Healing Our Political Divide Must Begin With The Church.

On a local level, the traditional neighborhood church can be quite useful in helping individuals and families cope with crises in their lives. But, on a national and international level, the church has too often engaged in self-serving politics as a means of increasing its power and diminishing or demeaning people of other faiths. Indeed, unscrupulous pastors – most especially greedy televangelists – have used their positions of authority to help elect those candidates who will be most supportive of their beliefs. This has never been more clear than in today’s political environment.

If you study polling data as I have, you will find that we are not as divided as you might expect – at least not with regard to issues. If you remove the political labels, there is substantial agreement on many issues such as wealth inequality, climate change, common sense gun safety, immigration, health care, safety nets and government spending.

To a great degree, the chasm between us is the result of the church having been co-opted for personal gain and political purposes.

It began in the 1970s when, following President Nixon’s fall from grace, Paul Weyrich saw an opportunity to rebuild the Republican Party by pandering to evangelical fundamentalist Christians. He reached out to them by partnering with Jerry Falwell to found the so-called “Moral Majority.” Their message, which was quickly embraced by other fundamentalist Christian pastors such as Pat Robertson and James Dobson, was that all of the terrible events which plague our nation – mass shootings, drug abuse, even hurricanes and natural disasters – could all be traced to our supposed abandonment of Christian beliefs. The events were God’s punishment for our acceptance of homosexuality and abortion. The result of moral decay enabled by the secularist political elite.

Only by following conservative Christian doctrine, they said, could we return America to its former glory which had been ordained by God.

At Weyrich’s urging, Republican candidates began to embrace fundamentalist Christian issues labeling themselves “family values” candidates. At the same time, they began fomenting fear of the “other” – gays, immigrants, transgenders, and non-Christians. As a result, the Republican Party, which had long been the party of social liberalism and fiscal conservatism, turned its focus to various forms of discrimination. At the same time, the party pushed for states’ rights which would enable it to circumvent the restrictions of federal government. The party became staunchly anti-gay, anti-abortion, anti-evolution, anti-science, anti-transgender, and anti-socialist. The more extreme party members began supporting dominionism (the belief that the nation should be governed only by Christians according to biblical law).

As a result of Weyrich’s efforts, many of our churches today are more political than spiritual. Instead of preaching love and compassion, many pastors subtly foment discrimination and hate against those who don’t believe as they do. Some tell their followers that they will go to hell if they vote for a pro-choice candidate. They use selected passages from the Bible to portray their political enemies and people of other faiths as evil. They use the Bible to justify racism and misogyny. They label as baby-killers those women who have made the heart-wrenching decision to end a pregnancy (usually for health reasons).

Today’s evangelicals and many of the “family values” Republicans have become the ultimate hypocrites – the ends-justify-the-means crowd – willing to overlook the adultery, corruption and predatory behavior of Donald Trump as long as he appoints conservative judges who will rule against legal access to abortion and base their decisions on biblical law. They are obsessed with forcing others to accept their beliefs and practices. They claim piety. But, in reality, their actions are less about religion than control.

That should surprise no one. For millennia, religions competing for control over the minds of people have engaged in wars and destroyed nations to further their interests. We must now acknowledge that that could happen here. As long as one of our two major political parties continues to blend a specific brand of religion with politics; as long as its elected officials continue to view issues through the lens of an unwavering religious belief; as long as they assume their political opponents are evil; there will never be room for compromise. (Would God compromise with Satan?) And the political chasm between us will continue to grow.

If we truly want to heal our nation – to remove the vitriol from politics – we must first acknowledge that the Constitution calls for separation of church and state. And we must be willing to focus on issues that will benefit the nation as a whole. Not any particular belief system.

Understanding The Trump Phenomenon.

The success of Trump the candidate seems to have confused liberals and conservatives alike. But it’s really not that difficult to understand if you look at the underlying causes.

First, there is great dissatisfaction among many Americans on both sides of the political spectrum. Both sides see growing poverty and a struggling middle class while, at the same time, a privileged few are thriving. Both see a dysfunctional Congress that now represents only a fraction of its constituents – those with the money and power to call in political favors.

As a highly accomplished con man, Trump has tapped into the voters’ smoldering anger toward government, fueled by Fox News Channel and virtually the entire radio spectrum of rightwing, hate radio. Using a tactic perfected by unsavory dictators, he has successfully focused the blame for our problems on outsiders and those on the fringes of our society. He has convinced a substantial portion of our population that the nation is struggling as the result of Mexican immigrants, Muslims, China and “political correctness” – an oversensitivity for minorities, Muslims, immigrants, women and the disabled. That has invited angry white men to dig out their Klan sheets and to say whatever racist, sexist things that cross their degenerate minds.

Far from being the successful business leader his supporters believe him to be (he is one of the few to ever lose money as the owner of a casino), Trump is really only accomplished at the arts of persuasion and branding. He refuses to deal in specifics, understanding that emotions matter more than facts or even truth.

