The Science of Reasoning With Unreasonable People

Don’t try to change someone else’s mind. Instead, help them find their own motivation to change.

A few years ago, I made the mistake of having an argument with the most stubborn person I know. R., whose initial I’m using to protect his privacy, is a longtime friend, and when his family came to visit, he mentioned that his children had never been vaccinated — and never would be.

I’m no proponent of blindly giving every vaccination to every newborn, but I was concerned for his children’s safety, so I started debunking some common vaccine myths. After days of debate, I was exhausted and exasperated. Determined to preserve our friendship, I vowed never to talk with him about vaccines again.

Then came 2020. Fear of the vaccine may be the greatest barrier to stopping Covid-19. It stretches far beyond the so-called anti-vaxxer community: About half of Americans harbor questions about the safety of the Covid-19 vaccines; 39 percent say they definitely or probably won’t get one.

I decided to see if I could open R.’s mind to the possibility. What I didn’t realize was that my mind would be opened as well.

As an organizational psychologist, I’ve spent the past few years studying how to motivate people to think again. I’ve run experiments that led proponents of gun rights and gun safety to abandon some of their mutual animosity, and I even got Yankees fans to let go of their grudges against Red Sox supporters. But I don’t always practice what I teach.

When someone seems closed-minded, my instinct is to argue the polar opposite of their position. But when I go on the attack, my opponents either shut down or fight back harder. On more than one occasion, I’ve been called a “logic bully.”

When we try to change a person’s mind, our first impulse is to preach about why we’re right and prosecute them for being wrong. Yet experiments show that preaching and prosecuting typically backfire — and what doesn’t sway people may strengthen their beliefs. Much as a vaccine inoculates the physical immune system against a virus, the act of resistance fortifies the psychological immune system. Refuting a point of view produces antibodies against future attempts at influence, making people more certain of their own opinions and more ready to rebut alternatives.

That’s what happened with my friend. If I wanted him to rethink his blanket resistance to vaccines, I had to rethink my approach.

Several decades ago, when treating substance abuse problems, psychologists developed a technique called motivational interviewing. The central premise: Instead of trying to force other people to change, you’re better off helping them find their own intrinsic motivation to change. You do that by interviewing them — asking open-ended questions and listening carefully — and holding up a mirror so they can see their own thoughts more clearly. If they express a desire to change, you guide them toward a plan.

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Say you’re a student at Hogwarts, and you want to help your uncle reject Voldemort. You might start like this:

You: I’d love to better understand your feelings about He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named.

Uncle: Well, he’s the most powerful wizard alive. Also, his followers promised me a fancy title.

You: Interesting. Is there anything you dislike about him?

Uncle: Hmm. I’m not crazy about all the murdering.

You: Well, nobody’s perfect. What’s stopped you from abandoning him?

Uncle: I’m afraid he might direct the murdering toward me.

You: That’s a reasonable fear — I’ve felt it too. Are there any principles that matter so deeply to you that you’d be willing to take that risk?

In controlled trials, motivational interviewing has helped people to stop smoking, abusing drugs and alcohol, and gambling; to improve their diets and exercise; to overcome eating disorders; and to lose weight. The approach has also motivated students to get a good night’s sleep; voters to reconsider their prejudices; and divorcing parents to reach settlements.

Recently, thanks to a vaccine whisperer, it has been applied to immunization. Arnaud Gagneur is a pediatrician in Quebec who encourages reluctant parents to immunize their children. In his experiments, a motivational interview in the maternity ward after birth increased the number of mothers willing to vaccinate their children from 72 percent to 87 percent; the number of children who were fully vaccinated two years later rose by 9 percent. A single conversation was enough to change behavior over the next 24 months.

I set up a conversation between Dr. Gagneur and my friend. After 90 minutes, it was clear to me that R.’s vaccination stance had not changed.

“I have tried to apply all the principles of motivational interviewing, but I have had the unpleasant feeling of not doing so well,” Dr. Gagneur wrote to me in email. “R. is very knowledgeable and always ends up finding arguments that support his decision.”

Strangely, I didn’t feel defeated or irritated. I wanted to learn how my friend’s views could evolve.

The pioneers of motivational interviewing, William Miller and Stephen Rollnick, have long warned against using the technique to manipulate people. It requires a genuine desire to understand people’s motivations and help them reach their goals. Although R. and I both want to keep his children healthy, I realized I had never tried to understand his perspective on vaccines before. So the next morning, I called him.

In our past debates, R. had focused only on the potential downsides of vaccinations. With Dr. Gagneur, though, he acknowledged that vaccines could be good for some but not necessarily for others. If he lived in a country experiencing an outbreak of, say, malaria, would he consider immunization? “You weigh the pros and cons,” he said.

