Mountain Snail

Stuff Ballard Wrote

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Reparations for slavery

Asheville Daily Planet, April 2020

Reparations for slavery and segregation — an issue swept under everybody’s rug so long there’s barely a bulge.

I don’t like the word “reparations,” and I don’t like what some proponents are saying, but then I like less what Senator Mitch McConnell said: “No one currently alive was responsible for [slavery].  And I don’t think we should be trying to figure out how to compensate for it.” 

The Pew Research Center estimates that today, white households are worth about 20 times more than black households. 

Is this some kind of huge coincidence?   

Slavery ended with the Thirteenth Amendment in 1865, but black people weren’t given the rights of free people for another 100 years.  They weren’t even regarded as people.

The Brooklyn Dodgers assigned Jackie Robinson to minor-league Montreal for the 1946 season.  The Montreal manager was a Mississippian.  He begged Dodger general manager Branch Rickey not to make him manage an African American.  “Mr. Rickey,” he asked, “do you think n***s are human beings?”  That was in my lifetime.

I grew up in Georgia until 1954, and no exaggeration, every thread of our lives was white supremacy.  I remember a time my parents visited us and saw my children playing with their black neighbors.  My father reprimanded me: “They’re not like us.”

I never heard one person ever criticize Jim Crow segregation.  Never.  Not only were the races separated; the system made certain that, in every way, the other race was always less.  Why did the gentleman who helped with our yard work have to drink water from a Coke bottle instead of a glass from our kitchen?  I never wondered.  I sort of understood that he had “his place.”

And that inferiority carried over to education, jobs, justice — and life itself.  When a polio epidemic hit Wytheville, Virginia, in the summer of 1950, black patients weren’t accepted at Memorial and Crippled Children’s Hospital in Roanoke (80 miles away).  They had to be taken 260 miles over pre-Interstate highways to Richmond for treatment. 

There were legal remedies after the Civil War — on paper.  The Thirteenth, Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments gave ex-slaves legal standing.  And when General Sherman completed his March to the Sea, he and Secretary of War Stanton met with 20 black leaders in Savannah to find out what they wanted.  As a result, Sherman issued a special order — which was approved by President Lincoln:  “The islands from Charleston, south, the abandoned rice fields along the rivers for thirty miles back from the sea, and the country bordering the St. Johns River, Florida, are reserved and set apart for the settlement of the negroes now made free.”   They were to govern themselves, with no whites allowed to reside there.  Tens of thousands of ex-slaves rushed to make claims.

But Lincoln was assassinated, and his successor, Andrew Johnson, a Southerner, nullified Sherman’s order — and did nothing to stop the violent subjugation of blacks.  The paper remedies were crumpled. 

White society, top to bottom, enforced white supremacy from then for a century.  They did.  No, we did, well into my lifetime — and Senator McConnell’s. 

I read about monetary reparations, even detailed studies of slave wages computed over centuries with interest, amounting to trillions, to be divided among slave descendants.  It’s totally unworkable and short-term.  Better, a plan over decades, mostly around education.   

I’d like to see a program that challenges the millions of successful blacks to be highly visible role models and a massive federal investment in scholarships for serious black young people.  Call it yeast in the dough.

The U.S. military wastes enough money in one day to fund hundreds of students in state universities.

A resolution in the House of Representatives to study options, H.R. 40, will likely pass next year.  Studying’s a start.

Georgetown University owned slaves to work their vast tobacco fields, and in 1838, the Jesuits there sold 242 of them to plantations in Louisiana.  The university is looking for remedies.  Their current president went to Louisiana in 2016 to meet with descendants of those slaves.  And last year, G.U. students voted to add money to their tuition for scholarships for these descendants. 

They recognize a debt is owed.

