Andrew Sullivan: Politics as Religion: on Social Justice & Trump

Whether or not things change, he knows who he is.

He still has a sense of dignity and worth and he trusts that transformational change will come, though it may not happen in his lifetime.

Both the social justice movement and Trump arise out of idolatry.

The atheistic movements opened up a vacuum for other things, a type of politics.

People’s beliefs become more extreme when the move away from religion.

Religion is not the substance in the bowl.  It is the bowl.

American Jews and Israeli Jews Are Headed for a Messy Breakup

Is the world ready for the Great Schism?

The events of the past year brought American and Israeli Jews ever closer to a breaking point. President Trump, beloved in Israel and decidedly unloved by a majority of American Jews, moved the United States Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem in May, with the fiery evangelical pastors John Hagee and Robert Jeffress consecrating the ceremony.

In October, after the murder of 11 Jews at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, President Trump went to that city to pay his respects. Members of the Jewish community there, in near silent mourning, came out to protest Mr. Trump’s arrival, declaring that he was not welcome until he gave a national address to renounce the rise of white nationalism and its attendant bigotry.

The only public official to greet the president at the Tree of Life was Israel’s ambassador to the United States, Ron Dermer.

At a Hanukkah celebration at the White House last month, the president raised eyebrows and age-old insinuations of dual loyalties when he told American Jews at the gathering that his vice president had great affection for “your country,” Israel.

Yossi Klein Halevi, the American-born Israeli author, has framed this moment starkly: Israeli Jews believe deeply that President Trump recognizes their existential threats. In scuttling the Obama-era Iran nuclear deal, which many Israelis saw as imperiling their security, in moving the American Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, in basically doing whatever the government of Benjamin Netanyahu asks, they see a president of the United States acting to save their lives.

American Jews, in contrast, see President Trump as their existential threat, a leader who they believe has stoked nationalist bigotry, stirred anti-Semitism and, time and time again, failed to renounce the violent hatred swirling around his political movement. The F.B.I. reports that hate crimes in the United States jumped 17 percent in 2017, with a 37 percent spike in crimes against Jews and Jewish institutions.

When neither side sees the other as caring for its basic well-being, “that is a gulf that cannot be bridged,” Michael Siegel, the head rabbi at Chicago’s conservative Anshe Emet Synagogue, told me recently. He is an ardent Zionist.

To be sure, a vocal minority of Jews in Israel remain queasy about the American president, just as a vocal minority of Jews in the United States strongly support him. But more than 75 percent of American Jews voted for the Democrats in the midterm elections; 69 percent of Israelis have a positive view of the United States under Mr. Trump, up from 49 percent in 2015, according to the Pew Research Center. Israel is one of the few developed countries where opinion about the United States has improved since Mr. Trump took office.

Part of the distance between Jews in the United States and Israeli Jews may come from the stance that Israel’s leader is taking on the world stage. Mr. Netanyahu has

  1. embraced the increasingly authoritarian Hungarian leader Victor Orban, who ran a blatantly anti-Semitic re-election campaign. He has
  2. aligned himself with ultranationalists like Rodrigo Duterte in the Philippines,
  3. Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil and a
  4. Polish government that passed a law making it a crime to suggest the Poles had any responsibility for the Holocaust.  The Israeli prime minister was one of the very few world leaders who reportedly
  5. ran interference for the Trump administration after the murder of the Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi and urged President Trump to maintain his alliance with the Saudi crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman.  Mr. Netanyahu’s
  6. son Yair was temporarily kicked off Facebook for writing that he would “prefer” that “all the Muslims leave the land of Israel.”  Last month,
  7. with multiple corruption investigations closing in on him and his conservative coalition fracturing, Mr. Netanyahu called for a snap election in April, hoping to fortify his political standing. If past is prologue, his election campaign will again challenge American Jewry’s values. As his 2015 campaign came to a close, Mr. Netanyahu
  8. darkly warned his supporters that “the right-wing government is in danger — Arab voters are heading to the polling stations in droves,” adding with a Trumpian flourish that left-wing organizations “are bringing them in buses.”

Why Trump Reigns as King Cyrus

The month before the 2018 midterms, a thousand theaters screened “The Trump Prophecy,” a film that tells the story of Mark Taylor, a former firefighter who claims that God told him in 2011 that Donald Trump would be elected president.

At a critical moment in the film, just after the actor representing Mr. Taylor collapses in the flashing light of an epiphany, he picks up a Bible and turns to the 45th chapter of the book of Isaiah, which describes the anointment of King Cyrus by God. In the next scene, we hear Mr. Trump being interviewed on “The 700 Club,” a popular Christian television show.

As Lance Wallnau, an evangelical author and speaker who appears in the film, once said, “I believe the 45th president is meant to be an Isaiah 45 Cyrus,” who will “restore the crumbling walls that separate us from cultural collapse.”

Cyrus, in case you’ve forgotten, was born in the sixth century B.C.E. and became the first emperor of Persia. Isaiah 45 celebrates Cyrus for freeing a population of Jews who were held captive in Babylon. Cyrus is the model for a nonbeliever appointed by God as a vessel for the purposes of the faithful.

The identification of the 45th president with an ancient Middle Eastern potentate isn’t a fringe thing. “The Trump Prophecy” was produced with the help of professors and students at Liberty University, whose president, Jerry Falwell Jr., has been instrumental in rallying evangelical support for Mr. Trump. Jeanine Pirro of Fox News has picked up on the meme, as has Ron Dermer, the Israeli ambassador to the United States, among many others.

