Enough with the Excuses & Rationalizations

I’ll begin with a few comments about the debate last night, but I will then move on to what I consider to be a more important subject.

First, it was satisfying to see Hillary Clinton on the defensive, which is where she should always be. I also didn’t mind seeing women in the audience who have accused Bill Clinton of unwanted sexual advances—rape, in one instance—as well as one who was raped by a man whom Hillary defended in court and got him acquitted in spite of the fact he was guilty. She’s on tape, laughing about that afterward.

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Trump’s debate performance was better than his disaster (his favorite word last night) the first time around, but that’s not saying much because the expectations bar is already set so low. The best I can say is that he didn’t spontaneously combust (although I sensed he was on the verge of doing so a number of times).

His performance will embolden his most devoted backers, but I doubt he won over the kinds of voters he will need to win this election. He categorically stated he never pushed himself on women or sexually abused them. I predict that declaration will boomerang on him very soon. In fact, there are already accounts out there that show it’s a bald-faced lie.

Enough on the debate itself.

What has really occupied my thoughts over this weekend is the way evangelicals have come to Trump’s defense after witnessing the indefensible. I’m appalled, frankly, by the excuses and rationalizations being put forward on his behalf. Certain ones come to the forefront, and I would like to address them.

Bad actions vs. bad words

pick-your-poisonThere’s a meme floating around Facebook that gives a list of all the bad things the Clintons have done compared to what Trump has done. On the Clinton side of the ledger, there are many bad actions noted. I have no problem with that; they are all true. On the Trump side, it says only “said mean things.”

The goal, of course, is to contrast a well-documented list of Clinton behavior (as I said, all true) with Trump’s words. “See,” we’re told, “he hasn’t done anything; he only steps out of bounds sometimes with the way he says things.”

Anyone who thinks Trump hasn’t done evil, vile things in his life is living in a dream world. His life is just as much an open book as the Clintons and just as seamy. His business dealings are shady at best, he treats people as commodities for his own advancement, others suffer from his malfeasance—not paying contractors, closing down failing business ventures, conning people with phony enterprises like Trump University (coming to a courtroom near us all very soon), etc.

His comments in the video released last week are not just words. They were bragging comments about how he actually has treated women and how he views them overall. As Trump might say in one of his tweets: BAD. SAD. NOT GOOD.

Those comments also reveal what should have been obvious to everyone by now: he thinks of himself as a privileged individual—a “star”—who can do whatever he wants.

This is what you want in a president? He has gone far beyond “just words.”

All men talk like that

Baloney. Next.

The Clintons are worse

I might agree. I might not. It’s beside the point. Bad is bad. Corrupt is corrupt. It exists on both sides. Whenever anyone tries to excuse bad behavior on one side by pointing to the other, it’s merely a deflection and a desire to change the focus.

No matter what the Clintons have done, Trump must answer for what he has done. Pointing out all the Clintons’ sins (and there are so many one can easily lose count) doesn’t change one bit what Trump has done and the essence of his character.

Trump defenders who use this ploy are unwilling to face the facts about him. They hope that by highlighting the evil on the other side that the rest of us will erase from our minds the evil on the Trump side. That’s not going to happen with me; his evil is just as prominent.

Trump used those women abused by the Clintons to try to show how great he is because he is on those women’s side. Go back in history. At the time those accusations against Bill Clinton were made public, what was his response? Trump, at that time, ridiculed the women and defended the sexual abuser. Now he wants us to believe he is the staunch protector of the weak? Get serious. This is all political show.

Let him who is without sin cast the first stone/judge not lest you be judged

phariseesUsing scriptures like these to try to shame those of us who are attempting to shed light on Trump’s character is unjust. First, it is a none-too-subtle accusation of Pharisaism. It puts us in the crowd of Pharisees who wanted to stone the woman caught in adultery. Apparently, we are harboring our own sins and have no right to point out Trump’s.

