Christ Jesus and President Trump

When I opened my email this morning, I saw that I had been tagged on Facebook. The tagger was a Facebook friend, someone I knew in college and have not seen since. Although we are Facebook friends, we do not comment on each other’s posts very often—far less than once a year. In this case, though, I was flattered that she chose me as one of several of her Christian friends. She wanted our reaction to a video regarding Christianity and American politics.

The video, which runs for several minutes, shows a man discussing the politics of Donald Trump and his supporters, comparing them to the teachings of Jesus Christ in an attempt to show dissonance rather than agreement. Although the speaker’s presentation is calm, he accompanies his message with stock media footage of the President—including two images of conservative Christian preachers praying with the President—interspersed with images of White Supremacist demonstrators, violent confrontations between individuals, and even the photograph of a high school student apparently smirking at a Native American speaker in Washington DC, even though that last event was quickly revealed to have contained no hostility between the student and the speaker.

The tone of the message left no doubt: the speaker believes that, because President Donald Trump is supported by racists, white supremacists, homophobes, and other deplorable people, real Christians cannot support the President, cannot vote for the President, and cannot even sit out the election if Trump is on the ballot. Jesus Christ is portrayed as loving, accepting all people, defending the rights of the poor (including immigrants), and opposed to any expression of hatred or disapproval. The other Christians who had commented were strongly supportive of this position.

I carefully considered how to respond. I wanted to be gentle. I wanted to be brief. I wanted to oppose the thought that no real Christian can support President Donald Trump. Here is what I said (as best as I remember):

“Interesting. Jesus Christ is far bigger than American politics. Sincere Christians can be right-wing, left-wing, or in the middle. There is plenty of room in Christianity for political conservatives and political liberals, for Democrats and Republicans. Jesus expressed compassion for victims of abuse, for the poor, for widows and orphans and foreigners. When he forgave sinners, he also said, “Go, and sin no more.” People on the right and people on the left have both sifted through the words of Jesus seeking support for their political positions. In both cases, this is wrong. Jesus came to be our Savior and our Redeemer, not to support our political choices.”

The speaker wanted to speak for all Christians in his disdain for President Trump. He wanted his audience to believe that Jesus would stand up today and reject President Trump. He severely undermined his case when he quoted Jesus as asking, “What is truth?” For it was a corrupt government official named Pontius Pilate who asked that question of Jesus and then did not stay around for an answer. And it was Jesus who allowed himself to be mistreated without fighting back, without calling for a change in government, without protesting what the Romans were doing in Jerusalem.

Christians have an obligation to participate in the government of nations where that privilege is granted. We should vote, and we should share our opinions with our elected leaders. Christians also have an obligation to help the needy, to defend the oppressed, and to be kind to all our neighbors. That kindness does not include approving of their sinful choices. When the occasion was right, Jesus preached against sin. He did not focus only on the sins of the elite and powerful; he condemned sin in all cases.

We Christians should oppose hatred and violence. We should not be known for what we hate; we should be known for what we love. Because we love Jesus, we will not use his name or his words to advance a political agenda or any other worldly plan. Instead, by sharing his word and by living according to his example, we will make this sin-polluted world a better place while we await the Day when Jesus will complete his work of casting out all evil and making this world his kingdom. J.

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Let’s talk about the Golan Heights

“After 52 years it is time for the United States to fully recognize Israel’s Sovereignty over the Golan Heights, which is of critical strategic and security importance to the State of Israel and Regional Stability,” President Trump tweeted earlier this week. As with everything else the President has said and done over the past two years, Trump has been greatly criticized for those words. But is he right or wrong in what he tweeted, and how much does it matter?

Golan is mentioned four times in the Bible. It is in the region of Bashan, east of the Jordan River. Under Moses the Israelites captured Bashan, and the land was allotted to the tribe of Manasseh. Golan was designated a city of refuge, where a person guilty of manslaughter (but not of murder) could live in safety according to God’s law.

