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Tag: Republican Party

Quote of the Day: Fear Drove President Trump’s Acquittal

donald trump

In the United States Senate, like in many spheres of life, fear does the business.

Think back to the fall of 2002, just a few weeks before that year’s crucial midterm elections, when the Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Iraq was up for a vote. A year after the 9/11 attacks, hundreds of members of the House and the Senate were about to face the voters of a country still traumatized by terrorism.

Senator Patty Murray, a thoughtful Democrat from Washington State, still remembers “the fear that dominated the Senate leading up to the Iraq war.”

“You could feel it then,” she told me, “and you can feel that fear now” — chiefly among Senate Republicans.

….

Fear has a way of bending us.

Late in the evening on day four of the trial I saw it, just 10 feet across the aisle from my seat at Desk 88, when Mr. Schiff told the Senate: “CBS News reported last night that a Trump confidant said that Republican senators were warned, ‘Vote against the president and your head will be on a pike.’” The response from Republicans was immediate and furious. Several groaned and protested and muttered, “Not true.” But pike or no pike, Mr. Schiff had clearly struck a nerve. (In the words of Lizzo: truth hurts.)

Of course, the Republican senators who have covered for Mr. Trump love what he delivers for them. But Vice President Mike Pence would give them the same judges, the same tax cuts, the same attacks on workers’ rights and the environment. So that’s not really the reason for their united chorus of “not guilty.”

For the stay-in-office-at-all-cost representatives and senators, fear is the motivator. They are afraid that Mr. Trump might give them a nickname like “Low Energy Jeb” and “Lyin’ Ted,” or that he might tweet about their disloyalty. Or — worst of all — that he might come to their state to campaign against them in the Republican primary. They worry:

“Will the hosts on Fox attack me?”

“Will the mouthpieces on talk radio go after me?”

“Will the Twitter trolls turn their followers against me?”

My colleagues know they all just might. There’s an old Russian proverb: The tallest blade of grass is the first cut by the scythe. In private, many of my colleagues agree that the president is reckless and unfit. They admit his lies. And they acknowledge what he did was wrong. They know this president has done things Richard Nixon never did. And they know that more damning evidence is likely to come out.

So watching the mental contortions they perform to justify their votes is painful to behold: They claim that calling witnesses would have meant a never-ending trial. They tell us they’ve made up their minds, so why would we need new evidence? They say to convict this president now would lead to the impeachment of every future president — as if every president will try to sell our national security to the highest bidder.

I have asked some of them, “If the Senate votes to acquit, what will you do to keep this president from getting worse?” Their responses have been shrugs and sheepish looks.

They stop short of explicitly saying that they are afraid. We all want to think that we always stand up for right and fight against wrong. But history does not look kindly on politicians who cannot fathom a fate worse than losing an upcoming election. They might claim fealty to their cause — those tax cuts — but often it’s a simple attachment to power that keeps them captured.

….

— U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown, The New York Times, In Private, Republicans Admit They Acquitted Trump Out of Fear, February 5, 2020

Living in a World Where Facts Don’t Matter

thomas paine on reason

People who believe science is the best way we have to explain the world we live in and who believe facts matter find themselves under increasing assault by people who refuse to accept things as they are. I am all for vigorous debate and disagreement, but there comes a time when what matters is facts. Recently, a family member — who happens to be a Trump-supporting Evangelical pastor — posted a quote allegedly by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez on social media. Generally, I avoid discussing politics and religion on my personal Facebook account. Want to discuss such things with me? Go to my Facebook page or my blog. My personal Facebook account is reserved for photographs, family stuff, silly memes, and cat videos.

For whatever reason — boredom, perhaps? — I decided to respond to the Ocasio-Cortez quote. The quote seemed out of character for Ocasio-Cortez, so I went to Snopes to check it out. Sure enough, the quote was false. After determining the quote’s truthfulness, I left the following comment: thou shalt not bear false witness. This got me excommunicated; not unfriended, just blocked from seeing the man’s posts. I don’t play that game, so I unfriended him. I then let him know that I did so, and why.

