In defense of (some) Trump supporters

Supporters of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump yell at reporters as they arrive for a campaign rally, Thursday, Oct. 13, 2016, in Cincinnati, Ohio. (AP Photo/ Evan Vucci)

You may think me nuts, but there are a few things we need to know in order to better understand the cultural complaints of the people who put Donald Trump into office in 2016. Democrats especially need to consider these five points, for the stakes in November couldn’t be higher. I know there’s a lot of craziness within Trump’s coalition (I wrote a book about part of it), but I’m talking about a group of people who had fair reason to want a change and for their voice to be heard. These people cannot simply be dismissed as ignorant, racist, xenophobic, extremist, or just plain wrong. It’s useful to think of their vote as a reaction to culture and not one driven by a grand manipulator, for each of these things really does have reasonable, fair, and debatable opposition.

  1. Instead of getting caught up in argumentative discourse about America being a Christian nation, why not instead examine the matter of a unilateral shift from BC/AD to BCE/CE? This is a serious matter, for heartland people – most of them Christian – weren’t consulted when academia decided that we’d be better served as a people by removing the inconvenient history of Christianity’s influence on the basic reference to historical eras. To these honest, well-intentioned, and hard-working people, it’s an attempt to remove their influence in the matters of the day by altering history books.
  2. To white people in middle America, the “Urban” culture – with its music, entertainment, and use of foul language – triggers their fear of the unknown. So foreign is so-called “Gangsta Rap,” for example, that it assaults their sensibilities, and the Top-40 is increasingly unrecognizable to them. This is a concern, because music and the arts are gateway drugs to the teenage mind, and when popularity dictates emulation, parents react. “Motherfucker,” George Carlin taught us, is a word of aggression, and white parents raised on modesty and gentleness aren’t likely to be amused. This is not per se racism – at least I don’t think it is – although it may feel that way to the creators of the media, who, if they were honest, would likely admit they aren’t really targeting this particular audience in the first place.
  3. To the slower-paced, solid foundation, self-sufficient people of the heartland, the world of political correctness is illogical and unnecessarily disruptive. The idea that the speaker is responsible for offending the listener and therefore must control her language or provide “trigger warnings” is foolish, because it seems to run in only one direction. Everyone else can be offended, it seems, except them, and this smacks of outside manipulation. Moreover, they’re not especially fond of paying a fortune to send their children away to institutions of higher learning where the schools cow-tow to the demands of students wanting “safe” spaces.
  4. A core value of heartland folks is that one must play the game of life with the hand we are dealt, like all of nature must. This is what mystifies so many when it comes to sexual relations, sexual preferences, and especially decisions by others to change their sexual assignment. Again, they look to their history and to nature and feel their wisdom in such matters is ridiculed without justification and that the culture is moving away from them without their consent. They don’t so much mind this for others, but they fear its presence may one day find its way into their own homes. Frankly, it’s okay for them to feel terrified.
  5. Finally, in all cultural matters, heartlanders feel they are automatically and pejoratively labeled intolerant unless they give their tacit approval to the constant and rapid changes coming from the progressive community. This is used as a hammer to bludgeon them into acceptance. It’s one thing, they feel, to argue over such extreme views but another entirely to simply initiate change unilaterally. To them, this leaves the bitter taste of conspiracy, and as long as this is the method used by people wanting change, they will withhold their blessing until given the chance of legitimate participation in the discussion.

We are all often fooled by the assumptions we make, and there’s a real opportunity here to accept our differences and talk about compromises. It’s always been and always will be a two-way street, although Trump’s top negotiation method, we’re learning, is to strip his opponents of their resources in order to get exactly what he wants and only what he wants. Just ask the Palestinians.

While I identify more with the progressive side of culture, I think it’s a great sickness to view life as either/or, black and white, all or nothing, right or wrong, etc. This is the problem with labels and pigeon holes, and it’s something “we the people” must resist as we embrace postmodern living. It’s beyond foolish; it’s just plain stupid to look at only extremes when assessing relationships. It’s lazy, sloppy thinking, and it puts us on a playing field where defense is the only weapon.

