Public Policy and the “Separation of Church and State”? A Way Forward.

Public Policy and the “Separation of Church and State”? A Way Forward.

This is a thorny issue. On the one side are people who argue for a complete separation of church and state (the secular position). On the other side, many religious people claim that their Scriptures clearly distinguish right from wrong and that public laws should replicate this (the theocracy position). In my (not so humble) opinion, both sides have overstated their case. This is a tough issue, but there is a way forward.

People on the secular side argue for a complete “separation of church and state”. This phrase was enunciated by Thomas Jefferson, but it does not appear in the U.S. Constitution. Some from the secular position seem to have forgotten that many of the important laws in modern, secular societies (that they do agree with) had their origin in Scripture. Laws against murder, theft, and perjury historically came from the Ten Commandments. These usually came about via church/state alliances but have been reaffirmed by citizens in pluralistic societies today. On the other hand, other laws which were religiously motivated (example: the “dry laws” that prohibited sales of alcohol in the Bible Belt South or the “Blue laws” that prohibited supermarkets from opening on Sundays) have generally been dropped across the country.

People on the theocracy side believe that they know God’s will for society, based on their interpretation of their Scriptures and that should be applied to all (like the prohibition of murder). A contemporary example of this is the pro-life position of many religious people in which they affirm that the fetus’s life should be defended as of conception. Many pro-lifers had opposed the Roe v. Wade decision because it was made by members of the Supreme Court in 1973 and not by elected officials. Although Roe v. Wade has now been overturned federally, the legality of abortions is being decided at the state level.

Problems with both extreme positions should motivate us to a third way. Our Constitution guarantees the freedom to all people to choose their own religion…or no religion at all. I might not agree with their choices, but I defend their freedom to choose. Their religious choices probably influence them on a wide array of issues, including public policies. That is fine and appropriate. Freedom of conscience means that people can arrive at their opinions in the way that they prefer. Nevertheless, if they want to codify their opinions into law, there is the next step which is quite difficult. In democracies, they must persuade a majority of their fellow citizens of the appropriateness of their policies (at a district, state, or national level).

This challenge can be seen in what happened in Kansas. With Roe v Wade being overturned, people in Kansas voted on the legality/illegality of abortions in their state. Although Kansas is a “ruby red” state which traditionally votes Republican, 59% voted to keep abortions legal. The pro-lifers failed to persuade a majority of Kansas inhabitants of the “rightness” of their position. Their position would be made stronger if they supported policies that would help pay maternity costs or provide child care or other programs that would be consistently “pro-life”.

What is the third way? People have the right to acquire their personal opinions in the way they prefer. But to codify these opinions into laws, they need to persuade a majority of their neighbors about the “justness” of their positions. They are free to use religious arguments, although non/religious arguments might be better. Democracy is messy. Sometimes your positions win, sometimes they don’t. That is why freedom of speech and elections are important.

Liz Cheney and the Future of the Republican Party – Three Scenarios

Liz Cheney has been the Congressional Representative from Wyoming since 2017. She grew up in a political family and her father, Dick Cheney, was Vice-President during the George Bush administration (2001-2009). She herself has been known as a conservative Republican on all major policy issues. She was a rising star and she chaired the House Republican Conference from 2019 to 2021 (the third most powerful position in the Republican congressional contingent). Then the January 6, 2021 storming of the U.S. Capitol took place, promoted by former president Donald Trump. Based on her interpretation of the events and her moral integrity, she voted to impeach Trump. She has co-chaired the House January 6 Committee and believes the former president is a serious threat to our democracy. As a consequence, she is either viewed as a heroine in courage by many traditional, conservative Republicans or as a villain by many Trump supporters.

After losing the primary election last week in Wyoming for her House seat, she is considering running for president in 2024. She has affirmed that such a campaign would be, in part, an attempt to restore traditional core values to the Republican party and to make sure that Trump would not return to the White House. Does she have a future in the GOP? Before we look at the three main scenarios, let us look at the current situation.

Mid-Term Elections / A few months ago, it looked like the Republicans would pick up 20-40 seats to gain control of the House of Representatives and also win enough races to obtain a majority in the Senate. Given recent legislation victories in Congress and backlash to the Roe v. Wade reversal, it is now likely that Democrats will retain control of the Senate and lose far fewer seats in the House. Although many of Trump’s favored Senate candidates have won their primaries, some are underperforming in their campaigns for the general election (Dr. Oz in Pennsylvania, Walker in Georgia, etc.)

