The Latest News Roundup

Republicans have almost accomplished something—almost because the House and the Senate still have to iron out differences—but it looks like a tax cut bill is ready to become reality.

Democrats criticized the Senate version as being cobbled together at the last moment, thereby not giving enough time to study it. Does that concern jog anyone else’s memory?

Yes, they didn’t exhibit this type of concern back in the Obamacare days.

One feature of the bill is something Ted Cruz added to it. I’ll let him explain:

The Senate also voted to adopt my amendment to expand 529 College Savings Plans to include K-12 elementary and secondary school tuition for public, private, and religious schools, including K-12 educational expenses for homeschool students.

I appreciate Cruz’s concern for families, and that it extends to Christian schools and those who choose homeschooling. The Democrats’ reaction to the Republican bill is perhaps best expressed by their Senate leader, Chuck Schumer:

What else has been happening? How about the wheels of justice in a place like San Francisco, where the illegal immigrant who was deported five times and then shot and killed Kate Steinle was acquitted by a jury of San Francisco citizens?

I think most of America has a different verdict to offer to the denizens of that Far Left enclave:

Also, the Mueller probe continues, in which former Trump advisor Michael Flynn has now accepted a guilty plea for lying to the FBI. I don’t condone Flynn’s actions nor his sometimes shady activities, but the glee on the Left reached new heights when ABC reporter (?) Brian Ross, citing a single anonymous source, declared that Flynn was prepared to testify that Donald Trump, as a candidate for president, told him to contact Russians.

The glee turned gloomy when the report turned out to be false. Ross has now been suspended for four weeks and has been informed that he will not be allowed to cover Trump news.

Lest you think everything has been rosy for the president, don’t forget that he tweets. He’s now claiming that the voice on that infamous NBC tape in which he boasted about how he could do pretty much anything he wanted with women due to his celebrity—you know, the tape that almost brought down his candidacy—is not really his voice at all.

Really.

We’re supposed to ignore the fact that he acknowledged back then that it was indeed his voice and that he offered somewhat of an apology for those words. I say “somewhat” because apology is not part of his vocabulary.

Even when things go right for Donald Trump, he is capable of ruining good news.

I shouldn’t neglect to mention that North Korea keeps firing missiles. It appears that rogue nation now has the ability to send one directly into the heart of America. What’s the next step for us in response to this threat?

I really hope we come up with something better than that.

Our Nation’s Political Health

Fair and balanced. I’m using that phrase today to make it clear that I am doing my best to be impartial in my analysis. An honest critique should always be acceptable to those who value honesty.

Let’s start with the Democrats.

They have been in an almost-insane froth ever since the election, convinced that Hillary should have been the easy winner and that only some kind of massive corruption could be responsible for the loss.

They have focused, along with their media allies, on Russian influence on the election despite the complete lack of evidence that even one vote was tampered with and that no amount of influence from Russia made any difference.

They are a party bereft of anything beneficial to offer America, choosing instead to promote abortion, same-sex marriage, and other moral aberrations (not to mention their pervasive “progressive” socialism).

Some of their more fanatical adherents believe there is only one solution:

If successful, of course, that would give us President Pence. Maybe they haven’t thought through their strategy carefully, as that would put a more principled conservative in charge.

The Russia thing should have gone away by now if not for the foolishness of Trump and his family. Trump Jr. jumped on the opportunity to meet with a Russian who said he had dirt on Hillary and could help tilt the election toward his dad.

Anyone with any political sense at all would have avoided all such contacts; in fact, anyone with any moral sense at all would have reported the invitation to the proper authorities. Russia is not our friend.

It is an established fact that the meeting took place. The rationale for why it is no big deal is that it didn’t really offer anything of value to use against Hillary. So intent means nothing?

More than one political cartoonist picked up on that cookie jar theme:

Again, to be fair and balanced, the media had an entirely different level of interest in this fiasco than in previous ones:

But that still doesn’t erase the fact that Trump Jr. did a very stupid thing, thereby opening up the inquiry further. The whole Russia probe is partly responsible (only partly, though) for the inertia we see on the policy front:

The other reasons for inertia lie with Republican timidity in Congress (a topic to be covered in an upcoming post) and with Trump’s own unwillingness to concentrate on what is more important than his own ego. He may be willing to sacrifice everyone just to make sure he comes out ahead:

Why do I say that?

Just look at how he treats people in his own administration. He hired Anthony Scaramucci as his new communications director against the advice of his top-level officials (but apparently with the approval of his family) without informing Sean Spicer, the man who has been burdened with carrying the communications load for a president who keeps changing his rhetoric and undermining Spicer’s efforts.

