A Grander Gospel: Part 2

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In my last post I gave a bird’s-eye overview of my new and grander perspective on God’s plan to make right all that was wrong in the world. I would believe in something like that whether I was a Christian or not. However, because I am a Christian, in this post I seek to tie it more specifically to the person and message of Jesus.

Jesus preached that the kingdom of God was at hand. That God’s plan to liberate and restore his people, consummate his reign of love and justice, and make right all that was wrong in his creation was about to take place.

Was in fact already breaking into the world in the ministry of Jesus.

–  In Jesus’ healing the sick, feeding the hungry, casting out of demons, and preaching good news to the poor; God’s kingdom was breaking into the world in a fresh and powerful way.

– In Jesus’ perception of himself as God’s annointed agent who would bring in and rule in God’s kingdom, and in his actions to reconfigure God’s people (Israel) around himself; God’s kingdom was breaking into the world in a fresh and powerful way.

– In Jesus’ love and compassion toward sinners, the poor, women, non-Jews, the marginalized and impure, those who the religious and political elites saw as “nobodies;” and in his building up of an alternative community centered on love, scandalously, inclusively, open to all who would embrace Jesus’ message; God’s kingdom was breaking into the world in a fresh and powerful way.

– In Jesus’ teachings on God as a loving and forgiving Father who cared about the daily needs of his children; one who was sovereign over his creation, but who used that sovereignty to seek, serve, and save others rather than exploit them; a God so good he could not let evil continue unresolved – which was a word of both hope and warning; a God most fully revealed in the person of Jesus himself; in all of this, God’s kingdom was breaking into the world in a fresh and powerful way.

– In Jesus’ calls to turn from old ways of living and instead learn to wholeheartedly love God and love other people; God’s kingdom was breaking into the world in a fresh and powerful way.

– In Jesus’ willingness to die to speak out against oppressive powers, identify with us in our suffering, exemplify love and forgiveness, reveal God’s true nature, overcome death for us, and in some mysterious way achieve at-one-ment between God and human-kind; God’s kingdom was breaking into the world in a fresh and powerful way.

– In God the Father’s raising of Jesus from the dead, vindicating him, his message, and (in effect) those who follow after him; God’s kingdom was breaking into the world in a fresh and powerful way.

– In Jesus’ experience of the Spirit’s intimacy and empowering (and in that of the early Christians after him); God’s kingdom was breaking into the world in a fresh and powerful way.

– In Jesus and the early church’s subversive re-reading of the Hebrew Scriptures: being willing to heighten or negate its teachings based on their fit with the person of Jesus, the way of love, the way of peace and forgiveness, their experience of the Spirit, their sense of God’s in-breaking kingdom, and the inclusion of former outsiders; God’s kingdom was breaking into the world in a fresh and powerful way.

And yet, clearly evil still held much sway. Things were not yet fully right in the world, and so Jesus (and the early Christians) taught that God’s kingdom awaited it’s future full consummation.

At that time,

– God (and Jesus) would be unveiled to the world in a powerful and ummistabeable way.

– He would regather his people from the ends of the earth.

– He would raise the dead.

– He would render judgment, vindicating and rewarding those who had followed Jesus’ way and punishing those who had knowingly resisted it.

– Satan and his demons would be vanquished and permanently kept from harming God’s creation.

– Followers of Jesus would be reunited with lost loved ones.

– There would be a great feast and celebration open to all who had aligned themselves with Jesus’ way; an inclusive, upside-down gathering where many would be surprised at their inclusion (or exclusion, as the case may be).

– Creation would be remade into a place with no more suffering, death, or decay.

–  There would finally be full and genuine peace and justice and plenty for all. Lion would lay down with the lamb. Nations would study war no more.

– God would be tangibly and gloriously present among his people; every knee would bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord.

Jesus and his followers taught that these realities about God and his coming kingdom called for people to turn and be transformed:

– Turn from their old ways of thinking and behaving centered on selfishness, greed, pride, lust, violence, faithlessness, and falsehood.

– Turn instead to the God revealed in Jesus and freely receive his love, grace, and empowerment.

– Turn to the God revealed in Jesus in responding love, trust, and allegiance.

– Be transformed into people who are united to Jesus by faith and by imitating and following after him in loving compassionately, speaking truthfully, living simply, sharing generously, being humble and serving others, loving and forgiving enemies, welcoming the marginalized, renouncing  violence and oppression, promoting peace and justice, being willing to sacrifice everything for the sake of this kingdom, and steadfastly trusting in God and in his future vindication.

In short, the Christian Gospel is about trusting in Jesus and being transformed to be like him. It is about trusting in God and his coming kingdom and partnering with him to bring it to earth.

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A Grander Gospel: Part 1

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[Commentary below at the end.*]

There is a genuinely good God. God’s goodness means that he is just and will judge evil. But more fundamentally, it means his primary impulse is one of love, compassion, grace, and inclusion.

This God created a good world, in spite of its problems. He indued it with goodness and worth. He values it and the humans who live in it.

God is glorified by our humble empirical engagement with the world and with others. Indeed, knowing of our proneness to ignorance and egocentrism, he desires that we exercise a reasonable faith and informed love.

God has plans to right everything that is wrong in the world.

On a personal level, this means he wants to rescue people from their sin, ignornance, and brokenness.

On a societal level, it means he wants to overturn social systems of injustice and oppression and replace them with just ones.

On a spiritual level, he is at war with evil spirits that seek to harm, deceive, and oppress his creatures.

And on a cosmic level, he even has plans to remake the world into a place where there is no more suffering, death, and decay.

This God calls us to turn from our old ways of thinking and behaving centered on selfishness, pride, lust, greed, violence, and falsehood.

He calls us to turn instead to God and freely receive his love, grace, and empowerment.

Turn to God in responding love and devotion.

Be reconnected to God and to others. Be transformed into his aims and image as we become individuals and communities who love compassionately, comport ourselves in fidelity, seek and speak truth, dismantle violence and oppression, and promote peace and justice.

This divine movement has begun to break into the world, but it has not been fully consummated. We see that evil often seems to prevail and good people suffer. The gospel frees us to be honest about that, honest about the darkness.

But God’s goodness assures us that the world as we now see it is not the last word. God has promised continued and future action to right wrongs – both in this life and in an afterlife. And he is powerful enough to accomplish our wholistic salvation.

This hope does not mean we disengage from the world, but rather that we confidently partner with God in helping to transform it (and ourselves).

So God calls people to turn from evil and graciously restores any who do. His first and primary approach to us is one of love and grace. However, he warns of dire consequences for those who knowingly and persistly resist his way of love and truth.

In this life, evil people sometimes seem to get away with the harm they do. Good-hearted people are sometimes trampled down, slandered, or simply passed over on account of their virtue. But God promises that someday everyone’s deeds will be revealed as they give an account for how they have lived and the true nature of things is exposed.

God’s justice is not arbitrary. It only punishes those who are culpably guilty and the punishment is proportionate to their responsibility and to the wrongs done. Contrary to popular opinon, love and mercy are also a part of God’s justice, a part of his faithfulness to his covenant promises. While fearsome, ultimately God’s justice is aimed at restoration, reconciliation, and growth – so long as people will turn.

God progressively pursues these ends in many mysterious ways. He meets people where they are and can be changing them and redeeming creation wherever glimmers of light and goodness are being kindled. God inclusively transforms people in a number of religious (and even non-religious) contexts.

However, as a Christian I believe he most fully reveals himself and definitively acts to save us in the person of Jesus. I believe someday others who have been being transformed in more round-about ways will come to recognize Christ as the means and end of their salvation, as every knee bows and every tongue confesses that Jesus is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

[*Commenary: I have long thought that typical Evangelical expressions of “the gospel” are truncated and in fact mask significant opposition to the wider work I see God trying to accomplish. The above is my attempt to formulate what I see as that wider work based on my study.

My understanding of the gospel is influenced by my Christian faith and ultimately centered on Jesus, but it also draws on my study of comparitive religion, religious experience, ethics, philosophy, psychology, sociology, history, and other things.

In contrast to many Evangelical iterations, my understanding of the gospel contains some of the following features:

– It sees love as God’s primary attribute; not power or will.

– It is salvifically inclusive rather than exclusive.

– It is not just about individual sin (and in particular guilt); but about transformation *from* sin, rescue from other human problems that do not necessarily involve culpable guilt (such as ignorance and brokenness), addressing wider societal/structural problems of injustice and oppression, rescue from spiritual oppression by evil forces, and eventual cosmic redemption from suffering and death as well.

– It alludes to how our religious beliefs have to be bounded by what we confidently know from science and broad patterns of experience. Also that our love must be empirically/empathetically informed.

– Even as it transcends a merely physical vantage point, it is world and humanity affirming, not gnostic or “escapist.”

– It maintains a place for God’s judgment, but sees this as fair, finite (not eternal conscious torment), and ideally aimed at restoration.

– It incorporates (albeit obliquely) what I’ve learned from mysticism and religious experience about being spiritually transformed and united to God or the Ultimate.

– It incorporates what I’ve learned from both the Bible and my social work classes about social justice; power, privilege, and oppression; and the need for a special focus on “the least of these.”

– It emphasizes the “already,” in-breaking reality of God’s kingdom and our responsibility to partner with God in transforming the world rather than just the “not yet” future work of God, and passively waiting on that in some escapist way.

– It highlights more God’s call to peacemaking and non-violence (or harm reduction, at the very least). For a number of reasons, Evangelicals often disregard or even oppose this responsibility.

There’s a lot more I could say. In my next post I will write a follow up that ties this more explicitly to the message and work of Jesus. Ovbiously I don’t do that much here. In many ways, this post is meant more as an exercise in natural theology than Christian theology particularly.]

Trump and the Practical Apostasy of Evangelicalism

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I am saddened and angered by a sense of betrayal. Betrayal on a number of fronts, but especially from conservative Evangelicals.

Before going on with some of the hard things I’m going to say here, let me qualify myself some. There are Evangelicals I love and respect. I know not all Evangelicals fall prey to the chronic problems in Evangelicalism I will be criticizing. Further, every camp has its own blind spots, including my own. Yet Evangelicalism at large is riddled with problems, and their support of President Trump has exposed many of them like nothing I have seen before.

My background is Evangelical, so I have a long and close connection to these people. I grew up under the influence of Pat Robertson, James Dobson, Rush Limbaugh, and Billy Graham. I know that world intimately. As a homeschooler and then Bible college graduate, my whole life and identity was once wrapped up in that subculture.

But for some time now and for a variety of reasons I have moved away from Evangelicalism. I came to disagree with a lot of its common stances: for example, its rejection of critical Biblical scholarship, suspicion of mainstream science, misrepresentation of history, opposition to LGBTQ rights and identities, complicity with racism, promotion of patriarchy, glorification of violence, unbridled capitalism, antipathy toward pluralism, denialism over climate change, anti-intellectualism, legalism, cultish acquiescence to authority figures, tendency to conflate the gospel with American civil religion, and so on.

But beyond disagreements with specific claims, I also came to oppose what I see as Evangelicalism’s pervasively wrongheaded spirit and priorities. As a rule, I find it anti-intellectual and narrow in loving; emphasizing dogma over evidence, power over love, exclusion over inclusion, security over justice, and entrepreneurship over authenticity.

I’ve had a lot of flashpoints of pain as Evangelicalism and I have gone more and more our separate ways. I remember when 19,000 Evangelicals would literally rather children starve then for World Vision to let married gay people work in their offices. I remember when a swath of Moody students and even a Moody professor attacked a black student group for speaking what should have been an obvious truth about racism in America. I remember these things and more.

But this election cycle and in particular the way white Evangelicals have largely supported Donald Trump has been the most painful unmasking to me of hypocrisy and moral corruption within Evangelicalism.

There is overwhelming evidence that the Bible is fallible (for example, see Sparks or Stark). This does not necessarily undercut it serving as an authority for Christians alongside others such as reason, experience, science, or the fresh leading of the Spirit. My study of both the Bible itself and religion more generally indicates to me that love is at the center of authentic spirituality.

Love is God’s primary attribute and, redeemed and empowered by His love, our primary duty is to love God and love others. This is the central message of Jesus and the Bible. The world religions disagree on many things, but most agree that the Highest Ultimate is primarily loving, good, or blissful and that we are to treat others as we would want to be treated. Such notions are backed up by the phenomenology of religious experience, miracles, and our ethical intuitions.

But because Evangelicals refuse to accept this, they make the Bible into an idol and act in ways that are profoundly unloving.

For example, because of a handful of texts that condemn homosexuality, they treat LGBTQ people in ways that can only be described as hateful.

They mock them and condemn them. They compare their most intimate relationships to pedophiles, sex with animals, pollution, rape, and murder. They isolate them, suspect them, and treat them with revulsion (even those who are trying to follow their rules). They claim natural disasters, terrorist attacks, or AIDS are God’s judgment for our “wicked” acceptance them.

Many Evangelicals insist that not only is their love wrong, but even their unchosen attractions and indeed their sexual or gender identities are as well. Contrary to science and experience, they insist they chose this and can change it. Some of them force their children to go through the torture of “conversion therapy.” Others literally try to cast out the “demon” of homosexuality. Some kick their children out of their homes to the streets, or speak from their bully pulpits about the necessity of doing so -“turning their children over to Satan,” as it were.

They buy into debunked theories about what causes gayness: a distant father or overbearing mother, for example. They offer quack “treatments” to “fix” it, such as exercises to find their supposedly suppressed “inner” masculinity or femininity. As indicated above, other “treatments” such as shock therapy are not so mild.

