Monday, January 16, 2017

The biggest losers

A lot of people are trying to determine the “winners” and “losers” in November’s presidential election. Conventional wisdom holds that the Democratic Party, the extreme political left, women and people of color suffered an ignominious defeat due to their connections, real or perceived, to “liberal √©lites.” That may be correct.

But only to a point.

I see an arrogant conservative élite, representing think-tanks and media who also took a stand against Donald Trump as being not being sufficiently conservative, as taking a major hit as well. A number of them, including Rich Lowry of National Review and several writers for the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal as saying that a Trump victory would end the conservative movement as we know it. And, in one sense, they were right.

Because they too were out of touch with Trump voters.                                                                                                                    
Only recently did conservatives admit that income inequality, globalization and other issues plaguing much of the white “working class” that overwhelmingly voted for Trump was major. However, they still remained committed to cutting taxes on the rich as a key to economic recovery even though it absolutely never worked. During the campaign Trump also leaned toward protectionism, also anathema to conservative think-tankers. Others, and rightly so, were put off by his insulting those who disagreed with him.

But he blew away the rest of the Republican field, virtually all of them more conservative than he.

What that has demonstrated is that people really weren’t buying what they were selling after all. Still trying to channel Ronald Reagan, whom Dinesh D’Souza inaccurately insisted had “the winning agenda,” they don’t seem to understand that Reagan brought them to the table, not the other way around. And Reagan got to the White House with equally flowery promises, albeit much smoother and more polished, as well as scapegoating others, in his case the poor and African-Americans.

Many if not most Republican politicians dutifully lined up behind Trump, if for no reason than to save their own skins. And that strategy worked.

I haven’t heard just how the “never Trump” movement on the political right is dealing with the new reality. Perhaps it’s still trying to figure out just how it went wrong — because it certainly did.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Papering over differences

Some years ago I was having a strained online discussion on a left-leaning Christian blog with an extremely conservative man named Mick when he told me about a black friend of his named Charlie who, he said, had never had issues with race. When I asked Mick if they’d ever talked about the issue, he said they hadn’t. So how do you know what Charlie thinks, I asked.

Mick never responded to the question.

One concern that I’ve had for a while and especially since November’s election is the notion that people should simply paper over their differences and work together. It sounds noble at first, but if you get below the surface, it’s really, really arrogant.

Arrogant because it devalues the differing views of others that may come from their history or experience and assumes that there’s only one way to think — yours.

I occasionally have gotten flak for my outright rejection of the right-wing worldview despite having a strong church background and my actual coming to Christ just before graduating high school. But the person who spurred my interest in the Scriptures in the first place was Martin Luther King Jr., the civil-rights leader who, by today’s standards, would be considered extremely left-wing. (This is also the reason that most African-Americans, even those of us who follow Jesus Christ and read the Bible, generally vote Democratic.)

Which leads to my ultimate point: It’s been my observation that many conservatives simply want to think, vote and act the way they do without regard for others not like themselves who don’t share those views and, in extreme cases, even openly oppose them. Occasionally, if the person is a Christian, his or her faith is questioned.

That certainly isn’t fair, especially now since the most polarizing election in my lifetime — and that’s saying something — has ended, further exacerbating the division that has existed since the 1970s (yes, that long; I became aware of it in 1980). How do we overcome it? By being real with each other and willing to confront over things that could, and sometimes do, cause pain — and not just saying, “Get over it.” It’s the “do unto others” principle that Jesus taught.

A member of my church choir once said that he previously couldn’t understand why any believer would vote for a Democrat, but after getting to know folks who did he came to accept that, well, some actually did for what they felt were legitimate reasons. As a result he’s learned not to conflate his ideological views with the Word of God. Moreover, people are truly mourning right now and gloating will make — indeed, has already made — things worse. And that doesn’t help the necessary healing.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Still 1992, no matter what anyone says

Yesterday marked the voting of the Electoral College, which officially gave Donald Trump the presidency. A number of Trump supporters, noting the outright opposition to his candidacy, have basically told people, essentially, to shut up and get behind the new president because the election is over. They’re not quite right about that.

Actually, it hasn’t been over for some time. Since 1992, to be exact.