As the kingdom of Aram (ancient Syria) grew in strength, the Golan Heights became contested territory between Aram and Israel. Even before the development of modern weapons, the Heights had significant strategic military value. Like much of western Asia, the land eventually became part of the Assyrian Empire, then moved through the hands of the Babylonians, the Persians, the Macedonians, the Romans, and the Byzantines. Eventually the land was captured by Muslims, under whom it was ruled first from Baghdad, then from Egypt, and finally from the Ottoman Empire. When the Ottoman Empire fell apart after the First World War, Syria (including Golan) was made a French protectorate, although the British seem to have been more involved than the French in developing the modern state of Syria. The country first declared its independence in 1941, but over the next thirty years several Syrian governments rose and fell before the Assad family rose to power in the 1970s.

After World War II, European governments gradually gave full independence to their Asian protectorates. The British divided the land along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea between Israel and Palestine, basing ownership of each section upon whether the residents were primarily Jewish or Muslim. (They had previously done a similar division of land between India and Pakistan, based on whether the residents were primarily Hindu or Muslim. Neither division has worked well for the residents of those countries.) Almost immediately war broke out between Israel and its neighbors. The result of that war was the end of Palestine as an independent nation: some parts were captured and claimed by Israel, and other parts were assimilated by Jordan. In 1967, almost twenty years later, a second war broke out between Israel and its neighbors. During that war, Israel captured two-thirds of the Golan Heights, recognizing their strategic value. After a third war in 1973, Israel and Syria were persuaded to negotiate their borders in the Golan Heights region and elsewhere. The negotiations, overseen by American Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, involved a detailed study of the region. Kissinger spent nearly the entire month of May 1974 working with both governments. He describes the process as “grueling,” adding that “the long shuttle produced an accord that, with all its inherent complexity, fragility, and mistrust, has endured….”

Shortly after he wrote those words, in 1981 Israel announced that it was annexing its occupied portion of the Golan Heights. Syria protested, and the United Nations deemed the annexation null and void, without international legal effect. Until this week, all people speaking for the United States government on this topic have agreed with the United Nations ruling.

The involvement of the United States in the wars of 1967 was largely—but not entirely—conducted with an eye aimed at the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union. The United States was one of the first nations to recognize Israel in 1948, and the Soviets tried to draw Muslim countries in Asia and north Africa into the Soviet sphere of influence. Syria and Egypt particularly benefited from Soviet military equipment and advisors. When they nearly overwhelmed Israel’s forces in 1973, President Nixon did all he could to resupply Israel. One result of his action was an Arab boycott of petroleum sold to the United States and its allies, followed by a massive increase in the price of petroleum. This threw the United States into an inflationary recession for the rest of the decade. But Israel survived the war, and shortly thereafter Egypt threw out Soviet advisors and welcomed the United States as an ally.

The Iranian revolution of 1978 demonstrated that more is involved in foreign relations than a cold war between two superpowers, as the new government in Iran was equally opposed to both the United States and the Soviet Union. Of course, the Cold War ended with the collapse of the Soviet government in 1991; but terrorist attacks on the United States ten years afterward demonstrated that America still had powerful and determined enemies. In response, President Bush announced a war on terror, one which included attacks upon Afghanistan and Iraq. The primary goals of those attacks were to confront terrorists on their home ground and to eliminate their access to weapons of mass destruction. Another hope was that governments could be established in those countries that would include western values of freedom and democracy. It must be noted that Israel, during all these years, remained the only true democracy in the region; all its neighbors, even allies of the United States, were under dictatorships.

Years later, while the United States was still struggling to build democratic governments in Afghanistan and Iraq, citizens of Tunisia and Egypt took to the streets and effectively overthrew their dictators. In what was being called the Arab Spring, it seemed at first that a wave of freedom was moving through the Muslim world. When the people of Libya rose against their dictator, Khadafi used his armed forces to try to remain in control. In response, the United States intervened with military force to keep Khadafi from killing his own people, and he was overthrown and killed. Assad in Syria seemed to be the next tyrant to topple, but the United States did not help the people of Syria as it had helped the people of Libya. Even when it was demonstrated that the Syrian forces had used chemical weapons against citizens, they received from the United States little more than a frown and a scolding.

What makes Syria different? One difference is that Assad has maintained ties to Russia in spite of the change in government there since the 1970s. Vladimir Putin does not want the Russian people to hear of dictators being overthrown, so he has provided much support and help to Assad’s government in Syria. While the United States under Barack Obama temporized over Syria, pro-American forces were weakened and an Islamic State was declared. Problems also arose in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya, as western freedom and democracy did not emerge as expected.