They do this in spite of crystal-clear evidence of how important relationships are to our well-being – how fundamentally we are wired for that – and how unaccepting environments drastically elevate LGBTQ persons’ susceptibility to depression and suicide. They do it in spite of evidence that these people largely do not choose these identities and  in most cases cannot choose to be otherwise (though they can choose to act in non-conformity with them). They simply refuse to listen to LGBTQ folk when they try to explain these things or share about their experiences.

In recent years, this hostility toward gay and trans people has become a hallmark of their identity and one of their top political priorities. This, apparently, is the line they are willing to die on. Not caring for strangers, widows, orphans, or the poor (even though the Bible has loads more to say about that.) Those things would be too costly and threatening. No, hatred toward gay and trans people is easier. That’s the name of the game.

They actively seek to bar gay and bisexual couples from being able to marry the person they love, with all the benefits that come with that. They seek to pass bills making it easier for LGBTQ folk to be fired or denied housing or medical care simply because they are gay, bisexual, or trans. Under the guise of religious freedom, they seek to pass bills that make it easier for businesses and colleges to discriminate against gay people. (I’ll admit some of the issues and specific cases related to this last point are more tricky and debatable than others.)

They seek to bar trans people from using the bathroom that marches their gender identity – which can endanger trans individuals and is a source of anxiety and shame. They spread statistically and scientifically misleading propaganda about LGBTQ people being sexual predators (or predators posing as such). They’ve done this for years.

Some on the fringes insist LGBTQ people ought to be castrated, imprisoned, or executed; something that was not so fringe until just recently (or even today in other countries like Uganda where Evangelicals have actively campaigned for such measures).

And to add insult to injury, they say they do all of these things because they love gay people. They’re just trying to save them from themselves. But as I’ve said, their only basis for saying this is their idolatry to a fallible human book.

Science and experience are unambiguous about what loving LGBTQ people as embodied creatures means. It means welcoming them, listening to them, celebrating them and their families, and standing up for their rights. Evangelical opposition to these things can only be called “love” if love is divorced from embodied flourishing – a sort of Gnosticism.

I have seen the Spirit working in powerful ways in my gay, lesbian, bisexual, and trans brothers and sisters. Many of them are quite evidently bearing the fruit of the Spirit. I can see the wholesomeness and goodness that comes from their partnerships and how they flourish in communities that treat them with respect.

Really this isn’t that difficult. And unlike other minority issues, granting LCBTQ rights doesn’t cost anything (outside of shedding an untenably ideology, which I realize can be painful). Evangelical hatred and willingness to sacrifice their LGBTQ sons and daughters to the idol of inerrancy is scandalous. It destroys lives and brings ill repute to the gospel.

And they voted for Trump precisely because of his promises to enact policies that would make life harder for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and trans individuals and families.

Based on idolatry to inerrancy, Evangelicals also often treat women in dehumanizing and unloving ways. In varying degrees, many of them accept the patriarchal norms of the Bible as God’s unalterable will.

I believe there is a minority thread within the Bible (particularly the New Testament) that is more egalitarian. Both men and women are said to be created in God’s image (Genesis  1:27). In places, women are celebrated as prophets, leaders, apostles, teachers, or deacons (Judges 4; 2 Kings 22:14; Romans 16:7; Acts 18:24; etc.). Jesus treated women with respect and let them learn and follow him alongside his male disciples (Luke 8:1-3; 10:38-42). This was radical for those times. Arguably Paul’s language of mutual submission and his command for husbands to love their wives (Ephesians 5:21-31 Colossians 3:18-19) in his version of the household codes  was meant to gently subvert Greco-Roman patriarchal norms.

Even just the logic of the New Testament’s pervasive love ethic would seem to imply egalitarianism when combined with what we know about history, sociology, and what women tell us about themselves.

But despite this minority thread, the Bible is predominately patriarchal. It teaches in many places that women are worth less than men and are essentially “owned” and controlled by them (see Coogan).

For example, fathers could sell their daughters as slaves ( Exodus 21:7) and were the ones to arrange their marriages . A woman’s vow could be nullified by her father or husband (Numbers 30:3-16). In the ten commandments, women are listed among other possessions men are told to not covet (Exodus 20:17). If a raped woman was not yet “given” to another man, her father might choose to give her to her rapist as a wife, provided they never divorced (Deuteronomy 22:28-29). Captive virgins could be forced to become wives (Numbers 31:15-18).

While the New Testament generally tries to soften and even arguably subvert this kind of patriarchal teaching, it doesn’t do away with it. It gives more explicit “proof texts” to Christians who take a hierarchical view of gender roles than ones who take an egalitarian one. Hierarchical views of women have been the norm throughout church history and they are the predominate ones today among conservative Christians.

For example, the authors of Ephesians and Colossians command wives to submit to their husbands (Ephesians 5:22-24; Colossians 3:18). The author of 2 Timothy prohibits women from teaching men and says they must learn from their husbands (2:11-13). He also implies that the reason for this is that women – like Eve – are more gullible; but that they will be saved if they maintain a traditional docile role epitomized by bearing children (2:14-15). The author of 1 Peter says that wives must submit to their husbands and consider them masters even if they are treating them “harshly” (1 Peter 3:1-6 cf 2:18-25)

Between this and Jesus’ prohibition on divorce, many abused women have been pressured to simply “grin and bear it.” Other texts that encourage reconciliation and forgiveness have been used to pressure victims of all stripes (women, children, etc.) to get back together with their abusers after a simple “I’m sorry.” Religious abusers manipulate this masterfully.

And since women are excluded from leadership, men have the inside track in credibility and in setting the agenda of what issues are on the front burner. It’s no coincidence, for example, that spousal abuse and marital rape were not taken seriously until the second wave feminist revolution of the 60s and 70s, with women gaining more representation for the issues that concerned them.

I could spend a lot of time detailing how much damage these kinds of teachings have done: to women I know, to policies and social norms, in other societies with analogous views (such as traditional Islamic ones). This patriarchal mindset that sees women as objects to be possessed and controlled plays into rape culture, a paternalistic view of women as less intelligent or more fragile, and it plays into male entitlement in men’s dealings with women. It is straight up evil. It is NOT God’s eternal, perfect will. But many of the Biblical authors seemed to think it was. We have to be honest about that.

In contrast, many of the women in my life are strong leaders and gifted co-workers. Relationships I’ve seen characterized by mutual respect and egalitarian decision making seem more healthy and loving.

In voting for Trump, many Evangelicals downplayed the harm his words and actions have caused women. They again indicated how little they value women and how opposed or indifferent they are to many policies which are important to women.

On these things Evangelicals are often wrong, but at least they are consistent. On so many other things, they are not even willing to follow the Bible. Like the Pharisees of Jesus’ day, they emphasize purity culture and blind obedience but neglect more important matters of justice, mercy, and love.

For example, the Bible says in multiple places that God’s people are to care for the “stranger” or “alien” in their midst (Deuteronomy 10:19; Psalm 146:9; Matthew 25:35; Hebrews 13:2; etc.). This isn’t just supposed to be a personal impulse; many texts indicate that it is a matter of (political) justice (Exodus 12:49;  23:9; Leviticus 19:33-34; 22:21; 23:9; 24:22; 25:35 Deuteronomy 10:17-19; 24:19-21; 26:12; Jeremiah 7:5-7; 22:3; Ezekiel 22:4, 7; 47:22-23 Malachi 3:5; Zechariah 7:10; etc.).

The actual sin of Sodom (not the made up one of “being gay”) was greed and inhospitality toward strangers and the poor (Genesis 19; Ezekiel 16:49-50; Isaiah 1:10-17; Matthew 10:14; Hebrews 13:2). And honestly, this is as simple as following the Bible’s pervasive love ethic.

Yet many Evangelicals support policies and a candidate who threatens the lives of refugees and immigrants and often treats foreigners as less than.

In the same vein, one of the Bible’s most dominate themes is care for widows, orphans, poor people, and the vulnerable. This is mentioned repeatedly in the Mosaic law (Exodus 22:21-24; 23:6; Deuteronomy 10:17-19; 15:13-15; 24:19-21; 26:12; etc.).

Failure to insure such justice is one of the prophets’ major indictments on Israel that led to her judgment (Psalm 10:14, 17-18; 146:1, 5-9; Proverbs 14:31; 19:17;  Isaiah 1:10-17; 3:14-25; 10:1-3; 58:3-7; Jeremiah 5:26-29; 7:5-7; 22:3, 13-19; Ezekiel 22:4, 7; 16:49-50; Amos 2:7; 5:10-15, 21-24; 6:1-7; Micah 2:2; Zechariah 7:10 Malachi 3:5; etc.).

Such care is central to Jesus’ gospel (Luke 1:52-53; 3:10-14; 4:18-19; 6:20-26, 33-36; 7:22-23; 10:25-37; 11:39-42; 12:16-34; 14:12-14; 16:19-31; 18:18-30; 19:8-9; Mark 12:28-31, 40; Matthew 6:1-4, 19-24; 10:7-8; 15:32; 18:21-35; 25:35-40; etc.).

And it was distinctively characteristic of the early church (John 13:29; Acts 2:42-47; 4:32-37; 5:1-11; 6:1-7; Galatians 2:10; Romans 15:22-28;   1 Corinthians 11:20-22; 16:1-4; 2 Corinthians 8-9; Colossians 3:5; 1 Timothy 3:3; 6:8-10, 17-19; Hebrews 13:5; James 2:1-17 ; 5:1-5 1 John 2:15-17; 3:16-18; etc.).

Much like with foreigners, many of these texts imply that this care was not just charity, but was a matter of justice. This is implicit or explicit in most of the texts surveyed. But specific examples include the following: Farmers were commanded to leave the edges of their fields unharvested so the poor could eat (Deuteronomy 24:19-21). Usury was condemned so the rich could not prey on the vulnerable (Exodus 22:25; Deuteronomy 23:19-20; Leviticus 25:35-38). After seven years, debts were to be cancelled and slaves set free, and after fifty years land was to revert back to its original owner (Leviticus 25; Deuteronomy 15).

Yet, based on their misuse of a handful of texts (e.g. 2 Thessalonians 3:6-15), many Evangelicals see a special concern for the vulnerable and extra economic measures to ensure their well-being as negotiable or even as harmful “enabling.” They tend to support typical Republican policies that subsidize big business and the rich, cut funding for social safety nets for the poor, oppose health care for everyone, and glorify unbridled capitalism. Knowingly or unknowingly, they support economic exploitation of people here in the US and in other countries. They seem unconcerned about increased income inequality. Though they claim to be pro-life, they often oppose measures to help the poor that actually mitigate the reasons poor women often feel compelled to have abortions.

And now they have voted for a man who literally brags about his greed. In voting for Trump, they are supporting our increased move toward oligarchy and unfettered exploitation of the poor and marginalized.

Jesus said blessed are the peacemakers (Matthew 5:9). He told us to love our enemies and pray for them, forgive those who persecute us, and turn the other cheek  (Matthew 5:38-48; 6:14-15; 18:21-35; Mark 11:25; Luke 6:27-36; John 20:23; etc.). He condemned violence and retribution, instead calling us to leave vengeance in God’s hands. He demonstrated such radical enemy-love and forgiveness in his own example (Luke 22:49-51; 23:34) – an example the New Testament repeatedly call us to imitate (Philippians 2:4-11; 2 Corinthians 8:9; 1 Peter 2:21-25; 1 John 3:16; etc.).

Love saturates the New Testament’s moral vision. It is the greatest commandment (Matthew 22:36-40), the “royal law” (James 2:8), the fulfillment of the law (Romans 13:8-10; Galatians 5:14), and the most enduring virtue (1 Corinthians 13). The early church up until Constantine took this mandate of love and forgiveness seriously (Romans 12:9-21; 2 Corinthians 2:5-11; Ephesians 4:32; Colossians 3:13; 1 Peter 3:9; etc. see Sider). The Bible’s ideal vision for God’s coming kingdom – a kingdom breaking into the world through Christ – is a pacific one, where swords are beaten into plow sheds (Isaiah 2:4).

While admittedly such values can never be fully transferred to a this-worldly government, it does seem that a preference for peace, magnanimity, fairness, and restraint with others (where possible) would be closer to the kingdom ideal. It seems like preventative and restorative measures would be more in keeping with this spirt then purely punitive ones (though obviously the latter are necessary sometimes).

But Evangelicals voted for a bully of a man who glories in brutality: wanting to bring back torture, “pound the hell” out of ISIS, kill innocent people, punch protesters and others he disagrees with, beef up our already bloated military even more, and exploit other countries under the threat of force. He is apparently unwilling to address systemic violence and racism in our law enforcement. In his view, more people need guns, not less. He and Evangelicals tend to favor the most harsh punishments, including bringing back the death penalty.

The Bible is clear that lying is wrong and truth is paramount (Leviticus 19:11; Colossians 3:9; etc.). Just logically, truth and trustworthiness are of bedrock importance in a leader.

But Evangelicals trusted and voted for one of the most dishonest persons to ever run for office. Their tendency to anti-intellectualism and  gullible faith apparently made them easy targets. As Valarie Tarico says, they have become a people of exploiters and exploited.

Relatedly, the Bible is clear that we should not gossip or slander others (Exodus 20:16; 23:1; Psalm 101:5; Proverbs 6:16-19; Romans 1:29; James 4:11; etc.). Common norms of decency and honesty also suggest this.

