Political journalism is broken

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My eyes are sore from reading the copious analysis that poured in after the election of Donald Trump to 45th president of the United States. Jim Rutenberg, a media columnist for The New York Times, earns my respect for his self-flaggelating account of why political journalists failed to understand the American electorate.

From “Criticism of the New Media Takes on a More Sinister Tone”

We can debate whether the “corporate” news media is as left-leaning as critics claim. The answer, as I see it, is more than they’ll admit to themselves and less than conservatives claim.

But there is little question that it is out of step with Mr. Trump’s die-hards on the issues upon which Mr. Trump won them over, especially immigration and trade. And this tracks across the ideological divide in the mainstream media.

For all their many differences, the right-leaning editorial board of The Wall Street Journal and the left-leaning editorial boards of The New York Times and The Washington Post share the beliefs that global free trade is generally beneficial and that the United States needs to create ways to legalize the undocumented immigrant work force.

The newsrooms of The Times, The Journal and The Post operate independently from their editorial pages. But their coverage certainly does not start from the premise that an immigration overhaul would unduly reward the original sin of illegal border crossing or that free trade deals threaten our national sovereignty.

Then there are big attitudinal differences that come from the fact that the biggest American newsrooms are in major cities.

“One of the reasons the national media initially missed the rise of Trump was because so much of it is based on the coasts,” said Joanne Lipman, editor in chief of the USA Today Network, which Gannett formed in December, in part, to combine the sensibilities of the 110 newspapers it owns throughout red-state and blue-state America.

There also tends to be a shared sense of noble mission across the news media that can preclude journalists from questioning their own potential biases.

“The people who run American journalism, and who staff the newsrooms, think of themselves as sophisticated, cosmopolitan, and, culturally speaking, on the right side of history,” Rod Dreher, a senior editor at The American Conservative, told me. “They don’t know what they don’t know and they don’t care to know it.”

Mr. Dreher lives in Louisiana and has worked at five major city newspapers across the country. He does not support Mr. Trump but says he understands why his supporters are so frustrated. As far as he’s concerned, mainstream journalists are “interested in every kind of diversity, except the kind that would challenge their own prejudices.” Those include, “bigotry against conservative religion, bigotry against rural folks and bigotry against working-class and poor white people.”

It’s a pretty sweeping generalization. But a considerable percentage of the country believes it. An even larger percentage of Mr. Trump’s voters do.

No matter what happens on Nov. 8, the notion isn’t going away. American newsrooms will be making a big mistake — and missing a huge continuing story — if they fail to adjust their coverage to better illuminate the concerns of Mr. Trump’s supporters well beyond Election Day.

Doing so might begin to build up trust in the news media, which the Gallup Organization reported as hitting a new low in September.

From “A ‘Dewey Defeats Truman’ Lesson for the Digital Age”:

All the dazzling technology, the big data and the sophisticated modeling that American newsrooms bring to the fundamentally human endeavor of presidential politics could not save American journalism from yet again being behind the story, behind the rest of the country.

The news media by and large missed what was happening all around it, and it was the story of a lifetime. The numbers weren’t just a poor guide for election night — they were an off-ramp away from what was actually happening.

No one predicted a night like this — that Donald J. Trump would pull off a stunning upset over Hillary Clinton and win the presidency.

The misfire on Tuesday night was about a lot more than a failure in polling. It was a failure to capture the boiling anger of a large portion of the American electorate that feels left behind by a selective recovery, betrayed by trade deals that they see as threats to their jobs and disrespected by establishment Washington, Wall Street and the mainstream media.

Journalists didn’t question the polling data when it confirmed their gut feeling that Mr. Trump could never in a million years pull it off. They portrayed Trump supporters who still believed he had a shot as being out of touch with reality. In the end, it was the other way around.

It was just a few months ago that so much of the European media failed to foresee the vote in Britain to leave the European Union. Election 2016, thy name is Brexit.

***

The unexpected turn in the election tallies immediately raised questions about the value of modern polling: Can it accurately capture public opinion when so many people are now so hard to reach on their unlisted cellphones?

“I think the polling was a mess,” Stanley Greenberg, a Democratic pollster, told me Tuesday night. “But I think a lot of it was interpretation of the polls.”

Mike Murphy, a Republican strategist, said on MSNBC, “My crystal ball has been shattered into atoms’’ because he predicted the opposite outcome. “Tonight data died,’’ he added.

Regardless of the outcome, it was clear that the polls, and the projections, had underestimated the strength of Mr. Trump’s vote, and the movement he built, which has defied all predictions and expectations since he announced his candidacy last year.

And that’s why the problem that surfaced on Tuesday night was much bigger than polling. It was clear that something was fundamentally broken in journalism, which has been unable to keep up with the anti-establishment mood that is turning the world upside down.

Politics is not just about numbers; data can’t always capture the human condition that is the blood of American politics. And it is not the sole function of political reporting to tell you who will win or who will lose. But that question — the horse race — has too often shadowed everything else, and inevitably colors other reporting, too.

***

What’s amazing is how many times the news media has missed the populist movements that have been rocking national politics since at least 2008. It failed to initially see the rise of the Tea Party, which led to the Republican wave of elections of 2010 and 2014, which was supposed to be the year the so-called Republican establishment regained control over its intraparty insurgency.