Donald Trump promised that he was going to do things differently. He showed this after the election but before his inauguration when he spoke with the President of the Republic of China (Taiwan). Ever since Mao’s revolution in the 1940s, American leaders and diplomats have joined the rest of the world in maintaining the fiction that China is one country and has only one legitimate government. From Truman to Nixon, the Communist government was treated by the United States as the illegitimate government, but Nixon opened communication with the Communists, and President Carter recognized the Communist government as legitimate. (All American Presidents, including Nixon and Carter, have made it clear to the Communists that a military taking of Taiwan would not be permitted.) President Reagan once spoke of “two Chinas,” but backpedaled from that position. Not speaking to the President of Taiwan was part of that diplomatic fiction which Trump chose to eschew.

Now he has recognized the reality that the Golan Heights belong to Israel and not to Syria, something which has been practically the case since 1981 (and since the occupation of the Heights began during the 1967 war, fifty-two years ago). As he does on many matters, President Trump has openly recognized reality rather than clinging to polite fictions. After all, the United States has no reason to appease Syria; its government is no friend of our government. Describing reality in blunt terms sometimes is the beginning of solving problems between nations. About the only reason to protest Trump’s statement about the Golan Heights is the reflex assumption some people make that, if Trump did it, it must be wrong. J.

Can Trump be defeated?

CNN wants to be known as the child who observes that the emperor has no clothes. Instead, CNN is increasingly acting as the boy who called wolf. Every week we receive shrill warnings about the end of the Trump administration. Investigations will reveal terrible things that happened in the White House over the last two years, or that happened during the presidential campaign in 2016. Those who have left the administration have secrets to share, and those secrets will topple Trump’s government. Congress will Impeach him and convict him, or else he will resign before that happens. President Trump has no future.

So many Democrats believe this that those in Congress are prepared to open new investigations. They are eager to question every former Trump advisor and assistant. Meanwhile, dozens of Democrats are opening campaigns to run for President. Each of them is convinced that he or she is the one who can defeat Donald Trump in a one-on-one election. They are prepared to battle each other for that privilege. They are convinced that, by November 2020, the country will be so tired of Donald Trump that they will accept any replacement.

“Those who do not know history are doomed to repeat it.” Richard Nixon was very unpopular in the early months of 1971. Many people, even in the White House, assumed that Nixon would be a one-term President. This, of course, was before he visited China and the Soviet Union. More important, it was before George McGovern was nominated by the Democrats. Nixon won the electoral college votes of forty-nine states in one of the most one-sided elections in American history.

Ronald Reagan was unpopular in the early months of 1983. The country was still struggling from inflation and unemployment. Many blamed Reagan’s economic policies for the nation’s woes. But by the summer of 1984, the economy was strong again. This time the Democrats nominated the bland former Vice-President Walter Mondale, and Reagan repeated Nixon’s accomplishment of winning forty-nine states.

Bill Clinton was unpopular in the early months of 1995. The Republicans had just taken control of both houses of Congress. Clinton’s efforts to change the national health care system had been defeated. The White House appeared to be ready for a Republican to move in. But once again, a strong national economy and an uninspiring opponent gave the incumbent President a second term in the White House.

Democrats thought that the narrow election of George W. Bush would make it easy to defeat him four years later. They failed. Republicans thought they could make Barack Obama look like Jimmy Carter and limit him to a single term. They also failed. In the 1970s, due to the turmoil following the Vietnam War and Watergate, voters resisted the reelections of Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter. But Carter was largely overturned by the popular appeal of Ronald Reagan. The elder George Bush was held to a single term in spite of his popularity in early 1991. That popularity was due to victory in the Persian Gulf conflict, but by the end of 1992, the struggling postwar economy and the centrist policies of Bill Clinton denied President Bush his second term.

