Memorial Day–remembering the Vietnam War–part four

In 1972, Nixon traveled to China and to the Soviet Union, meeting with the leaders of both countries. His popularity grew at home. Meanwhile, a bruising primary campaign resulted in the Democratic nomination of George McGovern for President, probably the weakest candidate the Democrats could have named. Part of North Vietnam’s strategy for victory depended upon American distaste for the war. Anti-war demonstrations in American cities made it appear that the United States government might bow to pressure from the people and withdraw from the conflict. With Nixon’s reelection increasingly probable, North Vietnam dropped that strategy and entered serious negotiations with Kissinger in Paris. As the election neared, Kissinger hinted that peace was at hand. But after the election, the negotiators from North Vietnam backpedaled on some of the concessions they had promised. Nixon renewed bombing attacks and mining on North Vietnam—which he had reduced while the negotiations seemed successful. North Vietnam returned to the bargaining table, and in January 1973 papers were signed that officially ended the war, released American prisoners of war held in North Vietnam, brought all the American troops home, and guaranteed the survival of South Vietnam.

The agreements contained numerous restrictions upon action by North Vietnam against South Vietnam, Cambodia, or Laos. Reprisals by American military force against any violation of these restrictions was guaranteed. However, despite Nixon’s overwhelming reelection in November 1972, the American Congress had grown more Democratic, with many newly-elected Democrats in Congress outspoken opponents of the war. Congress passed legislation to limit the ability of a President to wage war. It also voted to allow no funding for additional military action in Indochina. North Vietnam tested the treaty, violating some of its minor terms, and saw no American response. Weakened by the Watergate scandal, Nixon was unable to keep the American promises made in the treaty. After Nixon resigned, Ford was equally unable to enforce the treaty. North Vietnam patiently strengthened its military forces and waited for an opportunity to strike. In the spring of 1975 they struck. Ford again begged Congress for funds to defend South Vietnam, and again Congress denied his request. North Vietnamese troops and equipment poured across the border and seized all of South Vietnam. Many refugees escaped South Vietnam and were resettled in the United States. Many more (600,000) died trying to escape. Still more were imprisoned, tortured, and “reeducated” or killed by the Communists. With help from North Vietnam, communists overthrew the governments of Cambodia and Laos. In Cambodia alone more than two million citizens were killed by their new leaders.

The United States won the Vietnam War. The conditions established in the treaties signed in January 1973 were consistent with the goals that brought our troops into South Vietnam. Refusal to enforce the treaty changed victory into defeat. As Nixon would later say, “We won the war, but we lost the peace.”

More than fifty thousand Americans (58,220) lost their lives fighting in Vietnam. Many more returned home with significant health problems caused by the war. More than $50 billion was spent to contain communism in southeast Asia. The 93rd United States Congress wasted all that loss when they denied funds to enforce the treaty. The Vietnam War is widely seen today as a blot on the pages of American history—a war fought at the wrong time in the wrong place for the wrong reasons. Careful analysis of the facts—particularly Communist treatment of conquered people in South Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos—shows that we were fighting what was evil and seeking to preserve what was good. We owe a debt of gratitude to the soldiers who fell in Vietnam. We should remember them this week as heroes, not as failures. J.

America Trumped–what comes next?

Like many other people, I stayed up late Tuesday night to watch coverage of the election results, and like most of the people watching, I was stunned with Donald Trump’s success. I had noted the amount of quality time Mr. Trump spent in America’s Heartland during the last weeks of the campaign, but I couldn’t have predicted that he would prevail in Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. In fact, I had toyed with interactive campaign maps to see what might happened, and I had realized that if he won all the battleground states and took either Michigan or Pennsylvania, he could win. Actually, I was looking for the possibility of a tie, throwing the election into the House of Representatives. That could have happened, but of course it did not happen.

I was one of six million voters who cast my ballot for someone other than Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton. Sometimes votes for those other candidates are called “wasted votes,” but I studied the positions of all the candidates and cast my vote for the one whose positions came closest to mine and the one I considered best qualified for the job. To me, this choice was a valid protest against the process which nominated Clinton and Trump–far more valid than shouting in the streets after the votes had been counted.

Now that Mr. Trump has been chosen by the voters to serve as our next President, we owe him respect and honor and support. We should pray for him, asking the Lord to grant him wisdom and to guide him in his job. We can hope that the dignity of the office will change Mr. Trump rather than the other way around. His speech early Wednesday morning already sounded more presidential than his campaign speeches; this is the beginning of a trend that we can pray will continue.

On election night, Donald Trump surprised the nation. Now Trump is about to be surprised, as the last twelve presidents have been surprised. The power and the influence of the presidency are not as great as most people imagine. Already during the transition, Trump is learning things he did not expect to learn. He is being given new information about Iraq, Iran, China, Russia, and other countries in the world. He is being given new information about the CIA, the FBI, and other government agencies. He is beginning to discover how American government really works, which is not exactly the way it is described in high school civics classes or portrayed in the movies.

The President cannot initiate legislation. He can propose legislation, but his proposal must then be made a motion on the House or Senate floor. It then will be assigned to a committee which will study it, refine it, reshape it, and amend it. When the committee has rewritten a proposal in a way that they like, they will bring it to the House or the Senate, where it is likely to be discussed and amended some more. Both the House and the Senate must approve the bill, and they often approve different versions of the bill. Then they have to negotiate a version that both can pass and send to the President. Congress is accustomed to this process of negotiation and compromise. Donald Trump will not be able to fire the members of Congress. He will have to negotiate with them. He will have to learn the art of compromise. He will not get everything he wants out of Congress.

