Discussion: Impeachment trial

February 13, 2021 • 11:00 am

I have no particular expertise—much less knowledge—about the second Trump impeachment trial, as I watched virtually none of it save the videos and thus can’t weigh in. All I can say is that I wish that the Democrats had made the indictment broader, as I indicated this morning in the Hili dialogue. Regardless, from what I know, I would vote to kick the s.o.b. out.

I’m also not sure what bearing a conviction has on his ability to hold future office. In truth, I’m also not sure—narcissist that he is—that he even wants future office. He may just be content with the role of “elder GOP statesman” for his fawning, slavering minions. But he’ll remain a danger so long as he has any political influence.

If you’d like to say your piece on the proceedings, or on the unlikely outcome that he’ll be convicted, by all means weigh in below. Will he be barred from office? How many Republican senators will vote for his conviction? Mitch “666” McConnell has remained strangely silent in the last several days; could it be that he’s rounding up 17 Republicans to vote for conviction, hoping to save the reputation of his party?

Whoops, cancel that. I just saw this on Twitter:

My friend Betsy sent me a New York Times summary of the defense’s case, which she found amusing in this description of one of Trump’s hastily-assembled team of lawyers:

“A personal injury lawyer whose Philadelphia law firm solicits slip-and-fall clients on the radio and whose website boasts of winning judgments stemming from auto accidents and one case “involving a dog bite,” Mr. van der Veen proceeded to lecture Mr. Raskin, who taught constitutional law at American University for more than 25 years, about the Constitution.”

If that isn’t snark in the news, I don’t know what is.

van der Veen, from the NYT. Credit: Erin Schaff/The New York Times

Impeachment trial: discuss

February 10, 2021 • 6:00 pm

I haven’t watched the live coverage of the impeachment trial, which began in earnest today with the “prosecution’s” presentation of the evidence. What’s all over the Internet are new scenes of terror and violence in the Capitol, which of course are relevant to the indictment since this is the purported outcome of Trump’s words.

But of course the question is whether Trump knowingly incited that violence, and here the Democrats have an uphill battle. For every rioter who said that “Trump invited us here,” there is a statement by Trump calling for “peaceful demonstration at the Capitol”. It all rests on sussing out what his intentions were. The degree of violence, even if it were much less than actually occurred, and didn’t involve deaths, is in some ways ancillary.

I happen to believe that Trump did know what he was doing, and thus is guilty of the charge. But I also think the charges could have been more far-reaching, involving many different forms of malfeasance and incompetence. Were he in his second or third year of Presidency, he would have go go NOW.  He’s gone, though, and so the Democrats have a hard job.

The House impeachment managers have done a terrific job, but they’re facing a near monolith of Republican opponents, many of them claiming, ironically and disingenuously, that the trial is “divisive.” I have little hope of a conviction, for the division occurred a long time before the impeachment began, and the Republicans too self-absorbed to worry about America.

Many of you have watched the coverage. What do you think so far?

An analysis of the Trump movie shown at the Capitol Rally: An exercise in fascism

February 4, 2021 • 12:45 pm

This is an interesting analysis of the two-minute film shown to the crowd that assembled at the Washington, D.C. pro-Trump rally on January 6, right after Donald Trump, Jr. and Rudy Giuliani spoke. And you know what happened after that! (Thanks to reader Ken for calling this to my attention.) The analysis by Jason Stanley goes through the movie frame by frame, and gives a written discussion of how it fits into the tradition of fascistic propaganda. I recommend watching the movie first (click on the Vimeo site below), then read the article and then re-watch the movie with fresh eyes.

Jason Stanley is the Jacob Urowsky Professor of Philosophy at Yale University and an expert in the history and workings of fascism. His piece appears at the site Just Security, described by the Center for Human Rights and Global Justice at NYU Law School as

“an editorially-independent online forum co-founded by CHRGJ Faculty Co-Chair Professor Ryan Goodman. It provides rigorous analysis of US national security law and policy, aiming to promote principled and pragmatic solutions to national security problems faced by decision-makers. Just Security‘s masthead includes people with substantial government experience, civil society attorneys, academics, and other leading voices.”

