Saturday, October 29, 2016

A Revelation in American Politics and Religion

  By Rudy Barnes, Jr.

            Revelation is defined as revealing, or something disclosed—especially a striking disclosure (Webster).  In theology, Revelation is the last book of the Christian Bible.  It presents an apocalyptic account of man’s encounter with God, and the final battle between good and evil.

            Donald Trump’s campaign for President over the last 16 months—and the public support he has received—has been a dark revelation of American politics and religion.  Trump may not be the anti-Christ, but he has either transformed politics and religion in America for the worse, or revealed their sorry state.

            In politics, the popularity of Trump’s neo-fascist campaign has revealed the devolution of democracy in America and the corruption of institutional Christianity, thanks to those right-wing evangelical Christians who are heirs to Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority, and who made Trump the Republican nominee for President.  Black Christians have supported Hillary Clinton, while White mainline Christian denominations by and large have not sullied themselves with politics.

            The election results will reveal the extent of the Trump revelation.  If Trump makes a strong showing (over 40% of the popular vote), then his Trumpkins will remain in control of a radical-right Republican Party that will not be able to attract enough voters to win a national election.  That is the test of both major parties; it is needed to hold the other party accountable.

            If Trump does not receive at least 40% of the vote, then the Republican Party will be in complete disarray and beyond redemption as one of the two major parties, and those loyal to Trump will have lost their credibility.  The political vacuum will be filled either by a reborn moderate GOP that could rise Phoenix-like from the ashes of the old GOP, or by a new party (or parties) that could be a viable alternative to Democrats in a national election.

            Either way, for a healthy democracy to function, there must always be an alternative to the party in power, whether it is one party, as with the traditional two-party duopoly, or multiple parties that form a coalition to win a national election.  The traditional duopoly cannot continue unless both parties have the potential to elect a majority of Congress and win a national election.

            The election will also have profound consequences for institutional Christianity.  Trump’s campaign was made possible by radical-right evangelical Christians who energetically supported him in the GOP primaries, and also by those moderate but silent Christians who never challenged his distorted values.  Trump’s campaign and the election results should be a clarion call for those Christians who wish to save the church from the dung-heap of irrelevant religions.

            There has been a popular misconception among traditional Christians that we should not mix religion with politics.  Our Constitution doesn’t separate religion and politics; the First amendment only prohibits government from promoting or establishing a religion.  Black Christians have long mixed the two, as have evangelical Christians since the 1980s, when Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority gave Republicans a sanctimonious (born again) voice.  

            If the church is to retain any credibility, it must challenge the legitimacy of radical-right “Christians” who have subordinated the teachings of Jesus to religious doctrines congenial to secular demagogues like Donald Trump.  But they do have one thing right—the obligation to relate their faith to their politics.  Political activism in a democracy should be a moral imperative of faith.  A faith without deeds is as dead as a body without the spirit (James 2:26).

            Donald Trump is not the only dark revelation in American politics and religion.  Over their lengthy political careers Bill and Hillary Clinton have represented the corrupt combination of big money and politics, and Hillary’s disingenuous attempts to disavow that charge have fallen flat.  Voters with any sense of morality do not have a good choice for President.   

            Democracy and freedom cannot survive without responsible political stewardship, and Christianity cannot survive without the faithful stewardship of God’s love in our politics.  The greatest commandment to love God and our neighbors as we love ourselves is a common word of faith for Jews, Christians and Muslims alike, and in a globalized world of increasing diversity the love command should be a reconciling force in both our faith and our politics.

            Jesus never addressed the issue of political stewardship in a democracy since it was irrelevant in his ancient time, but today loving others as we love ourselves in a democracy threatened by internal dissension, anger and hatred today is a challenge for our faith and politics.  It’s not always warm and fuzzy.  Sometimes sharing God’s love requires using lethal force to protect others from those who would do them harm, both in our country and overseas.

            An increasing number of “nones” have left the church in recent years, many because they see the church as irrelevant; but over 70% of Americans still consider themselves Christians.  They can still make a difference, and perhaps even save their church and democracy from demise and irrelevance, if they can relate the transforming power of God’s love to their politics.  The question is, how will Christians respond to the new Revelation in American politics and religion?      


On the interrelated role of religion, morality and politics, see

On the greatest commandment as a common word of faith, see

On a politics of reconciliation with liberty and justice for all, see            

Saturday, October 22, 2016

The Need for a Politics of Reconciliation in a Polarized Democracy

  Rudy Barnes, Jr.