Then, of course, there was Mr. Trump’s own unexpected rise to the nomination. And after each failure came a vow to learn lessons, and not ever allow it to happen again. And yet the lessons did not come fast enough to get it right when it most mattered.

In an earlier column, I quoted the conservative writer Rod Dreher as saying that most journalists were blind to their own “bigotry against conservative religion, bigotry against rural folks, and bigotry against working class and poor white people.”

Whatever the election result, you’re going to hear a lot from news executives about how they need to send their reporters out into the heart of the country, to better understand its citizenry.

But that will miss something fundamental. Flyover country isn’t a place, it’s a state of mind — it’s in parts of Long Island and Queens, much of Staten Island, certain neighborhoods of Miami or even Chicago. And, yes, it largely — but hardly exclusively — pertains to working-class white people.

What will happen on November 9th?

Max Lucado serves as Minister of Preaching at Oak Hills Church in San Antonio, Texas. While some people fear that the apocalypse will occur on Election Day, Lucado offers a much-needed reminder about divine sovereignty that gives me peace with the outcome:

We are really ready for this presidential election to be over. We’re ready for an end to the rancor and tackiness. Voters on both sides feel frustrated, even embarrassed by it all. There is a visceral fear, an angst about the result. What if so and so wins? When we wake up to November 9, post-election, when the confetti is swept away and the election is finally over, what will we see?

I have a prediction. I know exactly what November 9 will bring. Another day of God’s perfect sovereignty. He will still be in charge. His throne will still be occupied. He will still manage the affairs of the world. Never before has His providence depended on a king, president, or ruler. And it won’t on November 9, 2016. “The LORD can control a king’s mind as he controls a river; he can direct it as he pleases” (Proverbs 21:1 NCV).

On one occasion the Lord turned the heart of the King of Assyria so that he aided them in the construction of the Temple.[1] On another occasion, he stirred the heart of Cyrus to release the Jews to return to Jerusalem. [2] Nebuchadnezzar was considered to be the mightiest king of his generation. But God humbled and put him in “detention” for seven years. [3] “The kingdom is the Lord’s, and He rules over the nations” (Psalms 22:28).

Understanding God’s sovereignty over the nations opens the door to peace. When we realize that God influences the hearts of all rulers, we can then choose to pray for them rather than fret about them. Rather than wring our hands we bend our knees, we select prayer over despair.

Jeremiah did this. He was the prophet to Israel during one of her darkest periods of rebellion. He was called “the weeping prophet” because he was one. He wept at the condition of the people and the depravity of their faith. He was so distraught that one of his books was entitled Lamentations. But then he considered the work of God. Note the intentionality of his words:

This I recall to my mind,
Therefore I have hope.
The LORD’s lovingkindnesses indeed never cease,
For His compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
Great is Your faithfulness. (Lam. 3:21-23)

Imitate Jeremiah. Lift up your eyes. Dare to believe that good things will happen. Dare to believe that God was speaking to us when he said: “In everything God works for the good of those who love him” (Romans 8:28).

Many years ago, I spent a week visiting the interior of Brazil with a long-time missionary pilot. He flew a circuit of remote towns in a small plane that threatened to come undone at the slightest gust of wind. Wilbur and Orville had a sturdier aircraft.

I could not get comfortable. I kept thinking that the plane was going to crash in some Brazilian jungle and I’d be gobbled up by piranhas or swallowed by an anaconda.

I kept shifting around, looking down, and gripping my seat. (As if that would help.) Finally, the pilot had had enough of my squirming. He looked at me and shouted over the airplane noise. “We won’t face anything I can’t handle. You might as well trust me to fly the plane.”

Is God saying the same to you? If so, make this your prayer:

Dear Lord, 

You are perfect. You could not be better than you are. 

You are ever-existing. You exist because you choose to exist.

You are self-sustaining. No one helps you. No one gives you strength. 

You are self-governing. Who can question your deeds? Who dares advise you? 

You are correct. In every way. In every choice. You regret no decision. 

You have never failed. Never! You cannot fail! You are God! You will accomplish your plan.

You are happy. Eternally joyful. Endlessly content. 

You are the king, supreme ruler, absolute monarch, overlord, and rajah of all history. 

An arch of your eyebrow and a million angels will pivot and salute. Every throne is a footstool to yours. Every crown is papier–mâché to yours. No limitations, hesitations, questions, second thoughts, or backward glances. You consult no clock. You keep no calendar. You report to no one. You are in charge.

And I trust you.

Circle November 9 on your calendar and write upon it the words:  Our good God rules the world.

[1] Ezra 6:22
[2] Ezra 1:1
[3] Dan. 4:28-34

Vote your character and your conscience

Matthew J. Frank, Director of the William E. and Carol G. Simon Center on Religion and the Constitution at the Witherspoon Institute, and Andy Naselli, Assistant Professor of New Testament and Theology at Bethlehem College & Seminary, have written the most clear-sighted reflections that I have read on the ethics of voting in the “electoral annus horribilis of 2016.”

Here are excerpts from Frank’s article in Pubic Discourse, A Vote’s Consequences and a Voter’s Conscience“:

The question—“If your vote were decisive, what would you do?”—invites us to think of the civic function of voting as though everything hung on that one vote each of us casts. This invitation, to vote as if the weight of the world were on my shoulders alone, is what I refuse to accept.

