Republicans in Christian Clothing

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S1: The following recording may contain explicit language I can’t get more explicit than May with literal say it may.

S2: It’s Thursday, April 2nd, 2020 from Slate’s The Gist. I’m Mike PESCA. Jobless claims 6 and two thirds millions today. My God. Remember last week when the claims were at almost 3.3 million and Trump’s response was, well, it could have been six or seven. Now it is as of.

S3: This recording, Trump has not yet offered the explanation, well, it could have been eight or nine, but we’re still monitoring, of course, with the good weather. The job claims should come down by April. Oh, wait, it is April. And yesterday was April Fool’s Day in my house. We had a great prank organized by Milo, the 12 year old. He convinced my girlfriend Michelle that it was her birthday. She got calls from friends, she got cards, she got a candle. And actually, this was the hard one to pull off a Facebook notification that it was her birthday. It worked so well. Then Michelle broke down in tears, wondering if she had gone insane. High five, my low, high five. The president, on the other hand, took foolishness and Fosbury in another direction yesterday. He, like Michelle and Milo, were also focused on Facebook. The general category of Facebook. Remember, is called social media.

S4: It gets out to have hundreds of millions of people, number one, on Facebook. You know, his number one Facebook. And I just found out I’m no longer Facebook either. Those very nice.

S3: Now, Trump knew that term social media because very, very important term. You don’t forget a vital term in a very important time. But when it comes to, say, another term, like developing herd immunity, a means of combating not the scourge of anonymity or the scorch, as Donald Trump says, but actually the scourge of the virus which can’t be fought with herd immunity. Here’s what Donald Trump said.

S4: We did the right thing. We had no choice. We did the right thing. Other countries tried to use the herd or their herd mentality.

S5: It’s so perhaps you heard me say that I have seen every minute of every press briefing. Well, since they’ve shifted to the evening, it becomes harder and harder. And my schedule is that I check in on the transcript the next day. And I’ve got to say, last night’s was not a good one. Tonight’s was information about small business loans, little Jared Kushner and then the normal Trump freelancing governor should have prepared themselves better. But I still feel the responsibility to bring it all to use. What I did was I read through the transcript, sped read through the transcript, and asked the producers to put together this montage of the most important moments of the press conference. First, the president was joined by General Milley.

S6: Thank you, Secretary, for those words. And thank you, Mr. President, for your leadership. And I want. And Attorney General Barr.

S7: Thank you, Mr. President. Thanks for your decisive leadership. As we confront this unprecedented challenge posed by Corona and Robert O’BRIEN, the national security adviser. Thank you, General. Thank you, Mr. President. Today’s action is another example of the bold leadership of President Trump and his commitment to protecting the homeland.

S5: You can hear they’re well qualified, all of those men, to hold those positions. Then there was talk of drug busts, not chloroquine, the fun drugs. The president got into the specifics of the economic stimulus plan.

S4: And as you know, Phase 3 was terrific. And phase four, what passed in Congress in phase four. If that happens, will be great. I already.

S5: And then he returned to his pet policy of the wall, which he said was working pretty much perfectly as walls, as you know, are essentially an undefeatable piece of technology.

S4: Any place where you have that wall other than walking around it on the edges, it’s stopping everybody cold.

S5: Then the president told us about the unprecedented actions his administration was taking to combat the unprecedented crisis we’re in. I mean, nobody could have seen it coming.

S4: I see things that nobody would believe when nobody’s seen anything like it that’s going again. Nobody could have known a thing like this could happen. One thing that nobody’s ever seen before. Nobody’s ever seen anything like this. And nobody’s got into it. Nobody’s talked about it because nobody’s ever asked him to do this. Nobody else knew it either. Nobody’s ever seen anything like this. I mean, nobody can get near it and nobody can even get near that.

S8: Nobody does it better on the show today. I shpiel about the least sympathetic to figures during this pandemic. They’re Republicans. They’re in the federal government. They might not be who you are thinking of.

S1: But I slightly defend them more. Do you? Oh, Lord.

S5: But first, Christian nationalism is the subject of Kristen Stewart’s new book, Power Worshipers. It chronicles how a movement wrapped in Christianity but motivated by power has taken hold and come to shape the Republican Party and especially big, important parts of this administration. Now, with so many involved in the fight against Corona virus, also directly or ancillary involved with the Christian nationalist movement, we thought it wise to have her on to discuss how Christian nationalism works and how it’s working or thwarting the efforts to fight Corona virus. Up next.

