U.S. Congress, Communists and God

November 29, 2011

Bernd Debusmann is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.

After the high-profile failure of a Congressional “supercommittee” to trim America‘s budget deficit, one could be forgiven to conclude that there’s nothing the divided House of Representatives can agree on. But that would be wrong.

Among the few topics on which Democrats and Republicans in the Republican-dominated House see eye-to-eye: the official motto of the United States is “In God We Trust”. That has been the case since 1956 but as the supercommittee wrangled with the thorny deficit problem, lawmakers found time to vote on a resolution reaffirming the motto. Why that reaffirmation was deemed necessary speaks volumes about congressional priorities and Washington‘s peculiar political climate.

According to two polls taken before the supercommittee failed to find a compromise, the American public’s faith in Congress stands at historic lows – a 9-percent approval rating according to a CBS/New York Times poll and 13 percent according to Gallup. In October, Gallup forecast that disenchantment with the people’s representatives would further deepen in the absence of agreement.

Not to harp on the negative, let’s revisit the resolution on America‘s motto, passed 396 to 9 on November 1, with two legislators voting “present” and 26 not voting. Randy Forbes, the Republican who sponsored the measure explained it had been necessary because “a number of public officials … forget what the national motto is.” He named President Barack Obama as one of the forgetful officials, referring to a speech in which he cited E Pluribus Unum as America‘s motto. (Latin for “out of many, one”, those words are emblazoned on the official seal of the United States and engraved, along with “In God We Trust”, on 25-cent coins. E pluribus unum served as the country’s de facto motto until 1956, when Congress passed a law making In God We Trust the official motto).

In the floor debate on the matter, one legislator, Arizona Republican Trent Franks, portrayed failure to reaffirm the motto in apocalyptic terms. “If … man is God, then an atheist state is as brutal as the thesis it rests upon and there is no reason for us to gather here in this place,” he told his fellow members. “We should just let anarchy prevail because after all we are just worm food.”

There are no polls showing how many Americans live in fear of atheist anarchy, or of the perils arising from people confusing one motto with the other. But such remarks leave no doubt about the extraordinary tone-deafness of some legislators at a time when unemployment and inequality dominate the national conversation.

If the oddly-timed resolution was meant by Republicans to cast doubt over Obama’s belief in God, it appears to have had little or no effect. Why Democratic lawmakers (all but eight of whom voted for the resolution) thought it was an urgent necessity and a good use of Congressional time remains a puzzle.


There are, it should be noted, some legislators who are worried about the apparent disconnect between ordinary Americans and their representatives and leaders inside the beltway that surrounds Washington. One of those worried is Michael Bennet, a Democratic Senator who voiced his concerns on the floor of the Senate in mid-November, carrying a number of astonishing charts illustrating the precipitous decline of Congress in the eyes of Americans.

According to one of the charts based on polls taken in different years, more people support the United States going Communist (11 percent) than approve the job Congress is doing. Congress‘s approval rating among Americans ties with that of Hugo Chavez, the Venezuelan president and anti-American firebrand.

Compared with Congress, the Internal Revenue Service (40 percent approval) is a darling of the people.

Bennet ascribed the “catastrophic” decline in support over the past decade to “our inability to address problems the way people in their local community are doing it. There is not a mayor in Colorado (his home state) who would threaten the credit-rating of their community for politics. Not one.”

The United States lost its top-tier credit rating last August, for the first time in its history, when the ratings agency Standard & Poor’s downgraded it from AAA to AA. One of the reasons for the agency’s downgrade: the inability of the Democratic and Republican parties to govern effectively and to compromise on diametrically opposed positions on how to deal with the country’s deficit.

As the supercommittee’s failure to come to a compromise has shown, those positions are unchanged from August, when a fierce political battle over the national debt pushed the country to the brink of default. Agreement between the 12 committee members – six Democrats, six Republicans, from both houses of Congress – proved as elusive as agreement among all 535 members.

With the campaign for the 2012 elections in full swing, prospects of action that would break the gridlock and regain some of the lost public trust look remote. Resolutions on the model of “In God we Trust” won’t do it. But perhaps the lawmakers can take comfort in the fact that they do not rank last on Bennet’s chart.

Congress is still more popular, by four points, than Fidel Castro.

(You can contact the author at Debusmann@Reuters.com)


We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see http://blogs.reuters.com/fulldisclosure/2010/09/27/toward-a-more-thoughtful-conversation-on-stories/

Proof of God’s Existence (VIDEO!) http://wp.me/p1Jt6N-jO

Posted by Moishgil | Report as abusive

[…] according to a CBS/New York Times poll and 13 percent according to Gallup. … Read more on Reuters Blogs (blog) Related […]

Posted by Congress refuses to grow up, handle budget issues | Public Voter | Report as abusive

Great article. I wish more congresspeople could understand what this means to us. Even in the face of these ratings, they refuse to change. Obviously they are not interested in serving their country; only thier bank accounts.

Posted by BakoD | Report as abusive

Well both political parties believe in the moral and ethical perfection of Israel and in its greater importance to them than the population of the USA. They spend over $1 trillion per year supporting current Israeli policies while defaulting on their insurance obligations to the American people (Social Security and Medicare).

