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.”

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.

The Coronavirus and a Bad Week for “Trump’s” Stock Market

Over the past three years, President Trump has been repeatedly warned not to take too much credit for the rise in the stock market. If he claimed that he and his policies were the main reason for its gains, he would also have to ¨own¨ that same market if an unexpected plunge would bring the market down. His unmerited praise in the good times could easily be outweighed by undeserved criticism for bad conditions beyond his control.

The truth of the matter is that Trump inherited a strong economy from the Obama administration. For example, in the last 19 months of Obama’s administration, 3.9 million jobs were created in the U.S., whereas 3.6 million jobs were created in the first 19 months of Trump’s presidency. (In my next blog, I will analyze the tax cut, the national debt and other aspects of our economy, but here I want to concentrate on the Coronavirus and the stock market.)

The Dow Jones Industrial Average hit an all time high on Wednesday, February 19. It closed that afternoon at 29,348.03 Although there was an awareness of the negative economic effects of the Coronavirus, the White House and many economic pundits believed that the negative impact would largely be limited to China. Small drops in the Dow Jones were expected to occur and that is precisely what happened last week. Nevertheless, the harsh economic reality hit with a vengeance on Monday, February 24, when the Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped more than a thousand points to a close at 27,960.80 (a decline of more than 3%).

It was widely predicted that the Dow Jones would rebound on Tuesday. That turn around did not materialize and the market continued to fall another 880 points.

The Dow Jones index dropped another 125 points on Wednesday which prompted President Trump to present a special televised message to the nation later that evening. His message was to show to a concerned citizenry and a jittery market that the administration was in control of the Coronavirus situation. In response to the criticism that the administration´s response was in shambles, Trump appointed Vice President Pence to be the ¨Czar¨ of the situation. Trump´s message was not his best. He rambled, repeated himself, and made misleading comments about the Coronavirus being similar to the flu. He claimed that it was not inevitable that the virus would extend widely throughout the U.S., thus contradicting what his own CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)  had announced that it was not a question of IF the Coronavirus would spread in the United States, but WHEN it would do so.

Far from calming his public, the Dow Jones dropped another 1190 points on Thursday to close at 25,766.64. This was the largest one-day point drop in the history of the Dow Jones. In a strange twist on the fable about the boy who cried wolf, President Trump has a credibility problem with half of the American public. The more he affirms, ¨Everything is great¨, ¨we have it under control¨, and ¨we are totally prepared¨, the less our citizens believe him. I don’t believe him. More importantly, investors don´t believe him.

On Friday, the nose dive of the Dow Jones continued. It dropped another 357 points to close at 25,409.36. It was the worst one week decline since the economic crisis of 2008. From its high on February 19, it has fallen 15%. Most economic and political pundits believe (hope?) that the bottom has been reached and that the value of the stocks will soon rise again. Nevertheless, here is what we need to keep in mind if we want to move forward:

  1. We must not minimize the personal tragedy. Almost three thousand people have already died from the virus and over 82,000 have been infected worldwide.
  2. Vice President Mike Pence, the new ¨Czar¨ charged with heading the fight against the virus, needs to surround himself with credible medical health experts. When Pence was governor of Indiana, he made several troublesome medical health comments like ¨Cigarettes do not cause cancer¨.
  3. President Trump must be more honest and transparent with the American public. He has muzzled government scientists and health officials to get clearance with Pence´s office before they communicate with the media. This censorship does not inspire confidence.
  4. The coronavirus is not the sole reason for the Dow Jones fall. Most stock market experts agree that the market was overvalued and was in need of a ¨correction¨. Before the virus hit, many countries around the world were sliding into a recession. That is now more likely. The trade war with China had already weakened the economies of that country and the U.S. The relationship between our economic growth and our huge national debt is at a very dangerous level. As a country, our expenses are much higher than our income. We are paying for our lavish lifestyle by borrowing from future generations.
  5. The economy has a huge political impact. Remember Clinton’s political slogan, “It’s the economy, stupid.” Trump’s political fortunes will rise or fall on how his administration handles this crisis. For better or for worse, Trump “owns” this economy.

The Impeachment Trial and Hypocrisy

The impeachment trial of President Trump is coming to an end. It is likely today there will be a vote on the calling of witnesses. That vote will probably be about 49/51 and therefore not enough to pass. If this happens, Trump will be acquitted shortly thereafter.

There have been many irregularities that need to be clarified. Here are my reflections.

Hypocrisy is evident in both sides: Democrats and Republicans. Two decades ago, President Clinton was impeached in the Republican controlled House of Representatives but acquitted in the Democrat dominated Senate (just the opposite of the current composition in Congress). Some of the current key players on both sides were also quite involved in the Clinton trial (Lindsey Graham, Jerry Nadler, Zoe Lofgren, Mitch McConnell, and others) and they are on record arguing for ethical and procedural positions on witnesses, documents, etc., in that trial that are just the opposite of what they have affirmed in the current situation. Although it is possible for people to change their minds on ethical principles, in this case the tribalism and hypocrisy are quite evident. We the people are naïve if we don´t recognize that many politicians change their moral principles to suit their personal or political ambitions. We the people should call them out, Democrats and Republicans alike, for their hypocrisy.

