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]

[Laughter]

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]."

[Laughter]

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.






True Confessions of a Trump Voter

When my brother and I started this blog, we both sensed that was a great need for there to be a return to civility in our society because we seem to increasingly feel the wrongheaded need to surround ourselves only with people that only think like we do.  I read an article Mark posted about the need to dialogue following the election because many Hillary voters do not know ant Trump voters, and vice- versa.  For this I blame the left.  In a misguided attempt to achieve an illusory goal, they have determined that some speech is just too harsh to be endured and must not be allowed.  Mind you this is not what they say that is offensive to others.  Instead it is only speech they find offensive to themselves.  In such an environment, frank exchange is not possible. This is the toxic environment we find ourselves in.  For us whose beliefs are out of sync with these self-appointed arbiters of what is fair and right, we find it increasingly hard to be heard.  Our views are dismissed without analysis of their merit with shorthand cliches such as racist, bigot and homophobe. As a result, these accusations have lost meaning to us.  One of my inaugural blogs was about this. Democrats have used the same language about every Republican presidential candidate I can remember from the Reagan era on. They all are found to be dangerous and divisive. Therefore I was amused when I saw Bill Maher kind of acknowledge this by saying, in effect, we know we have used this same language before, but with Trump we really mean it.  Too late chum - you have cried wolf once too many times.

When we began this blog in May, it was with the intention that we would go through the campaign representing our opposing viewpoints in a civil fashion.  Well something happened to change that. Ben Carson was my guy and when he lost the nomination I had to scramble to find a positive rationale for my vote.  I was able to explain why I was opposed to Hillary easily enough, and I sincerely feel like we dodged a bullet that she is not president-elect.  However I could not muster any real enthusiasm for Trump.

As if by mutual agreement, we stopped the blog in August.  However just before the election we both were led to write for the first time in months.  When I wrote my entry, I was resigned in my heart that Trump was going to lose.  Everyone in the press and the polls told me that.  The "blue wall" had to breached and Trump such a seemingly narrow path to victory that it seemed highly unlikely he could shoot that rapids.  As the evening unfolded, because we do not have cable TV, I watched the poll numbers constantly update live on my computer.  This is the way I prefer to follow election results anyway - I well remember the missteps made by decision desks in past elections.  I am deprived of the insights provided by exit polls this way, but I saw that they were wrong in 2004, so I am skeptical of anything but the real numbers anyway.

What I saw unfolding was amazing.  Trump, defying all expectations, was shooting the rapids.  Using percentages of votes for each candidate, and simple math to determine the number of outstanding votes, I was calling states far before the press was.  At around nine o'clock I saw that a clear and increasingly likely path to victory existed.  By eleven o'clock I saw that what Hillary had to overcome was in the "too hard box", and started watching network coverage on the web.  I found that Trump was in even better shape than I thought as they had called Iowa and Wisconsin before I did.  I stayed up until the bitter end anyway.  When Hillary sent her campaign manager out to dismiss her supporters, I had a flashback to the election of 2000 when Al Gore did the same thing.  I thought that we were in for a repeat of that experience with additional acrimony added by the most bitter campaign in my memory.

When Trump finally came out to declare victory after 3am, I thought it was great but meant nothing until Hillary conceded the election, something she clearly had no intention of doing.  I was stunned when Trump said he had talked to "Secretary Clinton" (not crooked Hillary!) and she had conceded.  At that moment I had a curious reaction.  I had hated Hillary Clinton for her ambition and sense of entitlement, but at that moment I saw her as a human being.   I felt real compassion for her as she saw a dream she had for decades come to an end.  I felt prompted by the Holy Spirit to pray for her right then.  Since I have learned to heed such prompting, I complied and I prayed earnestly that she might experience peace and get through the hurt I knew she was feeling.  In short, first time I was able to see past the wicked witch, the shrill harridan, and see instead who she was through God's eyes.  It was humbling.  Big deal you may say - your guy won so it was easy to be gracious in victory.  That is in part true, but then I was prepared to lose and you weren't.

Hillary Clinton is a United Methodist, as I once was.  The theology you will read in my next post is her theology, because I learned to be an Arminian in the UMC.  I parted ways with the Methodists however in the 1990's.  As a mainline denomination, they were moving in a direction I could not follow.  The problem, I believe lies in the corrupting of the conceptual frame in which we interpret Scripture (exegesis) .  It has 4 parts arranged in a hierarchy originally expressed by the 16th century theologian Richard Hooker:
       1) Scripture, where Scripture is plain. This means where the Bible clearly says something, it should be adhered to.
       2-3) Where Scripture is not plain, we are to use reason and experience.  For example, the Bible says nothing about the internet, but the same principles it does address should apply.  I have no right to scam someone on the internet because the internet is not mentioned in Scripture.
      4) Finally if something is completely unclear, I should remember that I am not the first to read the Bible and seek the counsel of 2000 years of Christians who have pondered the same passages.  This is tradition.