This is just to show you that this is no basement-dwelling YouTuber who did the analysis. You should take it seriously.

Okay, first skip the headlines below and watch the short movie. Then go back, click the headlines below and read Stanley’s analysis. I have a few thoughts at the bottom.

 

Stanley appears to know what he’s talking about, and emphasizes the many tropes of fascism that appear in this movie. There’s the father figure (Trump), the emphasis on the nation’s fears, the identifying of an enemy (apparently blacks and Jews), and the reliance on the military. The only thing I’m dubious about is Stanley’s identification of the Jews as the explicit enemy that needs to be overthrown. On the other hand, he does make some good points: this movie was carefully confected, and some of the images seem to make sense only in an anti-Semitic context.

Clearly, Stanley sees the movie as good fascist propaganda, and I can’t say I disagree. But was it really intended to prompt the demonstrators’ assault on the Capitol? I don’t do psychologizing so much, but Stanley seems to say, “yes”:

Each of us can decide what moral responsibility Trump personally has for a video to rouse his supporters at the rally. How much of a role the White House or Trump himself may have played in deciding to show the video and sequencing it immediately after Giuliani’s speech, we don’t know. But it is worth noting that the New York Times recently reported that by early January, “the rally would now effectively become a White House production” and, with his eye ever on media production, Trump micromanaged the details. “The president discussed the speaking lineup, as well as the music to be played, according to a person with direct knowledge of the conversations. For Mr. Trump, the rally was to be the percussion line in the symphony of subversion he was composing from the Oval Office,” the Times reported.

Worldwide, there have been many fascist movements. Not all fascist movements focus on a global Jewish conspiracy as the enemy, and not all of them were genocidal. Early on, Italian fascism was not anti-Semitic in its core, though it later turned that way. British fascism was not genocidal (though it also was never given the opportunity to be). The most influential fascist movement that takes a shadowy Jewish conspiracy as its central target is German fascism, Nazism. Nazism did not start out in genocide. It began with militias and violent troops disrupting democracy. In its early years in power, in the 1930s, it was socialists and communists who were targeted for the Concentration Camps, torture, and murder. But it must never be forgotten where Nazism culminated.

As a secular Jew, I have to take particular care when leveling the charge of anti-Semitism because it feeds into my own biases. So I reserve judgment here, but ask you to watch the movie and read the analysis with a clear head, and then come to your own conclusions. I’d advise you to do both watching and reading, for this kind of authoritarianism, no matter what you call it, is still heavily afoot in America.

Who will get pardons from Trump?

January 18, 2021 • 6:14 pm

In only two days Trump will be gone, to a massive sigh of relief across America as well as to the groans of Deplorables.

There are reports that Trump may issue up to 100 pardons tomorrow, though the recipients are said not to include himself. But the list will surely include many who don’t deserve this leniency.

Whom do you think he’ll pardon?  Although this isn’t a contest, I’ll give a prize of my choosing to the first person all of whose guesses are all correct, so long as they are four or more. Any wrong guesses disqualify you, and if you guess fewer than four but they’re all correct, you also don’t get a prize. There’s only one way to win, and if nobody wins, no prize. But guess away if you don’t care about prizes, and of course you can give fewer or more than four names.

I’m not qualified to guess, but I know that many readers are. Who do you think will be the recipient of Trump’s largesse?

Remember, Trump can pardon people convicted of or who will be accused of federal crimes, not state ones.

Nick Cohen and Andrew Sullivan: Why Trump is a fascist and an insurgent

January 17, 2021 • 9:30 am

Here’s the bad news to start off with, presaging no early end to the polarization of America (h/t: Matthew)

As of Wednesday, Donald Trump will no longer be President, and I for one am looking forward to a time of relative calm and rebuilding, if not “healing”. But I’m also curious as to what will happen to the Republican party, and a bit fearful of what the gun-hugging loons are going to do on Wednesday, or when the Democratic Congress starts undoing all of Trump’s changes. Washington D.C. is now closed to those who want to watch the Inauguration live; we’ll have to resort to television and and President behind bulletproof glass.

