A Defense Of Jericho March Criticism
I have had lots of positive feedback, but also negative, to my “What I Saw At The Jericho March” post, which summarized and criticized the Christian Trumpist-nationalist event in Washington over the weekend. In this post, I want to respond generally to a few of the main lines of criticism.
“This is not about Donald Trump. This is about America and the Constitution.”
Please. As one reader wrote to me on this point (I paraphrase here): “Could you imagine the same kind of march, and the same intense rhetoric, about Jeb Bush or any other Republican presidential candidate?”
Besides, the Constitution provides a structure through which we adjudicate disputes like this. The Trump stolen election claims were submitted through the system, and all failed. It is theoretically possible that every one of the courts, including the US Supreme Court, got it wrong. Courts are human institutions, and therefore fallible. If they have failed here, then we have to live with it. The institutions of liberal democracy do not guarantee inerrancy. But what is the alternative? The actual alternative, right here, right now?
We could do away with liberal democracy. I don’t believe that liberal democracy is the only legitimate form of government. It is conceivable, certainly from a Christian point of view, that liberal democracy could bring about more evil than good, in which case one has a moral duty to oppose it. I don’t believe that we are there, at least not yet. But if that is your belief — that is, if you think that the entire structure of American liberal democracy has been fatally corrupted — then don’t waste my time talking about your fidelity to the Constitution.
“Why won’t you understand that this election was obviously rigged? There was fraud everywhere!”
Was there really? You might remember my saying in this space that a conservative lawyer friend who has worked election fraud cases before told me a couple of weeks ago that the gap between what Trump’s legal team is saying in public, and what it’s actually saying in court filings, is huge. Andy McCarthy, writing at National Review Online, looks at a passage from Team Trump’s filing in a Wisconsin case. The federal judge — a Trump-appointed one — dismissed it. McCarthy writes:
After all that’s been said over the last six weeks, this fleeting passage near the start of the court’s workmanlike, 23-page decision and order should take our breath away (my highlighting):
With the Electoral College meeting just days away, the Court declined to address the issues in piecemeal fashion and instead provided plaintiff with an expedited hearing on the merits of his claims. On the morning of the hearing, the parties reached agreement on a stipulated set of facts and then presented arguments to the Court.
A “stipulated set of facts,” in this context, is an agreement between the lawyers for the adversary parties about what testimony witnesses would give, and/or what facts would be established, if the parties went through the process of calling witnesses and offering tangible evidence at a hearing or trial.
Trump had tweeted that his team had found “many illegal votes” in Wisconsin, and would show it in court. The Trump people have been complaining the judges won’t let his people present their facts and evidence in court because of legal technicalities about “standing.” That did not happen in Wisconsin. McCarthy:
Judge Ludwig denied the state’s claims that the campaign lacked standing. Instead, he gave the campaign the hearing they asked for — the opportunity to call witnesses and submit damning exhibits. Yet, when it got down to brass tacks, the morning of the hearing, it turned out there was no actual disagreement between the Trump team and Wisconsin officials about the pertinent facts of the case. The president’s counsel basically said: Never mind, we don’t need to present all our proof . . . we’ll just stipulate to all the relevant facts and argue legal principles.
In the end, after all the heated rhetoric, what did they tell the court the case was really about? Just three differences over the manner in which the election was administered — to all of which, as Ludwig pointed out, the campaign could have objected before the election if these matters had actually been of great moment.
There was no there there. Despite telling the country for weeks that this was the most rigged election in history, the campaign didn’t think it was worth calling a single witness. Despite having the opportunity of a hearing before a Trump appointee who was willing to give the campaign ample opportunity to prove its case, the campaign said, “Never mind.”
This happened in Michigan and Pennsylvania too, McCarthy said. More:
It has become an article of faith among ardent Trump followers that the election was stolen. The president continues to insist that this is the case, and these flames were further fanned by 19 Republican-controlled state governments, along with 126 Republican members of Congress, who joined the meritless Texas lawsuit, tossed out by the Supreme Court on Friday. The rationalization behind that stunt was that the president has been denied his day in court. But every time a court offers him an opportunity to establish by proof what he is promoting by Twitter, Team Trump folds. Why is that?
