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Things or People?

May 14th, 2017 No comments

Yesterday I had a short conversation with an apparently conservative guy who claimed he wanted “smaller government” because big government is taking away his stuff. It has occurred to me that one of the enduring divides in American politics is this issue of the size of government. Many of the founders and many who followed them felt that the smaller the government the better. Madison famously wrote that if men were angels no government would be necessary. But since there must be government, one strain of American political thought has been that that government should be small, limited, and close to the governed.

By contrast, Hamilton hoped to have a government that would be big enough to control the national economy. This feeds into the basic definitional conflict between he and Jefferson: is the United States to be a landscape of personal liberty, or is it to be a great commercial and industrial empire? Thus it would seem that the small government people would be those in favor of maximum liberty, and the big government people would be in favor of economic growth.

But since the time of the founding the small government crowd has come to focus its ideas on the purpose of government on individual ownership. The basic argument of a small government Republican is that the government shouldn’t take his hard-earned money and give it to some deadbeat who refuses to work. It’s an understandable sentiment, but rooted in the false narrative that those who are unable to achieve health and prosperity are prevented only by their own lack of initiative. On the other side, those favoring big government hope to harness the power of the national government to provide opportunities for health and prosperity for those who are hampered by circumstances beyond their control.

The basic divide is between those who see the country as a nation of sometimes like-minded autonomous individuals, and those who see the nation as a community. Individuals can choose whether to care for their neighbors, communities by nature cannot.

Compounding the dilemma is the co-opting of the moral narrative by the small government crowd. People calling themselves Christians have invented a narrative connecting the Constitution of the United States to the gospel of Jesus Christ. This even though the Constitution’s only mention of religion has to do with the definition of a strict secular state: no religious test for office, no established religion, and no prevention of the free exercise (or not) of religion. And leaving aside Paul’s admonition to the Christians of his age that “our citizenship is in heaven.” (Phil. 3:20)

But I will argue it is the big government crowd that controls the narrative in the United States most closely adhering to the moral teachings of Christ. I draw your attention to what is known as the parable of the Widow’s Mite. Here is the story:

He sat down opposite the treasury and observed how the crowd put money into the treasury.q Many rich people put in large sums. A poor widow also came and put in two small coins worth a few cents. Calling his disciples to himself, he said to them, “Amen, I say to you, this poor widow put in more than all the other contributors to the treasury. For they have all contributed from their surplus wealth, but she, from her poverty, has contributed all she had, her whole livelihood.” (Mark 12:41-44)

The connection with our national plight is here: what Jesus values most is not reluctant or even generous giving, but sacrifice. The widow, in the material sense, gave almost nothing, while the rest gave much. But the widow gave everything she had, casting her hopes for the future on Providence. The rest gave what they had left over, placing their faith only in themselves. Little reflection is necessary to connect the sacrifice of the widow with that of Jesus on the cross. And what was this money to be used for? The Jewish tradition is filled with God’s admonition to care for the stranger, the orphan, the widow and the poor. Christianity inherits this call to mercy. Christians have a responsibility to care for those who are unable to care for themselves. It follows that if the United States is a Christian nation, its society would be a community devoted to the welfare of all rather than a group of individuals interested primarily in the preservation of private property. See Acts 2:44-47.

In his famous anti-Vietnam War speech Martin Luther King, Jr. observed that to avoid moral death the United States must undergo a “revolution of values” from a “thing oriented society” to a “person oriented society.” This is the heart of it, is it not? Do we care more about our neighbor, or our stuff?

Won’t back down…

February 13th, 2017 No comments

If You Still Support Trump

February 1st, 2017 No comments

An open letter to those who still believe Donald Trump will “Make America Great Again”

I am a veteran of the United States Navy who served during the Vietnam War. I am writing to condemn the Trump administration’s assault on decency and democracy and your immoral defense of it. We may disagree on specific policies and the direction of government, you may be conservative and I may be liberal, but we should not disagree on those things that have made the United States the beacon of light in the world: liberty, equality, justice. It was these principles I volunteered to defend during wartime.

Trump supporters have said they like a man who speaks his mind and is not constrained by “political correctness.” This, they say, is what drew them to Donald Trump, even though the mind he spoke and continues to speak is apparently filled with unprincipled ambition, overweening pride, prejudice, vindictiveness, and pettiness. So may I say at the outset that I intend to write plain truth, not softened by subtlety, about the embarrassment this administration already is to the United States, and about the culpability of Trump supporters.

Mr. Trump claims to have a desire to “make America great again.” It is a slogan designed to instill a fear of national decline. It points to a mythological age when the United States was not only the most powerful nation on earth but also the best, in terms of its commitment to the principles embedded in our founding documents. Mr. Trump declared on the campaign trail that the last time America was great was when Ronald Reagan was president. But Mr. Reagan himself used this slogan hearkening to the era immediately following World War II, when the United States had reached the pinnacle of its sense of mission by selfless sacrifice to overcome totalitarianism and by standing to defend American values for the entire world.