If, in the next fifteen months, the Democrats are able to identify a candidate with the personal charm and middle-of-the-road politics of Bill Clinton, they might remove Donald Trump from the White House. But if the voters in the Democratic primaries favor a left-wing candidate, they will lose the general election. If they choose the candidate who promises the most from government, the candidate who offers to tax the rich in order to take care of everyone else, Donald Trump will repeat Richard Nixon’s comeback of 1972. President Trump has positioned himself well to maintain his base. He can say that he has tried harder than any recent President (indeed, than any recent politician) to keep all his campaign promises. When he failed to deliver, it was not his fault. So long as Trump can point to a strong economy, to improved trade agreements with other countries, and to similar successes, he will have the support of enough voters to keep his job.

Congressional investigations and shrill news stories about suspected corruption will not overturn this presidency. Americans are already bored by these stories. We are ready to move on. So long as opposition to the President keeps playing the same tune, fewer and fewer American citizens will join them on the dance floor. History says so. And some people have forgotten to study their history. J.

Three questions about President Trump (from Doug)

In a comment on another blog, Doug asked these three questions:

  1. If your affinity for Trump, in part, is because you have a wish to return the country back to what once was (the idea reflected in MAGA)… what period of time would that be/have been when you felt the most comfortable?
  2. In what way have you suffered personally in the past that contributes to your favoring the President?
  3. If by some chance Trump gets impeached from office, resigns, or loses the 2020 election, are you willing to accept that and move on.. or would you want to strike back in some way, be it peaceful or not? (Understanding your answer could be different for each condition)

 

Those are excellent questions, which is why I decided to share them here. Even though I did not vote for Donald Trump in the primary or the general election of 2016—and, depending upon who else is on the ballot, would probably not vote for him today—I have been outspoken about the need to support him because he is President of the United States—not just President of the people who voted for him, but President of all the people. The shrill opposition to Donald Trump from many media sources is bad for the country and bad for the world. Disagree with his policies, sure, deplore his personality, yes, but honor the office in which he serves and stop predicting which week he will fall from power.

That said, I offer these three answers to Doug’s three questions—and I invite additional answers from others, because like Doug I am interested in what others have to say.

  1. I believe that America is great, not that it was great and needs to be made great again. I have no particular time in American history that I consider ideal. We’ve made progress in some areas and have lost ground in other areas. I do understand the purpose of the slogan “Make America Great Again.” It recognizes that we could be doing better than we are. But your question is very appropriate—when did America lose its greatness? I say we haven’t lost it.
  2. My personal suffering has very little to do with the federal government and its policies. On the other hand, our previous President (for whom I did vote) made some mistakes in domestic policy and in foreign policy which caused me some dismay. I think he tried too hard to get the government more involved in the life of citizens, which means loss of freedom and personal rights. I think he acted poorly as Commander in Chief of the armed forces. (When you are involved in a war, never announce to the world what you are going to do or when you plan to leave.)
  3. If Donald Trump loses the 2020 election, I will accord the same respect and honor to whoever wins that election that I give Donald Trump and that I gave Barack Obama. If he is impeached by the House of Representatives and is convicted by the Senate, I will respect and honor President Pence. Based on the evidence I have seen thus far, I do not think he would be convicted by the Senate even if he was impeached by the House. In fact, I would discourage my Representative in Congress from pursuing any attempt to impeach the President, unless some new evidence of a high crime is produced. Likewise, if President Trump were to resign, I would honor and respect his successor. When Trump was elected, I thought it likely that he would become frustrated by the lack of power in the presidency and would resign before 2019. At this point, it is clear that he is determined to stay the course, run for reelection, and spend eight years of his life trying his best to make America great.

Doug, I’m interested in your  reaction to these thoughts, and I invite others to join the conversation. J.

What President Trump is doing

Mainstream media now reports that the White House staff is piecing together scraps of paper that President Trump has shredded by hand. United States law requires the preservation of these papers, even though the President has acted to destroy them. I hope that the staff has consulted with professionals from the National Archives about these scraps of paper. If they are using transparent tape to reassemble the scraps, the long-term damage to those papers will be far greater than if they just took each set of scraps and stored them in an envelope or file folder.

