Afghanistan – Let`s Learn from the Mistakes of Four U.S. Presidents!

Afghanistan – Let’s Learn from the Mistakes of Four U.S. Presidents

               Last week, our twenty-year war in Afghanistan came to an end. At times, it was quite chaotic. The country is back in the hands of the Taliban. Even the most optimistic political spin cannot this war into a total success. What should we do now? Let us learn from the mistakes of the four U.S. presidents who oversaw this war.

George W. Bush [#43] took us into war in Afghanistan in 2001. Our country was reeling from the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, and citizens wanted revenge. The Taliban controlled Afghanistan at that time and sheltered al-Qaeda which was responsible for the 9/11 attacks. The Taliban refused to turn over Osama Bin Laden, so Bush began dropping bombs on October 7. Within a short time, the Taliban was defeated…temporarily. Bush prematurely announced total victory. In November 2003, the president declared, “Our military went to Afghanistan, destroyed the training camps of al-Qaeda, and put the Taliban out of business forever.” That claim was arrogant…and turned out to be false. Although al-Qaeda was temporarily beaten, Osama bin Laden would not be killed until a decade later, and in Pakistan, not Afghanistan.

               Bush made several mistakes, but possibly the biggest was that he led us into a war that had no “exit strategy”. Those who understand Just War Theory (and sadly, most people do not) know that a just cause is not sufficient to declare a justified war. Other criteria, such as just cause, last resort, and the realistic probability of success including an “exit strategy”, must also be met. (Back in the 1st Gulf War, then President George H. W. Bush [#41] pushed the Iraqi soldiers out of Kuwait in 1991, but the U.S. did not invade Baghdad at that time, because there was no “exit strategy”. The son should have learned this lesson from his father.) We the people of the United States should have learned a similar lesson from the failed war in Vietnam.

President Bush also allowed the war to morph from a limited objective of destroying the al-Qaeda camps to an ambiguous, nebulous goal of “nation-building”. Pentagon leaders were also at fault by misleading the president and the public by claiming that we were “winning” the war and that the new Afghan government and military were able to stand on their own. Based on their counsel, Bush affirmed in 2004, “as a result of the U.S. military, the Taliban no longer is in existence.” Four years later, Bush lied to us and denied having uttered those words, “I never said the Taliban was eliminated. I said they were removed from power.” We must learn to be suspicious of the cheap military claims made by our presidents.

Barack Obama [#44] campaigned on the promise to get our soldiers out of Iraq and Afghanistan. Although he did withdraw our troops from Iraq, he increased our military presence to 68,000 troops in Afghanistan in February, 2009. Although the capture and killing of Bin Laden in May of 2011 restored Obama’s popularity at home, the quagmire in Afghanistan continued. The Afghan people lost confidence in their own national government. When Obama left office in January 2017, he had not fulfilled his promise to end the “endless war”. We should learn to question the overly optimistic campaign promises and military predictions of our presidents.

Donald Trump [#45] also campaigned on the promise to end the war in Afghanistan. With his policy of “America first”, he criticized the “endless wars” that Bush had started. Nevertheless, when he talked about pulling our troops out, his military leadership continued to mislead him and the public with claims of us winning the war and the excellent training our military had given to the Afghans. In February of 2020, Trump totally ignored the Afghan government and negotiated a special deal with the resurgent Taliban (?!!!) to end the war. Trump began to withdraw the 15,000 troops down to 2500 and promised to leave Afghanistan by May 1, 2021, if the Taliban would not attack U.S. soldiers. Although this was an attempt to keep his promise and to end the war, it also meant that the death of 2,400 U.S. soldiers (and over a hundred thousand Afghans) and the 2 trillion dollars spent on training the Afghan army were largely in vain. Trump’s agreement was a clear signal that he had lost confidence in the Afghan government (even though the White House continued to proclaim the Afghan military was well equipped). Here again, the lack of a serious, good exit strategy guaranteed a bad exit. The lesson to be learned is that unjust wars should not be ended by bad agreements.

Joe Biden [#46] also campaigned to end the war in Afghanistan. Even when he was Vice-President during the Obama administration, Biden was in favor of bringing the troops home. Although he moved the Trump negotiated date of withdrawal back four months to August 31, 2021, he had decided to withdraw our troops (and some 70% of the U.S. people agreed with him).  The Taliban quickly extended their control over the country. Afghan president Ashraf Ghani fled the country on August 15 and the city of Kabul fell into the hands of the Taliban. Biden had to send 6000 soldiers back into the country to oversee the safe withdrawal of U.S. citizens and thousands of Afghans who had helped the U.S. At times it was chaotic. A suicide bomber killed 13 American soldiers and some 170 Afghan civilians. Although Biden had promised that all U.S. citizens who wanted to leave would be able to do so, as of today there are about 100 Americans and thousands of Afghan allies still in the country. Biden made promises that he could not keep.