Trump’s Legal Problems / The legal cases are mounting against Trump, his children, and his closest associates (the classified documents in Mar-a-Lago, the January 6 event, tax evasion in New York, the attempt to overturn the election in Georgia, etc.). It is likely that the former president will be indicted for some of his actions.

Here are the three most likely scenarios for Republicans leading up to the 2024 election.

Scenario 1 – It is possible that Trump survives his legal problems, launches his candidacy for the presidency, and obtains enough votes in the primary elections to win the Republican nomination. He is still the most powerful person among the Republican base. Nevertheless, his attraction for independent voters has plummeted. (Many Democratic pundits think he would be easily defeated in a general election.)

Scenario 2 – It is also possible that Trump decides not to run again or that his legal baggage becomes overwhelming. Republican voters would likely choose a candidate who has supported Trump but does not have his negative baggage. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis is the most likely candidate, but other options include Ted Cruz, Greg Abbott, or others.

Scenario 3 – There are other candidates who have distanced themselves (a little or a lot) from Trump, who are contemplating a run for the presidency.  These include Liz Cheney, Mike Pence, Nikki Haley, John Kasich, and Larry Hogan, among others. Given the nature of the primary election rules, it is possible that a candidate wins the delegates from a state by only winning the plurality of votes, not an absolute majority. This is what Trump did in 2016. He won pluralities in many states (mostly between 15% and 30%), but more than any of the other 16 major candidates. If the anti-Trump voters could coalesce around one candidate, then Liz Cheney would have a chance of winning the nomination (albeit a long shot).

Republican voters will have their opportunity to choose their party’s future. May they choose well.

The FBI Search of Mar-a-Lago: We Hear what We Want to Hear and Disregard the Rest”

Back in 1970, Simon and Garfunkel recorded their album Bridge over Troubled Waters which contained the song, the Boxer. There is a penetrating line in the lyrics which says, “A man hears what he wants to hear, and disregards the rest.” This is a sad, but true, commentary on human nature. Although most people say that they strive to follow the truth, in fact, many of us reach our conclusions largely by our previously held beliefs rather than by the evidence and the truth.

On Monday, August 8, 2022, former president Donald Trump’s residence, Mar-a-Lago was searched by FBI agents with a warrant. They removed eleven sets of classified documents from his time in the White House. Many Trump supporters had an immediate, knee-jerk reaction and claimed the search was an illegal “raid” implemented by a politically motivated order by Attorney General, Merrick Garland. On the other side, many Democrats also had a knee-jerk reaction in the opposite direction, gleefully claiming that the former president was finally declared guilty for his multiple crimes. Both sides jumped the gun and “heard what they wanted to hear and disregarded the rest”.

CNN anchor Michael Smerconish (previously a Republican, now a centrist Independent) created an imaginary conversation between two co-workers, one a Republican, and the other a Democrat:

I can just imagine a conversation between a Republican and Democratic co-worker, they’re gathered around the Keurig and the Democrat says, “Ah, the ‘New York Times’ reported Thursday that there was a subpoena issued, so when Trump didn’t comply, the search was necessary.” And the Republican response, “Yes, but he had produced certain documents and he was cooperating. He even greeted the people from the archives when they came to his house in June. So why didn’t the Feds file a motion to compel or issue another subpoena?” The Democrat says, “If Trump really was a victim, he’d have produced the warrant and inventory that day it happened.” And the Republican response, “The warrant and inventory, they’re meaningless. Show us the affidavit.” The Democrat, “The Washington Post said they were classified documents relating to nuclear weapons. So, there was urgency in conducting the search.” And the Republican response, “The warrant was signed on a Friday, executed on a Monday. That’s not urgency.”

People on both sides “hear what they want to hear and disregard the rest”. As the dust is slowly settling, we all need to take a deep breath and wait for the facts to play out.