Mainstream media reports situations like this to try to create and promote the idea that Donald Trump is unworthy to remain President. Like the Democratic party (who, ironically, just telephoned and asked me for one hundred dollars to reverse the course of Trump’s administration while I was typing the previous paragraph), many members of the mainstream media are not willing to accept the decision made by American voters in November 2016. I did not vote for Trump in the primaries or the general election that year, and if he was up for reelection this year I would not vote for him. But he is President—he deserves respect from all citizens, including those who report the news. Trump is, in fact, doing an admirable job of playing to the dark side of the mainstream media. Responding to him, the media sounds shrill, petty, and obsessive. They are helping the President keep the support of those who elected him—Nixon’s silent majority, the Reagan Democrats, the voters who usually tilt “blue” when casting their votes but will swing toward a conservative who seems to understand and relate to common Americans.

Donald Trump’s success is neither as a businessman nor as a politician, but as an entertainer. Years ago he discovered how to build a popular image of himself and keep it in front of the American people. A businessman in the White House would strive to maintain a calm and orderly atmosphere and present it as such to the public. Trump knows that the people really want drama and excitement. He provides it. His legendary ego and bluster are all part of an act that he performs for the American people, and his supporters love him for it.

In 2020, Trump will be able to campaign with the statement that he kept every promise he made the voters in 2016, or that at least he tried. Where promises have not been kept, Trump can blame Congress and the courts, and Trump’s supporters will trumpet his honesty and reliability as a man of his word. On issue after issue—from immigration to tariffs—Trump has held to his word and allowed others to take the blame for derailing his actions. When he is wrong, Trump does not need to admit it. He can blame his opponents for blocking his plans, and then he can turn to another issue.

Dealing with leaders of other nations, Trump has kept his promise to put the United States first. He has taken risks that no other leader would take, and he has prevailed. His strategy of brinksmanship plays well to his political base. While the mainstream media threatens that Armageddon is just around the corner, Donald Trump has continued to chart his own course and achieve his goals.

Theodore Roosevelt’s foreign policy was summarized by this adage: Speak softly and carry a big stick. Donald Trump speaks loudly, but it works for him. It gets him votes. It keeps everyone’s attention. It makes it unlikely that the Democratic party will find a candidate who can defeat Trump when he runs for reelection in 2020. J.

Harvey, Irma, and the hand of God

Earlier this week I read a conversation between two bloggers. One is a Christian; the other is an atheist. The atheist accused the God of the Christian of being genocidal. (Indeed, the rage the atheist expressed against an imaginary, Bronze-Age, fairy-tale god seems incongruous, but that is beside the point.) The atheist mentioned the flood from the days of Noah, as well as God’s command to the Israelites to exterminate the Canaanites and the Amalekites. Causing the death of so many people, whether through direct action or by divine command, the God of the Christian failed to meet the standards held by the atheist blogger.

One would have to be an atheist to dare to judge God. Anyone who knows even a little about the power of God and the wisdom of God would find it hard to try to measure God by his or her own standards. One can defend God by speaking of the evil of those people he chose to destroy. The people of Noah’s generation were a blight upon the planet. The Canaanites were so evil that they killed their own children and slept with priestesses as part of their religion. A good God, a just God, cannot tolerate evil. If God does not strike down sinners, then God is not worthy of honor and praise.

If my pet cat was afflicted with fleas or intestinal worms, I would take vigorous steps to destroy the parasites. My conscience would not be troubled by the death of dozens of fleas. Even if they were a very rare flea, a species of flea that was endangered, I would kill them all for the good of my cat. In the same way, for the good of the Israelites, God wanted the Canaanites killed. When the Israelites failed to obey God’s command, the Canaanites managed to make the Israelites equally evil, so that God had to strike down his own people, using the Assyrians and Babylonians to bring death and destruction upon the sinners who had rejected God and his commands.

God is powerful, wise, and just, but God is also love. Love is the very nature of his being. God does not enjoy punishing sinners; he does not delight in the death of his enemies. God wants all people to repent of their sins, to turn to him, and to receive from him the gift of eternal life. To make this happen, God became one of us. He lived among us, following his own rules, earning the rewards of total obedience. Then he turned the tables upon himself. He took up our guilt and our punishment, facing the wrath of his Father while hanging on a cross. At the same time, he bequeathed to us the rewards he earned by his perfection.