            Americans are losing faith in democracy and in each other.  That dark reality is either the cause or effect of the sordid politics we have witnessed this election year.  Before the Revolution Edmund Burke warned Americans that in a democracy we would forge our own shackles.  Will the pervasive hate and anger that has polarized our politics validate that ominous prediction?

            Pogo the Possum echoed Burke when he observed, We have met the enemy and it is us.  If we recognize that ugly reality, then we can examine our souls and counter the enemy within; but I’m not sure the American people can do that.  Many have come to believe that they are the victims of some external enemy, and Donald Trump has stoked the coals of their insecurity and fear into a political inferno of hate and anger that threatens our democracy.

            A democracy is no more or less than the people in it.  Without a collective will to work together and compromise on critical issues, no democracy can survive.  There is a desperate need for a politics of reconciliation to salvage our polarized democracy from its demise, and that reconciliation must be based on finding common ground in matters of faith as well as politics.

            The pervasive hate and anger that have polarized our partisan politics must be countered by a willingness to compromise in Congress.  None of the critical issues it faces—immigration, health care, the budget, taxes and monetary policy, as well as the terrorist threat and foreign affairs—can be addressed and resolved in a polarized Congress.

            A politics of reconciliation doesn’t require agreement on issues, only a commitment to civil debate and compromise.  Politics has been described as the art of compromise.  That doesn’t require compromising ideals, only sharing common ground and respecting differing viewpoints on important issues.  Americans must relearn the art of compromise in an increasingly pluralistic world to ensure that the diversity that should be our strength does not become a fatal weakness.

            The problem of polarization is as much one of faith as it is of politics, and exclusivism is its root cause.  It is the belief that one religion or political ideal is right and all others are wrong.  That idea—whether it relates to God’s kingdom or to worldly politics—polarizes people and prevents the reconciliation needed for peaceful coexistence in a pluralistic culture.

            History offers numerous precedents for the negative consequences of such exclusivism.  In religion the Church orchestrated the Crusades and Inquisitions, and radical Islamism has spawned the contemporary violence of al Qaeda and ISIS.  In politics there was the slavery and white supremacy in the antebellum South, Aryanism in Hitler’s Third Reich, and South Africa’s Apartheid.  One thing is obvious: religious and political exclusivism are interwoven.

            In the 100 years following the U.S. Civil War, the South was an example of racist, one-party politics that were supported by the church.  Whites in the states of the old Confederacy were Democrats.  In 1870 Blacks were given the right to vote by the Fifteenth Amendment, but the Democrat Party denied them that right by various means until the 1960s, when U.S. civil rights laws finally opened the door of the Democrat Party to Black voters.   

            The Jim Crow South was a single party “democracy” that maintained a segregated separate but equal culture until the 1954 Brown vs Board of Education Supreme Court decision, which was followed by the civil rights laws of the 1960s.  Then Whites began leaving the Democrat Party and joining the Republican Party, tainting the party of Lincoln with racism. 

            Today in the South most Whites are Republican and Blacks are Democrats.  Donald Trump has exploited that racial and partisan divide to motivate his constituency, and evangelical Christians have enthusiastically supported Trump, whose lifestyle and political rhetoric represent the antithesis of the teachings of Jesus.  Jerry Falwell, Jr., President of Liberty University, went so far as to say that Trump “lives a life of loving and helping others, as Jesus taught.”

            The polarization of politics by race and religion is not limited to the South.  It is pervasive throughout the nation, and if not countered with a politics of reconciliation it will undermine the stability of our democracy.  Religious and political reconciliation must begin with the moral imperative found in the greatest commandment to love God and our neighbors as ourselves.  That love command is a common word of faith for Jews, Christians and Muslims.

            God’s will is to reconcile and redeem humanity.  Satan’s will is to divide and conquer.  But Satan does a convincing imitation of God, and does some of his best work in the church, mosque and in politics.  Americans must be able to discern the difference between those two competing forces if they expect to rescue our polarized politics and failing democracy with a politics of reconciliation.                       


On the greatest commandment as a common word of faith, see

On a politics of reconciliation with liberty and justice for all, see

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Partisan Politics after the Election: Back to the Future

 Rudy Barnes, Jr., October 15, 2016

            The leaders of the Republican Party forfeited its future when they allowed Donald Trump and his radical-right followers to hijack their party, and America won’t know the future of its partisan politics until after the election.  Political pundits predict that Hillary Clinton will be elected President despite her unpopularity, and that the Republican Party will be left in disarray. 