The reason I decline the invitation is not just that the weight is not on my shoulders. It is that this is really an invitation to a kind of consequentialism in the ethics of voting. I don’t intend to plunge into the philosophical debate between consequentialist and deontological ethics, which is not in my field anyway. I mean to make a much more informal and homely point: it is wrong to think of a vote not cast for Leading Contender A as a de facto vote cast for Leading Contender B.

***

We conservatives are not in an ordinary political situation. In past elections, some of us might not have had our first or even our second choice among Republican candidates on the November ballot for president. . . . This time is different. “Not making the perfect the enemy of the good” is not the right adage for calculating what to do in our present predicament. Nor is “choose the lesser of two evils” the right way to think. That way of thinking really only works when at least one of the choices is in fact not really evil.

***

Now, however, we really do have two evils to choose between—or to decline choosing. Neither Trump nor Clinton has a single redeeming characteristic that recommends him or her to the presidency of the United States—at least none that is not decisively outweighed by some other damning characteristic. Clinton’s much vaunted “experience” is a career record of ghastly misjudgments in foreign policy, paired with a consistently authoritarian and illiberal “progressivism” in domestic policy, seemingly intent on unraveling the social fabric that makes a decent society. And there is no need to rehearse her and her husband’s history of dishonesty, corruption, and irresponsibility, capped most recently by her obvious breach of the statutes protecting national security secrets.

As for Trump, was there ever a candidate more obviously unqualified for high public office, as measured by his dearth of relevant knowledge and experience, his willfulness and self-absorption, his compulsive lying and inconsistency, his manipulative using of other people, his smash-mouth rhetoric and low character? For anyone professing conservative principles, the first problem with Trump is that he is not one of us, has never been one of us, shows no sign or capacity of becoming one of us, and hardly cares to pretend to be one of us. Even “what about the Supreme Court?” has no grip on my conscience when I try to imagine Donald Trump in the Oval Office. I cannot trust him to choose judicial nominees wisely, and there are other things whose cumulative weight is greater even than this variable.

We haven’t even the consolation of thinking of Trump as a certain kind of Republican who is not actually conservative but who at least recognizes our vocabulary when he hears it. No, Trump would not know a conservative principle if it kicked him in the shins. This is a nominee who, in my estimation, cannot earn my vote even as a “lesser evil” or an “at least he’s not Hillary” candidate. I waver between believing that his defeat would be the worst thing to happen to our country and believing that his victory would be.

***

After a lifetime of studying politics, I have finally, thanks to the electoral annus horribilis of 2016, arrived at an ethic of voting that I can defend against all rival ethics. It is simply this: Vote as if your ballot determines nothing whatsoever—except the shape of your own character. Vote as if the public consequences of your action weigh nothing next to the private consequences. The country will go whither it will go, when all the votes are counted. What should matter the most to you is whither you will go, on and after this November’s election day.

Neselli organizes his blog post, “Can You Vote for Donald Trump With a Clear Conscience?“, around various questions:

  1. Does Donald Trump have good character and policies?
  2. What does voting entail?
  3. What is a clear conscience?
  4. So can you?

Here is an excerpt answering the third question:

Your conscience is your consciousness of what you believe is right and wrong. You have a clear conscience when your conscience does not accuse or condemn you for doing “wrong” but instead commends and defends you for doing “right.”

I placed quotation marks around “wrong” and “right” because your conscience could be wrong. Conscience is not infallible. It operates according to your moral standard, and your moral standard could be wrong. Some people support and practice abortion with a clear conscience, but their conscience is based on an immoral standard, namely, that it is not wrong to kill a baby in a mother’s womb if that baby’s mother so chooses. It is possible to sin with a clear conscience.

So can a person vote for Donald Trump with a clear conscience? Yes. But that doesn’t make the action right in God’s sight. Your conscience may tell you that voting for Trump is right while another person’s conscience may tell them that voting for Trump is wrong.

Sometimes you need to calibrate your conscience. Just like you need to calibrate a scale if it registers 150 pounds when you actually weigh only 145, sometimes you need to adjust or train your conscience to function according to God’s moral standards. You do this primarily by educating your conscience with truth. Some people may support and practice abortion with a clear conscience because they don’t understand scientifically that human life begins at conception.

But abortion is a relatively easy issue. It’s like the big E on the eye chart. Many ethical issues are more complex, such as whether and how to practice capital punishment or just war. Or whether to vote for Donald Trump if his opponent is Hillary Clinton.

People may reasonably disagree about how to strategically vote in America’s democratic republic:

  1. Will your conscience condemn you for not voting—for failing to act as a responsible citizen for the good of your family, community, and country?
  2. Will your conscience condemn you for voting for Hillary Clinton—for supporting someone who is arguably worse than Donald Trump (e.g., enthusiastically pro-abortion)?
  3. Will your conscience condemn you for voting for Donald Trump—for supporting the person I describe in the first part of this essay?
  4. Will your conscience condemn you for voting for someone else—for essentially “wasting” your vote on someone who has no chance to win?

There isn’t a good option. That’s what makes this a quandary. But is there a least bad option? Some conservatives will argue that we must choose the lesser of two evils. Others will argue that they can’t vote for Trump based on principle (we must not vote for evil, even if one candidate is not quite as evil as the other) and strategy (take a long-term view and rebuild the conservative movement rather than let Trump destroy it under the banner of the GOP).

What should you do? It’s in a theological category called “disputable matters.” Disputable matters aren’t unimportant, but fellow Christians who are members of the same church should be able to disagree on these issues and still have close fellowship with each other.