In the meantime, while the days of Trumpism dwindle down to an unprecious few, we have two final cris de coeur giving a final assessment of the Trump presidency.  Nick Cohen ponders whether it’s correct to call Trump a fascist, while Andrew Sullivan is taken aback by Trump’s participation in the Capitol insurrection.

Cohen first, as what he says seems more thoughtful. Click on the screenshot (h/t Jez)

For Cohen, the word “fascist” is not to be used lightly; as he says:

The use of “fascism” in political debate is both a call to arms and a declaration of war. For once you say you are fighting fascism there can be no retreat. By talking of “pre-fascism” or “neo-fascism”, you acknowledge that the F-word is not a bomb you should detonate lightly; you also acknowledge the gravity of the times.

But he then disposes of two alternative adjectives: Trump’s not a “conservative” because his views and actions don’t comport with what people have usually meant by the term. Nor is Trump a “populist” because, says Cohen, he’s not supporting the people against elites: Cohen avers that it’s itself elitist to “[deny] the result of the people’s vote with the big lie, the Joseph Goebbels lie, that Trump won the election he lost and then [to incite] brainwashed followers to storm democratic institutions”.  Well that sounds like populism to me, at least according to the Oxford English Dictionary’s definition:

POPULISM. The policies or principles of any of various political parties which seek to represent the interests of ordinary people, spec. of the Populists of the U.S. or Russia. Also: support for or representation of ordinary people or their views; speech, action, writing, etc., intended to have general appeal.

Some have compromised by calling trump a “proto-fascist” or “pre-fascist”, but Cohen dismisses those terms as well, and for three reasons you can read about in his piece. For Cohen, the term “fascist” winds up perfectly appropriate for Trump because of his incitement to overthrow a democratic election. In particular, Cohen dismisses the argument that Trump shouldn’t be called a fascist because he hasn’t yet “transformed his society into a totalitarian war machine”:

The example of the stages of cancer, so beloved by believers in Trump derangement syndrome, explains the stupidity. Imagine you are a doctor looking at pre-cancerous cells or an early-stage cancer that has not grown deeply into tissue. The door bursts open and a chorus of Fox News presenters and Cambridge dons cry that “real experts in the field” agree that on no account should you call it cancer until it has metastasised and spread through the whole body. A competent doctor would insist on calling a fatal disease by its real name and not leave treatment until it was too late to stop it. So should you.

Well, no, it’s not a fatal disease until it’s become terminal, so the metaphor is weak. In truth, this does seem to be a quibble about labels, informed though it is by Cohen’s knowledge of history. We know what Trump is, and does it really make a difference if, technically, he’s a fascist or not? Our drive to ensure that he never again holds the reins of leadership doesn’t depend on a label, but on his past behaviors.

At the Weekly Dish, Sullivan calls for Trump’s impeachment and conviction, pretty much also on the grounds that he is a fascist, de-legitimizing a democratic election whose results were audited and found correct (click on the screenshot):

A quote:

This is why Trump should be impeached and convicted in the Senate. Not because he directly incited a riot against members of Congress and his own vice-president  and chose not to intervene while it continued. It’s that Trump has repeatedly, insistently and emphatically attacked the legitimacy of the entire democracy he is in charge of. This is not just a Big Lie, as others have noted. It’s the Biggest Lie Imaginable. It’s arsenic to a functioning democracy, and Trump has long injected it directly into the veins of the American system.

. . . Trump is leveraging the authority of his office — the highest in the land — to destroy the legitimacy of our entire system, and of the next president: “By the way, does anybody believe that Joe had 80 million votes? Does anybody believe that? He had 80 million computer votes. It’s a disgrace. There’s never been anything like that.” Did he want an inquiry? Nah. He was quite clear what his immediate purpose was: “All Vice-President Pence has to do is send it back to the States to re-certify, and we become president.”