That, in itself, is offensive. It implies that anyone who ever expresses concern about sinfulness has no standing to say anything because of one’s own sins. We’re not allowed to warn others about the sins of a man who wants to lead a nation?

By the way, what did Jesus say to that woman caught in adultery after everyone else left? He made it clear she had sinned indeed and warned her: go and sin no more.

judging-othersAs for not judging, go to Matthew 7 where that passage is found. Read it carefully. It’s not a prohibition on passing judgment; rather, it’s a prohibition on judging if you haven’t taken care of your own sins first. Take the log out of your own eye, but then it is fine to take the splinter out of another’s. Judgment does happen, all the time, as it should. We are to be a discerning people. This is merely a warning against hypocrisy when you do judge.

By the way, aren’t those who are telling us not to judge Trump judging us? If you take your own words seriously, you should stop telling me to stop judging Trump.

We’re not electing a pastor-in-chief

Agreed. But does that mean instead that we elect an unrepentant serial abuser of women, a man who spins conspiracy theories for his own political benefit, who insults anyone who stands in his way, who lies blatantly about anything and everything, and who considers himself a privileged person who can get whatever he wants?

Seriously?

The saddest part of this past weekend for me is that the stoutest defenders of Donald Trump have seem to come from his cadre of evangelical supporters. I agree with what Dr. Russell Moore said:

The damage done to the gospel this year, by so-called evangelicals, will take longer to recover from than the ’80s TV evangelist scandals.

I also agree with Rich Lowry at National Review:

Someday they will wonder how a man representing the worst excesses of the entertainment world and our elite culture became not just the Republican nominee, but the candidate of the religious right.

It’s well beyond time for Christians to untangle themselves from Donald Trump. Damage to the Christian witness has been considerable, but through repentance and a renewed commitment to righteousness, perhaps some of that can be reversed.

Enough with the excuses and rationalizations.

Debating My Conservatism

I’m going to begin this blog today with what some might consider an audacious comparison, but I hope you won’t misunderstand. In the current political climate, I find myself feeling kind of like how the apostle Paul must have felt when his apostleship was questioned. He had to provide a list of his bona fides to the Corinthians to show that he was the genuine article.

That is strange to Christians today because we take Paul’s word as authoritative. Yet in his lifetime he had to defend himself from accusations of being inauthentic.

No, I’m not like the apostle Paul in my ministry, neither in my effectiveness nor in the type of direct experiences he had with Christ. So let’s lay aside any thought that I am trying to say that.

However, I, like Paul, practically feel constrained to prove my bona fides now that I am opposed to Donald Trump’s candidacy. To some critics of my position, I appear as a pseudo-conservative, perhaps even a closet supporter of Hillary Clinton.

Perish that thought immediately, please!

I have been a conservative long before many of you took your first breath. From the first vote I ever made (I won’t give the year—it will come across as ancient history to some readers) I have always supported the Republican candidates, not only at the national level, but in all state and local elections as well.

I was defending conservatism in the liberal atmosphere of my master’s and doctoral programs at very liberal institutions.

I wrote a book on the Bill Clinton impeachment that gives the House Managers’ side of the story when I realized that the media had no desire to give them any credibility. My concern over media bias is longstanding.

book-cover-1My academic research has focused on conservatism and how it plays out in society. For evidence, I give you my book published last year on Ronald Reagan and Whittaker Chambers.

Further, I teach a course on Chambers and another on Reagan and the development of modern American conservatism. I do that in order to educate students in that history so they can have a degree of balance in their intellectual life, knowing that if they proceed into graduate studies, they need a firm foundation as they tackle the worldview they will be given there.

So I take a back seat to no one with respect to my foundational conservative beliefs.

This is all background for what I want to say about the first presidential debate, and I trust this will be my final comment on that.

While I had little desire to watch this debate, I’m glad I did. It only magnified what I already think and feel about the options offered us this year.

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Trump’s advocates were hoping he would be such a change agent in this kind of format that he would take Hillary off her game. That didn’t happen, primarily due to his juvenile behavior.

