Archive for January, 2017

Trump’s First Days

Donald Trump’s first days in office have been filled with controversies—some genuine and created by him, others phony and played up by the usual suspects. Continuing my pledge to be fair and balanced in my comments on how Trump is doing, let’s begin with the phony ones.

Because of his executive order that started the ball rolling on reversing Obamacare, we now hear hysterical rantings about how all the poor will lose their healthcare. Not so. A large portion of Obamacare enrollments, it seems, have swelled the number of people on Medicaid. Obamacare itself has done little to ensure everyone is covered. Its primary achievements have been astronomical deductibles and premium hikes for those forced into it.

If Republicans can unite on how to dismantle this foolishness, everyone will benefit, rich and poor alike.

Trump’s overturning of Obama’s unconstitutional executive orders is one of the most positive and rational things he is doing. May it continue.

The Left is also apoplectic over the immigration EO Trump signed over the weekend. There are things wrong with the way it was implemented, hitting green-card residents and others who were previously approved to be in the country. Particularly painful were the stories that highlighted Christian families being sent back as well as an Iraqi interpreter who has worked on behalf of America for a decade. That misstep has been officially corrected by new DHS head John Kelly, who has come out publicly stating it doesn’t apply to those kinds of people.

Neither did this new EO specifically target Muslims. It only kept in place the Obama policy toward seven of the fifty Muslim-majority nations, the ones most likely to harbor terrorists.

I have a hard time understanding criticism of a policy that simply requires vetting and caution before allowing certain people into the country. Open-borders advocates accuse anyone who is concerned about terrorists using immigration to infiltrate and attack us of being without compassion. I wonder how many of those advocates leave the doors of their homes unlocked at night, welcoming whoever wants to come in for whatever reason?

Yet Trump is being castigated as a racist/bigot/fill-in-the-blank-with-your-favorite cliché. Keep in mind this would have happened with any Republican taking over the presidency. Trump, though, with his penchant for stirring the pot unnecessarily, has lowered the point at which professional leftists boil over.

Another of Trump’s EOs that is excellent is the one that reinstated the so-called Mexico City Policy, which bars international non-governmental organizations that perform or promote abortions from receiving US government funding. I give him praise for that.

Lost in the flurry of hysteria over the immigration edict are others, both good and/or questionable.

I would think that all points along the political spectrum should agree with the ones that apply a five-year ban on lobbying by those currently serving in the administration and a lifetime ban on foreign government lobbying. Let’s applaud those.

The most questionable action, though, is Trump’s decision to shake up the personnel on the National Security Council. He removed the Director of National Intelligence and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff from attending the meetings. Um . . . how are they not involved with national security?

The coup de grace was then to place Steve Bannon, his chief political strategist, on the NSC instead. Huh? I haven’t heard a good explanation for those moves yet.

Trump also says he will name his nominee for the Supreme Court this week, possibly even today. Rumors had it that Neil Gorsuch was the probable pick, a man who seems to be solid in all areas; some even say he would be better than Scalia in some ways.

Now there are new rumors that Thomas Hardiman may be the top choice. From what I’ve read, Hardiman, while considered conservative, has never been tested on hot-button issues like abortion. After so many evangelicals voted for Trump based on his promise to place someone on the Court who can be trusted on that issue, Hardiman could turn out to be a major disappointment. Trump’s sister, a pro-abortion judge, has spoken out in favor of Hardiman.

Potential problem here? Another David Souter or Anthony Kennedy? We don’t know. Gorsuch or Hardiman? We’ll find out very soon.

The one major positive, however, that all conservatives can point to as the new administration gets underway is this:

For that, I am grateful.

Critiquing Critiques: A Lewis Insight (Part 3)

When C. S. Lewis was completing his degrees at Oxford in the 1920s, he was being bombarded at that time with all the new ideas floating around the intellectual world. One of these was Freudianism. As with most young people, at first he was somewhat taken in by such new thought, but he later dismissed it as a false theory of psychology. All one has to do is read his The Pilgrim’s Regress to get his wonderfully scathing diagnosis of its fallacies.

