A Mature Analysis of Honduras

Honduras has been in the news quite a bit lately as one of the countries of the Northern Triangle (together with Guatemala and El Salvador) from where many of their citizens are emigrating. So, what is the truth about Honduras? For various reasons, the following Declaration provides good answers to that question.

As we all know, in our polarized society, it is quite common for people on the left and on the right to blame only the other side for all the problems that we experience. Therefore, it is refreshing to find leaders who assume responsibility for their actions. The following Declaration ¨Honduras: Between Crisis and Hope¨ is refreshing precisely because these Christian leaders recognize that they are partly responsible for the problems in their country, especially by not holding government officials accountable for their actions. They rightly point out corruption and mismanagement by elected officials, the dangers posed by gang activity, and other internal and external factors, but they acknowledge their own failures. Read their realistic analysis of Honduras and be refreshed and inspired by their recommendations for going forward!

HONDURAS: BETWEEN CRISIS AND HOPE – A DECLARATION OF THE LATIN AMERICAN THEOLOGICAL FELLOWSHIP – HONDURAN CHAPTER [1]

The Latin American Theological Fellowship (FTL – la Fraternidad Teológica Latinoamericana), Honduran Chapter is an association composed of Protestant[2] men and women committed to the life and mission of God in Latin America. Gathered together as the local groups of the Honduran chapter of the FTL, we announce this declaration about the critical situation that our country is facing. We make this declaration from a perspective of hope in the midst of the frustration, deception and confusion that many of our Honduran people are experiencing. In addition, we are conscious of the need to change how evangelicals participate in our national life.

THE HONDURAS WHERE WE LIVE

We live in a Honduras with alarming rates of poverty that affect more than half of our people. At the same time, we have high rates of unemployment and underemployment, little production, consumerism and a costly rise in the prices of food and other essential items for life. Monopolies, greed, and large debt are enslaving our citizens. There is a decrease in even minimum access to the basic services of health, education and safety. This picture of generalized poverty contrasts greatly with the unequal, and frequently illegal, accumulation of wealth by a small number of people. We live in a Honduras that ranks very high regarding the unequal accumulation of wealth. In fact, we rank sixth in the world and first in Latin America. We live in a Honduras where assassinations, the Sicariato,[3] drug trafficking, arms trafficking, the Maras[4] and violence in the social media have largely contributed to a culture of violence learned at an early age. Immigration, motivated by (these high rates of) violence and poverty, is increasing in spite of difficulties, dangers and barriers. We live in a Honduras where corruption and impunity are an evil duo that has permeated governmental structures, private enterprise and average citizens, devouring, little by little, the lives and institutions of our country.

It is impossible to ignore the scandals and thefts committed within our governmental institutions that have not been resolved, such as the embezzlement of the National Social Security Institute (IHSS -Instituto Hondureño de Seguridad Social). There are other activities that are very disconcerting: the secrecy surrounding the governmental administration of finances, the involvement of public officials in drug trafficking, and additional cases that reveal the negligence and inefficiency of the Honduran system of justice. We live in a Honduras where the lack of trust in the justice system leads to desperation and pushes citizens to take justice into their own hands. Corruption is seen as a sin of the government, but we need to recognize that personal and collective corruption feeds into governmental corruption. We live in a Honduras where the Constitution and laws are continually and openly disobeyed by authorities and citizens alike. This has produced a weakened and corrupt government that lacks any credibility. We are concerned that our country is ungovernable. Our democratic institutions have become progressively weakened. The independence of governmental powers (executive, legislative, and judicial) has been lost and they are under the control of powerful groups of people.

The new generations of politicians are being formed in an environment where respect for the law is quite relative and this is quite serious. We live in a Honduras where citizens are being repressed.  They get treated with a disproportionate violence by governmental institutions when they protest against what they consider to be a violation of the Constitution and fraudulent disrespect of their vote. The chronic crisis that we experience has become extraordinarily worse due to the questionable results of recent elections and by the generalized perception of vote fraud (Psalm 101:7). This has led to an indignant reaction by broad sectors of the society that have chosen to practice civil disobedience and even insurrection. It is disconcerting that no respected national mediators have emerged, those who could call for a true dialogue that would result in believable agreements that would help stabilize our country.

THE CHURCH THAT WE HAVE BEEN FOR HONDURAS

We recognize that we Protestants have developed many service projects intended for the poor and vulnerable. Nevertheless, we have not fulfilled our duty of requiring the government to assume responsibility for its own destructive actions that have led to poverty and injustice. We recognize that we Christians have not been properly taught about the correct exercise of power. In general, we have lived an “escapist” kind of Christianity, hiding behind Biblical verses taken out of context. We have forgotten that although Christians have duties like respecting and praying for government authorities, they are also called to demand that those authorities govern with justice, righteousness and goodness (Romans 13). We acknowledge that many Protestant Christians have become involved in Honduran politics in the last decades, but we also recognize that they have done so without adequate preparation, without making much improvement, and they have confused politics, partisanship, and the Kingdom of God. Confusion and distortion regarding these three spheres have happened due to a reading of Scripture with biased lenses about the Church, society and citizenship and have resulted in a type of participation in society that is shameful. Recent experiences have given us examples of Protestant groups and individuals that have obtained positions of power but have left bad testimony because they have been involved in political cronyism and influence peddling. We recognize that we Christians need to deepen our responsibility to society, but without losing our senses and our firm resistance of evil (Habakkuk 1:2-4). Before we become seduced (by power), we need to remember that the true power of the Church is in the transforming power of the Holy Spirit and not primarily when church members obtain governmental power. We have seen, with sadness, that when we seek power, we really lose it. We are convinced that the teaching of Jesus should lead us to transform our society with the power of love and we should avoid the temptation of the love of power. We are ashamed that in the recent elections, self-proclaimed “prophets” have arisen who have predicted who would win the elections, but they predicted different winners.[5] As we study the Holy Scriptures, we discover that the role of prophets goes much deeper than predicting the future; their role consists of denouncing evil, demanding justice, calling the people and their leaders to give God and his commandments first place in their lives. The Biblical prophets also reminded the governing authorities not to abuse their power. “To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humblywith your God” is what God has told us through his prophets (Micah 6:8). It is necessary to exercise discernment with these contemporary “prophets”, that are so abundant today and evaluate them according to the Holy Scriptures that show us how to distinguish true prophets from false ones.

WE ASK FOR FORGIVENESS AND WE RECOMMIT OURSELVES TO OUR MISSION

As Protestant Christians we ask for forgiveness from our fellow Hondurans, because we also have been responsible for corruption through our actions and our failures to act. To know what is right and not to do it is also sin. We have allowed the seduction of power and access to government subsidies to damage our prophetic function and our independent moral voice. Given our past, we have lost the opportunity to be instruments of peace and mediation. With humility we recommit ourselves to our calling to pray, reflect and act for the common good of our country. We do not only aspire to “peace”, but we do commit ourselves to promote justice. Isaiah 32:17 reminds us that “the fruit of justice is peace”,[6] and as citizens we are called to promote both in a holistic way. We should do this according to ethical and spiritual principles that guide us to overcome (the all too common) confusion, hate, despair, political opportunism and personal ambition.

WE CALL FOR CHANGE IN THE CHURCH AND FOR THE REBUILDING OF HONDURAS

  1. Let’s promote and live out our ethical ideals in both our church and public citizen contexts. The Christian mission is countercultural, because in a country in crisis, it is necessary to build a culture of values, peace, justice, honesty, legality and solidarity. These values include serving those in need and this service should be encouraged and put into practice by the church. We should not grow weary in doing good (Galatians 6:9).
  2. Let fight against corruption and impunity. Christians, wherever they are, should begin to break the chains of corruption. Our message and our lives should be consistent with honesty and righteousness, whatever the cost. In addition, the true prophetic work of the church is to denounce injustice, lies and evil, wherever they are, at both the individual level as well as in structures. Let’s imitate the mission of the ancient prophets of God, who challenged the acts of corruption that happened in places of power and in spaces of religion (Isaiah 33:15-16). Our role is to announce God’s call to repent of the sin of corruption and injustice. Today, more than ever, as a church we need to announce the good news of salvation (I Peter 2:9-10) and to denounce everything that goes against the principles and values of the Kingdom of God and his justice (Matthew 6:33; Micah 6:8).
  3. Let’s rebuild the institutional structures of society. We frequently hear that we should submit ourselves to the earthly authorities because they are instituted by God (Romans 13), but we don’t usually read the entire message within its context, which calls us to build a society that has good government because its institutions are just. The citizen should respect authorities, obey laws, work and pay taxes; but, on the other hand, the governing authorities need to obey the laws and make sure that they are obeyed, punishing evil and rewarding that which is good. Therefore, it is necessary to distinguish the functions of the Church from those of the government. Both are called to cooperate for the common good but maintaining a clear separation. Christian people and leaders are called to develop an incidence in society with integrity, independence and with a message and action to guide people from crisis to hope.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for justice, for they will be filled.

Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,

for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

(Jesus in Matthew 5:6-10)

Tegucigalpa, Honduras, January 25, 2018 https://www.facebook.com/FraternidadTeologica/


[1] This is a preliminary translation into English by Lindy Scott.

[2] Translator´s note – In the original Spanish version, the word that is used is ¨evangélico¨. Generally, this word in the Spanish speaking world refers to almost all Protestant groups. As such, ¨Protestant¨ is probably a slightly better translation than ¨Evangelical¨ (which is a translation that would too restrictive) or ¨Christian¨ (too broad).

[3] Sicariato = the hiring of a hitman to kill someone.

[4] Maras = a powerful, international gang that operates throughout Central America and in certain areas of the United States.

[5] Translator’s note – The Declaration makes reference to contemporary “Prophets” who claim to have a large amount of authority because they are the voice of God in a special way. This is a fairly recent phenomenon that has emerged primarily in some expressions of Neo-Pentecostalism in Latin America and around the world. Although these Prophets have large followings, there are many valid criticisms against them and their abuses, like the ones mentioned in the Declaration.

[6] Translator’s note. The Greek word “dikaiosune” is usually translated as “justicia” in Spanish versions of the Bible, but as “righteousness” in many English versions (Matthew 6:33). Although “righteousness” used to have a social justice meaning (as utilized by Abraham Lincoln to refer to the emancipation of slaves), it has become excessively individualistic in modern English. “Justice” would be a more faithful rendering of the original Greek into English today.