            Trump is no longer big news.  He is just one of many demagogues who have corrupted American politics.  The real news—and the danger to our democracy—are those elected officials and voters who continue to support Trump. Media attention should now be shifted from Trump to those Republicans who continue to support him despite his deplorable behavior.  Trump’s supporters have spelled the doom of a once-majoritarian Republican Party.   

            If moderate conservatives can regain control of the Republican Party after the election it may recover as the Grand Old Party (GOP); but if the party remains controlled by the right-wing radicals who made Donald Trump their standard-bearer—and polls indicate that they now represent 2/3 of the Party—then the GOP will slip into oblivion and leave a political vacuum, much like the disarray of the Whig Party in 1854 that gave rise to the Republican Party.

            It will be back to the future for partisan politics after the election and the melt-down of the GOP.  America has an affinity for a two-party duopoly, in contrast to the multiparty parliaments of European libertarian democracies.  Third parties have never gained traction in America unless one of the two major parties falters, as did the Whigs in 1854.  Then a third party—or parties—can fill the political vacuum as the loyal opposition to the dominant party.

            The Democrat Party is likely to emerge as the dominant party with its coalition of minorities and liberals; but it cannot attract the center-right conservatives recently displaced by Trump’s radical right in their takeover of the GOP.  The GOP will either have to be reborn or it will be replaced by a new party (or parties) that can hold the dominant party accountable.

            Either way, American partisan politics will undergo a major transformation.  Traditional concepts of liberal and conservative must be redefined, and right-wing radicals distinguished from conservatives who value traditions yet support progressive change—and the latter must control the new opposition party.  Also, the role of religion in politics must be better understood.

            Unless a deficient GOP can restore its halcyon days of Reaganite popularity, it will become a minority radical-right party in competition with other minority parties.  Trump supporters represent 2/3 of the GOP, but only 1/3 of American voters.  A radical-right GOP is not acceptable to the remaining 2/3 of voters, and has no prospect of being a majoritarian party.  That is a requirement of any party that seeks to be an alternative to the Democrat Party.

            There must be strong partisan opposition to hold the Democrat Party accountable, or American democracy will fail.  If a reborn GOP—a Grand New Party—can rise Phoenix-like from the ashes of Trump’s GOP, it must attract mainstream political moderates to prevent a partisan meltdown.  Otherwise, a new party—or parties—will fill the political vacuum.

            How could that happen?  The American Party of South Carolina was created to give voters a third choice in a polarized 2-party duopoly.  It could be the catalyst to replace the GOP as a majoritarian party that could challenge the dominance of the Democrats, but it would need to attract moderate refugees from a discredited GOP.  For any third party to become the major opposition party to the Democrat Party it must be led by moderate (center-right) elected officials.

            Strom Thurmond provided a precedent when he left the Democrats to lead the Dixiecrat Party in 1948, and later became a prominent Republican.  The 2016 election is another political watershed that will shape the future of partisan politics.  Neither the liberal Democrat Party nor Trump’s radical-right GOP can attract mainstream conservatives who value their traditions and also support progressive change—but the rise of a new majoritarian party could change that.

            The origins of the Republican Party provide a useful precedent.  It was born in the North in 1854 in a time of political crisis, when anti-slavery activists and modernists had no place in either the Democrat or Whig Party.  Refugees from a failing Whig Party gave life to a fledgling Republican Party that Abraham Lincoln then made into a dominant political party.

            Edmund Burke warned Americans before the U.S. Revolution that they would forge their own shackles.  The American Party of South Carolina can be a catalyst to save America from its self-imposed bondage to a failed 2-party duopoly.  After 162 years the Republican Party has forfeited its role as a major political party.  Now it’s back to the future for partisan politics.        


On the pervasive role of evangelical Christianity in the Trump movement—how the religious right has made a deal with the devil—see

On the American Party of South Carolina, see

On the history of the Republican Party, see Wikipedia at

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Revolutionaries, Moderates and Reactionaries in Politics and Religion

  By Rudy Barnes, Jr. 

            American politics are coming apart at the seams.  The fabric of our democracy is resilient, but it’s being tested as never before.  Donald Trump’s angry Republicans demand a return to the halcyon days of the past when they were part of a secure and moderate majority, while Hillary Clinton’s Democrats are challenging that majority and want to abandon its traditional moral standards to recreate America in their liberal image.  The political faceoff has created a dangerous political polarization that this country has not seen since the Civil War.

