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Op-Ed

Which Is Worse? Trump’s Embrace of the Far Christian Right or the Far Christian Right’s Embrace of Trump?

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Trump’s Relationship with Evangelicals is Mutually Parasitic

Recently The Family Research Council announced Tony Perkins has been appointed as a commissioner of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) and the Internet promptly and appropriately lost its mind. The Human Rights Campaign immediately condemned the appointment and Perkins himself as “notoriously anti-gay.” Media Matters similarly raised alarm bells documenting Perkins’ long, grotesque history of antigay activism, including his support for conversion therapy to “cure” gayness and linking of homosexuality with pedophilia. Their criticism is not hyperbole. Tony Perkins has been a reliably hateful opponent of equality for decades. The things that earn HRC and Media Matter’s consternation, however, make Perkins a hero and celebrity among politically conservative Evangelicals. President Trump needs to keep his ties with that brand of Evangelical strong, so his patronage makes perfect political sense. 

Like oxpeckers on hippos, the Trump Administration and religious right share a symbiotic relationship. President Trump owes the Family Research Council and like minded groups because they promise to turn out the base. They are also willing to suspend decades of advocacy for Christian morality in public life in return for conservative judges and continued attacks on perceived enemies of conservative Christians. 

It is clear why President Trump would reward a man like Perkins with such a position. It is less clear why a leader of the religious right would seek such a reward. The Commission itself ostensibly serves a valuable purpose: advising the President, Secretary of State and Senate on how best to encourage religious freedom abroad. It rightly characterizes religious freedom as the absence of state coercion in regards to living one’s personal conscience, a necessary ingredient for any democracy to flourish. But, like so many other appointees of the Trump Administration, Perkins’ appointment follows a larger pattern of placing people in governmental roles to actively undermine the purpose and function of that role. 

In his acceptance speech, Perkins provides two clues into what he gets out of such a position. He praised the 21st Century Wilberforce Initiative as a model for advocating religious freedom abroad and endorsed the Frank R. Wolf International Religious Freedom Act. Like the commission to which he is appointed, the Wilberforce Initiative does amazing work to protect conscience minorities globally. The communities for whom the Initiative intervenes run the gamut of persecuted minorities from the Rohingya in Myanmar to Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia. Perkins is right to praise the work of the Wilberforce Initiative. It is in the United States’ national interest to encourage democracy worldwide. Any understanding of democracy must include robust protections for minority viewpoints on faith and morality and protections against state coercion in matters of conscience. 

But, Perkins’ long history of anti-gay activism belies a pursuit of authentic religious liberty. Perkins and the FRC use “religious liberty” as coded language for a license to discriminate. They see efforts to protect LGBTQ people as tantamount to religious persecution, assuming that liberty of conscience only protects the dominant religious group’s prerogative to persecute non-adherence. Given a series of domestic losses, the religious right has now transitioned to actively opposing LGBTQ rights abroad under the misleading auspices of protecting religious liberty. What Perkins likely seeks is a reduction of U.S. impediments to this new internationally focused anti-gay activism. 

Perkins’ endorsement of the Frank R. Wolf International Religious Freedom Act provides further insight into his motivations for seeking a position on the Commission. The law requires accurate reporting of religious liberty abuses to Congress with recommendations for how the U.S. can best support religious liberty through its execution of soft power and direct influence. With Perkins’ inverted interpretation of religious liberty, it is unlikely reporting would include draconian anti-LGBTQ policy in places like Russia, though it should. Authentic, democratic liberty of conscience protects the rights of citizens to come to their own moral conclusions and live their lives accordingly without state pressure to follow the majority’s faith. These protections should apply even if the targeted minority is not identified by a specific faith label. Under Perkins’ interpretation of religious liberty, the reverse will occur and prohibition of antigay discrimination will instead be characterized as a violation of religious liberty. 

Perkins and like minded groups have no doubt strategized about how to get the most bang for their buck while the Trump administration lasts. Despite an unending public praise of the Administration’s accomplishments, religious right groups are smart to recognize an accumulation of legal troubles and bleak reelection prospects. Even the most rabidly anti-LGBTQ activists have to be realistic about the uncertainty of future Supreme Court decisions and how successfully they can turn back the clock on gay rights. With its coming decision in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, the Supreme Court might deal another blow to Perkins’ interpretation of religious liberty as a license to discriminate. 

Regardless of the outcome of the gay wedding cake case or the fate of the Trump Administration, Perkins’ position on the Commission enables him to make a longstanding impact on public policy and civil litigation. Through working with NGOs like the Wilberforce Initiative and carrying out the requirements of reporting legislation, Perkins will establish a pattern of administrative and legislative language that cements a license to discriminate as a tenet of religious freedom in future regulations and cases. This pattern of language will inform bureaucrats and judges on how the U.S. understands religious liberty. Such interpretation will long outlast Perkins’ appointment and Trump’s presidency. 

