On Monday, Washington Post columnist Catherine Rampell suggested that while Attorney General William Barr's pro-theocracy speech at the University of Notre Dame was horrifying, in one sense it could be thought of as a "cry for help" — because President Donald Trump is guilty of every godless action he decried as poisoning American society.
"Amid calling for greater freedom of religion, Barr also called for religion (his religion) to infiltrate government at all levels. He specifically decried the fact that 'public agencies — including public schools — are becoming secularized,'" wrote Rampell. "Militant secularism, he said, is to blame for the country’s greatest ills, including drug use, mental illness and 'an increase in senseless violence.' Given such crises, Barr urged his audience to fight back against 'so-called 'progressives'' and others who insist upon respecting America’s pesky, constitutionally mandated separation of church and state."
But looking more closely, Rampell wrote, Trump's faults are everything Barr goes on to describe in that speech.
"Barr decried the government’s 'attacks on religion,'" wrote Rampell. "One could be forgiven for reading this as a passive-aggressive swipe at a president who, during the 2016 campaign, called for blocking immigrants based on their religious beliefs ... Neither is the administration’s recent push to allow greater religious discrimination by enabling federal contractors to hire and fire based on religious belief. This means allowing a for-profit private company to fire an employee for being gay or transgender — but also for being Catholic rather than Protestant."
That wasn't the only example.
"Barr bemoaned the 'unremitting assault' not just on private exercise of faith but also 'traditional values,'" wrote Rampell. "It’s hard to know exactly what was being invoked here. Maybe he was envisioning regressive traditions of days past, such as respect for the patriarchy. But perhaps he was instead invoking traditional values such as: Always keep your word. Keep it in your private business dealings, but also when making promises to friends and allies who have put their lives on the line for you, whether at home or in northern Syria."
"Or maybe: Don’t boast about grabbing unsuspecting women by the genitals. Also, maybe don’t grab them there in the first place," suggested Rampell. "Or: Don’t commit adultery, with a porn star or anyone else, especially not a few months after your third wife gave birth. Also: The only people who should be asked to participate in American elections are Americans. Not foreign powers, especially not adversarial foreign powers. Don’t lie, cheat or steal (including from Uncle Sam); don’t blaspheme; welcome the stranger; have compassion for the poor and sick; and do unto others as you would have them do unto you, even when they don’t have political oppo to offer in return."
Lastly, Rampell noted, Barr went on to "lament the rise of 'moral relativism,' which he said public schools were 'actively promoting.' So, too, presumably, are members of his own party, who selectively condemn bad behavior only when committed by someone other than Trump."
It seems far-fetched that Barr, who is unflinchingly loyal to Trump, meant any of this as a subtle dig at his boss. But at the very least, it betrays a lack of self-reflection.