He will not get everything he wants even out of the Executive Branch. He will appoint the members of his Cabinet, and they will choose some people to work in their offices, but most the employees of the Executive Branch are career government workers. They have learned how to survive under Republicans and under Democrats. They have learned how to pursue their own interests and desires. They have learned how to ignore a direct order, how to stall until the order is no longer relevant, and how to distort messages to make them match what they have already decided. These people cannot be fired. Without their jobs being filled, much government work would come to a halt. Trump will discover that most of the people who work for him are Democrats, since Democrats tend to believe that the government can do meaningful things, while Republicans tend to doubt that belief.

Does Donald Trump want to build a wall between the United States and Mexico? If he proposes such an idea to Congress, it is sure to die in a committee. Does he want to kick all the illegal immigrants out of the United States? He might persuade Congress to make tougher immigration laws, but he will have trouble finding anyone willing to enforce those laws. Does he want to screen all legal immigrants from Muslim countries to weed out possible terrorist? He will find that procedures are already in place to detect possible terrorists among people seeking to come to the United States. Once again, he may persuade Congress to make stricter rules, but he cannot guarantee that the stricter rules will be followed.

Does Donald Trump want to repeal Obamacare? For three years I have been saying that it cannot be repealed. It can and should be improved, and Republican members of Congress are already talking to one another about amendments to the Health Care Act that will reduce or eliminate its objectionable provisions while continuing to help the people who need its help. Does Donald Trump want to reduce the spending of the federal government? He can propose changes, but for every cut he wants to make, he will have to find a compromise or two that will move his spending cut through Congress.

Donald Trump has a mandate from the voters to try to fix what is wrong with the American government, but not many solutions can come out of the White House. The obligation returns to the voters to send honorable men and women into the government, to advise those elected or appointed to government positions, and to honor and respect the government we have created for ourselves. When we are better citizens, then we can produce a better government. Until then, we can only pray for the government that we have made. J.

President Trump?

I have not posted much about the current election cycle in the United States. However, my most-read post in the first year of this blog asked and answered the question, “Is Donald Trump the Antichrist?” My statement that Trump is not the Antichrist is probably the nicest thing I have said about him this year. I do not want Donald Trump to be Commander in Chief of the nation’s armed forces. I do not want him to represent the American people in the eyes of the rest of the world. I do not want him to have one more success for which he can boast.

But I can imagine worse things happening than Donald Trump being elected President this November. If Trump wins enough delegates in primary elections to be nominated by the Republican Party, but then is denied the nomination through legal procedures by the party’s leaders, the Republicans will bring severe trouble upon themselves. Whether Trump runs as a third-party candidate or not, the people who have voted for Trump in the primaries are unlikely to support the Republicans in the general election. Some of them might not vote at all in November, but others are likely to vote—and probably not for Republicans, especially not for incumbent Republicans. Even if Trump falls slightly short of the necessary 1,237 delegates in Cleveland, his failure to win the nomination will confirm the beliefs of those who voted for him—and beliefs of many who did not vote for him—that American democracy is a sham and that the American government is no longer (in the words of Abraham Lincoln), “of the people, for the people, and by the people.”

I do not want Donald Trump to be the next President, but I would prefer him in the White House over the disillusionment and anger of his supporters should he lose the nomination. Indeed, if Donald Trump is nominated by the convention delegates, supporters of Trump are more likely to vote for other Republicans, granting the party control of the Senate and the House of Representatives as well as the White House. Control of Congress for the next several years might be worth the headache of President Trump.

I do not fear a President Trump because I still believe in the Constitution of the United States. Its system of checks and balances can prevent a bad President from causing much harm to the country. The President cannot create legislation (except when his proposals are adopted and proposed by members of Congress). The President can only approve or veto legislation, and a supermajority of Congress can override the President’s veto. Even the officers appointed by the President to serve in his Cabinet of advisors must be approved by Congress. Only Congress can declare war, and treaties made by the executive branch of government must be approved by the Senate. If the President tries to use his authority to work against the will of the Congress, the court system exists to correct the imbalance. Perhaps because of Donald Trump the practice of issuing executive orders that counter legislation passed by Congress will finally be challenged; then this aspect of executive authority will be clarified for present and future leaders.

Past Presidents have learned that they cannot even control their own branch of government. Thousands of career government workers fill offices in the executive branch; they continue doing what they believe is best no matter who sits in the Oval Office. Cabinet secretaries and sub-secretaries change, but the department workers continue in their jobs, often doing the same things no matter who is supposed to be in charge. The inertia of bureaucracy will stifle any President’s efforts to make large changes to government—even if that President is named Donald Trump.

Of course Christians do not put their trust in kings and princes. No President can save the world, and no President can destroy the world, no matter what is said in political debates. All authority comes from Above, and all who gain power must ultimately answer to the Source of their power. Meanwhile, godly people respect those with authority in this world because of the Source of their power; we respect them even when we disagree with their opinions, and we respect them even when we dislike their personalities.

We live in interesting times. I realized this weekend that, when Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton debate one another this fall, they are likely to sound like a political debate between Jane Curtin and Dan Aykroyd in an early episode of Saturday Night Live. Perhaps the prayer of every American Christian needs to be: “May God not grant our land the leaders we deserve.” J.