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Posts from the ‘politics at the crust’ Category

I’m pro-life. “Unplanned” is not worth seeing.

Unplanned_promotional_poster

Put aside production quality failures and Unplanned still does not work. Forget issues with lighting, camera angles, editing, pacing, colorization, any of it. Disregard whatever expectations you have of cinematography — because, let’s be honest, directors Cary Solomon and Chuck Konzelman of God’s Not Dead I & II fame are not trying to make a beautiful or sophisticated film. Meet Unplanned where it is at, which is not a film but a message-movie. Let’s focus only on the message.

I’m going to be generous here.

The argument against abortion in Unplanned is threefold. First, abortion looks gross. Visually you cannot watch it happen. To watch an abortion is to watch something bloody, gory, something alien to our sanitized suburban lifestyles. When you see an abortion on-screen you go, “Eww, gross.” It evokes a negative mind-body reaction. Second, the administration at Planned Parenthood is bad. Planned Parenthood makes profit-maximizing decisions and does not treat their employees well. They compare fetuses to french fries and soda, they speak in strict subject-predicate syntax and never use the passive voice, and they arbitrarily reprimand their employees (and later SLAPP sue them). Third, some people who stand at the Fence on Saturdays are good people who want to support women and provide them other options than having an abortion. Other people at the Fence are mean, but these certain ones treat women with respect and genuine kindness.

That’s all.

Grossness, Meanness, Kindness. These reasons can motivate any given person to become pro-life. I’m not denying that. And they come from Abby Johnson’s personal memoir. I see no real reason to doubt that these three reasons were significant in her conversion to the pro-life cause. (Though other aspects of the narrative are disputed). But they are unconvincing beyond sheer emotional appeal. Unfortunately that was not the case for the pro-choice arguments. As Abby becomes a Planned Parenthood advocate the audience is treated to many of the arguments that convinced her: (1) Women should have the right to choose, (2) Many women are in vulnerable living situations and can’t justify having a child, (3) Many teenagers are too young to responsibly raise children. These arguments can be easily diffused. Watch this: (1) Yes, but choices must be made in the moral-legislative context of democracy, so ultimately, we all must choose what we want our society to look like, whether pro-choice or pro-life. (2) Yes, which is why adoption matters. (3) Yes, which is why adoption matters.

I understand that the arguments are more complicated than this. But these basic argument-objection conversations were 100% absent from Unplanned. The movie didn’t go over any of them, at all. The only ones it attempted to address were that the fetus is a baby and that abortions are medically unsafe. (Neither of these are communicated fully in language, but they do get visually gruesome scenes). However, both of these objections are incorrect given the movie’s own reasoning. The movie depicts a 13 week fetus struggling against an abortion — this is Abby’s big conversion moment — but according to the oft-cited report from the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the fetus cannot feel pain until 27 weeks, the third trimester, at which point most States ban abortion. The other point, that abortions are medically unsafe, was depicted with a young woman almost dying from a perforated uterus. However, medical complications from abortion are exceedingly rare. Honestly, let’s admit it, abortion isn’t an unsafe operation (for the woman!). Medical safety isn’t why we should reject it. We should reject abortion on other moral grounds — and anyways, if the whole argument is medical safety, then when medical science advances and abortion becomes less dangerous (for the woman!) than it already is, the argument gets even weaker.

So, Unplanned left me with a powerful emotional journey as Abby converted from the pro-choice to pro-life cause. That is an important testimony and a sign of God’s grace in her life, personally, and the power of God to transform anyone, whatever they are “complicit in,” as the movie interestingly remarks. Not “guilty for,” but “complicit in.” This is good language for discussing sin that we did not ourselves commit

Unfortunately, Unplanned failed to say really anything else meaningful about abortion.

Notice that I have avoided mentioning the technical, formal failures in this movie. There are so many. But in order to not look like a film snob who missed the directors’ point, I’ve withheld my specific critiques. And even now I won’t say them. Just watch the movie yourself, you will immediately, and I mean IMMEDIATELY spot them.

The production failure upset me, though, because abortion is a really serious topic. I believe that abortion is killing and that in the vast majority of cases such killing crosses a moral threshold into murder, so far past that moral threshold that it ought to be outright banned in nearly all contexts. We need a ban for the good of society at large and because abortion will have no place on the Mountain of God. This is eschatology in action, that one day all of humanity “shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks.” The scalpels, clamps and suction devices used in abortion will one day find a new use in the New Jerusalem, a use that builds rather than destroys life.

So when this movie does such an awful job, cinematically, it upset me. Poor filmmaking makes a mockery of its subject. The directors of Unplanned should have known better, tried harder, and done more with their (honestly good-sized) budget ($6m). Abortion deserves a serious film.

I left the theater not more passionate about my pro-life convictions, but less.

The Abundant Links

“The thief comes only to steal, kill and destroy. But I have come that you may have links, and have them abundantly,” Jesus said (John 10:10). Ah yes, abundant links, and with them, abundant click traffic for my website which generates no revenue whatsoever. This is the life, I’m telling you. Anyways, here are some finds from the past two weeks.

• It was only a matter of time until someone pointed out that the Bieber Pastors are wearing really expensive shoes. @preachersnsneakers is an Instagram account posting side-by-sides of celebrity megachurch leaders (Chad Veach, Judah Smith, Steven Furtick, John Grey, etc.) and the actual retail value of their designer clothes. Here are three reply takes of various quality: from okay, to great, to annoying.

• Countering the narrative that high income taxes drive high-tax payers out of the state, we have Poor Left, Rich Thrived When Illinois Hiked Flat Tax. Main takeaway should be that of course it isn’t as simple as the narrative would have it: “Nuance, however, is not the stuff of political narratives, which in the case of Illinois’ anemic population numbers often draw on anecdotes and cherry-picked data to attempt a cause-and-effect link to tax rates.”

The Brown One, The Honey Eater, The Shaggy Coat, The Destroyer:

The Germanic speaking peoples, who inhabited and hunted in northern climes and were presumably in frequent contact with the bear, did not use its common name. Instead, they used a circumlocution: “the brown one”, and this is reflected in the modern word for bear in all the Germanic languages. Linguists hypothesize that in old common Germanic, the true name of the bear was under a taboo — not to be spoken directly. The exact details of the taboo are not known. Did it apply to hunters who were hunting the bear and did not want to warn it? Or to hunters hunting other animals and did not wanting to rile up the bear and have it steal their prey? Or did it apply to anyone who did not want to summon the bear by its name and perhaps become its prey? Whatever the details, the taboo worked so well that no trace of the original *rkto- word remains in Germanic languages, except as borrowed historically in learned words from Greek or Latin.

• Incoming College Students Are Re-creating Facebook on Instagram.

Alexis Queen, who runs Harvard’s class account, adding that the school’s official Facebook groups are ghost towns. “The most popular post in our admission group is just, ‘Comment your Instagram handle,’” she said. “Facebook is just an easy way to find people on Instagram.”

• My friend and fellow seminarian Yangkwon Jeong also happens to be a world-class photographer. Here is one of his recent works, in three parts:

Understanding the Light

Understanding the light

Knowing the Light

Knowing the light

Walk in the Light

Walk in the light

Thanks Kwon for sharing these!

• In my last post I recommended the sermons by Ligon Duncan, Trip Lee, and David Platt. Listen to them. Have your Bible open, especially for Ligon’s.

