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Is evangelical support for Trump a contradiction?
Fran Flynn (C) prays during the “Evangelicals for Trump” campaign event held at the King Jesus International Ministry as they await the arrival of President Trump on January 3, 2020, in Miami, Florida. The rally was announced after a December editorial published in Christianity Today called for President Trump’s removal from office. | Joe Raedle/Getty Images A religious historian explains why Trump wasn’t a trade-off for American evangelicals. In early June, President Trump had federal officers use tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse a peaceful protest so he could stage a photo op outside St. John’s Church, which sits across from the White House. The image, now infamous, shows Trump awkwardly holding up the Bible as though he’s never held a book in his life. It’s a surreal shot that somehow captures the performative dimension of his entire presidency. But why the Bible? And why go through all that trouble to do the photo op in front of a church? It’s well-known that evangelicals are one of Trump’s most loyal constituencies, but it’s still not clear why. Conventional wisdom says that evangelicals held their noses and voted for Trump purely for pragmatic purposes — the biggest reason being the Supreme Court. They may not like him, the argument goes, but he’s a useful political vehicle. (See, for example, the Court’s decision on Wednesday that allows the Trump administration to expand religious exemptions for employers who object to the Affordable Care Act’s contraceptive mandate.) But what if Trump wasn’t a trade-off for evangelicals? What if an obsession with manhood and toughness made a figure like Trump the natural fulfillment of their political evolution? This is the argument Kristin Kobes Du Mez, a historian at Calvin University, makes in her new book Jesus and John Wayne. According to Du Mez, evangelical leaders have spent decades using the tools of pop culture — films, music, television, and the internet — to grow the movement. The result, she says, is a Christianity that mirrors that culture. Instead of modeling their lives on Christ, evangelicals have made heroes of people like John Wayne and Mel Gibson, people who project a more militant and more nationalist image. In that sense, Trump’s strongman shtick is a near-perfect expression of their values. To be candid, I wasn’t sure what to make of this thesis, but I’m also not an authority on American evangelicalism. So I contacted Du Mez, who teaches at a Christian college and has spent 15 years studying evangelicals, to talk about the direction of the movement and how it led to Trump and what she calls our “fractured political moment.” A lightly edited transcript of our conversation follows. Sean Illing The contrarian argument at the core of your book is that the relationship between Trump and (mostly white) evangelicals is more harmonious than most people suggest. Can you sum up your thesis? Kristin Kobes Du Mez Well, there are all these theories that evangelicals were holding their noses when they voted for Trump, that they were somehow betraying their values. But I’ve studied evangelicals for a long time and I was watching them very closely during the election and in the aftermath, and I just didn’t see any regrets at all. There was no angst or no sense that this was somehow a difficult trade-off. In fact, what I saw was a bunch of enthusiasm. There were some evangelical leaders who were expressing caution about Trump, but most of the rank and file had zero difficulty supporting Trump. Sean Illing And when did that become clear to you? Kristin Kobes Du Mez I’d say right around the time the Access Hollywood tapes were released — that’s when it crystallized for me. So we had these tapes where Trump is talking about sexually assaulting women in such crass terms. And the media really homed in on white evangelicals at that moment, asking if this was a bridge too far. Although there was a little hesitation here and there from evangelicals, about a week later they were all back on board. Sean Illing I know you teach at a Christian university, but did you grow up in the evangelical world? Do you know it from personal experience? Kristin Kobes Du Mez I didn’t identify as an evangelical growing up, but most evangelicals don’t. We tend to identify as Christians. Looking back, though, I would probably define myself as evangelical-adjacent. I grew up in a small town in Iowa, and this was very much a part of my world. As I grew up, I was exposed to this evangelical popular culture through our local bookstore, the only bookstore in town. The shelves were filled with these evangelical books, with Christian contemporary music and Christian movies. I was in a Christian youth group. And so my experience with evangelicalism was through the popular culture. Sean Illing Help me understand why masculinity and