Psychologists find that when we listen carefully and call attention to the nuances in people’s own thinking, they become less extreme and more open in their views. I wondered how my friend’s ambivalence applied to Covid, and I knew that the kinds of questions I asked would matter. Social scientists have found that asking people how their preferred political policies might work in practice, rather than asking why they favor those approaches, was more effective in opening their minds. As people struggled to explain their ideal tax legislation or health care plan, they grasped the complexity of the problem and recognized gaps in their knowledge.

So for my second attempt, instead of asking R. why he was opposed to Covid vaccines, I asked him how he would stop the pandemic. He said we couldn’t put all our eggs in one basket — we needed a stronger focus on prevention and treatment. When I asked whether vaccines would be part of his strategy, he said yes — for some people.

I was eager to learn what might lead R. to decide that he is one of those people. In motivational interviewing, there’s a distinction between sustain talk and change talk. Sustain talk is commentary about maintaining the status quo. Change talk is referencing a desire, ability or commitment to making a shift. A skilled motivational interviewer listens for change talk and asks people to elaborate on it. This was my third step.

I asked R. what the odds were that he would get a Covid vaccine. He said they were “pretty low for many different reasons.” I told him it was fascinating to me that he didn’t say zero.

“This is not a black-and-white issue,” R. said. “I don’t know, because my views change.” I laughed: “This is a milestone — the most stubborn person I know admits that he’s willing to change his mind?” He laughed too: “No, I’m still the most stubborn person you know! But at different stages of our lives, we have different things that are important to us, right?”

I don’t expect R. or his children to be vaccinated any time soon, but it felt like progress that he agreed to keep an open mind. The real breakthrough, though, was mine. I became open to a new mode of conversation, with no points to score and no debate to win. The only victory I declared was against my own prosecutor tendencies. I had prevailed over my inner logic bully.

Many people believe that to stop a deadly pandemic, the end justifies whatever means are necessary. It’s worth remembering that the means are a measure of our character. If we succeed in opening minds, the question is not only whether we’re proud of what we’ve achieved. We should also ask whether we’re proud of how we’ve achieved it.

I no longer believe it’s my place to change anyone’s mind. All I can do is try to understand their thinking and ask if they’re open to some rethinking. The rest is up to them.

Jeff Rubin: Canada Feeds the World

Author and economist, Jeff Rubin, says that climate change could bring great financial benefits to Canada. Namely, Rubin thinks a longer crop growing season caused by climate change could make Canada the world’s bread basket. He joins The Agenda to explain what Canada needs to do to take advantage of this possible opportunity.

Can You Change Someone’s Beliefs? (Hint: It Takes More Than Facts)

In this video, I discus beliefs and why it’s so hard to change somebody’s mind once they’re set. I talk about identity and how people wrap their identity around their beliefs. We’ll look at a few studies surrounding the issue, and then try to offer up some kind of take away for communicating with others.

Sources:

You are not so smart podcast: https://youarenotsosmart.com/podcast/ episodes: 93,94,95,144
University of Southern California researchers – Neural correlates of maintaining one’s political beliefs in the face of counterevidence
Jonas T. Kaplan, Sarah I. Gimbel & Sam Harris
Brendan Nyhan and Jason Reifler – research on motivated skepticism
Motivated Skepticism: Use of Differential Decision Criteria for Preferred and Nonpreferred Conclusions (Study about yellow construction paper) – https://fbaum.unc.edu/teaching/articl…

Burn the Republican Party Down?

It would damage the country, and those who say yes bear some blame for the president’s rise.

Where did Donald Trump come from? Where is the GOP going? Should the whole thing be burned down? A lot had to go wrong before we got a President Trump. This fact, once broadly acknowledged, has gotten lost, as if a lot of people want it forgotten.

Mr. Trump’s election came from two unwon wars, which constituted a historic foreign-policy catastrophe, and the Great Recession, which those in power, distracted by their mighty missions, didn’t see coming until it arrived with all its wreckage. He came from the decadeslong refusal of both parties’ leadership to respect and respond to Americans’ anxieties, from left and right, about illegal immigration. He came from bad policy and bad stands on crucial issues.

He came from the growing realization of on-the-ground Americans that neither party seemed to feel any particular affiliation with or loyalty to them, that both considered them lumpen bases to be managed and manipulated. He came from the great and increasing social and cultural distance between the movers and talkers of the national GOP, its strategists, operatives, thinkers, pundits and party professionals, and the party’s base. He came from algorithms that deliberately excite, divide and addict, and from lawmakers who came to see that all they had to do to endure was talk, not legislate, because legislating involves compromise and, in an era grown polar and primitive, compromise is for quislings.

