Saturday, January 28, 2017

Abortion Stops A Beating Heart

When I was in college, I was strongly pro-choice.  My reasoning was based on cold blooded utilitarianism.  It went like this: a promising student gets his girlfriend pregnant.  If he assumes the responsibility of fatherhood, then it will mean sacrificing his dreams and ruining his life. Ditto for the girlfriend.  The blob of tissue doesn't get a vote.  It is ruining 3 lives, because what chance would a child have growing up in such an environment?  So a complicated moral dilemna is actually simple: “the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few”.  It is a very cold system of math, especially if you are on the short end of it.  It is not surprising I had this philosophy.  In junior high and high school, I was repeatedly presented in public school with scenarios like “you have a lifeboat with only a certain number of seats and more people than seats.  Determine who should survive and why”.  I was taught that human life was not sacred and that some people have more of a right to life than others.  And I learned the lesson well.

When my college roommate's girlfriend got pregnant, this cold-blooded logic is exactly what I said to help convince him to not abandon his childhood dream of becoming an astrophysicist.  There is an interesting twist on this.  My roommate was agnostic and yet had a very high moral code.  An example: one time, when I left the bank after making a cash withdrawal, I found the teller had accidentally overpaid me $10.  The immediate image that came into my mind was the card from the game Monopoly that says “bank error in your favor, collect $$$”.  I was going to keep the money because, after all, what college student can’t use a few extra bucks?  But my friend talked me into returning the money.  It was typical of him. 

Because of his very high moral standards, my roommate was dead set against having the abortion and was preparing to drop out of school, marry his girlfriend and start his family.  The reason that did not happen was because his circle of friends, mainly me, talked him out of it.  My friend resisted us for a long time, but we wore him down and he at last reluctantly consented.  My argument prevailed, and the baby died.  I felt I had performed a service for my friend and kept him on the path he had chosen when we were kids.    

My friend was agnostic, and yet had more moral scruples than I, the “Christian” had.  My friend Aaron Astor has term he uses for the type of Christianity I practiced, which was in name only.  He uses Andrew Sullivan’s term “Christianist” to distinguish it from real life-changing faith.  The pervasiveness of this attitude in the modern church is a real problem because it robs is of our witness.  Friar Brennan Manning, author of The Ragamuffin Gospel attests: “The greatest single cause of atheism today is Christians, who honor God with their lips and then walk out the door, and deny Him by their lifestyle.  That is what an unbelieving world simply find unbelievable”. This is important for me to share, because too often Christians are viewed as extremely judgmental.  Commenting back and forth with folks over last weekend, there is no doubt that many have felt harshly judged by Christians for their pro-abortion views and, reasonably enough, don’t like it.  However know this – the well-meaning people who have hurt you have not spoken  truth into the lives of others in the manner we are told to do in Scripture.  Instead we are enjoined to speak the truth in love.  1 Corinthians 13 has become associated with marriage ceremonies so much that people assume that is what it is talking about.  It is not.  Instead it is a reminder that if we speak or do anything in the name of Christ, it must be in love.  Otherwise we become nothing but noise.  So remember that I am not judging you when I speak about abortion.  Instead, I speak to you as someone with blood on my own hands, and I certainly cannot say I am better than you.

In Christianity, we talk about the idea of repentance.  Repentance comes from the Greek word metanoia, which means a changing of the heart and mind that leads to a turning away from the path you are on.  It is genuine action and not the half-hearted “I’m sorry you are mad at me for what I did" or I’m sorry I got caught”.  I was convinced my pro-abortion viewpoint was evidence of willingness to make the “tough call”.  However God has a way of correcting us when we go off course.  He gave me a strongly pro-life wife.  She had assumed because I went to the same church she did, showed up every Sunday and asserted I was a Christian, I actually was.  She was appalled when she found out my position on abortion and gradually won me over to her point of view intellectually.  What made it a true metanoia was when I saw my oldest daughter for the first time via ultrasound. This was no blob of tissue, but a visibly human being.  I have wept many times over the years for the life of the child I helped snuff out so callously.  I am weeping as I write this.  I have been forgiven by a merciful God for what I consider now to be complicity in murder, but not by my friend.  Our relationship was never the same after the abortion I counselled him to seek.   

In 1992, with the ending of the Cold War, I left the Army feeling that I had done my part and could not justify the strain my passionate love for the military was causing my family.  I did this without a particular plan, and considered many career options. One avenue I explored was going into the ministry in my denomination of United Methodism (the same as Hillary Clinton, if you recall).  The first step of the process was to be interviewed by local clergy and the District Superintendent.  Somehow during the interview, my strong pro-life position was brought up.  One of the clergy told me, ironically, that “perhaps I should go home and talk to my wife about that”.  Needless to say there was mutual agreement that I was not a good fit for the UM Church and I left it shortly thereafter.  I mention this for two reasons: first, it shows how deeply the lie is that women walk in lockstep on this position and, second, it points out that the Christianism is not only found in the pew.  In 1993, the Religious Coalition For Abortion Rights (RCAR) actually rented space for their lobbying activities in an office building owned by the UMC.  But if “Christians” cannot even agree about abortion, then who am I to say the prolife position is correct?

A succinct and compelling argument about the morality of abortion is based on the question of whether the unborn are human or not.  If they are human, then they deserve the full protection of the law.  If they are not human, then they can be disposed of as wished.  The other question is if they are human, then when do they become so?  Hillary Clinton rightly observed that the law as written says the unborn are not entitled to rights until they are born and thus can legally be killed until they are completely outside of their mother's womb.  This is the rationale that allows the butchery of partial birth abortion.  However, as the Reverend Martin Luther King observed so powerfully in his magnificant Letter From Birmingham Jail, there are times where civil law should not inform us of what is right and wrong: 
You express a great deal of anxiety over our willingness to break laws. This is certainly a
legitimate concern. Since we so diligently urge people to obey the Supreme Court's decision of 1954 outlawing segregation in the public schools, at first glance it may seem rather paradoxical for us consciously to break laws. One may well ask: "How can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others?" The answer lies in the fact that there are two types of laws: just and unjust. I would be the first to advocate obeying just laws. One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws.  Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. I would agree with St. Augustine that "an unjust law is no law at all."

Now, what is the difference between the two? How does one determine whether a law is just
or unjust? A just law is a man made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law. To put it in the terms of St. Thomas Aquinas: An unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law. Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust. All segregation statutes are unjust because segregation distorts the soul and damages the personality. It gives the segregator a false sense of superiority and the segregated a false sense of inferiority. Segregation, to use the terminology of the Jewish philosopher Martin Buber, substitutes an "I it" relationship for an "I thou" relationship and ends up relegating persons to the status of things.

Over the years there have been attempts to say when human life begins.  Usually the definition is subjective, like "at the point of quickening" or "viability" or else is completely arbitrary, like x number of weeks.  The only non-subjective startpoint for human life is at the point where, if uninterupted, it will continue.  That point is conception.