Democrats were right when they affirmed that a subpoena had been issued in June, 2022. Not all the documents were turned in. (even though a lawyer for Trump falsely declared that all the documents had been turned over)

Republicans were right in being somewhat skeptical andy reques they appropriately requested that the warrant and the receipt of materials be made public. Merrick Garland released them. The warrant revealed there was probable cause that three laws had been broken: (1) the Espionage Act; (2) the destruction of documents; and (3) the obstruction of justice. If true, these are serious crimes and we need to see if the Department of Justice brings charges or not. According to the receipt, the FBI search obtained eleven sets of information (in about 20 boxes).

  • 1 set of top secret information /  SCI Sensitive Compartmented Information
  • 4 sets of other top secret information
  • 3 sets of secret information
  • 3 sets of confidential documents

This does not bode well for the former president. At the very least, it shows deep carelessness. If it is shown that Trump had knowledge and intent, he might be indicted.

Trump, many Republican leaders and major news outlets have all asked that the affidavit (that was used to justify the warrant) be released to the public. I doubt that this will take place because it deals with super sensitive information (it possibly contains names of our spies and informants, nuclear weapons, methods of espionage, etc.). What I do suggest is that the DOJ reveal the affidavit to the ranking bipartisan members of the Congressional Intelligence and Judiciary Committees. These members already have special clearance to handle delicate information and should be trusted.

I also request that we pay attention to what we don’t want to hear even if it is spoken by the “other side”. If it is true, we need to include it in our conclusions. If it is false, we should gracefully refute it. Our democracy is in a fragile situation. Seeking the truth, speaking the truth, and heeding the truth are more necessary than ever.

The FBI Search of Mar-a-Lago: “We hear what we want to hear and disregard the rest”

Back in 1970, Simon and Garfunkel recorded their album Bridge over Troubled Waters which contained the song, the Boxer. There is a penetrating line in the lyrics which says, “A man hears what he wants to hear, and disregards the rest.” This is a sad, but true, commentary on human nature. Although most people say that they strive to follow the truth, in fact, many of us reach our conclusions largely by our previously held beliefs rather than by the evidence and the truth.

On Monday, August 8, 2022, former president Donald Trump’s residence, Mar-a-Lago was searched by FBI agents with a warrant. They removed eleven sets of classified documents from his time in the White House. Many Trump supporters had an immediate, knee-jerk reaction and claimed the search was an illegal “raid” implemented by a politically motivated order by Attorney General, Merrick Garland. On the other side, many Democrats also had a knee-jerk reaction in the opposite direction, gleefully claiming that the former president was finally declared guilty for his multiple crimes. Both sides jumped the gun and “heard what they wanted to hear and disregarded the rest”.

CNN anchor Michael Smerconish (previously a Republican, now a centrist Independent) created an imaginary conversation between two co-workers, one a Republican, and the other a Democrat:

I can just imagine a conversation between a Republican and Democratic co-worker, they’re gathered around the Keurig and the Democrat says, “Ah, the ‘New York Times’ reported Thursday that there was a subpoena issued, so when Trump didn’t comply, the search was necessary.” And the Republican response, “Yes, but he had produced certain documents and he was cooperating. He even greeted the people from the archives when they came to his house in June. So why didn’t the Feds file a motion to compel or issue another subpoena?” The Democrat says, “If Trump really was a victim, he’d have produced the warrant and inventory that day it happened.” And the Republican response, “The warrant and inventory, they’re meaningless. Show us the affidavit.” The Democrat, “The Washington Post said they were classified documents relating to nuclear weapons. So, there was urgency in conducting the search.” And the Republican response, “The warrant was signed on a Friday, executed on a Monday. That’s not urgency.”

People on both sides “hear what they want to hear and disregard the rest”. As the dust is slowly settling, we all need to take a deep breath and wait for the facts to play out.

Democrats were right when they affirmed that a subpoena had been issued in June, 2022. Not all the documents were turned in. (even though a lawyer for Trump falsely declared that all the documents had been turned over)

Republicans were right in being somewhat skeptical andy reques they appropriately requested that the warrant and the receipt of materials be made public. Merrick Garland released them. The warrant revealed there was probable cause that three laws had been broken: (1) the Espionage Act; (2) the destruction of documents; and (3) the obstruction of justice. If true, these are serious crimes and we need to see if the Department of Justice brings charges or not. According to the receipt, the FBI search obtained eleven sets of information (in about 20 boxes).

  • 1 set of top secret information /  SCI Sensitive Compartmented Information
  • 4 sets of other top secret information
  • 3 sets of secret information
  • 3 sets of confidential documents

This does not bode well for the former president. At the very least, it shows deep carelessness. If it is shown that Trump had knowledge and intent, he might be indicted.

