This weekend the mid-Atlantic and Northeastern states got clobbered with a major snow storm. I was luckily down in Central Virginia, and got to see the Blue Ridge beautifully dusted with powdered snow. And with most chores beyond feeding apples to the horses and seed to the birds snowed out, I read a lot. On Sunday morning, unable to get across the mountains to Grace Episcopal Church, I did penance by finishing Stephen Bates’ fascinating if painful study of the Anglican Communion’s rendering over the ordination of gay priests and bishops, A Church At War. Bates, a religion correspondent for The Guardian, does not pretent to be an impartial arbiter of the politico-sexual agony of Anglicans in recent years. He clearly views the whole crisis as having been engineered by conservative evangelical Anglicans, especially in England, who chose sexual issues as just another weapon with which to promote their quasi-fundamentalist drive for power in a faith community that has for centuries balanced Protestant and Catholic traditions and habits. Indeed, Bates almost certainly goes too far in suggesting that the African and Asian bishops who insisted on a condemnation of homosexuality at the Lambeth Conference of 1998 were just instruments of an intra-British ecclesiastical fight. But he knows the Anglican landscape well, and his profiles of the two unintentional protaganists of the current war over sexuality–the unsuccessful candidate for Bishop of Reading, Jeffrey John, and the successfully confirmed Bishop of New Hamphsire, Gene Robinson–are exquisitely wrought. As an Episcopalian, I also took pride in Bates’ argument that Americans handled the subject of gay and lesbian ordinations more honestly, and with greater theological depth, than their British counterparts. At a time when both the religious and secular conventional wisdom holds that conservative movements are the only vibrant and authentic trends in all the great faith traditions, Bates makes a strong case that the conservative ascendancy in Anglicanism is temporary, opportunistic, and ultimately incompatible with the future of the Communion. From what I know of Anglican Episcopalians, even those deep in the heart of Protestant Virginia, I think he’s right.
TDS Strategy Memos
Latest Research from:
By Ed Kilgore
It’s hard to keep up with the growing evidence of the horrors Trump plans to implement in a second term, but I wrote about one item that really struck me at New York:
There have been many credible reports that a second Trump administration would feature an assault on the federal civil-service system in order to reduce “deep state” resistance to his authoritarian ambitions — or, to use his terms for it, to “drain the swamp” — while stuffing the higher levels of the federal bureaucracy with political appointees. Those of us who are history-minded have immediately thought of this as threatening a return to the “spoils system” of the 19th century, which was more or less ended by enactment of the Pendleton Civil Service Reform Act of 1883 (signed into law by Republican president and reformed spoilsman Chester Alan Arthur).
But the more we know about Team Trump’s plans, this understanding of what they want to do in staffing the federal government looks increasingly inadequate and anachronistic. The spoils-system beneficiaries of the distant past were by and large party foot soldiers rewarded for attending dreary local meetings, talking up the the party’s candidates in newspapers and forums, and, most of all, getting out the vote on Election Day. No one much cared what they believed in their heart of hearts about issues of the day or how they came to their convictions. It was enough that they put on the party yoke and helped pull the bandwagon to victory.
As Axios reports, one questionnaire used late in the first Trump administration to vet job applicants and another distributed by the Heritage Foundation to build up an army of second-term appointment prospects show a far more discriminating approach:
“The 2020 ‘Research Questionnaire,’ which we obtained from a Trump administration alumnus, was used in the administration’s final days — when most moderates and establishment figures had been fired or quit, and loyalists were flexing their muscles. Questions include:
“’What part of Candidate Trump’s campaign message most appealed to you and why?’
“’Briefly describe your political evolution. What thinkers, authors, books, or political leaders influenced you and led you to your current beliefs? What political commentator, thinker or politician best reflects your views?’
“’Have you ever appeared in the media to comment on Candidate Trump, President Trump or other personnel or policies of the Trump Administration?”
Similar questions are being asked for the Talent Database being assembled by the Heritage Foundation’s Project 2025 — the most sophisticated, expensive pre-transition planning ever undertaken for either party.
The Heritage questionnaire makes it especially clear that being just any old kind of Republican isn’t going to be enough. It asks if applicants agree with a number of distinctively MAGA issue positions, including:
“The U.S. should impose tariffs with the goal of bringing back manufacturing jobs, even if these tariffs result in higher consumer prices. …
“The permanent institutions of family and religion are foundational to American freedom and the common good. …
“The President should be able to advance his/her agenda through the bureaucracy without hinderance from unelected federal officials.”
One insider told Axios that both the 2020 Trump and 2024 Heritage questionnaires have a common and very particular purpose:
“An alumnus of the Trump White House told us both documents are designed to test the sincerity of someone’s MAGA credentials and determine ‘when you got red-pilled,’ or became a true believer. ‘They want to see that you’re listening to Tucker, and not pointing to the Reagan revolution or any George W. Bush stuff,’ this person said”.
This represents a really unprecedented effort to place the executive branch under the direction of people chosen not on the basis of merit or experience or expertise, and not on party credentials, but on membership in an ideological faction that is also a presidential candidate’s cult of personality. As such, it’s more dangerous than a return to the partisan habits of a bygone era.