nationalism are so foundational to the contemporary evangelical worldview. Kristin Kobes Du Mez What I look to as a historian is this critical period in the post-World War II era when these gender ideals fuse with anti-communist ideology and this overarching desire to defend Christian America. The idea that takes root during this period is that Christian masculinity, Christian men, are the only thing that can protect America from godless communism. At the same time, you have the civil rights movement destabilizing white evangelicalism and conceptions of white masculinity. Then you have feminism destabilizing traditional masculinity. And all of this comes together for evangelicals, who see their place in the culture slipping away, and they see their political power starting to erode because of this cultural displacement. That’s the moment when you see Christian nationalism linking together with a very militant conception of Christian manhood, because it’s up to the Christian man to defend his family against all sorts of domestic dangers in the culture wars, and also to defend Christian America against communists and against military threats. Sean Illing So the idea is that Christian masculinity is the only thing that can preserve traditional American culture and that belief is what precipitates the turn toward a more muscular Christianity? Kristin Kobes Du Mez That’s exactly right. So when you think of evangelicals, a lot of people think of the term “family values.” But I actually went back to the origins of family values evangelicalism and I was really surprised just how much it was placed in the context of foreign policy, how much it was in the service of defending the American nation. If you go back and listen to James Dobson of Focus on the Family and read the books that emerged during this period, this is all very clear. Sean Illing The phrase “family values” is typically hurled at evangelicals in order to call out their hypocrisy, but I think your book makes pretty clear that they’re not hypocrites at all. They only appear hypocritical if you misunderstand what they actually value. Kristin Kobes Du Mez Exactly. If you understand what family values evangelicalism has always entailed — and at the very heart of it is white patriarchy, and often a militant white patriarchy — then suddenly, all sorts of evangelical political positions and cultural positions fall into place. So evangelicals are not acting against their deeply held values when they elect Trump; they’re affirming them. Their actual views on immigration policy, on torture, on gun control, on Black Lives Matter and police brutality — they all line up pretty closely with Trump’s. These are their values, and Trump represents them. Sean Illing I’d like to steelman the evangelical perspective, so can you tell me what cultural forces they’re reacting against? Kristin Kobes Du Mez Well, it changes over time. In the ’40s and ’50s, it’s all about anti-communism. But once the civil rights revolution takes hold, it becomes about defending the stability of the traditional social order against all the cultural revolutions of the ’60s. But the really interesting moment for me is in the early ’90s when the Cold War comes to an end. You would think there would be a kind of resetting after the great enemy had been vanquished, but that’s not what happened. Instead, we get the modern culture wars over sex and gender identity and all the rest. And then 9/11 happens and Islam becomes the new major threat. So it’s always shifting, and at a certain point I started asking the question, particularly post-9/11, what comes first here? Is it the fear of modern change, of whatever’s happening in the moment? Or were evangelical leaders actively seeking out those threats and stoking fear in order to maintain their militancy, to maintain their power? Sean Illing So this drift into a more militant and nationalist Christianity leads to this obsession with toughness and machismo. The way you put it is that evangelicals are looking for “spiritual badasses.” They don’t want gentle Jesus, they want William Wallace or John Wayne. Kristin Kobes Du Mez Yeah, these are their role models. Most white evangelical men that I knew during the height of this movement, which is really the early 2000s, were very militant. They were buying these hypermasculine books and taking part in these men’s reading groups. They weren’t living out this rugged, violent lifestyle, except maybe at weekend retreats where they role-played this stuff. But in real life, they were still walking around in khakis and polo shirts, but these were the values that were really animating their worldview. Sean Illing Wait, are there weekend retreats where evangelical men are role-playing Braveheart? Kristin Kobes Du Mez I don’t know about that in particular, but this is very much a thing. The success of John Eldredge’s book Wild at Heart [a huge bestseller that urged young Christian