Trump, many Republican leaders and major news outlets have all asked that the affidavit (that was used to justify the warrant) be released to the public. I doubt that this will take place because it deals with super sensitive information (it possibly contains names of our spies and informants, nuclear weapons, methods of espionage, etc.). What I do suggest is that the DOJ reveal the affidavit to the ranking bipartisan members of the Congressional Intelligence and Judiciary Committees. These members already have special clearance to handle delicate information and should be trusted.

I also request that we pay attention to what we don’t want to hear even if it is spoken by the “other side”. If it is true, we need to include it in our conclusions. If it is false, we should gracefully refute it. Our democracy is in a fragile situation. Seeking the truth, speaking the truth, and heeding the truth are more necessary than ever.

I Agree with Donald Trump (regarding his earlier position on the Fifth Amendment)

The Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution contains several rights, including the right to “remain silent” in court and not provide evidence that is “self-incriminating”. Its original intent was to limit the government’s power to coerce people to make false confessions of guilt. The common use today of “taking the Fifth” or “pleading the Fifth” is that guilty persons can remain silent and not provide answers that would incriminate them.

I have always had problems about people who “take the Fifth”. If they are truly innocent, what is the problem in answering questions with truthful answers? In other words, only people who are guilty use this amendment, and they do so with the hope of evading or postponing the truth about their guilt. The truth usually wins out. Guilty actions eventually come into the light and appropriate punishment is meted out.

Back in 2016 when Donald Trump was running for president, he pronounced his opinion about those who take the Fifth. At a rally in Iowa, he criticized some of Hillary Clinton’s staff who had utilized the amendment to remain silent: “Her staffers taking the Fifth Amendment, how about that? You see the mob takes the Fifth. If you’re innocent, why are you taking the Fifth Amendment?” During a presidential debate, Trump affirmed that “taking the Fifth” was “disgraceful”. I agree with Trump. When people are innocent, they should answer court questions and answer with the truth.

On Wednesday of this week, Trump appeared in a deposition with the New York Attorney General who is leading a civil investigation of the Trump organization’s finances. It is alleged that the organization overestimated the value of the company’s assets in order to obtain loans at low interest rates. At the same time, it seems that the company underestimated the value of those same assets in order to pay lower taxes. Two of Trump’s children (Ivanka and Don, Jr., who hold positions of leadership in the organization) appeared in depositions recently and gave answers to the questions. Nevertheless, former president Trump “pled the Fifth” over 440 times on Wednesday and refused to answer simple questions regarding the company’s financial assets. More than 440 times! Clear answers could have proved his innocence if that were the true situation. The refusal to answer legitimate question, at the very least, gives the impression of guilt.

Noted legal scholar, Alan Dershowitz, who served as attorney for Trump, yesterday told reporters that he was shocked upon hearing that the former president used the Fifth Amendment 440 times if he has “nothing to hide”.

Given that there exist financial documents from the Trump organization, its innocence or guilt will soon come to light. A Scriptural maxim is that “we will be judged by our own words”. Consistency between our words and our deeds is important for our ethical integrity. I agree with Trump’s words six years ago regarding the Fifth Amendment, and therefore, and based upon his own words, I do not approve of his refusal to answer the deposition questions on Wednesday.

Heroes from the Hearings

Over the last ten days, we have witnessed three more hearings from the Congressional January 6 Committee. Many people have emerged as heroes, those who have demonstrated unusual courage. In spite of criticisms from their “friends” and enormous peer pressure, they showed their commitment to our country, our constitution, and our people by speaking the truth as they understood it. Like the rest of us, they surely have their flaws. Nevertheless, I mention two of them as worthy heroes whose courage should be emulated. They are Brad Raffensperger and Cassidy Hutchinson.

Raffensperger is a conservative Republican who has served as Georgia’s Secretary of State since 2019. Prior to that office, he was a businessman, a civil engineer, and a representative in Georgia’s House of Representatives representing District 50. No conservative should doubt his credentials nor his integrity. The presidential election of 2020 put that integrity to the test. In his role as Secretary of State, he announced that Biden had won the election, and as a consequence, Georgia’s electors. On January 2, 2021, he received a phone call in which President Trump asked him to “find” 11,780 additional votes, just enough to obtain Georgia’s delegates to the Electoral College. Raffensperger resisted that request. He had analyzed the allegations of voter fraud and concluded Biden had won the state, fair and square. Faithfulness to the truth was more important than “loyalty” to a powerful individual.

