Saturday, July 23, 2016

2016 Republican National Convention: Thiel and Falwell

The Republican National Convention took place from July 18-21 at the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio. The last day of the convention included speaker choices who remind us that the Trump campaign is less than enthusiastic about LGBTQ equality and downright contemptuous toward church-state separation.

Among the speakers on the last day of the convention was billionaire Peter Thiel. Thiel, co-founder of PayPal and the first outside investor in Facebook, is also a gay man who was outed against his wishes by Gawker in 2007, according to Time. Thiel's speech, as captured in a Time transcript, played to his audience's feelings of (real or imagined) decline and national failure. Glaringly, he implied that the struggle for LGBTQ equality is a distraction from more important economic issues, as if American couldn't address both at the same time.

Thiel described the modern U.S. in ugly terms, telling listeners that the military is technologically backwards, that the government is more interested in war than space travel, and that the struggle for transgender bathroom rights is a "distraction from our real problems".
"Today our government is broken. Our nuclear bases still use floppy disks. Our newest fighter jets can’t even fly in the rain. And it would be kind to say the government’s software works poorly, because much of the time it doesn’t even work at all. That is a staggering decline for the country that completed the Manhattan project. We don’t accept such incompetence in Silicon Valley, and we must not accept it from our government.

Instead of going to Mars, we have invaded the Middle East. We don’t need to see Hillary Clinton’s deleted emails: her incompetence is in plain sight. She pushed for a war in Libya, and today it’s a training ground for ISIS. On this most important issue Donald Trump is right. It’s time to end the era of stupid wars and rebuild our country.

When I was a kid, the great debate was about how to defeat the Soviet Union. And we won. Now we are told that the great debate is about who gets to use which bathroom. This is a distraction from our real problems. Who cares?"
Thiel asserted that he was proud to be gay, then said that "fake culture wars" only serve to distract Americans from economic problems.

"I am proud to be gay. I am proud to be a Republican. But most of all I am proud to be an American. I don’t pretend to agree with every plank in our party’s platform; but fake culture wars only distract us from our economic decline, and nobody in this race is being honest about it except Donald Trump."
Thiel's attitude of "who cares?" and his disdain for "fake" culture wars was disappointing. The Republican National Convention may have wanted to include a gay speaker to convince LGBTQ voters that it was an enlightened party, but that speaker didn't seem eager to actually talk about LGBTQ issues. Does the GOP want the appearance of open-mindedness without the substance? I think so.

Also on the agenda was Jerry Falwell Jr., president of Liberty University. Before encouraging the audience to unite behind Trump and Pence, Falwell rejoiced over the prospect of the Johnson Amendment being repealed under Trump. Currently, the Internal Revenue Code forbids 501(c)(3) organizations such as churches from promoting or opposing political campaigns, a policy that Trump wants to repeal.
"Mr. Trump has added a plank to this party platform to repeal IRS rules sponsored by Lyndon Johnson in 1954 barring churches and nonprofits from expressing political free speech. Conservative universities and churches, however, have been investigated, while authorities have too often turned a blind eye toward liberal groups, including universities where left-wing ideology is so pervasive that they have, in effect, become Democratic voter indoctrination camps. Trust me, the repeal of the Johnson Amendment will create a huge revolution for conservative Christians and for free speech."
Falwell fails to grasp the function of the Johnson Amendment, which is not to limit non-profits' free speech, but to prevent them from abusing their tax-exempt status to endorse candidates. Furthermore, Falwell and Trump fail to recognize the importance of the Johnson Amendment for protecting church-state separation. In Trump, Religious Right leaders like Falwell have found a candidate who will erode the wall of separation and allow them to mingle religion and politics even more.

In my next post, I'll discuss the speech given by Donald Trump himself, and what his speech tells us about his worldview and campaign. Stay tuned.

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