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Is This the Ultimate Fan Mix of “Smile”?

You probably know the story. Riding high in 1966, Brian Wilson and lyricist Van Dyke Parks began work on a new Beach Boys album. It would include the group’s #1 single, “Good Vibrations”, and be called Smile. It was going to be an amazing record (even Leonard Bernstein was impressed). But Brian eventually gave up. Various reasons have been given: opposition from at least one of the Beach Boys; Brian getting cold feet, thinking Smile wouldn’t be sufficiently “commercial”; his drug-fueled paranoia; and his inability to figure out how to put all the pieces together. Even hearing “Strawberry Fields Forever” on the radio in February 1967 (“they got their first”).

Brian finally released his version of Smile in 2004, calling it “Brian Wilson Presents Smile”. The reviews were rapturous (“better 37 years late than never”).

But fans — some of them very talented — have been using the recordings from 1966 and 1967, both official releases and bootlegs, to create their own versions of Smile. Brian left so much music to play with.

Earlier this week, someone who calls himself “Mtt_Brand” on Reddit and “jsp444” on YouTube, whose real name is apparently Jack Stedron, uploaded a version of Smile that he says he worked on for three years. My first reaction was that Smile might have sounded something like this if it all had worked out in 1967.

This recording, Smile: the JSP Mix, uses technology that obviously wasn’t available in the 60s. It might be the ultimate fan mix of Smile. It’s certainly the best I’ve ever heard.

We Still Don’t Know What Happened in October 2016

Two of the last six presidential elections gave us Republican presidents who lost the popular vote. The institution most responsible for those results was our ridiculous, minority-rule Electoral College. But other institutions played important roles. In 2000, it was the Republican majority on the Supreme Court. In 2016, it was the Federal Bureau of Investigation, assisted by the press.

Will Bunch of The Philadelphia Inquirer shows that we still don’t know how America got screwed in October 2020:

It was arguably the most consequential “October Surprise” in the history of American presidential elections. In the waning days of the 2016 race, with polls showing Hillary Clinton clinging to a lead over D____ T____, two last-minute stories broke that rekindled on-the-fence voters’ ethical doubts about Democrat Clinton and quashed a budding scandal around her GOP rival.

Except the “October Surprise” was no surprise to one key player: Rudolph Giuliani, the ex-New York City mayor and T____ insider who later became the 45th president’s attorney. Late that month, Giuliani told Fox News that the trailing Republican nominee had “a surprise or two that you’re going to hear about in the next few days. I mean, I’m talking about some pretty big surprises.”

Just two days later, then-FBI director James Comey revealed the bureau had reopened its probe into Clinton’s emails, based on the possible discovery of new communications on a laptop belonging to disgraced New York politico Anthony Weiner. The news jolted the campaign with a particularly strong boost from the New York Times, which devoted two-thirds of its front page to the story — and the notion it was a major blow to Clinton’s prospects.

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It was later reported that Comey was motivated to make the unusual announcement about the laptop because he feared leaks from the FBI’s New York field office, which, according to Reuters, had “a faction of investigators based in the office known to be hostile to Hillary Clinton.” Indeed, Giuliani bragged immediately after that he had sources in the FBI, including current agents.

The supposed bombshell — it turned out there was nothing incriminating or particularly new on the laptop — wasn’t the only FBI-related story that boosted T____ in the homestretch of the 2016 campaign. On Oct. 31, citing unnamed “intelligence sources,” the Times reported, “Investigating D____ T____, F.B.I. Sees No Clear Link to Russia.” That article defused a budding scandal about the GOP White House hopeful — at least until after T____’s shock election on Nov. 8, 2016. In the coming days and weeks, the basis of that Times article would melt, but by then the most unlikely POTUS in U.S. history was ensconced in the Oval Office.