• The Gospel of Mark traces a persistent theme: the Messianic Secret. Jesus on several occasions tells people to be silent about his identity once they’ve figured it out. The demons see him and start screaming about his divinity but Jesus makes them be quiet. Jesus speaks in parables so that nobody understands him. Jesus elicits a confession of his Messianic identity from Peter and then immediately silences him. The reason? Large crowds would gather not to hear Jesus’s preaching but to be healed or to somehow become prosperous, which infuriated Jesus to no end. Now, in 2019, another man shares the same fate. Behold, from Washington Post, The Internet was obsessed with this philosophy-quoting homeless man in China. Now he’s fled the fame.

• King’s Kaleidoscope released their long-anticipated new album ZealFull review coming soon.

Analysis from Ezra Klein of Pete Buttigieg (boot-edge-edge). He raises all the right questions to sort the Democratic field:

The words we use to describe the ideologies of presidential candidates are imperfect, but at least they exist. There are liberals, neoliberals, democratic socialists, leftists, conservatives, neoconservatives, centrists, paleoconservatives, libertarians, and New Democrats, to name just a few. The boundaries among these groups can be fuzzy, but overall, it’s a pretty flexible vocabulary for describing what this or that politician believes.

There’s no similarly accepted shorthand for the difference between candidates like Warren and Buttigieg and Inslee, who envision sweeping reforms to the way laws are made, and people like former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Amy Klobuchar, who emphasize that their relationships with Republicans better equip them to maximize change in the system we have. Nor are their categories clearly describing the approaches the candidates intend to take toward electing allies or mobilizing public opinion, or much discussion of whether they’d prioritize expanding the earned income tax credit over curbing money in politics….

We are better at discussing what candidates want to do than how they will do it. That hole in our political vocabulary matters, as it makes it hard to debate the core question of any political campaign: How will the candidates actually make real people’s lives better?

(I asked my friend David his thoughts on Buttigieg and he replied, “Is that a type of topsoil?” Long way to go on name recognition.)

• Last, enjoy this new playlist: moode.

Right-wing so-called populism

Right-wing parties have found success using populist and nativist rhetoric. This happened here in 2016, of course, but also in the ‘Yes’ campaign for Brexit, in the Orban presidency in Hungary, or Duda in Poland. I don’t know if Bolsonaro in Brazil counts since his campaign was focused on anti-corruption, but he himself fits this bill. Le Pen in France was close, and Italy has now put together a right-wing coalition government that opposes refugees / immigration on nationalist grounds. Golden Dawn rising in Greece, Modi’s recent policies in India, perhaps Geert Wilders soon in The Netherlands, etc., etc., etc.

Something that occurred to me while watching this slightly aggravating but overall bold new video from The Guardian: these politicians are masquerading as “the people” but they are just as rich and disconnected from Joe the Plumber as the elites they wish to dethrone. Steve Bannon had been a Goldman Sachs banker before entering politics. Trump has billions of dollars and is demonstrably not a “self-made billionaire.” Orban studied at Oxford on a scholarship from… you can’t make this up… the Soros Foundation. He also has a net-worth of $750 million USD. etc., etc., etc.

So how do they represent “the people”? How does their political messaging seem in any way “in touch with” the common folk? The answer is that left and right wing politics have separate lenses, through which they also see populism. Using a Marxist lens, the ideological left views people primarily as their economic status, whereas the ideological right, using a van Herder-ian (?) lens, views people primarily as their national identity. To the left, Trump is a gazillionaire, but to the right, Trump is an American. These contrasting perspectives are not helped by the Democratic party’s capitulation to identity politics and abandonment of hard-left economics since the late ’90’s. As a result of that, we have two parties both centered on identity, whether racial or gender or otherwise, and one supports the majority holders of that identity while the other supports assorted minorities. Identity politics can be a worthy battle to fight, but by engaging it on those terms the Left has already ceded what should have been their starting ground.

bannon

I could give an argument for why the economic lens is far more relevant to the distribution of power than the racial or national lens. But instead I think I should just point out the incredulity of what Steve Bannon is trying to do, which Paul Lewis picks up in the video. Bannon as a political organizer is doing what true populism should not require: coordinating in secret HQs and scheming with politicians how to take over their countries. Why is Bannon coordinating anything at all? Doesn’t that immediately imply that there is not a true grassroots movement in Europe towards the right? And more contradictory is his plan to make a central movement (complete with the meta-self-conscious title “The Movement”) to support a nationalist push in each country. But national pushes are not supposed to be centralized among all of Europe! There cannot be a central structure to a series of national movements. That structure would be immediately foreign, because is an embodiment of international cooperation.

This contradiction gives away what everyone already knows: that far-right nationalism is merely a smoke screen for certain politicians to gain power, and more importantly, for their financiers to gain favorable legislation. As always, social issues are used to rally voters to the polls, but the most deeply embedded interests in any election are the financial and banking interests. Sure, we voted Republican to end abortion, but we therefore also gave an enormous tax cut to the rich. Sure, the next election will largely be a referendum on immigration, but the next Democratic president is going to try to tax capital gains as income and introduce more Green legislation (which big business hates, for obvious reasons). The turn to right-wing so-called populism should cause us to ask the bigger question, not just of who visibly will suffer should they be elected, but also of who invisibly will gain.

Trump, White Evangelicalism, Immigration, etc.

There is a lot to say about this new essay from Tara Isabella Burton at Vox. The key quote to focus on:

“This willingness to define seemingly straightforward passages in the Bible along politicized terms — reimagining what it means to be someone’s “neighbor” — speaks to a wider issue within white evangelicalism. The degree to which white evangelical identity is increasingly predicated on politicized whiteness — and on an insular and isolationist vision of community — reveals the extent to which white evangelicalism has become synonymous with Christian nationalism under the Trump administration. And, increasingly, white evangelicals are willing to selectively reinterpret the Bible to justify this.”

What disorients me is that I have experienced little of what TIB has described. The pastors of my parents’ church and my own current church have forcefully denounced Nationalism from the pulpit in messages on 1 Peter 2 (the church is “a holy nation, a royal priesthood”), on Revelation 5&7 (People of every nation will worship around the throne), on Ephesians 6 (that the Devil is our true enemy, not political or ethnic opponents) and Romans 14 (politics as disputable matters). My church is currently doing a series on politics and political engagement as a Christian, and the tone is nothing like an “evangelical identity predicated on politicized whiteness.” I go to the largest EFCA school in the country, and the rhetoric spoken around campus is always pro-refugee-life, pro-aid, pro-humanitarian. All of the Christian leaders who I pay attention to are similarly oriented when it comes to immigration topics — including the editorial staff for The Gospel Coalition, which is not a platform for liberalism.

But TIB’s description is still true. I see tastes of it at conferences, or from across the Christian blogosphere, or from individuals in small group settings in-person or being interviewed on television. And the polling numbers don’t lie, at least, significantly outside the margin of error. Here’s what I am wondering: in the same way Conservative and Progressive voices online get locked into echo chambers where only supporters see their content, could something similar be happening even within evangelicalism? I am not suggesting that we have carved out sectors of the larger Conservative-Progressive social mediaspace, but that within the Christian mediaspace certain niches have been carved to accommodate each perspective.

In an essay from earlier this month TIB pointed out that White Evangelicals are the only religious group in the country who supports President Trump. Which is true. But what she does not acknowledge is that there have already been longstanding breaks between Mainline and Evangelical protestants, and even longer, historic breaks between Catholics and Protestants. Those breaks happened at the level of whole countries (e.g., Germany vs. Italy, England vs. France), whole denominations (e.g., PCA vs. PCUSA), whole universities (e.g., Princeton vs. Westminster), whole ideologies (e.g., Modernism vs. Fundamentalism). But what is really new, what is really damning, is that now, in this current transition, there is not much of an institutional shift. The separation between politically conservative Evangelicals, on the one hand, and politically moderate or just leans-conservative Evangelicals, on the other hand, is happening at the grassroots level. President Trump has galvanized something like a grassroots split within Evangelicalism proper, mirroring broader concerns over the “Death of Truth” or “Post-Truth” society we inhabit in the information age.