On Tuesday, Cassidy Hutchinson was the main witness in that day’s hearing. Although she is only in her mid-twenties, she held a significant role in the White House as an aide to the former Chief of Staff, Mark Meadows. She is a conservative Republican and was committed to the policies of the Trump administration. Nevertheless, she witnessed important failures of the former president and key members of his team. She came forward and testified, under oath, of what she saw and heard: Trump’s authorization of his supporters to have various weapons at the speech at the Ellipse on January 6, the president’s desire to go to the Capitol that day to protest the certification of Biden’s victory, many key people who requested a presidential pardon for their involvement in the insurrection, mistakes that Meadows committed, plus other pieces of vital information. She testified, in spite of various forms of pressure, including threats upon her life. Loyalty to the truth was more important than covering up for leaders when they make mistakes.

All people, but especially public servants, can learn a lot from these two heroes. The lesson is important for persons of all political persuasions, for Republicans and Democrats alike: truth is important. People in power and political parties frequently demand an absolute “loyalty” from their followers. We have a higher commitment. We are called to walk in the truth and admit our failures. May we draw upon the courage to do so.

Are the January 6 Hearings a “Witch Hunt”? Does it Matter

Over the past week we have witnessed the first three televised sessions regarding the January 6th, 2021 storming of the Capitol building in an attempt to block the certification of the election of President Biden. The congressional committee has mounted a large number of witnesses (all staunch Republicans up to this point) who have generally placed the blame for the insurrection on former president Trump.

Some of my friends (and many who support Trump) refuse to watch the hearings and claim that the evidence should be rejected because it is a “Witch Hunt”. They accuse the committee of being “never Trumpers” and, therefore, too prejudiced to be listened to.  There are seven Democrats and two Republicans on the committee. I hope that the committee members are trying to be fair, but I am realistic enough to recognize they are human and come to their task with subjective biases. Nevertheless, to dismiss the hearings as a “Witch Hunt” is a misguided cop-out. It is cowardly (and ethically wrong) to reject evidence without looking at it by alleging that it comes from prejudiced people. The issue is not who the information comes from, but whether it is accurate and true… or not. It takes great courage to examine information that we might not like and evaluate it with an open mind. I invite all people in our country to sift through the evidence and answer the following questions:

  1. Attorney General William Barr as well as Trump’s own campaign manager told him that he had lost the election, fair and square. Is Trump guilty of spreading the false message that the election had been stolen which was the principal motivation for the January 6th protest?
  2. After the election, Trump and his team 250 million dollars for an election defense fund. The problem is that this “fund” does not exist. It is a sham. Is Trump guilty of fraud?
  3. It is obvious that Trump pressured Vice President Pence to not certify the results of the Electoral College on January 6, 2021. Thursday’s hearing affirmed this was a violation of the Constitution. Was the pressure applied by Trump against Pence a criminal action?

If we want the truth, we must sift through the allegations. It is worth the effort. It will set us free and help restore our democracy.

Our Response to the Invasion of Ukraine

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is unjustified and evil. Putin is unleashing immense pain upon the Ukrainian people, upon his own Russian citizens, and has placed the entire world order in great danger. If nothing is done to stop the Russian advance, the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv will probably fall in the next couple of days. Putin ominously warned that if other countries attempted to stop the invasion, they would pay a “terrible price”, hinting at the use of nuclear weapons. Many European countries and the United States have begun to implement “severe economic sanctions” with the goal of forcing Putin to submit to acceptable international norms, but Russia’s immense oil and natural gas reserves give Putin great leverage with Europe. There are many key players who could take significant steps to reduce the pain, but they involve risk and cost. Here are some current options.

The United Nations should be the international police, yet it has structural weaknesses. The most obvious is that the five permanent members of the Security Council which includes Russia, have the power of the veto. By using this veto power, any one of these permanent members can thwart the wishes of the overwhelming majority of nations in the world. On Friday, the United Nations condemned the “brutal” invasion. Russia immediately vetoed that resolution. To complicate matters, this month it is Russia’s turn to preside the UN sessions. If the United Nations wants to be relevant in the future, it must get rid of this ridiculous veto power which has been so terribly abused.

