At the end of his dystopian cover story in the Atlantic, “How to Build an Autocracy,” David Frum calls for unwearying citizens’ resistance to a presidency bent on subverting a constitutional system that is more fragile than we thought.
Not so fragile, responds Vox editor-in-chief Ezra Klein in “How to Stop an Autocracy.” The Constitution gives Congress all the tools needed to prevent a presidential power-grab. The big question is whether the Republicans who control Congress have the wherewithal to use them.
At the moment citizens’ resistance is more in evidence than congressional push-back, but while we’re on the subject, let’s think about the role for religious leadership in combatting autocratic demagogues.
Demagogues succeed by whipping the anxieties and yearnings and animosities of the populace into a moral crusade. Get rid of illegal immigrants, keep Muslims out, restore the industrial economy of the 1950s, make America great again.
What the demagogue cannot abide are alternate sources of moral authority — above all religious ones. Subvert or co-opt the churches, as Hitler and Mussolini did, and your domestic opposition disappears. Fail to do so, as the Polish Communist Party did, and you’re left with a major locus of resistance.
Of course, the religious left has taken to the barricades. But liberal Protestants, Reform and Conservative Jews, and social justice Catholics are the usual suspects.
As Frum writes, “The duty to resist should weigh most heavily upon those of us who—because of ideology or partisan affiliation or some other reason—are most predisposed to favor President Trump and his agenda.”
On the religious front, it’s the conservative Catholics and white Evangelicals who are most predisposed. Unfortunately, most have sold out for a mess of anti-abortion pottage.
(Exhibit A: Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput, who recently lambasted Trump’s critics and urged Notre Dame to invite him to give its commencement address this spring.)
But let’s leave aside reckoning with public policy issues — refugees and health care and global warming and racial justice and workers’ rights — that might carry weight on the other side of the moral ledger.
What about the manifest determination of President Trump and his family to make money off his presidency?
Yes, this leads the Trumps into “conflicts of interest,” into possible violations of ethical codes written (or not) into law. And it leads to questions like “What are the disclosure rules for a president?” And “What is the meaning of the Constitution’s Emoluments Clause?”
But it also belongs in an old-time moral category.
What we’re seeing every day from the Trumps is a breathtaking display of avarice. Avarice is one of the Seven Deadly Sins.
Come on religious conservatives. Call this spade a spade.