But regardless of the existence of a niche, politically-moderate voice within Evangelicalism that happens to surround me, here is what TIB nails: the new hermeneutic at use that subverts Jesus’s calling to care for the helpless. By redefining “neighbor” to be only fellow Christians (which is bogus), or to be only those who have not broken the law, Christians in the age of Trump are buying into an inward gaze. This inward gaze is the concrete result of Nationalist rhetoric, yes, but I would also say it is a result of Rule-of-Law thinking that became really popular during Black Lives Matter protesting a few years ago. Of course, of course, of course, the Rule-of-Law mindset is completely irreconcilable with Christianity. With Jesus’s rendering inoperative (katargeó) the Old Testament Law. But that doesn’t seem to be a problem these days, since the Old Testament laws about refugees and immigrants are also being ignored. TIB refers to Isaiah 10, Matthew 25, Leviticus 19:33–34, Jeremiah 7:5–7, Ezekiel 47:22, Zechariah 7:9–10, and the flight to Egypt by Joseph and Mary as Biblical precedent for a pro-refugee-life stance. Ultimately she employs Galatians 3:28 to say that the power of Christianity subverts political and ethnic identities.

trump holding a bible 2

(The gross mishandling of Romans 13 by Jeff Session and Sarah Sanders, which I didn’t know about until reading this piece, is also important. Can you imagine Nero quoting Paul’s words back to the Christian community and saying, “Yes, you heard the man, now offer sacrifices to me”? When Rome quotes Romans, we have a problem.)

On that count, TIB is spot on. But what about the specific policies we support? What about the particular ways the federal bureaucracy maneuvers through these topics? Those are important, but disputable questions. However, we need to keep in mind that the most shocking statistic TIB cited was not about a specific policy: “more than half of white evangelicals report feeling concerned about America’s declining white population” is not a policy position; it is a generally racist sentiment. Such racism, obviously, has no place in Christian community. If not specific policy, when we focus on the topic of ethnic nativism: let’s not condemn ethnic nativism because “the Bible says that” you should care for the helpless and those who are fleeing persecution. Worse, let’s not default to citing “these Biblical writers who say that” we must be pro-refugee-life. If our doctrine of the Inspiration of Scripture informs our thinking on this topic, we can comfortably and boldly say that “God himself has said.”

On being in London during the Royal Wedding

roayl wedding

The best view of the Royal Wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, Duke and Duchess of Sussex, was ours. Because the couple decided to host their ceremony in St. George’s Chapel, in Windsor — rather than the traditional venue, Westminster Abbey — there was little to no activity in the city of London concerning the wedding. To the extent that I paid attention at all, the most I noticed was a single, sad t-shirt booth selling clothes with “I was in London during the Royal Wedding!” printed across the chest. To be in London during the wedding, as we were, is indeed the best view because it is no view at all.

To be my wedding-watching grandmother, or any average American, is to have a worse view. Why do Americans, in particular, have such a fascination with the Royal Family? I assert that the British Monarchy is a mediating image, propelled by a larger culture rooted in Spectacle — to draw from Guy Debord’s 1967 seminal work The Society of the Spectacle. To live vicariously through the social images of another culture is to experience, in an even more American sense than normal, the malaise of modern industrialized life.

So, the wedding. While I thankfully cannot describe it firsthand, I find from other sources that the total cost was around 32 million pounds sterling. Meghan Markle’s dress was a “double- bonded silk cady cushioned by an underskirt in triple silk organza,” not to mention the 16-foot long veil, the gold jewlery, a diamond tiara, etc. William wore military attire to reflect his membership in the British Army, and his time served in Afghanistan in the early 2000’s. The Archbishop of Canterbury — whose parents met while serving as personal secretaries to Winston Churchill during the war — presided over the ceremony.

In the 1980’s, the wedding of Princes Diana and Prince Charles was a superbowl-level event for television; after Diana’s tragic death in 1997, her funeral was similarly publicized. Tabloids have for decades sprung upon the Royal Family’s youngest new additions, the birth of royal babies, as was the case in 2013 with Prince George and in 2015 with Princess Charlotte. We can expect the same for the forthcoming child in early 2019. One professor of history in a CNN interview even claimed that the American fascination with British royalty “has been alive pretty much since 1776,” and that almost “as soon as we severed ties, we were back to being fascinated — captivated really — by the royal family.”

Such events as the recent royal wedding image the good life for American audiences in a different way than British audiences. The key difference is the American folk narrative where anybody could wind up at the top of society. While this was not confirmed by the recent wedding, where Meghan Markle, though of mixed race, was raised in an upper-class Los Angeles family… it was confirmed in 2013 with Kate Middleton’s entrance into the family, who was essentially a social nobody before accidentally and unwittingly beginning to date Prince William. I remember at the time hearing the comparison made all day between Kate Middleton and “any of us that it could have happened to!” though of course that is nonsense. Where the British from their youth understand the strong role that socioeconomic Class plays in deciding your ultimate role in this world, Americans pretend that Class does not exist and so fantasize of elaborate weddings, grand receptions, life in a fairy castle, and so on.

The fascination with British royalty does not begin or end with the American Dream. Though propelled by The Dream, it exists in another social space divorced from The Dream by the malaise of everyday under- and middle-class life in America. This is the space where, as Debord claimed, “passive identification with the spectacle supplants genuine activity” because our relations to one another are mediated by images rather than just existing in their own right. In this transition, which is only possible after the rise of a nation-wide media culture, nothing is authentic and everything that we consider real is a symbolic representation of what lies behind it. Famous actors become sex symbols, important musicians attain cult-status, Royal Family members are stars of a soap opera, and politicians are reduced to boogeymen.

This smokescreen effect extends not just to politicians, but even to politics itself, where no true debates happen in the 21st century, only minor tinkering among policy wonks. True change is impossible in a system where R&D does not mean research and development but rather Republican and Democrat, parties with major incentives to race to the center and thereby eliminate any possibility for radical change of the system that they sustain and which in turn sustains them. In a world where we are defined by our relationship to brands, to parties, to celebrities and generally to symbols, we all have a bad view to the Royal Wedding.

Trump Presidency Predictions

trump-bible

Here are 80 predictions I give for the Trump presidency from 20 January 2017 at noon to 20 January 2021 at noon.

I wrote these to be falsifiable. A good example is International number 1: “Bashar al-Assad is assassinated, commits suicide, or otherwise dies” is something that either happens or it doesn’t, which means that if it didn’t happen, I can be proven wrong. A prediction like “the Syrian War will start to go badly” is not falsifiable.

Hopefully these become more than a gotcha or told you so tool, although I fully anticipate doing that. These are more of a way to keep myself honest in 2021, so that I can’t say told you so unless I, in fact, did tell you so.

A scoring rubric follows the list of predictions.