There are many reasons for T____s victory, but experts have argued the FBI disclosures were decisive. In 2017, polling guru Nate Silver argued that the Comey probe disclosure cost Clinton as many as 3-4 percentage points and at least 1 percentage point, which would have flipped Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin and handed her the Electoral College.

This week’s stunning corruption charges against a top FBI spymaster [whose assignment to the New York office was announced in October 2016] — an agent who by 2018 was known to be working for a Vladimir Putin-tied Russian oligarch — should cause America to rethink everything we think we know about the T____-Russia scandal and how it really happened that T____ won that election.

The government allegations against the former G-man Charles McGonigal (also accused of taking a large foreign payment while still on the FBI payroll) and the outsized American influence of the sanctioned-and-later-indicted Russian billionaire Oleg Deripaska — also tied to U.S. politicians from T____ campaign manager Paul Manafort to Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell — should make us also look again at what was really up with the FBI in 2016.

How coordinated was the effort in that New York field office to pump up the ultimate nothingburger about Clinton’s emails while pooh-poohing the very real evidence of Russian interference on T____’s behalf, and who were the agents behind it? What was the role, if any, of McGonigal and his international web of intrigue? Was the now-tainted McGonigal a source who told the New York Times that fateful October that Russia was not trying to help Trump win the election — before the U.S. intelligence community determined the exact opposite? If not McGonigal, just who was intentionally misleading America’s most influential news org, and why?

…To be sure, the 2016 FBI leaks weren’t the first time a major news organization has been burned by anonymous law enforcement sources, and regrettably, it probably won’t be the last. Media critics have been talking for years about the Times’ flawed coverage, and how its near certainty that Clinton would win and a desire to show its aggressiveness toward a future president seemed to have skewed its coverage.

It’s not only that America’s so-called paper of record has never apologized for its over-the-top coverage of the Clinton emails or the deeply flawed story about the FBI Trump-Russia probe. It’s that the Times has shown a stunning lack of curiosity about finding out what went wrong….

Last week’s indictment of McGonigal is a classic case of raising more questions than were answered. The evidence presented by prosecutors suggests the FBI counterintelligence expert wasn’t introduced to Deripaska until his waning days with the bureau in 2018, aided by a pair of Russian diplomats. In 2019, after he’d retired, the indictment says McGonigal went to work for the oligarch to help him evade U.S. sanctions and to investigate a rival. But the Times also reported that U.S. counterintelligence — in which McGonigal had been a key player — had tried unsuccessfully to recruit Deripaska as an asset in the years around the 2016 election.

Like the Woody Allen character Zelig, Deripaska — a 55-year-old aluminum magnate who at one time was the richest man in Putin’s Russia — is turning up in the background everywhere in the ongoing corruption of American democracy. The oligarch’s history of multimillion-dollar business dealings with Paul Manafort — T____’s campaign manager in the summer of 2016 — is central to the theory of Russian interference, after it was confirmed that Manafort shared key campaign data with a suspected Russian intelligence agent also connected to Deripaska.

In 2019, Deripaska did manage to get those U.S. sanctions lifted, in a controversial deal backed not only by Team T____ but critically by then-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. That same year, a Deripaska-linked aluminum company announced it would build a large plant in Kentucky, where McConnell was running for reelection. (It eventually wasn’t built.) This is the same McConnell who, during that critical fall period in 2016, refused to sign a bipartisan statement warning about Russian election interference.

Another coincidence in a scandal that is drowning in so-called coincidences.

It’s becoming clear that the tamping down of the most explosive parts of the Trump-Russia story is the greatest case of gaslighting since the movie [of that name] hit screens in 1944. It’s not just the FBI leaks in New York. We also learned last week — yes, thanks to that same New York Times — about the extraordinary and ethically dubious lengths that T____’s second attorney general, William Barr, and Barr’s handpicked special prosecutor, John Durham, went to to try to prove the FBI was out to sink T____. That’s the exact opposite of what really happened. Indeed, the Times noted the only major criminality turned up in the Durham probe was a potentially explosive new charge of financial impropriety — by D____ T____.