We can do better than that. We simply must, because what other choice do we have? Really?

The CBN formula that didn’t work

In the wake of Roy Moore’s defeat in the Alabama Senate race, I’ve been thinking a lot about one of the foundational documents we used at CBN in developing and fine-tuning processes and systems in the creation of the daily 700 Club program. It’s referenced in my book, The Gospel of Self: How Jesus Joined the GOP -a research project by George Gallup – one of Pat Robertson’s dear friends – into the perceptions of Evangelical Christians by the America public. This would have been around 1980. I wasn’t there for the actual research, but I inherited the results as an outline of what needed to be incorporated into the program. One of our unspoken missions was to change this perspective, and we gave it our best shot.

The research painted a dismal picture of American attitudes and perceptions about Christians. If we were to recruit new followers of Christ through television, we were going to have to shift these attitudes away from the pejorative and to the desirable. It wasn’t easy, but we felt it was doable with a razor sharp focus on attention to detail when it came to those perceptions. People thought Christians were overweight, so we presented mostly fit and attractive people. They thought Christians were old, so we presented young. Same with Bible-thumping, ignorant, rural, and polyester-wearing. We chose questions & answers, educated, urban, and well-dressed. Christian women were submissive and dowdy. We focused on empowered and fashionable. We deliberately and constantly emphasized people who didn’t fit the stereotypes felt by the average American. Whenever we pursued a testimony story for the program, for example, the first order of business was a photograph of the person giving the testimony. This focus became second nature, and our internal membership data strongly suggested we were on the right path.

Then came the televangelist scandals of the 1980s, which slammed a door on what had been perceived as a revival in the church. Oral Roberts told his viewers that God was going to “take him home,” if he didn’t raise $9 million by Friday. Jim Bakker got caught with his pants down with a staffer, and Jimmy Swaggart got caught in sleazy motel rooms with sleazy prostitutes. We had no scandal, but our coffers were profoundly impacted by all this mischief. And who do you think were the ones who gave up on us the most? That’s right, those intelligent, educated, well-dressed, curious, and slim newbies.

Fast forward to today, and the irony is that we now have Donald Trump as President, with 80 percent of Evangelicals giving him their votes. One of the most puzzling questions about the election is how anybody with serious thinking chops could have been persuaded to vote for a guy who represents everything they hate. A salesman. A man who bends the truth to his own liking. A rich flimflam man. Could it be there’s more to these stereotypes than we’d like to think? In the rejection of Roy Moore last month, the voters of Alabama took a stand against those stereotypes we fought against so long ago. The public animosity towards what are viewed as hypocritical bigots with Bibles and bellies is back in full force, and I have to admit that I’m kind of happy about that. I’d love to see George Gallup repeat that study today, for I suspect the results would be even stronger than ever.

Perhaps this will be enough to get us out of this awful pit into which we’ve fallen.

The Remarkable Victory of Doug Jones

It was a heady night of poll-watching here in Alabama, and most of the world is rightly rejoicing over the stunning upset by Doug Jones in the U.S. Senate race. As one of the people who helped write the script in the early 1980s that defines modern Republican strategy, I’ve been especially sensitive to this particular election, and I breathed a deep sigh of relief before bedtime last night.

The analysis has already begun and will continue through next year’s midterm elections and beyond. While most observers are rightly looking at Roy Moore’s creepy past with young girls, it would be a serious mistake to chalk this event up entirely to that, for Doug Jones ran a brilliant campaign. With a well-funded PAC relentlessly pursuing character issues stemming mostly from Moore’s history as a home town district attorney in the late 70s and early 80s, Jones was free to take a high road in ads he “approved.”

These ads pressed three factors that spoke to Alabamians and, frankly, made for an almost perfect foil for the unusually-quiet Judge Moore. One, Jones calmly refuted the lies about him coming from hysterical right-wingers. He refused to be defensive, instead, he revealed a certain toughness in setting the record straight. Two, he directly talked about his own character, including the facts that he was a Christian and a supporter of the NRA. Three, he talked about his record, which is really quite remarkable and included prosecuting the Olympic bomber and the people responsible for setting fire to a black church in which four young girls were killed.

