“The American People”


“The American People” is an abstraction. It is a fiction. Yet pundits and politicians are always saying it. American pundits and politicians. When this began, I do not know. But to refer to fellow-citizens of the United States in this way is to fictionalize real people and to regard them as somehow separate from oneself. It’s silly. It’s shallow. It’s trite.

It’s unthinking.

And it’s often used with promiscuous presumption about what the American People think or feel, want or believe.

It’s also a totally useless generalization when it functions as a stand-in for what pundits and politicians think fellow Americans want (or what they want them to want).

I think the American People would agree. Don’t you?

A sea of self-motivated individuals or a web of interdependent talents? Both, of course.

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Super Tuesday and the “Cult of Trump”


Here are a few things to consider if you’re thinking of voting for Donald Trump on Super Tuesday. I posted this on Facebook a few weeks ago.

Trump enthusiasts shouldn’t go along with everything he says or does just because it has shock value. Do you disagree? This isn’t a game or one of Trump’s “beauty pageants” where he should be able to “strut the runway” without accountability. His supporters, especially, have the opportunity and the responsibility to hold him accountable. That’s the most significant contribution you can make, as an individual, in this election—compel your candidate to face the music, whatever it is, whatever it’s source. Wouldn’t you like to know what he’s really made of, and who he is behind the bluster?

No one denies that Trump is full of bluster. That’s what many like about him. So let’s include that in the mix, for argument’s sake. A voter who’s mad about what’s going on may like the sound of Trump’s brass. But is bluster all that matters to Trump fans? Is that all it takes to convince them that he’s The Man? What about substance? Talking tough without showing courage is revealing. Do you disagree?

Wouldn’t you like to know how Trump would hold up under the most intense scrutiny? I know I would, no matter what candidate in any election.

Here’s something to consider. Donald Trump may be the ultimate “insider.” This possibility should not be taken lightly, since it contradicts what his fans would like to think about him. He’s master of the sound byte. He makes big promises to woo conservatives, but without a conservative track record. He’s an opportunist, something he tacitly admits when he says he “gets along with everybody.” This is code for, “I can buy whoever I want to get whatever I want.” That’s what I’ve done (“had to do”) as a business man. How about this? He’s paying His own way for his campaign, right? So he’s buying your vote. He hopes it will get him what he wants. (And he criticizes fellow candidates for depending on the support of others who raise money for them. The implication is that you aren’t a worthy candidate for the presidency unless you’re a billionaire. That’s a convenient way to narrow the field!)

Talking so glibly about getting along with everybody “to get things done” is Trump’s diversionary way of explaining his generous donations to liberal politicians and liberal causes. He did it to get something out of it. He admits it. Fine. Maybe that has gotten him where he is as a business man. But should it qualify him for the presidency? Should it even qualify him as a man of integrity in the world of business? At the very least, this is a question worth asking. A man of integrity in the world of commerce would want you to know such a thing.

In any case, Trump has made deals with insiders to get where he is. That makes him an insider. But is that what you want?

Trump supporters, how do you know Trump isn’t selling you a bill of goods to get what he wants? How do you know he’s being honest about what he wants? Hasn’t he proven that he’s an arch manipulator? Ask yourself, is there any evidence for that?

I understand people want an activist, someone who will “get things done.” I also understand people wanting what Trump promises. And I understand the temptation to think he’ll get it done because of his track record as a corporate kingpin. But will he be your friend after he wins and has no use for you any more? When he’s done with people who get him what he wants, he’s been known for throwing them under the bus. (How does he feel about Hillary now?) This is Trump’s M.O. But isn’t that what has turned you off about other candidates? So why give him a pass?