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What I’m beginning to see now on social media and from pro-Trump commentators is a resort to conspiracy theories as to why he didn’t perform well. Hillary got the debate questions ahead of time. Her people sneaked a folder filled with who-knows-what to Lester Holt. She gave Holt little signals so he would know it’s time to help her out.

What a bunch of baloney (you may use that academic term anytime you need it). Hillary didn’t need any conspiracy to help her; she had Trump.

He lost this round big time. His advisors implicitly admit it. They are openly talking about how they have to change strategy for debate #2. You know, things like “prepare for the debate.”

Don’t succumb to the conspiracies. Face the facts.

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What distresses me most about this election cycle is the loss of intellectual integrity and the reactionary mood emanating from what I had hoped was a well-grounded, principled conservatism. Anger, fear, and personal attacks on those who continue to oppose the descent into constitutional nihilism has saddened me.

I’ve been accused of self-righteousness because I won’t board this Trump Train. I’ve been told I’m supporting Hillary simply because I find both candidates abhorrent. Am I really pro-life? Am I even a Christian if I can’t find the wherewithal to be on Trump’s side?

I’ve done my best not to accuse fellow believers who are planning to vote for Trump of not being Christian. Yes, I’ve laid out my reasons for why I think that’s a bad move, based on the Biblical principles I’ve taught for many years. But I do not question their faith nor will I ever castigate them for their vote. It’s not personal. I hope they will continue to be my friends.

After this first debate, what is the mood of the country?

dead-heat

Trump might win, although I think that less likely than a Hillary victory. If he does win, I will pray earnestly that he will turn out better than I thought. Be prepared, though, to be bitterly disappointed.

Debate Debacle

I did it. I forced myself to watch the debate last night. Well, I’m not sure debate is the proper term for what I witnessed, but I’ll go with the conventional term for now.

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I will now begin my exercise in futility by offering my take on what happened. Why call it an exercise in futility? Because probably no one’s mind will be changed by what I say today. Minds were made up prior to the debate. No matter what, Hillary supporters will say she won and Trump supporters will say he emerged the victor.

Yet here I go anyway.

What I saw at the beginning of the debate was two calm candidates, both trying to impress upon the vast audience that they can be trusted to lead the Free World. Throughout the debate, the usual lies reared their ugly heads: Hillary with her e-mails, Trump with his business dealings and his birtherism, just to name a few.

truth-fairy

Hillary’s demeanor was smug most of the time, and she really pandered to her base with her comments about how the justice system is replete with systemic racism and police need to be retrained. Her statements about the administration’s wonderful deal with Iran were cringe-worthy.

But at least she kept her cool and didn’t have a physical breakdown from whatever ailments she suffers.

Trump was in familiar territory at the beginning when talking about the economy and jobs. For the first 15-20 minutes, he seemed to be in control and looked as presidential as it is possible for him to look.

Then Hillary attacked his business ethics. The game changed.

She apparently learned that the one way to get his goat is to attack the Trump Brand. He never lets that go, but will defend himself endlessly. And “endlessly” is how I can best describe his ramblings for the rest of the evening.

He started to constantly interrupt (his trademark tactic during all the primary debates), he became irritated, pretty much lost his cool, and practically came off the rails by the time the debacle was over.

Some of you will think I’m just projecting my dislike for Trump into my perception of how he handled himself, but honestly, how can anyone have watched the last 45 minutes or so and not seen him disintegrate before your eyes? It takes blinders of magnificent proportions not to admit that he melted down publicly.

And then, after all his incoherent ramblings, he had the lack of self-awareness to pontificate on how he had the “best” temperament. It was like watching a comedy routine.

All Hillary had to do for the final 20 minutes was stand there and let him demonstrate his incoherence. You could see the smile on her face and practically feel her relaxing. He was doing her job for her.

Please, listen objectively to this man. He never really answered the questions put to him but just repeated incessantly that things are awful and we need to do better. How? Where are the specifics? And when it came to foreign policy, he was in uncharted territory, showing the world that he didn’t even bother to prepare for this debate.