But remember: It is a sin to violate your conscience—even if your conscience is mistaken. If your conscience tells you that it is wrong to vote for Donald Trump and you vote for him anyway, then you sinned. So unless you can vote for Donald Trump without your conscience condemning you, then you should not vote for him.

It’s also worth thinking about how your conscience has worked in the past. Many conservatives argued in 1998 that the Lewinsky scandal disqualified Bill Clinton as president, but some of those same people are planning to vote for Trump. What changed?

Related

Donald Trump’s might-makes-right ethic

Peter Wehner, a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, served in the last three Republican administrations and contributes to The New York Times. Wehner, like me, regards the “fulsome embrace of Mr. Trump” by evangelicals (James Dobson, Jerry Falwell, Jr., Eric Metaxas, Robert Jeffress) as problematic “since he embodies a worldview that is incompatible with Christianity. If you trace that worldview to its source, Christ would not be anywhere in the vicinity.” In his op-ed, “The Theology of Donald Trump,” he writes:

Time and again Mr. Trump has shown contempt for those he perceives as weak and vulnerable — “losers,” in his vernacular. They include P.O.W.s, people with disabilities, those he deems physically unattractive and those he considers politically powerless. He bullies and threatens people he believes are obstacles to his ambitions. He disdains compassion and empathy, to the point where his instinctive response to the largest mass shooting in American history was to congratulate himself: “Appreciate the congrats for being right.”

What Mr. Trump admires is strength. For him, a person’s intrinsic worth is tied to worldly success and above all to power. He never seems free of his obsession with it. In his comments to that gathering of evangelicals, Mr. Trump said this: “And I say to you folks, because you have such power, such influence. Unfortunately the government has weeded it away from you pretty strongly. But you’re going to get it back. Remember this: If you ever add up, the men and women here are the most important, powerful lobbyists. You’re more powerful. Because you have men and women, you probably have something like 75, 80 percent of the country believing. But you don’t use your power. You don’t use your power.”

In eight sentences Mr. Trump mentioned some variation of power six times, to a group of individuals who have professed their love and loyalty to Jesus, who in his most famous sermon declared, “Blessed are the poor in spirit” and “Blessed are the meek,” who said, “My strength is made perfect in weakness,” and who was humiliated and crucified by the powerful.

To better understand Mr. Trump’s approach to life, ethics and politics, we should not look to Christ but to Friedrich Nietzsche, who was repulsed by Christianity and Christ. “What is good?” Nietzsche asks in “The Anti-Christ”: “Whatever augments the feeling of power, the will to power, power itself in man. What is evil? Whatever springs from weakness. What is happiness? The feeling that power increases – that resistance is overcome.”

Whether or not he has read a word of Nietzsche (I’m guessing not), Mr. Trump embodies a Nietzschean morality rather than a Christian one. It is characterized by indifference to objective truth (there are no facts, only interpretations), the repudiation of Christian concern for the poor and the weak, and disdain for the powerless. It celebrates the “Übermensch,” or Superman, who rejects Christian morality in favor of his own. For Nietzsche, strength was intrinsically good and weakness was intrinsically bad. So, too, for Donald Trump.

Those who believe this is merely reductionism should consider the words of Jesus: Do you have eyes but fail to see and ears but fail to hear? Mr. Trump’s entire approach to politics rests on dehumanization. If you disagree with him or oppose him, you are not merely wrong. You are worthless, stripped of dignity, the object of derision. This attitude is central to who Mr. Trump is and explains why it pervades and guides his campaign. If he is elected president, that might-makes-right perspective would infect his entire administration.

Related articles by Peter Wehner

The false dilemma of voting for the lesser of two evils

Russell Moore is president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention and author of Onward: Engaging the Culture Without Losing the Gospel. Here are excerpts from a must-read opinion column that he wrote for Christianity Today, “Should Christians Vote for the Lesser of Two Evils?

What happens in a race where Christians are faced with two morally problematic choices? Should voters cast a ballot for the lesser of two evils? This unpredictable election cycle could go in any number of directions, and I keep getting asked this question.

For starters, unless Jesus of Nazareth is on the ballot, any election forces us to choose the lesser of evils. Across every party and platform, all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. Still, the question is a valid one. Believing in human depravity doesn’t negate our sense of responsibility. By the standard of God’s law, every person is a liar, but that doesn’t mean we should hire an employee we know has a pattern of lying. Jesus taught that all who have lust in their hearts are adulterers, but that doesn’t mean a woman should shrug her shoulders when she learns her potential new husband is a serial philanderer.

When considering the question of choosing between the lesser of two evils, we must begin with what voting is within our system of government. In our system, citizen is an office; we too bear responsibility for the actions of the government. Just as the lordship of Christ made demands for public justice on office-holders in the New Testament (Luke 4:15), the same is true for those who rule as citizens.

The apostle Paul taught that the sword of Caesar is given by God to commend good and punish evil (Rom. 13:1-5). The Bible addresses the limits of this role, recounting those who use the sword in unjust ways and are held accountable to judgment (i.e., Revelation 13).

In a democratic republic, the authority over statecraft rests with the people themselves. In the voting booth, we delegate others to swing the sword of public justice on our behalf. If we think of a campaign like a job interview, we cannot ethically contract someone to do evil on our behalf.