As the Trump presidency falls under siege on multiple fronts, it has become increasingly clear that the so-called values voters will be among the last to leave the citadel. A lot of attention has been paid to the supposed paradox of evangelicals backing such an imperfect man, but the real problem is that our idea of Christian nationalism hasn’t caught up with the reality. We still buy the line that the hard core of the Christian right is just an interest group working to protect its values. But what we don’t get is that Mr. Trump’s supposedly anti-Christian attributes and anti-democratic attributes are a vital part of his attraction.

Today’s Christian nationalists talk a good game about respecting the Constitution and America’s founders, but at bottom they sound as if they prefer autocrats to democrats. In fact, what they really want is a king. “It is God that raises up a king,” according to Paula White, a prosperity gospel preacher who has advised Mr. Trump.

Ralph Drollinger, who has led weekly Bible study groups in the White House attended by Vice President Mike Pence and many other cabinet members, likes the word “king” so much that he frequently turns it into a verb. “Get ready to king in our future lives,” he tells his followers. “Christian believers will — soon, I hope — become the consummate, perfect governing authorities!”

The great thing about kings like Cyrus, as far as today’s Christian nationalists are concerned, is that they don’t have to follow rules. They are the law. This makes them ideal leaders in paranoid times.

This isn’t the religious right we thought we knew. The Christian nationalist movement today is authoritarian, paranoid and patriarchal at its core.

  • They aren’t fighting a culture war.
  • They’re making a direct attack on democracy itself.

They want it all. And in Mr. Trump, they have found a man who does not merely serve their cause, but also satisfies their craving for a certain kind of political leadership.

Steve Hilton: Hey, Trump haters (on both sides) could you just admit that this is a successful presidency?

In the evil populist “Trump’s America,” here’s what happened to energy-related carbon emissions: In 2017, they fell by 0.5 percent. But in the saintly globalist European Union, they went up by 1.5 percent in the same period. In fact, per-capita carbon emissions in Trump’s America are nearly at a 70-year low.

It turns out energy deregulation does more to fight climate change than going to conferences. I guess you might call that an “inconvenient truth.” This one’s pretty inconvenient if you’re the kind of person that goes around saying Trump is a fake populist, that he’s not doing anything to help the forgotten men and women in this country.

.. Look, America’s poverty rate was lower in President Trump’s first year than at any point in the Obama administration.

Okay. Whatever, you Trump haters are probably saying. But of course the middle class was screwed by the Trump tax cuts that only helped the rich, right?

Oh wait. The Trump tax cuts doubled the standard deduction to $12,000 for individuals and $24,000 for families. That’s a huge change that takes millions of Americans out of federal income tax altogether and has effectively increased incomes for middle class families across the country.

.. What else helps the middle class? Jobs. But of course that “idiot” Trump couldn’t create them.

“When somebody says – like the person you just mentioned that I’m not going to advertise for – that he’s going to bring all these jobs back. Well, how exactly are you going to do that?” Obama once said. “He just says, ‘Well, I’m going to negotiate a better deal.’ Well, what – how – exactly are you going to negotiate that? What magic wand do you have?”

Yeah, Trump, what magic wand do you have? I don’t know, maybe just better economic policy. The kind that results in the lowest unemployment rate since 1969. And the lowest African-American unemployment ever.

.. Also, wasn’t Trump going to crash the economy? Hillary Clinton thought so, telling an audience, “Economists – left, right, and center – all agree: Donald Trump will drive America back into recession.”

Left, right and center, inconvenient truth, Hillary. Even the New York times just gave Trump credit for the fact that the U.S. economy is on track for its “best annual performance since 2005.”

Alright, whatever. Jobs and growth … but Trump still isn’t delivering his promises to working people. I mean, after decades of stagnation, incomes are still flat, aren’t they?

“A key thing we’ve been looking at for quite a while that doesn’t seem to be moving much are wages,” CBS correspondent Anthony Mason said on-air.

Oh dear. That turns out not be true any more. Wages have risen all the way through the last two years and were up 3.1 percent in the last quarter – the highest level in a decade.

Fine. But it’s all going to be ruined, isn’t it, by Trump’s crazy trade war with China? In fact, the elitists seem to hate Trump so much, they even took China’s side. Remember how they thrilled to the brutal autocrat Xi Jinping at Davos last year? They just lapped up his speech on the virtues of globalization. The president of the EU-owned European Investment Bank said, “In these times of a lack of leadership, particularly in Europe, it was quite impressive.”

Oooh President Xi! You’re quite impressive!

What’s actually happening is that President Trump’s pressure is working. China is on the back foot, making trade concessions, and now pledging to drop its “Made in China 2025” program, which was Xi Jinping’s grand plan to achieve world domination in the industries of the future.

We’ll see if they mean it. But even the fact that they’re saying it is a major victory for that “idiot” Trump, who obviously doesn’t know what he’s doing. Just like with North Korea, remember?

It was outgoing President Obama who told President-elect Donald Trump that North Korea would be his number one problem. Trump actually listened to him, did something about it, and turned our relationship around in a way that has made the world incomparably safer.

And then, just this past week, we saw incredibly important substantive progress from this administration. Major criminal justice reform, led by Jared Kushner, is now looking good for passage in the Senate. A major new effort to revitalize urban America and rebuild low-income neighborhoods is being led by Ben Carson. And there’s a highly significant new strategy from John Bolton to fight China’s attempted colonization of Africa.

.. Look, the point here is this: We’ll never persuade the Trump haters on the left and the right to change their feelings about the president. They just can’t stand him. And more than anything, it’s aesthetic. They find him vulgar … not to their taste.

Fine. But could you just focus on the facts? Could you just acknowledge – even for a day or so over Christmas – that on the facts, on policy, on the substance, that this is, so far, a pretty successful presidency?