Methodists use the same 4 points in their exegesis only arrange them in what is called the "Wesley Quadrilateral".  This is usually depicted as a square with each side representing one of the parts.  The problem with this is obvious: instead of being the first in hierarchy, Scripture is now on equal footing with the other three parts.  This corruption has led to reason and experience trumping Scripture, and explains why Hillary and I can disagree so profoundly on so many things.

One thing that caused me a profound change in my philosophy of duty of faith and politics this cycle was how flawed I viewed Trump to be.  My reasons for voting for Trump seemed pretty earthly and pragmatic.  I was voting for him as the only candidate remotely reflecting my views.  As I felt Hillary had to be stopped, I could not vote 3rd party because they definitely did not reflect my views.  If Trump was not sincere, he had least had a platform I could believe in and hold him to.

I had been as disgusted by Trump's antics at the Republican debates as the next man.  I thought he was rude, childish and overbearing.  When he won the nomination, I was disappointed.  His only redeeming quality was that he was a counter-puncher - and I was sick of watching Republicans go down like lambs silently to the slaughter, never hitting back at their opponents.  Let me clue you on the left in about something - we look at you as masters of the politics of destruction.  Let the bleating sheep in Animal Farm, you use slogans and simple mantras with great effect to build a very little reasoned but clearly understood message.  I at least knew that Trump, unlike Romney and McCain, would not just sit there and take it.  So, if nothing else, the election would be fun to watch.

Then a remarkable thing happened.  When my candidate Ben Carson, who is no fool, endorsed Trump, I took notice.  I suspected there may be more than met the eye and narrative, so I started watching his campaign events on Facebook broadcast live.  The most remarkable came on October 26th in Charlotte, NC, when Trump spoke to a group of African American leaders.  He said to them essentially this: you have had many promises made to you by the Democratic Party, but you have seen very little.  I work in the private sector, so I expect results.  I have the desire and the ability to help you, so give me a chance.  This was the tipping point where I went from an anti-Hillary voter to a pro-Trump one.

I still thought Trump would lose though.  As I worked through how I should behave after yet another disappointment, a friend graciously gave me a book called Onward by Russell Moore.  Moore is a Southern Baptist and ran afoul of Trump winning himself one of those infamous tweets (Russell Moore - terrible person!) because he refused to play from the playbook established by Jerry Falwell. Moore argues that the Church (capital C means all of Jesus' body), as 19th century evangelist Charles Finney observed, needs to take "right ground" in politics.  The old playbook argued that this means we needed to ensure the election of candidates that reflected our views.  Moore argued that instead of being so concerned about the kingdom of man, we needed to worry about the Kingdom of God.  This meant that getting Trump elected was not our focus, doing the mission we have been given of spreading the Gospel and redeeming the culture was far more important.  The kingdom of politics is here today gone tomorrow, while the kingdom of God lasts forever.  The beauty of this was that as we improve the soil of the culture, it would produce a harvest of more righteous candidates.

This was the direct opposite of the top-down approach we as Christians had been following for years. The reasoning went like this - if we elect the right people who pass the right laws and nominate the right judges then we can heal our land.  In retrospect, the wrongheadedness of this is obvious. Politics is downstream from culture, not the other way around.  In our reliance on the tools of politics to do the work of the Kingdom of God, we had lost our way and our witness to the world.  We had become reduced to just another advocacy group instead of one girded by eternal principles.  Winning elections became more important than being salt and light.

This is because the Christian Worldview recognizes the truth articulated by Lord Acton that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.  The Christian J.R.R. Tolkien illustrated this concept beautifully with the concept of the One Ring in Lord of the Rings.  Its owner would have great power but at the cost of losing their soul.  Like Boromir, we thought our hearts were so pure that we could wear the Ring to accomplish good and not be harmed.  Like Boromir, we were mistaken.

For me this was the missing piece to the puzzle. I realized that I was wrongly focused and the despair I felt at the upcoming election was completely misguided.  Regardless of the outcome, God was still on the throne, and my primary allegiance was to Him.  So no matter who won, my mission was unchanged - I was called to share and spread the Gospel.  This awareness gave me new purpose.  I vowed to be God's hands and feet.  This is not a special calling - it is what all Christians are called to be.  So I am back, ready to act as salt and light, as my Lord tells me to.