Un análisis realista de Honduras

Como sabemos, algo típico de la humanidad es el echar la culpa por nuestros errores a otras personas. En el otro equipo están los malvados y el nuestro no hace nada mal. Así, es refrescante encontrar a líderes quienes asumen la responsabilidad por sus acciones. La siguiente Declaración ¨Honduras entre crisis y esperanza¨ inspira precisamente porque sus autores, líderes cristianos en Honduras, aceptan responsabilidad por unos de los males de su país. Reconocen que han sido cómplices, por sus acciones y sus omisiones, cuando líderes gubernamentales han practicado corrupción y han hecho gran daño al pueblo. Aunque señalan la responsabilidad de otros (oficiales del gobierno, las pandillas, influencias internas y externas) admiten su propia participación. Asi, que lean su madura Declaración y que reciban el ánimo de sus palabras para seguir adelante!

HONDURAS ENTRE CRISIS Y ESPERANZA – DECLARACIÓN FRATERNIDAD TEOLOGICA LATINOAMERICANA – CAPITULO HONDURAS

La Fraternidad Teológica Latinoamericana es una asociación integrada por hombres y mujeres evangélicos comprometidos con la vida y misión de Dios en América Latina. Reunidos los núcleos locales de la FTL.-, Capítulo de Honduras, emitimos esta declaración sobre la situación crítica que vive nuestro país. Hacemos esta declaración desde una perspectiva de esperanza en medio de la frustración, la decepción y la confusión que vive una parte significativa de la población hondureña y además, conscientes de la necesidad de reformar la participación evangélica en la vida nacional.

LA HONDURAS EN QUE NOS TOCA VIVIR

Nos toca vivir en una Honduras con niveles de pobreza alarmantes que afectan a más de la mitad de la población. A la par tenemos altas tasas de desempleo y subempleo, poca producción, consumismo y encarecimiento de la canasta básica. Los monopolios, avaricia y un alto endeudamiento están esclavizando a los ciudadanos. Hay deterioro y mínimo acceso a los servicios básicos de salud, educación y seguridad. Este panorama de pobreza generalizada contrasta con el enriquecimiento desigual y muchas veces ilícito de algunas minorías del país. Nos toca vivir en una Honduras contada entre los 14 países con mayor desigualdad, ocupando el sexto lugar en el mundo y el primero en América Latina. Nos toca vivir en una Honduras donde los asesinatos, el sicariato, el narcotráfico, el tráfico de armas, las maras y la violencia en los medios de comunicación han contribuido grandemente a establecer una cultura violenta aprendida desde tempranas edades. La emigración, provocada por la violencia y la pobreza, se acrecienta a pesar de las dificultades, peligros y barreras. Nos toca vivir en una Honduras donde la corrupción y la impunidad son un dúo maligno que ha infiltrado desde las estructuras gubernamentales, privadas y a nivel de los ciudadanos comunes, devorando poco a poco las vidas y las instituciones de nuestro país. Es imposible ignorar los escándalos y robos en las instituciones estatales todavía no resueltos, como el desfalco del Instituto Hondureño de Seguridad Social (IHSS). Además preocupa la secretividad en el manejo financiero del Estado, el involucramiento de funcionarios en el narcotráfico y otros casos más que muestran la negligencia e ineficiencia del sistema de justicia hondureño. Nos toca vivir en una Honduras donde la falta de confianza en el sistema de justicia desespera y lleva a los ciudadanos a tomar acciones por su cuenta. La corrupción se percibe como un pecado del Estado, pero falta conciencia de que la corrupción personal y colectiva alimenta la corrupción estatal. Nos toca vivir en una Honduras donde la Constitución y las leyes son irrespetadas continuamente por gobernantes y gobernados, llevándonos a un Estado debilitado, corrupto y falto de credibilidad. Nos preocupa la gobernabilidad del país, donde la institucionalidad y la democracia se han debilitado progresivamente, donde la independencia de poderes se ha perdido y se ha puesto a disposición de grupos de poder. Las nuevas generaciones de políticos se están desarrollando en un medio donde el respeto a la ley es relativo y eso es muy grave. Nos toca vivir en una Honduras donde los ciudadanos están siendo reprimidos y tratados con violencia desproporcionada por las instituciones del Estado cuando se manifiestan contra lo que consideran violación de la Constitución e irrespeto a su voto. La crisis crónica que vivimos se ha amplificado extraordinariamente por el manejo lamentable de los resultados electorales recientes, por la percepción generalizada de manipulación y fraude (Salmo 101:7). Esto ha desencadenado una reacción indignada de amplios segmentos de la población, adoptando la desobediencia civil y aún la insurrección. Preocupa que no se visualice la existencia de mediadores nacionales de reconocimiento y respeto para coordinar diálogos y pactos creíbles que ayuden a la estabilidad del país.

LA IGLESIA QUE HEMOS SIDO PARA HONDURAS

Reconocemos que los evangélicos desarrollamos muchos proyectos dirigidos a los pobres y vulnerables, pero hemos omitido la exigencia para que el Estado asuma la responsabilidad de coordinar las acciones que apunten a las causas de la pobreza y la injusticia. Reconocemos que los cristianos hemos sido poco enseñados sobre el ejercicio y manejo del poder. En general hemos mostrado una conducta escapista escudada en versos de la Biblia fuera de contexto. Se nos olvidó que si bien el ciudadano cristiano tiene deberes como respetar y orar por las autoridades gubernamentales, también tiene el derecho de reclamarles que gobiernen con justicia, rectitud y bondad (Romanos 13) Reconocemos que muchos cristianos evangélicos se han involucrado en la política hondureña en las últimas décadas, pero reconocemos que lo han hecho sin preparación, sin hacer la diferencia, con pobre impacto y confundiendo los conceptos de política, partidarismo y Reino de Dios. La confusión y tergiversación de esos tres ámbitos ocurre por una lectura efectuada por filtros teológicos sesgados sobre Iglesia, sociedad y ciudadanía y resulta en una participación que nos avergüenza. La experiencia reciente muestra ejemplos de grupos y personas evangélicas que alcanzaron posiciones de poder pero que han dejado un mal testimonio por su involucramiento en actos como el clientelismo político y trafico de influencias entre otros. Reconocemos que los cristianos necesitamos profundizar en nuestra responsabilidad ante la sociedad pero sin perder la sensibilidad y la postura firme ante lo malo (Habacuc 1:2-4). Antes que ser seducidos, debemos recordar que el verdadero poder de la Iglesia está en el poder transformador del Espíritu Santo, no solamente al hecho que sus miembros accedan al poder gubernamental. Hemos comprobado con tristeza que mientras más buscamos el poder es cuando realmente lo perdemos. Estamos convencidos que la enseñanza de Jesús nos debe conducir a transformar nuestra sociedad con el poder del amor y evitar la tentación del amor al poder. Nos apena que en los últimos procesos electorales han surgido autodenominados “profetas” que han vaticinado quien sería el ganador de las elecciones, aunque interesantemente han proclamado diferentes ganadores. Al escudriñar las Sagradas Escrituras, encontramos que la labor del profeta va más allá de predecir el futuro; su rol se enfoca en la denuncia, el reclamo por la justicia, el llamado a que los líderes y el pueblo no dejasen de poner a Dios y Sus mandamientos primero. Los profetas bíblicos también recordaban a los gobernantes que no abusaran de los privilegios del poder. “Practicar la justicia, amar la misericordia, y humillarte ante tu Dios…” eso es lo que Dios nos ha dicho por medio de profetas (Miqueas 6:8). Es necesario discernir estos mensajes proféticos, que abundan estos días, sometiéndolos a las Sagradas Escrituras, que nos enseña a diferenciar los verdaderos de los falsos profetas.

PEDIMOS PERDON Y RETOMAMOS NUESTRA MISION Como cristianos evangelicos pedimos perdón a Honduras porque también hemos sido responsables de la corrupcion por acción u omisión. Poder hacer el bien y no hacerlo también es pecado. Hemos dejado que la seducción del poder y el acceso a financiamientos por parte del Estado comprometan nuestra función profética y orientadora independiente. Por lo anterior hemos perdído la oportunidad de ser instrumentos de mediación y paz. Con humildad retomamos nuestro llamado a orar, reflexionar y actuar por el bien de nuestro país. No podemos aspirar a la paz sino promovemos la justicia . Isaías 32:17 nos recuerda que “la paz es producto de la justicia “, y como ciudadanos estamos llamados a promover ambas de manera íntegra, haciéndolo en coherencia con los principios éticos y espirituales que nos rigen y viendo más allá de la confusión, del odio, la deseperación, la oportunidad politica y los intereses personales.

LLAMAMOS A REFORMAR LA IGLESIA Y RECONSTRUIR HONDURAS

a. Promovamos y vivamos la ética en el contexto eclesial y ciudadano La misión cristiana debe ser de contracultura, porque en un país en crisis, es necesario construir cultura de valores, paz, justicia, honestidad, legalidad y solidaridad. Estos valores incluyendo el servicio a los más necesitados deben ser promovidos y puestos en práctica por la iglesia, sin cansarnos de hacer el bien (Gálatas 6:9).

b. Combatamos la corrupción y la impunidad La cadena de la corrupción se debe empezar a romper en donde estén los cristianos. Su vida y su mensaje deben ser coherentes con la honestidad y la rectitud, a cualquier costo. Además, la labor profética verdadera de la Iglesia es denunciar la injusticia, la mentira y la maldad, venga de donde venga, tanto a nivel personal como estructural. Imitemos la misión de los profetas antiguos de Dios, la cual era confrontar los actos de corrupción de los que estaban en cúpulas de poder y espacios religiosos (Isaías 33:15-16). Nuestro papel es anunciar el llamado de Dios a arrepentirse del pecado de la corrupción y la injusticia. Hoy más que nunca, como iglesia necesitamos anunciar las buenas nuevas de salvación (1Pedro 2:9-10) y denunciar todo anti valor que este en contra de los principios y valores del Reino de Dios y su justicia (Mateo 6:33; Miqueas 6:8).

c. Construyamos la institucionalidad. Con frecuencia oímos que debemos someternos a las autoridades porque son puestas por Dios (Romanos 13), pero no leemos el mensaje completo y en su contexto, en el cual se nos llama a vivir en institucionalidad y gobernabilidad. El ciudadano respeta las autoridades, obedece la ley y aporta su trabajo y sus impuestos; pero por otro lado los gobernantes deben cumplir y hacer cumplir las leyes, castigando lo malo y fortaleciendo lo bueno. Por otra parte, es necesaria la separación de las funciones entre la Iglesia y el Estado, cooperando por el bien común pero sin interdependencia. El liderazgo y pueblo cristiano están llamados a desarrollar una incidencia con integridad, independencia y con mensaje y acción para guiar a la población de la crisis a la esperanza.