With the benefit of 20/20 hindsight vision, I would have temporarily kept the U.S. soldiers in the country even as I would have started processing the Special Immigrant Visas for the Afghan civilian allies earlier in the summer.  Even this action would have been criticized, because it is likely that Kabul would have fallen even earlier than it did.

               Upon seeing the chaotic departure, some people have argued that the U.S. should have stayed in Afghanistan for many more years. Unless these people also criticized the Trump withdrawal plan, this is blatant hypocrisy.

What should we do now?

  1. We should learn from our mistakes and not jump into bad wars so quickly. Invasions of other countries for ¨just¨ causes are rarely successful, especially when the invading army does not understand the target culture. When you bet on the losing side in a civil war, the exit will be messy.
  2. We should encourage peaceful means to reduce the poverty, hunger, and oppression of women in war-torn Afghanistan. This means working with the United Nations and other countries in the region.
  3. Congress should immediately increase refugee limits so that, upon appropriate vetting, Afghan civilians can be received into our country without delay.
  4. In our communities, we should work with groups like World Relief to help settle these Afghan refugees.

We Have Met the Pharisees and They Are Us

Most people have heard of the Pharisees. They were a religious group of leaders within Judaism during New Testament times. Although Jesus agreed with them on some doctrinal issues (like the resurrection of the dead), he challenged them on many of their practices. He criticized them for their religious arrogance, for their hypocrisy and for their self-righteousness. I have never wanted to be like the Pharisees because I have not wanted to receive that same type of criticism from Jesus.

Nevertheless, I am more similar to the Pharisees that I would like to admit. Explore with me the inner thinking of the Pharisees.

  1. They were proud of their knowledge of the Scriptures. I too am proud of my knowledge of the Bible.
  2. They used this knowledge to benefit themselves and to put down others. I have, on occasion, used my knowledge of the Bible and other topics to elevate myself and to criticize others.
  3. The Pharisees were arrogant and thought that their group was always right. I, and most citizens in my country, think that our group, our political party, our church, and our nation have been right (almost always) and that the ¨Other¨ is wrong.

What are the tragic consequences of this modern-day Pharisaic behavior? Many people are rightfully rejecting institutions due to the hypocrisy of their leaders. This is especially true about younger generations. Young adults are abandoning their churches at record rates. They are skeptical of political parties. The hypocrisy of many Boy Scout leaders has led to its bankruptcy. The behavior of some police officers has caused a crisis of credibility.

What is the cure to this Pharisee-itis? Before we just assume that we are “right”, we need to dig deep into our heart and ask tough questions about our motives. In the words of Jesus, we need to take the beam out of our own eye before we take the speck out of the eye of our neighbors.

Let’s begin the slow, long road towards greater moral integrity.

Proud to be an American?

An acquaintance recently sent me a message on Facebook that read, “I’m proud to be an American”. He then asked that if I agreed with the statement, I should re-send it to everyone on my friend list. This phrase is very common, but it is also problematic. Given that we are entering Memorial Day weekend, I think it is important to unpack the phrase…and make it better.

First, we need to clarify the name “American”. Many people from the United States use the word to refer exclusively to people from our country. Many are unaware that this comes across as very arrogant to others in the Americas. My wife is a Brazilian. Brazilians are Americans. I have lived many years of my adult life in Mexico and Costa Rica. Mexicans and Costa Ricans are as much “American” as I am. Those who are from Canada southward to Chile and Argentina can all claim to be Americans.

A little bit of history helps. The wars of independence broke out in Spanish America in 1810 in Venezuela, Mexico, and Argentina, then quickly spread to other colonies. Much hinged on the word “Americano”. On the one side were Spaniards born in Spain but had moved to the colonies in the Americas and received special privileges. They were known as “Peninsulares”. On the other side were the “Americanos”, who were Spanish by ancestry but who were born and raised in the Americas. They were treated as second class citizens. (This is similar to life up north where the Anglo colonists suffered “taxation without representation” at the hands of their British relatives.) The founders of the new nations in Latin American paid dearly (some with their lives) for being “Americanos”.

Part of the problem is due to our limited vocabulary. We have words like Canadians, Hondurans, and Peruvians, but we would need to create something like “United Statesians” to achieve greater precision. “North Americans” is somewhat better, but as seen with NAFTA, Canadians and Mexicans are geographically also in North America. To communicate more accurately, I choose to use “U.S. citizens” or “people in the United States”.

Even more problematic in the phrase “I’m proud to be an American” is that it appeals to our emotions, but it does not clarify what “American” attributes we should be proud of. Should we be proud of our pursuits of Manifest Destiny even though European settlers took lands that were under the stewardship of indigenous people? Should we take pride in our history of slavery or repent of it? Which side of the current cultural wars should we be proud of? There is room for reasonable disagreement and debate on specific issues and attributes but a blanket statement of pride to be an American does not advance that debate.

So, where do I stand? I am proud of the American belief that all men and women are created equal before the law, but I lament our historical failures to put that belief into practice. I am proud of the invitation to immigrants etched on our Statue of Liberty, but I am horrified how we closed our doors to Jewish refugees who tried to flee Nazism. This Memorial Day, let’s reflect on our national past, learn from our mistakes, and contribute our words and deeds to making our country better.

