By now, after months of leaks following the initial agreement on April 2, the broad outlines of the deal with Iran are already familiar. If you want to know what’s in it, I recommend skipping the bombastic White House PowerPoints, which claim that all Iranian pathways to a nuclear weapon have been “blocked,” or the obfuscatory language of the 150-page Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action itself, which reads like a document drafted by a committee of lawyers intent on papering over differences with extra-long and hard-to-follow sentences.
For a more succinct (and, on the whole, accurate) account, go right to the statement issued by Tehran’s official Islamic Republic News Agency. It notes, inter alia:
-) World powers have recognized Iran’s peaceful nuclear program and are to respect the nuclear rights of Iranian nation within international conventions…
-) The Islamic Republic of Iran is to be recognized as a nuclear technology power authorized to have peaceful nuclear programs such as complete nuclear fuel cycle and enrichment to be identified by the United Nations.
-) All unfair sanctions imposed by the UN Security Council including economic and financial sanctions on Iran are to be lifted as per the agreement and through issuance of a new resolution by the United Nations Security Council.
-) All nuclear installations and sites are to continue their work contrary to the early demands of the other party, none of them will be dismantled.
-) The policy on preventing enrichment uranium is now failed, and Iran will go ahead with its enrichment program.
-) Iran’s nuclear infrastructure will remain intact, no centrifuges will be dismantled and research and development on key and advanced centrifuges such as IR-4, IR-5, IR-6, IR-8 will continue.
So far, so familiar — and dismaying. This agreement is a massive capitulation to Iran. Having started negotiations with the goal of ending Iran’s nuclear program, the U.S. and its European negotiating partners are winding up legitimating Iran’s status as a nuclear power in waiting.
But there are some surprises in the final language.
The most pleasant surprise is the “snapback” provision which would, in theory, at least, allow the reintroduction of sanctions should Iran violate the agreement. It had been widely feared that “snapback” would require a vote of the U.N. Security Council, which would allow Russia or China to veto such a resolution. Instead, the agreement sets up a Joint Commission — composed of the European Union, the United States, France, the United Kingdom, Germany, Russia, China, and Iran — to adjudicate disputes over implementation. It would only take a bare majority of the commission to reinstitute sanctions, which means that the U.S. and its European allies could re-impose sanctions even without the support of Russia and China.
This makes “snapback” no longer an impossibility — but still extremely improbable. Because once sanctions come off, the European states, in particular, will have a significant business stake in Iran that they will be loath to endanger by re-imposing sanctions.
There is also the psychological dimension to be considered: Re-imposing sanctions would be tantamount to a concession that the agreement has failed. How likely is it that the architects of the agreement will concede any such thing? In reality, it’s impossible to imagine any circumstances under which President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry (who is no doubt expecting to get a Nobel Peace Prize out of this, to match Obama’s) will ever say that Iran is in violation. Perhaps some future president who did not negotiate this deal will be more willing to make such a call — perhaps. But to do so would spark a crisis with Iran that no future president would relish. The odds are it will be easier to overlook any violations that are sure to be disputed. That’s certainly been the patterns with arms control treaties between the U.S. and Russia — repeated Russian violations tend to get swept under the carpet by both Democratic and Republican administrations.
Finally, even if the snapback were implemented sometime in the future, it wouldn’t matter that much — Iran will already have reaped the benefits of well over $100 billion of sanctions relief.
The Joint Commission mechanism that governs snapback is also in place to adjudicate disputes over access for inspectors to Iranian nuclear sites. Again, in theory, the U.S. and its European partners can compel an inspection of a suspect site notwithstanding Iranian opposition by out-voting Iran, Russia, and China. But not right away. The agreement specifies that it would take no fewer than 24 days to compel an inspection. That’s plenty of time for the Iranians to “sanitize” any suspect site so as to remove any evidence of nuclear activity, and it’s far removed from the kind of “24/7 access” that President Obama said just today that inspectors would have.
