As President Donald Trump continues his attempt to shock doctrine America with a flurry of executive orders, geopolitical posturings, sophomoric outbursts, and outrageous pronouncements, it is not hard to lose focus.
At the National Prayer Breakfast Thursday morning, Trump continued his strange attacks on former Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, whom he reportedly resents for taking over for him on 'Celebrity Apprentice' in lieu of daughter dearest Ivanka. Oh, and for having the temerity to oppose his presidential candidacy. I can easily mount a defense of Schwarzenegger, an old friend who did some terrific things as governor, but there's no need to get distracted. Arnold can take care of himself. Because climate change denier Trump did something far worse than strangely snipe at renewable energy champion Schwarzenegger's ratings on an ancient reality TV show.
While most focused on a spat, Trump engaged in the grossest sort of historical perversion to promote a political pay-off for Christian fundamentalist voters who were essential to his minority vote victory in the presidential race.
Largely lost in the shuffle of Trump's manic, dizzyingly dizzy approach. the popular vote loser president is promising to shatter the separation between church and state that lies at the core of modern American democracy.
While Trump is showing himself to be a largely fake populist, appointing just the sort of manipulative megabucks insiders he decried in the campaign, he is proving to be a reliable neo-medievalist in pushing for more Christian fundamentalist influence in American politics. Perhaps not a surprise, that, since Trump got more votes from white evangelical Christians -- even though his lifestyle and attitudes quite laughably have little in common with the actual teachings of Jesus -- than Hillary Clinton got from black and Latino voters combined.
So, even though religiosity plays a bigger role in American politics -- with supposedly divine authority routinely spread over controversial policies like so much ketchup over mystery meat in a cheap diner -- than in any other major advanced industrial state in the world, Trump promises even more religiosity in politics.
Trump vowed to "totally destroy" the Johnson Amendment, the 1954 legislation, signed without incident by Republican President Dwight Eisenhower, authored by then Texas Senator Lyndon Johnson, to specifically bar tax-exempt organizations, including churches, from direct intervention in American elections.
That's bad enough. But Trump compounds the outrageousness by directly citing Thomas Jefferson as rationale for the move.
"It was the great Thomas Jefferson," intoned Trump, whose name is out of place in the same sentence with the legendary Enlightenment philosopher, "who said, the God who gave us life, gave us liberty. Jefferson asked, can the liberties of a nation be secure when we have removed a conviction that these liberties are the gift of God? Among those freedoms is the right to worship according to our own beliefs. That is why I will get rid of and totally destroy the Johnson Amendment and allow our representatives of faith to speak freely and without fear of retribution. I will do that, remember."
Maybe Trump, who studied real estate at his Ivy League university, Penn, and notoriously never reads books, doesn't understand how dishonest this is and in gravely undermining the separation of church and state is simply parroting what he is told by some of his extremist advisors.
Because the reality is that Jefferson was a great champion of reason and science and a staunch opponent of the Christian fundamentalism Trump seeks to further empower.
Jefferson was one of the foremost champions of the Enlightenment, which vociferously opposed the promotion of religious dogma in politics.
Indeed, it was Jefferson who coined the term "wall of separation between church and state."
As principal author of the Declaration of Independence, Jefferson cited "the Laws of Nature and Nature's God," not the biblical God of Christian fundamentalism which Trump seeks to further promote, as the foundation for our ethic of liberty. That is "the god who gave us life and liberty."
For Jefferson, like most of the key Founding Fathers, was a deist, someone who believes that there may be a creator of the universe but not an all-powerful, obedience-demanding figure.
In fact, Jefferson literally re-worked the Bible to excise its supernatural elements, producing 'The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth,' better known as the 'Jefferson Bible.' It excludes the supernatural, removing all accounts of "miracles" and depictions of Jesus as divine.
Jefferson viewed good works in this life as the mark of morality rather than obedience to a creed, seeing Jesus as an incredibly valuable moral and ethical teacher but rejecting the Trinity.
Jefferson denied that Jesus meant "to impose himself on mankind as the son of God," deriding the producers of the New Testament as "ignorant, unlettered men" who promoted "superstitions, fanaticisms, and fabrications."
"In every country and in every age," Jefferson wrote, "the priest has been hostile to liberty. He is always in alliance with the despot, abetting his abuses in return for protection to his own. It is easier to acquire wealth and power by this combination than by deserving them."
Well, as Jefferson put it, "alliance with the despot." Add would-be and what new president does that sound like?
Nearly five years ago, I began writing about opposition and support for the Enlightenment as one of the most crucial dividing lines in American politics, noting in "The Enlightenment Divides American Politics" that the anti-Obama "birther" lies promoted by Trump and climate change denialism were on the rise in a country in which upwards of 40 percent believe in biblical "Creationism" rather than the science of evolution.
Many wondered why I did that. Now Donald Trump, as I feared from summer 2015 on, is president and know-nothingism is ascendant. And Trump feels so emboldened that he lies about Thomas Jefferson as he seeks to end the separation of church and state.
Never be distracted from the fundamentals of politics, and the fundamental truths of American history.
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