Welcome to another edition of What Fresh Hell?, Raw Story’s roundup of news items that might have become controversies under another regime, but got buried – or were at least under-appreciated – due to the daily firehose of political pratfalls, unhinged tweet storms and other sundry embarrassments coming out of the current White House.
This week, there was an unusual kerfuffle on Capitol Hill when House Speaker Paul Ryan quietly fired Patrick Conroy, the Catholic priest who had served as House Chaplain since 2011. Conroy's crime, apparently, was committed during debate over the GOP’s tax scam, when he prayed for Congress to “guarantee that there are not winners and losers under new tax laws, but benefits balanced and shared by all Americans.” Ryan, a Roman Catholic, apparently saw this anodyne suggestion as a grave sin against the holy texts of Ayn Rand.
To talk about religious freedom and then fire the House priest because you didn’t like what he said about your bill… https://t.co/g5jSChXQDt— Brian Schatz (@Brian Schatz)1524842859.0
The story then took an even odder turn when Rep. Mark Walker, an Evangelical Christian from North Carolina who’s leading the search for a replacement, said that he thought the next House Chaplin should be a family man. This, of course, eliminates the possibility that another “papist,” who took an oath of celibacy, could get the gig.
“Some Catholic Democrats erupted upon hearing Walker’s comments,” reported Scott Wong for The Hill. “Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) said some lawmakers had surmised that Ryan’s move was designed to appease anti-Catholic sentiments in the GOP conference. Walker, Connolly said, ‘is now confirming our fears.’”
This little Thirty Years War is brewing in The House as Donald Trump -- a pervy, foul-mouthed casino mogul who has five kids by three different women and screws porn stars on the side -- continues to enjoy unprecedented support among devout Evangelical Christians. There have been a few theories offered to explain this apparent disconnect. In The Financial Times [paywall], Gillian Tett writes that some observers “point to the ‘prodigal son’ phenomenon. Yes, evangelicals know that Trump is ungodly, goes this argument, but we are all sinners — and Trump may yet repent.” Another theory, says Tett, is that “evangelicals are courting Trump because they fear they are losing political clout. Issues such as gay marriage have put them on the back foot, and the proportion of the population who call themselves evangelical plunged to 17 per cent in 2017, down from 23 per cent a decade ago.” So they're sticking with him in the hope that Trump will Make Conservative Christianity Great Again.
Perhaps he can assign the task to Jared Kushner -- he could get right on it after he solves the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the opioid crisis. Thankfully, it doesn't require a security clearance.
Another theory, proposed by sociologist Francesca Tripodi, is that Evangelicals process all the daily horrors of this regime through a different lens than the rest of us. She wrote that Evangelicals she had observed in the field “consumed a wide variety of news sources and applied their critical interrogation of the Bible to what they were reading, watching, and listening to.” She argues that this is a group of religionists who not only have an abiding distrust for the media but are also taught to engage in “deep reading” of original Biblical texts rather than relying on interpretations of the scripture. Tripodi visited an Evangelical study group that was applying the same technique to the labyrinthian text of the GOP’s tax bill. “I’ve seen hundreds of Conservative Evangelicals apply the same critique they use for the Bible, arguably a postmodern method of unpacking a text, to mainstream media — favoring their own research on topics rather than trusting media authorities,” she writes.
But a paper published in January in the journal Sociology of Religion found a different angle. The authors of the study, titled “Make Christianity Great Again: Christian Nationalism and Voting for Donald Trump in the 2016 Presidential Election,” argued that it’s all about Christian nationalism – “an ideology that fuses Christians’ love of God and country,” according to HuffPo’s Carol Kuruvilla. “It hinges on the narrative that the United States has a special covenant with the Christian God.”
This ideology has emerged at various times in U.S. history, but a distinct, aggressive iteration seems to have materialized in the Trump era... This most recent version rejects secular society and seeks to restore America’s identity as a “Christian nation” by leveraging Christians’ influence in the public sphere. Some of Trump’s strongest evangelical supporters believe the president was divinely chosen by God to help them achieve the goal of a Christian nation.
[The] research indicates that Americans who believed in several key tenets of Christian nationalism had a strong likelihood of voting for Trump. This was true even when the research team controlled for other influences, like political ideology and party affiliation.
The findings suggest that Christian nationalism is a “unique and independent influence” that led to the Trump presidency.
It goes without saying that in the Christian nationalist’s view, America has no room for dirty atheists, Jews, Muslims and people who adhere to other faiths, and certainly no room for the LGBTQ community.
So that’s what we’re dealing with, and their belief that Trump will restore the kinds of values that he's never adhered to in his long life of privileged debauchery is why they’ll stick with him until the Rapture takes them away, or he’s impeached, whichever comes first.
