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The Moral Bankruptcy of Republicans and Evangelicals

C. Gourgey, Ph.D.


There were two men in a certain city, the one rich and the other poor. The rich man had very many flocks and herds; but the poor man had nothing but one little ewe lamb, which he had bought. He brought it up, and it grew up with him and with his children; it used to eat of his meager fare, and drink from his cup, and lie in his bosom, and it was like a daughter to him. Now there came a traveler to the rich man, and he was loath to take one of his own flock or herd to prepare for the wayfarer who had come to him, but he took the poor man’s lamb, and prepared that for the guest who had come to him.
2 Samuel 12:1-4

Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.
Matthew 19:24

The two scrapping Senators were putting on quite a show.

Sherrod Brown (D Ohio): When the Republicans are in power, the first thing they want to do is give tax cuts to the rich. That’s just what’s - it’s in their DNA.

Orrin Hatch (R Utah): I’ve been here working my whole stinking career for people who don’t have a chance. And I really resent anybody saying that I’m just doing this for the rich. Give me a break! I think you guys overplay that all the time and it gets old. And frankly you ought to quit it.

Brown: Mr. Chairman, the public believes it.

Hatch: I’m not through. I get kind of sick and tired of it. What you said was not right! That’s all I’m saying. Now I come from the lower middle class originally. We didn’t have anything. So don’t spew that stuff on me! I get a little tired of that crap!Ö I like you personally very much. But I’m telling you this bullcrap that you guys throw out here really gets old after a while.(1)

The closer the shot, the louder the scream.

So where’s the bullcrap?

Let’s look at the Senate tax proposal that Orrin Hatch so passionately and self-righteously defends.

The wealthiest Americans will garner a windfall. People of the middle class will save very modestly or not at all, and in many cases their taxes will rise.(2) The modest tax breaks for the middle class, such as they are, will be phased out in a few years, while the huge corporate tax decreases will permanently remain. Thus over the course of time all middle class taxpayers can expect to be paying more.

People who live in high-tax states - which means states that provide more services to people with limited means, and so tend to be blue states - will be hit very hard by the elimination of the deduction for state and local taxes. This is not coincidental. It is the use of state power to retaliate against those who did not vote Republican. Attorney General Jeff Sessions (no doubt at the behest of his boss) is actually looking into possibly prosecuting Hillary Clinton and making “Lock her up!” a reality.(3) The United States once had a tradition of trying to unite the country after a hard-fought election. Now it uses the apparatus of government to punish the opposition. We used to condemn regimes that acted that way. Whatever happened to “American Exceptionalism”?

The wealthy also benefit from a doubling of the estate tax exemption. Meanwhile, the Joint Committee on Taxation has projected that these tax giveaways will add $1.5 trillion to the deficit over the next ten years.(4) So much for “fiscal responsibility.”

Who pays for this debt created to benefit the rich? Someone will have to. The country can only sustain a deficit so large for so long.

There are two likely sources, both of whom will suffer:

1. Future generations: Our grandchildren will be left with the bill this generation is running up. But why should that surprise anyone? We’re doing the same thing with the environment. The United States is the only country in the world not to subscribe to the Paris agreement on climate change.(5) A short-term benefit for those living now comes at the expense of environmental disaster for those who will follow us. In fact, it’s already happening. The recent unprecedented frequency of devastating hurricanes should be a warning sign - but our national leader would prefer to throw paper towel rolls at Puerto Ricans as if those people were trained seals. I guess that’s his way of showing that he’s doing something about it.

This is what Republicanism has come to stand for: Grab what I can for me now and let the future fend for itself.

2. The poor and the sick: Unable to repeal Obamacare outright, Senate Republicans are now trying to kill it quietly. The Senate tax plan (or Health Care Deprivation Bill, which is what it really is) will repeal the individual mandate to purchase health insurance, a key provision of the Affordable Care Act. As a result, premiums will soar. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that by 2027, 13 million people will lose their health insurance if this bill passes. All so that rich people can become even richer.(6)

Republicans discovered that killing the ACA and gutting Medicaid right up front was too transparent. But adding $1.5 trillion to the deficit with a reckless tax reduction plan will give them the perfect excuse. The deficit must be contained, and the only way left will be to cut Social Security, Medicaid, and even Medicare. Some Republicans are already talking about this.(7) They will suddenly rediscover their fiscal responsibility and use the deficit that their tax plan will increase to justify taking from poor people the little they still have.