Seven years later, the lack of accountability and justice for the gaslighting of American democracy is appalling. Barr did a remarkable job in blunting the investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller, including squashing his findings about obstruction of justice by the T____ administration. A much-hyped probe by Justice Department inspector general Michael Horowitz into the FBI’s New York office took four long years and failed to find the leakers. And new revelations — including that tip about T____ financial crimes that Italian intelligence passed on to Barr and Durham — continue to surface.

Why does it matter? T____ is no longer president, after all, and America has a lot of other problems, with police brutality and mass shootings currently on the front burner. Yet when it comes to this all-encompassing T____-Russia scandal, the past isn’t even past. The seemingly untouchable 45th president was in New Hampshire and South Carolina this weekend, campaigning to become the 47th. The man that critics call “Moscow Mitch” McConnell could return as majority leader in that same election. And Putin’s obsession with Ukraine — always a focus of his U.S. interference and T____ dealings — has become a war with dire global implications.

More importantly, this never-ending scandal has demolished our trust in so many institutions — an FBI that seems to have corrupted an election, a Justice Department that covered up those deeds, and, yes, a New York Times that enabled several lies instead of exposing them.

Something Very Smart About the Stupid Debt Ceiling

Is it mere coincidence that one of the most sensible newspaper columnists working today, Paul Waldman of The Washington Post, almost always expresses opinions I agree with? No, I think not!

Anyway, his column today is so sensible it should be memorized by everybody in Congress and the Biden administration. It deals with the debt ceiling, the idiotic requirement that Congress has to have a new vote whenever the federal government needs to borrow more money to pay for things Congress previously decided to do.

Congress has always acted when called upon to raise the debt limit. Since 1960, Congress has acted 78 separate times to permanently raise, temporarily extend, or revise the definition of the debt limit – 49 times under Republican presidents and 29 times under Democratic presidents [US Treasury].

Congress raised the debt limit three times the last time we had a Republican president (you remember him, the orange one). Now that we have a Democratic president, Republicans are threatening to vote against raising it. That would mean the US government would be unable to make payments it’s legally required to do — for the first time in American history. Nobody knows what would happen then. Almost everybody with a brain thinks it would be a crisis, possibly a disaster, and certainly not something it would be cool to try (unless maybe you think the 2008 financial crisis was worth repeating).

Okay, back to the insightful Paul Waldman:

Even as they try to force a debt ceiling crisis, Republicans insist that they’re the reasonable ones. They just want a fair resolution to this disagreement about whether we should create a needless economic cataclysm by throwing the U.S. government into default. Why won’t the White House negotiate with them?

The White House has flatly rejected the suggestion, saying it simply will not negotiate over whether to default on America’s debts, no ifs, ands or buts. But here’s another idea: If we’re going to have negotiations, let’s make them real. Instead of countering Republicans’ anti-government agenda with a demand to maintain the status quo, Democrats ought to up the ante and insist on their own pro-government agenda.

If you knew nothing about this subject, it might sound like the president is being recalcitrant and Republicans are being sensible. “Let’s sit down together,” says House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.). “Nobody should be taking the position that we should not negotiate,” says Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.). Even Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) says Democrats “have to negotiate.”

But we’re thinking about “negotiations” all wrong.

The problem begins with the current stance of the two parties. The White House’s position is essentially to maintain the status quo: Congress has appropriated the funds already, and those bills should be paid, which means borrowing the money to cover them. We can argue about how much of the cumulative debt is the responsibility of each party (they’ve both contributed) or how hypocritical Republicans are for pretending to care about debt only when there’s a Democrat in the White House (very). But the administration insists there must be a debt limit increase with no change to current policy.

Republicans, on the other hand, are fantasizing about all the savage cuts they’d like to make to domestic spending, up to and including slashing Social Security and Medicare. So if a negotiation produces a compromise, it would mean more spending cuts than Democrats want but fewer than Republicans seek. Which would still be a victory for the [bad guys].

