Bill Barr, the Man From 1980

Nov 19, 2019 · 571 comments
winthropo muchacho (durham, nc)
This guy reminds me more of the early 70s with Spiro Agnew and John Mitchell.
NY Times Fan (Saratoga Springs, NY)
Bill Barr should never have been confirmed by the Senate. His memo on the all-powerful, unitary executive (unlimited presidential power) alone should have been enough for the Senate to reject him. Bill bar does not believe in 3 equal branches of government or the separation of powers. Barr thinks that the president is a king, so he doesn't not allow for oversight authority by the Congress. Once confirmed as AG by a corrupt, Republican-dominated US Senate, Bill Barr should have been impeached by the House after he lied to Congress. Immediately after assuming office, Barr's manipulation and spin on the Mueller report showed his dishonesty and corruption. Bill Barr is a real threat to democracy and to the rule of law. One piece of evidence for this is Barr's unconditional support for a lawless "president", whose crimes Bill Barr has managed to sweep under the rug. Finally, I'm asserting that Bill Barr is a right-wing, Christian Fascist. Barr does not believe in the separation of church and state -- a basic principle of American democracy. Barr's support for "religious liberty" would allow ultra-conservative, right-wing Christians to usurp the civil rights of everyone and anyone they don't like, as long as they claim it's because of their religious faith. This is religious zealotry and right-wing, Christian fascism!
Tim Bachmann (San Anselmo)
I don't get it. Trump hasn't exactly been feckless. He has been very successful in opening the door to the murder of the earth. He single handedly murdered scores of innocents by doing an about face on the Kurds. He has single handedly wrecked many if not most of our international relationships. He has assumed and leveraged every possible chance to steal power. Too much power. As someone who is spiritual but not religious, I'm tired of being thrown in with the secular elite like some evil breakaway cult. Morals trump religion, and I have them. Stop it with the labeling, please. And please, don't we separate religion and politics?
Harold (Winter Park, Fl)
What is the difference between the Christian's demand for 'religious freedom' that denies all other religions and the Taliban. Someone below asked that question and it has been one I have wondered about in the past. Intolerance, persecution, oppression, authoritarian, all fit into the Christian theology that is very much a rigid man made ideology. This does not follow Christ's teachings. Now, with the approval of Trump and the GOP, reports are that these Evangelical Christians are beginning to remove science from their school's curriculum's. Dumbing down America is on plan.
Mary Newton (Ohio)
I'm confused by Douthat's connection of conservatism with religion and spirituality and liberalism with "secularism," as if liberals and progressives are never people of Faith. Where does he get that? There are plenty of socially and fiscally conservative atheists, and among my liberal and progressive friends there are Congregationalists, Quakers, Latter Day Saints, Christian Scientists, United Methodists, Episcopalians, Orthodox Jews, Catholics, Buddhists and Muslims, among others. They all agree with our constitutional separation of church and state, and with the idea that laws should be grounded in secular things we can all agree on, because if they weren't there would be unending battles about which religion's laws should be codified for the nation as a whole. Only so-called "secularism" as a basis for public ethics, when we meet as a single people, allows genuine religious freedom.
Kaz (Grand Rapids, MI)
Barr's speeches were more fitting of the Chairman of the Republican Party, not the Attorney General of the United States.
TIm Love (Bangor, Maine)
No. Barr is the Fred Flintstone of 1980 Between Fred and Bam Bam Trump, rockheads would be quite apropos.
Jack Linden (Sonoma)
In an era of sickening, cynical, morally-warped “prosperity theology,” not only “elites,” but all Americans who care about democracy and who want to reverse our country’s apparent suicide pact written by the religious right, have an obligation to oppose and eliminate the influence of religion in public life. The Founding Fathers would hold us all in contempt were we to do otherwise.
The Dude (Spokane, WA)
For the record, Ross, this secular, elitist from the left feels no hostility towards traditional Christianity. If I feel anything, it’s based on the belief that traditional Christianity is irrelevant. This seems to really bother you and your Christian brethren.
Barry of Nambucca (Australia)
The redacter in chief, will not be looked on favourably by legal historians. His partisanship and loyalty to Trump, make him unfit to be the US Attorney general.
Peter Aretin (Boulder, Colorado)
As far as I'm concerned, this country was founded by secular elites in a revolution during which religious conservatives fought for the divine right of king and monarchy or fled to Canada. Our Constitution does not describe a government which enshrines inherently authoritarian supernatural belief, which has always been the handmaiden of discrimination and special privilege, but a government of individual freedom.
J.Sutton (San Francisco)
Barr and people who agree with him would hail an American theocracy Second: Why does the word “elite” pop up? Cultural elites. Elite has become a disparaging label directed at educated people. This is a strong indication that education is regarded as too dangerous for ordinary citizens who might chafe against the intrusion of religion and its illogical dogma into our government unless they remain ignorant.
Jeffrey Lewis (Vermont)
While Barr may be a lawyer his is most clearly neither an historian or a theologian. H is stated view of religion is clearly his own, an kind of antiquated, authoritarian Roman Catholicism that is its own justification for it existence: it is right because it is right. He makes the same assumption about government and the presidency: what we have it right because it is right with no necessary or relevant questions to be asked. History illustrates that absolutism, authoritarian positions like this soon crinkle under the weight of humanity's desire for individual freedom. Barr's argument then is radically conservative in the sense that he is resisting change in belief, behavior and attitude. He believes that things are not meant to change and any such is wrong on its face. The embrace of the current government, particularly in its claim of power, is inherent in highly institutionalized churches. They are a mirror of the state and live in the reflection of their power. Should it change, they must change; against their will. The relationship between church and power is long and entwined, to the credit of neither. Barr is merely the voice of resistance to any change, and to his own claim to power as uniquely placed person of 'faith'. Thus faith, religion, is the access to power, which, of course, in Christianity marks its end as Christianity takes its birth in humble resistance to power.
KMW (New York City)
Georgetown University was asked by the Obama White House to cover up all religious symbols at the site of President Obama's economic speech in 2009. The university complied. President Obama also gave the commencement speech at Notre Dame, a Catholic university. There was much outrage over this choice because he supported abortion rights. The Catholic Church is against abortion. As a Catholic, I was angry that Georgetown agreed to President Obama's demands and that Notre Dame would invite a speaker who supports abortion. There were many fine speakers who did not agree to abortion and would have been a much better choice. William Barr is correct in saying that there is liberal bias against religious people. He has every right to voice this opinion and many of us agree and are happy he is speaking out against this. We hope he continues.
DF (Kasilof, Alaska)
@KMW There is only liberal bias against authoritarian religion, and of any kind, because it is authoritarian. American liberalism exists in democracy and supporting authoritarian, conservative Catholicism or ISIS or communism or any other authoritarian religion or belief system would require acting against democracy. Religious liberals practice the religion of their choice and non-religious liberals do something else. Freedom...liberals still think it's a thing!
Ross claims "the hostility of elite cultural institutions to traditional Christianity is an enduring fact of American life." Read to a secular audience, that seems false on its face, as the overwhelming majority of the population is Christian, and Christians dominate most cultural institutions, and elite cultural institutions in particular. Read to a religious audience, Douthat is making clear that "traditional Christianity" is limited to people who believe that those with dark skin are lesser than those with light skin, that those who are female are lesser to those who are male, that those who don't identify as heterosexual are lesser to those who are, that those who aren't Christian are lesser than those who are. Seen in this light, the alleged hostility to "traditional Christianity" is not only American, but something Jesus would get behind. If only Ross would be so honest as to say it out loud.
william madden (West Bloomfield, MI)
I too am obsessed with decadence. It requires a stable social and political order to thrive. Like Mr Douthat, I am afraid for the future.
Justin (Seattle)
You've got to be kidding me--Trump has had greater difficulties getting his nominations confirmed than his predecessors? Are we supposed to have forgotten how the Republican Senate treated Obama less than 3 years ago? How many of his nominations were held up? What other president in history has been denied an opportunity to fill a Supreme Court seat that came open a year before his term ended? What concerns me most is the nexus between the imperial presidency and Christian doctrine. Bill Barr does, indeed, seem eager to find a new Constantine. It should not go unnoticed that the Christian church, particularly the Roman Catholic church, was created for and used to support European monarchy for over a millennium. Those were not the best years for humans on this planet. I wonder how these Christians would feel were they the minority and a government of, say, Buddhists felt the need to impose its moral doctrine.
James (Oregon)
You and I do not agree on what constitutes inappropriate intrusion of conservative Christianity into politics. I feel politics must function to serve the many US citizens that do not share these views and would like to see government policy justified on terms that do not require them to share a rigid set of religious values. You, like most conservative Christians I know, are inclined to see politics based on this concept as an attack. But even given this major difference of opinions, I'm disappointed in this article. Barr's speech was vile. If Holder had given a speech denouncing evangelicals or conservatives as power hungry, willing to do whatever it takes to destroy those they disagree with, essentially unethical people, I don't think you would have reacted in even remotely the same manner. It would be nice to see you acknowledge that the generally moderate, center to center-left reformists that control the Democratic Party are not in fact working to burn everything down and replace it with one giant commune run by atheist drag queens.
Slann (CA)
First words of the First Amendment, "Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion,", guaranteeing all Americans the freedom FROM religion. Apparently AG-in-name-only Barr either never read that, or has absolutely no understanding of the meaning of those words. Disgusting fraud of a man.
Geoman (NY)
The area where POTUS has the greatest power, where his executive role most fully enacts itself and where there are the least restraints on him involves relations between the US and foreign powers. This is and should be one of the most private, unhindered areas of a president's enactment of his executive function. So far I'm with Barr. But absolutely no political power can ever be absolute in a democracy. We give POTUS this power because we expect he will actually enact his presidential role as our representative--the carrier out of our collective will and the defender of our security. Trump has failed in this. And that is why we are saying, "No." It's not that we want to inhibit him in his executive role and presidential power; it's that he has misused his role and power. Trump has now crossed a major line in that he has used the power we gave him in the foreign affairs for personal gain. In the process, he has put our collective security at risk. And so he needs to go. As does Barr.
Daniel Skerritt (Portland, Oregon)
I think there is a typo. Bill Barr is a man from 1775, not 1980. He seems to think we should have stayed with King George. It’s amazing how Trumpers like Barr love to use the Federalist Papers to scold others, but are blind to lessons about checks and balances and religious liberty when it undercuts their pinched view of the world.
TommyTuna (Milky Way)
I'm sure this was a pinnacle for Barr, an avowed Catholic. Too bad he's an ignorant zealot. Look, Ross. Hitler could have given an address at Notre Dame. Is the forum supposed to disguise the fact that the person giving the address is an abject criminal? OK, so Barr gave an address at Notre Dame. What if he gave the same address at the Laramie Community Center? Would it be considered any less impressive? So, Notre Dame - a bastion of the Old World Order - has Bill Barr as a speaker. How are we supposed to be impressed? Breathlessly awaiting your thoughts on this.
Blackcat66 (NJ)
Weirdly the biggest "threat" to Christianity and it's progressive decline are evangelicals and people like RD and Barr and their ilk. Younger generations want nothing to do with the feckless brand of religion being shoved down this country's collective throat. The sick, sad, racist brand of religion that evangelicals embrace is the antithesis of basic decency. You guys have really lost your way and not being allowed to shove your idiocy on the rest of us is NOT discrimination.
Kamwick (SoCal)
Since when are Christians being harassed and persecuted in the US? When people protest because they are trying to take private decisions about their bodies away from women? When they are questioned for political speech and actions performed from the pulpit (tax free, of course). When they are prosecuted for BREAKING state and city laws against discrimination by refusing (in their public-serving business) to bake wedding cakes for same sex weddings? If they think that's harassment and persecution, maybe they should move to Russia.
Robert (Montreal)
For want of relativism, Barr has burned his credibility at the stake.
Jesse Larner (NYC)
"The hostility of elite cultural institutions to traditional Christianity is an enduring fact of American life." Ross Douthat is a smart man with a subtle mind, the most interesting of the ideological conservatives; but this statement is the core delusion of the American religious right. And it's a dangerous delusion. The religious right feels that it is under attack when it is restrained from damaging the lives of others.
Lottie Jane (Menlo Park, CA)
Hmmmm... I see ‘moral relativism’ more among the Trump adherents than in anyone of the center or left. As for secularism, wasn’t the Constitution purposely secular in nature?
A "defense of religious liberty"? No, a defense of allowing a Christian theocracy. Ross has a real hard time figuring out that these are not the same thing.
DC (Florida)
Unlimited presidential power is called dictatorship.
Paul Adams (Stony Brook)
Did I actually read that government initiatives to reduce poverty are "crowding out" private charities and churches? Perhaps Douthat's next piece could be about how hospitals are crowding out funeral homes, and seatbelts are crowding out hospitals.
Next Conservatism (United States)
It's not just trite but contemptible that Ross Douthat still uses "elite cultural institutions" as an all-purpose tar brush without defining what he means or why he feels the charges stick. No, it is not an "enduring fact" just because he demands that we take him at his word. No, absent the specifics he owes his readers (not that The Times feels that way, mind you), this is the kind of talk-radio slime that pollutes his case instead of making it. Who's his target with remarks like that? Does Douthat feel that the churches and congregations of all faiths should be stained as "elite cultural institutions" if, say, they invite gays to marry? Does he feel that the bigoted, narrow power-mongers and money-changers among the Evangelicals are stalwarts in defense of "traditional Christianity" (they'd say so)? Douthat's credentials to speak as a traditional Christian and to pose as its defender are threadbare to shredding. I'm sick of him posing as a paragon when he comes off more as an undisciplined opportunist. If he's obsessed with decadence, the beam's in his eye.
Justice Holmes (Charleston SC)
Conservatives still believe what they did before Trump! That’s why Trump is president. Barr is a man who has handed his souls to Trump. His religion is Trumpism. As to his century, I’d say 1880’s. I’d also say before there were law schools where he might have learned about separation of powers and a bit about the law and ethics! He seems to have missed a lot of classes.
J (Chicago)
"the welfare state is an ersatz religious institution that crowds out private charity and churches." Sorry am I reading correctly that this line recommends a plan for private sector health care? Cause that's been working out great. Any Christian should be delighted by what our health care system says about the value America places on human life vs the value it places on profits.
DF (Kasilof, Alaska)
What is conservative Christianity? An oxymoron? Business leaders may have left Christianity at a faster rate than the working class which now works Sundays and holidays. If you find on Easter or other religious day that the whipped cream for the pie was forgotten, the grocery store is open and staffed by members of the working class who are foregoing religious practices and religious time with their families and you can send someone to the store. The 40-hour week and the weekend were great for churches and other houses of worship. Business leaders sent American manufacturing overseas leaving many in the working class in despair without healthcare, pensions or decent enough wages to replace them. Much of the despair of the working class comes from economic injustice. Whether working class Christians see the fellow in the fancy suit in church or on the golf course as they drive home on Sunday the whole religious enterprise appears wobbly. From your article this quote, "the connection he draws between the weakening of religious practice and the working class's social crisis is contestable but entirely plausible." Are you blaming the working class for conditions (mostly) wealthy Republicans created and for which they apparently wish to be held harmless? I recommend a reading of Luke 16: 1-13 NRSV. Should Christians support the Republican Party or conservatism at all? What is St. Peter to say at the gates of heaven about the response to climate change?
Charles (Talkeetna, Alaska)
I had the pleasure of listening to the Attorney General’s speech to the Federalist Society on CSPAN radio yesterday. It was a welcome voice of rationality and sanity so rare in today’s mad world caught between Trump’s ignorance and narcissism and the irrational hatred of Trump’s most rabid critics. Barr laid out a well-supported case for how the judiciary and Congress through the administrative state have intruded into what should be presidential authority, especially against Trump. He cited numbers that clearly show an attempt to cripple Trump’s ability to staff his administration and to shut down every legitimate executive initiative through judicial injunction. And what was the response of Barr’s critics? Did they counter with evidence and reason? No! They spewed epithets like “authoritarian” and shouted “Impeach Barr.”
Realist (Michigan)
I counter by asking that you recall Mitch McConnell refusing to hold hearings on then President Obama's choice for the Supreme Court, Merrick Garland. I counter asking you to recall the same Mitch McConnell's public vow to make Obama's presidency fail. Two examples of "Congress intruding on presidential authority." Mr. Barr was raised Catholic. Mr. Barr is an attorney. He is bound by the moral laws of the Catholic church and the Ethical requirements of the ABA Rules of Professional Responsibility. He also has an ethical duty as Attorney General to refrain from "the appearance of impropriety." He has violated all these requirements and like so many hypocrites does it with a tone of persecution and complaint. There is evidence and reason aplenty to counter Barr's egregious speech. His critics know that Barr and those who agree with him will ignore all that as they cling to their rationale for dominating everyone who does not agree with them.
NYC Expat (Europe)
@Charles True, the most disappointing thing about Douhat's intricate expose meant to take down Barr's speech it is that it fails to clearly build a valid opposing argument.
Richard from Philly (Philly)
@Charles The "case" he laid out for Presidential authority was spun from whole cloth, devoid of precedent and informed by a dangerously authoritarian impulse. The United States is NOT the Catholic Church. There is no all-powerful ruler but rather an elected office which is specifically constrained by the Constitution as well as Congress and the Judiciary. Barr disregards over 240 years of cases, custom and common sense to arrive at his position. I'm reminded of the line attributed to S. Lewis, "When fascism comes to the United States, it will be wrapped in a flag and carrying a cross". Spare a thought for those of us who believe that freedom from religion is as important as freedom of religion.
Melvyn Magree (Duluth MN)
Read George Washington’s Farewell Address and ask both your Senators when the last time they attended the annual Senate Reading. Ask them if they remember what he said about factions. Once upon a time the Senate was called the world’s greatest deliberative body. I think it has devolved into one of the most partisan bodies. Both parties are guilty, but the Republicans seem to be trying harder to be partisan.
Lane (Riverbank ca)
A previous President changed nomenclature on school bathroom doors nationwide from centuries long customary male/female bathroom separation. This effort at 'change' in social fabric seems overreach of Presidential powers into areas it does not belong..
Mike DeMaio (Chicago)
Go Bill!!! He’s the only one who’s making any sense these days!!
Jason (Bayside, N.Y.)
This article is such nonsense. Barry and others only believe in an imperial presidency when their guy is in office. Barry and the others - a room full of hypocrites.
Suzy Sandor (Manhattan)
Maybe so but so are u!
theresa (new york)
Jesus was a socialist.
L osservatore (In fair Verona, where we lay our scene)
A swing and a miss from Douthat today. There is nothing at all controversial about anything Barr has said in public, probably ever. He represents the American mindset that defeated Germany and Japan by 1945 and that defeated the Soviet Union by 1989. He verbalizes the heritage and moral core that IS the world's best experiment in democracy from the ground up, where government is held at bay and can be held within its limits. The conservatism he speaks of is ready to confront and solve anything at all, from asteroids to genetically-designed humanity. Did the Reagan era do those things? Yep, just like the Truman era and the Lincoln era did. If you've been snookered into buying the rancid tripe that Barr ever lied about Mueller's this or that, you are FAR too limited in your reading. Remember. never come to the NY Times among your first five sites in any one day. You need truth first before political fiction.
Slann (CA)
@L osservatore Barr DID lie. Read Mueller's report. I have, have you?
Larry Figdill (Charlottesville)
He's a lot creepier and a much bigger liar than Republicans of the 1980s. Barr is a man of the current time, as defined by the Trump era for Republicans. Don't try to whitewash his evil doings.
Greg Hodges (Truro, N.S./ Canada)
This sad pathetic idealogue needs to seriously have a heart to heart conversation with Bishop Robert Barron; who would then proceed to intellectually tear his fanatical right wing extremist views to shreds. Then again; it is these same self described conservatives that have basically declared war on Pope Francis as being a heretic. Same insane garbage I have heard far too often from those who would drag Christianity back into the Dark Ages with there close minded ravings.
Mike Z (Albany)
Ross; You also forgot the fictional war on Christmas in your fantasy retelling of the elite cultural assault on the beleaguered Conservative Christians in this country.
Denis (Maine)
If Mr.Douthat wants to examine decadence he could look to the Catholic Church and its megachurch Protestant analogs.
herzliebster (Connecticut)
"Religion" is many different things. The religion of right-wing evangelicals and other extreme right-wing Christians, including Catholics, seems to do little to advance Judeo-Christian values that go any deeper than "male authority figures know best" and "know your place." It was these values that Jesus overturned. And this paragraph: "... this reassurance manifests itself in a restatement of the assumptions that have guided organized religious conservatism since the 1960s: that the chief threat to religious faith comes from secularizing elites; that the great moral debates of our time pit Christian rigorists on the right against moral relativists on the left; that religious conservatives and limited-government conservatives can be natural allies because the welfare state is an ersatz religious institution that crowds out private charity and churches." ... well I just don't even know where to begin. These principles may be "conservative" in the sense of being Tory or Catholicist; they are not in any meaningful way consonant with the founding principles of Democracy in America. They are also hardly Christian unless your vision of the Church is a quasi-fascist one, and your use of "elite" as a term of opprobrium is risible. Only the genuine "elites" -- the privileged aristocracy of some reconstituted Ancien Regime -- could really sign on to this political vision.
Mark McIntyre (Los Angeles)
During his confirmation hearings, Barr was portrayed as experienced, fair, and a man who would vigorously protect an independent Justice Dept. Instead, what we got is a Trojan Horse there to protect Donald Trump.
David M. Fishlow (Panamá)
"The hostility of elite cultural institutions to traditional Christianity is an enduring fact of American life." Works for me, Ross. Self-defense.
Bill Barr is my hero - a man of integrity, honesty, and faith. I could never hope for a better AG. May God protect him from his enemies.
Ellen (New York)
@RMM Bless and keep the Barr (czar), but far away from me. He is free to regulate his life in accordance with his religious beliefs, but he is not free to regulate my life. That's the difference that seems to confound religious zealots. Do your own thing and as long as it doesn't adversely affect others, you're good to go. When you intrude on others who do not share your vision, you are imposing your beliefs on them.
Portland without a P (Bellevue, WA)
Well, I followed Ross' link to his book on decadence. What I see on the cover is a picture of the conservative Reaganesque Republican utopia, a population in subservience to the decadent rich, expected to live on the scraps that fall off the heaped table as they are stuffed into the giant maw. Given that Mr. Douthat is such a conservative, I'm confused whether this is a book promoting or railing against such decadence. I see promotion of decadence, bowing to the corrupt father figure, and self-serving greed only on the right, charity, caring for others without proselytizing, and movement toward personal liberty and higher education supported only on the left.
blairga (Buffalo, NY)
Mr, Douhat, Please understand that you are trying to rationalize fascism and your apologetics only confuse the issue. Trump, the Federalist Society, Barr, and all others who proclaim unlimited Presidential power are proclaiming fascism. Decide for democracy in America -- limited though it is -- or reject democracy. And yes we are at that point.
Sharon (Oregon)
Abuse of advise and consent? Am I missing something? Isn't the GOP senate in charge of confirmation of Presidential appointees? The House is supposed to investigate abuse of power, that's why Barr said the Justice Dept. can't indict a sitting Pres. because it's the job of the House and Senate. I don't think the impeachment proceedings will have any effect on the 40%, but strong arming a foreign government to smear a political opponent comes right out of the authoritarian's playbook. It certainly is of greater concern than lying to cover up sexual sleaze between consenting adults, or even a break-in of the Democratic headquarters. What would Barr consider an impeachable offense? He can't be indicted for shooting someone on 5th Ave...could he be impeached for shooting someone on 5th Ave?
Point of View (nyc)
Barr is the enabler of the political decay in the White House - hiding the Mueller report and the facts regarding obstruction of justice from the public. He is not concerned about the Ukraine corruption. Barr is wading through all the political sludge, and that makes his moral crusade really hollow.
David Gunter (Longwood, Florida)
The definition of secularism: 'the principle of separation of the state from religious institutions' This what Barr is riled up about? I thought that was settled sometime around Henry VII. He thinks he's Cardinal Wolsey.
Eric (Buffalo)
Douthat is overcomplicating a simple fact: WiIliam Barr is ignoring the flagrant damage the Trump administration has done to our national security agencies, our regulatory agencies, and our commitment to public discourse based on facts and argument instead of lies and slander. Barr is blind to the irony that the damage done to the civil fabric the past few years has come overwhelmingly from the right and its Trump-defense than it has from angry critics of the president. There is nothing that can contextualize or mitigate this damage. A long article that says little.
Zeke27 (New York)
I wish Barr's Christians were more, well, Christian about how they go about professing their faith in the words and acts of Jesus. Their fear of liberalism is a combination of self doubt and get off my lawn aggression towards things they don't understand. Barr himself is one of those Christian warriors who kill for god and bask in the glory of the battle. I don't trust him or his philosophy to be or do the right thing for this time in our lives.
Michael Ford (Dobbs Ferry, NY)
Nice piece of writing. Thanks.
Bethed (Oviedo, FL)
Really? Or is it the 1950's?
Daphne (East Coast)
I find Barr's Federalist Society speech to be very clear, factual and accurate. He describes the present mission of the Democratic congress perfectly. I suggest others read it for themselves.
PE (Seattle)
-“growing ascendancy of secularism and the doctrine of moral relativism” -“immense suffering, wreckage and misery” unleashed in “the new secular age.” Why is Barr a lawyer? He sounds like a preacher. A shady preacher at that.
Walter Howard (North Falmouth)
Religious liberty is enshrined in the Constitution. However, so is freedom from religion given the secular foundation of our republic. It revolts me that both state and federal regulations on funding of faith-based adoption agencies will be allowed to discriminate against Gays and non-Christian families. This is wrong, period. If you accept government funding, how is it possible that this is religious freedom? Douthat and Barr are both arrogant blowhards who should be put to pasture, preferably in some middle-eastern nation.
Theo D (Tucson, AZ)
Barr is the type of Opus Dei adherent perfectly happy with an American Francisco Franco in charge of America. Many Reaganites (Ed Meese, et alia) hoped for Reagan to be that type of creature, but assassination attempt + Iran-Contra wrecked that. (And Barr helped to get those involved pardoned by GHWBush.) With the coincident rise of Trump + the decline of Republican's ability to abide by democracy, he crawled out from under his corporate rock and is trying once again to institute a rightwing theocratic state. Let's resist this awful liar and practitioner of awful policies.
Thom (NC)
Maybe if Christian leaders had refrained from buying McMansions with tithes (see Steven Furtick), from engaging in election fraud (see Dan Bishop), or from covering up pedophiles (see the Catholic Church, in general), the citizenry wouldn’t be running from religion. Given the debased and debauched state of Christianity, we should all welcome a tide of secularism.
JPM (Hays, KS)
“The hostility of elite cultural institutions to traditional Christianity is an enduring fact of American life.” Are you kidding us? The inverse is far more true. The religious are far more hostile to humanists and atheists than vice versa, because religions have no basis in reason or fact. Religions are weak, and therefore prone to be fearful, because they are belief systems based on mythologies with no defensible factual evidence. This predisposes the religious to be paranoid and over react to criticism. We atheists are not hostile to the religious, until you try and foist your belief systems on the rest of us. Otherwise, we remain quietly contemptuous.
ebmem (Memphis, TN)
@JPM Atheists are more prone to paranoia and overreaction to criticism. It is no more rational or scientific to assert, absolutely, that there is no Supreme Being than it is to assert that there is. The logical alternative is agnosticism. You have faith there is no God just like others have faith there is. Religious people have no objection to your refusal to pray. Why is it that you demand they keep their faith private? You have defined yourself as superior and "elite" by looking down on those you perceive to be culturally inferior while remaining completely oblivious to your own logically flawed position. You are contemptuous, and it is not quiet. The very definition of the close minded and insular.
Irish (Albany NY)
I'm sorry but political positions are not acceptable from the AG or the secretary of state. those traditions exist for a reason - trust in the republic. Trump, Barr, and Pompeo list that trust. Thanks for ending America.
ebmem (Memphis, TN)
@Irish So when a Catholic man speaks to an audience at a Catholic university, he is required to refrain from making comments about religion or its opposite, secularism? Where were your complaints when Holder was soliciting votes in minority churches? That was actually a violation of the law. Where are your objections to the NYS AG filing a partisan lawsuit against Exxon using direct taxpayer funds supplemented by subsidized charitable donations from Bloomberg? It is not appropriate or legal for a government official to use government authority to pursue a partisan objective. A beef that Republicans have with Democrats is that they have double standards. It is desirable for Democrats to break the law and abuse their authority but they are outraged when a Republican who is Catholic makes a speech about religion to a Catholic audience. Evil lawbreaking is acceptable for Democrats but Republicans aren't even allowed to make a comment.