NATO was formed to protect member nations. Its guiding principle was that an attack against any of the NATO countries would be considered as an attack against all the nations. “One for all and all for one.” The problem is that although Ukraine is friendly with NATO, it is not a member. Neither the United States nor any other member country is willing to send its own troops into Ukraine. It has been suggested that NATO declare Ukrainian airspace as a “no-fly zone” and prohibit Russia from dropping aerial bombs. It is possible that this would escalate the conflict into an all-out war, but it would probably save thousands of innocent civilians from bombing deaths. If Putin is not stopped now, other non-NATO nations in the region (like Moldova) would be easy targets for Russia’s expansion. Even NATO members (like Poland and the Baltic states) are vulnerable.

The United States and several European countries have imposed economic sanctions on Russia, first in an attempt to deter Putin, and now with the goal of punishing his immoral actions. Some of these sanctions are significant, but they are too little and too late. They might influence Putin to come to the bargaining table in a few weeks, but, in the meantime, many Ukrainians will perish. As of today, these government leaders have stopped short of really punishing Russia. For example, sanctions could be imposed that would prohibit Russia from participating in the international banking system (SWIFT). This would lead to a scarcity of oil and natural gas in Europe and would cause prices to skyrocket. Are Europeans and North Americans willing to pay higher prices to stop an immoral invasion and the thousands of deaths it would cause?

Many Russians are showing through their protests that they do not agree with Putin’s invasion. They have taken to the streets and hundreds have been jailed. I admire their courage. I hope that there are thousands of Russian soldiers who recognize that this is not a justified war. They should refuse to kill because there is a higher authority than Putin. It might cause them to be demoted, imprisoned, or even put to death, but those that believe in Just War Theory have the moral imperative to disobey an unjust military order.

Many Ukrainians have already demonstrated their bravery. It is likely that President Zelensky will pay the ultimate sacrifice for his love of his people. Many are fleeing from the war and taking their families to Poland, Moldova, or other neighboring countries. We who are far from the conflict should do all that we can to open doors for these refugees. These are desperate times and call for great courage and action.

The Biden Presidency’s one-year anniversary: Some criticisms are valid…some are not

One year into the Biden presidency: some criticisms are valid…some are not

Today, January 20, marks the one-year anniversary of Joe Biden’s presidency.  He has had his fair share of challenges: the Covid pandemic, the economy, foreign policies, etc. He has had some successes and some failures. As a result, his average percentage of public approval ranges from the low to mid-forties. His critics have identified his response to the Covid 19 pandemic, Afghanistan, the economy, the failure to achieve legislation on the Build Back Better and voting rights as his principal failures. Some of these criticisms are valid…some are not. I will comment on Afghanistan and the pandemic.

Last August, Biden received harsh criticism for the withdrawal of all troops from Afghanistan. He made mistakes on several aspects of that withdrawal, but an understanding of historical context is needed. The war in Afghanistan had gone on for twenty years. Back in February 2020, then president Trump negotiated with the Taliban leaders a deal in which U.S. and Taliban soldiers would not attack each other, but the U.S. would have to remove all of its military personnel by May 2021. The Trump administration excluded the Afghan government from even participating in these negotiations. So, Biden´s options were quite limited:

  1. Remove all U.S. soldiers by May of 2021 according to Trump´s agreement
  2. Negotiate a few extra months for the removal of the troops (this is what Biden did)
  3. Escalate the war by sending thousands of additional soldiers back into Afghanistan

Those who criticize Biden for removing all military personnel from Afghanistan have a right to their opinion. But unless they leveled the same criticism against Trump in 2020, they are inconsistent and guilty of hypocrisy.

