Falwell Jr. Staying Put


Al Gore’s bizarro cameo house call notwithstanding (doesn’t he have people anymore?) liberals can only feign so much horror at the queue of mercenaries auditioning for a spot on Team Trump. This is the same cat who publicly bragged on his phallus, demeaned war heroes and reckoned he could commit murder and still get elected: Did we for real think an interviewee’s arrant lack of expertise would be a deal breaker come Cabinet time?

Controlling for the selection of trickle-down devotee and Obamacare hater Ben Carson as secretary of anything to do with poor folks; one of the genuinely surprising developments in this made-for-the-camera vetting fest has to do with the son of a preacher man who took a pass on a Cabinet post.

For liberals who witnessed the beginnings of today’s fundamentalist political activism, the name Falwell still evokes memories of stern sermons, harsh sound bytes and a thoroughly conservative TV program that once featured (in a positive light) segregationist governors Lester Maddox and George Wallace.

Jerry Falwell Sr. was for his millions of followers their champion against the “secular humanism” and “relativism” Falwell denounced as natural consequences of the “hedonistic 1960s.”

By the time of his sudden death in 2007, Falwell had pioneered a 20,000-member megachurch, syndicated television ministry, K-12 private school, four-year university and co-created the prototype for every hard-right religion-driven movement since: the Moral Majority.

Younger progressives may also recognize the Falwell family name. Upon his father’s death Jerry Falwell, Jr. succeeded him as president of Liberty University, immediately setting to work to advance the school’s influence on national politics and profile as a stump for high profile Republicans, including many presidential hopefuls.

But the younger Falwell is more than a cordial host for the GOP’s wackiest luminaries and executive wannabes. He eerily channels his father with venomous tirades blaming the “… abortionists and the feminists and the gays and the lesbians ...” for 9/11; making crude jokes at the Republican National Convention equating Obama and Hilary Clinton with bin Laden and; delivering speeches to Liberty students urging them to apply for concealed-carry permits in order to “end” Muslims who may attack their campus.

So it came as no surprise when almost a year ago Falwell put his money on the most vitriolic wolf in the Republican pack. Falwell stuck by Trump despite accusations of sexual misconduct, precipitous drops in the polls and protests from some Liberty students disgruntled with Falwell’s unflagging allegiance to his man.

According to Falwell his loyalty did not go unrewarded. Although not confirmed by the Trump camp, Falwell told the Associated Press in late November he was offered the education secretary post prior to the eventual appointee Betsy DeVos, but after consulting with his family decided against it.

Which means (assuming a fast track confirmation virtually guaranteed per a Republican Senate simple majority) had Team Trump gotten to yes with Falwell, the openly bigoted head of the nation’s largest and arguably most religiously conservative university would’ve been calling the shots on everything from equal access to research to student loans.

Furthermore, progressives should shudder to think what influence a Falwell-led education department may have had on curricula and textbooks given the chance to support Red State school boards and legislators. (This is not to say DeVos won’t make the same play, but Falwell’s pedigree and profile would surely have made for a greater threat.)

The case could be made that Falwell is of more use to Trump right where he is. Replacing Falwell would be difficult if not impossible, so integral is the family name to Liberty. And the university’s bully pulpit is an invaluable asset to conservatives.

But unless Trump’s second choice proves even more retrogressive, our side can be glad Trump’s offer to reward Falwell as a good and faithful servant wasn’t reciprocated.

Don Rollins is a Unitarian Universalist minister and substance abuse counselor living in Blacksburg, Va. Email donaldlrollins@gmail.com.

From The Progressive Populist, January 1-15, 2017


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