My advice for Biden and Trump… and for the people of the United States

The dust is settling on our election. Mr. Biden has won 290 electors in the Electoral College to 217 for Mr. Trump, with Georgia and North Carolina still too close to call. The president’s legal suits have not been successful in the courts and the end result of Biden’s victory is certain.

Mr. Trump

  • Republican and Democrat state leaders have uniformly affirmed that there has been no evidence of massive voter fraud. It is past time to put on your big boy britches and give a gracious concession speech. For the good of the country, let the Biden team have access to important information from the national security agencies, the Covid/19 advisory board, etc. so that the transition can be as seamless as possible.
  • Most Republican Senate and House candidates did slightly better than you did, meaning a significant slice of voters split their ballot, voting for Biden for president and then for Republicans down ballot. Therefore, take a serious look at what aspects of your character have turned Republicans off, your lies, your bullying, your arrogance, and your American machismo (your lack of respect for John McCain cost you Arizona). Even in the later years of our lives, we can be honestly repentant and make important changes.
  • Given the dire situation of the Covid/19 virus, be honest with the U.S. people about the true depths of the problems. Wear a mask. Do not undercut Dr. Fauci. Work with the Biden people to facilitate a quick delivery of vaccines once they are safely available. In light of the negative consequences for the economy, urge Republicans in Congress to reach a compromise with the Democrats for a Covid relief bill. Many of our neighbors are in great financial need and a relief bill is necessary and urgent.

Mr. Biden

  • Even before your inauguration, there are significant steps you can take. Urge the Democrats to reach a compromise Covid/19 relief bill now with their Republican counterparts. A lame duck session of Congress does not have to be a do-nothing session.
  • Continue to meet with expert epidemiologists and economists so that we can fight and win against our common enemy: the Covid pandemic. Move full speed ahead on a national plan of greater testing and an urgent, safe development of a vaccine that can be distributed quickly and without cost to all who want it.
  • In your first days in office, use your presidential executive power in areas where the majority of citizens agree.
    • Rejoin the Paris Climate Agreement
    • Rejoin the World Health Organization (WHO)
    • Sign again an executive order protecting the Dreamers from deportation. They did nothing wrong and many are serving our country as “first responders”.
  • Find common ground with Republicans on necessary legislation such as an infrastructure bill that fixes our roads and bridges and that stimulates the economy.

People of the United States

  • Now that the election is over, cool down the rhetoric. Let’s be more open to admitting the flaws of our preferred candidates.
  • Let’s seek common ground solutions to our local and national problems. This will require greater humility, creativity and integrity on our parts.
  • I repeat Lincoln’s wise words as good advice for us all, “With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds.”

With Malice toward None and Charity for All” Lincoln’s important words for our divided country.

As I ponder our divided country, I find great encouragement in Abraham Lincoln’s words at the end of the Civil War, “With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right, as God fives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds.”

As I write this blog, the election has not yet been called. According to most news organizations, Donald Trump has won 214 electors (and if you include North Carolina and Alaska, this rises to 232) whereas Joe Biden has garnered 253 electors (Fox News has called Arizona in Biden´s favor, raising the number of his electors to 264. Other networks have not yet called this race). Georgia, where Biden is leading by a very slim margin, is headed for a recount. So, it comes down to Pennsylvania, Arizona, and Nevada where Biden is leading and will probably win. Therefore, unless there are some lawsuits that dramatically change the current trends, Joe Biden will become our next president with 50.5% of the national vote and more than the necessary 270 electors in the Electoral College.

What do we know?

  • The control of the Senate is still up in the air. Georgia requires that to win, a Senate candidate must obtain 50% of the vote plus 1. In both Senate races, no candidate won the necessary majority of votes. Therefore, there will be two run off elections in early January. If Democrats were to win both races (a big IF), the Democrats would have control of the Senate.
  • In the House of Representatives elections, the Republicans made significant gains and picked up seats.  Not all of the House races have been called, but the Democrats will have a smaller majority than they have enjoyed for the last two years. Nancy Pelosi will probably continue as the leader of the House.
  • President Trump and his lawyers are challenging the results in some of the states. Although the president has the right to raise the challenges, most of them have not been deemed valid by the respective courts. Some of the states, like Georgia, will have recounts, but these are unlikely to overturn the current tentative results.
  • This election shows the power of women…as voters and as candidates. Twelve of the Republican gains in the House were won by women candidates. Biden’s presidency was largely due to the votes of women in the cities and in the suburbs.