Republican Leaders and the January 6 event – Amnesia or Cowardice?

On January 6, 2021 there was a crowd of Trump supporters who went to hear the president speak about the election being “stolen”. He then urged these followers to march on the Capitol and to stop Congress from certifying the election results. Some of the protestors were peaceful, but many were not. They confronted the police and took over the building. Some shouted “Hang Mike Pence” and took possession of many congressional offices. (Many of us witnessed these events on television as networks, left and right, broadcast these actions live before our eyes) After several hours, control was restored. Later that night, Congress came back into session and certified the election victory of Joe Biden.

Most senators and representatives, including the top two ranking Republicans, were rightfully angered at Trump and made clear denunciations of the president’s major role in the insurrection. Kevin McCarthy, the House Minority Leader, affirmed, “The violence, destruction and chaos we saw earlier was unacceptable, undemocratic and un-American.” Mitch McConnell, the number one Republican in the Senate later condemned Trump, “There is no question, none, that President Trump is practically and morally responsible for provoking the event of that day.”

Congressional leaders, Republicans and Democrats, were unanimous in their desire to find out who the protestors were, the role of Trump in the event, how the Capitol police were so unprepared for the event, and why the National Guard took so long to arrive on the scene. Over the past four months leaders on both sides of the aisle have tried to form a “9/11” type of commission to investigate the actions that took place on January 6. Republican Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy demanded three requirements of such a commission: (1) equal representation of Democrats and Republicans, (2) equal subpoenaing power by both sides, and (3) no predetermined outcome. Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, finally agreed to all of McCarthy’s requests. Republican representative, John Katko and Democrat Bennie Thompson were charged with drafting the language of the bipartisan bill. It seemed that the commission would finally be formed, but then some Republicans acquired amnesia…or became cowards.

It was assumed that, with time, Trump’s influence on the Republican party would diminish due to his role in the insurrection and his other erratic behavior. Nevertheless, he still has a lot of influence among the Republican faithful. Liz Cheney, the number three ranking Republican in the House, who openly denounced Trump, was ousted from her position last week. Republicans faced a dilemma. They could try to restore their party to its core Republican values without Trump or they could cuddle up to the former president and stay in his favor. Most chose the latter because they were afraid they couldn’t win in the 2022 election if Trump opposed them in their Republican primary race or withheld his blessing in the general election.

So, McCarthy urged his fellow Republican colleagues to vote “no” on the bill that would form the commission. Nevertheless, on Wednesday, 35 brave Republican congressional representatives voted “yes”. Now it is time for the Senate to weigh in. Ten Republican senators will need to vote in favor of forming the commission for the bill to pass. I believe that our country is stronger and that we will obtain more of the truth if both major parties actively participate in our public debates. For the good of our country, may Republicans vote to form the commission so that we can find out what really took place on January 6.

René Padilla, a Giant of a Theologian Graduated into God’s Presence

On Tuesday of this week, Latin American theologian C. René Padilla passed into the presence of the Lord. He was one of the most influential Christian thinkers in the world. He was known as the ¨Father of Integral Mission¨ in which the purpose of the church is to proclaim the gospel in word as well as in deeds, especially serving the poor.

Born in Ecuador in 1932 to humble parents, he obtained three degrees from Wheaton College (a B.A. in philosophy and Greek in 1957, an M.A. in theology in 1960, and an honorary Doctorate in 1992). He met his future wife and partner Catherine Feser at Wheaton. He also earned a Ph.D. in New Testament from the University of Manchester under the mentoring of F.F. Bruce in 1965. I met René through the ministry of the International Fellowship of Evangelical Students (IFES / known as InterVarsity Christian Fellowship in the United States). He served in this ministry in Latin America for 25 years in which he articulated Christian responses to the burning questions of the day on how followers of Jesus should respond to rampant poverty, illiteracy, oppressive dictatorships, war, and environmental degradation.

Although he had a gentle demeanor and a mischievous grin, René was known for speaking clearly the “difficult” truths of the gospel to friends and foes alike. He became internationally famous for his plenary “speech that shook the world” at the 1974 Lausanne Congress of World Evangelization. He pointed out that most Christians have experienced a truncated gospel, either emphasizing a verbal proclamation or a social gospel. René urged that God’s plan was to bring together these two dimensions in an “integral” or “holistic” mission.

René promoted this holistic understanding of the gospel through public speaking events, a multitude of books and articles, and the founding of numerous organizations that implemented this vision. René and I co-authored the book “Terrorism and the War in Iraq: a Christian Word from Latin America” in which we argued how and why most Latin American Christians opposed the war in Iraq because it did not meet the moral criteria of a “Just War”. History has demonstrated that those followers of Jesus had the correct moral conscience years ago.

Those who want to honor the legacy of this theological giant can do so by demonstrating faithfully the love and truth of Jesus in all areas of our lives.