By relegating the unborn to the status of thing, killing it becomes no more of a moral decision than swatting a fly.  Most people are rightly uncomfortable with this and that is why most people will say "I would not have an abortion myself, but I don't want to tell others what they should do".  However, if the unborn are human and abortion is murder, this argument doesn't fly.  How does one say murder is wrong for me and not for you?  You can't.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

The Coming Battle

Since the election, I have been doing something that has changed my life.  Instead of trying to just guess what the other side was thinking, I have engaging in spirited discussions with people who
disagree with me.  The reason for this is simple - to be intellectually honest, a person needs to be able to make the case for what he or she believes. That is central to my Christian faith which tells us in 1 Peter 3:15:  "But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do do this with gentleness and respect".  There has been a general lack of that kind of thinking in people's lives, particularly the "gentleness and respect" part, and I freely admit that I have been as guilty of this as anyone else.  Most people who bother to consider philosophy, religion, or politics tend to operate in the infamous "bubble" of the like minded.  When differing views are considered, if they are considered at all, their arguments are constructed in such a way that our way of thinking easily prevails.  Yet as Han Solo famously observed, "Look good against remotes is one thing, but against the living - that's something else".  In bubble world, it is easy to think we have everything figured out.  When we actually have dialogue with the living, it IS something else.

I have had many conversations with thoughtful Christians throughout this election cycle, and there was a great deal of ambivalence about President Trump.  Some, like my own son who is studying for the ministry, thought that President Trump's significant character flaws precluded their support.  On the one hand, folks like myself argued that though the candidate was flawed in many ways, the issues he represented absolutely needed to prevail. A case in point in this thinking was the Supreme Court appointment hanging in the balance, so with that battle days away from beginning, I thought it would be a good time to bring it up.

The reason for my making this issue such a key part of my vote is that there are two competing legal philosophies in play: strict constructionism and legal positivism.  The notion of legal positivism is that laws should naturally evolve as society's standards change.  If legislatures are too slow to act, then it becomes the responsibility of the judicial branch to find rationales for modifying existing laws to conform to the new standards.  Not so say the strict constructionists.  Laws are written by legislatures and the purpose of the judiciary is to interpret laws in the spirit they were written.  The Constitution has a deliberately difficult process to modify it for a reason, they say, and that is because we cannot change laws based on lasting principles to conform to passing fads.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg is an example of a justice who is a legal positivist.  Here is a quote illustrating what judges should be about: "I thought, well maybe the law could catch up with changes in society and that was an empowering idea".  Ginsburg was not the first Supreme Court Justice with this philosophy.  Oliver Wendell Holmes said much the same thing almost a century earlier.  Holmes rejected the idea of the law as a moral teacher and instead, as a philosophical pragmatist, thought the law should be based on practicality instead of concepts of right and wrong.  He did not believe in a transcendent source of morality and therefore thought it was up to the community to determine its values and standards.  He also believed that the law should be ever morphing to keep up with these evolving standards. He scoffed at the idea of legal precedent having sway over the current views of society saying, "It is revolting to have no better reason for a rule of law than that it was laid down in the time of Henry IV".  This philosophy allows for laws to be reinterpreted from their original meaning into what judges determine is an equivalent view of modern culture. 

Justice Scalia,  on the other hand, was a strict constructionist. He believed that laws were made with specific purposes and that they should be interpreted in light of their "original intent".  Under this philosophy, if society's values have in fact changed, it is the responsibility of the legislature to pass new laws, and it is wrong for the judiciary to act to make new laws when their constitutional role is to interpret them.  Also, as appointed officials, they have less credibility in this role because legislatures, presumably represent the views of the people more closely since they are directly elected.  If they are reluctant to modify or pass new law, that means that societal views are not as clearly defined as some might think.   

 In these two philosophies lie why the battle for the soul of the Supreme Court is viewed by both sides as vital.  To the liberals, legal positivism allows them to bypass legislatures and achieve recognition of laws that sometimes are against the will of the people.  The Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment, which was passed with the intent of preventing southern legislatures from restricting the freedom of the newly freed slaves, is their tool of national enforcement.  Thus controversial issues like abortion and gay marriage, which may agree with overarching philosophy and sensibilities of some states but not others, become a one size fits all for all 50 states because they are held to be non-discretionary issues of basic liberty.

Conservatives counter that we are not a one sized fits all country, and that the 10th Amendment which says that all laws not specifically spelled out in the Constitution should be reserved to the states to regulate.  For example, California and Kentucky have very different philosophies, and the laws about how we live should be free to acknowledge those differences.  So we want judges who respect this notion instead of attempting to impose their personal philosophy as normative and then forcing everyone to go along, even when it does not reflect the values of many communities.

For me, Trump's pledge to appoint justices with the constructionist philosophy was a decisive reason for voting for him.  The death of my favorite justice, Antonin Scalia, created a conservative hole that I did not want to be filled by a liberal replacement.  Republicans have never successfully "Borked" an appointee to my recollection.  Instead they usually adopt the philosophy espoused by Bob Dole during the confirmation of Justice Ginsburg that "the President is entitled to his choice".  Mitch McConnell's refusal to hold confirmation hearings on President Obama's choice of Merrick Garland to replace Scalia therefore came as a complete surprise to me as we usually do not see such behavior in establishment Republicans, It was a very risky thing to do and, quite frankly, I think it was the wrong thing to do from a Constitutional standpoint.  But as a political move, it was brilliant.  It turned the national election into a national referendum for the direction the court would take.  Since Garland was deliberately presented as a more measured nominee, this was also rolling the dice in a big way with a "winner take all" outcome.  I was very surprised that Democrats did not make more fuss about it at the time, but then again they fully expected to win the election and then be able to appoint a candidate more in line with their own philosophy instead of a compromise, so they played along.

Making the presidential election a national referendum was probably the main reason that prominent evangelicals were enthusiastic about Trump instead of offering tepid support.  The Supreme Court, unrestrained and unaccountable, is the dream of the side whose view it reflects and the nightmare of whose philosophy is not represented.  So McConnell's plan certainly worked as intended in my case. I therefore eagerly await the announcement of who the nominee will be.  So far President Trump has honored his campaign promises and delivered on them, and I am very happy to see the no-nonsense approach with which he is moving out with his agenda.  I expect his candidate for the Supreme Court to be no different.  Now if he would only stop tweeting!

Friday, December 30, 2016

Tools for Dialogue: Political Autobiography

I have a deep personal desire, need might be the better word, to find a path to constructive political dialogue.  At the same time I have increasing doubts about my ability to do this and whether attempting to do so is a good use of my time.

But rather that rattle off the list of doubts, let me hit this from a different angle.  What would be the features of a constructive dialogue?

The first thing is that it cannot be a debate, because a debate is fundamentally about winning and losing.  The dialogue has to be based on mutual curiosity:  I want to understand your point of view, not convert you to mine.

It can't focus too quickly on political issues, either.  A person's stand on a specific issue is an extrapolation of their basic world view.  If two people have different world views then they necessarily approach any given issue from two points of departure--different priorities, different ideas about how the world works, different definitions of crucial concepts ("freedom," for example).  They will almost certainly talk past one another.  Worse, they're quite likely to end up arguing, in effect, that my world view makes sense and yours doesn't.

So the first main feature is a basic understanding of each other's political worldview.  Therefore my usual practice, whenever possible, is to ask people to offer their political autobiography, although I usually find a way to ease them into offering it rather than to ask directly.  By political autobiography I mean the basic values and life experiences that created their political perspective.  Many people are happy to tell me.  Some are not.  With regard to those who aren't, my impression is that they feel defensive or embarrassed.  What if they sound silly or naive?  What if they can't readily say how they came to believe what they believe?  What if they've never even thought about it?

