Politics

‘Believe Me’ Examines Evangelical Loyality To Trump

Raised in an evangelical church, I was deeply interested in reading Believe Me: The Evangelical Road To Trump by historian John Fea.

Fea, a self-described evangelical (as the book jacket cover notes) was not surprised when 81 percent of evangelicals supported Trump. Instead he argues, it was the ‘logical outcome of a long-standing evangelical approach to public life.’ An approach Fea describes as,

‘the politics of fear, the pursuit of worldly power, and a nostalgic longing for an American past.’

The relatively short  book (191 pages — hardback edition) explains those three pursuits.

Politics of Fear

As a child, I learned firsthand this element of the movement. Raised during the Cold War era, I remember as a 8 or 9-year-old child waking up from nightmares where I was facing a Communist firing squad. These dreams were fueled by our minister stating, from the pulpit, that ‘when (not if) the Russians took over’ they would ask everyone if they believed ‘Jesus was the Christ.’ Those who said yes, would be executed (but go to heaven). Those who said no would survive, but spend eternity in Hell.

Fea bypasses personal anecdotes and, instead, looks at America’s history and shows the various fears that captivate evangelicals. These fears began with an unhealthy view of Native Americans in New England — even those who converted to Christianity. The fears progress through every era of our history. Fear was behind the evangelicals support of the Know-Nothing (American) Party of the mid-1800s. Evangelicals supported the party mainly out of their fear of immigrants. Fear was drove the movement to add ‘under God’ to the pledge and our coinage. In the current era, fear was the motivating factor behind the aversion to president Barack Obama — whose progressive policies moved society at a pace that panicked evangelicals.

But, as Fea demonstrates, many of the fears have no basis in fact (like Obama being a secret Muslim). This, however, does not prevent unscrupulous politicians from exploiting the misinformation. But, it may have been the Supreme Court ruling on same-sex marriage that really galvanized evangelicals in their opposition to Obama. As Fea notes,

“Rod Dreher, an Eastern Orthodox Christian with a large evangelical following, offered a more apocalyptic response to the legalization of same-sex marriage…. Dreher echoed what many ordinary evangelicals were feeling. ‘We are living in a post-Christian nation. LBGT activists and their fellow travelers really will be coming after social conservatives…adding that believers in traditional marriages ‘are going to have to live as exiles in their own country.'”

Pursuit of Power

In this section, Fea pulls no punches concerning the inner circle of evangelicals who advise Trump. He refers to them as court evangelicals — a reference to medieval times when ‘holy men’ advised kings. As Fea notes, though, not much has changed from the medieval era since, then as now, few spoke the truth for fear of losing access to power.

Fea builds a case that Trump is using the evangelicals to pursue his own agenda. Fea quotes A. R. Bernard, who abandoned Trump after Charlottesville (2017). Bernard said the advisers had little power, noting that ‘meetings (with Trump) took place, but nothing substantive was discussed.’

But, a bigger role this advisory group has, Fea reveals, is to explain Trump’s moral failures to followers. Fea writes,

“Falwell Jr. claims that Trump called him immediately after the infamous Access Hollywood tape was released to the public… (Falwell) implied that Trump was looking to Falwell for help in smoothing things over with evangelical voters who might be disgusted by these revelations.”

Fea notes that the court evangelicals come from three sources: the Religious Right, followers of the Prosperity Gospel, and members of the Independent Network Charismatics. One minister who receives considerable space (and justifiability so) is Robert Jeffress. Jeffress encouraged Trump to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem — because of Jeffress’ belief that, in doing do, a biblical prophecy would be fulfilled.

Make America Great Again

This section opens with a discussion Fea had with a black minister — a minister that opened Fea’s eyes to the reality there is no historical place for Blacks to look back on when America was great. The current era, as bad as it is with modern-day lynching — White officers gunning down unarmed Black men without repercussion — is the best time in their history.

Fea, the historian, while acknowledging the hypocrisy of the ‘again’ statement (with regards to minorities) moves forward by skillfully breaking down the reality that there is no great era in U.S. history.

Since Trump never (by design) alludes to a specific era, Fea attempts to reconstruct from Trump’s words what era he may be referring to — and, comes to the conclusion, that many of us have, that Trump is simply referring to times when Whites were favored even more than they are today.

Fea concludes his book with an example of American Christians who built their legacy on hope, humility and history — championing it as a better way to interact in our diverse society.

Rated 4/5. This book is an excellent candidate for a weekend read. Those who practice the Christian faith will find the depth of Christian philosophy enlightening. Those who enjoy American history will find the narrative — and logic — easy to follow even if they are not familiar with the tenets of evangelicalism. Those who want ‘their country back’ will find a sliver of hope that, at least, one evangelical is pushing back against the madness.