men to reclaim their masculinity]was a big deal in the evangelical world, and it sold millions of copies just in the US. Every college Christian men’s group was reading this. It was everywhere in the early 2000s. There were lots of conferences celebrating this version of a rugged Christianity. It was big business, and there were lots of weekend retreats where men could go out into the wilderness and practice their masculinity. Local churches invented their own versions of this. One church I know in Washington had their own local Braveheart games that involves wrestling with pigs or something. It was all weird and different, but the point was to prove and express your masculinity. Sean Illing Is this fascination with manhood unique to evangelical culture in particular? Or is this something you find in other Christian subcultures? Kristin Kobes Du Mez The emphasis on strict “gender difference” and perceived need to “define” Christian manhood is far greater in conservative white evangelicalism than in other Christian subcultures. White evangelicals also stand out in terms of their emphasis on militancy and their conceptions of masculinity, and in how that militant masculinity is connected to Christian nationalism. In Black Protestantism, for example, you may find an emphasis on Christian manhood, but you’re much more likely to encounter discussions of fatherhood rather than a militant warrior masculinity. In mainline Protestantism you’ll be more likely to encounter a kinder, gentler masculinity — more of the Mr. Rogers sort. (Militant white evangelical masculinity explicitly denounces Mr. Rogers’s model of manhood.) That said, evangelical constructions of masculinity have made inroads into mainline circles largely via popular culture (many mainline churches use evangelical literature in their small-group Bible studies, for example), so the lines between white evangelical and mainline Christianity are not always all that clearly drawn. Sean Illing There’s a lot going on there, but I’ll bring this back to Trump. Do most evangelicals consider him a spiritual badass? Kristin Kobes Du Mez For many he’s not, but he is their great protector. He’s their strongman that God has given them to protect them. So, again, the ends justify the means here. But I think it’s important to understand that the appeal of Trump to evangelicals isn’t surprising at all, because their own faith tradition has long embraced this idea of a ruthless masculine protector. This is just the way that God works and the way that God has designed men. He filled them with testosterone so that they can fight. So there’s just much less of a conflict there. The most common thing that I hear from white evangelicals defending Trump is that they just wish he would tweet less. I don’t find a lot of concern about his actual policies or what’s in his heart. Sean Illing I don’t understand how a draft-dodging, spray-tanned hypochondriac has become a hypermasculine protector for militant evangelicals — Kristin Kobes Du Mez I mean, that’s fair, but you have to remember that their whole idea of militant masculinity was formed in reaction against feminism and more recently against so-called political correctness. That has been just such a powerful enemy for white evangelicals who feel oppressed by these new standards of behavior. And I think Trump really succeeds by not following any of those rules of civil discourse. Sean Illing If most evangelicals are taking their moral and political cues from Trump or the Duck Dynasty clan or from Christian radio and television, haven’t we crossed over into something post-religious, something closer to a lifestyle or a cultural pose? Kristin Kobes Du Mez I think we have. But I will say there is still diversity within evangelical churches, communities, and families. There are so many evangelicals who read their Bible every morning, who hold to scriptural teachings as they understand them. But for many of them, the Bible is a complicated book. Which verses do you hold on to as formative for your life, and which do you dismiss? Many are reading through the filter of this ideology now. But I’ve encountered lots of evangelicals who don’t want to speak out, who feel a lot of pressure within their own communities. This is not what their faith means to them, this is not what Christianity is to them. So when we talk about white evangelicals, we should acknowledge that there is disagreement within churches and communities and families, but it’s true that a solid majority of white evangelicals have bought into this ideology. Sean Illing One of the most interesting threads in your book is this story about how evangelical leaders have tried to modernize the church by using pop culture to lure people in, but over time the pop culture has completely supplanted the theology and all that’s left is the vacuous political brand. Kristin Kobes Du Mez I teach at a Christian university, so the majority of my