Five thoughts about a conservative court

The President’s selection of Brett Kavanaugh to replace retiring Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy is getting the expected party line reactions this morning. Conservatives think it’s great. Liberals think it sucks, and so it goes. As one of the insiders who helped Pat Robertson shape his presentation of right wing news, I know well not only the religious zeal behind the conservative perspective but also what will come next. As usual, I have a few opinions.

One, the conservative majority that a Kavanaugh approval will make is built on an immoral and unethical foundation, and it will have consequences. Life will tolerate cultural manipulation only so long. This is not the will of the people, although that’s how it’s going to be presented. It’s the will of those who blocked the nomination of Merrick Garland by Barack Obama in 2016, those who also represent the 1%. Christian conservatives think it’s all about moral issues like abortion, the Ten Commandments, and school prayer, but a conservative court is more so a pro‐corporation court. Folks, it’s always and always about the money.

Two, as a consequence of number one above, the kerfuffle about possibly overturning Roe v Wade is a productive sideshow for those occupying 1% status. Everything that the World War II generation and before fought to accomplish in the work force and socially will be shoved aside, in effect, granting license to corporations to do as they please in the generation of profit. How easily people forget, for example, that the entitlement of weekends is a gift of U.S. labor efforts in Congress and the White House. “Oh, Terry, they’ll never do away with weekends.” Really? Where’s the governor that will prevent it?

Three, assuming the sideshow produces fruit for Christian conservatives, Roe v Wade is only the beginning. There’s also pornography, school prayer and display of the Ten Commandments that need, um, “correcting” in the establishment of a Christian nation. And, let’s not be fools. Abortion isn’t about innocent babies losing their lives anyway; it’s about the act that created the unwanted baby in the first place. In this area, there is no end to the mischief that can be generated by a 5–4 or 6–3 conservative court.

Four, as a consequence to numbers two and three, the court will have to invade the institution of MEDICINE in order to make illegal what is at core a MEDICAL decision between doctor and patient. This precedent would have profound implications for the future, especially in the area of genetics and even its study. Think it can’t happen? We’ve already had the government take pain relief out of the hands of doctors and put it into the law and order category. A conservative court would also most certainly put caps on lawsuits against doctors were it not for the fact that our legislative branch is filled with trial lawyers.

Five, conservatives are all about order and the ability to manage it. It’s the top personality trait of conservatives, so look for a series of cases that present opposition as chaotic or without order. The arts, for example, will always lose out to law enforcement or the military in a zero sum, order‐dominant atmosphere.

As I wrote earlier, the fascinating thing about this to me is the misuse of the “strict Constitutionalist” litmus test for conservative nominees, which is based on the view that the Constitution never considered laws being created by Supreme Court rulings. This is the judicial branch’s method of creating law, which according to the Constitution, is reserved for the legislative branch. It’s the result of judicial precedent, something we hear about all the time in our crime dramas on TV. In the conservative legal hierarchy, judges are supposed to decide the merits of individual cases, not actually make law that will impact decisions in subsequent cases. Pat Robertson hammered this concept home in program after program in attempts to help God fix what was wrong with the Supreme Court. However, this, it turns out, is not the case when it comes to decisions that leave conservative results, for then it’s all right for judges to “legislate from the bench.” Who knew?

If all this continues, one day we’re going to have to look at how the Supreme Court is formed. If it is the political instrument that both sides seem to think it is, that’s going to have to be changed. Perhaps we should elect four liberals, four conservatives, and one swing vote. That would require a Constitutional Amendment, so the likelihood is not good.

Sigh.

Jerusalem: Solomon’s Temple is Next

The Dome of the Rock with the Al Aqsa Mosque

There’s no need to rant on today about the U.S. opening its embassy in Israel to Jerusalem. I’ve said all I can say about the foolishness of this policy change. Instead, I want to talk about a warning I published last year in the Huffington Post, for now that we’ve declared Jerusalem to be the Capital of Israel, next up is the destruction of the Al Aqsa Mosque and replacing it with a new Jewish temple on the location. News organizations will miss this, because that’s what they do in covering Israel, but it will not escape the thoughts of the evangelical far right who’ve been highly supportive of President Trump’s moving of the embassy.

The one thing certain about the embassy move is that it will increase the tension in the area, which these Christians view quietly as a good thing, because they believe it will hasten the return of Jesus. The more this view resonates with the mainstream of contemporary life in the United States, the greater the risk of all‐out war — Armageddon — in the Middle East. And, every good and white evangelical knows how this will end. Or do they?