He’s a swindler, is why. And he’s found tens of millions of people willing to be swindled.
“How can you believe that ‘soft totalitarianism’ is coming from the Left, and then criticize people who see the threat and are prepared to do something about it?”
For a couple of reasons. First, the kind of totalitarianism that I believe we are creating in this country is not one that politics alone can solve. The only speech I heard all day at the Jericho March (which, by the way, I watched on TV; I wasn’t in DC) that resonated with me was the one at the very end, by video, from the pastor Jonathan Cahn. He spoke for 15 minutes about the various cultural threats coming at us. Curiously, he didn’t talk about Trump, or the election. He was right about the threats. Politics is a partial solution, but most of this stuff has little or nothing to do with the presidency. I firmly believe that many conservative Christians have allowed themselves to get worked up over this election as a distraction from our collective failure as the church to disciple ourselves. So very many of us are as much a part of this declining culture as those we criticize.
This “something” that the Jericho March people are prepared to do satisfies them emotionally, but will do next to nothing to stop the movement towards soft totalitarianism, which is something coming on us not from the state primarily, but through corporations, universities, the media, and Big Tech. It plays to the radical subjectivism of our culture, and the fear of discomfort and loss of status.
Secondly, “doing something about it” does not justify doing anything. Social and moral conservatives are in the minority in this country, and are going to be further marginalized as the Boomers pass away. The younger generations are not nearly as religious or conservative. We have to play the long game. That means raising up a generation of leaders — political, intellectual, religious, cultural, and corporate — who are wise and discerning. I don’t agree with the “winsomeness is next to godliness” approach, insofar as it theorizes that unbelievers and liberals will like us if we are just nice enough. That doesn’t work. At the same time, it’s opposite — that being combative and insulting will guarantee victory by rolling over the opposition — is doomed.
We have to learn how to play a losing hand in a winning way. The pro-life movement has learned over the years how to do this pretty well. Abortions are down, and even with the Roe regime basically untouched by the Supreme Court, at the state level, many restrictions have been put in place that have saved unborn lives. The steady, abiding witness of pro-lifers over these past decades is paying off.
The kind of crazy talk at the Jericho March rally is going to get us all targeted by the state, and by wokesters in institutions, but will not advance our cause one bit. Besides, as a conservative and a Christian whose writing in recent years has been dominated by anger and anxiety over the loss of religious and civil liberties in the face of wokeness, I can say without a doubt that I would not want to live in a country governed by the radical nationalism and emotivist Christianity of the Jericho Marchers.
In his remarks, Gen. Mike Flynn told the crowd to listen to their hearts, not their minds. This, at a conservative rally! As longtime readers of mine know, one of the main problems with the woke is their belief that feelings are facts, as long as the person feeling it is one of the children of light. Well, what do you make of this argument from the conservative website American Thinker? The author claims that the election is illegitimate. Why?
An election is legitimate when its results are credible manifestations of the popular will. … If we cannot have confidence in an election result, it is illegitimate.
This standard would give veto power over election results to people who don’t want to believe the results, no matter the facts. Why is it wrong for, say, a black transgendered person to claim that a conservative is guilty of bigotry only because the black transgender person feels that the conservative is, but not wrong for an election to be invalidated only because conservatives feel that it was a sham? If conservatives are going to surrender to this emotivist culture of feels, what is the point of conservatism?
“You are an elitist who looks down on the people who marched.”
This is the right-wing populist version of the leftist tic, “You’re a racist/sexist/homophobe/transphobe,” in response to criticism of their actions or positions. It is not the position of someone who feels confident in their beliefs.
Look, I was never part of the Never Trump crowd because I fully agreed (and still do) with Tucker Carlson’s great January 2016 essay in Politico, titled “Donald Trump is Shocking, Vulgar, And Right“. The Republican Party had failed its people. Carlson wrote this at the beginning of the GOP primary season, in a time when a lot of conservatives believed Trump was a joke. But Carlson explained in his piece why establishment conservative failures led to Trumpist populism. Carlson was correct. The GOP needed populist shock treatment. It was bound not to be polite, and indeed, it was not.