It isn't necessary to view the skittish ones as not worth talking to.  But for the time being it's best to talk about something other than politics.

It can be useful to give one's political autobiography first.  It's easier for other people to show vulnerability if you're willing to show some vulnerability and it provides a model for them to follow.

So by way of illustration, I'll give you my own--some of it anyway--as nearly as I can make it out.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Tess Rafferty Tells Off Trump Voters - Pt 3

The title of this post is misleading because at this point I want to suggest that in her two videos (see Parts 1 and 2), Tess Rafferty's real target isn't people who voted for Trump.

Her target is people like me.

Let me explain.

The election of Donald Trump shocked the American left like nothing I have seen in my lifetime.  It certainly shocked me.  When a few people compared Election Day to 9/11 I thought the comparison grotesque but in one respect I understood it.  The September 11 attacks shook all Americans to their core.  They served notice that we didn't live in the world that we thought we lived in.  Most liberals were viscerally shaken by the election and the discovery that Trump could not only get taken seriously as a candidate and gain the Republican nomination, but could actually become the 45th President of the United States.... Well, if anything could convey the impression that we didn't live in the country we thought we lived in, Trump's election could do it.  And did.

Against any other candidate in the Republican field I cannot imagine people getting so rattled. Had Jeb Bush defeated Hillary Clinton, for example, liberals would have been disappointed in the same way that all of us are disappointed when our guy doesn't win.  I think that would have been true even if Ted Cruz had won.  Sure, there would have been the usual Chicken Little rhetoric--"the sky is falling, the sky is falling"--but nobody would actually have believed it.  With Trump, however.  Well, maybe the sky was indeed falling.

The problem wasn't Donald Trump per se.  The problem was that so many of our countrymen voted for him.  According to the final tally, Trump received 62,979,636 votes, more than sufficient to give him a convincing majority in the Electoral College:  306 to 232.  (That is of course prior to the formal electoral college vote on December 19, in which two Republican electors defected from Trump and five defected from Clinton, yielding an official tally of 304 to 227.)

Hillary Clinton, for whom 65,844,610 Americans cast their ballots, won the popular vote by a margin a 2.1 percent--the second highest margin for a losing presidential candidate in US history.  (In 1876 Samuel J. Tilden lost despite a margin of 3 percent).  But the operative word is "losing."

To explain just why Trump's election was so disturbing would take so long that it would essentially hijack this post.   And others--Tess Rafferty, for instance--have explained it well enough already.  So let me get directly to Tess Rafferty and her two videos, ostensibly aimed at Trump voters but really aimed at me.

Why me?  Well, in the aftermath of the election liberals essentially had two impulses.  The first was to underscore, as firmly as possible, their rejection of the misogyny and xenophobia that Trump openly displayed and the tacit racism that was obvious enough to make white supremacists regard him as their champion.  The second was to try to understand why so many Americans chose to vote for Trump despite myriad glaring flaws.  The impulses weren't mutually exclusive but they did require a difficult balancing act that required nuance.  And in our polarized political culture, nuance is not highly prized.

Given a forced choice, my heart was more with the second impulse than the first.  I have always been a sucker for the idea that a way to have a constructive dialogue can always be found and that we have a moral responsibility to find it.  Spouses have to find ways to reach spouses.  Parents have to find ways to reach children. Friends have to find ways to reach friends.  Nations have to find ways to reach rivals.  And countrymen have to find ways to reach countrymen. LBJ is said to have frequently quoted Isaiah:  "Come now, and let us reason together."  The idea that humans can do this--that they can reason their way out of conflict--is powerfully attractive.

In recent weeks we've seen a number of liberal opinion pieces that try to understand Trump supporters.  A op/ed that currently stands at #5 on the New York Times list of its most popular articles bears the title, "Sorry, Liberals, Bigotry Didn't Elect Donald Trump.", written by David Paul Kuhn, author of The Neglected Voter:  White Men and the Democratic Dilemma (2007).

Several weeks before the election, a Quinnipiac University poll found that 51 percent of white working-class voters did not believe that Mr. Trump had a “sense of decency” and ranked Mrs. Clinton slightly higher on that quality.
But they were not voting on decency. Indeed, one-fifth of voters — more than 25 million Americans — said they “somewhat” disapproved of Mr. Trump’s treatment of women. Mr. Trump won three-quarters of these voters, despite their disapprobation.
Bluntly put, much of the white working class decided that Mr. Trump could be a jerk. Absent any other champion, they supported the jerk they thought was more on their side — that is, on the issues that most concerned them.
 Just yesterday an article from September briefly occupied the #16 spot:  "We Need 'Somebody Spectacular':  Views From Trump Country," a sympathetic portrait of voters in eastern Kentucky.  "Appalachian voters know perfectly well the candidate is dangerous," says the teaser.  "But they're desperate for change."

"Everybody Is Reading Books to Try to Explain Trump Voters," reported the Style section of the Washington Post in early September.  Prominent among those books was Hillbilly Elegy:  A Memoir of Culture and Crisis, by J.D. Vance, a young author with a Harvard degree but roots in the coal country of Kentucky and the transplanted working class Appalachians living in Ohio.  Hillbilly Elegy briefly held status as practically a Rosetta Stone for understanding the core Trump supporter--enough to provoke a backlash.  A writer in The New Republic excoriated the author as "J.D. Vance, the False Prophet of Blue America."

But that was a rejection of Vance, not the idea of trying to understand Trump voters empathetically.  The author, herself a native of Appalachia, argued that Appalachian voters turned to Trump because the Democratic Party forgot about them: "We don’t need to normalize Trumpism or empathize with white supremacy to reach these voters. They weren’t destined to vote for Trump; many were Democratic voters. They aren’t destined to stay loyal to him in the future. To win them back, we must address their material concerns, and we can do that without coddling their prejudices. After all, America’s most famous progressive populist—Bernie Sanders—won many of the counties Clinton lost to Trump."

Perhaps an even more powerful explanation for why Trump supporters voted as they did came from Michael Moore, because he predicted a Trump victory at a time when people like me were offering odds of ten-to-one on Hillary Clinton.  On October 26, an article in Salon explained Moore's belief that  "People Will Vote for Donald Trump as a Giant 'Fxxk You'--and He'll Win." 
Trump’s sincerity in wanting to stand up for the average Joe doesn’t even matter, Moore argued, because voting for him is a giant message that disaffected Americans will be happy to send to media and political elites who they see as not caring about them.

“Trump’s election is going to be the biggest ‘fuck you’ ever recorded in human history — and it will feel good,” Moore argued.