S9: The Corona virus pandemic is real wrath of God type stuff, isn’t it? Well, there were some people who are waiting for this, who are ready for this and who quite scarily have been tasked with the response. Katherine Stewart is the author of a new book about the rise of the religious right in politics and society. It is called The Power Worshipers Inside the Dangerous Rise of Religious Nationalism. And even though the book went to press before, I think the first cases in Wuhan were even detected, it is exactly about our moment right now. Hello, Catherine. Thanks for joining me.

S10: It’s great to be here. Thanks for having me.

S9: So having read the book, it’s about how our society and the religious right. There is an interplay between them. But since society has been basically reduced down to this one question, how will we fight the Corona virus? That question is extremely relevant to what you’ve been looking at. Because people on the right are powering the response for good and ill. So what’s it been, good or ill?

S10: It’s a complex question. And I think Christian nationalism, which is what we’re dealing with here, is not a religion. Many evangelicals doing very positive things. Many religious people are doing a lot of positive things in this situation with a corona virus. But Christian nationalism is not a religion. It’s a political ideology that cloaks itself in religious rhetoric and it’s a movement that put Trump in power. So there are a number of ways in which the movement bears some responsibility for the current incompetent national response. First and foremost, the movement promotes an anti science culture that rejects the evidence of science, rejects expertise and rejects critical thinking. And that has obviously contributed to our inability collectively to address this crisis in an evidence based fashion. Misinformation is rife in those hyper conservative and highly politicized religious communities that we’re all in for Trump. And remember, this is the piece I wrote about for the Times a few days ago is not about, you know, some people who’ve asserted evangelicals and corona virus. Many evangelicals are doing positive things. This is real about this political movement that cloaks itself in religious rhetoric and and how it’s inhibiting the administration’s response. I think another really important point and it’s becoming incredibly obvious right now is that we have in our society a poorly developed collective infrastructure, and that’s a consequence of decades of right wing economic policy. Remember, its representatives are constantly bashing government, demonizing it. Some are even saying, you know, they call food stamps, unbiblical and things like that. So that really makes it hard to have a really strong, solid collective response.

S9: So before I zoom out, let’s talk about who in the administration is part of this movement. Leading the response is Mike Pence. I would certainly put him as part of the Christian nationalist movement before him, leading the response from the administration with Alex Azar of the United States of the Health and Human Services Department. He’s in it. The director of the CDC, Robert Redfield, is an anti-abortion, pretty much anti pre-marital sex advocate, more than advocate. It’s part of his life’s work. And he does have credentials and is a doctor and has worked to combat AIDS. But he’s done so on a message of chastity and celibacy. Ben Carson, who’s up there, at least during the press conferences, who else we put in this category?

S10: Well, it’s interesting. A lot of the folks who are lending support to this movement may represent what they do, as you know, just coming from a religious standpoint. But we can see it correctly as a form of partisan political agitation. I’m thinking about Alex Azar, who is secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, as is. He’s had a look in January and February. It should have been out there like upscaling hospitals trying to source personal protective equipment and equipment to treat the sick. But, you know, his focus, it seems, and in his department has been to, you know, literally rebranded as Department of the so-called Department of Life. And he also established the dimension of conscious and religious freedom, that its aim is to allow health care providers to deny legal and medically indicated health services to certain patients as a matter of religious conscience. So a lot of the folks who are lending support to this movement might not call themselves Christian nationalists, per say. But what they’re actively doing is working to promote this idea that the foundation of legitimate government in the United States is bound up with. Chinnery understanding with a particular religion and establishing a kind of hierarchy of rights. So if you look at Azar and Carson, they’re both Cabinet sponsors of this organization called Capital Ministries. It’s a Bible study group targeting political leaders at the highest echelons of power. It’s led by a guy named Ralph Stronger, who advocates an incredibly wide range of policy positions, economic policy, foreign policy and domestic policy. And so he uses weekly Bible study in the White House and also weekly Bible studies for members of Congress and House of Representatives. So he’s arguably one of the most or if not the most politically influential pastors in America. His ideology, I would call it incredibly extreme. So, you know, if you look at his Web page, he lists White House Cabinet sponsors. You’ve got Pence, Pompeo, Alexander Acosta, Azar, Brian Stein, Ben Carson, Betsy Dubost, Sonny Perdue.

S11: A dozen current and former members of Trump’s cabinet are on this page. So those are a lot of really powerful people. It’s also important to note that, you know, a lot of people characterize this movement as evangelical, but that’s not right.

S10: The movement includes many evangelicals, but it excludes many evangelicals, too. Let’s remember, there’s a large group of evangelicals who reject the politics of conquest, intuition that this movement represents. An All-Star movement includes representatives of a variety of both Protestant and non Protestant religion.