The combination of these three tactics presented Doug Jones as not only qualified but also as a good Alabama guy, not the Northeastern liberal that the Republicans accused him of being. Roy Moore came off almost cartoonish, while Doug Jones appeared smart, rational, and calm while still appealing to his good old boy nature.

The final two factors in this Christmas gift are perhaps the biggest of all. The first is the realization of enough people – write-in or not – thought what Judge Moore represented wasn’t Alabama but a self-righteous attack on the Godly people of this state who don’t march in lockstep with the white nationalist goals of religious fundamentalism. Oh, I’m sure that Roy Moore would be our senator this morning were it not for a past with underage girls (that he refused to talk about), but I’m equally sure that people here were absolutely sick-to-death of propaganda coming from those who only view senate seats as a means to manipulative and destructive ends. This is very much a response to Donald Trump but even more so a GOP whose interests so clearly don’t represent the people of this state whatsoever. This spells trouble for the assumption that’s been driving the Republican Party since Vietnam. States are not pawns that deliver to fat cats what they want for selfish gain.

The second non-candidate related factor was the whiny and condescending noise from Evangelical Christians who put their own witness on the line in harping for Roy Moore despite his obvious character issues. This, I”m afraid, is going to leave a permanent mark, for it invalidates the witness of these Evangelicals who just knew that God was voting for Judge Moore. The Johnny One Note nonsense that candidates like Doug Jones approve of abortion right up until birth – a.k.a. “late stage” – belongs on the ash pile of early Twenty-First Century propaganda. One hopes this will add weight to the bullshit that sits atop the Fox News building that threatens collapse.

A vote for Doug Jones yesterday, therefore, was a vote for sanity and common sense. At my polling place, there was a quiet resolve in the air as a bigger than expected crowd stood in one, two, and then three lines to get to an actual ballot. As I looked around, I saw a multicultural representation of the state, polite and loving people, and the no nonsense look of folks with a job to do. To me, upset was in the air at that place. It was a tactile reflection of the hearts of good people who were saying, “Enough!” I walked out into the cold air and was quite sure that it was going to be closer than most expected.

Okay, America. We’ve done our part. Now it’s your turn.

Is Christianity Under Attack? Well, yes and no!

The better question, perhaps, is “should” Christianity be under attack?

My granddaughter’s class Christmas concert 2017

I was fortunate to attend my five-year old granddaughter’s Christmas program at school this week. The place was packed with proud parents and grandparents watching cute little kids sing Christmas carols from a stage. It’s a big deal for them and a shot of seasonal love for us. Of course, it was very much Christmas, for Alina attends a pre-school program at a Baptist Church, and we’ve been very happy to have had her there. Soon it will be Kindergarten, and things will change.

One of the songs they sang was the old standard, Joy To The World (The Lord Is Come). My mind went immediately to something I’d seen on TV the other night, a holiday ad for Big Lots that used the old Three Dog Night hit, Joy To The World. The ad was all smiles and happiness with gifts, decorations, and a Christmas Tree. The theme was “share the joy with Big Lots.” I mean, it was a nice ad, but the use of an old rock & roll classic to reference the joy of the holiday – and make no mistake, this was a house celebrating Christmas – says a lot about our culture, where we’ve been, and likely where we’re headed. It also speaks to the disconnect between Madison Avenue and the people who caused such an upset in last year’s presidential election.

That’s because one of the most powerful motivators of the Evangelicals who support Donald Trump without question is the heartfelt belief that the Christian faith is under attack in our current culture. So persecuted are Evangelical Christians by a rotting culture, the thinking goes, that we need to fight back with everything we’ve got politically, rather than just give the nation over to the devil by saying nothing. During his campaign, the President assured a drooling Christian right that “We’re gonna bring it back,” “We’re gonna protect Christianity,” and that “Christianity will have power if I’m president.”