“Dichosos los que tienen hambre y sed de justicia, porque serán saciados. Dichosos los compasivos, porque serán tratados con compasión. Dichosos los de corazón limpio, porque ellos verán a Dios. Dichosos los que trabajan por la paz, porque serán llamados hijos de Dios. Dichosos los perseguidos por causa de la justicia, porque el reino de los cielos les pertenece.” Jesús-San Mateo 5: 6-10 (NVI)

Tegucigalpa, Honduras, 25 de enero del 2018 https://www.facebook.com/FraternidadTeologica/

The Barr Summary of the Mueller Report

March 27, 2019

Over the weekend, Attorney General William Barr issued his four page interpretation and summary of the Robert Mueller. Until the Mueller Report comes out, here are some tentative comments and questions that come to mind

A few preliminary words.

  1. It is the ruling of the Justice Department that a sitting president cannot be indicted. Therefore, if Mueller found incriminating evidence against Trump himself, he would need to lay out the evidence so that Congress could evaluate it to see if it rose to the level of impeachment due to “high crimes and misdemeanors”. That is why it is so important for the entire Mueller Report be made public.
  2. Mueller can indict others and he did so regarding more than 30 other people, both U.S. citizens and Russians. But in these cases, he needed to have evidence beyond reasonable doubt that the person was guilty, that it would be convincing enough to obtain a unanimous decision of a 12 person jury and that it could stand up to a legal appeal.

Barr Summary – We need to remember that we have not yet seen the Mueller report (except for a few small quotes). Whereas Mueller was somewhat ¨independent¨, Barr is Trump’s handpicked Attorney General. Although I have deep respect for Mueller and will generally accept his conclusions (upon seeing his evidence), I have serious questions regarding Barr for the following reasons.

  1. Barr stated that he would consult with Rosenstein and Mueller before going public with his summary in order to make sure that his summary was an accurate summation of the Mueller Report. He did NOT consult with Mueller as he promised. In my mind this raises some doubts about his honesty.
  2. Before becoming Attorney General, William Barr wrote a 19 page paper and sent it (unsolicited) to the Trump administration. He stated his criticism of the Mueller investigation and his belief that a president, by definition, could not be guilty of obstruction of justice. He had previously written extensively about his expansive view of presidential authority. It is likely that Trump chose Barr due to those beliefs. In less than two days, Barr reached a decision claiming there was no obstruction of justice. This went way beyond Mueller’s conclusions and which took Mueller almost two years to sift through (see below). I am somewhat skeptical that a fair decision could have been made in such a hasty way. It seems that Barr’s previously held beliefs and biases had already shaped his decision.

There were three main areas analyzed by the Mueller investigation according to the Barr summary: allegations regarding conspiracy and collusion, allegations regarding the obstruction of justice, and Russian interference in our elections.

Conspiracy/Collusion

                According to what we do know about the Mueller Report, it could not establish beyond a reasonable doubt that the Trump campaign committed conspiracy and cooperation with the Russian government. The Report did affirm that the Russian government made overtures to the Trump campaign. Although Trump and his staff did commit questionable actions, Mueller did not believe that these actions rose to the level of criminality.

                There is a huge difference between the two possible explanations behind the Report’s findings.

  1. There was no evidence of collusion at all; or
  2. There was some evidence of collusion, but it did not rise to the level of establishing beyond a reasonable doubt that criminal actions (including intent) were committed.

Barr and Trump claim that the first interpretation is an accurate summary of Mueller’s Report. Until I see the Report and its evidence, I am not convinced. If Mueller did, in fact, reach the first option, it would be surprising to me. Everyone admits that the following events took place and that they give the appearance of collusion. I would like to see the Mueller Report to understand how these factual events were handled.

  1. At the New York Trump Tower meeting (June 9, 2016), Donald Trump, Jr., Jared Kushner, and Paul Manafort met with Russians in order to get dirt on Hillary Clinton.  Donald Jr. made many misleading statements about this meeting. President Trump himself dictated a response and claimed it was a meeting about the adoption of orphans. This misleading statement raises suspicions of both collusion as well as obstruction of justice.
  2. At campaign rallies, Trump exclaimed, “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find those 30,000 emails that are missing” referring to Hillary’s emails. Although this was said in Trump’s boisterous, almost joking, manner, the content is actually an invitation for Russia to hack into a rival candidate’s email system, which is illegal.
  3. Mueller’s commission affirmed that Paul Manafort, Trump’s former campaign chairman, shared polling data on the 2016 elections with Konstantin Kilimnik, a Russian linked to Russia’s intelligence agencies. In my opinion, this is a clear example of collusion. I want to see how Mueller interprets it.
  4. Before Trump took office, his National Security Advisor designate, General Michael Flynn met secretly and illegally with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak to talk about the lifting of sanctions that Obama placed upon Russia. Flynn then lied about this meeting to Vice-President Pence who unknowingly repeated this lie to the public. Flynn was then fired for his misdeeds. There are many more examples, but these four are sufficient for now. The release of the Mueller Report is necessary to clear up these events.

Obstruction of Justice

                This is the biggest problem with the Barr Summary. It appears that Mueller laid out the arguments for and against the allegation that Trump obstructed the process of justice. Here are some actions that

  1. President Trump fired Comey as the Director of the FBI. He gave many reasons for the firing including the appeal to “this Russia thing with Trump”. This seems an obvious obstruction.
  2. On over a hundred occasions, Trump publicly criticized his first Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, for recusing himself from overseeing the Mueller investigation. It is obvious that he wanted Sessions to guide the investigation in such a way that the president would be found not guilty. This raises a serious question about the appropriate role of an Attorney General. Is the Attorney General the personal lawyer of the president whose main goal is to defend the president? (This is obviously Trump’s understanding); OR is the Attorney General the highest-ranking officer in the land to defend the Constitution and the rule of law? The AG’s role is to advise the president to stay on the straight and narrow, not to defend a president if he violates the Constitution or rule of law.
  3. When the Mueller team requested an interview with Trump, the president’s lawyers did everything possible to avoid such an interview. They only agreed that the president would provide answers to written questions and the lawyers reviewed those answers before they were submitted. Given that previous presidents have willingly been interviewed by special investigators, Trump’s refusal to agree to an oral interview raises doubts in my mind about his honesty.
  4. Barr mentioned that there was additional evidence regarding obstruction of justice that has not been made available to the public. It is important for the public to see this information.

After laying out the evidence in favor and against the alleged obstruction of justice, Mueller decided not to make a decision. His report ¨does not conclude Trump committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him¨. It would be important to know why Mueller chose not to make a decision.  Since it was legally impossible for him to indict a president, it is likely that he recognized that it was the duty of Congress to make a decision about possible impeachment. This is what happened in the special counsel reports in the past regarding Presidents Nixon and Clinton.

Nevertheless, Attorney General Barr made a questionable maneuver. Over the weekend and in consultation with Rosenstein, Barr decided the evidence was not sufficient to pursue the alleged obstruction of justice by Trump. Whereas Mueller, after two years of investigation, laid out the arguments side by side, Barr exonerated Trump. The fact that Barr was appointed by Trump and reports back to Trump, and that any decision regarding possible criminality (impeachment) should be made by Congress and not by the Attorney General. Barr’s “decision” is a questionable attempt to spin and shape the “first impression” presented to the public, even if it distorts the Mueller Report’s evidence.

The President’s tweets and comments to reporters have repeated over and over again that the Mueller report granted him “Complete and total EXONERATION!” (Trump’s emphasis), This is misleading, because the Mueller Report stated that regarding obstruction, the Report “does not conclude Trump committed a crime, IT ALSO DOES NOT EXONERATE HIM¨ (my emphasis). Given that many will take Trump’s tweet as gospel truth, I believe that all people of good will (both critics and supporters of Trump) should call out the President on this misleading and dishonest affirmation.

Trump´s lawyer Rudy Giuliani asserted that there can be no obstruction of justice if there is no underlying crime. Giuliani is mistaken here. For example, Martha Stewart was convicted of obstruction of justice even though there was no underlying crime.

Russian Interference in our Elections

                Although Barr’s comments regarding conspiracy and obstruction of justice have grabbed the headlines these last three days, we should not forget that the Mueller commission found numerous examples of Russian interference in our elections. Russia has been a rival of the U.S. for over 70 years. Although we should strive for good relations with all countries, including our rivals, we cannot overlook dictatorial practices of any country. I believe (and the Mueller Report will probably also show) that Putin is directly behind this interference.

                At the summit meeting between Putin and Trump in Helsinki, they held a joint press conference. A question was raised regarding Russian interference in our elections. The questioner affirmed that every one of our intelligence agencies agreed that Russia had interfered. Trump responded ¨I have great confidence in my intelligence people, but I will tell you that President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today¨. In effect, Trump threw his own intelligence community under the bus. I am deeply concerned that Trump takes the word of Putin over the evidence gathered by our intelligence community and the Mueller team. Republican leaders, like Lindsay Graham, have repeatedly tried to convince the President about the Russian threat and over the weekend Graham said that he thinks Trump finally understood about Russian interference.

                We should not “cherry pick” the Report and only accept the parts that we like. It is important that Trump go on record and acknowledge Russia’s interference, and also state what he plans to do to combat it in the future.

Given the many lingering doubts raised by the Barr Summary, the Mueller Report should be made public. Only then will the American people be able to draw well informed conclusions.

Our National Debt / Our National Disgrace

March 13, 2019

I am a fiscal conservative, in the sense that I believe we should live within our means. Living within our means personally and as families is important (and our massive credit card debt shows that many of us are not doing well at this). Nevertheless, in this blog I want to address living within our means at a national government level. Last month our United States national debt went over $22 trillion! We are borrowing this money from our grandchildren. No, that sentence is a lie. Because we have not asked our grandchildren for their permission, we are, in fact, stealing from our grandchildren! This is amazing. We who live in the richest country in the history of humanity are stealing from future generations. In addition, we pay billions of dollars in interest to service this debt. This is a political issue, but it is not primarily partisan. Most of our representatives in Washington, DC, whether they are Democrats or Republicans, have repeatedly voted to increase our national debt…and we citizens have tolerated this practice.