I’m sorry I voted for Trump

News-Record & Sentinel, March 11, 2020

Last year in Erie, Pennsylvania, a 29-year-old man named D.J. Smith walked into a Democratic political meeting and said he was sorry.  He voted for Trump, and he felt regret.   He’d never paid much attention to politics; he’d always just voted Republican. (AP)

Esquire magazine sent a reporter to Florida to check out a Trump rally.   One man, named Bill Moro, explained, with no little pride, “I don’t care what he does. I’m behind him 100 percent. Put it this way: If he became a dictator, and they said, ‘We want him in forever,’ he’s my man. He’s in. I’ll never vote against him. …I love his power. …It’s the power that does something to me.”

Two men look back on their 2016 votes.  One gives us hope for American democracy.  The other makes us worry for our children’s America.

Smith is a software engineer.  He became disenchanted almost immediately when the GOP Congress passed resolutions that repealed Obama-era rules forcing Internet providers to disclose what consumer data they’re collecting and who it’s being sold to.  Then later in 2017, Trump took away the FCC’s “net neutrality” rules.  Smith was ”dumbfounded.”

I’m sure he was double-dumbfounded last month when the White House produced a report on the effects of their two 2017 Internet actions.

“We find that…the Trump Administration’s ‘Restoring Internet Freedom’ order will increase real incomes by more than $50 billion per year and consumer welfare by almost $40 billion per year,” the report said.

Motherboard, the tech-science arm of vice.com, wrote, “There’s just one problem: none of the claims [in the report] are actually true.”  Motherboard consulted telecom and consumer-group experts and heard from several that “the study is one of the most misleading government tech policy reports they’d ever seen.”
I’m sure millions of Trump voters have experienced the same what-have-I-done moment that Mr. Smith did.  They can’t accept Trump’s pattern of unwise decisions followed by cover-up.

But many more millions are like Mr. Moro.  They won’t be moved from Trump by any argument. 

To them I can only recommend the excellent article in Wikipedia on the word “demagogue.”  It has individual sections on:  lying, outrageous behavior, personal insults, intimidation, attacking the news media, emotional oratory, fearmongering, accusing of disloyalty, promising the impossible.

Reading it might help Mr. Moro understand what Trump’s “power” really is.

Trump’s business acumen

News-Record & Sentinel, February 26, 2020

Jerry Falwell, Jr. isn’t one to hide his thoughts.  But in a Washington Post interview last year, he did dodge one question.  His substitute answer deserves our attention. 

Q: You…have strongly supported President Trump. What about him exemplifies Christianity and earns him your support?

A: What earns him my support is his business acumen….We needed someone who was not a career politician, but someone who’d been successful in business to run the country like a business. That’s the reason I supported him.

Elsewhere, he said Trump’s skills will translate into recovery from our almost $20 trillion debt.

People support Trump for many reasons.  That’s fine.  But for a university president to do it for Trump’s business acumen?  Yikes. 

I won’t dwell on Trump’s business failures because each of them has its own Wikipedia page — Trump University, Trump Vodka, Trump Steaks, Trump (magazine), Trump: the (board) Game, Trump Shuttle (airline), Trump Mortgage.  And oh yes, Trump casinos in Atlantic City.    

The disasters had several things in common.  They were designed to glitter up the “Trump brand.”  They (mistakenly) assumed that people wanted to live a bit of the Trump lifestyle.  They were mostly suggested by others who stroked his ego in selling an idea.  Outrageous claims were made.  Lies were revealed in lawsuits.

Topping everything off, in June 1990, Trump was forced to turn over control of several businesses to his bankers to avoid personal bankruptcy. 

An article in The New Yorker last year gives detailed numbers.  (Google “new yorker 2019 trump losses real.”)   

Ah but the American economy is booming.

Yes, it is.  I will just pass on this Andrew Jackson anecdote. 

The Bank of the United States was a privately-held bank where the government deposited its money.  The bank, in turn, distributed money to state and local banks.  Jackson hated the bank.  Even though Congress had voted to renew the bank’s charter, and the Supreme Court had ruled that the bank was constitutional, Jackson slowed government deposits and ultimately vetoed the bank’s charter renewal. Government money went to “pet banks” in the states.