Categories: Books I have read, Politics, Religion | 1 Comment

Tea Party Speaker Touts ‘Schools Are Liberal And Evil’ Message In My Conservative, Rural Town

Lisa Watson is a modern-day Apostle Paul.

According to Christian tradition, Paul was travelling to Damascus when a voice from heaven and a bright light interrupted the trip. The episode led to his conversion and, indirectly, to the creation of most of the New Testament.

Watson, a speaker on the Tea Party circuit, also experienced a conversion. A self-described former member of the Left, her moment of truth included a voice and new outlook on life. Something was missing in Watson’s life, she said, and one evening, she sat down to watch “I Don’t Have Enough Faith To Be An Atheist.” This is how she described the aftermath (as reported in my local newspaper).

“By the time the show is over, I’m actually lightheaded. I curled on the side of my bed dizzy. And I heard a voice. The voice said, you are being lied to. My mind is racing. I’m thinking about everything he said.”

Fiscal Conservative Gone Bad

Watson presented her views in a small, inexpensive Eaton, Ohio venue ($25 an hour). The parking lot was filled on the night she advocated for a non-government funded approach to education — schools, she envisions, being operated by preachers and unpaid volunteers. The overall theme of her message (based on the newspaper article) was ‘public schools are the enemy — because they are liberal — and they are educating your children.’

She presented this message in a county:

  • That has supported a conservative political agenda for more than a century.
  • Where, in 2016, three out of four voters chose Trump.
  • That struggles to get ‘outsiders’ to teach — or substitute teach — in their school systems.
  • Where the local branch of the community college shuttered after less than a decade of service.
  • Where 11 percent do not graduate high school
  • Where 9 percent have an associate’s degree
  • Where only 14 percent have a 4-year college degree

Despite the lack of liberals in our educational system, and because of the lack of liberals in the community, her fear-based message resonates here.

Poor Choice of Venue

In a movement that prizes frugality above all else, the low-cost of the structure may have been a deciding factor, but Watson, and her supporters, could not have picked a more inappropriate edifice for the speech.

She presented the repressive ideology inside the Eaton Youth Center, located on the corner of Decatur Street and Park Avenue. When the building was constructed by Preble County youth, from reclaimed material, in the late 1930s, it was funded by the federal government as the activist government was seeking was to give young, unemployed individuals in small communities employment, and purpose. The head of the National Youth Administration, which funded the venture, said the building project was the ‘practical expression of the belief in the democratic form of government.’ In a Sunday edition of the Cincinnati Enquirer, the director said he was ‘especially proud of the Eaton Youth Center.’

But more desecrating than an ignorance that government involvement — and not unpaid volunteers — brought about the creation of the Youth Center — is the slap in the face of Stephen Decatur.

A Real Hero

Stephen Decatur, the man the street is named for, was the epitome of bravery. He faced a true enemy — as opposed to Watson’s manufactured ones. Decatur’s enemy was not his neighbors or fellow citizens.

In 1804 Decatur, and about 80 men, were commissioned to blow up a captured American ship. It was a suicide mission since the ship was anchored in a heavily-guarded enemy harbor. They embarked on the mission at night, without guns, so they would not alert nearby ships, and engaged in bloody hand-to-hand combat, before capturing the ship, setting it on fire, and escaping with their lives. The act was instrumental is changing the tide of the Tripoli War.

Preble’s Real Problems

Decatur’s history is obscure, so I would not expect Watson, or local members of the Tea Party to know it, but local organizers do know that Decatur Street is not heroic. If Watson, or her organizers, had researched problems affecting Eaton, and Preble County, they would have known that Decatur Street is home to much of Eaton’s drug activity.

About a month after Watson spoke, police agencies in Preble County conducted a ‘drug interdiction sting’ and posted the results on Facebook. In the comment section, one resident listed a Decatur Street home, close to the venue, as a drug house. But even a cursory look through the Eaton police reports demonstrate that Decatur Street has a drug problem.

Watson is correct on one thing — our society has problems in need of solutions — but she is woefully wrong on where she is placing the blame.


Afterthought

In Preble County we could start by:

  1. Improving wages for residents
  2. Creating more affordable housing
  3. Treating chemical addiction as a mental health issue, instead of a crime
  4. Removing blight buildings
  5. Developing amenities that improve the quality of life
  6. Upgrading our infrastructure
  7. Removing echo chambers and creating a community
  8. Solving the drug issue by going after distributors, and not focusing on small-time users/dealers
  9. Having employers create careers, instead of temporary jobs, so workers can build a future here
Categories: 8th congressional district, My America, Politics, Preble County, Understanding Trump Counties

Political Sabotage Behind Redistricting Scheme

For sale signs, including $50,000 off, adorn lawn of Preble County home.

