Even if the Bible is not the law, it is the document a lot of Americans look to for values

In the US, a lot of people are Christian. Christianity is a big enough force in the country that the “Religious Right” is a thing. While not all Republicans are concerned with religion, it’s at least a staple of the party, and any conservative politician will at least pay lip service to it. The Trump administration is no exception, and it has indeed tried to justify itself with the Bible.

In response to this and the absolutely infernal acts the administration is propagating, some others have pointed out that a good reading of the Bible will lead one to find condemnations of categories of things that include treating immigrants and refugees horribly.

In response to this response, some have stepped back and tried to deny any authority to the Bible either way:


In some sense, yes, this is right. Though the second paragraph makes a subtle shift. Most people who are talking about the application of Jesus’s words to tearing kids from their parents are not trying to make a legal argument. I would be very surprised to find someone saying that tearing kids from their parents is illegal. Plenty of people are saying that it’s wrong, or that people should not tear kids from their parents, but that’s not the same as saying it’s illegal.

There are Constitutional provisions in the US restricting how laws can interact with religion. Though there’s an under-appreciated distinction between policies and the reasons behind policies. This comes up when people talk about the political compass too. Someone could be, say, authoritarian-left for a variety of different, even contrary reasons. But if you’re just trying to measure the concrete policies people support, then the motivations are abstracted away.

Likewise, people have all sorts of motivations for voting the way that they do. Many people, citizens and legislators, look to religion for guidance on which ways to vote. And if it’s something like what to set the income tax rates at or whether usury ought to be legal, then that’s a thing people can do. (There is some slippery room with legislators openly voting based on religious beliefs for policies without religious content, but even then, most people will let their values or morality tell them how to vote, and many people get those values from religion. You’re just one step removed.)

So in the sense of whether the Bible is the document that the agents of the state are supposed to consult in governing the country, no, of course not. You look to the laws and the will of the people. However, most of the people behind the laws and will are Christians. You might not like that. I’m not arguing whether that’s a thing worth trying to change, but for now, it is the case, and it will almost certainly be the case for at least several more years. So even if you think a long-term strategy of diminishing Christianity or religion in general is good, short-term solutions to urgent problems are also needed.

Public opinion and outcry does seem to have some effect on what the US government does. (Just yesterday Trump signed an order to keep families together. This may have been the Republican plan all along, but nonetheless, the plan at least had to incorporate public reactions.) So, to get good outcomes, we should include persuading the public to support the right policies. To do this requires appealing to the values people have. (We should also try to instill better values, but, again, that’s a long-term move.) In this case, adherence to the values of Christianity is a value a lot of people already have, and Jesus is pretty clear on this topic. So even if you or I think the Bible is not the document to look at for guidance in organizing society, plenty of people do, and they’re going to act as such. So we may as well point out that Jesus said to be good to people, as well as other things condemning pretty much everything ICE and company do.

Now, one might argue that if the majority religion were some other religion that supported these atrocities, then we would want people to steer away from what it says. Sure. We rarely appeal to every value anyway. In that case we would not look to adherence to religious teachings as a value and pick other values to appeal to. We can see this here, anyway. Most people probably take the obtaining of wealth as a value. Taking in refugees does not clearly serve that end. But for our purposes, that just means we don’t appeal to the value of money on this topic.


We need to figure out what parties are supposed to be

This article really, indirectly, highlights a fundamental disagreement about the role of parties in US politics.

The side the article is on sees the parties as these independent groups that back people running for office. Which is descriptively true. That’s what they are. Private clubs that try to get people into political offices.

The other side sees them more for their functional role in the current US political games: de facto filters for candidacy. In most elections, theĀ options that are almost guaranteed to win are put forth by the Democratic and Republican parties. The two parties aren’t just functioning as clubs that put forth candidates, but rather acting as a method for determining the two candidates on the ballot. For elections with primaries, they are round one, and the election itself is round two.

Of course, given they serve this purpose, it’s perfectly reasonable to expect or demand they act fairly in light of it. If we want free and fair elections, then we can’t have de facto gatekeepers. If everyone who wants to run has to go through the approval of one of these two private clubs, then these two private clubs control the elections.

The Sanders supporters upset by the unfair treatment by the DP are generally told that the DP was well within their right to throw Sanders under the bus because Clinton had done more for the party. Sure, in a legal sense, that’s true, and if they really are just clubs that support their favorite people, that’s true. But as it stands, there were three options:

A) Run as a Democrat.
B) Run as a Republican.
C) Don’t run.

Now, unless we’re saying we don’t want free and fair democratic elections, this is a terrible trichotomy to have unless the disjunction of A or B is an option for anyone intending to run.

There are, it appears to me, two options to fix this:

1) Destroy the party system.
2) Make the parties public and equal-access.

Given option 1) would likely just lead to replacements running under the radar, 2) seems like the far more practical option. Given we don’t make any more radical changes to the system, not acknowledging the two-party state is silly. If we’re going to have two parties running the state, best to not have them de jure private interests.