So when he saw literature critiques begin to follow Freudian concepts, he had to comment. In his essay “On Criticism,” he takes aim at such reviewers:

Another type of critic who speculates about the genesis of your book is the amateur psychologist. He has a Freudian theory of literature and claims to know all about your inhibitions. He knows what unacknowledged wishes you were gratifying.

Why did an author write the book in the way he/she did? Well, that author doesn’t really understand the unconscious wishes that made the book spring forth, the amateur psychologist boldly proclaims. And woe to anyone who tries to set the record straight:

By definition you are unconscious of the things he professes to discover. Therefore the more loudly you disclaim them, the more right he must be: though, oddly enough, if you admitted them, that would prove him right too.

And there is a further difficulty: one is not here so free from bias, for this procedure is almost entirely confined to hostile reviewers.

How can a reviewer know so much about an author’s “unconscious” wishes? Lewis analyzes the shaky ground on which such a reviewer takes his stand:

And it would not be unreasonable to point out that the evidence on which such amateur psychologists base their diagnosis would not be thought sufficient by a professional. They have not had their author on the sofa, nor heard his dreams, and had the whole case-history.

In other words, it’s pure speculation based on pretty much nothing solid.

What these reviewers don’t seem to take into consideration, Lewis notes, are the conscious reasons an author has for writing what he/she does. No, these reviewers say, everything must emanate from the unconscious. Lewis skewers this perspective:

They seem to fancy that a book trickles out of one like a sigh or a tear or automatic writing. It may well be that there is much in every book which comes from the unconscious. But when it is your own book you know the conscious motives as well.

You may be wrong in thinking that these often give the full explanation of this or that. But you can hardly believe accounts of the sea-bottom given by those who are blind to the most obvious objects on the surface. They could be right only by accident.

So beware of fanciful speculation about an author’s intent, Lewis advises. Give the author some credit for knowing his/her reason for writing.

I wonder what an amateur psychologist/reviewer would say about my blog posts? My books? It might be fascinating, but most likely inaccurate.

On Being a “Word” Guy

I’m a “word” guy, and becoming more so after writing two books in the past two years. I’m always looking for just the right way to say things, and I appreciate writers whose originality with words makes one rethink, or think more deeply, about life.

That’s why I’m attracted to the wordsmithing of people like Whittaker Chambers and C. S. Lewis. It’s not just what they say—which is truth-hitting-you-where-it-helps/hurts-most—but the way they say it.

Most of us have a hard time coming up with anything approaching what Chambers or Lewis have written. That’s fine. They were unique, and each of us needs to find our own way of communicating. I’m not pretending to be the latest incarnation of either, but I gladly try to incorporate anything I can from them to spice up my own style.

Why am I thinking about this today? Well, first, I’m currently teaching classes on both Chambers and Lewis. As I go through their writings with students, I’m renewed in my appreciation for their contributions; I also love it when students get their first taste of that quality of writing. For some, it’s like an awakening.

And that’s the true reward of teaching.

I’m also alert to commentary on how we speak and write. Sometimes, the best commentary can come from unexpected places:

Avoiding clichés is a constant effort. Then there are words that become so ubiquitous that you almost wish they would disappear from our national vocabulary:

My goal: to use only the “best” words. You know, like President Trump. Should he be my new model?

Lord, deliver me from such thoughts.

Podcast of My Lewis Book

It’s here, the podcast I recorded with William O’Flaherty about my book on C. S. Lewis. In it, I provide background on why and how I wrote it, along with some explanation of the various chapters within.

The podcast is only half an hour, well worth your time. I hope you find it both enlightening and entertaining, and that if you haven’t yet purchased the book, perhaps this will pique your interest enough to do so. Let me know what you think of both the podcast and the book. Thanks.