Witnesses – According to U.S. history, we have had fifteen previous impeachment trials in the Senate (of Presidents and others). In every one of these trials, there have been witnesses. If no witnesses are permitted to give testimony in the Trump trial, it is a complete break with precedent.

A bogus argument – The White House lawyers have repeatedly claimed that the Democrats in the House did not do their job, because they should have called witnesses like Bolton. As a consequence, the lawyers argue that the Senate should not call witnesses just because the House Democrats failed to do their job. This is the height of hypocrisy and I hope that most citizens see through this guile. The lawyers know quite well that Trump defied every single subpoena for witnesses and documents. When subpoenas are defied, the lawyers claimed the House should have gone to court to obtain this testimony, but they know quite well that appeals to the court would take months to work through the judicial system. (the House did take their subpoena of previous White House Counsel Don McGahn to court, but nine months later, the courts have still not given their final decision) This is stalling. What makes it worse, early on the WH counsel said that taking the subpoenas to court was illegal. Arguing that the House could not go to court and then arguing that the House should have taken the extra months and/or years by going to court is a sham. Most Americans recognize this as hypocritical.

In an earlier blog weeks ago, I expressed the need for eyewitnesses to testify. Eyewitnesses like John Bolton and Mick Mulvaney are the ones whose testimony under oath could confirm whether President Trump is innocent or guilty. Both of these men were appointed by Trump. Both are Republicans. Rules could be established that limit their testimony to one day or one week. To vote against calling these witnesses is an admission of not wanting to seek the truth.

Not hearing from the most relevant witnesses gives the appearance of hiding the facts and covering up misdeeds. John Bolton´s book will eventually be published, and his understanding of the truth will be made public. Let it happen during the trial and not when it is too late.

A Potential War with Iran and the Attempt to get Reelected

It is well known that governments that are facing domestic problems often go to war in order to rally public support behind their failing administration. They hope that a majority of their citizens, in a spirit of nationalism, (not genuine patriotism), will overlook the domestic issues and come to the support of the executive branch of the government. This is what happened forty years ago when the failing government of Argentina went to war with England over the Falkland Islands.

In light of this political strategy, the following quote is illustrative:

“Our president will start a war with Iran because he has absolutely no ability to negotiate. He’s weak and he’s ineffective. So, the only way he figures that he’s going to get reelected — and as sure as you’re sitting there — is to start a war with Iran.”

Nevertheless, this quote did not come from a liberal Democrat in a critique against Donald Trump. It was not penned by left wing radicals who hate our current president. No, this was a tweet by Donald Trump on November 16, 2011 in which he predicted that then President Obama would lead our country into a senseless war in the Middle East. President Obama did not fulfill Trump’s prophecy. He refused to start a futile war with Iran for personal political gain. Although Trump was wrong about Obama, he was right about human nature and how many politicians make decisions. Many rulers create international crises for their own personal benefit. Ironically, perhaps Trump was predicting his own behavior in 2020.

Citizens in the United States, and around the world, must learn from history. The war in Iraq was touted as a “just” war that we waged to eliminate Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction. There were no weapons of mass destruction. Although Saddam Hussein was evil, our military conflict was not justified. Trump himself opposed that war and campaigned on getting our troops out of never ending, futile and unjust wars in the Middle East. He has just ordered the deployment of thousands of soldiers to the Middle East.

A truly biblical position on political activity comes from Jesus Himself where he warns people to not be naïve. Jesus told them, “The rulers of the world lord it over their subjects, and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors (= Doers of Good). Do not be like them.” (Luke 22:25-26). Jesus calls his followers not to believe everything we hear. We are called to have a healthy dose of skepticism. People must hold their elected officials responsible to tell the truth and to act justly. It is my hope and prayer that we do not fall into an “easy believism”. May we rigorously seek the truth and may the truth win out.

Christianity Today and Trump’s Impeachment

Last week on December 19, the Editor in Chief of Christianity Today, Mark Galli, wrote an editorial that has caused quite a stir. Titled ¨Trump Should Be Removed from Office¨ Galli argued that President Trump has been so immoral that he should leave the presidency either through impeachment or be voted out of office in the 2020 election (see https://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2019/december-web-only/trump-should-be-removed-from-office.html)

Christianity Today was founded by the evangelist Billy Graham back in the 1950s and has remained both theologically and socially conservative since its beginning. It is the flagship magazine of the mainstream evangelical movement. Although it is non-partisan, it deals with political and social issues with some frequency. Galli argued that just as the magazine had urged the impeachment of President Bill Clinton some twenty years ago, the time had come to urge that President Donald Trump be removed from office.

Galli was very precise in his analysis. First, he pointed out the bad actions that the Democrats had committed: ¨The Democrats have had it out for him {Trump} from day one, and therefore nearly everything they do is under a cloud of partisan suspicion. This has led many to suspect not only motives but facts in these recent impeachment hearings. And, no, Mr. Trump did not have a serious opportunity to offer his side of the story in the House hearings on impeachment.”