The Senate just confirmed Kyle Duncan -- a 45-year-old lawyer who built a career out of fighting abortion rights, L… https://t.co/WFhtB7BqOO— Jennifer Bendery (@Jennifer Bendery)1524598498.0
Newly minted Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s Islamophobia and dishonesty about his military record got lots of attention during the confirmation process. But Ken Klippenstein reported for The Young Turks that when Pompeo was the CIA director, the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) “received complaints from CIA personnel about Pompeo’s introduction of overtly religious behavior into the workplace, including Rapture references.” MRFF founder Michael Weinstein said, “He is intolerant of anyone who isn’t a fundamentalist Christian. The people that worked under him at the CIA that came to us were never confused—they never had time to be confused. They were shocked and then they were scared shitless.”
Meanwhile, Amy Littlefield reports for Rewire News that in North Carolina, “crisis pregnancy centers” – phony clinics designed to lure pregnant women away from real healthcare facilities that may offer abortion services or referrals – are using federal funds to purchase religiously-tinted “educational materials” for pregnant women.
To truly appreciate the blatant hypocrisy of all this, you need to understand that the religious right has long claimed that any federal funds used for contraception, abortion or international family planning programs abridges their religious liberty by forcing them to subsidize things they find sinful. One group took a case all the way to the Supreme Court arguing that just signing a piece of paper saying that they object to Obamacare’s contraception mandate was itself a burden on their faith.
By their own logic, every public penny directed at these anti-choice “crisis pregnancy centers” is a violation of the First Amendment’s guarantee of religious liberty for every pro-choice tax payer. But don't expect a "conscience clause" to be introduced for those Americans anytime soon.
Robert Pear reported for The New York Times this week that the Trump regime “says it plans to roll back a rule issued by President Barack Obama that prevents doctors, hospitals and health insurance companies from discriminating against transgender people.” So the regime is objectively pro-discrimination. Let's not mince words.
Let me quote some scripture at you. “For the Lord your God...loves the strangers, providing them food and clothing,” reads Deuteronomy 10:18-19. “You shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” Also: “Give the members of your community a fair hearing, and judge rightly between one person and another, whether citizen or resident alien.” [Deuteronomy 1:16]
“Federal agents ignored President Trump's pledge to protect from deportation undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children by sending a young man back to his native Mexico,” according to USA Today. “After spending an evening with his girlfriend in Calexico, Calif., on Feb. 17, Juan Manuel Montes, 23, who has lived in the U.S. since age 9, grabbed a bite and was waiting for a ride when a U.S. Customs and Border Protection officer approached and started asking questions.” This week, he was deported “back” to a country he barely knows.
At least ten other Dreamers are in federal custody awaiting deportation, according to the report.
Let’s talk about family values for a moment. Maria Sacchetti reports for WaPo that “the nation’s top immigration and border officials are urging Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen to detain and prosecute all parents caught crossing the Mexican border illegally with their children, a stark change in policy that would result in the separation of families that until now have mostly been kept together.”
What happens to the kids who are separated from their families in the process of coming to this "country of immigrants"? In some cases, nobody knows. Ron Nixon reports for The New York Times that the Department of Health and Human Services has “lost track of nearly 1,500 migrant children it placed with sponsors in the United States, raising concerns they could end up in the hands of human traffickers or be used as laborers by people posing as relatives."
That is really some fresh Hell.
Let me again speak clearly: ICE -- Immigration and Customs enforcement -- is a rogue agency that should be abolished.
The LA Times: “[ICE] agents repeatedly target U.S. citizens for deportation by mistake, making wrongful arrests based on incomplete government records, bad data and lax investigations,…”
A Times review of Department of Justice records and interviews with immigration attorneys uncovered hundreds of additional cases … in which people were forced to prove they are Americans and sometimes spent months or even years in detention.
Victims include a landscaper snatched in a Home Depot parking lot in Rialto and held for days despite his son’s attempts to show agents the man’s U.S. passport; a New York resident locked up for more than three years fighting deportation efforts after a federal agent mistook his father for someone who wasn’t a U.S. citizen; and a Rhode Island housekeeper mistakenly targeted twice, resulting in her spending a night in prison the second time even though her husband had brought her U.S. passport to a court hearing.
They and others described the panic and feeling of powerlessness that set in as agents took them into custody without explanation and ignored their claims of citizenship.
One US citizen was locked up for almost four years -- 1,273 days – trying to prove that he wasn’t an “illegal.” #AbolishICE
According to a report by The Intercept’s Debbie Nathan, Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) has also been cooking the books, wildly inflating statistics tracking assaults on their officers in order to bolster Trump’s blather about how crazy criminal aliens are running amok in our heavily militarized Southern border region.
Some people argue that Trump’s militarized xenophobia is “un-American,” or doesn’t reflect the values invoked on the Statue of Liberty -- give us your poor, etc.. But that lady is French, for crying out loud, and the reality is that the children and grandchildren of immigrants and settlers have always been hostile toward newcomers. It’s really as American as apple pie.
The difference is that it’s 2018, we're an increasingly diverse country, and, as with virtually every other negative aspect of American life, Marmalade Mugabe’s turned this shit up to 11.