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.

Enough is Enough! Senator Mitch McConnell, Bring the Bill Up for a Vote!

This past Saturday our country suffered another mass shooting, this time in El Paso, Texas. A 21-year-old white supremacist opened fire at a Walmart store and killed 22 people and seriously wounded others. Then, early Sunday morning, another mass shooting took place in downtown Dayton, Ohio and nine civilians were killed.

Time and time again we have witnessed mass killings in our country: Las Vegas, Sandy Hook, Parkland, Orlando, Gilroy, and the list goes on and on. These massacres are in the news for a while, but nothing happens. Our Congress has let us down. 90% of our citizens are in favor of requiring a universal background check before people can purchase guns. This would reduce the number of guns in the hands of those who should not have them (felons, domestic abusers, mentally ill people, etc.)  Currently there are many loopholes (sales at gun shows, online gun sales, etc.) that allow guns to get into the wrong hands.

There is one man who has blocked legislation that would require a universal background check: Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell. He has repeatedly refused to bring legislation passed by the House of Representatives to a vote in the Senate. On a wide variety of issues this has contributed to the deadlock and polarization of our Congress, as moderate measures are not even given a chance. This is especially troubling regarding background checks.  Last month, a bipartisan bill passed the House (240 to 190) that would require a universal background check prior to the purchase of guns and would eliminate the loopholes. It was co-sponsored by Republican Representative Pete King who affirmed, “When background checks are used, they keep guns out of the hands of people that we all agree shouldn’t have guns. As government officials it is our responsibility to protect our citizens, and when it comes to gun violence, we must do more. The overwhelming majority of Americans want to see action and we owe it to the victims and their families to prevent such tragedies from occurring again.” Senator McConnell has not even brought this bill up for a vote in the Senate. The fact that the NRA (National Rifle Association) has given millions of dollars in contributions to his election campaigns clearly suggests that McConnell is in the NRA’s back pocket.

This bill is not perfect and will not end all gun violence in our country. McConnell does not have to vote in favor of this bill, but he does have the moral and legal responsibility to bring it up for discussion and a vote in the Senate. I urge my readers to communicate with Senator McConnell and to urge him to bring the bill to the Senate.  This is not a left/right issue. Even President Trump has urged a bipartisan response that would include “stricter background checks”. Enough is enough. We, the people of the United States, need to demand action by those in Congress who represent us. The lives of our neighbors are in the balance.

Mueller has spoken. So has Barr. Is it time for an impeachment inquiry?

As everyone knows, Special Counsel Robert Mueller headed up the investigation on alleged Russian interference in our 2016 presidential election. The twenty-two-month long investigation resulted in the Mueller Report with the following conclusions:

  • There was definite interference by Russia in our election.
  • The was not enough evidence to bring charges of conspiracy between the Trump election campaign and Russian officials.
  • There were ten episodes of alleged obstruction of justice. The Report laid out the evidence in favor and against obstruction, but did not state a conclusion. It suggested that the Congress has this responsibility.
  • The Report did not exonerate the President.

Within 48 hours, Attorney General Barr wrote a four-page document that summarized the report. Barr and Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein made a decision to affirm that President Trump was innocent of the allegations of obstruction of justice. Trump went even further and claimed that there was no obstruction and that he was fully exonerated.

Mueller disagreed with the Barr summary and wrote two letters to Barr to rectify that misleading conclusion. Not obtaining the rectification that he sought, Mueller broke his public silence on the investigation and gave a nine-minute public address (May 29, 2019) when he also announced his resignation from the Department of Justice. Regarding the investigation, he made the following affirmations:

  • His Special Counsel investigation was not legally permitted to bring charges against Trump due to Department of Justice tradition and policy that would not allow a sitting president to be indicted.
  • Since the Department of Justice cannot bring charges against a sitting president, the only other option is political. The Congress would need to bring charges of impeachment against the President.
  • Regarding the claims of no obstruction and exoneration, Mueller spoke quite clearly, “If we had confidence that the President clearly did not commit a crime, we would have said that. We did not, however, make a determination, as to whether the President did commit a crime.”

A few days later, Barr stated his disagreement with Mueller’s comments. Meanwhile, various committees in the Democrat controlled House of Representatives have subpoenaed various documents (Trump’s tax returns) and witnesses (Don McGahn, Hope Hicks, etc.). The Trump administration has refused to turn over documents and has pressured the witnesses not to appear before the House committees.

We are at an impasse. Both sides have their partisan political reasons for their positions. Democrats claim that Trump has obstructed justice and he is doing everything he can to prevent the truth from coming out. Trump claims that the Democrats lost in the investigation and want a “re-do” in a type of witch hunt against the President.