This issue of whether Christianity is under attack is complex and difficult to understand on every level. The parties involved have obviously differing views, but the arguments never really take place in the same contextual frame. It’s like competitors playing the same game in different arenas, never really meeting each other face-to-face. One side argues that America was created as a Christian nation by Christians who came here to colonize in Jesus name, while the other side argues that such a belief is irrelevant in modern times, because humankind has come such a long way in the last few centuries. One is a spiritual argument; the other is an argument of the mind. One touts Holy Scripture, while the other relies on education and knowledge. One is upstream with the saints of old; the other is downstream in a hundred tributaries. One believes the Bible is a “living document” while the other sees a certain anti-progressive rigidity in a set of archaic rules. One claims to argue faith; the other claims to argue logic.

Any reasonable, objective study of early American history makes a convincing case that Christianity was so enmeshed in daily life at the time that one must conclude its governance and institutions bore the mark of the cross. Arguing against this requires changing history, although there’s no real reason to do so. When English speaking people landed at Cape Henry Virginia in 1607, their very first act was to plant a cross and claim the land on behalf of their Savior. Any fair reading of early documents – including those of the Founding Fathers – can only be done using the language of the time, because the meanings of key words have changed over time. That means one must use the dictionaries of the era, Samuel Johnson’s classic of 1755 and Webster’s of 1828. When that is done, it takes considerable manipulation to conclude anything other than the truth of the claim that Christianity played a significant role in the formation of the U.S. It didn’t need to be specifically spelled out, because it was assumed at the time. This in no way means America was birthed as a theocracy, but rather a country based on the belief that government “of the people, by the people, and for the people” meant that those same people were already self-governed through their faith. After all, it was John Wycliffe who first uttered the phrase when, upon completion of the first common English language translation of the Bible, he said, “This book shall make possible government of the people, by the people, and for the people.” This is why those same founding fathers saw the need to include the establishment clause in the First Amendment. No single representation of God could never rule a people educated in the truths of the Bible.

As the country has become more secularized, therefore, it’s pretty simple to understand the angst being expressed by certain Christians when, for example, academia and the government unilaterally decided that our most basic calendar headings had to be changed from BC (Before Christ) and AD (Anno Domini – year of our Lord) to BCE (Before Common Era) and CE (Common Era). There was no debate. No hearings. No input from others whatsoever. Suddenly, textbooks that our children used to study everything were printed using only BCE and CE, and all devout Christians could do was to loudly cry, “foul.” There are also the matters of School Prayer, the Ten Commandments, and the personal politics of gender. Is there a battle underway for the soul of the West? Isn’t it pretty obvious?

Google N’gram chart showing use of CBE in books over the years.

So one must conclude that the Christians are right on both counts: That the U.S. was planted and grew with Christianity at its core, and that there has been an attempt – conscious or otherwise – to remove that core from modern culture. However, none of this ends the argument, for there are a great many other cultural considerations to be weighed. Like most things in life, this is not black and white, and the strict Christian Nation crowd deserves its own blame for gutting the fatted calf it now wishes to protect. Besides, the more important matter is that even if we agree that this was birthed as a Christian Nation, what are we to do about it today? The wise answer is nothing.

Christianity is so divided into subsets that no one speaks on behalf of the whole. It’s just not possible. Each denomination makes a case why theirs is the path to righteousness and an afterlife in heaven. Therefore, there really is no such thing as the “Christian perspective” we used to espouse back in my days at The 700 Club. Is that the Catholic perspective or the Protestant perspective? Is it premillennial or postmillennial? Is it pentecostal or reformed? Is it liberal or conservative? Black or white? Judeo-Christian or just Christian. You can see the conflict, which is why the establishment clause is there.