Click here to go directly to the podcast.

An Honest Appraisal of the First Weekend

On Friday, I pledged to be an honest appraiser of the new president and his actions, praising good ones and offering a critique for others not so good. Over his first weekend in office, President Trump gave me the opportunity to do both today.

Let’s begin with praise.

First, just seeing a photo of the Oval Office without its previous occupant is a relief for many of us. Second, Trump’s action in this photo is the beginning of fulfilling a promise: dismantling Obamacare. He issued an executive order that lessens the stranglehold Obamacare put on the federal bureaucracy—an initial step that prepares the way for a full repeal by Congress.

To those who may say this is no different than Obama’s use of executive orders, I say that it’s a world of difference. Obama used them to impose his will unconstitutionally; Trump’s simply eased the burden Obama imposed. That’s called reining in the government, not extending its overreach.

What may be perhaps a small token of the attitude of this new administration is also welcome: the return of the bust of Winston Churchill to the Oval Office. One of Obama’s first slaps in the face to our allies was his jettisoning of that bust.

Welcome back, Mr. Churchill.

There is another bust present in the Oval Office, that of Martin Luther King. Some in the media reported that it had been removed. That turned out to be utterly false; it was merely blocked out in a photo due to the angle of the picture with someone standing in front of it. That’s an indication of what the typical media will try to do. Shall we call that one fake news? Sounds right to me.

If only Trump had allowed his Obamacare executive order to be the focus. Instead, he had his new press secretary, Sean Spicer, come out in a press conference and trump up (sorry, I’ll do my best not to overuse that phrase in the next four years) an accusation that the media was falsely reporting on the size of the crowd at the inauguration.

To be fair, the media does do that on a rather consistent basis. Every year, at the March for Life (which will occur again next weekend), the media either ignores the March completely or does its best to downplay the turnout. So, yes, I know that happens. For a comparison of the inauguration crowds, this picture was used as evidence:

One can always question the use of such pictures. At what point was the picture of the Trump crowd taken? Was it at the height of the ceremony or before? I don’t know.

But why make such a big deal about it and push it to the top of the news cycle within 24 hours of taking office? Was it a smaller crowd than at Obama’s inaugural? I have no problem believing that for a number of reasons: concern for security may have kept some people away, especially in light of the predictions of violence at the ceremony; conservatives not being as motivated to go to D.C, seeing it as an essentially liberal place; the fact that most conservatives have jobs on weekdays.

One commentator, I believe, captured the real problem here:

Trump, being a reality TV star, puts a lot of stock in popularity and TV ratings. . . .

It was a lot of attention paid to what is a non-issue.

Whether it was a million people or five people who showed for the inauguration, Trump is still president and there’s still a lot of serious work he needs to be addressing. This is a non-issue.

Spicer (and Trump later) alluded to the TV audience being larger. Well, here are the facts about that, according to the Nielsen ratings as reported by Bloomberg:

Trump’s nearly 31 million television audience came 7 million short of Obama’s 2009 inauguration, and had almost 11 million fewer viewers than when Reagan was sworn into office in 1981.

According to Bloomberg, Trump did attract a larger audience than former Presidents Bill Clinton, George H. W. Bush and George W. Bush.

Those are the facts with respect to the TV audience, and it would be dishonest for Trump or anyone else in his administration to say otherwise.

As an aside, I remarked to my wife while watching some of the inaugural parade, that the stands set up for viewers, at least at one place along the parade route, were conspiculously empty. I was surprised by that. Was I seeing the only empty portion of the stands or was that indicative of the entire route? Again, I don’t know.

But what does crowd size really matter? Nothing. Absolutely nothing.

What matters is whether President Trump does his job, and does it well. Let’s focus on that, shall we, and leave ego about crowd size behind us.

