Thursday, July 06, 2017

Why I Felt Unsettled This Independence Day

A host of insights are readily drawn from the Donald Trump's various tweets attacking his critics, particularly those made about the mass media. The tweets reveal a troubling picture of the nature and depth of his character, specifically when he hurls vile insults. 

Mr. Trump's statements reveal a sensitivity to criticism, as well as an ugly, vicious and vindictive nature. How he speaks of Mr. Obama indicates that he has an obsession with his predecessor, and feels that only by running him down on everything will elevate his own character and accomplishments. Mr. Trump is an insecure salesman and showman whose sense of decorum and truthfulness is horrendously lacking. Under his direction, his administration spokespeople peddle "alternative facts", aka, lies.

He claims that he respects women, yet his action and words indicate that such respect of females is highly selective. He claims that he loves the press, but his words speak otherwise. He adores the press only when they do his bidding, positively telling his fables and laud him. Anyone press outlet who dares not to laud him, who hold firmly to the press's responsibility to question him, his staff, and policies in any manner are deemed "fake news." The result is that true news is of the sort of stories that Pravda published during the Soviet era.

In speaking of his negative tweets, on July 2 one of his apologists dismissed them by noting that Mr.Trump is not a politician. She went on to say that he will learn. I would be surprised if Secretary Cho truly believes what she stated to the press. Since November, a period where growth should be evidenced has lacked such evidence. His vile, capricious and unpresidential behavior remains unchanged. 

Mr. Trump is a man set in his ways, who for decades has pandered to one side, then the other. He freely shifts positions within a short period, saying what his target audiences want to hear. He can shift readily because he has few positions that he holds by personal conviction. This pattern of shifting is part of the life-long process that he has used to make deals and to push himself forward. Trump has been at this obfuscation and "alternative facts" game far too long to change. It is part of his character and value system.

I've long concluded that Mr. Trump's attacks are a result of personal insecurity, poor self-image. He has a narrow range of personal convictions. When I hear or read an attack, I tend to see it as Trump projecting his own issues and failings into the lives of others. 

What is more troubling is that to date Mr. Trump's style is to rule the nation, not govern it. As evidenced in his repeated states about his admiration for strong rulers, such as Vladimir Putin, who firmly control their governments and country, that is how he wishes to rule. Does he feel constrained by the laws of the nation? Is he of the same mindset of Richard Nixon who felt a president most of the nation's law did not apply to him? 

Heading into July 4th I recall that when the United States declared its independence, its established model was that of an executive and legislature that governed, not ruled. The founders of the nation did not view the president as being an unitary ruler. They wanted a president who would be distinct and different from the model of the kings of England, France and Spain. Mr. Trump is eroding the governing presidency for that of a ruling one.  

Mr.Trump should be highly concerned about foreign interference in the American electoral system, and doing the same to other Western democracies. Instead he is dismissive of such interference, alternating between that it did not happen, to it may be just a fat guy sitting in his bedroom to maybe it happened, but we cannot tell who did it.  Why is not external interference in the election viewed as a serious issue for Mr. Trump? Why does he not see this as a direct attack upon the heart of American democracy? Is it because he does not fundamentally understand and value the democratic processes?

Mr. Trump should be more concerned about his relationship with the German, French, Italian and Canadian leaders, NATO and solving real national problems than he is with cable news hosts, the media in general, and in dismissing his intelligence agencies. Instead, he fires off mean spirited thought out tweets as well as spending sufficient time surfing the web to find things he can repost to attack his straw figure of the moment, like the Reddit CNN video he recently tweeted out.  

Has the press been stellar in all its coverage. No. The press are no perfect. They are as human as you and I.  Do some outlets and press officials have biasses?  Yes. Biasses have existed as long as people have been printing and reporting the news.
And outlet and reporter bias will always exist. There are many examples of poor stories, quotes taken out of context, but they are in the minority, and far less frequent that such political ads doing the same. The small minority of stories that are poor are no justification to demonized he press as a whole.
By doing so, Mr. Trump and his spokespeople are undermining democracy itself. Without a vigorous independent press, the light of attention would disappear, and leave our elected leaders being unaccountable to the people. As a result, power hungry individuals would be free to pervert political processes and through incremental steps, over a decade or so, leave the United States a democracy in only trappings and name. 