Financial

  1. The economy collapses: Dow value drops below 13,500, 80% of the drop happens within one week, and unemployment increases to 8.5% within six months of the drop. 89%
  2. If this economic collapse does happen, it will occur between June 2018 and January 2019, inclusive. 50%
  3. If the economy collapses, one of the Trump administration’s main arguments is that Obama caused it. 80%
  4. A well-respected think tank publishes a study arguing that Trump’s deregulation is selective, helping some businesses but hurting others. 60%
  5. The Federal Reserve uses negative interest rates. 60%
  6. The dollar continues to be the world reserve currency: international market in oil does not begin to use another currency. 55%
  7. Trump will appoint only one Secretary of the Treasury over his term. 70%
  8. Congress, though led by Republicans, raises the debt ceiling — twice. Trump approves each time. 60%
  9. The first budget Trump’s administration proposes will not be set to balance in the first five years, and spending will exceed revenue. 100%
  10. There will be no Audit the Pentagon, though members of the Congressional Liberty caucuses will make an obvious attempt (filibuster, speeches, debate, publicity stunt, press conference, etc.). 60%
  11. Trump’s administration will have five or more  positions filled by former banking executives. 60%
  12. Inflation will rise to 3.5% rate between January 2018 and July 2019. 65%
  13. China overtakes the US in GDP during the third or fourth year of the presidency. 70%
  14. Trump pursues a weak-Dollar policy. 95%
  15. Import Tariff does not happen, against Campaign-Trump’s wishes. 90%
  16. NAFTA remains standing. 70%
  17. Medicare, Medicaid face budget cuts. Social Security faces budget cuts. 80%
  18. Trump proposes infrastructure/stimulus bill; bill is rushed to a vote (less than 1 hour per 50 pages) and passes with bipartisan (though at least 20 Republicans between the House and Senate vote no) support. 70%
  19. Inventory-sales ratio crosses 1.50 before the end of 2017. 80%
  20. Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa together have a higher average GDP growth rate than US for the majority of the presidency. 60%

Domestic non-financial

  1. DREAMers program ends. Children are left in legal limbo with no replacement plan on the books. 55%
  2. Trump will not actually build a wall with Mexico, nor will the proposal even be officially put forward by the administration. 80%
  3. The immigration balance between US and Mexico will remain negative (as it has been for years) or become more negative. More people will be leaving for Mexico than are entering from Mexico. 55%
  4. Immigration from India and China will increase by 120% or greater from the beginning to the end of Trump’s term. 70%
  5. Roe v. Wade will still be the law by end of his term. 95%
  6. Congress will pass an abortion law, but this law will be poorly worded or vague enough to have little to no practical consequence. 60%
  7. Congress defunds Planned Parenthood. 60%
  8. Gay Marriage will remain federally recognized as law in all 50 states; no overturn of Supreme Court decision in 2015. 70%
  9. A comprehensive education bill (on or around the scale of NCLB) will pass, divided sharply along partisan lines; less than 10 Democrats will vote yes and less than 10 Republicans will vote no in the House; less than 5 Democrats will vote yes and less than 5 Republicans will vote no in the Senate. 51%
  10. Trump administration does not revoke recent Justice Department order to stop private prisons. 70%
  11. If Trump eliminates “job-killing environmental regulations” through executive order rather than through Congress. 60%
  12. Reverses position on paid family leave legislation. 55%
  13. Makes no effort to undo Citizens United. 90%
  14. Common Core scrapped from federal education policy. 75%
  15. Toothless legislation signed to protect the 2nd amendment; no legislation is signed that has or is even intended to have a significant impact on 2nd amendment issues. 65%
  16. Ceases all refugee inflows into the US from predominantly Muslim countries. 90%
  17. Trump renews indefinite detention provision of annual NDAA bill. 99%
  18. Trump’s health administrators pursue voluntary vaccination policies. 59%
  19. Sanctuary Cities do not end as a federal immigration policy. 70%
  20. Retirement age for social security benefits is not raised. 90%

International

  1. Bashar al-Assad is assassinated, commits suicide, or otherwise dies. 79%
  2. Trump stops helping Saudi Arabia in the war in Yemen. 60%
  3. Africa remains unstable or gets worse. Defined as: at least three countries in Africa have descended into civil war, and less than three existing civil wars have been resolved, with a net change of zero or more civil wars. 80%
  4. TPP is not ratified by the requisite number of countries and slowly dies. 70%
  5. Edward Snowden remains in Russia continuously for all four years. 90%
  6. Somaliland is recognized as a State by the UNSC, and all five veto-holding members voting yes. 70%
  7. Trump continues Obama’s legacy of easing relations with Cuba. 80%
  8. Trump revokes Iran nuclear deal, reissues sanctions. 55%
  9. The US does not invade Iran. 90%
  10. Trump administration fully supports Israeli settlements in Palestinian territory, repudiates Two State Solution, and increases foreign financial aid to Israel from current $3bn to over $4.5bn. 60%
  11. US remains in the WTO. 100%
  12. US remains in the UN. 100%
  13. US remains in NATO. 95%
  14. US remains in G10. 90%
  15. South Sudan violence declared humanitarian crisis by UN, but the US does not intervene. 65%
  16. US pulls out of the 2015 Paris Agreement. 60%
  17. US continues to support the NPT and all nuclear non-proliferation causes internationally. 90%
  18. US becomes involved in a large-scale COIN operation in Northern Africa. 65%
  19. US relations with China falter: diplomacy breaks down, Xi and Trump refuse to meet in person, Trump recognizes Taiwan or Tibet, or calls for democratic elections in Hong Kong. 70%
  20. Ukraine devolves into civil war. US does not back the government; either backs opposition (proxy for Russia) or stays out altogether. 60%

Meta-Political

  1. Trump’s proposed ban on foreign countries doing fundraising for American elections will pass with overwhelming support. Less than 5 Republicans across both houses will vote no, and less than 20 Democrats across both houses will vote no. 75%
  2. Obamacare will be repealed, and along a strictly party-line vote: less than five Republicans vote no, and less than five Democrats vote yes. 90%
  3. Trump will successfully reduce federal workforce through attrition (exempting military, public safety, and public health) by freezing workforce hiring, and though ultimately this will end, total number of federal employees will not exceed 110% current figures (excluding 2020 Census collection). 70%
  4. The Trump administration’s term limit bill will not gain 2/3 majority of Senate. 55%
  5. Five year ban on lobbying after government service will fail to pass Congress. 80%
  6. Five year ban on lobbying after government service will will not even be taken to a vote in at least one chamber of Congress. 55%
  7. The Constitution will be amended in some way. 60%
  8. The Constitution will not be amended twice. 90%
  9. Political polarization increases, as measured by Pew Research in this ongoing study, but the polarization will be asymmetric; the left will shift farther than the right does. 65%
  10. At least one Democrat files impeachment charges against President Trump in each of the next four years. 80%
  11. No noticeable progress against Gerrymandering; 2020 Census redistribution leads to further right-leaning Congressional districts. 75%
  12. Republicans retain the House, but lose the overall “popular vote” composite of all districts. 55%
  13. The 2018 midterm elections result in a 51, 52, or 53 seat Republican majority in the Senate. 75%
  14. No Libertarian Party candidate receives more than 30% of the vote in any House, Senate, or State-level race in the 2018 mid term elections. 90%
  15. No state changes its voting system to IRV (as Maine did this past year) or any other non-FPTP system. 80%
  16. Congress fully ends the Office of Congressional Ethics. 70%
  17. Breyer or Ginsburg will leave the court, by resignation or death, but not both. Kennedy will also leave the court, by resignation or death. 60%
  18. Trump appoints a replacement to Scalia that is among the 20 names he floated during the campaign. 99%
  19. Conditional on there being another vacancy, Trump nominates someone who was not on the original 20 person shortlist. 60%
  20. Of the nearly 1200 PAS positions (Presidential appointment with Senate approval), greater than 70% will be white men. 80%

Scoring

To score: decide yes/no on each prediction, clump predictions into groups based on 10 point percentage ranges, and award myself one point if >50% of the predictions in the 50% category were met, 2 points if >60% of the 60% category were met, 3 points for 70%, 2 points for 80%, 1 point for 90%. If an item is ranked ending with a five, then it counts as two predictions within its category. If an item is ranked ending with a nine, it counts as three predictions within its category. Items ranked at 100% are awarded no points for being correct, but lose one whole point if incorrect. Of the nine points regularly possible, I win if I receive 5 or more.