Chuck Colson nailed this conflict beautifully in the prologue of his book Kingdoms in Conflict (now God & Government). It’s a brilliant 30‐page work of fiction from a man with deep knowledge of the inner workings of the White House. You can read the whole thing via the “Look Inside” link on Amazon. Here’s my summary, plus the pivotal scene.

The story is about an evangelical President of the United States who must make a decision about intervening as Israeli right‐wingers begin to take over the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. In Colson’s story, President Shelby Hopkins is a Southern Baptist with roots in the far right of the party. As events begin to unfold, Colson describes a hastily called meeting with key members of Hopkins’ cabinet, including the Chief of Staff, the Secretaries of State and Defense, the Attorney General, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the national security advisor. His knowledge of the White House and how things work within make for a very real atmosphere of tension in the room.

The Soviet army had invaded Iran and now came word that a small Jewish sect known as Tehiya led by the radical Yosef Tzuria who believed God had given all of the Holy Land to the Zionists. His “plan” was to blow up the Dome of the Rock and rebuild the temple of Solomon in its place. At the meeting, after discussions among the gathered about how destruction of the Dome of the Rock would mean war, the president, who had been silent until this point in Colson’s story, says in reference to providence, “Gentlemen, we must keep in mind the very real possibility that this situation is beyond us all.” The fictional president is suggesting that God Almighty is directing the path of humanity in this, and it throws a monkey wrench into conventional thinking about the conflict specifically and international relations in general. He refuses to act.

His staff, therefore, secretly initiates a plan without the president’s knowledge to send Marines to Jerusalem to protect the Dome of the Rock. It’s seen as an action against our greatest ally, Israel, and when he learns of the plan, it troubles the president deeply. The action was based on intelligence suggesting that Tehiya was about to take over the Israeli government, which would make matters much worse. The staff tries to bring the president to understand the necessity of action, but he responds to his close friend and Chief of Staff Larry Parrish, “You know, Larry, I can’t help thinking—this really could be the time. The generation that saw the Jews return to their homeland is about to pass. It almost has to happen soon. All that is left is for the Temple to be built. That’s the last big sign before—.”

In a private discussion, the President and his Chief of Staff talk about the history they’re about to make:

“Larry, don’t ‘yessir’ me. Say what’s on your mind.”

“I don’t know what’s on my mind, Mr. President. Frankly, sir, you’re scaring me to death.”

“You mean that, don’t you, Larry?” The president stood, half turned away, then whirled back to face him, “I didn’t think anything could ruffle you. Tell me why.”

“I don’t know how to explain it, if you can’t see it for yourself, sir.” Parrish replied. “You’re responsible for hundreds of millions of lives, including mine, including my wife and kids. And you seem to be guiding us by some obscure, kooky theory about the end of the world.”

“What if that obscure, kooky theory happens to be true?”

“I’m happy to leave that decision up to God. The end of the world is His business. Our business here in the White House is to prevent the end of the world.”

“Well, according to my theology, Larry, the end of the world — “

Parrish interrupted, something he never would have done had he not been deeply distressed. “Your theology is irrelevant right now! You weren’t elected to be the nation’s theologian.”

The staff convinces the President to send a harsh letter to Israeli Prime Minister Moshe Arens, but Hopkins refuses to bully the man. They then receive word that Prime Minister Arens and Tehiya’s Tzuria have reached an agreement. Larry Parrish addresses the President:

“They (the American people) trust you. You can’t betray them.”

“But I only avoid that if I keep trust with God.”

“Then keep us out of a war! Surely God did not put you here to cheer on the Israelis while they blunder into World War Three. Harrell has information that Tzuria and Arens have reached an agreement. If we don’t stop them with our marines, they’ll destroy the mosque, probably within the next twenty‐four hours. We have to move militarily or there’ll be war.”

“No,” Hopkins said vehemently. “I will not lift a hand against God’s chosen people.”

In the end, the Israeli’s destroy the Temple Mount, and the White House seems incapable of unity on a response. It is a helpless scenario, and Colson just leaves us there to contemplate the enormity and chaos of it all.

This entire story was Chuck Colson’s way of warning us that it would be extremely dangerous for an Evangelical with a prophetic, apocalyptic perspective on world events to be in the White House. While Donald Trump himself isn’t such a man, he is certainly surrounded by such. The Christian “leaders” who met, “laid hands on,” and prayed with President Trump are generally of the same mind, as noted by Vox Magazine:

“By appealing not just to his evangelical base but to a theological, even apocalyptic reading of history, and Trump’s role in it, Trump is not merely legitimizing alternative facts but, more dangerously, writing alternative sacred history. He is cast a religious martyr, or someone who, though assailed on (in their view, bogus) legal or circumstantial grounds will be vindicated through divine favor.”