That vision of greatness must be tempered in the rational mind by inconvenient facts. Among these are: that for all of its military might and superiority, the United States has not been able to achieve a successful resolution to any major military commitment since World War II, that the United States has squandered much of the goodwill it gained from its victory in World War II by supporting anti-democratic, tyrannical, and immoral regimes around the world, that America’s self-righteous self-congratulation at the end of World War II ignored major injustices in the fabric of American Society concerning civil liberties and civil rights that would explode into rebellion in the years following, and which we still struggle to resolve. None of these pressing concerns can be rectified by supporting a buffoonish demagogue. We will do well to remind ourselves that Adolf Hitler was regarded as a buffoon, until he stole an election and set out to make Germany great again.

It was not with greatness but inconvenient facts that during his campaign for the Presidency Donald Trump painted a dystopian picture of America, tapping a into discontent arising from the fact that reality is at odds with the noblest vision of what we tell ourselves America ought to be. But, paradoxically, Donald Trump’s own words, actions, and history bubble up from the depths of America’s fetid historical darkness and are antithetical to our fundamental values. To be sure, he did not tap into an overwhelming discontent, more people voted against him than for him, and many of those who voted for him did so holding their nose hoping he might somehow be better than what many felt was an even grimmer alternative.

In fact, Mr. Trump’s core supporters are a minority who until the last few years have been on the fringe of civilized society: neo-Nazis, the KKK, conspiracy theory nut jobs, and xenophobes. They have succeeded in creating a paranoid alternative universe that Trump now puts forward as his vision of what is not great about America. This fake reality is built upon a foundation of twisted truths and naked fabrications that mischaracterize the threats America faces. They identify anyone who is different as a threat. They fail to realize that they themselves present the greatest menace to American values. They are no different in their malicious ideology than their historical counterparts. The difference is that we thought we had relegated them to the dustbin of history. Now this sentiment has a champion in the White House.

By casting aside every appeal to decency in public discourse as “political correctness,” Trump and his core supporters captured the imaginations of many who have come to feel that their government doesn’t really work for them. In that they are not wrong but as is the case with all demagogues the blame is cast where it does not belong. Encouraged by what can only be described as an “alternative fact” (lie) machine that blame has been amplified against Mexicans, Muslims, gays, liberals, essentially everywhere but where it belongs: against the big money players.

I can agree that the rank and file of Trump supporters are not evil people. I can agree that they may have been duped by slick salesmen, as we all might have been.  But the events that have occurred since the election, and particularly since Mr. Trump was inaugurated, indicate clearly that Donald Trump is not for the little guy or for the country. He is for himself above all, and secondarily for his billionaire cronies. He and his regime throw little hate filled treats to his supporters to distract them from the real power grab. It has come time to say plainly that people who still support him are not the patriots they imagine themselves to be. In fact, they are unpatriotic and against America’s core values.

  • It is unpatriotic and against America’s core values to appeal to people’s fears rather than their aspirations.
  • It is unpatriotic and against America’s core values for a political candidate to openly encourage violence against his opponents.
  • It is unpatriotic and against America’s core values for a leader to disrespect and denigrate vulnerable individuals and groups, to relentlessly threaten one’s critics with lawsuits or worse, and to mock a person’s disabilities like a playground bully.
  • It is unpatriotic and against America’s core values to criticize and seek to circumvent First Amendment rights to free expression.
  • It is unpatriotic and against America’s core values to ridicule American patriots: those who sacrificed in war and those who sacrificed at home for civil rights.
  • It is unpatriotic and against America’s core values to cozy up to our nation’s most ardent enemies.
  • It is unpatriotic and against America’s core values to put the nation and indeed the world at risk by impetuously tweeting foreign policy threats against our rivals.
  • It is unpatriotic and against America’s core values to discriminate against any ethnicity, nationality, or religion. Period.
  • It is unpatriotic and against America’s core values to twist the language of liberty into “America First” jingoism.
  • It is unpatriotic and against America’s core values to turn the nation’s back on the world’s tired, poor, huddled masses yearning to breathe free.
  • It is unpatriotic and against America’s core values to present to the world a face that is jealous and fearful rather than one that is generous and accepting, as Americans historically are.
  • It is unpatriotic and against America’s core values to use the Presidency as a platform for spreading extremist falsehoods.
  • It is unpatriotic and against America’s core values to place the welfare of the people at risk to aggrandize oneself and one’s billionaire cronies.
  • It is unpatriotic and against America’s core values to place one’s personal welfare and ambition before adherence to the constitution.
  • It is unpatriotic and against America’s core values to continue to support a man who is openly celebrated by neo-Nazis, the KKK, and America’s foreign enemies.

It is morally inexcusable to continue to support this man. If you do, you are unpatriotic and stand in opposition to America’s core values. The fact is those who claim to love the country the most have unleashed radical forces that threaten to undo America’s greatness, perhaps irreparably. Many Trump supporters may believe they are true patriots, as those who clamored for secession in 1860 thought they were being true to the constitution as they actively destroyed it. However, history has judged that action to be treason. And history maintains a vigilant eye.