Regrettably, to their national shame, too many Americans are increasingly opposed to hearing and weighing different views. Instead they rely, July upon uncritical acceptance of their selected echo chamber, and thereby reinforcing the walls of their silos. The result is increased division, and the increased possibility that a small group in the right places will be able to move the nation towards one party rule. 

While claiming that his hands are clean, Mr. Trump has repeatedly through his actions, comments and tweets, driven the existing divisions wider and stronger. Also, he is creating new ones. The division is so significant that NPR was repeatedly lambasted by his supporters for posting on a series of statements on Twitter during Independence Day. These followers called NPR's Twitter postings revolutionary, biased, undemocratic, unjust attacks of the President, and that these statements indicate exactly why NPR is unAmerican and that all it's funding should be withdrawn. These revolutionary Twitter posts by NPR were nothing more that NPR posting on Twitter of the American Declaration of Independence. When NPR was strongly attacked by these people, it is evidence that Mr. Trump has given voice to the more base nature and elements of American society. 

The nation and its citizens need to have vigorous debates of diverse views in a respectful manner, agreeing that we will disagree agreeably. We need people who critically question not just the views of the other side, but of their own too. We need people who work together to address issues through consensus building, just as did the nations founders. Each party should welcome diverse views and exchanges of opinions. Use of the term DINOs, or RINOs, should be an anathema that flies against the country's founding processes and principles. 

The nature and character of the United States is being tested. How its people interact and work together is being tested. On Independence Day 2017 I was uncertain what and how to celebrate as I have a welling fear that over the last years the United States and its people have moved away from what made America great, that is inclusive civil discourse, strong adherence to democratic processes, and above all leaders who we can hold as examples for our children and who govern rather than being authoritarian rulers. 

Tuesday, November 08, 2016

I Cannot Support a Tempestuous Man-Child Who Undermines Democracy

I will not vote for a tempestuous, cold-hearted man-child who is more akin to an elementary school bully who is far from being a balanced thoughtful leader of a nation. He is a thin skinned, blowhard, feckless egotist whose shaky proposals to complex national and international problems is offer “trust me” and a handfuls of empty platitudes. He had serious critical reasoning shortcomings, and I fear that he will make decisions based upon either feelings of the moment or taking the opposite posture of his predecessor, even when Obama's action is upright, thoughtful and balanced. I am concerned that he claims that he knows more than the generals and a host experts on international relations and processes, yet at the same time highly trusts a retired general who was dismissed from his last security position.

I will not support a candidate who feels his own views are better than the nation’s intelligence agencies, dismisses his intelligence briefings, thereby casting doubt upon the various intelligence agencies that have input into the briefing. I cannot vote for a man whose statements regarding the military suggests that the military is not a major power. Further, I cannot support a man with control of the American nuclear arsenal who states that he loves war, speaks about bombing enemies, and all from a man who used questionable means to avoid the draft. In my view, the likelihood that he will take the nation into a hot war with either Iran or North Korea within 30 months of assuming office is high.   

I definitely cannot support a man who is neither capable of accepting criticism nor able to acknowledge mistakes because he is always right. Such a man tends to be incapable of taking advice of either his cabinet officials, Congress or other experts....he is right, they are wrong, and they should do his bidding.

He is a man who is a bully, inside the business world and in society, verbally and who is a major cyberbully.  He is a man of contradictions with regard to women, hiring and appointing women to significant positions in his organization while at the same time speaking of various women in most degrading terms, and treating women as mere sex objects subject to his advances and bedding. He is a man who behaves and thinks in a pre-1998 framework when this nation via the Clinton-Lewinski event rightly went through the redefining what is and is not acceptable behavior between men and women, particularly between those in power positions over those subordinate positions. He acts and thinks that that national redefinition doesn’t apply to him.  