Colson’s 30‐year old book is excellent, but that prologue is chilling, because we’re witnessing events in a highly right‐wing Israel today that are eerily similar. It’s a time in history when we MUST pay close attention to everything and without the view that Israel can do no wrong. The U.S. provides the Netanyahu government with $10 million in aid every single day, and despite our wishes to the contrary, Israel continues forcing its aggressive settlement plans in the West Bank.

Trust me on this. Solomon’s Temple is next.

What the white Evangelicals really want

U.S. News & World Report photo

It’s all about abortion. Everything we’re witnessing with the Presidency of Donald Trump and his fervent — almost fanatical — support from white Evangelicals is, in the end, about abortion. You can add prayer in schools and display of the Ten Commandments, but the biggie is abortion. These issues have in common one thing — they became issues due to Supreme Court rulings — and the possibility of “fixing” these decisions through a more conservative Supreme Court is what allows certain Christians to look the other way through everything else about Trump, his character, and his dictatorial management of the government.

The “think” is that God put Trump in office, so that decades of cultural shifting to the left can be corrected. It’s a trap, an illusion seized by perhaps well‐intended and exasperated people who long for what they think were better days. In their zeal to this end, they’ve become pawns in a bait and switch effort by the haves to seize the moment for themselves.

Here’s a simple description of what the (mostly white) Evangelicals want from a very good BBC report on the matter:

For decades the US Supreme Court — America’s highest legal authority — has been finely politically balanced. “The Nine” include four liberal voices, four conservatives, and one swing vote.

The idea, of course, is that changing the ideology of the high court will change the culture for at least a generation, but this is a very deceptive perspective. That’s because the underlying issue is the concept of case law, where legal precedents established through court decisions actually become law. Conservatives like to use the phrase “strict Constitutionalist” as a litmus test for court appointees. It’s a euphemism for “legislators make laws, not judges,” and while an argument can be made that case law isn’t in the U.S. Constitution, it doesn’t follow that our judicial system will ever rule against the idea that precedent is a factor in the judging of cases. And as long as our legislative bodies are dominated by lawyers, it’s nearly impossible to achieve any change through legislation. A conservative lawyer, after all, is still a lawyer. Never forget that.

Another phrase that conservatives use is “legislating from the bench,” which is just another way of saying the judicial system should not be “making” law. Wash. Rinse. Repeat.

So, if judges shouldn’t be making law through precedent, what is their alternative? I got a deep education on this from Pat Robertson and the faculty of CBN University’s law school during my time as producer of The 700 Club in the 1980s. The alternative is that courts only make rulings on the individual cases before them and that no precedent ruling can be considered. Verdicts are decided on the merits of the case, period. If the issue is so important as to require the creation of law, then that is a matter for our legislative bodies, for they are our elected representatives, according to the Constitution.

However — and here’s where it gets a little nuts — if this is the basis for their argument, then why the need to shift the ideology of the court? After all, if rulings are limited only to the cases before them, then why worry about their ideological make‐up influencing culture? Could it be that abortion is merely an emotional appeal for conservatives who wish really to influence culture on behalf of their true beneficiaries, the haves who control everything in the first place? Donald Trump has not influenced the outcomes of the high court, but he certainly has done well for the billionaires who dwell in the high places.

Nathaniel Rachman of the Oxford student paper, OxStu, published an insightful piece with the headline “The spectre of a conservative Supreme Court is a fantasy,” in which he notes that the ideology of the court has had little to do with the important issues that conservatives want fixed anyway:

Even if the court’s judges remain solidly conservative however, they can still produce the occasional surprising decision. Clarence Thomas, the court’s most fanatical conservative, recently helped strike down an attempt to suppress black voters in North Carolina, while Neil Gorsuch is now facing Trump’s criticism after rescuing the liberal justices in their attempts to strike down a vague immigration law. Sometimes such defections can be transformative; when Obamacare, the central prop to the US healthcare system seemed fatally threatened, the Chief Justice John Roberts saved it, and when the court found a fundamental right to same‐sex marriage, it was Anthony Kennedy who authored the 5–4 opinion. Roberts’ court is concerned with how the world looks upon it, and the chief justice is keenly aware of the shadow of history looming over him. The reputation of his bench is vital to him. Even if Trump appoints a consistent hardliner, he has no guarantee that the rest of the court would not shift in response, fearing a legacy that will go down in infamy.

This is the problem when ideology attempts to shift the culture through managing it from the top. The culture isn’t shifted by ideology; it’s shifted by people and the energy of their social movements. Therefore, issues eventually finding their way to the high court isn’t by chance, and it’s nowhere near as simple as the right wants to make it sound.