Why then? It was Bill Clinton’s first run at the presidency, and no one should forget just how much viciousness the below-the-belt opposition to his candidacy generated. It wasn’t really about policies as such, as Clinton always was, and proved to be, far more moderate than he was painted. Never mind; his enemies just wanted a target to defeat and saw him, correctly in my view, as a singular threat to their desire for power.

What people don’t understand is that when it comes to politics we’ve been in a perpetual state of war since the late 1970s, and that war was started by then-Georgia congressman Newt Gingrich, who perfected the art of irritation and was instrumental in causing the division we see today. (I saw some kind of poetic justice in Gingrich's leaving Congress after he failed to add to the GOP margin there in 1998 by trying to tie Democratic candidates to Clinton's impeachment.)

Anyway, a lot of people were aghast at many of the statements Trump made and wonder just how he became so popular. But if you understand that a lot of people wanted a total jerk who refused to compromise, the answer was obvious. They simply wanted their way, even at the expense of proper governance.

While it's certainly tempting to blame both sides for this equally, it simply wouldn't be accurate. The conservatives began their assault on the "left" decades ago; only over the last decade has the true left emerged and begun to fight but still isn't as large, organized or influential as the right. I’ve noticed that, among the numerous calls for “civility” in public discourse, none of them come from the partisans.

And this is precisely why there never will be healing in this country, at least in my lifetime. These days the two sides are too hardened in their positions to reach out to the other and work together. Trump got elected by not even hinting at doing so and suggesting that only he could cause change ("I alone can fix it").

So, with apologies to Prince, let's get ready to "party" like it's 1992. Because, in many ways, we're still there.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Spiritual compromise by supporting Donald Trump

The election of Donald Trump to the presidency last month — well, perhaps more accurately, the 81 percent of white evangelicals according to exit polls who supported him — will resort in more than just disappointment with a candidate who has basically thumbed his nose at Christian conventions when he doesn’t fulfill the vague promises he made that got them to support him.

I’m convinced that much of evangelicalism as we know it today has as a result signed its own death warrant.

Reason? Essentially, they sold out God for the promise of cultural and political power. In practice, they were guilty of idolatry, which particularly ticks Him off.

Consider that Trump has engaged in shady business practices, abused women, ran around on two wives and had been cited for racial discrimination, things that had a Democrat done them Christians would have spoken out loudly and often. But, in this case, we either saw silence or heard such excuses as “we need to shake up the system” and just because he “converted” to an anti-abortion position during the campaign and said to evangelicals, “I will protect you!”

That, especially, is galling. (As if just one person had the power to “protect Christians.”) Somehow, I don’t think that “religious freedom” (read: privilege) is a core Biblical value.

I could respect people who really believed that Trump was the best candidate and voted for him on those terms, and I could even do so for people who “held their noses” as they did. But to believe that he was “called of God” solely because they wanted to put Him in an ideological box of their making demonstrated to me just how deluded some Christians are.

Yes, I said it — deluded.

R. Albert Mohler, the president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, had it right when he said, “If I were to support, much less endorse, Donald Trump for president, I would actually have to go back and apologize to former President Bill Clinton,” who did apologize for his transgressions but was rejected by some of these same people for being a Democrat. In other words, they had bigger fish to fry.

Too bad. Because they’ve lost the moral high ground.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Sore winners, sore losers

A number of supporters of Donald Trump are noting that many of his opponents, skewing young, have taken to the streets in major cities, some apparently rioting. Such supporters are pooh-poohing the demonstrators, complaining that they’re sore losers and can’t accept that he’s the president-elect.

Why can’t they just grow up? seems to be the refrain.

Frankly, those folks don’t have the authority to tell anyone else to grow up and accept the voters’ verdict. The last two Democratic administrations — Bill Clinton and Barack Obama — faced unrelenting opposition from those same folks. And I don’t mean just demonstrations, either.

During the 1992 campaign conservative activists filed suit in Federal Court in Little Rock, Ark., to get Clinton off the ballot. Just after he took office early the next year the bumper sticker “Don’t blame me — I voted for [George H.W.] Bush” began appearing. Not long after that conservative media started running smear campaigns, from “Troopergate” to Vince Foster, and he was finally impeached on frivolous charges in 1999.