StatuteofLiberty (San Mateo, CA)
It is amazing that William Barr graduated from George Washington University Law School with high honors in light of his clear misunderstanding of the U.S. Constitution and the Founders intent to create a separation between church and state and a balance of power between the executive, legislative and judiciary branches.
ebmem (Memphis, TN)
@StatuteofLiberty Nothing is surprising after we found out that Obama graduated from Harvard Law with no comprehension of the Constitution or of a balance between the powers of the government branches. He was under the impression that he could write new laws with his pen and cell phone. He believed that he could ignore the provisions of even his own Obamacare if he found the law to be inconvenient. Unable to persuade even a senate supermajority to pass immigration or environmental legislation, it was OK for him to impose his personal preferences. There has been a steady growth of executive power during recent decades. The people elected Trump to reverse the trend, which grew exponentially under Obama.
Mark (Wilmington DE)
I don't usually agree with Mr. Douthat, but I do often appreciate his way with words. Deft little homage to The Great Gatsby in the closing sentences, old sport. I daresay Barr's attempts to recover a bygone era will be as effective as those of the late Jay Gatz.
KMW (New York City)
Approximately five months ago, the American Legion brought a case before the Supreme Court against the American Humanist Association composed of atheists and agnostics. The association wanted to have removed a 93 year old cross on public land in Maryland dedicated to soldiers who served during World War I. The argument from the American Legion was this was a tribute to those who fought for our country and lost their lives. The humanist argument was that it was a religious symbol yet no special religion was represented. There had never been any criticisms before this time. The Supreme Court ruled in the favor of the American Legion and the cross still stands. Thank goodness. Why shouldn't those who risked their lives for our safety not be honored? This was a case of an overreach from a group that went too far. The Court voted in a 7 to 2 decision and this should never have been brought to trial. It would have been a terrible disservice to not honor our war dead.
StatuteofLiberty (San Mateo, CA)
@KMW The use of cross to honor those who fought for our country and died in WWI presupposes that no Jews, Native Americans, and other non-Christians sacrificed their lives for this country in the war. There is no getting around the fact that the cross is a religious symbol and, as such, has no business being on public lands.
SG7 (Chicago)
The problem with Barr's notion of the "imperial presidency," as we are all now learning, is the same problem Rome had: sometimes you end up with Nero, and things don't go too well after that.
Jeff Ruti (Fairfield County.)
And sometimes you end up with Marcus Aurelius and things go well.....
ebmem (Memphis, TN)
@SG7 Facts prove that Obama thought and acted as if he were emperor and Trump has been restrained, relative to Obama. If you look at Trump actions that you find most offensive, he is reversing executive actions that Obama imposed absent the authority to do so. you choose to be oblivious to the reality that Obama was a benevolent, in your mind, dictator. As are all dictators until they aren't.
gVOR08 (Ohio)
OK, so Linker sees a descent into authoritarianism for conservatism and Douthat sees maybe a descent into irrelevance. I think Douthat is looking at this purely as a cultural thing, ignoring the effect of GOP establishment money, but I hope he's right.
Mark (Mass.)
Ross is overthinking big time. Barr is a befuddled neo fascist. Anyone who can decry "moral relativism" on one had and disgraces his office by being Trump's fixer on the other is basically a rightist thug.
Norm (San Diego)
Really tired of non-believer=immoral. The other three logical arguments are: believer-immoral, non-believer=moral, believer=immoral. Mr. Barr would suggest believer=moral as the only truth. Hence there is no such thing as a moral non-believer or an immoral believer. Many examples can be given of the last while many examples can be given of moral non-believers. The obvious conclusion is that morality and belief are poorly connected concepts. Politics that insist otherwise are illogical and not in concert with the constitution. Mr. Barr, do you practice law?
ebmem (Memphis, TN)
@Norm You are confused between the difference between immoral and amoral. You also omit the possibility that a believer can be moral: exactly what you apparently are accusing others.
Norm (San Diego)
@ebmem Sorry, no immoral was the word. If it was amoral I would not hve submitted.
Comp (MD)
To state the painfully obvious: 'the chief threat to religious faith' today comes from the religious right; 'the great moral debates of our time' pit Christians who follow the Christian scriptures against Christians who discard them entirely.
Scott (Oreogn)
I see Barr as a religious zealot like many other Trump devotees. I am a former law enforcement officer and I am mortified by the behavior of so many of our public officials. The rule of law has been circumvented by Trump, his supporters and appointees. The behavior of Trump has included: bribery, extortion, witness intimidation, obstruction of justice, financial malfeasance, emoluments violations, pardoning convicted felons and war criminals. To mention just a few. We are witnessing how fragile our governmental structures are and how gullible and easily manipulated & ignorant many of our fellow Americans are. We have truly gone down a very very dark road and seem to be headed over a cliff.
Martina (Chicago)
With all due respect, Barr suffers from several infirmities: first, hypocrisy, second, Neanderthalism, third, a bootlicking lack of ethics, and, fourth, small mindedness. Whatever a Reagan conservative might have been in the 1980’s, Barr’s rationales, whether they be predicated on Catholicism or the so- called “unitary executive” represent throwbacks to religious intolerance and the age of kings. To say that Trump was elected “to shake things up” ignores the destruction and divisiveness that Trump and his minions like Barr have inflicted on our fellow Americans. Trump and Barr are cancers that need to be excised from our beloved America.
Peter E Derry (Mt Pleasant SC)
If Mr Douthat indeed has an “obsession with decadence”, he surely is reveling in this administration, the most decadent presidency on record.
Gordon Jones (California)
Barr - deeply flawed, narrow mind, confirmed ideologue. My read and periodic re-reads of the Constitution gives me absolutely no sense of an intent by our forefathers to create an "Imperial Presidency". His take on the Mueller Report indicates to me that he did not read it, or he did and felt a compulsion to shoot it down. He did that willingly and completely. Shameful. As our Attorney General, he clearly revealed his full lack of integrity, and his complete ambition driven support for our deeply tainted "President". Essentially he joins some jurists as a committed Constitutional originalist. Thus his commitment to the Federalist Society. Those originalists need to sit down, close their eyes and place themselves in the room with our forefathers. Help compose the 2nd Amendment as written. Then, take a break and go hunting with their then current firearms. You know - smokey black powder, single shot, muzzle loading, short range, fairly inaccurate, bulky. My, how things have changed since then!! Current firearms (AR-15 etc,) certainly not on their radar screen back then.
John Gilday (Nevada)
So all that gibberish to dispute Attorney General Barr’s spot on observations that the lefts continued attack on religion, basically to placate the alphabet community, has done and continues to do harm to the moral fiber of America and that the the lefts inability to accept the results of the 2016 presidential election is undermining American democracy. The Attorney General is a wise and honest man speaking the truth which the left despises.
MGH (Az)
What happened to separation of church and state?
Jay (Pittsburgh)
If there is an organized entity that has caused more "suffering, wreckage and misery” than religion, I haven't heard of it. Barr is a dinosaur. May his kind enjoy the same destiny.
Peter (Canada)
He's not so much from 1980. Or, rather, he's from 1980 in the parallel universe known as Earth-45., which has been totally obliterated after the fascists took over Amerika. Send him back!
Dan (Anchorage)
There is a much simpler explanation for Barr's speeches: like Pompeo, he sucks up.
Maxi (Johnstown NY)
What kind of religiousness Barr thinks espouses massive tax cuts for the wealthiest and ‘screw you’ to the rest, especially the poor.
Aaron Walton (Geelong, Australia)
“It’s poised for repetition, gridlock and failure — ever-imagining itself seizing the initiative, but really letting itself be carried backward, a boat against the current, into the world of Bill Barr’s youth and past.” We can only hope.
Maria (Washington, DC)
This is the highlight of this column, and Ross nailed it: a familiar tag like “moral relativism” may be a poor fit for a woke progressivism whose moral fervor is increasingly the opposite of relativist — but perhaps a better fit for a religious conservatism that has demonstrated an embarrassing, at times self-discrediting moral flexibility in its support of, well, Donald Trump.
John Bergstrom (Boston)
@Maria He nailed it indeed: it's the progressives who uphold moral values, not the "greed is good" conservatives. And yet, Douthat seems to remain a conservative. I'll admit I haven't paid a lot of attention, so I don't know how he justifies it. Maybe something like, yes, OK, they are the "good guys", but they're so liberal, I can't stand them! Or something.
Gustav (Durango)
Evangelicals have been used and they don't realize it. Ever ask yourselves why Trump and a fully Republican Congress with a conservative majority in the Supreme Court did NOTHING to overturn Roe in 2017 and 2018? Help the poor, treat the sick, be neighborly and humble. Remember those?
Daphne (East Coast)
addendum. and of the Courts
Ken Double (Wellington, New Zealand)
What has religion to do with this? He's the Attorney General not Jerry Falwell Jr. Strict separation of church and state is still a thing as I recall. Who wants to hear the nation's top legal official going on about Christianity as if it had a monopoly on morality and justice? Don't answer that.
Brett (Fairfax, VA)
The only part of this piece that makes any sense is the editorial title. I have no idea what Mr. Douthat is trying to say. True conservatives are lost in the woods right now, and they keep trying to make sense of a world that they helped destroy. In the absence of anyone resembling a standard bearer, they will continue to use big words and pretzel logic while they flail in irrelevance.
L osservatore (In fair Verona, where we lay our scene)
@Brett True conservatives are solidly behing President Trump. The economy and the jobs for poorer workers sealed that deal. The busload who loudly swear they aren't with him have never really been behind anyone but themselves. This is a key difference between the political Left and Right. The progressive Left gloms onto anyone they think will allow them into the cultural Coolness, and truth becomes their red-haired stepchild. The woman or man on the Right has to justify every act and word with where they know they stand.
Grove (California)
Bill Barr supports the idea of an authoritarian government for the US - a dictatorship. That is completely antithetical to American principles as set forth by the founding fathers. Even worse, he supports a theocracy, made up of supporters of HIS personal religious beliefs. Barr should have no place in the government.
T Mo (Florida)
Good opinion piece except for this: "Barr is probably right that the Trump presidency has been weaker than its immediate predecessors, more constrained and hamstrung and impeded; he’s certainly right that Trump has had unusual difficulties in getting nominations through. But this weakness reflects his boss’s extraordinary incompetence at least as much as it reflects the machinations of the Resistance — though, of course, this isn’t something Trump’s attorney general can be exactly expected to admit." Trump has little difficulties getting his nominations through, given a Republican controlled Senate, OTHER THAN his extraordinary incompetence in selecting and vetting his nominees. That incompetence is but one of the many failures of his use of executive skills over the Executive Branch. He is a managerial disaster and being President is the ultimate test of management skills. Barr's speech should be troubling to Trump: he is re-assuring traditional Reagan conservatives to not abandon this President. Mr. Barr actually call attention to the problem: this isn't your father's (Reagan) Republican party anymore.
Dan Shiells (Natchez, MS)
Sorry, Ross, you lost me at "moral relativism." How could anyone seriously consider reading a defense of moral values with Trump as president and the GOP as scurrying minions willing to overlook anything to protect him? I know that Douthat has attacked Trump's values...perhaps he thinks that makes him clean. It doesn't work that way. Republicans own Trump as much as he owns them. And that makes Trump a legacy of Reagan, not an aberration. Sorry, Ronnie. Rest in peace.
John Bergstrom (Boston)
@Dan Shiells The dishonesty, the cruelty... Trump is very like Reagan in many ways.
Ted (NYC)
How can Douthat claim that Barr is a credible old-school conservative when he is enabling Trump? That's like saying someone is an environmentalist when they are advising a company on how to chop down all the trees in the Amazon.
Dotconnector (New York)
"The Man From 1980" is one way to describe Mr. Barr, but even more apropos might be to characterize him as The Man From The Early 1970s, since the U.S. attorney general whose shady conduct in office most resembles his own was John Mitchell.
Jaime Rua (Nyc)
Donald Trump is the logical outcome of Republican policies put in place by Richard Nixon, spoused openly by Ronald Reagan and given support by the Bushes.
wise brain (Martinez)
Barr, as a representative of being a Christian, does Christianity a major disservice. Moral superiority is not humility.
Independent (the South)
Evangelicals call me a liberal because I want to pay more taxes to help the working class with education, training, and health care. Kind of sounds like the teachings of Jesus I learned - what you do for the least of my brothers, you do for me. But I don't go to church on Sunday and I know a lot of evangelicals who go to church on Sunday and say buyer-beware Monday through Friday.
DadInReston (Northern Virginia)
“... we should fear an authoritarian cascade on the right, and expect a post-Trump quest for an American Constantine who can restore the presidency and the one true faith alike.” We’re already there, particularly the bit about the “one true faith.” Republicans have jettisoned American political norms and conventions in a heady rush to seize and maintain power, heedless of the damage done to our institutions. Examples abound: radical gerrymandering, false narratives created specifically to justify restrictive voting laws, the abuse of the filibuster to block Obama’s judicial appointments followed immediately by its repeal to facilitate Trump’s nominees, restricting the power of governorships immediately before a Democrat is seated, the list is endless. In the current Republican mind, theirs is the only path forward. An entire generation of Republicans has been raised to believe there is no loyal opposition (which makes Barr’s lament particularly ironic), there is only a wicked & venal Democratic Party determined to destroy America. And they will do anything to keep them from power.
Lar (NJ)
My take on Barr's speech at the Federalist Society: "The good (Christian) King will save us." It bedazzles me how such thinking could (conservatively) be aligned with our Constitution. Thank you for your essay, Mr. Douthat!
Sherry (Washington)
Mr. Barr helped invent this legal theory partly so that Reagan and his Secretary of the Interior James Watt could ignore EPA regulations. Regulations serve a simple interest: make industrialists clean up their messes, or better yet, not make messes in the first place. The idea is, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. The idea also is, we don't want to live on a befouled planet, or swim in polluted rivers, or breathe polluted air. But industrialists demand the right to poison our rivers and streams with coal ash and cattle manure, to build copper mines with toxic retention ponds on the headwaters of pristine Alaskan rivers, and pollute the atmosphere with heat-trapping gasses, and Republicans meet those demands through esoteric theories of government that knee-cap agencies like the EPA. As it turns out, though, Democrats were and are right. They have been good, responsible and far-seeing in their insistence on regulation to preserve the earth God gave us. The Gulf of Mexico is a dead zone. Ocean acidification threatens sea life. And the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere is now higher than it ever was during human civilization and rising, resulting in melting polar caps, rising sea levels, and super-charged storms causing far more damage and cost to deal with than it would have cost to prevent it. As it turns out, secular people are good people, and Christians like Barr working to allow industrialists to pollute with impunity are not.
Flaminia (Los Angeles)
". . . that religious conservatives and limited-government conservatives can be natural allies because the welfare state is an ersatz religious institution that crowds out private charity and churches." This one caught my eye. While I certainly do not agree that "the welfare state is an ersatz religious institution" I appreciate Ross' admission that religious conservatives resent the extent to which "the welfare state" renders ineffective their attempts to purchase followers with conditional offers of charity. Ross confirms that some churches want privation and want and despair to persist so that they can exploit it to lure followers. And right there is the true moral character of these particular churches.
Steve (Seattle)
Ross continues to protest too much what he sees as religious persecution. It is not persecution Mr. Douthat, it is religious exclusion from our secular government. You can worship a golden calf if that floats your boat just don't expect the rest of us non-believers to give it a tax exemption. any special social or cultural dominant status or a say in how we run government.
KMW (New York City)
Those of us who are conservative, praise William Barr for his courage to speak out about the attacks and criticisms directed towards us. This started when President Obama was in office and has accelerated during the Trump presidency. The Democrats have been relentless in taking away our rights. Business owners have been put out of business because they followed their consciences and would not provide a service that betrayed their values and morals. The Colorado baker and florists come to mind when they did not want to make a gay wedding cake and arrange flowers for a gay wedding. The Little Sisters of the Poor were forced to provide contraception which went against their Catholic religion or pay outrageous fines. This case is still pending. I hope Mr. Barr continues speaking up against these injustices. I also hope other Republicans have the courage to join in this discussion. We still have freedom of speech, freedom of religion and freedom of expression. We should not allow the liberal progressives to take away our rights.
Toby Shandy (San Francisco)
And if my particular religion thinks paying income tax is a sin or considers purse- snatching to be a sacrament, that "right" won't be taken away from me either?
Wanda Pena (San Antonio, TX)
Are you showing support for the Little Sisters by insisting that you and all members of your family enroll in a health insurance plan with the same desired restrictions as the Sisters? Those are now available - they aren’t good for much but they exist - in addition to not covering contraception, they don’t cover ER visits, pharmaceuticals, preventative care, have annual caps, etc. Has Mr. Barr rejected his federal government sponsored health care insurance that covers contraceptive care for one of these plans? Is he walking the walk? Didn’t think so.
micky (nc)
you have the right to believe whatever you want. you do not have the right to impose it on the rest of us.
Shoshon (Portland, Oregon)
I took the trouble of reading the Federalist speech. Two moderate but substantive points that Douthat glosses over: The power of appellate federal judges, of whom there are 600, to block federal policy as directed by the president. Also, the courts recent practice of examining executive 'intent' rather than the prescriptive actions of the president. Douthat seems to also pass over the likelihood that Congress can both abdicate its legislative prerogative while at the same time encroaching upon the explicit powers of the Presidency. As for the larger political lens that Douthat - is trump within the fold of historical Conservationism or an aberration, I think Barr's point is that it is irrelevant compared to the evolving balance of power between the three branches of Government. While War Making powers of the Presidency are a powerful argument for the 'imperial' lens [one that Barr ignores] the frustration of the President's policies in terms of border security, immigration, and appointments do show a weakened Presidency that are likely to extend past the tenure of this particular incumbent. That is the larger point that Douthat should address.
Gene (Northeast Connecticut)
I'm sorry but Barr's speech at Notre dame was not a "defense of religious liberty and religious conservatism." It was an attempt to justify religious conservatives imposing their preferences on the rest of us. So "religious liberty" only in the sense of people with a certain set of views being at liberty to shove those down the throats of the rest of us. The entire "religious liberty" shtick is a lot of baloney. Absolutely no one, with one glaring exception, is trying to prevent anyone from exercising their religious beliefs. The exception would be religious conservatives trying to prevent Muslims from practicing their faith freely and forcing the non-believers among us into having to subsidize churches et al via the tax system.
Steve Hiltz (Dallas)
Two important points I wish Mr. Douthat had acknowledged: (a) To secularize ethics is to make it actually ethics, instead of just prudential obedience to a (quite possibly fictional) power; (b) Most secularists are NOT moral relativists, so to perpetuate the False Dilemma, "its either religion or relativism", is either ignorant or dishonest.
gk (Santa Monica)
All this "How many angels can dance on the head of a pin" stuff might be amusing if it weren't for the fact that it hurts real people.
Denise (Philadelphia)
The demands that religion - always Christian religion, mostly evangelical - should be inserted into American government - is like sharia law-light. We are NOT a Christian nation, we are a nation that affords freedom of religion to all. It’s wrong for the country’s Attorney General to be pontificating about religion, and worse for him to blame those who choose not to practice like him for his perceived wrongs in society.
CastleMan (Colorado)
The real problem is that "Christians" are fundamentally hypocritical. They disregard virtually every word and phrase in the Bible that would encourage care for our fellow human being or for God's creation in favor of the parts that focus on sexuality. And they willingly support a charlatan, liar, and exploiter who has never shown any willingness to live by Christian ideals. Evangelicals and conservative Catholics are, for that reason, a mortal threat to our freedom and our institutions. They would throw both away in support of autocracy if they believed that doing so would mean fewer abortions, no gay marriage, and a state religion compatible with their own. Indeed, if evangelicals and conservative Catholics ever achieve the theocracy they want, this country will suffer enormous pain as thousands or more are imprisoned, tortured, or killed by the right-wing, reactionary forces of those two groups. It would be like Franco's Spain or even the ayatollahs' Iran. Where religious dogma rules, freedom and human rights die.
Travelers (All Over The U.S.)
My father was a pastor. His fundamental view was that the message of Christ was how to live a good life while on earth. The rules rules rules approach was never his thing. The reason that people are turning away from religion is because of this focus on rules rules rules. And the hypocrisy embedded in them...namely that these rules rules rules are basically for other people not for you. When it was my father's Sunday to preach sermons, the church was always filled. Religion that is focused on loving your neighbor will, as Douthat reminds us, appeal to progressives, liberals, and good-hearted people.
Flaminia (Los Angeles)
@Travelers My take on the "rules rules rules" approach is a little different than yours. For every downright hypocrite pushing that approach, i.e, a person who pushes rules he or she will not adhere to, there are ten who choose the rules approach because they can shape it to conveniently fit their own situation. For this majority of rules rules rules partisans the cherry-picked path is easy for them to follow. They use rules rules rules as a means to shirk the rigor of discipline and self-sacrifice while they retain the right to virtue signal.
James (St. Paul, MN.)
Barr has lied to Congress and to the American pubic about the Mueller report-----and denied his deceit. My question for Mr. Douthat: How does that fit into: -Christian religious philosophy -Honest Conservative Policy
John Bergstrom (Boston)
@James I don't think Mr Douthat said anything about "honest conservative policy". He seemed to be talking about Reagan... one of our most dishonest presidents, and maybe the first to actually brag about it. With him, it was all about telling an effective story to convey his message, not about confronting realities. And his supporters seem to have been the ones who bought that: that you had your agenda, and you said whatever was necessary to advance your agenda. I doubt that Mr Douthat would agree with that interpretation, but who knows?
Lou Candell (Williamsburg, VA)
I contend that the vast majority of non-radical liberals, like myself, and even some enlightened conservatives, oppose Christian fundamentalism for two primary reasons: First, we recognize the ignorance which reigns among hardcore religious fundamentalists who insist on a literal interpretation of the Bible; oppose the teaching of factual science in schools and who blindly support even the most outrageous Israeli policies because they believe we must prepare for the Apocalypse. Second, liberals oppose the often successful efforts of religious fundamentalists to erase the traditional separation of church and state in order to establish a national theocracy. Although many on the left are agnostics or non-believers, they do not, in general, oppose religious observances. Furthermore, I contend that as far as the materialistic secularism which prevails in this country is concerned, the amoral pursuit of profit based on an unfettered capitalism that rejects any limits on its license to prey on base human weaknesses is primarily to blame. Nonetheless, the radical religious right continues to idolize the free market despite its excesses. I see them as immoral hypocrites.
t bo (new york)
There is a third interpretation: offering soothing bromide for cash....
Robert K (Port Townsend, WA)
Many years of instruction by nuns, priests, and a very sharp-eyed mother trained me well in examination of conscience. Let me suggest a few lines of inquiry that might help Mr. Barr with his, which he is apparently in great need of. One, as an attorney who graduated with honors from law school, and who has served at the highest levels of government, do you REALLY (caps courtesy of my mom) not understand the concepts of abuse of power and obstruction of justice as they apply to the fact pattern presented by the undeniable actions of this president? And, are you REALLY (thanks mom) going to make speeches condemning moral relativism, and then stand up for a man who without a sense of guilt, or signs of remorse, violates any number of the ten commandments on a daily basis?
DeMe (Charlotte)
Conservatism's problem is that it's anti-progress and prays at the alter of the dollar. It promotes the status quo, apparently the status quo circa 1980, at the expense of most Americans (undo EPA standards; ignore science and remove it from EPA and FDA evaluations while simultaneously trying to undermine the ACA; balloon the national deficit; abandon economic and political treaties; disparage national heroes; block free and fair elections). Conservatism has been happy to divide America by exploiting religion and the fears of the white working class. Conservatism's problem is that an unpolished and incompetent president and GOP Congressional delegation have exposed its fraudulent agenda. Barr knows this and his disgraceful speeches are his only defense. Barr and Conservatism know no hypocrisy and have no shame.
Plato (CT)
Mr. Douthat - I would advise you not to parse the words of an unintelligent man in order to sugarcoat it as being some deep conservative philosophy. There is no profundity in anything people like Bill Barr have to offer. People like him are broken down old people who cannot recognize the ethical and moral deficiencies lurking in their own behavior. How dare he, or even you, speak about the protection of religious liberty when at the flip of a coin, his boss - a conservative darling, dares to insult people of other faiths using public platforms and formulates public policies that adhere to little more than conservative rant and conspiracy theories. I hate to use a broad brush but the inescapable fact is that you conservatives are a morally decrepit lot who cannot see the pot hole riddled road you have helped create. Now you are blaming the rest for the state of infrastructure. Please come back to us when you are more enlightened.
Elizabeth Bennett (Arizona)
Both William Barr and Ross Douthat share a rather narrow view of current society shaped by their ultra-right, conservative Catholicism. It must be very difficult for Mr. Barr to deal with the debauched man he serves as Attorney General--a man who has defied every Christian precept governing our behavior. And Ross Douthat has to 'splain Barr to the rest of us. Perhaps Mr. Douthat needs to be reminded of Paul Krugman's comment on Barr, warning that "Barr is sounding remarkably like America's most unhinged religious zealots, the kind of people who insist that we keep experiencing mass murder because schools teach the theory of evolution. guns don't kill people--Darwin kills people". Let this columnist remember that according to "Rewire News", "Barr attacked the very concept of secular government, and in one speech said advocates of secularism 'are clearly fanatics.'" Barr can't seem to separate the guidance for governance stated in our Constitution from his own religious fanaticism, and should be removed from office.
Jason (San Francisco)
You, and Bill Barr have it wrong. Secularists have always espoused consistant morality. Saying that religious zealots have their morals wrong, does not constitute moral relevancy.
tanstaafl (Houston)
Trump is a man who committed adultery multiple times on each of his three wives. As a private citizen he did not attend church and he hardly does as president. Yet he is embraced by the Christian Fundamentalists. This is a demonstration of their rank hypocrisy, like Joel Osteen hosting Kanye West in recent days.
Lindsay Thompson (Chester SC)
I wish Douthat would devote a column to why God wants His adherents on earth to hate on LGBT Americans, to take but one example.
Tedsams (Fort Lauderdale)
Yes, the Reagan era. The beginning of this current hell we live in.
Sterling (Brooklyn, NY)
I can’t think of the last time I heard a right wing Christian talk about helping the poor- the thing that Jesus talked about constantly. The hostility that people have to Christians has nothing to do with Christianity and everything thing to do with the intolerance, bigotry and greed that characterizes Christianity in America today. The fastest growing religion in America is none and young people in particular want nothing to do with Christianity. Christians would be better off trying to figure where things went wrong instead of using the political system to force their unpopular religion down peoples throats.
margaret marzeki (Ohio)
If only Bill Barr and others in the Trump administration could/would read this article and think "Maybe I should reconsider my loyalties." But, they don't and won't!
Jenifer Wolf (New York)
Barr & Pence seem to be channeling the inquisition, more than Regan.
Paul (Minnesota, USA)
I agree with you Ross. If black was white then it would all make sense. But that's not reality. You can't look at Barr or Trump from some fantasy vantage point and claim everything is ok when clearly it is not.
Brant Serxner (Chicago)
I am a non Christian, non elite who would be characterized as an elite by the people President Trump whips up for support. Actual elites who wield power, own the wealth and have first claim to public discourse would know I am not part of any elite. I agree with much of your article, almost all of the parts that concern Mr. Barr and his conversation with traditionalist conservatives. However, your sentence: “The hostility of elite cultural institutions to traditional Christianity is an enduring fact of American life”, stopped me cold. It rings over and over in my head drowning out my attempts to think through the rest of your piece. Do you really believe this? Have you taken apart the pieces of it or put a context around it? May I suggest an attempt at restatement? Try - The conflicts between progressive institutions and institutions that strongly favor the separation of church and state, with the forms of Christian institutions and practices that seek to control public and personal life of all people, and enforce what I (you Mr. Douthat) consider traditional Christian values, began long before they were delineated in the Constitution and continue to this day”. This seems to fit much more with the rest of your essay, and it gives me much less agita, and less sense of dislocation from reality. And it may leave you feeling less beleaguered.
Neal Shultz (New York)
Dear Bill Barr (and, while we're at it, Ross Douthat, too.) Here's the thing about the "the new secular age" It's doing a vastly better job at achieving the goals that religious types like yourselves purported to strive for than you have ever done. Since this horrible 21st century began:' > Violent crime is down in every category and in every state in this nation. And it is MOST down in the most secular places, such as New York City. > Abortions have declined by 50 percent WITHOUT bans. Teenage pregnancies are down by even more. Divorce rates have declined. Again, the more secular the state, the more "moral" the results. > Alcoholism has dropped. Drug addiction rates have dropped -- EXCEPT in the most religious areas of the US. > The national nightmare of the AIDS epidemic has evaporated in direct correlation with the openness and acceptance of gay people. Mr. Barr: if there's any "immense suffering, wreckage and misery” look to yourself and your own for those responsible for its unleashing. The future is doing fine, without you.
timothy holmes (86351)
Ross could use what is called 'a come to Jesus' moment. Secular/liberal forces are in alliance with his religious sensibilities, in that they are no longer focused on the sins of woman and people of color, but are laser focused on the sins of white man; the white men who marginalized others by their 'otherness.' When will this stop? This whole idea of sin is not the basis of his Catholic faith. It is way out of bounds in a secular context. Long ago Augustine, an early Church father, if not the father, said the idea of sin makes no sense, given God's grace and Love. But Augustine thought the 'little people,' were not intellectual enough to grasp this, so he chose that we should speak to the people as 'the fallen.' Those days are over. Our theories of mind are that a mind, obviously not the brain (there are no arguments for the mind being the brain, and important ones that are an argument against it) , are a computational and representational entity that can in fact make sane judgments about the world around us. This is the premise of democracy, and a jury of your peers; we are not led by a panel of experts but those who are our peers. Elite consensus is to be consulted, but they are not who is driving the boat. It is time for Americans to all own Trump; we became only concerned with number one, when we should have been also thinking about what our country needs to preserve liberty. This is the job before We the People. I hope we all step up to the plate and take a swing.