Christians are not called to exterminate God’s enemies—not even Muslims, not even atheists. Christians are called to warn sinners of the cost of their sins and to call for repentance. When those sinners repent, Christians are called to share the promises of God, to invite the sinners to enjoy God’s forgiveness, eternal life in a perfect world, and a share in God’s victory over all evil. Yet all of us remain sinners. Together we live in a sin-polluted world. God does not rely only upon Christians to speak of the wrath of God’s judgment. God uses his creation to demonstrate the power of his judgment and to remind all people of the Day of the Lord that is coming.

This brings me to Harvey and Irma. Those do not sound like the names of powerful storms. Harvey and Irma should be the parents in a 1950s television show, a comedy about an average American family. In the 1950s, when children misbehaved, they sometimes received a slap or two on their backsides from Harvey and Irma. No one considered spankings “child abuse” in those days. Society understood that, to correct children, to turn them away from wrongdoing, sometimes one must first get their attention.

Harvey and Irma may be that slap on the backside that the United States needed. Things have been getting out of control around here lately, and someone needed to react. The ugliness of hatred does not belong in our nation, but it took powerful hurricanes to quiet the shouting and to force people to care about their neighbors. Old Testament prophets lectured the wealthy few in Israel about their abuse of wealth, gathering it at the expense of their neighbors and keeping hold onto it, ignoring their neighbor’s needs. The aftermath of these storms may help to redistribute our national wealth, not through government regulation and taxation, but through compassion and a desire to help those in need.

All authority comes from God and represents his authority. Yet some American voters thought so little of their government that they cast their votes for a celebrity with clear and obvious character flaws. Worse, others began—the very next day after the election—to plot his overthrow. For months they have been challenging every one of his decisions, constantly depicting him in the worst light possible, and searching high and low for excuses to overturn the results of the election. The nightly news has become a morass of accusations and criticisms, loudly and shrilly and repeatedly offered as if repetition would make them true. (In most of the world, these broadcasts would be considered treasonous.) For all the damage they brought, Harvey and Irma have given us something else to talk about and to hear about and to care about.

We sinners need such reminders, from time to time, that the sinful world stands under judgment. But do you suppose that the people who died because of these storms were worse sinners than those who survived? Jesus would say no, “but unless you repent, you will likewise perish” (Luke 13:1-5). The atheist might blame God-who-does-not-exist for allowing the violence and destruction of Harvey and Irma, that of the Mexican earthquake, and that of the wildfires in western states, offering that random violence as proof that God-who-does-not-exist cannot be good or just.

Evil is random and unfair. God permits us to see evil—whether the violence of nature or the crimes of terrorists—so we can distinguish good from evil, and so we can hunger and thirst for what is good. Any Christians who died in the storms or the earthquake or the fires is with Christ in Paradise awaiting the resurrection. They are happy to be there; they are not complaining. Unbelievers who perished would have died from something else sooner or later. They are no worse off now than they would be had they survived to die another day.

Believers and unbelievers lost property in these storms. Tragic as the loss may be, it also reminds all of us to value heavenly treasures rather than earthly wealth. Insurance companies, relief organizations, and compassionate neighbors will help to restore or replace what was lost. Along the way, jobs will be provided, meaning that families will be fed and sheltered. More precautions will be taken to make homes and other businesses safer from future storms. Meanwhile, one can only hope that another blessing from these tribulations will be less hatred, less rebellion, and less division among Americans—more compassion, more cooperation, and more faith. J.

Europe and the USA

While Americans were glued to their television sets and devices yesterday, listening to a man talk about the executive who fired him, real change was occurring in the United Kingdom. British voters selected members of the House of Commons, changing the balance of their government in a way that was unexpected. The Conservative Party hoped to maintain their hold on Parliament, perhaps even increase their margin of leadership. Instead, they lost seats—sufficient losses that the party needs now to form a coalition government with another party. Many people speculate that Prime Minister Theresa May will resign as a result of the election.

Bring together a group of leaders—business leaders, political leaders, shapers of public opinion—from Europe and North America. Ask each of them what the voters in their country really want. Watch them scratch their heads and listen to them mumble. Over the past few years, voters have made it plain that they want change, but the same voters have been unclear about the kind of change they want.