The birtherism issue was the most painful to watch. I won’t go into the details, but I dare you to make sense of what he said on that topic.

And please, don’t try to blame it all on the moderator. That’s a cop-out.

David French commented that after the first 15 or 20 minutes, it was like the SS Trump hit the iceberg, then backed up and hit it again just for fun.

French also said that if we hadn’t just lived through the first nine months of 2016, he would have to say that Trump was toast after this performance. What did he mean? Only that Trump should have been toast long ago, but this year we have entered into some kind of alternate reality in which somehow it doesn’t matter anymore that a presidential candidate is bonkers.

What bothers me the most is that people that I normally would trust to be intelligent will look at what happened last night and come away saying that Trump did fine. That is depressing.

So we have, on the one side, a failed secretary of state who put the nation’s security at risk with her e-mail server and who will continue the disaster of the Obama years if she is put in charge—and on the other side a clueless, self-absorbed pathological liar who will take us on his own unique downward path.

other-debate

If sanity were to prevail, neither of these people would be allowed to ever enter the White House, even as visitors.

An Evangelical Scarlet Letter?

Increasingly, there is pressure on those of us who have always identified with the Republican party but who cannot bring ourselves to support Donald Trump to lay aside our objections and come together for the sake of unity. And to stop the ultimate horror: Hillary Clinton.

Many who were quite verbal in their detestation of Trump early on (such as former Texas governor Rick Perry) have done a complete 180, now saying he’s just marvelous. Perry, who had said Trump was “a cancer on conservatism,” “a barking carnival act,” and who called Trumpism “a toxic mix of demogoguery, mean-spiritedness, and nonsense that will lead the Republican party to perdition,” later said he would love to be Trump’s VP choice.

poll-numbers

Ah, principle! It’s so ennobling.

I can’t go there.

There are so many reasons why I cannot that it has become difficult to encapsulate them in one simple blog post. One of the first impressions I had of Trump when the primary debates began was his simple-mindedness, his elementary-level vocabulary, and his complete lack of knowledge on issues of utmost importance.

forrest-trump

Forrest Gump, though, was likeable and never had an insulting, rude bone in his body. Not so Donald Trump.

tip-top-shape

His constant personal attacks on the other Republican candidates were legion. The ones that stay with me the most, of course, are those on Ted Cruz, who received the full treatment because he was the greatest threat to Trump’s ascendancy.

In case you have suffered from a type of political amnesia brought on by partisanship, let me remind you of a few of those. First, he questioned Cruz’s status as a natural-born citizen, despite the fact that Cruz’s mother was an American citizen and the fact that the law declares anyone born to at least one American citizen is a natural-born citizen as well.

This wasn’t Trump’s first time using this conspiracy theory. He was one of the leading proponents who questioned Obama’s birth. Now, I know many on the conservative side of the political spectrum still want to beat that proverbial dead horse, but it truly is dead.

Even Trump had to admit that a few days ago . . . sort of:

born-in-hawaii

Those in the know realize he was pressured into accepting it publicly by his advisors, but he continues to hint that it was purely a political move. What a surprise.

Did he ever apologize to Cruz for that foray into political manipulation? Right. Donald Trump apologizes for nothing.

He has never apologized for pushing a false story about Cruz having many affairs (never mind The Donald’s own personal life), nor for attacking Heidi Cruz (claiming he will “out” her for some deep, dark secret) and allowing a horrid photo of her to be placed alongside his model wife (third one, if you are counting—maybe more to come), nor for intimating that Cruz’s father was somehow involved with the JFK assassination.

And then he expects Cruz to endorse him?

I could also go into how he has taken positions contrary to traditional conservative policy; conservatives who used to oppose those positions now suddenly find them delightful because their nominee is proposing them.

excellent-shape

Ah, principle. It’s so ennobling.

Wait a minute. Didn’t I already say that?