The false quote perfectly fits this man’s worldview; his view of secularism, liberalism, socialism, and Democrats. In his mind, it must be true because it reinforces his sincerely-held political beliefs. I suspect many readers could tell similar stories; times when they challenged religious or political statements with facts. I have repeatedly responded to false claims on Facebook from friends and family members by commenting with a link to the relevant Snopes article. I have yet to have someone say to me, thanks for pointing out my error. I made a mistake. All I get is silence, and the false quote or meme continues to live on in infamy.

In 2017, Dr. R. Kelly Garrett wrote an article titled, Facts don’t matter to Americans, and we should be worried.

Garrett said:

Have you ever thought to yourself, “I’ll bet that’s true,” before you had all the facts? Most people probably have at some point.

Where people differ is in how often they do so. A 2016 survey that my colleague Brian Weeks and I conducted found that 50.3 percent of all Americans agreed with the statement “I trust my gut to tell me what’s true and what’s not.” Some of those polled felt quite strongly about it: About one in seven (14.6 percent) strongly agreed, while one in 10 (10.2 percent) strongly disagreed.

In other words, there’s a lot of variation in how Americans decide what to believe.

In a recent paper, we were able to use the findings from this survey and two others to dig into the different approaches people take when deciding what’s true.

We found some surprising differences between how people think about intuition and how they think about evidence. It turns out that how often someone trusts their intuition and how important they think it is to have evidence are two separate things. Both make a big difference in what we believe.

What we learned offers some hope for people’s ability to tell truth from fiction, despite the fact that so many trust their gut.

Many incorrect beliefs have political foundations. They promote a policy, an ideology or one candidate over another.

People are susceptible to political misinformation because they tend to believe things that favor their side — even if it isn’t grounded in data or science. There are numerous factors at play, from the influence of nonconscious emotions to the need to defend a group that the individual identifies with.

For these reasons, millions of Americans believe things that aren’t true.

….

With all the talk about political bias, it’s easy to lose track of the fact that politics aren’t the only thing shaping people’s beliefs. Other factors play a role too.

For example, people are more likely to believe something the more often they’ve heard it said — commonly known as the illusory truth effect. And adding a picture can change how believable a message is, sometimes making it more convincing, while at other times increasing skepticism.

Valuing intuition versus valuing evidence

Our study focuses on something else that shapes beliefs: We looked at what matters the most to people when they’re deciding what’s true.

We found that having faith in your intuition about the facts does make you more likely to endorse conspiracy theories. However, it doesn’t really influence your beliefs about science, such as vaccine safety or climate change.

In contrast, someone who says beliefs must be supported with data is more likely both to reject conspiracy theories and to answer questions about mainstream science and political issues more accurately.

The risk of relying on one’s intuition may be self-evident, but its role in belief formation is more nuanced.

….

In the end, knowing how much someone trusts his or her intuition actually tells you very little about how much proof that person will need before he or she will believe a claim. Our research shows that using intuition is not the opposite of checking the evidence: Some people trust their instincts while at the same time valuing evidence; others deny the importance of both; and so forth.

The key is that some people — even if they usually trust their gut — will check their hunches to make sure they’re right. Their willingness to do some follow-up work may explain why their beliefs tend to be more accurate.

It’s valuing evidence that predicts accuracy on a wider range of issues. Intuition matters less.

….

In this context, our results are surprising. There are many individual qualities that seem like they should promote accuracy, but don’t.

Valuing evidence, however, appears to be an exception. The bigger the role evidence plays in shaping a person’s beliefs, the more accurate that person tends to be.

We aren’t the only ones who have observed a pattern like this. Another recent study shows that people who exhibit higher scientific curiosity also tend to adopt more accurate beliefs about politically charged science topics, such as fracking and global warming.

There’s more we need to understand. It isn’t yet clear why curiosity and attention to the evidence leads to better outcomes, while being knowledgeable and thinking carefully promote bias. Until we sort this out, it’s hard to know exactly what kinds of media literacy skills will help the most.

But in today’s media environment — where news consumers are subjected to a barrage of opinions, data and misinformation — gut feelings and people’s need for evidence to back those hunches up can play a big role. They might determine whether you fall for a hoax posted on the Onion, help spread Russian disinformation or believe that the British spy agency MI6 was responsible for Princess Diana’s death.