What should we do?

  • We should all express our gratitude to the election workers (Republicans, Democrats, and independents) who tirelessly have verified the ballots, sorted them, run them through the counting machines, uploaded the results and/or have been observers to guarantee the fairness and accuracy of the election process.
  • If Biden ends up winning, Democrats should not gloat nor take revenge. They should be gracious and seek ways to obtain bi-partisan solutions to our difficult challenges. If the Republicans retain control of the Senate, Biden and Senator McConnell will have to work together on the approval of Cabinet members, the pandemic relief bill and other important legislation.
  • If Trump loses, he should be gracious in defeat. He should make a conciliatory concession speech and aid in the transition. It is important that Republican leaders encourage him to acknowledge the results.

Upcoming Blogs

Some of the topics I will address in upcoming blogs are:

  • Necessary changes in the Electoral College
  • Why Republicans lost the presidency but won many Congressional races
  • The increasing significance and changing nature of the Latino vote
  • The future of the Republican party, with or without Trump
  • Significant steps to unite our divided country
  • Why the pre-election polls were partially right, but also wrong on important races

Jesus and the Political Options of His Day

When Jesus walked upon this earth, Jerusalem and Palestine were under the control of the Roman Empire. In exchange for the payment of heavy tributes, the Jews had a small amount of religious freedom to practice their faith. There were four main political options for Palestinian Jews in the time of Jesus: the Zealots, the Sadducees, the Pharisees, and the Essenes.

The Zealots were a first century political movement that sought to overthrow Roman rule. They led a rebellion in 66 A.D. when Rome introduced imperial cult worship. Although initially successful, Rome sent in the troops and smashed the resistance in 70 A.D. and destroyed the temple. Although Jesus had a zealot among his disciples (Simon) and though he sympathized with the plight of the downtrodden Judeans, Jesus did not choose the Zealot path of violence.

On the other extreme were the Essenes. They originated about 100 B.C. and emphasized ritual purity. They also separated themselves from the rest of society and tended to form communities in the desert. The Essenes are not mentioned in the New Testament although some scholars suggest that John the Baptist was an Essene. Others try to connect this group with the Dead Sea Scrolls. Although he had some characteristics that were similar to the Essenes, Jesus definitely did not try to escape from society’s problems.

The two main religious/political groups that appear in Scripture were the Pharisees and the Sadducees. Both groups had members in the Sanhedrin, but the Sadducees held the majority. The high priest was a Sadducee as were the chief priests. The Sadducees were generally wealthier and politically more powerful. They were doctrinally more conservative and applied a more literal interpretation of the Old Testament and gave preference to the Law of Moses. They did not believe in an afterlife. On the other hand, the Pharisees were more liberal in their interpretation of the Bible and gave importance to oral tradition. They were not as rich and therefore had more favor with the poorer people. The Apostle Paul had been a Pharisee before his encounter with the risen Christ. Jesus agreed with the Pharisees on the doctrine of the resurrection, but he criticized both the Pharisees and Sadducees for their hypocrisy and legalism. Jesus refused to align his teaching and his messianic cause totally with either the Sadducees or the Pharisees.

Jesus provides some helpful insights in how to navigate today’s complex and divisive politics.