If you can only read two chapters in Ratf**cked: Why Your Vote Doesn’t Count by David Daley, start with the short chapter on Mapitude. It will give you a feel for how easy it is to manipulate our democracy. You will begin to understand what GOP operative Karl Rove knew years ago — whoever controls redistricting controls the country. Then read the chapter, Iowa, to see how competitive districts can be created allowing the best candidate to win (okay, except for Rep. Steve King, his district is the only automatic win in the state — so even Iowa has not perfected the task.).

As the book notes, the software program Maptitude comes with all the expected political Census data — which regions voted for which party — and that info is delivered at the city block level — which and when election maps are imported — it creates makes it a powerful tool. That, in and of itself, though is not new, it’s just more precise and easier to manipulate due to computer technology, but the program also includes marketing type data — similar to online tracking ads — that enable map makers to project expected voting patterns with increasing accuracy because

…you can create an index that bounds enough of the right people, in the right way, to guarantee a result throughout the decade, no matter the overall direction of the electorate. In states such as Florida, Ohio, Wisconsin, and North Carolina, partisan mapmakers used complicated indexes like this with the intention of drawing not only as many Republican seats as they could, but seats that would remain reliably Republican even in an off-year for the party.

Partisanship On Steroids

As an Ohioan whose U.S. Congressional vote has been disenfranchised, I am well aware of the downside that the unethical redistricting maps has caused. For starters, it created an environment that gave rise to the Freedom Caucus, which has at least two Ohio members (including Warren Davidson who presides over Ohio’s 8th Congressional District where I live). The Freedom Caucus does not have a reason to compromise (which the book does discuss). This unwillingness to compromise adds to the partisanship destroying Congress — at the expense of small towns like mine which are economically deprived and filled with a tainted labor pool due to our overly-aggressive approach to drug addiction. No solutions exist at the local level and no help is offered from the state or federal level. So small communities, like Eaton, Ohio, falter while Davidson and Freedom Caucus members push an anti-safety net agenda in line with what groups like Club for Growth want instead of what constituents need.

Controlling Swing States

Although courts are now pushing back against the partisan gerrymandering, the average voter fails to understand that political operatives have more power than them. These operatives seek ways to manipulate the system to keep their party in power. The book looks at some of the key states where gerrymandering has impacted the nation. These include:

  • Pennsylvania
  • North Carolina
  • Michigan
  • Ohio
  • Florida
  • Wisconsin
  • Arizona

Daley dedicates a chapter to each of the states, interviewing and reporting on the key mapmakers in each. Of course, this could become very dry material so he mixes it up with non-state chapters.

Even though gerrymandering is not a subject most Americans care to study, the book is written in laymen terms so the casual reader can understand how it eliminates their vote. For political operatives, the American voting system is just a game of chess, complete with intense, well-thought out strategies, to control the process. The end result, when the system is not seen as fair, is a disinterested public manipulated into accepting a party’s agenda, even when the agenda does not represent what the majority of Americans want.

Ohio is a fairly evenly divided state — which is why we are considered a swing state — but, due to gerrymandering, 12 of our 16 U.S. Congressmen are GOP. And, as the book points out, when the 2010 redistricting campaign was underway in Ohio, the GOP worked hard to keep the public out of the process. Ohio state representative Kathleen Clyde, a Democrat currently campaigning for Ohio Secretary of State, interviewed in the book, comments on how the map-drawing process was handled in Ohio. Clyde notes two tactics used by the GOP, the majority party in state offices, in 2010.

  • scheduling public meetings during working hours
  • conducting meetings without any proposed redistricting maps for the public to view.

Clyde explains,

They do that on purpose, too. Chaos, confusion, trying to make government look incompetent. It’s a very cynical approach designed to keep people from having faith in their government and wanting to participate in the electoral process. When less people turn out, Republicans do better. Especially in Ohio.

REDMAP 101

For non-political junkies, the 2010 GOP REDMAP strategy may come as a surprise which, again, is to be expected due to the complicated nature of Congressional districts. Since the book is critiquing the tactic, many of the counterarguments provided are from left-leaning individuals who feel a representative democracy should, well, be representative of the population.

As Mark Sailing, resident fellow at Cleveland State University’s Levin College of Affairs, notes a level of hypocrisy from those who believe in limited government interference.

People on the right complain about big government taking away our rights. Yet the most fundamental right of a democracy, the right to have your vote count, these same people don’t seem to be worried about it. It strikes me as insane.

The Term

In order to make the book more publically accessible asterisks were used in the title. Ratfuck is a Washington D.C. term for political sabotage. If one watches shows like Veep, they learn that D.C. is filled with people who love to use a lot of ‘colorful metaphors.’

Rating 5/5. This is an excellent, easy-to-read, primer on gerrymandering and why, due to technological advances, gerrymandering is a legitimate threat to democracy.

Categories: 8th congressional district, My America, Politics