Saturday, September 30, 2023

Musings on the Manifest Destiny of America's Dysfunctional Democracy

By Rudy Barnes, Jr., September 30, 2023

America’s manifest destiny has been reshaped by a dysfunctional democracy that’s no longer globally dominant. It's facing a government shutdown, an unprecedented flood of illegal immigrants, a national debt of over $33 Trillion, and a president supporting a UAW strike for 40% higher wages for autoworkers that could cripple an already over-stressed economy.

America has maintained economic dominance in the world with its all-powerful dollar.  Only America can print dollars, and there is a powerful bond market to support America’s massive national debt.  That could change if the largest bond holders risk the value of their bonds to challenge the stability of the dollar by supporting an alternative world currency.

After America thought the West had won the Cold War and the War on Terror, Russia’s  unprovoked aggression in Ukraine and Chinese threats to reclaim Taiwan once again threaten nuclear conflict, while polarized partisan politics have caused a government shutdown in America.  Ironically, the rationale for Russia and China’s aggressive policies is their own version of manifest destiny.

Both America and Russia claim to be Christian democracies, but Christian morality has failed to provide global standards of military legitimacy, leaving a global moral vacuum.  America ignored standards of military legitimacy In Vietnam and Iraq, and the Russian Orthodox Church has ignored those lessons of legitimacy by endorsing Putin’s nationalist aggression in Ukraine.

The Law of War may not be a practical deterrent for violence since it requires arresting and trying a popular national leader.  While there is ample evidence that Putin has targeted civilian property and caused civilian casualties, he seems to have public support for his aggression in Ukraine, so the Law of War has not been a deterrent for his atrocities. 

American foreign policy has long supported both democracy and the rule of law, but they can be in conflict when leaders in a democracy are not held accountable for egregious violations of the Law of War, as in Hitler’s Germany and Putin’s Russia.  War crimes that go unpunished In a democracy are an indictment of the people as well as their leaders. 

A democracy is only as legitimate as its people make it.  The Russian people have failed to hold Putin accountable for his egregious violations of the Law of War.  America and NATO must continue to defend democracy in Ukraine and hold Putin accountable for his atrocities. Next Spring Russian elections will allow the Russian people to make their own regime change.      

America can no longer dominate the world, but it can make the world safer by promoting democracy and the rule of law based on humanitarian standards of political legitimacy.  Democracy makes people the masters of their own political destiny, but America has corrupted democratic ideals with its misplaced use of force, materialism and hedonism.  America’s manifest destiny in the future should promote democracy and political legitimacy with human rights and the Law of War.



America’s manifest destiny promoted American dominance.  It evolved in the 19th century, beginning with Jefferson’s Louisiana purchase in 1803, and then expanded Westward.

“Manifest destiny was a cultural belief in the 19th-century United States that American settlers were destined to expand across North America.[3][4][5]

There were three basic tenets to the concept:[6][7]

  • The special virtues of the American people and their institutions

  • The mission of the United States to redeem and remake the West in the image of the agrarian East

  • An irresistible destiny to accomplish this essential duty

Historians have emphasized that "manifest destiny" was always contested. Many endorsed the idea, but the large majority of Whigs and many prominent Americans (such as Abraham Lincoln and Ulysses S. Grant) rejected the concept. The term was used by the then-Democrats in the 1840s to justify the Mexican–American War, and it was also used to negotiate the Oregon boundary dispute. Historian Frederick Merk says manifest destiny always limped along because of its internal limitations and the issue of slavery, and never became a national priority of the United States.[3] By 1843, former U.S. President John Quincy Adams, originally a major supporter of the concept underlying manifest destiny, had changed his mind and repudiated expansionism because it meant the expansion of slavery in Texas.[3]

Newspaper editor John O'Sullivan is generally credited with coining the term manifest destiny in 1845 to describe the essence of this mindset;[12] other historians believe the unsigned editorial titled "Annexation" in which it first appeared was written by journalist and annexation advocate Jane Cazneau.”[13][14”]

Manifest destiny was always a general idea rather than a specific policy made with a motto. Ill-defined but keenly felt, manifest destiny was an expression of conviction in the morality and value of expansionism that complemented other popular ideas of the era, including American exceptionalism and Romantic nationalism. Andrew Jackson, who spoke of "extending the area of freedom", typified the conflation of America's potential greatness, the nation's budding sense of Romantic self-identity, and its expansion.[15][16]  Yet Jackson would not be the only president to elaborate on the principles underlying manifest destiny. Owing in part to the lack of a definitive narrative outlining its rationale, proponents offered divergent or seemingly conflicting viewpoints. While many writers focused primarily upon American expansionism, be it into Mexico or across the Pacific, others saw the term as a call to example. Without an agreed-upon interpretation, much less an elaborated political philosophy, these conflicting views of America's destiny were never resolved. This variety of possible meanings was summed up by Ernest Lee Tuveson: "A vast complex of ideas, policies, and actions is comprehended under the phrase 'Manifest Destiny'. They are not, as we should expect, all compatible, nor do they come from any one source."[17]