***

As Christians, we are not responsible for the reality of our two-party system or for the way others exercise their citizenship, but we will give an account for how we delegate our authority. Our primary concern is not the election night victory party, but the Judgment Seat of Christ.

When Christians face two clearly immoral options, we cannot rationalize a vote for immorality or injustice just because we deem the alternative to be worse. The Bible tells us we will be held accountable not only for the evil deeds we do but also when we “give approval to those who practice them” (Rom. 1:32).

This side of the New Jerusalem, we will never have a perfect candidate. But we cannot vote for evil, even if it’s our only option.

What is behind Trumpism?

Trumpeters.jpgSince I have resolved to never vote for Donald Trump, I am now trying to understand why the Trumpeters toot his horn. Perhaps the first mistake here is look for a “why” when none may exist, as conservative writer George Will reminds me: “It is axiomatic that you cannot reason a person out of a position that the person has not been reasoned into. The adhesive that binds Trumpkins to their messiah can be dissolved by neither facts nor eloquence.” Even so, I have searched for plausible reasons that explain the inexplicable mob behind Trump.

New York Times: Peter Wehner, “What Wouldn’t Jesus Do?

AMONG the most inexplicable developments in this bizarre political year is that Donald Trump is the candidate of choice of many evangelical Christians.

Mr. Trump won a plurality of evangelical votes in each of the last three Republican contests, in New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada. He won the glowing endorsement of Jerry Falwell Jr., the president of Liberty University, who has called him “one of the greatest visionaries of our time.” Last week, Pat Robertson, the founder and chairman of the Christian Broadcasting Network, told Mr. Trump during an interview, “You inspire us all.”

If this embrace strikes you as discordant, it should. This visionary and inspiring man humiliated his first wife by conducting a very public affair, chronically bullies and demeans people, and says he has never asked God for forgiveness. His name is emblazoned on a casino that features a strip club; he has discussed anal sex on the air with Howard Stern and, after complimenting his daughter Ivanka’s figure, pointed out that if she “weren’t my daughter, perhaps I would be dating her.” He once supported partial-birth abortion and to this day praises Planned Parenthood, the nation’s largest abortion provider. He is a narcissist appealing to people whose faith declares that pride goes before a fall.

Mr. Trump’s character is antithetical to many of the qualities evangelicals should prize in a political leader: integrity, compassion and reasoned convictions, wisdom and prudence, trustworthiness, a commitment to the moral good.

When Bill Clinton was president, evangelicals ranked moral probity high on their list of leadership qualities. Supporters of Mr. Trump, a moral degenerate, justify their support by saying we’re electing a president rather than a pastor. Why a significant number of evangelicals are rallying round a man who exposes them as hypocrites is difficult to fathom.

Part of the explanation is that many evangelicals feel increasingly powerless, beaten down, aggrieved and under attack. A sense of ressentiment, or a “narrative of injury,” is leading them to look for scapegoats to explain their growing impotence. People filled with anger and grievances are easily exploited. As the great Christian apologist C. S. Lewis wrote, “We must picture hell as a state where everyone is perpetually concerned about his own dignity and advancement and where everyone has a grievance.”

Enter Donald Trump, alpha male.

Mr. Trump’s evangelical supporters don’t care about his agenda; they are utterly captivated by his persona. They view him as the strongest, most dominant, most assertive political figure they have ever seen. In an odd bow to Nietzschean ethics, they respect and applaud his Will to Power. And so the man who openly admires tyrants like Vladimir V. Putin and praised the Chinese crackdown in Tiananmen Square because it showed “strength” has become the repository of their hopes.

Set aside the fact that Mr. Trump is a compulsive and unrepentant liar. Set aside, too, that he has demonstrated no ability for statecraft or the actual administration of government and has demonstrated much incompetence at business to boot.

Bracket for now the fact that Mr. Trump has been more erratic, unprincipled and proudly ignorant when it comes to public policy than perhaps any major presidential candidate in American history.

What stuns me is how my fellow evangelicals can rally behind a man whose words and actions are so at odds with the central teachings of our faith. They overlook, rationalize and even delight in Mr. Trump’s obsessive name-calling and Twitter attacks, his threats and acts of intimidation, his vindictiveness and casual cruelty (including mocking the disabled and P.O.W.s), all of which masquerade as strength and toughness. For some evangelicals, Christianity is no longer shaping their politics; with Mr. Trump in view, their faith lies subordinate.

Yet it goes beyond that. Trumpism is not a political philosophy; it is a purposeful effort, led by a demagogue, to incite ugly passions, stoke resentments and divisions, and create fear of those who are not like “us” — Mexicans, Muslims and Syrian refugees. But it will not end there. There will always be fresh targets.

Mr. Trump’s approach to life is not new. In “The Republic,” Plato writes of Thrasymachus debating Socrates over the meaning of justice. Thrasymachus, a cynical Sophist, insists that justice has no intrinsic meaning but is merely a pretty word for what is in the interest of the stronger party. Life is a competition to get more money and more power; that is what defines success. “Injustice, if it is on a large enough scale, is stronger, freer, and more masterly than justice,” he argues.

Almost four centuries later, a carpenter from Nazareth offered a very different philosophy. When you see a wounded traveler on the road to Jericho, Jesus taught, you should not pass him by. “Truly I say to you,” he said in Matthew, “to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of mine, even the least of them, you did it to me.”