Besides, as I’ve written before, abortion is really about sex and the Biblical position that fornication is sin. We have to be honest about this, for we always have to “play the tape to its end” when considering issues such as abortion. What would be the Evangelicals’ view of how people “should” behave in a world without legal abortion? I think we all know the answer to that. Moreover, anti‐abortion law becomes harder and harder as the evidence mounts about how birth control reduces the abortion rate. Our current rate is now BELOW what it was in 1973, when it was made legal by the high court.

My daughter is about to pop with baby number three, and we’re all pretty excited about it. This is especially so after her experience with baby number two, who died of severe birth defects six hours after birth. She learned of the birth defects at 20 weeks and went through this despite the knowledge that she “could have” gotten an abortion. She made the decision — the choice — for herself not to do so, and it was remarkable to witness. For her, it was a moral issue, not a legal one, and she could not have made such a decision for herself, had abortion been illegal. This experience has firmed my resolve that the Supreme Court got it right with Roe v Wade.

EDITOR’S NOTE: I strongly recommend you read the linked materials.

The Underlying Fallacy of Fake News

Courtesy Austin Schmid

A vast wave of intellectual dishonestly is cresting above us in the argument about fake news. That it is actually taken seriously by the press is perhaps the most dangerous event of the postmodern era, and each day I pray that somebody important will say, “Stop!” My voice simply isn’t big enough for this to be heard, so somebody else is going to have to have the revelation.

Let me repeat what I’ve said in my book The Gospel of Self: there is no such thing as a right‐wing press, because it was birthed, nurtured and remains a conduit for conservative political propaganda. For it to be recognized as legitimate, albeit alternative members of the press, it would have to make a solid case that the press is itself a conduit for liberal political propaganda, and that is a specious argument. “The news” by definition is progressive, because it consists of thoughts and activities that are new. There is no such thing as “the olds,” which is what we could expect from a conservative “press,” if such a thing were even possible. “Conservative press” is an oxymoron and as such presents a false logic. The press must at least make an ethical effort at fairness or as we used to say objectivity. This takes it outside the political process, while those claiming the status of a point‐of‐view news entity are just the opposite.

Political point‐of‐view journalism can’t be both.

An intellectually honest press would not even try to defend the accusations of liberal bias, which are, again, propaganda from the right. For, in defending itself, the press is agreeing that the argument needs defending. This has academia and the other intelligent institutions of the West reeling in a battle of cosmic consequences that can’t possibly end well for the cause of freedom. Are you hearing me? The mere suggestion that the press needs a conservative alternative, because the press pursues a liberal political agenda is foolishness gone to seed. It’s a dangerous fallacy, people, and we feed it by adopting its narrative.

Remember, I was there when we at CBN promoted ourselves as an entity of point‐of‐view journalism. WE made the claim and assigned ourselves a position within the mainstream — but to the right — because we presented “the news” with a conservative agenda. So WE, by behaving from a point‐of‐view, convinced our followers and those to come that even though we had an admitted bias, we still belonged on the same societal plane as the rest of the press. This may be a very slick justification, but it’s still blatantly false.

The professional press has been striving for a sense of fairness or objectivity within the news for at least the past century. As historian Chris Lasch brilliantly argues, this shift was motivated by economics, for advertisers wanted a sterile environment within which to present their ads. Nothing has changed about that, although advertising itself is now again shifting due to new challenges that are irrelevant to this discussion. The point is that the mainstream press may have begun with a great many personal biases, but the modern professional press is represented by ethical guidelines that don’t allow for political propaganda from any so‐called “side” in the debate of political matters. That belongs on the editorial page or in commentaries so labeled.

To some, perhaps even many, that sounds absurd. When I spoke of it to a group of very conservative voters last summer at a Colorado Springs book event, the gasp of disbelief was loud. I was ridiculed, scorned, and dismissed by people who were completely convinced of their own narrative. This is the degree to which the public — and now the press itself — has been deceived by propaganda masters now running Washington and beyond.

Think of me as crazy, naïve, or whatever you’d like, but until we all begin honestly dissecting what’s taking place around us, we’re going to continue to be buffeted about by this wave. Nothing is to be gained by measuring the trustworthiness of individual news organizations, as is being promoted by New York entrepreneurs Steve Brill and L. Gordon Crovitz with their green, yellow, red guidance system. The right has already labeled Snopes as a player of the left, and it will do the same with ANY attempt to frame them as false or even biased.

Instead of moving deeper into this black hole, journalism needs to end its defensiveness and simply do its job. Tell it like it is and not couched in mushy language designed not to offend conservatives.

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.