And yet Evangelicals lapped up the GOP’s slander of Obama, Clinton, and others. To be clear, there are legitimate areas to critique these figures; genuine faults and mistakes. But so much of the angry fervor that was whipped up was baseless (e.g. Obama being a Muslim and not really American, Benghazi, democrats wanting to take your guns, the election being rigged, Jade Helm being a secret plot to take over Texas, etc.).

The Bible and particularly the New Testament exalt humility, servanthood, and sacrifice in a leader (Luke 14:7-14; 22:25-30; Philippians 2:1-11; etc.). But Evangelicals have voted for a man that epitomizes arrogant boastfulness and who is transparently egotistical and self-serving.

Jesus’ teaching about neighbor love ideally universalizes the sphere of people we are supposed to care for (Luke 10:25-37). The teachings of the other great religions and even humanist ethics  have also tended toward expanding the circle of concern. Even so-called “identity politics” aims to do so. For example, feminists at their best aren’t against men or wanting to have a leg up on them; they just want equal rights and an equitable standing to them.

In a globalized and interconnected world that faces challenges such as climate change that will depend on us coming together, things like equality and mutuality are more important than ever.

Yet, in the face of this Evangelicals voted for a man who seeks an “America first” approach. And specifically, a white America, a “Christian” America, a rich, male, and non-disabled America. To the degradation of everyone else. Conservative Evangelicals often seem to buy into a rugged individualism that is neither true to reality nor to spiritual (Trinitarian) values of interconnectedness and loving care for one another.

The Bible’s teachings on love, compassion, and human equality as well as common decency indicate that racism is wrong.

Yet, Evangelicals have a troubling history of either actively supporting racism or not taking it very seriously. Many European Christians appealed to the “doctrine of discovery” and a sense of “manifest destiny” to justify stealing native peoples’ lands and  enslaving or killing them. Evangelical Protestants campaigned to bring slavery to the colonies. Since the Bible has more “proof texts” to support slavery and nothing that directly condemns it, conservative “Bible believing” Christians were among the fiercest defenders of the institution. They saw abolitionism as a liberal assault on the authority of God’s Word.

After the modernist controversy that birthed the Fundamentalist movement, conservatives tended to be suspicious of social justice movements in general. White Evangelicals were among the most resistant to the civil rights movement and this resistance played an integral role in the rise of the Religious Right. Since then they have made greater strides towards racial equality. But for a number of reasons including still segregated churches, unacknowledged privilege, and antipathy to social science and social justice, they are often less than fully engaged allies for racial equity.

But many Evangelicals rewrite this history to lesson their guilt and not have to face America’s “original sin” of racism and white supremacy. They wax eloquent about our “glorious” Christian past. They pretend like they were reformers when they were most often the lethargic or the actual oppressors. The pretend like racism no longer infects us. Or they at least downplay the (structural) complexity of it or the misery it inflicts, from Standing Rock to Ferguson. And now they have voted for the candidate endorsed by the KKK who ran on a barely concealed platform of white nationalism.

They claim they care about religious freedom, but vote for a man that has vowed to strip the rights from people who don’t think like they do. In reality, many only care about their Christian privilege, and for some, a literal Christian theocracy.

They say they care about the Constitution but voted for a man who threatens freedom of religion, free speech and the press, an impartial judiciarate, due process, and who evinces totalitarian impulses.

They say the want to “Focus on the Family” and are the party of “family values.” But what they really mean is white heterosexual middle-class families. They certainly don’t care about gay families. They seek to undermine their rights and family structures at every turn. They don’t care about minority families. They seek to see immigrant families torn apart by deportations. They support the devastation that the “war on drugs” and mass incarceration has caused to black families. They seek to cut off social safety net support for poor families. Until recently, they were disdainful of divorced or single-parent families.

They say they are pro-life, but in terms of policy are often pro-guns, pro-war, pro death penalty, anti police reform or accountability, anti-poor, anti-immigrant, anti-refugee, anti-minority, climate change deniers, anti-gay, against preventative community health measures, and so on.

They say when it suits them that “character counts,” but then elect a vulgar man who is a liar, an adulterer, a bully, a thief, a peeper and genital grabber, perhaps a rapist, a bigot, an arrogant and greedy person, an owner of strip clubs and casinos, a man who glories in power and celebrates violence.

Many people thought it ironic that when Jerry Falwell Jr. and his wife posed next to Trump for a photo, a prominent framed picture can be seen next to them of Trump with a playboy model. The hypocritical contrast to past Evangelical posturings was palpable. The world took notice.

As Robert P Jones notes,

In 2011, consistent with the “values voter” brand and the traditional evangelical emphasis on the importance of personal character, only 30 percent of white evangelical Protestants agreed with this statement [that a political leader who committed an immoral act in his or her private life could nonetheless behave ethically and fulfill their duties in their public life]. But with Trump at the top of the Republican ticket in 2016, 72 percent of white evangelicals said they believed a candidate could build a kind of moral dyke between his private and public life. In a head-spinning reversal, white evangelicals went from being the least likely to the most likely group to agree that a candidate’s personal immorality has no bearing on his performance in public office (emphasis mine).

Blogger Rachel Held Evans recently tweeted, “The culture that warned me against moral relativism is now the hardest to convince that character, truth, and compassion matter.” I agree.

At the root of so many of these problems is that too many Evangelicals hold to a theology that emphasizes power over love. I have written on that here.

While this post may seem harsh, I have elsewhere been more gentle in calling Evangelicals to live up to their own tradition’s high principles.

And whether through gentle exhortation or more searing prophetic critique, I will continue to stand up for the truth and call my Evangelical kin to repent of their practical apostasy from the way of Jesus.

My Heart Hungers for My Wife

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This week, I head back out to the Philippines to be reunited with my wife, Jennylyn, after more than a year apart. We got married in August 2015 and have been laboring through the spousal visa process ever since. She finally has her interview at the embassy.

As I prepare for this reunion trip, I’m beset by a range of emotions: excitement about seeing my wife and in-laws again; anxiety about the interview; some insecurities about myself. But perhaps above all, a heart-hunger that defies easy description to just be with Jen and truly begin our life together.

In honor of my upcoming trip, I want to share a reflection I wrote after the last one:

My Philippine wedding trip was one of of extreme highs and lows:

LOWS:

– The heat, especially in a tux.

– Being exhausted at times.

– Having a very bad day on the eve of my wedding and thinking for a moment, “What have I gottten myself into?”

– Being an introvert at a wedding. At MY wedding. In the Philippines. Where of necessity I (and Jen) were the center of attention in a culture where dancing, pictures, and honoring numerous family members and sponsors was a central part.

– Hurting my feet. Open sores are no fun.

– Adjusting at times to Jen’s quiet demeaner.

– All the unexpected and scary beaurocratic hurdles to getting married as a foreigner in the Philippines.

– The hours and hours of rough roads and switchbacks heading up to Sagada. Those mountain roads are the most rugged I’ve yet experienced. At one point, it was storming and they were flooded out in places.

– Getting really sick two days into our honeymoon.

– Getting caught in a traffic deadlock running late for my return flight.

– Being mentally “done” with an activity hours before anyone else is.

– At times not understanding extended conversations or social norms and feeling out of control.

– That morning my life flashed before my eyes. Pretty scary.

HIGHS:

– Laughing, eating, singing, chatting, and bonding with family and friends.

– The amazing generosity of Jen’s family, church, and Barangay.

– Being able to have my my mom there for the wedding and being able to show her many of the people and places I love.

– Driving to Manila while listening to Pink Floyd, with my baby sleeping on my shoulder.

– The afternoon of my wedding, after the celebration, just walking with Jen and Ester and some children by the trees and fields. The weather was perfect and we had a breathtaking view of the landscape and mountains in the background. We were taking pictures both beautiful and funny. It was well nigh a spiritual experience. It was perhaps my favorite part of the trip and the best afternoon I can remember since childhood.

– Intimate moments that will remain just between Jen and me.

– After that bad day before my wedding, after thinking that Jen was unhappy with me, being honest and vulnerable with her about that and crying together and holding each other as we reasured one another of our happiness and love for the other.

– In general, at the end of each day, being able to hold Jen close and express my deep affection for her. God I’ll miss that!

– Seeing how beautiful my bride was on our wedding day.

– Sweet poses, including ones of special significance to us, at our pictorial. (The nose-to-nose one is my favorite.)

– Playing with the children.

– Hearing my mom sing and give her testimony at Jen’s church.

– Seeing Mission Impossible with Jen. Something about its familiar form was refreshing in a sea of foreignness. Also, Jen swears she thinks I look like Tom Cruise. Ah, the blindness of love.

– Looking into Jen’s beautiful eyes and seeing her love, trust, and playfulness.

– The many stolen pics…

– My ring, with Jen’s name engraved inside it. She later engraved my name inside hers – which also happens to be a family heirloom given us by my mom.

– Pictures with the tigers. The dazzling 3D ones at Art In Island and the real one named Nicole at Pugad Adventure.

– My baby doctoring my back to health. At one point she said, “give it to me. Give it all to me;” by which she meant my sickness. It was a comment both joking and completely serious.

– Seeing my baby get silent and cry as my departure time drew near. There’s a kind of love and caring that’s hard to fake.

– The day we stayed at Tita Julie’s. Having a renewed sense of assurance, peace, and mission in life and before God. Also cuddling, joking, and TALKING (!) with Jen.

– The breathtaking view around Baguio and Sagada.

– Eating an amazing meal at an American style pub in a mountain town (Sagada) that reminded me of nothing so much as Frakes, Kentucky.

– Food memories: green mango with vinegar; hito (catfish); lapu-lapu (“the fish that killed Magellan”); halo-halo (like a slushee, but 10 times better); balut (a duck embryo, not for the faint of heart); American style pizza, pasta, chicken, and burgers.

– Being reminded of what authentic, organic community is really like.

– Learning from a community and culture where children truly are everything…without any less honor being there for older people, or really anyone for that matter.

– Funny and sweet Filipino shows. Especially “Pangako Sa ‘Yo” and “On the Wings of Love.”

– My baby waiting and watching me head into the airport for as long as she possibly could, even moving locations at one point for a final glimpse. So noble, sweet, and beautiful!

Trump’s Threat to Muslims, Refugees (and you and me)

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Today’s post comes from a larger one I wrote on Trump’s threat to people I care about and to our democracy. At the end I will make a few additional comments about more recent developments in the last few days.

Refugees

I worry for my Muslim friends, especially my former refugee clients. As a student in grad school for social work, I interned this last year at an agency that helps resettle refugees here in Chicago. The case worker I interned under is Iraqi and many of the clients we worked with were either Syrian or Iraqi.

Refugees by definition have fled their home country because of a well founded fear for their lives. The situation for refugees in America is a little different than in Europe. We are not directly connected to Africa or the Middle East, so we can better control the volume and flow of people coming here. Refugees go through a vigorous screening process before they are given the ok to come.

Yes, it’s not always possible to obtain original documents and no screening process is one hundred percent reliable. But the refugee process is more rigorous and time consuming (it can take two years) than any other way of coming here. There are easier ways for foreign terrorists to slip in and US refugees have rarely been implicated in terrorism. As of October 7, 2015, only three of the 784,000 refugees resettled in the US since 9/11 have been caught plotting terrorist acts.

If that still sounds like a scary number, it’s worth noting that, statistically speaking, terrorism is a minor threat compared to other everyday risks. Americans are more likely to be killed by lightning or peanuts than they are to be killed by terrorism. Its also worth noting that most US domestic terrorism is committed by white Christians (self-professed, at least). But we know its ridiculous to stereotype all such people, right? No population is completely free from potentially dangerous elements. It’s unfair to expect that or scapegoat entire populations based on the actions of a very few.

As a side note, the refugee crisis is broader than the Middle East and it is only going to get worse. We can’t fix everything, but many less affluent countries are doing much more than we are. And in light of our environmental habits and foreign policy choices, I think it would be hard to dispute that we bear at least some responsibility for what is going on.

And for the most part, refugees and immigrants more generally do not take jobs away from American citizens. They often add to a countries economy as they did in Germany. Many other common notions about immigrants, such as the idea that they bring increases in crime, are wrong or at least simplistic.

Trump’s Threats

Donald Trump has consistently whipped up fear and hatred toward Muslims and refugees. He called for a ban of all Muslims from entering this country, suggesting that any one of them could be a terrorist. He has entertained shutting down Mosques, registering Muslims, and insinuated that they know who among them is a terrorist (i.e. even innocent Muslims are in some way culpable if one of them commits an act of terror). According to him, “Islam hates us.”

He insists that terror attacks committed by fringe Jihadi groups and which violate the Qur’an and Hadith be branded “Islamic.” (How would we feel about someone insisting that the KKK be labeled a “Christian terror” group?)

Although he will not tell us what his plan to defeat ISIS is, he is clear that he wants to bring back torture and also kill the families of terrorists, even if they are innocent. Trump has indicated that he is willing to violate the Geneva Convention and even steal invaded countries’ resources. The way he describes Muslims, and especially refugees, is as an invading horde or an infestation. He regularly lies about refugees not being screened and being a Trojan horse for terrorists. He has promised to deport all Syrian refugees we have taken in.

Many of the advisors and cabinet Trump is choosing to surround himself with also hold extremely Islamophobic views. For example, his chief strategist Steve Bannon is an “alt-right” white nationalist who, as executive chair of Breitbart, spread anti-Muslim hate speech.