On January 3, 1846, Representative Robert Winthrop was the first in a long line of critics who suggested that advocates of manifest destiny were citing "Divine Providence" for justification of actions that were motivated by chauvinism and self-interest. Despite this criticism, expansionists embraced the phrase, which caught on so quickly that its origin was soon inspired by the original European colonization of the Americas, and it excuses U.S. violence against Indigenous Nations.[32]

Another possible influence is racial predominance, the idea that the American Anglo-Saxon race was "separate, innately superior" and "destined to bring good government, commercial prosperity and Christianity to the American continents and the world". Author Reginald Horsman wrote in 1981, this view also held that "inferior races were doomed to subordinate status or extinction." and that this was used to justify "the enslavement of the blacks and the expulsion and possible extermination of the Indians".[31 

For further information on manifest destiny in US history, see

Today Russia seems to have a sense of manifest destiny similar to that of America: It’s Russia World rather than America First.  “Patriarch Kirill of Moscow, leader of the Russian Orthodox Church has described the war in Ukraine as nothing less than an apocalyptic struggle between good and evil. Its outcome, he said, will determine ‘where humanity will end up, on which side of God the Savior.’” Russian World (Russky mir) is the doctrine of the Russian Orthodox Church and the moral foundation of Putin’s unprovoked war in Ukraine that is targeting civilians. 

“Inside Russia, Russkiy mir has found deep religious resonance, especially in the military. According to Dmitry Adamsky, an expert on the Russian military and professor at Reichman University in Israel, Orthodox clergy build troop morale and encourage patriotism. Russia’s official National Security Strategy, approved by Mr. Putin last year, devotes several pages to ‘the defense of traditional Russian spiritual-moral values, culture and historical memory.’ According to a study for NATO Defense College by Julian Cooper, a British scholar, the values in question are a mostly generic list including life, dignity, patriotism and strong families, but they are framed in contrast to those of the West, which encroach on Russia’s ‘cultural sovereignty….’“In a speech last fall, Mr. Putin deplored what he identified as prevalent cultural trends in Western Europe and the U.S., including transgenderism and ‘cancel culture.’ ‘We have a different viewpoint,’ Mr. Putin said. ‘We believe that we must rely on our own spiritual values, our historical tradition and the culture of our multiethnic nation.’ “A Moscow think tank headed by Patriarch Kirill, makes the connection explicit: ‘If the actions of our president to recognize [separatist regions in the Donbas] relate to the political, military sovereignty of Russia—that is, we are trying to stop the advancement of NATO, missiles on our borders—then the moral problems associated with the protection of traditional values are aligned, and they are no less important than political and military aspects.’”  See; cited in Musings on Civil Religion, Christian Nationalism, and Cancel Culture at

Robert Gates has described America as a dysfunctional superpower, and asked Can a divided America deter China and Russia?  “The United States now confronts graver threats to its security than it has in decades, perhaps ever. Never before has it faced four allied antagonists at the same time—Russia, China, North Korea, and Iran—whose collective nuclear arsenal could within a few years be nearly double the size of its own. Not since the Korean War has the United States had to contend with powerful military rivals in both Europe and Asia. And no one alive can remember a time when an adversary had as much economic, scientific, technological, and military power as China does today.

The problem, however, is that at the very moment that events demand a strong and coherent response from the United States, the country cannot provide one. Its fractured political leadership—Republican and Democratic, in the White House and in Congress—has failed to convince enough Americans that developments in China and Russia matter. Political leaders have failed to explain how the threats posed by these countries are interconnected. They have failed to articulate a long-term strategy to ensure that the United States, and democratic values more broadly, will prevail.”

Gates has accurately described the threat to America and what needs to be done to meet the threat, but given its divisive dysfunction, I doubt that America can restore its global dominance without a consensus that defies its polarized politics--and that seems wishful thinking.  See

Saturday, September 23, 2023

Musings of a Maverick Methodist on Christian Nationalism

By Rudy Barnes, Jr., September 23, 2023

Most of the Founding Fathers of America were deists who believed in God, but not traditional Christians.  None asserted that Jesus Christ was their personal savior, but they considered the altruistic teachings of Jesus as inspired by God.  They detested the Anglican Church as an extension of an oppressive power, and rejected its 39 articles of faith.