Marshall Doris (Concord, CA)
Barr believes that humans need the control of religion to be good. He condemns secular restraints as corrupt and unreliable, paling in comparison to the inevitable strength of a religiously based moral code. He ignores, however, the possibility that all religious moral codes could in fact originate from human, not divine, sources. After all, there is no objective proof that that any of the many versions of god even exists, not to mention whether that god created any moral code. Religion, after all, relies on faith, which is a powerful and beautiful thing, but which is generally employed mostly when rational proof is unavailable. Religion has historically been held up as the source of morality, but if the supposed divine sources of religion prove to be temporal rather than eternal, what remains of their efficacy? The answer of course, is nothing. There is, however, rational evidence of a source for human morality. It lies in the need humans have to live in social groupings. We survived as a species because of this need, and that survival depends on a code of behavior that allows people to live together successfully. Those codes of behavior are nothing more than morality. Ancient peoples, gave those rules a veneer of authority by attributing them to a deity and a religion, but they came from our nature. It could be that this is how god works. Fine. But attribution to any particular religion is, as far as we can actually prove, a human invention, not a divine one.
Paul (Phoenix, AZ)
I read Douthat's first paragraph and if it has a false premise I don't bother reading the rest of the tripe. Barr's attacks were not against "contemporary liberalism," but against the classical liberalism the founders followed and influenced them in writing the Constitution. There is no issue with religious freedom today, but there sure is one with religious control of secular government. And, funny, but about 5 years ago we were hearing the same complaints about presidential power coming from the Regan/Trump side of the aisle. The biggest strategic mistake Democrats will have made is not first impeaching Barr for refusing to reply to a lwful congressional subpoena.
Ockham’s Razor (Mid-Atlantic)
Mr Douthat neglects to highlight the role played by the increased politicization of evangelical religion in the US, encouraged by the authoritarian conservative movement and evangelical religious zealots. This is what got us into the socio-political crisis American society has struggled with since Reaganism. Don’t criticize the liberal political movement and institutions for taking up the fight to preserve and promote individual liberties demanded by the US constitution. Trumpism is the natural culmination of the devil’s brew of evangelical politico-religious bigotry and fanatical authoritarian cronyism.
Mark (New York)
If Mr. Barr were indeed such a devout Catholic, and thereby worried about the morality of the world, he might he start a bit closer to home and look at the documented, litigated and paid out moral decline of the Catholic church? We do not find such large strains of rampant, hidden and paid for pederasty in any other major religion, or for the matter secular entity or state. As to his fantasy theory of unchecked executive power, he really should go back and read the Constitution, which makes quite clear the Legislative Branch has the power to impeach, to approve appointments, to nominate both President and Vice in the event of a tie, approve treaties and ambassadors, the power of the purse, may override vetos, and the power to declare war. By comparison the Executive Branch's powers are more limited: the veto, Commander in Chief (at least on a titular level), recess appointments, and the power to call an emergency session of Congress, and may call adjournment if no agreement between the chambers. Any lay person can read the above and see the greatest power in America lies with the Legislative branch, who represent their constituents on a daily basis, as opposed to this President who has decided to only represent those who "are nice" to him. As to Mr. Douthat, he lets off Mr. Barr all too easily.
Jeff L. Parsells-Johnson (McKenzie, TN)
I philosophically disagree with Douthat on almost everything, but I love almost anything he writes. Just want to express appreciation for how critically he thinks and for how carefully he dissects today's tensions in conservatism. This piece is exceptional.
PMD (Arlington, Virginia)
Why do well-fed white guys feel the need to lecture the rest of us on morality? Get thee to the gym, fast, and read Matthew.
Reg Nurse (Chgo)
The CoverUp General Billy Barr obviously refuses to honor our Constitution or our Founding Fathers’ explicit instructions on the separation of church & state. He also refuses to honor their explicit statements about America NOT being a “Christian nation”. Billy Barr also violates our Constitution ‘s framework enshrining that we have 3 CO-EQUAL BRANCHES OF GOVT. Billy Barr apparently thinks we have a king who can not be held accountable to the people, questioned, or investigated. For these reasons he is spectacularly unfit to hold office & MUST be impeached.
Boomer (Boston)
Written by the man from 1880.
E-Llo (Chicago)
Obese in every way, Barr like his malignant father illustrates clearly the demise of justice in our nation. From the no longer Supreme court that has morphed tragically into a rotten cabal of republican malfeasance to republican judges at every level who betray their oath of office to judge with impartiality. To brainwashed religious adherents, like Barr the reason people are losing faith is that not a day goes by that people like them attempt to force their hypocritical pious nonsense on the rest of us.
ML Frydenborg (17363)
Well, Barr is absolutely correct about one thing; under Mitch McConnell the Senate has totally abused its power of advise and consent. Only it has been totally to the benefit of approving religiously conservative judges and cabinet members. Barr turning this into an erosion of executive power is another example of the “projection” this administration indulges in. In the process Barr has now turned himself into a sketch of another famous propagandist. His name was Joseph Goebbels.
Michael Masuch (Cannes, France)
Ross: This is so beautiful! You re the THINKER of the NYT!
Baruch (Bend OR)
This is what happens when you have religious extremists in government...whether it's Iran or Israel or the US, religious extremism is immoral, dishonest, and destructive. Barr is Opus Dei, which is like the most extreme right wing fanatical branch of the Catholic Church. From a psychological perspective these extremists are unbalanced, often narcissistic, and fanatical. These are not the people you want running anything!!
Steve Beck (Middlebury, VT)
Ross, we have a town Select Board member you should meet. He homeschools his daughters, is married to a mail-order Russian woman, places a Corinthians 3:16 verse in his front yard and flies both an AmeriKan flag and a "Women for Trump" banner from his flagpole. I kid you not.
Hector (Brooklyn)
I would love to see more commentary on the weaponization of moral relativism by the right. Where they once decried the left's views that there could be more than one way to look at history, social dynamics, etc., the right has now fully embraced the lack of observable truth. The sky is green the grass is blue, the president is an autocrat, and they are completely comfortable with this. So it seems to me odd that Barr and others are still attacking moral relativism while they systematically deny the truth at ever corner.
Jason Matzner (Los Angeles)
It is rich indeed for adherents of a faith the priestly hierarchy of which turned out to be a nest of child molesters to lecture others about "moral relativism." Clean your own house before you start peering in other people's windows looking for dirt.
sdavidc9 (Cornwall Bridge, Connecticut)
Elite cultural institutions and our form of government (based on a piece of paper rather than traditional customs) reflect the Enlightenment, since our founders were creatures of the Enlightenment. The mutual hostility of traditional Christianity and the Enlightenment, as expressed in the Scopes Monkey Trial and the Christian roots of the Klan, is deep and ongoing. The hostility of elite cultural institutions is a response to the hostility of traditional Christian sects, which extends to other Christian sects and leads to constant warfare and attempts by each to enlist the state against the others. The Christian sects have buried the hatchet at present to fight the common enemy, but their unity is like the unity of forces in the Middle East, and the hatchets will be dug up as soon as the common enemy is weakened. It used to be Catholic dogma that only Catholics could be saved (or was this just a way to better hold on to the faithful). Since dogma cannot change but others can now be saved (perhaps God makes them Catholic without their knowledge), reason must make dogma opaque enough that no clear contradiction can be seen. Douthat uses the tools of the Enlightenment (reasoned discussion rather than Trumplike speeches that rally Christian soldiers by enlisting them in the war of good versus evil) to defeat the Enlightenment from within, but his subtle analyses actually do the opposite. He should condemn thinking too much, but would then risk his pundit status.
Annie (Pittsburgh)
"'immense suffering, wreckage and misery' unleashed in 'the new secular age.'” One wonder exactly what "immense suffering, wreckage and misery" that has been caused by secularism Barr is referring to? We can, OTOH, point to a lot of those things caused by people who claim they are following the dictates of their religion.
Mike (la la land)
It is not the government which has led citizens astray from religion (the protestant conservative religion of course), it is the religions and the churches who failed to see the end of literal bible teaching as relevant. It is because those followers sent their children to high schools, then colleges, and those children left the enclave that kept them from exposure to other ideas, that religion lost the battle of the minds. What is problematic is Barr and those he is speaking to are insisting that government protect their version of faith, not only from non-believers or even "liberal" Christians, but from other religions and their believers. And now they have their Judas in the White House, a sinner who sees the opportunity to enrich himself by enabling the white, protestant, traditional christian religion to gain favored status. Look at the membership of the republican party! White, male, rural to suburban, members of the mainline christian churches, many "born again", they see threats not only to America by it's getting more tanned, but threats to being a majority old testament christian society. It will take decades to undo what has been done to the judiciary, especially the Supreme Court, and to the closeness of christian churches to governments who enable them to apply their vision to those who do not wish it.
Susan in NH (NH)
Could someone please define "elite cultural institutions" for me. Since those supposed entities are blamed by people like Barr and Douthat for all the ills of today's world I'd like to know who to watch out for! Is it Hollywood? If so, that could include Mnuchin and his current wife. Is it the people who go to fancy dress parties at New York museums and the Metropolitan Opera and those institutions? They tend to be the billionaires and centi-millionaires the Trump just gave the biggest tax cuts to. Or maybe it is "exclusive " country clubs like Mar-a-Lago. Top universities that aren't Catholic? As to drug use, it is as wide spread among the wealthy as among the poor. Gay sex? Evangelicals and Catholic priests sometimes involved. Cheating on wives? Sadly common. Even the husband of the American ambassador to the Vatican is on his third wife. Rudy Giuliani, that Republican stalwart is getting his third divorce. St. Ronnie Reagan was divorced, remarried and had a number of affairs. And don't get me started on the abusiveness of the Magdalene laundry workhouses and before that the Inquisition. When Trump's appointments are held up, maybe it is because so many them are unqualified for the jobs he is trying to put them in. Important to have some checks on this incompetent that the Russians got elected to ruin our country. Here's hoping that 2020 brings salvation. I'll be praying for it.
Garak (Tampa, FL)
Douthat is wrong, dead wrong, when he claims that-- "The hostility of elite cultural institutions to traditional Christianity is an enduring fact of American life. Barr’s account of liberal-led legal harassment of conservative religious institutions is accurate." Elite cultural institutions are hostile to "traditional Christianity" only by enforcing freedom of and from religion. Liberals "harass" conservative religious institutions only when those institutions try force their religion down everyone else's throats. Those "elites" and "liberals" are protecting America from religious fanatics, fanatics who demand every American bow before their god, their savior, and no others. Barr--and Douthat--are really upset because they are not in unquestioned control of private lives of the American public. And that will never happen. We are a secular republic, not a theocracy. Favoring one religion over another, or even religion in general over non-religion, is the road to spiritual serfdom. The Middle Ages are over. Deal with it.
magicisnotreal (earth)
Funny man. That "immense suffering, wreckage and misery" was unleashed upon us by reagan and the republican party as they systematically removed every trace of morality from our government that they could detect and devise a method to.
Brendan Herlihy (New Fairfield, CT)
I have to agree with Att. General Barr that there has been“immense suffering, wreckage and misery” unleashed in “the new secular age”. As a first responder on 9/11, I can attest that an awful lot of that misery and wreckage is being done in the name of God.
ndv (California)
Interesting that AG- Barr and neo-christian zealots decry the interests of secularism by standing on its neck and yet are portraying themselves as victims. Well, Spirituality is everyone's right. My own version is the antithesis of the Mythology spread by mendacious politicians in Jesus's name. My rights as an American will not be defined by GOP wolves with the sanguine lust for Monarchical greed under the cover of a holier than thou attitude.
Renfield (Grand Forks, ND)
1980 maybe. But also 1933 and 1492. Especially 1492.
Notmypresident (Los Altos)
I honestly fail to see how Christianity in the US is harmed by the so-called "secular elites". The so-called "we can say Merry Christmas again" is not a result of attacks by the "secular elites" but by the merchant class that seemed to be loved by the Conservative crowd to reflect the fact that the country is turning less Christian. So they say Happy Holiday. To sell stuff rather than to attack Christianity. The so-call "religious freedom" Christian crowd wants to use their religion to discriminate against people with whom they do not agree. As we all know, some Christians believe blacks are meant to be an underclass based on their interpretation of their bible. Should they then be allowed to discriminate against African Americans in the public place to "affirm" their "religious freedom". Isn't that the purpose of the "state right" crowd? Isn't that one of the reason to go against "the big government" and push for a "small government"? A government that is so small so they can stuff their "faith" down everyone's throat?
Alexander Bain (Los Angeles)
Barr's very much an ends-justifies-the-means man. If he thinks that backing Trump will increase the political power of Christians and Republicans (not necessarily in that order), he'll do whatever it takes: criscross the globe soliciting liars for Trump, stonewall investigations into Trump's evil acts, or give fiery speeches that delight conservatives without having much if anything to do with what Barr is actually up to. If Barr believes in God, presumably he's a "Deus hoc vult" guy who, after he decides he wants to do something, tells himself that his decision is God's will.
JCX (Reality, USA)
In Germany, the right-wing party openly calls themselves the Christian Democratic Union (CDU)--conflating Christianity with their notion of governance. The Republicans should do the same, renaming themselves the Christian Republican Belief Alliance--a band of evangelists and single social cause zealots such as anti-abortion or pro-gun, fiscal conservatives who hate paying taxes, and people who just plain hate everybody who is different or is a perceived threat to their God-given white Christian supremacy. Collective delusional belief binds these people together to ensure they control and retain power.
Lucy (West)
After reading the last parts of this column I began to wonder if religious conservatives have ever thought to link their love of free market capitalism with the rise of secularism, decadence and greed. Money and acquisition of material goods fuel the American economy but have also given rise to 24/7 work hours, and the pursuit of money at the cost of community and relationships. The left wants everyone to have equal rights and a decent life; the right wants people to buy lots of things, go to church, and denounce as immoral those who don't think like they do. I am pretty familiar with the Bible and I know what Jesus would say about those competing philosophies. As for the hypocrite Bill Barr, he should be reminded that theocracies are sooo 17th century. When those in power try to shove their religious beliefs down other people's throats it never goes well.
uwteacher (colorado)
liberal-led legal harassment of conservative religious institutions By that I take it that Ross means opposing establishment of religion is government entities. Maybe he means calling out denial of civil rights on "religious" grounds. Sorry Ross, you don't get to make everyone follow the dictates of your particular set of beliefs.
Joe Miksis (San Francisco)
Bill Barr is the Man From 1780. Mr. Barr says that America has to go back to its "roots". He believes we should go back in history to when white Europeans ruled the known world. He wants men to dominate women and women's bodies. Barr wants to return to a time when rulers could use "religion" to channel society's hopes and aspirations. Barr wants a "President Trump" who can act and rule just like "Mad King George". But millennials in the 21st Century won't have it.
Zeke (Oregon)
Religion is politics all by itself. And Politics is a religion to some, as Douthat suggests. His reference to this piece: frames the ideas very well (the first few paragraphs wrap up the previous week but then there's a lucid discussion of the dangers inherent in an imperial presidency and how off the mark Barr is. The Conservatives that have ceded their morals for a self-proclaimed liar and manipulator are the ones who have something to answer for. And saying that private charity is a good thing would have us all grovel for the crumbs from the billionaires' tables. Instead, everyone is supposed to chip in for the common wealth - so that none are left out. Where's the lack of religion in that?
Fred Frahm (Boise)
It occurred to me that Barr’s opinions on the presidency and on religion might be contingent on who is president and what religious movement gains social and economic power. Obviously he wants his favorite president and favorite religion(s) ascendant. Would a national about face in those result in a “never mind” from Barr? Maybe I failed to see the footnotes explaining party-dependent presidential powers/belief-dependent power to discriminate.
Michael McLemore (Athens, Georgia)
Mr. Barr has confused the presidency with the papacy. Contrary to his perfervid opinion, there is no doctrine of presidential infallibility.
beaujames (Portland Oregon)
The fights among conservatives amount to the question of how many centuries they want to go backwards. Reinstitute slavery? Well, plutocracy really sort of aims at that. Divine right monarchy? Shooting somebody on the street is close to the same thing. Theocracy? As long as it's their church, they're cool with that. True concern for the well-being of humanity and a sustainable planet? Now, that's just commie talk. Mr. Douthat, please go away.
michael h (new mexico)
Mr. Douthat, Religion has no place in governance. Period!
Berkeley Bee (Olympia, WA)
OK. On this one, Ross got it and got it right. Barr IS stuck in the 1980s. But this is what Don chose and for other Don-focused reasons.
lzolatrov (Mass)
I think really Bill Barr is one more foot soldier trying to solidify the right's march towards enacting The Powell Doctrine. What's difficult with Trump is that perhaps Lewis Powell never envisioned such corrupt and lazy person as President. Trump is carrying out much of the right's policies but he is at the same time seen as foolish and uncouth. Meanwhile, our government is being undermined daily by his minions. Perhaps Mr. Douthat should read "The Fifth Risk" by Michael Lewis to understand better just what a dangerous moment this is, for all of us.
Occupy Government (Oakland)
Bill Barr is up to his patooty in the latest impeachment scandal. The only way he could possibly avoid being implicated in the cover-up of Trump's unlawful actions is to ascribe to his absurd thesis that the executive is immune from process. Barr is not proposing greater executive authority so much as he is excusing -- covering up -- the cover-up.
Queenie (Henderson, NV)
Bill Barr does not believe in our democracy. He believes in an executive with unchecked powers. He believes in erasing the line between church and state. He believes in lying to the public. He has no business being our chief law enforcement officer. However, he’d make a great attorney general for Putin.
Bob Chisholm (Canterbury, United Kingdom)
So Barr claims to be worried about moral relativism? This from an Attorney General who eagerly responded to the supremely decadent Trump's call for his own Roy Cohn. We can say this, though: when it comes to reciting high moral principles while indulging in the basest of sins, Barr is a paragon of Republican morality.
Huge Grizzly (Seattle)
Mr. Barr has a gaping hole in his character. Someone recently coined the phrase “situational ethics”, and that is at least one character disorder suffered by Mr. Barr. At the end of the day, every day, he is a partisan hack who puts party above country. That is the original sin for elected and appointed governmental employees, and perhaps especially for the Attorney General whose job it is to represent every American not just the conservative right. Mr. Barr’s suggestion that the Resistance is “participating in ““a steady grinding down of the executive branch’s authority,”” reducing the presidency to a state of weakness that frustrates its constitutional purposes” demonstrates his obvious bias, and perhaps his ignorance. The Resistance is not resisting the executive branch or the presidency, it is resisting the current occupant thereof who daily demeans and diminishes the executive branch, the presidency and America.
WB (Massachusetts)
When Trump plaintively asked for another Roy Cohn, William Barr bravely accepted the job. That he would serve Trump's base purposes was to be expected; that he would warn us of the dangers of moral relativism is a surprise. He is, it seems, a Godly man and a devout Catholic. For him morality is absolute. Would he agree that Trump's entire life has been profoundly un-Christian? Or does he believe that God, working in mysterious ways, has chosen this heathen to save America from liberalism? An embittered rationalist might say that Barr seems to be little more than an opportunist and a hypocrite.
Juvenal (USA)
“Trump has had unusual difficulties in getting nominations through.” The jaw-dropping chutzpah of this casual aside. Does the name Merrick Garland ring a bell, Ross?
JWinder (NJ)
It often feels as if Barr would love to be the grand inquisitor of his era, in his quest to judge without being judged.
Frank Knarf (Idaho)
Applying Occam's razor to Barr's words and deeds suggests that Putin has kompromat on him, too. But perhaps that is overly conspiratorial. Some people are by nature religious authoritarians.
Mick Jaguar (Bluffton,SC)
As AG at the time of the Iran Contra scandal,Barr was a part of the cover up for Reagan and HGW Bush. He is a master at making the Constitution suit his own definition and interpretation. He has not changed. Given Barr's insidious disregard for the separation of Church and State which, ensures freedom of and FROM religion, he perfectly fits Voltaire's still highly relevant quotation.... " Religion began when the first scoundrel met the first fool".
Patrick Sullivan (Denver)
Bill Barr seems like the guy that the 'ok boomer' meme was intended for.
Shar (Atlanta)
Mr Douthat claims that "liberal-led legal harassment of conservative religious institutions is accurate." Absolutely, unequivocally untrue. Evangelical "Christians", driven by their conviction that proselytizing is integral to their devotions and therefore their fundamental "right", have done everything they can to hijack the legislative and legal process to force their views on others. To do so, they have made crippling deals with the Devil. They have thrown out charity and love thy neighbor in favor of antiabortion judges, public money for churches and corporate religiosity a la Hobby Lobby. So what if their vessel is a lying, criminal adulterer who dodged the draft, fornicated with porn stars and put a sex offender on the SCOTUS? Starve the poor, ignore child rape and demand religion in schools, all the while screaming about religious persecution. I see no difference between the Christian Right's efforts to force their twisted world view onto their fellow citizens and their bugaboo, Sharia Law. And I see no exculpation for the Attorney General of the United States endorsing either.
Robert (Out west)
A good column, actually. It’s important to be reminded from time to time just how dumb, just how, “once is tragedy, the second time is farce,” guys like Barr really are, and above all that most of Trump’s problems stem right from his, “extraordinary incompetence.” And I appreciate Ross Douthat’s recognizing his own, “obsession with decadence.” Step away from the Gibbon, be my advice.
Peter Riley (Dallas,tx)
My problem is the hypocrisy. In Barr’s telling, only Republicans deserve a strong executive. When Obama was President, it was all complaining about overreach, executive action, blah blah blah. His premise is that HIS religion, HIS politics should be unfettered, but every one else’s need to be strongly checked, lest HIS views be minoritied (I’m pretty sure that isn’t a word, but kind of like it). And that’s why I don’t take him seriously. The overarching philosophy of the righteousness of himself, vilification and denigration of others.
Erik (Goth)
’Doctrine of morale relativism’? Why doesn’t he just look into the mirror.
CathyK (Oregon)
When you put cellphones in everyone’s hand you can never go back to 1970’s.
PeterE (Oakland,Ca)
Barr's views seem to be a variation on Steve Bannon's, a blend of the frightening and the crackpot.
Dirk (Vancouver)
Anyone remember what all these Unitary Executive Theorists were doing when Obama was president? Were they sleeping like Rip Van Winkle? Burrowing in the ground like 8-year cicadas? I don't remember any of this stuff during Obama's presdiency, but it sure was loud and clear when Bush was in office. Is this a sincere belief, or just an excuse for power?
Jack Connolly (Shamokin, PA)
"Conservative Christianity" is a contradiction in terms. Jesus Christ was a socialist. He fed and healed people without asking for money. He ministered to the poor without asking them if they were "deserving." Conservatives focus on ONE verse from the Gospels ("Render unto Caesar..."--Matthew 22:15, Mark 12:13, or Luke 20:20) and ONE verse from St. Paul ("If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat..."--2nd Thessalonians 3:10), and conclude that Jesus was some kind of proto-Republican. They ignore the passages about charity and forgiveness and love. When William Barr and the GOP decry "secular humanism," what they really want is to take us back to the 1950"s, when MEN ruled the world without question, when women were barefoot, pregnant, in the kitchen, and (most of all) SILENT. People of color "knew their place," and the LGBTQ community hid in the closet in fear for their very lives. The world is changing, our country is becoming more diverse, and William Barr, Donald Trump, and all those angry old white men CANNOT STAND IT. They want a permanent male, white nationalist minority government, and they claim that God is on THEIR side. I am a firm believer in freedom of speech, but it still sickens me that Barr spewed his hateful garbage at the University of Notre Dame. Jesus would NOT be pleased. "It may be that in the sight of heaven you are more worthless and less fit to live than millions like this poor man's child!" ("A Christmas Carol" by Charles Dickens)
Larry Roth (Ravena, NY)
Barr doesn't want to go back to Reagan - he wants to go back to a king ruling by Divine Right with the blessings of Heaven.
Baba (Ganoush)
Barr can say whatever he wants about his religious beliefs. But the great thing about America is I can worship my dog as the sacred leader of my "Dogma" faith, too. Free to be whatever you want is the real religious liberty this country thrives on.
Chrisc (NY)
The religious tenets Barr promotes expose the "pick and choose" nature of this strain of religiosity. Leaders who lie, leaders who adulterize, leaders who espouse hate thy neighbor, leaders who refuse to welcome the stranger, leaders who take the Lord's name in vain... all are abundant in this peculiar brand of Christianity. True religious leaders today are insulted, threatened and abused.
David Greene (Farragut, TN)
@Chrisc Yes, and leaders who repeatedly and strategically bear false witness against their neighbors to inspire hatred.
Gordon Jones (California)
@Chrisc Elmer Gantry is alive and well.
BibleBeltOfSantaCruz (Santa Cruz)
@Chrisc Not to mention the "picking and choosing" of the particular religion they want to force on the rest of us.
CinnamonGirl (New Orleans)
"The hostility of elite cultural institutions to traditional Christianity is an enduring fact of American life." No. Not true. As a Christian, I feel no hostility from anyone, except maybe fundamentalists and evangelicals who judge liberal Christians like me as Godless and who define Christianity as opposition to all legal abortion and gay marriage. Douthat writes all these words, but his position boils down to his desire to impose his religious beliefs on others. Now Barr, dangerously, seeks to create a theocracy in America, simply to gain power. Mr. Douthat, why can't we all agree to support separation of church of state? Why, against all evidence, must you feel your victimized because of your faith?
bemused (ct.)
Mr. Douthat: Any hostility towards religion in this country is merely a response to religious authoritarianism. A rejection of such anti-American agendas by the right is not a form of "moral relativism". It is a quite moral response to attempted amoral tyranny. What you object to is the fact that it is secular. As usual, you seem a bit confused as to what exactly you are trying to say here. On the one hand you appear to assert that Mr. Barr's fears have validity. On the other hand these cultural assertions are about the erosion of executive power? Politics and religion shouldn't be separate? For the record: there is no one true faith. The assertion of such in a country founded on secularism seems to be the problem. The soul of the nation does not reside in any church.
Casual Observer (Los Angeles)
The religious right sees religion like children indoctrinated to believe that God favors their religion over all others. What the rest of us consider freedom of conscience, they consider to be enabling sinful behaviors that will result in eternal damnation. For many generations that segment of our population would not participate in government because they saw it as godless and doomed to be punished by God. So when they express religious freedom they are not referring to the right to follow one’s own conscience about religious beliefs but having a government which adheres to their beliefs.
rawebb1 (Little Rock, AR)
When Mr. Douthat gets off on talking about "liberals" and "conservatives"--and now I may add "elites"--I'm never sure what he is talking about. Let me offer an alternate take on the religious issues. Whatever you call them, if you look at the way Republicans are using religion these days, there is nothing Christian about it. They are using a lower class, fundamentalist, reading of the Bible to support actions that are clearly at odds with the teachings of Jesus and with the moral teaching of the OT prophets. Not only can you not take these people seriously, but worse, they are giving religion a bad name at a time when many people are already questioning the concept.
mrfreeze6 (Seattle, WA)
Barr: "the welfare state is an ersatz religious institution that crowds out private charity and churches." I have a practical solution to all of these bumper-sticker philosophical ideas of religious zealots: take away the tax-exempt status of all charities, private, public, churches, etc. All of them. Then, let's see how many actually stay in "business." Then, the government could actually be separate from the "church" and go about the business of helping those in need without all the religious conditions, coercion and controls. Also, people would be forced to take a hard look at their true beliefs rather than allow themselves to believe in their self-righteousness.
Eric W (Ohio)
I fundamentally disagree with Dotuthat's assertion that, "The hostility of elite cultural institutions to traditional Christianity is an enduring fact of American life." To the extent that traditional Christianity attempts to break the separation of church and state, control women's bodies, or deny people the protection of the state against discrimination, for example, there will always be hostility. On the other hand, the idea that family works best with at least two parents (usually, but certainly not required to be, husband and wife), that one must strive to be moral, treat others with respect, be diligent in their work, do right by their children and their neighbors - none of those values need be in conflict with any religious institution or government. Asserting otherwise is a straw-man argument.