S11: So what seems to unite the movement is not necessarily any theological ideas, but a kind of common political vision.

S9: I wonder if another way that Christian nationalism affects the composition of our government is that Trump just basically burned bridges with much of the not only the nonpartisan, but even much of the Republican establishment. So there were many people who could serve in these positions who were not loyal to Trump. So he would never tap who themselves took themselves out of the running. You know, we could go through the taxonomy of Republicans and he lost a lot of the Neo-Cons and he lost a lot of the kind of free marketers. And what was left may be the largest strain of people who could serve in these positions were there were very few from Trump world itself. You know, Steve Bannon acolytes or Jason Miller are people who were really tushie everybody involved in Republicanism. The main strain of, quote unquote, qualified people can serve in these positions were exactly from the movement you document. And that’s why the cabinet is so staffed with them. They were the only ones who created a justification. You know, based on the biblical king Cyrus or whatever for Trump being president. And that’s why we’re now being ruled by them.

S11: Yeah, I think we have to remember that Trump is in office precisely because of this movement. He wouldn’t be there if they hadn’t put their efforts behind him and tried to get him elected. Let’s remember, the movement is really I wouldn’t say it’s leaderless, but it’s kind of centralized. It consists of a variety of for profit nonprofit organizations, right wing policy groups, a huge like very well run and and smart data initiatives, legal advocacy organizations. You know, there are a lot of leaders that I’ve been going in for the past 10 years researching my book. All these strategy meetings and gatherings and, you know, road to majority conferences and value voters summit and things like that. A lot of the movement leaders, Trump may not have necessarily been their first choice from the beginning, but he made a deal with them. There was a point actually where he held up a list of judges and he said, I’m going to choose judges from this list. And all of them are pro-life. Now, of course, pro-life, meaning anti-abortion, but also pro-life is a kind of standard for a much broader agenda. And the movement, you know, pro-life, but there were also probably anti-big government anti workers’ rights and that kind of thing. So he signaled to them that this was, you know, where he was going to go. And that combined with his choice of Mike Pence as V.P., these were key moments when the religious right really decided to put all of their force behind him. Their data initiatives. I remember Ralph Reed, who is the head of one of these leading right wing policy groups. And, you know, we also have to remember that a lot of this organization runs through these right wing churches. I mean, leaves the movement and have figured out the pastors drive votes. And so they’ve made this huge effort to draw conservative leaning pastors into these networks and then communicate to them the issues that they need to communicate to their congregations in order to get out the vote. For the hyper conservative political candidates that the movement favors.

S12: So the cabinet’s sponsors, the cabinet sponsors these members of the cabinet who are listed as cabinet sponsors of capital ministries. Beyond what you’ve documented, their motivations to be the methods that Christian nationalists use, how they’re both used and used by the Christian nationalist movements. In what ways specifically are their predilections having an impact, do you think, on how where fighting this virus from a federal government level?

S10: Well, let’s just look at the theology or supposed theology. It’s really kind of a political theory behind what drawing there is teaching. He promotes the idea that social welfare programs have no basis in scripture. He was against progressive income taxes. He doesn’t think that government should be in charge of providing direct aid to the poor. For instance, he’s completely allied again with that sort of pro libertarian, hyper conservative economic wing of the Republican Party. He believes that God believes in deregulation and labors in the workforce. So I’ll submit to their bosses.

S9: And the Ten Commandments would maybe be a stand in contrast to that belief. But OK.

S10: And you’re right. It actually is the opposite interpretation of the Christian religion that perhaps most American Christians understand it. But this is a one of the reasons for the fact that they promote this idea that all the solutions should come from the private sector. And that’s really hard when you need a public health response to a pandemic. And ordinarily, the consequences of this type of ideology don’t sort of reveal themselves for some time. You see the consequences a bit down the road.

S11: But in the case of a global pandemic that’s killing people, unfortunately, consequences are too stark to ignore.

S9: While it’s true that that Donald Trump needed this Cordray to be elected, he had a broad coalition and some of them were either racist store racist apologists. How does religious nationalism intersect with racism?

S10: I mean, I think that’s a really great question. Thanks for asking.