Trump postures himself as not being a politician. He has made a plethora of sketchy promises which I doubt will come close to being fulfilled. It stands to reason that a number of them cannot be fulfilled as he claims they will be fulfilled, such as boarder wall, Mexico paying for the wall, that North Korea will not get the bomb as he will stop them, and the coal industry will return to robust form regardless the high volume of cheep, clean, natural gas pouring onto the market. Either he is naïve, which is scary to think a person entering the White House as being that naïve, or he is a bold crass man using the ultimate political technique, selling promises that he knows are empty. How can I trust such a man being in the top office in the nation and representing the nation to the world. 

Above all, I cannot and will not support a man who by his word and actions undermines the democratic process, its election system, its institutions and leaders! His comments repeatedly undermine the press and the role that they play in keeping the public informed and elected officials accountable. His numerous comments about the election process question the system's soundness, and thereby putting the results under a cloud (interestingly, it would by extension imply that we would not really know if the truly won the election). 

That Trump was selected by the Republican masses to become their standard-bearer is most disappointing. That he was selected speaks volumes regarding the party. My respect for the party is greatly diminished, so much so that at this time I would vote for a Green party candidate ahead of any Republican. The big-tent party Reagan envisioned and challenged the party to be has devolved into being a pup-tent party of hate and division that has turned its back upon the Nation’s founding processes and principles. Mr. Trump has not only ridden this dark segment of the party to be the nominee, but he has embraced and enlarged it, bringing it to be one of the dominant forces of the party. I pray and hope the Republican leadership and the balanced portion of the party will undertake some serious soul-searching in the coming years and move back towards Reagan’s big tent so that a Trump like character cannot again be the nominee. That said, I fear that the leadership of the party will be found wanting, and that they will be enablers of a man who will have undermined the office of the presidency and American democracy.

Trump's Obfiscation of Income?

It seems that every time Mr. Trump refers to how much he earns, that the figure is not only highly impressive. While on the disclosure finance form he reported that he made $557 million last year, in September he revised the figure during a debate. He verbally reported that he earned more than $694 million, just over $1.9 million per day.

As evidenced by his two ice rinks it seems he has the Midas touch. He reported that the two rinks he earned him more than $13 million in personal income. The gross income must be staggering, and extrapolating the $13 million to be at least double for the gross, by assuming a net of 50% of gross dollars gives a gross of $26 million. Accounting for other related income at the rinks, it means he is netting well over $1,400 per hour ice rental. To have that net income, the rental rates must be at least a staggering $2,800+/hour. If his rate is well less than 50% of gross say 35%, the rental rates per hour would be well over $3,500 (in 1987 Trump reported that his Wollman rink had a profit of $500,000 on income of $1.5 million).   

Is it possible that the $13 million figure is gross income? The hourly ice rental would be high, and in light of the 1987 Wollman figures, the $13 million would seem to be an inflated gross. If the $13 million is not inflated and is only gross, then Trump defines personal income differently than commonly understood, thereby a significant obfuscation. The redefinition seems to be in keeping with how he seems to continually inflate, redefine and obfuscate, connect and recombine unrelated information, and create grand statements without evidence or even when the facts say otherwise.

If the $13 million figure is gross, then all his other financial statements regarding income must be viewed with askance. Hence the $694 million figure is likely gross. After accounting for salaries, utilities, property upkeep and mortgage, his net income would be a fraction of what he has stated, possibly as little as a 20th, and he may well be losing significant money in some of his operations that he says makes money (much like a capital campaign firm stating that all their campaigns are successful, even those that fall short by 75% for they argue campaign success as it made money for the organization, even though the organization paid much of what they made to the firm and had no money to do even a portion of the capital project they desired).

Even when a critical look and drill down on specific properties and figures seem not to be close to making sense, Mr. Trump asks people to accept his word regarding his wealth and success. He asks the nation to trust him without verification or questioning. Not only will I not accept his word when statements contradict reasoning and evidence, but his repeated use of “trust me” increases my skepticism and reinforces my distrust for use of such statements is a common approach used by despots over the centuries who have channeled populist dreams, frustrations, fears and desires. 