Kids at the Border – Three Humanitarian Crises

Let´s be honest. The large number of unaccompanied children (about six hundred per day) trying to enter the United States at our southern border reveals serious problems. Nevertheless, problems can be transformed into opportunities when they are faced head on.

Although the Biden administration does not want to call this situation a crisis, it truly is. In fact, there are three principal crises.

  1. The crisis in the “Northern Triangle” countries: Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras.
  2. The crisis in our own broken immigration system, especially regarding the kids at the border.
  3. The crisis on the Mexican side of our border.

Let’s look briefly at each crisis and then analyze the pros and cons of the difficult options before us.

Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras are three of the poorest countries in the Americas. They also have some of the highest rates of murder and gang violence in the world. Their governments are guilty of more than their share of mismanagement and corruption. Many U.S. jobs have been outsourced to the area, especially to El Salvador, but this has barely put a dent in the rampant poverty. Powerful hurricanes have added to their economic woes. The United States has not been an innocent bystander. Dictatorships and authoritarian governments have emerged in these countries, all too frequently with support from the U.S. government. This violence and poverty are a significant push factor of migration, thrusting Central Americans to flee their countries. If you or I were parents of young teenaged sons who were pressured to join a gang or daughters likely to be raped, we would do almost anything to change the situation or to try to escape.

The U.S. immigration system has been broken for decades. The 1986 immigration bill backed by the Republican president Reagan and the Democrat controlled congress was good legislation, but it was not sufficiently enforced. Latin American immigrants (documented or not) were welcomed to fill many jobs in the boom economy during the Clinton administration (1993-2001). After 9/11, there were several attempts to bring about comprehensive immigration reform with leadership by presidents George Bush and Barack Obama, but there was not sufficient bipartisan support in Congress to get it passed (sounds familiar). Obama became known as Deporter-in-Chief, having deported more undocumented immigrants than any of his predecessors. President Trump implemented an even tougher policy, where undocumented immigrant parents were separated from their children at the border to provide a “deterrent” to more immigration. In my eyes, and in the sight of most North Americans, this was inhumane. Detainment camps that housed thousands of Central Americans sprung up on the Mexican side of the border. It is still a horrific crisis, but because it takes place in Mexico, it is “out of sight”, and we mistakenly believe it is not happening or that it is not our problem.

As is quite evident, the U.S. has given “a mixed message” to our Latin American neighbors. “Do not immigrate to our country unless you do it through the very limited legal process. But if you come without documents, you will probably find employment on our farms or in construction or landscaping. Even with low wages and few or no benefits, life is probably better here for your than in your countries of origin.”

Upon taking office in January, President Biden reversed many of Trump’s policies with more “humane” approaches. Although the immigration authorities immediately deport most adults and families at the border, unaccompanied children are allowed to stay in detention/processing centers on the U.S. side of the border until they can be placed under the care of their relatives (with or without documents) in the United States. Biden did not believe it was right for these kids to be turned away and forced to make the difficult journey back to Central America, nor to be dumped on the Mexican side. This is another mixed message. The border is generally “closed” for adults and families, but it is “open” for unaccompanied minors. This has created the large numbers of kids at the border, where even 20-year-old young men and women try to pass for minors (under the age of 18). The detention centers are already filled to maximum occupancy and are not legally permitted to be long-term care facilities. As a consequence, the Biden administration is scrambling to find government and non-governmental (NGO) alternatives.

We are facing difficult situations. These are true crises. The following is my humble attempt to address the options before us.  Sincere people of good will can and do disagree on these issues but let respectful and thoughtful debate characterize us.