The result was chaos on the frontier.  Notes issued by many banks were worthless.  Jackson responded with a “circular” that required purchases of federal land be in gold and silver. 

Jackson was out of office before the Panic of 1837 hit, a depression that lasted seven years.

Weasel in the henhouse

Asheville Daily Planet, March 2020

I was intrigued by a headline in this Opinion section last December: “President Trump is right about today’s fake news climate.”  It appeared over the “Candid Conservative” column.

The Candid Conservative and Trump?  I expected satire.

But deeper in, the columnist, Carl Mumpower, wrote: “That’s why President (Donald) Trump is correct in calling out a parade of fake news marketed as something more virtuous. Most conservative thinkers agree with him.”

The page should have lit up, “TILT!”  Conservatives come in many shapes — political, economic, religious, lifestyle and more — but through them all runs a common thread.  I was surprised to see that thread extended to Donald Trump.  

Conservative philosopher Russell Kirk wrote of conservatism in 1993 as something almost spiritual: “(Conservatism) is a state of mind, a type of character, a way of looking at the civil social order.  The attitude we call conservatism is sustained by a body of sentiments, rather than by a system of ideological dogmata.”

What is this body of sentiment?  Kirk continued: “The conservative adheres to custom, convention, and continuity.Necessary change, conservatives argue, ought to be gradual and discriminatory, never unfixing old interests at once.”

I read Barry Goldwater’s Conscience of a Conservative in 1963 in the Philippines.  I remember discussing it with a Peace Corps volunteer.  I defended Goldwater.  It defined well what Kirk meant by a “way of looking at the civil social order.”       

Goldwater wrote: “The conservative respects the political institutions and customs and traditions which he has inherited, particularly the Constitution of the United States and other great documents of our nation. He believes our heritage of ordered freedom is the product of great wisdom and much practical experience.”

William F. Buckley put it this way: “A Conservative is a fellow who is standing athwart history yelling ‘Stop!”

Donald Trump’s life and governance are polar opposite to conservative devotion to an ordered world.  He has total disregard for norms and rules.  Now that he’s been acquitted, we’re watching his contempt for the rule of law, openly rewarding his friends and punishing those who stand up to him.  Gradual change?  Demolition of established institutions is more likely.

And yet, somehow, he has won and retained the adoration of many conservatives — including, apparently, the Candid Conservative.  In 2018, he enthused: 

“President Trump’s renewal of 21st century conservatism tracks to his one relentless dedication – an unyielding refusal to manage the decline of America.  These phenomena begins [sic] and ends [sic] with two words – President Trump. We are living in one of those rare – MLK, Gandhi, Churchill, Reagan [sic], Washington – moments where one man with a courage button is turning the world upside down.”

Shortly after Mumpower’s December column, an article came to my computer by conservative economist Jeffrey Tucker, “How Trumpism Swallowed Conservatism.”  It is stark.  He sets his opening scene at FreedomFest, an annual gathering of conservative and libertarian intellectuals:

“In the summer of 2015, Donald Trump came to FreedomFest..as an eccentric outsider. Almost a gate crasher. People wondered why he was there. He presented his message of protectionism and immigration restrictionism, while railing against Iran and China. Only a strong leader can save us from them, was his message. So far from Reaganism was his message that it was surprising that he received even a smattering of applause. 

“The next year, it was different….I spoke from the FreedomFest stage with warnings that Trump’s ideology is neither libertarian nor conservative but from a different tradition altogether, one that was historically and philosophically statist [a political theory where the state has great control]. I was booed by perhaps two-thirds of the audience….I did the same the next year – Trump was now president – and I was basically shouted down. I’m glad no one in the audience was carrying vegetables.”

So Mumpower is seemingly in step with many others.  Trump seems to have scattered the conservative movement like a weasel in the henhouse.

This conservative surrender to Trumpism is so shocking that we have to wonder how deep it runs.

Ben Shapiro, a popular conservative talk show host and editor, thinks it’s not very deep.  He said (in the context of his intention to vote for Trump in 2020):  “I think most Republicans correctly see Trump more as a vehicle for policy priorities than  as a thought-leader, which makes sense, because thought-leaders need to have thoughts.”