Smokey geo (concord MA)
"The hostility of elite cultural institutions to traditional Christianity is an enduring fact of American life." the hostility arises with good reason because, in making clear that only mainstream Christians are welcome in our institutions, in a country where there is no Established Church, that some people belong more than others. The others - jewish people, atheists, muslims etc. are left out on purpose. Whether it's the kids who are made to feel 2nd class citizens in non-denominational schools with "prayers" or grown-ups who are outraged when the State Department website touts the "Christian Leader" serving as secretary. There are plenty of countries with an established religion: Iran, Russia, Pakistan where intolerance is widespread. If you want to be religious, fine, but that's for your private life. Jimmy Carter can teach as many bible classes as he likes - good for him - but he never made it the Nation's business.
Casual Observer (Los Angeles)
Imagine a middle class but well educated and able minister in the government of King Louis XV in mid-18th century France, and you have a man who sees the governance of the state and a view of freedom that matches Barr. He has no respect for the role of the Attorney General because he considers our form of government close to rule by the mob. He deeply believes in the need for anointed rulers who are sovereigns to achieve the best form of government.
Bill Glew (New Orleans, Louisiana)
Douthat offers a persuasive analysis, all starting from the premises he identifies. My understanding of Christianity and the American experience largely differs from his, but here he’s transparent about his perspective. It doesn’t matter to Douthat’s analysis whether Barr was conscious of what Douthat perceives. Good addition to the debate.
I am an Atheist and it infuriates me to no end that non-religious people are categorized as "moral relativists". The incessant insistence on coupling [antiquated] religion with human morality and claiming a monopoly on it is patently false. In fact, one can make a very good argument that the higher, more developed notions of morality are held by people who no longer classify themselves based on archaic tribal divisions. Being kind, empathic and moral is a natural human tendency - more likely to be exhibited by the innocent than the indoctrinated.
Robert (North Carolina)
People were critical of Barr's speech because he was advocating one religion over all the others. A person whose job it is to enforce the law and the Constitution should not be advocating one religion as correct [and thereby all others are incorrect].
Pottree (Joshua Tree)
Opus Dei indeed.
David Warburton (California)
Good grief. That’s about the best I have. Bill Barr is a very mean man in a very dangerous position within our government. Unlike his boss, he is both smart and clever, and thus much more able to do terrible harm to our institutions and our freedoms. The entire Trump cabal is full of Christian Dominionists, from his closest advisors all the way up to the Supreme Court. While Trump himself is undoubtedly the least religious man ever to occupy the Oval Office, political expediency has placed him in a position to infest our national leadership with whacked-out, intolerant, self-tighteous Christian bigots. They pervert the very meaning of the faith and disgrace Jesus himself in the process. To use a term they would clearly understand, it is a marriage of convenience straight from Hell.
Susan Anderson (Boston)
@David Warburton Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. That is the law and the prophets. Simple when you know.
Mack (Los Angeles)
Sorry, Ross, far too much credit and analysis. Barr's loyalty is not to principle, but to his principal, Boss Trump. Barr resembles Bruce Cutler, the lawyer eventually disqualified as counsel for John Gotti. Judge I. Leo Glasser. found that Cutler may have known about criminal activity, voiding attorney-client privilege, and, thus. liable to be called as a witness as "in-house counsel" for the Gambino crime family.
Diego (South America)
I personally don't have a problem with the argument that secularism or atheism have negative social consequences. I do believe that spirituality and religiosity have a very important role to play in social life. But it is quite jarrring to see US evangelicals or people like Barr make this argument. These are among the most hypocritical religious zealots one can encounter in the Western world. In fact, I think militant secularists should fund these people so they can continue their highly effective marketing camapaign against organized religion. They are indifferent to the law, to corruption, and to the separation of church and state. And they support unconditionally, as president, a walking version of the seven deadly sins. Please spare me the preaching, Mr. Barr.
Steve Bolger (New York City)
@Diego: Do you really believe that holding beliefs without substantiation is meritorious or deserves official encouragement?
Joanna Stasia (NYC)
Given the pernicious lies Barr told during the period when the Mueller report was completed but not yet public, given his de-facto lobbying for the AG job by writing an unsolicited report on his vision of a super-charged all-powerful executive branch and sending it to the White House while Trump was seething over Sessions’ recusal, given his snide refusal to answer straightly Kamala Harris’ questions regarding requests by the White House to launch investigations into the president’s political rivals, and given his unseemly arrogance, Barr is no poster boy for “religion.” In fact, like most Trump apologists, he has shamed himself and his office and “Christian” would be way, way, way down the list of adjectives for him. I suggest Barr revisit James Madison’s veto message dated Feb. 21, 1811, in the matter of a bill on his desk entitled “An Act Incorporating the Protestant Episcopal Church.” Madison and other famous founding fathers, authors of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, would certainly shudder at certain aspects of his two recent speeches. “Religious freedom” today is woefully contorted. Numerous articles by scholars, politicians, sociologists, historians and others have refuted Barr’s belief that secularism is responsible for much of society’s negatives outcomes and desperate situations. Many secular societies are doing just fine, even amazing when compared to countries where religion figures into governance. Man like him befuddle and infuriate me.
anna (mj)
This column represents, much as other conservative views, a typical hypocrisy of those on the right. I'm reading in the Douthat piece a lament for those Reagan "values", such as religious influence on the society. That would imply, among other things, (by my understanding of any religion) humility and restraint. Did Douthat already forget what Reaganism unleashed in the 80's? "Greed is good" was unofficial motto of the decade and excess was god. If Barr is such a staunch proponent of the 80's and Reagan, than he naturally is comfortable and in support of, what's going on today. Trump may not be thumping the bible (not for the lack of trying, to a grotesque effect), but his gold-dripping surrounds and self-promoting belong right back in that era.
Tom (Seattle)
You would never know from reading this column that William Barr is the Attorney General of the United States. Mr. Douthat writes as though Barr were the chair of the RNC, or a conservative pundit, concerned primarily with ideology. And he supposes that the speech at Notre Dame Law School was directed at "conservative elites"--people such as Ross Douthat!--and not lawyers and judges and officers of the law and citizens. The speech at Notre Dame was in no way a "defense of religious liberty." If it had been, the Attorney General would have discoursed on the First Amendment. Instead, he put forward the absurd (and, for an Attorney General, disgraceful) thesis that religious decline in America is not a natural phenomenon, but rather an overt conspiracy of liberal elites; a view that Mr. Douthat evidently shares. Mr. Barr's tirade was not "inflammatory" because of its "partisanship," however, but because it sounded like a summons to a crusade to take back the holy land of the American mind, as though Christianity itself had nothing to do with its own inevitable decline.
Jack Walsh (Lexington, MA)
The whole moral relativist thing is a red herring. I don't know anyone -- anyone -- on the left who would say that mass murder, for instance, is morally up for grabs. Or rape. Or a whole bunch of other things. When the right talks about moral relativism, they are generally talking about sexual behavior. And, their perception is accurate, as far as it goes, which is not very far. Different groups of Americans have different standards about sexual behavior, and different times in America have led to different standards about sexual behavior. This is what gets the Catholics, in particular, up in arms. But the issue isn't relativism; the issue is whether sexual behavior falls within the moral judgement arena, and whether is should. There are dramatically different answers to that question. Let's be honest, Ross; this isn't about relativism. As usual with the Catholic right, it is about sex.
tardx (Marietta, GA)
Barr argues for the ascendancy of presidential power over congressional checks & balances, but Donald Trump is himself Exhibit A in the counter-argument. To give even more power to a morally-unmoored, shallow and venal president - especially a future authoritarian who lacks Trump's incompetence - would create a bigger disaster than the one we are currently experiencing.
Steve (Seattle)
Speaking of moral relativism, the Conservatives have absorbed and embraced the tea party as well as trumpism. How many more political cults will they absorb in their attempt to be dominant.
Marvant Duhon (Bloomington Indiana)
Douthat claims Barr's Notre Dame speech was "a defense of religious liberty and religious conservatism". Nonsense. Barr, and Douthat, only want liberty for those religions that support them politically. Muslims need not apply. Douthat has written that not only is the Pope a heretic, so are nearly all traditional Christians in the United States - check out his books. The religious stances of Barr and Douthat are not conservative. They reject not just the teachings of the Second Vatican Council (held 1962-1965), they reject the teachings of the First Council of Jerusalem (held in year 50). Both would want Jesus Christ arrested if he tried to put his stated positions into practice. Francis of Assisi and Francis Xavier have probably influenced the relationship of Catholicism to the state more than any other Catholic in the past 1600 years (and yet their positions are so opposed to one another), and they would regard Douthat and Barr with scorn. "Defense of religious liberty"? Not for the liberty of anyone but them and their supporters.
Martin Sensiper (Orlando)
The Christian Right left modern society when they confused their “beliefs “ with science. No one denies them their beliefs but science and modern society are based on facts. The discussion here about philosophical implications of the Constitution etc. will become irrelevant as reality overcomes belief.
Susan Anderson (Boston)
I had forgotten that Ross Douthat claimed to be more Catholic than the Pope. I would very much like to see Bill Barr and other "conservative" Catholics pay attention to Pope Francis, who is a truly spiritual leader. Using religion to boss people shows a lack of empathy and compassion, and seems to me all too human. Certainly not divine.
Larry Heimendinger (WA)
Any leader, whether a President, CEO, football coach or Scout master, is both empowered and constrained by the charter and rules that the position he or she holds. But given the same office and a different office holder, how that OFFICE performs or is allowed to perform is eventually linked t the competency and character of the person holding the position. The constraints, or privileges, of a political office holder are going to be shaped as well by how the opposing political party, and the mood of the country if not the world. Good character alone won't stretch the role if the opposition resists the policies as we have seen over the past few decades. Bad character, however, serves as a magnifying lens on those policies: when appointees and associates are seen as lacking in knowledge and abilities the associated policies are seen as more than suspect. Whatever AG Barr believes and chooses to state is certainly his right. What he should be cautious about is that when those personal believes then become become official positions of the Justice Department. That is precisely what causes a reaction that the powers of office should be limited and restricted, not expanded.
Steve Bolger (New York City)
Nothing is more important to the integrity of rational government than prohibition of faith-based laws. The first clause of the first amendment is the most important contribution of the American Revolution to the world.
karen (bay area)
Regarding "the immense suffering, wreckage and misery unleashed in the new secular age." As proved by what? Any objective commentator would look at countries whose populations are rated as the "happiest," "satisfied", and "better off" by standards such as healthcare access, infant mortality rates, relative income and wealth equality, good food available, etc.--- and conclude that the truly secular societies are better off-- Sweden, The Netherlands and Denmark just to name 3. I assert this-- without the harness of organized religion, people are willing and able to look at their fellow humans as equal-- in either their personal God's eyes, or in their own vision. And the society as a whole flourishes. American living standards have dramatically declined since the 80s-- just about the time Evangelical Christians and Catholics and the GOP sealed their unholy alliance. Coincidence? Methinks not.
Marvant Duhon (Bloomington Indiana)
Douthat says of Barr, "he's certainly right that Trump has had unusual difficulties in getting nominations through." Trump in less than three years has had 162 judges confirmed to federal courts, most with no debate allowed. Franklin Roosevelt, under whom the number of such positions was similar but judges typically served fewer years before dying or retiring, was elected President four times. He is still claimed to have "packed" the courts, yet he only had 193 confirmed - a total that Trump will easily surpass before the 2020 elections. For others whom Trump has named to high offices, a record number (compared to the entire time in office of any other President) were withdrawn BY THE ADMINISTRATION when disqualifying skeletons (including felonies that they have since pled guilty to) were found in their closets. The rubber stamp Senate has rejected none such appointments. Notice also that Trump himself has fired a record number of his appointees (again, compared to any other President for his entire time in office) when he found out that those appointees were duds. On this plane of reality, the numbers prove Douthat and Barr to be utterly totally wrong.
Glenn W. (California)
"The hostility of elite cultural institutions to traditional Christianity is an enduring fact of American life". Really? Just what is "traditional Christianity"? I guess it means whatever is Mr. Douthat's favorite organized "Christian" sect? Ever since the Republicans decided corporations have religious rights they have let the cat out of the bag. They care not about "religion", they care about institutions that claim to stand for religion.
Kevin Brock (Waynesville, NC)
Indeed, Trumpism is not a radical course change from Reagan's movement conservatism, or Nixon's Southern strategy. It is indeed the logical point on the arc of modern American conservatism that has its roots in the populism of George Wallace - segregation today, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever. For all of its "restrained government" rhetoric, it is basically an appeal to not use the power of government to make little Susie go to school with "those people." No more, no less. And Douthat, for all his moral handwringing, is as complicit as is David Duke.
Okbyme (Santa Fe)
Elite cultural institutions are not hostile to traditional Christianity; they simply regard it as an irrelevant holdover of a pre-industrial society. In 40 years of teaching at Notre Dame I saw how completely other academic institutions dismissed the religious component of Notre Dame and thereby sidelined its significant contributions to non-religious disciplines. ND administrators of course regarded themselves as heroic value holders, but the right wing Catholics who controlled the discussion basically couldn’t put two sentences together and have them make verifiable sense.
TOM (Irvine, CA)
The religious Right’s clutching and scheming to stay relevant and preserve power and influence is a complimentary force to the GOP’s march toward authoritarianism. The coalescing of these force’s goals are responsible for the polarization and gridlock in our public square. “Liberal secularism” is not only the counterforce to this threat to our republic but also, through policies like Medicare for All and the Green New Deal, a source of focus for Christians (and any person of faith) longing for compassion and social justice. The right will not run out of justifications but will continue to contort itself, not to persuade others to join a coherent belief system but rather to preserve power at any cost.
Jim (Connecticut)
Even when I do not fully agree with Mr Douthat, I applaud his intellectual approach to topics and his reasoned, sometimes passionate and always respectful presentation of information. If only all media outlets were populated by minds from both sides of the proverbial 'aisle' who could present their reasoned cases for audiences to read, digest and make decisions on their own. But then, I dream.......
Yankelnevich (Denver)
America has changed since 1980. The electorate is now more than 30 percent nonwhite and rising. In 1980, perhaps 90 percent of the electorate was non-Hispanic white in origin. If we reverted to that electorate today Donald Trump and a stream of conservative Republicans would occupy the oval office. We would be living from a cultural and political perspective more as we were prior to the Civil Rights era of the 1960s. Gay rights would not exist. Environmentalism would be a fringe movement and abortion would have been long overturned along with any semblance of voting rights protections. That is because the 1980s and the Reagan era started the transition of working class whites into the Republican party. It also coincided with the drastic decline of organized labor. So the liberal factions of the 80s still existed but much of their continuity today required the demographic racial transition. The future of conservatism looks quite bleak. Religious belief is not in drastic decline. Evangelicals can not keep their youth in the fold nor can other religious groups whose young are seduced by global secularism. Libertarian conservatives still have some currency but in a world of enormous economic inequality laid bare by the vast pyramidal distribution of wealth in the U.S. and around the world, beliefs in unfettered capitalism are also under serious decline among Millennials and their younger siblings.
jpd (Massachusetts)
Regarding moral relativism: 1) You can't support and defend Donald Trump on the one hand and stake claim to a fixed and absolute set of morals on the other 2) The Christian right has twisted the doctrine of the forgiveness of sin to the point that they can justify almost any action or belief that benefits their point of view (the end justifying the means). The result is that the form Christianity they practice has no real moral imperative other than to be a Christian of the sort that they approve. If you have any doubts about point #2, see point #1
Shishir (Bellevue)
through relentless scientific progress, religions as they are constructed today are simply losing the argument. while religion as a source of solace in times of personal grief and anguish cannot be denied, it is simply ineffective as a source of structuring societal norms, and secular institutions.
Prudence Spencer (Portland)
I agree entirely on two issues 1) “There’s no reckoning with the tension between the G.O.P.’s religious and libertarian wings”. - this is why I left the Republican Party many years ago. The governments role is religion it to ensure I have the right to practice any religion of my choice, it does not give my the right to force my religious views on others or decide which religion is correct. 2) most of trumps problems are a result of his own incompetence and inexperience in running an organization that requires compromise. Running a family run business is very different than running a government. I’ll disagree on 3 issues: 1. I don’t believe Christians have a monopoly of moral values. There are very many moral Christians but not all Christians are moral. 2. The welfare state dies not prevent Christians from carrying out their moral obligation to charity. That’s a bunk statement to claim otherwise. Are you claiming social security/Medicare/Medicaid is a moral failure because it prevents Christians from being able to stable retirement for older people? 3. I don’t believe trump as any Christian values. If he does, please report on it. Right wing Christians have made a deal with the devil which is by itself is immoral
Archer (NJ)
"What if everything you believed before Trump, you can still believe today?" You can't. William F. Buckley, Jr., extolled what he called "Reaganormality," which he characterized as a return to "basic values," worship, work, and family. If Republicans can watch caged children forcibly and permanently separated from their parents and call the cages "detention spaces," then they cannot stretch their purported devotion to "family" without breaking it into pieces--unless they agree with the FOX news commentator who charmingly opined that "after all, these aren't OUR children," in which case their claim to basic humanity is nothing. If they love the notion of work, and yet stand by the tax windfalls to the wealthy, they were a hypocrites even then, as was Reagan, and their hypocrisy has only grown worse. As to "worship," they have forfeited their claim to piety--they champion a mini-Tartuffe, wrapped in the cloth while making passes at other mens' wives and stealing everything in sight. And aside from Buckley's elements of normality, are they even still entitled to call themselves patriotic, while they support a "leader" who sells our country's security for help in getting himself votes? Just what they do stand for is up for grabs, but it seems that the longest arms belong to white supremacists.
paulyyams (Valencia)
The hurricanes, the floods and the fires are not going to bother with consideration of such questions. They are already here and more are coming, many more. Desperate clinging to fantasies of a wonderful past will be as useless as climbing a tree when the 100 foot waves come ashore. None of these people, on either end of the political spectrum, have anything to say about it. We are seeing the rising panic of a doomed civilization.
RJ (Brooklyn)
Both Ross Douthat and William Barr define "religious liberty" as the religious liberty of CHRISTIANS to demand that they have the power to order others to obey their demands. Both Ross Douthat and William Barr define executive power of the Presidency as the power of REPUBLICAN Presidents to demand they have the power to order others to obey their demands. This never had anything to do with religion at all -- Douthat's beloved Republican Party of hate picks and chooses which of the teachings of Jesus Christ promote their hateful values and need to punish their enemies. And it never had anything to do with executive power since Barr himself is demanding foreign countries "help" investigate Obama's Presidency.
Casual Observer (Los Angeles)
Religious freedom is not the power of religious institutions to dominate the state. The President is not the embodiment of the people, some ancient nation, or the state. The President is an office holder with authority that is limited by law. Liberalism is at the core the concept that authority to rule comes not from God but from the governed. Barr is at heart, an anti-Enlightenment advocate. He does not believe in liberal democracy, but in an authoritarian governance that includes religious institutions. The man has an intellectual view of the world that places him in the middle of the 1700’s.
Pottree (Joshua Tree)
And, between religious wars, weren’t thing great back then? Squire Barr just wants some lands and some serfs, perhaps a title, what’s wrong with that? And he goes about it the old fashioned way: by donning his lawyerly armor and sallying forth, his spear directed at the enemies of his lord and liege, without regard for his personal safety, his heart set on just reward, his eyes cast up toward his protector in heaven. Hint, Mr. Attorney General: the chalice with the palace has the potion that is poison.
Dennis Cox (Houston, TX)
Political movements have a "use by" date, and "conservatism" a la Wm. F. Buckley is long past its date. Whatever moral and philosophical principles you think undergird "conservatism", just look at what it has become. Buckley himself conducted a crusade to exclude followers of the John Birch society from his "conservative" movement, and now we have a President of the USA who openly peddles conspiracy theories that originated with Russian intelligence operatives. He is helped in this effort by a "news" channel that was started by a Nixon aid. Speaking of Nixon, he initiated the Republican Party's "Southern Strategy", which continued with "welfare queens", Willie Horton, and false rumors of John McCain's alleged out-of-wedlock mixed-race child, all perpetrated by successful conservative candidates for the presidency. Now we have a senior advisor in the White House whose recent email dumps show clear signs of a white supremacist viewpoint. One would think it possible to appreciate what European culture has contributed to the world in recent centuries without the racism. Speaking of which, it was in the context European culture where modern science and capitalist economic systems have flourished. These are quite clearly secular enterprises and the level of education spurred by them has led many to seek moral and spiritual guidance in traditions other than those favored by Mr. Barr, as well as to consider creating new traditions more fitting with our modern way of life.
Mountainbiker (OK)
Ahh, yes, Constantine. Like the unseemly alliance of Evangelical Christians(?) with right wing power today, Constantine faced a large organized group of people, the Christians of his day. He would have been foolish not to court them for political reasons. Note, he was finally baptized on his death bed. The "love your enemy" Christians had to reconcile faith with empire. Constantine's legacy continues with Evangelical Christians giving the strongest support for war (and empire).
Daniel A. Greenbaum (New York)
Barr did not attack contemporary liberalism. He attack a liberalism that would be recognized by John Stuart Mill. What he was proposing was a religious authoritarianism.
Diego (NYC)
Trump seems totally stuck in the '80s.
Pottree (Joshua Tree)
The 1680s.
Paul (San Mateo)
Yikes, Ross. Lots of words to excuse Barr’s too familiar Republican hypocrisy and politically convenient “perspective of the moment”. These contribute far more to the demise of religion, conservatism, and social stability than secularism.
Fred Frahm (Boise)
I read Barr’s two pronouncements as an attack on individual liberty. His unitary executive postulate untethers our President from the confines of the Constitution and the law and subordinates the judiciary and legislature to the executive branch. No ones property or liberty will be safe from the executive branch, which is always in session. I did not see him giving Congress or the courts any substantive role investigating or supervising the presidency. Could a weakened Congress stop a president from manipulating an election to secure his own reelection or elect a compliant Congress? Barr’s attack on what he calls secularism will, if enabled, subject one and all to the whims of conservative religionists’ discrimination based on “deeply held beliefs.” Will access to goods, services, housing, employment, or education, all of which we now assume to be “secular,” start to become subject to some sort of religious test? How does that promote individual liberty and make it easier for us to live together (without re-education “schools”)?
Bill H (MN)
When people strive to protect their particular god they usually decrease to the well being of we real and present folks. I want to see a claim of privilege requested by our more stident religious citizens proven by being required to bring their favorite diety to court for cross examination. In any other situation if a claim is made the claimant would need to provide proof.
steve (corvallis)
"The Trump era has been understood, reasonably, as a moment of discontinuity for the American right." No, it hasn't, not even close. Only the self-proclaimed experts and Trump apologists have ever said this. The rise of Trump is a direct and immediate reflection of the ethical collapse of the American right. Don't try couching this abomination as an aberration. This IS - Trump - IS the Republican party. This group of unpatriotic, power-mad, white nationalist zealots has been waiting for their moment, and they're goal is to destroy the Republic in favor of a quasi-dictatorship. They don't want free and fair elections, they don't want representative government. They want to rule, and the cult that follows them happily wants to be ruled.
Caroline Miles (Winston-Salem, NC)
Barr's approach to the law may be dogmatic and uninformed by the separation of powers, but it is not original. I'm sure that Mussolini, Peron and Franco had attorneys general who offered the same brand of advice. And to move away from the pure fascists, let's not forget John Mitchell.
Dasha Kasakova (Malibu CA)
OK Boomer
Dasha Kasakova (Malibu CA)
OK Boomer
Mary (Paso Robles, California)
Douthat writes: “great moral debates of our time pit Christian rigorists on the right against moral relativists on the left” Douthat perpetuates the canard that lefties or progressives are moral relativists. In reality the moral relativists are the so called Christians especially the Evangelicals that support the vile Trump and his campaign of hatred toward minorities, immigrants, the poor and non white. You know, the people that Christ exhorted us to love if you want to enter the Kingdom of heaven.
Pottree (Joshua Tree)
It now costs $200,000 plus greens fees and restaurant guarantees to enter the gates of heaven.
Keevin (Cleveland)
Religious freedom to Christians is the freedom of then to dictate their beliefs on others.
Zigzag (Portland)
A true attorney general of all the people.... He's a SNL sketch that has come to life,
NYC Expat (Europe)
I listened to Barr's full speech on YouTube, and I have to say that I disagree with about every statement Ross Douthat has made in the putdown he attempted in his essay, but space prevents me on going at it point by point. On the whole, Bill Barr struck me as a brilliant man of a higher intellectual caliber than anyone I can think of in today's politics; a call to sanity and dignity. Without being a Republican, I found his arguments extremely compelling, the kind of high-minded political commentary the NYT used to publish before it became so partisan, in the last decade. By comparison, the entire gang of today's NY editorial board and opinion writers seem mean spirited, blinded by personal bias, and juvenile. Barr's speech is a civic lesson that I urge everyone to listen to, regardless of political orientation. I rarely listen to such speeches, but this one was a treasure. I only wish Douhat presented it properly.
Ebenezer Scrooge (Ohio)
"The second speech, a defense of presidential power, attacked the anti-Trump Resistance — congressional and judicial, not just activist — for undermining legal norms and participating in “a steady grinding down of the executive branch’s authority,” reducing the presidency to a state of weakness that frustrates its constitutional purposes." Barr -- did you mean like when McConnell single-handedly denied President Obama's Supreme Court pick? Like that?
Judy (New York)
Mr. Barr is an expert practitioner of moral relativism.
David Caldwell (NJ)
Another Ross Douthat column about how strong is the incoming tide and how small is my shovel to defend the shore.
Yankee49 (Rochester NY)
Hey, Ross. You forgot (?) to include how Barr being a member of Opus Dei also connects him as a contemporary fellow of such devout Christianity/Catholicism role models as Franco and his lesser known fascist confreres blessed by the Popes. You know, the folks who give Republicans like you hope that such traditions will survive Drumpf and continue the fight against "secularism"...meaning of course, reason, science, the common good regardless of race, religion, gender. That stuff.
A. Stanton (Dallas, TX)
My reading of Barr is that he is (1) performing for an audience of one (the President); (2) angling for the next available slot on the Supreme Court; and (3) stands a very good chance of getting it.
Boston Reader (Boston)
Forget all this stuff about conservatism now vs then, religious freedom (or lack thereof by Christians?? give me a break), secularism by elites, etc. The bottom line is that we have a President who is simply an awful person. He needs to go. I understand that it's difficult for one politically aligned with him (to the extent he has a politics) to go along with this. But one just has to suck it up and see that it's better to have a decent individual not aligned with you politics than an awful one that is. Besides, how exactly bad can one of these Democrats be compared to this simply awful guy? (And don't say "he tells it like it is" blah blah. How does him saying "she's bad news" telling it like it is? Sounds like he tells it like it isn't.)
Ann (Dallas)
"Barr’s account of liberal-led legal harassment of conservative religious institutions is accurate." What? "Legal harassment" is an oxymoron. And, I have no idea what you, or Barr, are talking about. Harassment of conservative religious institutions? What could you possibly mean by that? Law suits about pedophile priests who raped alter boys? Trying to save teens from suicide-provoking "conversion" therapy? Are you and Barr seriously characterizing push back against victimizing children as "harassment"? Or is this about something so obscure I've never even heard of it? Or is the point that the conservatives are the victims of the liberals, and you are going to perpetrate that myth by repeating any crazy town theory?
H. A. Sappho (LA)
LEGACY: WILLIAM BARR’S HOMERIC ODE You don’t care about it, but it Cares about you. You The Enabler, Contributor, Complicitor, the one Who could have rendered justice to the Corruptor. He And you Are now one Crumbling statue Worn away by the future You have so degraded, a future That now despises you. You A man without a core Who once had the substance of a self Who sold it to a man who never had a core a self a substance only Consumption’s angry hands of appetite unsated Grabbing at the mouth’s lame articulation Until your mouth was his and no other Could be allowed to speak. Now, not even worthy of your own statue You live inside the statue of the empty man. What is less than emptiness? YOU are. For all eternity You will be the Less Than Empty Man. THAT is your legacy.
redweather (Atlanta)
Sounds like Barr has been highlighting sections from William Bennett's The Death of Outrage. If you haven't read that book, by the time you get to page two you'll be laughing your head off.
Michael F. Ziolkowski (Grand Island, New York)
Barr reminds me of Robert Hanssen, the FBI counter-intel chief who turned out to be a Russian spy. Barr's a guy who cloaks himself in religion but is really a Russian asset doing great harm to these United States
Thomas Givon (Ignacio, Colorado)
Boy, you sure take the cake with this one, Ross ol' boy. To defend the ugly musing of this despicable manipulator of our constitution, laws and common decency in the name 'religious freedom' or 'conservatism' is to further abuse both. And in the service of a self-centered, ignorant pathological liar? William Barr (brrrr...) is an insult to both his (and my) Catholic faith and a festering blemish upon our legal system. One could not help but wonder how you came by this lapse of both judgement and aesthetics. Kinda sad. TG
Meighan Corbett (Rye, NY)
Barr and his clan are waiting for the rapture.