For now, though, when it comes to fighting the scourge of misinformation, there’s a simple strategy that everyone can use. If you are someone who consistently checks your intuition about what is true against the evidence, you are less likely to be misled. It may seem like common sense, but learning to dig into the story behind that shocking headline can help you avoid spreading falsehoods.

Several days ago, a Christian man named Bill Wood stopped by this site to wow me with his intellectual prowess. Wood posted verbose comments meant to “educate” me about Biblical and scientific truth. You can read his comments here. Wood demanded I explain to his satisfaction my deconversion. I pointed him to the WHY page. Not good enough for Wood. He doubled and tripled down, refusing to accept any “truth” but his own. Wood is a classic reminder of why I don’t get into discussions with Evangelicals. Their minds are made up as to what the “truth” is. Wood believes the Bible is God’s inspired, inerrant, infallible Word. I asked him if he had read any of Bart Ehrman’s books, knowing that the answer was likely a big, fat, emphatic NO! Sure enough, all I got was another lengthy sermon. You see, for the Bill Woods of the world, their minds are closed to anything that challenges their worldview. They have decided this or that is “truth,” end of discussion. Their “gut” (often called the Holy Spirit) tells them that whatever they believe about God, Jesus, religion, science, etc. is true. In Bill Wood’s mind, creationism trumps science; theological dogma trumps archeological, geological, and sociological facts. All the facts in the world won’t change his mind.

We now live in a post-facts world. Instead of chasing truth wherever it leads, people scour the Internet looking for websites, blogs, memes, and social media posts that reinforce their beliefs. In 2016, eighty-one percent of voting white Evangelicals voted for Donald Trump. Three years later, a majority of Evangelicals still support the President, despite his having told over 15,000 public lies. On January 23, 2016, then-candidate Donald Trump said:

I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose any voters, okay? It’s, like, incredible.

Fast forward to today. Does anyone doubt that what Trump said is the truth; that no matter what he says or does, a sizeable percentage of Americans will resolutely support him. To these people, facts don’t matter. As long as their beliefs and worldview are confirmed, Trump is free to run roughshod over our Republic. As long as Trump says he is anti-abortion, anti-transgender, anti-immigration, anti-welfare, anti-socialism, anti-atheism, anti-anything enacted by Obama, white Evangelicals, conservative Catholics, and Mormons will continue to vote for him. Racists and white supremacists know that Trump is their best chance for a whiter America. No matter what the “facts” are, an overwhelming majority of Republicans and libertarians move in lock-step fashion with the President.

What are people who value facts supposed to do? If a large number of Americans are impervious to the truth, what hope is there for this great nation of ours? I know that this post will do nothing to change hearts and minds. People who agree with me will shout “right-on, brother!” Those who don’t will just see me as yet another liberal, commie, socialist out to destroy white Christian America.

We truly live in perplexing times. I have no confidence in things becoming better any time soon. I shudder to think what four more years of Donald Trump will bring us. Imagine what would happen if Republicans somehow took control of Congress? We are fools if we think the United States is invulnerable to decline and collapse. History tells us about many great civilizations who have come and gone. We are not immune to a similar fate.

What do you think people who value facts and truth should do? Please share your thoughts in the comment section.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Are you on Social Media? Follow Bruce on Facebook and Twitter.

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The United States Has an Evangelical Problem

evangelist don hardman
Evangelist Don and Laura Hardman, Somerset Baptist Church, Mt. Perry, Ohio, Late 1980s. Notice the huge flag. That should tell you all you need to know about my political and social agenda at the time.

In the late 1970s, Jerry Falwell, pastor of Thomas Road Baptist Church in Lynchburg, Virginia, birthed a Christian political action group called the Moral Majority. Falwell, a graduate of Baptist Bible College in Springfield, Missouri, started Thomas Road Baptist — an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) institution — in 1956. The church quickly became one of the largest churches in the United States. Today, the church claims it has almost 25,000 members. In 1971, Falwell founded Lynchburg Baptist College, now known as Liberty University. Liberty, an accredited university, is the largest Evangelical college in the United States. Most Evangelicals of my age likely remember Falwell’s weekly television program, The Old Time Gospel Hour. It was through his educational and media empire that Falwell pushed the Moral Majority’s agenda: to take back America for God.