Everything’s Bigger in Texas — including Chiropractic memes

Today I came across this in my Facebook newsfeed:

chiro1

This deserves a much closer look. To my knowledge, Chiropractic is just another snake oil elixir, delivering essentially no benefits beyond the alleviation of lower back pain. Here is the claim:

“A 7 year study showed that patients whose primary care physician was a Chiropractor experienced the following results:

  • 60% less hospital admissions
  • 59% less days in the hospital
  • 62% less outpatient surgeries
  • 85% less in pharmaceutical costs”

I am extremely skeptical. My poorly-constructed-study radar is hitting 11 on this one. 85% less in pharmaceutical costs! That should be putting the entire industry out of business! What an incredible claim. But instead of outright dismissing these findings, let’s check out the study.

The fine print cites this:

chiro3

Journal of Manipulative and Physiological Therapy, May 20017, 30(4). 263-269. Richard L. Sarnat, MD, James Winterstein, DC, Jerrilyn A. Cambron, DC, PhD

Here are some things I’ve found:

  1. There is no journal that exists called the “Journal of Manipulative and Physiological Therapy.” There is one with Therapeutics as the last word, so I’ll assume these are supposed to be the same. This is the journal’s website.
  2. The journal cited is May 20017. I will give the benefit of the doubt as say they meant 2017, because 20017 is still roughly eighteen thousand years away. Nonetheless, how does this person have access to the journal for six months from now?
  3. Since the date is clearly unusable, here is the search results for “Sarnat” in the journal’s database.chiro4The meme claims to cite volume 30, issue 4, pages 263-269. So the second result is the target here. Sadly, both are paywalled, and I can’t view them unless pdf copies are floating around elsewhere online.
  4. This is everything I can get from the website:Abstract
    Our initial report analyzed clinical and cost utilization data from the years 1999 to 2002 for an integrative medicine independent physician association (IPA) whose primary care physicians (PCPs) were exclusively doctors of chiropractic. This report updates the subsequent utilization data from the IPA for the years 2003 to 2005 and includes first-time comparisons in data points among PCPs of different licensures who were oriented toward complementary and alternative medicine (CAM).

    Methods
    Independent physician association–incurred claims and stratified random patient surveys were descriptively analyzed for clinical utilization, cost offsets, and member satisfaction compared with conventional medical IPA normative values. Comparisons to our original publication’s comparative blinded data, using nonrandom matched comparison groups, were descriptively analyzed for differences in age/sex demographics and disease profiles to examine sample bias.

    Results
    Clinical and cost utilization based on 70274 member-months over a 7-year period demonstrated decreases of 60.2% in-hospital admissions, 59.0% hospital days, 62.0% outpatient surgeries and procedures, and 85% pharmaceutical costs when compared with conventional medicine IPA performance for the same health maintenance organization product in the same geography and time frame.

    Conclusion
    During the past 7 years, and with a larger population than originally reported, the CAM-oriented PCPs using a nonsurgical/nonpharmaceutical approach demonstrated reductions in both clinical and cost utilization when compared with PCPs using conventional medicine alone. Decreased utilization was uniformly achieved by all CAM-oriented PCPs, regardless of their licensure. The validity and generalizability of this observation are guarded given the lack of randomization, lack of statistical analysis possible, and potentially biased data in this population.

  5. The references page (link) includes citations to these journals:J Manipulative Physiol Ther. 2004 (their own research)
    Ann Intern Med. 1999
    J Clin Oncol. 2000
    Arch Intern Med. 2002
    JAMA. 1999
    N Engl J Med. 1993
    Am J Manag Care. 2006
    Health Care Financ Rev Annu Suppl. 1991
    CBO; US Government Printing Office, Washington (DC); 1993.
    Harv Bus Rev. 1994
    Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore; 1990.
    Health Care Financ Rev. 1992
    Manag Care. 2001
    Altern Ther Health Med 2002
    National Center for Health Statistics. Accessed September 15, 2006. (link included)
    Cancer. 2004

    Two things to note here: most of these are just cost-assessment studies, so it doesn’t matter how legitimate their scientific journal is; also, several of these are other alternative medicine journals, so take that with measured caution.

  6. Hooray! I found the study! Here is the pdf link.
  7. From the study: “In this article, we are not taking a position on the efficacy of any CAM treatment. Rather, we are interested in the current use of CAM modalities and cost effects of such use, regardless of treatment outcome.”
  8. The study is based on 7 doctors of osteopathy and 14 doctors of chiropractic. Osteopathic doctors are basically defined as non-chiropractic doctors of natural medicine, which does exclude pharmaceuticals and surgeries. This is a total of 21 doctors.
  9. This should be an enormous red flag: “The HMO’s quality control division, independent of the privately run IPA, distributed an annual survey to more than 45 000 members who were older than 18 years old and who had been enrolled in the HMO and IPA for at least 1 year. Stratified random patient surveys were used to analyze AMI’s lifestyle demographics and member satisfaction. Although the HMO’s quality control division provided these data, the details of the stratified random selection process were not available. Member satisfaction was measured within the survey by asking patients, “are you satisfied overall with your IPA’s performance? ” (emphasis added).
  10. Here we find an even larger, more enormous red flag: “Our initial report demonstrated a skewed enrollment population, with fewer children and more adults than the 2 matched control groups. For the years 1999 through 2002 we averaged 12% childhood enrollment vs the 2 control groups, whose childhood enrollment averaged 33% and 19%, respectively. We attributed this population age disparity to a deliberate IPA medical management policy of discouraging childhood enrollment. This management decision was put in place because of the limitations in the scope of practice our DCs and their inability to perform certain requirements, such as immunizations. Our PCPs licensed as medical doctors/DOs have no such limitations in their scope of practice. Accordingly, we have seen our enrollee demographics quickly change and even exceed the childhood enrollment percentages of the 2 matched control populations. In calendar year 2003, the IPA’s childhood enrollment increased to 31%; and by calendar year 2005, it had peaked at 56%. We attribute this demographic shift, above the 2 matched control groups’ childhood enrollment, to the unique group practice of our newly contracted medical doctors /DOs. Before their involvement with AMI’s integrative medicine IPA, they specialized exclusively in the 2 arenas of home birth and ‘natural medical’ childcare” (emphasis added).Later on, the study mentions this: “we were not able to control for differences in baseline characteristics between the integrative medicine group and the conventional IPA. If the baseline demographic or clinical factors differed between the groups, the data may be seriously biased in either direction.”
  11. Red flag number three: “The AMI’s enrolled population continues to demonstrate a smaller percentage of ‘well’ members (23.4% in Table 2) vs the 2 matched conventional medical IPA control groups (34.7% and 42%, respectively), as cited in our initial report. This gives continued credence to the premise that patients who go to CAM practitioners are not necessarily the ‘worried well’ and may actually represent an adverse selection of patients who are ‘medical failures’ in the traditional medical system.”
  12. Table 4 and its corresponding paragraph (Cost of Utilization) are surprising. Why is the company actuarially predicting 670.0 target units, when by the end of the year only 125 units were used? Either the actuaries are terrible at their jobs, or something is very wrong with the reporting mechanism for units used. This can be viewed as 19.0% of total costs used, which sounds great if you are a budget slasher or are trying to produce a study showing lower costs for Chiropractic. Or, it can be viewed as gross overestimation from the beginning. When all 6 years overpredicted by more than double the ultimate value, the process is broken.
  13. Then this appears: “As the necessary data for traditional statistical methods were unavailable to us, we attempted to assess possible population bias via other strategies. We acknowledge that the lack of statistical analysis may have led to a serious bias. However, even without the ability to complete a statistical analysis and with the potential for bias, these preliminary data are important to present within the medical community.” Actually, no. If there is the potential for serious bias, maybe it is better to not report the study’s findings in such plain terms, as if they can be taken at face value.