(Did you catch what Trump said when he was asked why he gave to the Clinton Foundation, which was using their finds dishonestly? He said he didn’t know how they were using their money. Do you believe that? He wrote the book on the art of the deal. No prudent donor would give to an organization without scrutinizing their practices. A responsible donor investigates an organization that asks for money. He has to be convinced that his money will be handled responsibly. So either Trump did not exercise due diligence or he knew more than what he wants you to know he knew. If he knew, then he’s been dishonest with you (to keep your vote). If he didn’t know, then he’s not as savvy as he says he is (and he hopes you won’t consider that possibility, again, so he can keep your vote). Hasn’t Trump admitted, in a sly sort of way, either that he didn’t act wisely, or that he knew all along and didn’t care? You be the judge. But it’s a good question, don’t you think?)

How do we know this is Trump’s M.O.? Have you read his book? Have you ever wondered how he made his billions? Have you watched his campaign strategy closely and his media appearances? One day he likes Fox. The next day he despises them. One day he’s devoted to the Republican Party and willing to accept the results of the nominating process. The next day he’s threatening to go his own way if “he isn’t treated right.” One day he wants to please you, the avid supporter, the next day . . . .

Trump supporters, do you have such admiration for Donald Trump that you would like to be the kind of person he is? How about this: Would you like your children to emulate him? If you reflect unqualified zeal for Trump in your home, aren’t you representing him as a role model to your children? How do you feel about that? Do you want to teach your children that getting ahead is the main thing to shoot for, and that this end justifies any means? (Can you convince me that’s not the way Trump operates? Again, have you read his book?)

And has it occurred to you that maybe you’ve accepted the relativism of the age, and bought the same line: “The end justifies the means.” Have you decided that a vote for Trump, whatever reservations you have about his character and reliability, is the means that is justified by your desire to “Make America Great Again”? Is this the right way to do that? In other words, do YOU believe the end justifies the means?

Is it possible that you’re making an emotional decision about something that requires rational deliberation? Is it possible that the way you justify your choice of a candidate is no different than what drives those you consider mindless zealots for Obama? Do you believe that Obama fans have abandoned the tools of critical reasoning? Can you honestly say you’re different?

If you think you’re different, a model of critical thinking and rational deliberation, how do you convince others that you are? How many of his other supporters are being properly critical in their support? Does Donald Trump want you to reflect carefully and examine his detailed arguments for his proposals? (Right now you should be wondering, “What arguments?”) Is it just possible that Trump is counting on an emotional frenzy to get you jazzed up and wired to vote for him?

Have you joined the cult of Trump? Or is there something different about your support for him, compared with all the others out there that you know are not exercising due diligence?

Donald Trump and the Nationalist Christian Movement


Without the support of Christians across the nation—without the support of evangelical Christians—Donald Trump would long ago have cancelled his candidacy. He could not have achieved his monumental success without them. Christians must urgently consider whether they may now be complicit in the future demise of the America they say they love.

This will sound alarmist to some. But Donald Trump’s own campaign slogan is “Make America Great Again.” What he envisions, without much in the way of specifics, is a New America. His critics have commented on the negative and bombastic tone of his campaign, and his supporters have either ignored or celebrated this aspect of the demagogue’s character. But few have commented on the crassly Nationalist sentiment he trumpets.

Nationalism must not be confused with patriotism. The Nationalism I speak of raises national interests to the level of idolatry in the name of patriotism. Patriotism reflects a spirit of pride in the benefits of one’s country. Nationalism is a political ideology. It defers to the charismatic whims of a demagogue whose rhetoric is sometimes subtly, and sometimes blatantly, seditious. It derives its energy from intense emotion that is manufactured through mass manipulation. It plays on the anger of citizens who feel they have been disenfranchised and want to take their country back. Often it results in fascism, of one form or another.

With the rise of Trump there has arisen an almost militant nationalist sentiment among Christians. We may actually be witnessing the emergence of a Nationalist Christian Movement. The Trump phenomenon is strong indication of this. And it is cause for concern. If I’m right, Trump isn’t the problem. The problem is that so many Christians are willing to follow an unprincipled, morally bankrupt, ambitious, and egomaniacal character along the path to imagined bliss. His character, which is no secret, says something about what he thinks is good for this country, what it would mean to make America great again.

