A Summit Void Of Values

Yesterday AU Communications Associate Rokia Hassanein wrote about attending the Values Voter Summit (VVS) for the first time. I felt a little guilty throwing her into the abyss when she’s been with AU for less than a month, but Rokia had a good attitude about it. I know she heard and felt some things that surprised her.

I’m much more jaded. This was my 11th Summit. And before there was a VVS, I attended annual meetings of the Christian Coalition; I once even flew to Florida to scope out a meeting hosted by the late TV preacher D. James Kennedy. Let’s just say I’ve heard some pretty strange – and infuriating – things over the years.

This year I was especially interested in hearing Donald Trump speak on the afternoon of Sept. 9. I arrived early, but the room was already full. It was standing room only, so I squeezed into the back and found an open part of the wall to lean against.

Actor Jon Voight introduced Trump by informing us “there’s a dark cloud over the country now.” But there’s good news: “If God allows truth to be heard and said, we will see Donald Trump as the next president of this nation. He will lift the dark cloud over this nation.”

Trump then took the stage. He rambled on for nearly an hour. Rarely have I heard anyone talk so long and say so little.

What surprises me most about Trump is how little substance there is behind anything he says. At one point, he vowed to create millions of jobs, something he described as “so easy.”

But of course, I paid the most attention to what Trump said about issues that will affect the separation of church and state. He promised to repeal the federal law that bars tax-exempt entities from intervening in partisan politics by endorsing or opposing candidates for public office, and he vowed to establish a gigantic, nationwide school voucher program.

In both cases, Trump played fast and loose with the facts. He repeated the old chestnut that houses of worship can’t speak on issues and even asserted that the no-politicking rule was causing people to lose interest in religion. (Evidence for this, please?)

“We’re gonna get rid of it so fast,” vowed Trump.

Oh, really? And what might Congress have to say about that? Or, for that matter, the American people, who overwhelmingly back the law?

On vouchers, Trump just mouthed a string of right-wing talking points about “school choice.” His plan calls for spending upwards of $20 billion in federal money on these plans and forcing states to adopt them as well, whether they want to or not. For good measure, he’d add a homeschooling tax credit. Trump seems to believe this will boost his dismal standing in black and Latino communities – which might be true if minorities supported vouchers, but they don’t. (For more information on this, see my colleague Maggie Garrett’s dissection of the Trump voucher plan last week.)

“As your president, I will be the biggest cheerleader for school choice you’ve ever seen,” Trump said.

One nation under Trump? A shot from the Values Voter Summit

Trump then promised to put far-right justices on the Supreme Court. He noted that there may be as many as three vacancies within the next four years and pointed out that the next president may shape the high court for a generation.

Trump concluded by quoting from the Book of John and then added a hefty dose of nationalism, telling the crowd, “Imagine what our country could accomplish if we were one people under one God saluting one flag.”

I think that was the part that annoyed me the most. Trump is going to unite us? Trump – perhaps the most divisive figure in American politics?

More to the point, who, other than the Religious Right, even wants to be united under one God and one flag? Millions of Americans don’t recognize one God, or they worship more than one, or they have an understanding of God that clashes with the traditional definition. Religious pluralism gives us options, which in turn gives us strength.

I don’t know who gave Trump this line, but he should drop it. Frankly, it has a whiff of fascism about it.

The crowd ate it up, of course. Trump received sustained applause as the 3,000+ attendees leaped to their feet to proclaim Mr. Two Corinthians, a man who has been married three times, says crude things about women and who until last year never said one word about religion or social issues, as their champion.

I’ve seen some strange things at Religious Right gatherings over the years, but I’m not sure I’ll ever top that.