More than partisanship, what we really need is to come to a conclusion regarding the truth on these issues. A full-blown impeachment process would probably not obtain the needed two/thirds majority in the Senate due to the Republican control there, and therefore could be a strategic mistake for the Democrats. Nevertheless, given the White House actions of stalling and stonewalling, I believe an “impeachment inquiry” is now the only way to obtain a clearer understanding of what happened. If Trump is truly innocent, he should turn over the documents and permit McGahn and Hicks to bear witness to the truth, whatever the consequences. Democrats should be courageous enough to begin the inquiry in order to fulfill their Constitutional oversight responsibilities. Let the truth win out!

Let me be as clear as possible. An impeachment inquiry is not the same as articles of impeachment. An inquiry is a first step to gather sufficient evidence to see whether impeachment proceedings should go forward or not. If the White House is not willing to relinquish key documents and allow witnesses to testify, an impeachment inquiry is the next step forward.

The Mueller Report

The Mueller Report…What do we know now?

A week ago, on Thursday, April 18, Attorney General Bill Barr held a press conference about the Mueller Report. He then sent a redacted version of that report to congressional members which he also made available for public view.

Let us not be naïve. Both political sides are putting their “spin” on the Report and the analyzed events. These spins range from one extreme, “This is the best day so far in the Trump presidency” to the other extreme, “He should be impeached!” Trump himself exclaimed at first, “No collusion! No obstruction!” Nevertheless, upon becoming aware of the details of the Report that portray him in a negative light, he has claimed that the Report is full of lies.

As seekers of truth, we need to work hard to filter out the spin. This means we need to read with great care the Mueller Report for ourselves and to not accept blindly the “Cliff Notes” of secondary sources. It also means reading and listening to various points of view. I have forced myself to listen to CNN, Fox News, MSNBC and PBS, plus going on line to view additional sources.

Original purpose of the Mueller investigation

What has been overlooked by most news outlets is the conclusion that Mueller arrived at regarding the main purpose of his investigation: Did Russia interfere in our 2016 presidential election? Mueller’s answer was a resounding “Yes!” He provided pages and pages of evidence showing the multiple ways Russia tried to influence the election on behalf of Trump and against Hillary Clinton. Nevertheless, neither the White House, nor the Republicans, nor the Democrats have taken enough steps to block this type of interference in the future.

Attorney General William Barr

Every Attorney General swears to uphold the Constitution and is the highest law enforcement officer in the country.  He or she is supposed to be a neutral arbiter of justice and should be above partisan politics. The Attorney General is the attorney for the U.S. people, not the private defense attorney for the president. I believe that Attorney General Barr has lost credibility for the following reasons:

  1. Barr shared the redacted document with the White House and Trump’s lawyers prior to making it available to Congress or to the public. The Attorney General should be committed to equality and to not show favoritism.
  2. In Barr’s four-page summary letter of March 24, 2019 as well as in his press conference last Thursday morning, he distorted the Mueller Report on both the allegations of collusion and obstruction of justice, the right of Congress to evaluate the report, and the supposed eagerness of the President to cooperate with the investigation. (see below)

The Redaction of the Report

Attorney General Barr has emitted a redacted edition of the Mueller Report, not the complete version. Four kinds of information were blacked out. They are the following:

  1. Grand Jury material
  2. Classified information regarding secret intelligence content and sources
  3. Information that could interfere with other ongoing legal investigations
  4. Information that could hurt the privacy and reputation of ´peripheral third parties’

It seems reasonable to me that the first three types of information should not be revealed to the general public.  Because I am committed to the truth, I am not quite so convinced that peripheral third parties need to be protected. Nevertheless, I believe that Republican and Democrat congressional leaders have the right to see the entire non-redacted version plus the evidence that undergirds it. The reason is obvious. Attorney General Barr has lost credibility in the eyes of half of our citizens. He did not let Robert Mueller confirm the veracity of his “Summary” of last month nor the redacted version last week. I do not trust Barr to be the “gatekeeper” of what information is released. I also believe that Barr, Mueller, Don McGahn and others need to appear before Congress to answer important questions so that the truth can be made more public.

Legal Context – A President cannot be indicted but can be impeached

According to the Justice Department’s traditional position and the specific judgment of its Office of Legal Counsel, a sitting president cannot be indicted while in office. The rationale behind this is that presidents should not be distracted from fulfilling their executive responsibilities due to legal procedures against them. The options are the following:

  1. A president can be accused of a crime, but not indicted. Nevertheless, without being indicted, a president does not have a legal way to respond to the alleged crimes.
  2. A president can be indicted for crimes committed during his/her presidency, but only after leaving office.
  3. If a president’s actions reach the level of “high crimes and misdemeanors”, Congress has the responsibility to impeach a president. This is essentially the only way to remove a president from office.