  • Jesus was a realist and knew that humans tended to abuse their authority. He said, “The rulers of this world lord it over their subjects” (Luke 22:25a) and told us not to follow their example. Power whether wielded by Republicans or Democrats frequently leads to corruption. Power given to the ruling authorities should be used to serve humanity, especially the most vulnerable among us.
  • Jesus cut through the hypocrisy of his day.  He warned his followers to not believe candidates who exaggerate their own goodness and greatness: “they like to call themselves big Benefactors, those who do good” (Luke 22:25b). He told his disciples not to believe them. Today he would urge us to demand honesty in political advertising and to denounce lies wherever we find them. What is urgently needed in our country are citizens who demand honesty of the leaders of their own political party.
  • Although Jesus rejected the hypocrisy of the political groups in his culture, he welcomed those who were humble enough to seek the truth. Nicodemus was a Pharisee, but he came to Jesus seeking life. Jesus saw his humility and rewarded it and let him into greater truth.
  • The Bible teaches that God is the defender of the “the orphan, the widow, and the stranger” because they are more vulnerable to the injustices imposed by the powerful. Jesus demonstrated in word and deed that these “despised by the world” were his brothers and sisters and bore with them the image of God (Matthew 25:31-46).

During this election season, Jesus urges us to consider both policies and personal character. We need to favor those policies that serve the neediest among us. We also need to evaluate a candidate’s character (honesty, humility, integrity) as we make our election decisions. Choose well.

“Heads I Win, Tails You Lose” and the Election

When I was a child, I was occasionally tricked by an older kid (or at least a smarter one). We would have a coin toss and the kid would shout out, “Heads I win, tails you lose”. No matter which side of the coin turned up, the other kid would always win. It is because the coin toss was rigged. It was framed in such a way that eliminated fairness and justice.

Something similar is happening now in the presidential election. Trump has predicted that he will win when the votes are counted OR if the tally shows him losing, it will be because of vote fraud. He has also affirmed that he would take the election to the Supreme Court if he loses. This is dangerous for our country. If there is a fair election AND Trump actually loses, many of his more devoted followers might protest the counting of mail in votes and declare fraud. Some of these followers might turn to violence.

On the other side, Biden is currently beating Trump in the national polls by 8 – 10 percentage points.  If there is a fair election AND Biden actually loses, many of his more devoted followers might protest and claim that the disqualification of enough mail in votes was fraud. Some of these followers might turn to violence.

Both candidates can take actions to reduce the possibility of violence. If they lose fair and square, they should commit themselves to acknowledging their defeat publicly and not allow frustration to blow up into violence. They should also commit themselves to not declare victory prematurely, which could stir up wrong expectations. It is time for Trump and Biden, and for their respective followers, to commit themselves to abide by the election results. So be it!

What Kind of Republicans (and Democrats) does our Country Need?

In the United States, we have had two main political parties (Republican and Democrat) since before the Civil War. There have been third parties on occasion, but these have not been very successful. Political parties are subject to the same challenges that other institutions have: leadership structures that do not encourage change from within. Leaders gather around them “yes men” and “yes women” who say what the leader wants to hear and not what needs to be heard. These people are “enablers” who contribute to the corruption of their institutions from within. This is unhealthy for the institution and for the broader society.

In the current reality of the Republican Party, some leaders who are no longer in office (like former Ohio governor John Kasich and former White House Chief of Staff, John Kelly) have felt free enough to criticize President Trump’s policies and personal behavior. Nevertheless, most officials who are still in office or who are running for reelection have become enablers and have jumped on the president’s bandwagon on every single issue, no matter how absurd.  It is accurate to say that Republicans have become the Trump party and have moved away from traditional Republican principles (fiscal conservatism, standing against dictatorships, etc,).

An exception to this trend is Republican senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska. Earlier this week he criticized President Trump on a phone call with 17,000 of his supporters. He pulled no punches in his use of words. Regarding Trump’s support of dictatorships around the world like Russia, North Korea and others, Sasse says he strongly condemns “the way Trump kisses dictators’ butts. I mean, the way he ignores that the Uyghurs are in literal concentration camps in Xinjiang right now. He hasn’t lifted a finger on behalf of the Hong Kongers,”

Sasse continued his criticism, “The United States now regularly sells out our allies under his leadership. The way he treats women and spends like a drunken sailor. The ways I criticized President Obama for that kind of spending I’ve criticized President Trump for as well. He mocks evangelicals behind closed doors. His family has treated the presidency like a business opportunity He’s flirted with White supremacists.”