In 1979, my wife and I attended a Moral Majority-sponsored outdoor “I Love America” rally at the Ohio State House. We later went to a pep rally of sorts held at a downtown Columbus location. All Polly remembers is discreetly breastfeeding our infant son during the rally. I, however, remember the thrilling speeches about returning the United States to its Christian roots. Dripping with manifest destiny and American exceptionalism, these speeches stirred my heart, and for many years, I devoted myself to waging what become known as the “culture war.”

In 1989, after successfully helping elect Hollywood actor Ronald Reagan to two terms as president, the Moral Majority disbanded. Falwell said at the time, “Our goal has been achieved…The religious right is solidly in place and … religious conservatives in America are now in for the duration.” Today, Evangelicals, having sold their souls for bowls of pottage, rabidly support Donald Trump, the most unqualified man to ever be president. Eighty-one percent of voting white Evangelicals voted for Donald Trump. If the presidential election were held today, Evangelicals would, yet again, overwhelmingly vote for Trump. Even if Trump was thrown out of office, Evangelicals are satisfied that Christian America will be safe in the “godly” hands of Evangelical and True Believer® Mike Pence.

It is clear to anyone who is paying attention that Evangelicals have taken over not only the federal government but many state governments. Here in Ohio, Evangelicals (and conservative Catholics) rule the political roost. Now having a super-majority, Evangelicals — who are overwhelmingly Republicans — are able to enact their agenda at will, with only the courts standing in the way of them turning Ohio into a theocratic state. And now that Trump is packing the federal courts with conservative Christian jurists, the only recourse we have to beat back Evangelical sharia law may soon be gone.

Secularists love to point to studies showing that Evangelicalism is in numerical decline. While this is certainly true, that doesn’t mean the political power amassed by Evangelicals is in decline. It’s not, and as things now stand, it could take decades to undo all the damage done to our Republic by primarily white Evangelicals and their Mormon and Catholic cohorts.

I live in rural northwest Ohio. Donald Trump and the Republican Party dominate local and state politics. Local Democratic groups are largely ineffective or lifeless. And even among these groups, you will find that the conservative political beliefs espoused decades ago by Jerry Falwell and the Moral Majority have deeply influenced their thinking. I can tell you this much: true liberals around here are almost as rare as ivory-billed woodpeckers. Fearing social or economic retribution, what few liberals there are maintain a low profile. Of late, local Democratic operatives have taken to writing letters to the Defiance Crescent-News. While I appreciate their efforts — having been a regular writer of letters to local newspaper editors for almost 40 years — I fear that they operate under the delusion that their letters will change the minds of local Trump supporters. They won’t. At best, their letters to the newspaper remind other Democrats/progressives/liberals that they are not alone. Changing hearts and minds? Not a chance.

Due to the local sports photography work I do, I am connected with numerous locals on social media. Many of them are like me, using social media to share photos and cat videos. Others, however, regularly post things in support of Donald Trump. One woman, a relative of mine, went off on a rant over Trump’s impeachment, calling Nancy Pelosi and Hillary Clinton all sorts of vile names. People such as I are routinely pilloried. I say nothing, having learned that talking politics on social media is a waste of time. Oh, it feels good to rip a right-winger a new one now and again, but to what end? Instead, I quietly unfriend such people. And it’s not just locals either. I am “friends” with several family members who routinely post all sorts of right-wing nonsense. No lie is too absurd to post, and no action by President Trump is so vile, extreme, or un-Christian that they won’t find a way to defend him.

Trump knows that the key to maintaining political power is convincing Evangelicals that he is a defender of Christian orthodoxy and a warrior in the battle against libtards, atheists, and socialists. So far, Evangelicals think that Trump is some sort of manifestation of God’s plan for Christian America. In the end, the joke will be on them, but by then the United States will lie in ruin.

The only way to beat back the Evangelical horde is for people of good will and reason to understand that Evangelical power and control is an illusion. As things stand today, atheists, agnostics, and nones are as large a demographic as Evangelicals. Hillary Clinton, a polarizing and weak presidential candidate if there ever was one, defeated Donald Trump by three million votes. Unfortunately, it is the arcane, outdated Electoral College that decides presidential elections, and not the popular vote. To keep Trump from being re-elected in 2020, millions and millions of new voters must be mobilized, and countless lazy Americans must be dragged from their beds to vote on election day. So far, nothing I have heard from the 3,023 people running for the Democratic nomination says to me that Democrats truly understand how to unseat Trump and take back congress. Maybe someone will rise to the top of the pile and mount an effective defense of American republicanism and secularism, but as of today, I have my doubts. If Democrats don’t figure it out soon, we are looking at four more years of Trump. Imagine the depths of the damage that will be done by Trump and his henchmen if they are given another term in office.