In addition, Barr wrote an unsolicited letter to the Justice Department in June 2018 before he had become Attorney General. In that article he wrote that the Mueller investigation was illegal and a waste of time and taxpayer money, and that a sitting president could not commit obstruction of justice. Many people think that Trump chose Barr to be the Attorney General precisely due to these opinions. In essence, Mueller’s only course of action was to lay out the evidence and then let Congress take the next step. He clearly stated this, “We determined not to apply an approach that could potentially result in a judgment that the President committed crimes.”

No Conspiracy and Cooperation between Russia and the Trump Campaign

The good news for Trump is that Mueller did not find evidence of conspiracy. The word “collusion” is not a legal term, and as a consequence, Mueller chose to hold a rather strict definition of the legal crime of “conspiracy”. Although Russia interfered in the election in support of Trump and against Hillary Clinton, and the Trump Campaign appreciated their support (ex. “We love WikiLeaks!), Mueller did not find that there was actual cooperation between the Russian government and the Campaign.

Obstruction of Justice

In his summary letter a month ago, Barr concluded (together with Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein) that Trump was not guilty of obstruction of justice. This is where Barr distorted the facts. The Mueller Report clearly stated that it did not reach that conclusion. The Report reads, “If we had confidence after a thorough investigation of the facts that the President clearly did not commit obstruction of justice, we would so state. We are unable to reach such a judgment.” It continues, “While this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.” Thus, Attorney General Barr gave false information when he provided the first “spin” of the Mueller Report in his March 24th letter and then again in his press conference on April 18.

Why didn’t Mueller reach a decision regarding possible obstruction of justice? He investigated 10 episodes of alleged obstruction by the Trump campaign and administration. He then laid out the evidence both in favor and against that possible obstruction. Was the evidence so divided and balanced that Mueller could not reach a decision? No! He believed that his role was not to render a decision. He wanted the evidence to be weighed in the court of public opinion. If there would be a judgment, it would not be made by him nor by the Attorney General. The U.S. Constitution dictates that it is the Congress that should evaluate if impeachment is required for an obstruction of justice. (See comments below on Congress)

Did President Trump eagerly cooperate with the Mueller investigation?

                           During his press conference and in other moments, Barr affirmed that President Trump willingly and eagerly cooperated with the investigation. The facts do not confirm this claim. Mueller wanted to directly interview the president and so requested. Trump’s lawyers fought this request over and over again. Finally, it was agreed that Mueller would ask questions that Trump would answer in writing. (Mueller considered subpoenaing the president to an oral interview, but finally decided against doing that because the delay tactics of Trump’s lawyers would have caused the Report to have been extended by months or years.)

                           In his written answers, Trump was not very cooperative nor transparent. Over thirty times, he answered “I do not remember” or “I do not recollect”. Given that he had several days to turn in his answers, he had plenty of time to review emails, his notes, etc. to refresh his memory. (This is particularly ironic given that he has boasted over and over again that he has one of the best memories of anyone in the history of humanity.) During this past week, Trump has again refused to turn over his tax records. He has also demanded that his White House staff (both current and previous) refuse to appear before Congressional committees, even when they have been subpoenaed. It sure seems that he is trying to hide information from public view.

The Role of Congress to Evaluate the Report

Barr repeatedly affirmed that Mueller never said that the report was to be evaluated by the Congress. This goes directly against Mueller’s testimony. On repeated occasions, Mueller indicates the role of Congress to not only read his report, but if necessary, to act upon it. For example, “The conclusion that Congress may apply obstruction laws to the President’s corrupt exercise of the powers of office accords with our constitutional system of checks and balances and the principle that no person is above the law.”

The Report also states, “With respect to whether the President can be found to have obstructed justice by exercising his powers under Article II of the Constitution, we concluded that Congress has authority to prohibit a President’s corrupt use of his authority in order to protect the integrity of the administration of justice.” It is quite clear that Mueller wants Congress to evaluate his findings.

“Sincere” Beliefs?

Attorney General Barr made an unusual comment that has not received much comment by the press. He claimed that some of President Trump’s actions were based upon his “sincere” beliefs that he was being unfairly attacked. I take issue with the word “sincere”. Only God can determine the sincerity of people’s hearts. So, unless Barr has an infallible connection with God, he should be an impartial Attorney General and not vouch for the sincerity of anyone.

Where do we go from here?

The two options that are generally proposed are: (1) We should forget about the Report and move on with other challenges; or (2) Congress should begin impeachment procedures now. I disagree with the first option because the serious Russia threat needs to be addressed and because Mueller has placed the ball in Congress’ court.  I am against the second option because an impeachment procedure is painful and divisive for the entire nation and should only be entered into after thoughtful deliberations. I urge a third way. It is the responsibility of Congress to clarify remaining doubts and answer lingering questions by calling Mueller, Barr, McGahn, and others to bear witness to the truth. Let us follow that truth wherever it leads.

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.

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.