In the acrimonious fallout following the election, it is therefore my duty to act as a peacemaker and an ambassador of Christ.  Because my vote seems questionable to some, it is my duty to explain it and to also attempt to form a bridge across the chasm that presently divides us.  To this end, I have been getting up early and stay up late engaging in conversations with those who disagree with me to form mutual understanding and respect, if not agreement.  I am, in some ways, specially suited to this because I taught Christian and Comparative Worldview to high school aged homeschool students from our coop for the last four years.  I have therefore spent considerable time and energy getting in touch with what I believe and also researching what you believe. This means that I find my conversations with non-Christians to be fascinating as I weigh what I hear against what I have studied.

It is also my duty to ensure that Trump lives up to, what is still for many of you, his hidden side you are yet to see.  I think that many of you are going to be shocked to find he is not the monster you think he is. It is my responsibility, along with the rest of his Christian supporters, to be sure he does not become one.  I will hold him accountable for his promise I heard at Charlotte.  I think, like Nixon going to China, he can leverage his support to do things that normally would be out of bounds for Republicans.  A case in point was his unprecedented direct appeal to the LGBT community at the Republican convention.  Another piece of evidence is first pledge he made in his acceptance speech was to help the inner cities, not build a wall.  This was remarkable to me since even a cursory glance at the election day map shows that the cities are the bastions of blue.  A typical politician would have thanked his supporters by reiterating what they wanted to hear instead of pivoting to his opponents needs so quickly.

I plan to do my part, but I ask you who don't agree with who I voted for to help me in this healing. Do me the dignity of not pigeon-holing me as some right wing kook.  Listen to what I say instead.  If you think I am wrong, let me know with respect and we can reason together. I would enjoy such a dialogue.  Do not assume everything you have heard about Christian conservatives is true and then filter everything through that lens.  This afternoon, when I made the observation about Trump pledging first to help the inner cities, some chose to be completely tone deaf to what I saw as a hopeful sign.  Instead I was told I was a racist because I thought all African Americans live in the inner city.  Give me a break - I just told you I voted for the greatest pediatric neurosurgeon of all time.  Like Jesus saying that the sick and not the well need a doctor, help in the African American should go to the point of greatest need, not to black businessmen and professionals.  If you want me to prove myself further, I am proud to say I voted for an  African American major party candidate for president long before Barrack Obama was even a blip on the radar screen.  In the 1992 Republican primary, I voted for Allen Keyes because I felt his Christian views reflected my values more than the blue blooded George Bush Sr.  He remains the only political candidate I have ever donated money to.  You see I take Martin Luther King seriously when he said people should be judged, not for the color of their skin, but the content of their character.  I too share that dream.


Monday, November 14, 2016

#Not My Protest Rally - Pt 1


Last Friday around 3:30 I quit my research for the day and drove down to the Oval at Ohio State (the Oval is a grassy commons in the middle of campus).  A colleague had invited me, via Facebook, to an anti-Trump protest rally, and I attended out of a sense of solidarity with him.

The rally was centered on a statue in front of the Main Library.  It commemorated William Oxley Thompson, who had been president of Ohio State for 26 years (1899-1925) and the driving force who convinced the state legislature to make OSU Ohio's flagship university.  It was Veterans Day so the university was closed.  Thus the Oval, usually bustling with students, was almost empty.

The organizers had placed poster boards and magic markers at the base of the statue, and as people gathered they were encouraged to create their own placard.  As each participant bent down to pen their slogan a cameraman, with his videocam slanted downward, recorded the result.

The man ahead of me wrote "Fuck Trump" on his placard.  His lettering was surprisingly good, the individual letters nice and even and the two words placed one above the other in the center of the placard, with even margins all around.  I was impressed by his artistry; the hackneyed sentiment, not so much.

I felt oddly nervous as I waited for him to complete his placard.  Beyond solidarity with my colleague I was unclear about why I was there.  But I had enough time to reflect upon a tweet that President-elect Trump has issued late the previous day:

Just had a very open and successful presidential election. Now professional protesters, incited by the media, are protesting. Very unfair!


When I saw it--I had visited his Twitter account, curious to see what he had tweeted about Veterans Day (he hadn't tweeted anything about it)--I just rolled my eyes.  At one level I couldn't believe that a president-elect could be so jejune and whiny.  At another I could believe it all too well, because Trump's almost daily tweets routinely oscillated between bombast about how great he was and outrage about how badly one supposed malefactor or another had treated him.  This most recent tweet, which appeared just two days after his stunning, seemingly upset victory, was particularly stupid.