The Nebraska senator explained that he is concerned about the large number of people leaving the Republican Party. “If young people become permanent Democrats because they’ve just been repulsed by the obsessive nature of our politics, or if women who were willing to still vote with the Republican Party in 2016 decide that they need to turn away from this party permanently in the future, the debate is not going to be, you know, ‘Ben Sasse, why were you so mean to Donald Trump?’ It’s going to be ‘What the heck were any of us thinking that selling a TV-obsessed narcissistic individual to the American people was a good idea?’ It is not a good idea.”

The senator also honed in on the main issue of the election: Trump’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic. “The reality is that Trump careened from curb to curb. First, he ignored Covid. And then he went into full economic shutdown mode. He was the one who said 10 to 14 days of shutdown would fix this, and that was always wrong, So I don’t think the way he’s led through Covid has been reasonable or responsible or right.”

Senator Sasse is trying to shape the future of a post-Trump Republican Party. Republicans need to decide today what kind of party they want. Who has the better understanding of reality, Donald Trump or Ben Sasse? The future of the Republican Party hangs in the balance.

The Coronavirus and the Election Results

The coronavirus is affecting every area of life, including the election this fall in the United States. Let’s anticipate some of those effects so that we aren’t surprised on the evening of Tuesday, November 3rd. Here are some of the changes we can expect.

  • There will be many more mail ballots than normal. Due to the virus, many people are rightly limiting their presence in public gatherings. This phenomenon does not affect Republicans and Democrats equally. Surveys suggest that about 70% of Republicans will vote in person (and 30% of Republicans will mail in their ballots). It is expected that about 40% of Democrats will vote in person at the voting sites (the remaining 60% of Democrats will mail in their ballots).
  • This will affect the counting of the votes and, therefore, the reporting of the votes on the evening of November 3rd. The counting of mailed in ballots varies from state to state. Some states begin counting mail in ballots as they come in (on days before election day), some do not even begin counting these votes until after the polls are closed on election day. Most states require that mailed votes must be postmarked by election day. They vary on how many days after election day they permit for the mailed ballots to be delivered by the postal service.
  • Scenario 1 / a “purple” precinct where they are exactly 100 voters who will vote for Trump and 100 voters who will vote for Biden. If on election day this precinct counts only the in-person votes and waits to count the mailed in votes in the following days, the early reporting on November 3rd will give an inaccurate picture. The early reporting that evening could show 70 votes for Trump and 40 for Biden, a huge victory for Trump. Nevertheless, in the following days, Biden’s numbers catch up and become exactly equal to Trump’s, 100 to 100. There is no evidence of fraud, but one party *feels* that cheating has taken place.
  • Scenario 2 / a “slightly blue” precinct in a swing state likes Pennsylvania where 105 of the 200 voters plan on voting for Biden and the other 95 voters will vote for Trump. The in-person results on election night show 44 votes for Biden (40% x 110) and 63 votes for Trump (70% x 90), a strong and significant win for Trump. As the days go by and the mailed-in ballots begin to be tallied, Biden catches up and eventually wins 110 to 90. Cries of fraud erupt, but here again there is no evidence of any kind of cheating.
  • We have become accustomed to ¨exit polls¨ which are surveys of voters after they have already cast their ballot at the voting place. By definition, these do not take into consideration voters who mail in their ballots, so exit polls will be skewed in favor of Trump. The true vote totals won’t be known until the mail in ballots are counted in the following days.

THEREFORE, We should not expect any final votes on the evening of November 3rd, because many mailed in ballots will not be tallied until the following days. Unless it is a landside victory obvious to all, no presidential candidate should claim a win on election night. A premature claim to victory could easily lead to violence if supporters whose candidate “won” on election night ends up losing as the mailed in votes are counted. Let sound reasoning prevail among us!

Hypocrisy in High Places

The headlines today deal with revelations about President Trump’s taxes over the past two decades and I will comment on this in a future blog. Today I would like to denounce the hypocrisy in the U.S. Senate which is happening right before our eyes.

Back in February of 2016 Justice Antonin Scalia died which left a vacancy on the Supreme Court. President Barack Obama nominated Merrick Garland to replace Scalia on the Court. The Republican controlled Senate refused to give Garland the necessary hearing. They claimed that a Supreme Court replacement should not take place during the last year of a president’s term in office. The battle cry was “Let the people decide through the presidential election in November’ (even though that meant an unfilled vacancy in the Supreme Court for ten months).