Whether it was effective, or worth the losses, is very much debatable. But I’m not going to do that here.
To believe, though, that any criticism of Trump and his supporters is illegitimate because of snobbery is to surrender the integrity of one’s judgment — and is no different from what the Left does regarding claims of bigotry. It’s the argumentum ad hominem fallacy — and is, in fact, a form of reverse snobbery.
What we need — what any political party or movement has to have — is serious discussion and debate. What the Jericho Marchers propose is quite radical. If they are right, then that has profound implications for the future of the nation, and for what morally upright and patriotic Americans should think and do in the days ahead. This is absolutely not the time for people who disagree with them, or who have misgivings about their project, to fall silent because it hurts the Jericho Marchers’ feelings.
When it was the Left howling because their feelings, or the feelings of sacred victims within the progressive cosmos, were hurt by conservative criticism, we told them, famously, “Facts don’t care about your feelings.” But now we are supposed to walk on eggshells around Christians who are calling for apocalyptic measures to fight demonic evil that has supposedly rotted through our democratic institutions, because we don’t want to bruise their fragile egos? Snowflakery is even less attractive on the Right, because we are supposed to be better than that.
Some have criticized me for coming off as mocking some of the people at the march, especially my focusing on the unintentional comedy of the lurid, Gotterdämmerung rhetoric from speaker after speaker, interspersed with commercials for My Pillow. Does it really help to pretend that this disjunction isn’t ridiculous? Are these Christians only interested in talking to themselves? They can’t afford to be; there aren’t enough of them in the country to make the fantasies they talked about on the stage come true. They have to win converts to the cause. On that point, they have no idea how lucky they are that more people didn’t tune into the webcast for the whole march, and see for themselves the absurdity of it. I don’t doubt at all the sincerity of the participants, but again, if you’re trying to convince the nation that we need to rise up in rebellion — even forming militias, as one Jericho March speaker said — against the established order, you had better take yourselves as seriously as you expect the rest of us to do.
It does you no practical good to patronize you by feigning respect for rhetoric that is not respectable on its own merits. In his 1996 book The Revolt of the Elites, Christopher Lasch wrote, of the Civil Rights movement:
Those who feared or resented black people found themselves disarmed by the moral heroism, self-discipline, and patriotism of the civil right movement. Participants in the movement, by their willingness to go to jail when they broke the law, proved the depth of their loyalty to the country whose racial etiquette they refused to accept. The movement validated black people’s claim to be better Americans than those who defended segregation as the American way. By demanding that the nation live up to its promise, they appealed to a common standard of justice and to a basic sense of decency that transcended racial lines.
Exactly right. Was there anything about that Jericho March that conveyed moral heroism, self-discipline, or patriotism (which is not the same thing as nationalism)? This was a march in which some speakers called on the President of the United States to exercise executive authority to invalidate an election that he could not invalidate by the constitutionally provided process. That’s patriotic? I don’t think so, and I’m not alone.
And, many of us on the Right have opposed, actively or passively, the Black Lives Matter movement, and related liberation movements, because we have judged them not to be appealing to a common standard of justice that transcends racial lines, but rather by exploiting victimhood, and the rhetoric of victimization, to establish a double standard for racial groups. If it’s snobbish to expect my own tribe — Christian conservatives — to live by the same standard that I expect from people who are not, then fine, call me a snob. I would point out to you this passage from Lasch’s chapter criticizing Al Sharpton and other race hustlers:
They use victimization as an excuse for every kind of failure and thereby perpetuate one of the deepest sources of failure: the victim’s difficulty in gaining self-respect.
Exactly. Christian marchers and their sympathizers who blame “snobbery” for the failure of other conservatives, religious and otherwise, to respect what appeared to us as a grotesque pageant that affronted our political ideals and religious convictions only perpetuates the kind of things that make others disdain them, and not take them seriously on the matter of politics, or anything else.
Besides, as Hannah Arendt pointed out, two of the conditions that signal a pre-totalitarian society is when people value loyalty more than expertise, and ideology more than the truth. In my book Live Not By Lies, I talk about how this manifests itself on the Left today, particularly within institutions. Both these things were present at the Jericho March, in the speeches we heard. In a democracy, dissenters should not be shushed up, nor should people be taught that they can safely ignore substantive criticism because it hurts their feelings. That does not make those who advocate for a cause stronger. It only blinds them to reality.