If the President fails to get reelected or is shown the door early, his appointees in the bureaucracy don’t leave with him. Perkins has the potential to make an impact on opposing gay rights domestically and internationally that will last longer than any electoral or legislative victory likely could. Resisters rightfully wring their hands raw with each appointment that seeks to undermine the principles of a position, but even favorable midterms will not be able to undue Perkins’ damage. This, perhaps, is the real reason religious right leaders now seek such positions: political insulation from a swiftly evolving public. Perkins realizes his discriminatory agenda is now electorally insoluble. He also realizes that while safely snug in the folds of Big Government, there is little any of us can do about it.  

 

Gabriel S. Hudson, Ph.D. is a democratic theorist and professor. He teaches courses on American Government, The Judiciary, and The Constitution at George Mason University’s Graduate School of Education and The Schar School of Policy and Government. He has published numerous articles on democratic theory and liberty of conscience and is the author of Christodemocracy and the Alternative Democratic Theory of America’s Christian Right.

Image: Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead

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Op-Ed

Op-Ed: Think Twice Before Attacking Pelosi

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The idea that President Trump should be impeached is appealing to many. After all, he is a scumbag with zero ethics who doesn’t know the meaning of the word integrity. He has lied to the American people and is hurting our country and making the world a more dangerous place. So, yes, let’s move to impeach seems to be a rational thing to say.

But impeachment is more than finding the votes in the House of Representatives to pass articles of impeachment. That has been done twice before in our history. The House has voted articles of impeachment for two previous presidents: Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton. I believe the House could do it again for Trump. But let us not forget in those previous cases the Senate refused to convict and acquitted them both and they continued to serve as president.

In the wake of the House voting to approve two articles of impeachment for Clinton his approval rating in polls went up by 10 percent. So there is a political reason to consider if voting to impeach Trump would do the same for him. Would the public at large, not just Democrats, feel Trump’s crimes are much more serious or would impeachment generate feelings among a large bloc of voters that Congress is only acting for political reasons.

Continue reading the full op-ed at The Washington Blade.

Peter Rosenstein is a community and Democratic activist based in Washington, DC, where he appears in the media as a commentator on issues including LGBT rights, politics and education. His columns may be found here

NCRM from time to time publishes op-eds reflecting the wide diversity of our community’s views and beliefs. They do not necessarily reflect NCRM’s positions.

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Op-Ed

Democrats, This Is Why We Need Nancy Pelosi

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Democrats Continuing to Fight Pelosi Are Doing the Work of the Republican Party

To all those Democrats who are still opposing Nancy Pelosi as Speaker of the House, it’s time to wake up. This is not the time to toss overboard the person who has the experience and skills to hold the new Democratic coalition together. 

Some newly elected progressive Democrats like Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez originally suggested Nancy Pelosi isn’t progressive enough for them. She now has changed her position and endorsed her, obviously realizing Republicans have been attacking Leader Pelosi for years as a “San Francisco liberal,” too progressive for the country. 

Democrats like Rep. Seth Moulton, leading the charge to get rid of Pelosi, have a lot to learn. At a recent town hall the women of his district tried to educate him and pushed back.

A new class of Democrats got elected, and now they need to learn how to pass legislation. Pelosi, a recognized environmentalist, supporter of the rights of minorities, women and the LGBTQ+ community, can teach them how to do that. She understands the federal budget and the process needed to move legislation through the House even in tough times, and is rightfully credited with corralling the votes needed to pass the Affordable Care Act. She is a master strategist and fundraiser. Many of the candidates who now oppose her won their races with money she helped raise.

Recently Pelosi spoke at the Institute for Politics at the Kennedy School at Harvard. Those who oppose her should listen to what she said.

She “ticked off a legislative to-do list including lowering health care costs, spearheading a national infrastructure plan and pushing for changes to campaign finance laws,” and she talked about introducing gun control legislation.

“The California Democrat said she wasn’t worried about Democrats campaigning for the House in part by opposing her as speaker, telling candidates: ‘Do whatever you have to do, just win, baby.'”

Pelosi needs 218 votes in the House to be elected Speaker. There will be 234 or 235 Democrats in the House on January 3, 2019, so Pelosi can afford to lose the votes of a few. Sixteen Democrats recently signed a letter to oppose her and one, Brian Higgins (D-NY) has already changed his mind and endorsed her. Marcia Fudge (D-OH), who considered opposing her has now endorsed her.  

Pelosi is proving the master strategist and will secure the needed votes. She has been endorsed by most progressive groups and the most respected Democrat in the country, President Barack Obama. He said of her, “I think Nancy Pelosi, when the history is written, will go down as one of the most effective legislative leaders that this country’s ever seen.”

He added, “Nancy is not always the best on a cable show or with a quick soundbite or what have you, but her skill, tenacity, toughness, vision, is remarkable. Her stamina, her ability to see around corners, her ability to stand her ground and do hard things and to suffer unpopularity to get the right thing done, I think, stands up against any person that I’ve observed or worked directly with in Washington during my lifetime. What’s most important are the ‘nuts and bolts’ of governance; the blocking and tackling involved in actually getting things across the finish line and my experience has been that Nancy Pelosi knows how to do that, and she was an extraordinary partner for me throughout my presidency.” 