General Michael Flynn, his pick for national security advisor, once tweeted that, “fear of Muslims is RATIONAL.” According to the New York Times, Flynn appears to believe that:

“Islamist militancy poses an existential threat on a global scale, and the Muslim faith itself is the source of the problem, he said, describing it as a political ideology, not a religion. He has even at times gone so far as to call it a political ideology that has ‘metastasized’ into a ‘malignant cancer.'”

I can’t imagine how terrified many of my Muslim and refugee friends must feel right now. Their futures and possibly their very lives hang in the balance. Where will they go and who can take them in if they are deported? Their home countries are war zones and most surrounding countries are flooded with refugees. How will they survive (let alone thrive)? And if they remain here, they are subject to discrimination, harassment, and even violence. If, God forbid, another terrorist attack occurs, they will likely be scapegoated mercilessly.

The Danger of Escalating Violence

To be honest, I fear that Trump’s belligerence toward Muslims will incite more radicalization; and this in turn could endanger more people (including Westerners) and snowball into escalating violence.

We know that terrorists often come from marginalized groups that feel oppressed. We know that both Jihadi radicals and many far-right conservatives want to sow a “clash of civilizations” narrative where (Western) Christianity and (Eastern) Islam are irrevocably at war with each other. Not just extremists on either side, but the cultures in toto.

We know ISIS is already using Trump in their recruitment videos. They are saying (essentially), “look how much they hate you. Look how they treat you. You will never be accepted there. Join us and have your vengeance.”

We have seen how Western colonialism and violence have bred anger and responding violence. More terrorism. (Not unlike what their terrorism and historical violence has done to us.) If Trump enacts policies that violate the civil rights of Muslim Americans and is willing to target innocent Muslims, bomb Iran, etc.; can there be any doubt this would invite push back? Trump can kill groups of terrorists, but he can’t “bomb the hell” out of an idea, an impulse.

What happens when new terror groups rise up and new terrorist acts are committed? Can we count on a Trump administration to make careful distinctions in policy and rhetoric between extremists and Muslims in general? Why would we, given what he’s already said and done.

And what happens if Trump’s domestic promises of restored jobs and greatness fail to materialize? Can we expect Trump to take the blame or advance a nuanced account of the challenges we face? Of course not. He will find a scapegoat like he’s consistently done. And Muslims are easy scapegoats right now in the cultural milieu we find ourselves.

Constituting only 1% of the population, many people don’t have daily relationships with Muslims. So they revert to stereotypes. Such a small demographic lacks political power. Since most Muslims in the US are ethnic or racial minorities, racism and xenophobia come into play with Islamophobia.

As my friend Brian points out, one difference between Islamophobia and anti-Semitism in the West is that some Muslims actually do legitimately harmful things. Most Jews are not committing acts of violence against Westerners. (Though to be fair, Israeli Jews often do harmful things against Muslims, and vice versa). Terrorist acts are visibly and undeniably evil.

Fear and hatred toward Muslims is more widespread than we would like to believe. FBI data shows that hate acts against Muslims have tripled just in the last year. There is an entire cottage industry of books and websites trying to argue that Islam is inherently violent and totalitarian. Muslims that seem nice are either not being consistent or they are crafty, just biding their time to impose Sharia on you.

I’ll never forget some of the comments I saw on a post by Evangelical leader Franklin Graham. In the post Graham is agreeing with Trump’s call to ban all Muslims from immigrating to the US. The post got a lot of push-back, but it also got 167,000 likes and a lot of chilling cheers such as some of the following:

“…This is about a culture of evil power lust based on the twisted teachings of the Quran!…Islam teaches you need only kill people for Allah to be brought into heaven…All Islam carries this demonic seed!!”

“Ship all of them out of OUR COUNTRY, ENOUGH OF THEIR MADNESS!!!!!!”

“Pastor Graham I would go one step further, deport them all. I would feel a little sorry for any peaceful ones, but they had a chance to help this country out by reporting on where the other ones are located.”

“Remember the story of David and Goliath?? David killed him with a sling shot with God’s power. This shows that when your life is in danger you do away with the evil by destroying them. In the Bible times you find walls around the towns. Why? To keep the enemy out!”

“…they only teach hate and death to other religions in there…so yes get rid of all mosques.”

“The man advocating the quarantine of dogs does so not out of hate for the dogs. Rather it is because he knows that many are rabid and a threat to human life….The solution in such a case is not to kill them all, for which a strong argument exits, but to exclude them…”

“Unlike the Judeo-Christian faiths, Muslims are not bound by truth. They are not only permitted to lie, they are commanded to; it’s called Al-Taqiyya. To Muslims Mohammed is the perfect example and they are to follow his example similar to the way Christians are to follow Christ’s example. According to the Hadith…Mohammed was a terrorist, murderer, deceiver (lier) racist, misogynist, rapist, and pedophile and promoted the same for the advancement of Islam. That’s a historical fact…any Muslim that does not subscribe to terrorism, rape, racism, ect. either is not in fact Muslim at all (AKA Secular Muslim) or they are practicing Al Taqiyya to deceive the Kufar (Unbeliever). Allah is referred to in the Koran as ‘The greatest of deceivers” (AKA Liar). To deceive is a central value of Islam. Never forget that.”

With anti-Muslim sentiments like this so high, and now with an Islamophobic administration in power which has promised to do tangibly harmful things to Muslims, there are legitimate reasons for fear.

Addressing Some Common Misconceptions

The accusations in the comments above are scary, but are they true? It is beyond the scope of this post to give that question the attention it deserves, but in a word, NO they are not. A tiny minority of Muslims are terrorists and their brand of Islam is definitely dangerous. They and it deserve to be eradicated, just like every other movement of hate.

There are also other troubling norms that are reasonably widespread in the Muslim world: homophobia, dehumanizing treatment of women, intolerance of other religions, cruel judicial punishments, etc. We liberals need to be honest about that. Yet, these kinds of problems are not exclusive to Islam, not all Muslims fall prey to them, and in many cases there is legitimate theological debate about if they are true to the spirit of Islam.

On the other hand, most Muslims are peace-loving people. For millions of Muslims, their Islamic faith has transformed them to love God and be loving and compassionate toward others. I’ve seen this in my Muslim friends and also read about it in my study.

Are these people simply good in spite of an ideology that is really all about ruthless domination? Again, I don’t think so. The Al-Taqiyya claim that Muslims can regularly lie to deceive others is just wrong. The Quran everywhere calls for honesty, with extremely circumscribed exceptions. The doctrine of Al-Taqiyya is most prominent in the historically persecuted Shia branch of Islam and it has to do with being able to avoid torture.

There are definitely violent injunctions in places in the Quran. Beyond the Quran, Sunnah, and Hadith; there is certainly intolerance and imperial religious violence at times in Islamic history. Though to be fair, the same is true of Christianity and other religions that become intertwined with empire.

The question is, what is the context of these violent passages? Most scholars would agree that there are three main stages of early Islam under Muhammed. Early on, Islam was a tiny persecuted movement in Mecca. At this stage, Muhammed called his followers to pacifism and forbearance.

Later, after Muhammed fled to Medina, he exercised political power but was still in a precarious place, under constant assault by the stronger Meccan coalition. At this point, Muhammed believed Muslims were given the option to fight against those who opposed them – but only defensively and the way they fought was to be bounded by restrictions not unlike our “just war” school of thought: no killing of non-combatants, proportionality in violence, a preference for mercy and peace, no unnecessary destruction of crops, protection of holy places and leaders (including Jewish and Christian ones), and so on (Esposita 132-57; Dagli 1805-17).

After Muhammad retook Mecca (with virtually no bloodshed), he started to have much more control in the Arabian Peninsula. There are Quranic passages after this that strike many as more violent and unbounded than those that came before. For example, this is when the infamous “verse of the sword” was revealed.

There is debate about what passages like this mean and whether this new phase introduced a more aggressive mandate that “abrogated” earlier restrictions or, rather, if it was restricted to a particular situation and (contextually) more bounded itself than critics usually imply. Under the latter reading, earlier passages that urge peace and moderation in justified fighting are not abrogated but are meant to always apply.

Islamophobes and terrorists side with the former interpretation. Most Muslims and Islamic scholars I have read say the latter (for example, see here or read Caner K. Dagli’s essay “Conquest and Conversion, War and Peace in the Quran” in The Study Quran).

It’s important to note that Muslim belligerence sometimes stems in part from their sense of being under assault. Such a perception goes back to the crusades, but more recently it stems from events such as the following:

British massacres of Muslim in colonial India, invasion of Afghanistan, and economic exploitation of Egypt; French exploitation of Lebanon; the creation of the state of Israel (on which see below); the Russian invasion of Afghanistan and violent suppression of Muslims in Chechnya; ethnic cleansings of Muslims in Bosnia and Myanmar; and America’s oppressive Mid-East policies (e.g. propping up regressive regimes, CIA backed coups, dubious invasions with hundreds of thousands of lives lost as “collateral damage,” areas destabilized, drone strikes, carte blanche support for Israel – even when they engage in injustice, military bases throughout Muslim majority countries, etc..) (Goldschmidt 193-408; Aslan 225-77; Atmstrong 302-401).

With Israel in particular, we are simply not thinking empathetically about how it would feel, psychologically, to have Zionism imposed from the outside. At the time of the Balfour Declaration, 93 percent of Palestine was non-Jewish (Goldschmidt 266). It had been under Muslim rule for thirteen hundred years. From an Arab perspective, the creation of Israel broke a previous promise England had made to them (Goldschmidt 202).

I remember reading about a Saudi King who asked President Roosevelt why a national homeland for the Jews could not be carved out from a part of Germany, since they were the ones who perpetrated the holocaust (Goldschmidt 236). Can you imagine how the Germans would feel about that, especially if the Israelis did there what they do in Israel/Palestine.

Or imagine if America became so weakened that some outside power like China could decide to give a good chunk of the American East coast (including culturally important cities like New York) back to Native Americans for a national homeland. We’d be shamed and incensed.

I’m not saying that Arabs, Palestinians, or Muslims haven’t done terrible things to Israelis; but they’ve had a lot of terrible stuff happen to them too. And as a rule, we are not even trying to understand their perspective.

And that ties into a final point. Much of the violence perpetrated by Muslims is as much based on economic, cultural, and geopolitical realities as it is Muslim doctrine. When various peoples are poor, oppressed, shamed, and desperate; they resort to scapegoating and (desperate) violent measures. Where there are power vacuums, they will be filled. Where people feel marginalized and disenfranchised, they will lash out. This is true for people in general, not just Muslims. We’ve seen it here in America too.

Likewise, Muslim attitudes towards those of other faiths is complicated. Islam is a proselytizing religion that seeks to convert others to its way of life. There are places and times it has been intolerant of other belief systems, especially polytheism. But in general, it has not sought to forcibly convert others. Jews, Christians, and Sabeans were protected “peoples of the book” who were allowed to continue practicing their religions under certain restrictions. Both Caner Dagli (1810-11) and Reza Aslan (271-72) argue that this protection was sometimes extended to Hindus, Zoroastrians, and others.

And since “there is no compulsion in Islam” (Surah 2:256 cf 109:6; 18:29; etc.), there is no conflict for Muslims in democratic countries tolerating people of other faiths or no faith.

Similar complexities revolve around the Islamic notion of Sharia. Like Judaism, Islam tends to emphasize orthopraxy (correct action) over orthodoxy (correct belief) (Esposita 159). This does not mean theology is unimportant to Muslims, nor does it mean they are merely “legalistic” (though of course some are).

Sharia has many meanings and is broader than just “Islamic law” – though it includes that. It is a body of Quran-based guidance that shows Muslims how to live. There are different schools of interpretation and different levels of rigidity in how Muslims approach it.

Traditionalists want to equate the early law schools with God’s own unalterable will. Reformers argue that only the Quran is completely divine. The other elements that go into Sharia are human and the products of social custom and human reasoning. As such, they are contingent on social and historical circumstances and are subject to change (Esposita 158-66; Aslan 164-73).

Even in terms of the Quran, as Reza Aslan points out, it was revealed in a progressive and flexible way: with new revelations superseding old ones and adapting to the Muslim community’s changing circumstances (Aslan 170-71). While revelation ceased with Muhammad, reformers argue that keeping true to this adaptive spirit and the (for the times) radically egalitarian ideals of the Quran and early Muslim community means emphasizing those aspects of it; seeing it’s values of justice, compassion, and mercy as the interpretive center and trajectory through which to approach the rest and be able to adapt it where necessary.

Some critics claim that certain communities in Europe with a high Muslim immigrant population have become “no-go” zones where non-Muslims are unwelcome and where regressive forms of Sharia are enforced. There are certainly poor, predominately immigrant communities that face challenges, including crime and a sense of alienation. These problems are as much socio-economic as they are religious (Esposita 233).

While I cannot completely rule out the possibility of some such de facto “no-go” communities, many such claims have been debunked and most of the sources I see such claims in are Islamophobic and in other ways not credible. I and I think most Muslim immigrants would agree that they should follow the laws of whatever country they find themselves in, granted these laws are just. Regressive forms of Sharia should not be tolerated. For more on the challenges of Muslims in the West see Esposita 221-40.