But before that, Sullivan emphasizes America’s increased polarization, due largely to the recalcitrance of the GOP:

You can see the difference between 2016 and 2020 in this stat: “In 2016, 52% of Democrats said Hillary Clinton’s loss to Trump was ‘legitimate and accurate,’” — pretty disconcerting for any democracy. But this year, only “26% of Republicans said they thought Trump’s loss was similarly legitimate.” In 2016, right after the election, 84 percent of adults believed the election was legitimate, with 15 percent opposed. In 2020, only 57 percent of Americans believed that Joe Biden was legitimately elected president, compared with 43 percent who didn’t. Among men, it’s 51 to 49 percent. Among those earning between $50K and $100K, it’s a 50-50 split. Among white men without a college degree, a clear majority, 62 percent, believe the election was outright stolen. That’s a huge torpedo hit below the waterline for our democracy.

Trump has already been impeached, though I doubt the upcoming trial will convict him since 17 Republican Senators have to vote for that result. Regardless, the system is now working as it should, though I think, in the interests of harmony (if that’s possible), Democrats should resist gloating. (Neither Cohen nor Sullivan are guilty of this.) As Michelle Obama said, “When they go low, we go high.”

Although I wasn’t that impressed with Sullivan’s piece, largely a regurgitation of previously-published views and statistics, his reason for impeaching Trump is at least interesting. Sadly, though, the one count of the indictment is not “repeatedly, insistently, and emphatically [attacking] the legitimacy of the democracy he is in charge of.” The insurrection is merely one aspect of those attacks, but the Senate has to vote on the charges, and one can make a superficially plausible case that Trump wasn’t inciting immediate and predictable violence. I don’t agree with that defense, but Sullivan’s own charge is irrelevant for the forthcoming trial.

Should Trump be tried by the Senate for insurrection?

January 13, 2021 • 9:00 am

It looks pretty certain now that the House of Representatives will vote today to impeach Donald Trump for “high crimes and misdemeanors”, namely fomenting insurrection. You can watch the impeachment proceedings live at the site below, which are underway:

The charges are laid out in the following five-page document (click on screenshot below). The heart of the charges is this:

Further, section 3 of the 14th Amendment to the Constitution prohibits any person who has ‘‘engaged in insurrection or rebellion against’’ the United States from ‘‘hold[ing] any office . . . under the United States’’.  In his conduct while President of the United States—and in violation of his constitutional oath faithfully to execute the office of President of the United States and, to the best of his ability, preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States, and in violation of his constitutional duty to take care that the laws be faithfully executed—Donald John Trump engaged in high Crimes and Misdemeanors by inciting violence against the Government of the United States. . . .

 

The House will certainly vote for impeachment, and at least five Republicans will join what will certainly be nearly all House Democrats, ensuring a majority vote—all that’s needed to send charges to the Senate.

As VP Pence has rejected the House’s demand that he use the 25th Amendment to expel Trump from office, impeachment would be the only way to get him out before Biden’s inauguration. A Senate hearing could in principle be held and dump him before January 20th, though that seems unlikely since there would be just one day to have that hearing. A Senate impeachment trial could of course proceed after Trump’s out of office.

There’s also the possibility of Congress censuring Trump in a resolution, but that isn’t in the offing yet.

Now four House Democrats didn’t endorse the impeachment resolution (one voted “present” and another is likely to become a Republican), but the other two oppose impeachment, at least one because it’s “divisive.”

The question at issue is not whether the House should vote to impeach Trump, as that’s a fait accompli. The question is whether the Senate should try him for insurrection. I think that they are required to have a trial if sent the bill of charges approved by the House, but I’m just laying out the pros and cons.

Here are the arguments I see both in favor of and against trying Trump in the Senate:

IN FAVOR:

A.) It is a punishment of the man for all the bad deeds he did, culminating in his reprehensible and unconstitutional behavior last week. He would be the only President to have been impeached twice, and it’s a black mark on his record.

B.) He can be prevented from running for future office even if he’s not convicted. As Reuters notes:

Impeachment could be used to remove Trump from office and to disqualify him from holding political office in the future.

Two historical precedents, both involving federal judges, make clear that the Senate could also vote to disqualify the president from holding office in the future, with only a simple majority needed.