And how religious so many of them are! But their Bible apparently doesn’t contain the story of David and Bathsheba (2 Samuel 12) - or at least they never read it. More likely this is the one verse they know and love: “For to those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away” (Matthew 13:12, 25:29).

Republicans are playing politics with people’s lives - there is no other way to put it. The Affordable Care Act actually worked until Republicans turned its demise into a self-fulfilling prophecy. Trump predicted that Obamacare would “implode,” and Republicans have been doing all they can to make that happen. First there was the elimination of cost-sharing reduction payments. Now the individual mandate. One consumer put it this way: “I believe in the Affordable Care Act; it worked for me under the Obama administration. But it’s not working as it was supposed to. It’s being sabotaged, and I feel like a pawn.”(8)

Republican leaders promised health care “reform,” then tried to take people’s health care away and smiled at the cameras while they did it. Now they are doing the same with tax “reform.” And with the same smooth talk and slick smiles.

Taking away people’s health care is not “reform.” And making taxes more regressive is not “reform.” So if not actual reform, what is the real agenda?

The Real Republican Agenda

Of course the stated agenda is that giving rich people more money will induce them to create more jobs, if not from the goodness of their hearts then at least from enlightened self-interest. The popular terms for this theory are “Supply Side” or “Trickle Down” economics. A more apt description, coined by no less prominent a Republican than George H.W. Bush, is “Voodoo Economics.” He knew what he was talking about. That economic theory has long been discredited, yet still persists almost as a religion in Republican ranks.

On November 14 an uncomfortable truth popped out of hiding. Many top business executives gathered at the Wall Street Journal CEO Conference, “Where Ambition and Exclusivity Meet.” It happened when Gary Cohn, Trump’s chief economic advisor and staunch supply side advocate, was speaking. A Journal editor asked the assembled business leaders how many planned to increase their capital expenditure if the Republican tax bill passed. Only a few hands went up.(9)

Does this surprise anyone? It’s not as if we’ve never seen this play before.

”Trickling the benefits down” plays well in the media, putting a benign face on a predatory policy, but reality does not support it. So, what could be the real motivation behind the desperate push to transfer resources from the lower to the higher? To promise more health coverage while taking it away from people? To promise lower taxes for the non-wealthy while actually raising their taxes over the course of a few years? To lock in income inequality so as to make it irreversible?

The question virtually answers itself. The only plausible motive is power.

Will those who benefit most from the Republican tax giveaway to the upper class really suffer hardship if they don’t get this extra cash? Money as material benefit is relatively unimportant in politics. What really matters is money as a symbol of power. The more wealth concentrated at the top levels of society, the more powerful they are. And if it comes at the expense of harming the welfare of those below them, it means even more power. Thus to ask whether the people pushing this have a conscience is both necessary and naïve.

There is a word for the kind of society we are moving towards:

Plutocracy.

Notice how the conversation on health care has shifted. During the campaign and shortly after, Trump promised to repeal Obamacare and replace it with “something wonderful,” which would provide all the benefits of Obamacare with none of the drawbacks. Then the emphasis shifted to repeal now and replace later, while gutting Medicaid as well. When that proved unpopular, the Republican response was not to search for a more satisfying solution but to find ways to sabotage Obamacare covertly. First came repeated predictions that Obamacare would “implode,” a self-fulfilling attempt to create uncertainty in the market that would raise premiums and put health insurance out of the reach of many. Then came the attack on cost-sharing reduction payments, raising premiums even more. Now the proposed repeal of the individual mandate, which would inevitably result in throwing millions off the health care rolls - thus doing what the original health “care” bill tried to do, but more sneakily.

And the threat to Medicaid, health care for the poor, is still very real.

Conclusion: The Republicans were never about serving the people. They never had a plan to improve on Obamacare. From the beginning, the agenda was to kill the law simply because it has Obama’s name on it (the principles of Obamacare actually originated with Republican ideas about a market-based solution, but once tagged with Obama’s name it turned all of a sudden into creeping socialism). It has become increasingly evident that the health care of millions of people is actually a token in a huge power game. Shoot it down, and guess who becomes more powerful?

This is what we are moving towards. Pushing income inequality to the max not only gives rich people more toys to play with, it gives them power. Attacking educational subsidies and deductions for student loan debt undermines the best means of class mobility we have: education. Eliminating the estate tax also ensures that powerful dynasties will continue. Class mobility in this country is more limited now than it has ever been, yet conservatives still succeed in blaming the poor for their poverty. “The object of power is power.”