How did we get here?

                Although there are many positive benefits from living within a democracy, there are some downsides, especially when citizens are not vigilant. A special challenge is the combination of two major parties with questionable congressional district boundaries. Given the makeup of our congressional districts, over 80% of them are either safely under Democrat or Republican control. Congressional representatives from these blue or red districts usually vote according to the wishes of their local district, frequently at the expense of the national common good, currently or in the future. In budget legislation (as in other areas) this has led to gridlock. It is extremely difficult to get the House of Representatives AND the Senate AND the President (who has the power of a veto) to agree on a budget that does not increase the national debt. Therefore, our representatives “horse trade” and essentially say “I will vote for your pet projects if you vote for mine”. To avoid a government shutdown (we all remember that disaster earlier this year), they raise the debt limit. Some of these projects are sincerely held (a military base in my district, public education funding, subsidies of all kinds, health care, etc.), but sincerity does NOT guarantee that a particular project should be designated as worthy to be included in our national budget. Our representatives must do the hard work of reasoned persuasion of their colleagues about priorities and a commitment to live within our budget.

A secondary problem deals with economic predictions. Democrat and Republican officials have often claimed that we can overspend now, because our “wise” legislation will lead to a better economy, and a stronger economy will bring in larger amounts of tax revenue and our national debt will be reduced in the future. Although there could be an ounce of truth in this kind of reasoning, in the overwhelming majority of cases, a reduction in the national debt does NOT take place. We who believe these predictions and promises are guilty of being too naïve.  For example, the White House has predicted that the economy will grow at 3.2% this year and 3.1% for 2020. These figures are overly optimistic. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) predicts that growth will only be 2.5% this year and will slow down to 1.8% for 2020 as the economic stimulus of the tax cuts fade. We should learn lessons from history. In 1980, presidential candidate Ronald Reagan promised that tax cuts would stimulate the economy through his “trickle down” economics and he would balance the budget. His Republican rival George Bush called this “voodoo economics”. It turns out that the debt ballooned under President Reagan. Bush was right, Reagan was wrong. We citizens have not held our officials accountable for their failed predictions…and our grandchildren will suffer the consequences and will ask us why we were so naïve.

How Can We Make our Country Better: What are the Most Important Priorities of the Common Good?

                I urge our government officials to live within the budget. I urge our officials to put the common good above their personal or local interests. So, how do we choose the most important projects of our common good? President Trump has just sent to Congress his proposed budget for 2020. It is appropriate that he state his priorities. Nevertheless, “we the people” have the responsibility to communicate to our representatives what we think are the more important priorities for our country.

                President Trump is asking for a 9% reduction in domestic expenses (including the Departments of Education, Health and Human Service, Interior and State) and a 5% increase in military funding, including a new proposal for an additional $8.6 billion for wall construction along our border with Mexico. I respectfully disagree with his priorities. Here are some of mine.

Military – Those who believe in Just War Theory and those who are pacifists can come together and agree that our military budget is excessive. We spend more on our military than the next seven highest national militaries combined.[1] This is ridiculous! If President Trump really believes that we are not the world’s policeman (he is an isolationist) and if he gets other nations (Germany, Japan, South Korea, etc.) to pay for U.S. soldiers stationed in their countries (plus 50%), then our military budget should be significantly reduced, not increased. With the money that is saved, we will have more than sufficient funds to cover true necessities and begin to lower our debt.

One of the craziest parts of the military budget is that designated for the Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO). The OCO was designed to pay for wars and is not subject to mandatory congressional spending limits. Trump proposed increasing the OCO budget more than double, from $69 billion to $165 billion. This is an attempt to go around the power of the purse of Congress and suggests we might be going into another war (Venezuela?) or perhaps using the OCO as a slush fund.

Medicaid – This program provides medical coverage for low income citizens. President Trump’s proposal reduces funding for Medicaid by $1.5 trillion over the next decade and would thereby eliminate medical coverage for tens of thousands of our neighbors. Instead of cutting funds for Medicaid, we should increase them.

SNAP food assistance – The Trump proposed budget would reduce funding of the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program by $220 billion over the next ten years. Those who believe in God and those who don’t together recognize the ethical demand to love our neighbor. As a follower of Jesus, I believe  that the Bible teaches that this practical love for the poor is both a responsibility of individuals and churches (2 Corinthians 8 and 9) AND a responsibility of governments (Year of Jubilee in Leviticus 25 and Proverbs 31:8-9).

USAID – The Trump proposal makes drastic cuts to our agency that serves the people of poor countries, slashing more than 30% in humanitarian assistance. USAID is one of the few governmental agencies that is relatively benevolent towards the people of other nations without having the U.S. interests as the primary motivation.

Dear Citizens of the United States and of other countries: The national budget of one’s country is a moral document. It reveals what is truly important. To the degree that we are able, let us influence our neighbors and our representatives to so structure our national expenses to improve the common good.


[1] https://www.pgpf.org/chart-archive/0053_defense-comparison

Sorting Out the Complicated Venezuela Situation

March 4, 1019

Almost everyone agrees that Venezuela is in a very dire situation. It is difficult to comprehend all the relevant issues, but it is even more difficult to find a good, just solution. In this brief article, we will look at the recent historical background of Venezuelan politics, its current economic and political problems, and finally sketch out some possible options.

Hugo Chávez was the charismatic President of Venezuela from 1999 to 2012. Economically, the country was doing well, because Venezuela was sitting upon one of the largest oil reserves in the world. While oil prices were high (around $110 a barrel) Chávez was able to provide many social services for his citizens. Although he appointed several leftwing leaders to high positions in his administration, he also included conservative and centrist leaders as well. He followed the Rhenish version of capitalism, not the neoliberal version. He also generally implemented the recommendations suggested by the International Monetary Fund. Although he was criticized for being too autocratic, he was reelected in the 2000 elections with 60% of the vote. As criticisms continued to increase, he moved economically to the left and adopted Democratic Socialism as his economic philosophy (in contrast with the Leninist-Marxist versions of Russia and China in the 20th century). He chose to financially support likeminded governments in Latin America and the Caribbean (including Bolivia, Nicaragua and Cuba). In 2004 there was a national referendum to recall Chávez from the presidency, but he won with 59% of the vote. In the 2006 elections, Chávez again won, this time winning with 63% of the vote. The election was generally considered to be fair and honest by the Carter Center and by the Organization of American States. He also won the 2012 election with 54% of the vote. Due to his death on March 5, 2013, his Vice-President Nicolás Maduro assumed the presidential powers on a temporary basis.

Early on, there was resistance to the Maduro presidency. Opposition leaders claimed that he violated Articles 229, 231 and 233 of the Constitution. In the presidential election of April 2013, Maduro defeated his closest rival by just 1.5% of the vote. The 2017 Assembly elections were widely seen as fraudulent. The United States labeled Maduro a dictator, whereas Russia, China and Cuba defended him. In the first few years, high oil prices were able to keep the Maduro leftist government afloat. Nevertheless, oil prices fell in the second half of 2014 from $110 a barrel to about $50 a barrel. This proved disastrous for Venezuela’s economy, because oil comprised over 90% of the country’s exports. Maduro was reelected in 2018, but many regarded this election as fraudulent. The Organization of American States Permanent Council declared that Maduro was not the legitimate president and urged that new elections be called in the near future.

In January 2019, the National Assembly invoked a state of emergency. It additionally declared that the Assembly’s President, Juan Guaidó should be recognized as the nation’s interim president, according to the Constitution. Since then, there has been a standoff. Supporters for both Guaidó and Maduro have protested in public rallies and have marched in the streets. The Organization of American States, the Lima Group (comprised of more than a dozen countries in the Amerias) and the United States have recognized Guaidó as the legitimate president. Other nations (including Russia and China) have continued to recognize Maduro. Meanwhile, millions of Venezuelans have left the country and fled to Colombia, Brazil and other countries. Food has become exorbitantly costly and very scarce. The country is in crisis.

A Way Forward?

  1. Maduro has made many serious mistakes (authoritarianism, fraudulent elections, corruption). I think it is too late for Maduro to continue to govern for the benefit of the Venezuelan people. He should leave voluntarily, but it doesn’t look like he will.[1] He still has the support of a vocal, significant portion of the people, but more importantly, the majority of the military generals still support him.
  2. The United States has utilized economic sanctions to hurt Maduro´s administration and to pressure him to leave. This has not worked. This has only caused pain for the Venezuelan people. The U.S. government has threatened to use military force to remove Maduro. This would be the worst scenario and would lead to a bloodbath.[2]
  3. The Organization of American States and the Lima Group should continue to use diplomatic efforts to resolve the problem. If they could persuade both Maduro and Guaidó to agree to elections in the near future (during the next three months?), this would be the best solution. The quicker the agreement is reached the sooner tensions would decrease and emergency aid could arrive to the people in need.

Politics: The Art of the Possible

It is frequently claimed that politics is the art of the possible. What is possible for Venezuela? Option #1 above is unlikely and Option #2 would be a disaster. I favor Option #3. To achieve this, the Organization of American States should use all its diplomatic skills to bring about an acceptable solution. The OAS would need to bring to the negotiating table those countries that support Maduro (Russia, China, Mexico, Cuba). The United Nations could also lend its support. It might be possible that Maduro and Guaidó could agree to elections, but only if neither were allowed to be a candidate for the presidency. For the well being of the Venezuelan people, I would favor this option as the most viable peaceful alternative. In the end, it should be the Venezuelan people who determine their own future. Those of us on the outside should provide truly helpful assistance, not “answers” that hide our own greed or desires.


[1] Countries that Maduro has befriended (like Bolivia, Cuba, or Nicaragua) could take a helpful first step, if they would offer asylum to Maduro and his family and friends. Some of his critics would prefer Maduro to be brought to trial, but I think it is more important for him to leave the country as soon as possible.

[2] The United States has a horrible reputation in Latin America for interventions for its own benefit or hegemony in the area. The U.S. either orchestrated or supported many coup d’états that took out democratically elected governments (Guatemala, Brazil, Chile, etc.) and replaced them with brutal dictatorships.

A National Emergency?