            Trump’s followers have supported him in spite of his nastiness, narcissism and disdain for those who question his suitability to be President, while Clinton’s coalition of minorities have ignored her questionable ethics as she leads their attack on traditional cultural values to promote the rights of newfound LBQT minorities and provide more power for racial minorities.

            Partisan politics now resemble a football game between the Trump team and the Clinton team in which each team member must be committed to defeat the opposition.  The game plans are prepared by Trump for Republicans and Clinton for Democrats, and the quarterbacks who call signals for them in the House are Paul Ryan and Nancy Pelosi.  Winning is everything, and those members of the team who question the game plan must sit on the bench, or worse.

            In more traditional political terminology, Democrats might be considered political revolutionaries and Republicans political reactionaries (see David Brooks’ commentary in the Notes below).  Once there were moderates in both parties who worked with the opposition on important issues and understood that politics is the art of compromise.  But in today’s polarized two-party duopoly there is no place for moderates who can reconcile contentious partisan issues.  A third party could provide the moderates needed to diffuse partisan polarization and gridlock.   

            Revolutionaries and reactionaries have long been driving forces for social and cultural change.  That has been evident in the evolution of religion as well as politics.  In politics, the U.S. Civil War was a dramatic and tragic example of what can happen when there are no moderate forces to reconcile issues that divide revolutionaries and reactionaries.  Slavery was an issue that reflected a virulent mix of politics and clashing religious standards of legitimacy.

            The Enlightenment motivated revolutionary changes in both politics and religion by challenging the truth of ancient religious doctrines and laws with advances in knowledge and reason—this despite the reactionary efforts of fundamentalists.  But this revolution of reason did not occur in Islamic cultures where there is now a revolution to determine whether Islam emerges as a religion of peace and justice or one of violence and oppression.  Its outcome will be determined by Muslims.  The intervention of outside forces has proven to be counterproductive. 

            The violent mix of religion and politics goes back to ancient times.  Moses began as a religious and political revolutionary and became a reactionary in eliminating challenges to his leadership.  Jesus was a Jewish religious revolutionary who was eliminated by reactionary religious and Roman authorities; and Muhammad, like Moses, began as a religious and political revolutionary and became a reactionary ruler who effectively eliminated his opposition.

            Religious fundamentalists are reactionaries who are opposed to any change to their ancient religious doctrines and laws.  In America, most Trump supporters claim to be Christian fundamentalists, even though Trump is the antithesis of the teachings of Jesus.  Al Qaeda and ISIS are Islamist fundamentalists who are reactionaries to progress and modernity, but they are also violent revolutionaries within an Islam that was once a religion of relative peace.

            The measure of liberation for politics and religion from oppression is for them to embrace the libertarian values of democracy, human rights and the secular rule of law.  In Islamic nations in the Middle East and Africa, shari’a prevails with apostasy and blasphemy laws that preclude the fundamental freedom of religion and speech and with women and Non-Muslims denied equal treatment under the law.  Only moderate Muslims can liberate Islam from that oppression.      

            In both politics and religion, reconciliation is needed between the liberal revolutionaries who seek change and reactionaries who oppose change.  Without moderates to reconcile those contentious conflicts in politics and religion, the delicate fabric of democracy, peace and justice will remain at risk in a world of increasing political and religious violence.

            Political and religious moderates must be able to bridge contentious issues with a moral imperative accepted by revolutionaries and reactionaries of all faiths, and that is found in the greatest commandment to love God and our neighbors as ourselves—even those we would rather ignore.  It is a common word of faith for Jews, Christians and Muslims alike that can reconcile revolutionaries with reactionaries, whether political or religious—or both.


For David Brooks commentary on The Age of Reaction in which he cited Mark Lilla’s The Shipwrecked Mind: On Political Reaction, see

Michael Gerson has said that he doesn’t understand how people who claim to be Christians can support Donald Trump, and asked, “I wonder how Trump evangelicals explain to their sons and daughters that this man is a suitable leader for a great country.”  See

Saturday, October 1, 2016

The Federal Reserve, Wall Street and Congress on Monetary Policy

  By Rudy Barnes, Jr.

            Why does the Federal Reserve keep interest rates near 0%?  So that the mega-banks and corporations of Wall Street have an unlimited supply of cheap money to invest and to pay their top executives unreasonable salaries; and also so that the government doesn’t have to worry about interest on its $19 trillion debt.  Keynesian economists are so unconcerned with interest on the national debt that they advocate even more borrowing to stimulate a sluggish economy.

