Archive for the ‘ American Character ’ Category

One Excuse I Forgot

In yesterday’s post, I attempted to catalogue the main excuses and rationalizations I’ve been reading and hearing to absolve Donald Trump of his many sins. This morning, I realized I omitted one very prominent excuse. Let me make amends for that.

The video was from 2005–it’s old news, he’s changed

Probably the only people who can believe that whopper are those who haven’t watched Trump in action for the last year and a half. Changed? Really?

Well, he apologized for what he said in the video. Did you pay attention to that “apology”? It was the typical sorry-I-got-caught non-apology that has become the hallmark of politicians of both parties. What I saw was a defiant Trump trying to deflect from his own sins by pointing to the sins of others and promising to highlight the sins of the Clintons.

King David sinned horribly and God continued to use him, we’re told. Yes, David did sin horribly: adultery compounded by placing the woman’s husband in the line of fire in a battle, thus ensuring his death.

David, though, was then confronted by the prophet Nathan who pointed the finger of accusation at him for his sins. Scripture then records that David repented from the heart. Consequences from his sins followed, but he didn’t blame anyone else nor God. He understood that consequences follow our sins.

david-nathan

He then put his repentance into a psalm that has come down to us as #51:

Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love;
according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions.
Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin.

For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me.
Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight; so you are right in your verdict and justified when you judge.

Is that really the attitude we currently see in Donald Trump?

David continued,

Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.

Does Trump truly have a desire for a pure heart? Who are you to judge his heart, I can already hear some saying. It’s out of the heart that a man’s actions spring. I’m looking at his actions, which are a showcase into the heart.

God uses sinful people to do His will, we’re told. If He has to, sure. But do you vote for a blatantly unrepentant person for that reason? If so, keep in mind that admonition also applies to the other side. Hillary Clinton is a blatantly unrepentant person as well. Maybe God wants to use her.

Faced with two blatantly unrepentant persons who have no heart for the moral standards in God’s Word, I will vote for neither and trust God either to judge the nation for its sins or to show mercy, which we hardly deserve because we are a people steeped in our own rebellion against Him.

There are consequences for our collective sins as well.

The Cruz Reversal

ted-cruzSo now Ted Cruz has said he will vote for Donald Trump. He didn’t go so far as to say, when asked pointedly, that Trump is fit to be president; in fact, he deflected that specific question and went in a different direction in his answer. In his heart, I think he still knows Trump is unqualified for the office.

I had hoped the day wouldn’t come when Cruz would bow the knee to a con man. I remember all so clearly Cruz’s comments on May 3, the day Trump secured the nomination and the Republican party threw away its heritage.

On that day, after Trump incredibly floated the absurd idea that Cruz’s father was somehow implicated in the JFK assassination, Cruz said this (and I will quote at length):

This man is a pathological liar. He doesn’t know the difference between truth and lies. He lies practically every word that comes out of his mouth. And, in a pattern that I think is straight out of a psychology textbook, his response is to accuse everybody else of lying. . . .

The man cannot tell the truth, but he combines it with being a narcissist. A narcissist at a level – I don’t think this country’s ever seen. Donald Trump is such a narcissist that Barack Obama looks at him and goes, “Dude, what’s your problem?” Everything in Donald’s world is about Donald. . . .

I say pathological because I actually think Donald, if you hooked him up to a lie detector test, he could say one thing in the morning, one thing at noon, and one thing in the evening, all contradictory, and he’d pass the lie detector test each time. Whatever lie he’s telling at that minute, he believes it. . . .

The man is utterly amoral. Morality does not exist for him. . . .

donald-trump-3Donald is a bully. . . . Bullies don’t come from strength, bullies come from weakness. Bullies come from a deep, yawning cavern of insecurity. There is a reason Donald builds giant buildings and puts his name on them everywhere he goes. . . .

Donald will betray his supporters on every issue. If you care about immigration, Donald is laughing at you. And he’s telling the moneyed elites that he doesn’t believe what he’s saying, he’s not gonna build a wall – that’s what he told the New York Times, he will betray you on every issue across the board.

I couldn’t agree more with Cruz’s words on that day. So what has changed?