Paul Campos, a professor of constitutional law at the University of Colorado, said that even if the Senate does not convict the president, senators could hold a second, separate vote to prevent him from future office.

That would mean Democrats, who will take control of the Senate later in January, could bar Trump from running for president in 2024 even without the support of Republican senators.

C.) As Mitch McConnell thinks, kicking Trump out of office (or convicting him after he’s gone) would rid the Republican Party of Trump, whose actions are fracturing the party.

 

AGAINST:

A.)  He will not be convicted, as that requires 17 Republicans to join with all the Democrats in the Senate to get the necessary 2/3 majority. Convicting him is, at this time, a futile hope.

B.)  It will be a symbolic vote since he’d be out of office even if he were convicted.

C.) It smacks of retribution, of Democrats getting back at him, and not just for his reprehensible actions last week. This occurs at a time when Biden is calling for “reaching across the aisle.”

D.) It makes Trump even more of a martyr to those of his minions who see him as persecuted. It’s thus divisive.

E.) It takes up time that the Senate needs to enact new legislation under Biden.

The most powerful argument for trying him, at least in terms of doing something concrete, is B above: he might be barred from running for office again, and that requires a simple majority vote which would surely occur in the Senate. The symbolic shaming will do little, I think, to stop his reprehensible behavior, which is hard-wired in his neurons and not subject to change. The fact that an impeachment vote will surely fail in the Senate does, however, tell the world that we will not tolerate a fascist, and at a time when the world’s opinion of America has fallen quite low.

Though there are arguments on both sides, I tend to approve of both the House impeaching Trump and the Senate trying him, even though they won’t secure a conviction. The symbolic act is a powerful one, which, though it may be divisive, will only divide those who support America’s democratic values from those who support fascism. Congress needs to make a statement, and impeachment, even without conviction, is a statement.

And, of course, if the Senate can secure that majority vote, it may be able to bar Trump from holding any federal office, which is a good thing. HOWEVER, even that might not work. As Reuters adds:

Trump could, however, try to challenge such a determination [the “can’t run for office” vote] in court, Campos said. The Supreme Court in 1992 said it would not second-guess the Senate’s decisions about how to handle impeachment proceedings.

“The Senate has great latitude in deciding how it wants to conduct a trial,” Campos said.

Other legal experts, however, said the Senate could only prevent Trump from holding office if it first votes to convict him in the impeachment trial.

So even a majority vote might not be enough to keep Trump from running again.

In the end, though, we can expect Trump, even if he doesn’t hold office, to remain a major figure in the Republican party, a “senior statesman”—horrible as that sounds—who will continue to make pronouncements and foment hatred. There’s nothing that anybody can do about that now.

But we can be heartened by realizing that Trump will now likely face state charges for tax evasion and other issues, and he cannot pardon himself for those. For the rest of his life he’ll be embroiled in legal and political fighting. Maybe he’d like that, as it feeds his narcissism, but I sure wouldn’t want to spend my dotage fighting the law—and perhaps sitting in jail.

Weigh in below, of course.

Impeachment articles drawn up by House, as well as request for Pence to invoke the 25th Amendment

January 11, 2021 • 1:00 pm

Just a a couple of hours ago, the House of Representatives introduced a motion to impeach the “President” for the second time. Click on screenshot to go to the pdf:

There’s one article: “Incitement of insurrection,” but that includes not only his speech to the protestors before they bum-rushed the Capitol, but also his sleazy phone call to Georgia’s Secretary of State, urging him to “find more votes” to overturn the state’s electors.

There’s also this resolution, based on the same data, calling for Pence to get the 25th Amendment rolling and call on Trump to resign, forcing him if he balks (click on screenshot):

House Republicans objected to the second measure, but they’re in a minority, so if that resolution comes to the floor, it will pass. But it’s toothless, for it has no power to force Pence to do anything. The NYT gives more details:

As expected, Republicans objected to a resolution calling on Mr. Pence to invoke the 25th Amendment, meaning that the House would have to call a full vote on the measure, most likely on Tuesday. Democratic leaders were confident it would pass, and pressured Republican lawmakers to vote with them to beseech the vice president, who is said to be opposed to using the powers outlined in the Constitution, to do so.