John McLaughlin (Bernardsville, NJ)
AG Barr is a disgrace to the Justice Department and our country. Putting Trump above the nation when it is obvious that he is corrupt and cruel is beyond anything I could have ever expected from our AG. Sickening.
Time to look within (Moscow, ID)
Where and why do we find these religious zealots who get through the nomination process? Who are these people that don't understand fundamental concepts of our country, including separation of church and state, the executive is only one of three coequal branches of government, and the difference between democracy and monarchy? Where did our education system go wrong? Simple concepts that clearly missed their low IQ thick skull, who are now running our country, and yes, ruining it.
NewEnglander56 (Boston)
Is this really a column in the NYT? The religious right in this country disgraced itself through racism, sexism, and an organized cover-up of massive child sexual abuse. Now the evangelicals continue by embracing Trump, a pig and a crook, and acting like a bunch of Stalinists bending over backward to defend him. They are a power mad political party and not a real religion in any meaningful sense of the word. The political right disgraced itself by blowing out the deficits and the utterly bogus invasion of Iraq, among many, many other acts, culminating with the support of Trump. Pretending that "the left" just woke up one morning and decided to attack conservatives, as Barr and Ross do, evinces an unbelievable level of blind entitlement. If the Times can't find a better conservative writer than this, maybe they should drop it.
Eric (Ohio)
This man supports to the hilt the biggest liar, misogynist and bigot ever to be president. He himself dissembles, lies, and obstructs justice. He works assiduously, and marshals OUR government's power, to turn the presidency into a monarchy, where the man on the throne is answerable to no one. Those at the Federalist Society meeting who cheered him on--they too want an autocrat ruling the U.S.--as long as he's *their* autocrat. In these speeches, Barr has indulged in classic, Trumpian projection: he accuses his *critics* of immorality and steering the nation in a dangerous direction. He is convinced, as true ideologues are, that he's doing 'the work of God' (and, fittingly, belongs to Opus Dei). The Roman Catholic Church (and Notre Dame) should really be more judicious about who they invite to speak and endorse, given their history of pedophilia and obstructing attempts to expose and bring it to an end. Barr is as immoral an AG as we've seen in our lifetimes. Haven't we had enough hypocrisy in high places?
Ted (NY)
AG William Barr is guided more by ideological expediency like Jonathan Pollard - traitor guided by foreign powers- than a Christian conservativsm or jurisprudence
The Weasel (Los Angeles)
OK. So, Mr. Barr, are you going to use the moral compass provided by the Catholic church? Child abuse? The Crusades? Absolving sins for cash payments? Imprisoning Galileo? Slaughter of millions of native people in the name of God? The Inquisition? Women as second class citizens of the church? Anti-gay attacks while tolerating gays within the priesthood? Backing Nazis during WWII? I'll pick my own compass, thank you.
John David James (Canada)
The current White House theological darling, Paula White, preaches the Prosperity Gospel and the right has the temerity to talk about the moral relativism of the left?
Bryce Ross (Bozeman, MT)
"religious conservatives and limited-government conservatives can be natural allies because the welfare state is an ersatz religious institution that crowds out private charity and churches" - this is quite an amazing admission, and one that I've been stressing to friends and family for years. In past years, I'd often wondered about conservative evangelicals' distain for government policies that sought to help the poor and disenfranchised - this opposition seems especially at odds w/ New Testament teachings. It occurred to me that the distain isn't of the help, per se, but rather that such assistance is given freely, without strings. The evangelicals may wish to help these groups, but only with conditions, viz. that they bend the knee and empower the church. For these evangelicals, the true desire isn't the benefit for mankind, but power for their institution. It is these cynical tactics that repel people from the church (among so many other things)
rungus (Annandale, VA)
"Barr’s account of liberal-led legal harassment of conservative religious institutions is accurate." So says Douthat, with a conservative Christian's typical disregard of evidence, or its absence. In what does this imagined harassment consist? Litigation against priests and bishops who committed and covered up child abuse? Arguments that religious institutions, like all others, must follow basic nondiscrimination laws? Greater freedom, equality, and respect for all Americans, including, specifically, LGBT Americans? The ability of women to control their own lives? To the contrary, what is happening, not just legally, but in society generally, is erosion of the privileged, dominant position that religious institutions have long claimed to define and control moral and political discourse. Limit entrenched privilege, and the formerly privileged will howl. It's no coincidence that as white male privilege has been challenged, those who have enjoyed that privilege as the natural order of things -- like conservative Christians - cling to Trump as someone they believe will enshrine that privilege for all time, putting non-white, non-Christian,non-male people back into their proper subordinate place. Does Douthat think that equality of religious institutions is under threat? Then let him advocate taxing churches identically with all other nonprofit institutions. Then there will be true equality.
Mary Rivkatot (Dallas)
What do they mean by secularism? Religious liberty? At this point, religious anything should have absolutely no place in our government, down to tax relief for churches where the ministers buy yachts and hair transplants. This truly is so 1980. And while we're at it -- Reagan was an awful President -- another politician who sold us a bill of hey I look like a president should look, and I'm an actor who can play the role. Religion has no more place in our diverse society than it does in my workplace, and if you want trouble, just try bringing religion into your workplace.
karen (bay area)
@Mary Rivkatot Thanks for saying this so well. And these nutty Christians are the first to criticize Muslims: rightfully for that faith's domination of the public square in the middle east; hypocritically for their critique that it's a patriarchy-- which it is, but so is much of today's loud Christianity; and simply unfair when they criticize Muslims for wanting to pray safely, and yet they get their brains in a muddle when a retail clerk wishes them a "happy Holidays!" instead of the "Merry Christmas" they feel should be mandatory.
Kenneth Axe (Stoughton, WI)
Douthat states that liberal led “harassment” of traditional Christian institutions is a fact. I would suggest that what he sees as secularization is assertion of the First Amendment’s separation of church and state to prevent a theocracy. We have no official state religion, much to the chagrin of Barr and his ilk. At the same time they complain, the Court approves discrimination under the guise of accommodation of religious practices. Native Americans can’t use peyote, but Christians can deny their employees birth control. Barr’s arrogance and hostility to the views of others, all while lying, is appalling.Moreover, religious institutions have hurt themselves by taking political positions and claiming them to be religious. When I was a child, states could not even pay for busing to parochial schools. Now they divert public education funding to pay tuition. Abortion is not mentioned in the Bible, and did not become a religious issue till right wing activists decided it would be a great one to bond with Catholics and evangelicals to political ends. Sexual abuse in the church, coverups and hypocrisy have not helped either, nor have traditions not from the Bible but otherwise, like proscriptions against birth control and married priests. Conservatives hark back to a supposedly better time which, while possibly better for elites such as themselves, was not better for the majority. Barr will be remembered by history as being one of the worst and most partisan attorney generals.
Marlene Rayner (San Diego)
Please look for Prof Ed Watts' new book. I heard him lecture at UCSD yesterday on the topic of decline from within as demonstrated in the long transition of the once Democratic Roman republic to the much less democratic and authoritarian Roman empire. He traces this decline to slow erosion of "norms of checked behavior" (financial and otherwise), the serious rise of inequality in the populace, and great debt.
sthomas1957 (Salt Lake City, UT)
Trump is Reaganism extended, Ross. There's no denying it. At least half of Reagan voters -a plurality of all Republicans - would have had no problem voting for a Trump-like figure in 1980 had one existed. Remember, the Reagan era brought us religion as entertainment, and Donald Trump is merely bringing us governance as entertainment. There is a commonality between the two. Barefooted monkeys and blighted working class beware.
Albert Ell (Boston)
"The connection he draws between the weakening of religious practice and the working class’s social crisis is contestable but entirely plausible." Calls to mind George Carlin's comment about religion being, at best, like a lift in your shoe (search it for full context). Atheism isn't for everyone. You have to have a certain kind of strength to function morally in a world where you reject the good/evil, heaven/hell guide to life. Maybe we on the left who want a stable society should ease up on the "if you believe in God, you're stupid" stuff and let people wean themselves off the opiate a bit more slowly.
Susan Anderson (Boston)
Secularism? Huh! Try the Gospels. Barr, Trump, Paula White, and a good few others are not practicing the Christianity I grew up with. Whited sepulchers Moneychangers in the temple Casters of the first stone Hypocrites and greedsters, who appear only care about "life" before it emerges from the womb. They seem overly fond of high-powered killing machines too: is that respect for "life"? Delusions and worship of the self should not be identified as any respectable religion. Religion should be in the service of reaching for the best, not the worst, in ourselves and each other. Otherwise, if you are a believer, I think you should recognize that Trump, Barr, Pompeo, and others would be headed for the other place. Better to rule in Hell than to reign in Heaven (Paradise Lost, Milton)
Brian Meadows (Clarkrange, TN)
"If conservatives believe that even today’s presidency is much too constrained and that secular elites can be blamed for all our problems, then we should fear an authoritarian cascade on the right, and expect a post-Trump quest for an American Constantine who can restore the presidency and the one true faith alike." I am quite certain that this is exactly what Barr & co. are after when they believe no unsympathetic ears are pricked their way. And I strongly suspect their vision includes an American Inquisition which will give the old Spanish model a ghastly run for its money.
James Quinn (Lilburn, GA)
As has been proven time and again since the dawn of monotheism, organized monotheistic religion has no claim to the moral high ground. Individuals may have such a claim, and some of them have been leaders of their faith. But too often organized religion becomes more about power than morality, no matter how well camouflaged their message. It is for this reason that the Constitution separates church and state. it was, perhaps, the wisest thing the founders did. So whenever someone starts talking about 'wars on Christianity' or on 'people of faith', someone else needs to remind them how often organized religion has warred on those who do not share their views. The great danger in organized religion is the belief that the group's goals are sanctioned by a god and therefore must be right, even to the point of killing non-believers. We have so far avoided that trap, and I dearly hope we always will.
Jack McCullough (Montpelier, Vermont)
Here's one of the most infuriating things about religious conservatives. Like Barr, Douthat claims that they favor "religious liberty". In fact, their demands for what they call religious liberty are demands for conservative sectarian domination of what was designed from the very beginning to be a secular state. Their claims of religious liberty are demands that their religion must be permitted to extend its doctrines, practices, and values over those who do not share them, and to direct the policies of government. In short, conservative claims for religious liberty are demands for the exact opposite. Religious liberty means that the state should not be allowed to dictate your religious beliefs. It does not mean that churches should be allowed to dictate the policies of government.
Mimie McCarley (Charlotte)
@Jack McCullough You’re comment is right on target. The evangelical right seems to feel they have the right to insist that their right is all encompassing. We should all fall in line and relinquish our liberties to their beliefs. Where is the freedom in that? As a Christian I find this repugnant. Thank you for your comment.
Pete (Az)
Hear hear
RJ (Brooklyn)
@Jack McCullough Exactly. Ross Douthat and William Barr's definition of "religious liberty" is exactly the same as the Taliban's. What is most ungodly that folks like Ross Douthat and William Barr do is that they use the word "religious liberty" in an attempt to mislead people. I think Ross needs to read a little more of the Bible and a little less right wing conservative attacks on so-called "liberals" who following the teachings of Christ much more than Barr. Remember, thou shalt not lie? Ross?
sdw (Cleveland)
At some point, and we are long past that point, most Americans must realize that William Barr swings wildly from whining like an aggrieved victim about lack of respect for what he deems a valid conservative ideology to angry threats of reprisals against any American who finds that Barr’s love for authoritarian rule is astonishingly un-American and dangerous. The notion that America should be a theocracy tailored to Bill Barr’s brand of Christianity is not only violative of the Establishment Clause of the Constitution, that radicalism is antithetical to the concept of true conservatism. What great irony there is in the fact that Donald Trump, an incompetent hedonist with neither the interest nor the intellectual ability to understand history, is the inspiration for Barr’s extremism.
PT (Salem, OR)
Nice reference to the inimitable Eli Cash of the Royal Tenenbaums.
he is just another degenerate catholic among many with some power.
Peter S (San Francisco)
Simply declaring that Congress has abdicated its law making roll over the last decade without further examination of why is simply outrageous! Please recall that Mr. McConnell at the beginning of Obama‘s presidency declared that he would do everything in his power to shut down administrations attempts to implement its policies. Since then, Mr. McConnell has continued to close the Senate doors to reasonable rules for healthcare, gun control and more. Certainly congress as a whole has been slow to take up important issues, but the unfettered rule by the Senate Majority Leader as to what legislation the body will take up has seriously disabled the Congress.
OneView (Boston)
Ross, churches are part and parcel of the elite cultural institutions of the US. Notre Dame comes to mind; National Cathedral, etc. There is no "War on Christianity"; there is a war on secularism as churches (usual Christian) try to monopolize culture and morality. What radical conservatives can stomach is that the churches can have competitors for elite culture that are secular and supported by the state (Notwithstanding that the churches through their tax exempt status receive massive indirect subsidies from the state.).
Frank O (texas)
I was trying to parse Douthat's message from the many assumptions that I found dead wrong. At the end, it hit me. What religious and political conservatives want is a state like Russia, with an autocratic ruler in league with a state-approved, reactionary church. A Czar and a Patriarch. No wonder the Federalist Society loves him.
NYC Expat (Europe)
@Frank O Instead of jumping to silly conclusions, go to listen to the speech first.
Douglas (Arizona)
@Frank O nonsense-we want the Congress and the rest of the permanent state to act in fealty to the Constitution. Religious tests have no part of our agenda.
furnmtz (Oregon)
People who call themselves Christians and announce it at every given opportunity are driving people away from church attendance. The mixture of religion and politics has done more harm than good to churches and mankind everywhere.
DB (Ohio)
Trump and Barr are doing irremediable harm to Christianity in America, which is why so many of our young people are saying, if this is what your faith entails, we want no part of it. Church attendance will only keep dropping from now on.
JB (San Francisco)
Barr needs to be disbarred and/or impeached for violating his oath of office to defend the Constitution. His views are legal nonsense, and holding them as Attorney General makes them dangerous to us all. The founders of our nation made their intent clear: no state religion, government of the people serving the common good, and no kings. The founders believed in the rule of reason, not religious dogma. They gave the legislative branch the power of impeachment to remove presidents and other officials who put their own interests above the nation’s. A president who uses tax dollars to extort foreign election help falls squarely within their intent. Barr’s twisted, angry thinking defies the core principles of the Constitution he swore to uphold. He is wholly unfit for the office he holds.
Sidito (South Austin)
In my opinion, Bill Barr's atrocious conduct during Iran-Contra should have been ample cause for never being allowed to return to government "service". He's nothing if not a right wing hack, who will lie for any reason at any time to further his contemptible goals. His advocation of pardons for war criminals makes him an enabler of the worst elements of society. His attack on secular liberals is both misleading and self serving, exactly like his mischaracterization of Mueller's report. If he is a "Christian", I am proud of younger Americans for rejecting religion. Who with any integrity would want to be connected to his brand of religious hypocrisy?
Brock (Dallas)
Barr put a fig leaf on the Iran-Contra fiasco.
Tom Baroli (California)
A list of the traditional Christians caught in sex and money scandals over the last 50 years and even a short description of their hypocrisy exceeds the character count limit of this commenting section
Doug Terry (Maryland, Washington DC metro)
Barr's speech was inaccurate, flimsy and above all dangerous. If one substituted Obama for the implied Trump administration, many of the same charges about weakening presidential powers could be safely applied. As to the "resistance", are those not the same forces, differently applied, that sought to ensure that Obama was perceived as a failed president? Remember that something like $400,000,000.00+ were spent by third party, outside influence groups, under the false flag of "charity organizations", to undermine, demean and demonize Democrats generally and Obama particularly. As for the forces taking away the value and importance of religion, government is a minor culprit. The true anti-religious force is knowledge, information. Because religion cannot be continually updated to accommodate the increase in knowledge without fear of corrupting it into a social club, it must take positions denying the viability of science and other bodies of knowledge. It is therefore in conflict with what people know, or think they know, making it less relevant, less valuable, in their lives. In short, it gets pushed aside because it cannot provide what people need without forcing them to deny the information of the modern world. Barr comes off as a partisan hack rather than someone assigned high duties of representing the search for justice for all.
Frank Casa (Durham)
Barr: "the welfare state is an ersatz religious institution that crowds out private charity and churches." Do conservatives really want a return to begging by the poor, at the mercy of the charity of strangers, instead of collective contributions of all citizens in order to succor the poor and the affected? And what assurance is there that these charitable entities will continue their help, and will they demand adherence to their values, religious or social. Such a system will have the added benefit of offering a justification for the wealthy to keep all their money because, after all, they are helping to feed the poor. Ah, the good old days when the poor begged at the church door. They knew their places then.
JW (San Jose, CA)
@Frank Casa Begging by the poor has returned en masse to the once great cities of San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York, etc. as the direct result of the collective contributions of all citizens, to succor the poor and affected. The lives of countless, otherwise healthy and productive adults ruined by the best intentions of the welfare state.
Frank Casa (Durham)
@JW Do I understand that you think that the welfare state has created poverty? And do you mean to say that without social benefits we wouldn't have poverty?
KBD (San Diego)
@Frank Casa Are there no workhouses?
AM (New Hampshire)
Ross: Interesting, and somewhat self-aware, that you acknowledge your "obsession with decadence." Congrats for that, at least. In fact, "faith" is what holds us back. We are so brainwashed by early indoctrination (and by our own wish-fulfillment, emotional comfort-seeking, and moral wavering) that we elevate religion notwithstanding the need for serious, adult, intellectual, progressive, data-based action. That Barr lives a life from long ago - as do many of us who cling to the gauzy reassurance of a supernatural "father" introduced to us in our impressionable, vulnerable childhood - is an essential part of the problem. Such dependence is a leading cause of backwardness (and of the vacuous, dangerous immorality of the evangelistic "Trump Era"). We're completely free to exercise our rights regarding religion. We're also free, however, to move forward, ethically and politically, by shedding such nonsense. Why not make an effort to lose your "obsession"?
Martin (Chicago)
Bill Barr, the man from 1980? He's more like a man of the 15th century, straight out of the Borgias family.
Ted (NYC)
I know Douthat sees him self as, well, a saint, but here's a thought -- what if he's the opposite? And it's terribly unsporting of people to keep bringing up the moral bankruptcy of the institution he venerates. Please stop doing that.
JNR2 (Madrid)
I found myself wondering about the "suffering, wreckage, and misery" Barr was referring to, then I remembered: It's Bret Kavanaugh being held accountable for his actions. It's Betsy DeVos being held in contempt of court and fined. It's Lawrence VanDyke having to face the ABA's judgment. It's Trump not being the Monarch/Tyrant he yearns to be. The list goes on and on . . . It certainly is not the children in cages at the borders, the women losing reproductive health care, or people of color being gerrymandered out of their votes.
smitty werbenmanjensen (London)
The biggest moral relativists I see are the religious leaders willing to tolerate any level of sinfulness in a leader as long as he delivers the policies they want.
Morgan01944 (MA)
Wouldn’t it be great if the NYT, NPR, & PBS stopped using the word “attack” ? Surely, a more descriptive, more precise, more insightful, less decisive word is appropriate here: “The first speech, a defense of religious liberty and religious conservatism, attacked ....”
Bruce Pippin (Monterey, Ca)
William Barr is a self righteous narcissistic religious demagogue whose loyalty is to his own personal ideology and not to the Constitution and the people of the United States. Unfortunately he has been entitled with the power of control of the justice department. If there is a one person who should be impeached or disbarred it is William Barr. He can be as radical as he wants to be but he should not be the head of law enforcement and justice in this country, lady justice wears a blindfold William Barr stands in front of a mirror admiring himself.
Betsy Herring (Edmond, OK)
Sounds like writer tries hard not to be like Barr but he is at heart.
Philip Summa (CHARLOTTE, NC)
I read your column and your paper—I am a digital subscriber—regularly. My eyeballs tell me that the New York Times “reassures“ the progressive left multiple times in every issue.
David Henry (Concord)
Reagan and the GOP played the victim game from day one, so Barr is doing nothing new. The Christians are always fighting the liberal lions who war on Christmas and morality. A laughable fantasy, if it wasn't so destructive.
dave (pennsylvania)
Trump's judicial and other nominations are DESIGNED to outrage and inflame, through a combination of incompetence and extremism. The fact that they still go through is what should evoke astonishment...lobbyists for EPA and Interior, a Trump labeled "dope" for Energy, a for-profit school heiress for public education, a couple of white supremacists for Attorney General, and a drunken child molester for the Supreme Court. The abdication of advise and consent is complete, and the Presidency under trump is a steam-roller...
DA (St. Louis, MO)
Isn't it hilarious to hear a Christian conservative try to link secularism with moral relativism? It's like he's completely ignoring the last forty years of history, the sex and pedophilia scandals, the promotion of greed, materialism, selfishness, nationalism, xenophobia, racism, etc. etc. etc. Pick any object of idolatry and chances are modern Republicans have glorified it over anything remotely resembling Jesus' message of universal love.
Peter (Syracuse)
Barr helped HW Bush pardon his way out of Iran/Contra. There should have been no doubt that his is little more than a far right wing hack who believes that there is no crime a Republican president can commit. He needs to be removed from office and prosecuted.
mscan (Austin)
Sorry Ross--organized religion doesn't need the help of "secularizing elites" to reduce it's influence and prestige. It has done a fine job of tarnishing itself with no help from the liberal bogeymen who roam in your imagination.
Clovis (Florida)
There is no better example of moral relativism than the evangelical right's continuous and fervid support of Trump, a lying, adulterous bully who has admitted to sexual assault.
oldBassGuy (mass)
"Opus Dei" Barr, a godly man doing god's work. On display: two speeches (aka pontificating lectures) demonstrating the breathtaking hubris of a man who knows the absolute Truth, and feels compelled to let everyone know about it. The four page Mueller non-exoneration 'exoneration' memo is evidence that Barr believes it is OK to lie if you're lying for Jesus. The memo shows how little respect Barr has for every US citizen. I felt as if he lied to my face. There is truly something wrong with this man. He supports the poster child of extreme violation of all 7 of the 7 deadly sins. Why? He supports the apotheosis of trump. Why? Barr needs to be impeached. The US is a secular country with a godless constitution.
Hugh Massengill (Eugene Oregon)
We really are becoming a banana republic. Hugh
KFC (Arkansas to NYC)
I think you mean 1984.
Michael (California)
Barr will long be remembered as a bar to justice. His belief in the imperial Presidency is antithetical to the US Constitution.
Binx Bolling (Palookaville)
A conservative Catholic cabal has infiltrated the judiciary. These reactionaries are intent on subverting the secular nature of the government. The founding fathers would be appalled: "Men will never be free until the last king is strangled with the entrails of the last priest."
Gord (Lehmann)
Ahem...separation of church and state?
Sandy (Troy, Maine)
It is unfortunate that the NYT has a writer who represents conservatisvesfrom 1980 who was not alive back then. You need to do your homework. In 1980 progressives were not undermining Christianity but rather following the constitution that protects religious freedom and the separation of church and state. I am not going to dissect your column line by line but your fact checkers needs to do their jobs.
spotter (Virginia Beach, VA)
Piffle. Trump is a golden calf, worshipped by so-called evangelical Christians because of his imaginary power. In truth, he is an amoral, immoral, truly evil man whose catalogue of sins is lengthy and unforgivable. However, let’s remember that Trump claims that he doesn’t need to ask for forgiveness, a sure-fire sign that he’s not a Christian. In truth, Trump doesn't even have the ability to fake Christianity in a plausible manner. Meanwhile, the claims to law and order fizzle under the glare of overwhelming evidence: Trump’s bromance with and abject servitude to ruthless murderous Russian dictator Vladimir Putin, Trump’s ties to Russian oligarchs and Russian military intelligence, who installed him in the highest office in our land through fraud,theft, and outright treason in cahoots with their American quislings, Trump’s longtime ties to the Russian mob, here and abroad, numerous, systematic campaign finance violations, and wholesale obstruction of justice and flagrant law-breaking at every level and in every single context. Trump is evil. Trump is a lifelong criminal. Trump is a traitor to the United States of America. Skirting around the edges and trying to invent or criticize right wing, fascist rhetoric is pointless. Remove him from office. Bring him to justice. Now.
Ed (Oklahoma City)
Douthat's ongoing defense of his Catholic Church and his Republican Party, which he continues to prove to us are corrupt institutions, makes me feel like his psychiatrist, but without the pay.
Feldman (Portland)
These thoughts by Douthat are interesting and on target. However, the single most important term he avoids using is 'banal'. Ross simply overlooks the rate at which the dumb, trite Barr-barisms inflict banality upon every interaction he has with the rest of us.
JS (boston)
Or it could be that Barr is just a weird person who's mind is twisted into knots by the conflict between his rigidly conservative moral code, his authoritarian beliefs and the fact that the president he serves and defends is a moral and ethical cesspool.
rich (hutchinson isl. fl)
When Trump was extorting Ukraine, he did mention Bill Barr by name. Then Trump wanted his minion to give the opinion. That Trump is not guilty,...... again.
Common Ground (New York)
Thank you Attorney General Barr
Jsw (Seattle)
NYT pundits just love this word elite. It is both meaningless and highly offensive at the same time. Read every sentence where it is used in this piece and you will realize you have no idea *who Ross is talking about.
Bill (Westchester County, NY)
Here's the question for all the Republicans who run cover for Trump: what would Mr. Reagan think, not just of the Trump presidency, but of his fellow Republicans who seem content to play the role of conservatives in Germany in 1933 who supported the ascension of Hitler to the Chancellorship, thinking they could control him. Somehow I doubt that Mr. Reagan, a highly moral and proactive man, would be standing silently on the sidelines. One wonders why men like Bill Barr don't talk about that aspect of their idol's legacy.
Tumor boy (Virginia Beach)
This guy wants to be an Inquisitor. He’s more like the man from 1180.
In deed (Lower 48)
I did a word search. “Caesar” somehow didn’t make it into this exercise in pure apologist so pure it merits its own DSM category. Barr’s speeches were unfit for any attorney general and crazy. And pure catholic fascist. Both of them. The speeches only make sense as catholic fascism. Caesar. Oh how Douthat loves that word during the Obama administrations. Decadence indeed.
Robert O. (St. Louis)
Barr preaches morals even as he acts immorally to protect a singularly immoral president. He’s the perfect champion of the current cultish perversion of religion that sees a decadent Trump as a demi god.
John Milnes (Pittsburgh PA)
The “immense suffering, wreckage and misery” unleashed in “the new secular age.” Ooh, like what? Vaccines?? What concerned me about Barr’s speech was not that he was harkening back to some old form of conservatism but that he was looking forward.. because his rhetoric was one thin line away from being completely and fully justified to round up ‘intellectuals” and “leftists” into interment camps for his cause. It seemed like he would have no problem using the entire weight of the American legal system to imprison dreaded “moral relativists” as political prisoners because he disagreed with them based on his religious convictions. Terrifying.. Makes your comment about an American Constantine particularly disturbing to me...
Balcony Bill (Ottawa)
How utterly laughable that the vile and shameless William Barr. with a straight face, bemoans attacks on religion and pretends to be standing up for conservatives and Catholics and all that is decent in the world. We are meant to believe all of this while he happily works and supports that deeply religious role model, Donald Trump. Yes, that true Christian who has bullied his opponents with childish nicknames; who has boasted of how he could walk in to beauty pageant contestants' dressing rooms because he owns the pageant; who has laughed about how he can grab women between the legs because he's famous; who pays off porn actresses and magazine centerfolds who have said he had affairs with them after he was married. Yes, folks, this is the upstanding religious role model William Barr is all too happy to support. He even wrote an unsolicited memo about how a president should be able to do whatever he wants, to show how much he really. really wanted to work for Donald Trump.
Ken (Miami)
You can't run a country by a book of religion Not by a heap or a lump or a smidgeon Of foolish rules of ancient date Designed to make you all feel great While you fold, spindle and mutilate Those unbelievers from a neighboring state -Frank Zappa's "Dumb All Over"
Max duPont (NYC)
Reagan was a charlatan and Barr his acolyte. Neither one any good.
Tom Aleto (Riverside PA)
It's laughable that Barr rails against "moral relativists" while he, Pence and all the Trump enablers ignore their "Christian" values in service of the most immoral and amoral person to ever inhabit the White House.
Lost In America (Illinois)
This Christian will never join a church again Nor will I trust anyone until 45 and Barr are thrown out of the Temple Devil afoot
ND (Bismarck, ND)
Barr is a typical angry white man his 50s and 60s who firmly believes he’s been hard done by. He believes he’s been discriminated against in favor of women and “those” people. he is an angry, ugly man who has a lot of power. The man is dangerous and if he has his way, he’ll roll back the clock as far s he can.