  1. Do nothing regarding Central America. I am very aware that neither I individually nor my country’s government can solve all the poverty and violence problems throughout the world, not even in a relatively small region like Central America. Even when there are good intentions, they frequently become tainted by governments and corporations that seek their own interests more than the wellbeing of others. But my commitment to follow Jesus will not let me just wring my hands in despair. I must, and can, do something.
  • Long term solutions must be implemented in Central America that reduce the “push factors” that force people to leave their countries. It is possible for well thought out policies to be implemented that truly improve most people’s financial wellbeing, health and safety. Making education, potable water, and health care (like Covid-19 vaccines) more available are good examples. This is primarily the responsibility of Central Americans and their governments, but the actions of those in other countries make the situation better or worse.  The Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA), similar to the NAFTA agreement, had serious flaws that actually worsened the situation for many Central Americans. In order to not let corrupt politicians siphon off funds destined for good projects, I personally prefer giving greater emphasis to nongovernmental organizations that promote fair trade coffee or other products. See Fair Trade Handmade Gifts & Crafts from International Artisans – Ten Thousand Villages.
  • Central American immigrant children could be put on buses and returned to their home countries. This policy has been implemented for years in Mexico where unaccompanied minors have been taken into custody and returned to Central America. I personally witnessed this in Xela (Quetzaltenango), Guatemala where busloads of Guatemalan youth were brought back to their country, dropped off at an NGO immigrant center until they could be reunited with their families. The kids were perceived as “failures” because they did not make it to the promised land of “el Norte” where they could find work and send back very needed money to their families. Mexico and the U.S. could continue this policy, but it does not solve the real problems of Central Americans. In fact, it lowers the self-esteem of these youth, making them even more likely to fall into the lure or threat of gangs.
  • The Biden administration could turn away these unaccompanied children at the border and have Mexico deal with the “problem”. Mexican relief agencies would not have the language barriers that many U.S. organizations have, but their lack of resources means that thousands of youth would remain in detention camps on the Mexican side of the border. This is just passing the buck to others.
  • The Biden administration is beginning to re-implement the Central American Minors program that was suspended by Trump (See Restarting the Central American Minors Program – United States Department of State). This program provides a safe, legal way to reunite children from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras with their parents or guardians who are legally present in the U.S. This is a good partial solution. I would expand it to include other relatives who are lawfully in our country, such as aunts, uncles, and grandparents. A bolder, but more comprehensive, solution would be to extend the TPS (Temporary Protected Status – currently granted to some Nicaraguans and Hondurans) to undocumented immigrants from El Salvador and Guatemala. Our government would need to act quickly but granting this legal status to them would permit them to receive the immigrant kids. Some critics would balk at “rewarding” these undocumented immigrants, but I believe it to be the “lesser of the evils” and it would fairly quickly reunite the majority of the kids at the border with loving relatives.
  • There is a desperate need for comprehensive immigration reform so that the 10-12 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S. come out of the shadows, pay their fines and taxes, get on a pathway to legality, and become fully participating citizens in our country. This legislation might need to be broken down into different components in order to achieve the necessary 60 votes in the Senate. For example, the overwhelming majority of U.S. citizens (Republicans and Democrats) are in favor of the Dreamers (those undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. when they were children) obtaining legality. The Dreamer bill might come before Congress in the next few weeks.
  • The situation at the border will not improve quickly unless many people provide sensible alternatives. Relief organizations can provide funding and temporary housing. Our political representatives can approve the extension of the TPS and have the guts to reach an agreement on a comprehensive immigration reform.

There are tough options before us. Option 5 seems to me to be one of the better short-term solutions. Let us not step away from the costly love required of us.

Where do we go after the Trump Impeachment Trial?

Almost everyone knows that on Saturday the U.S. Senate acquitted former president Trump of the crime of incitement of insurrection for the riot that took place at the capitol on January 6. The vote to convict was 57 to 43, (48 Democrats, the 2 Independent senators, and 7 Republicans voted that Trump was guilty), which was a majority of the Senate, but not the two thirds super majority that was required.

So, where do we go now?

Trump goes to court?

Although Trump was acquitted of the impeachment charge, it is likely that he will be charged in the criminal court system. After the impeachment vote, Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell made a somewhat strange speech on the Senate floor in which he stated that the House Managers successfully demonstrated that Trump was “morally and practically guilty” of the crime of incitement, but because Trump was no longer in office, McConnell voted to acquit (many Republican senators who voted to acquit used this same technical argument). I will comment on this technicality below, but McConnell suggested that Trump can (and should) be tried in the criminal or civil courts. “We have a criminal court system…Trump is still liable for everything he did while in office”, including incitement to insurrection and a “disgraceful dereliction of his presidential duty”. Trump’s legal defense team make the same strange argument. In their attempt to obtain the votes of Republican senators who felt squeamish about acquitting Trump, the defense team acknowledged the errors of the former president, and that he could still be punished (by others) in the criminal justice system. This provided the senators an easy and cheap cop-out.

It is likely that Trump will be charged in one or more of the following courts where investigations have already begun:

  • New York – Manhattan’s District Attorney’s office. Tax fraud and insurance fraud.
  • Washington D.C.’s Attorney General – Incitement to insurrection.
  • Georgia Secretary of State – Interference in election results.
  • Atlanta/Fulton County’s District Attorney – Interference in election results.
  • Civil suits at several sites – sexual assault, abuse of government funds, etc.

We live in a country where, supposedly, no one is above the law. The law should be applied fairly and equitably, regardless of political party, race, wealth, or gender. Because Trump is no longer in office, he does not have the presidential protections that he has enjoyed these past four years. These legal cases should run their regular courses, leading to convictions and penalties or conversely to acquittals, but always based upon the evidence. May the truth win out!

The Future of the Republican Party

                Where is the Republican Party headed?Most people recognize that over the last five years, the Republican Party became the Trump Party. For example, in 2020 the Republican Party decided to not have its own platform, but merely referred to and approved Trump’s policies. Republicans need to decide their own future. Will they still be the Trump Party, will they purge their party of Trump, or will Trump’s influence just gradually fade away? Each of these options is a real possibility.