Democrats wrongly assume that our democracy can withstand whatever Trump and Company might do. While I thought this very thing at one time, I no longer believe it to be true. The United States is teetering on the edge of ruin and collapse. And this, remember, is exactly what Evangelicals want. Progressivism, secularism, pluralism, and socialism must be destroyed in order for the Evangelical Jesus to be enthroned as the king and ruler of the United States. Don’t believe it for one moment when Evangelicals “say” they don’t have theocratic ambitions. They do, as Evangelicals made clear in their racist attacks on Barack Obama, their unending attacks on LGBTQ people, their support of anti-immigrant, anti-poor policies, and their criminalization of abortion. Now that conservatives control the U.S. Supreme Court and Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is living on borrowed time, Evangelicals know the time is ripe to roll back the social progress of the last sixty years. Want to know what a Christian America might look like? Take a look at countries ruled by Sharia law. Look at what’s going on in India today. Once a proud secular state, India now faces the establishment of a theocratic state by Fundamentalist Hindus — India’s version of Evangelicals.

Part of me wants to say, “Fuck it, I give up. I am going to die soon, and if death doesn’t get me, global climate change will.” Quite frankly, I am worn out. But then, I think of my children and grandchildren. What will they say about me if I give up now?

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Are you on Social Media? Follow Bruce on Facebook and Twitter.

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so.

Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

Christians Say the Darnedest Things: Liberals Will Murder Republicans, if Necessary, to Get Their Way

This is what they [liberals, progressives, Democrats, socialists] do, folks. They do this to shut you down, to shut you up. They do this to try to marginalize you. They do this to try to damage your reputation. They do this to try to convince others that you’re a person not worthy of being heard because you’re full of hatred, and anger, and bitterness, and you’re a danger, and you’re violent.

We really are at a political disadvantage in dealing with the left. You know why? Because they have no morals and we answer to God. That puts us at a political disadvantage because it means that they will do anything and we will not. They will lie, steal, cheat, deceive, I dare say commit murder if they think they can get away with it.

When you come for a philosophy that teaches that there is no absolute morality, that there is no absolute good or evil, right or wrong, then the ends justify the means. That’s exactly what Marx taught.

— E.W. Jackson, Right Wing Watch, The Left Has ‘No Morals’ and Will ‘Commit Murder If They Think They Can Get Away With It, October 9, 2019

Quote of the Day: Baptist Preachers Instrumental in Turning the South Red

Crediting the Nixon campaign with the flight of Southern conservatives from the Democratic Party dismisses the role Southerners themselves played in that transformation. In fact, Republicans had very little organizational infrastructure on the ground in the South before 1980, and never quite figured out how to build a persuasive appeal to voters there. Every cynical strategy cooked up in a Washington boardroom withered under local conditions. The flight of the Dixiecrats was ultimately conceived, planned, and executed by Southerners themselves, largely independent of, and sometimes at odds with, existing Republican leadership. It was a move that had less to do with politicos than with pastors.

Southern churches, warped by generations of theological evolution necessary to accommodate slavery and segregation, were all too willing to offer their political assistance to a white nationalist program. Southern religious institutions would lead a wave of political activism that helped keep white nationalism alive inside an increasingly unfriendly national climate. Forget about Goldwater, Nixon or Reagan. No one played as much of a role in turning the South red as the leaders of the Southern Baptist Church. …

It was religious leaders in the South who solved the puzzle on Republicans’ behalf, converting white angst over lost cultural supremacy into a fresh language of piety and “religious liberty.” Southern conservatives discovered that they could preserve white nationalism through a proxy fight for Christian Nationalism. They came to recognize that a weak, largely empty Republican grassroots structure in the South was ripe for takeover and colonization.

— Chris Ladd, Forbes, Pastors, Not Politicians, Turned Dixie Republican, March 27, 2017

Bruce Gerencser