Spicer resigned, and one can understand why. Scaramucci’s task will not be easy; he may be favored right now, but one false step can change that.

Scaramucci, by the way, is on record as pro-abortion, pro-same-sex marriage, and pro-gun control—a funny way to help promote the conservative agenda.

Trump has now begun lashing out against Jeff Sessions, his attorney general, for recusing himself from the Russia investigation. Sessions did the right thing with his recusal, but Trump is angered by the decision. I predict Sessions will be forced out shortly, despite the fact that he was the first senator to endorse Trump and has been loyal through all of Trump’s antics.

Shouldn’t loyalty go both ways?

One of the rumors circulating is that Trump may replace Sessions with Ted Cruz. My advice? Senator Cruz, don’t ruin your future by agreeing to join this circus.

Reports now indicate (and I’m not relying on “fake news” sources for this) that Trump’s entire cabinet is in turmoil over the way he is treating Sessions, as they wonder who will be the next to be thrown under the proverbial bus. Secretary of State Tillerson, by all accounts, is ready to throw in the towel, frustrated by how Trump family members’ views have priority over his with respect to foreign relations.

Both Reince Priebus and Steve Bannon are now apparently on the hit list, despite the fact that they are not exactly on the same page. All that matters is complete loyalty to the president regardless of what he does.

In short, this appears to be an administration in administrative chaos, caused by the super-thin-skin of the man in charge.

Thus far, one key individual has escaped Trump’s attempt at public humiliation:

How long that will last is anyone’s guess.

Both Democrats and Republicans seem to be dysfunctional. This does not bode well for our political health.

A Compromised Principle, Unfortunately

The guideline I try to follow when considering whether I support a policy action is whether it actually advances the position I ultimately want to see enacted. I have stated that stance in these words before and will do so again:

A compromised principle leads to unrighteousness, but a principled compromise is a step closer to the principle’s ideal.

For instance, on abortion, I don’t take an all-or-nothing approach. If a proposed bill decreases the number of abortions, I support it because lives will be saved. I then hope for further steps that will get policy even closer to my ideal.

Obamacare repeal is now on the front burner in Congress. I’m trying to figure out whether what the Republican Congress is proposing is truly an advancement in repeal—a principled compromise—or if it is instead a compromised principle.

I’m willing to be patient if I know that the proposed bill is only a first step toward an effective repeal and replacement. I also know that some compromise is probably necessary due to lack of unity among Republicans on what should be done. I don’t really envy Mitch McConnell’s job:

The problem, as this political cartoon illustrates, is that some of the ducks are more like chickens—they are afraid of losing their prestigious Senate seat by supporting something that will anger too many voters.

The House bill already was rather weak; the Senate bill, which was released yesterday, is, by most accounts, even weaker, as most commentators predicted it would be.

Already four senators—Ted Cruz, Mike Lee, Rand Paul, and Ron Johnson—have declared they cannot support it in its current state. They say it does nothing to reduce premiums and it leaves most of the infrastructure of Obamacare in place. Even the principal architect of Obamacare, Jonathan Gruber, gleefully declared that this proposed bill keeps Obamacare basically intact.

Obamacare’s regulatory scheme remains untouched; insurance companies will continue to receive subsidies (from taxpayers, keep in mind); it says it will reform Medicaid (but not for a number of years, so who really believes that will happen?); Planned Parenthood is defunded (for one whole year; after that, it reverts back to current funding); the individual mandate and taxes do go away, but all the regulations continue as before.

Those four senators who said they cannot support the bill are now going to try to strengthen it. If they don’t succeed, and they stay firm in their opposition, it will go down to defeat, and rightly so.

Why rightly so? It’s not enough of a principled compromise; it leans heavily toward a compromised principle.

How often were we told by Republicans that once they got control of Congress and the White House that they would destroy the Obamacare monster once and for all? Well, here’s the reality:

This is so sad, it’s hard to know what else to say.

Maintaining Integrity in an Era of Conspiracies

I would rather write about weighty thoughts in Scripture, C. S. Lewis, or Whittaker Chambers. Yet the stupid antics of everyday politics always seem to intervene, and since I put myself out here as a commentator on all things cultural and political, I feel a certain necessity to offer what I hope are informed opinions on current events.

As I’ve noted previously, I’m trying very hard to be balanced in my perspective on President Trump. Although I warned against his nomination vigorously and detailed my reasons for opposition to him throughout the last campaign, I have determined to support him when I can now that he is our president.