S11: The Christian Nationalist Movement is often criticized as a white movement. And I think for a lot of the people in the white people, the rank and file, it is an implicitly white movement. It’s for them a part of a vision that involves recovering a nation that was once supposedly Christian and white. So it’s a form of identity politics and that it ties the idea of America to a specific religious and cultural identities. But, you know, leaders of the movement understand that the electoral future of the movement isn’t ethnically homogenous. And in recent years, they really have made an effort to include some conservative Latino and black pastors and other figures. But, you know, there is an irony here that the they are being enlisted to fight the culture wars that drive support for a political party that’s made race-based voter suppression and gerrymandering a strategic imperative. And I also think that movement leaders tend to paper over the ways in which hyper conservative religion and racism can reinforce one another. The movement promotes this idea, sort of insider or outsider, pure and impure. And in the past, this kind of dynamic has been used to cast people of color as impure and not the so-called true Americans. The movement now seems to have kind of shifted some of those lines and now they’re blaming since quote unquote, secularists were out there ransacking everything that’s holy and good and people who are sort of Democrats for short. One of the reasons that Trump won is that he does also appeal to the racism of some some number of his followers.

S9: Catherine Stewart is the author of The Power Worshippers Inside the Dangerous Rise of Religious Nationalism. Also, check out her New York Times op ed a few days ago. The religious right’s hostility to science is crippling our corona virus response. Thank you so much, Catherine. Thanks so much for having me.

S5: And now the spiel we’ve been told to be nicer than usual in these times, to forgive others, to give people a break. So does that apply to this nice lady who, like the rest of us, is just trying to get through a pandemic?

S13: I’ve had some great conversations today and those personal touches where you hear someone’s dog in the background barking or their kid runs into the room. I think these are great moments that remind us we’re all humans in this together, working hard to keep each other safe, strong and healthy.

S5: Well, the speaker has also sold millions of dollars worth of stock in the days before the public as a whole realized the depths of our travails. She is Georgia Senator Kelly Loffler and along with Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr, she was briefed by CDC experts in late January and by February or in Lawler’s case, right after the briefing.

S1: They were all sell, sell, sell while adopting a public stance of we’re handling this well, well, well. So maybe some ire, some outrage, some real anger is warranted.

S8: And, you know, maybe it is. But there’s also a mob mentality to the criticism. And as much as it pains me to say, I really do not think that anger at Loffler and Burr for insider trading has been totally fair. Yes, I know you’re gonna hate me for saying so, but we do need villains in these times. And these two have not helped us as public servants haven’t actually served the public and they have helped themselves to some extent. So you add it all up and you get what seems like the case of senators trading on information the public didn’t have while downplaying the situation publicly seems clear cut, right? Seems unethical, right. But I think having examined both parts, both clauses of the sentence of senators trading on insider information the public didn’t have in downplaying the situation publicly. I think there’s mitigating circumstances. OK. Richard Burr, according to David Lee and heart of The New York Times, quote, went so far as to co-write an article for bragging about the country’s readiness. Vanity Fair describes that op ed this way. Senate Intelligence Chairman Richard Burr, for instance, wrote in a Fox News op ed February 7th with Senator Lamar Alexander that Americans shouldn’t worry about the Corona virus because thanks to the Senator Trump administration, the United States today is better prepared than ever before.

S1: OK, well, that part, the United States being prepared better than ever before. That sentence was in the op ed. But here’s the first sentence of it.

S8: Americans are rightfully concerned about the Corona virus. There are 12 confirmed cases of this new infectious disease in the United States and the ability of the virus to rapidly spread in China, where it has infected more than 24000, 300 people and left four hundred ninety one dead is alarming. All right. The op ed written by Burr, the author of the Pandemic All Hazards Preparedness Act, praised as luck would have it, the value of the pandemic All Hazards Preparedness Act in Fighting Corona. This article, published on March 7th, pretty much offered the kind of vague reassurances that were echoed throughout all levels of government, including the CDC, which inform the public what it was trying to do to fight the alarming pandemic. To Governor Cuomo, who emphasized the importance of not panicking, stating that the panic could be worse than the virus. And yes, it’s true. Got a private but we should say not classified briefing on January 24th. And weeks later, in fact, three weeks later, he did sell off most of his portfolio. But by that time, there was so much coverage of the dangers of the pandemic. Bertholt, his stock. February 13th. Here’s what was on CNBC that day.

S14: One district in Hubei Province, where there are more than 500 confirmed cases, has started war time. Population control measures. That means all buildings are closed. Everyone must stay in their homes. Neighborhood associations will buy food and medicine for the residents.

S8: Also aired on CNBC the same day.

S15: Security at my apartment building or wearing hazmat suits. Now I have to get my temperature checked, register a government I.D. so my building security pass and my house key to the officers. And that’s just to get into my own.