Total power can’t be predicted

News Record & Sentient, February 2020

I’d met with Madison once before.  That time, he mostly grumbled that history hasn’t given him a famous quote, while his nemesis, Patrick Henry, is remembered with a huge one.  But I noted a great line of his from that day: “The longer I’m dead, the thinner my skin.” 

Today, his straggly, stringy hair and baggy eyes gave him a ghastly look, nothing like his almost-handsome image on the $5000 bill.  He was a man deeply troubled.

He went right to the point.  “Four years of my life, Ballard!” he croaked, continuing (with some exaggeration): “My arguments dismantled the Articles of Confederation.  I gathered the Constitutional Convention.  I wrote the final draft.  I battled anti-constitution forces until our magnificent vision was reality.  And now this!”

I waited.  He pushed a newspaper toward me.  The headline read, “The GOP has caught autocratic fever.”  I knew of the polls.  Forty-three percent of Republicans now want fewer checks on Trump, double from a year ago. 

“They scorn your checks and balances, Mr. President,” I said.

“Republicans!  I’ve rejoiced with them from their beginnings.  I know their creed: ‘We support the Federalist System of Government,’ it says.  They’ve always opposed centralized power!”

“You feared monarchy, didn’t you?” I asked.

“We did!  We knew history.  Our government would have separation of powers.  No monarchy for America!  And Republicans have always believed with us.  Now, betrayal!” 

“Many religious leaders, evangelicals, want the current president to have unchecked power so he can remake America into what they call a ‘Christian nation,’” I said.

“Ha!  Let them study Oliver Cromwell!” Madison thundered. 

“Actually, sir, many see Cromwell as their role model.”

“Incredible!  We took nothing from Cromwell for our new government!  We saw one important lesson from Cromwell:  when absolute power is given, you cannot predict how it will be used, or control it afterwards.  Cromwell slaughter 5,000 Catholics in Ireland, shut down Parliament when they debated his constitution and forced every adult to swear allegiance to his government.” 

He paused.  “Is that what evangelicals want, Trump as Cromwell?”

“Their leaders call him ‘chosen,’ like Cromwell,” I said.

Madison spoke slowly: “Cromwell was sincere.  He believed he was doing God’s will, even in genocide.  Trump is a fraud.  He’s using evangelicals for his reelection.  If he’s successful, he’ll treat them like common rubbish.”

“That’s Trump all right,” I said.

Mark Esper Milquetoast

News-Record & Sentinel, January 2020

In the days leading up to his resignation in 1974, Richard Nixon was a mental mess.   He wasn’t sleeping.  He was drinking heavily.  He made unintelligible calls late at night.  His son-in-law reported that Nixon was talking to portraits of presidents.  He hinted at suicide.

Secretary of Defense James Schlesinger heard the rumors and worried that Nixon might call in the military to rescue his presidency.  Schlesinger notified the Joint Chiefs of Staff and military commanders near D.C. to obey no order from the White House that did not have his signature.  The chain of command would not be short-circuited.

James Schlesinger saw his duty as Secretary of Defense to defend the country, not to defend his boss.

Our current Secretary of Defense is an ex-military (West Point), ex-lobbyist (Raytheon) intellectual named Dr. Mark Esper.

I saw him for the first time on TV after the Turks invaded Syria.  He said, more or less, “The Turks were coming.  We had to get our troops out of harm’s way.”  His undulating body language said, “Give me some slack, guys.  I just work here.”  My exact first thought was, “Oh no.  We don’t have a James Schlesinger.  We’ve got Caspar Milquetoast.” 

He got the same “Please take me to the library” look when reporters asked why we had killed the Iranian general.  Esper said the general was planning an imminent attack on the U.S.  How imminent?  “I think it’s more fair to say days, for sure,” Esper responded.  The wheel desperately spinning in his head could just as easily have landed on “Next Tuesday.”  White House talking points didn’t cover that detail.