The other surprises in the agreement are even nastier. The Iranians had insisted that the agreement stick only to the nuclear issue — that’s why, for example, the Iranians did not agree as part of this deal to release the American hostages they are holding or to end their support for terrorism or their commitment to Israel’s destruction. But it turns out the agreement isn’t just limited to nuclear issues. It includes a commitment to lift the conventional arms embargo on Iran in no more than five years, and the embargo on missile sales to Iran in no more than eight years — and possibly sooner, if Iran is said to be in compliance with the nuclear accord.
Those provisions should be read in conjunction with the agreement’s promise to lift all sanctions on a long line of Iranian entities and individuals — 61 pages worth, to be exact — including a promise to lift sanctions on Qassem Soleimani, commander of Iran’s Quds Force, who is to Shiite terrorism what Osama bin Laden was to Sunni terrorism. Assuming that this is in fact what the agreement says (notwithstanding whispers from some American officials that it’s another Qassem Soleimani who is benefitting), this is a stunning concession to Iran’s imperial designs in the Middle East.
What this means is that Iran will soon have more than $100 billion extra to spend not only on exporting the Iranian revolution and dominating neighboring states (Gen. Soleimani’s job) but that it will also before long be free to purchase as many weapons — even ballistic missiles — as it likes on the world market. No wonder Vladimir Putin appears to be happy: This deal is likely to become a windfall for Russian arms makers, although you can be sure that Iran will also spread its largesse to manufacturers in France and, if possible, the UK so as to give those countries an extra stake in not re-imposing sanctions.
To sum up: The agreement with Iran, even if Iran complies (which is a heroic assumption), will merely delay the weaponization of Iran’s nuclear program by a few years, while giving Iran a massive boost in conventional power in the meantime. What do you think Iran’s Sunni neighbors, all of whom are terrified of Iranian power, will do in response? There is a good possibility that this agreement will set off a massive regional arms race, in both conventional and nuclear weaponry, while also leading states such as Saudi Arabia and Qatar to make common cause with the Islamic State as a hedge against Iranian designs in the region.
That’s assuming, of course, that the agreement is not blocked by Congress. But it’s unlikely that the Senate can muster a veto-proof majority to override the veto Obama promised to deliver of any bill that seeks to block this terrible deal. Assuming, as appears probable, that this deal is in fact implemented, future historians may well write of July 14, 2015, as the date when American dominance in the Middle East was supplanted by the Iranian Imperium.
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The Dawn of Iranian Empire
Must-Reads from Magazine
The South Park Presidency.
Twitter’s new, 280-character format hasn’t been a boon to presidential dignity. On Saturday, while traveling in Vietnam ahead of a summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, Donald Trump decided to chaff North Korea’s dictator, Kim Jong-un, on the social-media platform. “Why would Kim Jong-un insult me by calling me ‘old,'” the president tweeted, “when I would NEVER call him ‘short and fat?’ Oh well, I try so hard to be his friend – and maybe someday that will happen!”
I know we aren’t supposed to get worked up about the president’s tweets. This is who Trump is, his more conscientious defenders argue, and he isn’t going to change. Better, then, to focus on strategy and policy, where he’s making some good moves. I have been trying to look at the policy upside, believe me (as the Tweep-in-Chief might say). I have cheered Trump’s choice of Neil Gorsuch to take Justice Scalia’s seat on the Supreme Court; his vision of a liberal but limited international order that respects sovereignty and nationhood; his decision to withdraw the U.S. from the anti-Israel, and anti-Semitic, UNESCO; his proposed corporate tax cuts; and more. And I will continue to give policy credit where it is due.
But the tweets aren’t insignificant. Sometimes they are harmless. But too often they cheapen Trump’s noble democratic office and degrade the American voters who entrusted him with it. Occasionally they undermine his own administration’s policies and the national interest. The Kim Jong-un tweet falls into this third category. Here was Trump’s signature mixture of childish insult and narcissistic grievance applied to the world’s least free, and most dangerous, rogue state.