It is time for all Americans: young and old, liberal and conservative, all religions and ethnicities to speak out vigorously for America’s values and against the Trump administration. It is time to speak out against division, xenophobia, bigotry, and injustice. Donald Trump is no more friend to conservatives or the little guy than he is any group that is currently the target of his ire. Silence not only works against your own interests, it places you on the wrong side of history.The world is watching. History’s judgment will be merciless.

“Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

Bernie gets a standing O at Ebenezer

January 17th, 2017 No comments

We have become an international joke…

January 16th, 2017 No comments

Donald Trump inauguration TV listing goes viral – BBC News

A TV listing of President-elect Donald Trump’s inauguration has caught people’s attention both in the UK and the US. The Sunday Herald TV critic Damian Love reimagined the ceremony as a return of the classic science fiction series The Twilight Zone.

What Are You Willing to Suffer for Justice?

January 15th, 2017 No comments

I think we should start now preparing for the inevitable. And let us, when that moment comes, go into the situations that we confront with a great deal of dignity, sanity, and reasonableness. – Martin Luther King, Jr., 1956[1]

If Martin Luther King Day has any meaning to us at all beyond a day off, it is usually reflected in a sense of inspiration drawn from a victorious struggle for justice. And so it should be, because Dr. King was a mighty warrior for justice, who shook America’s racist foundations by a martyrdom of agape – self-sacrificing love – and that is how we ought to remember him.

Racial tensions being what they are today, it is hard to remember that we once regarded the Civil Rights Movement as a heroic movement for equality. Americans today do not see themselves as equal. America is marked by bigotry, racism, and xenophobia. The beloved community that King imagined, a community where, in his words, “all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual: Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!”[2] seems as far away now as it ever has.

Martin Luther King, Jr. believed in the Constitution and the institutions of American government, and he also believed in the essential goodwill of the American people. Today our government at almost every level has been taken over by lawless men who flout our Constitution, our ideals, our principles. Today we see America’s leaders cozy up to foreign enemies and denounce true American patriots. We see them countenance division and exclusion that are foreign to our founding documents, from which we draw our identity as a nation. Goodwill seems to be in short supply in America today.

America has never been perfect, but with two exceptions America’s leaders have always held the welfare of the nation above partisan dogma or personal ambition. The first exception was the Civil War. The second is now, where Republicans in Congress who once vehemently denounced Donald Trump stand in line to lick his boots. And just as in 1861 there were throngs who cheered the ringing of the bells of secession, so now there are at best misguided “patriots” cheering on the destruction of our Republic.

On this commemoration of Martin Luther King’s birthday, I am saddened to suggest that the inspiration we need to draw from his life and the Civil Rights Movement is not a celebration of the triumph of justice but a commitment to continue the struggle for justice no matter the cost. That is the real moral of King’s life, and it is a lesson that all true patriots will need to learn and heed in the days and weeks ahead if we are to survive as a free people. What are you willing to suffer for justice?

[1] Martin Luther King, Jr., “Address to Mia Mass Meeting at Day Street Baptist Church” (Speech, Day Street Baptist Church, Montgomery, Al., April 25, 1956), accessed January 15, 2017, https://kinginstitute.stanford.edu/king-papers/documents/address-mia-mass-meeting-day-street-baptist-church.

[2] Martin Luther King, Jr., “I Have a Dream” (Speech, Lincoln Memorial, Washington, DC, August 28, 1963), accessed January 15, 2017, http://www.americanrhetoric.com/speeches/mlkihaveadream.htm.

Hitler was elected, so was Mussolini…

December 30th, 2016 No comments

This is how the dictators came to power in the 1920s and 1930s. Good people remained silent or acquiesced. People expressed hope that something good would come of it. Mussolini would wring the laziness out of Italy and make the trains run on time.

How the US Went Fascist: Mass Media Make Excuses for Trump Voters – BillMoyers.com

The rise of Donald Trump to the presumptive Republican standard bearer for president in 2016 is an indictment of, and a profound danger to the American republic. The Founding Fathers were afraid of the excitability of the voters and their vulnerability to the appeal of demagogues.

Welcome to the Trump Reich

December 11th, 2016 No comments

German anti-Jew propaganda (Hans Schweizer, 1943). Reads, “The Jew, inciter of war, prolonger of war.”


Posted by former US Congressman Alan West on his Facebook page. 2016.


 

Humans but no Humanity

December 2nd, 2016 No comments

Street art in Istanbul.

Thanks for Grace

November 26th, 2016 No comments

Grandma accidentally invites stranger to Thanksgiving – and it gets better

A woman in Mesa, Arizona, sent a text message to tell her grandson Thanksgiving dinner would be at her house at 3 p.m. this year. But she accidentally sent it to the wrong number. Jamal Hinton, 17, was in class at Desert Vista High School when his phone went off with the invitation.

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