On September 18, 2020 Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died. Those same Republican senators who argued that the Court should remain vacant for ten months (McConnell, Graham, Grasse, Rubio, Cruz, etc.) now argue that the vacancy should be filled immediately through a nomination by President Trump. The overarching principle of “Let the people decide by voting in the presidential election” has been thrown overboard.

Lindsey Graham is the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee that governs the “advise and consent” Senate process of confirming Supreme Court nominations. He used to be a person of principle, but he has sold out his soul. In 2016 he said, “I want you to use my words against me. If there’s a Republican president in 2016 and a vacancy occurs in the last year of the first term, you can say Lindsey Graham said let’s let the next president whoever it might be, make that nomination.” In 2018 he was even more clear, “if a Supreme Court opening comes in the last year of President Trump’s term, and the primary process has started, we’ll wait until the next election.” Graham has broken his word. He is afraid that Trump will lose the election and that Biden will nominate a person much more liberal than a nominee by Trump. Lindsey Graham is a hypocrite and should be so judged by his own words. He is practicing the morally bankrupt maxim of “the end justifies the means”. But you cannot obtain a good end (a Supreme Court justice of your preference) by using the immoral means of breaking your word.

The defenses by the Republican senators are twofold. The first is that times have changed and the White House and the Senate are controlled by the same party. That was not the heart of their argument four years ago. Then they said, “Let the people vote!” They also claim that the Democrats would do the same if they were in their shoes. If Democrats practiced the same hypocrisy, I would denounce them as well. I have criticized Democrats before and I would denounce them again. Our ethical principles mean nothing if we don’t apply them to friend and foe alike. Let’s clean out the swamp of hypocrisy in our midst.

How Should We Receive Exaggerated Praise?

How Should We Receive Exaggerated Praise?

Most of my readers know that I retired at the end of spring semester. My last employment was with Whitworth University, eight plus years at their Spokane campus and over four years with programs in Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Guatemala and Mexico. Upon retirement, one of my colleagues gathered together “tributes” from dozens of professors and former students and made them into a video. If you are interested in seeing it, it can be viewed at https://youtu.be/k7c_RVSOoxs. You will notice that they “sang my praises” and I danced and sang “If I Were a Rich Man” from Fiddler on the Roof…in Spanish…on top of a table…in Costa Rica.

Many nice things were said, and it brought me to shed some tears. I imagined it to be somewhat similar to hearing the eulogy at your own funeral. How should we respond when we receive overstated praise?  I am vain enough to think that some of what they said was true. I am also realistic enough to know that I have not been as good, as scholarly, as exciting, as honest, as patient, as creative a professor and colleague as I could have been.

What should we take away from that kind of tribute? That people are important. Friendships that last over the years are one of the most beautiful of God’s generous gifts. So, give deeply of yourself to others and graciously receive their love.

Idolatry and Politics

The current political situation in the United States is quite troubling and sad. This can be illustrated by looking at an identifiable group on each side of the political spectrum. On the “right” are the “always Trumpers”. They repeat the White House’s talking points on every issue.  A clear example is the current spike in the Covid-19 infections, hospitalizations and deaths. President Trump has downplayed the severity of the pandemic. He has repeatedly claimed that the high numbers are due to the greater number of tests the United States has administered and that the U.S. has a low Covid-19 rate. The “always Trumpers” have echoed these claims even though they are absolutely false. On a per capita basis, the U.S. has NOT administered more coronavirus tests than most European countries, and the European Covid-19 rate is much less that the rate in the US. In fact, the U.S. has the fourth worst per capita rate in the world. In their desire to support the president, the “always Trumpers” are in denial of reality.

On the other side of the political spectrum are the “never Trumpers”. For them, Trump is so detestable that everythihng he says or does is false and evil. They have such a knee jerk reaction to Trump that they must be against everything Trumpian. For example, Trump has pushed a ¨Warp Speed¨ vaccine for Covid-19 for rapid research and actual production of millions of vaccines. Although it is obvious that Trump is urging this project largely for election purposes, the ¨never Trumpers¨ are unwilling to acknowledge that moving swiftly toward the development and distribution of a safe vaccines is good and necessary.