Kim deserves ridicule, to be sure, and liberals are wrong to get queasy about “disrespecting” the evil ruler of the Hermit Kingdom. Disrespect isn’t the issue. The problem was that Trump made light of a regime that is no laughing matter. This a regime that has brought the gulag–a system that should have been buried in the last century–into the 21st century. As Human Rights Watch noted in a harrowing report,
North Korea discriminates against people and their families on political grounds, and systematically represses basic civil and political rights, such as freedom of association, assembly, and expression, and targets those involved in any sort of religious activities. The government also uses forced labor from ordinary citizens and prisoners to control the people and sustain its economy. In preparation for the 7th Congress of the ruling Worker’s Party of Korea held in May 2016, the government compelled its people to undergo a 70-day ‘battle’ of forced labor to complete work targets. . . . [S]ystematic, widespread, and gross human rights violations committed by the government included murder, enslavement, torture, imprisonment, rape, forced abortion, and other sexual violence, constituting crimes against humanity. North Korea’s rights record has been condemned by the UN Human Rights Council, the General Assembly, and the Security Council.
Kim’s regime also poses an existential threat to America’s closest allies in East Asia and, given its recent advances in missile technology, a potentially catastrophic nuclear threat to the U.S. homeland. Yet, as a matter of public diplomacy, Trump’s chaffing risks reducing this threat into a silly feud between characters out of a South Park cartoon or a Judd Apatow movie. The day may soon come when the Trump administration needs to win the support of friends and rivals in the region, as well as the American people, for military action to contain or neutralize the Pyongyang regime. Kidding around with Kim risks undermining American seriousness.
But the president’s chaotic communications strategy, his conservative defenders will argue, is ordered to our chaotic, high-tech, postmodern world. Look how far it has brought him already, from reality-TV charlatanry all the way to the Oval Office. Perhaps they are right. Then again, conservatives used to hold that no amount of technological change would alter the fundamentals–of human nature, of leadership, of the life of nations in war and peace. Now that core insight has fallen out of fashion among the Trumpian right. They better hope that the nation won’t pay too high a price for the loss.
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Moore, Duterte, and the NSA
On the first COMMENTARY podcast of the week, the gang (minus Noah Rothman) covers the accusations of sexual misconduct against the Roy Moore, his strange defense, and his even stranger defenders. We also talk about President Trump’s press conference with Rodrigo Duterte and the explosive news of a massive cyberattack on the NSA. Give a listen.
Don’t forget to subscribe to our podcast on iTunes.
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The rights of the survived.
Tom Mortier didn’t get a chance to change his mother’s mind or even to say goodbye. On April 19, 2012, his mother, Godelieva De Troyer, asked two friends to drive her to the Free University of Brussels. There, Wim Distelmans, Belgium’s leading euthanasia proponent and provider, gave her a lethal injection. She was 64 and in good physical health. Mortier didn’t find out until the following day. Distelmans didn’t notify him before taking his mother’s life.
Mortier was shattered. His mother’s death transformed the chemistry professor from a mild supporter of Belgium’s ultra-liberal euthanasia law into its most outspoken opponent. In a country where the “right to die” is an article of the national creed, his advocacy has been met with ridicule and stonewalling. Campaigning has forced him to relive, daily, the psychological traumas that marked his life with his mentally ill mother.
But Mortier may finally have a shot at justice. This week, the religious-liberty organization Alliance Defending Freedom lodged an appeal in his case with the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR). If accepted, the appeal could shed much-needed judicial light on Belgium’s euthanasia industry.
I interviewed Mortier in August at his modest home in the suburbs of Leuven, a university town in Belgium’s Dutch-speaking Flanders region. School was out, and two of his three children were watching television in the living room. “Going to a hospital and getting an injection isn’t much different from someone jumping in front of a train,” Mortier told me, his voice rising above the din of cartoons in the background. “Is this humane? I don’t think this is humane.”
A few weeks earlier, local prosecutors had dismissed his complaint against Distelmans, citing a “lack of evidence.” That outcome meant that Mortier had exhausted his legal options at the national level and could now take his case to the Strasbourg-based ECHR. The European Convention on Human Rights requires states to protect “everyone’s right to life.” States have a particular duty of care to vulnerable people: prisoners, children and teenagers, and those, like De Troyer, whose mental condition leaves them unable to protect their own lives.