Therefore, by self-division alone, Christianity has lost its influence on the culture, and the voice that’s complaining the loudest is the one that has the money and the resources to be heard, the Evangelicals, eighty-one percent of whom voted for Donald Trump in the last election. And so Evangelical Christianity is the branch that is trying to drag us all in the direction of the theocracy the founders hoped to avoid. This is the group who has joined forces with the Republican Party to “make” things happen that benefit their congregations and their point-of-view. God apparently doesn’t need our faith alone; He wants us to be a powerful political voice as well. This is the group that wants a war with Islam, because it leads to their one thousand years of glory in the name of Jesus. This is the group that needs Republican leadership in Washington to keep them tax free and thriving, so they can recruit support from the mountain top of the one percent. This is the group that wants their prayer to be in public schools, their self-centered gospel to govern programs for the poor, their self-righteousness to dominate human hearts when it comes to personal medical or relationship decisions, their way of life to be the norm and to frame the melting pot, their comfort to be the guiding light regarding who we allow into the pot in the first place, and their music, film, books, and art to be the only choice for all.

As my friend Jeff Jarvis said, “Sharia Law? That’s nothing compared to Armageddon.”

If there is but one truth about this particular group of Christians that should make us all wary, it is this: they will never be satisfied with just one victory in the culture wars. You can take that to the bank, and it represents the only tape that must be played out to the end for us to realize that – as a self-governing people – we cannot and must not let our guard down. The history of humankind is littered with the tragedies of those who fell for idolatry, the promise of magic, and the fallibility of human nature. You want civil rights rolled back? Say nothing. Do nothing today. You want women to return to the status of chattel? Say nothing. Do nothing today. You want slavery brought back? Say nothing. Do nothing today. You want corporal punishment in the public square? Say nothing. Do nothing today. You want a culture dominated by fascist fear and bayonets? Say nothing. Do nothing today.

Finally, from an historical perspective, there’s a great difference between a culture being overthrown and one that self-destructs, which is what’s really happening here. If, as the Evangelicals insist, they were the ones who built this country – and there’s considerable evidence to support that view – then its collapse must be birthed in the same womb. You cannot claim leadership for the one without responsibility for the other. This is the major blindspot of those who argue that the devil or the liberals or the communists or members of any other group are at fault. Therefore, positing that Christianity itself is the victim here is utterly self-serving, and it’s also useless in trying to do anything about the evils around us. A slipping culture needs no outside help, if the ruling class within that culture cannot or will not accept responsibility for the slippage.

The ruling class in America today, we must now conclude, includes certain powerful and vocal elements from within the entire Judeo-Christian Western hegemony. The nobility of yesterday has been replaced by panting thieves for whom license is the desire demanding to be fed. Thinking has been replaced by a mindlessness not found among past generations, who survived and even thrived despite having to solve real problems like slavery, sickness, world wars, and the rights of individuals.

Those past generations wouldn’t recognize the Christianity that’s “under attack” today.

The Religion of Conservative News

I met a woman this year who has the gift of personal prophecy. By that I mean that she’s genuinely very sensitive and able to offer wisdom and encouragement to people who benefit deeply from her words. We can argue over whether this is a real spiritual gift or whether she’s just good at reading people, but to me, it doesn’t matter, for both are the same thing. There’s no doubt that certain fundamentalists have taken this idea and used it for foolishness, but as a sensitive person myself, I can confirm that “reading” others isn’t a form of magic, nor is it all that unique. One can’t brag of specialness for self-centered purposes when such insight is spread around to many.

Nevertheless, a lot of gifted people simply keep their mouths shut, and this woman is a bit different in that sense. Rather than sharing publicly, however, she usually shares her thoughts only with the person to whom they’re intended. I like that. There’s a genuineness to it, and I respect her for that.

She’s very much a loving Christian and often provides uplifting posts on Facebook, but she also has a significant blindspot. She spreads false information about politics based on fake news sources that she consumes with regularity. When I pointed out to her recently that she was actually “bearing false witness” on one particular piece of delicious clickbait, she got angry and basically told me to keep my mouth shut. Fair enough, although I regrettably have no filter when it comes to such, so I’ve been known to really piss people off. I used to care, but I guess I just don’t anymore.

She actually pulled the post after a few days, and I appreciate that. We really don’t need stuff like that influencing others.

