Where do we go after the Trump Impeachment Trial?

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

So, where do we go now?

Trump goes to court?

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

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

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

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

The Future of the Republican Party

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

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

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

Democrats

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

Epilogue

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

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

The Covid Relief Bill: We Need Courageous Compromise

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nadie está por encima de la Ley

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No One is Above the Law: What are our Options?

Although I was not surprised, like most people I was dismayed by the events that took place in the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. on Wednesday. A group of Pro-Trump supporters marched to the Capitol Building, and then stormed into the building. They were trying to impede the Congress from counting and ratifying the votes of the Electoral College that certified Biden’s election victory. Although not common in the United States, this was, in fact, an insurrection, a self “coup d’état”, an attempt to steal the election from the voters who chose Biden on November 3, 2020. President Trump had earlier spoken to the protesters and repeated the lie that he had won the election. He then urged his followers to march to the Capitol and fight for his “election day victory”. Members of the Senate and House of Representatives were in session to count the Electoral College votes. Although some of the protestors were peaceful, when they reached the Capitol building, the protest turned violent, and stormed and vandalized the building. The police force was overwhelmed.  At first, the members of Congress huddled in place, but were later moved to safe “bunkers” in the basement. During the riot, Trump tweeted a stinging criticism of Vice President Pence for not overturning the results (which he legally could not do). Immediately, shouts arose within the mob inside the Capitol, “Hang Mike Pence! Hang Mike Pence!” After several hours, the police finally recovered control, although five people have died as a result of the violence.  Later that evening, Congress resumed its session and certified Biden’s victory.

Most people have condemned the actions of Trump´s supporters as criminal due to trespassing and vandalism, and more seriously, five people died. Democrats and many Republicans have accused the president with inciting insurrection. At least two Cabinet members (Secretary of Education Betsy Devos and Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao) and many other high-ranking officials have resigned in protest. Prominent Republicans who have supported Trump in the past (like Mitch McConnell, Lindsay Graham, and William Barr) have admitted that the president has gone too far this time. Some of his most trusted friends question his psychological health, saying that he has been unusually depressed after his election defeat. Although the transfer of power to Biden will take place on January 20, the majority of U.S. citizens want Trump to leave earlier than that. Fearing that Trump will do even more damage over the next ten days, Twitter and Facebook have permanently blocked the president’s accounts. If no one is above the law, how do you hold people accountable for their actions, yet at the same time, bring healing to our country? There are several available options, but each one has its advantages and disadvantages. What should be done?

  1. Trump could resign as soon as possible. Upon his resignation, Vice President Mike Pence would become President until January 20. This is the easiest choice, by far, and would minimize additional polarization of the U.S. people. By itself, a resignation would not punish Trump for his crimes. Pence could offer him a presidential pardon (like Ford gave Nixon), which would cover all federal offenses. Nevertheless, Trump could still face New York state charges of tax evasion or other alleged crimes, but his incitement to insurrection would probably go unpunished. Trump has announced that he would not resign under any circumstances (he might be pressured to change his mind if a more negative option like impeachment becomes a reality).
  2. Vice President Pence and a majority of the Cabinet could invoke Article 25 which states that a president can be removed from office if he is unfit (physically or psychologically) to carry out his duties. Up until now, Pence has not shown any willingness to implement this option.
  3. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi has promised that if Pence does not invoke Article 25, she will bring an article of impeachment to the House early this week on the grounds of inciting insurrection. She would put this on a “fast track”, and it could be put to a vote in the House of Representatives on Wednesday. It would easily pass. It would then go to the Senate where it would need a super majority for it to be approved, which is not so certain. Even so, the Senate’s decision would not be reached until after Biden’s inauguration. If the Senate confirmed the impeachment, Trump would be prohibited from running for president or any other federal office in the future. Nevertheless, Biden does not favor this option. He does not want to begin his presidency with an angry partisan fight.
  4. The Congress could “censure” Trump for his actions. This would probably pass in both the Senate and in the House with substantial Republican support. Nevertheless, this is too weak of a punishment. It is like a slap on the wrist for a serious crime that resulted in five deaths and could have brought down the U.S. democracy

As can be seen, each option has its downside. How should we hold people accountable for their crimes and bring healing to our polarized country at the same time? If neither #1 nor #2 are implemented in the next few days, I would favor a fast-track impeachment in the House, but not immediately brought to the Senate. This would give time for some healing to take place and for Biden to get his Cabinet approved and begin to implement If this high crime goes unpunished, other presidents might become emboldened to commit this or other treasonous crimes in the future. Everyone should be held accountable for his or her crimes. No one is above the law.