A very unfunny political cartoon, by Michael Ramirez, came to my computer after that.  It showed President Trump standing with a squatting dog on his left and a man wearing glasses on his right, squatting exactly like the dog.  Trump’s speech bubble says, “Secretary Esper, I was talking to the dog.”  We’re to understand that Trump gave the command, “Sit!”  Mark’s a good doggy.

In the end, Nixon honored the Constitution.  Trump?  His Nixon-like frenzies come and go like indigestion.  How sure are we that he will vacate the White House peacefully next year?          

Schlesinger was ready to defy his commander-in-chief if he attempted a coup d’état.  So far, Esper has shown himself more likely to direct traffic when the tanks encircle the White House. 

A nation’s greatness is fragile

Asheville Daily Planet, 2/2020

Nothing has been the same since the Invasion.  We never recovered. 

Over the years, historians have written about the “War of Wars” and how it was lost — and nobody has ever really disputed that blame lies squarely with the man known to his followers as The Chosen.  One early historian was specific in his accusation.  The ill-fated Invasion that doomed our nation was for him “to gain in wealth and reputation by means of his successes.”   

Oh, the terrible sadness!  Our nation stood astride the world for over a century, then suddenly our grand experiment with democracy and the bright light of our innovations came to a sudden end.  Our conquerers disarmed us and installed a cruel tyrannical government over us.  Our creditors demanded austerity. 

In retrospect, we should never have been drawn to this man.  He grew up in wealth, with every advantage and no constraints.  As one historian wrote later: “He had several famous teachers, but he was noted for his unruly behavior.”  He was handsome and charming, a womanizer all his life, even seducing the wife of a prominent king.    

He knew no loyalty.  One historian wrote of him, “He repays with injury the open assistance of any of his friends.”   He knew no patriotism.  There’s no doubt he met in secret with a key delegation to the Mutual Tolerance Treaty, convincing them that he alone could maintain peace.  Six years later, the Invasion, and our nation was lost.

He knew how to turn the public mind with fiery oratory.  He ranted that elected officials other than himself were bringing disorder and instability to the country.  The Invasion was necessary, and victory would be easy, he promised.  He promised, and yet, incredibly, he had very little knowledge of real enemy strength. 

The expedition (Operation Syracuse, it was called) had no strategic purpose.  None.  It started small — 40 ships and marines onboard — but it grew until almost our entire military was involved.  There was no real plan.  Our overwhelming force was successful at first, but our adversary was reinforced by her allies, and battles were lost on land and sea.  At the end, a desperate, massive evacuation was attempted, and it, too, was bungled.  All surviving men and ships were surrendered.

The Chosen went into exile, where he collaborated with an ancient enemy.  A contemporary essayist called him “”the least scrupulous and most entirely careless of human beings.”  But amazingly, when he was allowed to return, huge crowds greeted his arrival. 

But then nobody should have been amazed, so strong was his following.  How devious was the man!  One critic wrote of him: “All his natural gifts created a traitor, an audacious and impious man.”  A poet likened him to a lion raised in the city — admired for his magnificence and power but savage, unacceptable and dangerous when released.  An early critic wrote:  “Instead of holding that he ought himself to conform with the laws of the state, he expects you to conform with his own way of life.”

STOP THE STORY!  WHAT’S ALL THIS ABOUT?

It’s not about Donald Trump.  We’re not in some fantasy future looking back on the demise of the United States. 

No, the Chosen man in our narrative here was Alcibiades, whose invasion of Sicily in 415 B.C. ended the Golden Age of Athens.  Yes, I cherry-picked the facts about Alcibiades to highlight the similarities between Trump and Alcibiades, but facts given here are Alcibiades’ facts (except he was not called The Chosen).  The quotes cited were actually written about him.

The Alcibiades saga has two lessons, two warnings, for America today. 

One: Greatness is fragile.  Nations can fall from their highest height to lowest low very quickly.  The magnificent Golden Age of Athens ended in one misstep.