Despots ask that we trust without verifying that data. Despots use a kernel of truth to obfuscate and refine reality. Throughout history despots intimidate and threaten those who question and challenge their statements.  Despots talk of others lack of transparency while lacking transparency themselves. That he admires other despots, such as V. Putin, increases by skeptical view of him. My conclusion is to take what is presented, and his lack of transparency in light of history over the centuries, and view the lack of transparency, inflated statements, obfuscation and volume of  unsubstantiated statements as a being from a highly disingenuous and dishonest person. As mentioned in an earlier blog, he is likely to win the White House, but at the end of the day, I fear that at the end of his term, American democracy's shining light will be flickering and the presidency greatly harmed.   

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Has the Lesson From I Samuel 4 Been Lost by Many Evangelicals?

In I Samuel 4 is a rarely noted story which is unfortunate in that it has great importance for modern Christians. In this Old Testament chapter, the Israelites our battling the Philistines who have driven south to invade Israel. On the first day of fighting, the battle does not go well for the Israelites, and they start to wonder why. They come to believe that they lost that day’s battle because they did not have God on their side, and men were sent out to bring the Ark of the Covenant into their camp.

The army celebrates and rejoices when the Ark of the Covenant arrives for it means that God in in their camp and that they will be victorious the next day in battle. The next day, the battle does not go well for the Israelites. The battle turns into a complete defeat with the army running for their lives and the Ark of the Covenant captured as a war trophy by the Philistines.

Besides poor strategy, the Israelites, the people of God also lost the battle because they trivialized God and their relationship with God. They treated the Ark as a lucky rabbit’s foot, that all they needed was the supreme representation of God to be with them to win. The passage indicates that their thinking is wrong and that trusting in a religious object and earthly powers is a fool’s errand. Many centuries later Hosea wrote in Hosea 6:6 that God seeks people’s heart, them living merciful lives and heart level acknowledgment, not their religious ceremonies and their empty routines.

Today have large portions of the American church forgotten this lesson by putting their trust in a dishonest, despicable and bombastic man because he promises them to appoint church friendly Supreme Court justices? Are large swaths of the American church willing to have a leader who undermines the democracy that they value, whose grasps of a plethora of issues is paper thin, and who has by his behavior and conduct indicates that he will restrict the press and short-circuit the judicial system? Are they thinking clearly by trusting a dishonest, self-absorbed man to keep his word just to have a Supreme Court to help safeguard their spirituality and bring them victory?

If the belief that restricting and demeaning those of another faith is appropriate as a means to help safeguard the religious freedom of Christians, and that the Supreme Court is critical to safeguarding the future vitality of the Church, then has not the Church lost its way? While many evangelicals are not voting for Trump, many still are. They make up a significant portion of Donald Trump’s base of support, standing fast with him even when serious questions have been raised about his character, holding to his word and truthfulness. Then as such, has not those believers surrendered the moral ground for speaking to issues regarding upright leadership, leadership, rape, sexual assault, truthfulness and honesty, humbleness, personal sacrifice, and the importance of character?

While the evangelical community is my faith background, and still have the affinity with traditional evangelicalism, the term "evangelical" is a term that I ceased applying to myself for at least fourteen years ago. The term became covered in distasteful and restrictive political clothing versus a broad summary religious believes about the sharing of faith in a respectful and non-imposing manner (as noted in an earlier blog, the Church harms itself whenever it aligns itself with a political party). 

I will not be counted in such a crowd. I will not be casting a vote for a debased, tempestuous, egotist who by his actions and conduct undermines a key foundation of our democracy, freedom of the press and the electoral process.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Crisis in the Evangelical Church?

For over a month I’ve been turning over in my mind Matthew 4, where Jesus is tempted by the devil. Jesus was promised great power, and wealth, that he could have used to better the lives of the people. He refused. He knew the subterfuge and the danger of allowing such earthly bobbles to distract from the spiritual ministry which Jesus was about to launch.    