Joe (Chicago)
Mr. Douthat should not soil the Reagan era with a connection to Trump and Trumpism. The differences are a let me count the ways exercise, but just consider that Reagan brought in Stockman to debate prep and liked him so much he became OBM head.
Bob Burns (Oregon)
The entire argument of the conservative movement is based on the notion that there are absolutes: religious absolutes and political absolutes both of which are under constant fire from "liberals" who seek to tear them from the fabric of [some ideal of] American life. Couple them to a hobbsian view that our skeletons are many and evil, and there you have it. It can be traced to our earliest years as both English colonies and as a young republic. "Repentance" is as American as apple pie and baseball. American conservative politicians have played that theme for generations. The plutocrats, who have the most to gain, have used fear often and well. Since collective action (like, for instance, clean air or universal healthcare for all Americans) works against them, they decry efforts to preserve and protect the national patrimony. "Live and let live" is simply unacceptable to most conservatives, despite their protestations to the opposite. For them it's closer to "Live like me and then you can live." The political and religious right's constant willingness to accept a sociopath like Trump speaks volumes of how fearful they are of change. Indeed, Barr is stuck in an old, creaky, frozen, though not unfamiliar, idea of who we should be. It's an old story.
Ted (Rhode Island)
If Bill Barr actually followed the Ten Commandments in his life, there would be no problem.
Sea-Attle (Seattle)
@Ted As a christian he should be following the Beatitudes. Jesus replaced the old law with the new. Begins with Blessed are the poor...
Johnnie Olsen (Phoenix)
@Ted He's certainly ignored the one about gluttony, and, if the truth were told, I'm sure there's another commandment or two Barr* seems to feel don't apply to him.
McGloin (Brooklyn)
@Ted if he actually did what Jesus said, there would be no problem. If he actually followed the Constitution there would be no problem. The Right thinks that the Bible and the Constitution are a list of excuses for their crimes. Democrats that take these excuses seriously are why Democrats keep losing elections. If Trump doesn't prove to everyone that the Right actually means it when they fervently espouse the values of hate, greed, and violence, and that our government is their "enemy.," Then Democrats will continue to complete with the complete destruction of the USA by white supremacists, while they complain about "extremists on the left," as if getting yelled at on social media compared to bring murdered in your place of worship. The evangelicals of political violence are extreme. The Left is moderate. Choose a side
Dan Kravitz (Harpswell, ME)
Mr. Douthat, you wrote: "Trump has had unusual difficulties in getting nominations through." While this may be literally true, it masks a greater truth: Mr. Trump's nominations for both the cabinet and judiciary have overwhelmingly been unqualified, incompetent and/or venal. It is only natural that the Democrats have objected. However almost all of these nominees have been approved by a Republican Senate. Their motivation is appeasing Trump and the reactionary billionaires who finance their campaigns. The result has been a gutting of the competence and function of the cabinet departments and a stocking of the judiciary with rigid, dogmatic ideologues, many of them claiming, without evidence, to be Christians. This has been a disaster for our country. Mr. Barr is not the Attorney General of the United States, despite his legal title. He is yet another wholly owned subsidiary of Trump Enterprises. Dan Kravitz
Chris (Nantucket)
Or, perhaps liberals are awestruck at the holy war conservative Christians are waging against wedding cakes. The idea of having religious leaders in charge of secular, and particularly political, life should be bone-chilling to any American. Imagine zealots from the Westboro Baptist Church, interpreting scripture with a dose of insanity, determining anything to do with public life. Conservatives constantly exercise a bewildering morality-Obama, a decent and scandal-free family man is a scourge, while Trump, the embodiment of modern sin, is delivered to us by god-that smacks of self-serving opportunism. Equally, in the executive branch, if Obama is forced to play an end-around an openly hostile and recalcitrant congress, it's chaos and executive over-reach, but if Bush and Trump do it, it's simply the inherent power of the presidency intended by the framers. The Christianity that modern political and church leaders practice has become angry and shrill, with deeply flawed men shouting at decent people to follow them or else! You all need to get your story straight if you want young people to believe you.
JH (New Haven, CT)
"The Trump era has been understood, reasonably, as a moment of discontinuity for the American right — a moment when the expiration of Reaganism became apparent" ... This needs to be corrected Ross, as follows: in truth, the Trump era represents the final devolution of the GOP into a sad, twisted parody of its former self from long ago. Reaganism was part of that devolution with its popularization of the welfare queen slur, codification of the greed is good ethos which sent the wrong message for generations, and its massive debt run-up. As to Barr, the Dominionist Paul Weyrich would be proud.
RBD (Cleveland)
When did "elites" become a synonym for "enemies"? And is there any way of using the word that doesn't apply equally to Trump, Barr, McConnell, Hanity and the other kleptocrats, oligarchs, and demogagues of the current administration and the Republican party generally?
T (Oz)
Moral relativism like lying about Mueller’s conclusions because it suits AG Barr’s goals? Moral relativism like investigating the source of the probe because you really want to find something wrong about it? Moral relativism like supporting a corrupt would-be autocrat and raging incompetent because you believe (somehow, and laughably) that he is nonetheless doing God’s work? Mr Barr has sacrificed his reputation on the altar of Baal. His words signify nothing, and should be accorded equal weight.
John Walker (Coaldale)
An exceptionally cogent analysis of crumbling conservatism in America, a process not dissimilar to what a northern European nation experienced in the 1930s. And a special thanks for the admission that government welfare is opposed by conservatives because it is a substitute institution that "crowds out" the "churches." Religion has always bribed the needy in an attempt to sell doctrine. This can be witnessed from the urban jungle where homeless shelters demand attendance at sermons to receive meals, to the real jungle where missionaries dangle tools and bangles in front of vanishing tribal people. Those same religions have long and bloody histories that express their own moral relativism. Growing secularism may simply be an admission that fear and payoffs will never secure lasting improvements in human conduct.
Ken Bishop (Brookline Ma)
Where was Bill Barr when McConnell denied Obama even the opportunity to exercise his prerogative as President to nominate Garland to the Supreme Court. Barr is a fraud whose singular objective is to establish an authoritarian theocracy that imposes it’s so- called Christian mores on the entire nation. He is a dangerous zealot and ideologue whose ideas represent a core challenge to the best ideals of a non-sectarian, pluralistic society. Maybe what was said , falsely, about Kennedy is now true about Barr and his ilk: Catholics can’t be trusted to uphold our democracy; their allegiance is elsewhere.
Kb (Ca)
I find it odd that you mention the “abuse of advise and consent “ by Congress without mentioning Merrick Garland. Guess it’s ok when the President is a Democrat.
AG Barr is an ultra right wing misguided lawyer who thinks himself a personal attorney for Trump. He is a dangerous man for our democracy. He lied to his teeth in his confirmation hearing. He will be grouped with McCarthy, Roy Cohn and Nixon.
del (new york)
"...they’re mostly striking as exercises in reassurance." ???? What the heck are you talking about? This isn't an antiseptic parlor game. Barr's aggressively self-righteous right-wing positions have hurt our society and hurt our republic. There's nothing admirable about what he's doing to protect Trump. No, we are not reassured.
slowaneasy (anywhere)
Douthat's tortured proses hides a simple truth: He has a narrow, uninformed commitment to some simple goals, without regard for true analysis or understanding of a healthy society. He could speak/write simply and join the debate, or he can make obscure references to historical figures that obscure his message and leaves huge gaps in his reasoning. Polemics without actual, straight forward analysis that benefits the discussion. I don't know why I read him. Intellectualizing at its worst.
Boyd (Gilbert, az)
Greed, racism and bigotry. The 3 legged stool for those who want to remain in power. Church and politics have the same path. They both teach to the people these ills as they practice it's rewards.
SanCarlosCharlie (Tucson, AZ)
Recall that the Catholic hierarchy and most Christian authorities have supported fascism wholeheartedly in the past, just as fundamentalists do today. Hitler was never challenged by Christian clergy, nor was Mussolini, while Salazar and Franco had the Vatican's full throated support. If we needed any further justification for the Founders' enshrinement of the separation of church and state, it stretches before our eyes. Barr's speeches are just the most clear evidence of how much at risk our institutions are.
Nick (NYC)
@SanCarlosCharlie It's not accurate to say that there was NO religious resistance to the Nazi regime. One of the features of Nazi Germany was its attempt to sublimate Nazism into a sort of religious movement in itself. I can't speak for how the Catholic Church did or didn't resist (we know many cases where it did not!) but the Party was certainly not a conservative Catholic movement by any stretch of the imagination. There is a very interesting history of how the German Protestant establishment and the "Confessing Church" tried to resist a forced consolidation of all German religious life into Nazi "Positive Christianity" (a re-imagining where Christianity does not have any association with Judaism). Obviously the Nazi state was far more powerful than Protestant Churches, but take this as you will.
RNewell (Newberg, Oregon)
@SanCarlosCharlie There was indeed a resistance to Hitler by Christian clergy, both Protestant and Catholic. It failed, obviously. But it continues to inspire those who think we can learn from history's failures as well as our own personal failures. (Check out For the Soul of the People by Victoria Barnett.) Someone said those who don't learn from history are doomed to repeat its failures. But your larger point is right, religious hierarchy mostly have a vested interest in supporting those who sit on the thrones of power. Thank God for prophets who resist this basic temptation of religious authority.
Dirk (Vancouver)
I Christianity's defense, I think Dietrich Bonhoeffer mounted something of a "challenge".
libdemtex (colorado/texas)
barr is an embarrassment to the legal profession.
Almighty Dollar (Michigan)
There is a reassuring constancy to the Republican right. Trickle down economics still is worshipped. Deficits balloon whenever Republican gain the Presidency - Reagan to Bush to Trump. Racism reigns, from Philadelphia, Mississippi (states right speech RR) to Wille Horton (GWHB) to White Nationalist's and even Nazi's (DT) being revered in the White House. And, veterans (even with Purple Hearts) get slimed for political gain, from Gingrich calling McGovern a "No-good-nick" (although he piloted hundreds of missions in WWII and Gingrich never served), to John Kerry being "swift boated" and called a liar (along with Naval Secretary John Warner, who awarded his medals), to Lt. Vindman, who conspiracy theorist (Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin) accused yesterday of being a liar. It's all wrapped in a giant bow of born again Christianity, Evangelical Catholicism, and religious liberty by Ross. Constant, yes. Although cold comfort at best.
Demosthenes (Chicago)
“The hostility of elite cultural institutions to traditional Christianity is an enduring fact of American life. Barr’s account of liberal-led legal harassment of conservative religious institutions is accurate.” This is utter nonsense. One need only walk around “liberal” cities and suburbs and see a plethora of Christmas decorations. Churches aren’t harassed. People worship as they wish. Seriously, this kind of false claim is beneath the dignity of the New York Times.
DF Paul (LA)
Yep, the guy who read volume 2 of the Mueller report - which could be accurately retitled “Trump - all crime all the time” - and declared “no crime here, move along” is denouncing other people for not having firm moral standards. You are permitted to fall on the floor laughing now. Conservatism is undergoing complete intellectual collapse and Barr’s job is blame others for that while justifying his own philosophy of “the law doesn’t apply to my political pals”. Meanwhile, “secularists”, your job is: keep laughing, keep fighting for democracy and rule of law.
flydoc (Lincoln, NE)
Sorry to tell you this Ross, but conservatism jumped the shark already. Barr, who should be disbarred, just gave it another push.
Ennis Nigh (Michigan)
Nonsense. Trumpism is merely the logical conclusion of Reaganism, with its implicit (and increasingly explicit) racism, white nationalism, and discredited economic theories (that equate to socialism for the rich), and thereby reveals Reaganism's moral bankruptcy. Barr deserves to be impeached, no less than his boss.
Didier (Charleston. WV)
Mr. Douthat. You haven't gone back far enough in history. It was the Greek dramatist, Aristophanes, who wrote in about 400 B.C., "You, demagogues, are like the fishers for eels; in still waters they catch nothing, but if they thoroughly stir up the slime, their fishing is good; in the same way it's only in troublous times that you line your pockets." Bill Barr is lining his pockets in turbulent times under a weak President by stirring up the slime so that his manner of fishing is rewarded.
Leigh (Qc)
If Barr's tenure under Trump has proved anything, it's that the word 'moral' has no place coming out of his mouth.
El Jefe de la Playa (New Paltz, NY)
The singular problem with Mr. Barr's attempts at reassurance is his shameless transactional fealty to a narcissistic man who clearly does not understand or believe in Conservative philosophy, a man who day by day reveals himself to be an Antichrist.
Matt (Seattle)
“Barr’s account of liberal-led legal harassment of conservative religious institutions is accurate. “ Where some see an erosion of constitutional principles as the USAG muddles the line betw/ church and state, Douthat and Barr see the big, bad liberal bogeymen coming to take their Bibles. These are the times we live in.
617to416 (Ontario Via Massachusetts)
William Barr's fanaticism in defense of the imperial presidency and his disdain for liberalism have together blinded him to Trump's corruption and enlisted him in support of that corruption. He may think he's fighting for executive power and against liberalism, but what he's really doing is propping up a corrupt president and, as a consequence, damaging the nation. He is also tainting the ideas he thinks he's defending by associating them with the crass and criminal buffoon he's engaged in defending. Barr is a ridiculous character—a mediocre intellect elevated beyond his talent—but a real danger to a nation whose democracy is being threatened by a corrupt president with authoritarian tendencies.
JayK (CT)
Other than the superficially anomalous love for Russia that Trump wears on his sleeve, I believe Reagan's vision of where conservatism was to take the U.S. is being served very well. Trump, if anything, is the logical endpoint of the "Reagan Revolution", despite his grotesque, malevolent flamboyance and his love of Putin. We basically have an imperial presidency, a functioning corporate oligarchy, and are well on our way to sabotaging our entire "deep state" apparatus by staffing it with corporate flunkies. After all, government "is" the problem. Just look at the insane mischief the EPA has been up to lately. It seems like every day they announce another "rollback" of environmental protections, such as allowing manufacturers to basically poison our drinking water! Is serving the ideological purity of small government conservatism really worth poisoning everybody's drinking water? Do you guys think this is funny, or do you just enjoy making liberals heads explode so much that you don't care about the consequences of doing something so self destructive and idiotic? And in terms of your "secular takeover", all I've seen in the courts is a backsliding of secularism toward a complete accommodation for every religious fanatic out there, from cake makers to companies that won't even allow birth control on their health insurance. And you suffer under the delusion that your precious revolution is being relentlessly pulled back? To what, relative sanity?
WJ (New York)
Stop it! The US is not a theocracy. Religion needs to be removed entirely from anything to do with government Religion is a set of rules created by men to control women and pit one group against another. It is an excuse to kill and enslave and establish a superior group against an inferior group - all with the backing of “ god”. There is no good that comes from religion that can not come from a secular civil society If people want to believe in an old man who sits in the sky and judges them, let them, but this has no place in governing Just stop it!
Paul Werbaneth (Pittsburgh, PA)
What do you mean, Ross Douthat, when you write "The hostility of elite cultural institutions to traditional Christianity is an enduring fact of American life." First, let's start with "traditional Christianity" - what's that? The Catholic Church? Prosperity Theology? Snake Handling Pentecostals? Or maybe the smug Evangelical "Christians" currently working to undermine the separation of Church and State here in America? You know the ones I mean, starting with Mike Pence, and descending through Mike Pompeo, for example? The history of the Catholic Church, and of its adherents, in the United States is replete with hostility toward the Church and toward its faithful. But I don't hear Catholics claiming, at least too much, that they are currently being persecuted. Perhaps those "traditional Christians" of yours doth protest too much and do good works too little? As another of your New York Times opinion colleagues reminded us in a recent column, a true Christian might adhere more closely to the word of Saint Mark: “For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, but lose his soul?” — Mark 8:36. By surrounding himself with "Christian" charlatans (I'm looking at you, Paula White), Donald Trump rightly draws suspicion both on the genuineness of his professed "faith" (c'mon - really?) and draws suspicion on the motives of the so-called "traditional Christians" with whom he cavorts. And, hence, draws my condemnation, with a touch of hostility, or not.
Wild Ox (Ojai CA)
One has only to look at the howling, frothing mobs attending Trump’s rallies, to know which of Linker’s theses is playing out: welcome the American Constantine. And thank you very much, spineless Republicans and conservative apologists.
Andrew (Washington DC)
This article is so obviously written by a man who has not a financial care in the world and can attribute all the conservative republicans issues and decline to liberal secularism. Ross is the true elitist sitting in the catbird's seat of financial security and able to blame it all on decadence. Truly absurd.
Jim Moran (WallingfordCT)
Douthat: “..the machinations of the Resistance” ... Is he quoting the court of England in the 1770s ?
Eric (Amherst)
A thoughtful piece, but remember than American Calvinist protestantism and conservative Catholicism are not the only the only forms of Christianity in the modern era. Christian Socialism, strongly supported by many Catholics and Protestants (and de facto by many non-Christians) sees social and economic equality as part of the original Christian message. The "welfare state" (of which the USA is a laggard) has been promoted and supported by many religious people.
Wayne (Rhode Island)
An interesting column and I share his great fear of empowering right wing and incompetent ideologues. I do also fear his and the late Scalia’s tendency to elevate their religious doctrine to and above the Constitution and as a template to view other laws. Christianity is not the law of the land and the centralized power is dangerous if also a morally solid wall to lean against.
Maureen Steffek (Memphis, TN)
Christianity endorsed the concept of the Divine Right of Kings for centuries in Europe. Christianity endorsed slavery in the colonies and United States for hundreds of years. I'm sorry, but that is not an outstanding record on morality. Please be a Christian if you wish. That is your right under the Constitution. Quit trying to establish a National Religion. That is prohibited by that same Constitution.
Turk (NH)
@Maureen Steffek Not my version of Christianity. We in the United Church of Christ are appalled by this President.
Ebenezer Scrooge (Ohio)
Yes, Barr, keep your "faith" out of my face.
Justin (Seattle)
@Maureen Steffek Not to mention the Inquisition. And the Crusades. And serfdom. And excommunication of those that tried to advance science and our understanding of the world around us. But at least they collected alms for the poor--after building gilded cathedrals all over Europe and the New World.
David Fitzgerald (New Rochelle)
Oh dear man, Occam's Razor. It could be that when you have lost the popular vote in five out of the last six elections, suffered historical losses in the most recent midterms, are reliant on gerrymandering and voter suppression to win even those, have pushed the counter-majoritarian rules of the Senate to the absolute breaking point, have wildly unpopular policies and are getting creamed in the suburbs, the only thing left to preserve your control is an overweening Executive and easily stacked Judiciary. If they lose the Presidency in 2020 you can hold your breadth for the Barr speech where he argues Lochner v. NY was actually rightly decided. There is no principle here other than self-preservation and, perhaps, self-delusion.
writeon1 (Iowa)
The secular nature of American government is a response to centuries of religious conflict and violent oppression of Christians by their fellow Christians. The establishment clause of the Constitution does not exist because the creators of that Constitution wanted to eliminate religion or religious freedom. Rather they wanted to preserve it from the curse of sectarian conflict. Baptists were among the strongest supporters of separation of church and state in those days because they were a persecuted religious minority – persecuted by Christians. That Jews and Hindus and Muslims and freethinkers benefited was secondary. So-called "religious freedom" laws that empower institutions to control the personal lives of their employees according to the beliefs of their owners and operators are actually religious oppression laws. If Mr. Barr thinks that he is promoting a resurgence of religion and morality by placing himself at the service of the Father of Lies in the White House, he's delusional. Nothing will do more to promote the rise of "nones" over religious believers then becoming associated in the minds of young people with Donald Trump.
Mark (Ohio)
To some, belief is a way to make sense of the world. It is private and meaningful. To others, it is a tool to control outcomes. Sadam Hossein invoked religion when it was convenient. The early Catholic popes were notorious for seeking power through control and religion. Trump’s evangelical outreach is about control and not belief. People like Barr (Kavenaugh, Gorsich) make me want to embrace secularism even more. These folks are savants of hypocrisy. The founding fathers would probably cringe at their speech and actions.
Diana (Centennial)
Mr. Barr would do well to keep in mind the founding principles of our country. Keep church and state separate. Have three branches of power to maintain a balance. The hypocrisy of William Barr and others of the conservative religious right is breathtaking.
Opinionista (NYC)
So, we have Christian rigorists (I need a definition) versus moral relativists (someone explain their mission). I know, Ross, you are erudite and so are most Times readers, I wish, though, you could educate Trump’s “base” and all its leaders. Miller, McConnell and Bill Barr are dark forces at work. They praise Trump as their superstar (behind his back, they smirk). Republicans have to see that faith is not devoid of reason. If they don’t learn, they squarely face the risk of moral treason. The upshot is, it seems to me: we have to simplify our discourse. If we don’t, we’ll see our country go awry.
paul gottlieb (East Brunswick, NJ)
The important thing to keep in mind is Barr's complete and all encompassing hypocrisy. His support for an all-powerful executive is reserved only for when there is a Republican President. When the President is Bill Clinton or Barack Obama, Barr is happen to support any and all limitations on presidential power. Never mistake his naked opportunism for some kind of principled stand
William (Atlanta)
The "hostility of elite cultural institutions to traditional Christianity" exists in Mr. Douthat's imagination. The invention of the Internet has allowed people to be exposed to different points of view about a wide range of various topics including religion. Like minded people can express their feelings about a wide range of topics including religion. When people see that there are other people out there in the world that have similar views about religion it emboldens them to express their own opinions. There have been several articles on the effect of the Internet on organized religion. Some studies have shown that it is part of the reason younger people are becoming less religious. People either believe something or they don't and less people are believing in ancient religious doctrines. No hostility to religion is needed. The Internet doesn't care whether someone is religious or not
John Vasi (Santa Barbara)
There are many issues I have with your reasoning and your conclusions, but let me center on the main one. You note that Barr’s intended audience is “conservative elites”. Yes—that’s the problem. His audience should be the American people as a whole. As of today, we are still a secular government despite efforts of the morally-challenged religious right. Barr, like Trump, directs his attention to his base supporters rather than making any attempt to serve the country as whole. What makes Barr so dangerous is that he has been entrusted with applying blind justice to the legal questions that arise today. We can see his utter disregard for fairness in his intentional distortion of the Mueller report. You are correct that Barr is a crusader for past times and religious conservatism. You are wrong that this should be considered a legitimate path to be pursued by the Attorney General.
ehhs (denver co)
"The hostility of elite cultural institutions to traditional Christianity is an enduring fact of American life." I was idly skimming along until I was brought up short by this statement. I would like for Mr. Douthat to expound on this curious statement because his terms of argument ("elite cultural institutiuons" and "traditional Christianity") are so general and abstract. I take it he doesn't enjoy the riches of the country's great museums of art and natural history or schools of higher learning, nor scholarship nor libraries nor institutions of scientific research. I think what he means by "traditional Christianity" is the kind of hidebound Christianity that excludes more people than it includes. If I have defined his terms accurately, the liberalism and humanistic values of great cultural institutions are indeed the opposite of fundamentalist religious values, which take no notice of the best our country has to offer..
cheryl (yorktown)
How does a man so much in the world manage to remain in an intellectual and religious bubble? What rigidity and fear of the other lurks behind his willingness to shill for someone he knows is contemptible by his own standards of personal behavior? The Reagan mythology is powerful; but also mostly myth. How do the conservatives, supposedly in thrall to the literal Constitution, as they understand, justify promoting an entirely antithetical form of government with most powers residing in the chief Executive?
Rick Morris (Montreal)
Barr may think that 'today's presidency is much too constrained' - but notice that he is nowhere to be found when it comes to Ukraine and Trump's looming impeachment. I have not heard a word from Barr in defence of Trump's attempt at hijacking US foreign policy for personal political gain. I guess that Barr's version of an imperial presidency is not exactly in synch with Trump's. My bet is that there might be an 'acting' attorney general in office soon.
Jack Follansbee (Texas)
The chief threat to religious faith is not from secularizing elites. They could care less what faith you observe. The chief threats to religious faith are the corruptions of religious institutions and hypocrisy failing to resonate with the young.
Objectivist (Mass.)
The man from 1980 ? Hardly. The man from 1787. I suppose we should expedct criticism from the sort of lefties we have in the US today, people who were not didn't even blink when they heard: "That depends on what your definition of 'is' is...." Unlike the smug cocktail-circuit elitist progressives who believe that principles are for losers, and that the Constitution should be rewritten to reflect their worldview at the expense of everyone else, Barr is a Constitutional originalist. And that is what we need to preserve this nation: People who understand that principles don't get moldy with age, and that they don't have expiry dates after which they are no longer fit for consumption.
adam stoler (bronx ny)
@Objectivist and people who realize that change, like the American Revolution, is natural and inherently to be expected. Freezing viewpoints in any particular era risks the entire ballgame. Just ask any big league baseball manager
Objectivist (Mass.)
@adam stoler Principles don't change. That's why they're called principles. And this isn't a baseball game. The framework put in place by the founders accounts for the accomodation of change. But the progressives can't sell their warped viewpoints to voters so they want to go around them by corrupting the framework. They are enemies of the COnsttution.
ehillesum (michigan)
Viewing Mr Barr’s speech at Notre Dame through a political lens misses the point. As a devout Catholic, Mr Barr was not focused on reassuring political conservatives. He was trying to warn Christians, including the students at Notre Dame, of the dangers of this increasingly secular age. The law and politics are Mr Barr’s job, but his Faith is his vocation. We live in a time when young people are taking their lives at record levels. And why should we be surprised when the popular culture they live in tells them they are only dust in the wind, children of a spontaneously generated, amoral and temporal universe without hope for individuals or the human race. That is far more important to a wise, thoughtful man like Mr Barr than all of the silly politics of the day that will be forgotten in a very, very short time.
John Warnock (Thelma KY)
@ehillesum Quite the contrary. Many young people are more than conflated by the religious mythologies they have been spoon fed since birth, only to have an awakening to find the falsehoods in all they were led to believe. Barr is quite the opposite of a wise and thoughtful man.
Magan (Fort Lauderdale)
ehillesum is lying about the basic tenets of Secular Humanism. The Catholic Church and many other religions do the same thing. Here are the basic tenets of Humanism. I don't find them horrible at all 1. Need to test beliefs – A conviction that dogmas and traditions, whether religious, political or social, must be weighed and tested by each individual and not simply accepted by faith. 2. Reason, evidence, scientific method – A commitment to the use of critical reason, factual evidence and scientific method of inquiry in seeking solutions to human problems. 3. Fulfillment, growth, creativity – A primary concern with fulfillment, growth and creativity for both the individual and humankind in general. 4. Search for truth – A constant search for objective truth, with the understanding that new knowledge and experience constantly alter our imperfect perception of it. 5. This life – A concern for this life (as opposed to an afterlife) and a commitment to making it meaningful. 6. Ethics – A search for viable individual, social and political principles of ethical conduct, judging them on their ability to enhance human well-being and individual responsibility. 7. Justice and fairness – an interest in securing justice and fairness in society and in eliminating discrimination and intolerance. 8. Building a better world – A conviction that with reason, an open exchange of ideas, good will, and tolerance, progress can be made in building a better world for ourselves and our children.
Philip (San Francisco)
@ehillesum I think a wise, thoughful man would tell his boss that his fantasy that the DNC server was in the Ukraine was just that- and that if he truly believed it, he would be unable to serve as AG. Philip
Geoff (New York)
So Barr is an old man who is angry that the world is moving away from him. Nothing new there, so you could be right. But he has a bigger platform than most angry old men, and more power to do damage with his anger. That’s what worries me.
Chris Morris (Connecticut)
Any time private charity and churches wanna start paying taxes insofar as the wall between church and state is the preferred wall to the one Mexico's "charity" is supposed to privately pay for, don't let us draw-bridge your moat's gloat, Mr Douthat. Barring that, that Barr is no "American Constantine" is hardly enough to somehow revere his messianic boss's bone spurs as stigmata from THIS second coming ALSO dying on secularism's ingrained crossroads for relativity's sin on MAGA's absolute rewind. So spare us the trickle-down returns unto which Trump's total inability to regain Reagan could ever have manifest "resurrected" from an American tomb yet emptied.
Billy Evans (Boston)
Why is the attorney general giving speeches at all! Well I guess Barr wants there to be no doubt about his preferences if the general public was under the delusion that his arm of the law was neutral.
John Belniak (high falls, ny)
The bottom line is that Barr is an inexcusable Trump toady and, in my book, his allegiance to this profoundly amoral, thoughtless creature invalidates anything he has offer about anything, save perhaps his name, address and today's date. All of the jowly, horn-rimmed, heavyweight pontificating in the world will not cancel out his extremely poor judgement in willingly becoming Trump's old fashioned mouthpiece. It's impossible for me to take him seriously - as anything other than a threat.