Socially conservative Christians have long complained that their cultural influence has been compromised. But today, on the eve of Super Tuesday 2016, they have it within their power to stop Donald Trump in his tracks overnight. This is because without them he wouldn’t be where he is in the polls. And as long as they are with him, as long as they zealously trumpet his persona and uncertain promises, they are responsible for his meteoric rise, and they will be responsible for whatever version of America he considers “great,” if he wins the general election. Christians have never been better positioned to make a difference—for better or for worse.

Less than a hundred years ago, Christians in Germany faced a parallel situation. Angered by their military, economic, and cultural marginalization, many forged an alliance with a Nationalist regime that resulted in Nazi fascism. For them at the time, German Nationalism was Christian Nationalism at its best. Nationalism has often been a stepping stone to diverse forms of fascism.

Don’t think it can’t happen here. Don’t think Christians would never fall for that sort of thing. And don’t think that a Christian Nationalist Movement isn’t already gaining momentum. Someday we may even witness the sad emergence of a Christian Nationalist Party.

 

Should Christians Renounce Donald Trump?


“Can anyone stop Trump?”

Since Donald Trump’s performance at the first Republican presidential debate, broadcast by Fox News August 6 (2015), there has been much braying, blasting, and boosting about his candidacy. The braying and blasting come mostly from establishment Republicans (for example, Charles Krauthammer and George Will) and a few of his Republican opponents. Boosting is heard from the likes of Anne Coulter and many in the electorate who are just plain angry with “the way business is done in Washington.”

  • I get the anger.
  • I get the desire for a non-politician politician.
  • I get the intrigue with Donald Trump’s candidacy.

And I’ve kept an open mind and hoped that Trump would inject some energy into public discourse about several urgent issues facing Americans today.

What I did not expect—and what is shocking—is Trump’s invective against women. He has made a number of demeaning public remarks about women that he has singled out for ridicule in the crassest of terms. Early in the debate, Meghan Kelly drew attention to these well-documented remarks and invited him to explain how he could say such things and expect to get elected. In response, Trump came very close to calling Kelly a bimbo; and in the aftermath he attacked her with scandalous language that really has no place in public discourse, least of all among presidential candidates.

Oddly, polls reflect continued enthusiasm for Trump. Some speculate that his harsh language is part of the reason. Political “experts” have been scratching their heads—and wistfully predicting that “Teflon Don’s” sizzle will fizzle. Some are beginning to doubt a future fall from grace.

So who are the people expressing such support for Donald Trump? Why are his poll numbers so high and still rising? My hunch is that Trump would not be polling so well without enthusiasm among conservative Christians.

If true, this is troubling.

Jesus said to his disciples, “The things that proceed from the mouth come from the heart, and those defile the man” (Matthew 15:18). How a person speaks, what he says, the words he uses, expose the condition of his heart. This is a warning because the heart is the core of a person’s being. And it is this core that determines how a man will conduct himself, what kind of a leader he will be. A person’s speech is a public means of assessing a person’s character.

This is why the apostle Paul admonished believers, “Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification, according to the need of the moment, that it may give grace to those who hear” (Ephesians 4:29). “But,” you may say, “what Paul expects of Christians does not apply to unbelievers.” But this would be a mistake.

First, Scripture expresses truths that are also good common sense and beneficial to the health of human society. Here we have an example of wisdom for nonsectarian circumstances confirmed by explicit Christian teaching.

Second, Christians are to be an example to unbelievers in every domain that involves attitudes toward others. Our public witness on behalf of wholesome speech is compromised when we celebrate the indecent speech of public personalities and cheer for their success as it impinges on our shared human concerns.

And third, Christians surely believe that both wisdom and grace are needed in the formation of policy by our elected officials. We may not insist on voting exclusively for those who share our religious convictions. But should we turn a blind eye to egregious spewing of venom against others?