At its core, Christianity teaches that everyone, no matter at what station or in what season in life, has inherent dignity and worth. “Follow justice and justice alone,” Deuteronomy says, “so that you may live and possess the land the Lord your God is giving you.” The attitude of Thrasymachus is foreign to biblical Christianity. So is Trumpism. In embracing it, evangelical Christians are doing incalculable damage to their witness.

New York Times: Ross Douthat, “From Obama to Trump.”

The Trump uprising is first and foremost a Republican and conservative problem: There would be no Trumpism if George W. Bush’s presidency hadn’t cratered, no Trumpism if the party hadn’t alternated between stoking and ignoring working-class grievances, no Trump as front-runner if the party leadership and his rivals had committed fully to stopping him before now.

But Trumpism is also a creature of the late Obama era, irrupting after eight years when a charismatic liberal president has dominated the cultural landscape and set the agenda for national debates. President Obama didn’t give us Trump in any kind of Machiavellian or deliberate fashion. But it isn’t an accident that this is the way the Obama era ends — with a reality TV demagogue leading a populist, nationalist revolt.

First, the reality TV element in Trump’s campaign is a kind of fun-house-mirror version of the celebrity-saturated Obama effort in 2008. Presidential politics has long had an escalating celebrity component, a cultish side that’s grown ever-more-conspicuous with time. But the first Obama campaign raised the bar. The quasi-religious imagery and rhetoric, the Great Man iconography and pillared sets, the Oprah endorsement and Will.i.am music video and the Hollywood stars pledging allegiance — it was presidential politics as one part Aaron Sorkin-scripted liturgy, one part prestige movie’s Oscar campaign.

And it worked. But because it worked, now we have the nearly-inevitable next step: presidential politics as a season of “Survivor” or, well, “The Apprentice,” with the same celebrity factor as Obama’s ’08 run, but with his campaign’s high-middlebrow pretensions stripped away. If Obama proved that you can run a presidential campaign as an aspirational cult of personality, in which a Sarah Silverman endorsement counts for as much as a governor or congressman’s support, Trump is proving that you don’t need Silverman to shout “the Aristocrats!” and have people eat it up.

He’s also proving, in his bullying, overpromising style, that voters are increasingly habituated to the idea of an ever more imperial presidency — which is also a trend that Obama’s choices have accelerated. Having once campaigned against his predecessor’s power grabs, the current president has expanded executive authority along almost every dimension: launching wars without congressional approval, claiming the power to assassinate American citizens, and using every available end-around to make domestic policy without any support from Congress.

In the process, he’s cut the legs from under principled liberal critiques of executive power, and weakened the American left’s role as a bulwark against Caesarism. Which makes it altogether fitting — if deeply unfortunate — that his reward is the rise of a right-wing Caesarist whose authoritarian style and outrageous promises makes George W. Bush look like Cato the Younger.

And that Caesarist, crucially, is rallying a constituency that once swung between the parties, but that the Obama White House has spent the last eight years slowly writing off. Trump’s strongest supporters aren’t archconservatives; they’re white working-class voters, especially in the Rust Belt and coal country, who traditionally leaned Democratic and still favor a strong welfare state.

These voters had been drifting away from the Democratic Party since the 1970s, but Obama has made moves that effectively slam the door on them: His energy policies, his immigration gambits, his gun control push, his shift to offense on same-sex marriage and abortion. It was possible to be a culturally conservative skeptic of mass immigration in the Democratic Party of Bill Clinton. Not so anymore.

Of course this process has been a two-way street, as bigotry inclined some of these voters against Obama from the start, or encouraged them to think the worst of him eventually. And political coalitions shift all the time: There’s nothing inherently wrong with the Obama White House’s decision that a more ethnically diverse and thoroughgoingly liberal coalition held more promise than continued efforts to keep Reagan Democrats in the fold. (Though Democrats in Congress and statehouses might be forgiven for doubting the decision.)

But liberalism still needs to reckon with the consequences. As in Europe, when the left gives up on nationalism and lets part of its old working class base float away, the result is a hard-pressed constituency unmoored from either party, and nursing well-grounded feelings of betrayal.

Hence Marine Le Pen and the nationalist parties of Europe. And hence, now, Donald Trump.

He is the Republican Party’s monster, yes. But what he represents is also part of the Obama legacy — a nemesis for liberal follies as well as conservative corruptions, and a threat to both traditions for many years to come.

New York Times: Ross Douthat,The Elements of Trumpism.”

What Trump is doing, then, is showing us something different, something that less fortunate countries know all too well: how authoritarianism works, how it seduces, and ultimately how it wins.

But — God willing — he’s doing it in a way that’s sufficiently chaotic, ridiculous and ultimately unpopular that he will pass from the scene without actually taking power, leaving us to absorb the lessons of his rise.

That rise has four building blocks. First, his strongest supporters have entirely legitimate grievances. The core of that support is a white working class that the Democratic Party has half-abandoned and the Republican Party has poorly served — a cohort facing social breakdown and economic stagnation, and stuck with a liberal party offering condescension and open borders and a conservative party offering foreign quagmires and capital gains tax cuts. Trump’s support is broader than just these voters, but they’re the reason he’s a phenomenon, a force.

Second, you have the opportunists — the politicians and media figures who have seen some advantage from elevating Trump. The first wave of these boosters, including Ted Cruz and various talk radio hosts, clearly imagined that Trump would flare and die, and by being in his corner early they could win his voters later, or gain his fans as listeners. But the next wave, upon us now, thinks that Trump is here to stay, and their hope is to join his inner circle (if they’re politicians), shape his policy proposals (if they’re idea peddlers), or be the voice of the Trump era (if they’re Sean Hannity).

