Monday, January 25, 2016

Something to Know - 25 January

The Trumpster has been written about so often that we are tired of it.  His main rival is an interesting study, and that is what this article from the New Yorker is all about.   The upcoming GeeOpie convention promises (if things keep running like they are today) of being a real treat to watch.   Michael Bloomberg is thinking about running, which confirms that the wealthy old-line-establishment Republican Party is very uncomfortable with the refugees who survived the GeeOpie Clown Car.  In short, I think that the Republicans are so split, that various factions are bullheaded enough that no one candidate will emerge, and one or more may just bolt and run separately - not to win, but out of spite.   A division such as this would benefit the Democrats and Sanders, if he outlasts Hillary.   Given that the remainder of the GeeOpie campaigning and convention is limited to entertainment and destruction, the real race is between Bernie and Hillary (my opinion only).  So, let's have some fun now:

Ted Cruz, the Empty Evangelical


There is a husk-like quality to Ted Cruz's movement: it is a fight for Washington that is not in any specific way a fight for the country.CREDITPHOTOGRAPH BY DARREN MCCOLLESTER / GETTY

A characteristically Midwestern problem presented itself in Iowa last week, as the Republican caucuses drew near: How to deal with vulgarity, in the person of Donald Trump? Trump—an embodiment of secular excess, a gleeful assemblage of the major moral vices—might be expected to struggle in Iowa, where the Republican electorate is so stringently evangelical that, in 2008, it went for Rick Santorum and, in 2012, for Mike Huckabee. But one great accident of 2016 is that the banner of the moral majority has been held not by Santorum or by Huckabee but by the brilliant, despised, opportunistic candidate who at the moment seems like Trump's main challenger: Ted Cruz.

Plenty of people in Iowa have been waiting for Cruz to attack Trump, with whom he is effectively tied in some of the latest polls, in part for the sheer gladiatorial display of it. Among them is a young professor at Simpson College, outside Des Moines, named Kedron Bardwell. In Bardwell's social circles, there are many Christian conservatives but not a single Trump supporter. "What's that line about Nixon?" Bardwell asked me. He meant the one attributed to Pauline Kael: "I can't believe Nixon won. I don't know anyone who voted for him." The churches in prosperous greater Des Moines may be as insular as the Upper West Side.

Last Monday, Bardwell got a call at home from a woman working for a polling firm, testing out attacks on Trump. Intrigued, Bardwell started writing them down. (After the call ended, he tweeted out his notes, which briefly made him a figure in press coverage of the campaign.) One was a tepid version of a culture-war line, that Trump was a "New York liberal." Another one, Bardwell thought, was sharper: that the billionaire had confessed "to a Christian audience in Iowa that he had never asked God for forgiveness." There were enough questions mixed in about Cruz that Bardwell was pretty sure that the Texan was behind the call.

The next day, Cruz issued a general attack on Trump's "New York values," which the billionaire effectively muted by talking about the heroism of New Yorkers on 9/11. But to Bardwell there was a lingering mystery: With an avowedly evangelical electorate in Iowa, why had Cruz, a man who launched his campaign at Jerry Falwell's Liberty University, not attacked Trump for his lack of faith, or his faithless acts? His campaign had seemingly considered the line, and then decided against it. Bardwell said, "I was surprised."

Earlier this week, Cruz took a five-day bus tour through New Hampshire, and I caught him near the end, when he spoke at a town hall in Exeter. The venue was old enough that Abraham Lincoln once spoke there, which surprised and pleased Cruz, but it was intimate, too, which made it a poor fit for him. Cruz's speeches are in the Chautauqua style—he slowly sweeps his arm in a semicircle to take in the crowd, he kicks his right leg several feet out and gives a theatrical salute, he delivers each line as an applause line, and waits for the crowd to realize it—and so to see him before a small crowd is to feel complicit in a kind of disappointment. The theme of his speech is an "awakening" that Cruz believes is stirring in the country, much as one did in the late nineteen-seventies. Washington, he pointed out, at first "despised" Ronald Reagan. He kept inviting the audience to picture the scene the day after he takes office: executive actions have been reversed, and Department of Justice attorneys are in hot pursuit of Planned Parenthood. "Imagine that morning," he said. He compared government officials to insects that required pesticide.

The Cruz campaign has some of the tone of a social movement, and at times the paraphernalia: in Exeter, Ted Cruz coloring books were passed out, presumably with the idea that children would color in outlines of Cruz in their spare time. And yet it is a very strange social movement, because it is so narrow: morning in Washington, with almost no mention of America. In Exeter, Cruz did not touch on the accumulation of wealth, or the decay of the family, or the surge of identity politics on the left. He did not mention the changing global economy, a major theme of Trump's, or the tenuous position of the working class, the concern that runs through Rubio's campaign. He mentioned Planned Parenthood, but not abortion. He talked a great deal about political √©lites, but not at all about social or economic ones. The rhetoric was heightened—Cruz called America the "last great hope" for humanity—but this just made it stranger. For Cruz, the fight for power in Washington is not only the orienting fight in American life but the only one.

Trace the long arc of the Christian conservative movement in America, and you can detect an abiding optimism about the possibility that other people might be persuaded. That optimism is the blood of all evangelism, of the personal project of turning individuals toward God, but it also runs through the organization of religious politics and the creation of Christian cultural projects: change enough hearts, they say, and the world will change.

This analysis belongs to James Davison Hunter, a sociologist and social theorist at the University of Virginia who has often focussed on evangelicalism in America, and who popularized the term "Culture Wars" with his 1991 book of that name. I called Hunter this week to ask what sense he made of the Cruz phenomenon, and he said he believed it reflected a basic turn in the evangelical perspective. "As a rhetorical matter, they've given up on this notion that they represent a 'moral majority,' " he said. "They've given up on the possibility of persuasion."

Hunter's observation is that, seen with cold eyes, the project of Christian persuasion has not worked. No matter how many hearts Christian conservatives have claimed, they have not changed the culture. Even during Republican Presidential administrations, the cause of gay rights advanced, and social liberalism continued gaining momentum. America is still, demographically, a Christian country, but since the election of 2004 there has been little discernible energy to Christianize it. The right has swung to the anti-government movements, and to the Tea Party. " 'We can't persuade, so now we're just going to take over'—the ethos is close to that," Hunter said. "I think they have come to realize that there has been a loss of a common public philosophy that could unite Americans, so now their strategy has become, in my view, a pretty clear-cut manifestation of the will to power."

There is a husk-like quality to Ted Cruz's movement: it is a fight for Washington that is not in any specific way a fight for the country. Cruz has the partisan ferocity of the culture warrior—the purist politics, the overriding will to power—but he is a warrior without a war. It makes sense that Cruz passed up the chance to point out to evangelical voters that Trump is not one of them. His campaign is not really about summoning believers to a banner. It has the structure of the culture wars, the sketched outlines, but not the substance. Cruz is gesturing at a ghost.


The National Rifle Association aids and abets gun violence.

- An American Story

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