Critiquing Critiques: A Lewis Insight (Part 2)

In my last C. S. Lewis post, I drew from one of his lesser-known essays entitled “On Criticism.” I find that it contains a number of great insights into how reviewers of books can fall into errors. The first error Lewis pointed out is that some reviewers simply don’t do the work necessary: they don’t read carefully and miss the mark on the actual facts contained in a book.

A second error, according to Lewis, is when a reviewer attempts to provide a background for the book, yet does so without adequate knowledge. This often results in a fanciful tale with little relation to reality.

A great example, Lewis says, is of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. Lewis, of course, knew all about its genesis, as he was probably the prime instigator in getting Tolkien to continue work on it and finally completing it. He knew the date when Tolkien began the project and could comment with authority that the critics had something terribly wrong historically:

Most critics assumed . . . that it must be a political allegory and a good many thought that the master Ring must “be” the atomic bomb. Anyone who knew the real history of the composition knew that this was not only erroneous, but impossible; chronologically impossible.

Others assumed that the mythology of his romance had grown out of his children’s story The Hobbit. This, again, he and his friends knew to be mainly false.

Now of course nobody blames the critics for not knowing these things: how should they? The trouble is that they don’t know they don’t know. A guess leaps into their minds and they write it down without even noticing that it is a guess. Here certainly the warning to us all as critics is very clear and alarming.

Lewis then takes the critics to task for ignoring what they were supposed to be doing: writing a review of the actual book before them, not inventing a tale of how the book came into being and what might be the message behind the message within the book.

Notice that in all these conjectures the reviewer’s error has been quite gratuitous. He has been neglecting the thing he is paid to do, and perhaps could do, in order to do something different. His business was to give information about the book and to pass judgement on it. These guesses about its history are quite beside the mark.

After remarking on the mistaken assumptions about Tolkien’s work, he mentions how the same thing has happened with his own:

And on this point, I feel pretty sure that I write without bias. The imaginary histories written about my books are by no means always offensive. Sometimes they are even complimentary. There is nothing against them except that they’re not true, and would be rather irrelevant if they were.

I find it a little amusing that Lewis says those misunderstandings can sometimes be quite nice, but that the real issue is that they are false regardless.

As always with Lewis, he takes his own criticism to heart, wanting to ensure he doesn’t fall into the same trap:

I must learn not to do the like about the dead: and if I hazard a conjecture, it must be with full knowledge, and with a clear warning to my readers, that it is a long shot, far more likely to be wrong than right.

Bottom line: maintain integrity in all you write. That’s a great lesson for us all.

A Sober Assessment Going Forward

On this Inauguration Day, I want to address the following: the political spectacle Democrats are unleashing; a sober assessment of our new president; and the attitude I hope conservatives in general, and Christians in particular, should have as we embark on the next four years.

First, the Democrats. A new political cartoon this morning seems to encapsulate the mindset of the entire liberal/progressive political spectrum ever since the election:

As a number of commentators have noted, Democrats protesting the inauguration of a Republican president is nothing new. Many have done so at each inauguration dating from Richard Nixon’s in 1969. It has become a rite of passage for some into the ranks of the perpetually peeved. Rep. John Lewis has been in the news by calling Trump an illegitimate president and saying he will now absent himself from the inauguration for the first time in his life. He seems to have forgotten that he did it before, when George Bush was inaugurated. He considered him illegitimate, too.

Maybe it’s become more of a reflex than a thoughtful decision: “It’s a Republican; I have to stay away.”

The number of Democrat congressmen and congresswomen declining to attend may be greater this time simply because Trump is so controversial, but having them stay away from the Capitol may not be the worst idea they have had. If only they would do it more often the nation might be in better shape.

The Democrat reaction to Trump has given a whole new meaning to the festivities surrounding this day:

As for Donald Trump himself, let me offer, as I said at the outset, a sober assessment.

Most of you reading this know that throughout the primaries I was an adamant opponent of Trump’s nomination. In the general election, I couldn’t bring myself to vote for him and turned to a third party for the first time in my life. The best results from that election, for me, were that we were spared another Clinton presidency and that Republicans not only maintained control of Congress but also increased their strength in state legislatures and governorships.

