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Yesterday evening, The Washington Post’s Bob Woodward and Robert Costa broke a rather extraordinary and disturbing story. Ginni Thomas, the wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, sent a series of text messages to Trump White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows that is best described as utterly unhinged.
In 29 text messages (revealed so far) with Meadows, she repeated and referenced some of the wildest election conspiracy theories of the far right, demanded that Meadows do all he could to overturn the election, and expressed disgust at Vice President Mike Pence, apparently for his failure to do the president’s bidding on January 6 and refuse to certify the presidential election.
And when I say she referenced wild conspiracy theories, I mean wild. She texted a fringe theory (popular in QAnon circles) that the Trump administration had watermarked ballots to trace election fraud, she forwarded a video by a known conspiracy theorist who had claimed that the Sandy Hook school shooting was a “false flag” operation, and she quoted this, from right-wing websites:
Biden crime family & ballot fraud co-conspirators (elected officials, bureaucrats, social media censorship mongers, fake stream media reporters, etc) are being arrested & detained for ballot fraud right now & over coming days, & will be living in barges off GITMO to face military tribunals for sedition.
This is the kind of communication that would make you worry about a family member’s connection to reality. When it comes from the wife of a Supreme Court justice who enjoys direct access to the White House chief of staff, it’s not just disturbing; it’s damaging to the Supreme Court.
No, I don’t think we can conclude that Justice Thomas has been corrupted by his wife’s activism. We all know that spouses can and do possess their own, independent views. Justice Thomas’s jurisprudence is squarely within conservative legal traditions and originalist legal norms. Originalists in particular have long admired the clarity of his writing and the rigor of his thought.
Yet there’s no real question that Ginni Thomas’s extraordinary extremism (she also attended the January 6 rally, but did not storm the Capitol) creates an appearance of fanaticism that is far beyond the norms of political engagement.
It is thus understandable if ordinary Americans wonder whether she’s made an impact on her husband, and it’s important for Justice Thomas to recuse himself from any future cases that could potentially involve additional disclosures of his wife’s communications with the White House or her involvement in the effort to overturn the election.
But the Ginni Thomas texts were not the most alarming aspect of Woodward and Costa’s story. There was a text in the chain that disturbed me more than anything Ginni Thomas wrote. It came from Meadows, and here’s what it said:
This is a fight of good versus evil . . . Evil always looks like the victor until the King of Kings triumphs. Do not grow weary in well doing. The fight continues. I have staked my career on it. Well at least my time in DC on it.
One of the most dangerous aspects of the effort to overturn the election was the extent to which it was an explicitly religious cause. January 6 insurrectionists stampeded into the Senate chamber with prayers on their lips. Prominent religious leaders and leading Christian lawyers threw themselves into the effort to delay election certification or throw out the election results entirely. In the House and Senate, the congressional leaders of the effort to overturn the election included many of Congress’s most public evangelicals.
They didn’t just approach the election fight with religious zeal; they approached it with an absolute conviction that they enjoyed divine sanction. The merger of faith and partisanship was damaging enough, but the merger of faith with lawlessness and even outright delusion represented a profound perversion of the role of the Christian in the public square.
All too many Christians, people who are supposed to “act justly” and to reject the “spirit of fear” for, among other things, “sound judgment,” panicked about the future of the country and the church and shed any form of critical thinking in favor of embracing the most outlandish of false allegations. And those Christians weren’t just the January 6 rioters. They included believers at the pinnacle of American power.
I remember the assurances I received before Donald Trump’s election. Trump-supporting Christians told me, “Trust us. If Trump wins, we’ll object when he’s wrong, but at least we’ll have something we’d never have if Hillary Clinton wins—a seat at the table.”
A long-time friend and leading member of the Christian conservative legal movement emailed me to explain that Trump will have an “open door” for evangelicals in the White House. Good people will be close to him, he assured me.
And Trump did have an open door for religious conservatives. His administration was stacked with evangelicals and other conservative Christians, and some were able to achieve important policy goals. But along with access came loyalty, and over time that loyalty morphed into a kind of political devotion I’ve never seen in my adult life.
Yes, I know there are Christians who want Trump’s critics to “move on,” but Christians aren’t supposed to “move on” from sin. They’re supposed to repent, and it is notable that precious few have uttered the slightest hint of an apology to the American people for their role in wrongly and recklessly attempting to instigate what could have been the gravest constitutional crisis since 1861—all in service of an obvious lie.
We don’t know if Ginni Thomas had the slightest influence over her husband’s jurisprudence or the White House’s response to the election. But we know Mark Meadows’s position, and to see his religious zeal in the pursuit of profound injustice is to remember that Christian power does not always result in Christian ethics, and that Christian moral corruption was and is a sad hallmark of the age of Trump.
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