students would fit into this category of white evangelicals. And just this past year, I was teaching a course where it involved reading the first three chapters of Genesis. It was about biblical gender roles and taking a critical look. And at one point during our discussion, one woman raised her hand and said, “I have a confession to make. I think this is the first time I’ve actually read the first three chapters of Genesis ... I’ve been working with the VeggieTales stories and I assumed I knew this, so I didn’t bother with the Bible.” [VeggieTales is a Christian animated series for kids that uses pop culture to retell biblical stories.] She was so embarrassed to confess that, but then several other students confessed to the same thing. So this is the evangelical culture these kids have been raised in. They listen to pop Christian music on the radio. They read the pop Christian books. They watch Focus on the Family children’s programming. They watch VeggieTales cartoons. And Christian parents are told to keep their kids away from the broader secular culture, so it’s also very insular. They stick to the Christian version of it. That’s the only theology they know. Sean Illing This is really a story about a religious movement getting entangled with politics and consumerism and being bastardized as a result of the collision. Kristin Kobes Du Mez I think that’s right, and there’s a lot of money to be made through the book sales, the advertising, and the connections between the political strategists and some of the folks behind this consumer market. What I really tried to do here is just understand the networks behind American evangelicalism. Who is publishing what? What are the distribution networks? It’s critical to understand evangelicalism through this lens. Even when someone walks into a Christian book store or goes online and orders a Christian product, that feels like an authentic expression of their faith to them. Sean Illing I hear people say all the time that Trump’s election was a tragedy for evangelicals, but after reading your book, I wonder if it isn’t their greatest victory. Kristin Kobes Du Mez It depends on your vantage point, right? I’ve been studying evangelical masculinity for almost 15 years and seeing the veil ripped off in this way was almost cathartic for me. I was able to see the nature of the movement with even more clarity. This is what “family values” evangelicalism looks like and now it’s apparent to everyone. But for evangelical dissenters, this is indeed a tragedy. And yet I think even those who are resisting, or who are calling this out and who are struggling with the direction that evangelicalism has taken, still need to reckon with the ways in which they, too, as part of this tradition, have been complicit in this ideology. The Trump era didn’t just happen. We’ve been moving in this direction for a long time. Support Vox’s explanatory journalism Every day at Vox, we aim to answer your most important questions and provide you, and our audience around the world, with information that has the power to save lives. Our mission has never been more vital than it is in this moment: to empower you through understanding. Vox’s work is reaching more people than ever, but our distinctive brand of explanatory journalism takes resources — particularly during a pandemic and an economic downturn. Your financial contribution will not constitute a donation, but it will enable our staff to continue to offer free articles, videos, and podcasts at the quality and volume that this moment requires. Please consider making a contribution to Vox today.
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Why is the COVID Death Rate Down?
For the past few weeks, I have been obsessed with a mystery emerging in the national COVID-19 data.Cases have soared to terrifyingly levels since June. Yesterday, the U.S. had 62,000 confirmed cases, an all-time high—and about five-times more than the entire continent of Europe. Several U.S. states, including Arizona and Florida, currently have more confirmed cases per capita than any other country in the world.But average daily deaths are down 75 percent from their April peak. Despite higher death counts from the last few days, the weekly average has largely plateaued in the last two weeks.The gap between spiking cases and falling-then-flatlining deaths has become the latest partisan flashpoint. President Donald Trump has brushed off the coronavirus surge by emphasizing the lower death rate, saying that “99 percent of [COVID-19 cases] are totally harmless.” On Tuesday, Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, warned Americans against “[taking] comfort in the lower rate of death” just hours before Trump tweeted triumphantly: “Death Rate from Coronavirus is down tenfold!”