Professional protesters?

Incited by the media?

Cry me a river, Mr. President-elect.

So I had my slogan.  Taking a purple marker (my daughter's favorite color aside from pink), I scrawled "Professional Protester" on one side and "Grow Up Trump" on the other.  I thought "Professional Protester" would earn a laugh from at least one onlooker but they all just looked baffled.  "Grow Up Trump" was more of a hit, although both sentiments suffered from my execrable handwriting.  The placard was so bad artistically that I felt almost ashamed to carry it.  But I was now officially equipped for the rally.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Travels with Trump - Pt 2



In my first installment I told how I bought an audio book of Donald Trump's Crippled America [now in paperback under the title Great Again:  How to Fix Our Crippled America] to keep me company on a long road trip from Columbus to Chattanooga to attend an academic conference.  Although I left home with a couple of audio books, I quickly grew dissatisfied with them.  I wanted to listen to something on current events, so in Cincinnati I pulled off I-71 long enough to visit a nearby Barnes & Noble book store.  I selected Trump's book faute de mieux--that's how we elitists say "for lack of anything better."  The store's pickings in the audio book section were laughably slim.

I paid for the audio book, took it out to my car, and propped it up on the dashboard so I could take a pic with my iPhone and upload it to Facebook for my friends to chuckle at.  Then I slipped in the first CD and got back on the interstate.  Trump read the book's preface himself.  Then voice actor Jerry Lowell took over.  Chapter 1 ("Winning Again") is the book's de facto introduction.  The first substantive chapter is devoted to "Our 'Unbiased' Political Media."  Lowell began reading it as I crossed the Ohio River into Kentucky.  

Trump has contempt for the media, a contempt derived, in considerable measure, from the ease with which found he could manipulate it.  "I don't mind being attacked," he writes:

I use the media the way the media uses me--to attract attention. Once I have the attention it's up to me to use it to my advantage.  I learned a long time ago that if you're not afraid to be outspoken, the media will write about you or beg you to come on to their shows.  If you do things a little differently, if you say outrageous things and fight back, they love you.  So sometimes I make outrageous comments and give them what they want--viewers and readers--in order to make a point.  I'm a businessman with a brand to sell.  When was the last time you saw a sign hanging outside a pizzeria claiming, "The fourth best pizza in the world"?!  But now I am using those talents, honed through years of tremendous success, to inspire people to think that our country can get better and be great again and that we can turn things around.  (Crippled America, 10-11)

In one of our many exchanges of late, my brother Scott told me that Trump's speeches at his rallies come across much differently than if you simply watch the media sound bites. That's actually true--and necessarily true--of most of what you seen in the media.  I say "necessarily" because any media outlet has to make very strong editorial decisions about what to quote (in the case of print media) or broadcast (in the case of television media).  You may disagree with their choices, but choose they must.  I won't get very much into the business of "liberal bias."  I think it exists, to some extent, although I do not think the extent is nearly as great as most conservatives believe.  To those who say that it is very great, I would respond that in most cases I doubt that they have done enough observation to make an assessment one way or the other.  In conversations with most "ordinary" conservatives--that is to say, not pundits but people simply going about their daily lives who happen to self-identify as politically conservative--I hear very little to suggest that they read or watch the print and video media tagged as liberal.  They pretty much take someone's word for it that these sources are so biased as to be fatally compromised.

Ironically the conservative response to this liberal bias has not been to create news organizations that are objective.  Faithful viewers of Fox News, for instance, know perfectly well that it isn't "fair and balanced."  It's more that they find it less aggravating than watching other outlets.  To be sure, it does offer hard news, and while in my opinion the hard news exhibits a conservative bias, it is tolerably so.  In the historical profession we've long since learned to be skeptical of complete objectivity.  We call it "that noble dream."  So I'm prepared to accept a degree of bias as a simple fact of life.

It's even more ironic that we collectively piss and moan about media bias when it has never been simpler to simply dispense with the media, period.  Media is the plural form of medium, and in the context of news it more or less means "the middle man."  The Internet frequently allows you to cut out the middle man--the journalist--and go directly to the source.  So rather than complain about the editorial choices that a news outlet makes, you can see for yourself.  If you have the time.  Which mostly you don't.  But occasionally you can dispense with that re-run of Happy Days and invest thirty minutes to watch an entire Trump rally.  (I selected this one partly because it took place in my home town of Columbus, but mostly because it is mercifully brief.  Most Trump rallies were far longer.)  Take a look for yourself. If you choose not to do that, I will report on it, through the lens of my own unavoidable bias, in a future post.