He came from a spirit of frustration among a sizable segment of the electorate that, in time, became something like a spirit of nihilism. It will be a long time repairing that, and no one is sure how to.

And here, in that perfect storm, was Mr. Trump’s simple, momentary genius. He declared for president as a branding exercise and went out and said applause lines, and when the crowd cheered, he decided “This is my program,” and when it didn’t cheer, he thought, “Huh, that is not my program.” Some of it was from his gut, but most of it was that casual. After the election a former high official told me he observed it all from the side of the stage. This week the official said that after a rally, on the plane home, all Mr. Trump and Jared Kushner would talk about was the reaction. “Did you see how they responded to that?”

The base, with its cheers, said they weren’t for cutting entitlement benefits. They were still suffering from the effects of 2008, and other things. They weren’t for open borders or for more foreign fighting. They were for the guy who said he hated the elites as much as they did.

The past four years have produced a different kind of disaster, one often described in this space. The past six months Mr. Trump came up against his own perfect storm, one he could neither exploit nor talk his way past: a pandemic, an economic contraction that will likely produce a lengthy recession, and prolonged, sometimes violent national street protests. If the polls can be trusted, he is on the verge of losing the presidency.

Now various of his foes, in or formerly of his party, want to burn the whole thing down—level the party, salt the earth where it stood, remove Republican senators, replace them with Democrats.

This strikes me as another form of nihilism. It’s bloody-minded and not fully responsible for three reasons.

First, it’s true that the two-party system is a mess and a great daily frustration. But in the end, together and in spite of themselves, both parties still function as a force for unity in that when an election comes, whatever your disparate stands, you have to choose whether you align more with Party A or Party B. This encourages coalitions and compromise. It won’t work if there are four parties or six; things will splinter, the system buckle. The Democratic Party needs the Republican Party, needs it to restrain its excesses and repair what it does that proves injurious. The Republicans need the Democrats, too, for the same reasons.

Second, if the Republicans lose the presidency, the House and the Senate in November, the rising progressives of the Democratic Party will be emboldened and present a bill for collection. They’ll push hard for what they want. This will create a runaway train that will encourage bad policy that will damage the nation. Republicans and conservatives used to worry about that kind of thing.

Third, Donald Trump is burning himself down. Has no one noticed?

When the Trump experience is over, the Republican Party will have to be rebuilt. It will have to begin with tens of millions of voters who previously supported Mr. Trump. It will have to decide where it stands, its reason for being. It won’t be enough to repeat old mantras or formulations from 1970 to 2000. It’s 2020. We’re a different country.

A lot is going to have to be rethought. Simple human persuasion will be key.

Rebuilding doesn’t start with fires, purges and lists of those you want ejected from the party.

Many if not most of those calling for burning the whole thing down are labeled “Never Trump,” and a lot of them are characterologically quick to point the finger of blame. They’re aiming at Trump supporters in Congress. Some of those lawmakers have abandoned long-held principles to show obeisance to the president and his supporters. Some, as you know if you watched the supposed grilling of tech titans this week, are just idiots.

But Never Trumpers never seem to judge themselves. Many of them, when they were profiting through past identities as Republicans or conservatives, supported or gave strategic cover to the wars that were such a calamity, and attacked those who dissented. Many showed no respect to those anxious about illegal immigration and privately, sometimes publicly, denounced them as bigots. Never Trumpers eloquently decry the vulgarization of politics and say the presidency is lowered by a man like Mr. Trump, and it is. But they invented Sarah Palin and unrelentingly attacked her critics. They often did it in the name of party loyalty.

Some Never Trumpers helped create the conditions that created President Trump. What would be helpful from them now is not pyromaniac fantasies but constructive modesty, even humility.

The party’s national leaders and strategists don’t have a lot to be proud of the past few decades. The future of the party will probably bubble up from the states.

But it matters that the past six months Mr. Trump has been very publicly doing himself in, mismanaging his crises—setting himself on fire. As long as that’s clear, his supporters won’t be able to say, if he loses, that he was a champion of the people who was betrayed by the party elites, the Never Trumpers and the deep state: “He didn’t lose, he was the victim of treachery.”

Both parties have weaknesses. Liberals enjoy claiming progress that can somehow never quite be quantified. Conservatives like the theme of betrayal.

It will be unhelpful for Republicans, and bad for the country, if that’s the background music of the party the next 10 years.