Instead, Democrats are perfectly free to say the following: With their demand for across-the-board domestic spending reductions, Republicans are in effect proposing cuts to education, health care, economic development, clean energy, infrastructure, enforcement of environmental laws and a great deal more. So here are some of our demands:

  • A significant tax increase on the wealthy
  • An increase in the minimum wage, including indexing it to inflation
  • A national paid family leave program
  • A program to extend the Affordable Care Act’s expansion of Medicaid to the states that have refused to accept it
  • Universal pre-K
  • A permanent expansion of the child tax credit

That could be just the start. Republicans want to negotiate? Then let’s negotiate! Democrats will be willing to take half a loaf on some of these items; for instance, they might be able to accept only a modest tax increase for the wealthy, or an increase of the minimum wage to only $11 an hour rather than $15. That seems reasonable, doesn’t it?

Think about it this way and it’s clear how odd it is that we’re even calling the GOP demand a negotiation. The choices are (1) give Republicans all of what they want, or (2) give Republicans only some of what they want, with the hope that if the outcome is No. 2, then they’ll be kind enough not to shove the U.S. economy off a cliff.

To be clear, the White House is right that there shouldn’t be any negotiations at all. You don’t negotiate with extortionists, and what Republicans are threatening is economic extortion. It shouldn’t be rewarded.

In fact, the White House ought to go further: The president should announce that in the White House’s view, the debt ceiling violates the 14th Amendment, and because it would be unconstitutional for the United States not to make good on its debts, the Treasury Department will ignore it and continue to pay the government’s bills. If Republicans want to file suit and demand that the Supreme Court allow them to destroy the country’s economy, they’re free to try.

But refraining from destroying the economy shouldn’t be considered a favor Republicans do for Democrats, such that the Democrats have to respond by granting Republicans concessions in return. If they want to have a real negotiation in which both sides get some of what they want, then fine.

That’s the only thing that should be treated as an actual negotiation. Otherwise, Biden should simply take care of the problem in the most expeditious way possible.

Being on the Lookout for Reporters Screwing Up

Highly-respected journalist James Fallows has a site called Breaking the News. In the interesting installment below, he discusses journalistic screwups and how to avoid being taken in by them:

We all make mistakes. People, organizations, countries. The best we can do is admit and face them. And hope that by learning from where we erred, we’ll avoid greater damage in the future.

Relentless and systematic self-critical learning is why commercial air travel has become so safe. (As described here, and recent posts about the JFK close call here and here.) Good military organizations conduct “lessons learned” exercises after victories or defeats. Good businesses and public agencies do the same after they succeed or fail.

We in the press are notably bad at formally examining our own errors. That is why “public editor” positions have been so important, and why it was such a step backward for the New York Times to abolish that role nearly six years ago….

Here’s an [example of a journalistic mistake]: the buildup to the “Red Wave” that never happened in the 2022 midterms.

Pundits and much of the mainstream press spent most of 2022 describing Joe Biden’s unpopularity and the Democrats’ impending midterm wipeout. As it happened, Biden and the party nationwide did remarkably well….

In its news coverage, not the opinion page, the New York Times had been among the most certain-sounding in preordaining the Democrats’ loss. [On] its front page just one day before the election, one lead-story had the sub-head “Party’s Outlook Bleak,” referring to Biden and the Democrats. It mentioned forecasts of “a devastating defeat” in the midterms. The other story’s sub-head was “G.O.P Shows Optimism as Democrats Brace for Losses.” The first paragraph of that story said voters “showed clear signs of preparing to reject Democratic control.” Again, these were news, not opinion, pieces.

