Bridging the Evangelical Gap

Andrew Demillo AP
Booklet on Tort Reform

New Orleans    Whether it’s the New York Times, Washington Post, or the local papers, there’s now a spot for the so-called “conservative” columnist to make sure the paper can survive the anti-media waves lapping around them and, frankly, appeal to their elite, “uptown,” and wealthier readership.  A common trope for many of these and other pundits has been the deal that rock-ribbed, moralistic evangelicals have made with the devil, which is to say Donald Trump both as candidate and now even more so as President.

He can spout vulgarities about women that surely bring blushes to the sisters in the front row of the choir.  His countless affairs with various women, including porn stars and former Playboy models, even while his latest wife was bearing his latest child, certainly don’t fit well in the Sunday school lesson of the day.  Yet, he grabbed the lion’s share of their votes in 2016, more than 80%, and all polls indicate that they have stayed with him through thick and thin to this point.

He may not know the verses, but he sings along on the chorus, especially on abortion, but has also done a good job at lip-synching on a number of the other evangelical cultural issues.  He could care if there’s religion in public schools.  In fact, like Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, he has precious little experience with them, so how could it matter?  Separation of church and state whether on wedding cakes or healthcare, what the heck, as long as they don’t expect him to go to church every Sunday rather than one of his golf courses.

All of which made a news item recently more noteworthy when evangelical churches and leaders in Arkansas made opposing tort reform a huge part of their package before the coming election.  Tort reform has been a bellwether for corporate Republicanism for decades.  In plain English it means putting a limit on how much judges and judges can award victims of various forms of negligence.  Evangelicals in Arkansas in his instance showed some fealty to consistency in line with their pro-life ideology, joining the argument that there cannot be fixed limits on the value of life.

Interviewing the Public Interest Network’s campaign director, Zach Polett, on Wade’s World this item came up in our wide-ranging conversation about politics both local and nationally.  Zach mentioned that he had been asked to join some conversations over the last year, largely he suspected because of his long identification with ACORN, organized under the rubric of something called the Arkansas Democracy Working Group.  The point of these conversations has been to create a dialogue between right and left, especially evangelicals, to see where there might be common ground.  Having read the blurb about their tort reform position, I asked if the Working Group could take any credit for that, and Zach replied that he doubted it, while voicing his newfound respect for the head of the Arkansas Family Council and his sincerity.  On the other hand, he predicted that the statewide initiative that would raise the minimum wage in Arkansas to $11 by 2021, which would be about the highest level in the South, would win in November.  In that instance he thought a bridge had been built to evangelical leadership who increasingly understood that low-wage workers and increased equity for the poor were moral issues expressed secularly by increased efforts to create living wages and the dignity of work.

There’s a lesson there worth relearning.  No matter how wide the gaps or how much certain politicians see their self-interest and survival in polarizing people, there’s huge value in doing the work to find common understanding on issues one by one, even when we might be in different churches at other times.


Glenn Beck Says Facebook is Cool, No Problem

 The entrance to Facebook’s headquarters in Menlo Park, Calif., where a group of 16 Republican pundits and politicians met with Mark Zuckerberg, Sheryl Sandberg and other top executives on Wednesday. Credit Jason Henry for The New York Times
The entrance to Facebook’s headquarters in Menlo Park, Calif., where a group of 16 Republican pundits and politicians met with Mark Zuckerberg, Sheryl Sandberg and other top executives on Wednesday. Credit Jason Henry for The New York Times

San Francisco    So, Mohammed went to the mountain. Supposedly a dozen or so big name conservatives were rolling into Silicon Valley and, more specifically, Facebook’s headquarters to meet with be top brass there to make sure the Facebook news feed and trending stories weren’t being slanted to the left. There was a lot of buildup to this peacekeeping mission before the meeting several days ago, but pretty much radio silence after that.

Somewhat surprisingly, I was sent the report from one of the big names at the summit, our old nemesis, Glenn Beck, dot connector and conspiracy hunter on radio and television. Beck’s report boiled down to the bottom line was, no problem, this is a much ado about nothing, they’re making a mountain out of a molehill.

He reports that between 25 and 30 folks met with Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg. He listened to what they had to say, and though being clear that he was a techno-peasant like most of the rest of us, he had listened carefully to his own tech people, and he thought it was one of those things where they were sincere, and it was just one guy with one beef crying that the sky was falling, and not a real problem to his lights. He was clear he had been a long time Facebook fan, and was nothing but positive about Zuckerberg. All of the concerns in the mainstream media about the responsibilities of Facebook as major news source without the proper protocols and accountability to be whispering in the ears and infiltrating the eyes of 1.6 billion, didn’t faze Beck in the least. He was good on all that.

On the other hand, he had some worries he wanted to share, presumably not with the likes of me, but with his conservative readership, that offered an interesting peephole into what the other folks and the room might have been saying. And, what his compadres were saying was worrisome to Beck, because they sounded like a much liberals to our guy, Glenn.

Reading between the lines some of the fire breathers must have seen a meeting with the big whoops of Facebook as a chance to put their noses under the tent and convert this dustup into a permanent presence. They had demands about diversity, Mormon representation, a 6-month training program for the employees so they understood conservatism, etc, etc. In Beck’s words,

It was like affirmative action for conservatives. When did conservatives start demanding quotas AND diversity training AND less people from Ivy League Colleges. I sat there, looking around the room at ‘our side’ wondering, ‘Who are we?’ Who am I?

He also mentioned some folks that must not have left the meeting in the same “happy place” that Beck had found, like the CPAC, the Conservative Political Action Committee and some other people unknown to me.

But, before you think, wow, Glenn Beck, what might a meeting have been like where he was the voice of reason, the more worrisome thing to take away is not Beck’s astute note on the similarity of demands from any aggrieved group, but the fact that Beck felt at home with the political philosophy being expressed in Silicon Valley and at Facebook, the sort of libertarian, conservative anarchism that permeates the space. As Beck said elsewhere in his piece,

I understand why conservatives are suspicious of Silicon Valley. It can feel a lot like the main stream media. But I’ve told you many times that I feel at home in Silicon Valley. I love the energy. These are people who want to innovate and disrupt, they want the government to stop regulating their businesses, they want small business to succeed, they value personal responsibility, etc. Why they are liberal? I don’t know, but in general, they’re not Progressives, at least not the folks I met with today (though I’m sure there were a few).

For anyone who thinks Silicon Valley and tech-world is somehow a bastion of progressive folks because you like your IPhone and your Amazon Prime and your Facebook, Beck is giving you the skinny. He’s “sure there were a few” out there, but he’s still looking. He observed that the real problem that under-girded the meeting and this incident is that there was no trust between conservatives and Facebook. Progressives should have the same caution and reserve trust, and perhaps like Beck, even judgement, no matter how much we love the tools. These people are scary.