Cruz says he has forgiven Trump for the insults and innuendoes about his wife and father. As a Christian, I certainly appreciate that Cruz has chosen not to allow bitterness to dominate. However, it is instructive to note that Trump has never acknowledged doing anything wrong, has not even uttered one word of regret for his lies, and acts as if Cruz owes him an endorsement, despite Trump’s despicable actions.

Trump now heaps praise on Cruz for having been a formidable challenger. In his mind, are they now best buddies? Hardly. If Cruz were to say something critical tomorrow, Trump would respond with his typical “loser” designation and say that he will find someone to run against Cruz in his next Senate race.

So why did Cruz make this endorsement? Theories abound. He himself says it’s because Hillary must be stopped and this is a binary election. In other words, the same old tired reasons given by every Republican who has capitulated to the Trump nomination. At least he’s not Hillary.

Never mind the future of the Republican brand; it has now morphed into the Trump brand.

So, I ask: Has Cruz really changed his mind about Trump’s acceptability as the nominee? Or did he not really mean the things he said back in May? Or is he more concerned about his own political future?

From what I’ve read from more than one source, Texas Republicans have been putting on the pressure and major donors have threatened not to support Cruz in his Senate reelection bid.

If that’s the real reason, I am simply sad because it will mean that another man has succumbed to the desire to maintain political office at the expense of principle.

Cruz has undermined his biggest supporters with this Trump endorsement. When he talks about principle and constitutionalism from now on, many will take it with that proverbial grain of salt.

I won’t judge Cruz too harshly at this point. One bad decision does not override everything good a man has done. But neither will I immediately respond to a call to arms for a 2020 presidential bid. He will have to earn my support all over again.

Losing the Culture

Eight years of Ronald Reagan didn’t do it. Massive congressional election victories in 2010 and 2014 didn’t do it. Despite conservative successes at the polls at various times, we see the nation continue to slip away from its Christian and constitutional moorings. Why is that?

David FrenchDavid French wrote an insightful essay the other day that points to the problem. He calls on conservatives—and Christian conservatives, in particular—to recognize what has transpired. He begins by saying, “We’ll often seek every reason and justification for . . . failure short of our own flaws before we face the truth.”

What truth? We have been living with the illusion that there is this vast conservative army out there ready to turn things around and we have focused on politics as the means for doing so.

That army, he says, does not exist in the strength we had hoped it does, and our focus on politics has blinded us to where the real battle lies.

Real conservatives, French believes, have proven to be “a minority within what looks increasingly like a minority party, at least at the national level.”

Yes, Republicans control Congress. Yes, Republican governors and state legislatures outnumber Democrats. If this is so, why has so little changed? Why are we further from our founding principles than ever?

French pinpoints the problem:

In hindsight, the reason for their error isn’t hard to discern. Indeed, it’s a reason that conservatives have been identifying for years. Conservatives have been competent at winning elections, but they’ve been terrible at influencing the culture. Thus, they’re good at holding down the right side of a leftward-shifting political spectrum, but they can’t arrest the broader cultural shift to the left.

Paul WeyrichIn spite of many electoral successes, the nation keeps marching Left. He then quotes an essay by Paul Weyrich, one of the founders of the conservative think tank The Heritage Foundation, written back in 1999, which warned of the problem. Weyrich noted,

It is impossible to ignore the fact that the United States is becoming an ideological state. The ideology of Political Correctness, which openly calls for the destruction of our traditional culture, has so gripped the body politic, has so gripped our institutions, that it is even affecting the Church. It has completely taken over the academic community. It is now pervasive in the entertainment industry, and it threatens to control literally every aspect of our lives.

French then goes on to explain why he thinks this has happened. There is a real difference between conservatives and progressives. Conservatives vote for champions to go to Washington to straighten out the mess and then they return to their lives without infusing all their daily interactions with what they say they believe.

Progressives, on the other hand, “take their core values into every sphere of existence.” They don’t compartmentalize their lives; they want what they believe to affect everything.

That’s how you get local bar associations celebrating Earth Day, or third-grade classes doing a whole semester’s worth of art projects on climate change, or corporate HR departments running extended, celebratory profiles of transgender employees. It’s the agenda, always and everywhere.

