Trump Tells Pastors To Break The Law Or Else Get Murdered By Antifa
On Monday evening, Donald Trump met with a bunch of evangelical pastors in order to tell them to get their congregations to vote for Republicans in upcoming elections -- or else be murdered at the hands of antifa.
Democrats, he said, "will overturn everything that we've done and they'll do it quickly and violently."
"They will end everything immediately," Mr. Trump said. "When you look at antifa," he added, a term that describes militant leftist groups, "and you look at some of these groups, these are violent people."
There is a lot to unpack here, starting with the fact that I'm not sure why he thinks antifa people will get violent if Republicans are not elected. First of all, antifa is a hell of a lot less violent, and certainly a lot less murdery, than some Trump supporters I could name. Largely they exist to protect peaceful protestors from violent Trump supporters and cops, often creating a barrier between the two groups.
Second of all, the thing Trump is talking about pastors ending has absolutely nothing at all to do with antifa. The thing he's talking about them ending has to do with the Johnson Amendment, which he hasn't even actually overturned.
"I just ask you to go out and make sure all of your people vote," Mr. Trump said. "Because if they don't — it's Nov. 6 — if they don't vote we're going to have a miserable two years and we're going to have, frankly, a very hard period of time because then it just gets to be one election — you're one election away from losing everything you've got."
He then suggested that the Johnson Amendment was why the influence of evangelical leaders had "plateaued."
"Maybe it's why you are very plateaued. I hate to say it, if you were a stock, you'd be like, you're very plateaued," Mr. Trump said, prompting laughter in the room. "I really believe you're plateaued because you can't speak. They really have silenced you. But now you're not silenced anymore."
Has Trump come unstuck in time? First he claims to have remembered Pearl Harbor, and now he doesn't seem to be aware of when Johnson was president ... which was well before the emergence of the Christian Right as a major political influence. As we all know, evangelicals got political starting with Jimmy Carter -- two whole presidents after Lyndon Johnson -- because he was a born-again, and then switched to the Republicans because the Republicans promised them that they'd make sure that private schools could be "whites-only" without losing their tax-exempt status.
What the Johnson Amendment does, should you need a refresher, is prevent all 501(3)cs -- not just churches, mind you -- from endorsing or donating to political campaigns.
Below, the text of the tax code relating to 501(3)cs, with the Johnson Amendment in bold.
(3) Corporations, and any community chest, fund, or foundation, organized and operated exclusively for religious, charitable, scientific, testing for public safety, literary, or educational purposes, or to foster national or international amateur sports competition (but only if no part of its activities involve the provision of athletic facilities or equipment), or for the prevention of cruelty to children or animals, no part of the net earnings of which inures to the benefit of any private shareholder or individual, no substantial part of the activities of which is carrying on propaganda, or otherwise attempting, to influence legislation (except as otherwise provided in subsection (h)), and which does not participate in, or intervene in (including the publishing or distributing of statements), any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for public office.
As I have explained before, the Johnson Amendment isn't just about not letting preachers, pastors and priests tell their congregations "vote for this person/party or you are going to hell." Sure, that's a violation of basic decency and the separation of church and state, but what it's really about is the donations.
Eliminating the Johnson Amendment would basically mean that 501(c)3 organizations -- which is what a church is -- would be able to donate money to political campaigns. This, hypothetically, means that your local animal shelter or Little League (also 501(c)3s) would be able to donate money to political campaigns as well.
That's bad, right? Just generally speaking, I think most people kind of like to know where their money is going when they donate it. They like to know that the money they tithe to their church is going to their church or to charitable work being done by their church. They like knowing that the money they give to the ASPCA is going to prevent cruelty to animals.
Still, this is not the worst of it. Because, as I have previously explained...
Donations to political campaigns and advocacy organizations are not tax deductible. This is why people were all concerned when it was revealed that the Trump Foundation cut a check to an electioneering organization working to re-elect Pam Bondi after she stopped investigating Trump University.
Were the Johnson Amendment to be repealed, rich people could set up "charities" that allow them to donate money and then write it off on their taxes -- making donations to political campaigns tax deductible for them. This is a big deal, and it has absolutely nothing to do with your religion.
Follow the money, follow the money, follow the money.
Another messed up thing here is, however, is that Trump hasn't actually repealed the Johnson Amendment -- that would take an act of Congress -- he's simply instructed the IRS to not "aggressively pursue" taking away the tax-exempt status of churches that tell people who to vote for or donate money to political campaigns. Which, by the way, they weren't doing to begin with.
This doesn't mean it's not still illegal. Trump is not only asking them to break the law, he's telling them that they must break the law, under threat of violence from imaginary antifa people who are for some reason going to get violent over Republicans not being elected. Somehow. That part isn't clear!
Republicans tried to stick a repeal of the Johnson Amendment into the tax bill this year and failed. This is a very good thing for all Americans! In fact, it's actually a really, really good reason to get the vote out ourselves, because if the Johnson Amendment is repealed, it will be very bad for all of us.
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Robyn Pennacchia is a brilliant, fabulously talented and visually stunning angel of a human being, who shrugged off what she is pretty sure would have been a Tony Award-winning career in musical theater in order to write about stuff on the internet. Previously, she was a Senior Staff Writer at Death & Taxes, and Assistant Editor at The Frisky (RIP). Currently, she writes for Wonkette, Friendly Atheist, Quartz and other sites. Follow her on Twitter at @RobynElyse