“Whether Trump means it or not is kind of irrelevant because he’s saying the things to people who are hurting, and that’s why every beaten-down, nameless, forgotten working stiff who used to be part of what was called the middle class loves Trump,” Moore continued. “He is the human Molotov cocktail that they’ve been waiting for, the human hand grenade that they can legally throw into the system that stole their lives from them.”
In and of itself, the impulse to understand the Trump voter is not problematic--until you start arguing that maybe the Trump voter has a point.  It's perhaps bad enough if the Trump voter has an economic point--maybe it's a problem if you used to be a coal miner making $70,000/year and now you're struggling to find two dimes to rub together, and maybe we should have factored that outcome into our concerns about the environment.  But it's worse if they have a cultural point, which is the argument that Columbia University humanities professor Mark Lilla made in a widely-discussed New York Times op/ed, "The End of Identity Liberalism."   (November 18).  It's sufficiently important to be worth quoting at length:
It is a truism that America has become a more diverse country. It is also a beautiful thing to watch. Visitors from other countries, particularly those having trouble incorporating different ethnic groups and faiths, are amazed that we manage to pull it off. Not perfectly, of course, but certainly better than any European or Asian nation today. It’s an extraordinary success story.
But how should this diversity shape our politics? The standard liberal answer for nearly a generation now has been that we should become aware of and “celebrate” our differences. Which is a splendid principle of moral pedagogy — but disastrous as a foundation for democratic politics in our ideological age. In recent years American liberalism has slipped into a kind of moral panic about racial, gender and sexual identity that has distorted liberalism’s message and prevented it from becoming a unifying force capable of governing.
One of the many lessons of the recent presidential election campaign and its repugnant outcome is that the age of identity liberalism must be brought to an end.
A convenient liberal interpretation of the recent presidential election would have it that Mr. Trump won in large part because he managed to transform economic disadvantage into racial rage — the “whitelash” thesis. This is convenient because it sanctions a conviction of moral superiority and allows liberals to ignore what those voters said were their overriding concerns. It also encourages the fantasy that the Republican right is doomed to demographic extinction in the long run — which means liberals have only to wait for the country to fall into their laps. The surprisingly high percentage of the Latino vote that went to Mr. Trump should remind us that the longer ethnic groups are here in this country, the more politically diverse they become.
Finally, the whitelash thesis is convenient because it absolves liberals of not recognizing how their own obsession with diversity has encouraged white, rural, religious Americans to think of themselves as a disadvantaged group whose identity is being threatened or ignored. Such people are not actually reacting against the reality of our diverse America (they tend, after all, to live in homogeneous areas of the country). But they are reacting against the omnipresent rhetoric of identity, which is what they mean by “political correctness.” Liberals should bear in mind that the first identity movement in American politics was the Ku Klux Klan, which still exists. Those who play the identity game should be prepared to lose it.

For many liberals, that kind of response is fundamentally unacceptable.  Comedian Samantha Bee explained why when she used the op/ed as Exhibit A in her contention that "identity politics" is a dangerous euphemism for something else:
Bee:  "Identity politics.  That's a fun word.  Can anyone whitesplain it to us?"

FOX News guest Heather McDonald:  "Identity politics defines whites, and particularly white males, as the oppressors of every other group, real or imagined, in the United States.  It has produced vast government bureaucracies, dedicated to extirpating phantom white racism."

Bee:  "OK.  One:  'White males' is an identity.  Two:  The only way white racism is a phantom is that its most iconic uniform is literally a ghost costume." [Photo of KKK rally in full regalia]


Bee:  "I forget.  What do you call it when you have two phrases for the same thing, but one makes people feel better?

Trump, speaking at a rally:  "... but that was a euphenism [sic]."


Bee:  Right!  A 'euphenism.'  He is, like, smart. . . . Identity politics is the dismissive term for what we used to call 'civil rights' and 'equality.'"

Then follows a montage of FOX News commentators agreeing that the Democrats lost because of their fixation on identity politics rather than jobs.

Bee:  "It's our fault.  We fell down the stairs.  We're so clumsy.  Look, stop it! Come on, Democrats!  There's Loser Stockholm Syndrome and then there's taking your talking points from Steve Doosy and pals."  [Doosy is the co-host of the morning talk show, "FOX and Friends."]

Another montage follows, that segues to North Carolina Republican Governor Pat McCrory's loss to his Democratic opponent, widely seen as due to his association with the infamous "bathroom" bill aimed at transgender persons.
Bee:  "Democrats, I know you're having a rough time.  You hate being lost in the wilderness.  You have allergies, and you were reading a book in a corner when your Scoutmaster taught everyone which leaves to avoid.  [Laughter.]  But if your panic over a loss makes you abandon both your principles and the people who actually vote for you, then you'll be in the wilderness for a decade.  Or until Trump's cabinet sells the wilderness to oil companies.  By all means, invite working class white people to the party.  Just don't let them take over the d.j. table."
By all means, let's embrace working class white people--but on our own terms.

This gets to the purpose of Rafferty's demands that Trump voters must take ownership for the full implications of their vote, which includes lending aid and comfort to racists, xenophobes, and just plain assholes.  It isn't directed at Trump voters at all.  It's directed at Democrats who might be inclined to open a dialogue with Trump voters, by modeling an approach to dialogue designed to foreclose it at the outset.  The real message is that dialogue--honest dialogue involving give-and-take and an open mind--constitutes betrayal.

I reject that sentiment, of course.  But here's a disquieting idea that is its functional equivalent, and that is becoming harder for me to dismiss:  Dialogue constitutes a waste of time.  I'll explain my reasons for disquiet in my next entry.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Tess Rafferty Tells Off Trump Voters - Pt 2

A little while ago I posted, without comment, a video by comedian Tess Rafferty on the election of Donald Trump that went viral when abridged and shared by Occupy Democrats in mid-November.

Here's a second video by Tess Rafferty, shared by Occupy Democrats on December 9.  It's entitled "What Trump Voters Need to Hear."  As if any Trump voter would sit still long enough to endure this three-minute brow-beating.  Nonetheless, I will comment on this one.

Shorn of the in-your-face tone, Rafferty's request in this video boils down to this: if you voted for Trump on grounds other than racism, misogyny, Islamophobia; and if you voted for Trump despite the "flaws" that were regularly excused by saying the Hillary Clinton was an even more flawed candidate--an excuse that is no longer necessary; then say something to dissociate yourself from those things and do or say something tangible to show that the Republican Party doesn't embrace those things.

Most of the people I know who voted for Trump are in fact people who did so for reasons I can understand even if I don't agree with them; people who aren't racist, or misogynists, or xenophobic. The disquieting thing about them, however, is their near-universal refusal to acknowledge that Trump or any of his supporters did in fact appeal to or express racist, misogynist, or xenophobic views.

Tess Rafferty Tells Off Trump Voters - Pt 1


Tess Rafferty is a comedy writer and activist.  Like a lot of people, she wasn't just disappointed that her presidential candidate of choice didn't get elected.  She was horrified that so many Americans voted for a man who negated, about as strongly as anyone could, pretty much everything she believed in.  She was also, she said, just plain tired of trying to engage in reasonable discussion with the people who supported Trump. (I'd be interested to know if she actually did.)

Two days after the election, Rafferty composed a sort of cri de coeur and read it before a camera.  The 8 minute, 43 second video was abridged to 3 minutes, 33 seconds, and shared on Facebook by Occupy Democrats on November 18, entitled "What Everyone Who Voted for Trump Needs to Hear."  The Facebook version received nearly 22 million views in five days.  As I write this, the count is currently on the high side of 33 million.

I think it is safe to assume that very few of those 33 million views came from people who voted for Trump.

Nor for quite a while did any of those views come from me.  I don't usually read/watch anything by liberal advocacy groups.  I can form my opinions without their help.  So I was oblivious even to the existence of Rafferty's video--until my niece posted the Occupy Democrats version on her Facebook page and asked her FB friends to watch it.  So I did.

But here's the original video, which I find more interesting--and which, be it noted, I present without comment.  (A transcript is below the jump.)