“You’re discouraging conservatives when we ought to be encouraging each other.”
The old “shut up and stay loyal” thing again. No, I reject that. I reject that firmly. It was the same kind of thing that I heard from fellow conservative Catholics back in 2002, when I was still a Catholic, and first started writing critically of the Church’s sex abuse problem. If I kept that up, they said, I would be giving aid and comfort to the Church’s enemies.
Who hurt the Church more, in the end: the people who tried to hush things up, or those who tried to get the hierarchy, as well as the laity, to face this crisis honestly and deal with it?
I don’t want to encourage Christian conservatives, and populists, by telling them soothing lies, or withholding the truth when it needs to be told. You shouldn’t want that either. We have to live in the real world. Donald Trump lost this election. Even if by some miracle he really won, his legal team has not been able to prove that in court. Joe Biden is going to be the next president. The fact that Republicans did so well this November despite Trump’s loss is a sign that the main problem was Donald Trump. I can understand why Donald Trump doesn’t want to accept this. It is self-sabotaging for ordinary conservatives to live by this lie.
As I said earlier, as a political matter, the immediate challenge to conservatives is to hold the Senate. Trump’s carrying on about punishing the Georgia GOP for its supposed disloyalty to him might end up costing the Republicans the Senate. He has backtracked and said that GOP voters ought to come out, and not hold back their vote in protest. I hope they will pay attention. But if the Democrats take one or both seats because of a failure of Republican turnout, then Donald Trump will be responsible for a unified Congress working to enact Joe Biden’s agenda. This will be disastrous for the things conservatives, especially social and religious conservatives, care about.
Our longer term goal is to build on Trump’s accomplishments, and field a coherent populist conservatism, and a roster of candidates who can argue for it, and legislate effectively. The more hung up the conservative base stays on Trump’s drama queenery, the harder that is going to be to do. If Trump doesn’t step aside, but keeps stirring the pot, he’s going to make it impossible for anyone to emerge. The future of the GOP, and of whatever calls itself movement conservatism, should not depend on the political whims of a 74-year-old man who governed poorly, and could not get himself re-elected, but who can only act as a spoiler to a new generation of Republican leadership.
Donald Trump broke the old Republican Party. I’m not at all sad about that. But he is now in the position to keep a reformed GOP from emerging to be a viable vehicle for conservatism. If conservatives have to be quiet about what Trump and his loyal followers are doing to conservative prospects going forward, because we have a duty to encourage the Trumpers, count me out.
For years now, I have been trying to get liberals to see how frightening the illiberalism of the progressives looks to people who believe the things I believe, and who look like me. The Jericho March and its rhetoric fulfilled every stereotype they have of people like us. Many liberals are predisposed to think that all of us Christians and conservatives are so radical. There can be no doubt that the craziness of the radical left — the “defund the police” people, antifa, race radicals, and others — cost the Democrats plenty in this past election. Do we really think that a display like what we saw at the Jericho March on Saturday is going to help conservatives build a meaningful and effective resistance to Biden and the Democratic Party?
The greatest political failure of Donald Trump was that he never managed to increase his support beyond his base. True, he drew more minority votes this year than in 2020, but that was offset by losing educated whites. A party that wants to win in a nation as divided as ours has to be appealing to people in the middle, or at least to enough of them. You don’t appeal to those people by frightening them. Heck, I am a white male conservative Christian, and I was scared by a lot of what I saw at the Jericho March. How do you think more moderate people see it?
A lot of conservatives dislike David French, because of his Never Trumpism, and won’t listen to a thing he says. If you are one of those people, I think you’re wrong, and it’s not because I unfailingly agree with David French (I don’t!). But you would be especially wrong to miss his column today about “Christian Trumpism” and the Jericho March. Excerpts:
I’m going to be as blunt as possible: Language like Metaxas’s, like the Texas GOP’s, and like some of the statements you’ll read below embody a form of fanaticism that can lead to deadly violence. There isn’t a theological defense for it. Indeed, its fury and slander directly contradict biblical commands. When core biblical values are contingent, but support for Donald Trump is not, then idolatry is the result.