[Read: All the president’s lies about the coronavirus]In the fog of pandemic, every statistic tells a story, but no one statistic tells the whole truth. Conservatives seeking refuge in today’s death counts may find, in a matter of days, that deaths are clearly resurging and their narrative is rapidly deteriorating. But liberals, too, should avoid the temptation to flatly reject any remotely positive finding, for fear that it will give succor to the president.What follows are five possible explanations for the case-death gap. 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Since June 7, the seven-day average of deaths in hot-spot states has increased 69 percent, according to the COVID Tracking Project.The death lag is probably the most important thing to understand in evaluating the case-death gap. But it doesn’t explain everything. Even in hot-spot states, deaths are still rising slower than corresponding cases.2. Expanded testing is finding more cases, milder cases, and earlier cases.There is a bad way to talk about testing, and a nuanced way to talk about it.The simplistic version, which we often hear from the president, is that cases are surging only because the number of tests is rising. That’s just wrong. Since the beginning of June, the share of COVID-19 tests that came back positive has increased from 4.5 percent to 8 percent. Hospitalizations are skyrocketing across the South and West. Those are clear signs of an underlying outbreak.Something subtler is happening. The huge increase in testing is an unalloyed good, but it might be tricking us with some confusing weeks of data.In March and April, tests were scarce, and medical providers had to ration tests for the sickest patients. Now that testing has expanded into communities across the U.S., the results might be picking up milder, or even asymptomatic, cases of COVID-19.[Read: A dire warning from COVID-19 test providers]The whole point of testing is to find cases, trace the patients’ close contacts, and isolate the sick. But our superior testing capacity makes it difficult to do apples-to-apples comparisons with the initial surge; it’s like trying to compare the height of two mountains when one of the peaks is obscured by clouds. The epidemiologist Ellie Murray has also cautioned that identifying new fatal cases of COVID-19 earlier in the victims’ disease process could mean a longer lag between detection and death. This phenomenon, known as “lead time bias,” might be telling us that a big death surge is coming.And maybe it is. Maybe this is all as simple as nationwide deaths are about to soar, again.But there are still three reasons to think that any forthcoming death surge could be materially different from the one that brutalized the Northeast in March and April: younger patients, better hospital outcomes, and summer effects.3. The typical COVID-19 patient is getting younger.The most important COVID-19 story right now may be the age shift.In Florida, the median age of new COVID-19 cases fell from 65 in March to 35 in June. Then it fell again, to just 21 in July. In Arizona, Texas, and California, young adults getting sick have been driving the surge.If the latest surge is concentrated among younger Americans, that would partly explain the declining death count. Young people are much likely to die from this disease, even if they face other health risks. International data from South Korea, Spain, China, and Italy suggest that the COVID-19 case-fatality rate for people older than 70 is more than 100 times greater than for those younger than 40.[Kerry Kennedy Meltzer: I'm treating too many young people for the coronavirus]The youth shift seems very real, but what’s behind it is harder to say. Maybe older Americans are being more cautious about avoiding crowded indoor spaces. Maybe news reports of young people packing themselves into bars explain the youth spike, since indoor bars are exquisitely designed to spread the virus. Or maybe state and local governments that rushed to reopen the economy pushed young people into work environments that got them sick. “The people in the service economy and the retail industry, they tend to be young, and they can’t work remotely,” says Natalie Dean, an assistant professor at the University of Florida. Texas Governor Greg Abbot blamed reckless young people for driving the spike, but the true locus of recklessness might be the governor’s mansion.No matter the cause, interpreting the “youth surge” as good news would be a mistake. Young people infected with COVID-19 still face extreme dangers—and present real danger to their close contacts and their community. “We see people in their 20s and 30s in our ICUs gasping for air because they have COVID-19,” James McDeavitt, the dean of clinical affairs at Baylor College of Medicine, told The Wall Street Journal. Young people who feel fine can still contract long-term organ damage, particularly to their lungs. They can pass the disease to more vulnerable people, who end up in the hospital; a youth surge could easily translate into a broader uptick some weeks from now. And the sheer