Trump: I don’t agree with Jesus @ National Prayer Breakfast

The Source of Trump’s Black Hole:

John Fea posted a Lawrence O’Donnell video that names the source of Trump’s black hole — his incomprehension of “love“.

O’Donnell was responding to events at the National Prayer Breakfast, which are listed below:

National Prayer Breakfast: Feb. 6, 2020

Arthur Brooks: America’s crisis of contempt

Arthur C. Brooks’s remarks, as prepared, for the National Prayer Breakfast keynote address on Thursday at the Washington Hilton.

Mr. President, Mr. Vice President, Mrs. Pence, Speaker Pelosi, heads of state, members of Congress and honored guests: Thank you for inviting me here today. I am deeply honored and grateful to address the National Prayer Breakfast.

As you have heard, I am not a priest or minister. I am a social scientist and a university professor. But most importantly, I am a follower of Jesus, who taught each of us to love God and to love each other.

I am here today to talk about what I believe is the biggest crisis facing our nation — and many other nations — today. This is the crisis of contempt — the polarization that is tearing our society apart. But if I do my job in the next few minutes, I promise I won’t depress you. On the contrary, I will show you why I believe that within this crisis resides the best opportunity we have ever had, as people of faith, to lift our nations up and bring them together.

As leaders, you all know that when there is an old problem, the solution never comes from thinking harder in the old ways; we have to think differently — we need an epiphany. This is true with societal problems and private problems.

Here’s an example of the latter: I have three kids, and two are still teenagers. (Pray for me.) Two years ago, when my middle son, Carlos, was a senior in high school, my wife, Ester, and I were having a rough parent-teacher conference. It was his grades. This was an old problem which we had tried everything to solve, but we were getting nowhere. We left the conference in grim silence and got in the car. Ester finally broke the silence.

“We need to see this problem in a whole new way,” she said.

“I’m all ears, sweetheart,” I answered, “because I’m at the end of my rope.”

“At least we know he’s not cheating,” she said.

See, that’s thinking differently! And that’s the spirit in which I want to address the problem of political contempt.

(By the way, in case you’re wondering what happened to Carlos: Currently he’s in Parris Island, S.C., at boot camp for the U.S. Marine Corps. We couldn’t be prouder of him.)

To start us on a path of new thinking to our cultural crisis, I want to turn to the words of the ultimate original thinker, history’s greatest social entrepreneur, and as a Catholic, my personal Lord and Savior, Jesus. Here’s what he said, as recorded in the Gospel of Saint Matthew, chapter 5, verse 43-45: You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven.”

Love your enemies! Now that is thinking differently. It changed the world starting 2,000 years ago, and it is as subversive and counterintuitive today as it was then. But the devil’s in the details. How do we do it in a country and world roiled by political hatred and differences that we can’t seem to bridge?

First, we need to make it personal. I remember when it became personal for me.

I give about 150 speeches a year and talk to all kinds of audiences: conservative, progressive, believers, atheists and everything in between. I was speaking one afternoon some years ago to a large group of politically conservative activists. Arriving early to the event, I looked at the program and realized I was the only non-politician on the program.

At first I thought, “This is a mistake.” But then I remembered that there are no mistakes — only opportunities — and started thinking about what I could say that would be completely different than the politicians. The crowd was really fired up; the politicians were getting huge amounts of applause. When it was my turn to speak, in the middle of my speech, here’s more or less what I said:

“My friends, you’ve heard a lot today that you’ve agreed with — and well you should. You’ve also heard a lot about the other side — political liberals — and how they are wrong. But I want to ask you to remember something: Political liberals are not stupid, and they’re not evil. They are simply Americans who disagree with you about public policy. And if you want to persuade them — which should be your goal — remember that no one has ever been insulted into agreement. You can only persuade with love.”

It was not an applause line.

After the speech, a woman in the audience came up to me, and she was clearly none too happy with my comments. “You’re wrong,” she told me. “Liberals are stupid and evil.”

At that moment, my thoughts went to … Seattle. That’s my hometown. While my own politics are conservative, Seattle is arguably the most politically liberal place in the United States. My father was a college professor; my mother was an artist. Professors and artists in Seattle … what do you think their politics were?

That lady after my speech wasn’t trying to hurt me. But when she said that liberals are stupid and evil, she was talking about my parents. I may have disagreed with my parents politically, but I can tell you they were neither stupid nor evil. They were good, Christian people, who raised me to follow Jesus. They also taught me to think for myself — which I did, at great inconvenience to them.

Political polarization was personal for me that day, and I want to be personal to you, too. So let me ask you a question: How many of you love someone with whom you disagree politically?