We trust in politics to set things right. We are placing our trust in the wrong place. It’s the culture that drives a society, while politicians, eager to get re-elected, follow along in its wake.

I’ve often called on Christians to realize that their faith is not to be relegated to church activities. We are to take it into all spheres of life. When we shy away from doing so, it’s no wonder the culture becomes ever more depraved.

French concludes,

Until we’re willing to make at least the same commitment to our ideals that progressives make to theirs, we may still offer words of defiance, but our actions will show our true intent. Right now, the movement is busy dying. It’s time to get busy living.

I couldn’t agree more.

Chambers, McCarthy, & Trump

An interesting question was posed to me yesterday by a former student, wanting to know what Whittaker Chambers might think of Donald Trump. I gave him my short answer but then decided it would be perhaps insightful to provide a fuller one here today.

For those of you unfamiliar with Chambers, here’s a short synopsis of his life.

Chambers at DeskWhittaker Chambers, in the 1920s, became a member of the Communist party because he saw it as the hope of a world filled with destruction after WWI. At one point, he was ushered into the communist underground movement where he helped place communists in government positions to influence policy; he also served as a liaison between those officials and underground leaders, to whom he passed on information stolen from the government.

He soured on communism in the late 1930s as he saw the fruit of Stalinism: the purges of faithful party members, in particular. He had to go into hiding to protect his family, emerging later as a writer for Time magazine, eventually becoming one of its senior editors.

After WWII, Chambers appeared before a congressional committee and told all he knew about the underground subversion taking place. One of the men he fingered in the underground was Alger Hiss, a top State Dept. official. When Hiss denied the accusation, it became front-page news.

To shorten the story considerably, all I’ll say is that Chambers was proven correct, Hiss went to prison, and Chambers then wrote a masterful autobiography entitled Witness, which came out in 1952. It is one of my all-time favorite books.

Joe McCarthy 2Sen. Joe McCarthy is infamous for trying to root out the communist conspiracy in the early 1950s. Nothing wrong with that, except McCarthy seems to have been motivated more by personal glory than principle. He also was not a man of towering intellect like Chambers. Neither did he have the inside knowledge Chambers did.

Naturally, McCarthy sought to have Chambers on his side publicly. Yet Chambers declined to join in his crusade. Why? It had to do with the character of the man.

In letters Chambers wrote to William F. Buckley, the dean of the modern conservative movement in America, he laid out his concerns—even fears—of what McCarthy might do inadvertently to undermine genuine anti-communism.

Odyssey of a FriendIn one of those letters, responding to Buckley’s queries as to why he wouldn’t come out in support of McCarthy, Chambers replied,

One way whereby I can most easily help Communism is to associate myself publicly with Senator McCarthy; to give the enemy even a minor pretext for confusing the Hiss Case with his activities, and rolling it all in a snarl with which to baffle, bedevil, and divide opinion.

That is why I told Senator McCarthy, when he asked me to keynote his last Wisconsin campaign, that we were fighting in the same war, but in wholly  different battles, and that the nature of the struggle at this time enjoins that we should not wage war together.

I do not think that the Senator really grasps this necessity. For it is more and more my reluctant opinion that he is a tactician, rather than a strategist; that he continually, by reflex rather than calculation, sacrifices the long view for the short pull.

While Chambers obviously wanted much of what McCarthy wanted—the exposure of the communist threat—he didn’t see McCarthy as the man to accomplish this.

In that same letter to Buckley, Chambers expressed his deepest fear:

All of us, to one degree or another, have slowly come to question his judgment and to fear acutely that his flair for the sensational, his inaccuracies and distortions, his tendency to sacrifice the greater objective for the momentary effect, will lead him and us into trouble.

In fact, it is no exaggeration to say that we live in terror that Senator McCarthy will one day make some irreparable blunder which will play directly into the hands of our common enemy and discredit the whole anti-Communist effort for a long while to come.

Chambers was prophetic. That’s precisely what happened. McCarthy ultimately went too far with his accusations and fell from his lofty perch politically. Ever since then, anytime a conservative sounds a warning about socialism/communism, critics on the Left have been able to sound the alarm of “McCarthyism.” The senator dealt a deadly blow to intelligent concerns about subversion.