This woman is part of a large group of conservative Christians who struggle with my book, The Gospel of Self, How Jesus Joined The GOP, because they don’t like my position on so-called conservative news. I believe it’s propaganda, and I should know, since I was one of the people who helped create it. A full fifteen years before Fox News, there was The 700 Club and CBN News. We wrote the book on conservative propaganda as news, so any argument that attempts to validate it as real news isn’t really worth having. It’s a chasing of the wind, but it does reveal how far off the mark many of these Evangelicals have drifted. They honestly believe that the mainstream press openly supports a liberal agenda for the country and is their arch enemy in the flesh. They seem incapable of reason when it comes to certain things, and this is one of them.

Kaitlyn Scheiss

Some observers are beginning to see the ritual of nightly consuming Fox News as a solemn rite of worship, an idolatry so deceptive that it’s impacted most of Evangelical Christianity. Dallas Theological Seminary graduate student Kaitlyn Schiess offered such insight in an excellent New York Times article, How to Escape From Roy Moore’s Evangelicalism. It came in a discussion of Evangelicals leaping to the defense of Roy Moore, despite the nature and degree of his history with young girls and allegations of sexual contact.

To Ms. Schiess, this is one more sign that a new ritual has superseded Sunday worship and weeknight Bible studies: a profane devotional practice, with immense power to shape evangelicals’ beliefs. This “liturgy” is the nightly consumption of conservative cable news. Liberals love to complain about conservatives’ steady diet of misinformation through partisan media, but Ms. Schiess’s complaint is more profound: Sean Hannity and Tucker Carlson aren’t just purveyors of distorted news, but high priests of a false religion.

“The reason Fox News is so formative is that it’s this repetitive, almost ritualistic thing that people do every night,” Ms. Schiess told me. “It forms in them particular fears and desires, an idea of America. This is convincing on a less than logical level, and the church is not communicating to them in that same way.”

This is a brilliant deduction, and I can verify that the devotion expressed by people such as my friend above borders on brainwashing, because it oversteps facts, truth, and logical thinking en route to its fallacious conclusions. Why not view it as a form of worship? After all, that’s what we did at The 700 Club. Here was a Christian talk show featuring Christian guests, Christian themes, and Christian prayers that was a bonafide substitution for church in the early days of the televangelist movement. When we began to weave news coverage into the mix, there was little question in our presentation that it was as much a part of being a Christian as prayer. When Fox News came into being in 1996, conservatives had already been nurtured and convinced of its necessity and its vision. We did that, and the worse thing we did was to believe our own hype. Pat Robertson is so lost today that he can’t separate the faith from his politics, and he’s still among the top influencers when it comes to the agenda of Evangelicals and the Republican Party.

God is judging this version of the church today, and I’m beginning to hear arguments to this effect from voices other than my own. We need to repent and turn from this wickedness, or the church has little hope for tomorrow. We steadfastly blame others – like those dirty liberals – for the sad state of our nation and the world today, when we should be examining our own hearts.

Ever evangelizing, we shake our fists up at those walking by, as we travel along the flow of the gutter toward the awaiting sewer. “Curse you, World,” is our cry. “You’re all going to hellllllllllllllll.”

A Huffington Post reject on sexual harassment

Today, I’m publishing a somewhat tweaked version of the piece I wrote for The Huffington Post a couple of weeks ago that they chose not to publish. The reasons I was given were “the assumption of pathology and the discussion of victims’ responses and clothing choices, among other things.” I promised I would publish the piece here, so that you could judge for yourselves.

It’s already public knowledge that I’m an addict in recovery, and it’s my experience in working on my own bad habits that brings me to publish this. My single purpose in so doing is to raise awareness about a part of human life that people would – for whatever reason – choose to rather not know about. I don’t see how that does anybody any good, especially in the area of human relations known as sexuality. Besides, I’m an old man now and care much less about what people think of me than I once used to. Here’s the link:

Advice from a former serial sexual predator: In the Era of Harvey Weinstein, Break the Predator’s Fantasy!