The Obligatory Obama Update

I so much prefer using this blog to showcase positive things, highlighting people like C. S. Lewis, Whittaker Chambers, and Ronald Reagan. But I feel I must continue to offer commentary on contemporary developments, both cultural and political.

I’m going to use the blog today to do a little catch-up. Lest we forget, we still have someone residing at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. doing his best to transform the country. I’ve avoided making him the focus of this blog for a while, but now it’s time to provide an overview of how his national transformation is working.

I’ll let political cartoons do most of my talking.

On the Obamacare front (yes, mainstream media, it’s still a relevant issue), more bad news for the occupant of the White House. State co-ops are folding because they are going broke, premiums are rising significantly (which anyone with any knowledge of economics predicted), and all those wonderful promises of state-controlled healthcare for everyone are wilting.

Co-Ops

Coverage

Tweaks

Then there’s Obama’s about-face on putting “boots on the ground” in the Middle East, specifically Syria. Now, I’m not an advocate of sending massive numbers of US troops into that quagmire, but if you’re going to do it at all, shouldn’t you send more than fifty Special Ops soldiers? Fifty? Yes, you heard correctly. Does anyone really believe that’s going to turn the tide there? And just what tide are we trying to turn anyway? Supporting the so-called “moderates” against ISIS sounds good, but how many of those moderates are there, and can they really be trusted?

One is tempted to view this action as just for show—no substance at all.

Limited Action

Flip-Flops

Squiggle

Then there’s his executive action to release a large number of drug offenders from prison. Now, I certainly can agree that some of them may have received sentences that didn’t comport with the offense, yet there’s significant testimony that many of those being released were not simply casual users but dealers. And now they are to be sent out into the general population again.

My cynical side will show here: how many of those released prisoners will now be allowed to vote in the next presidential election? Do you think they will vote for Republicans? Right.

Employers are also not supposed to be able to investigate the criminal past of applicants as readily as before. Well, that definitely helps one person in particular:

Criminal History

You are now updated. I’ve done my duty. Tomorrow, back to C. S. Lewis.

The Poetic Prose of Whittaker Chambers

I arrived in Texas yesterday for the C. S. Lewis Foundation Retreat. Most of the attendees won’t be here until later today. I’m early because I’m taking part in the Academic Roundtable that is held prior to the main events.

Already I’ve met some very nice people (this is my first Lewis function, so I don’t really know anyone) and last evening I attended what is called the “Bag End Cafe,” a nod to Lewis’s friend, J.R.R. Tolkien.

Everyone was sharing favorite poems. Now, here’s where I make a terrible confession. I’m not really into poetry. Shocking, I know. I should do a penance of some type.

Chambers at DeskHowever, I do really like prose that has a poetic quality to it. I believe that’s one reason why I’ve always been attracted to Lewis’s writing. Another person who wrote like that is Whittaker Chambers. I was on the verge of sharing something Chambers wrote in his magnificent Witness when the gathering ended. Here’s what I would have read, taken from Chambers’s reflections on the death of the spirit after WWI:

The dying world of 1925 was without faith, hope, character, understanding of its malady or will to overcome it. It was dying but it laughed. And this laughter was not the defiance of a vigor that refuses to know when it is whipped. It was the loss, by the mind of a whole civilization, of the power to distinguish between reality and unreality, because, ultimately, though I did not know it, it had lost the power to distinguish between good and evil.… The dying world had no answer at all to the crisis of the 20th century, and, when it was mentioned, and every moral voice in the Western world was shrilling crisis, it cocked an ear of complacent deafness and smiled a smile of blank senility—throughout history, the smile of those for whom the executioner waits.

To me, that’s a wonderful combination of poignant prose that whispers, “If you listen closely, this is poetry.”

Looking forward to the rest of this retreat.

The Chambers-Reagan Journey

Ten years ago, I had an idea for a book and began the research. I sought to compare the nearly unbounded optimism of Ronald Reagan with the more pessimistic outlook of Whittaker Chambers, the ex-communist who became front-page news when he outed Alger Hiss as an underground spy.

Chambers then wrote his autobiography, Witness, which went beyond a simple telling of a tale; it became a treatise on the downfall of Western civilization unless it would turn once again to Christian faith.

I completed writing the first draft in 2010, then searched for a publisher. I found one, but the publication stumbled over something out of the control of both the publisher and myself—we mutually agreed to terminate the contract in 2012.

The search continued, and lasted until this year when I finally found a publisher with the conviction that what I had written needed to be in print. It will be a reality now in a matter of days.

I recently received the front cover, and I was impressed with it.