The absurd equation of money with speech (as in the Citizens United decision and the suppression of campaign finance reform) is another way of reserving power for the wealthy. That may be Benjamin Franklin on that $100 bill, but when was the last time you heard him speak? Money is not analogous to speech; it is more like a megaphone. Money does not empower anyone to say things they could not say without money. It just enables them to say it louder, drowning out other, less affluent voices.

Wealthy Republican donors are in fact driving tax policy decisions. “The most excited group out there are big CEOs, about our tax plan” said Gary Cohn. “My donors are basically saying, ‘Get it done or don’t ever call me again’” said Republican Congressman Chris Collins of New York. Republican Senator Lindsey Graham (SC) admitted to reporters that if Congress fails to pass this tax plan, “the financial contributions will stop.”(10)

These donors are not stupid and must certainly know the effects their plan will have on vital services for the poor and middle class as well as on class mobility. Therefore at least one of these two things (not mutually exclusive) must be behind it: psychopathic greed, or strategic calculation.

Either way the result is plutocracy.

Religious Complicity: Evangelicalism

While the movement does have its dissenters, Evangelical Christianity as a whole has made an alliance with the Trump Administration. And once again, this alliance has more to do with power than with true religion or spirituality or with anything having to do with Jesus Christ.

A case in point is Alabama Senatorial candidate Roy Moore, who is facing serious sexual assault accusations. Evangelical leaders have rallied to his support. Some even say they would support him whether or not the charges against him are true, and some have resorted to demeaning and insulting the women who came forward.(11)(12) (13)

This is not an exceptional case. Polls show that 80% of white evangelicals cast their votes for Trump.(14) It also seems the more devout, the more committed to Trump and what he stands for: support for Trump is highest among regular churchgoers.(15) What issues unite these faith-based voters?

- Opposition to abortion.

- Opposition to gay rights.

- Opposition to transgender rights.

- Opposition to the Johnson Amendment (which prohibits non-profits from endorsing political candidates).

- Opposition to birth control.

- Opposition to the separation of church and state.

- “Religious freedom.” Which means making the United States a “Christian nation” in spite of the presence of non-Christians.

It is an agenda based on resentment.

The notion that white Evangelical Christians in the United States lack religious freedom is absurd enough to qualify as lunacy. Evangelical Christianity is the dominant religion in this country, as well as a potent political force. What it now advocates is the ability to assert that power more aggressively: to deny women access to abortion and even to birth control, to bring prayer back into the public arena, to discriminate against gays; in short, to impose its religious values on others.

Let us debunk the Evangelical claim of “pro-life” once and for all.

You cannot call yourself “pro-life” if you support a regime that stands for the virtually unrestricted availability of firearms. You cannot call yourself “pro-life” if even after the rash of mass murders we have witnessed, and especially the wholesale massacre of children in Sandy Hook, you support doing nothing to curb gun proliferation. You cannot call yourself “pro-life” if you do not oppose the legality of military-grade semiautomatic weapons that no legitimate gun owner would ever need.

Firearm Homicides by Country
Reprinted in The Christian Century
11/8/2017

The usual argument that only a “good guy with a gun” can stop a “bad guy with a gun” is dishonest, disingenuous, and stupid. How often has that ever happened? Was the Old West a safer environment we should aspire to restore? The “good guys with guns” are a huge part of the problem. They are part of the supply chain. Every year the “bad guys” steal hundreds of thousands of guns from the “good guys with guns.” Over the past decade more than two million guns were stolen. Many of those guns turn up at crime scenes.(16) America has more “good guys with guns” than any other nation on earth. It also has more mass shootings and gun deaths. That is hardly coincidental.

You cannot call yourself “pro-life” if you support policies that take health care away from struggling families with young children just to enrich the wealthy. You cannot call yourself “pro-life” if you support tearing families apart because either the parents or the children don’t have documents. You cannot call yourself “pro-life” if you support deporting people who came to the US as children, some before they could even talk, and sending them to highly unstable countries where they cannot fit in, will be seen as outsiders, and their lives placed in danger. And yet people who support such policies still unashamedly proclaim their “family values.”

Here is how “family values” work for Republicans: This fall the Republican Congress failed to renew the Children’s Health Insurance (CHIP) Program. This program provided health insurance for children in poor families who do not qualify for Medicaid. Now nine million children stand to lose their health-care coverage. Enabling such policies while beating one’s chest about fetal rights is a signal achievement in hypocrisy.