 

At this point I’ll put forward some possible explanations for what has happened here:

First, this is a single study. Ask a researcher who complies meta-analysis studies about the legitimacy of individual studies. This is why we reproduce studies several times. 10 researchers will conduct the same experiment, and 3 will find negative correlation, 4 will find no correlation, and 3 will find positive correlation. You would never know this if you looked just at one study. So, these authors are very correct in saying that this study “warrants larger independent third-party funding for multicenter, randomized controlled trials.” All studies do.

Second, the shift in population to a younger group undermines essentially all of the findings in this study. For one, why did the group become younger? The group became younger because in the 2003 iteration of the study, the researches decided to include the extra 7 osteopathy doctors, who had largely specialized in home, family and natural medicine. Now, this shouldn’t have had an impact unless these doctors were carrying over old clients from before the study began. So it looks like either that happened, or that they continued to advertise themselves in a way that would lead to more children than normal being consulted.

Third, and directly related to the previous point, if they inadvertently shifted the demographics of the population in this way, maybe they also shifted the demographics of the population in a less clear, less measurable way. The key variable in my mind is likeliness to reject pharmaceuticals, and that would obvious have a large impact on the total amount and therefore cost of pharmaceuticals distributed. I’d be willing to speculate, and this is very logically founded speculation, that people whose primary care physician is a Chiropractor are probably significantly more likely to also believe in alternative medicine, to use homeopathic cures, to reject established scientific literature and studies, and to be “educated beyond their own good,” meaning that they have done “their own research” which actually just amounts to googling something until confirmation bias is satisfied. The authors admit this with their caveat about the ‘worried well’ and the ‘medical failures.’ Each of these types of people would not register on a simple yes-no questionnaire about patient satisfaction, and I would be willing to bet that this category is much more skewed compared to the general population than the age category.

Fourth, the authors of this study did not have access to enough data to conclude that they have found anything of notable significance. What if, when controlled for any of the variables in the study, the correlation drops to 0.00? They do not have access to this data because of HIPPA laws, but usually accredited researchers have access to patient profiles without identifiable characteristics. So I’m not sure what the hassle was beyond bureaucratic red tape. But in any case, these descriptive statistics like “85% less in pharmaceutical costs” are uncontrolled variables relative to the real general population, to the best of my and the researchers’ knowledge.

Fifth, the solution could also be that Chiropractic doctors are not able to prescribe medicine. The osteopathic doctors can. But those were only 7 of the 21. The 14 Chiropractic doctors would likely have had to refer patients to a state-licensed medical doctor for that doctor to write the prescription. So then, you can see that prescriptions will not be written for things that either have no cure (the giant category of ‘wellness’ being at the top of this list) or things that are not very severe.

 

Finally, and this is only tangentially related to the actual study, someone on Facebook commented below the original shared article and wrote this:

chiro2

Chiropractics are constrained to the same free market effects of supply and demand and regular doctors (although perhaps more so because most insurance companies do not cover Chiropractic costs). Here is an example of the owner of a Chiropractic clinic using exactly this study to promote his business interests. It should not come as surprising that the Chiropractic industry, which in the United State is huge and growing, also are “people, and people are motivated by the love of money… not all [chiropractors], but many will follow the [alternative medicine] industry’s talking points by telling their patients things that are designed to promote the [alternative] medical “industry.”” The argument from greed and deception goes both ways.

What does the 2016 election mean?

The 2016 election, more than any before, has eroded the deontological foundation of American government. Never has moral relativism — justifying decisions because other decisions are worse — been so prevalent.

Let me break down the terminology.

  • Deontology looks at moral questions and tries to answer “what should I do?” and “what must I do?”
  • Consequentialism looks at moral questions and tries to answer “what would have the best impact?” and “how can I maximize benefit and minimize cost from this?”

For example:

  • A deontologist could say “abortion is wrong because it is wrong”
  • A consequentialist could say “abortion is wrong because of all these negative things it causes.”

When you think relatively on morals, you justify one thing because something else is worse. Heaven’s gates are open if you aren’t Hitler. Morality is just a relative issue, it can be compared, and as long as you’re better than a certain percentile of people, or not worse than a certain percentile of people, then congrats, you’ve been good.

Neither Donald Trump nor Hillary Clinton could rationally be considered virtuous candidates themselves. Clinton has all her dozens of scandals. Emails. Emails. Emails. Emails. And more telling is what’s found in those emails: widespread corruption, pay-to-play, conflict of interests, and whatever was in the 33k emails. Likewise, Trump has enough scandals to beat Clinton. Various sexual assault charges (which we know to be at least partially grounded in Trump’s psyche, given the Access Hollywood revelations), dozens of business misconduct cases, racial discrimination in renting practices, going far out of his way to alienate large sections of the electorate in order to win the xenophobic vote, etc.

Does anybody, beyond the most extreme partisans on each side, actually support either of these candidates? Without naming why they don’t like the other candidate, can they really provide a convincing, holistic, positive argument for their candidate?

But lets get beyond personalities and histories. Look at policies. Do either advocate virtuous policy? I’m not hearing much of an argument on this.

(I understand that it is notoriously difficult to define “virtuous policy,” in fact that is the whole question of politics. In an increasingly polarized system, beyond the obvious things, we aren’t going to find much agreement here. But whatever their support for virtuous policy, they hold that support inconsistently).

As a result, voters with an eye for deontological consistency were forced to turn to 3rd party candidates Johnson, Stein, Castle, etc., who by definition of first-past-the-post voting, had essentially no chance to win the election or even garner mildly significant support.

Woah, slow down there. Couldn’t Johnson have won if he wasn’t just an idiot?

Enter: Duverger’s Law, Per Wikipedia:

A two-party system often develops in a plurality voting system. In this system, voters have a single vote, which they can cast for a single candidate in their district, in which only one legislative seat is available. In plurality voting (i.e. first past the post), in which the winner of the seat is determined purely by the candidate with the most votes, several characteristics can serve to discourage the development of third parties and reward the two major parties.

Duverger suggests two reasons this voting system favors a two-party system. One is the result of the “fusion” (or an alliance very much like fusion) of the weak parties, and the other is the “elimination” of weak parties by the voters, by which he means that voters gradually desert the weak parties on the grounds that they have no chance of winning. (link)

People are thinking on the margin.

There is a certain marginal analysis (definition) happening whenever someone says “I support Trump because Clinton is…” or “I support Clinton because Trump/Trump Supporters are…” and we ought to reject this style of thinking not just because practically it enables the second worst evil to win election after election, but because it fails to provide a positive, self-enclosed justification for the candidate of choice.

This is mostly what has gotten us into the whole social-political landscape we have today. The product of choosing the lesser of two evils (when both are legitimately evil, like in the past ~50 years) is the system we have today.

American government and law used to be founded on the principle of Natural Law. Ever since and resulting from the gradual destruction of Natural Law in the presence of instrumentalist law in the 1880s-1910s (link), the country’s polity has become completely consequentialist. What is right? That which leads to my desired outcomes.

In backlash to these trends:

Candidates considered “ideologically pure” like Ron Paul and Bernie Sanders were as successful as they were because they cornered the deontological market during their year.

Here is the conclusion I draw: People want to return to Right = Right and Wrong = Wrong morality. This is true regardless of how you define right and wrong; all that matters is having them at all. It doesn’t matter if you use Christian morality or vaguely defined secular morality or some new synthesized xenophobia+classist morality. Just have something, some ideological standard, hold to it consistently, and then win.