breadth of the youth surge could force businesses to shut down, throwing millions more people into limbo or outright unemployment.4. Hospitalized patients are dying less frequently, even without a home-run treatment.So far, we’ve focused on the gap between cases and deaths. But there’s another gap that deserves our attention. Hospitalizations and deaths moved up and down in tandem before June. After June, they’ve diverged. National hospitalizations are rising, but deaths aren’t.The hospitalization and death data that we have aren’t good enough or timely enough to say anything definitive. But the chart suggests some good news (finally): Patients at hospitals are dying less.Indeed, other countries have seen the same. One study from a hospital in Milan found that from March to May, the mortality rate of its COVID-19 patients declined from 24 percent to 2 percent—"without significant changes in patients’ age.” British hospitals found that their hospital mortality rate has declined every month since April.So what’s going on? Maybe doctors are just getting smarter about the disease.[Read: A devastating new stage of the pandemic]In early 2020, the novelty of the coronavirus meant that doctors had no idea what to expect. Health-care professionals were initially shocked that what they assumed to be a respiratory disease was causing blood clots, microvascular thrombosis, and organ damage. But millions of cases and hundreds of white papers later, we know more. That’s how, for example, doctors know to prescribe the steroid dexamethasone to rein in out-of-control immune responses that destroy patients’ organs.Finally, it’s notable that mortality declined in Italian and British hospitals when they weren't overrun with patients. This is another reason why flattening the curve isn't just a buzzy slogan, but a matter of life and death. As hospitals across Texas and Arizona start to fill up, we’ll see whether hospital mortality increases again.5. Summer might be helping—but probably only a little bit.Several remaining theories about the case-death gap are more speculative, mostly falling under the category of “summer is just different.”The transition to summer may have stamped out other illnesses that were weakening our immune systems. People in the northern hemisphere may absorb more Vitamin D in the summer, which might mitigate COVID-19 mortality. The virus might have mutated to become more contagious, but not more deadly, which might—in combination with other factors, like superior hospital treatment of the disease—exacerbate an outbreak in cases that doesn’t corresponding with an increase in deaths.[Read: Our pandemic summer]Finally, as more people wear masks and move their activities outside in the summer, they might come into contact with smaller infecting doses of COVID-19. Some epidemiologists have claimed that there is a relationship between viral load and severity. With more masks and more outdoor interactions, it’s possible that the recent surge is partly buoyed by an increase in these low-dosage cases.The case-death gap remains a bonfire of unknowns. And, as we’ve seen, uncertainty is a cavity where propaganda can breed. So let’s conclude with what we know for sure: The surge in cases represents a vast and tragic American failure—even if it doesn’t lead to a correspondingly dramatic spike in deaths.This virus is a cryptic devil. It can brutalize people’s bodies for weeks or months, even if it doesn’t kill them. It can savage the lungs of young people, even when it doesn’t produce other symptoms. Those who are infected can transmit it to more vulnerable people. Those who contract severe cases can be sent to the hospital for weeks and live for months—which may turn into years—with aftershocks from the illness. Outbreaks might make school openings implausible, sports improbable, and ordinary life impossible.When President Trump and others point exclusively to lagging death figures during a surge, they are trying to tell you that America is, secretly, winning the war on COVID-19. But we’re not. The summer surge is an exceptionally American failure, born of absent leadership and terrible public-health communication.After all the graphs, statistics, science, and interpretations, we’re left with a simple fact: Hundreds of Americans are dying every day of a disease that is infecting several hundred thousand of them every week. If that’s success, let’s pray we never see failure.
29-year-old man fatally shot on Upper West Side
A 29-year-old man was fatally shot on the Upper West Side early Thursday, cops said. Nayquan Garden was blasted in the chest around 3:15 a.m. near the corner of West 105th Street and Columbus Avenue. He was rushed to Mount Sinai Morningside hospital, where he was pronounced dead. No arrests have been made, and it...
Demand surges at Bay Area food banks due to coronavirus pandemic
"In February we were serving about 270,000 individuals. Now we're over 500,000."