Capitalizing on what I would call the Kardashian effect, Trump understood that his celebrity and outrageous statements are good for media. As a result, he has been able to manipulate the media’s greed to the point that CNN and even the so-called liberal cable network, MSNBC, were willing to spend airtime focused on an empty Trump podium waiting for Trump’s latest rant than to cover a policy speech by Hillary or a large rally for Bernie.

Trump has benefited from the chronically short attention spans of the public – a public unwilling, or unable, to research or to comprehend the issues. A public that disdains nuance and complicated answers for complex subject matter. An impatient public that views the world as black or white; good or bad; right or wrong. He has also benefited from a political environment based on tribalism – knowing that even those members of his party who despise him and everything he stands for will eventually fall in line to support him. And he has seemingly embraced the strategy of former GOP strategist, Paul Weyrich, who correctly posited that suppressing the vote – even if it means alienating a majority of potential voters – benefits Republicans.

Finally, he has benefited from a chronically disorganized and divided Democratic Party – a Party that lacks clear, decisive leadership; a Party that, without control of the media, has struggled to articulate its accomplishments and its message; a Party that has made it easy for people like Trump, Cruz, Ryan, McConnell, et al to promise everything, but deliver nothing.

The Planned Dysfunction Of Our Government.

As has been repeatedly demonstrated, Republicans and conservatives have mastered the art of telling lies. And, on the rare occasions when the corporate-owned media challenge those lies, they seldom bother to correct their falsehoods, choosing instead to double-down. Why wouldn’t they? After all, there are rarely any consequences for lying. For example, Politifact.com has ruled that more than 90 percent of Donald Trump’s statements are false. Yet his supporters don’t seem to care.

For many, facts no longer matter. They’d rather rely on their guts than their heads – a phenomenon that, if Trump becomes president, is likely to result in a severe case of national indigestion.

How did we reach the point where candidates can lie with impunity? How could a candidate like Trump become the presumptive presidential nominee while spreading falsehoods and fomenting hate? He is only taking advantage of a political climate created by the Republican Party – a culture of fear and a deep-seated hatred of the federal government.

This didn’t happen overnight. It began in the 1970s with the party’s “southern strategy” which was designed to capitalize on white anger with the Civil Rights Act. It was furthered by Paul Weyrich, who famously said, “I don’t want everybody to vote. Elections are not won by a majority of people. They never have been from the beginning of our country, and they are not now. As a matter of fact our [Republican] leverage in the elections quite candidly goes up as the voting populace goes down.” Of course, the GOP embraced Weyrich’s beliefs. Through obstruction and their refusal to compromise, Congressional Republicans have created voter anger and apathy which, ironically, serves to further their cause.

There’s more.

The GOP pandered to evangelicals by promoting a variety of “social” issues. They told voters that gay rights would diminish their own rights and destroy our military; that gay marriage would destroy traditional marriage; that a woman’s right to control her own body was “against God’s will” and that it would destroy our culture; that the inclusion of contraceptives in employer-based insurance policies destroys the freedom of religion. But, in reality, all of these issues are simply a way to generate fear and to permit government-sanctioned discrimination.

In the eighties, Ronald Reagan verbally attacked the government and Grover Norquist hatched a plan to defund the government in order that Republicans might “starve the beast.” Then, in the nineties, former Speaker Newt Gingrich superimposed another destructive philosophy on Congress. A longtime fan of European-style parliamentary politics, Gingrich convinced his GOP colleagues to vote as a unified bloc on every bill. Any Republicans who had the audacity to defy the leadership and vote his or her conscience was labeled a RINO (Republican In Name Only). The party punished them by withdrawing support for their re-election campaigns and redirecting support to their primary opponents.

Through the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the GOP turned over control of state legislatures to their corporate sponsors. And, through funding from the Koch brothers, the same anti-government philosophies are now being promoted in city and county elections.

That is how the GOP has become what it is today – a party that, on the day of the inauguration, chose to vote in lock-step to obstruct every one of President Obama’s initiatives, even if the initiatives were based on Republican ideas, such as Obamacare or Cap and Trade. It is now a party that willfully ignores the needs and the wishes of the voters while pandering to the very wealthy and the powerful.

Fed up with such inequality and governmental dysfunction, a large number of voters have jumped on board the Trump train thinking that an outsider can change things. Really? He is running as a Republican, representing the very party that created this mess. And, far from being an outsider, he is one of the wealthy puppeteers who pull the strings of government officials in order to further enrich themselves, all the while taking advantage of tax loopholes and offshore shell companies to avoid paying taxes.

In other words, a vote for Trump and his Republican colleagues is a vote for those who have willfully destroyed “a government of the people, for the people and by the people” and replaced it with a functioning oligarchy. It’s impossible to imagine that even the Republican Party’s founder, Abraham Lincoln, would want that.