The people want intellectually purity and consistency based on first principles, not some shape-shifting, internally contradictory realism that dominates “moderate” choices like Clinton, Romney, Jeb! Bush, and such.

Deontological thinking is dead to Americans. But we can resurrect it. Here’s how.

The problem is that people have to think marginally when they vote. So how can we eliminate or minimize marginal thinking on election day?

Ultimately the goal is IRV or other proportional voting systems, any of which would eliminate First Past The Post. Proportional voting actually allows people to be “consequentially deontological” if that’s not a contradiction in terms, because they can hold to moral imperatives but vote for them selectively. This would be a more ideal system.

How could the country conduct this? Many details remain unclear. This is not because the details are confusing, but because there are so many workable options.

States could still be winner-take-all, and it could still be separated by states and not a popular vote. So, it could still be Constitutional. For example, everyone in Illinois goes to the polls, ranks all options on the ballot, and ultimately through the tricky process of counting IRV votes, someone is declared the winner. That person get the electoral votes.

[THEN in the most interesting twist of all, each elector at the electoral college also gets to do IRV among everyone who had ballot access in enough states to mathematically win 270 electoral votes. This part would certainly require a constitutional amendment given the 12th amendment’s wording of “the person voted for as President”].

It wouldn’t be much of a practical advantage to 3rd parties, since most people actually do prefer the Democratic or Republican Parties to the Libertarian Party, but it would eliminate the vote-splitting effect, which currently holds 3rd party votes to well below their legitimate vote share.

What every discussion of Colin Kaepernick has forgotten

Colin Kaepernick has had an interesting NFL season so far, and this week the narrative took yet another twist.

Kaepernick entered the eternal national debate on race relations in August by refusing to stand for the National Anthem because he is “not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color.”

The United States has been debating race relations since the colonial era. We argued over whether slaves should be 3/5 of a person or an entire person or not a person at all, we had a big debate with guns and uniforms in the 1860’s, there was another debate with fire hoses and lunch counters in the 1950’s, and today this debate continues with body cameras and lives mattering. I’m not sure this will ever end.

Kaepernick’s protest incensed conservative football watchers and some football executives. These are executives who, I’d speculate, don’t care about patriotism as much as they care about looking hyper-American to keep conservative football watchers watching their games.

This week’s twist: Kaepernick did not vote in the Presidential election. He lives in California, a forgone conclusion in the election anyway, but people are mad about the message it sends.

This morning I overheard the conversation of several old guys (mid 60’s, probably retired) who thought Kaepernick was stupid. They used this word. The guy leading this conversation didn’t make any argument about political impact, didn’t say anything about the conservative moral narrative about minority violence, and didn’t mention the liberal moral narrative about equity governing.

He probably was just saying “I disagree with him” but was searching for a word that sounds more powerful. With “stupid,” he can demonstrate to his conservative friends that he is super double dog conservative. Any regular old super single dog conservative would say they disagree. Only the most super double dog conservative would think that Kaepernick is stupid.

Factcheck to the rescue: Colin Kaepernick scored a 38 on the Wonderlic intelligence exam.

Wonderlic is an intelligence exam the NFL uses at the annual Combine. Head coaches receive this, along with dozens of other statistics gathered that day, to help decide players for the draft. The combine, really, is just one giant standardized test for football players.

12 minutes, 50 questions, averaged at 20, standard deviation probably somewhere around 8. Nobody expects test takers to even finish all the questions, and essentially nobody scores within 5 of perfect. A score above 10 generally indicates being functionally literate.

Kaepernick scored a 38. A thirty-eight. Many words can describe Colin Kaepernick, but stupid is not one of them.

He scores in the 98th percentile on this test. If 100 people stood around in a room, he would be smarter than 98 of them. Only 2 would beat him. According to their website, Kaepernick could be admitted to Mensa with this score. Mensa, that one group with membership restricted to geniuses only.

This breaks the usual stereotypes about the intelligence of

  • black men,
  • professional football players, and
  • black men who play professional football.

This may seem minor — really it is minor compared to the entire debate about race relations — but it may serve some people right to recognize that “I disagree with you” and “I am smarter than you” are two different arguments. In this case, assuming that that group of old guys were near average intelligence, these happened to be two very different arguments.

 

Evangelicals, let’s get something straight.

My fellow Evangelicals, I’d like to explore a topic that matters more than abortion, the Supreme Court, governorships, the Electoral College, and globalism — combined.

I’d like to talk about the purity of the Gospel message.

Not purity in the sense of sexual abstinance, but in a “let’s not pollute the core of our message” kind of way.

The biggest problem for the church, now that the 2016 election has ended, is the tragic sacrifice of its message to achieve the election result. I’m talking about one specific thing here.

Donald Trump claimed to be a Christian, and this is a mockery of the truth of the Gospel.

Let me break this down:

Fact: Donald Trump claims to be a Christian.

Apparently this is very hard to track down, although even that should be a red flag. There was an awkward moment in June when James Dobson made a strange, vague remark about it. Over the years Trump has said various things here and there about religion. The clearest moment seems to be here:

People are so shocked when they find … out I am Protestant. I am Presbyterian. And I go to church and I love God and I love my church.

This is from the Frank Luntz interview, which comes up later.

The statement “I am Protestant” “I am Presbyterian” and “I love God” are all the closest thing Trump has acknowledged. His use of imprecise language doesn’t help. At any rate, this is certainly claiming membership in Christendom, explicitly claiming intellectual agreement with a denomination, and forwardly making the statement that he loves God. These all seem characteristic of someone’s profession of faith.

Unarguably he claims affinity with the wider cultural Christianity phenomena. Perhaps he best fits what Christian Smith called Moralistic Theraputic Deism, or the belief that a God exists who gives us our desires and comforts us when we need emotional support, but otherwise remains detached from the world. This may be a stretch, and it’s partially based on intution I’ve built up over the years, but let’s operate with this as our minimum.

Moreover, Trump later made the statement that “I have a great relationship with God.” So that’s about as clear cut as you can get. Billy Graham-style, 1950’s individualistic Christianity (although he didn’t say personal relationship) between the creation and Creator. Pretty straightforward, right?

Fact: Donald Trump is not a Christian.

There are several red flags for consideration that demonstrate what may be going on beneath the surface in Trump’s mind & soul.

CP summarizes it like this:

Throughout the campaign, Trump has struggled with issues related to his claim that he is a Christian. He declined to name his favorite Bible verse. Later, he cited a verse that’s not in the Bible as his favorite while claiming no one knows the Bible better than him. He said he never asked for forgiveness, a necessary step to becoming a follower of Jesus Christ, because he hasn’t done anything that needed to be forgiven. He claims to be a Presbyterian and a member of Marble Collegiate Church, but Marble Collegiate is not Presbyterian and has no record of him being a member. And, at a Liberty University speech, he referred to 2 Corinthians as “two Corinthians” and then blamed Tony Perkins for giving him the scripture and writing it as “2 Corinthians.”

Stop.

Stop right there.

Forget “two Corinthians” and lying about church membership and fake Bible verses. There was something incredibly important tucked within that paragraph of otherwise-telling information. “He said he never asked for forgiveness, a necessary step to becoming a follower of Jesus Christ, because he hasn’t done anything that needed to be forgiven.”

Before the context police cry out for justice, Trump made the initial comments in July of 2015, followed up a week later in another interview, and then repeated them once more in January at a Republican primary debate. (You can scroll past these if you want, it is essentially the same thing three times).

A. With Frank Luntz, July 2015:

Trump, who told CNN earlier that he is both anti-abortion and anti-same-sex marriage, said people are surprised to learn about his Christian faith.