February 21, 2019

Our political turmoil continues. The negotiators in Congress who were representing the Democrats and Republicans were able to reach compromise legislation on federal spending last week and averted a governmental shutdown. The legislation passed with overwhelming, veto-proof, majorities in both chambers. The bill dealt with border security, but only authorized $1.375 billion dollars for the construction of 200 miles of a new barrier along the border between Mexico and the United States. This was much less than the $5.7 billion that Trump had requested. On Friday, February 15, President Trump announced that he would sign the legislation into law, but that he was also declaring a national emergency in order to secure more funds for expanded construction of the wall. White House officials say that the declaration would permit the president to redirect $3.6 billion from the military, $2.5 billion from counter-narcotic programs, and $600 million from the Treasury towards wall construction.

Justification for and Weaknesses of the Declaration of Emergency

The 1976 National Emergencies Act is a U.S. federal law that grants special power to the President during an emergency but identifies restrictions for the use of that power. An emergency declaration can be rescinded by a joint resolution of both Chambers of Congress, but this would require a 2/3 majority in both the House and in the Senate in order to override a veto by a president.

Since its enactment, the law has been utilized 59 times, and over thirty of those declarations are still in effect. Republican and Democrat Presidents have invoked it, but this time is different. Previous uses of this act have always enjoyed widespread, bi-partisan acceptance. Recent examples include (1) the prohibition of the importation into the U.S. of diamonds from Sierra Leone {Clinton Executive Order 13194} and (2) the blocking of property of individuals contributing to the conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo {Bush Executive Order 13413}. Although these and other declarations are somewhat important for those involved, they hardly rise to the level of a “national emergency”.

What is new in Trump’s Declaration is that he wants to transfer funds authorized for other purposes into the construction of the border wall. In its federal spending bill, Congress specifically prohibited the use of funds beyond the $1.375 billion for the construction of a new wall. The U.S. Constitution maintains a fairly clear separation of powers of the three branches of our government (Legislative, Executive and Judicial). It is the Congress that has the “power of the purse”, that is, the responsibility to authorize federal spending, not the Presidency.

How will this conflict play out? It is likely that challenges will take place in both Congress and in the Courts.

Challenges in Congress

            Now that the Democrats have the majority in the House of Representatives, it is very likely that Speaker Pelosi will introduce a Joint Resolution to rescind Trump’s emergency declaration. It is also likely that the resolution would pass the House with a substantial majority. Through a special provision, the Senate would have to vote on that same legislation within a short period of time. Republican Senate Leader McConnell would probably not want to bring any legislation to the floor in which Trump would lose the vote, but in this case McConnell would not have any other option. Many Republican Senators (including Lamar Alexander, Susan Collins, and Marco Rubio) have expressed that the declaration would establish a “dangerous precedent” and, as a consequence, they would support a resolution to rescind the emergency declaration.[1]

            It is not so likely that such a Joint Resolution would garner the two/thirds majorities in both the House of Representatives and the Senate which would be needed to override a Trump veto.

Challenges in the Courts                                                                                               

In his White House speech, President Trump himself predicted that his emergency declaration would be challenged in the courts. “They will sue in the 9th Circuit (Court of Appeals) even though it shouldn’t be there, and we will possibly get a bad ruling and then we will get another bad ruling and then we will end up in the Supreme Court and hopefully we will get a fair shake and win in the Supreme Court, just like the (travel) ban.”[2] Trump made these comments in a sing-song fashion as if to ridicule the judicial process, but in fact, he is probably correct in predicting what would happen in the various venues of the legal proceedings.

As of today (February 21, 2019), sixteen states have begun proceedings to sue the President. The legal suit claims “Contrary to the will of Congress, the president has used the pretext of a manufactured ‘crisis’ of unlawful immigration to declare a national emergency and redirect federal dollars appropriated for drug interdiction, military construction and law enforcement initiatives toward building a wall on the United States-Mexico border.”

Some other legal proceedings will probably come from ranchers who own land on the Southwest Border who do not want their land taken by the government through the use of “eminent domain”.

It is also possible that Democrats in Congress will sue the President, but I think they will express their disapproval through a vote on a joint resolution to rescind the declaration.

In the end, it is likely that the legal proceedings will reach the Supreme Court. The decision they might reach is somewhat difficult to predict. Although “Conservatives” have a 5/4 majority in the Supreme Court, it is not at all certain how they will rule. The newest Justice, Brett Kavanaugh, is known to be in favor of expanding powers for the presidency and would probably vote in favor of the declaration of national emergency. Nevertheless, other conservative justices usually tend to defend the constitution over “extenuating circumstances” and might rule that Trump has violated the law.

At times, President Trump has shown himself to be brilliant in his use of social media to advance his goals (tweets, rallies, etc.). At other times, he has made mistakes that have hurt his cause. His Rose Garden speech on February 15 was not one of his better moments. He made statements that weakened his argument that border wall construction was an “emergency”.

  1. If it were truly an “emergency”, the border wall construction should have been his only topic. Nevertheless, he started his speech by rambling about a host of other items: Brexit, trade, Syria, North Korea, praising himself for being suggested for the Nobel peace prize, etc. before he got to the main issue of the “national emergency”.
  2. During the speech he referred to his emergency declaration and claimed, “I didn’t need to do this, but I’d rather do it much faster.” Emergencies usually require urgent action. By his own words, he unintentionally admitted that the declaration was not urgent, merely just convenient.
  3. After the speech, Trump spent the weekend on vacation at one of his resorts in Florida. Although presidents have the right to go on vacation, it gives an apparently contradictory message to declare an emergency and then go play golf.

My Reflections

  1. Those Republicans in Congress who believe that Trump’s declaration of national emergency was a violation of the law, should vote their conscience instead of giving in to “party loyalty”. Partisanship does not outweigh ethical convictions. It will be important to notice how Republican voters respond to the Senators and Representatives who vote their conscience.
  2. Democrats should avoid “overreach”. They hurt their own cause when they overstate their case. They should stick to the facts. They also need to repeat over and over again why they believe the border security bill was good and sufficient (increased number of ICE personnel, asylum judges, and inspection agents at the ports of entry, the use of better surveillance technology, etc.)
  3. The Supreme Court should evaluate whether this was a valid, legitimate use of the 1976 National Emergencies Act or whether it was a violation of that Act, especially the transfer of large sums of previously designated funds.
  4. Congress should revisit the 1976 National Emergencies Act and, where necessary, make explicit what activities are considered emergencies and those that are not. This Act needs to be updated.
  5. According to all the national polls, most U.S. citizens do not favor declaring a national emergency to obtain funds to build to build a border wall. Nevertheless, a significant majority of Republicans do favor such a declaration. So, even if Trump loses a joint resolution in Congress and/or rulings in the courts, he will repeatedly affirm that he has fought the good fight to be true to his campaign promises. Most of his political base will stick with him and he hopes that this will be sufficient to win the 2020 election. It is important to see if he can keep independent voters. At the present, the majority of independents view this border wall construction as a campaign promise that is not the best way to provide border security.
  6. There is a national crisis, but it is not the need to construct 200 more miles of a wall along the border. There exists a moral crisis. There is a need for more truth in the discussions about the great moral challenges of our day. We the People need to demand, and live, the truth.

[1] See https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/pelosi-warns-trump-republicans-against-emergency-declaration-on-border-funding/2019/02/14/cf6f492c-3099-11e9-86ab-5d02109aeb01_story.html?utm_term=.705f470cf319 for statements by Rubio and other Republican senators who have expressed they would vote in favor of a joint resolution to rescind the emergency declaration.

[2] https://nypost.com/2019/02/15/trump-predicts-he-will-ultimately-win-legal-challenges-to-border-wall/

The State of the Union Address

The immediate response by people in the house to President Trump’s State of the Union address seemed quite similar to a basketball game. The home crowd (Republicans) came to its feet and cheered at many of the assertions made during the address. The other side (Democrats), although they disagreed with much of the speech, generally stayed seated and quiet, although they frequently rolled their eyes. In other words, the partisan identification of the teams (Democrat or Republican) played a larger role in their response than the accuracy (or inaccuracy) of the affirmations. In the blog today, I invite readers to assume the role of a referee and to evaluate the speech (or ref the game) as honestly and accurately as possible, based upon the evidence and not the team that one prefers. Ironically, it takes more courage to be an honest referee than a passionate fan.

At a superficial level, this was one of Trump’s better speeches. He mostly stayed on target and followed his teleprompter. He claimed he wanted to work with the Democrats. He made several assertions that most Democrats could agree with. But digging a bit deeper, there were many parts of his speech that belied his quest for unity. In the beginning, he claimed that his speech was neither a Republican nor a Democrat address, but an “American speech”. Nevertheless, Trump made many statements that, in my opinion, do not accurately reflect the sentiment of the majority of our citizens. What is even worse, many of his affirmations were misleading or outright lies.

Let’s get at it and ref the game.

Positive Promises

President Trump made some quite positive promises that received general support.

  • His budget will propose substantial funding to eliminate HIV-AIDS in the U.S. during the next ten years
  • He will strive to bring down prescription drug prices
  • He would like to see medical access for all U.S. citizens including those with pre-existing conditions

A valid critique of these promises is that the president should have pushed for legislation in these areas when he had a complete majority in both chambers of Congress.[1]

Fact Checking the Content

As is appropriate, a sitting president should claim successes, and Trump did so. He gave a lot of attention to successes in the economy (which Republicans had wanted him to emphasize more in the lead-up to the 2018 mid-term elections). He should receive credit where credit is due, but at times he has embellished his achievements. Such exaggerations are not truthful (see below) and, in fact, they tend to hurt his arguments.

  • “Year after year, countless Americans are murdered by criminal illegal aliens.”

In order to bolster his argument in favor of a border wall, President Trump has frequently made this accusation. Nevertheless, the evidence supports just the contrary. The conservative, libertarian Cato Institute, in its 2018 study, came to the conclusion that immigrants (whether documented or undocumented) are less likely than native-born citizens to commit a crime.

  • “The border city of El Paso, Texas, used to have extremely high rates of violent crime — one of the highest in the country, and considered one of our nation’s most dangerous cities. Now, with a powerful barrier in place, El Paso is one of our safest cities.”

Although this assertion has been made frequently by administration official during the past year, it is quite false. Compared with other cities of its size, El Paso, Texas has never had “extremely high rates of violent crime—one of the highest in the country”. In fact, El Paso is the second safest of the twenty cities of similar size.

Furthermore, Trump is arguing that the barrier contributed to making El Paso safer. Construction of the border barrier was begun in 2008 and finished in 2009. The violent crime rate reached its peak in El Paso in 1993 and dropped by 34% by 2006 (before the construction of the wall). The rate increased by 17% from 2006 through 2011. Therefore, the presence of the barrier did not lower violent crime in El Paso.