It was a remarkable threat. If Mr. Pence does not intervene “within 24 hours” after passage and the president does not resign, House leaders said they would move as early as Wednesday to consider the impeachment resolution on the floor, just a week after the attack. Already more than 210 Democrats have signed onto the leading charge, just shy of a majority of the House. Several Republicans were said to be considering voting to impeach for the first time, though party leaders were opposed.

I think there are grounds for invoking the 25th Amendment, as Trump is clearly incapacitated by some mental affliction, but this is a futile gesture. I have more hope for (and approval of) the impeachment, but with the proviso that if the House passes it (and it will), they wait a while before sending it to the Senate before trial. That would prevent Biden’s first days in office from being tied up in a fractious impeachment trial, and allow him—as, I believe, he wishes—to get going with his legislation. And we need him to get going, for we don’t know if he has longer than two years of a Republican Senate.

As they say every decade, “We live in interesting times.” But I never imagined I could see the day when a fascist could hold the reins of power and command his minions to storm the Capitol building. This is worse than Nixon, which is the worst I’ve seen since I’ve been alive.

Snopes investigates claim that Trump incited the storming of the Capitol

January 9, 2021 • 10:30 am

Snopes leans largely to the Left, so if it gives a mixed rating to the question below (half true/half false), you can be pretty sure that it would not stand up in a court of law, much less the Senate. I didn’t follow exactly what the Orange Man said before the horrific events of three days ago (five people are now dead, including a Capitol police officer who died after being bashed in the head with a fire extinguisher), but I’m pretty sure that Josh Hawley’s fist-pump to the demonstrators does not constitute incitement to imminent violence. Hawley could have been giving an “I’m with you” sign—odious enough, but not unambiguous enough to prove, much less buttress, the calls of people who want him tried for treason.

Trump may be impeached, and I support the House going forward with that, but what was his role, if any, in inciting people to storm the Capitol? Well, Snopes gives the question a “mixture” response (click on screenshot).

It turns out that Trump may have had this violence in mind, but he was very, very canny about what he said, and since we can’t show that he knowingly incited violence, that can’t be proven. Here’s what Snopes says:

There’s more stuff, but author Jessica Lee concludes this:

In short, the president called on supporters to “peacefully and patriotically” march or walk to the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, to urge members of the senate to defy the Electoral College vote in a constitutionally mandated procedure to affirm Biden’s win, without using the words “storm” or “breach” or “break into” the federal building.

Put another way, the president encouraged supporters to descend on the Capitol grounds and “cheer” on senators who would break laws governing U.S. elections, but he did not explicitly tell people to commit crimes themselves.

Furthermore, it was a subjective call on whether the phrases “you have to show strength” and “demand that Congress do the right thing” were actually messages condoning crimes and violence among extremists, without outright encouraging it. Such a rhetorical strategy is known to scholars of white nationalist and extremist groups, including the Proud Boys.

In sum, while Trump did not say the words “storm” or “break into” the White House, Trump indeed told supporters to gather at the U.S. Capitol and try to convince members of Congress to delay the constitutional process that would affirm Biden’s presidency. For those reasons, and the ones outlined above, we rate this claim a “Mixture.”

In other words, if Trump had that in mind (and who knows?), he was very clever. Demented, maybe, but perhaps clever. He may be impeached, but if this is the main charge, I predict that he won’t be convicted in an impeachment trial. Why, then, do I favor impeachment? Well, there’s the slight possibility that some Republicans may vote with the Democrats, for there were many reasons to remove Trump from office besides the charge of incitement, but mainly I think it will be another black mark on his record: the first President to be impeached twice.

Andrew Sullivan implies that the Resurrection probably didn’t happen, and then describes “Christianism” as a big threat to America

December 12, 2020 • 11:30 am

Andrew Sullivan is a practicing Catholic, but doesn’t like to discuss his own beliefs.  I’ve had two interactions with him about this issue, though the latest wasn’t really an “interaction.”