            Who are the losers in this economic scenario?  Savers, of course, and future taxpayers if interest rates rise and the national debt is not reduced.  The U.S. Treasury could create new money to pay the debt, $5 trillion of which is held by the Fed, but the downside is that when new dollars are created the value of existing dollars is reduced pro-rata.  That’s back-door inflation.

            Meanwhile, Wall Street prospers while Main Street suffers with “trickle-down” benefits.  All the while Wall Street exploits the public with its insatiable appetite for profits—from mega-banks like Wells Fargo that create new fees for unwanted services, to pharmaceuticals that extort unreasonable profits through the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) that has no cost controls.

            If our economy is to be saved from this partnership between the Federal Reserve and Wall Street, Congress and the President must become accountable for monetary policies.  Such policies have been shrouded in mysterious debate for too long.  Conservative economists argue that the debt must be reduced and ultimately balanced, while liberal Keynesian economists argue that we don’t need to worry about the national debt since the Fed controls interest rates.

            It is an uneven playing field, with Wall Street clearly having the advantage over Main Street—and experience has taught us that mega-banks and businesses show no mercy in their pursuit of profits.  With interest rates near 0% and little prospect that they will be allowed to rise anytime soon, there is no incentive to save and every reason to spend what we have or invest it in Wall Street so long as we have artificially low interest rates and inflation discouraging savings. 

            The incentive to invest in stock rather than save obviously benefits Wall Street.  The Dow has tripled since 2008, but what happens with the next stock market crash?  It’s not a matter of if, but when.  With interest rates at or near 0%, the Fed can’t reduce them to stimulate the economy.  The remedy of liberal economists is to borrow or create more money and spend it or give it away (helicopter money), or even pay big businesses to borrow and create new jobs.

            What about productivity and new jobs?  The mega-businesses of Wall Street are flush with cash, but they aren’t investing in new jobs but instead buying back their stock or speculating on investments to generate the most profit for its shareholders.  It’s all about profits, and new jobs aren’t needed these days to make those profits.  You’re a winner if you own lots of stock, but a loser if you don’t.  Of course, everyone is a loser when the stock market crashes.

            What can we do about the incestuous relationship between the Federal Reserve and Wall Street?  The Fed is a central bank that is not part of government but an extension of the banking community.  Congress should mandate more accountability for the Fed’s monetary policy, but that’s a scary prospect for members of Congress who seek big contributions from Wall Street.  They don’t want to consider policies that could jeopardize financing their future campaigns.

            If nothing is done, we’ll likely see a repeat of 2007-2008, with another bailout of banks and businesses that are too big to fail, but that have failed due to their unrestrained greed for profits—except that next time the Fed won’t be able to reduce interest rates to stimulate a recovery since rates will already be at or near 0%.  Wall Street remains addicted to cheap money, and the Fed will continue to feed that addiction unless and until Congress acts to restrict it.

            Monetary policy is of increasing importance to the nation’s future.  Congress should require more public accountability for U.S. monetary policies that control interest rates and money supply, and reinstate Glass-Steagall restrictions on bank investment activities.  Because the Federal Reserve has virtually unrestrained control of U.S. monetary policy, it is perhaps the most powerful entity in U.S. politics, and one that should be more accountable to the public.

Notes and References:

Robert J. Samuelson is somewhere between a traditional and Keynesian economist.  For his commentary on the old Fed is dead, see Samuelson observes: “Now the Fed and other major central banks seem deeply frustrated. They’ve flooded the world with cheap money. By Moody’s estimates, the amount is $13 trillion. That was used to buy bonds and other securities. It includes purchases by the Federal Reserve, the European Central Bank, the Bank of Japan and the Bank of England. For all their trouble, the central banks have got no more than a weak recovery that avoided a second Great Depression.”

On the uncertainty of monetary policy and where does the Federal Reserve go from here, see

On two contrasting views on the national debt:

The Fed has long planned to divest itself of the assets it has purchased under quantitative easing policies since 2008.  For a contrary view, see Fed should keep trillions in bonds to provide stability, at

On ending “the era of cash to enable central banks to cut interest rates into negative territory” and “free up monetary policy in ordinary recessions in a low interest rate world,” see

On the related topic of Christianity and Capitalism as Strange Bedfellows in Politics, see and references in its Notes and References to Related Blogs.