So what about Trump? What would Chambers think if he were here today? Of course, we are dealing with a hypothetical, but we do have Chambers’s own words and feelings about someone who could be disastrous to a good cause. That’s how I see Trump.

Looking again at Chambers’s comments, I can see Trump in many ways. Just as McCarthy was not a principled person, but rather someone out for his own notoriety, so is Trump, in my view. He has no solid principles; he is no conservative; he has little knowledge of constitutional government.

Then there are the tactics. Chambers criticized McCarthy for being merely a tactician, not a strategist, someone who went for the short-term advantage rather than having a long-term goal. Trump again.

Chambers questioned McCarthy’s judgment, his flair for the sensational, and the inaccuracies and distortions in his comments. I see Trump there as well.

Finally, there was Chambers’s biggest fear, that McCarthy would do more damage to the cause in the long run and discredit real anti-communism that knew what it was talking about. I believe Trump will cause great damage to conservatism in our day. People will associate him with that ideology, despite the fact that he is a man of no particular ideology himself. He is merely a narcissist looking for a way to advance himself.

If Trump doesn’t change (and that’s highly unlikely), and he wins the presidency, we may, in the future, hear the alarm of “Trumpism” just as readily as the Left has used “McCarthyism” for the last six decades.

If Chambers were alive today to see what’s transpiring, there is no way I believe he would be a Trump enthusiast. Rather, he would be on the front lines sounding a proper alarm, fearful that conservatism will be undermined by support for Trump.

As an addendum, Ronald Reagan’s son, Michael, has stated that he doesn’t believe his father would have jumped on the Trump train either. From everything I know about Ronald Reagan, I have to agree. Although Reagan called for unity in the Republican ranks, he always wanted that unity to be based on principles.

I find it kind of ironic that those who are excoriating Ted Cruz for not endorsing Trump forget that Reagan, who lost the nomination to Gerald Ford in 1976, spoke at that convention at Ford’s request. While delivering an impromptu speech about the need for Republican principles to win in the election, Reagan pointedly didn’t specifically endorse Ford in that speech. Neither did he campaign for him prior to the election. If that was acceptable for Reagan, why not for Cruz, who has even far more reason to decline a Trump endorsement?

Book Cover 1I have studied both Reagan and Chambers for many years. That’s why I came out with this book last year, The Witness and the President: Whittaker Chambers, Ronald Reagan, and the Future of Freedom.

If you want greater depth of understanding of both men, I heartily endorse this book (for some reason). As you dig into the thinking of both Reagan and Chambers, I hope you will come away with a greater appreciation of those who stand on principle.

I also hope you will also grasp why I have not been able to endorse Donald Trump. I want men (and women) of principle taking the lead. We have to look beyond the short-term “victory” of one election and concentrate instead on the long-term. Christian faith and conservative governance are my guidelines; I don’t want them to be denigrated by the unprincipled antics of politicians today.

On Political Courage

Here’s a thought. What if, at the Republican convention next week, the powers-that-be allowed a secret ballot to choose the nominee? What if the delegates truly had the freedom to vote according to what they believed best for the party and the country instead of being pressured by their political leaders to fall in line with Donald Trump?

Would that secret ballot vote be different than the public one? If so, what would that say about those delegates? What would it say about their adherence to principle? What would it say about their personal character? Where are the spines? Where is courage when it is needed?

History affords us examples of courage in voting. One comes readily to mind for me. President Andrew Johnson was brought to the Senate for an impeachment trial in 1868. The Republican party at that time, which controlled the Senate, sought to remove him from office over disagreements in policy.

Edmund RossIt would take a two-thirds vote for that removal. Everyone knew the vote would be close, and one Republican senator, Edmund Ross of Kansas, would not commit to voting for removal. No one knew exactly what he might do.

Two days before the first vote, Ross had received a telegram from his home state that read, “Kansas has heard the evidence, and demands the conviction of the President.” It was signed by “D. R. Anthony, and 1,000 others.” Ross responded,

I do not recognize your right to demand that I shall vote either for or against conviction. I have taken an oath to do impartial justice . . . and I trust I shall have the courage and honesty to vote according to the dictates of my judgment and for the highest good of my country.