Two: Power in the hands of an arrogant, unscrupulous, impulsive person can be more devastating than anyone can imagine.  

Donald Trump has all the qualifications to be America’s Alcibiades.

It must not happen.  For all that is great in America, we must not let it happen.

Mangled metaphors

News-Record & Sentinel, January 2020

TV pundits love metaphors.  They probably throw 100 people a day under the bus.  But sometimes their talking gets ahead of their thinking, and their metaphors get mixed. 

Like: “Nancy Pelosi has a lot of tools left in her quiver.”

No, son, she doesn’t.  She either has tools in her toolbox or she has arrows in her quiver.  It sounds dumb to mix them. 

Another big-time commentator said, “He didn’t raise the red flag as loudly as he should have.”  We understand what he means.  Red flags signal danger — but so does “sound the alarm,” which you want to do big and loud.  Keep them separate.     

Mixed metaphors are excusable.  They happen accidentally when the mind lags behind the tongue. 

Mangled metaphors, on the other hand, can’t be excused as easily.  We hear them when the speaker doesn’t understand the metaphor he’s using.  He’ showing his ignorance.

Some mangled metaphors are so common they only annoy us for a moment.  We hear, “He has a tough road to hoe,” and our minds see this poor goof chopping away at asphalt.  It’s properly “a tough row to hoe” – a garden metaphor, not a roadwork metaphor.

Sportscasters lament that a losing team needs to “get untracked.”  Untracked?  “Track” says it’s a railroad metaphor, for heaven’s sake.  If a train is untracked, it’s not going anywhere.  The metaphor they mangle is “get on track,” that is, get going in the right direction.

I cheered out loud when one of ESPN’s ex-jock commentators said, “They need to get on track, and they need a conductor,” meaning a quarterback.  He understood the metaphor and extended it!

“We really are in unchartered waters,” said Northwestern-educated Peter Alexander of NBC News.  Peter lad, waters aren’t givben charters; they have charts.  We’re in uncharted waters, not unchartered waters!

In this time of congressional hearings, we aren’t surprised to hear that “many more shoes will drop,” meaning simply, “There’s more to come.”  The metaphor pictures the person in the apartment above us dropping a shoe, one shoe, and we brace ourselves because the other shoe will certainly drop.  The metaphor doesn’t work if the guy upstairs is emptying his closet.

I’ll close now with a metaphor used by a sportscaster of my youth, Al Helfer, when the count was three balls and two strikes: “The string has run out.” 

Reading and Ruling

News-Recode & Sentinel, January 2020

“Show me a family of readers, and I will show you the people who move the world.” – Napoléon Bonaparte

Now that’s a surprise.  I’ve always thought of Bonaparte as a thug.  Looking deeper, I found an article, “Napoleon the reader,” and, Holy Waterloo!  As a young officer, he read the histories and constitutions of everywhere, philosophers, ancient Greek forts and a long list of et ceteras.

There’s a saying: “Leaders read.”  Library propaganda?

Well, our best-read presidents are on Mount Rushmore, plus FDR.  Harry Truman took Plutarch on vacation with him, and his diaries have references to Louis XI and Marcus Aurelius.   

Our current president doesn’t read.  An early adviser, Gary Cohn, is quoted as saying in an email: “Trump won’t read anything — not one-page memos, not the brief policy papers, nothing.”

He doesn’t read, but even worse, he hasn’t read throughout his life.  He doesn’t have a basic foundation of knowledge.  

So what?  One thing his supporters love about him is that he doesn’t get muddled by Harvard types.  He goes by his instincts. 

But our instincts are guided by our life experience, aren’t they?  His supporters like that he was a businessman who made deals — but his deals were all for himself.  His instinct was a selfish instinct — and it still is.  Whenever he takes a position that involves Russia or Saudi Arabia, there’s this prick in our minds: “What’s he got to gain by that personally?”

Have his instincts been right in relations with North Korea?  No, they’re playing him.  Turkey?  No, they snookered him.  China?  We aren’t winning the trade war.  NATO and the European Union?  No, and his disrespect has made the world more dangerous.