Maybe this is another reason they are held in such high esteem that none fear the ballot? Or maybe it is because they have rigged elections through gerrymandering and campaign contribution rules. Both reasons will have no effect on what they do. Believe it.

Posted by txgadfly | Report as abusive

Term limits and campaign finance reform. That will change congress priorities and behavior.

Posted by SickofBamaWorld | Report as abusive

I do believe it is time to vote all incumbents in congress out. The democracy will work if we work together and enable it. Enough of the polarization of american politics. The extreme wings have garnered too much influence. Vote them all out and impose term limits.

Posted by MrWizardUSA | Report as abusive

We’re paying them for this?

Posted by borisjimski | Report as abusive

The ironic thing is that the Founders of our nation thought that having elections every two years for the House of Representatives would cause them to be more loyal to their constituents. Unfortunately- as another poster alludes- the members of Congress are loyal to money and not to Americans.

As citizens we can only blame ourselves. We voted these people into office and keep voting them in, term after term. Elections are supposed to be term limits already. But an undereducated brain-dead electorate has abandoned its duty to throw the rascals out.

Posted by Cunamara | Report as abusive

Believing doesn’t make something true. Having lots of people believing doesn’t make something true. The word atheist means without belief. Atheists don’t choose to disbelieve it is just the fact that there isn’t any evidence of a supernatural creature that gets involved in mans affairs. Not having an answer to why we are here or what purpose man has on the earth does not default to proof of a god. It is just questions waiting for answers and some questions may never be answered. Still it is not proof of a deity.

Posted by tomsawyer | Report as abusive

As a US Marine and an atheist, these Congressional weasels never cease to amaze me.

Do they know NOTHING about the intent of the founding fathers in terms of keeping religion and state miles apart? To those who think this “In God We Trust” thing is kosher, how would you feel if it were changed to “In Allah We Trust”?

Posted by countMeOut | Report as abusive


Posted by Shukla | Report as abusive

“Out of Many, One” is the motto Congress ought to bear in mind as they work on the country’s problems … instead of posturing and prosing and hoping to beat the other side into submission. Now their posturing and prosing includes committing a blasphemy … because they are definitely taking God’s name in vain; it is not in God that they trust.

Posted by tejh | Report as abusive

As far as I’m concerned, as a Taxpayer, Uncle Sam is “the car” I pay for and Congress is a bunch of “representatives” we, the people elect to drive the car for us.

Quite frankly, I get more than a little offended when these self-serving individuals band together to mess with the Pledge of Allegiance (mid-fifties added “under God”) and changing the American motto to “In god We Trust”.

In my opinion these people are putting a “bumper sticker” on MY car that I don’t like or agree with. They are also sticking their big fat finger in the eye of the traditional separation of church and state.

It has long been accepted that “freedom of religion” also means freedom FROM religion and I don’t think a majority of voters had ANY intention of increasing their job descriptions to include pandering to the religious extreme in such objectionable manner.

Count me among voters who prefer action on matters more relevant to resolving current economic challenges.

Posted by OneOfTheSheep | Report as abusive

To the person who wrote the 11:48pm EST comment, Freedom OF Religion is completely different from Freedom FROM Religion.

In support of this statement, please take a few moments and read George Washington’s first Thanksgiving Address http://www.earlyamerica.com/earlyamerica  /firsts/thanksgiving/thankstext.html

George Washington’s statements clearly show that the Founding Fathers of the United States and the early leadership of this country knew where their Wisdom was based.

I completely agree that our country has significant matters to address, but without a foundation built on (not only an understanding of God, but the desire to continue to further understand) God, our people and our country will no longer succeed or prosper.

If you truly desire freedom FROM religion, maybe this is not the country for you.

Very Respectfully,

Posted by mrosera | Report as abusive

This Congress is so bad; they cannot even point to the President for the blame.

Posted by KyuuAL | Report as abusive

Trent Franks, said “If … man is God, then an atheist state is as brutal as the thesis it rests upon and there is no reason for us to gather here in this place,” he told his fellow members. “We should just let anarchy prevail because after all we are just worm food.”

Well Mr. Franks we’re all just worm food, so do us a favor and resign because we all need people in congress who want to solve problems and not pander to religious for votes.

BTW – in who’s god do we trust? The god who flew the jets on 9-11? The god who allowed priest to attack children? The god who doesn’t like homosexuals? What a joke!

Posted by PhillyJimi | Report as abusive

Response to the post Dec 3, 2011 1:39 am EST

George Washington also owned slaves. Not everything he said or did is to be accepted as gospel truth. The founding fathers got somethings right and some things wrong.

Your response of “If you truly desire freedom FROM religion, maybe this is not the country for you.” is offensive at the highest degree. The first amendment was written specifically to protect all of us from self righteous people like yourself who would want impose his version of god and faith on the rest of us. May be you want an America that is exactly the same as Saudi Arabia where you have NO choice.

America has always been a secular democracy with the freedom of religion guaranteed. If you want to worship a rock instead of Jesus your free to do so. Even the most faithful are atheists about every god except one. You can’t accept every god as being the one true god.

Posted by PhillyJimi | Report as abusive

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