All of this to say, Sharia has different meanings and is subject to a variety of interpretations and applications (not unlike Jewish halaka or even Christians’ use of the Bible). Just like them, some interpretations are more compatible with a constitutional democracy than others. But also just like them, it would be unethical and unconstitutional to insist that Muslims completely disavow Sharia. We would never say Jews had to disavow Jewish law or Christians disavow the Bible in order to live in or participate in our democracy.

Muhammad was a complex historical character. As a non-Muslim, I’ll freely admit that there are aspects of his life that I find troubling. Particularly his marriage to a young girl (although there are a variety of Muslim explanations of what this really meant and when it would have been consummated). And yet, there are also things I admire about Muhammad, like his honesty, compassion, and forbearance.

He was willing to fight and even be ruthless at times, but I think painting him as bloodthirsty is a distortion in light of his overall character as well as the historical and situational context he lived in (see Aslan 3-108). It’s also important to remember that the attributes of Muhammad most Muslims seek to copy are his benevolent ones (Goldschmidt 40-41).

Those who would seek to know more about Muhammad deserve to read from a variety of credible perspectives (including sympathetic ones and not just those out to damn him).

I could write about many other things. For example, I could write about how Muslims view God not just as a harsh judge, but also as profoundly loving. But the bottom line is this: Muslims are basically like everyone else. Some are good people and others bad. Likewise, as with other religions, Islam can be interpreted in a variety of ways. To some, Islam inspires violence and hatred. For others, it leads to love and kindness.

In contrast to Trump’s caricature, the refugees I have worked with are mostly good people. I’ve laughed with them, watched them kiss and play with their children, and even been invited into their homes for coffee and baklava. I know they are not the menace Trump and many of his followers imagine. I weep and rage at the hatred and ignorance I have seen spew forth from many against Muslims and particularly Syrian refugees. I fume at the privileged hypocrisy that cries “religious freedom” and would strip the rights of those of a different faith.

Postscript

Since I wrote that a month ago, some of my worst fears have been realized. President Trump reiterated his wish that we would have stolen Iraq’s oil – even going so far as to suggest we might have another chance at that. He expressed his belief that the Muslim world hates us so much that nothing we do could make things worse. He expressed the desire to move the US embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. This and other actions have signaled Trump’s disdain for Palestinians and his willingness to support Israel’s apartheid policies against them.

He signed an executive order that will ban immigrants and refugees from seven Muslim majority countries. The ban includes refugees who have already been approved to come, even seeking to turn away some who had just arrived at the airport!

Such a blanket ban is illegal, immoral, and unnecessary. Hearts are broken, hopes are dashed, and people will die from this.

It is also disingenuous and displays Trump’s corruption. To wit: citizens from countries banned have historically posed little to no terrorist threat to the United States whereas citizens from Muslim countries not included in the ban (for example, Saudi Arabia or the United Arab Emirates) have posed such a threat. Not coincidently, Trump has business connections with the countries excluded from the ban.

Trump also expressed his desire to give Christian refugees preferential treatment over others. As Alan Noble  observes, his Executive Order on refugees includes:

“mandatory reports every 180 days on crime, radicalization, terrorism, etc. committed by foreign nationals. This is propaganda by Trump to justify his terrible policy. It’s a stacked-evidence fallacy…The idea is to exclusively report about the bad things done by a group of people. If this was an actual effort at transparency, the report would also include data on the successes and contributions of those foreign nationals. But Trump is not concerned with that because it doesn’t fit his narrative. These reports will breed animus towards Muslims.”

Scapegoating and demonizing minorities is nothing new. And it never ends with mere words. Already it is set to kill people. Coz that’s what this kind of action means in the real world. Such flagrant hatred and violence incites responding hatred and violence.

This unnecessarily endangers our service men and women on the front lines. It frays friendships we have worked to establish. It creates the virtual certainty of more terrorist attacks. That crisis can then be used by the Trump administration as a pretext for further solidifying power and “unifying” people for the crusade against Muslims that the Right has openly lusted after for years.

An Open Letter to My Evangelical Friends and Family

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This post is part of a larger one I wrote about a month ago on the threat President Trump poses to people I care about and to my country. In that post I also had some harsh words for Evangelicals, many of whom I see as compromising their faith by unilaterally supporting Trump.

While I do think those problems are serious and widespread, things are never that simple. People and movements are complex. I known many good people who are Evangelicals. I think of my mom, who is one of the best persons I know. She is wise, industrious, kind, and resiliently joyful. In many ways she is my hero.

Or I think of the Filipino pastor who married me and my wife. Belief-wise he’s an old-school Fundamentalist. But he is also warm and funny. He drove four hours to help pick up my mom from the airport. And when we found out that her flight had been delayed, he was willing to wait in Manila all night for her. He gave me and Jen a lot of good advice. Quite a worldly-wise man in spite of his beliefs.

I can think of many other examples. I wouldn’t want to downplay that. Here might also be a good place to acknowledge that progressives like myself have our own blind-spots and flaws.

But those problems I identified remain. And I fear that political power and alignment with an administration as immoral as Trump’s will only further compromise Evangelicals’ commitment to love and justice.

Evangelicals, I implore you: good intentions are not enough. They must be matched with knowledge. History is strewn with examples of people who did massive amounts of harm under the best of intentions. If God reveals truth in creation – if all truth is God’s truth – please don’t be afraid of science or the testimony of your neighbors. Be willing to engage others and the world in a fair and open-minded way. Please learn to be more discerning in the sources you trust.

Be willing to approach Trump’s claims critically, given his history of whoppers. Are you willing to call him out when he lies? Are you willing to defend our free press, even when you disagree with the perspectives some sources take? People of the truth should have nothing to fear from transparency, fact-checking, or an open exchange of ideas.

Please consider arguments from a number of different perspectives about if the Bible is truly infallible or if it must be for God to use it in a powerful way. Please prayerfully study the Scriptures to see if I am right about love being at the center of God’s character and what he calls us to. I believe the Bible itself will bear this out, but also consider what other sources in natural theology such as miracles or religious experience indicate about the Divine. How would making love the center of your hermeneutic change how you approach God and others?

Please reflect on why the Bible spends so much time focusing specifically on the needs of “the least of these” – widows, orphans, the poor, and strangers. Why not just say “love everyone” and leave it at that? All lives matter.

Of course, all lives do matter. We are suppose to love everyone. Some aspects of loving others are universal to all individuals and groups. For example, for all people, love means being honest to them, respecting them, listening to them with an open mind, treating them with kindness and compassion, and seeking their happiness and maturity.

But vulnerable people groups need more than the everyday kindness or curtesy we might extend to another. They have urgent needs that more well-to-do souls simply don’t struggle to have met. They face oppressive circumstances that sometimes are quite different than those of majority groups. The Biblical authors were wise enough to recognize that. What would it mean to apply that insight more broadly to today?

Please reconsider how you treat LGBTQ people. Does the Bible even condemn being trans? you might be surprised. Whether gay or bi people should act on their same-sex attractions; please, please recognize they don’t choose them and cannot change them. Conversion therapy needs to go the way of the dinosaur.

If you expect gay Christians to remain life-long celibates, make sure you are going out of your way to provide them with the fellowship and support they will need to walk down that lonely road. Please reconsider your very condemnation of their love. I have written on why I changed my mind on this matter here. But if you continue to personally believe acting on such an orientation is wrong, reconsider your crusade of legal opposition to the rights of LGBTQ people.

Please reconsider how you treat women. Reconsider if the Bible’s overall trajectory is truly patriarchal. Recognize that any social arrangement of “separate but equal” based on something intrinsic such as race or gender inevitably lends itself to abuse and dehumanization. This is just a fact of social systems and human nature.

Please recognize how consummately strong, intelligent, charismatic, and gifted women are for most of the same things men are. See how women too have a variety of dreams and callings. Don’t be threatened by that. See it as something to celebrate and nurture. Respect women’s ability to chart their own courses, pursue their own dreams, and chose to be with the person they love. Abortion is a legitimate thing to oppose (obviously), but please learn to embrace other forms of birth control as tools that can be used for good as well as ill.

Listen to women when they tell you that something is offensive or even threatening. Respect consent and expect the same from others. Don’t tolerate assault or abuse. Ever. From anyone. Even respected authority figures. Become more aware of how thoroughly misogyny colors our history and still infects us in many ways. Be attentive to seeing it and confronting it in your own life and in your community.

Please reconsider how you treat people of color. Learn more about our racist history and about how much racism still pervades our lives today. Remember, racism is not necessarily about conscious hate; it is about systems of inequality and oppression. Become more aware of such systems.

Build relationships with black and brown people. Listen to them when they share with you about their fears and the dangers and indignities they face. Don’t assume they are wrong just because their experience is different then your own. Partner with them in opposing racism in all its forms. Not as a “savior,” but as an ally. This might mean stepping back sometimes and letting others lead. Some problems are not as easily solved as others, but at least recognize the problem and steadfastly pursue a just resolution.

Be intentional about watching yourself for stereotyping and kneejerk fears. Some people of all races really are bad news, but know that implicit bias is a thing. Take care to the sources you imbibe. Some will be more trustworthy than others. Some cater to prejudice (intentionally or not).

Learn to see the good in other cultures, not just the bad. Make room in your communities for leadership and representation by minorities. Be intentional about letting them bring their cultures and perspectives into the substance and not just the veneer of your teaching and worship. Don’t just expect them to take on your own culture. Don’t be afraid to “get it wrong” or apologize. This is messy work. Just keep trying and learning.

Please reconsider how you talk about and treat refugees and immigrants. Yes we have to take reasonable precautions for our safety and well-being. But there are ways to do that which are not xenophobic. Not everything is a zero-sum game. At least sometimes everyone can come out on top. Remember that “legal” is not necessarily the same thing as just; and “illegal” is not necessarily the same thing as criminal (in the moral sense).

Consider doing a study on what the Bible says about strangers and aliens. You may be surprised. Keep in mind that as Christians we are supposed to see others as, first and foremost, fellow image bearers of God. Our primary citizenship is in heaven, not the USA.

Be mindful of how racism and ethnocentrism can subtly creep into our reactions toward others, even when we are not intending to be hateful. Again, be mindful of the sources you gain info from. There are those that are intentionally trying to sow fear and animus; and not always for deserved, representative reasons.

If possible, built relationships with immigrants and/or refugees. Learn more about the challenges they face. Advocate for their rights and for immigration reform. Lobby the government to treat other countries in a fair rather than exploitive way. Resist unwarranted notions of American superiority or exceptionalism.

Please reconsider how you view and treat poor people. Build relationships with them. Treat them with dignity as equals. Don’t just give, be ready to be blessed in return. I know many of you are exceptionally charitable. Evangelicals are known for that. By all means, keep up the good work! Such work not only provides needed aid; when done well, it also builds up beloved communities.

But charity is no substitute for more thoroughgoing economic justice. Everyone has a responsibility to do the best they can with the hand they have been dealt. Of course we want to encourage people to work and take personal responsibility. Most people want to work. And we want to create jobs.

But the idea that people can normatively pull themselves up by their own bootstraps is not reality. Its very hard to escape poverty. Some people start out life with the deck stacked against them (or stacked for them, as the case may be). Sometimes circumstances happen that are outside their control. Injuries happen, plants move, industries change, stock markets crash, heads of households betray, and others act in a discriminatory way. And when they are able, those in power will engineer the laws and system to maximize profits at the least cost. No matter if this is sustainable for ordinary workers or the environment.

If that is the reality, why not work to ensure that peoples’ basic needs are met: needs like housing, clothing, food, education, and healthcare? Why not build coalitions of power from below – countervailing power to the power from above that tends toward exploitation?

The system is never neutral. Laws are crafted to benefit someone (see Reich). Please become more of a voice for the poor and working class. Don’t just give them charity, fight for their rights and for laws that reflect their interests. This isn’t just “bleeding heart,” it makes good economic sense.

Please reconsider how you view and treat Muslims. If you can, seek out friendships with them. Let them know they are welcome and safe in your community. Even if they were your enemies, Jesus commands that we love them. And love means treating them the way we would want to be treated.

But in fact, most of them are not our enemies. As I argued earlier, despite our differences, Muslims are essentially just like everyone else. And Islam too can be interpreted in a number of ways. Be willing to read about Islam from sympathetic sources. Or as you share your faith with them, ask your Muslim friends about what they believe. Arguably there are objectionable things in Islam; but a lot of the stereotypes about it are either wrong or simplistic straw-men.

More controversially, I would say be open to the idea that God could be inclusively at work in the lives of Muslims. This doesn’t mean that Christianity isn’t uniquely true or that Christ isn’t the ultimate source and end of their salvation, but it means God can meet people where they are and transform them without perfect knowledge. When you meet saintly Muslims, as I have, its hard to deny the Spirit’s fruit.

Stand up for the rights and lives of Muslims. Both here and abroad. Lobby the government to pursue fairer Middle East policies – for example, in Israel. But be willing to face fierce pushback from those animated by fear and prejudice. As I will write about more shortly, how we navigate beating back terrorism while protecting ordinary Muslims will be one of the great tests of our time. The temptation will be to write off all Muslims as subhuman. But that is not an option for Christ-followers. Will we fear God or man?

Implicit in all of this, please consider expanding the meaning of “pro-life.” Pro-life should not just mean pro birth. It should encompass the entire life-span. And it should encompass everyone; whatever their race, nationality, gender, or creed. Do all lives really matter to you?

Pro-life should include not just punitive measures against those who wrongfully take life (as needed as those are), but also preventative and restorative measures that decrease abortions and help families thrive.