A second area of criticism leveled against Biden has been in his response to the Covid 19 pandemic. Biden inherited a very chaotic situation from Trump. Infections and hospitalizations were so numerous that ICU space at many hospitals was totally filled up. To his credit, Trump did accelerate the production of vaccines with his Operation Warp Speed program, but his ridicule of mask wearing, his recommendation of drinking bleach as a cure, and his blocking and manipulation of scientific evidence were immoral and cost him the election. Early in his presidency, Biden made great progress against the pandemic, but (mistakenly) claimed victory over Covid. Then the Delta variant hit… and then the Omicron variant. Infections and hospitalizations have skyrocketed again. The Biden administration failed to order enough tests. The CDC has given confusing information and guidance about the spread of the pandemic. The President and his team have made mistakes in their handling of the pandemic, but we the people are also partly responsible. The growing scientific evidence tells us that the best ways to fight Covid are to get the vaccinations, test frequently and isolate when we test positive, wear masks in public spaces, and wash our hands frequently. If we have not followed these guidelines, (and if there are not extenuating circumstances), we citizens have contributed to the spread of Covid.

Vaccine mandates require special comment. The Biden administration mandated that health workers at institutions that receive federal funding (Medicare, Medicaid, etc.) be vaccinated. It also mandated that employees at large private companies (with over 100 employees) receive the vaccination or be tested weekly. Mandates are points of tension between individual freedom and public safety. The Supreme Court recently ruled that the Biden administration was correct regarding the health worker mandate but overstepped its authority regarding mandates for large private companies. The drinking of alcohol provides a helpful parallel. People can legally drink alcohol in their own homes, even to the point of getting drunk. The government, health agencies, and religious organizations can recommend that people don’t drink excessively, but adults legally have the right to do so in their homes. (Total banning of alcohol was attempted during Prohibition, but did not work). Nevertheless, governments appropriately mandate that people cannot drive their cars while they are under the influence of alcohol. Individual freedom is limited when public safety is at stake. Although there is a very slight risk with any vaccination, the evidence shows that not getting vaccinated against Covid is much more dangerous. Unvaccinated persons are 17 times more likely to become hospitalized than their vaccinated neighbors. This greater rate of hospitalization puts public safety at risk due to greater strain on hospitals (no available ICU space, needed surgeries are postponed, stress and burnout among health care workers, etc).

Vaccines are highly successful in fighting Covid. Are federal, state, and private sector mandates part of that successful battle? The courts will make their rulings as they weigh individual liberty versus public safety. Nevertheless, if more people voluntarily received the vaccinations, we would approach herd immunity and the pandemia could be reduced, and mandates would not be necessary.

The one-year anniversary of Biden’s presidency is a good time to evaluate the past and make the necessary corrections. Biden should do so…and so should we.

When the Giving of Thanks is a Sham

Thousands of years ago, there was a Rabbinic blessing that the Jewish rabbis would recite every morning.  ¨Blessed are you, O God, for making me a Jew, and not a Gentile, free and not a slave, a man and not a woman.¨ Although clothed in religious language, this ¨blessing¨ covered up some of the national and social prejudices of the time. In other words, their giving of thanks was a sham. In their specific context, Gentiles, slaves and women had inferior places in society. The free, male rabbis were thankful that they were the ¨winners¨ in their social context. Down through the ages, people have protested, fought wars, made speeches, taught classes in favor of the equality of all humans. We have come a long way…but we still have a long, long way to go.

The racial prejudice, machismo, and social sins of previous generations are quite evident to us today, who are the ¨enlightened¨ ones. Nevertheless, we have our own biases. In our politically divided United States, most of our citizens are clearly in one of two camps. Almost all areas of life: voting, Covid vaccines and mask wearing, education/PTA meetings, the Supreme Court and even our churches are increasingly politicized and polarized. Most of us are arrogantly thankful that we are morally superior to those in the other group. It comes across in the way we talk about people on the other side.  ¨All Democrats are baby killers¨ or ¨All Republicans are racists¨ even though these affirmations are obviously exaggerated and false. These exaggerations are shameful and shamful.  Many in the middle are increasingly frustrated with both sides.

I am not a moral relativist. All options are not ethically equal. Truth is important and so is distinguishing right from wrong. I am happy when I shed morally or intellectually inferior options in order to choose better ones. But these wise decisions are accompanied by the temptation of pride. That pride and arrogance are dangerous for us individually and as a nation. Therefore, I recommend the following suggestions for my/our interaction with those on the other side.

Before, during and after we critique others, we must remember that

  1. All of my ¨opponents and rivals¨ are as important as I am.
  2. I must appreciate and recognize the aspects of goodness and truth in positions that I reject.
  3. I need to be rigorously honest in my use of information about others and about my side.

Let us go forward in truth and grace.