Not to be outdone, Mr. Anthony and his “1,000 others” retaliated. “Your telegram received. . . . Kansas repudiates you as she does all perjurers and skunks.”

The roll call began. Ross had been warned by fellow Radical Republicans that a “no” vote would end his political career. When his name was called, Ross stood and quietly cast his vote—for acquittal. His vote effectively ended the impeachment proceedings.

Some newspaper editorialists decided that Ross could best be compared to Benedict Arnold, Jefferson Davis, or Judas Iscariot. As predicted, his political career did end swiftly; he lost his reelection bid.

In a letter to his wife one week after his momentous vote, Ross declared,

This storm of passion will soon pass away, and the people, the whole people, will thank and bless me for having saved the country by my single vote from the greatest peril through which it has ever passed, though none but God can ever know the struggle it has cost me.

Where are the Edmund Rosses in the current Republican party? Where is the courage needed to stop the most foolish nomination in the party’s history?

Donald & Hobbes 1

Donald & Hobbes 2

We need to be looking out for the nation instead. It’s time for real principle to come to the forefront.

Reagan: The Principled & the History Makers

Yesterday, I wrote about my new book on Ronald Reagan and Whittaker Chambers. Both men are as relevant to our day as they were to theirs.

As we near the end of another year, and as we consider the challenges that loom, some select quotes from Reagan may help us focus on our responsibilities. There are some quotes from Reagan with which many people are familiar, but I’ve chosen to pull out some that are less well known, yet just as insightful.

Just two months into his presidency, right before the assassination attempt, he spoke at the Conservative Political Action Conference dinner:

We’ve heard in our century far too much of the sounds of anguish from those who live under totalitarian rule. We’ve seen too many monuments made not out of marble or stone but out of barbed wire and terror.

But from these terrible places have come survivors, witnesses to the triumph of the human spirit over the mystique of state power, prisoners whose spiritual values made them the rulers of their guards. With their survival, they brought us “the secret of the camps,” a lesson for our time and for any age: Evil is powerless if the good are unafraid.

That last line is the key. As we think of the battles ahead, we need to believe that. At a commemoration of the tenth anniversary of the Heritage Foundation, he exhorted his audience that they had to face the reality of the world situation:

We must never be inhibited by those who say telling the truth about the Soviet empire is an act of belligerence on our part. To the contrary, we must continue to remind the world that self-delusion in the face of unpleasant facts is folly, that whatever the imperfections of the democratic nations, the struggle now going on in the world is essentially the struggle between freedom and totalitarianism, between what is right and what is wrong.

This is not a simplistic or unsophisticated observation. Rather, it’s the beginning of wisdom about the world we live in, the perils we face, and the great opportunity we have in the years ahead to broaden the frontiers of freedom and to build a durable, meaningful peace.

When laying a wreath at Arlington National Cemetery, Reagan spoke of principles and common sense:

Peace fails when we forget what we stand for. It fails when we forget that our Republic is based on firm principles, principles that have real meaning, that with them, we are the last, best hope of man on Earth; without them, we’re little more than the crust of a continent. Peace also fails when we forget to bring to the bargaining table God’s first intellectual gift to man: common sense.

Common sense gives us a realistic knowledge of human beings and how they think, how they live in the world, what motivates them. Common sense tells us that man has magic in him, but also clay. Common sense can tell the difference between right and wrong. Common sense forgives error, but it always recognizes it to be error first.

I added the emphasis at the end.

I’ll conclude today with a pithy, yet valuable, Reagan perspective—one we would do well to remember:

History is no captive of some inevitable force. History is made by men and women of vision and courage.

Let’s go out and make some history.

On Flags, Confederate & American

On the Confederate flag flap, I’m going to probably confound some people with my comments. I am in complete agreement with removing the flag wherever it is an official symbol of a state government. At the same time, I’m profoundly concerned about the precedent this will set as the more radical portion of our political class attempts to extend their reach into other areas. Those views may sound contradictory initially, but if you stay with me, you’ll understand why I take the position I do.

I must deal first with the history and the constitutional issues. When the Southern states seceded from the Union, they did so on the basis of believing that the nation was merely a compact agreed upon by the states, and that any state was free to leave at any time for whatever reason.