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Trump's Appeal to African American Voters

Scott has repeatedly highlighted this speech as pivotal in his turn from, in essence, a voter motivated primarily by disgust with Hillary Clinton to one motivated by a positive view of Donald Trump.  This speech, given on October 26, 2016, in Charlotte, NC, articulates Trump's assessment of the conditions of "inner City" African Americans and his policy proposals for improving those conditions.  Here's the address on video, coupled with a transcript:

 Transcript from Donald J. Trump Campaign site:

"I want to talk about how to grow the African-American middle class, and to provide a new deal for Black America. That deal is grounded in three promises: safe communities, great education, and high-paying jobs. My vision rests on a principle that has defined this campaign: America First. Every African-American citizen in this country is entitled to a government that puts their jobs, wages and security first. ...

 Our opponent represents the rigged system and failed thinking of yesterday. ... Hillary has been there for 30 years and hasn’t fixed anything – she’s just made it worse. American politics is caught in a time loop – we keep electing the same people, who keep making the same mistakes, and who keep offering the same excuses. ... African-American citizens have sacrificed so much for this nation. They have fought and died in every war since the Revolution, and from the pews and the picket lines they have lifted up the conscience of our country in the long march for Civil Rights. Yet, too many African-Americans have been left behind. ...

 The conditions in our inner cities today are unacceptable. The Democrats have run our inner cities for fifty, sixty, seventy years or more. They’ve run the school boards, the city councils, the mayor’s offices, and the congressional seats. Their policies have failed, and they’ve failed miserably. They’ve trapped children in failing government schools, and opposed school choice at every turn. The Clintons gave us NAFTA and China’s entry into the World Trade Organization, two deals that de-industrialized America, uprooted our industry, and stripped bare towns like Detroit and Baltimore and the inner cities of North Carolina. ... Democratic policies have also given rise to crippling crime and violence. Then there is the issue of taxation and regulation. Massive taxes, massive regulation of small business, and radical restrictions on American energy, have driven jobs and opportunities out of our inner cities. Hillary wants to raise taxes on successful small businesses as high as 45 percent – which will only drive more jobs out of your community, and into other countries. ... . No group has been more economically-harmed by decades of illegal immigration than low-income African-American workers. Hillary’s pledge to enact “open borders,” – made in secret to a foreign bank – would destroy the African-American middle class. At the center of my revitalization plan is the issue of trade. ... We won’t let your jobs be stolen from you anymore. When we stop the offshoring to low-wage countries, we raise wages at home – meaning rent and bills become instantly more affordable. At the same time, my plan to lower the business tax from 35 percent to 15 percent will bring thousands of new companies onto our shores. It also includes a massive middle class tax cut, tax-free childcare savings accounts, and childcare tax deductions and credits. I will also propose tax holidays for inner-city investment, and new tax incentives to get foreign companies to relocate in blighted American neighborhoods. ... We will also encourage small-business creation by allowing social welfare workers to convert poverty assistance into repayable but forgive-able micro-loans. ...

 I will invest in training and funding both local and federal law enforcement operations to remove the gang members, drug dealers, and criminal cartels from our neighborhoods. The reduction of crime is not merely a goal – but a necessity. We will get it done. The war on police urged on by my rival is reckless, and dangerous, and puts African-American lives at risk. We must work with our police, not against them. On immigration, my policy is simple. I will restore the civil rights of African-Americans, Hispanic-Americans, and all Americans, by ending illegal immigration. I will reform visa rules to give American workers preference for jobs, and I will suspend reckless refugee admissions from terror-prone regions that cost taxpayers hundreds of billions of dollars. ...

 School choice is at the center of my plan. My proposal redirects education spending to allow every disadvantaged child in America to attend the public, private, charter, magnet, religious or home school of their choice. ...

The cycle of poverty can be broken, and great new things can happen for our people. But to achieve this future, we must reject the failed elites in Washington who’ve been wrong about virtually everything for decades. ...

Now is the time to embrace a New Direction.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

#Not MY Protest Rally - Pt 3

In Parts 1 and 2 of this series I described the prelude before the Veterans Day rally on the Oval protesting the implications of Trump's election victory.  By now it was nearly 4:30 pm and the rally was still in its organizational phase.  I turned to a couple of students and we began to chat.  Both were freshmen; unsurprisingly, this was their first protest demonstration.  It wasn't mine, although my last (and pretty much only) demonstration occurred forty years ago, when I attended a rally at Kent State University, protesting the imminent construction of a gymnasium addition that would encroach upon the crest of Blanket Hill, where on May 4, 1970, the Ohio National Guard--what an outraged poet had called "the olive drab conscience of America--had turned and fired upon a crowd of students, some protesting, some simply walking from one class to the next. 

I told the students about both the shootings and the "Move the Gym" protests.  The Guard had wounded nine students had killed four students.  Two of them, Jeffrey Miller and Allison Krause, were part of the demonstration (which is commonly thought to have been about the Vietnam War but was in fact a protest against the presence of the Guard on campus).  The other two, Sandy Scheuer and William Schroeder, were simply walking to their next class.  (Ironically, Schroeder was an ROTC cadet.)

I also told them that at the time of the shootings Ohio State was in the midst of a student strike sparked the reluctance of the university administration to meet demands for action on a variety of issues.  The demonstrations attracted most students as well as thousands from outside the university. At one point the Oval was completely filled with an estimated 100,000 protesters.  Afterward a graduate student in political science conducted a survey of students who reported that they had participated in the almost continuous demonstrations.  Ten percent said they had done so for political reasons.  The other ninety percent had gotten involved because it was a happening, something interesting to experience.  As a 17-year old researching the strike I found this a bit disillusioning.  At this distance it sounds like simple human nature.

I kept an eye on the students to make sure--as sure as I could, anyway, that I wasn't starting to bore them.  But it wasn't boring stuff and anyway it was certainly connected to the situation in which we found ourselves.  All the same, after a few minutes I excused myself and ambled off to see if there were any faculty present whom I knew.

I still didn't like my placard with its pathetically bad lettering, so I folded it up and stuffed in the pocket of my hoodie.

I didn't see anyone I recognized.  Presently the rally began, with someone standing on the base of the William Oxley Thompson statue and bawling something indistinct through a megaphone.  Then he led the crowd (about 200 people) in its first chant.

"Fuck Trump! Fuck Trump! Fuck Trump!"

I wasn't about to participate in that one.

Then someone else took the megaphone and bawled something indistinct.  Then he too began to chant:

"Not my president! Not my president! Not my president!"

This was an improvement over "Fuck Trump."  But since I took the view that, however much I didn't like it, Trump would indeed become my president when he took office in January, I didn't join that one either.  I had never felt like I really belonged at this rally and by now I was on the verge of feeling like a complete outsider.

Someone else took the megaphone.  Third verse, same as the first.  Then:

"The people, united, will never be defeated!  The people, united, will never be defeated!"

This was a blast from the past--a chant dating back to the 1960's--but it was at least something I didn't mind saying.  The trouble was, I soon got about a syllable ahead of the crowd and a few people turned to look for the idiot who couldn't chant properly.

That pretty much did it for me.  I drifted a few yards from the crowd and assumed the role of amateur journalist, taking photos of the rally with my iPhone.  It occurred to me that this was exactly the role I had taken in the "Move the Gym" protest, and that it suited me a lot better.


