The Word from the Values Voter Summit
Terry H. Schwadron
Oct. 15, 2017
I realize that I am more than imperfect — a sinner actually or an “unsaved other” — to those gathered in Washington this weekend for the annual Values Voter Summit, where Donald Trump made the first appearance by any sitting President. For the President, the visit and remarks to solidify support among evangelical, Christian voters fell on most welcome ears.
To me, almost everything grated; it all came in such certain tones, without question or nuance, or without a nod to what each called-for change would wreak upon our society.
Not only was the gathering as close to a voter rally as possible, which I always find unsettling regardless of party, it was that each sentence that the President uttered was sort of true, if one could turn a head and squint, but vastly incomplete in its meaning or as to its effect on people who were not in the room.
The President made a big deal, for example, about our unified look at victims of shootings and hurricanes, the bravery of first responders and our respect for having been born under a single God. But all “united” does not seem to include Muslims, Jews, transgender people, Democrats, and assorted others who may not subscribe to a white, Christian creed that leans heavily against poor people and immigrants.
He was quick to point out that under Trump, we have returned to valuing First Amendment freedoms towards religion, regardless of the fact that Trump regularly seems to disdain the true teachings of religion towards treatment of others less fortunate than himself, for example. He also blithely skipped over his sure disdain for another of the First Amendment protections, that for a press that would criticize or even report its own facts rather than accept White House whitewashings of “alternative facts.” To him yesterday, freedom of speech means allowing and promotion ministers and church clergy from the political right to express themselves fully without fears of losing tax exemptions from using their exempted pulpits for political rallies.
He said freedom to practice religion means that the government has no business requiring employers who happen to be practitioners of particular religions from offering their employees health coverage that includes birth control and contraceptives, for example. But the government does have the right under the same amendment to demand that black professional football players who feel strongly that the rights of black men are being trampled to stand during the playing of the national anthem, freedom of speech be, um, damned.
Now this was a friendly audience. More than 80 percent of people identifying as evangelical Christians said that they voted for Trump last November, and 100 percent of the people in this particular politically conservative chamber.
Trump, who has become a hero on the religious right for early actions on abortion and religious liberty, cast his governing philosophy as one steeped in Biblical principles. “In America we don’t worship government, we worship God,” Trump said. Trump blamed “politically correct” liberals of warring against American traditions, like the celebration of Christmas. “We’re saying Merry Christmas again,” Trump said.
Yeah, that’s what I mean about unifying Americans and being inclusive — except for people who actually don’t celebrate Christmas.
“We believe in strong families and safe communities,” Trump said. “We honor the dignity of work. We defend our Constitution. We protect religious liberty. We treasure our freedom. We are proud of our history. We support the rule of law and the incredible men and women of law enforcement. We celebrate our heroes and salute every American that wears the uniform. We respect our great American flag.”
The message was reinforced through the weekend, with political vows from Rep. Mike Meadows of North Carolina, head of the Freedom Caucus, and Stephen K. Bannon promising to primary every Republican incumbent who does not support their agenda.
That is, unless you think — as I do — that the Constitution might stand for equal protection under the law, or a growing body of civil rights in a democracy, that those who have made it have some responsibility to those who are treated with less than full respect. Unless you believe that law enforcement has a special responsibility not to single out black men for special adverse treatment, for example. Unless you believe that health care is about providing better actual health care to more people, not making it about young, employed people to avoid paying a fair share about shared medical risk in this country. Unless you believe that Puerto Ricans deserve hurricane relief as American citizens, and unless you believe that immigrants brought to this country as young children should be allowed to remain.
That Donald Trump, perennial truth basher, tax cheater, woman abuser, bad businessman, three-time husband, insulter in chief should get up before evangelical Christians as a hero is weirdness personified. This is a marriage of political convenience, not an endorsement of a man whose very details run afoul of the principles that bring about this gathering.
The problem with the Values summit is that only some values seemingly are worth protecting — for some of the American people. If you’re going to wrap yourself in an America First, white Christian rights Flag, perhaps you shouldn’t be talking so much about unity.