  • The United States is now the number one producer of oil and natural gas in the world.”

This assertion is partly true but largely misleading. The U.S. did become the number one producer of oil in 2018. This part is true. Nevertheless, it became the number one producer of natural gas back in 2011. Ironically, President Obama affirmed that number one natural gas status back in his 2015 State of the Union address. This status might not be something to be applauded. To increase output, the environment has suffered.

  • “In just over two years since the election, we have launched an unprecedented economic boom — a boom that has rarely been seen before.”

This is not quite accurate. Trump inherited a growing economy from Obama and Trump´s policies have continued that growth. According to the Bureau of Labor statistics, monthly job growth averaged 217,000 new jobs during Obama’s second term and has averaged slightly less (203,000 jobs) during these first two years of the Trump administration.

  • “The United States has far and away the hottest economy anywhere in the world.”

 The United States economy is “hot”. During the third quarter of 2018, it grew at an annual rate of 3.5%, although it slowed down in the fourth quarter. There are many countries with much higher rates of growth (India, China, Poland, Latvia, Greece, among others). Some have more than double the rate of the United States.

  • “This new era of cooperation can start with finally confirming the more than 300 highly qualified nominees who are still stuck in the Senate — in some cases years and years waiting. Not right. The Senate has failed to act on these nominations, which is unfair to the nominees and very unfair to our country. Now is the time for bipartisan action.”

This is quite misleading. The nonpartisan Partnership for Public Service has identified 705 key executive positions. Of these, 274 are vacant and have not been confirmed. Trump inflated the number a bit and blamed the Senate for its inaction. But the Senate has had a Republican majority during these last two years and could have pushed for confirmation. What is even more dishonest is the fact that Trump has not even nominated candidates for 144 of these positions. He cannot blame the Senate for his failure to nominate candidates.

Omissions in the State of our Nation

It is common for people in general, and presidents in particular, to highlight their successes and to omit their failures. If we are really concerned about the state of our nation, it is important to acknowledge and tackle our serious problems which were omitted in last Tuesday’s address. Given that the Democrats now have the majority in the House of Representatives, they are co-responsible for resolving these problems.

  • The Opioid Crisis – We are in the midst of a national crisis. On average, over 130 people in the United States die every day due to an overdose of opioids. That is 47,600 per year. This is an issue where Republicans and Democrats must work on together.
  • The National Debt – Our national debt is now $21 trillion and climbing. Our federal deficit has soared to $779 billion and is expected to be a trillion dollars this year. This is the down side of the tax cut from last year. If we are truly honest, we have borrowed (stolen?) money from future generations in order to fund our tax cuts and they will have to pay for the fact that we do not live within our budget.
  • The Undocumented Immigrants in our Country – There are roughly 10 million undocumented immigrants in our country. Many have put down deep roots in our country (jobs, education, church involvement, etc.), but they are living in political limbo. Just ignoring their situation only helps employers who exploit their vulnerable situation.
  • Jamal Khashoggi – Several months ago, journalist Jamal Khashoggi was brutally murdered, and his body was dismembered in the Saudi consulate in Turkey. It has been confirmed that the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia gave the order. We were promised that justice would be done, but the economic interests of the United States has trumped that commitment to justice. The silence is deafening.
  • Global Warming – There is overwhelming evidence that our planet is warming and that human activity (the use of fossil fuels) is a major factor behind it. The consequences for our world will be devastating. This is another example of where we are not demonstrating love for future generations.

Continuing Concern about the Russian Involvement in our Elections

Trump seems very concerned about the ongoing investigations into Russian involvement in the 2016 elections and possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia (both the Mueller investigation and the new investigations initiated by the Democrat controlled House of Representatives). He broke from the unity emphasis of the rest of his speech and went directly after the Democrats on this issue.  “An economic miracle is taking place in the United States, and the only thing that can stop it are foolish wars, politics, or ridiculous partisan investigations” and “if there is going to be peace and legislation, there cannot be war and investigation. It just doesn’t work that way.”

This is sadly reminiscent of President Richard Nixon’s State of the Union address in 1974 (which I am old enough to have seen on TV). At the time, Nixon was being investigated for his alleged part in the Watergate affair. He demanded that the Watergate investigation be brought to a conclusion to “clear the innocent” even though he knew that he was guilty. He was out of office within a year. Trump’s statements on the investigations give the impression that he is trying to hide something. If he, his election campaign, and his administration, have nothing to hide, he should not try to block these investigations.

A healthy democracy requires a courageous commitment to honesty and fairness more than a partisan passion.  Let us applaud what is good, acknowledge what is not, and pursue truth and justice for all!


[1] A similar critique can be raised against President Obama back in 2009 and 2010 when he did not push comprehensive immigration reform or other “priorities” although the Democrats controlled both chambers of Congress at that time.

Truths about the Border Wall… and a Possible Solution to the Conflict in Congress

A “deal” was reached between President Trump and the Democrat leadership on Friday, January 25, 2019 which re-opened our government for a short three-week period to give time for both sides to reach an agreement regarding border security, primarily along the U.S. – Mexican border. At the time of this writing, seventeen members of Congress are in discussions aimed at reaching a bill that President Trump would sign.  This is the good news. I do not believe that government shutdowns (this past one, but also in general) should be used as bargaining chips…ever.

Now the bad news. I am not very optimistic that the congressional discussions will be successful. Much of the negotiation hinges on the construction of a possible wall (or fence) to reduce illegal crossings. Both sides have dug in their heels and only grudgingly have shown any movement towards a consensus in the middle. During his campaign, Trump announced that he would build a magnificent concrete wall from sea to shining sea (he was actually insinuating that the wall would stretch from the Pacific Ocean to the Gulf of Mexico) and that the Mexican government would pay for the wall. He has now tried to walk that back and claims that the wall would be paid for by increased revenue to U.S. citizens through the new trade agreement between Mexico, the United States, and Canada.[1] He has also acknowledged that in some sections it would be a concrete wall, but in other parts a metal fence, and in certain areas a wall would be neither necessary nor feasible due to the geography (mountains, lakes, deserts, etc.) On the other hand, many Democrats, including Speaker of the House Pelosi, have said that they would not give even a penny for a border wall. They argue that funds authorized last year have not been used to construct such a wall. They also claim that greater border security would be achieved by using more modern means such as camera surveillance, drones, more border patrol personnel, a larger number of immigration judges, etc. rather than a physical wall that could be climbed over or dug under. They also claim that more illegal drugs are being smuggled into the country through official ports of entry or via boats that land on the coasts than across unfenced borderlands. Therefore, according to the Democrats, additional border walls would not deter that kind of smuggling of drugs.

The truth of the matter is that large sections of the 1933 mile border already have a fence or wall. The Secure Fence Act of 2006 (also known as H.R. 6061) was signed into law by President George W. Bush on October 26, 2006. It provided the authorization and partial funding for the construction of 700 miles of walls/fences/barriers along the border with Mexico.  President Bush affirmed that “This bill will help protect the American people. This bill will make our borders more secure. It is an important step toward immigration reform.” In fact, 654 miles of fencing/wall were constructed. I have been to the border many times and have seen and touched that wall. It partially fulfilled its goals by making it harder for undocumented immigrants to enter the United States. Nevertheless, some immigrants have climbed over the wall, drug traffickers have dug tunnels under the wall, and many others have made their crossings through the more inhospitable, unfenced areas.[2]

The existence of such a wall might suggest a way forward for the discussions that are taking place. Here are some of the options, listed in degree of probability of actually taking place.

  1. The stubborn option – Speaker Pelosi has repeatedly affirmed that she would not give a penny for a wall. President Trump has also stated over and over agan that he would veto any bill unless it had sufficient funding for a wall. If they both hold their ground, there will be a standoff. Although it is possible that Congress could vote for no wall funding with such a majority that it could override a Trump veto, this is unlikely, because it would leave Trump extremely vulnerable and without the support of his party on his key issue. If the Democrats approve a bill with no funding for a wall, it is more likely that President Trump will declare that the construction of a border wall is a “national emergency” and look to re-channel other funds to the project, rather than push towards another governmental shutdown. Such a “national emergency” would immediately be challenged in the court, and would probably be ruled as unconstitutional, but Trump would be able to tell his supporters that he tried mightily to fulfill his campaign promise.
  2. The minimalist option – This approach acknowledges the existence of the current 654 mile wall as an essential ingredient of border security. It is possible that a compromise could take place where both sides agree on a comprehensive security legislation that includes a lot of funds for additional ICE officers, greater surveillance, drones, cameras, etc. AND some funding for “enhanced fencing”.[3] The language utilized is very important. It needs to be vague enough so that both sides can claim victory and satisfy their bases. Pelosi needs to communicate that she gave no money for a “wall” and Trump needs to be able to say that funding was given for “barrier construction”.
  3. The immigration reform approach – This option would strive to deal thoroughly with all of the major issues of immigration, including border security, the Dreamers (DACA), and a pathway to legality (citizenship or legal work permits) for the ten million undocumented immigrants in the country. Democrats “may” be willing to authorize funding for a border wall/fence if Trump and the Republicans make significant concessions on these important immigration issues. I doubt that two weeks is sufficient time to reach a consensus on comprehensive immigration reform. This is a debate that needs to happen in the not too distant future. I personally subscribe to the contents of a comprehensive immigration reform as developed by the Evangelical Immigration Table at http://evangelicalimmigrationtable.com/.

Whatever happens over the next two weeks, honest debate over the wall and immigration will continue for many years. May we have the courage to listen to each other as we seek a just consensus.


[1] During the campaign, Trump claimed that the Mexican government would pay for the wall with a check. Those who believed such a promise are, in my opinion, quite naïve. Immediately, high level Mexican leaders repudiated such an idea.