A parallel issue is why the police were so ineffective in stopping this insurrection. The Capitol police should have been quickly reinforced with the National Guard or the FBI police force, but for some reason, those offers of help were rejected. Why? A thorough investigation must be done in order to find out who failed in their responsibilities and whether Trump or others were involved. Given that the inauguration will take place on January 20, it is quite possible that more actions of violence will take place in the capital or in other places in the United States during the next few days.

Another issue that must be addressed is institutional racism. Peaceful Black Lives Matter protests took place in DC and in other cities this summer and were met with strong police resistance. But when white supremacy protestors invaded and looted the Capitol Building on Wednesday, police inaction allowed the looting to go unchecked. The road to racial equality is long and hard, but let’s continue moving forward and not give up hope.

John the Baptist: Repentance, our Toxic Hyper-individualism, and economics

We take a break from partisan politics in this blog. Nevertheless, I do want to address religious, economic and cultural themes. During this Advent season of the Christian faith, it is common to read a Biblical passage about John the Baptist. John´s mission was to prepare the way for Jesus the Messiah by preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. His understanding of repentance was much more than mere regret for our sins. He urged a transformation in all areas of our lives.

Let´s look at Luke´s narrative where John preaches from a passage of the prophet Isaiah which announces God´s salvation for all humanity. The multitudes responded to his message and came to be baptized, but he saw through their hypocrisy and cut through their superficiality.

He told them, ¨Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown in the fire.” What should we do then?” the crowd asked. John answered, “Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same.” Even tax collectors came to be baptized. “Teacher,” they asked, “what should we do?” Don’t collect any more than you are required to,” he told them. Then some soldiers asked him, “And what should we do?” He replied, “Don’t extort money and don’t accuse people falsely—be content with your pay.” (Luke 3:8-14)

John was asked by three different groups (the crowd, tax collectors, and soldiers) what they should do to demonstrate “fruits of repentance”. His three responses have two aspects in common. First, they all deal with material possessions: shirts, food, and money. We misunderstand Biblical spirituality if we think that it only refers to the non-physical world. Godly spirituality is expressed in this materialistic world (Jesus, the Word became flesh and dwelt among us). John proclaimed the beginning of a new era where we no longer worship money and material things. In a demonstration of the Kingdom of God erupting among us, these material possessions are utilized to bring about our neighbor’s wellbeing.

The second common aspect is that repentance towards God includes just interpersonal relationships. All humans bear God’s image, whether they are the poorest of the poor, tax collectors or taxpayers, soldiers who oppress others or ordinary citizens who suffer oppression. As God’s representatives, all people deserve the love and respect we want to extend towards God.

A radical, but reasonable, standard for our society.

  1. John the Baptist’s message calls into question the toxic hyper/individualism of our culture. According to the Bible, I am not the absolute “owner” of “my” possessions. God wants me to steward the items under my control in such a way that all of my neighbors have enough to live with dignity. This is the ethical norm of ¨Enough¨. No one should have more than they need while others do not have enough. This is radical teaching and I certainly do not live up to this goal. Nevertheless, it is quite reasonable. Good parents practice this ¨enough¨ ethical system with all of their children.
  2. We tend to think that our individualism is good as long as it doesn´t intentionally hurt others. In our culture, individual happiness is perceived as determining the difference between right and wrong. John the Baptist challenges our apathy. Our indifference to our needy neighbors definitely harms them and perhaps leads to their premature death. Sins of omission can be just as deadly as sins of commission.
  3. Our ¨advanced¨ society, at times, argues about how much is a ¨fair¨ minimum wage. For all of its many faults, the Roman Empire knew that all workers should earn a wage that could support a family with dignity. John the Baptist implies this when he claims that soldiers provide for their families with their ¨pay¨.
  4. In their desire to emphasize God´s grace and forgiveness, many churches have downplayed the Biblical teaching regarding repentance, especially these economic and interpersonal dimensions. But God doesn´t merely want to forgive us our past. He wants to free us from the idolatry of money and the tyranny of toxic hyper-individualism. True repentance opens us to God´s grace. (I heartily urge readers to do a word study of repentance in the New Testament to see how it is intimately connected with life and salvation.)