At the nation’s birth most Americans were Christians who believed in Jesus Christ as their personal savior; and little has changed since then.  Most Christians continue to profess faith in the ancient Apostles’ Creed with church doctrines never taught by Jesus.  The Gospels portray Jesus as a maverick rabbi who called his disciples to follow him, not to worship him.

In both America and Russia a moral vacuum in Christianity has allowed charlatans and demagogues to hijack churches to promote unprincipled politics.  Trump’s America First policies and Putin’s aggression in Ukraine to restore the ancient Empire of Peter the Great are examples of policies that conflict with the teachings of Jesus but have been supported by many churches.

No nation, no matter how religious, can credibly claim to be a Christian nation.  In 2016 a majority of white “Christians” elected Donald Trump as their political messiah and President, despite his narcissism and egregious immorality.  And in Russia the Russian Orthodox Church supports Putin’s unprovoked aggression in Ukraine to restore the ancient Russian Empire.

The dilemma for people and nations that profess to be Christian and support policies that promote national prosperity and power is that those priorities conflict with the teachings of Jesus.  The altruistic teachings of Jesus are summarized in the greatest commandment to love God and our neighbors, including those we would rather ignore, as we love ourselves.

America is a materialistic and hedonistic nation that has long asserted its exceptionalism and unabashed nationalism.  American values came close to the altruistic values taught by Jesus during the Depression, but in good economic times they have more closely resembled those of Ayn Rand and the Prosperity Gospel than those taught by Jesus.

Politics and Wall Street illustrate that in America selfish values prevail over the altruistic teachings of Jesus.  That’s just human nature.  As long as  popularity is the measure of success in politics and for the church, it's unlikely that the altruistic teachings of Jesus will be given primacy by Christians who seek wealth and power over humble service.

 The church has hoisted itself on its own petard by making popularity its measure of success and a form of cheap grace in Christianity. That doesn't mean that nationalism is always a bad motive in politics. It's only when nationalism conflicts with the universal and altruistic teachings of Jesus that it becomes a problem for Christians.


Hoist with his own petard is from Shakespeare’s Hamlet, and it has come to mean being a victim of one’s own immoral schemes.  See Wikipedia at

David French served as a military lawyer in Iraq and has written extensively on religion and politics (see My Decision to Serve: A Veterans Day Reflection, at  I’m also a retired JAGC officer who served in Special Action Force Asia in the 1960s, and I have written on the importance of law and as a standard of legitimacy in military operations. See Military Legitimacy: Might and Right in the New Millennium.  A copy of the manuscript and other writings on military legitimacy are provided in Resources at

On the Taming of White Christian Nationalism, see

On Christian nationalism in America and Russia, see

Other commentary on Christian nationalism:

(3/29/15): God and Country: Resolving Conflicting Concepts of Sovereignty

(5/6/17): Loyalty and Duty in Politics, the Military and Religion

(6/23/18): Musings on the Separation of Church and State and Christian Morality in Politics

(4/12/19): Musings on Religion, Nationalism and Libertarian Democracy

(7/13/19): Musings on Sovereignty and Conflicting Loyalties to God and Country  

(8/10/19): Musings on Christian Nationalism: A Plague on the Church and Democracy

(8/31/19): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on the Politics of Christian Zionism

(1/16/21): Truth and Reconciliation in Politics and Religion in a Maze of Conflicting Realities

(4/30/22): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on the Obsolescence of Christianity in Politics

(6/25/22): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on the Church and the Greatest Commandment

(11/5/22): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on Jesus, the Church and Christian Nationalism

(12/10/22): Musings on the Evolution of  Christianity into the American Civil Religion

(3/11/23): Musings of a Maverick  Methodist on the Future of Christianity and Democracy

(3/26/22): Musings on Civil Religion, Christian Nationalism, and Cancel Culture  

(4/15/23): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on Christian Nationalism and Democracy

Saturday, September 16, 2023

Musings on the Constitution, Elections, and Providing for the Common Good

By Rudy Barnes, Jr., September 16, 2023

The Chicago newscaster Paul Harvey once said, You can’t have rights without responsibilities.  The Constitution is the foundation of our rule of law and political system, but it cannot hold the fabric of democracy together unless most Americans are committed to promote the common good.  And today the common good seems lost in polarized partisan politics.

