Oh My God, Again!

I popped another stress ball last night, watching another evangelical leader make excuses for Trump and his voters. It gives further credence to my long-standing assertion that God (American evangelicals), guns (the National Rifle Association), and guys (blue-collar laborers) elected Trump into office. Mind you, I don’t actually think God, guns, and guys made the U.S.A., but I certainly know that Trump voters think this to be true. It’s worth noting that Russians, under Putin, think a similar thing about their country. In both countries—Trump’s America and Putin’s Russia—in order to qualify as a patriot in politically-sponsored media, you must promote your allegiance to God, guns, and guys. As an opponent, it seems nigh impossible to successfully counteract any of the Holy Trinity of this New World Order.

The following is another unofficial transcript…this time for the best segment of last night’s episode of Real Time with Bill Maher on HBO (all segments were excellent, btw.). A well-known atheist and liberal arguer, Maher returned last night after a month-long break from the air (a well-earned vacation for which I chided him in a previous essay, stupidly) and interviewed evangelical spokesperson, Ralph Reed, the Chairman of the Faith and Freedom Coalition. If there are any children reading this, then be aware that Bill Maher hosts an adult show with lots of swearing and adult stuff…just like I do throughout most of this blog. Unlike the last blog entry, I’ll have some commentary after this transcript’s conclusion:

Bill Maher: Alright, now Ralph, I know you’re praying for me, right?

Ralph Reed: I am. Praying for your soul, Bill.

BM: Hate the sin; love the sinner. Am I right? You love the sinner. OK. Alright. So let me ask you a few questions about what’s going on in this country. First of all, there was a big brouhaha about the Johnson Amendment. I know that’s something you must care a lot about.

RR: I do.

BM: That was, of course, the President Lyndon Johnson, something that was made back in the day which said that churches, which are tax-exempt,…therefore, the deal is because they don’t pay taxes, they should not endorse anybody from the pulpit. And now they want to change that with Trump in office. Isn’t that unfair to have it both ways?

RR: No, it’s not because I think what’s happened with the Johnson Amendment…First of all, it was put in the Internal Revenue Code in 1954, specifically because Lyndon Johnson, who was then the Senate Majority Leader, was trying to silence a radio evangelist who was being critical of him, and I don’t want politicians in Washington telling us who can criticize them on the air. I don’t want that for faith leaders. I don’t want that for you. I don’t want that for news organizations of any kind.

BM: That’s not what this is about, Ralph. Come on.

RR: No, it’s exactly what it’s about, and let me tell you what’s happened, Bill, because I’ve lived this for over thirty years. This has been used by the IRS to go in and persecute, harass, intimidate, and attempt to silence churches and major ministries…

BM: No one’s doing that, Ralph. This martyr complex…

RR: They’ll bring in IRS agents. They’ll stay there for long periods of time.

BM: Oh, come on.

RR: …And you’ll have churches, megachurches, with maybe a sixty or a hundred million dollar a year budget, racking up millions of dollars in legal fees…Why? Because a pastor said to a crowd, once, “I like this candidate.” Free speech is what made America great, and it applies to Christians and other people of faith just as it does to everybody else.

BM: OK, then pay taxes too. Just pay your taxes, because you know what?

RR [holds both hands up to calm Maher]: Wait a minute. Wait a minute.

BM: Churches are selling a product like everybody else. It’s an invisible product. Nobody ever comes back from Heaven and gives it a bad Yelp review.

RR: Bill, that’s not fair. Ninety percent of the homeless shelters in America are operated by either churches or faith-based organizations…

BM [chuckling]: OK.

RR [points finger and emphasizes some words]: …or ministries. And for the MILLIONS of people every day who go to a homeless shelter or go to a food bank in America, this is NOT an invisible product. People of faith MINISTER to people every day, and if you want to tax that activity because somebody…

BM [interrupts and returns hand gestures]: But we don’t have to tax…We don’t tax charities now. The charity part of it could be put apart, but that’s not the whole reason for religion…

RR: But that’s not what the Johnson Amendment does. The Johnson Amendment says you lose your tax-exempt status on ALL that activity, including helping the poor if you make one political statement.

BM: OK, well let me ask you this. Why do you think the Trump support among evangelicals is SO solid? More than almost any other President because he doesn’t…

RR: Over eighty percent.

