I am a Christian. I grew up in a small town in southwest Ohio and attended a Southern Baptist church. I loved my church family and the years that I spent there were some of the most formative of my life.
I'll always be grateful to my church and the people who attended it, but around the time I was preparing to graduate high school, I found myself becoming increasingly frustrated with some of the rhetoric I was hearing on Sundays. My frustration did not stem from any of the gospel centered messages I was hearing. Rather, my distaste was born out of the increasingly political nature of the church atmosphere. I clearly remember being handed voter guides when leaving the building. These supposedly informative pamphlets were little more than right-wing propaganda praising the Republican candidate and portraying Democrats as immoral monsters. The voter guides focused on issues such as abortion, same-sex marriage, and religious freedom. All of these are of course important issues, but they are not the only issues people of faith should care about, in my opinion. In 2004, I was told by a small group leader that "Christians need to do their duty and vote for George W. Bush this November." When I expressed concern with President Bush, primarily as a result of the disastrous war in Iraq, I was told "I don't understand how someone who calls himself a Christian can vote for John Kerry." The argument was that despite any shortcomings of the Bush administration, the GOP was the party that stood for family values. The moral leadership on social issues provided by the Republican Party trumped all other issues.
This has been an effective argument for the better part of 40 years, ever since Jerry Falwall and others created the Moral Majority in the late 1970s. Whatever one's opinions about the issues such voters have supported, the fact is the evangelical movement has been a reliable base of support for the GOP for decades. Generally, they have used their influence to insist that politicians support their causes and that parties put forward candidates of high character.
This brings us to 2016. The GOP has recently nominated Donald J. Trump as their candidate for President of the United States. For many, the idea of Donald Trump actually winning the Republican primary was unthinkable as recently as 1 year ago. What's more amazing is that Mr. Trump has received rather strong support from evangelical voters. According to a survey by the Pew Research Center, 78% of self-identified evangelicals are supporting Mr. Trump. This is a higher percentage than pledged their support for Mitt Romney in 2012. While Gov. Romney does not share the faith of evangelical community, his views on social issues are very much in line with religious conservatives. Furthermore, Romney is widely viewed as a man of high character, principle, and integrity. The same can not be said for Donald Trump. In fact, Mr. Trump's campaign and personal life seems to be the antithesis of qualities valued by the evangelical community. To many Christians, myself included, such support constitutes the highest level of political hypocrisy. Never again, can evangelicals, as a voting bloc, claim the moral high ground. It seems they are willing to sell their vote to most anyone the GOP puts forward. Because of their overwhelming support for Mr. Trump, the evangelical movement is in danger of becoming irrelevant. When the page turns on this embarrassing period in American electoral history, the last chapter of evangelical political influence will be written as well.
While the end of evangelical electoral influence may not be the worst thing to ever happen, the real damage being done by this election is the scar it may leave on the church itself. The ultimate goal of evangelical Christians is not to elect public officials or influence policy, it is to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ. By enthusiastically supporting Donald Trump, I wonder how evangelical leaders hope to minister to the groups that have been the target of Mr. Trump's vitriol? How can there be racial unity within the church when so many are proudly casting votes for a man heralded by white supremacists? How can the church continue to empower women when prominent male leaders shake the hand of a man who denigrates women on both a personal and professional level? What of the wonderful ministries to refugees? Desperate families come to our country in search of a better life and safety, yet they are generalized as terrorists by Mr. Trump. How can our churches open their doors to immigrant families (regardless of their status) when they cheer the preposterous idea of building a wall and forcibly deporting 11 million people? How can the advocates of "family values" seek to destroy immigrant families by separating parents and children? Furthermore, how can the voters of "family values," who have always demanded high character out of their candidates, cheer for a man who has been married 3 times and has admitted to multiple extramarital affairs?
I don't mean to paint with broad strokes. Their are certainly numerous evangelical leaders and millions of ordinary Christians who have not pledged their support for Mr. Trump, however they are in the minority. This is not meant to be a stump speech for Hillary Clinton (there will be other candidates on the ballot), however it is meant to encourage evangelical voters to consider the ramifications of their support for a campaign that has been aimed at demonizing millions of innocent people. People in our country have a 1st amendment right to support whichever candidate or issue they wish. However, none of us are provided a freedom from consequence. The consequences of supporting Mr. Trump will not only be dire for evangelical political influence, but also future ministry opportunities. I couldn't agree more with Senator Ted Cruz when he told his fellow conservatives: "Vote your conscience." That's what I'll be doing in November, I hope you will too,
As a history teacher one of the comments that really grinds my gears goes a little something like this: "If the Founding Fathers were alive today they'd be shocked at what this country has become!" This is almost always proclaimed in a negative tone. The speaker isn't claiming that the Founders would be shocked and surprised at home much our nation has accomplished. No, they are suggesting that we have betrayed the guiding principles of this nation. The country has changed so much that the men and women who founded this country would be ashamed at what we've become. This may very well be true.