Mortier and his lawyers contend that Belgian authorities failed to protect De Troyer’s right to life and that the failure was abetted by the country’s euthanasia law. The 2002 law, they argue, provides neither safeguards for the vulnerable nor sufficient accountability for providers. They have a formidable case.
Before it was enacted, proponents assured the public that euthanasia would be rare. Yet the number of euthanized patients has risen steadily since legalization. In 2013, the number of cases rose to 1,807, up from 235 in 2003. By 2015, the total had reached 2,021. That’s according to data from the Federal Control and Evaluation Committee, the body that is charged with overseeing the practice. The control committee suggests that euthanasia accounts for about 2 percent of all deaths in the country.
The real figure may be much larger. A March 2015 Belgian study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that, in Flanders alone, “the rate of euthanasia increased significantly between 2007 and 2013, from 1.9 to 4.6% of deaths.” The NEJM data came from questionnaires submitted to doctors issuing death certificates, as opposed to the control committee’s self-reporting mechanism for euthanasia providers. The inescapable conclusion is that many doctors are killing their patients without the main oversight body even finding out.
Proponents of the law also insisted that it would only be applied in terminal cases, i.e., patients who were nearing death and could no longer bear the anguish associated with their conditions. Yet the law opened the door to other kinds of cases. A patient seeking euthanasia, the relevant provision reads, must be in a “medically futile condition of constant and unbearable physical or mental suffering that cannot be alleviated, resulting from a serious and incurable disorder caused by illness or accident.”
The number of patients euthanized for non-physical, non-terminal ailments has exploded since legalization. By the 2014-15 reporting period, 15 percent of total cases were non-terminal and 3 percent involved people with mental or behavioral conditions. There had been a “notable increase” in dementia cases, according to the control committee. That raises serious questions over whether physicians (or family members of the euthanized) are riding roughshod over the requirement that patients “requesting” euthanasia are “legally competent.”
Sometimes Belgians are euthanized merely because their lives take a sudden dark turn. Distelmans in 2012 authorized euthanasia for 45-year-old deaf twin brothers after they found out they were going blind. The following year, he euthanized a 44-year-old patient whose female-to-male sex change operation had failed. The patient felt that she looked like a “monster.”
Then there was Mortier’s mother. Godelieva De Troyer had suffered from depression since she was a teenager. At age 23, she married a radiologist, who gave her two children, Tom and his sister, Els. When Mortier was 3, his father divorced his mother and abandoned the family. Two years later, he committed suicide.
“My mother was always comparing me with my father,” Mortier told me. “So it was an enormous pressure on my shoulders. And it was a very negative relationship. She saw in me the same monster that my father was. In fact, she hated me. She wouldn’t admit it, but I could feel it. I was the result of her broken marriage with a husband who left her with two children.” Still, Mortier did his best to support his mother. “I was raised really always with my mother coming to me, shouting and crying, and I had to comfort her. It was never the other way around.”
But De Troyer had her ups and downs. As the New Yorker noted in a 2015 feature on Mortier’s case, De Troyer maintained a diary in which she “colored” her daily moods. The diary wasn’t always black.
Depression is an episodic illness, and events in De Troyer’s life noticeably altered her mood. There were good times—when Mortier’s children were born ,when she found a new boyfriend, and so on. At various points, she told her son, she felt like she was making progress. But the progress screeched to a halt in 2010, when her latest boyfriend broke up with her. Mortier found himself in the caretaker role once more. He spent hours with his mother on the phone and invited her to stay with him and his wife. “Please try to be a grandmother like you always said to us you wanted to be,” he would tell her.
It didn’t work, for old scars crisscrossed their relationship. Meanwhile, a busy life bore down on Mortier. He had two children, and a third would soon be on the way. In addition to his academic job at the University Colleges Leuven-Limburg, he was tasked with finding a nursing home for his grandmother—De Troyer’s mother, from whom she was estranged. He had had it. There was a rupture, and, for a while, mother and son didn’t communicate.