MJ (Indy)
Cynical, take, Rod. You’re obviously not hearing him say what YOU think he should say. And, of course he works for the WRONG president, so how could anything he says have value?
cri Trump and his whiteznation (Ft Lauderdale)
given who Barr works for (specifically NOT the citizens of the US) you are correct:nothing he says can be of value to anyone who believes in the Constitution or who had a working conscienxe or moral sensibility or sense of justice.
ChesBay (Maryland)
Maybe more evil than tRump, in that he is not insane. His goal is to make sure tRump NEVER leaves office, and that our Constitution is crumbled and discarded. He serves one person, tRump, not the American people, HE SHOULD BE IMPEACHED. Somebody start a fund for that. I've got my 100 bucks ready.
Rich (Upstate)
Conservatism is a scam. It's big moral talk and hang wringing about things that offend a very specific cultural agenda hooked up to a policy agenda that serves wealth and power. it's the linking of the 2 together that's the scam.
jrd (ny)
Poor conservatives! The "welfare state" crowds out private charity, thereby robbing them of their due! Who knew the right-wing was dying to be more charitable, but the dastardly state, which insists on feeding people, is preventing them?
Rose (Massachusetts)
The salient line for me is “but this weakness reflects his boss’s extraordinary incompetence at least as much as it reflects the machinations of the resistance.” Never has there been a bigger parade of incompetence put before the American people than the lot of self-serving ignorant Trump sycophants installed in cabinet and government positions. If Trump had any competent person around him he fired them or they quit. The “resistance” isn’t about weakening the Presidency. It is about attempting to constrain this lunatic president. Barr is in love with his own opinion divorced from reality. I’m betting Leonard Leo wasn’t at those events.
Jon Tolins (Minneapolis)
Barr has debased the Department of Justice, making it a political organization based on defending the monster in the White House. In essence he has betrayed his country. I could care less about his religious views.
Civres (Kingston NJ)
The only serious error Ross Douthat makes in this otherwise incisive essay is that the myth of a liberal elite's antipathy toward Christianity was somehow true in the 1970s if it isn't now. "Moral relativism" on the left was a fabrication then, too.
Tim (Heartland)
Every time I read a Ross Douthat editorial I come away with the same two basic conclusions. First, stylistically, he would be better served to simplify his prose. Of the Times opinion writers, Paul Krugman is the epitome of straightforward argument and clear exposition, while RD is exactly the opposite. Second, I wish Mr. Douthat would do some research into American foundational documents, thinkers and writings, just for his own education and enlightenment. Indeed, “Enlightenment” is the operative term, because it is that period’s key thinkers and theorists who most inspired our founders, not traditional religious dogmatists as Ross Douthat would have you believe.
Jon joseph (Madison)
@Tim Completely agree about the prose. Feels like the 4-wheel drive I needed for some of my old math text books. Mr. Douthat should put the thesaurus way and use the words he knows.
Tokyo Tea (NH, USA)
Bill Barr is talking about moral relativism? BILL BARR? Republicans do, indeed, lack a sense of irony.
Robert B (Brooklyn, NY)
Your statement of the supposed "hostility of elite cultural institutions to traditional Christianity" shows either plain ignorance, or a deliberate refusal to accept what America actual is, and what it was created to be, as embodied in the US Constitution. The Founders created America to be a Republic and a Democracy. They explicitly prevented theocrats from gaining the power to destroy our Republic via the Establishment Clause. The Founders did this so that none of us would never have to kneel before your "Traditional Christianity". You, like Barr, actually rail against supposed "elite cultural institutions" because you are incensed that all Americans with a modicum of education understand what the US Constitution actual says and have the gall to resist all those like Barr who try to destroy our constitutional republic and turn America into a "Traditional Christian" theocracy. President Ulysses S. Grant formed the DOJ by consolidated many federal agencies. The purpose of the Attorney General is to uphold the US Constitution and preserve the civil rights of all average Americans, but most specifically freed slaves under the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments, and to prosecute KKK members. William Barr is the last person who should be AG as he has utter contempt for the US Constitution, which he seeks to destroy, and because the "Traditional Christianity" Barr advocates was the primary vehicle throughout the Confederacy for advancing, maintaining and upholding slavery.
Carl Vaccaro (West Chester, PA)
We have an Attorney General who is supposed to be the chief law enforcement officer but is instead the head cheerleader for the most lawless president in our history. We have a president who cheated his way to the White House with the support of substantially less than 50% of the voters who acts like he was put there by unanimous consent. Neither Barr nor Trump seems to accept that the duty of a president is to faithfully execute the laws. Rather they believe that the president and his attorney general can distort, ignore and and violate the laws with impunity.
withfeathers (out here)
He's a water carrier for the idea of using traditional religion as a tool of the state. Little idea cooked up about 10,000 years ago and given a special 21st century makeover by our friends in Moscow and Riyadh. Someone wants absolute power and Bob Barr wants to help.
MJB (Brooklyn)
Ross, Given current revelations about Miller, and you own recent article about how liberal often confuse "reasonable" policy positions with white supremacy, do you still stand by your claim that Stephen Miller represents the valid opinions of a legitimate constituency of Americans on immigration and it is only disconnected "elite consensus" that puts his ideas beyond the pale? Do you still feel Democrats that called his policies racist deserved to be labeled as irrational alarmists?
Robert B (Brooklyn, NY)
Your statement of the supposed "hostility of elite cultural institutions to traditional Christianity" shows either plain ignorance, or a deliberate refusal to accept what America actual is, and what it was created to be, as embodied in the US Constitution. The Founders created America to be a Republic and a Democracy. They explicitly prevented theocrats from gaining the power to destroy our Republic via the Establishment Clause. The Founders did this so that none of us would ever have to kneel before your "Traditional Christianity". You, like Barr, actually rail against supposed "elite cultural institutions" because you are incensed that all Americans with a modicum of education understand what the US Constitution actual says and have the gall to resist all those like Barr who try to destroy our constitutional republic and turn America into a "Traditional Christian" theocracy. President Ulysses S. Grant formed the DOJ by consolidated many federal agencies. The purpose of the Attorney General is to uphold the US Constitution and preserve the civil rights of all average Americans, but most specifically freed slaves under the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments, and to prosecute KKK members. William Barr is the last person who should be AG as he has utter contempt for the US Constitution, which he seeks to destroy, and because the "Traditional Christianity" Barr advocates was the primary vehicle throughout the Confederacy for advancing, maintaining and upholding slavery.
Robert (San Francisco)
None of that moral relativism stuff for Bill Barr! He prefers a world where every religion has its moral absolutes, and anyone not on your team is the enemy.
adam stoler (bronx ny)
Bill Barr's BEHAVIOR is the question here. Aiding trump , carefully selectively, and hiding behind a "no I won't help you on---" line of doublespeak, still makes this man EXTREMELY dangerous. Funny isn't it- guys like this, holding opinions like this, all seem to favor the people holding the wealth and power NOW,. That means the minority,composed of the white christian males... if Bill Barr were around during the American Revolution, we'd all still be speaking the King;s English and uttering "yes your Majesty" No thank you. Time to put HIM and his ilk in their places.
Elisabeth Murphy (Orcas Island)
Quite brilliant Mr. Douthat . Thank you.
Socrates (Downtown Verona. NJ)
Bill Barr is a supporter of religious patriarchy and governmental monarchy. He's a King Georgist that supports total immunity for the President. He's an Iran-Contra pardon kind-of-a-guy who's happy to dismiss Presidential crimes because the President was simply 'doing his job'. Trump could walk down Fifth Avenue and shoot someone and Bill Barr would be there defending the unitary executive theory of nearly unfettered presidential authority. Barr whitewashed the Mueller report even though it was chock full of Presidential obstruction of justice. Barr and his ill ilk have done nothing for Americans except to allow Republican rot to fester and grow while the nation is abandoned to modern feudalism, oligarchy and and the worst performance artist to even occupy the Oval Office. He should be impeached for allowing American monarchy to blossom.
Mary Pat (Cape Cod)
William Barr comes across as a man who would have been quite comfortable running the Spanish Inquisition!
Revoltingallday (Durham NC)
This is just not up to your standards Ross. I really wanted to read a smarter take on where true conservatism was going to reassert itself. Instead I got “woe is us” nonsense. Barr is a deeply corrupt public official, corrupt on the belief that he can wield power only for good, and his enemies wield it only for bad. If you are looking for hope for conservatism, he is the last place in America you should be looking. Your take on his speech is a nonsequitir - he can no more opine on the virtues of conservatism than Bill Clinton on the virtue of chastity.
Marc (Vermont)
Shall Barr's philosophy be called The Divine Right of The President?
RJ (Brooklyn)
@Marc The Divine Right of The REPUBLICAN President.
Robert O. (St. Louis)
He’s more like the man from 1984.
A2er (Ann Arbor, MI)
@Robert O. - 1890.
joshua (ma)
How terrifying to analyze AG Barr's speech and see anything other than a legally and morally justification for Opus Dei authoritarianism.
Sam (New Jersey)
It’s pretty rich, Bill Barr lecturing a Trump-supporting religious crowd about the “moral relativism” of the secular left. You have to admire the chutzpah.
jumblegym (Longmont, CO)
@Sam It is truly breathtaking.
pmbrig (MA)
"Barr’s account of liberal-led legal harassment of conservative religious institutions is accurate." What?? Trying to prevent religious institutions from imposing their beliefs on the rest of us is not "harassment," it's trying to preserve the bright line between church and state that the First Amendment embodies. The real harassment is coming from the growing movement to use the law to allow one particular brand of Christianity to dominate the public sphere. If Mr. Douthat could spend just one week as a Jew or a Muslim (or any one of the minority religious groups) he would have an inkling of how the current climate results in making non-Christians feel like they are living in an alien society.
History Guy (Connecticut)
Simple question Ross. How do Christian conservatives...evangelicals, Catholics, Bill Barr...square their support of Trump with a man who violates all of their so-called commandments and beliefs? If they are being true and forthright, they can't. And that fundamentally calls into question the honesty of their beliefs.
TomAnderson (Westmont NJ)
The limitation of the Executive is exactly what the Founders intended. They had first hand experience with the tyranny of a king and sought to avoid such tyranny in our new nation. Perhaps Mr. Barr needs to brush up on his US history before his next speech.
Harvey Green (New Mexico)
@TomAnderson You are too kind to Trump and his cronies, including the five conservatives on the Supreme Court. They appear to be almost completely ignorant of ideas and the polItics of the American Revolution and the Constitution, yet they seem to think that, as lawyers, they are well-educated in history. Barr’s interpretation of the Constitution and history is particularly dangerous and should be offensive to any American with as little as a good high school education in civics and American history. His support of the “unitary Presidency” is an insult to the Founders’ risking everything to establish a government grounded in liberty and the necessity to limit the Executive powers they recognized as corrupt. He misreads the Constitution’s clear imperative for the separation of church and state, not only because of the actions of King George and the Church of England, but also because of the threats of such power to the many sects that were rapidly growing in the US before and after the Revolution. There is so much of the Trump administration that is reminiscent of Mussolini’s and other authoritarian regimes of recent history. This should be a warning to all Americans, whatever their political affiliation. Those who ignore or who are unaware of history, to paraphrase the philosopher George Santayana, are condemned to repeat it. Do we as a people really want to abandon the ideals and the sacrifices of those who fought against the Axis powers in World War II?
sidecross (CA)
Secularism is a form of religious freedom and the attack on secularism is discrimination; it should have no place or home in our nation.
Alejandro F. (New York)
When we elect our first openly atheist president, when evolution is taught in all of our schools, when it is uncontroversial that a woman can choose what happens to her own body, and when religious organizations that are clearly endorsing political candidates lose their tax exempt status, then you can come to me with your whimpering over the declining influence of religion in our culture.
Michael Barnes (Washington DC)
I think Ross is becoming radicalized by his participation in The Argument and his poor debate performances with Michelle Goldberg. It's very, very off-putting to read a long piece on Barr's two speeches with barely an acknowledgment of their hyper-partisan tone; on top of it all, to label them both "reassuring" to traditional conservatives is ... trolling? "Hostility of elite cultural institutions to traditional Christianity is an enduring fact of American life" and "liberal-led legal harassment of conservative religious institutions is accurate?" I've heard Ross talk about government requiring catholic hospitals to provide contraceptives or maybe care for same-sex patients as harassment and hostile, but other than that, this seems more like labeling liberals as "the Great Satan"-- through progressive decadence, I guess. (And to be fair, of course abortion.) And how does Ross conclude that Trump has had "unusual difficulties in getting nominations through?" He has two Supreme Court justices and many appellate court justices. It seems Ross's huge problems with "big government" stem from his desire for "big church" instead. It's odd that he openly decries progressive attacks on big church, but can't seem to recognize this is analogous to conservative attacks on big government.
Long Memory (Tampa, FL)
Barr certainly does not mean that *every* President should have monarchic or quasi-monarchic power; otherwise he would have spoken out against the Senate's refusal to accept Obama's nominee to the Supreme Court. He means that the GOP aims to drown America in debt so as to destroy the public safety net that protects Americans who don't work hard enough to be wealthy. In the long run, white nationalism is doomed, but the GOP is trying to leave only scorched earth behind when the minorities take over.
Lldemats (Mairipora, Brazil)
Ross, you should have written "extended attacks on contemporary liberalism AS HE IMAGINES IT". Yes, there are disagreements on social issues and ideology, but there should be no argument that he is acting as Trump's personal attorney and trying to cover that fact up by putting lipstick on the pig he carries around with him. Its hard for me to believe that he considers himself to be a devout Catholic. Of course I don't know, but I doubt seriously he ever stops to ask himself "what would Jesus do". In short: he has no power of introspection.
LMT (Virginia)
There may be elite hostility (dismissal or suspicion, more likely) but there are scores, hundred of countervailing conservative Christian organizations that are doing quite well. Universities, publishing houses, mega churches galore, scores of likeminded Senators and Congressmen. Many already pay no taxes; some, religious charter schools, actively seek tax dollars. Small Business owners discriminate, deny service to customers, and religious parents seek to ban books from public school and community libraries. Adoption agencies forbid gays from adopting while getting govt support. Church goers deduct their contributions. And they parade up in down with MAGA hats and dare pout if the rest of use give the occasional fish eye. Conservative American Christians are thin skinned hypocrites. Their cultural resentment is fanned by cynical politician. Not a single steeple has been dismantled, no churches converted to reeducation centers, no pastor forced to wed gays. You want real hostility. Visit China.
FerCry'nTears (EVERYWHERE)
@LMT Yes they freak out if you say Happy Holidays instead of saying the word Christmas. They even had a problem with the color of the coffee cups at Starbucks! Talk about a non problem
Blackmamba (Il)
The iconic historical structural expressions of white European American conservative evangelical socioeconomic political Christianity are/ were enslaved black African American households and plantations, the Confederate States of America, the Ku Klux Klan, the white citizens councils, neo-conservatism, the Tea Party, the Freedom Caucus and Reaganism. Ronald Reagan began his rise alongside Barry Goldwater's opposition to Lyndon Johnson's civil rights legislative activism. Reagan began his successful run for President of the United States in Philadelphia Mississippi where three civil rights were lynched talking about states rights. Reagan devolved into attacking' a Cadillac-driving Chicago welfare queen' then onto a ' strapping young buck standing in line at the grocery store with food stamps waiting to buy T-Bone steak' and wondering if Dr. King was a communist. Donald Trump is Ronald Reagan without any of the acting, governing and political experience. Reagan without the talented gift of rhetorical bigotry, misogyny, patriarchy, prejudice and xenophobia euphemism. Trump has had one more wife than Reagan. The Soviet Union didn't collude to get Reagan elected President of the United States. Neither Reagan nor Trump were particularly devout Christians in deed and word.
Jim S. (Cleveland)
A good deal of “immense suffering, wreckage and misery” could be releashed with Medicare for All or any number of other improvements to our health care system.
CPL (New England)
To Bill Barr and his angry speech - "Ok, Boomer" I've come to the conclusion that the best thing for our country is hustle these people off of the stage as quickly as possible.
Flutterby (USA)
Russ, Rev Tim Keller, a leading Christian apologist, agrees that a person who does not have faith in Everlasting life with God can still be a fully moral individual. Many of the founding fathers were highly moral Deists who did not have any particular faith beyond there must be some order or purpose to the universe. Bill Barr is the true moral relativist who will put down fellow Americans who do not share his tightly woven Theistic belief of an all knowing God active in our lives. Our founding fathers would not agree with him.
Charles (St. Louis)
Despite Douthat's attempt to fine-tune the content of Barr's words in his polite critique, it remains alarming to hear the Attorney General of the United States uttering these Falangist remarks.
Carol (North Carolina)
This is erudite analysis, as is typical of Ross Douthat. And it is beautifully written. But I'll offer an unintellectual comment from my moderate-liberal, Episcopalian perspective: Attorney General Barr is an angry man whose world view is woefully unfit for the modern era. He is certainly stuck in the past, and that is tragic for the rest of us who have moved on. He is contemptuous of modern society, and he is deeply fearful of change. The same can be said about people attracted to Donald Trump.
Guy Mangano (Newtown Pa)
This is what you get when Congress thru legislation abrogates it’s authority and power. When confronted with contentious, voter sensitive decisions, the Congress passes them along to be made by the Executive. Then they hound the Executive with “oversight” inquiries to make it appear like they’re doing their jobs, and for free Media “facetime”.
Roy (Westchester, NY)
Do we remember Mitch McConnell and the 2008 Republicans' vow to impede President elect Obama's every move? Do we remember the Republican's treatment of Merrick Garland? The current Congress is fulfilling it's duty to to the people of the United States to call Trump on his incompetence and the incompetence of his nominees. The Republican congress that obstructed Obama for all eight years was only fulfilling its duty to the radical Republican agenda. At least one party (mostly) put country before party.
Marilyn Burbank (France)
Mr. Douthat seems to credit Barr with a degree of intellectualism, but like so many so-called conservatives he's just hiding behind religion. We need to recall that William Safire called him "cover-up general Barr", not Attorney General Barr. And we must not forget that he engineered an end to the inquiry into Iran-Contra by recommending that Pres. G.H.W. Bush pardon all of the perpetrators, depriving the investigation of witnesses and saving Bush from indictment. See:
LewisPG (Nebraska)
"There’s no mention of how much of that erosion has happened under administrations friendly to conservative Christianity, and therefore probably reflects internal weakness, division and scandal more than pressure from outside." Christianity seems to be committing suicide. George Will wrote a column some months ago asking if the Catholic Church's pedophilia scandal is the greatest crime in the history of the country. So when Trump wants to prove his law-and-order bona fides, perhaps he should drop references to MS-13 and speak instead about the Church. And there is the support of the religious right for Trumpism, which is decadence itself. Douthat never seems to get around to the profound philosophical problems Christianity faces. Christianity teaches that humanity is God's special project, so much so that God sent his Son in human form to redeem us. Christianity has never recovered from the discovery that the earth is not the center of the universe. Add Darwinism and modern cosmology where we now think it perhaps likely that we are not alone, and the idea that the human distinction between right and wrong is the central drama of the universe seems delusional.
John Taylor (New York)
One overwhelming realization that exists today is that for the first time ever in our history as a nation there is a terrestrial horror sitting in the White House.
petey tonei (Ma)
Trump is not someone you expand power to. He is incompetent immoral unethical disrespectful of our constitution and devoid of a conscience. If you give more power to someone like this, just because he is a tool an instrument to further conservative causes, you are tainting the entire process with bad karma. Do you understand that aspect? Motivation is the key in all deeds good or bad. In Trump’s case it is self serving, today he is Republican yesterday he was a democrat. History is watching witnessing and duly recording every detail. This is awful for conservatism. Even the appointment of Kavanaugh was tainted, you can justify that he is not the same guy who was back in High school days but as a justice he is supposed to protect that same girl he harassed not the perp. Just wait, today an IRS whistle blower is coming forward, tomorrow a DOJ insider will come forward and soon the world will know how abusive Americans in power put party before country before their citizens and before our very soul the constitution.
DB (Vermont)
It does seem that the religious right, at some level, envies Trump's 1970's Playboy-Mansion libertinism. Is it too much of a leap to suggest that meritocratic professionalism may be all that stands between the Republic and disaster?
Duke (Somewhere south)
Ross, You seem to give short shrift to the fact that these incendiary speeches weren't given by some conservative scholar or author. These speeches were given by the Attorney General of the United States. Supposedly the AG for the USA. All 300+ million of us. Shame on William Barr. But then, as we've found out in recent years, religious zealots have no shame.
Rick (Louisville)
Donald has a way of attracting an interesting variety of characters. We already know he's a powerful sleaze magnet, but it also includes a stone-cold racist like Stephen Miller and religious zealots like William Barr. They are see themselves as victims who've found a champion in Donald. The force that unites them is hatred driven by a fear of change and fear of losing power.
RJ (Brooklyn)
Ross Douthat, in his last column, claimed that Barack Obama "committed fewer impeachable acts" than President Trump. I went back and looked at Ross's columns in which he excoriated President Obama in language that was over the top critical. The language that Ross used to attack and criticize Obama was frightening -- and then I look at Ross' mild criticism of President Trump and Ross' even milder criticism of Trump's corrupt enablers like William Barr. Anyone remember Ross criticizing Barr's lie that the Mueller report totally exonerated Trump? Me, neither. There comes a time when people who call themselves "Christians" need to explain what their own Christian values really are. In the case of Douthat and Barr, what they really worship above all is empowering right wing Christians over others, and they don't care if that is what the framers of the Constitution wanted or not. The hostility of right wing Christians like Ross Douthat and William Barr toward every non-Christian American who does not worship the way Barr and Douthat demand is an enduring fact of American life and Ross' own columns. Ross, not allowing Christians to imprison and attack people of other religions is not "religious liberty". Not allowing Christians to harm people who aren't Christian is not "religious liberty". The Taliban also claim they just want to worship freely and can they help it their religion tells them that they should be empowered to harm others?
Bee (Atlanta)
What, exactly, does the word "Christian" mean? It clearly is not synonymous with following the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth. If these self-described Christians read and lived by the Gospel of Matthew, then the 'welfare state' would not be needed. Matthew 25:25-46 outlines the responsibilities of followers : " For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me." Barr is not a follower of Jesus. He puts on his religious ID like he does his flag pin, and sheds them both with the rest of his political costume when off stage. He is worthy of nothing but contempt.
petey tonei (Ma)
@Bee the Catholic Church too is not a follower of Jesus, but a religious ID. Do you think Jesus would have approved all those heavily satin robes clergy bejeweled, performing rituals in Latin? Do you think Jesus talked to god in Latin?
cherrylog754 (Atlanta,GA)
Barr can can make all the 1980 speeches he wants, but the country is a 21st century one now, with a changing dynamic that adapts itself to the liberalism necessary to address todays major issues, i.e. climate change, healthcare, and a lost middle class. Barr like Reagan is a dinosaur of the past.
grace thorsen (syosset, ny)
Barr said that Congress is preventing Trump from appointing an administration?? Trump has never had any interest in apponting an administration..Please see Michael Lewis reporting on the Trump admin 'work' during the transition and beyond - nobody showed up..And on that basis alone, Barr proves he is a disingenuous partisan who is not competent to be AG..And the applause of the Federalst society condemsn them all as well...It is incredible, this re-interpretation of reality the repubs have allowed themselves.. Here is Michael Lewis findings on the Trump transition - blocked by congress?? I think not!! :In 2017, Lewis wrote a series of articles for Vanity Fair in which he described the Trump administration's approach to various federal agencies, including the Department of Energy and the Department of Agriculture. His articles described a sense of incredulity and disillusionment from career civil servants, particularly because of the lack of attention from the Trump administration over the importance of some of their work, and the lack of care, knowledge, experience, and respect from Trump political appointees.[18]
meloop (NYC)
I all but fell asleep. . . I am sorry Mr Douthat, but your article is so beyond my concerns. I worry about how the current "president"-along with both the enfeebled congress and the immobile courts the right is saddling us with, make almost every article and complaint coming from your direction moot. I barely have energy any longer to read about the lunatic President giving away pieces of the US, as the Chinese burn their nicest piece of heirloom government on Hong Kong, left them by a generous British empire from the 19 and 20th centuries. As I see the entire middle East turning into a bullet pocked religious slum, its residents , one and all, deperately trying to reach European safety and the safety of Western law and banks- I just don't have the energy to read you and Bret Stephens and the rest of the Reaganauts who have brought us to this pass. Perhaps you should start a little magazine, somewhere and talk to one another. You can applaud and gain the kudos you desire there. I am all laughed and cried out.
CC (Sonoma, California)
"...the chief threat to religious faith comes from secularizing elites; that the great moral debates of our time pit Christian rigorists on the right against moral relativists on the left; that religious conservatives and limited-government conservatives can be natural allies because the welfare state is an ersatz religious institution that crowds out private charity and churches." I started to laugh reading the above. Ross Douthat has his head in the clouds, madly theorizing about Barr's appeal to conservatives. I've read too many tweets, seen too many interviews, and read too many articles to believe many of the precious conservative swing voters our election appears to hinge on would understand Douthat's column.( I barely do, and I'm an liberal elite!) Ersatz? Relativists? Secularizing? Rigorists? Say what? Here's what: Ohio wants to give students the right to provide wrong answers to science questions if they're based on sincerely held religious beliefs. Yesterday's astonishing headline. Why not unpack that, Mr. Douthat, in language Trump supporters can understand.
JCGMD (Atlanta)
Ross, his speeches were not Reagan 80’s, but more Medieval.
Robert Stern (Montauk, NY)
"...the chief threat to religious faith comes from secularizing elites." Moral relativism as anathema to religious Trump supporters? It's not the death of moral absolutes. It's the death of irony.
sceptic (Arkansas)
I'm sorry, but once a Trump supporter (let alone a Trump enabler such as Barr) accuses non-supporters of being moral relativists, I begin to question whether words even have meaning anymore.
N.B. (Cambridge, MA)
He knows strength comes from moral conviction. Never mind the conviction itself that remains unquestioned. An erratic Socretes on the loose!
lulu roche (ct.)
The Reagan era? I remember a Goldman Sacks executive whispering in Reagan's ear while the president stumbled over a speech. He then slyly smiled and we knew the bank had the president right where they wanted him. All in the name of religion. Now, I believe Barr would step on a homeless person as he places his children in the trump administration. Religion is an excuse for Conservatives to be profoundly greedy and cruel, justifying all through their bible thumping baloney. As Barr further encourages trump's megalomania, the country heads into a sad situation of hate for profit and if one needs an example of the cruelty, just look at Stephen Miller as the head of immigration. Preserving presidential powers is code for 'find an actor who can front us'. Why don't they all admit they are White Nationalists and stop with throwing false morality into the air to create confusion.
John Warnock (Thelma KY)
The Roman Catholic Church is an outdated Archaism, and has been for a long time now. It is first and foremost an organization that survives on wealth accumulated over the centuries through political power and manipulation of it rank & file membership. It is unseemly to have a USA Attorney General to champion its cause at the expense of the very basic tenets of the US Constitution. Worse yet Barr displays in his arrogance and rhetoric that he sees himself as more worthy and wiser than the common man. He is far from that. He is an ideologue with a corrupt agenda that does not belong in any government position of power in the USA.
WDG (Madison, Ct)
"A conservatism that constantly reconverts itself to the worldview of the Reagan era isn't poised to claim sweeping, authoritarian power..." Really? General McCraven, among others, has noted that our military, make no mistake, will obey the orders of the commander-in-chief. The one caveat is that those orders must be legal. And who decides that? Why, the highest law enforcement officer in the land, AG Barr. So if Trump orders the marines to move in and shut down the offices of the NYTimes, the Justice Department will rule: "Whether or not you like it is irrelevant. It's legal. Elections have consequences. Get over it."
RJ (Brooklyn)
Interesting that Ross theorizes everything but what every piece of evidence demonstrates this is really about. This is not about "religious freedom" since Barr and Christians have always been free to worship as they want. This is about grabbing power so rich white Christian men can do anything they want to anyone they want with no constraints. It's no different than the Taliban, who also claim that acting "freely" and expressing their religion includes doing whatever they want to whomever they want. William Barr has demanded an investigation into what happened in 2016 when Obama was President. The premise of that investigation is that a Democratic President should be investigated because Barr's belief in Presidential power is limited to REPUBLICAN Presidential power. Barr has spent most of the last few decades aiding and abetting in investigations of Democrat Presidents, including the one he is currently overseeing about Obama. So why is the media taking Barr's neo-Fascist speeches Barr makes at face value? It is clear that Barr doesn't want to return to the 1980s - he wants to destroy the Constitution that real patriots fought wars to defend. Barr believes in power for rich white right wingers and wants them to be above the law to practice what Barr says is "religious liberty" -- the ability to investigate and harm anyone they want and claim it is their religious liberty to do so.
Tuvw Xyz (Evanston, Illinois)
I am at a loss to understand, why did Mr. Douthat choose this particular subject. Most speeches are nothing but hot air of passing value, made of bombastic words. Now, to the order of the day!