There was a group of Trump supporters about 50 yards away, just seated in chairs and kind of smirking at the protesters.  I was curious to know what they were thinking and ordinarily I would have just walked up and introduced myself, but since I had already been with the group of protesters I knew my approach would have been misinterpreted.

But one of the Trump supporters did begin to approach the crowd.  I could tell he wasn't belligerent, just clueless about the optics of such an action. Before he got close enough for anyone to notice, however, a journalist arrested the young man's progress, and I heard him explain that he was probably the only reporter interested in interviewing him.  I'm pretty sure the journalist did it in order to stop the student from advancing further.  He asked the student what was doing there and I partially overheard the response, which was basically that Trump had been elected fair and square and we should respect the election.

Which of course was a common but complete misreading of the purpose of the rally.  Everyone knew Trump had been elected fair and square.  That's what made everyone feel scared and vulnerable, if not for themselves than for persons who happened to be Hispanic or Muslim or just plain different.

I ended up seeing only two faculty whom I recognized.   Both were latecomers, and both quickly sized up the demonstration as what in Army terms would be called a gaggle fuck, which is to say a step beyond a cluster fuck.
A few days ago a Facebook friend opined that the Democratic Party was inciting the demonstrations.  That would have come as news to the protest organizers.  By this time I had circled around so as to be directly in front of the megaphone, so I could hear one speaker explain that "the Democratic Party has betrayed us and we're on our own."   The Democratic Party had betrayed them, apparently, because  Democratic leaders were working with Trump and his team to begin the transition of power.

Strike three.  I was totally done with the rally.  So was one of the faculty--I doubted the other would tarry much longer--and we walked back toward our everyday lives together.

The Conscience of the Nation

Last week, I did something that has changed my life.  Instead of trying to just guess what the other side was thinking, I decided to ask them directly.  Much has been made of the bubbles we intellectually move in, and it is absolutely true.  The problem is we see that as a problem for the other side, but are blinded ourselves that we are as bad and worse.  Jesus Himself tells us to be on guard against this.  In the Sermon on the Mount, a teaching so powerful that it profoundly impacted Mahatma Gandhi, he warns us:

“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye. “Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.  (Matthew 7:1-6 NIV)

It seems that everyone is familiar with the first two verses.  And many incorrectly interpret them to mean that we cannot judge anything a person does, and therefore, in a sense, is used as a justification of why Christians should not try to impose our values on society, because to do so is to "judge" other viewpoints.  Jesus is being much more nuanced than that, but that will a discussion for another day.  But let me tell you what my new awareness obtained through dialogue has informed me.  You on the left do not want Christians to buy into this interpretation.  And the reason is, ironically, the "separation of Church and State".

During the presidency of Thomas Jefferson, a group of Baptists became very concerned with an idea that was buzzing about that the American version of the Church of England, the Episcopal Church, was about to become the national denomination of the United States.  We in America are unfamiliar with the idea of a national church.  It is the combining of Church and State, and is very wrong.  The reason for this is because of what the remarkable Dutch politician/educator/journalist/theologian Abraham Kuyper termed "sphere sovereignty".

Kuyper argued that since Jesus is Lord of everything, then every field (sphere) of human endeavor should include God in its conceptual framework for proper human subordination to occur.  To have legitimacy in rule, all authority must in turn be subordinated to God.  Authority that does not recognize God or His law has no legitimacy because that lack of recognition means that whoever is being ruled over is in danger of being subject to the whims of who they subordinate to, unrestrained. Since Christians believe that unless acted on by either an external or internal force, humans behave very badly, this puts subordinates in a very bad spot.

Though Kuyper lived later, this was a common idea long before Kuyper expressed it so eloquently. Jefferson himself had used the conceptual framework when penning the Declaration of Independence. The Declaration of Independence is written with this in mind.  Our rights come from God and to have authority, a ruler needs to keep this in mind.  Therefore, King George III was a tyrant, not just because of "taxation without representation", which is what is commonly taught in school.  That is just one of many reasons.  Almost to explicitly emphasize this it is the one reason advanced as evidence of King George's tyranny that does not stand alone.  Instead it bundled with another piece of evidence, the suspension of trial by jury.

The problem with a national church is that it muddles the idea of freedom of conscience.  Many people seem to believe that Christianity is all about rules and regulations.  I was interested to find out when engaging with my younger daughter's Japanese friends she would bring to our house on visits from college, that this is what they had assumed was the essence of Christianity.  They are not alone. It is the common conception among many in this country as well.

The early Americans had seen national churches in England and other places and rejected the idea because they felt that people should be free to worship as they please.  I completely agree and so does Christianity.  As Christians, unlike some other religions, we feel conversions obtained at gunpoint are useless.  We also feel that people should be able to believe what they want.  But all moral religions should be absolutely encouraged for reasons outlined by, ironically given current controversy, Alexander Hamilton himself in Washington’s Farewell Address, which he helped to write:

Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of patriotism, who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of men and citizens. The mere politician, equally with the pious man, ought to respect and to cherish them. A volume could not trace all their connections with private and public felicity. Let it simply be asked: Where is the security for property, for reputation, for life, if the sense of religious obligation desert the oaths which are the instruments of investigation in courts of justice?

The philosophy behind this statement is because human beings, being inherently selfish, want to do things their own way, often without regard for the feelings of others.  To keep them from this, their behavior needs to be restrained either by their own sense of right and wrong or by an outside agency, like the police.  Some argued, as is done today, that education could be substituted for religion as this internal force.  Washington/Hamilton respond this way:

And let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion. Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.

The reason for this is simple. Education is casting bread upon the water. It carries with it no moral obligation. Without religion, there is no compelling moral reason for people to do anything. With religion, with the idea of accountability to a transcendent source who will one day judge us on our behavior, there is absolutely need to live correctly. For the purposes of an orderly society, any religion that believes in a transcendent source of morality is therefore useful to this end, including Islam. It is not the state’s job to dictate to people how they should believe, but it is a good idea for the state to encourage religious belief. This is why the attempt to suppress Christian ideas and values is so misguided. Dennis Prager illustrated this in a terrific way. Imagine, he says, you are downtown in the middle of a city at 2am in the morning and your car breaks down. You notice that a group of a dozen or so young men are walking towards you. Would you feel better or worse to know they had just left a Bible study? I imagine even the most ardent secularist reading this, if answering honestly, would say they would feel better because of the recognition that these people have an internal force acting on their behavior. Therefore, religion is so important to a free society. Without it, as in totalitarian states, its absence must be replaced with the strong arm of man. As Mao Zedong observed in such a state “right behavior begins at the end of a gun”.

In the Christian idea of society there are three components each with a separate and vital role. The Family is responsible for the raising of the new generation, the Church is responsible for education and taking care of people and the State is responsible for preserving order, administering justice and protecting the nation. Each of these parts is distinct, yet all work together. The state has a very necessary and legitimate need to do things that are necessary to accomplish its function including, when necessary, to break heads. The church’s function by controlling education is to keep the impulse to be excessive in these ends in check. The church acts as the conscience of the state, so removing its influence is dangerous. Without it much of what the left legitimately fears can be done with impunity.

The left’s ideas of right and wrong are informed by explicitly Christian ideas of justice and mercy, though it is often unrecognized. We therefore agree on many things. For a variety of reasons, they have felt the need to fill the role of state conscience because they legitimately see a vacuum caused by the church’s attempt to use the state as a means of enforcing morality instead of just having the state encourage the church to do its job. They have felt the need to transfer to the state the functions of education and taking care of the people, essentially leaving the church with no function in society at all. This is wrongheaded.