There is no real ideological consistency to this group: Trump’s expanding circle of apologists includes Sarah Palin and Steve Forbes, Mike Huckabee and Chris Christie; he has anti-immigration populists and Wall Street supply-siders, True Conservatives and self-conscious moderates, evangelical preachers and avowed white nationalists. The only common threads are cynicism, ambition and a sense of Trump as a ticket to influence they couldn’t get any other way.

Then third, you have the institutionalists — less cynical, not at all enamored of Trump, but unwilling to do all that much to stop him. These are people who mostly just want Republican politics to go back to normal, who fear risk and breakage and schism too much to go all in against him.

The institutionalists include the party apparatchiks who imagine they can manage and constrain Trump if he gets the nomination. They include the donors who’ve been reluctant to fund the kind of scorched-earth assault that the Democrats surely have waiting. They include the rivals who denounce Trump as a con artist but promise to vote for him in the fall. They include Republicans who keep telling themselves stories about how Trump will appoint conservative justices or Trump is expanding the party to pretend that Trump versus Hillary would be a normal sort of vote. And they even include the occasional liberal convinced that Trump-the-dealmaker is someone the Democrats can eventually do business with.

Then, finally, you have the inevitabilists — not Trump supporters, but Trump enablers, who encourage the institutionalists in their paralysis by acting and talking as if the support of 35 percent of the primary electorate means Trump Cannot Be Stopped.

Some inevitabilists are intoxicated with celebrity and star power. Cable news is riddled with such voices, who daily manifest Orwell’s dictum, “Power worship blurs political judgment,” so that, “Whoever is winning at the moment will always seem to be invincible.”

Others, especially in the intelligentsia, have a kind of highbrow nihilism about our politics, a sense that American democracy’s decadence — or the Republican Party’s decadence, in particular — is so advanced that a cleansing Trumpian fire might be just the thing we need.

I have a little bit of the last vice, which is why I spent a long time being anti-anti-Trump: not rooting for him to win, but appreciating his truth-telling on certain issues, his capacity to upset the stagnant status quo.

Which is the way it so often works with authoritarians. They promise a purgation that many people at some level already desire, and only too late do you realize that the purge will extend too far, and burn away too much.

Fortunately Trump’s fire should still be contained, by the wider electorate if not by his hapless party. Fortunately he’s still more a comic-opera demagogue than a clear and present danger. Fortunately this is just history giving us a lesson in what could happen, how the republic could slide into a strongman’s hands.

Fortunately.

New York Times: Ross Douthat, “Donald Trump’s Christian Soldiers.”

First, the good news for despairing anti-Trump believers: Despite those polls showing him doing well with evangelicals and Catholics, Trump is not the first choice of most active churchgoers. Indeed, active religiosity is (relatively speaking) one of the bulwarks against Trumpism, and his coalition is strongest among the most secular Republicans, not the most religious.

That said, it’s not as if Trump is being shut out among the devout. When The Wall Street Journal recently profiled the Trump coalition, they found that despite his supporters’ secular tilt, 38 percent still described themselves as weekly churchgoers.

What Trump is doing, then, isn’t so much co-opting conservative Christianity as exploiting its weaknesses and divisions. As with the wider conservative coalition, Trump is heightening conservative religion’s internal contradictions and fracturing it along pre-existing fault lines.

The first fault line is the one suggested by the data on churchgoing: Trump is losing the most active believers, but he’s winning in what I’ve previously termed the “Christian penumbra” — the areas of American society (parts of the South very much included) where active religiosity has weakened, but a Christian-ish residue remains.

The inhabitants of this penumbra still identify with Christianity, but they lack the communities, habits and support structures that make the religious path (somewhat) easier to walk. As a result, this Christian-ish landscape seems to produce more social dysfunction, more professional disappointment and more personal disarray than either a thoroughgoing secularism or a fully practiced faith — which makes it ripe territory for Trump’s populist appeal. And his occasional nods to religious faith — like, say, his promise to make store clerks say “Merry Christmas” instead of “Happy Holidays” — are well tailored for voters for whom Christian identity is still a talisman even when an active faith is all but gone.

Then among Americans who do still have an active faith, Trump has exploited the widening gap between what many conservative Christians assumed about the relationship between their country and their faith, and what the last 10 years or more of social and political change have revealed about the nation’s drift. Here’s how Ben Domenech recently described this psychology of disillusionment:

“Evangelicals have for decades believed that the country was more conservative than not, more Christian than not. The bipartisanship on religious liberty and the civic faith of the country was conducive to that. Now they’ve woken up to a reality in the Obama years that this was a polite fiction. They worry that coaches getting fired over praying at schools, fire chiefs getting fired for citing Scripture, bakers getting bankrupted over their refusal to bake a cake — their entire perspective on Christian faith as a key element of what made America great has been swept away.”

Faced with these shifts, many religious conservatives have contemplated a partial retreat from political activism, a quest for internal cohesion and cultural resilience that Rod Dreher of The American Conservative has called “the Benedict Option,” after the founder of Western monasticism.