In 2011, Sullivan pounced on me in his column in the Daily Dish for assuming that people take the Bible literally when it comes to the creation of Earth and its inhabitants. His piece can be found at the archived website, and I also posted about it, saying this and quoting Sullivan:

At any rate, Sullivan makes this accusation:  I am one of many deluded fools who thinks that the account of Genesis was meant to be taken seriously.  From the outset it was an obvious metaphor, and intended to be seen as such!

“There’s no evidence that the Garden of Eden was always regarded as figurative? Really? Has Coyne read the fucking thing? I defy anyone with a brain (or who hasn’t had his brain turned off by fundamentalism) to think it’s meant literally. It’s obviously meant metaphorically. It screams parable. Ross sees the exchange as saying something significant about the atheist mindset – and I largely agree with everything he says, except his definition of “fundamentalist” doesn’t seem to extend much past Pat Robertson. It certainly makes me want to take Jerry Coyne’s arguments less seriously. Someone this opposed to religion ought to have a modicum of education about it. The Dish, if you recall, had a long thread on this subject in August. No one was as dumb as Coyne.”

I responded by quoting a number of theologians, including Aquinas and Augustine, who took the Genesis story literally, even though some church fathers noted that it had a metaphorical interpretation as well as a literal one. And of course about 40% of all Americans are Genesis adherents. In response to Sullivan’s insults about my dumbness, and his assumption that I hadn’t read Genesis, I called him a “mush-brained metaphorizer.”

My anger at Sullivan, inflamed by his insults, has since cooled. We’re on the same side on many issues, particularly “wokeness”, and his columns are very often rational and perspicacious. Still, he occasionally drags his faith into his column (now The Weekly Dish, a subscriber-only site to which I do subscribe). And when he mentions faith in a positive way, it now conflicts all the more jarringly with his avowed adherence to rationality and science.

That led to my second interaction, when he wrote this:

. . . I don’t know whether liberalism can survive without some general faith in an objective reality and a transcendent divinity. That’s why I suspect a reinvention and reboot for Christianity is an urgent task.

Well, I couldn’t let that stand, so I wrote what I thought was a good “reader’s dissent”, pointing out that the happiest, most well-off, and liberal democracies of the world were the least religious. Sadly, he didn’t publish my gem, so I put it on this site. So be it.

But I always wonder what the man really believes about his faith, and I’d love to debate him on the dissonance between his Catholicism and his constant banging on about the need to be rational and adhere to the facts. In his column this week, he makes a telling statement in the midst of criticizing Trumpian Christianists (more on them in a second) for their refusal to face facts about the election. He indicts not only the Right, embodied by the unhinged Eric Metaxas, but also the Woke Left, represented by Ibram X. Kendi, as ignoring evidence. If you’re a member, click on the screenshot below:

Toward the end of what is a readable and incisive essay, Sullivan makes the statements below below while discussing the refusal of “Christianists” to accept the election results, claiming instead that Biden’s victory is the result of a widespread conspiracy. (The emphasis below is mine.)

The right is not unique in conspiratorial delusion, of course. The refusal of many on the left to accept Tump’s legitimate victory in 2016 was real and widespread. Both Hillary Clinton and John Lewis declared Trump an illegitimate president. Remember the Diebold machines of 2004? Not far from the Dominion stuff today. And the intensity of the belief on the left in an unfalsifiable “white supremacist” America has a pseudo-religious fervor to it. The refusal of Metaxas to allow any Republican to remain neutral or skeptical is mirrored by Ibram X. Kendi’s Manichean fanaticism on the far left.

But the long-established network of evangelical churches and pastors, and the unique power of an actual religion to overwhelm reason, gives the right an edge when it comes to total suspension of disbelief. Christianists are not empiricists or skeptics. They’re believers. This time around, it’s belief in a “multi-layered, multi-dimensional” conspiracy involving hundreds of people in several states, rejected by almost every court. You can fact-check that as easily as you can fact-check the Resurrection.