Seven weeks later, the Times ran a front-page story on why so many people had called the election wrong—and how the Red Wave assumption, fed by GOP pollsters, hampered Democrats’ fund-raising in many close races. The only mention of the paper’s own months-long role in fostering this impression was a three-word aside, in the 13th paragraph of a thousand-word story. According to the story, the GOP-promoted Red Wave narrative …

…spilled over into coverage by mainstream news organizations, including The Times, that amplified the alarms being sounded about potential Democratic doom.

The three words, in case you missed them, were “including The Times.”

An NYT public editor like Margaret Sullivan or Daniel Okrent might have gone back to ask the reporters and editors what they should learn.

What are signs of lessons-unlearned that readers can look for, and that we reporters and editors should avoid?

An easy one is to spend less time, space, and effort on prediction of any sort, and more on explaining what is going on and why.

Here are a few more:

1) Not everything is a “partisan fight”.

[A NY Times story about the debt ceiling] illustrates the drawbacks of reflexively casting issues as political struggles, by describing a potential debt-ceiling crisis as a “partisan fight.”

In case you have forgotten, the “debt ceiling” is a serious problem but not a serious issue. In brief:

-The debt-ceiling is a problem, because failing to take the routine step of raising it has the potential to disrupt economies all around the world, starting with the U.S.

-It is not an issue, because there are zero legitimate arguments for what the Republican fringe is threatening now. (See Thomas Geoghegan’s recent article….

It’s like threatening to blow up refineries, if you don’t like an administration’s energy policy, or threatening to put anthrax into the water supply, if you don’t like their approach to public health. These moves would give you “leverage,” just like a threat not to raise the debt ceiling. But they’re thuggery rather than policy.

If you prefer a less violent analogy: since these payments are for spending and tax cuts that have already been enacted, this is like refusing to pay the restaurant check after you’ve finished dinner.

This is not a “partisan fight” or a “standoff.” Those terms might apply to differences on immigration policy or a nomination. This is a know-nothing threat to public welfare, by an extremist faction that has put one party in its thrall.

Reporters: don’t say “standoff” or “disagreement,” or present this as just another chapter of “Washington dysfunction.”

Readers: be wary when you see reporters using those terms.

2) Not everything is a “perceptions” narrative. 

[Note: I was going to avoid this silly non-scandal but Mr. Fallows is very good on the subject.]

Here are some more phrases that should make you wary as a reader. They are phrases like “a picture emerges” or “paints a picture.” These are clichés a reporter uses to state a conclusion while pretending not to do so. Others in the same category: “sure to raise questions”; “suggest a narrative”; “will be used by opponents”; and so on.

Consider again from the NYT, this new “inside” report on Joe Biden’s handling of classified documents.

It was a classic legal strategy by Mr. Biden and his top aides — cooperate fully with investigators in the hopes of giving them no reason to suspect ill intent. But it laid bare a common challenge for people working in the West Wing: The advice offered by a president’s lawyers often does not make for the best public relations strategy.

This might be a “classic legal strategy.” It might also be following the rules. The presentation reflects a choice about how to “frame” a story.

The mainstream press makes things an “issue,” by saying they are an issue. Or saying “raises questions” “suggests a narrative,” “left open to criticism,” “eroded their capacity,” and so on. This gives them the pose of being “objective”—we’re just reporters, But it is a choice.

My long-time friend Jonathan Alter [had] an op-ed column in the NYT arguing that the narrative about Biden’s handling of the few classified documents will be hugely destructive to him and the Democrats. Even though, as he says, the realities of his classified-documents case are in no way comparable to [the former president’s]. (More on the differences here.)

As a matter of prognostication, maybe Jon Alter is right. I hope he isn’t. As he notes, Biden in office has time and again beaten pundit expectations [and now it turns out Mike Pence had documents too].

But as a matter of journalistic practice, I think our colleagues need to recognize our enormous responsibility and “agency” about what becomes an issue or controversy. “Raises questions,” “suggests a narrative,” “creates obstacles”—these aren’t like tornados or wildfires, things that occur on their own and we just report on. They are judgments reporters and editors make, “frames” they choose to present. And can choose not to.