I’ve thought of that passage in light of the American presidential election which has created a crisis in the American Evangelical Christian community. It is a crisis that has its roots stemming back to the late 70s and early 80s when the Evangelical Church intentionally and aggressively aligned itself with the Republican party. Today, gaining the support of evangelical pastors and key church leaders is a critical early step for a Republican to be successful in a run for state wide or a national office.    

Since the late 1970s the evangelical community, which admittedly is my spiritual roots, has been steadfastly entwined with the Republican party. For decades they have vigorously spoken about the importance of the nation’s leaders such as the President, Vice-President, Speaker and Senate Leader, and Governors, being of solid upright character. Furthermore, the expectations that an evangelical vote Republican, that in many congregations if a person votes for a Democrat, the veracity and sincerity of their faith is questioned by their fellow worshippers. Such an expectation is so strong that there are Christian colleges that allow a student led Republican club on campus but will not allow Democrat club to be formed or operate.

Christians should be involved in politics and stand as candidates for all parties. The church and its leadership should speak to specific issues, particularly those directly related to morality, but without supporting particular candidates and parties. Because of the respect that they are given, clergy must be careful about stating their voting preference. A pastor who says to the press or congregation, “I’m just speaking as a private citizen, not on behalf of my ministry,” is being disingenuous as they know fully that most of those who are under their leadership will not only follow their lead, but tend to view it as the view of divinity.

When the church aligns itself with a party, it is compromising the gospel. When its clergy openly involved with a specific party on behalf of, or in association in some manner with their ministry, they enmesh the church with a process that ultimately tarnishes the church and its spiritual ministry. As has been evidenced again and again, when the church is in bed with a political party, the unfortunate result is the muting of the church's moral voice. The tendency for the church is to remain silent or speak in muted terms when the officeholder of one's party says or does something unseemly. Its clergy to remain silent on ills and bad legislation rather than speaking out against the party, thereby surrendering the obligation to speak truth forthrightly to officeholders. When the church and its leaders have remained silent so as not to damage the party, the church has accepted earthly power over its moral and spiritual ministry.

The church must speak to issues and help the whole community to come together, working with people to build consensus for the greater whole, not contribute to the broadening of division. To often politicking involves unseemly demonizing, obfuscation, and outright telling of falsehoods. What does it say about the body of Christ when its representatives remain silent because they do not want to damage their party and candidate.

The church is about building people up, thinking the best of people rather than demonizing, helping all to find grace, receive and give grace. In contrast, politics involves forging alliances and negotiations, and seeking ways to position yourself to look better while making those in the other party look as bad as possible. It is about the securing and holding of earthly power, pushing one’s agenda forward by whatever means possible.

Recent history demonstrates how a political position can quickly shift when the other side advocates a similar. In recent years we have witnessed major politicians and their parties attacking vigorously the very policies and legislation that they sought to advance before their opponents started embracing it and even improving it. Too often political positions are postures of convenience masked in language of moral conviction, but such conveniences can be fleeting.

When the church and its leaders cease speaking only to issues, and instead align themselves exclusively with a party, then the community of faith dismisses good policies and legislation out of hand because it is being advanced by the other side, and thereby the church hinders good governance. Further, the politically aligned faith community finds itself forced to switch positions when the party changes, and to demonize those upright and honorable proposals, which though they have shortcomings and flaws, can be honed and made stronger for the benefit of the community, state or nation, but is not because the church demonizes the idea instead of helping to hone the proposal. In so doing the church harms the cause of Christ and its moral integrity as it tows the party line.     

Today, as a collective whole, the Evangelical Church are facing a crisis because it crawled into bed with a political party. The presidential nominee of that party has demonstrated that he is long removed from the character and morality standard the evangelical community has long claimed as being so critical for the office of the presidency. He is a man who claims to be of faith, yet cannot pronounce II Corinthians correctly when even the most nominal church attendee knows to say “second Corinthians” not “two Corinthians”, and has stated on several occasions that he has not needed to ask God for forgiveness for anything in his life because he has not made mistakes.   