Jefferson tried to reassure the Danbury Baptists by quoting one of their own denomination’s theologians who had spoken of the dangers of what happens when these spheres become blurred. Basically, the idea of a “wall of separation between church and state” was to ensure each vital part of society functioned within its own proper sphere. It was more to protect the church from the state than vice versa. It was to prevent the establishment of an actual national denomination owed allegiance to, not because of conscience, but because of compelled obligation.

In my dialogues, I have been asked if I support things like torture and the killing of innocent people, not because folks were trying to be snarky, but because they have legitimately felt that my vote for President Elect Trump is a blank check. It is not. Like many of you, I was faced with a difficult choice because no candidate out there expressed my views perfectly. That means that whoever I voted for would be a compromise of sorts. I focused on the two issues that were important to me, but could not just buy these a la carte. It was a package deal. I cannot like a little boy who doesn’t like peas, just eat around the parts of Trump I don’t like. But I can make sure that while he delivers on the issues I voted for, he does nothing that violates my beliefs about justice and mercy. That is my duty as part of the conscience of the state.

I will ask my new friends on the left to do me one favor though. Remember that the phrase in the constitution has two parts and, as I join you in making sure we do not establish a national religion, I ask you to not try and restrict my free exercise of my beliefs. I can be a powerful ally to you only if I not restricted in that. So, exercise some tolerance when I want to say “Merry Christmas” or put a nativity scene on the courthouse lawn. It is for the good of all of us that I do so.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

#Not My Protest Rally - Pt 2

Before the November 11 protest rally on the Ohio State Oval got underway (see Part 1), someone handed me a safety pin.  It wasn't all that safe:  it was open, with the sharp end exposed.  And its meaning wasn't clear at all, since no one explained it.  Without knowing the symbolism I wasn't about to put it on.  This was emblematic of the rally as it developed.  The organizers had no interest in the people that showed up.  The event began to look like a case of self-indulgent radical chic.

I didn't discover what the meaning of the safety pin two days later, following the worship service at my church.  As explained to me, it was intended to indicate that I was a safe person for people to talk to, presumably people frightened by the election outcome.  Of course, they'd only know I was safe if they knew what the hell the safety pin meant.  And since it took two days for me to find that out myself, I wasn't sanguine that the word had gotten out very far.

Nonetheless I wore the pin for a couple of days, together with a "Black Lives Matter" button, the symbolism of which was impossible to miss.  I figured that if I let people know that I believed black lives mattered, they would assume I thought that Hispanic, Muslim, and LGBTQ lives mattered, too.

Just now I finally looked up the safety pin business on the Internet.  Among the first hits that appeared was an op/ed in the Washington Post, entitled "Go Ahead:  Wear a Safety Pin.  But Don't Expect People of Color to Care."  It was written by Zack Linly, described as "a poet, performer, freelance writer, community organizer and activist living in Atlanta."  The accompanying photo indicated that he was a person of color (POC).

Linly's point of departure was similar to my own:

For any of you still scratching your head or other assorted body parts thinking, “What the hell is this whole ‘safety pin’ thing about?” I suppose the simplest way to describe it is: mostly white people donning pins on their clothing to identify themselves as being definitively against Trump and the toxic culture of uber-conservatism that comes with him, and thus dubbing themselves an “ally” to people of any and all demographics that have been deemed vulnerable.

The safety pin movement has been both praised and shouted down, mostly by people from those vulnerable demographics who are at best skeptical and at worst think it’s nothing more than white savior complex shenanigans, a hollow gesture sure to be unaccompanied by action. For black people, it’s akin to police officers handing us ice cream when we asked them to stop murdering us.

Linly went on to say that he didn't mind the safety pins; he minded the outrage it provoked from illiberal people poised to condemn any attempt at solidarity that did not precisely conform to their notions of the form those attempts should take.  But taken on the whole, Linly's attitude was more or less condescending:

White people (and POC, too, for that matter) need to know that they can wear their pins all they want, but they don’t get to demand trust and appreciation. It behooves them to stop trying to tell marginalized people, whom they claim are “safe” with them, how to feel about it. I understand people who see a safety pin and appreciate it and find it comforting. I also understand those who find it to be patronizing and, once again, centering white folk in an issue that generally doesn’t belong to them. (And yes, they are centering themselves in the issue. They’re literally expecting people to take notice of a small pin clipped to their coat, so yes, yes, they are.)

Linly concludes that accessorizing is cheap, activism is hard:

While this [critcism] may be disconcerting to some, I’d look at it as an opportunity for white liberals to prove that their allyship doesn’t begin and end with a safety pin by actually doing the work of dismantling white supremacy, toxic patriarchy and every other oppressive system we have in place. Then you can wear your pins proud, and know that doing it in the face of rolling eyes, turned up noses and relentless mocking is part of what it is to be marginalized and almost entirely what it is to be an activist.

So much for the safety pin.  Basically my intuition about it, when first handed the item, was correct.  The question was whether the rally would point the way toward real activism. . . .  

Thursday, November 17, 2016

The Best Conservative Films: Gran Torino

In 2006 I began a monthly Faith and Film Night at my church.  Members have always had confidence in my choice of movies; I have three rules concerning the selections.  First, the films must be critically acclaimed.  Second, they cannot be overtly religious (with very occasional exceptions) because it tends to channel discussion too narrowly.  And third, in order to leave enough time for discussion, they must have a running time of two hours or less.

Here's my article in the church newsletter re December's selection:
In light of the election, a number of church members have expressed an interest in knowing more about the Americans who chose to vote for Donald Trump.  So for the next three months, Faith and Film Night will feature three movies that are both critically acclaimed and routinely listed as among the best films to portray a conservative world view.  The first offering is Gran Torino, a 2008 movie about retired auto worker and Korean War veteran Walt Kowalski (played by Clint Eastwood, who also directed the film).
 An aging widower, the irascible Kowalski lives alone in a Detroit neighborhood that over time has gone from lily white to predominantly Asian, Latino, and African American.  The family next door is ethnically Hmong (a people living in the mountains of Southeast Asia).  Initially wary, Kowalski is soon drawn into their lives, discovering that he has more in common with them than with his own alienated children.  He also discovers that one of them, a quiet teenage boy named Thao, is under heavy pressure from a cousin to become a gang banger.  The heart of Gran Torino is Kowalski’s evolving relationship with Thao and his determination to protect Thao from the gang.

National Review placed Gran Torino #25 in its 2009 list of “The Best Conservative Movies.” With tongue slightly in cheek, it offered this summary: “Dirty Harry blows away political correctness, takes on the bad guys, and turns a boy into a man in the process. . . . It feels so good, you knew the Academy would ignore it.”

Critic Roger Ebert, who gave the film three and a half stars, had a different take:  Gran Torino is about two things, I believe. It's about the belated flowering of a man's better nature. And it's about Americans of different races growing more open to one another in the new century.”

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Letter To North Church

My brother Mark relayed to me an opportunity to explain to his church, which is quite different from mine, why I as a Christian could vote for such an obviously flawed candidate as Donald J. Trump. My previous post, True Confessions of a Trump Voter, provides more deep background to where I am coming from.  Before I post the actual letter I have written directly to them, I want to tell you a story.