Which leads us to…

3) Not all “scandals” are created equal.

Here are things enormously hyped at the time, that look like misplaced investigative zeal in retrospect:

— (a) The Whitewater “scandal.” For chapter and verse on why this was so crazy, see the late Eric Boehlert, with a very fine-grained analysis back in 2007; plus Eric Alterman at the same time; plus Gene Lyons, who lives in Arkansas and wrote a book called Fools for Scandal a decade earlier.

I would be amazed if more than 1% of today’s Americans could explain what this “scandal” was about. I barely can myself. But as these authors point out, it led domino-style to a zealot special prosecutor (Kenneth Starr, himself later disgraced), and to Paula Jones, and to Monica Lewinsky, and to impeachment. It tied up governance for years.

—(b) The but-her-emails “scandal” involving Hillary Clinton in 2016. A famous Gallup study showed that the voting public heard more about this than anything else.

I doubt it. Yet it was what our media leaders emphasized. I’m not aware that any of them has publicly reckoned with what they should have learned from their choices in those days.

But today’s news gives us a chance to learn, with:

—(c) The Biden classified-documents “scandal”.

What unites these three “scandals” is that there was something there. Possibly the young Bill and Hillary Clinton had something tricky in their home-state real estate deal. Probably Hillary Clinton did something with her emails that she shouldn’t have. Apparently Joe Biden should have been more careful about the thousands of documents that must be in his offices, libraries, etc.

But “something” does not mean “history-changing discovery.” In the 50 years since the original Watergate, the political press has palpably yearned for another “big one.” So every “scandal” or “contradiction” gets this could be the big one treatment. And this in turn flattens coverage of all “scandals” as equivalent. It’s a slurry of “they all do it,” “it’s always a mess,” “they’re all lying about everything” that makes it hard to tell big issues from little ones.

We see this with bracketing of the T____ and Biden “classified document” cases. They both have special prosecutors, so they can be presented as a pair.

Human intelligence involves the ability to see patterns. (Two cases involving classified documents!) But also the ability to see differences. (In one case, a president “played politics” by cooperating with the authorities. In another, by lying to and defying them.)

The similarities are superficial. The differences are profound.

From past errors of judgment, we in the media can learn which to emphasize.

They’re Trying To Make Us a Christian Nation — Part 2

Here’s the conclusion to Linda Greenhouse’s “Victimhood and Vengeance” for the NY Review of Books that I shared some of in this morning’s post. She offers a warning we should all heed.

David Sehat, in This Earthly Frame: The Making of American Secularism, points to one moment with profound implications for the place of religion in public life.

In early 1959, John F. Kennedy needed to allay Protestant suspicions about his Catholicism. He gave an interview to Look magazine. [Asked] what influence his religion would have on him if he were elected. Kennedy answered:

Whatever one’s religion in his private life may be, for the officeholder, nothing takes precedence over his oath to uphold the Constitution and all its parts—including the First Amendment and the strict separation of church and state.

[The author of the Look article] described Kennedy’s theme as “religion is personal, politics are public, and the twain need never meet and conflict”….

Religion is personal: that was not the Catholic view by any measure. Kennedy, evidently to his surprise, was widely denounced by the church hierarchy for his failure to recognize that an officeholder was “answerable to God for actions whether public or private,” as one Catholic publication put it. And it is not the view held by evangelicals today. The recourse that Kennedy sought in the privatization of religion not only no longer satisfies; it is seen as a provocation by those who insist that faith is meant to be lived out loud.

That private religion will not suffice was the argument behind the Supreme Court’s startling decision last summer in Kennedy v. Bremerton School District, which upheld the right of a football coach at a public high school to thank God from the fifty-yard line, in full view of the stands. It was also the explicit theme of Justice Samuel Alito’s speech to a conference in Rome…. Alito drew a distinction between mere “freedom of worship” and real “religious liberty.” Freedom of worship, he explained, means only

freedom to do these things that you like to do in the privacy of your home, or in your church or your synagogue or your mosque or your temple. But when you step outside into the public square, in the light of day, you had better behave yourself like a good secular citizen.