Book Cover 1

It has just the right “feel” for what I wanted the cover to portray. The look is as professional as I had always hoped it would be. Then I was sent the back cover, which included excerpts from some quite eminent historians’ endorsements for the book:

Witness & the President Back Cover

Paul Kengor is a well-established Reagan scholar; George Nash is considered the dean of historians with respect to analyzing modern American conservatism; Richard Reinsch has written an excellent account of Chambers’s worldview; and Luke Nichter is co-author/editor of the bestselling book on the Nixon tapes. Luke also just happens to be one of my former students from when I taught at Regent University’s School of Government in a master’s program.

Needless to say, I am thrilled with the prospects of this publication. I’m hoping many of you will be interested enough to purchase a copy—and then a few more for your friends.

When it does become available, which will be very soon, I will let you know. May God be praised for opening this door.

The Trump-McCarthy Parallel

I admit to being amazed at the support Donald Trump seems to be getting, not only from what might be called “movement conservatives,” but more specifically, from evangelical Christians. One article indicates that he is the leading candidate among that latter group. I don’t know for sure if that’s true, but if it’s even close to the mark, it’s astonishing.

Donald Trump 2I won’t go into detail again (see a previous post) on why I do not support Trump’s candidacy, but I can offer a short summary: supreme arrogance (he says he’s never asked God for forgiveness for anything; constant boasting about how rich he is and how smart); other personal character traits (favorite words being “loser” and “stupid”; resorting to twitter jibes on an adolescent level toward those who criticize him); and his recent “conversion” to conservative policies.

On that last point, some have tried to compare his change to conservatism to Ronald Reagan’s. I’ve studied Reagan in some depth and know that his worldview changed over time as a result of intense study and grappling with foundational philosophical issues. I’m not convinced that is the case with Trump; neither do I trust him to remain true to what he now says he believes.

In fact, he’s rather mixed up on some things: he claims to be for repealing Obamacare, yet says a universal, government-run healthcare system is workable in some countries. He doesn’t quite say why he considers it unworkable here. Perhaps he really doesn’t. Perhaps, were he to attain the presidency, we might be subject to another failed promise from a politician.

Joe McCarthyI’m also seeing a historical parallel with another situation. Back in the early 1950s, Sen. Joe McCarthy made a big splash as a crusader against communism. He was bold and brash and developed a large following. Many in conservatism at the time saw him as the leader against the establishment and flocked to his bandwagon. Yet he was little more than an opportunist, seizing on a hot topic that he did not really grasp clearly.

As evidence for this conclusion, I turn to Whittaker Chambers, a genuine champion of liberty who left the communist underground, gave his witness to Congress, and suffered publicly for doing so. Yet he succeeded in unmasking the underground movement, with the climax being the conviction of Alger Hiss—who had been his compatriot in the underground and then became a top State Department official—for perjury.

McCarthy wanted to tie his crusade to Chambers. They met. Chambers came away with some rather pointed comments about the senator. In a letter to William F. Buckley, Chambers summarized McCarthy’s approach in this way: “Senator McCarthy’s notion of tactics is to break the rules, saturate the enemy with poison gas, and then charge through the contaminated area, shouting Comanche war cries.”

Chambers at DeskThese heavy-handed tactics were of deep concern to Chambers, who wrote:

I know he thinks this is a superior technique that the rest of us are too far behind to appreciate. But it is repetitious and unartful, and, with time, the repeated dull thud of the low blow may prove to be the real factor in his undoing. Not necessarily because the blow is low, or because he lacks heart and purpose, but because he lacks variety, and, in the end, simply puts the audience to sleep.

He tried not to come to a rash judgment, but concluded, “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.”

What worried him the most was the damage McCarthy would do over time:

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 correct: McCarthy stumbled on his own arrogance and ignorance; his actions discredited anti-communist efforts to this day.

Personally, I have those same fears about Donald Trump. Everything Chambers said about McCarthy looms in my mind when I hear Trump speak, and I am concerned that his nomination, let alone his possible election as president, may be the death knell for true conservatism, and Christians who currently look past his character failings will one day regret their willful blindness.

There are some who say that God doesn’t need a committed Christian to accomplish his purposes, that He can use someone who is terribly flawed and not in touch with Him to carry out His will.

I understand that position. God does work in all situations. He did use Nebuchadnezzar to carry out His judgments on His people of Israel. But that was for the purpose of punishment for sin. Frankly, He has a lot of politicians to choose from if He is ready to unleash His judgment on America. Trump is not unique in that sense.

Since when do we deliberately choose a spiritual renegade over a committed Christian man or woman who is seeking to do His will? Those men and women do exist, and some are running for president right now. Why would we throw our support behind someone who is more egocentric than anyone else in the political realm?