S16: Eunice Yoon, CNBC Business News, Beijing.

S8: You can see how a person like Brrrr who was concerned about the virus might have come to the conclusion that now is the time to sell. And perhaps she was concerned in part by the CDC briefing, the non-classified briefing. But he was also monitoring all the information and made a decision that a lot of other people made around that time. LOFFLER on the other hand, she sold the day of the briefing. So that’s a little more directly in line with trading on information that only a government official could get. But we should note that she’s the wealthiest member of the Senate. She’s worth more than half a billion dollars. And she had corona concerns. They turned out to be well-founded ones. And the value of her sales were eight hundred forty five thousand dollars worth of stock that was sold and five hundred ninety thousand worth of stock that was bought. She also had a huge eighteen point one million dollar deal, but that was part of the exchange that her husband is part of just cashing out as a matter of course. She says she doesn’t oversee her investments directly at all. And those numbers, though, huge for regular people, just a small value of her worth. One of the purchases, Dupont prompted the group crew, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington to note, quote, The husband of Georgia, Senator Kelly Loffler, recently acquired as much as $450000 in stock in Dupont, a chemical company that manufactures protective equipment in exceedingly high demand because of the coronavirus, huh? Only they didn’t know that since the time of levelers purchase, Dupont stock has declined 25 percent. It’s done worse, actually, than the S&P in general. All of the stock she acquired perhaps to take advantage of the business opportunities brought on by the outbreak has declined with the exception of Citrix. And Sitrick says gains did not make up for the net decline of four purchases. It’s true, all the stock that she sold also went down. She and bearse certainly seem to have avoided some losses, but so did every other investor who is watching news out of Ruwan, who did some research and decided it was time to get out. If we allow senators to own individual stock in their name with their knowledge guiding the purchase or sale of such stock, how can we prevent them from acting on opinions that are formed in their professional capacity? We want them to learn as much as they can. We want them to be informed. And if that information gives them some suspicion about the general direction of the economy and and we allow them to own stock, we can’t prevent them from trading on information that was in part, but not in total gleaned from a non classified briefing.

S1: There is an act in the Senate that is called the Stock Act.

S8: It bars a sitting member of Congress from trading on insider information that they got from being a member of Congress. But if the information is augmented with reams of coverage that every other investor has access to, it seems impossible to say that the elected official traded just on the information, not only impossible to prove. That’s just not how the mind works. I am firmly convinced that Richard Burr was walking around concerned, perhaps in large part due to due to a CDC briefing, but also greatly informed by the scads of information that were freely available to everyone. And as far as Kelly Loffler, I mean, she might have just traded on the CDC briefing, but she says and it’s hard to prove otherwise that she’d do any trading.

S1: It was her broker who traded for her. There are three levels of unethical behavior to loffler and burs decisions. One, they abuse their position to benefit themselves financially. Again, I find this impossible to prove. It’s unlikely that this was the only consideration in their decision. It’s unlikely that this was largely what influenced to take stock positions, too. We could say loffler and birx trading stock at all was an unethical act and I firmly believe it is. I do not think members of Congress should be able to own individual stock. There should be mandatory blind trusts. But if the institution allows for owning and trading specific stock of specific company, that of course you’re going to in some way regulate and they define that is not unethical. I don’t know that we can either. Now, here’s the third thing. Loffler and Birx didn’t do enough to warn the public of the real threat. This, of course, is their biggest failing. In fact, if bearse sold his stock and said, I’m selling my stock people and you should sell yours, he’d be no last, quote unquote guilty of this crime or the Stock Act violation they’re investigating him for. But but he’d probably be a bit of a hero, wouldn’t he? And not charged with acting on ethically. Still, Byrd didn’t go out of his way to downplay the threat in a manner that was inconsistent with pretty much the rest of official doom. And Loffler never said Corona was a hoax, as some of her critics are alleging, they were just garden variety Trump supporting Republicans who didn’t want to contradict the president. Lots and lots of officials are in that category. Few, I think none alerted the media. Pay attention to this. These are just the two who not only failed to call the press, but remember to call their brokers.

S17: And that’s it for today’s show. So a lobby just associate producer decided to pump all her money into shares of big yeast when she first began to understand the contours of this crisis. Nobody does. The sheikh like Daniel Schrader, just producer. And nobody does the boogaloo like he do the gist.

S18: And now debuting in his position of just ombudsman, Imagineer, director of outreach and chancellor of the Exchequer, he wasn’t otherwise busy. Jared Kushner, Jared said, Oh, he just got shy. Once more. People were desperate to Peru. And thanks for listening.