While I am not a pacifist, the message of Jesus calls us to strongly prefer peace and non-violence when possible (at the very least). Are we willing to sacrifice just as much for waging peace as we are for waging war? How might such an ethic play out in how we view guns, warfare, or the death penalty? Obviously, that’s debatable. But I’m asking you to prayerfully consider it and read about it from a variety of perspectives.

Please remember, love should be our governing impulse; not power.

Finally, Evangelicals I implore you: be thinking about what moral lines you will not cross, no matter what incentives or threats are proffered your way. Most of you who are honest and informed know that Trump is a morally compromised leader. Perhaps you thought he was the lesser of two evils. I obviously don’t agree, but we are past that now. Just because he was better on the most important things (in your view) doesn’t mean he isn’t wrong on others. Be willing to criticize him where he is wrong and pressure him to be better. We liberals need to do that as well with our favored representatives.

But Trump is not the only danger. The coalition that helped elect him includes other dark forces. Don’t be fooled by the “alt-right” moniker. Their stated goals are racist and even genocidal. Many of Trump’s cabinet and inner circle harbor other intense prejudices – for example, Islamophobia.

Another part of Trump’s coalition are rich businessmen; be they Wall Street executives, oil tycoons, or weapons developers. Read about what Trump’s new Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson did in Africa. It is chilling stuff. And we appear to be cozying up more to Putin’s brutal dictatorship in Russia.

There is a fascistic wing to the Religious Right that is very serious about making America into a Christian theocracy (see Hedges). Ruthlessness, greed, and power appear to be the common threads that hold all of these groups together.

Evangelicals, you are naïve if you think you can keep your seat for long at this table without intense pressures to compromise your faith. Be on your guard! In what ways might you have already started to go down that road?

And I warn you: Donald Trump has promised to do evil things, and I fear he will seek to do even worse before it is over. Be vigilant. What will you do when he calls for reinstating torture? How about targeting innocent civilians? Will you speak up against that? What if he seeks to violate Muslim Americans’ constitutional rights (or something even more sinister)? Are you willing to stand up for their religious freedom too? Even if that becomes unpopular or dangerous? What if he calls for deporting refugees who have been screened and are here lawfully? Would you stand up for them? Would you take them in and shelter them? Are you willing to protest unjustified police shootings (when that clearly is the case) and advocate for reform in our criminal justice system? How do you plan to address more subtle but just as deadly threats to poor people, Latinos, and others? We all have some soul searching to do in the days ahead.

Ineptness, Corruption, and the Totalitarian Threat to American Democracy

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This is part of a longer post I wrote almost a month ago on the danger President Trump poses to my friends and to my country. It’s a little long, but please take the time to read it with an open mind and prepare for what I believe is coming:

I fear the threat that Trump’s ineptness, corruption, and totalitarian impulses pose to our democracy. Because I think this is such a critically important issue, I’m going to spend a little more time on it.

Trump’s character and personal impulses gravitate toward ruthless dominance. Trump loves attention and adulation. He puts his name on everything – often in big gold letters. He craves the adoration of his fans. After winning the election, he continued his rallies in a “Thank You” tour and has said he wants to continue them even after he is in office. He appears to hate to share attention. In a joint interview shortly after Mike Pence was selected as his vice presidential running mate, he could be seen dominating the conversation, even cutting in abruptly when he felt the attention turning too much to Pence.

Trump has delusions of grandeur. After painting a dangerous world in his RNC acceptance speech, he said “I alone can fix this.” He thinks he knows more than generals and intelligence officers. When asked who his closest advisor was he named himself because, and I quote: “I have a very good brain.” I remember watching a news story that referenced in passing how as a teenager he claimed that he was the best baseball player in New York. This was during the Mickey Mantle era Yankees. Everything he does is “tremendous,” or “the best.” He seems to have difficulty recognizing any flaws in himself and very rarely admits his mistakes.

Where he is always right, a “winner,” and “the best;” anyone who dares challenge him is “terrible,” a “loser,” “disgusting,” or something more ominous. There seems to be little nuanced middle ground. He comes up with derogatory nicknames for his opponents – “lyin’ Ted,” “crooked Hillary,” “little Marco.” Any kind of criticism, even satire, sets him off on an angry tirade. For example, he tweeted his outrage at Saturday Night Live’s impersonation of him. He is constantly attacking newspapers for their disparaging stories. During his campaign he got into feuds with a gold star family, a former beauty contestant, Fox reporter Megyn Kelly, and many others.

A Vanity Fair writer from the 1980s said that after referring to Trump as a “short-fingered vulgerian” Trump would regular send him news clippings with the outline of his hand traced in gold sharpie. “See, not so short,” read the commentary. The reporter says he still gets them in the mail! The New York Times has tracked at least 289 people, places and things Trump has insulted.

All of this would be high comedy if it weren’t for the fact that he is now commander in chief with a military at his disposal and his finger on the nuclear button. Such anger, long memory of grievances, and vindicativeness is even more alarming given his threats of violence and his apparent relish in brutality. I will document that more below. Also disturbing is that he has sixteen million twitter followers whose animus he can personally direct at specific persons or institutions.

He appears almost completely selfish and self-centered. In the past, he used and discarded women. His stiffing of contractors and other ruthless business decisions show a disregard for others and for his word. He brags about his wealth and accomplishments and presses every opportunity to plug his businesses. He has exploited every opportunity he can to enrich and aggrandize himself.

He is a bully. During the second presidential debate he visibly seemed to be stalking Hillary Clinton to exude dominance and try to intimidate her. During each debate, he constantly interrupted her. He regularly threatens to punch people, sue them, lock them up, and even worse. He verbally berates others and spreads malicious accusations about them, which are often untrue. When challenged or attacked, he deflects and viciously counterattacks: “You’re the puppet!”

He appears to crave absolute control. As I will document below, he does not seem to understand our constitutional freedoms. For example, he does not seem to understand that the press is there to do anything but rubberstamp his ideas. When told that soldiers would disobey an illegal directive he had proposed, his response was telling: “They won’t refuse. They’re not going to refuse me – believe me.” “I’m a leader. I’m a leader. I’ve always been a leader. I’ve never had any problem leading people. If I say do it, they’re going to do it. That’s what leadership is all about.”

I’ve already documented his breathtaking disregard for the truth (see the section “Science, Reason, and Truth”). To him, words appear to be just another tool to impose his will on others. He appears to have no shame. Although he can be charming and seems to have a preternatural ability to connect with a crowd, he often comes across as coldly lacking in empathy. After the Orlando shooting that killed 50 people, he tweeted, “Thanks for the congrats about being right about radical Islamic terrorism.” Incredibly tone deaf. The same could be said about his comments about John McCain not really be a war hero (“I like people who weren’t captured”), his mocking of the sick or disabled, or indeed many of his brutal proposals.

It is unethical for a psychologist to firmly diagnose Trump from a distance, but there are good reason to think that he is a narcissist and perhaps even a sociopath. I don’t say that lightly.

Both Trump and his inner circle are incredibly ignorant and inept. Trump has no prior experience in government or the military. He touts his business acumen, but filed for bankruptcy 4 times and some estimate he could have made more money by just investing the money loaned from his dad in index funds. I did not know until recently that he does not actually have an MBA. He only has a bachelors in economics.

None of this would be terrible if he showed a willingness to to learn or surround himself with competent people. Some of his picks for cabinet/advisor posts have been better than others, but many of them are shockingly unqualified and have indeed publically expressed their opposition to the mission of the department they would head.

For example, Trump’s pick to head the EPA, Scott Pruitt, is currently suing the same agency and is a climate change denier. Betsy Devos has never taught at a public school or even attended one, but she is was chosen to be his Secretary of Education. Rick Perry once said he wants to shut down the Energy Department (though he couldn’t remember it’s name at the time). Now he is the one who will run it. And so on.

Shaun King did a comparison of Obama’s cabinet and Trump’s in terms of education and the contrast is striking. Again, this is not to say that education is the be-all and end-all. I’m sure there are highly gifted individuals without degrees. But a lot of these jobs require technical skill and nuance.

Further, Trump appears to be selecting people, not based on skill or fit, but based on their loyalty to him. Like Trump, many of these people seemed poised to use their position to promote businesses they are connected to, oil for example. Many of them traffic in a variety of conspiracy theories and prejudices (as I’ve already touched on). The man who said he wants to be a president for everyone has selected an echo cabinet of far right “yes men.”

I already mentioned Trump’s massive conflicts of interest with his businesses and the potential this poses for corruption. This isn’t just unethical, it could be unconstitutional. It is ironic but in no way surprising that the man who attacked Hillary for “pay to play” drama with her charity is ready to engage in the same kind of thing with his businesses. But it’s not just Trump as an individual, the decisions he makes will effect policy and precedent for what other powerful business people could do. The threat of creeping kleptocracy is real.

Although Trump has never held political office, he has already broken many of our traditional democratic norms. Unlike every other presidential candidate since 1973, he has refused to release his tax returns. In not doing so, he broke his promise that he “absolutely” would release them. Such returns are particularly important in weighing his qualifications because Trump has no record in public office to examine. Instead, he touted his qualifications as a businessman. As mentioned before, his excuse of being under audit does not hold water. What is Trump trying to hide?

Trump has encouraged violence and intimidation of opponents, both literally and stochastically. He has encouraged his followers to beat protesters on multiple occasions. When he looked to be challenged at the Republican National Convention, he ominously insinuated that there would be riots if he lost. One of his lackeys, Roger Stone, threatened to release the hotel room numbers of delegates who voted against him.

As I said before, not unlike a dictator of a “banana republic,” he threatened to jail his political opponent. In fact, he said that if Hillary won, perhaps some “second amendment people” could “do something about that.” Trump denied this was a call to shoot her, but it was widely perceived that way. Perhaps this was because of calls by Trump surrogates such as Al Baldasaro to have her “put in the firing line and shot for treason.”

Before both the Republican Convention and the election, Trump accused his opponents of rigging the election against him, speaking in conspiratorial language geared toward inciting his followers to revolutionary action. Unlike every other presidential candidate, he refused to accept in advance the election results and our traditional peaceful transfer of power. Unlike every other modern president, he has refused to put his companies in a blind trust, sparking numerous conflicts of interest and perhaps even a future constitutional crisis.

Trump revels in violence. He speaks gleefully about “bombing the hell” out of ISIS or cutting off it’s head. He once told an apocryphal story of how General Pershing had his soldiers dip bullets in pig’s blood before shooting Muslim insurgents. Trump said that we should do the same thing, so to speak.

He has advocated the use of torture. I remember my jaw dropping from the way he discussed it at one rally. Speaking of waterboarding, Trump said: “Would I approve waterboarding? You bet your ass I would. In a heartbeat. I’d approve more than that. It works…and if it doesn’t they deserve it anyway for what they do to us.” It wasn’t just the words, but the malicious delight in which he spoke them and the roars of applause his celebration of cruelty incited in his followers.

On another occasion, after citing some of the heinous things ISIS does to it’s victims, Trump said that we should be able to do the same things to them, to “fight fire with fire.” He said he wants to use even tougher forms of torture than waterboarding. (Incidentally, there are good moral and practical reasons to not torture other people. It does nor reliably work and it inspires the enemy to react in kind.)

Trump has said that he would be willing to commit war crimes and violate the Geneva Convention to crush his enemies. In particular, he has called for targeting the families of terrorists, even if they are innocent. When former National Security Agency and CIA director Michael Hayden said that the US military had been trained to refuse such orders as illegal, Trump tellingly insisted: “They won’t refuse. They’re not going to refuse me – believe me.” “I’m a leader. I’m a leader. I’ve always been a leader. I’ve never had any problem leading people. If I say do it, they’re going to do it. That’s what leadership is all about.”

Trump has advocated plundering invaded countries’ resources to pay for said invasion. Speaking to ABC’s George Stephanopoulos of how we should have taken Iraq’s oil, Trump said, “In the old days, you know when you had a war, to the victor belong the spoils. You go in. You win the war and you take it.”

Although Trump has often been seen as an isolationist, he has at times (inconsistently) called for more hawkish moves. For example, during the primaries he called for sending 30,000 soldiers to Syria and shooting Iranian ships out of the water.

Trump has expressed an openness to nuclear proliferation, saying that perhaps Japan, South Korea, and Saudi Arabia should have nuclear weapons. He has refused to rule out using nuclear weapons again, even in Europe. Reportedly, he once asked a foreign policy advisor three times why we couldn’t just use nuclear weapons.

Trump has said that he might have supported the illegal and horrific internment of Japanese citizens during World War 2.

Trump touts “law and order,” and says that police need to be allowed to “get a lot tougher;” which is problematic without qualifications for the reasons I’ve already discussed. He has called for the mandatory death penalty for anyone who kills a police officer. He also thinks death by lethal injection is not painful enough. His insistence that the Central Park five are guilty, even though they were cleared by DNA evidence implies that he cares more about control than actual justice.

Many of Trump’s followers also show a perchance for violence along with fanatical loyalty to Trump. Trump once said, “I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters” Many of them seem hell-bent on proving him right.

Trump’s rallies are often frenzied, with chants of “build the wall” and “lock her up resounding.” I don’t doubt that many people who go to such rallies are good people who hear hope and even compassion in his message. I have a dear cousin who I respect who had that take-away.