In my view, those of us who will not vote for Trump are the ones holding more firmly to what the Republican party says it believes.

lost-my-party

Erick Erickson, a staunch voice against Trumpism, wrote an essay the other day that he entitled “Reconsidering My Opposition to Trump.” At first glance, that would lead someone to think he has now capitulated. Not the case.

The essay begins with a serious indictment of Hillary Clinton, ending with the words, “In short, I see the election of Hillary Clinton as the antithesis of all my values and ideas on what fosters sound civil society in this country. Further, she should be in jail.”

Then why not support Trump? While he goes into a lot of detail why even the threat of Hillary will not move him away from being anti-Trump also, these paragraphs get to the heart of it for me:

More importantly, while I think Hillary Clinton will do long term damage to the country, I believe Donald Trump will do far more damage to the church, which must be my chief priority. A Clinton Administration may see the church besieged from the outside, but a Trump Administration will see the church poisoned from within [emphasis mine].

I see it happening even now. This past Friday I debated the merits of Trump and sat next to a Christian who argued that because God chose sinners, we should choose Trump. She argued that a bunch of other Presidents were terrible, immoral people so we should be okay with Trump. She argued that God chose Abraham, Samson, and David, so we should choose Trump.

I do not recall John F. Kennedy writing books bragging about his affairs. I do not recall Bill Clinton telling a television audience he wanted to have sex with his daughter.

How far a Christian must fall to justify the low morals of one man by tearing down the reputations of others in sometimes exaggerated manners. And I do recall God choosing Abraham, Samson, and David and all of them repenting of their sins. That repentance stands in studied contrast to Donald Trump who has three times said he never had to ask for forgiveness and only recently said his advance of the church, if he is elected, might be the only thing that gets him into Heaven.

My priority is the same as Erickson’s. I want the Christian witness to the world to be consistent. Support for an openly immoral man who sees no need for repentance undermines that witness. By the way, it also doesn’t help Donald Trump. When he sees all those evangelicals lining up on his side and extolling his virtues, how will he ever be brought to repentance? Fervent evangelical support may have the opposite effect and ground him ever more firmly in his sin.

Potential short-term political gain must be subordinated to long-term promotion of the kingdom of God. I’m afraid that Christians who tie themselves too closely to Trump will, figuratively, have to walk around later with a scarlet letter emblazoned on their Christian witness.

Healthy Candidates?

The health of the presidential candidates has come into prominence as the election approaches, as well it should. In the past, candidates have tried to hide health problems, so we are seeing nothing new today.

Franklin Roosevelt was far too ill to run again in 1944, but he did so anyway. He then died three months into his fourth term. John Kennedy’s publicity machine made him appear youthful and vigorous when, in fact, he had a number of physical ailments that led him to trust in a “feel-good” doctor who gave him injections of steroids to mask his infirmities.

Hillary’s near-total collapse at the 9-11 remembrance has apparently caused a tumble in her polling numbers. We’ll have to see if she has bottomed out yet. The campaign brushes it off as simple dehydration complicated by pneumonia. Well, why shouldn’t we trust what her campaign says? Maybe it has something to do with her history of secrecy and misdirections.

reflex

The release of some of Colin Powell’s e-mails, with his negative comments on both Hillary and Trump has caused some stir. Publicly, he has rejected Hillary’s attempt to tie him to the reason she set up a secret e-mail server. He thinks neither candidate deserves support, apparently.

both-idiots

Shortly after Hillary’s “episode” on 9-11, there were rumors of finding a replacement. I know of at least one person who is waiting in the wings:

break-glass

Trump refuses to release his medical records also. Anyone who is 70 ought to let the public know his health status. All we get is an assurance from a doctor (a loose description of this particular individual—I’ll let you research him on your own) that Trump is the healthiest man ever to run for the presidency. The language sounds like it emanated from Trump himself. The hyperbole makes one less confident in the assessment, not more confident.

Perhaps the first debate should start this way:

treadmill

The public’s trust in both candidates is probably the lowest of any presidential election. The percentage of voters who have chosen third-party candidates in previous elections is about 9%; some are saying that percentage may conceivably double this time.