Despite my opposition to Trump, I am not like those Democrats. I recognize the legitimacy of his election because I understand how the electoral college system works. It was only the overwhelming California vote for Hillary that allowed her to win the popular vote. The rest of the country voted against her.

Therefore, as a loyal American citizen, I will do my best to support our new president. My attitude for the next four years will be to praise Trump when he does things that are constitutional and positive for the nation and to point out when he goes astray.

What have I seen since his election that gives me some hope? I can offer the following:

  • Most of his choices for people to man the administration have been very good—not all, but most. I give him credit for picking some who have principles that will help pull the nation back from the abyss if he allows them to follow their principles.
  • He has made it clear he will attempt to strengthen the military, ramp up the battle against radical Islamic terrorism, and stand with Israel when the rest of the world seems inclined to isolate and abandon that one country in the Middle East that is our ally.
  • He continues to promise to overturn Obama’s unconstitutional executive orders, to rid the nation of the Obamacare catastrophe, and to nominate a Supreme Court justice who will help return the Court’s decisions back to constitutionalism.

All well and good, if he follows through on those promises.

On the negative side are his affinity for Putin and Russia, his apparent disdain for NATO, his confusing comments on healthcare (everyone will be covered by the government, he says—how does that overturn Obamacare?), his bullying tactics at times, and—this is the one that continues to bother me most—his personal character.

Simply put, I don’t trust Donald Trump. His personal history reveals a man who is a constant braggart, totally self-absorbed, and unable in the core of his being to stop insulting his detractors. I’m afraid we have gone from the Selfie President to the Tweeter-in-Chief, and that’s not necessarily an improvement.

People keep saying Trump will “grow” into the office and not act so juvenile once the full responsibilities of the presidency hit him. Based on what I’ve seen thus far, I’m not convinced. Donald Trump is Donald Trump; he’s unlikely to change. What could this mean for us if something really gets under his skin?

Can he handle criticism properly or will everything become personal? It’s a valid question. And while many of his most ardent admirers love the way he uses Twitter to get his “message” out, I find it rather demeaning to what may be left of the dignity of the presidency. Let’s at least not change the seal that goes with the office:

Last of all, an appeal to conservatives overall and Christians in particular. Keep in mind that Trump has no real ideological foundation for grasping Christian conservative principles. That, along with his character, was why I could not support his nomination.

Quite a few readers castigated those, like me, who considered themselves NeverTrump. Please know that we took that stance as a matter of principle. Even if you disagreed with the position, I hope you will grant us that, at least.

What I’m concerned about now is another group that perhaps can be labeled AlwaysTrump. These are people who will defend Trump no matter what, who will find a rationalization for everything he does, regardless of how unconstitutional or offensive his decisions/actions may be.

Here’s my appeal: don’t allow yourselves to be AlwaysTrump; never surrender your reasoning powers and your conscience; stand instead for principle; keep your integrity.

I will do my best to be an honest commentator as the Trump administration goes forward. I will not dump on Trump as a reflex action (I’m not a Democrat). I will give him credit where it is due. If he follows through on his promises, I will say so. I truly hope he surprises me in new ways over the next four years, and my fervent prayer is that God will use him (whether or not he acknowledges that’s what’s happening) and those he has chosen to serve with him to help restore our spiritual and moral foundation.

When I do critique his actions, though, I also hope that my readers will realize I am doing so not out of personal pique but as a sober assessment of what he has done.

If you are seeking a commentator who will criticize everything Trump does, no matter what it is, I’m not that person.

If you are seeking a commentator who will praise everything Trump does, no matter what it is, I’m not that person.

But if you want honest commentary, commentary with integrity based on a devotion to the Biblical worldview and to constitutional government, then I invite you to come back often to this blog. My pledge is that I will be that kind of commentator.