That view, while earnestly held by Southerners at the time, is not accurate historically. The switch from the Articles of Confederation—which was in the nature of a treaty-like compact—to the Constitution was also a switch in the status of the nation-state relationship.

ConstitutionThe Constitution begins with the words “We the People,” not “We the States.” In fact, that is one big reason why Patrick Henry and other opponents of ratification argued against its adoption. They realized it was a change in status. State governments did not create this nation; rather, state conventions called particularly for the purpose of considering ratification made that decision.

As Lincoln observed later, the only way for a state to secede constitutionally was to once again become part of a convention that then sent out to the states a proposal for a state or states to withdraw from the Union. If ratified by conventions of the people in the various states, then they could leave peacefully.

That’s not what the Southern states did. They simply declared they were out.

As for the reasons for secession, those can be found very easily in the written declarations made by a number of those states. If you read them carefully, you will find that the overwhelming reason was concern over whether the federal government would end slavery.

What about states’ rights? Wasn’t that the key issue? Again, if you read those declarations, you will see that states’ rights was invoked for one purpose and one purpose only: to protect and propagate slavery.

Alexander StephensFurther proof is found in the famous/infamous “Cornerstone” speech by Alexander Stephens, the vice president of the Confederacy, in which he says the Founders were wrong about one major point: the equality of the races. Stephens makes it clear in this speech that the Confederacy was founded on a different idea: the inferiority of Africans, their God-given place in society as slaves, and the superiority of the white race.

Again, if you doubt this, check it out for yourself.

Slavery, then, is at the root of the secession and the setting up of the Confederate government.

The Southerners also used the example of the Declaration of Independence in 1776 as the precedent for what they were doing. However, there are huge differences in the historical context of that document and what was transpiring in America in 1860-1861.

If the South could prove they were denied basic rights, as the colonies explained in 1776, no problem. However, let’s consider the following questions:

  • First, did the Southern states lose representation in Congress? Answer: not at all. In fact, if they had not seceded, they still would have had a majority in the Congress. The only thing going against them was a Republican president, but he could not rule arbitrarily without Congress.
  • Second, did the Southern states lose self-government within their own states? Again, not at all. They maintained their own legislatures and could make their own laws.
  • Third, was any federal law passed that interfered with slavery in the states? Hardly. The entire history of the 1850s—from the Kansas-Nebraska Act to the Dred Scott decision by the Supreme Court—had favored the Southern view.
  • Fourth, did federal armed forces invade any state? What armed forces? The federal government had very little in the way of an armed force. The small contingent at Ft. Sumter in Charleston harbor was no threat. By the way, that fort had been ceded to the federal government by South Carolina. To suddenly declare that it was the state’s fort was more than dubious.

Therefore, I see no constitutional basis for the secession. I view it as a revolt against the legitimate authority of the United States government, one that Lincoln, as president, had every right to put down.

Consequently, I have no love for a symbol of a government that illegitimately rebelled against proper authority. Remove the flag, by all means.

Stars & StripesYet there are those concerns I mentioned at the beginning. Where will this lead? Already we are hearing voices saying all monuments from that era should be destroyed. One voice even questioned whether the Jefferson Memorial should be torn down. Another has concluded that the American flag itself should be shunned because America is the land of the “oppressor.”

That conveniently ignores that human societies throughout history have had slavery and that we, as a counterpoint to all that history, dared to challenge it—in a government symbolized by the Stars and Stripes. Thousands died en route to outlawing slavery. The government system that was established also eventually led to the elimination of segregation, that odious holdover from slavery days.

America is not the oppressor the radical Left seeks to portray. It is a nation that has had to struggle with the missteps and sins of the past and has overcome them (despite silly charges today of “white privilege” and “microaggressions”).

It is a nation that was born in the hope of justice for all, and which has achieved it to a greater degree than most others. The Left has an insatiable desire to destroy the good that has come down to us from the Founders, and it has an agenda to wipe out all trace of our heritage, based as it was on Biblical concepts of law and a Biblical view of morality.

So, yes, I applaud efforts to relegate the Confederate flag to museums, but not for the reasons some do. The South today is not overwhelmingly racist. Southerners who are nostalgic about their heritage are not full of hate. I see far more hatred and intolerance emanating from the Left than from any other source.