However, if the Founders were to somehow miraculously appear in our own time, I'd imagine they'd have a million questions for us beyond the political direction of our government. "Where have all the slave auctions gone?" they might ask. "What are these strange horseless carriages everyone is traveling about within?" "Can you direct me to the nearest physician? I'm feeling rather low and am in need of a good bleeding." The point is that the world has changed tremendously in 240 years and our society has reflected that change. More often than not, guessing what the Founders would think of our world is a bit foolish; they couldn't comprehend our world.
I say "more often than not" because occasionally our former leaders tell us what they think about the few issues that have remained relatively unchanged over the centuries. They do this through their writing. There is a reason why I require my AP Government students to read not only the Constitution, but also several of the Federalist Papers. For example, when students asked me what I thought about the Senate refusing to confirm (or even give a hearing to) President Obama's choice for the Supreme Court vacancy until after the election, I said "Alexander Hamilton is rolling in his grave." We know from the likes of Madison and Hamilton that the Supreme Court was intentionally designed to be free of electoral pressure. We have their words to guide us. However, the instances where there is an apples to apples comparison of our issues to those of the 1780s and 90s are few and far between.
One area that I'm confident the Founders would have been shocked (and perhaps appalled) to see what we created is the presidential nominating process. The Republican and Democratic Conventions that are taking place these two weeks in Cleveland and Philadelphia are in no way what the Founders intended. The Constitution makes no mention of political parties or a nominating process. In fact, George Washington warned against the formation of parties in his farewell address. The idea at the time was that the best man would be chosen by the most virtuous and educated individuals. No one would "run" for office. Such behavior would be beneath a man of honor. Rather, candidates would simply let it be known that they would accept the job if the Electoral College chose them.
The idea that a presidential nominee should reflect the will of the people by winning a series of primaries and caucuses is most certainly not what the Founders had in mind. For one thing, they didn't care what the average person thought. Don't believe me? Look up the percentage of the popular vote George Washington received. You won't find any record, because no such record exists. At the time there were only 10 states (3 had yet to ratify the Constitution) and only 6 allowed for any sort of popular vote. Even then they weren't actually voting for a candidate for President, but rather the people who would vote in the Electoral College. George Washington was unanimously elected because he received 100% of the Electoral Vote, not the popular vote. In fact, a national popular vote for President was not counted until 1824, 32 years after the first election! Shortly there after, the party system began to dominate politics and the process slowly transformed into the system that we know today. So, who were the men chosen as President before the counting of popular votes and nominating conventions? Our first 5 Presidents: Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Madison, and Monroe. All of whom were Founding Fathers. With the next generation came new ideas and new methods.
Was the Founders' model for selecting a President democratic? No, not particularly. Am I suggesting that we should abandon primaries, polling, and party conventions? No, I'm not. I certainly believe that a President should reflect the will of the people. However, when I look at the first 5 men to serve as President and I look at the circus that our presidential nominating process has become today and the kind of candidates it can produce, I wonder if the Founders weren't on to something. I for one, think we could use a few more virtuous leaders.
About 15 months ago, I was having a conversation with some students of mine regarding the then upcoming film Star Wars: The Force Awakens. The conversation was lighthearted and fun, but quickly something became apparent to me: the kids and I were anticipating the release of Star Wars for a entirely different reasons.
For me, the release of the film offered the opportunity to right a wrong. To undue the disappointment I felt when I watched Episodes I, II, and III. Even though I was born two years after the release of the final film in the original trilogy, Return of the Jedi (1983), Star Wars was still very much ingrained in popular culture. I grew up watching and loving the films. Maybe it helped, that I had an older brother and cousins to indoctrinate me, but I'm going to assume that my love of Star Wars had more to do with the Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi bed sheets that both my brother and I had. In short, I loved the films as a child.
For my students, the release of the film represented, not a resurrection of a dead sage, but the continuation of something they loved as kids: the prequels. These kids were born around the time of the release of Episode I. The grew up watching the latest trilogy, playing video games based upon the films, and watching animated series such as Clone Wars on Saturday mornings. For them, the latest iteration of Star Wars was their reference point. Some admitted they hadn't even watched the original films! They could quote the prequels, in a way that older nerds like myself might work in "That's no moon." into daily conversation. One student even proclaimed "I just hope this new movie uses lots of CGI. The special effects are so bad in the old movies I can't even watch them!" At this point, I excused myself from the conversation.