I don’t want to have to defend myself before God after making a choice like that. I’m going to give my vote to someone who at least has a heart for righteousness and the God who defines what is and is not righteous.

If Trump is the Republican nominee, we may be destroying whatever remains of principle in that party. If he should ever be elected president, we may see in that office someone who is a combination of Nebuchadnezzar and Joe McCarthy. He may be the channel for God’s judgment, but I will not willingly go that route. I still want to help save America.

My musings in this post will not be accepted by all, I know. But I hope you will, at the very least, avoid being caught up in an emotional appeal and will take some time to reflect on the concerns I have expressed here. May the Lord have mercy on us all.

Fruits of the Sabbatical

My 27th year of teaching at the college level begins today. I’m a little out of practice, though, after a year’s sabbatical. I’ll have to change my mental outlook and reorient myself.

The sabbatical year was a real blessing. When some people picture a sabbatical, they probably think of someone relaxing for a year, playing golf, etc. Well, I haven’t played golf since I was 18 (that was at least a couple of years ago) and for me, relaxation consists of reading, researching, and writing.

And that’s what I did for those many months.

What did I accomplish?

20141025_095359I researched at six presidential libraries—Eisenhower, LBJ, Nixon, Reagan, Bush I, and Clinton—and at the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College for a collaborative effort with a colleague on what we hope will be a book (books?) on spiritual advisors to presidents.

That research resulted in a mass of information in the form of letters, memos, etc., that still need to be examined more closely to decide what to use. Once a book contract for this is achieved, I’ll gladly let you know.

C. S. Lewis 5While at Wheaton, I delved into papers on C. S. Lewis at the Wade Center and came away convinced that a book should be written on Lewis’s influence on Americans. That turned into a major research project in which I read and took notes on all letters Lewis wrote to American correspondents.

As I was nearing completion of the book, I found an agent who is now working to place it with a publisher. As of this date, there is a bright prospect that one publisher is serious about it, but I’m still awaiting final approval.

Just last week, another breakthrough occurred. I had finished a book-length manuscript comparing the optimism of Ronald Reagan with the pessimism of Whittaker Chambers back in 2010. At one point, I had a publisher but had to withdraw from that contract. Now I have another contract on that one, and the book should be ready for the market either late September-early October.

El PradoSo, all in all, this has been a wonderful year of devotion to scholarly pursuits. I will always be grateful to Southeastern University for its confidence in me and the funding it provided for all those research trips.

My research deepened my own knowledge significantly. One of the fruits is a new course I will be teaching this semester on the influence of C. S. Lewis. That will be fun. Is it okay to have fun as a university professor?

So it’s back to “normal” life now. My spirit has revived and I’m ready to accept the teaching challenge once again. I thank God for the opportunities He provides.

Standing Athwart the Culture Yelling “Stop!”

What is left to say about our president that I already haven’t said in this blog? I’ve done my best to be honest and forthright about his radicalism, both culturally and politically, yet I don’t feel I can stop and say, “Well, that about covers it; on to the next topic.”

Actually, I do make a conscious effort not to make Obama the subject each day, but he keeps on doing things that force me to focus on him again. His choices for when to interject himself into the news, for instance, are always worthy of comment:

Obama Speaks Out

And we would all be hearing a whole lot more all the time about his many attempts to destroy political enemies, if not for the connivance of the press corps to avoid mentioning such embarrassing episodes:

Confidentiality

Richard Nixon was an amateur in these matters compared to Obama, yet the former was driven from office while the latter gets virtually no pressure from those who like to call themselves the “watchdogs” over politicians. They’re more like well-trained poodles.

The latest fiasco is also the most dangerous and foolish, simultaneously—the pending deal with Iran.

Have you noticed that Obama seems to have less difficulty working with terrorists who continue to chant “Death to America” even while he’s speaking with them than with Republicans in Congress?

Finally

Then, when one member of the press goes off the rails and actually questions Obama’s lack of concern for the American hostages who are still being held by Iran, he becomes sarcastic and does his best to demean the reporter publicly. No one likes to have a complete “cave” pointed out:

Keep the Hostages

The only place where there is any rejoicing over this “deal” is in Iran:

Hard Bargain

The ultimate insult to the Congress is that the deal is going to be presented to the United Nations first, to get its approval to lift all sanctions. This is just another example of Obama’s utter contempt for America’s Constitution. He’s a Citizen of the World in his heart, not the United States.

So why do I continue to write about our president? Even if it does no good, there needs to be an ongoing witness to the truth.