If people are totally “pro-Trump” or “anti-Trump”, they have abandoned their use of logic and reason. Their absolute political loyalty distorts the use of their minds. From a Biblical point of view, an absolute commitment to any human or institution is idolatry because we are worshiping the creation and not the Creator.

Unless people want to be classified as “pro-Trumpers” or “anti-Trumpers”, it is easy but not helpful to put our “opponents” in one of these categories. It is easy because we can then dismiss any evidence they offer without examining it.  Because too many of us categorize others in this way, we are becoming ever more polarized. When our favorite political party or politician receives a criticism, our default mode becomes a defensive posture. Instead of seeking and acknowledging the points of truth in the criticism, we grasp for any argument that helps our position, no matter how flimsy.

Since both of these extremes are dangerous for the advance of truth in our world, I suggest the following. Identify the three strongest criticisms against your favorite politician or political party. Are there any grains of truth in these criticisms? If so, do we acknowledge and act on them? If not, we are treading on dangerous ground.

Let´s keep seeking the truth and it will set us free.

Figures Never Lie… but Liars do Figure

My father would frequently repeat this quote to me, “Figures never lie… but liars do figure”. During my many decades of life, I have found that this phrase quite accurately describes human nature. In fact, it is logical. We usually try to defend our actions with reasons that we hope are persuasive (if not persuasive to others, at least to ourselves). Sometimes these arguments are valid, but at other times they are illogical rationalizations.

What we do on a personal level also occurs in the broader society. In healthy societies, opposing or alternative points of view are defended and debated in the public arena. These arguments frequently use statistics. Citizens need to think hard to evaluate the merits of the various arguments. In times of deep polarization, like our current situation, we must avoid knee/jerk reactions if we want to reach the truth. How do we evaluate these competing points of view when they involve figures, percentages, and statistics? I have found the following questions quite helpful.

  1. Are the figures accurate?
  2. What do these figures reveal (the merits and purposes of the argument)?
  3. What do these figures omit or hide (the flaws of the argument)?

The Covid-19 pandemic is a good case study, because statistics play such an important role in the national debate. For example, President Trump has often stated, “We do more Covid-19 testing than any other country.” At one level, this is a true statement. Because the United States is a large nation with a sizeable population (roughly 330 million people), the total number of tests administered here (about 40 million tests) is larger than any other country. The intention of the statement is to create confidence in the government, that our political leaders are adequately managing the pandemic, and that the large number of infections is to be expected.

At a more important level, this statement is quite false and misleading. We should compare the percentage of people who have been tested with the total population, in other words, “per capita”.[1] We could then compare “apples with apples”. At a per capita level, the United States is testing for Covid-19 at about the middle of the pack of industrialized nations. Depending on the exact date of comparison, the U.S. has tested more per capita than France, Japan and Sweden, but fewer than Australia, Russia, and Spain. The purpose of this misleading information is to paint a more positive picture of our government leadership than is warranted.

In light of this frequent misuse of numbers and statistics, what should we expect of each other? I hope that fair minded people will treat the figures accurately and not jump to inaccurate conclusions. Both those who support and those who oppose Trump (or any other leader or policy) should be honest enough to acknowledge all valid and pertinent figures and statistics, in other words, to find common ground. I also expect that people of all sides of an issue would disavow figures that are obviously wrong.[2] We must hold each other and our leaders to the high standard of truth-telling.

We are living in difficult times. The Covid pandemic is just one of our many challenges. If we want to overcome these problems, we must treat each other with serious respect, affirming what is true, rejecting what is not.


[1] Other more useful criteria would be per capita measurements of hospitalizations, ICU usage, and mortality rates.

[2] The president has made claims that are clearly false such as “We test for Covid-19 more than all other countries combined” and, more recently, “99% of Covid cases are totally harmless”. His supporters should have the courage to reject and distance themselves from these outlandish affirmations.