October 25, 2016

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BREAKING: White evangelicals support Donald Trump because they agree with him.

An extensive new Public Religion Research Institute survey demonstrates that white evangelical Protestants are largely aligned with Donald Trump’s immigration positions and overarching pessimism about the future of the country. At Religion Dispatches, the University of Pennsylvania’s Dr. Anthea Butler breaks down the most noteworthy results:

The group with the most fatalistic view of American cultural change are white evangelical Protestants, three quarters of whom (74%) say that American culture has changed for the worse since 1950.

A majority of Republicans (55%) believe that America is so off track that we need a leader who is willing to “break the rules,” while 57% of Democrats disagree with that statement.

A majority of white Americans say that Donald Trump is the most trustworthy candidate in the 2016 election (54%) while Blacks and Hispanics say that Hillary Clinton is the most trustworthy candidate (71% and 59% respectively).

Among Americans as a whole Hillary Clinton is perceived to have much stronger religious beliefs than Donald Trump (50% v. 36%), though white evangelical Protestants say that Trump has much stronger religious beliefs (58% vs 28%)

Most Americans reject banning Muslims from the United States (56%), yet a sizable minority (43%) express support for some kind of ban. A Majority of white evangelical Protestants (62%) and white mainline Protestants (54%) favor the temporary ban. White Catholics are split evenly.

The majority of Hispanic Catholics (62%), black Protestants (68%), members of non-Christian religions (70%)  and religiously unaffiliated Americans (74%) reject the ban on Muslims in the United States.

These results won’t surprise anyone who’s followed the election closely. Donald Trump’s appeal is largely nostalgic, embraced by voters privileged enough to have prospered in a less diverse America. For these white Americans, their self-identification as evangelicals functions as a statement of racial identity as well as a statement of faith. When they say they want to keep America moral, they mean they want to keep it culturally “pure.” 

“The upshot of this survey is that white evangelicals want to go back to Ozzie and Harriet—in time, behavior, and gender roles,” Butler writes. 

It’s a definitive answer to a common question this election cycle: Evangelicals are voting for Donald Trump, moral failings and all, because they agree with him. 

File this one away under “ledes about Marco Rubio that liberals will love.”

According to NPR, “Rubio got booed off a stage in Orlando on Sunday, by a crowd that was overwhelmingly Latino.”

Relish the sound of it.

That Rubio’s better positioned for re-election than many other swing-state Republican senators frustrates liberals to no end. Part of this frustration stems from a lingering anxiety about the thought of Rubio beating Hillary Clinton in 2020 (though his underwhelming 2016 presidential campaign set most of those fears to rest).

The bigger issue is that liberals believe Rubio deserves comeuppance for the way he’s conducted himself as a senator and political candidate. Rubio has bumbled around the playing field of Republican politics heedlessly for six years, looking for a sweet-spot that keeps eluding him. First he was a Tea Party insurgent; then he was a pro-immigration reform healer; then he abandoned immigration reform; then he promised he wouldn’t seek re-election to the Senate so he could stake it all on a bid for the presidency; then he refused to criticize Donald Trump; then he accused President Obama of intentionally sabotaging America; then he said Trump was a con-man, unfit for the presidency, who could not be trusted with the nuclear codes; then Trump beat him; then he endorsed Trump; then he announced he’d run for re-election after all, which brings us to the present day, and a widespread sense among liberals that someone with Rubio’s track record doesn’t deserve a second term in office.

Liberals may not get their way, but if Rubio loses it will be due to this very inconstancy, which has driven down his support among Hispanic voters in Florida. Many of them associate Rubio with Trump’s bigotry and the rise of nativism and will register their disapproval at the polls.

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The White House served Donald Trump the case against Obamacare on a silver platter—and he still blew it.

On Monday, the White House released a report estimating that Affordable Care Act premiums will go up by an average of 25 percent next year in what some pundits are describing as another “October surprise.” The GOP now has an opportunity to undermine what is one of President Barack Obama’s crowning achievements, delivering a hit to his high approval ratings and his ability to campaign on behalf of the Democratic ticket.

But instead of empathizing with those affected by the hikes and proposing a solution, Trump hailed it as an I-told-you-so moment:

I think [Obamacare is a] disaster and I’ve been saying it from the time before they even voted for it. I said this plan can’t work, it’s going to be a disaster, it was a big lie, that is how he got it passed.

He also gave a press conference in which he claimed that all of his employees are having “a tremendous problem with Obamacare,” which is blatantly false. The Trump Organization engages in the commonplace practice of providing health benefits to its full-time employees. That statement shows just how little he understands the existing health care system, and undermines his assertion that he’s going to create “something much better, much better and much less expensive.”

As demonstrated repeatedly in his debate performances, Trump stumbles as soon as he is forced to discuss substantive policy. Though today’s Obamacare revelation may help down-ballot Republicans, Trump frittered away a rare chance to seize an issue that actually matters during the last 14 days of the campaign.

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The Justice Department is breathing new life into the Eric Garner case.

