In a long-delayed response to the emergence of the Religious Right, there are stirrings of life on the Religious Left, reports the intrepid Amy Sullivan in (subscription-only) Salon. Her departure point is a press conference held last week by leaders of five mainline Protestant churches (the Protestant Episcopal Church, the United Methodists, the Presbyterian Church USA, the United Church of Christ, and the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America) denouncing George W. Bush’s proposed budget as “immoral.”While greeting this development, Sullivan goes on to indict “liberal” Protestants (the primary components, outside the African-American churches, of the “Christian Left”) for a self-marginalizing, secularized approach to political engagement in the past, complemented by a hands-off attitude towards religion by these churches’ natural allies in the Democratic Party. She also notes that mainline churches have been frequently paralyzed by internal denominational fights in recent years, exemplified by the current travails of the Episcopalians over same-sex unions.If anything, I suspect Amy’s being too nice to her fellow (and my fellow) mainline Protestants. Look at that list of denominations represented in the anti-Bush press conference again. They were once the dominant religious, cultural and political forces in America. They have been shrinking in numbers, and in influence, for decades, even as fundamentalist and pentecostal denominations grow like topsy. There are certainly demographic and sociological reasons aplenty for their decline, but you don’t have to be a conservative to understand that religious liberals have largely lost their prophetic voices somewhere between weekly worship services and the host of civic and political organizations they support with great energy and commitment.The steady secularization of mainline Protestantism over the second half of the twentieth century is an old and familiar story. But its relationship to the counter-secularization now championed by the Christian Right is less well understood. It’s fairly safe to say much of the political and social teaching being hurled at congregations across the religious spectrum is dangerously disconnected from its scriptural and theological roots. This gives religio-political conservatives an advantage, given the natural tendency of religiously minded people to value what they understand as “traditional values.” And it gives fundamentalists a crucial advantage, because they can selectively find “inerrant” scriptural support for any number of right-wing cultural and political positions.That’s why the revival of mainline Protestantism as a religious force, and as a poltical and cultural force, point in exactly the same direction: a movement to rediscover and proclaim the profoundly un-conservative message of the Law, the Prophets, the Gospels, the Church Fathers, and Church History, with a minimum reliance on modern sociology or Identity Politics.Let the Christian Right be the faction of bad physical and social science, bad economics, and distorted, selective history. Let them be the ones who dress up secular agendas in “God Talk.”Sure, the Religious Left needs to adopt better organizational methods, better communications strategies, and better tactics. But above all, “liberal” Christians need to save themselves as religious communities before they can fulfill their calling to help redeem the world for truly Christian values.
TDS Strategy Memos
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By Ed Kilgore
I stumbled on a piece at the Never-Trump site The Bulwark, and it stunned me enough to write it up at New York.
You may have heard about the 45th president’s reported rant at a Republican donor conference near his Florida home over the weekend. Trump is apparently still furious at Brian Kemp for impeding his election coup, and Mike Pence for failing to steal a second term for him anyway, and at Mitch McConnell for refusing to back his electoral vote challenge and then criticizing him for inciting a riot.
To Republicans who aren’t deep in the fever swamps of MAGA-land, this is just Trump continuing his narcissistic and destructive post-election behavior. Just as he blew up those crucial Georgia Senate runoffs in January because he couldn’t let go of his own lies about the presidential election, he’s blowing up the party at a time when the GOP needs to stay unified in the fight against Biden.And to those of us without a betting interest in Republican success, Trump’s intra-party vendetta and purge threats are bizarre and laughable, and only understandable as a way for him to keep his thumb on the party he conquered in 2016 with no concern for its future.
But what if Trump’s attacks on those who “betrayed” him in 2020 aren’t just narcissistic or backward-looking? What if it’s part of a forward-looking plan to rerun 2020 and get it right this time?
That’s the question Jonathan V. Last of The Bulwark appears to have asked himself, and he’s answered it with a hair-raising hypothesis that is as plausible as the assumption that Trump is just throwing temper tantrums. He presents his theory as the likely product of an implicit Republican 2020 “autopsy” that has turned defeat into a near-victory:
“It is likely Republicans will have majorities in the congressional delegations of at least 26 states for the foreseeable future. They have a >50 percent chance of winning the House in 2022 and a pretty good shot at flipping the Senate.
“So the first two preconditions for winning the presidency while losing the election are very much on the table.
“Which leaves just one project: Mustering the political will to move past both the popular vote and the Electoral College.”
If you begin not with the assumption that Trump’s entire effort to steal the election was absurd, but regard it as an audacious plan that wasn’t executed with the necessary precision, then reverse engineering it to fix the broken parts makes sense:
“[T]he key parts of the Republican autopsy have been (1) building the political will to use raw power next time and (2) removing the Republican officials who were not willing to comply last time.
“That’s why Republican state parties have censured nearly every Republican who did not participate in Trump’s attempted coup.”
And the really heady thing for Trump is knowing how easy it was to convince the GOP rank-and-file base that his lies were the gospel truth:
“The Big Lie is actually the biggest insight to come from the Republican autopsy. Republicans and their enablers discovered that if they make false, evidence-free claims often and loudly enough, then the vast majority of their voters will believe them.
“And then, once Republican voters were onboard, they found that the rest of the party elites would either join them or stay silent. Only a handful of Republicans dared to object. And those figures are in the process of being either defeated or coopted.”
So why not play it again with a prepared and united party that won’t hesitate to seize on bogus “voter fraud” claims and either steal electoral votes before they can be certified by the states, or refuse to certify a Democratic victory and throw the election into Congress?
“[E]ven though the success of such a gambit is a longshot given all of the various failure points, since political power is derived from their voters, many Republicans politicians will be incentivized to embrace the challenge anyway, since they will gain power within the party from the voters who have been primed to demand such a fight.”
But it’s not any more implausible than the election coup hypothesis sounded when some of us began predicting it in the spring of 2020. And in retrospect, it was spot-on except for a few crucial mistakes Team Trump made after Election Night.
From Last’s perspective, in ranting about disloyal Republicans Trump isn’t engaged in hindsight or vengeance, but is following an ambitious schedule for success in 2024 by getting rid of potential troublemakers within his party. And here’s the thing: it’s a strategy that doesn’t necessarily depend on Trump running for president again. It’s available to anyone determined to do whatever it takes to reconquer Washington at a time when Republicans look to be a minority of the electorate for the foreseeable future. Trump has prepared the way with a dress rehearsal.
It’s a chilling thought, and one to revisit if Trump’s Republican enemies go down to primary challenges next year.