[2] According to the Pew Center, the highest number of undocumented immigrants in the United States was 12. 2 million in 2007. By 2016, that number has dropped to 10.7 million. Of course, there are many “push and pull” factors that affect immigration, but the construction of the wall has probably had some influence reducing the number of illegal entries. Others have raised ethical concerns about the existence of that wall. By pushing undocumented immigrants to cross over in unfenced areas (mostly deserts), more people have died in their attempts to cross over. See https://www.nbcnews.com/news/latino/2016-u-s-saw-lowest-level-undocumented-immigrants-over-decade-n940286

[3] Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi mentioned on January 31 that she could agree to extension and enhancement of the “Normandy” type fencing that currently covers some miles of the border. See https://www.washingtonexaminer.com/news/congress/pelosi-suggests-normandy-fence-for-the-border-but-not-a-wall ttps:�����

The Health of our Nation

Seeking the Health of our Nation

We are experiencing one of the more difficult periods in our nation’s history. As I write this piece, our federal government is in a partial shutdown, with no end in sight. With Republicans in charge of the White House and the Senate, and the Democrats now in control of the House of Representatives, the next two years and beyond suggest that the gridlock in Congress will get worse, not better. The cultural wars, racism, sexism, and poverty are just some of our national ills. I write this analysis in an attempt to contribute positively to the great moral and political challenges of our times. I do this quite aware of my finiteness and limitations. I also recognize that we are all subject to hypocrisy. I am also aware that some readers will disagree vigorously with some of my comments.  Nevertheless, I feel that I must speak out from the many decades God has given me to be an active observer and participant in civic life. I will write from the perspective of a follower of Jesus, but I hope that my comments might be appreciated in a wider circle. Four practical doctrines from the Bible undergird my thinking.

Salt of the Earth

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus told his followers that they were the salt of the earth and the light of the world (Matthew 5:13-16). These metaphors are very rich and deserve deeper study. However, at the very least, they imply that followers of Jesus should contribute to the moral wellbeing and health of their countries.[1]

We are not good salt and light if we merely parrot one side of an issue. We must examine “all things”, including all major perspectives of the issues.[2] In practical terms, this means we need to avail ourselves of various sources of information. I intentionally force myself to get information from both “conservative” and “liberal” social media.[3] I set a personal goal of being able to understand and articulate both sides so clearly that they each would feel that they were fairly represented.

Benefactors (Doers of Good)?

What was the position of Jesus regarding earthly authorities? In a very important, yet infrequently utilized, passage Jesus talks about rulers.

A dispute also arose among them as to which of them was considered to be greatest. Jesus said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors.  But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves. (Luke 22:24-26)

                The older I get, the more I believe in the fallenness of humanity. Although all people are made in the image of God with the potential to do good, we are all impaired by our personal and collective sin. Public officials are no exception. Jesus claimed that human rulers tended to lord it over their subjects, while at the same time claiming to be benefactors (those who do good). If rulers in previous times tried to convince their subjects that they were benefiting them, much more does this take place in contemporary democracies. In order to win over voters, candidates and officials try to persuade voters of all the good work that they have done or will do for their people.

                This gap between what officials say and what they actually do requires that people of faith exercise great discernment in sifting truth from falsehood. This is a call to “holy suspicion”. We should not be naïve when we hear campaign promises or “accomplishments” by officials. To the contrary, we must vigilantly exercise the practice of “trust but verify”.[4] We should relentlessly pursue truth (the big Truth about God and the universe, but also the smaller, daily truths of information that correspond to reality).

                The belief in the universal fallenness of humanity led to the establishment of “checks and balances” in our Constitution.  The executive, legislative, and judicial branches of our government have the responsibility to rein in the power of the other branches when they overstep their boundaries. Even the gridlock that exists within Congress (currently a Republican controlled Senate and a Democrat governed House of Representatives) has the benefit of pushing both chambers to work towards consensus if they want any legislation approved.

Governments are Called to be Servants

What does God want human authorities to do? Romans 13 has frequently been used by political and religious leaders to urge citizens to blindly obey the government. “For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good” (Romans 13:4a). I suggest that this passage is not primarily descriptive as if human authorities always seek the good of their people. In fact, this passage is prescriptive, where Paul lays out the main responsibility of government officials: they are called to be servants (diakonoi) of God for the benefit of humanity. Nevertheless, human history is full of examples where governments have failed in their calling. The existence of Hitler and other ruthless tyrants shows that many authorities do not faithfully represent God. When such officials tell citizens to commit evil, the more appropriate Biblical teaching is “We must obey God, rather than humans”. (Acts 5:29) [5]

As followers of Jesus who live in contemporary democracies, we need to take more seriously the words of Abraham Lincoln in his Gettysburg address. We live in a government “of the people, by the people, and for the people”.  To a certain degree, we have the government that we deserve, the government that we have tolerated. In democracies we the citizens need to hold officials accountable for their actions.

Prayer

                We are commanded to pray for all people, especially for those in authority.[6] However, even prayer can become hypocritical and used to cover up our unjust actions. As a consequence, such prayers are rejected by God.[7] It is common for politicians of various ideologies to end their speeches with the phrase “…and God bless the United States of America”. We all need God’s blessing, but all too often, this prayer is uttered to make the audience feel good as if to say that God will bless us because of the goodness of our actions. Prayer in the Scriptures usually asks that our actions be changed to conform to God’s will and not the other way around. In the Lord’s Prayer, we are taught to ask that God’s Kingdom come, and that his will be done on earth as it is in heaven. We must pray, but we must also live more justly.

Followers of Jesus in the United States in relationship to President Trump

Students have frequently asked me for my opinion of President Trump. In the classroom, I have frequently kept silence in order to provide an environment where students who might disagree with me would feel free to speak up in class. However, because I have great respect for the office of the presidency, I believe that those individuals who serve in that office need to be evaluated in the light of God’s teaching. I urge that we make this evaluation with “truth and grace”, that is, that our comments be accurate, measured and fair. We should point out good actions where they exist, but also indicate the failures, together with suggestions for better alternatives.

                I will first mention some positive attributes of President Trump, followed by some character flaws. In the last section, I explore some of the most important national policies including the economy, immigration and health care in light of the fact that all humans are made in God’s image.

Positive Qualities of Trump

  • Active at his age – I just turned 67 years old. I am impressed when people a decade older than I am are still involved in public life. I applaud Trump, Ruth Bader Ginsberg, and many others who are my “elders” for their active participation in society.
  • Willing to think outside the box – Because he comes from a business background, and not a lifetime in politics, he is willing to do things that are not traditional, such as communicating with the U.S. people via Twitter or to sit down and talk with the political leaders of North Korea. (This does not mean that I applaud the content of all these breaks with tradition).
  • His criticism of NAFTA – During his campaign, Trump criticized NAFTA (the North American Free Trade Agreement) because it did not protect U.S. workers. The lengthy process of renegotiating the agreement is in its final steps, but it still needs to be approved by the governing bodies in the three countries.[8]
  • His opposition to the war in Iraq – Because he is an “isolationist” in international relations, Trump, during his campaign, claimed that he opposed the war in Iraq from the very beginning.[9] according to Just War Theory, this war was quite immoral. Even those who originally supported the war now recognize that it failed to meet JWT criteria on several counts. It resulted in the tragic deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians, as well as soldiers on both sides.[10]

Repugnant characteristics of Trump

                Although he has some positive character traits, there are other flaws in Trump’s character that are totally disgusting. Although many conservative people of faith appreciate and defend some of Trump’s actions (tax breaks, Supreme Court appointments), they should make a clean break with the following moral failures. If they don’t distance themselves from these repugnant actions, their own moral credibility is in question.

  • Trump is a pathological liar – I do not make this criticism lightly. The veracity of some of his comments might be true, but because he has lied so frequently on objectively verifiable information, people tend to take all his statements with justifiable suspicion. For example, early on he claimed that he had “the biggest electoral college win since Ronald Reagan”.  The truth is that since Reagan, only George W. Bush had smaller electoral college victories than Trump (Trump 56.9%, Bush 50.4% in 2000 and 53.4% in 2004).[11] His claim of a larger crowd at his inauguration was also shown to be a lie, including the creation of “doctored” photographs. During his campaign, he claimed that a “wall” would be built, and that Mexico would pay for it and that they would make a “one-time payment of 5-10 billion dollars”. Now he denies ever making that assertion.[12]
  • Trump is a misogynist– Donald Trump has made many comments that greatly disrespect women. Whether the claims of sexual assault by dozens of women are all true or not, he should at least be judged by his own words. In the Access Hollywood tape from 2005 he stated, “I’m automatically attracted to beautiful [women]—I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star they let you do it. You can do anything … Grab them by the p..ssy. You can do anything.”
  • He is a bully – Trump exhibits many characteristics of classical bullying, such as aggression, shaming others, and name calling. During the primary campaign, he stooped to name calling with even his fellow Republican presidential candidates: “Lyin´ Ted Cruz”, ¨Little Mario¨ Rubio, and even insulting Carly Fiorina for her “ugly face”!
  • Some of his comments are racist – Trump kicked off his presidential campaign with racist remarks about Mexicans. The Mexican immigrants are “… bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”[13] He made even more vulgar, racist affirmations about Haiti and African countries.[14]
  • He is arrogant – At times, he has made statements that border on idolatry. He frequently claimed, “I am the only one that can solve our nation’s problems.” On July 21, 2016 at the Republican National Convention, in his acceptance speech, he proclaimed “Nobody knows the system better than me, which is why I alone can fix it.
  • He doesn´t always think before he speaks – Trump is (in)famous for his early morning tweets, but frequently they are, at best, not appropriate, and often, they are false and offensive. This forces his staff to help him ¨walk them back¨. For example, in December, the president announced that he would quickly be pulling U.S. troops out of Syria (“they are all coming back, and they are coming back now”). This led to the resignation of James Mattis, the Defense Secretary, in protest, as well as criticisms by many leading Republican leaders.  National Security Adviser Bolton had to massage Trump´s announcement by saying the pullout would be postponed for months or years until certain conditions were met.
  • He thinks he is above the law – Trump has frequently made statements that suggest he believes he is above the law. Early in the campaign, he boasted “I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters.” More recently he claimed, “You can’t impeach somebody that is doing a great job” even if that person has committed high crimes and misdemeanors.

Policies

In the following section, I will make some modest suggestions regarding the tough issues facing our nation.  I don’t claim that these are the final word on the topic, but I do offer them with the goal of more fruitful discussions and the improved health of our nation.