Are you comfortable hearing someone on your own side insult that person?

This reminds me of a lesson my father taught me, about moral courage. In a free society where you don’t fear being locked up for our opinions, true moral courage isn’t standing up to the people with whom you disagree. It’s standing up to the people with whom you agree — on behalf of those with whom you disagree. Are you strong enough to do that? That, I believe, is one way we can live up to Jesus’ teaching to love our enemies.

Let’s take a step back now and diagnose the problem a little bit.

Some people blame our politicians, but that’s too easy. It’s us, not them — I am guilty. And frankly, I know many politicians, many of them here today, who want a solution to this problem every bit as much as I do.

What is leading us to this dark place that we don’t like?

The problem is what psychologists call contempt. In the words of the 19th-century philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer, contempt is “the unsullied conviction of the worthlessness of another.” In politics today, we treat each other as worthless, which is why our fights are so bitter and cooperation feels nearly impossible.

The world’s leading expert on marital reconciliation is Dr. John Gottman, a psychologist at the University of Washington. Over the course of his work, Dr. Gottman has studied thousands of married couples. After watching a couple interact for just one hour, he can predict with 94 percent accuracy whether the couple will divorce within three years.

How can he tell? It’s not from the anger that the couples express. As I already told you, anger doesn’t predict separation or divorce. The biggest warning signs, he explains, are indicators of contempt. These include sarcasm, sneering, hostile humor and — worst of all — eye-rolling. These little acts effectively say, “You are worthless” to the one person a spouse should love more than any other. Want to see if a couple will end up in divorce court? Watch them discuss a contentious topic and see if either partner rolls his or her eyes.

Why do they do that? The answer is that it’s a habit, and that habit is tearing their marriage apart. And like a couple on the rocks, in politics today, we have a contempt habit. Don’t believe it? Turn on prime-time cable TV and watch how they talk. Look at Twitter — if you dare. Listen to yourself talking about a politician you don’t like. We are guilty of contempt.

It’s a habit, and it’s tearing our society apart.

How do we break the habit of contempt? Even more, how do we turn the contempt people show us into an opportunity to follow the teachings of Jesus, to love our enemies?

To achieve these things, I’m going to suggest three homework assignments.

  1. First: Ask God to give you the strength to do this hard thing — to go against human nature, to follow Jesus’ teaching and love your enemies. Ask God to remove political contempt from your heart. In your weakest moments, maybe even ask Him to help you fake it!
  2. Second: Make a commitment to another person to reject contempt. Of course you will disagree with others — that’s part of democracy. It is right and good, and part of the competition of ideas. But commit to doing it without contempt and ask someone to hold you accountable to love your enemies.
  3. Third: Go out looking for contempt, so you have the opportunity to answer it with love. I know that sounds crazy, to go looking for something so bad. But for leaders, contempt isn’t like the flu. It’s an opportunity to share your values and change our world, which is what leadership is all about, isn’t it?

I’m asking you to be kind of like a missionary. I’ve had missionaries on both sides of my family, and they are amazing entrepreneurs. They don’t go out looking for people who already agree with them, because that’s not where they are needed — they go to the dark places to bring light. It’s hard work, and there’s lots of rejection involved. (Here are words that have never been uttered: “Oh good, there are missionaries on the porch.”) But it’s the most joyful type of work, isn’t it?

I’m calling each one of you to be missionaries for love in the face of contempt. If you don’t see enough of it, you’re in an echo chamber and need a wider circle of friends — people who disagree with you. Hey, if you want a full blast of contempt within 20 seconds, go on social media! But run toward that darkness, and bring your light.

My sisters and brothers, when you leave the National Prayer Breakfast today and go back to your lives and jobs, you will be back in a world where there is a lot of contempt. That is your opportunity. So I want you to imagine that there is a sign over the exit as you leave this room. It’s a sign I’ve seen over the doors of churches — not the doors to enter, but rather the doors to leave the church. Here’s what it says:

You are now entering mission territory.

If you see the world outside this room as mission territory, we might just mark this day, Feb. 6, 2020, at the National Prayer Breakfast, as the point at which our national healing begins.

God bless you, and God bless America.

President Trump: National Prayer Breakfast, Feb 6, 2020

Washington Hilton
Washington, D.C.

9:11 A.M. EST

THE PRESIDENT:  Thank you.  Well, thank you very much.  I’m working very hard for you, I will tell you.  (Laughter.)  And sometimes you don’t make it easy, and I certainly don’t make it easy on you.  (Laughter.)  And I will continue that tradition, if I might, this morning.  And, Arthur, I don’t know if I agree with you.  (Laughter.)  But I don’t know if Arthur is going to like what I’m going to say.  (Laughter.)  But I love listening to you.  It’s really great.  Thank you very much.