I’m reminded of a conversation William F. Buckley had with Whittaker Chambers back in the mid-1950s when he was trying to bring Chambers aboard as a contributor to his new magazine National Review. Here’s how Buckley described what transpired in that talk:

Whittaker Chambers 1A year before National Review was founded, I spent an evening with Whittaker Chambers, and he asked me, half provocatively, half seriously, what exactly it was that my prospective journal would seek to save.

I trotted out a few platitudes of the sort one might expect from a twenty-eight-year-old fogy, about the virtues of a free society. He wrestled with me by obtruding the dark historicism for which he had become renowned. Don’t you see? he said. The West is doomed, so that any effort to save it is correspondingly doomed to failure. . . .

But that night, challenged by his pessimism, I said to him that if it were so that providence had rung up our license on liberty, stamping it as expired, the Republic deserved a journal that would argue the historical and moral case that we ought to have survived: that, weighing the alternative, the culture of liberty deserves to survive.

So that even if the worst were to happen, the journal in which I hoped he would collaborate might serve, so to speak, as the diaries of Anne Frank had served, as absolute, dispositive proof that she should have survived, in place of her tormentors—who ultimately perished. In due course that argument prevailed, and Chambers joined the staff.

Even if, ultimately, we don’t win the argument with the culture, it is imperative that the argument be made. For me, it’s a matter of being faithful to what God has called me to be—one of those voices standing athwart the culture yelling “Stop!”

Only when there are enough voices doing so, and enough courageous individuals who will act on what they are saying, will we have any hope of successfully challenging the spirit of this age.

Whittaker Chambers: Conservatism or Counterrevolution?

Chambers at DeskThe year: 1938. The occasion: a meeting between Whittaker Chambers, who had, at great peril, left the American communist underground, and General Walter Krivitsky, a defector from Stalin’s secret police. This meeting was instrumental in helping Chambers decide to inform on his former underground associates, and eventually led to the front-page drama of the Chambers-Hiss controversy from 1948-1950.

Chambers was hesitant to talk with Krivitsky. He knew it might lead to that fateful decision that would change the rest of his life, bringing untold misery and anguish to his family and destroying his budding career as a writer for Time magazine. He reluctantly agreed to the meeting, and it became a pivotal event in his life.

Krivitsky challenged Chambers to take a stand against the forces of the communist revolution. As Chambers relates in his classic autobiography Witness, “Krivitsky said one or two things that were to take root in my mind and deeply to influence my conduct, for they seemed to correspond to the reality of my position.” Chambers focuses on one in particular—Krivitsky’s contention that, in the struggle taking place between totalitarianism and liberty, there are only revolutionists and counterrevolutionists.

Victory against the communists/fascists/totalitarians, Chambers concluded, will only come via an active counterrevolution, not through a passive conservatism. Here’s how he phrased it:

WitnessCounterrevolution and conservatism have little in common. In the struggle against Communism the conservative is all but helpless. For that struggle cannot be fought, much less won, or even understood, except in terms of total sacrifice. And the conservative is suspicious of sacrifice; he wishes first to conserve, above all what he is and what he has. You cannot fight against revolutions so.

There is much wisdom in those comments. “Conservative” is a fluid term. I can say I am a conservative because I want to maintain the original spirit and letter of the Constitution and America’s founding principles. A Russian conservative, on the other hand, would want to conserve the old Soviet ways.

Chambers’s words still apply today. We may not be faced with an external Soviet Union, but the totalitarian spirit remains. “Fascism,” Chambers explained, “is inherent in every collectivist form.” Modern liberalism/progressivism is a form of fascism due to its inherent desire to make everyone conform to its tenets.

This is why Christians are told they must accept the cultural revolution that heralds abortion on demand, same-sex marriage, and the withdrawal of Christian faith to within the walls of an external structure that the world calls “the church.”

But the church is not an external structure. It is the aggregate of all true believers who have been told by their Lord to take the faith into all areas of society. If we are passive, if we allow the society to lurch toward moral depravity without a counterbalancing message and the courage to proclaim that message, we are no more than timid conservatives who seek to retain what we have.

God has called us to more than that. We are the new counterrevolutionaries. We are the ones with the message of life. We are accountable for how we spread that message to our society.

Whittaker Chambers 1Whittaker Chambers did what he had to do in his day, and he suffered for it. Yet what he did was essential to the preservation of liberty and the recognition of Western civilization’s debt to the Christian faith.

Chambers instructs us that this battle “can be fought only by the force of an intelligence, a faith, a courage, a self-sacrifice, which must equal the revolutionary spirit” of the enemies of Christian faith and liberty.

Will we go forward in our day with the same courage Chambers exhibited? If we do, be assured there will be suffering. Yet action on our part is absolutely essential if we hope to turn the tide.