                Although there has been some slippage of Republican support for Trump after the January 6 riots and the impeachment hearing, 60-75% of Republicans still approve of the former president. Republican senators who voted to convict Trump (like Cassidy and Burr) have received censures from their pro-Trump state parties. Some Republican leaders who ran for the presidency in 2016 (Ted Cruz, Lindsey Graham, Marco Rubio) strongly denounced Trump five years ago, but have praised and defended him ever since. On the other hand, significant Republicans (like Nikki Haley, Jeff Sessions, “Mad Dog” Jim Mattis, Rex Tillerson) held important posts in the Trump administration, but later resigned and accused the president of serious deficiencies. Former Vice-President Mike Pence has been especially quiet these past weeks. The rioters shouted ¨Hang Mike Pence¨ after Trump denounced the VP for not overturning the vote. A Pence political comeback is very difficult.

  1. The most likely option is that Trump will try to stay influential within the Republican party. Those who voted against impeachment will receive his support in primaries and the general elections in 2022. He himself may run for president in 2024. Although his base will continue to be enthusiastic about him, Democrats would like this option because a new Trump campaign would trigger more opposition than support. Trump would be an easy target.
  2. It is possible that if the Republicans lose the House of Representatives in 2022, Republicans will swing to a new leader (essentially purging Trump). At this point of time, such a leader has not yet appeared. I doubt that it would be Cruz, Pence, or Rubio. Perhaps Haley?
  3. There has been some talk (by Anthony Scaramucci and others) of creating a new ¨center-right¨ political party made up of traditional Republicans and with independents disillusioned with Democrats and with Trump. In the short run, this would hurt the Republican party, but it would definitely shake up the political landscape.

Democrats

                President Biden mostly stayed away from the impeachment trial. He needs to concentrate on getting the Covid vaccines out to the public and getting his Covid Relief Bill passed. As I mentioned in my previous blog, he should make some common sense concessions and attempt to reach a bipartisan consensus.

Epilogue

I believe that Senator Mitch McConnell is a hypocrite of the first degree. As I mentioned above, he stated that Trump was morally and actually guilty of incitement of insurrection, but because Trump was already out of office, Mitch voted to acquit. The truth is that the House of Representatives impeached Trump on January 13th. They tried to have the Senate take up the case while Trump was still in office (from January 13-20), but Senator McConnell was the Majority Leader of the Senate at that time and he refused to schedule the hearing during that time period! This is a clear example of hypocrisy.

A vibrant democracy is great in theory, but difficult to keep. God help us!

The Covid Relief Bill: We Need Courageous Compromise

A wise maxim states, ¨Politics is the art of the possible¨. This is especially true regarding the Covid-19 Relief package in the halls of Congress. President Biden and the Democrats are proposing a $1.9 trillion relief package.  It includes a $1,400 check for most Americans (in addition to the $600 they received a few months ago). It also includes an extension of unemployment benefits, aid for small businesses and for those persons facing hunger and eviction. This bill would probably pass in the House of Representatives but would have a more difficult time in the Senate. For legislation of this magnitude, Biden would like bi-partisan support. Ten Republican senators met with Biden last week and offered a counterproposal of $600 billion, roughly one-third of the Biden plan.

It is possible, but difficult, for the parties to reach a compromise, but it would take weeks and perhaps months to achieve it (in the midst of the impeachment trial of former president Trump in the Senate). Time is of the essence as the number of people who have lost their jobs during the pandemic is astronomical. Tens of thousands of our neighbors have been evicted from their housing and millions do not have enough money to put food on their tables.

The Republicans argue that the national debt would skyrocket with such expenditures. This argument rings hollow (to me) because in his first year of entering office, Trump and the Republicans passed a tax cut (which gave the biggest benefits to the wealthy) that adds $1.9 trillion to the debt over a ten year period, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office.

I do agree with the Republicans that the relief checks should be more targeted. These checks should not go to individuals who make hundreds of thousands of dollars per year. I suggest that a cutoff should be for those who earn $60,000 per year of less. People who are employed and earning more than that amount do not need any additional taxpayer money.

If Biden would accept this and other reasonable suggestions, he would be able to reduce the legislation’s cost to about $1.6 trillion and probably get several Republican senators to vote in favor of the bill. It is possible to maintain your deepest convictions and to reach a healthy compromise with people on the other side of the aisle. We need our elected officials to concede their most extreme positions and work towards a satisfactory agreement for the wellbeing of the people.

Presidential Pardons: when they are good and when they are not

 Information has been leaked to the press that either today or tomorrow morning, President Trump will grant pardons to some 80 – 100 people for their crimes. In order to evaluate this action, it is important to have some background and context regarding presidential pardons.

In many democracies around the world, the president has the authority to grant a pardon to convicted criminals. In the United States, many presidents (both Democrat and Republican) have spent their last days in office granting these pardons. In the U.S. legal system, presidential pardons can only be applied to federal crimes, not state convictions. The first clause of Article II Section 2 of the Constitution states: “The President …shall have Power to grand Reprieves and Pardons for Offences against the United States, except in Cases of Impeachment.” This usually takes the form of a pardon which is forgiveness of a person’s conviction or a commutation in which the sentences are abbreviated or vacated.