Then, in January 2012, De Troyer wrote an email to Mortier’s sister that was addressed to both of her children. “Dear Els and Tom,” it read:
I have requested euthanasia for psychic suffering with Prof. Distelmans. I went through the whole procedure, and I’m now waiting for the result. I have been in therapy since I was 19 years old with several psychiatrists. I asked [my regular psychiatrist] what he could do for me. His answer was: “I can listen to you and I can prescribe medication.” After that I have been searching for a way toward a life ending with dignity.
Throughout the years, I have had many sufferings. I experienced a lot of losses. I have known so much pain that I cannot live. I’m sorry that I will cause you some pain. But I can’t continue. Loneliness, and no chance to be cured after years of therapy, leave me with no life-perspective. Dying with dignity is the only option I have left in my life. I fought as hard as I could, and I did my best.
Mortier’s sister, who was living in Africa at the time, replied via email that “it isn’t easy for me to live with the idea that both of my parents will be suicides. But I can’t do more than respect your decision. I am powerless, and I need to protect myself.”
Mortier wasn’t sure how to proceed. “You ask people, ‘What would you do?’” he told me. “Some would say, ‘I would call her immediately.’ But this mother thinks that I’m the same man as my father. So she hates me. What do I have to do?”
He consulted De Troyer’s psychiatrist, who advised him to wait. He also asked experts at his university, and they, too, suggested that he keep his powder dry. One told Mortier: “I know Distelmans, and he will never approve this.” The language of De Troyer’s email was also reassuring: “I’m now waiting for the result,” she had written (my emphasis). That suggested that her request might be turned down, or that there would be an intermediate stage at which Mortier could intervene.
There was no news for three months until he received a phone call at work informing him that his mother had been killed. Hospital officials asked him to come to the morgue to fill out the paperwork necessary for turning over his mother’s remains to the department of experimental anatomy, per her request.
“I have a trauma now,” Mortier told me. “There is no care for me! Nothing! It all has to go here,” tapping his heart.
His first reaction was to start blogging about his situation. What he didn’t know was that criticizing Distelmans—winner of the University of Brussels’s 2015 Award for Humanism—meant taking on one of the most powerful and entrenched forces in Belgian society. The counterpunch came fast and strong. Mortier, an ardent secularist, was accused of being a crypto-Catholic and an emotional weakling.
Mortier “is a teacher at the Catholic University of Leuven, and this makes his [advocacy] more intentional,” wrote one editorialist. “If you can’t deal with it,” Mortier told me, “then you must be a Catholic . . . If you can’t cope with the fact that an oncologist has killed your mother because of chronic depression, then you must have emotional dysfunctionality. I thought I was a humanist. But if this is humanism, then I’m not a humanist.”
The available legal channels proved equally fruitless. The Federal Control and Evaluation Committee has only referred a single case, out of thousands since legalization, for potential criminal prosecution, according to the Alliance Defending Freedom. Distelmans, who didn’t respond to requests for comment for this article, has been a chairman of the control committee since its founding. How Belgian authorities tolerate this glaring conflict of interest is a mystery, though in the past other committee members have claimed that Distelmans doesn’t weigh in when his own cases come up for review.
There were other conflicts of interest. Under the 2002 euthanasia law, a physician considering a euthanasia request must get a second opinion from another doctor. “The physician consulted must be independent . . . of the attending physician.” Yet in De Troyer’s case, at least one of the physicians consulted, a psychiatrist named Lieve Thienpont, has published academic research with Distelmans and served alongside him as a founding member of the “Ulteam,” a practice dedicated to “death with dignity” cases (“Ul” stands for “ultimate”).
It is unclear, moreover, if the control committee ever examined De Troyer’s full euthanasia record. Every report submitted to the committee contains two portions. The first contains anonymized, general information, while a second, secret file lists the name and other personal details. Two-thirds of committee members must vote affirmative to open the secret file.
“The committee didn’t open it or touch it,” Mortier said of his mother’s report. “Even the prosecutors didn’t open the case. They asked for the files but they didn’t open it, because it’s medical secrecy . . . There is no way to get this in front of a judge.”