In The Federalist Papers James Madison described the U.S. as a democratic republic with “the delegation of government to a small number of delegates elected by the rest.”  But Madison was naive in thinking that Congress had the “wisdom to best discern the true interest of their country and [was unlikely] to sacrifice it to temporary or partial considerations.”

Madison understood the danger of political factionalism, or tribalism, in America’s polarized Congress.  He noted that a political party can become a dangerously divisive faction “when united and actuated by some kind of common impulse of passion like that of race or sex, or of any interest, adverse to the rights of other citizens” or to the common good.”

Thomas Jefferson considered the teachings of Jesus “the most sublime moral code ever designed by man.”  Those teachings are summarized in the greatest commandment  to love God and our neighbors, including those of other races and religions, as we love ourselves.  It’s a universal moral imperative to provide for the common good in a democracy and a common word of faith for Jews, Christians and Muslims.

The Constitution was ratified and became effective on May 29, 1790; and just 70 years later South Carolina seceded from the Union, followed by Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Texas, Virginia, Arkansas, Tennessee, and North Carolina.  The resulting Civil War cost 620,000 American lives--more than in all the wars since then.

In 1865 the 13th Amendment ended slavery, and in 1870 the 15th Amendment gave all citizens (except women) the right to vote.  Women would have to wait until the 19th Amendment gave them the right to vote.  It took a while, but by 1920 free and fair elections without discrimination by race or sex were finally affirmed as the lifeblood of American democracy.

Elections are largely controlled by state and local governments, but the Constitution provides some important provisions relating to elections, including a provision in the 14th Amendment that limits those who can run for public office: No  person who swore an oath to the Constitution and then engaged in an insurrection is qualified to hold office.  

A number of U.S. officials, including former President Trump, have been indicted for inciting the Capitol Insurrection of January 6, 2021.  While the Constitution provides the legal foundation for free and fair elections, unless Americans look beyond their polarized partisan politics and seek to provide for the common good by electing those who support and defend the Constitution, the fabric of America’s democracy could once again come apart at the seams.


The election qualification in Section 3 of the 14th Amendment of the Constitution provides: No person shall be a Senator or Representative in Congress, or elector of President and Vice President, or hold any office, civil or military, under the United States, or under any State, who having previously taken an oath, as a member of Congress, or as an officer of the United States, or as a member of any State legislature, or as a an executive or judicial officer of any State, to support the Constitution of the United States, shall have engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the same, or given aid or comfort to the enemies thereof.  But Congress may by a vote of two-thirds of each House, remove such disability. 

“Noah Bookbinder, president of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), which helped file a suit on behalf of six Republican and independent voters in Colorado says he equated the provision to other qualifications for running for office. “The 14th Amendment says that anybody who swore an oath to support the Constitution and then engaged in insurrection is disqualified to run for public office.  This is just another constitutional qualification.” 

“While Trump has railed against the effort as “another ‘trick’ being used by the Radical Left Communists, Marxists, and Fascists,” the renewed look at the little-used provision was sparked by a law review drafted by two conservative law professors. “It disqualifies former President Donald Trump, and potentially many others, because of their participation in the attempted overthrow of the 2020 presidential election,” William Baude and Michael Paulsen wrote of Section 3 of the amendment. But the rarely cited provision leaves open questions about how Trump would be removed from the ballot — or if proactive measures are even needed to do so.

While some legal experts and lawmakers have argued the clause clearly applies to Trump over his role in the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol, others cast more doubt and note any challenges are likely to be tied up in court.  Michael Luttig, a former federal judge appointed by former President George H.W. Bush, and Harvard law professor Laurence Tribe have argued in recent weeks that Trump is barred from being on the ballot again because of the 14th Amendment clause.  The two wrote in a piece for The Atlantic that Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 election and the resulting attack on the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 place him “squarely” within the scope of the clause. “The most pressing constitutional question facing our country at this moment, is whether we will abide by this clear command of the Fourteenth Amendment’s disqualification clause,” the two wrote. However, Michael McConnell, director of the Constitutional Law Center at Stanford Law School, expressed doubts that efforts to remove Trump from the ballot would be successful.  He said “This is uncharted territory. Any lawyer or scholar who tells you one thing or the other is making it up. No one really knows.” McConnell said. “I think it’s pretty unlikely that these challenges will succeed.” He was skeptical that the Supreme Court would ultimately throw a candidate with widespread support off the ballot. That was also a concern of Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, who has been a central figure in both a federal and state indictments brought against Trump for election interference.” See

In early July 1776, delegates from the 13 colonies were far from agreeing to form a “more perfect union.”  July 4, 1776 has been likened to the celebration of a shotgun wedding. See