And thank you, congressmen, for the great job you’ve been doing and the relationship and the help.  You’re a warrior.  Thank you very much.  And, Kevin, you’re a warrior.  Thank you.  The job you’ve done is incredible.  It wasn’t supposed to be that way.  A lot of extra work.  Unnecessary work.

It’s wonderful to be with the thousands of religious believers for the 68th annual National Prayer Breakfast.  I’ve been here from the first one, where I had the privilege of being asked.  I’ve been with you for a long time before then.  And we’ve made tremendous progress.  Tremendous progress.  You know what we’ve done.  I don’t think anybody has done more than all of us together during these last three years.  And it’s been my honor.

But this morning, we come together as one nation, blessed to live in freedom and grateful to worship in peace.  As everybody knows, my family, our great country, and your President, have been put through a terrible ordeal by some very dishonest and corrupt people.  They have done everything possible to destroy us, and by so doing, very badly hurt our nationThey know what they are doing is wrong, but they put themselves far ahead of our great country.

Weeks ago, and again yesterday, courageous Republican politicians and leaders had the wisdom, the fortitude, and strength to do what everyone knows was right.  I don’t like people who use their faith as justification for doing what they know is wrong.  Nor do I like people who say, “I pray for you,” when they know that that’s not so.

So many people have been hurt, and we can’t let that go on.  And I’ll be discussing that a little bit later at the White House.

We’re joined today by two people whose faith inspires us all: our amazing, wonderful friend, Vice President Mike Pence — (applause) — and his wonderful wife, Karen.  (Applause.)  Thank you.  Thank you.

Thank you to all of our great political leaders out there — so many that I’ve been working with so hard over the last three years.  And we’ve accomplished so much.  And to members of my Cabinet in attendance — Secretary Mike Pompeo, Mark Esper, David Bernhardt — (applause) — Gene Scalia, Alex Azar, Ben Carson, Dan Brouillette, Betsy DeVos, Robert Wilke, and Administrator Jovita Carranza.

Joining us — (applause) — for this cherished tradition are a lot of friends in the audience.  And many, really, have become friends.  They are political leaders.  They’ve become great friends.  That’s all I get to meet anymore.  (Laughter.)  That and the enemies and the allies.  And we have them all.  We have allies.  We have enemies.  Sometimes the allies are enemies, but we just don’t know it.  (Laughter.)  But we’re changing all that.  But thank you all, and thank you all for being here.

I also want to welcome foreign dignitaries from more than 140 countries.  That’s something.  (Applause.)  That’s something.  Everyone here today is united by a shared conviction.  We know that our nation is stronger, our future is brighter, and our joy is greater when we turn to God and ask him to shed his grace on our lives.

On Tuesday, I addressed Congress on the state of the Union and the great American comeback.  That’s what it is.  (Applause.)  Our country has never done better than it is doing right now.  Our economy is the strongest it has ever been.  And for those of you that are interested in stocks, it looks like the stock market will be way up again today.

According to the latest Gallup poll that just came out a little while ago, a few minutes ago, American satisfaction is at the highest level ever recorded.  Can you imagine?  And that’s from Gallup — no friend of mine.  (Applause.)  Ninety percent of Americans say they are satisfied with their personal lives.  How about that?  Isn’t that something?  Just came out today.  (Applause.)  They must have known I was going to be here.  (Laughter.)

In everything we do, we are creating a culture that protects freedom, and that includes religious freedom.  (Applause.)

As I said on Tuesday in the House Chamber, “In America, we don’t punish prayer.  We don’t tear down crosses.  We don’t ban symbols of faith.  We don’t muzzle preachers.”  We don’t muzzle pastors.  “In America, we celebrate faith, we cherish religion, we lift our voices in prayer, and we raise our sights to the Glory of God.”  (Applause.)

So much of the greatness we have achieved, the mysteries we’ve unlocked, and the wonders we’ve built, the challenges we’ve met, and the incredible heights that we’ve reached has come from the faith of our families and the prayers of our people.

Before America declared independence, patriots in all 13 colonies came together in days of fasting and prayer.  In the bitter cold of Valley Forge, Washington and his men had no food, no supplies, and very little chance of victory.  It reminded me a little bit of 2016.  We had very little chance of victory.  (Laughter.)  Except for the people in this room and some others believed we were going to win.  I believed we were going to win.  But what they did have was have an unwavering belief that God was with them.  I believe that too. God is with the people in this room.