Donald Trump is steadfastly supported by evangelicals. This support is most clearly evidenced by the position of the largest evangelical college, Liberty University, whose leadership, staff and students gave their early endorsement, an endorsement that continues to stand even in light of recent reports and actions that do not speak well of his character. 

Has the Evangelical Church and their leadership sold their souls, and thereby diminishing credibility, to a man who has promised them that he will pick Supreme Court judges who will to the liking of Evangelicals?  Have they bought into a untrustworthy man’s promise to make their lives better, to give them full religious liberty while suppressing the same liberties of another religious group? Is that the way to secure freedom for the Christian faith? Has the Evangelical Church accepted the deal that Jesus rejected when the Devil offered him power to rule over the kingdoms of the earth? 

What message is the religious community's silence on atrocious ungodly behavior and bragging of sexual assault, invasion of privacy saying to the community? If there are more reports will evangelicals remain with him? What does it say about the state of the evangelical community when it advocates for a man who daily tells numerous falsehoods, has not guiding principle other than saying and doing what is needed in the moment to gain an advantage, who has used ethically questionable practices to make a buck, and who demeans and bullies people? And as they do, how will they credibly reconcile their endorsement with their proclaimed values of family values?

What is the religious community saying to its youth and the youth beyond its worship communities when its leaders and adult members explain away or accept ungodly behavior? If the world speaks against Trump's character, conduct and statements, and evangelicals remain strong for him when the world at large repudiates him, does that place the church in the place the Pharisees and Sadducees, saying one thing and doing opposite?  

I am reminded of C.S. Lewis' Screwtape Letters the guidance the novice demon Screwtape is given by his mentor demon, that he could dull the Christian or a church by enticing them blindly think that they are achieving a godly thing, give them that thing but with a load of evil along the way and attached to it. Screwtape is told, when that happens, the Christian's testimony, or the church's, is compromised and becomes more powerless. Are we not seeing such a process at play with the Supreme Court. 

The politician in question, Trump, for a politician is what he is and has been for years, has courted Christians while claiming to be a Christian. He has been embraced and enabled by large segments of the Evangelical Community. As this politician has claimed to be a member of the faith community and has actively sought faith community support using such a claim, then it is right to evaluate him on such a basis, and as an insider. Though others may wish to overlook the words of Paul to the Corinthian church leadership in I Corinthians 5, I will not.

I am disappointed that this narcotic man, who has appealed to the worse nature of the nation, is being viewed by large segments of the evangelical church as God's man for this hour, as a man worthy of their strong support.  The evangelical community explaining away or dismissing this man's statements that fuels division and openly empowers those in the white supremacy movement causes me to recall the condemning words of St. Paul to the church leadership in Corinth for not standing against a man who was having an ongoing affair with his step-mother, by noting that they remained silent to their shame and to the harm of the gospel even when the non-Christian community knows the affair is wrong. While I no longer view myself as a part of the evangelical community, it is my heritage and roots, one of which I'm becoming increasingly ashamed for belonging. 

I absolutely reject the fear of Supreme Court nominations as being righteous. I reject the promise of religious freedom for Christians from a man who will restrict the freedoms of others. Both are forms of idolatry and entrapments. If the Evangelical Church needs the Court, and a flawed earthly power, to save souls and empower faithful witnessing to the Gospel in both word and deed, then the Church has not only lost its credibility to speak on a host of issues, including morality, but is harming the gospel message. When the freedom of worship is denied or restricted to one group, we are all loose for we are only a step away from adding another group as we stand in the doorway to the room into tyranny of the majority. When the church supports a most ungodly man as if he was their earthly hero, then the gospel's power has greatly been compromised for the sake of earthly power, and history will judge harshly the American Evangelical church of this age.

And when Trump is in the White House, and his the debased nature of his character becomes glaring, and when he continue to attack the foundations of the nation, its electoral process, separation of powers, and the press, will the church speak out against him or remain silent? When his tempestuous character comes out, bullies people, and his countless glaring falsehoods become a growing mountain of national shame, will the church's leadership speak out, or remain silent because he is our man? I hope it is not the latter. If it is, it is to the church's shame!