In Europe and in North America, dissatisfaction with the status quo is running rampart. Liberals promise change, saying that things can be better, and many voters believe them, agree with them, and vote for them. Conservatives say that the government is already doing too much and that change for the better will only happen when the government scales back and stops trying to do so much. Many voters believe them, agree with them, and vote for them.

In this swirling uncertainty, political leaders would ordinarily pull together and support each other. Instead, within governments polarization increases and anger boils over in heated exchanges of rhetoric. Between governments distrust grows, and cooperative ties are stretched to the breaking point.

From its beginning as an economic agreement among three small countries (Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg, who formed a free-trade zone they called Benelux) to the European Common Market and the eventual European Union, the governments of Europe have tried to remain competitive with large countries such as the United States, Russia, and China by working together on a set of common goals. The United Kingdom made big news in the early 1970s when they joined the Common Market. They made big news again last year when British voters chose to withdraw from the European Union. When countries open borders and share resources, they find that they also share the problems of their partners. Governments in Spain and Greece are struggling to keep promises made to their citizens—free education, free health care, and the like. Citizens protest with fervor whenever these governments try to trim the national budget to stay solvent. As Margaret Thatcher quipped, “The trouble with socialism is that eventually you run out of other peoples’ money.” Fear that their taxes would be spent propping up struggling governments—and fear that the European Union’s open borders was allowing dangerous people to enter their country—caused British voters to reject continued membership in the European Union.

Meanwhile President Donald Trump, during the campaign and also since his inauguration, declared that part of his program to make America great again involves reducing American commitments to European allies. European intellectuals tend to view conservative American presidents—Ronald Reagan, George W. Bush, and now Donald Trump—as reckless, misguided cowboys, whooping and hollering and firing guns into the air, endangering the stability of the rest of the world. They would prefer to ignore such a leader, but at the same time they are more certain than are many Americans that President Trump means what he says.

Isolationism will not make America great again. The nations of the world are too interdependent to ignore one another. However, renegotiating agreements that are not in the best interest of the United States is good for America. Even withdrawing from agreements that weaken the United States is good for America. As new leaders emerge in Europe, they will need to deal with President Trump as an existing reality. They will need to ignore the ongoing dramas—the smoke and the mirrors—and communicate with the real President Trump. Most of all, they will need to understand that President Trump will do what is best for the United States while expecting leaders of other nations to do what is best for their citizens. This is the way leaders are supposed to lead. J.

Respecting Donald Trump

By mid-November of last year, meetings were being held in Washington DC to plan and organize the impeachment of President Donald Trump. This fact is bizarre, given that he had just won the election that month and would not be inaugurated for another two months.

I did not vote for Donald Trump in the Republican primary election. I did not vote for Donald Trump in the general election last November. If the election was held today, I would not vote for Donald Trump. But Donald Trump is my President. He won the election last year, an election held according to the procedures mandated in the Constitution of the United States.

The apostle Paul wrote to the Romans, “Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.  Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves….Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience” (Romans 13:1-2, 5). The apostle Peter wrote, “Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every authority instituted among men: whether to the king, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right (I Peter 2:13-14). These apostles were not writing about democratically elected leaders or about Christian leaders. They wrote about Caesar and the Roman Senate. If first-century Christians were expected to honor and respect Caesar, then twenty-first century Christians in the United States should be expected to honor and respect President Trump.

During the campaigns before the election, many media outlets worked vigorously to find and to publish every negative fact or rumor about Donald Trump. Since he became President, the same media outlets have worked vigorously to undermine his authority and encourage his impeachment. Every appointment made by the President was publicly questioned and criticized. His speeches and other communications have been studied, searching for flaws. Nearly every action of the President has been described in the media as if it were criminal. The election itself has been treated as doubtful, as rumors persist that Russian forces somehow influenced American voters. From Presidential executive orders to the recent covfefe kerfuffle, Americans have seen our President mocked and verbally abused, not only by late-night comedians, but by trusted news reporters.