Democrats continuing to fight Pelosi are doing the work of the Republican Party.

The infighting will hurt the ability of Democrats to move forward a coordinated agenda. They might also keep in mind when Pelosi wins and she will, she appoints committee chairs, controls committee assignments, and decides what bills come to the floor. 

Democrats need to bring a new generation into leadership positions and Pelosi should have done that before. She can do it now by expanding the leadership. If Democrats take back the Senate and the White House in 2020 we can have this debate again. Now is not the time. 

Now Democrats must unite, not an easy task, as they have the most diverse caucus ever elected. Some districts elected progressives, others elected moderates. They will all need something to take back to their districts when they are up for reelection in 2020. The only person who can help them go home with what they need is Nancy Pelosi. She is a proven winner, a proven master of strategy. She knows how the House of Representatives works and is the master at bending it to her will – in this case to the will of Democrats across the nation.

Peter Rosenstein is a community and Democratic activist based in Washington, DC, where he appears in the media as a commentator on issues including LGBT rights, politics and education. His columns may be found here

Image via Wikimedia

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Op-Ed

‘Rainbow Wave’ May Decide Florida Races

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1.3 Million Florida Voters Saying Candidates’ Positions on LGBTQ Rights Are Important Are a Game-Changing Voting Bloc

At a time of renewed political attacks on LGBT Americans, the pro-equality vote — the ‘Rainbow Wave’ — may prove decisive in Florida’s midterm election.

Candidates ignore this growing voting bloc at their peril.

Equality Florida has invested deeply in connecting with voters for whom LGBT rights are the motivating issue.

We have identified 1.3 million voters in Florida for whom a candidate’s positions on marriage equality, gay and transgender workplace protections, and LGBT youth are definitive. We represent a game-changing voting bloc in a state where fewer than 65,000 votes decided the last two races for Governor.

This cycle, we’ve run our largest ever campaign to turn out pro-equality voters with mail and phone programs targeting hundreds of thousands of voters in support of more than 110 endorsed candidates, including Andrew Gillum.

There are so many reasons for LGBT people and our allies to vote: The Trump administration’s relentless attacks on the transgender community, businesses refusing to serve LGBT individuals, and Gov. Rick Scott’s broken promise to protect LGBT state workers after the massacre at Pulse Nightclub are all top of mind.

And in the race for Florida Governor, a longtime pro-LGBT champion, Mayor Gillum, faces Ron DeSantis a former congressman with one of the worst records on LGBT rights in the U.S. Congress.

For the past 12 months, Equality Florida Action PAC, the only statewide political committee working to elect pro-equality candidates at the state and local level, has been testing and fine-tuning our strategies. Through local and special elections, we’ve proven that pro-equality voters can shift the electoral landscape and provide the margin of difference.

No clearer example of this can be found than this year’s primary election in Florida Senate District 38.

Embattled anti-equality incumbent Sen. Daphne Campbell faced off against political newcomer Jason Pizzo. Equality Florida Action PAC committed $25,000 and the full force of our political apparatus to elect Pizzo. We turned out volunteers to knock on doors, funded mail pieces contrasting the candidates’ positions on LGBT issues, and ran digital ads supporting our endorsed champion.

Campbell’s anti-LGBT record became a defining, headline-grabbing issue in the lead up to primary Election Day, including a memorable moment during a televised debate where while clutching a copy of our mailer she said: “The gays have their rights and I have mine.”

Pizzo won by 9 points.

Whether it’s the Senate District 38 primary, the 2018 St. Petersburg Mayor’s race, or the race for Governor of Florida, the battle for LGBT rights puts defining markers on the playing field.

Will we build a Florida of inclusion and prosperity or a Florida mired in the Trump era politics of division and exclusion? For a growing and bipartisan coalition of voters, a candidate’s positions on LGBT rights tells them all they need to know about which side of this divide a candidate stands on.

The days of using LGBT issues as a wedge are waning.

Failure to support basic LGBT protections is a liability. Some candidates, including DeSantis, try to have it both ways. They mute their public attacks, while voting to please the dwindling but fervent extremist base.

But the candidates who fully embrace equality are the ones thriving in this emerging electorate.

Gillum, who has been an unflinching advocate of equality for decades leads, unites and speaks to the values of equality and fairness, while DeSantis has no platform beyond slavish devotion to Trump. Even Donald Trump waved the rainbow flag and claimed support on LGBT issues during the campaign. Of course, it was one of many lies, but the political calculus that led him to lie proves the current place of LGBT equality in the electorate.

The rainbow wave of 2018 has been decades in the making. In the remaining days, we’ll work to unleash the power of the LGBT and pro-equality allies’ vote, to hold accountable elected leaders like DeSantis who place a target on us and our families, and to elect champions like Gillum who represent the future of Florida and the South.

Guest Author Nadine Smith is the executive director of Equality Florida/Equality Florida Institute.

This article has been reprinted with the author’s permission.

Image by Ted Eytan via Flickr and a CC license

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