According to The New York Times, FBI agents tasked with investigating the case have been replaced with agents from outside of New York, a decision that could propel the stalled case forward.

Garner’s death at the hands of Staten Island police in July 2014—made infamous by a video showing Garner being placed into a chokehold and saying, “I can’t breathe”—fueled national protests over police brutality against black men. A medical examiner ruled the death a homicide, but the Richmond County grand jury decided not to indict the officers that December. That day, the Justice Department decided to charge the individual officers.

Since then, the case has reportedly been slowed by disagreements over whether the officers violated Garner’s civil rights. Prosecutors in Brooklyn oppose the charges, while the Civil Rights Division in Washington, D.C., says the video clearly shows evidence of a civil rights violation.

While this shake-up could move the investigation forward, precedent does not bode well for those seeking justice on Garner’s behalf. Most recently, Baltimore State’s Attorney General Marilyn J. Mosby dropped the remaining charges against officers involved in the death of Freddie Gray, after three of the six officers were acquitted.

Is Donald Trump beta-testing Trump TV? Or is he just out of options?

One of the election’s most consistent narratives has been that Donald Trump is only out for himself—that he’s using the national political spotlight to make money and build his brand, which helps explain, for instance, why he frequently turns campaign events into infomercials for his new hotel in Washington, D.C. Trump is reportedly frustrated that he can’t monetize his captive audience. Since the summer, rumors have swirled around the idea of a Trump-centered TV network that would compete with Fox News for elderly, far-right eyeballs.

Trump TV seems to be more than a glimmer in Trump’s eye. Earlier this month, Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, reportedly met with an investment firm LionTree to discuss a potential network. Before the final debate, the Trump campaign live-streamed what many interpreted as a low-rent test of the concept in the form of a 30-minute show featuring two anchors and General Michael Flynn. And last night, the campaign announced nightly broadcasts at 6:30PM.

The first installment of Trump TV was suitably bizarre. The show promised that it would feature none of the spin you see on “normal” news programs, but then campaign manager Kellyanne Conway came on and spun the hell out of the election, telling anchors Boris Epshteyn and Cliff Sims that everything was fine and Trump had a plausible path to victory. (Epshteyn and Sims, who often finish each other’s sentences, would be an adorable double act if the sentences they were finishing weren’t so absurd and/or horrific.) And The Blaze’s Tomi Lahren, the pundit this election deserves, came on to give Trump’s supporters a pep talk: “If you’re looking for someone that’s got a love of country as deep as Donald Trump—and I’ve seen it—then you’re going to have to join the basket, you’re going to have to jump out of the basket, and you’re going to have to make your voices heard.”

It’s certainly possible that Trump and his allies, particularly Kushner, are using these livestreams as a trial run. But Trump and company may be turning to livestreams simply ecause they have no other options. Even Fox News (aside from Hannity and, to a lesser extent, O’Reilly) isn’t the safe space it was a month or two ago: Like every other network, it is also reporting that Trump is losing. The Facebook broadcasts exist to give Trump the kind of media bubble he craves—and if they lead to something bigger, then so be it.

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Does Donald Trump have any path to victory?

The election is two weeks from today. That is both a very long time—if either campaign has juicy opposition research, it can still be dropped for significant effect—and no time at all. Presidential races rarely change shape dramatically in the final two weeks and right now the 2016 election looks like it’s going to end in an electoral vote landslide for Hillary Clinton.

Clinton has many paths to the White House, and Trump really only has one: He has to win Ohio and Florida (Clinton can win either), along with North Carolina, Iowa, Nevada, and Maine. Historically speaking, that’s not an unreasonable path for a Republican nominee—George W. Bush won all of those states but Maine in 2000 and 2004. The problem is that Trump is losing every single one of those states in most polls right now. Clinton has maintained a steady lead in Florida since the first debate. Ohio is the closest of the group, but it’s basically a push right now, with a slight edge being given to Clinton. In a New York Times poll released today, Clinton leads in North Carolina by seven points and has an insane 25-point advantage among early voters, which suggests that her get-out-the-vote apparatus is going to wipe the floor with Trump’s.

A lot can happen in the next two weeks. But early voting is already underway and Trump’s only path to the White House may already be blocked.

October 24, 2016

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The marriage of AT&T and Time Warner threatens internet freedom.

On Saturday, AT&T approved an $85.4 billion deal to acquire Time Warner, which, pending the permission of shareholders and federal regulators, could transform the telecommunications company into one of the country’s largest content producers and distributors. Not only would AT&T control the means by which we communicate, like internet and phone service, but also the content we consume on those channels, ranging from entertainment programming on HBO to news on CNN.

Internet scholars from Lawrence Lessig, author of Code, to Tim Wu, who coined the term “net neutrality,” have predicted this kind of media consolidation and believe it will centralize the web at the expense of individual user freedom. In the words of Politico’s Ken Doctor, “My god, has it really come to this: the phone companies running the internet, the supposedly freeing innovation of all time?”