Yet, when it comes right down to it, it was the voters who chose to go with these candidates in the first place.

examination

We reap the consequences of our foolish choices.

Hillary & the Seared Conscience

The Scriptures tell us how people can develop a seared conscience. It comes from committing a sin so often that, after a while, it no longer bothers the person committing the sin. The sin itself becomes part of that person’s character.

We see two outstanding examples of this phenomenon in both of our principal presidential candidates, but Hillary Clinton’s propensity for unremitting lying has been getting most of the attention lately . . . and shall I say finally?

Nearly every statement she has ever made about her e-mail server has now been publicly exposed as a lie. The latest revelations in the FBI notes when that agency interviewed her are that her people used what they hoped would be a super-strong program to wipe the server clean and that many of the phones she used were destroyed, sometimes simply by using a hammer.

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problem-with-phone

Intimately connected with the server/e-mail lies are the lies associated with the now-infamous Clinton Foundation, the recipient of funds from people (some being foreign powers) who sought favors from the Hillary-led State Department, which is probably the reason for all the e-mail server secrecy in the first place:

every-lie

But what has caught the public’s attention more recently was Hillary’s collapse as she exited the 9/11 ceremony early on Sunday. If you have seen the video, it is startling just how incapacitated she appeared, having to be supported wholly by others as she was practically thrown into the waiting van.

Eventually, the campaign said she was suffering from pneumonia. With all the stories circulating about far worse health issues, many are finding that explanation something less than believable. If she will lie about everything else, why not her health?

i-can-treat

Whatever her real condition, one can gauge how serious it must be if one follows the Clintons’ history:

must-be-serious

Perhaps the most amazing thing about the episode is the relative silence coming from Donald Trump. What happened to his Twitter account? Where are the usual insults and inane comments that his campaign has to clarify afterwards?

response

Those of you who thought you were getting someone who was not a “manufactured” candidate might have to rethink that assumption. The professionals are doing all they can to make him seem credible and normal. Give them a break; it’s a tough job.

Seeking God’s Mercy in an Election Year

Both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump continue to make news, not all of it very inspiring. Well, hardly any of it inspiring.

On Hillary’s part, the key has been to hide as much bad news as possible, such as the Labor Day weekend dump of the notes made by the FBI when she was interviewed. The hope was that no one would pay attention on a holiday weekend. The word is getting out, though, that she plays fast and loose with the truth on nearly everything.

The Hillary camp’s mantra, though, remains consistent:

Notes

Then there’s the issue of her health. It’s not just anti-Hillary outlets that are now commenting on it. It’s hard to ignore increasing coughing spells that last for minutes.

Happens Every Time

So, naturally, Trump makes an issue of it as well, raising questions about whether she can handle the office. He demands she release her medical records. I agree she should. The other side of the coin, of course, is that 70-year-old Trump should do the same, but he refuses also. Shouldn’t this apply to both equally?

Then there’s the demand from the Clinton camp that Trump needs to release his tax returns. On this point, I am in complete agreement. In the same way that she seeks to hide her health records, he seems bent on letting no one see the truth about his income, charitable deductions, or other questionable things that might come to the surface upon examination.

Hypocrisy abounds for both.

Trump also is making news about his position on immigration—whatever that really might be. It kind of depends on the day and the audience before which he is speaking.

Immigration Position

This election season corresponds with the height of hurricane season. There are similarities:

Two Storms

Never have the two presidential candidates in an election year been so roundly despised by the electorate:

Negative & Negative

This has led to new strategies for voters:

Cancel Out

For my part, I think we lose regardless of who wins. That’s why I will not vote for either one. I’ve covered the ground before for why I have come to that decision, so I won’t repeat it all here.

My hope is that those who claim to be Christians will humble themselves and admit there is no human solution to our problems and cease to promote anyone who doesn’t deserve our support. Perhaps then God will show mercy and do things behind the scenes to lessen the consequences of our foolishness as a nation.