We’re way, way past concerns for the church’s “public witness.” We’re way past concerns over whether the “reputation” of the church will survive this wave of insanity. There is no other way to say this. A significant movement of American Christians—encouraged by the president himself—is now directly threatening the rule of law, the Constitution, and the peace and unity of the American republic.
French embedded this clip from the Jericho March. Listen to it:
74 million people voted for more of this utter lunacy pic.twitter.com/5DZBYmKS1c
— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) December 12, 2020
I’m supposed to avoid discouraging a man like this because it’s bad for conservatism?! Oh, hell no. It is precisely because I am first a Christian, then a conservative, that I want this deviltry defeated. The GOP pre-Trump status quo is gone forever — and good riddance. But if this is the face of conservatism going forward, conservatism is going to have its head handed to it, over and over and over — and will deserve to lose. Worse, it’s going to make people fear and loathe the churches … but not for the right reasons (our subversive sanctity).
My criticism of the Jericho March might cost me some Live Not By Lies book sales. No author wants to lose book sales, but I didn’t write a book called Live Not By Leftist Lies. If they want to understand better the forms of and threats from soft totalitarianism, my book explains it. If they want advice from Christians who lived under hard totalitarianism, and have words of wisdom for us, it’s there in the book. But they will not find MAGA at all costs in its pages. My brothers and sisters in Christ who are going down this wrong and dangerous path do not need my false flattery, and they do not deserve my support.
UPDATE: A Southern Baptist pastor writes about something that has been part of my criticism of these marches, and the Evangelical/charismatic approach to deciding how to react after the election: the idea that “God told me” to do something, and it can’t be questioned. For example, Jericho March emcee Eric Metaxas introduced one of the march’s founders, saying that God gave the man a vision for it, and when God does that, you have to do what He says. I complain that without real and serious discernment, this almost always amounts to a person imputing divine sanction to their own personal desires. The reader writes:
Rod, your letter from the Reformed Evangelical woman was spot-on. I was raised in the same kind of environment—Southern Baptist, not charismatic. I can’t tell you how many times I heard “God told me to go to such and such college” or “God told me to buy such and such car” or whatever. It always troubled me because I knew I didn’t have a direct pipeline to God like these other Christians claimed to have. All I had was the Bible. And that’s the problem. The Bible and the church’s teaching are diminished by these claims to daily direct revelation from God. Who wants to read Scripture or labor in prayer when God speaks to you personally like he spoke to Abraham, Moses, and Peter?
Some years ago, there was a single man who developed a friendship with a woman in a church I was leading. Their friendship blossomed as they both labored as volunteers in the same ministry at church. Eventually, they realized that they were interested in each other as more than friends. The only problem was that the woman was already married. Nevertheless, they made plans for her to split from her unhappy marriage so that she could be married to a godly man and have a godly marriage.
When I confronted the single man about the sinfulness of what he was doing, there was no word from Scripture he would listen to. “Thou shalt not commit adultery” couldn’t even make a dent in his conscience. Why? Because God had told them that they were supposed to be together. Never mind the fact that what God allegedly “told” them was contrary to what God revealed to Moses on Sinai. Their private revelations trumped all that.
This kind of attitude flourishes in countless ways not only in charismatic churches but also in many evangelical churches. A “personal relationship with Christ” sometimes means that he speaks to you like he spoke to Moses. Never mind that the Bible doesn’t really teach that. Never mind that the private revelations often end up affirming what you wanted to do anyway. Very few have the discernment to realize that the voices they are hearing in their head may not be God at all but their own fallen desires. This revelatory anarchy has done great damage within our churches.
UPDATE.2: Southern Baptist theologian Albert Mohler spoke about the Jericho March on his Briefing this morning. Read or listen to the whole thing for his entire remarks. Here’s an excerpt — and you should know that he takes a dim view of the event:
The first is the danger of rejectionism.