BM: Over eighty percent!…because he does seem like the least Christian man ever.

RR: I’m a friend of his, and I’ve not found that to be the case. When I first got to…

BM [crowd audibly groans and Maher attempts to interject]: Ok, I…

RR: No, let me finish! When I first got to know Donald Trump over seven years ago, I’ll be honest with you, I didn’t expect to like him. I had a view and a caricature of him, which was based on his public image, and let me tell you what I found out about Donald Trump. And in my party, over the last three decades, if you ran for President, I knew you, and I usually knew you personally. Every time he told me he was going to do something, he did it. His word was his bond, and let me give one example. He ran for President, and he released a list of twenty-one nominees, potential nominees to the Supreme Court. He was the first nominee of either party to do that. He said if you vote for me…

BM: Yes, he kisses your ass.

RR [punctuates with finger]: …if you vote for me, I will not choose someone LIKE these twenty-one, I will choose ONE of these twenty-one.

BM: Right, so what you’re saying is…

RR: He kept his word. He not only got it done, he confirmed him in one-hundred days. That hasn’t happened since 1881, so you want to know why I support him? Because he said he would do something, and he did it.

BM: But what you’re saying is as long as he…if he keeps his word to you, but lies to everybody else…

RR [increased agitation with hands and head]: No. No. No. No, Bill.

BM [returns the animated gesturing]: No, that’s what you’re saying. Because you can’t deny that he’s a giant liar.

RR: No, because…

BM: He’s a giant liar.

RR: On October the 10th, it wasn’t just a promise to me. On October the 10th, he looked into a camera in the third and final debate with Hillary Clinton, and he said the same thing. It was a promise to the American people.

BM [using Trump voice]: You’re the puppet!

RR: Huh?

BM: That’s what he said. [Trump voice] You’re the puppet. I’m not the puppet! You’re the puppet!

[Maniacal Professor’s Note: Ralph Reed laughs with a sincerely good nature here, as he does afterward several times at Maher’s jokes. Reed’s words make my blood boil, but I can’t help but like his demeanor…and appreciate his candor.]

BM: That’s what he said in that debate.

RR: What he said, Bill, if I could remind you, is if I become President, I will appoint someone to fill the vacancy caused by the death of Antonin Scalia, who’s like Scalia, and he did it!

BM [trying to interject and becoming clearly frustrated]: Yes, right, yes, we’re not, OK, so you…

RR: It wasn’t just a promise to the faith community; it was a promise to the American people.

BM: Like I said, you forgive all the other lies because the one YOU care about, he kept.

RR: No. It isn’t just that. It’s the fact that he said that he would work to reduce the regulations put in place by Obama, and he’s done it.

BM: But all the other…

RR: It’s the fact that we have a million new jobs since he became President. [loud groan from audience, and Maher stops speaking and stares incredulously] It’s the fact that we have the biggest stock market rally in fifty-seven years after the election of a President.

BM: Alright, but when I think…[smiles devilishly] I don’t throw the term Anti-Christ around lightly…

RR [another genuine smile]: That’s comforting to know, Bill.

BM: …but when I think of Christ, and then Trump!…[quizzical look and pause for comic effect]…He’s…yeah…Anti-Christ….because let’s take the lying thing. You guys call Satan…You believe in Satan, right? No?

RR [laughs here, but it’s of the nervous, put-on-the-spot variety]: Yeah. Of course I do. I believe in God, and I believe in an enemy. Sure.

BM: OK. I could make fun, but I’m not ’cause I like you. OK, but don’t you call Satan, the Father of Lies? Isn’t that like a little name you have for him?

RR: It’s not my name. It’s Jesus’ name [for Satan]. Jesus called him the Father of Lies.

BM: Oh. My bad. OK, so Trump=Giant Liar; Satan=Father of Lies. OK, um, what about the thing that Jesus…He was sorta…He was not really fond of egomaniacs or rich people. Isn’t Trump a rich egomaniac?…who, who…everything is about money and doing well and winners and losers….It just does not seem Christ-like.

RR: You know, um, I don’t want to particularize this to you. I think it’s throughout the media universe. There’s what I like to refer to as SELECTIVE MORAL OUTRAGE about things that Donald Trump says and does compared to those that they support. First of all, Donald Trump never claimed to be a perfect man. He said that he made many mistakes in his life…

BM: He’s lived up to that.

