousands of U.S. troops are bogged down in pursuit of ideological fantasies. Or if he betrays us on the courts. Or if he fails to get control of our borders. In other words, if he welches on any of the fundamental promises he made conservatives to gain our support, then I’ll feel cheated.
.. Douthat: But you really don’t worry at all about the possibility that 60 percent of the country will exit the Trump era convinced that conservative Christianity is just white identity politics?
Zmirak: No, I think that’s something that worries conservatives who mix in elite circles more than anyone else.
.. French: This is just false. I live in rural Tennessee, and the folks who go to my church don’t want conservative Christianity to be seen in this way. There’s nothing elitist about wanting the Christian church to be seen as a force for racial reconciliation. In fact, the most grass-roots churches in the U.S. — our Pentecostal churches — are often the most racially diverse. The white Christians I know are in fact scandalized at the idea that church identity is mixed with ethnic self-advocacy.
.. It seems to me that the example of Western Europe, where secularization is more advanced than here and Islamic radicalism a more systemic social problem, has played an underestimated role in shaping conservative Christian instincts in the Trump era. That the pro-Trump voices, like you, John, see him as a bulwark against the trends that have marginalized traditional Christianity in France or England or Germany, while Trump critics (like myself and perhaps you, David) fear that by leading American Christians into defeat and disrepute, he will hasten us down the road to European secularism. What do you both think of this frame?
.. French: There is no question that conservative Christians are very concerned about America’s secular drift, and they look to Europe’s thoroughly post-Christian culture with a degree of alarm, if not horror. This concern contributed to the “Flight 93 election” mind-set that cast the 2016 contest as the campaign that would decide our national fate. That election was the emergency that justified wholesale Christian shifts in political principle. Where Christians once demanded honesty, they rationalized lies. Where Christians once sought evidence of ideological consistency, they accepted incoherence.
.. Many of us, however, looked at these accommodations and asked a simple question. Where is your faith? Christians were acting as if not just the nation — but the church itself — was in peril based on the outcome of a single election. Yet is God not sovereign over all the nations, including our own? Doesn’t scripture repeatedly condemn the exact kinds of moral compromises that so many Christians made? Don’t we believe those scriptures?
.. There is nothing more dangerous to the church than a lack of faith. I don’t at all mind it when Christians cheer the good things that Donald Trump has done. I join them. I do mind when they rationalize and excuse bad acts out of a completely misguided and faithless sense of cultural and political necessity.
What is going to happen to American Evangelicalism in the wake of the Roy Moore defeat? Christianity Today editor Mark Galli, in an editorial, says nothing good.Excerpts:
No matter the outcome of today’s special election in Alabama for a coveted US Senate seat, there is already one loser: Christian faith. When it comes to either matters of life and death or personal commitments of the human heart, no one will believe a word we say, perhaps for a generation. Christianity’s integrity is severely tarnished.
.. The Christian leaders who have excused, ignored, or justified his unscrupulous behavior and his indecent rhetoric have only given credence to their critics who accuse them of hypocrisy.
.. David Brody, a correspondent for the Christian Broadcasting Network, has noted the desperation and urgency felt throughout much of conservative Christianity. “The way evangelicals see the world, the culture is not only slipping away—it’s slipping away in all caps, with four exclamation points after that. It’s going to you-know-what in a handbasket.” The logic is then inexorable: “Where does that leave evangelicals? It leaves them with a choice. Do they sacrifice a little bit of that ethical guideline they’ve used in the past in exchange for what they believe is saving the culture?”
.. If evangelical means that, it has serious ramifications for the work of Christians and churches.”
That notion is bewildering to evangelical leaders who see Mr. Trump as their champion. They say that Mr. Trump has given them more access than any president in recent memory, and has done more to advance their agenda, by appointing judges who are likely to rule against abortion and gay rights; by channeling government funds to private religious schools; by recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel; and by calling for the elimination of the Johnson Amendment, which prohibits churches and charitable groups from endorsing political candidates.
.. “I believe that God answered our prayers in a way we didn’t expect, for a person we didn’t even necessarily like,” said Stephen E. Strang, author of “God and Donald Trump” and founder of Charisma Media, a Christian publishing house.
“Christians believe in redemption and forgiveness, so they’re willing to give Donald Trump a chance,” said Mr. Strang, who is a member of the president’s informal council of evangelical advisers. “If he turns out to be a lecher like Bill Clinton, or dishonest in some kind of way, in a way that’s proven, you’ll see the support fade as quick as it came.”