In the New Testament letter of James we’re reminded that the tongue is a fire. It is a small organ of the body, but “it boasts of great things.” “Behold,” says James, “how great a forest is set aflame by such a small fire.” What does he mean when using the metaphor of fire for the tongue? “It is a restless evil, and full of deadly poison.” Sometimes we encounter clear cases of this, and we should dread the consequences, for the tongue “sets on fire the course of our lives.” James even says, in direct connection with this, that the same tongue is used “to bless our Lord and Father” and also to “curse men, who have been made in the likeness of God.” This includes words that intentionally demean the dignity of human persons. And this includes cheap shots against women made to garner public attention. (See James 3:5-11.)

One other passage is telling in this regard. It speaks to the issue of solidarity with others. God’s people, those who fear Him, are warned against consorting with scoffers: How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, nor stand in the path of sinners, nor sit in the seat of scoffers! (Psalm 1:1). This is relevant, for enthusiasm in the polls expresses solidarity with Trump. This solidarity, I fear, blinds supporters to the shamefulness of his public conduct.

Again, my focus is Trump’s alarming habit of lacing his speech with demeaning words that directly attack the dignity of individual persons—in this case especially, women.

You may like what Trump says about border control or taking a hard line with despots worldwide. You may imagine that a self-made man (who boasts of this at every opportunity) can reverse the downward spiral of our economy. And you may fear that no other candidate, Republican or Democrat, shares your sentiments and feeling of urgency about such things. But can you really be indifferent about what words reveal about a person? And can you ignore the implications this might have for leading a nation that desperately needs God’s blessing? And how are we to explain our professed interest in divine blessing if we temper our objections to Trump’s speech with a rationale that gets things backwards?

I’m writing this for Christians who take seriously their role in human society, who would stand for the right and the good in the public domain. And I urge all believers who are drawn to Donald Trump’s candidacy to consider the possibility that touting Trump approves and encourages shameful behavior.

“Who can stop Donald Trump?” If I’m right about Trump’s support among conservative Christians, they can make a big difference by shifting their support to a more respectable candidate. This answer to the question deserves greater attention.

Here are three suggestions for Christians reading this post:

  1. Circulate this post through Facebook and on your blog to encourage discussion of this issue.
  2. Leave your own evaluation of this post here.
  3. If you’re ever polled about Donald Trump, say you’re concerned about the coarsening of American culture and that you would be uncomfortable supporting his candidacy.

If Christians take a stand against what is sordid and vulgar in public debate, Trump’s numbers might decline dramatically.

* * *

Other blog posts that speak to this general problem:

The President a Lame Duck Incumbent?


It’s a rare phenomenon when an incumbent seeking re-election is faced with the prospect of being a lame duck on the very eve of the election. President Obama is the incumbent in this race. He is a sitting president seeking re-election. As the incumbent, he is eligible to run for a second term and may well win a second term. He is not, in the usual sense, a lame duck president.

A lame duck holds office during the relatively brief interval between an election, when it is determined that someone else will be the next president, and the moment when the new president assumes office at his inauguration. A politician in this position is called a “lame duck” because he or she has comparatively little influence as the clock simply runs out on his or her term.

If a president has completed two terms, then he will not be an incumbent seeking re-election. His party will nominate a different candidate to run in the general election. In this case, the outgoing president will automatically be a lame duck. He will hold office until the new president-elect is sworn in.

If an incumbent president seeking re-election loses the election, then he becomes a lame duck president until the new president-elect is sworn in. He is no longer the incumbent because the election has been decided. He is still president, but his days are numbered.

An incumbent may become a lame duck, but only after the election returns. At least, that is technically the case. But the term “lame duck” is a metaphor for a president whose power is ineffectual because his term is about to run out. But does it stretch the metaphor to say that a president is a lame duck if his power is bound to be ineffectual until his term runs out, even if that won’t happen for another four years? And what if there are strong indicators, prior to a general election, that this will be the case if the incumbent wins the election? He might then that be called a “lame duck incumbent.”

