Franklin Graham is a liar; Trump is something worse

Franklin Graham is a liar; Trump is something worse August 22, 2020

Franklin Graham is trying to drum up enthusiasm for his upcoming “Prayer March” in Washington, DC, by lying to his followers on social media.

This is an almost blandly textbook lie, which is to say that it’s a deliberate falsehood spoken in an effort to deceive his listeners. Graham knows that his target audience did not watch the Democratic National Convention last week and so they did not see what Religion News Service described as “an unusually faith-filled” DNC. Here’s how Jack Jenkins described the convention for RNS:

“I found the best way through pain and loss and grief is to find purpose: As God’s children each of us have a purpose in our lives,” said Biden, a lifelong Catholic. “And we have a great purpose as a nation: To open the doors of opportunity to all Americans. To save our democracy. To be a light to the world once again.”

It was a perhaps small appeal to his Christian faith, one of only a few scattered throughout his closing speech. But while Biden’s faith mentions were uncharacteristically minimal, the convention itself was unusually spiritual. Speakers, organizers and delegates appealed to a conciliatory, inspirational form of religion with a fervency not seen at any party convention in recent memory — Republican or Democratic. …

The surge in God-talk was inspired at least partly by Biden himself, whose Catholicism has been a visible component of his political persona for years and whose campaign slogan, “a battle for the soul of the nation,” doubles as a religious reference. Democrats at the convention, which was conducted primarily through virtual means, repeatedly cited Biden’s faith as a source of his personal and moral strength, often framed as a point of a contrast with Biden’s opponent, Trump. …

The focus on Biden’s Catholic roots at this week’s convention was uncommonly explicit. Around 10 minutes of Thursday’s program was set aside to focus exclusively on Biden’s religion, complete with a video of Biden discussing his beliefs with a voter during a campaign town hall. After an opening prayer by Sister Simone Campbell, a Catholic nun and head of the Catholic social justice lobby Network, Delaware Sen. Chris Coons dedicated an entire address to discussing Biden’s faith.

“For Joe, faith isn’t a prop or a political tool,” said Coons, a Presbyterian and Yale Divinity School graduate, who is known for invoking faith on Capitol Hill. “Joe knows the power of prayer, and I’ve seen him in moments of joy and triumph, of loss and despair, turn to God for strength.”

Franklin Graham’s father would have found all this “uncommonly explicit” God-talk encouraging. Billy Graham liked it when people spoke of faith in God as a source of strength, wisdom, hope, and purpose. Especially when they did so for four nights in a row on national TV.

But for Franklin, all this God talk couldn’t have come at a worse time. He’s shifted the focus of the organization his father built from evangelism to culture-war Christian-nationalist politicking, but the business model hasn’t otherwise changed. Graham’s operation depends on direct-mail fundraising which, in turn, depends on big mass gatherings where he can collect new names and update the database of donors. Holding such big gatherings six-months into a raging pandemic was a challenge, especially during the prime fundraising season of a national election. Forgoing conventions and rallies and crusades during an election year is, for Franklin Graham, like forcing a toy store to suspend sales between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

So what Franklin Graham has been banking on (literally) is his upcoming “Prayer March” on September 26 in Washington, DC. If he can get his donors fired up with this event and convince enough new supporters to attend, he might be able to salvage some funding from this dismally pandemic-stricken election season. It’s gonna be a big deal for Franklin — the guy from Duck Dynasty is coming and everything! But it all depends on his sales pitch, which is that America has forgotten God and turned away from God, and that only through Franklin Graham’s Prayer March and officially licensed Prayer March merch and activities will Americans remember to turn back toward God.

That sales pitch doesn’t work when the DNC spends four days on national television being all, like, “God, God, God, God, God.” And it’s not like he could have his lawyers send a cease-and-desist order stopping Sister Simone from praying at the DNC. (Franklin may act like it, but he doesn’t own the trademark on God.)

So Franklin chose to defend the premise of his financial tent-pole rally by lying about the DNC, decrying it as something it very obviously wasn’t — an example of the “absence of God” that can only be corrected by officially restoring the presence of God at his “Prayer March” next month.

Like I said, a textbook lie — a knowingly false statement expressed deliberately with the intent to deceive. And also — which is not always the same thing as “lying” — a textbook example of bearing false witness against thy neighbors. Because money.

So much for Franklin Graham.

Donald Trump’s bearing of false witness against his neighbors at the DNC was much more aggressive and much stranger.

The target audience for Trump’s falsehood was his political base of resentful white Fox News viewers. He knows that, like him, they hate-watched the whole DNC on their favorite cable channel. So he knows that, like him, they saw the convention begin each night with a recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance that retained the 66-year-old addition of the phrase “under God.”*

Here is the video of that Pledge from the first night, the second night, the third night, and the fourth night.** Trump saw that. And he knows that the “Evangelical Christians” he’s tweeting at saw that too. He knows that they know it’s false, that they saw this with their own eyes, heard it with their own ears, can remember it, and can easily, with a few clicks, see and hear it again to confirm that they saw what they saw and heard what they heard. But Trump tweeted out his false witness against their neighbors anyway.

This isn’t a lie. He’s not trying to deceive anyone. He’s testing their loyalty by making them choose between him and their own two eyes. This is Trump asking his followers to recite a different kind of Pledge of Allegiance — a loyalty oath to him, personally, above all else, even what they know to be true. He is not trying to misinform them. He is requiring them to prefer loyalty to him above loyalty to information.

This is why, unlike many of his underlings who repeated and amplified this particular obvious lie, Trump doesn’t feel any need to qualify this falsehood or to defend it or to walk it back in the face of obvious evidence of its untruth. He doesn’t care that it’s not true. That wasn’t the point.


* The Pledge of Allegiance, like all loyalty oaths, is creepy. It’s slightly less creepy in the context of a national political convention than it is as something we compel children to stand and recite daily. But still.

I’m not talking about the sentiments expressed or the substance of the Pledge, which are quite lovely. I’m talking about the ritual of reciting any loyalty oath. That is always inherently creepy. It cannot serve as an affirmation of the sentiments expressed, only as a defensive response to a hostile, suspicious catechizing.

That’s why despite it’s lofty ideals and flag-waving, there is nothing patriotic about the practice of reciting the Pledge of Allegiance. Patriotism is meant to be love of country, and love is not compatible with the required recitation of loyalty oaths.

Wedding vows are a lovely inaugural statement of a lifelong commitment, but imagine what it would mean to be married to someone who required you to stand beside the bed every day upon waking and recite those vows with your hand over your heart. Ick. Would that feel loving? Would it inspire love in return? Would it even allow love to survive?

** The slender hair of “truth” that Trump’s defenders have offered for this lie has to do with a caucus at the DNC in which a delegate left out the phrase “under God” when he recited the Pledge at the start of their side-session. Court evangelical ratf–ker David Brody of the “Christian Broadcasting” Network pounced on that: “NEW! Democrats leave out, ‘Under God’ from the Pledge of Allegiance at the #DemocraticNationalConvention Muslim Caucus meeting this week.”

Brody was disappointed to have to use that Tweet instead of the long alternative Twitter thread he had composed that was going to be all about how the Muslim Caucus pledging allegiance to “one nation under God” was all about their nefarious desire to impose Sharia law and jail all white Christians. Anticipating the umpteen-hundredth round of such Sharia!!!1! attacks is probably why the delegate at the Muslim Caucus left out the phrase, thereby forcing Brody to go with Plan B, attacking Muslims for being a bunch of irreligious atheists.


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