I had a similar conversation with students last year about Jurassic World. Jurassic World is, for my money, an enjoyable action film. I would be lying if I said the sight of the Indominous Rex fighting the T-Rex and raptor didn't bring a smile to my face. Of course, most of the film I kept asking myself "What the heck is an Indominous Rex?" and proclaiming (much like my mother) "How stupid!" at the many misadventures on screen. But all in all, it was a fun thrill ride. Certainly, it was a 1000x better than the abomination known as JPIII. However, Jurassic World lacked the wonder of the original film. There was no suspense, there was no intrigue, at no point was I actually concerned about the well being of characters on screen. It wasn't the same. For my students however, "Mr. Ashcraft, Jurassic Park is one of the most boring films I've ever seen! The special effects are lame and it's not even scary." For these students and those younger, Jurassic World will probably be the reference point for the entire franchise.
This brings me to Ghostbusters. The 1984 original is one of my all-time favorite films. It is endlessly quotable, incredibly quick witted, and an all around fantastic movie. When I learned that there was going to be a new Ghostbusters film I was excited, but I quickly began to worry that I might be tremendously disappointed. Based upon the early reviews, I think I will be. Of course, that's if I go in with expecting to see something similar to the movie I grew up loving. If I didn't have this reference point, like I'm sure many of my students lack, I might really enjoy the movie. From what I've heard, the film is funny in it's own right, but nothing like the originals. For young moviegoers today, this movie will be "their" Ghostbusters.
One's generation's version of most anything is always "better" to them. That's the power of nostalgia. It extends into many areas of our lives. It seems that each generation thinks the younger generation's culture is inferior. Whether we're discussing movies, music, politics, sports, or any number of issues, there is a conversation to be had about whether one thing is objectively better than another. However, the first time we experience something and the age at which we experience it will probably always cause us to be a bit biased. I'm not sure there's anything wrong with that.
But honestly, compared to the 90s, today's music sucks.
Most Americans who know the name Aaron Burr, know him as the man who killed Alexander Hamilton in their infamous duel in Weehawken, NJ on July 11, 1804. Thanks to Lin-Manuel Miranda, the name Aaron Burr has once again entered into American culture. However, what many may not realize, is that Aaron Burr at the time of the duel, was the Vice President of the United States! Needless to say, Burr's political career ended in disgrace as a result of the slaying.
Burr's time as Vice President was going to come to an end soon anyway because he was elected as VP as a result of a flaw with the Constitution. In its original form, the Constitution required that the Vice President would be the candidate who finished second in the electoral college. Not anticipating the development of political parties, the Framers never envisioned two candidates with fundamental disagreements being a problem in terms of governance. However, the problem was obvious by the election of 1800, in which Burr finished second to Thomas Jefferson, so Congress and the States amended the Constitution to create the system of selecting a Vice President that we use today. Burr would not have been chosen by the Democratic-Republicans as a Vice Presidential candidate in 1804.
Despite, the many changes that have taken place since 1804, one thing remains the same: the Vice Presidency is where promising political careers go to die. Unlike Burr, modern Vice Presidents don't have to kill a founding father to end their career.
The first two Vice Presidents, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, went on to be elected President in their own right. However, since ratification of the 12th Amendment, only three Vice Presidents have gone on to be elected President: Martin Van Buren, Richard Nixon, and George Bush. The American people wanted Al Gore, but the Electoral College and Supreme Court disagreed. Sure, several VPs have become Commander-in-Chief as a result of a President's death or resignation. However, of those who have assumed the Presidency, only 3 (Theodore Roosevelt, Harry Truman , and Lyndon Johnson) were able to successfully win the Presidency in the next election. Modern vice presidential candidates are chosen to balance the ticket, strengthen the weaknesses of the presidential candidate, and appeal to a different section of the electorate. Nevertheless, the office remains the place were political careers go to end.
This information is important because as I type this presumptive nominees Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are busy vetting candidates to choose as their running mates. The decisions will no doubt be made within the next 10 days and the people who agree to run for VP will need to understand that their political careers are, in all likelihood, over if they are elected Vice President.