We would hope, with a year left in his first term and four more years a possibility, that his instincts will improve.

We can hope, fervently hope.  Mushy instincts can lead to blunders anytime, anywhere.  And his loose tongue and tweets open him, up to ridicule, like when he said Andrew Jackson was angry about the Civil War, when Jackson was long dead before then.

Theodore Roosevelt liked to read a book before breakfast.  At that hour, Donald Trump is watching television.

Groucho Marx had this comment:  “I find television very educational.  Every time somebody turns on the set, I go into the other room and read a book.”

Faith-Politics hybrid

Asheville Daily Planet, January 2020

A letter to the editor of a competing newspaper made me pause and ponder:

“The decline of a nation starts within like a disease and spreads slowly.  Many have infiltrated our country bringing along their ideas and religious beliefs. Political correctness is deceptive and akin to socialism. My own Christian freedom is being challenged. Many, not all, that have come are the ones that is stomping on our soil to destroy the freedom we’ve held dear for centuries. Then there are the liberals, socialist, Nazis and the biased ideas of the media….If we, who believe in God’s holy word, don’t pray and stand up for the principals this nation was founded upon, the disease will destroy us. We cannot keep silent any longer.”

I felt like I was eavesdropping on a meeting of evangelicals, a meeting where people used words and phrases with specialized meanings that everybody in the group understood.

I have a long evangelical background, from my home to college to 20 years as a Bible translator, but that was before the evangelical faith got politicized. 

One painful sentence screams from the page: “My own Christian freedom is being challenged.”

On the surface, the statement is false.  Religious freedom is safe in America.  OK, Mormons are denied bigamy by law, and snake-handlers have to practice in secret.  Nothing comparable threatens evangelicals.

But when the Washington State Supreme Court ruled last summer, unanimously on civil rights grounds, that a florist was wrong to refuse service to a same-sex couple’s wedding, I understand that the writer feels it as a personal gut punch.

Likewise last September when the Duke University student government refused to recognize an evangelical student group because of their anti-LGBT stance, isn’t that — here comes that hot phrase — political correctness?

So the writer isn’t making stuff up. 

Oh, don’t we wish that were the end of the story — a committed Christian who rightly feels hurt by changes in American culture? 

But there’s more to consider.  Over the last 40 years, devious people have taken the legitimate distress of grassroot evangelicals and turned it into political passion.  Christian leaders, who previously worried about liberal trends in theology, discovered that politics can stir up conservatives a lot more efficiently than righteousness.

The letter illustrates for us an important tactic they use:   taking real words, dumping out the dictionary definitions and packing the words with new meanings.

When the letter writer says that political correctness is akin to socialism, we know “socialism” has been given a meaning something like “the worst thing that can happen to our government.”  Socialism is an economic system that many countries have adopted successfully.  It’s harmless to our faith.  (Maybe “socialism” still carries the strong negative connotation it had when anti-Communism was big among evangelicals.  That was before Trump, when Russia was considered an enemy.)

At this point, I want to introduce you to a new organization, an unabashed hybrid of faith and politics, created, as one commentator wrote, “just in time for the 2020 Presidential Election.”

Last month, a joint venture was announced between Jerry Falwell Jr. (president of Liberty University) and Charlie Kirk (head of Turning Point USA).  It’s called The Falkirk Center for Faith and Liberty.  Falwell is a known evangelical leader; Kirk is a right-wing political operative whose organization has the subsidiary, Students for Trump.

Kirk loves the newly-defined, empty-vessel words, words that he can throw around like Molotov cocktails.  He’s quoted as believing that atheism leads to socialism, for example.  And in an interview with The Washington Examiner, he said: “The fastest-growing religion in America is atheism and secularism and with that is the rise of leftism and statism.” 

Statism?  Statism (unknown to my spell-checker) is “a political system in which the state has substantial centralized control over social and economic affairs.”

Hold it!  That definition sounds a whole lot like what these evangelical leaders want America to be — with control in their hands!

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