Rumors that Donald Trump entered the primaries as a publicity stunt and that he did not expect to be nominated and elected may very well be true. That does not lessen the legitimacy of his office. He was chosen by the voters to be President of the United States. In 2013, I already sensed the mood of the typical American voter. That voter wanted to get the politicians out of government and was ready to support any outsider who had a chance of winning. In the words of candidate Trump, American voters wanted to “drain the swamp.” Voters who generally support the Democratic Party because of its reputation for helping workers and defending the oppressed regularly reject Democratic candidates for the highest office, preferring Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, and Donald Trump. All three men have been despised by the liberal elite but embraced by American voters. All three Republicans were seen as better able to lead the United States than their Democratic opponents.

Donald Trump is a survivor. He will continue to weather the increasingly shrill accusations of his enemies in and out of politics. The media has weakened its effectiveness as a guard upon government ethics by opposing President Trump at every turn. Like the boy who cried “wolf,” the media will be ignored even if President Trump should do something truly criminal, because our ears have already tired of the voices that declare the President to be wrong in everything he does.

Meanwhile, our nation risks judgment from the Lord for the way we have allowed our leader to be mocked and despised. Other Presidents have been treated badly, but President Trump is the victim of a new low in savagery and deceit. The way we speak of our father and our mother, of our teachers, of our employers, and of our government leaders reveals our attitude toward authority in general, including God’s authority over our lives. While “we must obey God rather than men,” we also must honor and respect those who rule over us as pictures of the ultimate authority Jesus Christ has over us. When we do less, we sin against God and his kingdom. 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.

Demagoguery, political polarization, and violence

I was doing some reading for leisure last night, and I read the following paragraph:

“Even now, the domestic political implications are still working themselves out. The political dilemma of democracy is that the time span needed for solutions to contemporary economic problems is far longer than the electoral cycle by which leaders’ performance is judged at the polls. How many politicians dare to risk their offices in proclaiming that the good times are over? Who is willing to tell his constituents that a wise policy will bring with it a decline in the standard of living, at least for a while? And what happens in the inevitable period of disillusionment when young men and women leave school and college to find their skills rejected and join the millions thrown out of work since the oil crisis? The way is open for demagoguery, political polarization, and violence.” Henry Kissinger, Years of Upheaval, 1982, page 886.

Kissinger was writing about the energy crisis of the 1970s. The decade began with bountiful and inexpensive energy—industry had been booming since the recovery after World War II. When the oil-producing nations began making demands of the oil companies early in the 1970s, the American government chose to remain uninvolved, to let the market correct itself. The problem exploded with the war of October 1973, when Egypt and Syria attacked Israel, and Israel prevailed—in part because of an airlift of military supplies by the United States. From Libya to Iran, Muslim governments boycotted oil sales to the United States and raised the price of oil precipitously. This unexpected increase in the cost of energy led to a recession with inflation of prices, a combination rare enough that economists were not sure how to fix both problems simultaneously.

Around the time Kissinger’s book was published, the American economy began to recover. Fueled by constantly changing technology involving computers, American companies hired college graduates, and the turmoil Kissinger feared did not come to pass.

Kissinger’s central point is valid. Leaders in a democracy must be politicians, and politicians who warn of hard times ahead tend to lose elections. Big problems are hard to fix without difficult periods of transition. Ignoring big problems does not make them go away. Sooner or later, the difficult period of transition happens anyhow, and politicians respond by blaming one another.

During the last ten years, the economy has struggled. College graduates are unemployed or underemployed. Honors students with respectable degrees are working in fast food service, in stores such as WalMart, and at low-paying part time jobs in their chosen careers. The unrest described by Kissinger more than thirty years ago has arrived as he predicted: “demagoguery, political polarization, and violence.”

Is the United States of America facing its darkest days ever in 2016? I beg to differ with those who answer “yes.” Times were worse for the United States in 1861 through 1865, and probably during the years leading up to the Civil War. Times were hard during the Vietnam War and during the Watergate crisis. The Great Depression was another time of struggle and hardship for the United States. Political polarization and violence characterized those times.

Even though things have been worse, they are not good today. The word “demagoguery” is used by opponents of both major candidates for U.S. President to explain their fears. Many voters are dismayed by the choice they are being asked to make this November. Still, I believe in the balance of powers in our government. I believe that the United States which survived the 1860s and the 1960s can also survive the election of 2016. When Americans vote, I hope they will choose wise men and women to serve in Congress, men and women able to turn back the wrong ideas and plans of a dangerous President. With God’s help, America will endure. J.