Nevertheless, the actions of Trump were beyond the pale. “The facts in this instance are unambiguous: The president of the United States attempted to use his political power to coerce a foreign leader to harass and discredit one of the president’s political opponents. That is not only a violation of the Constitution; more importantly, it is profoundly immoral.” Galli also points out other sins that Trump has committed: racism, abundant lies, immoral actions against women and in business, slander, etc.

What is at stake, for Galli, is the very integrity and witness of the church. If followers of Jesus pretend that Trump’s sins are “good” or are not important, we no longer contribute to the moral compass of our culture. Instead of Christians adorning the gospel with our lives, we are actually pushing people away from Jesus. Sadly, I have personally seen this happen over and over again, especially with younger generations. Galli knows that for many evangelicals, Trump’s virtues (his appointment of conservative judges and a strong economy) outweigh his vices. He knows that they might still approve of his presidency, but some positive actions do not make a person immune from impeachment. Sincere Christians might disagree on impeachment, but at the very least, they need to have the courage to identify sin when it stares them in the face.

Trump was quick to respond to the editorial. He lambasted the magazine with an ad hominem attack using phrases such as “radical left” and “communist”. These comments are absurd! Even those who have a superficial understanding of the contemporary religious scene know that Christianity Today has been and continues to be socially and politically conservative. In a follow up response, Christianity Today’s president and CEO, Timothy Dalrymple, defended the editorial as well as the magazine’s reputation. “President Donald Trump would have you believe we are ‘far left.’ Others have said we are not Bible-believing Christians. Neither is true. Christianity Today is theologically conservative. We are pro-life and pro-family. We are firm supporters of religious liberties and economic opportunity for men and women to exercise their gifts and create value in the world. We believe in the authority of Scripture.”

Given the importance of these issues, I echo the magazine’s call for continued conversation. Let our contributions to the dialogue be respectful and filled with truth and grace. That is the way of Jesus.

Seeking Truth in an Age of Impeachment – What are they trying to hide?

Most people in the United States (and many around the world) are aware that President Donald Trump was impeached on Wednesday by the Democrat controlled U.S. House of Representatives. The vote was overwhelmingly along party lines. He was indicted on two articles of impeachment: (1) abuse of power and (2) obstruction of the Congress. He was accused of abusing his office of president this past summer when he pressured the government of Ukraine to get dirt on his political rival Joe Biden and his son, Hunter Biden. Trump put a pause on almost 400 million dollars of military aid approved for Ukraine by the U.S. Congress until the Ukraine government publicly announced an investigation of criminality by the Bidens.

Democrats and Republicans are generally in agreement regarding the facts. The White House has issued a fairly complete transcript of the July 25 phone conversation between Trump and Ukraine President Zelenski where Trump stated, “We do ask for a favor though” where he asked that the Ukrainians investigate the Bidens. Nevertheless, Democrats and Republicans vigorously disagree on the motivation behind the favor that Trump requested. Trump claims he was putting a hold on the funding until corruption in the Ukraine government had been significantly reduced. Democrats claim that Trump was illegally using the presidency to get “dirt” on his possible 2020 election rival, Joe Biden and that this illegal action rises to the level of impeachment.

Sadly, it is human nature for us to try to put our best foot forward and to suppress any information that describes us in a negative light. We do it when we write an overwhelmingly positive resumé as we apply for a new job, when we write a commercial to sell our products, or when we are trying to get elected (whether it be for class president or for the U.S. Senate). Nevertheless, this leads to only part of the truth, the part that we want others to see. We try to hide our weak areas, the negative aspects of the truth, those aspects that would hurt our cause.

This is what has happened in the impeachment inquiry. President Trump blocked many witnesses from testifying and he blocked the release of significant emails. This blocking of witnesses continues to unfold as the process moves to the U.S. Senate. The Republicans want to bring to the witness stand the whistleblower, Hunter Biden, Joe Biden, and Adam Schiff. The Democrats want John Bolton, Mick Mulvaney, Rudy Giuliani to appear because they are the key figures who had direct knowledge of why the military aid was suspended. The Republican strategy is somewhat divided. President Trump wants a longer “trial” so that his image might be repaired in a Republican controlled Senate. Majority leader  Mitch McConnell has indicated reluctance to any additional witnesses because some new damning evidence might come out, especially by Bolton and Mulvaney.

There is hypocrisy on both sides. Both want the public to see the testimony of witnesses that reveal the negative actions of the other side. For example, the Republicans accuse the Democrats for not proving their case, but it was President Trump who was blocking the very testimony of those who had first-hand knowledge. To demand that the Democrats should go to the courts in order to legally obtain this information is obviously hypocritical, because this process would be tied up in the courts well past the 2020 election.

Nevertheless, if we really want to know the truth, we should want to know more information, not less, more witnesses who would testify, not fewer. Will the sworn testimony of Hunter Biden, John Bolton, and Mick Mulvaney be embarrassing to their side? Probably. Will it help clarify the issues? For certain! We the people ask the Senate to bring in those persons who will shed light on what really happened. We demand that they stop hiding the facts. The truth will set us free!