Mr. Strang said that those who talk about Mr. Trump tarnishing the evangelical brand “are not really believers — they’re not with us, anyway.”
.. You cannot underestimate the impact of being raised to think that morality was so important that impeachment was justified, and then see the very same people who instilled that belief in you to jump into bed with Donald Trump–a man just as morally debauched as Clinton, but without the advantage of competency or even enough of a sense of decency to know that his lecherous behavior isn’t something to brag about.
.. The key problem is in, as Galli says it, “the desperation and urgency felt throughout much of conservative Christianity.” The New Testament tells us repeatedly, in many different ways and through the examples of the apostles, that Christians should not fear or worry — and certainly not feel desperation! — even in the face of persecution. I was glad to see that he addressed the proper scriptural ways of dealing with such situations: turning the other cheek, forgiving, and doing good to our enemies.
Christians who rationalize compromising our testimony out of desperation are simply not trusting the one they claim to follow.
.. for the first time I can remember, the appearance of Danielite and Johannine apocalyptic imagery in both sermons and discussions on the left. (This isn’t entirely unwelcome, and I think it’s totally appropriate about environmental stewardship, but I am more interested in seeing the left pull the right out of their foxhole than in the left digging our own.)
.. “evangelical” seems to have been co-opted as a political label and makes no distinction between a theological disposition and a cultural identifier. It seems, anymore, to simply mean “non-mainline Protestants,”
.. The older Evangelicals are treading on dangerous ground and alienating their next generation by putting political power over living by Christ’s example.
.. The fault line in the schism is whether one takes a culture war-dominionist posture or faithful minority counterculture posture. This fault line — which also divides Christian generations — has lain hidden for a while, but Trump has exposed it, because the dominionists think they can use the Strongman for their own purposes and, maybe, by being his chaplaincy, even make a true believer of him.
The counterculturalists — usually younger evangelicals — think that’s a delusional misreading both of Trump and of the actual standing of Christianity in our nation, and that in the meantime going all-in with this Administration means shredding theological clarity and moral credibility.
.. In terms of Trump he is politician and in a rare moment of listening to his advisers, Paul Manafort was right that Mike Pence was correct choice for VP to ensure the evangelical vote came out for him.
.. But as they explain it, it was because of the supreme court, lesser of two evils, etc. Fine. I get that. What I don’t get is people trying to make Trump out to be the last best hope for the evangelical church.
.. In this sense, Trump and Roy Moore are in the tradition of the Emperor Constantine, whose interest in Christianity was purely for its use as a political tool. Ever since Constantine, there have always been Machiavellian leaders who used the Church for their own cynical purposes, and there will always be such leaders.
.. I suspect “evangelicals” were among the many “Christians” a few years ago who professed to see no contradiction between Christianity and the ideas of Ayn Rand. In other words, many self-identified “evangelicals” are really just identifying their cultural background, not their theology. (And they don’t know their theology.)
.. However, I think that evagelicals were already hated by elite culture
.. “There is no way we can please them, they are going to hate us no matter what. We might as well support the bad ass who will fight for us, or at least not ramp up the persecution of elite culture against us.”
.. This strategy will also most likely fail, since Trump is likely to fail, and horribly. But I understand the despair and desperation that motivates it.
.. I’m one such libertarian, who recently left the PCA for the ECUSA. I felt that the social conservatives were becoming a professional liability for me. If I agreed with them, that would be fine. But I don’t. I don’t believe in criminalizing early-term abortion and I’m fine with civil same-sex marriage. And I’m not willing to suffer socially for views that I don’t hold and that IMO represent bad policy.
What was repudiated in Massachusetts in early 2010 was a specific policy course: The Obama White House’s pursuit of a sweeping and complex health care bill in the teeth of an enormous recession, which unsettled voters who wanted hope and change only so long as the latter didn’t affect their health-insurance premiums.
.. The fact that Coakley was a terrible candidate made it easier for Scott Brown to torpedo her, but the backlash against Obamacare, the feeling that a liberal president had turned too soon from seeking growth to seeking redistribution, was an essential element in her defeat.