One can therefore certainly be forgiven for having the impression that the “pro-life” movement, with its increasing attacks not only on abortion but on birth control, is not as concerned with the lives of real people as much as controlling how and when women have sex.

Would Jesus, whom these people claim to worship, have stood for any of this? Jesus preached against xenophobia (Luke 10:25-37). He condemned the abuse of the poor. “Go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven” he told a seeker who asked about eternal life (Mark 10:21). Today’s Republicans would derisively call that a “redistribution of income.”

Rejecting Jesus’s inclusivism, today’s Evangelicals have allied themselves with a regime that draws power from racial and ethnic stereotyping and pitting groups of people against each other. Anyone who has ever watched The Apprentice would know this about Trump. Every week he would push the contestants to attack each other, to prove their worth by singling out and neutralizing an enemy. Contestants with a more cooperative spirit who refused to betray their colleagues were penalized. Trump would fire people for not being aggressive enough. Set people against each other. Pound your opponent into the ground. That is the only way he knows how to win.

Now Trump does this on a national scale. He appeals to white voters by questioning Obama’s legitimacy as an American and promising to undo everything Obama did as President. He calls black neighborhoods “war zones.” He calls all Central Americans “Mexicans” and calls Mexicans rapists and murderers. “And some, I assume, are good people” - just enough of a hedge for him and his supporters to disavow the obvious racism. He puts neo-Nazis in Charlottesville in the same category as the people who protested against them. He shows great sympathy for hurricane victims in Texas and Florida but practically blames Puerto Ricans for the complete devastation of their island - for everyone knows, thinks he, that Latinos are too lazy to pick up after themselves. And he shows very deep contempt for women.

These are not just offhand comments or tweets. They constitute a pattern. And its purpose is a calculated play for power. Trump is concerned primarily about his own power, over and above the welfare of his country. His wealthy backers are concerned primarily about their own power, over and above the needs of those whose lives they would impoverish to maintain their status. And his Evangelical admirers are more concerned about their own power to enforce their values and reform this country as a “Christian nation” than about practicing the love Christ actually taught.

As long as we must put up with this, let us call it what it is.

Notes:

(1) CBS News, “Shouting Match Erupts In Senate Over Gop Tax Plan,” November 17, 2017.

(2) Matthew Yglesias, “Senate Republicansí Tax Plan Raises Taxes on Families Earning Less Than $75,000 ,” Vox.com, November 16, 2017.

(3) Peter Baker, “‘Lock Her Up’ Becomes More Than a Slogan ,” New York Times, November 14, 2017.

(4) Dylan Matthews, “The Senate Republican Tax Plan, Explained ,” Vox.com, November 9, 2017.

(5) Brady Dennis, “As Syria embraces Paris climate deal, itís the United States against the world ,” Washington Post, November 7, 2017.

(6) Aimee Picchi, “Who Would Gain with the Senate Tax Bill?,” CBS Moneywatch, November 16, 2017.

(7) Allen Rappeport, “Republicans May Target Entitlement Programs to Reduce Deficit,” New York Times, November 15, 2017.

(8) Robert Pear, “Middle-Class Families Confront Soaring Health Insurance Costs,” New York Times, November 16, 2017.

(9) Donna Borak, “CEOs Aren't So Sure They'll Invest Their Offshore Cash in the US. ,” CNN November 15, 2017.

(10) Paul Blumenthal, “Republicans Admit That CEOs and Donors Really Need the Tax Cut Bill to Pass - Or Else,” Huffington Post November 9, 2017.

(11) Astead W. Herndon, “Why Evangelicals Are Again Backing a Republican Despite Allegations of Sexual Misconduct ,” Boston Globe November 20, 2017.

(12) Ian Lovett, “Roy Moore Relying on Evangelical Christians to Keep Campaign Afloat ,” Wall Street Journal November 19, 2017.

(13) Brennan Weiss, “Alabama Pastor on Roy Moore Allegations: ‘There Are Some 14-Year-Olds’ Who ‘Could Pass for 20’ ,” Business Insider November 20, 2017.

(14) Sarah Pulliam Bailey, “White Evangelicals Voted Overwhelmingly For Donald Trump, Exit Polls Show,” Washington Post November 9, 2017.

(15) Gregory A. Smith, “Among White Evangelicals, Regular Churchgoers Are The Most Supportive Of Trump,” Washington Post April 26, 2017.

(16) Brennan Weiss, “Criminals Steal More Than 237,000 Guns From Legal American Gun Owners Every Year ,” Business Insider November 20, 2017.

November 2017