But others clearly look at things a little differently. If this is really a post-Christian society, they seem to be thinking, then Christians need to make sure the meanest, toughest heathen on the block is on their side. So it makes sense to join an alliance of convenience with a strongman, placing themselves under his benevolent protection, because their own leaders have delivered them only to defeat.

And the lure of the strongman is particularly powerful for those believers whose theology was somewhat Trumpian already — nationalistic, prosperity-worshiping, by turns apocalyptic and success-obsessed.

With the steady post-1960s weakening of traditional Christian confessions, the preachers of this kind of gospel — this distinctively American heresy, really — have assumed a new prominence in the religious landscape. Trump, with his canny instinct for where to drive the wedge, has courted exactly these figures. While more orthodox Christians have kept him at arm’s length or condemned him, he’s wooed televangelists and prosperity preachers, and pitched himself to believers already primed to believe that a meretricious huckster with unusual hair might be a vessel of the divine will.

Which he is not, save perhaps in this sense: In the light of Trumpism, many hard truths about American Christianity — its divisions, its failures, its follies, its heresies — stand ruthlessly exposed.

And the truth, we’re told, will set you free.

New York Times: David Brooks, “The Governing Cancer of Our Time.”

Over the past generation we have seen the rise of a group of people who are against politics. These groups — best exemplified by the Tea Party but not exclusive to the right — want to elect people who have no political experience. They want “outsiders.” They delegitimize compromise and deal-making. They’re willing to trample the customs and rules that give legitimacy to legislative decision-making if it helps them gain power.

Ultimately, they don’t recognize other people. They suffer from a form of political narcissism, in which they don’t accept the legitimacy of other interests and opinions. They don’t recognize restraints. They want total victories for themselves and their doctrine.

This antipolitics tendency has had a wretched effect on our democracy. It has led to a series of overlapping downward spirals:

The antipolitics people elect legislators who have no political skills or experience. That incompetence leads to dysfunctional government, which leads to more disgust with government, which leads to a demand for even more outsiders.

The antipolitics people don’t accept that politics is a limited activity. They make soaring promises and raise ridiculous expectations. When those expectations are not met, voters grow cynical and, disgusted, turn even further in the direction of antipolitics.

The antipolitics people refuse compromise and so block the legislative process. The absence of accomplishment destroys public trust. The decline in trust makes deal-making harder.

We’re now at a point where the Senate says it won’t even hold hearings on a presidential Supreme Court nominee, in clear defiance of custom and the Constitution. We’re now at a point in which politicians live in fear if they try to compromise and legislate. We’re now at a point in which normal political conversation has broken down. People feel unheard, which makes them shout even louder, which further destroys conversation.

And in walks Donald Trump. People say that Trump is an unconventional candidate and that he represents a break from politics as usual. That’s not true. Trump is the culmination of the trends we have been seeing for the last 30 years: the desire for outsiders; the bashing style of rhetoric that makes conversation impossible; the decline of coherent political parties; the declining importance of policy; the tendency to fight cultural battles and identity wars through political means.

Trump represents the path the founders rejected. There is a hint of violence undergirding his campaign. There is always a whiff, and sometimes more than a whiff, of “I’d like to punch him in the face.”

I printed out a Times list of the insults Trump has hurled on Twitter. The list took up 33 pages. Trump’s style is bashing and pummeling. Everyone who opposes or disagrees with him is an idiot, a moron or a loser. The implied promise of his campaign is that he will come to Washington and bully his way through.

Trump’s supporters aren’t looking for a political process to address their needs. They are looking for a superhero. As the political scientist Matthew MacWilliams found, the one trait that best predicts whether you’re a Trump supporter is how high you score on tests that measure authoritarianism.

This isn’t just an American phenomenon. Politics is in retreat and authoritarianism is on the rise worldwide. The answer to Trump is politics. It’s acknowledging other people exist. It’s taking pleasure in that difference and hammering out workable arrangements. As Harold Laski put it, “We shall make the basis of our state consent to disagreement. Therein shall we ensure its deepest harmony.”

Washington Post: Michael Gerson, “Trump is the demagogue that our Founding Fathers feared.”

The theory that voters, like customers, are always right has little to do with the American form of government. The founders had little patience for “pure democracy,” which they found particularly vulnerable to demagogues. “Men of factious tempers, of local prejudices, or of sinister designs,” says Federalist 10, “may, by intrigue, by corruption, or by other means, first obtain the suffrages, and then betray the interests, of the people.” A representative government is designed to frustrate sinister majorities (or committed pluralities), by mediating public views through “a chosen body of citizens, whose wisdom may best discern the true interest of their country.”

Trump is the guy your Founding Fathers warned you about. “The question is not ‘Why Trump now?’ ” argues constitutional scholar Matthew J. Franck, “but rather ‘Why not a Trump before now?’ Perhaps some residual self-respect on the part of primary voters has driven them, up to now, to seek experience, knowledge of public policy, character, and responsibility in their candidates. The Trump phenomenon suggests that in a significant proportion of the (nominally) Republican electorate, this self-respect has decayed considerably.”

With the theory of a presidential nominee as a wrecking ball, we have reached the culmination of the founders’ fears: Democracy is producing a genuine threat to the American form of self-government. Trump imagines leadership as pure act, freed from reflection and restraint. He has expressed disdain for religious and ethnic minorities. He has proposed restrictions on press freedom and threatened political enemies with retribution. He offers himself as the embodiment of the national will, driven by an intuitive vision of greatness. None of this is hidden.