From its inception in 1874, AT&T controlled the entire U.S. telecommunications industry, operating all local and regional telegraph lines. In 1986, the Justice Department finally won a landmark anti-trust suit against the company on the principle that it had misused its “position in the telecommunications market to suppress competition and enhance its monopoly power.” The company was broken up and left as a shadow of its former self.

The federal government, however, may not be able to quash AT&T’s growing information empire as it once did. While both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump have called for stricter policies on media consolidation, a controversial provision of the 1996 Telecommunications Act allows for “media cross-ownership.” It was originally intended to allow “anyone [to] enter any communications business”—but it may be having the exact opposite effect in permitting a telecom giant like AT&T to produce content that it can prioritize on its own services.

The internet democratized information. As Wu writes in his book Master Switch, it gave “individuals a degree of control, of decision-making power unprecedented in a communications system.” But if AT&T and other companies continue to extend their control over how we consume information, that decision-making power weakens.

Courtesy of www.chick.com

Jack Chick, soul-winner and Catholic-hater, is dead.

Chick, who produced hundreds of fundamentalist Christian tracts over 50 years, passed yesterday at the age of 92. He was initially known for tracts like “This Was Your Life,” which used compelling and sometimes frightening visuals to depict fundamentalist beliefs about hell and salvation. His contribution to the Satanic Panic rightfully earned him public infamy, as did his fear-mongering about feminism, LGBT rights, New Age spirituality, and even Catholicism.

Chick was a true cultural separatist whose doctrinal views were heavily influenced by works like The Fundamentals and Charles Finney’s Power From On High. Only the King James Version of the Bible sufficed; Satan is directly responsible for all other translations. Catholics? They’ve eaten the infamous Death Cookie and are doomed to hell. Infant baptism? Dangerous heresy! Dungeons and Dragons? If you have to ask, you’ve probably got one foot in the lake of fire already.

A few of Chick’s views, specifically on abortion, evolution, and LGBT people, possess a pernicious longevity. He celebrated AIDS as just deserts for anyone who didn’t adhere to his stringent sexual standards—a sentiment 14 percent of Americans still believe:

Courtesy of www.chick.com

But in other respects, his obsessive cultural puritanism has fallen out of vogue. There are still some proponents, found mostly in Independent Fundamentalist Baptist churches and institutions like Bob Jones University and Pensacola Christian College, but they’re a minority, doomed partially by their own separatism. Evangelicalism dominates.

With that domination came the cultural acquiescence Chick so feared. Conservative Catholics and Protestants are now allies in the culture wars, and the targets of that war have shifted a bit. Nobody cares about Dungeons and Dragons these days, and it’s been a long time since anyone publicly burned a Harry Potter book. Young evangelicals (no survey separates evangelicals from fundamentalists) are softer than older generations on issues like evolution and LGBT rights. That’s a strong indication that Chick’s version of Christianity is set to become increasingly obscure.

His tracts therefore provide an interesting perspective on conservative Protestantism’s American mutations: Chick once arguably sat within the movement’s mainstream, only to live long enough to see it leave him behind.

At least he was spared yet another Halloween.

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Edward Snowden is wrong.

The NSA whistleblower tweeted this morning that, “There may never be a safer election in which to vote for a third option.” Attached to the tweet was a New York Times forecast showing that Hillary Clinton has a 93 percent chance of winning the election. The underlying assumption here, also made by others who favor a third-party vote even if they acknowledge Trump is unfit to be president, is that the only real danger is Trump winning. If there is almost no chance of Trump winning or if you live in state where the vote is so lopsided that it won’t influence the election, the logic goes, there’s no dire reason to vote for Clinton.

The problem with this argument is that a Trump victory isn’t the only danger. Trump has been doing his best to gin up a legitimacy crisis, saying that the system is rigged and that he might not accept the results of the election. Further, the better Trump does, the more likely it is that his political movement will have an after-life and be imitated by future Republican candidates. Trump is leading a dangerous racist movement that is mainstreaming all sorts of hate. For that reason, he needs not just to lose, but to lose by a wide margin, to be buried so deeply that Trumpism can never rise again. A vote for a third party is not at all safe, but one way of giving Trumpism a longer lease on life.

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Is Donald Trump the fabled Snake?

In his speeches, Trump often recites the lyrics of the 1968 Al Wilson song “The Snake,” written by Oscar Brown, Jr. A variation of the fable “The Scorpion and the Frog,” the song tells the story of a naive woman who takes in a wounded snake, only to be betrayed by the predator who bites her and says, “You knew damn well I was a snake before you took me in.” From the point of view of Trump and his supporters, the meaning of the song is this: The United States can’t let in Muslim refugees because they are irrevocably hostile and will turn on those who help them.

But this weekend, an old Trump tweet was recirculated that offers a new layer of meaning to his use of the story.

In “The Scorpion and the Frog,” the scorpion bites the frog even though the act will lead both to drown. He justifies himself by saying, “It’s my nature.”

The identical phrasing is uncanny. It’s almost as if Trump, in some corner of his brain, is aware that he himself is the snake or the scorpion who was too readily accepted by credulous Republicans. That he knows Republicans were wrong to put their faith in a creature who is by his nature both destructive and self-destructive.