Throughout U.S. history, there have been three main reasons why presidents have granted pardons.

  1. After a court case has been decided, and the person has been convicted of a crime, new evidence appears which, if it had been presented during the trial, would probably have produced a not guilty decision This new evidence can include DNA records, a confession by the true guilty party, photographs, tape recordings, etc. If done carefully and cautiously, this seems to me like a legitimate use of the presidential pardon.
  2. Penalties for crimes vary in their severity over time. For example, decades ago, minor nonviolent drug offenses were punished quite harshly. Almost two thousand people are serving life sentences in federal prisons for nonviolent crimes. Most citizens believe that these severe punishments have needlessly destroyed people’s lives and their families. Here, a presidential commutation seems appropriate, because people should not spend the rest of their lives in prison for one mistake.
  3. Some convicted people have become contrite and repentant in prison. They have turned their lives around and have become examples of good conduct. At times, presidents have rewarded this change of heart and action with a pardon. This is more ambiguous than the first two situations where true guilt is punished.  Although I definitely believe that God can forgive us our sins, there are social consequences for our crimes. A presidential pardon for these repentant people could be appropriate if we could determine some criteria for measuring the validity of their actions.

To protect the integrity of the presidential pardon, there are safeguards. All applications for pardons must be prepared and submitted to the president by the U.S. Pardon Attorney of the Department of Justice, although the president is not required to follow the recommendations.

                These guidelines have not always been followed. Some pardons/commutations are obviously immoral such as presidents who have granted pardons to their family members or friends. To give a pardon in exchange for money (given directly or via a large donation to a particular political campaign) is illegal. (President Clinton made many questionable pardons of wealthy donors and friends, including the most controversial one granted to financier Marc Rich). A presidential pardon of oneself has never been tested in the courts but seems ridiculously immoral from my point of view. In the latest NBC poll, 64% of U.S. citizens are against the idea of President Trump pardoning himself. (A reputable news reporter just announced that a president can have a legal “secret” list of people who are pardoned which will only be made public if and when the person is convicted. If this is true, then it is likely that the “official list of Trump’s pardonees” might not be complete, with some of his family or friends on the secret list.)

My dear readers, whether you are a supporter of Trump or one of his critics, strive to apply the criteria described above to his imminent pardons… and remember, “No one is above the law”. For the good of society, we should all be accountable for our actions.

Nadie está por encima de la Ley

There was significant interest in the blog ¨No One is Above the Law¨ that I published on Monday. Several people from Latin America and Spain have asked for a version in Spanish to help clarify our current complex political situation. I offer the following to accomplish their request.

Nadie está por encima de la Ley: ¿Cuáles son nuestras opciones?

Aunque no me sorprendió, como la mayoría de las personas, me sentí consternado por los eventos que tuvieron lugar en el Capitolio de los Estados Unidos en Washington, DC la semana pasada. Un grupo de partidarios del presidente Trump marchó hasta el Capitolio y luego irrumpió en el edificio. Intentaban impedir que el Congreso contara y ratificara los votos del Colegio Electoral que certificaban la victoria electoral de Biden. Aunque no es común en los Estados Unidos, esto fue, de hecho, una insurrección, un auto “golpe de Estado”, un intento de robar la elección a los votantes que eligieron a Biden el 3 de noviembre de 2020. El presidente Trump había hablado anteriormente con los manifestantes y repitió la mentira de que había ganado las elecciones. Luego instó a sus seguidores a marchar hacia el Capitolio y luchar por su “victoria del día de las elecciones”. Los miembros del Senado y la Cámara de Representantes se reunieron para contar los votos del Colegio Electoral. Aunque algunos de los manifestantes eran pacíficos, cuando llegaron al edificio del Capitolio, la protesta se tornó violenta, irrumpió y destrozó el edificio. La fuerza policial estaba abrumada. Al principio, los miembros del Congreso se mantuvieron en su lugar, pero luego fueron trasladados a “búnkeres” seguros en el sótano. Durante el motín, Trump tuiteó una dura crítica al vicepresidente Pence por no anular los resultados (lo que legalmente no podía hacer). Inmediatamente, surgieron gritos dentro de la multitud al interior del Capitolio, “¡Cuelguen a Mike Pence! ¡Cuelguen a Mike Pence!”. Después de varias horas, la policía finalmente recuperó el control, aunque cinco personas han muerto como consecuencia de la violencia. Más tarde esa noche, el Congreso reanudó su sesión y certificó la victoria de Biden.