As for Obama, GOP congressmen and senators said even before the 2008 general election that they wouldn’t work with anyone who didn’t agree with them. Sen. Mitch McConnell said that they intended to make him into a “one-term president” (which had never been said before). Then you have the “birther” movement, which questioned whether he was even born in this country (and that essentially kicked off Trump’s campaign). Former vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin even suggested that Obama might or should be impeached.

That being said, people are grieving not just because Hillary Clinton lost — they are really scared, given Trump’s bullying tactics, willingness to abuse women and open disdain for people of color and Muslims, which was part of his appeal. Indeed, that’s part of the reason they voted for Hillary in the first place, and dismissing that possible threat serves only to divide further.

Bottom line, many of the people supporting Trump have been sore losers in the past and are acting like sore winners today. As such, as far as I’m concerned, they shouldn’t tell anyone else how to respond to defeat or victory, as the case may be.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Judgment at the door?

If it’s possible to think like this, the judgment of God against many of His people in America began to accelerate on Tuesday.

That, of course, was Election Day, when Donald J. Trump who, as one writer put it, ran the “most secular campaign” in decades, was elected President of the United States. And, as a shocker to me personally, exit polling indicated that he won 80 percent of the evangelical vote.

Yes, 80 percent for the thrice-married philanderer who, among other things, has never given a credible testimony as to his faith in Jesus Christ, not only made racist remarks and never disavowed white supremacists who endorsed him but had participated in discriminatory business practices, said at a campaign rally that someone needed to be “punched in the face,” ran casinos and virtually bragged about seducing married women.

And why? Solely because he wasn’t Hillary Clinton. In my view, not good enough and probably idolatrous because people ended up trading Biblical principles for political power.

In an arrogant, graceless post, evangelist Franklin Graham wrote, “While the media scratches their heads and [try] to understand how this happened, I believe that God’s hand intervened Tuesday night to stop the godless, atheistic progressive agenda from taking control of our country.” Implying, of course, that if you voted for Hillary — as many Christians did, believe me — you were part of the problem.

That dog won’t hunt. Not only does Graham ignore the real pain of people who really did feel that Trump, whom he endorsed, was not only a threat for purely political reasons but also that — as I learned yesterday — some women who had survived sexual abuse were in fact triggered by his tendency toward what he dismissed as “locker-room talk.”

Over the past couple of days there has been talk about “unity,” mainly from Trump supporters eager for everyone else to get behind the president-elect. But there can never be such without the acknowledgment of feeling wounded and the healing that needs to take place in the meantime, not to mention the real fear that they won’t be heard. That’s why we saw demonstrations in major cities early Wednesday morning, after the votes were counted.

And if my experience is any indication, this is what many conservatives will never do — they’ve put their lust for power above people.

Do that too often and you become useless to God, Who will never share His glory with anyone else. Such folks tend to put Him in a certain box, assuming that He will work only when they’re in power. And that’s where the judgment comes in.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Could Hillary be 'God's tool?'

One justification for Christians voting for Donald Trump is the hope that, despite his profane lifestyle, God would use him as a tool to bring righteousness to America — based only on his support of the “right” issues. (Pun intended.)

I think that He would have bigger fish to fry than that. And for that reason, it could be that Hillary Clinton might play that role.

But Hillary doesn’t support a ban on abortion or religious freedom, you might say. How can that be the case?

Work with me here …

Since 1992 we’ve seen a lot of ugliness in the Christian community, especially toward the Clintons, for Bill’s getting elected in the first place. We’ve not only believed but in many cases spread the lies about their alleged corruption, for which there’s no real proof. And no, the media aren’t hiding anything.

The first thing we need to understand is that God cannot work through dirty hearts more interested in mischief than justice. That might be why the attacks on the Clintons are having precious little effect — at least, not enough to keep her out of the White House as things stand now, and with the election less than a week away I see no way that she’ll lose.

So some repentance might be in order.

Second, we forget or don’t even consider that change comes not from the top down but from the bottom up. The “religious right” didn’t understand that, which is why, despite its appeals to politicians, it has had little effect and even began collapsing once Bill left — because it was always an opposition movement and never held the people it supported to the same standard. That’s why its support of Trump is problematic.

What Hillary might end up doing is showing the world our hypocrisy — and, were we to acknowledge it, it might make us stronger. If that happens, spiritual renewal might be just around the corner.

But not until then.