John the Baptist is one of the most unusual characters that emerge from the pages of Scripture, yet his message is more necessary than ever before.

The Courage to Stop Believing a Lie

Most of us have told an occasional lie during our lives. Most of us have also been lied to on occasion. When we have been told a lie by a person that we trust (a parent, a good friend, a coach or teacher), we feel crushed, disappointed, and disillusioned. If we are repeatedly lied to by that person, we rightfully become skeptical and suspicious. We begin to change our relationship with him or her. We take what they say with a large “grain of salt”. In Reagan’s words, we “trust” but we also must “verify”. We strive to get “a second opinion” from reputable experts who have greater trustworthiness.

We are in a national dilemma regarding the presidential election results. On the one hand, we can celebrate the vitality of our democracy. Over 150 million citizens went to the polls.  On the other hand, we are also a divided country with approximately 51% of our population who voted for Biden and 47% that voted for Trump. Our Congress (Senate and House of Representatives) is even more divided with almost an equal number of Democrats and Republicans being elected.

According to the results in each state, Biden is the president elect and will receive 306 votes in the Electoral College later this month (the exact same number as Trump received in 2016). Nevertheless, Trump has not admitted that he lost the election. He claims that there has been massive fraud. His lawyers have challenged the results in several contested states (Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Georgia, Arizona, etc.) but none of these challenges have been successful in the courts. But here is our dilemma: Over 20% of those who voted believe that Biden only won the election because of fraud. If it were only Democrats who claimed that the results were not fraudulent, then the result might be suspect. But there are dedicated Republicans who have been responsible for overseeing the election process and have called them as they see them: accurate and without fraud. These public servants have demonstrated  their loyalty to our country, our constitution, and our democracy. They have decided not to enable Trump and his ridiculous claims any longer. Here is a small sample.

Christopher Krebs, a life-long Republican, was appointed by President Trump himself to be the administration´s most senior cybersecurity official responsible to secure the presidential election from foreign or domestic interference. To refute Trump´s claims that the election was stolen through fraud, Krebs announced that the 2020 election was ¨the most secure in American history¨. In retaliation, the Trump fired Krebs for daring to contradict the president.

In Georgia, Republican Secretary of State, Brad Raffensperger oversaw the election and announced that Biden defeated Trump fair and square, by more than 12,000 votes. Since the race was close, the president challenged the results and demanded a hand recount. The recount again showed that Trump lost the election and Biden won. Another recount was demanded, this time by machine, and again the results were the same: a Biden victory. Raffensperger and his staff have received death threats due to their objectivity. As a result, the Secretary of State has repeatedly urged the president to admit the results and to stop fueling these death threats. On Tuesday, President Trump told Georgia Governor Brian Kemp to ¨do something¨ to overturn the election results. Kemp, a staunch Republican, rebuked the president and told him that Georgia law prohibits him from ¨interfering in the election¨.

In Wisconsin, Biden won the election by some 20,000 votes. Trump´s lawyers challenged the results and took their case to Wisconsin´s Supreme Court. The court threw out the case due to lack of evidence.

Something similar took place in Pennsylvania where the state Supreme Court unanimously rejected the case brought by Trump´s allies. Their ruling denounced it as an ¨extraordinary proposition that the court disenfranchise 6.9 million Pennsylvanians who voted in the general election.¨ Pennsylvania´s Republican senator, Pat Toomey, called on the president to concede, ¨President Trump has exhausted all plausible legal options to the challenge the result of the presidential race in Pennsylvania.¨

The most telling verdict comes from Attorney General William Barr. In my opinion, Barr has been overly subservient to President Trump, doing his bidding at every turn, but even Barr could not stomach Trump´s wild claims. On Tuesday, the Attorney General told the Associated Press that FBI agents and U.S. attorneys have followed up the specific complaints they have received, but ¨to date, we have not seen fraud on a scale the could have effected a different outcome in the election.¨ Many think that Barr will be fired for his honesty.

It is sad to see one’s friends and neighbors when they believe a blatant and obvious lie. It takes great courage to recognize when we have been duped by falsehoods. I believe that most of our neighbors can rise to the occasion and admit that there was no massive fraud. The future of our democracy depends on us recognizing and walking in the truth.

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.