But there are darker forces at work in these venues. Hateful t-shirts are sold outside with lines like, “Trump that bitch,” or “Hillary Sucks, But Not Like Monica.” Reporters have released audio of racist, misogynist, and other such hateful slurs and threats from attendees. Trump regularly spreads fear and hatred toward Muslims, Mexicans, and even the reporters in the press pen. Protesters have been assaulted at rallies, encouraged on by Trump. After a white man punched an exiting black protester, he told reporters “next time we might have to kill him.”

Indeed, Trump fans have carried out a number of assaults against minorities and others they perceive to be critical of Trump (for some examples, see here). Trump himself seems to recognize this mob spirit was a hallmark of his fans. Recently, at one of his “Thank You” tour rallies, he joked with the audience about how vicious they were:

“You people were vicious, violent, screaming, ‘Where’s the wall? We want the wall!’ Screaming, ‘Prison! Prison! Lock her up!’ I mean, you are going crazy. I mean, you were nasty and mean and vicious and you wanted to win, right?” Trump said, speaking in Orlando, Florida, at one of the stops on his ‘Thank You’ tour.

“Now it’s much different. Now you’re laid back, you’re cool, you’re mellow, right? You’re basking in the glory of victory,” the president-elect added.

I’m less sanguine about how mellow some of them really are or about how long Trump will wait before inciting them once again.

I want to be clear here on why I see this as unusually dangerous. Violence isn’t new. People on both right and left have stooped to it at times. I’ve seen articles about how Hillary supporters (or sometimes just Trump opponents) have assaulted Trump fans. I condemn that as well.

Although I cannot prove it, I highly doubt that is happening as much as the reverse. Hillary didn’t talk about wanting to beat, jail, or kill her opponents. She did not cater to fascist groups who were already primed for violence. And for the most part, she did not deal in fearmongering or scapegoating of vulnerable minorities.

Violence is usually wrong and always less than ideal. But it’s worth pointing out that there does seem to be a difference between, on the one hand, people reacting with violence because they justifiably feel their rights and even their lives are threatened by the other side; and, on the other hand, people being violent simply because they feel their power or privilege is threatened. These are not the same.

I guess what scares me is this becoming normalized. What scares me is the fanatical loyalty many Trump supporters feel – not to a party or to principle – but to a man. One who has shown his own fascist bent, who communicates to them directly through twitter, and who is not afraid to target people through that medium.

While it is unclear how far down that road Trump is willing to go (hopefully no further), Putin’s vigilante killings of journalists and Duterte’s masked men who gun down civilians are scary reminders of how effective mercenary elements can be. They can do the dirty work while the leader maintains plausible deniability that this was what he wanted.

And while Trump’s rallies might partly be based on his ego; they could also serve to further intensify and expand his legions of loyal followers.

Trump openly admires dictators and their methods. He has praised Vladimir Putin, Saddam Hussein, Moammar Gadhafi, and North Korean dictator Kim Jong Ung. He praised the Chinese government’s brutal massacre of peaceful protesters at Tiananmen Square as “strong.” His first wife Ivana once claimed that he kept a book of Hitler’s speeches by his bed. Trump has approvingly retweeted a Mussolini quote and his campaign has (accidently?) featured Nazi SS soldiers in a campaign ad. More recently, Filipino President Duterte has said that Trump called to express his support of Duterte’s brutal extra-judicial killings of Filipinos associated with drugs.

As many on both the right and left have pointed out, Trump seems to not understand the Constitution and many of his proposals would violate it. Useful, partially overlapping summaries can be found here, here, here, and here

Former ambassador and Special Counsel to the President, Jeff Bleich, lays much of this out well. I will quote him at length and add a few additional comments at the end:

The first amendment guarantees that the government “shall make no law respecting religion.” This means what it says — you can’t have a law that is based on religion. America in fact was founded by people who had been persecuted for their religious beliefs and came here seeking relief from governments dictating what religion was acceptable. Donald Trump disagrees with this amendment. He advocates barring people from the United States because of their religion. On December 7, 2015, he called for a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.” He further allowed that he might require the registration of all Muslims in a database and mandate special identification of Muslims.

The first amendment also guarantees that the Government can make no laws “abridging the freedom of speech or of the press.” Donald Trump said on February 26, 2016, that he plans to “loosen the libel laws” in the United States so that he can sue journalists who write unflattering articles. “We’re going to open up those libel laws. So when the New York Times writes a hit piece which is a total disgrace or when the Washington Post, which is there for other reasons, writes a hit piece, we can sue them and win money.”

The first amendment further guarantees “the right of the people peaceably to assemble.” At a public forum on November 22, 2015, supporters of Donald Trump punched and kicked a protestor who had been chanting anti-Trump slogans. Trump stated “Maybe he should have been roughed up. It was disgusting what he was doing.” After a similar incident in which a person at his rally was arrested for punching a peaceful protestor, Donald Trump said he would look into paying the attacker’s legal fees because the man “obviously loves the country.”…

The fourth amendment guarantees the right of people to be secure in their houses and forbids searches without probable cause. Donald Trump said on November 19, 2015, that he would permit the use of warrantless searches despite the Fourth Amendment. “We’re going to have to do things we never did before. And certain things will be done that we never thought would happen in this country in terms of information and learning about the enemy. And so we’re going to have to do certain things that were frankly unthinkable a year ago.” The fourth amendment’s provisions do not include allowing for violation of the fourth amendment.

The fifth amendment guarantees that no person shall be denied life, liberty, or property without due process of law. Donald Trump on February 10, 2016 stated that people accused of being in the United States illegally “may or may not” be entitled to due process. When his interviewer, Bill O’Reilly, stated “I’m telling you, all settled law says once you’re here, you are entitled to our constitutional protection, every single case,” Donald Trump responded “I disagree.” So, that is clear; he also disagrees with the fifth amendment.

The sixth amendment was written to serve as a bulwark against government leaders locking up their political adversaries, among other things. It requires that in all criminal cases there must be a public trial, an impartial jury, and numerous other protections to ensure a fair trial. On June 3, 2016, Donald Trump stated that his likely opponent for President, Secretary Hillary Clinton, “has to go to jail” even though she has not been accused of a crime, let alone subject to any criminal proceeding. He has urged dispensing with the trial process in other cases, as well. With respect to a U.S. Sergeant, Bowe Bergdahl who was accused of desertion, Donald Trump said that the U.S. military should forego a court martial and that he “should have been executed” and that someone should “throw him out of a plane” without a parachute…

The eighth amendment prohibits cruel and unusual punishment. Donald Trump has endorsed the use of torture and killing the loved ones of criminals as a way to stop terrorism. On March 22, 2016, he stated that “Look, I think we have to change our law on the waterboarding thing” and that he would “go further” than waterboarding. He said with respect to one suspect, “he may be talking but he’ll talk faster with the torture.” And he proposed that as Commander-in-Chief he would discourage terrorists by directing people to kill children and families who have not committed crimes or engaged in terrorism. “When you get these terrorists, you have to take out their families. When they say they don’t care about their lives, you have to take out their families.” This has been cruel and unusual punishment since even before the United States was established…

The thirteenth amendment forbids slavery or indentured servitude. This issue has not come up with respect to indentured servitude in the U.S. However, Donald Trump has refused to respond to news reports and video that he did not oppose or condemn the employment of indentured servants building a new Trump golf course in Dubai.

The fourteenth amendment states that all persons born in the United States are citizens of the United States. Donald Trump announced that he would repeal this provision. “Mexico and almost every other country anywhere in the world doesn’t have that. We’re the only ones dumb enough, stupid enough to have it.”

The fourteenth amendment also protects the rights of all persons, including non-citizens, from being deprived by a State of life, liberty, or property without due process or being denied equal protection of the law. See the first, fifth, and sixth amendments.

Trump’s call to bring back “stop and frisk” procedures would violate the Fourth Amendment. Such procedures have been ruled to be discriminatory and unconstitutional. Trump’s desire to bring back torture would not only violate the Eighth Amendment, as noted above; it would also violate international treaties we have signed: “The United States has signed an international treaty banning torture, and the Constitution states that ‘all treaties’ are ‘the supreme law of the land.'”

Trump’s understanding of eminent domain laws seems to violate the Fifth Amendment. His threat to extort Mexico to make them pay for a border wall would not only be a disaster for our diplomatic relations, it would also violate domestic and constitutional law. Trump has said he will follow Obama’s precedent in a heavy use of executive powers, something many conservatives see as unconstitutional.

On multiple occasions Trump has threatened the separation of powers and an independent judiciary. Examples would include his threat to remove Judge Gonzalo Curial because of a personal vendetta; his threat to “swamp” the court with “real judges and real legal opinions” in response to criticism from Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg; and his threat to ensure Hillary was convicted and jailed.

More needs to be said about Trump’s threat to a free press, because this is especially alarming. Trump started out his campaign speaking to any reporter who would give him airtime. This free media is partly what helped launch his candidacy into the stratosphere.

But Trump has always had a volatile relationship with the press, even before this election. He was soon blacklisting news organizations such as The Washington Post, Buzzfeed, and Politico who he felt were too critical or unflattering of him. This limiting of the media’s access looks to continue into his presidency:

Trump hasn’t had a news conference since July. He has blocked the media from traveling with him or even knowing whom he’s meeting with. His phone call with Vladimir Putin, which occurred shortly after the election, was first reported by the Kremlin.

This is highly unusual. In 2000, President-elect George W. Bush called a press conference three days after the Supreme Court determined the outcome of the election. In 2008, President-elect Obama also met with the press three days after being elected.

As the media began to dig more into Trump’s past and call him out more on his lies, his anger grew. He threatened to open up libel laws to make it easier to stifle an adversarial press. These laws are well protected, with important Supreme Court precedents to back them up. But if Trump appoints enough sympathetic judges to the Court, he could perhaps get the libel laws he wants.

But if he doesn’t, there are other ways of undermining the press. One of them is to deluge them with frivolous lawsuits. He has twice threatened to sue the New York Times. While he had no case and the Times is a big enough paper to afford a suit; such threats have a chilling effect on news sources, especially smaller papers, who might think twice about reporting critical information.

Another way to undermine the press is to delegitimize its credibility. Trump was soon doing this with a vengeance:

At the president-elect’s often incendiary rallies, Trump frequently blasted the press as “dishonest,” “disgusting” and “scum.” The crowds that gathered to watch him would often turn and jeer at the reporters, hemmed in the press pen.

On the internet, the vitriol from Trump fans continued. In April, the journalist Julia Ioffe received a barrage of anti-Semitic abuse and death threats after she wrote a critical profile of Trump’s wife Melania for GQ magazine. In October, a Trump supporter sent Newsweek ’s Kurt Eichenwald ( who has been vocal about his epilepsy) a video that triggers seizures. Other Newsweek staffers have received anti-Semitic slurs on Twitter and memes about hanging journalists from trees.

Even the few news outlets who backed Trump weren’t always safe. In March, Florida police charged Trump’s then-campaign manager Corey Lewandowski with battery after he appeared to grab Breitbart reporter Michelle Fields as she approached Trump to ask him a question. (Florida ultimately decided not to prosecute Lewandowski, and he landed a job at CNN.)

Robert Reich chronicles another such encounter: “Referring to the journalists at his rallies, Trump said, ‘I hate some of these people,’ adding (presumably in response to allegations of Vladimir Putin’s treatment of dissident journalists), ‘but I’d never kill ’em.'”

This kind of stirred up hatred is not only baseless, it is dangerous. It has a chilling effect on a press that is meant to hold public leaders accountable.

Another way of undermining a free press is to either bypass it altogether by connecting with voters directly or to build up an alternative propaganda outlet that can be relied on to tout the party line. Trumps use of twitter and his rallies serves to bypass the media.

Steve Bannon’s Breitbart and some other far right news sources seem to have effectively become propaganda arms of the Trump administration. Trump’s dishonest use of rhetoric and his use of repetition, theater, and emotion also bear the hallmarks of propaganda.

There is a very real danger of creeping Russian influence over our democracy and some of its leaders, including Trump. There is strong evidence that the Russians hacked into Democratic Party e-mails and released them through WikiLeaks in a manner intended to hurt Hillary’s campaign and help elect Trump as president. Over the years the Russians have gotten better and bolder in their cyber attacks against America and many of our European allies. There is also evidence that the Russians flooded the interned with fake news stories designed to hurt Hillary and promote Trump.

This should be concerning to all patriots. This should be a bipartisan issue, and indeed, top Republicans and Democrats have come out to denounce such attacks. Seventeen government security agencies have indicating this is happening, including both the FBI and the CIA. But, outrageously, Trump has said he doesn’t believe it. He shrugs it off as ridiculous or implies that maybe it wasn’t such a bad thing.

Such an attack would be unacceptable no matter what country perpetrated it. We have interfered in other countries elections before as well, and that was shameful and wrong. But this coming from the Russians is particularly alarming. Not because there is anything wrong with Russians as Russians, but because Russia under Putin is a repressive totalitarian state that opposes us and many of our Western allies.

It is not clear that Trump knew about Russia’s efforts to tip the scale in his favor. But there is a host of troubling connections between Trump and Putin. Trump has effusively praised Putin and at times indicated they have a friendship (though inconsistently). He has expressed hope for a good working relationship between our two nations.

Someone in Trump’s circle intentionally changed the Republican platform to weaken its support for our NATO ally, Ukraine. Trump has said himself that he might not honor America’s commitments to our NATO allies. Trump seems to have business connections to Russia, as do others in his inner circle including his nominated Secretary of State, Rex Tillman. There are reports that the Russians also hacked the Republican Party’s documents, raising the question of if they have blackmail material on Trump or other Republican leaders.