“People are so shocked when they find … out I am Protestant. I am Presbyterian. And I go to church and I love God and I love my church,” he said.

Moderator Frank Luntz asked Trump whether he has ever asked God for forgiveness for his actions.

“I am not sure I have. I just go on and try to do a better job from there. I don’t think so,” he said. “I think if I do something wrong, I think, I just try and make it right. I don’t bring God into that picture. I don’t.”

Trump said that while he hasn’t asked God for forgiveness, he does participate in Holy Communion.

“When I drink my little wine — which is about the only wine I drink — and have my little cracker, I guess that is a form of asking for forgiveness, and I do that as often as possible because I feel cleansed,” he said. “I think in terms of ‘let’s go on and let’s make it right.’”

B. With Anderson Cooper, one week later:

The Christian Post previously reported on comments made by Trump regarding his faith at the Family Leadership Summit in Ames, Iowa.

Clarifying his comments on forgiveness, Trump declared, “I go to communion and that’s asking forgiveness, you know, it’s a form of asking forgiveness.” During the interview the current GOP frontrunner stressed that he “likes to work where he doesn’t have to ask forgiveness.”

Trump has reiterated on several occasions on the campaign trail his Protestant and Presbyterian background, and more recently, his admiration for his former pastor, Norman Vincent Peale, a popular Reformed minister.

When further asked about repentance again by Cooper, Trump said “I think repenting is terrific.”

“Why do I have to repent or ask for forgiveness, if I am not making mistakes?” asked Trump. “I work hard, I’m an honorable person.”

In talking about his Iowa appearance, Trump said, “We were having fun when I said I drink the wine, I eat the cracker, the whole room was laughing.”

Trump denied that his statements damaged his chances with Evangelical voters and accused Cooper of only wanting “to bring up the negative.” Trump countered that his polling in Iowa is very strong.

Trump, known for his bravado and aggressive criticism of opponents on the campaign trail, admitted to Cooper that he’d “change” his “tone” as president.

“Right now I’m trying to do something to make this country great again,” he declared.

C. With Jake Tapper, January 2016:

TAPPER: Well, let me ask you because one of the potential attack lines has to do with an answer you gave to Frank Luntz months ago when you said that you’ve never asked God for forgiveness.

Do you regret making that remark?

TRUMP: No, I have great relationship with God. I have great relationship with the evangelicals. In fact nationwide, I’m up by a lot — leading everybody. But I like to be good. I don’t like to have to ask for forgiveness. And I am good. I don’t do a lot of things that are bad. I try and do nothing that’s bad. I live a very different life than probably a lot of people would think. And I have a very —

TAPPER: Always or just now?

TRUMP: I have a very great relationship with God and I have a very great relationship with evangelicals. And I think that’s why I’m doing so well with Iowa.

TAPPER: The life you have now when you say that you try to do good, that sounds very different from decades of tabloid media coverage in New York in which some of your wilder escapades were —

TRUMP: No, I’m talking about — I’m talking about over the last number of years.

TAPPER: OK.

Does this need explanation?

If it does, then notice right away the great tension: Trump claims to be a Christian, as I’ve tenuously established, and Trump simultaneously also does not believe in the need for forgiveness, as these interviews establish. Yet the need for forgiveness is central to the Gospel message in two separate ways.

In one way, a person needs forgiveness as justification. At the intital moment of salvation, when from nowhere the Holy Spirit enters into a person’s spirit and indwells them, they are justified — declared right — before God. Here, forgiveness is the nullification of sin’s penalty on the human account, because it had previously been paid by Christ. This forgivenes is a change in status, it becomes permanent and secures the believer in an officially right relationship with God.

But in another way, forgiveness of sins means something totally different. What did it mean when Jesus said “Our Father … forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us”? This type of forgiveness does not imply the same official status as justification does. Wayne Grudem writes that this is “a prayer that God’s fatherly relationship with us, which has been disrupted by sin that displeased him, be restored, and that he relate to us once again as a Father who delights in his children whom he loves” (Systematic Theology, 740). In this case, forgiveness is the process where people, already being justified, reestablishing right relations with God.

In either case forgiveness is necessary. Forgiveness from God to initiate salvation and forgiveness from God to continue sanctification are essential to the Christian life. In fact, without them, there is no Christian life.

(On a side note, perhaps none of this should surprise us when the two most influential spiritual figures in his life are Paul White and Norman Peale. Look up their theology.).

Does this matter?

Trump was elected Commander in Chief, not Sunday School Teacher in Chief. Why bring theology into the mix when his job is to run the nation?

I agree that this shouldn’t impact policy. Evangelicals can continue to support or not support each individual policy that Trump proposes, and I hope that we do not just support them all because “our guy” made it in. I’d put forward three non-policy reasons why this matters.

For one, Evangelicals should harbor great concern for the soul of the President, as for all people.

Second, we have been explicitly commanded in scripture to pray for the ruling authorities over us, and this prayer should not stop at wisdom and success. Here before us we see a president-elect who has spent his entire life desperately clining to his sin. He, like all, needs forgiveness.

But third and most importantly, the Church must preserve the integrity and purity of the Gospel message. The Gospel message — that though humans have erred, God offers forgiveness — is the only doctrinal objective of the church. We do not seek to advance our particular view of infant baptism vs adult baptism, views on predestination vs free will, or wine communion vs grape juice communion. No sidebar doctrinal squabble matters compared to the message of redemption through Christ.

To uphold Donald Trump as “living a life of loving and helping others as Jesus taught in the Great Commandment” without reference to salvation is to nullify the salvific grace of God at the expense of common grace, performed by a man desperately caught up in the love of money. This wouldn’t matter if any random person in a Facebook comment said this. This was Jerry Falwell, Jr., the President of Liberty University, one of the most prominent Evangelicals in the country. Falwell, Jr. personally benefited tremendously from his endorsement of Trump.

I feel anger, partially because I’m about to throw my entire life away for the message here bastardized by Falwell, Jr. and partially because nobody seems to care.

Evangelical credibility has been largely swept under the rug — because Hillary! — but now that Hillary has lost, we no longer need to think on the margins. Marginal analysis makes sense when there are two candidates, but now we have one president-elect, and Evangelicals can safely return to moral absolutes by calling out Trump for what he is.

This has already happened once

I should mention that after the Access Hollywood tapes came out in October, Evangelicals did exactly what I am recommending. Endorsements were pulled, strongly worded statements issued, and stump speeches cancelled. I am saying: this should now continue.

There is no legitimate threat to the presidency anymore. Evangelicals, you’ve won! Now please, before things get ugly and people start calling us out for hypocrisy because people have called us out for hypocrisy, we must get on with the rest of the Trump denunciation:

  • Mexicans are thieves and rapists
  • the whole Khizr Khan incident
  • expanding and promoting the Birther myth
  • Scamming people through his “university”
  • Supporting abortion for decades
  • Lying about giving to chairty
  • Failing to give to Caesar what is Caesar’s through extensive tax loophole manipulation

I’m just going to stop the list there. I have some more, but after thinking about it, these are the natural byproduct of the sinful nature of man.

Failure to control his language? James 3.
Failure to turn the other cheek? Matthew 5.
Failure to make any attempt at peace? [“bomb the shit out of them”] Also Matthew 5.
Being unkind to others? Ephesians 4.
The love of money, leading to all types of evil? 1 Timothy 6.
Rampant sexual immorality? Romans 1.

So I refine my argument to this: Trump, as unrepentant as he is, does not deserve the public moral affirmation of Evangelical leaders or the private moral affirmation of the Evangelical base. For the credibility of the faith, and by extension the Gospel message itself, movement leaders must begin to denounce.