When we were boys, my big brother Mark was my hero.  Like kid brothers everywhere, I would tag along and his heels and would like the things he liked and do the things he did.  Because he worked at Ponderosa Steakhouse, I worked at Ponderosa Steakhouse.  His nickname there was "Senator" which he was called because he was interested in politics.  In 1976, at the ripe old age of 16, he worked for the Jimmy Carter campaign.  Naturally I went along, though my spirit did give me a check I should have heeded.  The truth was we could have been campaigning for Old King Cole and I wouldn't have cared.  I was there because of my brother, not because of Carter, though I found out, to my dismay, I had apparently been working for the wrong side when I went with my family to a President Ford rally two days before the election, I liked him much better. Thus a Republican was born, though I could not have told you the differences between the parties to save my life.

In 1985 I joined the Army and served for seven years.  Mark had gone off to school to get his Master's degree at King's College in London before I joined and I was gone when he got back.  We stayed in touch loosely but I was now completely on an independent trajectory.  In addition, family differences and the death of our last surviving parent in 1989 ensured that ties that bind, like Thanksgiving meals and obligatory Christmas trips home occurred with less frequency.

We drifted apart and when we did talk it was apparent much had changed.  In the intervening years I had discovered political awareness and, believe it or not, Mark and I were out 180 degrees from each other.  He remained the yellow dog Democrat disguised as a military history professor, and I had become the left's worse nightmare, a Christian dittohead.  With the continuing family strain now exacerbated by our political differences we went from indifference to active hostility, and did not speak for many years.  Then a wonderful thing happened - I came under conviction.  Those of you who are Christians know what that means.  For you non-Christians, who find our jargon confusing, it means the Lord, as a friend of mine likes to say, took me behind the woodshed. One day in Sunday School we were studying this passage:

9 Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates a brother or sister[b] is still in the darkness. 10 Anyone who loves their brother and sister[c] lives in the light, and there is nothing in them to make them stumble. 11 But anyone who hates a brother or sister is in the darkness and walks around in the darkness. They do not know where they are going, because the darkness has blinded them.                                                                             1 John 2:9-11

As someone who takes their faith very seriously, this was like a direct order. I was to make my peace with Mark and with our sister, with whom my relationship had simply languished from inattention. When Mark and I met there was another sign that God was involved in the process.  Mark had recently returned from the U.S. Army War College, where he had served as visiting professor.  While he was there he has confessed to a good friend who was an Army chaplain, of his desire to reconnect with me.  As these two actions happened almost simultaneously, Mark observed, quoting Stonewall Jackson, "he who does not see the hand of God in this sir, is blind".  I fully agreed.  The German philosopher Ludwig Feuerbach in his book The Essence of Christianity basically argued that the Christian projected God onto events instead of there actually being divine intervention.  This is nonsense, as too many events like the one described above have happened in my life.

I wish I could say that we lived happily ever after, but I can't.  Our apparently irreconcilable differences continued to plague us.  This blog was a kind of "hail Mary" pass to try to salvage our relationship by giving us something to work on together.  It was not entirely successful.  Then a wonderful thing happened which literally moved me to tears.  Last Saturday Mark published a post he had written from what he imagined was my point of view.  It was surprisingly accurate and, if you read it and compare it to my own feeling as related in True Confessions of a Trump Voter, you will see how much he got right.  The sensitivity he had shown in preparing that blog, written from a viewpoint he could understand, but did not fully agree with, inspired me to do the same.  I began engaging with everyone of his friends I could.  It has generally been a positive experience.  The one negative was when I was described as a shockingly ignorant person who could not possibly believe the drivel I was espousing.  But for me it was enlightening and I was eager to share the new perspectives I was learning. When I unexpectedly had the opportunity to teach a Sunday School class of about 25 the following day, I was able to share with them that the people in shock from the election of Trump were not all sniveling crybabies who needed their mama, but human beings who had understandable fears after the rhetoric they had just heard.  I did the same in a second class the next hour.  So I was realizing the Lord's call to be a peacemaker.

In that same light, I want to share that I found it interesting, when I started actually listening to Trump directly, he did not seem to talk that way.  It would be folly to tell you to not be worried.  One lesson I have learned though is that the lenses we view the world through are entirely different prescriptions, so we legitimately can see the same thing and interpret it differently.  I have learned to be sensitive to that.

Finally to you members of North Church, thank you for this opportunity to dialogue.  I do not need to tell you that we have differences but I absolutely affirm you are as much bearers of Imago Dei as I. Therefore your intrinsic value is infinite and I love you in Christ.  Here is your letter.  Thank you again for the chance to write it.

Greetings in the name of the Lord!  It is very important at this juncture of history, when there exists so much mutual distrust, that people of good will take the time to communicate clearly together.  I have spent a lot of time in the past few days trying to understand the view of folks who, though they may think and believe differently than I do, are loved every bit as much by God and have intrinsic worth and value as human beings because they are created in the image of God and were precious enough that Jesus came and died on the cross so that they might be restored to His full fellowship.  This point of intrinsic worth is a uniquely Christian perspective: every other worldview is based upon the notion that something must be done to justify ourselves, and therefore views human being as having only the utilitarian value of what they can do.  This is a hateful and harmful attitude, and is the reason for much of what is wrong with the world we share.

Feeling like that how could I possibly vote for a candidate who many perceive as antithetical to my beliefs?  The short answer is that initially I felt backed into a corner.  Ben Carson was my candidate of choice.  I have greatly admired him since I bought and read his story of triumph over adversity, Gifted Hands, which I purchased in a Christian bookstore in 1990.  But he did not win, Trump did.  My exposure to Trump was limited to what I had seen at the Republican debates, and he made a very bad first impression.  Because Carson endorsed him however, I was forced to consider that perhaps there was more to him than I thought.  Besides, he was only champion for my views as a person who is strongly pro-life and wanted to see more justices like the late Antonin Scalia.

In a sense, I was like a Bernie Sanders voter, like some of you undoubtedly were.  In a way, you were in a worse dilemma than me because you had been subjected to a corrupt primary process that, through the super delegates was designed with one result.  With a 450-point head start given to Clinton and her illicit help from the DNC, she did not win fair and square.  But what choices did you have?  You still felt that, despite her flaws, Hillary was the best available candidate to express the values you feel are important.  If you can understand that, then you can understand me.

An interesting thing that I discovered though was when Trump was away from the glare of the media spotlight and speaking to smaller groups, I liked much of what I heard.  An example of this is a remarkable speech Trump delivered to a group of African American leaders in Charlotte on October 26th.  His argument was based on the fact that the Democratic Party has promised much to the African American community, but has over a span of decades, delivered very little.  His appeal was to be given the chance to help their community.  I felt the sincerity of this appeal and was greatly encouraged when I heard that at least one of you also responded to this appeal and voted for him.  This was the occasion when I went from an anti-Hillary voter to a pro-Trump vote.  I am willing to give him the benefit of the doubt and will hold him accountable if he fails to do what he said he would do.

I hope this letter helps to bridge the gap that exists between some of us and reinforces others of you in the knowledge that the caricature being portrayed of the Trump voter as hateful and insensitive is not true for the vast majority.  Like you, we want what is best for our country and look for the day when God’s will is indeed done on earth as it is in heaven.