For Mr. Trump, reports suggest that the choice has been narrowed to two people: Indiana Governor Mike Pence and former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich. Both are liked by establishment Republicans, however Pence has far more to lose if he agrees to run with Trump. Not only will he be forever associated with a racist, egocentric, widely unqualified, narcissist, he currently has the potential of running for President himself or serving in the cabinet of future administrations. He can forget all of that if he chooses to accept the Vice Presidential nomination, regardless of the outcome in November. Gingrich on the other hand has nothing to lose. He has been out of government ever since he left in disgrace during the 1990s. He has no hope of ever being elected to any significant office on his own, but he would appeal to some of the less principled Anti-Trump Republicans. To some, he would seem to help Trump where he is weakest: having any clue what it means to govern. The Vice Presidency would give Gingrich a level of influence he hasn't had in years and could serve as a resurrection of his career. He is the politically wise choice for Trump.
For Secretary Clinton, the list of potential running mates is long and diverse. Virginia Senator Tim Kaine is a popular choice. The former Governor is well-liked in an important swing state and some think will offset some of Clinton's lack of personal likability. Only 58 years old, Kaine still could have a long career ahead of him. Some progressives want Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren. Warren is a favorite of the liberal wing of the Democratic Party. However, would Warren and her supporters be willing to sacrifice years of future influence (and potential leadership) in the Senate for perhaps only 4 years as Vice President? Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown is another popular pick. A popular progressive from the all important state of Ohio would help in terms of winning the election. Probably a wise choice, but again, a career killer. Furthermore, if either Warren or Brown are selected and win, a Republican governor would appoint their replacement. This is unlikely to sit well with Democrats. So who is the best choice for Clinton? The answer is obvious: Bernie Sanders. The Senator from Vermont is widely popular with the wing of the party that is turned off by Clinton. He is widely viewed as honest and genuine. He would have a seat at the table when helping to craft an agenda; something he lacks now. Sanders is 74 years old and not a member of the Democratic Party meaning he doesn't have many years of influence left in the Senate. The Vice Presidency could be a fitting end to his attempted political revolution.
Whatever the choice, the candidates need to understand that if they are elected as Vice President it will probably signal the end of their political careers and they had better use the chance they are given to have as much influence as possible. Most importantly of all, whomever is asked to run needs to have the qualifications necessary to be President if circumstances require. Sadly, in our current political climate that most important qualification will be given far too little consideration.
I hate being "That Guy", but sadly it's the profession that I've chosen. Part of being a history teacher is being the one who spends his days explaining to students why many of the things they've learned as children are, in fact, inaccurate. Notice I didn't say that they weren't true, but rather inaccurate. I once had a professor tell me that "In the study of history there is no truth. There are only facts." Therefore, today I need to be "that guy" and explain to you that the United States of America did not declare its independence from Great Britain on July 4, 1776. No, sadly the day we all celebrate as our nation's birthday, the original Brexit, is inaccurate.
In 1776, Founding Father John Adams wrote to his wife Abigail: "The Second Day of July 1776 will be the most memorable Epocha, in the History of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival. It ought to be commemorated as the day of deliverance, by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires, and Illuminations from one End of this continent to the other from this time forward forever more."
Here we have a member of the Continental Congress, collaborator with Thomas Jefferson, signer of the Declaration of Independence, future ambassador, Vice-President, and President of the United States predicting that July 2nd would be fondly remembered for generations to come. Was something wrong with Mr. Adams' calendar? Why would he make such a claim. The reason is simple: The United States of America declared its independence from Great Britain on July 2, 1776.
On the day in question the Continental Congress voted to accept a resolution put forth by Virginian Richard Henry Lee which read "That these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent States, that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain is, and ought to be, totally dissolved."
There you have it. So why all the fuss about the fourth? Why aren't our Twitter feeds filled with #HappyJuly2nd as John Adams predicted? The answer has to do with professional spotlight thief Thomas Jefferson. On July 4, 1776 the Continental Congress of the now independent United States of America voted to accept Mr. Jefferson's (highly edited) Declaration of Independence as the official statement of independence to be distributed throughout the country and the world. And no, all of the founding fathers did not sign it on that day, it was just a vote regarding a document; albeit a brilliant and world-changing document. In short, July 4th was the day that Congress decided to inform King George III of our official breakup. The message of the Declaration is clear: "Things aren't working out. It's not me, it's YOU!"
Over time, different groups of Americans began to celebrate Independence Day as July 4th. The first recorded celebration took place on July 4, 1783 just after the end of the Revolutionary War. As for Mr. Adams, he and fellow founding father and frenemy Thomas Jefferson both died on July 4, 1826, the 50th Anniversary of the Declaration. So, is July 4, 1776 America's birthday? Of course it is. Americans have accepted this as true for more than 200 years and that is what is important. Nevertheless, this truth is a bit inaccurate.
Derek Trent Ashcraft
A place to discuss, among other things, politics, culture, food, faith, and nonsense.