This, I believe, could be President Obama’s situation. He is now the incumbent and may win a second term. If he does, he will not be a lame duck in the usual sense until the next general election four years hence. But there are indicators that Obama’s leadership, should he be allowed a second term, will be threatened by grave difficulties of his own making that could seriously curtail his executive influence, however long his second term lasts. And most recently the most severe challenge has emerged in the form of the massacre that took place at our embassy in Libya in September and the growing impression that the President shirked responsibility, both during the horrific attack and afterward during his effort to manage the flow of information until the election clock runs down.

Here’s the point: if it turns out that a thorough investigation of the facts, called for by the President and the Democrat party, reveals a demoralizing leadership failure and deception by his administration, and this investigation cannot be concluded until a few weeks after the election, and the President wins re-election, then the President will have to face a nation in shock after learning definitively of his dereliction of duty, now compounded by the fact that he was just re-elected and the electorate is stuck with him for four more years. If his popularity has been slipping in the polls during the past few weeks, his approval rating would surely plummet dramatically following the election and detailed knowledge of the events in Libya—if the President has goofed.

This would not be the most auspicious beginning to the President’s second term. And it would not bode well for the future of this country if that should happen.

Still, why think of the President in these final days before the election as a “lame duck incumbent”? That depends on what you make of the evidence against his claim to be oblivious of events occurring at the embassy in Libya when four Americans, including our ambassador, were lost. If you think that he’s disqualified himself already for enjoyment of a second term, then you may think that if he wins he will start his second term in deep trouble that will be a distraction from all else that requires presidential leadership. You may think that, given his incumbency status now, and assuming that he wins re-election, Obama is, even now, a “lame duck incumbent.”

If you think that, you may be right. And if you’re right, then Obama’s in big trouble soon after the election, trouble that will plague his second term as long as it lasts. Not only that, America’s in big trouble. Don’t be surprised if  a predominantly Republican congress calls for impeachment proceedings as soon as the investigation is concluded.

Political Quote for the Day: Dick Morris on Obama & the Republicans


“A Democratic president cannot sustain popular support for a war by relying on Republicans.”Dick Morris

Who can disagree? In his March 23 blog, Morris notes that the President’s action in Libya enjoys support from only 51% of Democrats. He then outlines what he believes is a good explanation for Obama’s decision-making and strategy. Morris believes that Hillary Clinton played an important role. You can read his blog for details. (Morris knows both Clintons from his advisory role during Bill Clinton’s presidential campaign and subsequent presidency. His book Rewriting History is an alleged exposé of assorted factual claims made in Hillary Clinton’s memoir Living History, and a discourse on Hillary’s political aspirations and temperament.)

Morris goes on to describe a scenario under which Obama is faced with a primary challenge from Democratic Congressman Dennis Kucinich of Ohio. The theory is that Kucinich can cut deeply into Obama’s left-wing base and seriously injure his chances of being re-elected in 2012. The Kucinich play will be to stress that President Obama made a grave mistake in going to war in Libya.

Dennis Kucinich has been rattling his saber during the past few days, and he’s campaigned for the presidency before. Morris is pretty good at reading the political tea leaves and he may be right. In a separate blog from today, he ticks off a list of difficulties facing the President and judges that Obama is now “the hostage of events.” He concludes, “Not a good place for a president facing re-election to be.”

Agreed. But what about the rest of us? With all that’s at stake, we have to hope that our President will not be making politically motivated decisions.

The Obama-McChrystal Debacle


They’re calling them “interviews.” I don’t know whether that’s the proper term, but statements by General Stanley McChrystal and several of his staff are reported and embedded in a narrative to be published in this week’s issue of Rolling Stone magazine. But this is already old news, rendered obsolete by developments of yesterday and today.

The Rolling Stone article reveals that Read more of this post

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