Now there might be a way. The real defendant in Mortier’s appeal is Europe’s barbarous culture of death.
Corrections: Tom Mortier teaches at the University Colleges Leuven-Limburg, not the affiliated University of Leuven. His father committed suicide when Mortier was 5 years old. The article misstated Mortier’s age at the time of his suicide. Mortier was never friendly with the editorialist who claimed that Mortier’s anti-euthanasia activism was inspired by Catholicism. We regret the errors.
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Lost visibility, increased strength.
On Tuesday, Democrats showed that they could mobilize a coalition of voters and begin to take the country’s elected offices back from the Republicans who seized them over the course of the Obama era. You might think this would be cause for celebration among the so-called anti-Trump “Resistance.” But just 24 hours after a stunning series of Democratic victories across the country, the mood on the streets among the resisters was mixed. Perhaps that was, in part, because there were so few of them.
For months, a nationwide series of protests were planned by anti-Trump liberals to mark the one-year anniversary of his election victory. When the day came, however, attendance was sparse. The Weekly Standard’s Alice Lloyd was on the ground in Philadelphia at the site of one such event, billed as a “primal scream against Trump.” And that’s literally what the organizers planned to do: come together for one giant display of impotent rage. A roll call on Facebook suggested as many as 700 would attend, but only a fraction of that number arrived. “I was hoping for a cathartic experience,” one attendee told Lloyd, “and I’m disappointed at the lackluster turnout.” A version of these protests in New York City, where demonstrators planned to “scream at the sky” in a display of utter powerlessness, was only marginally better attended. Still, the demonstrators who protested against a “fascist America” and the coming “nuclear war” in New York struggled to fill even a tight shot of the event.
This is a pretty stark contrast to the spontaneous, grassroots demonstrations that followed the election of Donald Trump, and which shut down major metropolitan downtown areas for days. Those events were followed by the cartelization of the various “Resistance” movements, which popped up ahead of inauguration day. Some of these movements were violent and inchoate while others were placid and sympathetic. None of these self-indulgent, purgative therapy sessions were, however, politically effective. Then something changed; the streets started emptying out and #TheResistance got organized.
Studying the work of University of Maryland sociologist Dana R. Fisher for the New York Times Review of Books, Judith Shulevitz explored the transformation of this loose amalgam of malcontents into a coherent and effective political organization. The primary catalyst for early anti-Trump demonstrations was, of course, Trump. But the groups that devoted themselves to letter-writing campaigns, contacting members of Congress, dominating town hall events, and recruiting candidates up and down the ballot are animated today by a traditionally Democratic issue set. “[T]he big issues for the resistance,” Shulevitz confessed, “are health care and gerrymandering, followed by dark money in politics, education, and the environment.” Notably missing from this list is the subject that has proven the source of most of this decade’s grassroots political upheavals: the economy.
The last left-leaning movement to put as many bodies in the streets as the anti-Trump Resistance movement did in 2016-2017 was, arguably, the Occupy Wall Street movement. The character of these two factions could not have been more different. Before Occupy descended into a squalid archipelago of refugee camps typified by lawlessness, immorality, the abuse of women, and insalubrious filth, it was seen by many as a sympathetic expression of economic helplessness. The movement went global as Europe struggled with a sovereign debt crisis and the freshly ascendant Republicans in the United States promised to cut off the spigot of public funds that had flowed freely for nearly two years.
Economists and political commentators like Jeffrey Sachs heaped praise on this movement, which vindicated his long-held preconceptions about economic inequality. Democrats ranging from Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi to President Barack Obama prematurely declared Occupy both effective and compelling. Their hunger to midwife a Democratic answer to the Tea Party led these and others on the left to abandon prudence. Occupy soon became more of an embarrassment to the Democrats who had embraced it than a source of electoral strength. Indeed, Occupy was never interested in elections. Its organizers had no interest in participating in the political process. They were, in fact, generally contemptuous of the Western capitalist system and the republican governmental structures that support it.
