Hello, Mark Galli

I had never heard of Mark Galli before today.  He is the outgoing editor of Christianity CT 1Today, which is described—except by President Trump—as “an evangelical journal.” [1]  According to his interview with Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs in the New York Times, he had no idea his editorial would have the impact it did.  It did, in fact, cause the website to crash, as the traffic on the site reached 50 times that of an ordinary day.

I found myself liking Mark Galli and that is what I would like to write about today.  Later, I will want to write a little about the editorial itself, although it is such a commonplace in my world that I have to stir myself to remember why it was such a bolt of lightening in the evangelical world.

Here’s the first thing I liked about him.  Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs asked him what he made of the opposition.  He said:

I was a little surprised that Donald Trump and then Franklin Graham thought it was worth commenting on. And it did strike me as a bit ironic that they both said that it wasn’t significant or going to make any difference. It makes you immediately think that they do think it’s significant, or they wouldn’t comment on it.

Anyone who says that when your enemies say a piece is not significant, it is a clear sign that they do think it is significant, is my kind of guy.  I have, in the last few years, tried to be careful not to confuse “significant” with “important”.  To help me do that, I remind myself of the function of “sign-“ in “significant” [2] and then I ask “What is it significant of?”  What President Trump’s remarks are significant of is his awareness that a crucial constituency [3] is in danger of being fractured by opposition within the group.

The second thing I liked about Mr. Galli is this.

People wrote to me and said they had felt all alone and were waiting for someone in the evangelical leadership to say what the editorial said….There were a lot of people who were feeling alone and they’re not feeling that way now.

I am in favor of that response, of course.  Evangelicals feel they are getting clearance to feel the way they feel and that is exciting.  The mechanism is exactly the same as the racists and sexists getting “clearance” from President Trump to feel their feelings and approve of them and act on them.  The mechanism is the same.  But I am happy for these evangelicals.  Also, I really enjoy the gutsiness of Galli’s conclusion—“they’re not feeling that way now.”

The third thing I particularly liked about Galli in this interview was his ability to recognize the political position of the President and to take account of it within a moral frame of reference.  People who don’t understand the evangelical frame of reference may not get that, but within the evangelical frame, “virtues” are personal virtues, not public virtues.  You ask of a political candidate, for instance, what kind of :”person” he or she is.  You pass by without notice or comment the party, the political views, the policy outcomes and all that.

Galli focuses on the meaning of Trump’s many provocations by considering that they come from the Presidency.  Actions that would be merely regrettable in a private life can be intolerable in a public life and Galli is willing to say that, thereby departing from the pietistic frame of reference.  Good for him.

Then (fourth) there is his specificity about President Trump’s political style.  Trump’s style, Galli says, is “to denigrate people.”  I have heard that a lot and have said it myself my share of times.  But then he goes on to say that Trump’s style is to “frame the entire conversation as a competition between success and failure.”  There is an analytical clarity in that way of putting it that I had not heard before and that I will be able to use., myself.   He gives the example of Trump saying, “You’re a dying magazine.”  Fine.  If I hear that just as Trump being nasty, it doesn’t help me very much.  To see it as part of his common reframing in the success/failure frame helps me a great deal.

Finally (fifth and last)

The right and the left clearly wanted to excommunicate each other from the movement, so whenever I had the opportunity, I tried to get evangelicals on the left, center and right to have a reasonable conversation. I wanted to continue that when I sat down to write the editorial, but something in me clicked and I thought: That approach doesn’t work anymore. Given what we now know about what the president has done, we need to speak out more directly about this.

Notice, in the paragraph above, his commitment to a reasonable conversation including left, right, and center.  That is where I am right now.  It is hard for me to imagine a lasting solution that does not involve that kind of discussion (reasonable) among adherents of that range (left, right, and center) of views.  And for me, that means Americans, not just evangelicals.

But notice what happened to Galli when he sat down to write.  Something clicked and he decided that his preferred approach “doesn’t work any more.”  So he wrote this strong call for evangelicals to reject Donald Trump.  And that is the fifth and last thing that attracted me to this man.  The “clicking,” not just the call.

Having said that, I think he is wrong.  I think he was right to do what he did.  I think there will be no lasting solution that does not require the discussion he decided not to call for.  But the time will come when we realize, I think, that nothing else will work.  

The war of each against all is not a tactic.  It will not work.  It is, rather, a way of organizing society and I think it is profoundly wrong.  It leads in the first phase to chaos and in the last to the dominance of the strong over the weak.  It is the natural gravity of  and social development, but the Framers gave us tools to resist it and we should treasure and implement those tools  Now.

[1]  In a tweet on December 20, 2019, he referred to it as “a far left magazine,” and  then damned it further by clarifying, “or ‘progressive’ as some would call it.”

[2]  If we pronounced it sign-ificant it would be easier to remember that the n- goes with the sig-, not with the -ify suffix.  But…we don’t.

[3]  He thinks of evangelicals as an interest group, like coal miners and racists.  When he talks about “what I have done for them” is it to be understood in this vein.  Regrettably, Franklin Graham was thinking  of evangelicals the same way when he tweeted  “No President has done more for the Evangelical community, and it’s not even close. You’ll not get anything from those Dems on stage.”

About hessd

Here is all you need to know to follow this blog. I am an old man and I love to think about why we say the things we do. I've taught at the elementary, secondary, collegiate, and doctoral levels. I don't think one is easier than another. They are hard in different ways. I have taught political science for a long time and have practiced politics in and around the Oregon Legislature. I don't think one is easier than another. They are hard in different ways. My wife, Bette, is the First Reader (FR) of the posts. I have arranged that partly because she helps me write better posts than I would otherwise and partly because I can hold her responsible for the mistakes that I would, otherwise, have to own up to myself.. You'll be seeing a lot about my favorite topics here. There will be religious reflections (I'm a Christian) and political reflections (I'm a Democrat) and a good deal of whimsey. I'm a dilettante.
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