In a Wednesday Onenewsnow article about Ronald Reagan’s Christianity, David Barton is quoted as saying:
Reagan’s faith matured over the years from a “pretty shallow” faith early on to more mature understanding of scripture.
While many people did doubt Reagan’s sincerity, Reagan biographer and Grove City College colleague Paul Kengor told me that Reagan never had a shallow faith. While Barton can be credited with acknowledging that Reagan had a faith, Kengor has shown via his many articles and books that Reagan’s faith was important in his life from his childhood.
Barton was asked to comment on a newly discovered letter written by Reagan to his atheist father-in-law. The letter was in essence an evangelistic appeal for his father-in-law to convert to Christianity. Kengor has a commentary on the letter here.
My concern in this post is not about Reagan’s faith. It seems clear to me that he was an imperfect believer as is the case with any believer. In my view, any comparisons to Donald Trump as court evangelical Robert Jeffress attempted earlier this year are faulty because Reagan actually believed in Christianity. In my opinion, Trump is acting the part and giving evangelicals just enough to keep them as a voting bloc.
Rather, this comment from Barton is another illustration of why he can’t be trusted as a historian. There has been a resurgence of interest in Reagan’s faith over the last decade or so. A historian familiar with the literature should be aware that there are good reasons to believe Reagan’s personal faith was meaningful to him throughout his life. One might contest various applications of his faith or how consistent his actions were with the faith but to call his beliefs or faith shallow isn’t accurate.
By the way, if you want to get an icy silence from Wallbuilders, ask Mr. Barton about his earned doctorate.
In 2011, social conservatives — mostly Christian groups — complained about the presence of GOProud, a gay conservative group, at CPAC. Many socially conservative groups pulled out.
Now, CPAC has scheduled Milo Yiannopoulos to speak. Yiannopoulos is a gay self-styled conservative who has spoken favorably of sex between young teens and adults. Thus far, (since Saturday), no major Christian or socially conservative group has come out against the speech, as far as I can determine.
Individual religious and social conservatives have spoken out. Reagan biographer Paul Kengor said the decision was “appalling.” He added, “If this is your idea of the new conservative movement, count me out.”
In my view, the issue isn’t Yiannopoulos’ sexual orientation. I supported GOProud’s involement at CPAC in 2011 and doubted that Ronald Reagan would have opposed it. My issue is Yiannopoulos’ defense of sexual relationships between teens below the age of consent and adults. On that basis, CPAC should immediately rescind the invitation to speak.
If social and religious conservatives don’t come out against the planned speech by Yiannopoulos, then it will be one more sign that their voice has been stifled by support for the Trump/Bannon administration.
The annual conference of the Conservative Political Action Committee is coming up next week. However, controversy has already arrived in the form of Milo Yiannopoulos. His invitation to speak at the conference is not sitting well with critics. The criticism of the invitation became especially hot after two videos surfaced of Yiannopoulos defending young teen-adult sex (as young as 13 as recorded in the interview). I am not going to embed the videos but you can listen for yourself here and here (see also the video embedded at the tweet below and full interview here).
Some have called on other CPAC speakers to boycott the conference.
Perennial CPAC attender, Ronald Reagan biographer and Grove City College colleague Paul Kengor told me the invitation is “appalling. William F. Buckley Jr. is rolling over in his grave.”
Kengor added that the keynote invitation is the “inevitable consequence of the Trump-Bannon attempted takeover of the conservative movement and GOP. Milo is a Bannon-Breitbart creation/superstar. For traditional-values conservatives who boarded the Trump train to defeat Hillary, well, it’s time to pay the piper.”
Kengor has a message for the American Conservative Union:
I beg this question of the American Conservative Union, Matt Schlapp, and its board members who I respect so much: Is Milo even a conservative? I realize it might seem uproariously fun to watch an outrageous, crude, militant homosexual tell leftists to go blank themselves, but is this really the poster-boy you want as the new model for young conservatives? The alt-right loves him. What would Ronald Reagan say about him as the CPAC keynoter? William F. Buckley Jr.? Russell Kirk?
He added, “If this is your idea of the new conservative movement, count me out.”
For his part, Yiannopoulos is claiming he was joking and did not refer to sex with minors. If one listens to the interview posted by the Reagan Battalion, it is hard to square his Facebook post with the interview where he defends young teen-adult sexual relations.