Before a single skyscraper rose up in New York City, thousands of poor American families donated all they could to build the magnificent St. Patrick’s Cathedral.  (Applause.)
When Buzz Aldrin landed on the Moon, he said, “Houston, I would like to request a few moments of silence.”  Then, he read from the Bible.  (Applause.)

At every stage, our nation’s long march for civil rights was inspired, sustained, and uplifted by faith, prayer, and devotion of religious believers.

To protect faith communities, I have taken historic action to defend religious liberty, including the constitutional right to pray in public schools.  (Applause.)

We can also talk about the Johnson Amendment.  We can talk about Mexico City Policy.  We’ve done a lot.  But I also recently took executive action to stop taxpayer dollars from going to colleges and universities that spread the poison of anti-Semitism and bad things about Christianity.  (Applause.)

We are upholding the sanctity of life — sanctity of life.  (Applause.)  And we are doing that like nobody has ever done it before from this position.  You better get out and vote on November 3rd — (laughter) — because you have a lot of people out there that aren’t liking what we’re doing.

And we’re pursuing medical breakthroughs to save premature babies because every child is a sacred gift from God.  (Applause.)

Together, we are building the world’s most prosperous and inclusive society.  We are lifting up citizens of every race, color, religion, and creed.  We are bringing hope to forgotten communities.  And more Americans are working today — 160 million.  A little bit short.  Just a little bit.  One hundred and sixty million.  We’ve never been even close — than ever before.  Think of it: More Americans are working today — almost 160 million — than ever before.  Our unemployment numbers are the best in the history of our country.  (Applause.)

A more specific number and numbers that you hear me say, if you listen: African American, Asian American, Hispanic American — the best unemployment numbers in the history of our country.  Women — best in 71 years.  Sorry.  We’ll have you there soon.  Soon, it will be “historic.”  I have to apologize to the women; it’s only 71 years.

But the best unemployment numbers, we have — we’re doing things that nobody thought possible.  We’re setting records that nobody thought achievable.

And to give former prisoners a second chance at life, which so many people in this room have worked on for so long — (applause) — we passed criminal justice reform into law, and I signed it nine months ago.

And it’s proving more and more that America is indeed a nation that believes in redemption.  What’s happened with prisoners is a miracle.  Prisoners would come out and nobody would give them a job.  And oftentimes, most of the time — almost all of the time — they’d go back into prison.  They’d get caught doing something bad.  They had no money.  They had no hope.  They had no job.  Now they’re coming out into a booming economy.  And employers are hiring them, and to a certain extent, maybe because they’re having a hard time getting people.

First time in our country’s history, actually, we’re running out of people.  We have plants moving in by the thousands.  We have car companies coming from Japan and from Germany, from lots of other places, and we need people.  And employers are hiring prisoners, and they would have never done it, except for what we’ve done with criminal justice reform.  But even before that, because the economy has become so powerful.

And these prisoners have done an incredible job.  The employers are saying, “Why didn’t I do this 20 years ago?”

So it’s an incredible thing what’s happening to people that are given a second chance, and sometimes a third chance, in all fairness.  And it’s something that everybody in this room should be very proud about, because you’ve always felt that way long before it was fashionable.  So I want to thank you for that.  (Applause.)

As we revive our economy, we are also renewing our national spirit.  Today we proudly proclaim that faith is alive and well and thriving in America.  And we’re going to keep it that way.  Nobody will have it changed.  (Applause.)   It won’t happen.  As long as I’m here, it will never, ever happen.  (Applause.)

Something which wasn’t done nearly enough — I could almost say wasn’t done at all — we are standing up for persecuted Christians and religious minorities all around the world — (applause) — like nobody has ever done.

Last year, at the United Nations, I was honored to be the first President to host a meeting of religious freedom.  It was based all on religious freedom.  That was the first meeting of its kind ever held at the United Nations.  There I called upon all nations to combat the terrible injustice of religious persecution.  And people listened.

And countries that we give billions of dollars to, they listened because they had to listen.  (Laughter.)  It’s amazing how that works, isn’t it?  (Laughter.)  That nobody ever played that game before.  (Laughter.)

Weeks ago, a 21-year-old woman, who goes by the name of Mary, was seized and imprisoned in Iran because she converted to Christianity and shared the Gospel with others.

In Venezuela, the dictator Maduro has arrested church leaders.  At the State of the Union, I was honored to host the true and legitimate President of Venezuela, Juan Guaidó.  (Applause.)  Good man.  I told him that all Americans stand with the Venezuelan people in their righteous struggle for freedom.