RR: …and he acknowledged that, OK? But if you want to talk about lies, remember last November, we had a binary choice. It was a choice! It wasn’t just a referendum on him. We had to choose between him and Hillary Clinton. This was somebody who held a news conference and said she never sent or received classified material.

BM [frustrated]: Oh Lord…

RR: Lie! This is somebody who said…

BM [loudly interrupts]: OK, I’m not going to litigate that. She lost! You won!

RR: Over eighty percent of the American people said they didn’t trust her. They didn’t think she was honest.

BM: Right.

RR: And of the twenty percent of the electorate, Bill, that some pollsters referred to as the “Nuh’s,” they didn’t like either one of them. Donald Trump won those voters over sixty percent. They made a decision. They want somebody to go to Washington and shake things up.

BM: Why are they lying so much about Russia? Donald Trump, Jr….The subpoenas are out now. They want to know about that meeting.

RR: OK.

BM: When they first heard about the meeting, Donald Trump…It was just about adoption because we’re big fans of Annie. [laughter] …and uh, at first, it was, “We don’t know any Russians! We don’t know ANY Russians!…Then, OK, we know a Russian….Alright, we know three. Alright. we know eight.” There was one Russian at the meeting. OK, there were ten Russians at the meeting. Stalin’s corpse was at the meeting. The Bolshoi Ballet was at the meeting. But it wasn’t about the election. Then, it was about the election. If they have nothing to hide and this is a witch hunt, then why are they lying constantly until they get caught?

RR: First of all, everybody who was in that meeting, including Natalia Veselnitskaya, who was the Russian lawyer, says there was no discussion of any alleged negative information about Hillary Clinton…

BM: Well, if we can’t take her word for it, who can…[can’t finish his thought and doubles-over laughing]

RR: …Oh, and by the way, she [Veselnitskaya] told NBC News in an interview with her in Russia that she never talked to any Russian government official about that meeting, and I understand that there’s a COLLUSION DELUSION, and the media is fixated on chasing this story like greyhounds would chase a mechanical rabbit, but I got news for you…but for the average American, they don’t care, and they know it’s a distraction.

BM [concludes the segment with genuine laughter at Reed’s joke about the greyhounds and warmly thanks him, despite the audience’s negative reaction to Reed’s final comment]: You’re a good man to come into the lion’s den! Ralph Reed, everybody! It is not easy…

This morning, I played a recording of the show for my lovely wife to observe another reaction, and she started to talk at Ralph Reed in the TV just like I did the prior evening; although, her language is quite a bit more reserved than mine, as I tend to swear like a sailor when I get upset by good, ol’ American evangelical sooth-saying.  She said three things: “They believe their own truths,” in response to Reed’s statements about Hillary’s lies; “They SHOULD care!” in response to his assertion that no one cares about the Russia stuff; and “It’s a threat to our democracy,” when it was all said and done…

I highlighted two phrases, in the transcript, that Ralph Reed used in last night’s interview: SELECTIVE MORAL OUTRAGE and COLLUSION DELUSION. I think the former should be used as Fox News Channel’s new slogan, and I think the latter is the last desperate, faux-strategic attempt to defend Trump as the popular chief representative of the God, Guns, and Guys political party…

…and to Bill Maher, if you happen to read this, thank you, sir, for conducting such interviews and commissioning such diverse panels, when traditional journalists usually shy away from anything religious because they think it will chase away their viewers to the Fox News Channel, or worse, turn their local, rural TV to one of the many new Sinclair Broadcasting channels across the country. Real Time with Bill Maher remains one of the best forums to study where religion and politics meet in America. (Plus, the naked molerat, Peter Wrinklage, was a hilarious joke, even though the audience was lame…and the final skit was excellent, with the exceptional Obama impersonator, Reggie Brown, reading Trump lines…I gotta tell ya, if you don’t have HBO or HBOGo, then give it a shot. What with Bill Maher and John Oliver for political commentary, and Game of Thrones, Insecure, Vice Principals, Silicon Valley, Veep, and more, it pays for itself with quality literature!)

Scott C. Guffey, M.A.

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