When Barack Obama was president, evangelicals and conservatives cared about Ukraine. They believed Obama was weak and unwilling to confront Vladimir Putin’s expansionism into Ukraine.
Now, evangelicals are largely silent about President Donald Trump’s warm words toward Russia’s leader and confusing rhetoric about Ukraine.
An early signal of this shift was obvious at the GOP National Convention when Trump’s supporters watered down a key pro-Ukraine plank in the party platform. I was told by a GOP delegate that the only proposal Trump’s observers spoke up about was the one which encouraged the U.S. government to arm Ukrainians against Russian aggression. Trump’s people in the room succeeded in significantly softening the proposed language with little if any resistance from the large contingent of evangelical delegates.
Now, despite Trump’s assurances that Russia would leave Ukraine alone, Putin’s forces are again bombing Eastern Ukraine while Donald Trump defends Putin and even compares his Russia to the U.S (see the recent Bill O’Reilly interview).
On this point, the following tweet caught my attention.
My evangelical extended family in Ukraine getting bombed today by Putin has been sold out by American nationalist evangelical leaders.
@wthrockmorton Knowing what the “Russian World” means, Ukraine’s evangelicals are stunned US evangelicals support Trump who supports Putin.
— Michael MacKay (@mhmck) February 6, 2017
Do evangelicals leaders still care about Ukraine?
If they did, I hope they will use their clout with Trump in order to educate him about the dangers of trusting the Russian leader, especially given his recent actions. If anything, Trump’s rhetoric is more in lines with a desire to Make Russia Great Again than #MAGA.
According to my Grove City College colleague Paul Kengor, Trump is heading down the dangerous road first traveled by FDR with Stalin and then by Obama with Putin. In a 2016 article, Kengor wrote:
Stalin showed that “like” of FDR by rolling over Eastern Europe, hammering everything from the Ukraine to Poland. He abused the hell out of FDR. Not until literally days before he died, just weeks after Stalin preyed upon his trust at Yalta, did FDR finally learn and admit he had been wrong about Stalin.
“Averell [Harriman] is right,” FDR sighed to Anna Rosenberg on March 23, 1945, less than three weeks before he died. “We can’t do business with Stalin. He has broken every one of the promises he made at Yalta.”
FDR’s tragic mistake was thinking that the Russian leader liked him and thus would “work with me for a world of democracy and peace” (yes, FDR actually said that about Stalin).
The “Putin-likes-me” attitude of Trump is a fatal conceit, and it’s something that Donald Trump should have learned from watching two terms of Barack Obama’s naïve statements and attitude toward the Russians. It is also the polar opposite of Ronald Reagan’s statements and attitude toward the Russians.
Recently, I asked my friend, colleague and Ronald Reagan biographer Paul Kengor to participate in a Q&A comparing Donald Trump with Ronald Reagan. It is my feeling that Reagan would not be welcome in today’s GOP and that he would be especially troubled by the emergence of Trump. Kengor agrees and will respond to questions early next week. However, in the mean time, Paul sent along a link to an article he penned for the American Spectator. I think it well-written and brings some valuable observation about Trump in light of Paul’s knowledge of Reagan.
The whole thing is depressing. Consider, Rubio and Cruz, the two genuine conservative front-runners, are the hardworking sons of extraordinary immigrants from Cuba. They are quintessential American success stories. They are both solid Christian family men. And into the race comes a sudden self-proclaimed born-again conservative who laughs at them and eviscerates them, and is rewarded for it. It’s hard to watch.
All of which brings me back to Trump’s mastery of an altogether new campaign tactic of non-stop rapacious ridicule of opponents within one’s own party. The New Jersey casino founder brashly accused Ted Cruz of everything from being a closet Canadian citizen to cheating when the Donald lost Iowa. Schoolboy-like, Trump threatened lawsuits. Of late, he jumps in the sandbox and taunts Marco Rubio: “choker, choker!”
Can you imagine Ronald Reagan doing this? Reagan’s “11th commandment” was never to speak ill of another Republican. Donald Trump’s commandment is to speak ill of every Republican.
Do Republicans want this as the party’s new face and standard-bearer? Apparently those on the Trump side do. Many of them even assume the insult-king’s persona, dealing with dissenters with similar levels of obnoxiousness, blow-torching Republicans in the way of their Donald.