Rejectionism comes down to saying the entire government, the entire society is broken, there is no way to fix it. There is a grand conspiracy behind all of this, and there is no way we can even know about it, we can’t fight it. And so, we will simply reject it. The reality is that there may be points in which a rejectionist mentality is called for by all morally rightfully thinking people, including Christians. The point is, you better know when it has arrived and when it hasn’t, because if you declare it before it has, then you have just created nowhere to go, in terms of trying to solve the problems that you identify.
The second issue has to do with the allure of nihilism or nihilism, that is the embrace of the fact that there is no ultimate right or wrong. There is no ultimate way of knowing, morally, what is true or false. Instead, everything just comes down to power rather than morality.
And the allure of nihilism is that it just comes down to who can exercise more force, who can bring more power into the equation, but Christians are the first to understand that doesn’t make it right either way. If all of that we are left with is power, then we’re just going to destroy one another in the great game of getting more power.
The third principle we need to keep in mind is the possibility of likely embarrassment.
Christians want to avoid embarrassment. Not first of all, because we’re just embarrassed socially, but because we know not only is the world watching, but a sovereign, omnipotent, omniscient God, a Holy and righteous God, the father of our Lord, Jesus Christ is watching. He doesn’t miss anything. We don’t want to be embarrassed on the day of judgment, nor do we want to bring embarrassment upon our own Christian faith and upon Christianity.
That means we had better be working on the long investment of enduring influence without embarrassment, rather than what’s going to get a lot of attention now, that be embarrassing virtually immediately.
There’s a fourth issue related to this event that took place on Saturday. And that’s just the basic question, are we listening theologically?
Because the theology that was presented in that very bizarre event can only be described as including very bizarre theology. There was the blessing of Roman Catholic images, and probably in a way that wouldn’t even please Roman Catholic authorities, but nonetheless, there were evangelicals and others clapping at what took place. Most troubling were claims of private, compelling, divine revelation in which you had numerous speakers say, “God showed me this. God told me this by a vision or a dream.” And thus, notice what happens, they put God’s reputation as well as their own reputation on the line as to whether these things actually happen or not.
Now, just look at what’s explicit in the Old Testament and in the New. Just think in the Old Testament where false prophets are revealed to be false because what they said did not happen. And the issue then and now has to do, first of all, more with God’s own personal honor, since his name has been invoked, then our personal honor. Where they were just all kinds of incredible statements that were made, simply on the basis of some presumed and claimed private revelation. If we really believe in scriptural authority, if we really believe in Sola Scriptura, then we certainly don’t believe in the authority of any such extra biblical revelation, period.
Mohler is a Reformed Baptist, and I am an Orthodox Christian. Of course I think offering prayers to the Virgin Mary and to saints is theologically kosher in general, though it can be misused. But as I said in my original post, it’s got to be troubling to people who believe what Evangelicals believe that they cheered for this kind of thing. And, for Catholics and Orthodox, it ought to have been troubling to have been part of an event that reveled in private revelation, and claimed divine sanction for Trump’s presidency, and the crusade to defend it.
As Mohler points out, the secular media actually paid little attention to the Jericho March, for which we conservative Christians ought to be happy. But it was a very important event in the life of American Christianity, for what it symbolized about the melding of nationalism, religion, and adoration of Donald Trump. Political anger is causing otherwise intelligent and faithful Christian conservatives to tear down barriers, especially conceptual barriers, that exist for good reason.
Look, I get the anger. I share it! You can’t have read this blog in the past few years without understanding that. But our passions, unrestrained by reason, will undo us. That march was what Jews call, in Yiddish, a shanda fur die goyim — a shameful act carried out by the people of God before the world, bringing discredit onto the Almighty and His church, in part by confirming hateful stereotypes. A reader in Ireland sends this quote from Thomas Merton’s Life And Holiness, which he correctly says is appropriate to this situation:
This brings us to one more grave problem. The Christian who is misinformed; who is subject to the demagoguery of extremists in the press, on the radio or on t.v., and who is perhaps to some extent temperamentally inclined to associate himself with fanatical groups in politics, can do an enormous amount of harm to society, to the Church and to himself. With sincere intentions of serving the cause of Christ he may cooperate in follies and injustices of disastrous magnitude.