David (Pacific Northwest)
Douthat, you maybe misread his speech - both content and intent. Barr is not the man from 1980, rather he is the man from 1936 - Berlin to be precise. This guys rhetoric, beliefs and so far, actions are so far beyond any of the nonsense Reagan did - even with the advice of people like Barr. He doesn't teeter on a tipping point, he is putting his entire shoulder into shoving the entire system over into a full on, irretrievable fascist authoritarian theocracy. Time to not pretend this is more of the same from milktoast conservatives. This man and his ideas are downright dangerous.
Ambient Kestrel (So Cal)
Faith, religion, Christianity, decadence, Catholicism... These seem to be Mr. Douthat's only topics, and I for one am so weary of reading his same take on everything through the prism of those ideas. He should be writing for one of the many religious publications that exist, where pushing for a theocracy is the norm. Fundamentalist Christians would be happy to destroy American Democracy and dictate their breath taking hypocrisy to all.
David Patin (Bloomington, IN)
Ross Douthat again rails against “moral relativists on the left.” Can he really not see that it’s the right who embraces moral relativity, not the left. What is “states rights” if not moral relativity? The idea that something (for example racial discrimination) isn’t wrong in and of itself but is only wrong when not just a majority think it’s wrong but a sufficiently large enough majority to pass legislation over an entrenched vocal racist faction that has an outsized influence in maintaining the status quo. I have a hard time believing Ross Douthat doesn’t see this, unless of course, he doesn’t want to see it.
dave d (delaware)
“Sweeping, authoritarian power in service of religious revolution”. Think about that phrase. It may be the most un-American thing I have ever read. Thank you for pointing to exactly what Barr and his ilk really want. All the Little Sisters of the Poor and “can’t bake you a cake” lawsuit diversions have blinded us to their real intent...a Christian American state. I’d say we better change the Constitution to stop this, but I am pretty sure it’s already in there. They don’t care. In fact, they wrap themselves in it to hide their real intentions.
Joe Runciter (Santa Fe, NM)
Theocracy is just as anti-democratic and repressive coming from religious fanaticism of any stripe. Be they "conservative" Catholics, "evangelicals", radical Muslims, or any other group that would force their mythology, and their religious authority on citizens of any country, they are enemies of freedom.
Christy (WA)
I don't know what it is about these conservative "Christians" and their cult-like adoration of the naked emperor but Bill Barr is as much of a disgrace as Pompeo. When Trump put his tame basset in charge of the Justice Department he set about destroying one of the most vital pillars of our government. And what is even more shocking is that Republicans are letting it happen. Truth, the rule of law, even the Constitution, are being shredded before our very eyes by Trump and his GOP enablers, who act more like Russian agents every day.
Robert Antall (California)
I wonder what Bill Barr was sayin about “a steady grinding down of the executive branch’s authority” while President Obama was in office. I'd bet a lot that Barr was on the conservative's "presidential overreach" bandwagon at that time.
John Doe (Anytown)
Yes Republicans, Billy Barr will allow you to hearken back to the good old days of the Reagan era. Back to when you could make secret back door deals with the Ayatollah Khamenei, to keep the hostages imprisoned until AFTER the 1980 election. ("Get over it.") Back to when you could make secret back door deals to sell missiles to the Ayatollah, in exchange for the release of Middle Eastern CIA hostages. Back to when you could have secret back door deals, to fund the Contras. Back to when you could destroy evidence, with secret "shredding parties". Back to when key government witnesses attempted suicide, to help with the cover up of the criminality. Yes, the Reagan era. The good old days. Actually, the Trump era looks exactly the same.
Deutschmann (Midwest)
It should be beyond dispute that Barr and Pompeo are doing their utmost to pave the way for the End Times that they and their enabler Pence have been brainwashed into believing. Let’s hope that saner minds somehow prevail.
Paul (Tennessee)
With five conservative Roman Catholics on the SCOTUS, I don't see what the likes of Barr and Douthat have to complain about. But Christians--with their martyr fetish--will always be "persecuted." It's a kind of survivor guilt going back to the first generation of the movement, beginning with St. Paul's so-called theology of the cross (1 Corinthians 1-2) and continuing in the gospel tradition in Mark's "take up your cross and follow me" line.
Robert (Washington)
Christianity as an unalloyed force for good is a laughable proposition. At best it is irrelevant with the exception of perhaps a few orders of Catholic nuns. Where is its voice on the real problems of our age: climate change, inequality, homelessness, nuclear proliferation, war and peace, freedom and dignity for women, gays, the incarcerated, minorities, other religions and yes even atheists and nones? Christianity seemingly has no magisterial voice on these issues preferring instead to cling to its preferred path of coercion and of course its emphasis on “tithes”. If Christianity wants to be relevant it will need to do more than insisting on 10 Commandment Monuments in the public square which in all honesty as moral guides are rather pusillanimous. Christianity as currently constituted and led is simply not up to the task.
mrc (nc)
Trump has said that he loves the evangelicals because they are so easily bought and so unquestioningly loyal. All the evangelicals want is to stop abortion and end gay rights. and they have handed Trump the keys to the Treasury. Trump is not stupid. He has made money on this deal.
Kevin (Flint Mi)
The reason for the increase in moral relativism is due to the failings of the Christian establishment to be helpful. From the blatant dishonesty of the prosperity gospel in evangelical pastors to the criminal coverup of pedophile priests in the Catholic Church to the hypocrisy in supporting a serial liar for president they have shown the true colors of established Christianity. Also, and most important, what they teach not helpful for most people in their daily life. As an ex-Catholic I have found Buddhist and the mystical teachings of Catholicism (Anthony De Mello and Meister Eckhart), things that I found in my own research after leaving the church, to be way more helpful than anything spouted in church.
Dana Lawrence (Davenport, IA)
Livid reading this. Christianity is not under threat! Judaism is. "The hostility of elite cultural institutions to traditional Christianity is an enduring fact of American life." should read "The hostility of elite cultural institutions to traditional Judaism is an enduring fact of American life." But that would not gibe with Douthat's need to protect his religion over all. And his defense, for this is what it is, of Trump, despite his comments, reeks of moral relativism- so long as it benefits Christianity. Fie on this poor excuse of an opinion writer. Barr was despicable in his comments, putting liberal America at risk by posing liberals as the enemy. Douthat does not care.
I am so tired of hearing that “the cultural elite” is hostile towards Christianity. It is a made up trope that is designed to create victims. As an atheist myself, I have no hostility towards Christians. Just do not try to make it more than it is, which is a personal relationship with God. It is the very freedom to choose your religion or not, that makes this country great. Bill Barr disgraced the office of the Attorney General with his speeches. But he’s disgraced it before. Certainly supporting Trump while calling for a more Christian society is the greatest joke of it all.
Mike Jacobs (Annapolis, MD)
I’m going to speculate that the intersection of the set of people (mostly men) who are members of the Federalist Society and those that identify with the current alt-right sobriquet of “Incel” is quite large.
David (South Carolina)
Ross, you should not leave out the point that Barr has now supported and served three Republican Presidents. 'Saint' Reagan who should have been impeached for Iran-Contra. George H W Bush who pardoned the Intra-Contra folks at the urging of Barr and Trump who is going to be impeached. What a record and tell me again why you praise him?
Once From Rome (Pittsburgh)
Reaganism will never expire - a fatal flaw in this argument. People have a deep-seated urge for freedom and self-determination. Liberalism, as practiced in America today rejects both, substituting them instead with government dependency and limited choices. Liberals are at war with the second amendment daily. They’re already waging for war against the first.
John Walker (Coaldale)
@Once From Rome A presidential candidate openly calls for violence against opposition protesters at his rallies. As president he repeatedly boasts of how "tough" his supporters are and how they can be "very bad" if they want to. How's that for "freedom" and "self-determination?"
Marc (New York)
Grinding down the executive branch’s authority? We’re closer to having a king today than ever. And if Dangerous Donald is re-elected, we will have a king who can do whatever her wants, whenever he wants, and no one can do anything about it. This guy Barr will also be getting his own room at the Trump Penitentiary & Towers, currently under construction in Florida.
Ken (MT Vernon, NH)
So many hit pieces directed at Barr. Getting nervous? Getting a head start on shooting the messenger? I wonder why you didn’t put some quotes in from his speech yesterday. Some gems in there. But the again, they don’t go with the narrative at all. Best to just ignore everything. It will probably just go away.
Dan Styer (Wakeman, OH)
According to Mr. Douthat, "The hostility of elite cultural institutions to traditional Christianity is an enduring fact of American life." Say what? If there's an archetypal American "elite cultural institution", it's the Metropolitan Museum of Art. That museum has enduring hall after enduring hall devoted to traditional Christian art. Because Mr. Douthat's "facts" are incorrect, it's no surprise that the conclusions he draws from those "facts" are nonsense. Mr. Douthat should broaden his horizons by visiting the Cloisters:
Democrat (Roanoke, VA)
Let us recognize that liberalism and democracy go hand in hand. Bill Barr's speeches reminded me of a review that I read recently of "Why Liberalism Failed" by Patrick Deneen in the NY Review of Books. Where do these catholic intellectuals want the society to go, if they want to reject Enlightenment, as Deneen does. Perhaps to the 14th century, when the Catholic Church was the establishment and regularly used to go to war to maintain its fiefdom over christian society. I recommend "A Distant Mirror" by Barbara Tuchman to anybody who feels nostalgic about the middle ages.
Michael Fishbein (Franklin, Massachusetts)
Barr is simply the latest to cry for the unfettered power to make the world over as he and his leash-holder would like it. The notion that this Administration would rail against unrestrained obstruction when the ideologues who preach Barr’s view stood by when a Supreme Court seat was highjacked is nauseating. Provide a floor for it as much as you like, Ross—you are simply rationalizing autocracy in motion.
Greg Weis (Aiken, SC)
"The hostility of elite cultural institutions to traditional Christianity is an enduring fact of American life." This refrain has always mystified me. What the "secular elites" have come to oppose is the installing into law or policy a position based on religious belief alone, rather than on moral argument in the public square. And making "Christian ethics" or "moral relativism" an exhaustive alternative is as false as it has always been, as if there were no such thing as secular ethics, which is as old as mankind. Aristotle, for example, as Douthat well knows, was no relativist.
Feldman (Portland)
@Greg Weis Thanks for this expression of what really is the central discussion, or should be, here.
T.E.Duggan (Park City, Utah)
It should be obvious to anyone paying attention that Barr is playing Trump for a seat on the S.C., a comfortable sinecure for the rest of his days. No deep philosophical motivation involved.
Eric (Napa, CA)
In light of Jesus’s teaching to “love thy neighbor”, no one who supports what is happening on our southern border should be permitted to claim the mantle of Christianity. The goes especially for the attorney general who is actively working to keep those policies in place.
Josh Hill (New London)
If Christianity is seeking a spokesmen, it can do a lot better than the Igor-like Barr, who has behaved more like Donald Trump's henchman than the Attorney General of the United States.
Dan McBride (Schoharie)
The conservative wing of the church--through its woefully dysfunctional and inadequate response to the the sexual abuse scandal in its midst, and the liberal wing--though its incoherent and immoral support of Donald Trump, have disqualified themselves from representing the morals, thoughts, or spiritual aspirations of serious people. Full stop.
Miss Anne Thrope (Utah)
Here's what Barr and the (R)s view as "moral relativism": "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that ALL (people) are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."
Feldman (Portland)
@Miss Anne Thrope Nice!
Will. (NYCNYC)
"Abuse of Advice and Consent Power"? See Merrick Garland.
Ross Salinger (Carlsbad California)
This country was founded on the principle that human beings had inherent rights and governments were only legitimate when those rights were protected. These rights include religious freedom. We are not a Christian Theocracy no matter what Barr has come to believe. Our government institutions must be secular, particularly in a country with burgeoning religious diversity and more and more people who do adhere to any organized religion. Most Americans don't care what evangelical Christian believe and don't want evangelical thinking to make laws for the rest of us. It's not that elite institutions are hostile, it's that they are and should be indifferent. It's the "Christians" who choose to interpret disinterest as hostility.
George (Atlanta)
"...when the alienation of movement conservatism from its voters was exposed..." Mr. Douthat's obtuseness is either deliberate or just confusion, but it's not convincing. Trump is merely the apotheosis of the post-Reagan direction the party took in jettisoning people of mind (George Will) for the quick wins from people of anti-mind (Rush Limbaugh). They traded their voters out wholesale from educated, free-market suburbanites for uneducated, rural victim-mongers. Thank Newt Gingrich.
Wallace Berman (Chapel Hill, NC)
Don’t you feel sorry for those poor white conservative religious men who are suffering at the hand of the awful others? Who holds most of the wealth of this country? Who holds nearly all of the political power in this country? Who wants to blame everybody but themselves for their failures? This is a secular country, like it or not. Morality is humanistic, not some arbitrarily determined otherworldly phenomenon imposed on us by some mythical being or alien. Religions can be wonderful constructs for individuals, but must NEVER rule a society. They should be allowed to exist within a diverse society, but never impose anything on the whole. If religion is allowed to govern, then which religion should dominate? Should it be monotheistic? Why? Should it be Christianity? Why? Who is to choose, those with the biggest guns? Shouldn’t we want morality to be what is best for the most of us and helps those who need most to be helped? Shouldn’t we reject being forced to believe or behave in a way that is against our best interests? Are we so weak and scared that we cannot think for ourselves. Should we be afraid of what is different, strange or new? Should we allow belief to overrule logic or science? There has never been a great society ruled by religion, they have all fallen because they cannot advance. That does not mean that we should not be religious beliefs, only that these beliefs belong in our private personal lives and not be societal norms.
Serban (Miller Place NY 11764)
The Douthat obsession with secularization bringing moral rot gets in the way of any clear thinking. A secular society is what any free society should aspire too. It is not, as religiously obsessed people believe, an attack on their religion, it is a defense against imposing obsolete moral codes on those who don't want them. In so far as it is part of a religion to reduce freedom based purely on faith rather than reason, to reject scientific knowledge because it does not match what has been written over a thousand years ago, conflict between that religion and a secular state is inevitable. It is not the secular state that must accommodate itself to religious strictures, rather it is religions that must learn to tolerate and respect those who do not wish to follow blindly sacred scriptures and do not think of them as a final depositories of wisdom and morality.
Baba (Ganoush)
What ever happened to the concept of people privately and quietly practicing or not practicing their faith and respecting others who choose not to? The Barr rantings and attempted shaming of secularists are akin to a religious recruiter not leaving your front door, but attempting to kick it in and demand allegiance. Barr understands neither faith nor the job of Attorney General.
J-Dog (Boston)
While conservative theorists like Ross dither with increasingly irrelevant theories about how to rearrange the deck chairs, the Titanic of 'conservatism' goes under. 'Conservatism' has been swamped by a populist tide that flows into the gaping hole opened by the Koch brothers, Fox news, and various other billionaire propagandists. By pressing their own interests so singularly, they will sink the very boat they are riding.
Locho (New York)
"The hostility of elite cultural institutions to traditional Christianity is an enduring fact of American life." I do not know what Mr. Douthat means by most of the words in this sentence. I don't know what he characterizes as hostility, what he assesses as elite cultural institutions, what he defines as traditional Christianity, or what limits he imposes on American life. I would merely ask how many of those elite cultural institutions are closed on Christmas. If those elite institutions include universities, I wonder how many employ Christian chaplains (as my supposedly secular alma mater did). One of the enduring facts of American life is that the people in the hegemon feel wildly attacked when outsiders ask simple questions about the assumed structure of society and whether people of different backgrounds can be included in centers of power.
DF Paul (LA)
The word “traditional” in that sentence is conservative code for: anti-gay marriage, anti-abortion, pro-celibacy before marriage. Why he doesn’t want to specify those things clearly to make his point, I have no idea.
Edward James Dunne (NEW YORK)
@Locho "The hostility of elite cultural institutions to traditional Christianity is an enduring fact of American life" has absolutely no meaning to me. Ross, kindly supply examples of this to back up your claim. I think you confuse hostility to the idea that religions can impose their beliefs on the non-religious with hostility to those beliefs. Believe what you want. Leave me alone!
Susan Anderson (Boston)
@DF Paul If people like Bristol Palin (or Trump for that matter) practiced what the preach, the world would be a better place. Otherwise, it's just telling lies not only to others but to oneself.
Max Borseeth (California)
I find it interesting that conservatives create new words with contrived historical meaning to support their annexation of the constitution. Support for this annexation is reinforced by political/religious gangs such as the evangelicals/Federalist Society. The AG shopper (Agent Orange) the accidental president, entered office without a historical thought process, and these fringe groups seeing an opening offered to help define his path. Their ideas seen for what they are with the sane voters, has put the color red party in the position of constantly trying to find yet another and another crazy defense. All the time the world goes on without our thought (as opposed to the red dogma) and leadership. My opinion that is how we got to impeachment.
Bob (Ohio)
As a liberal let me challenge Mr. Douthat's characterization of liberal reaction to AG Barr's recent speeches. I am not upset about Mr. Barr's anti-liberal comments. In fact, I welcome them. They clarify his thinking and demonstrate his errors. In his Notre Dame speech Barr shows me the profound moral vacancy in his own world view. It is fine to be a conservative but Barr's understanding of history is the reactionary and unimpressive view that all changes have been bad because things were better in the past. Changes are the action of some sort of imagined cabal who set out to destroy God and the right order of things. His comments to the Federalist Society demonstrated an inordinate deference to authority without recognizing that Donald Trump is the least moral political office holder in the USA in my lifetime...and Trump had to beat out George Wallace, Richard Nixon and Bull Conner to win that distinction.
Wayne (Rhode Island)
Agreed about the low “Barr”
dave (montrose, co)
You make some good points, Ross, but if I could inject some more thoughts into your article... An engineer by training, a devotee of science as a means for understanding the world around us, and a student of history, I see religion slowly dying, as it is replaced by logic, reason, and science. Most people are not there yet, hanging onto their religions, despite wildly divergent beliefs about their deities. Conscientious Muslim preachers nowadays meet with Christian and Jewish leaders to talk about their common humanity, which is a good thing, but they are worshipping mythologies, created out of whole cloth, to explain a world that was inexplicable before the dawn of science; and in order to teach their followers how to behave. But how is one supposed to gain a coherent image of “god” by trying to reconcile these various mythologies? It’s impossible … since none of it has any basis in fact. The role of religion in providing guidance is a good thing, but it need not be the sole means for such. Secular organizations do just as well. The trend for secularization is increasing the world over as educated people see the mess that fundamentalists are imposing on our world. Finally, we are seeing the dangers involved when resurgent religions, from Evangelical Christianity, through Orthodox Judaism, to Radical Islam, assert themselves in government; the ultimate result is disaster, as we see in the Evangelical support for Trumpism.
Talal (Mississauga, Ontario)
The conservative movement of 1980's, including the Reagan Administration, were not exactly trying to please the Soviets / Putin / KGB at every step of the way. Just the opposite. This lot however, led by Trump, is just playing in the hands of Russians. So please spare us these analogies. There is no relationship really between Trump and Reagan.
JWinder (NJ)
@Talal There is plenty of relationship, if you just look a bit closer under the hood. Also, let's not forget that Reagan was railing against the Soviet Union, and Trump is in cahoots with the aftermath of it's downfall; there are some differences, even if the moral and ethical codes over there haven't changed.
Juliette Masch (East Coast or MidWest)
Douthat, in his columns, often unfolds his opinions to seek and express possible resolutions for problems. When not being specified, his suggestions are implied with clarity within a column. Otherwise, he points out the nature of the problem into its core as repetitive and gridlock (on politics in this column) or stalemate (more generally about cultural trends as spirituality along with religiosity in other columns). So, I had tried to find what is most strongly suggested here. I found a structural difference from his usual. I read as: the abuse of advice and consent process due to the executive overpowering Law can be said as revolute as introvert, not as evolutionary into a good direction, but consequentially or inevitably to be drawing the party-made revolution from the opposite. At that point, in my view, an overemphasis on racism, undocumented immigrants, and minority women for and by representative concerns, or tactical maneuvers for political survival, is arising newly under spotlights, from progressive trajectories.
Publius (Newark)
But what is the difference between your desire for a religious revolution and your critique of the secular revolution you dislike. The religious revolution will impose its views on those that disagree. As a member of a minority religious faith, I would rather have a secular country that separates the public and private religious spheres rather than a country that forces the majority religion into the private as well as public spheres. That is no difference from the Sharia law that conservatives like to rail against.
Andy (Salt Lake City, Utah)
I reached the essay's same conclusion far earlier. However, I'll state my interpretation differently. Barr is reassuring himself as much as his audience. Barr is a Reagan conservative and Reagan conservatism is dying. I mean that literally. The people who view and understand the world in the context of Reagan orthodoxy are literally dying. They are not replaced with new acolytes. That's because Reagan conservatism doesn't work. Young people see the writing on the wall. The Reagan generation was a failed experiment in political engineering. Barr is smart enough to understand this fact but he disputes the failure anyway. His life's work is vested in proving a lie. Religious institutions are not an adequate substitute for thoughtful government programs. Amassing wealth in the hands of any elite does not help the working class. Regressive tax cuts do not foster general prosperity. And for Barr specifically: Unrestrained executive power leads to bad outcomes. Need I mention George W. Bush. I dare you to walk into any college lecture hall and present Reagan theories of governance today. You're going to find yourself laughed out of the room. More accurately, you'll probably recreate the "Ferris Bueller" scene with heads dropping on desks as the teacher explains Voodoo economics. Didn't make any sense then and it doesn't make any sense now. Kids are smart, you know? They've puzzled this one out.
Edward B. Blau (Wisconsin)
Traditional Christianity to Barr does not mean upstarts like the Evangelicals that are the only Christian organizations that are thriving today. He means the Catholic Church. That organization fell from misogyny, corruption and homophobia at the highest levels of the organization. Misogyny in the proclamation by the pope in the 60s that all forms of contraception were anathema and sex was only for procreation. Close to 95% of Catholic women who were sexually active just ignored that. The restrictions on abortion were meant to punish women who were sexually active outside of marriage. Corruption in covering up and protecting pedophiles that preyed on the most vulnerable children that were available to the clergy. Homophobia in organizing to lobby for making marriage only legal for heterosexual couples. It was also blatant hypocrisy for a high percentage of priests including those at the highest levels of the hierarchy were gay. The Imperial Presidency was feared by the writers of our Constitution. The Federalists who believe the Constitution is a dead document that cannot be changed ignore what the writers of the document said about change in 1787. Federalists are reactionaries who use the false theory of originalism to fight any change in American life. The best argument for the wisdom of the Founding Fathers to make three co equal branches of government is Trump. He is intellectually and morally and psychologically unfit to be president.
Frank Heneghan (Madison, WI)
@Edward B. Blau Yes to your comments. Ironically Mr. Barr disagrees strongly with the Catholic Church opposition to the "death penalty" . Mr. Barr argues for capital punishment as a deterrent to crime despite the role of DNA exposing the weakness and fallibility of our justice system.
Doug Goodwini (Hanover NH)
"The hostility of elite cultural institutions to traditional Christianity is an enduring fact of American life." Really? I don't want anyone's children to feel compelled to participate in a religious act that may not be consistent with their beliefs. I don't want public policy to be driven by religious doctrine - Christian or other. Is this the hostility toward Christianity to which you refer? Grow up and have a little faith in the power of your faith. As for me, I have nothing against Christianity, I am too busy fighting Santa Claus.
Wayne (Rhode Island)
“Grow up and have a little faith in the power of your faith”. Very well put and should tell people the need not proselytize. Live your religion.
debbie doyle (Denver)
“The hostility of elite cultural institutions to traditional Christianity is an enduring fact of American life. Barr’s account of liberal-led legal harassment of conservative religious institutions is accurate.” How difficult is it to understand you don’t get to force your religious beliefs on others? If you have a job as a pharmacist or you give out marriage licenses you have been given a public trust to perform a duty that comports with the law, either do so or quit. If you feel the laws are immoral or unjust then work to change them but you don’t get to enforce your religious beliefs or your interpretation of the law onto others. Conservative are hypocrites of the highest order when they complain about how law and order needs to be enforced and how we need to respect the rule of law and then in the same breath explain that they are not obligated to follow any laws that they personally deem offensive. Every time a conservative decides not to do their job because they disagree with a law or dislike a person or their perceived behavior they are trampling on the rights of those people. They are trampling on the rule of law.
William Culpeper (Virginia)
This is a thought-provoking expose. This editorial , to me, is the kind of writing that I will savor during the forthcoming long winter days. Thank you for this. Bill Barr is a sad-faced figure to me. His appearance is one of non aggressiveness but behind that, his thoughts and his subsequent actions show us something which we should really Fear! Here is a man who stands behind Trump , behind the curtains as a power Behind the Throne. Oh we must always be so very wary of king trumpeters like Bill Barr who stand behind the curtains of power, ie, Steve Bannon too.
Chazak (Rockville Maryland)
I love listening to people like Barr thundering against "the moral relativists on the left". The people who embrace Trump, Giuliani and Gingrich, with 3 marriages each shouldn't lecture the rest of us on moral relativism. Those who were silent when predators such as Denny Hastert and Roy Moore were molesting young men and women (or looking the other way like Jim Jordon), have no higher moral ground to stand on. As for Mr. Barr's bombastic lecture on Catholicism under attack from the secular left, the Catholic church should concentrate on cleaning up its own mess before they start (continue) lecturing the rest of us. The strongest attacks they are enduring are from those who were exploited by Church officials who sought only to protect the institution, not its most vulnerable members.
DM (Santa Fe)
It’s striking that in discussing the weakening of the executive branch here there’s no mention of the way a Republican-dominated Congress made it a primary goal to hamstring President Obama, going so far as to refuse even to consider his nominee for the Supreme Court. So what party is really to blame for recent losses in exective potency? Mitch McConnell was even so bold as to say outright at the outset of Obama’s tenure that the number one purpose of Congressional Republicans would be to thwart President Obama’s efforts. And now by some kind of strange rhetorical alchemy we hear from Barr and others that its cultural liberalism generally, and by implication Democrats in particular, at the root of the erosion of executive power.
Al (Ohio)
The real similarity to the Reagan era is the white Christian male dominated world view that's at the core of conservatism. As has always been the case, "intellectual" arguments put forth in Barr's speeches are the latest example of empty rationalization. I'm sure he had no concern for "the people's will" and the power of the presidency when Republicans blocked Merrick Garland; and when a minority of Americans elect and continue to support a corrupt president, is their will more important than the rule of law? Damon Linker is correct in his warning; as the push towards equality grows, the more authoritarian the right will become.
Cindy (Vermont)
What, I ask, has become of that brave founding concept of our (ailing, troubled, fragile) Democracy -- the separation of church and state? Religious freedom? I'm scared...
Edward P Smith (Patchogue, NY)
"Barr’s account of liberal-led legal harassment of conservative religious institutions is accurate." Not having heard Barr's speech what comes to mind is the controversy over the Affordable Care Act's insistence that insurance policies include coverage for birth control. I take exception to the notion that there are two types of Justice; liberal led and conservative led. While liberals and conservatives alike may make appeals for Justice from opposing viewpoints, once Justice has been determined it is no longer partisan.
NobodyOfConsequence (CT)
So, conservatives still wants to force a very specific version of white nationalist religion down the throats of the country and wants a strong, if not authoritarian, executive branch? Is this some sort of revelation for people? Conservatism has its roots firmly planted in defending what they see as natural hierarchies, which they use to justify protecting the rich and powerful. It has been this way for several centuries now. Every time someone has tried to fight for equality of, or share power with, marginalized groups, conservatives have risen up to fight it tooth and nail.
dhkinil (North Suburban Chicago)
Several points, 1) despite what Mr. Barr (and to some extent you) believe, he has the exact same right to tell me what religious beliefs I should have as I have to tell him his, and if you don't accept this, I have the absolute right to ban religion (which I personally would not think too bad of an idea). 2) i am going to bet a substantial percent of the dhkinil family fortune that despite his concerns about the difficulties getting nominees through congress, Mr. Barr would applaud Mitch McConnell's refusal to let Merrick Garland even get a vote in Congress, and 3) there is a near zero correlation between morality and religious beliefs, witness church sex scandals, the repeated scandals in the evangelical community and as I learned this weekend at a lecture about woman's shelters, the nearly zero support the Catholic and evangelical church's provide women seeking to exit abusive relationships because leaving violates their marriage vows and will assure they do not get into heaven.
Mary Sampson (Colorado)
Republicans are responsible for the working class social crisis. Instead of recognizing the world is going through an information revolution & encouraging and paying for the working class to get an education to be successful in the 21st century, they criticize the educated ‘elite’. They also let all the wealth go to a small percentage of Americans & refuse to ensure that workers have a living wage, healthcare, childcare, and a decent retirement. They will be our downfall!