It’s a unique irony that the modern left, which came to power on the back of an economic crisis and believed that crisis’s lingering effects would preserve their political position, is only starting to recover as the economy improves. Democrats swept the off-year elections on Tuesday with a national unemployment rate at just 4.1 percent. The number of Americans collecting unemployment benefits is the lowest it has been in 44 years. The economy has grown by a sustainable 3 percent for two consecutive quarters, and the Dow Jones Industrial Average seems to reach a new record high just about every other day. Wages remain depressed and a staggering number of Americans remain outside the labor force, but the economy is good enough that it didn’t even register with Democratic organizers. What’s more, voters do not seem to be giving the president much credit for the state of the economy. It’s as though economic considerations are a virtual non-factor.
Democratic organizers have abandoned the streets and the rabble that typically populates them in times of tumult in favor of traditional political organizing, and it has served them well. Contrary to so much conventional wisdom, this time, it’s not the economy, stupid.
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Among the more confusing aspects of the uniquely confusing 2016 election cycle was the unfailing kinship evangelical Republicans displayed toward Donald Trump, a man who not only did not share their ostensible values but so frequently offended them. The thrice-married, boastfully adulterous Trump won 81 percent of born-again or Evangelical Christians, and their support has not waned. Evangelical leaders and voters alike have conspicuously refused to criticize the president, even when he deserves it. Sympathetic portraits of a culture in crisis supposedly justified this cognitive dissonance because, even if Trump weren’t perfect, he was the last bulwark against the tyranny of liberal secularism.
The expectation Trump would serve them better than Democrats has led Evangelical leaders to defend Trump’s demonstrable mendacities and brush aside his boorishness and divisiveness. Still more disturbing, when Trump urges police not to be “too nice” when making arrests or when he lumps those who oppose dismantling Confederate monuments with neo-Nazis, for example, none dares object too loudly. To speak up would be to threaten the project.
That’s immoral, and stifling yourself for fear of providing the Democrats and liberals with political ammunition is weakness. If Evangelical Christians really do feel existentially threatened to the point that they must compromise their values, they will have made a fatal error. The sad and sordid story that just broke involving the Republican Senate nominee in Alabama, Roy Moore, exemplifies this.
Moore is accused of having had improper sexual contact with several minors when he was a district attorney in his 30s. The Washington Post’s account is meticulous; four women—some on the record and some anonymous—have come forward with their stories, all of which the Post published in lurid detail. They include the allegation that Moore tried to get a girl as young as 14 drunk and molest her, and he was undeterred from making a second attempt despite having been informed of her age. Moore denies these stories and says they amount to defamation. The allegations are decades old and will likely be neither proven nor disproven. Either way, Moore’s political career is indelibly stained.
As of this writing, nearly half the Republican Senate majority has called on Moore to step down from his nomination. Some have appended the caveat “if proven true,” but others have not couched their demands at all. A decent Republican would step down, but Moore is not decent Republican. He endeared himself to his constituents by supporting religious litmus tests that would bar Muslim-Americans from public office and has advocated for making certain sexual practices illegal. Moore made a name for himself nationally by standing athwart proper standards of civic conduct. He was forcibly removed from the state Supreme Court bench after refusing multiple orders to remove a 5,000-pound Ten Commandments monument and vacated the bench again only after he was going to be removed for refusing to enforce the U.S. Supreme Court decision that legalized gay marriage. Sensing a pattern? Moore has a habit of wrapping himself in religious virtue to justify his contempt for the Constitution. That kind of fraudulence should offend the millions of moralists for whom Moore pretends to speak, but such public expressions might diminish his electoral prospects. And we can’t have that.
A generation of conservatives whose political maturation occurred in the 1990s as an army of thought leaders and columnists denounced the illegality and immorality of the Bill Clinton White House must now wake every morning in fear of who will prove themselves an irredeemable hypocrite. Every day, it seems, another of Clinton’s fiercest critics prove his moral flexibility in the Trump era. It would appear their condemnations were only ever a means to an end; the pursuit of power at any cost, even personal integrity and the trust of millions. Millions of us who were convinced of the virtue of the right’s righteous attacks on the liberal left’s moral profligacy thought they really meant it. Right now it’s hard to argue they ever really did.