La mayoría de la gente ha condenado las acciones de los partidarios de Trump como criminales debido al allanamiento de morada y al vandalismo, aunado a las cinco personas que murieron. Los demócratas y muchos republicanos han acusado al presidente de incitar a la insurrección. Al menos dos miembros del gabinete (la secretaria de Educación Betsy Devos y la secretaria de Transporte Elaine Chao) y muchos otros funcionarios de alto rango han renunciado en protesta. Republicanos prominentes que han apoyado a Trump en el pasado (como Mitch McConnell, Lindsay Graham y William Barr) han admitido que el presidente ha ido demasiado lejos esta vez. Algunos de sus amigos más confiables cuestionan su salud psicológica y dicen que ha estado inusualmente deprimido después de su derrota electoral. Aunque la transferencia de poder a Biden tendrá lugar el 20 de enero, la mayoría de los ciudadanos estadounidenses quieren que Trump se vaya antes. Por temor a que Trump haga aún más daño en los próximos diez días, Twitter y Facebook han bloqueado permanentemente las cuentas del presidente. Si nadie está por encima de la ley, ¿cómo responsabilizar a las personas por sus acciones y, al mismo tiempo, traer mejoría a nuestro país? Hay varias opciones disponibles, pero cada una tiene sus ventajas y desventajas. ¿Qué debería hacerse?
 

1.- Trump podría renunciar lo antes posible. Tras su renuncia, el vicepresidente Mike Pence se convertiría en presidente hasta el 20 de enero. Esta es la opción más fácil, con mucho, y minimizaría la polarización adicional del pueblo estadounidense. Por sí sola, una renuncia no castigaría a Trump por sus crímenes. Pence podría ofrecerle un perdón presidencial (como Ford le dio a Nixon), que cubriría todos los delitos federales. Sin embargo, Trump aún podría enfrentar cargos del estado de Nueva York por evasión de impuestos u otros presuntos delitos, pero su incitación a la insurrección probablemente quedaría impune. Trump ha anunciado que no renunciará bajo ninguna circunstancia (podría ser presionado para cambiar de opinión si una opción más negativa como el juicio político se convierte en realidad).

2.- El vicepresidente Pence y la mayoría del gabinete podrían invocar el artículo 25 que establece que un presidente puede ser destituido de su cargo si no es apto (física o psicológicamente) para cumplir con sus funciones. Hasta ahora, Pence no ha mostrado ninguna voluntad de implementar esta opción.

3.- La presidenta de la Cámara de Representantes, Nancy Pelosi, ha prometido que si Pence no invoca el artículo 25, ella traerá un artículo de acusación a la Cámara a principios de esta semana por incitar a la insurrección. Ella pondría esto en una “vía rápida”, y podría someterse a votación en la Cámara de Representantes el miércoles. Pasaría fácilmente. Luego iría al Senado donde necesitaría una supermayoría para su aprobación, lo cual no es tan seguro. Aun así, la decisión del Senado probablemente no se alcanzaría hasta después de la toma de posesión de Biden. Si el Senado confirma el juicio político, a Trump se le prohibiría postularse para presidente o cualquier otro cargo federal en el futuro. Sin embargo, Biden no favorece esta opción. No quiere comenzar su presidencia con una furiosa pelea partidista.

4.- El Congreso podría “censurar” a Trump por sus acciones. Esto probablemente se aprobaría tanto en el Senado como en la Cámara con un apoyo republicano sustancial. Sin embargo, este es un castigo demasiado débil. Es como una palmada en la muñeca por un delito grave que resultó en cinco muertes y podría haber derrumbado la democracia estadounidense.
 

Como puede verse, cada opción tiene su lado negativo. ¿Cómo deberíamos responsabilizar a la gente por sus crímenes y traer curación a nuestro país polarizado al mismo tiempo? Si ni la opción 1 ni la 2 se implementan en los próximos días, yo estaría a favor de un juicio político (impeachment) por la vía rápida en la Cámara, pero no llevado inmediatamente al Senado. Esto daría tiempo para que se produzca un respiro y para que Biden obtenga la aprobación de su gabinete y comience a implementar sus políticas prometidas. Si este alto crimen queda impune, otros presidentes podrían envalentonarse para cometer este u otros crímenes de traición en el futuro. Todos deben rendir cuentas por sus delitos. Nadie está por encima de la ley.

Un problema paralelo es por qué la policía fue tan ineficaz para detener esta insurrección. La policía del Capitolio debería haber sido reforzada rápidamente con la Guardia Nacional o la fuerza policial del FBI, pero por alguna razón, esas ofertas de ayuda fueron rechazadas. ¿Por qué? Se debe realizar una investigación exhaustiva para descubrir quién falló en sus responsabilidades y si Trump u otros estuvieron involucrados. Dado que la inauguración tendrá lugar el 20 de enero, es muy posible que se produzcan más acciones de violencia en la capital o en otros lugares de Estados Unidos durante los próximos días.

Otro tema que debe abordarse es el racismo institucional. Las protestas pacíficas de Black Lives Matter tuvieron lugar en DC y en otras ciudades el pasado verano y se encontraron con una fuerte resistencia policial. Pero cuando los manifestantes por la supremacía blanca invadieron y saquearon el edificio del Capitolio el miércoles, la inacción de la policía permitió que el saqueo no se controlara. El camino hacia la igualdad racial es largo y difícil, pero sigamos avanzando y no perdamos la esperanza.