.. There is an unpopular Republican tax bill now to echo the unpopular Democratic health care bill eight years ago, but policy is a much smaller part of what was repudiated last night in Alabama. It was not so much a rejection of the Trump agenda as it was a rejection of the whole Trumpian mode of politics,
.. a fervent commitment to “triggering the libs” shorn of any populist substance, and a cocksure assumption that any Republicans who aren’t in it for the liberal-triggering care enough about
- judges and
- abortion or their
- tax cuts or
- the soaring stock market
to swallow hard and go along.
.. it’s also a pretty clear foretaste of what you get when you distill white identity politics to a nasty essence and then try to build a coalition around it.
.. You get massive Democratic turnout, black turnout in particular, slumping Republican turnout, and a whole lot of write-in votes from people who should be your supporters. You get Democrats winning elections in the most unlikely places. And you get, quite probably, a Democratic majority in the House and perhaps even the Senate.
.. team Obama decided to stay the course for what were debatable but also rational reasons — the theory that a sweeping health care bill would be simply worth the political pain and midterm election losses required to get it passed.
.. No such rationality exists in the Trump White House, no such cost-benefit analyses are conducted, no such vision for what the president wants as his legacy exists. You can’t change course without a map; you can’t change your plan when you don’t have one to begin with. Maybe we’ll get a new and “presidential” Trump for a few days or even a couple of weeks after this debacle; maybe there will be talk of reaching out beyond the Hannity demographic and trying to act like the president of all Americans for a while. But none of it should be taken seriously. Trump can control himself for a short time here and there, but tomorrow is always another day
.. Trump who would rather have the G.O.P. fall in ruins around him than give up on his feuds and insults and absurd behavior
Casting his campaign as a “spiritual battle” against “the immorality of our time,” Alabama Republican Roy Moore vowed Monday to “take off the gloves” in the final weeks of his Senate race so he can establish a clear contrast with his Democratic opponent.
.. Moore cast the allegations in biblical terms, saying they demonstrated the end-of-time deceptions of ancient prophecy. “In the last days, perilous times shall come,” Moore said, quoting from the book of Timothy. “For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, without natural affection . . . trucebreakers, false accusers.”
.. Moore returned repeatedly to the record of his opponent, Doug Jones, reading to the crowd a long passage from a recent interview to argue that the Democrat is out of step with the people of Alabama on
- and other issues.
.. “I oppose transgender rights,” Moore said. “I don’t believe Christians hate anybody. I don’t hate anybody. But I do hate sin.”
The president is stocking the courts with a class of brilliant young textualists bearing little relation to even their Reagan or Bush predecessors. Mr. Trump’s nastygrams to Bob Corker will be a distant memory next week. Notre Dame law professor Amy Coney Barrett’s influence on the Seventh U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals could still be going strong 40 years from now.
.. Mr. Trump has now nominated nearly 60 judges, filling more vacancies than Barack Obama did in his entire first year. There are another 160 court openings, allowing Mr. Trump to flip or further consolidate conservative majorities on the circuit courts that have the final say on 99% of federal legal disputes.
.. Harry Reid’s 2013 decision to blow up the filibuster for judicial nominees has freed the Trump White House from having to worry about a Democratic veto during confirmation. Mr. McGahn’s team (loaded with former Clarence Thomas clerks) has carte blanche to work with outside groups like the Federalist Society to tap the most conservative judges.
.. The result has been a band of young rock stars and Scalia-style textualists like Ms. Barrett, Texas Supreme Court Justice Don Willett and Minnesota Supreme Court Associate Justice David Stras.
.. Because Mr. Trump’s picks have largely spent their careers focused on administrative law and constitutional questions, few have gotten bogged down by controversial cultural rulings. They do have paper trails, but mostly on serious and technical issues. This helps reassure Republicans even as it deprives Democrats of the fodder they’d need to stage dramatic opposition.
.. Conservatives praised Mr. McConnell last year for refusing to consider Judge Merrick Garland, whom Mr. Obama had nominated to the Supreme Court. Less well known is the sheer number of federal judgeships Mr. McConnell sat on as the Obama administration wound down. Mr. Trump took office with 107 lower-court vacancies
.. The Trump judicial reset was never guaranteed. Mr. McConnell just happens to have a steely passion for remaking the judiciary. Previous majority leaders Trent Lott (best friends with trial lawyers) and Bill Frist (nice, nice) would never have gotten Justice Gorsuch confirmed. Those guys were the “establishment.”
.. Mr. Trump will keep baiting the media with shiny objects. In the background, government is being redone.