  • The Government Shutdown – As I write this piece, we are in the midst of a government shutdown. When Democrats, Republicans, and the president cannot agree on certain issues, they choose to not approve the federal budget, thereby shutting down the government, except for essential employees. On December 19, 2018, the Senate approved a short-term funding continuing resolution that would give all parties involved an extra few months to reach a consensus on the budget. The Senate voted unanimously in favor of this resolution, because the senators had been given assurances by Vice President Pence that Trump would sign the legislation. Nevertheless, when the clean bill was forwarded to the House of Representatives, Trump said he would not sign the bill unless it contained over five billion dollars towards the construction of a wall along the southern border with Mexico.[15] So, the House approved a very different bill that the Senate would not approve. Without a stopgap spending bill, the government is shut down. Trump refuses to sign a bill unless it has the money for the wall. The Democrats refuse to allot the funding for the construction of the wall. Both sides are playing the blame game, but on this issue, the Democrats have the stronger argument. Three weeks ago, Trump publicly stated that he would “own” the shutdown and would not blame the Democrats, although he has repeatedly blamed them for the shutdown. It is doubtful that either side will back down, unless a Solomonic mediator can find a way for Trump to accept the language of border security (without mentioning a wall). Another option is to make the deal more palatable for both sides by reaching agreement on a broad immigration reform plan that would include a pathway to citizenship for the Dreamers and some funds for a wall. If accepted, each side could claim some victory and not “lose face”. Trump is also considering a declaration of a “national emergency” so that he can move other funds toward the construction of the wall. All these options have serious downsides.
  • The Economy – The economy is chugging along fairly well, and President Trump can take some (but not all) of the credit. He has continued the growth that happened in the Obama administration. Many factors are included in the health of an economy, but let’s look at job creation. During the last two years of the Obama presidency, new job growth averaged 212,500 per month and during the first two years of the Trump administration, new job growth averaged 196,000 jobs per month.[16]

The stock market saw unprecedented growth during the first year of the Trump administration. Of course, Trump took credit for this achievement. However, during December 2018 much of this gain evaporated as the stock market had its worse slump since the Great Depression. The president blamed others but took no responsibility for its decline (ex. failure to reach a trade agreement with China, government shutdown, etc.).

Hardly anyone likes to pay taxes. As a result, almost everyone liked the tax cut that Trump implemented back in 2017.  Nevertheless, the benefits greatly favored the wealthiest among us, not the ones most in need.[17]

Part of the growth in our economy is due to the elimination of environmental regulations. When companies are free to pollute creation, their short-term profits increase, but if that profit is at the expense of the health and wellbeing of future generations, we must identify that deregulation as sinful.  Out of love for our (future) neighbors, appropriate regulations are needed to curb our greed.

  • Immigration[18] – Almost everyone agrees that our immigration policies are not working. There are about 10 million undocumented immigrants already in the country. There are three main options regarding what can be done regarding them.
  • Continue to do nothing. Due to the gridlock in Congress, there has not been any significant immigration legislation for the last three decades. Undocumented immigrants are either paid low wages under the table which benefits the employers, or they use fake documents which means they pay income taxes and social security taxes. In this scenario, they will not receive any benefits. In other words, they are subsidizing me and the rest of us. If we do nothing, these immigrants will have to stay in the shadows and not become full participants of our society. For example, they might be afraid to go to parent/teacher meetings at their children’s school, which means their daughters and sons will suffer.
  • Arrest and deport all undocumented immigrants. This is physically impossible to implement, due to the number of ICE and judicial personnel that would be necessary. In addition, our economy would greatly suffer because these immigrants are performing jobs that are essential.  This policy would also be inhumane because most of these immigrants have lived here for many years and have put down social and economic roots in our society. For example, if their children have been born here, they are citizens. Deporting the parents, and separating them from their children, would be incongruent with the values of the Gospel.
  • Enact immigration legislation that is similar to the Reagan immigration bill of 1986. This would permit a pathway to citizenship after paying a fine, demonstrating that they have employment and no felony crime record. This would permit immigrants to come out of the shadows and become active participants in society. Such a bill could satisfy both the justice and compassion components of the Gospel.

Urgent attention should be given to the Dreamers (DACA). These people were brought into the country illegally by their parents when they were children. President Obama, through executive order, provided legal protection for them while they served in the military or attended college, and later, a pathway to citizenship. President Trump has expressed sympathy for these Dreamers and their lives. He and the Congress should move forward on legislation to make this action permanent.

  • Health Care – Under the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), most U.S. citizens have access to health care and insurance. Although some portions can and should be improved, other aspects of the ACA have been shown to be very popular with most people (such as the ability for young adults to stay on their parents’ insurance policies until they are 26). Given that every other major industrialized country provides their citizens with access to adequate health care at a reasonable cost, our nation should also be able to do so.
  • Foreign Relations – President Trump has chosen an isolationist foreign policy. Isolationism is not new. In the years before World War II, the United States largely had an isolationist posture until the attack on Pearl Harbor. Nevertheless, Trump has pushed the limits. He has pulled the U.S. out of the Paris Accords on global warming and the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and other international agreements. He has insulted our traditional allies and does not show much support for the international rule of law as expressed through the United Nations, the International Court of Justice (World Court) or the Organization of American States.

Where possible, we should strive to have better relations with countries that have been our traditional enemies, like Russia, China and North Korea. But that does not mean we should ignore or minimize gross atrocities that our friends or foes commit against their own citizens (ex. Saudi Arabia’s brutal and planned murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi received no effective condemnation from the White House, because economic gain is more important than ethics).

The Next Steps

At this present time, I find the Trump presidency very troubling for our country. At a personal level, he is not a good role model for our people, especially for our children. As a result of his actions and those of other politicians, we are seeing a serious decline in the health of our nation. There are also problems at the level of policies. I have tried to show that the values behind most of his policies are not worthy of Christian support.

Although some Democrats are recommending impeachment, I think we should await the Mueller report, which should be completed in the next few months. (Recent revelations about Paul Manafort’s dealings with Russian operatives, even while he was directing the Trump election campaign, if true, are clear indications of collusion). After Mueller’s report is released, we will have a better idea of whether Trump is guilty of “high crimes and misdemeanors” or not. Impeachment is a very difficult process for a country, but under certain circumstances (as in the Nixon era), it is necessary.

Although the Bible teaches that leaders greatly affect (positively and negatively) the health of their nations, Jesus also proclaimed the civic responsibility of his followers. In all the areas where we have influence, let’s strive to be full of salt and light.[19]


[1] Any serious commentary will mention the primary interpretations of this passage. For example, John Stott, The Message of the Sermon on the Mount; revised edition, InterVarsity Press, 1993. This seeking of the health of a nation appears throughout the Scriptures. The prophet Jeremiah (29:7) urged Jewish believers to seek the shalom of the “pagan” city and kingdom of Babylon.

[2] Part of our country’s illness comes from the fact that many people receive their news from only one source. Those who swear by Fox News refuse to watch CNN and vice versa. In the “good old days” of my youth, there were only three main channels (ABC, NBC, and CBS) and, as a consequence, most citizens had a common pool of information from which healthy discussion could take place. Given our current polarized political environment, we must work harder to find common ground about truth.

[3] To avoid “national blind spots”, I also recommend that we obtain a perspective from outside the United States. For those who can read in a modern language other than English, there are many reputable media sources online. For others, I find that the BBC provides good coverage in English. It can be accessed at https://www.bbc.com/.

[4] This is an old Russian proverb made popular in the United States by President Ronald Reagan regarding his relationship with leaders of the Soviet Union.

[5] For another Biblical example of civil disobedience, see the incident where the Wise Men disobeyed Herod the Great because of his deceit. (Matthew 2:12)

[6] 1 Timothy 2:1-2.

[7] See Isaiah 58 for a sobering passage where God rejects the prayers and fasting of the people of Israel. The Lord calls his people to change their ways, by loosening the chains of injustice, and God, in turn, will restore shalom to their personal and national lives.

[8] Back in the late 1980s, the publishing house that I founded published a book that evaluated NAFTA from a Christian perspective that was written by Mexican economist Jesus Camargo. Our major criticism of NAFTA was that it gave big profits to investors, but by taking advantage of workers in both countries. It also permitted the degradation of the environment (God’s good creation which we are called to care for).

[9] There is other evidence that, in fact, Trump favored the war and has flipflopped on his stance. For a researched analysis of his changing position on the war in Iraq, see https://www.factcheck.org/2016/02/donald-trump-and-the-iraq-war/.

[10] See Chapter Two of our book, C. Rene Padilla and Lindy Scott, Terrorism and the War in Iraq: A Christian Word from Latin America. Ediciones Kairos, 2005, for evidence on how the war failed to meet the necessary criteria of Just War Theory (JWT). Of course, Christians who are pacifists opposed the war, but those who believe in JWT should also have opposed the war.

[11] The Washington Post has identified over seven thousand lies or misleading claims. These can be found at https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/politics/trump-claims-database/?utm_term=.0a59d5e0df0c.

[12] https://www.nytimes.com/2019/01/11/us/politics/trump-mexico-pay-wall.html.

[13] This was widely covered by the social media. Among others, see https://www.foxnews.com/politics/trumps-border-wall-a-look-at-the-numbers. Some of his comments are even more racist.  He referred to Haiti and some African nations as “shithole countries”, https://www.cnn.com/2018/01/11/politics/immigrants-shithole-countries-trump/index.html.

[14] See https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/white-house/trump-referred-haiti-african-countries-shithole-nations-n836946.

[15] Trump changed his position after being persuaded by conservative commentators Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter, and others that he would lose his base if he didn’t follow through on his campaign promise to build a wall (although during the election campaign, he always promised that Mexico would pay for the wall).

[16] Bureau of Labor Statistics as quoted by Meg Kelly “The ‘Trump Economy’ vs the ‘Obama Economy’” in The Washington Post, September 18, 2018. Given that new job growth becomes more difficult as you get closer to full employment, the numbers suggest that under both administrations, growth was roughly equal. See this entire article at https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2018/09/18/trump-economy-versus-obama-economy/?utm_term=.5d1dcd452261 to see comparisons between the two administrations in Gross Domestic Product (GDP), unemployment rates, wage growth, the stock market, and poverty.

[17] For example, individual tax cuts (which favor the middle and lower classes) are scheduled to be phased out in 2025, whereas corporate tax cuts which favor the wealthier sectors of our society have been made permanent.

[18] There are several excellent books on immigration from a Biblical point of view. See Matthew Soerens and Jenny Yang, Welcoming the Stranger: Justice, Compassion & Truth in the Immigration Debate, revised edition. InterVarsity Press, 2018 and M. Daniel Carroll (Wheaton College Professor), Christians at the Border: Immigration, the Church & the Bible, 2nd edition. Brazos Press, 2013.

[19] There are many more areas that need to be changed in order to improve our national health (such as gerrymandering, campaign financing, McConnell’s refusal to bring up certain legislation in the Senate, etc.). I will leave those for a future article.