Peace with other countries is, of course, a good thing, all things being equal. But not at the cost of betraying our allies and genuine national interests. The Russian scandal is hard to overstate.

The timing and circumstances are scarily ripe for a totalitarian takeover: After years of progress, democracy appears to be on the wane in places all over the world. Many people are still hurting in our only slightly recovered economy. Much of the growth that has occurred has only gone to the top. People are angry about that. Government has been gridlocked, ineffectual, and often corrupt. People no longer have as much faith in our democratic process.

Many of them are afraid. Afraid of terrorist attacks and perceived threats from our changing economy, demographics, and values. Republicans have exploited these fears and added to them with dishonest conspiracy theories and fearmongering rhetoric. Many people are more willing to give up freedoms (especially those of others) for their security.

Trust in the free press has been diminished. Many people on both right and left have started to gravitate more toward partisan sources, including ones that are not always fact-based. To my mind the right has been particularly bad here. News itself has become more sensationalized and less deep. And with twitter and the internet, leaders or groups have the ability to communicate directly with people, bypassing a press pool.

There is evidence of a highly organized and well funded effort by some Christians on the far right to impose a form of Christian theocracy on America (see Hedges). While the organized movement is small, it has a lot of influence on more moderate Evangelicals and has made major inroads in the Republican Party, including some members of Trump’s cabinet and inner circle. Trump does not appear to be particularly religious, but he has shown himself willing to be swayed by such views in exchange for flattery and loyalty on other issues (issues that the Religious Right has been more than willing to back). There appears to be an unholy coalition forming between the Religious Right, the Alt-Right, and big businesses to shore up power and achieve mutually agreed on aims.

Technology has made government surveillance much easier and efficient, and since 9/11 we have been more willing to let the government infringe on our privacy. There is an argument to be had that this is necessary, or at least sometimes is. There is an inverse tension between security and freedom at different ends of a spectrum. There are costs and benefits to both sides. But one of the dangers of giving up freedoms in our move toward an extreme security side of the spectrum is that this gives incoming leaders a frightening amount of power that could easily be abused.

Not unrelatedly, many police departments have become more militarized and Trump has made heavy use of generals in his cabinet, some in heretofore civilian roles like Homeland Security. As a progressive, I’m painfully aware right now that military, intelligence, and police cultures tends to lean conservative. And it is conservative citizens that tend to own military-style guns and be willing to use them.

I’m sure many of them our true patriots who would be willing to stand up for our constitutional rights. But many others seem willing to follow the party line, no matter what.

Republicans now dominate not just in the White House, but also in the House and Senate and possibly soon the Court. And there is every reason to think they will go along with most of what Trump wishes. I’m going to quote Robert Kagan at length here because he captures this dynamic well.

A mass political movement is thus a powerful and, to those who would oppose it, frightening weapon. When controlled and directed by a single leader, it can be aimed at whomever the leader chooses. If someone criticizes or opposes the leader, it doesn’t matter how popular or admired that person has been. He might be a famous war hero, but if the leader derides and ridicules his heroism, the followers laugh and jeer. He might be the highest-ranking elected guardian of the party’s most cherished principles. But if he hesitates to support the leader, he faces political death.

In such an environment, every political figure confronts a stark choice: Get right with the leader and his mass following or get run over. The human race in such circumstances breaks down into predictable categories — and democratic politicians are the most predictable. There are those whose ambition leads them to jump on the bandwagon. They praise the leader’s incoherent speeches as the beginning of wisdom, hoping he will reward them with a plum post in the new order. There are those who merely hope to survive. Their consciences won’t let them curry favor so shamelessly, so they mumble their pledges of support, like the victims in Stalin’s show trials, perhaps not realizing that the leader and his followers will get them in the end anyway.

A great number will simply kid themselves, refusing to admit that something very different from the usual politics is afoot. Let the storm pass, they insist, and then we can pick up the pieces, rebuild and get back to normal. Meanwhile, don’t alienate the leader’s mass following. After all, they are voters and will need to be brought back into the fold. As for Trump himself, let’s shape him, advise him, steer him in the right direction and, not incidentally, save our political skins.

What these people do not or will not see is that, once in power, Trump will owe them and their party nothing. He will have ridden to power despite the party, catapulted into the White House by a mass following devoted only to him…Imagine the power he would wield then. In addition to all that comes from being the leader of a mass following, he would also have the immense powers of the American presidency at his command: the Justice Department, the FBI, the intelligence services, the military. Who would dare to oppose him then? Certainly not a Republican Party that lay down before him even when he was comparatively weak. And is a man like Trump, with infinitely greater power in his hands, likely to become more humble, more judicious, more generous, less vengeful than he is today, than he has been his whole life? Does vast power un-corrupt?

In fact, this Republican coalition already agree on a great deal. They are antagonistic toward Muslims (or see such antagonism as profitable). They want a powerful police force and military. They want to maintain white privilege. They are free-market capitalists who oppose regulations. They tend to be fiscally conservative. Because of these things, they want to cut social safety nets and they tend to resent talk of civil rights or social justice. They tend to oppose science and public education.

And it’s not just the aims they agree on, its also the means. Ruthless dominance is the name of the game.

Also, with demographic changes and Trump’s (coming) unpopularity, totalitarianism might be their best chance at grasping at waning power. A Republican study after their failed 2012 election bid indicated that they had to expand their base by reaching out to more minorities. But in this election they have effectively burned many of those bridges for years to come. Already in this election, Hillary received close to 3 million more votes than Trump did. How can Republicans keep winning without stooping to unscrupulous means?

They are already attempting to suppress the vote of minorities and cheat in gerrymandering (something democrats do as well, to be fair). The recent Republican power grab in North Carolina is also an alarming example of what could be coming if true patriots from both right and left don’t come together to stand against such totalitarian moves.

Back in early May, psychologist and blogger Andrew Sullivan predicted almost exactly what would happen: disenfranchised white voters would be drawn into Trump’s populist demagoguery and vote him in. On the eve of the election Sullivan gave another dire prediction of where we are headed. I am going to end this section by quoting from it at length because it sums up much of what I have been trying to say here about why Trump is so dangerous:

He sees the judicial system as entirely subordinate to his political and personal interests, and impugned a federal judge for his ethnicity. He has accused the Justice Department and FBI of a criminal conspiracy to protect Hillary Clinton. He has refused to accept in advance the results of any election in which he loses. He has openly argued for government persecution of newspapers that oppose him — pledging to open up antitrust prosecution against the Washington Post, for example. He is the first candidate in American history to subject the press pool to mob hatred — “disgusting, disgusting people” — and anti-Semitic poison from his foulest supporters. He is the first candidate in American history to pledge to imprison his election opponent if he wins power. He has mused about using nuclear weapons in regional wars. He has celebrated police powers that openly deploy racial profiling. His favorite foreign leader is a man who murders journalists, commits war crimes, uses xenophobia and warfare to cement his political standing, and believes in the dismemberment of both NATO and the European Union. Nor has he rejected any of his most odious promises during the primary — from torturing prisoners “even if it doesn’t work” to murdering the innocent family members of terror suspects to rounding up several million noncitizens to declaring war on an entire religion, proposing to create a database to monitor its adherents and bar most from entering the country.

We are told we cannot use the term fascist to describe this. I’m at a loss to find a more accurate alternative.

The Establishments of both right and left have had many opportunities to stop him and have failed by spectacular displays of cowardice, narrow self-interest, and bewilderment. The right has been spectacularly craven. Trump has no loyalty to the party apparatus that has elevated him to a possible victory next Tuesday — declaring war on the Speaker of the House, attacking the RNC whenever it fails to toady to him, denigrating every single rival Republican candidate, even treating his own vice-presidential nominee as someone he can openly and contemptuously contradict with impunity. And yet that party, like the conservative parties in Weimar Germany, has never seen fit to anathematize him, only seeking to exploit his followers in the vain and foolish delusion that they can control him in the future in ways they have not been able to in the past.

The Republican media complex have enabled and promoted his lies and conspiracy theories and, above all, his hysteria. From the poisonous propaganda of most of Fox News to the internet madness of the alt-right, they have all made a fortune this past decade by describing the world as a hellhole of chaos and disorder and crime for which the only possible solution is a third-world strongman. The Republicans in Washington complemented this picture of crisis by a policy of calculated obstruction to every single measure a Democratic president has attempted, rendering the Congress so gridlocked that it has been incapable of even passing a budget without constitutional crisis, filling a vacant Supreme Court seat, or reforming a health-care policy in pragmatic fashion. They have risked the nation’s very credit rating to vent their rage. They have helped reduce the public support of the central democratic institution in American government, the Congress, to a consistently basement level never seen before — another disturbing analogy to the discredited democratic parliaments of the 1930s. The Republicans have thereby become a force bent less on governing than on destroying the very institutions that make democracy and the rule of law possible. They have not been conservative in any sane meaning of that term for many, many years. They are nihilist revolutionaries of the far right in search of a galvanizing revolutionary leader. And they have now found their man.

For their part, the feckless Democrats decided to nominate one of the most mediocre, compromised, and Establishment figures one can imagine in a deeply restless moment of anxiety and discontent. They knew full well that Hillary Clinton is incapable of inspiring, of providing reassurance, or of persuading anyone who isn’t already in her corner, and that her self-regard and privilege and money-grubbing have led her into the petty scandals that have been exploited by the tyrant’s massive lies. The staggering decision by FBI director James Comey to violate established protocol and throw the election into chaos to preserve his credibility with the far right has ripped open her greatest vulnerability — her caginess and deviousness — while also epitomizing the endgame of the chaos that the GOP has sought to exploit. Comey made the final days of the election about her. And if this election is a referendum on Clinton, she loses.

Yes, she has shrewdly deployed fear against fear — but she is running against the master of fear. The Democrats, with the exception of Obama, have long been unable to marshal emotion as a political weapon, advancing a bloodless rationalism that has never been a match for the tribal national passions of the right. Clinton’s rallies have been pale copies of the bloodthirsty mobs Trump has marshaled and whipped into ever-higher states of frenzy. In every debate, she won on points, but I fear she failed to offer a compelling, simple, and positive reason for her candidacy. Only a party utterly divorced from half the country it seeks to represent could have made such a drastic error of hubris and complacency.

Some — including many who will be voting for Trump — will argue that even if the unstable, sleepless, vindictive tyrant wins on Tuesday, he will be restrained by the system when he seizes power. Let’s game this out for a moment. Over the last year, which forces in the GOP have been able to stand up to him? Even his closest aides have been unable to get him to concentrate before a debate. He set up a policy advisory apparatus and then completely ignored it until it was disbanded. His foreign-policy advisers can scarcely be found. He says he knows more than any general, any diplomat, and anyone with actual experience in government. He has declared his chief adviser to be himself. Even the criminal Richard Nixon was eventually restrained and dispatched by a Republican Establishment that still knew how to run the country and had a loyalty to broader American institutions. Such an Establishment no longer exists.

More to the point, if Trump wins, he will almost certainly bring with him the House, the Senate, and the Supreme Court. A President Clinton will be checked and balanced. A President Trump will be pushing through wide-open doors. Who can temper or stop him then? A Speaker who reveals the slightest inclination to resist him will be swiftly dispatched — or subjected to a very credible threat of being primaried. If the military top brass resist his belief in unpredictable or unethical or unlawful warfare, they will surely be fired. As for the administration of justice, he has openly declared his intent to use the power of the government to put his political opponent in jail. As for a free society, he has threatened to do what he can to put his media opponents into receivership.

What is so striking is that this requires no interpretation, no reading of the tea leaves. Trump has told Americans all of this — again and again — in plain English. His own temperamental instability has been displayed daily and in gory detail. From time to time, you can see his poll ratings plummet as revelations that would permanently sink any other candidate have dented his appeal. And then he resiliently and unstoppably moves back up. His bond with his supporters is absolute, total, and personal. It was months ago that he boasted that he could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and his supporters would still be with him. And he was right. This is not a mark of a democratic leader; it is a mark of an authoritarian cult.

It is also, critically, a function of his platform. Fascism has never been on the ballot in America before. No candidate this close to power has signaled more clearly than Trump that he is a white-nationalist candidate determined to fight back against the browning of America. As mass immigration has changed the demographic identity of the soon-to-be majority-minority country with remarkable speed, and as those made uncomfortable by such drastic change have been dismissed as mere bigots and racists, Trump offers an electrifying hope of revenge and revanchism. The fire he has lit will not be easily doused. If his policies lead to an economic downswing, he will find others to blame and conspiracies to flush out. If there is Republican resistance to his pledges to roll back free trade, he will call on his base to pressure the leadership to surrender. And if one of his first moves is to abandon the Iran nuclear deal, we will be hurtling rather quickly to a military confrontation, as Iran rushes to build a nuke before Trump can launch military attacks to thwart them. That rush to war would empower him still further.

Yes, he is an incompetent, a dilettante, a man who doesn’t know what he doesn’t know. Many of his moves will probably lead to a nose-dive in support. But Trump cannot admit error and will need to deny it or scapegoat others or divert public attention. Those diversions could well be deeply destabilizing — and galvanized by events. There will doubtless be another incident between police and an unarmed black man under a Trump presidency. Rather than calm the nation, Trump will inflame it. There will be an Islamist terror attack of some kind — and possibly a wave of such attacks in response to his very election. Trump will exploit it with the subtlety of a Giuliani and the brutality of a Putin.