Yesterday, our administration launched the International Religious Freedom Alliance, the first-ever alliance devoted to promoting religious liberty.  It was something.  Really something.  (Applause.)

More than 25 countries have already joined our campaign.  I want to thank Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, along with Ambassador Sam Brownback, who are both here this morning, for leading this historic initiative.  Thank you very much.  Thank you, Mike.  (Applause.)  Thank you.

All of us here today reaffirm these timeless truths: Faith keeps us free.  Prayer makes us strong.  And God alone is the author of life and the giver of grace.  (Applause.)

With us this morning is a pastor who embodies the miracle of faith and the power of prayer: Reverend Gerald Toussaint from Louisiana.  Reverend Toussaint is an Army veteran, a truck driver, and a pastor.  He leads the same church that his father led, Mount Pleasant Baptist Church, which has been a pillar of the community for more than 140 years.

Last year, Mount Pleasant was one of three African American churches in Louisiana that was destroyed in a fire set by a wicked, hate-filled arsonist.

Yet, in the wake of such shocking evil, America witnessed the unshakable unity, devotion, and spirit of Reverend Toussaint and his entire highly spirited, beautiful congregation.  Families quickly came together in prayer.  Soon, people from all across Louisiana came to help any way they could.  Americans in all 50 states and 20 different countries heard about it and they donated more than $2 million to help rebuild Mount Pleasant — (applause) — and the other two churches that were (inaudible).

On Easter Sunday, just days after he lost his church, Reverend Toussaint preached about what it all meant.  What does it mean?  “The Easter season,” he said, “is a fitting metaphor for recent events.  It was dark the day that Jesus was crucified.  It was dark [at] night when they burned our church.  What has happened since is like a resurrection.”  Old things are gone, but it’s going to be a brand-new start, and it’s going to be better than ever, Reverend.  (Applause.)  Better than ever.  Fantastic.

And today, just 10 months later, the ground is cleared.  Careful plans have been made, and they’re beautiful plans.  And construction is about to begin on the new and very, very magnificent Mount Pleasant Church.  Congratulations.  (Applause.)

You know, the Reverend says that we’re rebuilding because that’s what Jesus does.  He rebuilds, he lives, and he breathes.  It’s what he does.  He wants it to be rebuilt.  It was torn apart, but it’s being rebuilt again, and I’ll bet you it will indeed be bigger, better, and nicer than before.  What do you think, Reverend?  Yes?  And it’s going to have your mark on it.  It did have and now it will have even great.  And your father is looking down on you right now and he’s very, very proud of the job that you’ve done.  Thank you very much.  (Applause.)  Very much inspire us, Reverend.  Thank you.

Well, I want to just thank everybody.  This has been very special.  Tell your congregation that — and all of your people — that we have 350 million people in our country.  They’re proud Americans.  And they respect what we’re doing, even those that you don’t think so much like us, respect us, want to be with us.  They’re respecting our fight, and we are in a fight.

Religion in this country and religion all over the world — certain religions in particular — are under siege.  We won’t let that happen.  We are going to protect our religions.  We are going to protect Christianity.  We are going to protect our great ministers and pastors and rabbis and all of the people that we so cherish and that we so respect.

America is eternally in the debt of our nation’s African American churches all throughout this country.  That’s why it’s so fitting and so — it’s one of the reasons we chose this particular church in Louisiana.  For generations, they bravely fought for justice and lifted up the conscience of our nation.  And we’re grateful beyond any measure.

But I can say that going beyond that, we’re grateful to the people in this room for the love they show to religion.  Not one religion, but many religions.  They are brave.  They are brilliant.  They are fighters.  They like people.  And sometimes they hate people.  I’m sorry.  I apologize.  I’m trying to learn.  (Laughter.)  It’s not easy.  It’s not easy.  (Applause.)
When they impeach you for nothing, then you’re supposed to like them?  It’s not easy, folks.  (Laughter.)  I do my best.

But I’ll tell you what we are doing: We’re restoring hope and spreading faith.  We’re helping citizens of every background take part in the great rebuilding of our nation.  We’re declaring that America will always shine as a land of liberty and light unto all nations of the world.  We want every nation to look up to us like they are right now.  We were not a respected nation just a few years ago.  We had lost our way.  Our country is respected again by everybody.  (Applause.)

This morning, let us ask Father in Heaven to guide our steps, protect our children, and bless our families.  And with all of our heart, let us forever embrace the eternal truth that every child is made equal by the hand of Almighty God.

Thank you.  God Bless you.  And God bless America.  Thank you all very much.  Thank you.  Thank you.  (Applause.)

END

 

Source: whitehouse.gov