But what else does that mean except that there’s as little evidence for the Resurrection as there is for Republicans’ election conspiracy theories? In other words, no evidence! I’m forced to conclude, then, that Sullivan, as a Catholic, rejects Jesus’s literal Resurrection. Maybe he thinks it’s some kind of metaphor. My conclusion is strengthened in the next bit when he once again touts empiricism (my emphasis):

To survive, liberal democracy must have some level of moderation, some acceptance of the legitimacy of the other side, and room for compromise. It has to be based in empiricism, shared truth, deliberation and doubt. Fundamentalist religion has none of those qualities. It’s all or nothing.

One can conclude that Sullivan indeed equates belief in the Resurrection with fundamentalism, but of course that’s not the case: if anything, Jesus’s revival is a critical tenet of mainstream Catholic (or other Christian) faith, fundamentalist or not. It’s a linchpin of the Christian story of sin and salvation. Note also that he avers here that liberal democracy must be based on empiricism and shared truth, while earlier he said that liberal democracy, to survive, also has to have some faith in a “transcendent divinity”, and requires a “rebooted Christianity.” I’m here to tell Sullivan that basing democracy on empiricism automatically rules out basing it on any Abrahamic religion, including a “transcendent divinity” theistic or not.

Enough. The rest of the article is good, describing a group of hardcore Republican Christians, whom he calls “Christianists” to parallel “Islamists”, as both groups see no distinction between their faith and politics. Trumpian Christianists apparently see Trump, with all his flaws, as God’s own second saviour to redeem both ourselves and our country.

To Sullivan, the existence of Christianists explains the plethora of Republican loons who still won’t accept the election results. But I’m not as sure as he that this group will pose a real threat to America after Biden is sworn in.

Two quotes:

In a manner very hard to understand from the outside, American evangelical Christianity has both deepened its fusion of church and state in the last few years, and incorporated Donald Trump into its sacred schematic. Christianists now believe that Trump has been selected by God to save them from persecution and the republic from collapse. They are not in denial about Trump’s personal iniquities, but they see them as perfectly consistent with God’s use of terribly flawed human beings, throughout the Old Testament and the New, to bring about the Kingdom of Heaven.

This belief is now held with the same, unwavering fundamentalist certainty as a Biblical text. And white evangelical Christianists are the most critical constituency in Republican politics. If you ask yourself how on earth so many people have become convinced that the 2020 election was rigged, with no solid evidence, and are now prepared to tear the country apart to overturn an election result, you’ve got to take this into account. This faction, fused with Trump, is the heart and soul of the GOP. You have no future in Republican politics if you cross them. That’s why 19 Republican attorneys general, Ted Cruz, and now 106 Congressional Republicans have backed a bonkers lawsuit to try to get the Supreme Court to overturn the result.

Biden’s victory was not God’s will. Therefore it couldn’t have happened.

Below: Sullivan’s fears, which may well be exaggerated. I certainly hope they are:

And Trump is at the center of [Christianists’] belief system now, which includes all his lies. The relationship of many with him is that of evangelicals and their pastor: a male, patriarchal figure who cannot be questioned and must be obeyed. Trump’s political genius has been in sniffing out this need to believe, and filling it, all the time, tweet by tweet, lie by lie, con by con. No wonder Trump Trutherism is now a litmus test for the Christianist faith. . .

. . . Not only is it all or nothing, but the mandate to believe it, and act on it, is from God himself. When this psychological formation encounters politics, it cannot relent, it cannot change its mind, it cannot simply move on. And a core element of our politics right now — and part of the unprecedented resilience of Trump’s support — is this total suspension of judgment by a quarter of all Americans. When that certainty of faith met a malignant narcissist who cannot admit error, a force was created that continues to cut a ferocious swathe through our culture and our democratic institutions.

And if God Almighty calls for the overturning of a democratic election by force or violence? Then let the walls of Jericho come tumbling down.

I still predict little or no right-wing violence after January 20, but I’m not going to bet on it. The GOP, with 100+ of its Congresspeople joining the crazy Texas lawsuit trying to overturn the election, has become a swarming beehive of of truthers, conspiracy theorists, and, of course, gun nuts.