Evangelicals are no more satisfied than Alito with simply being good secular citizens. Sehat examines the Court’s valorization of “privacy” and offers a fresh analysis of the fallout from grounding the reproductive rights rulings, [in] Griswold v. Connecticut (1965) ]and Roe v. Wade (1973) on a right to privacy…. Sehat’s valuable insight is that these privacy decisions were about something deeper than birth control and abortion, or even about the ability of women to control their reproductive destiny. They amounted to “a repudiation of the social significance of religion in determining moral norms at the hands of the state.” In Roe, as evangelicals instinctively understood, “American secularism reached its apotheosis.” And so began secularism’s decline.

[These decisions helped create] a “secular order” that “decentered the dominant place of Christianity and relegated religion to the private realm along with other moral issues that an individual might confront.” Yet what it really meant to recognize and respect religion as a private realm was far from obvious. What had appeared as a settlement of a sort unraveled in a mind-bending series of changes in the meaning of privacy.

For liberals, privacy became double-edged as conservatives deployed it as a shield for discrimination. Didn’t the owner of a lunch counter have the right to refuse service to anyone he didn’t care to serve? The Civil Rights Act of 1964 was aimed in large measure at removing this supposed privacy shield from public accommodations….

And then the idea of privacy shifted yet again. Starting in the 1960s, conservatives seized on it to support private schools, as a refuge from desegregation or from secular society. For religious conservatives, the ultimate privacy claim became a claim of individual conscience, deployed to justify exemption from a legal or civic duty. Pluralism, once deemed a threat to Christian dominance, became useful when joined with privacy. “Now, pluralism could be used to demand the public recognition of private religious belief via the language of religious freedom,” Sehat smartly observes.

The constitutional scholar Reva Siegel argues that the notion of religious freedom has become … “institutionalized in such a way that a gesture to religious conscience granted nearly automatic exemption from law”…

The Christian” banners that members of the mob carried on January 6, 2021, is indelible, but also misleading.

It’s not that Christian nationalism presents no real threat to American democracy—it does. It’s not that such violence won’t recur—it might. [Focusing] on that shocking event diverts us from recognizing Christian nationalism in its less violent manifestations and calling it out when we see it: public funding of religious schools in the name of equality; social policy turned to serve Christian doctrine; nondiscrimination principles abandoned in deference to religious objectors, whether individual or institutional. These threats to long-held assumptions about how the country works are not theoretical. They are happening now, in partnership with the Supreme Court.

One example: In November 2022, celebrating his reelection, Oklahoma’s Republican governor, Kevin Stitt, offered up his state to Christianity. “Father, we just claim Oklahoma for you,” he intoned.

Every square inch, we claim it for you in the name of Jesus. Father, we can do nothing apart from you…. We just thank you, we claim Oklahoma for you, as the authority that I have as governor, and the spiritual authority and the physical authority that you give me. I claim Oklahoma for you, that we will be a light to our country and to the world right here in our state.

Why wasn’t that astonishing statement headline news from coast to coast? It was barely noticed….

In Christianity’s American Fate, David Hollinger observes:

One might suppose that we live in a world of either/or: either religious ideas are relevant to public policy and thus subject to critical discussion, or they are not relevant and thus not a topic for debate. But instead, we live in a world of both/and: religious ideas are both relevant to public policy and excluded from critical evaluation.

Each of these books offers a path to greater understanding of how a transformation occurring in full view over decades escaped the notice of many who watched in bafflement and horror as the events of January 6 unfolded. Rather than another January 6, the greater threat that Christian nationalism poses to American society may be, as these books warn us, its normalization.

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