I also will continue to point out the problems he causes. And that’s where I am today.

Last weekend, Trump used his infamous Twitter account to claim that the Obama administration wiretapped him prior to the election. I’ve waited a week to see if he has any evidence to back up the claim, but nothing has come forth.

By remaining silent on evidence, he has lost the confidence even of those in his own party. The House Intelligence Committee, controlled by Republicans, has called for him to put up or shut up by today.

What has he really gained by making the accusation?

Now, let me be clear that I would never put it past our former president to have done something like this. Obama’s absence of integrity is legendary, and his denials of wrongdoing lack, shall we say, credibility.

Yet Obama’s lack of integrity doesn’t lead me to believe that Trump therefore must be acting with integrity. Apparently, most Republicans agree:

My concern about Trump’s character goes back to the campaign. He constantly insulted all Republican contenders for the nomination and, in Ted Cruz’s case, made up all sorts of crazy accusations:

  • Cruz is not a natural-born citizen
  • Cruz had a flurry of affairs (unlike Mr. Trump, of course)
  • Cruz’s wife has dark secrets that will be exposed (and she’s ugly)
  • Cruz’s dad is somehow implicated in the JFK assassination

Need I go on?

We’re witnessing a new level of conspiracy charges on both sides of the political divide.

Rational thought seems to be plummeting into a sinkhole of political lunacy:

Christians are supposed to be the salt and light in a nation. Whenever we fall into this pattern of wild charges of conspiracy, we are abandoning our calling. My political conservatism stems from my Biblical faith, but I must never reverse the order. Politics must not determine my faith; my faith must inform my politics.

Christians, maintain your integrity.

Trump’s Questionable Picks

My previous post was full of praise for a good number of Trump’s cabinet nominations. Proper analysis, though, requires honest scrutiny of picks who may not be as praiseworthy. There are a few.

It took a while for Trump to make a choice for secretary of state, and everyone was waiting for that crucial decision. The job is always considered one of the most significant, as it bears the responsibility of representing the administration to other countries.

Rex Tillerson, CEO of ExxonMobil, has been chosen to be the next secretary of state. That nomination, though, has already come under fire. The biggest concern for many is the close ties Tillerson has developed with Vladimir Putin.

Russia, in the Putin era, has not been America’s friend. It is an ally of Iran, which has lately reconfirmed its desire to wipe Israel off the map. Russia also has been the most visible backer of Syria’s despotic leader Bashar Assad.

With accusations of Russia’s attempted interference in our presidential election (pretty well established, but not necessarily something that influenced the outcome), Tillerson is a controversial pick.

I have that concern as well. Yet my concerns run deeper.

As head of the Boy Scouts of America, Tillerson led the charge to open the organization not only to boys who claim to be homosexual but to homosexual leaders, thereby changing the entire direction of the Boy Scouts. ExxonMobil also is a prominent donor to Planned Parenthood, apparently unfazed by the 300,000-plus babies who are murdered each year with the help of that organization.

I was gratified to see Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, come out firmly opposed to Tillerson’s nomination. Perkins had visibly lined up the FRC in favor of Trump during the election.

Some will say that those criticisms shouldn’t be part of this process, that the job of secretary of state won’t get Tillerson involved in those issues. That’s not necessarily so. When dealing with other nations, all kinds of policies may be on the table. I don’t want someone with Tillerson’s views representing this nation.

Less controversial, but also questionable, are the nominations of Steve Mnuchin for secretary of the treasury and Wilbur Ross for secretary of commerce.

Mnuchin was Trump’s national finance director for the campaign. He is a lifelong Democrat who spent seventeen years at Goldman Sachs, eventually becoming a partner in the firm.

What’s amazing to me is that for many of Trump’s most fervent backers, Goldman Sachs is the epitome of all evil. Trump himself attacked the firm during the campaign and loved to link Ted Cruz to it because Cruz’s wife, Heidi, used to work there.

Yet I hear crickets now from those who think Goldman Sachs is the focus of evil in the modern world. Trump wants a former Goldman Sachs partner running the treasury department and no one who vilified the firm earlier has publicly criticized the move.

Let’s be honest. Trump never really believed Goldman Sachs was all that bad. He was merely manufacturing outrage to get votes.

What bothers me most about this is the propensity of the most dedicated Trump backers to give him a pass for things they would loudly condemn if others did them. This is close to a cult of personality. Haven’t we had enough of that these past eight years?

Mnuchin may be a fine secretary of the treasury. I will give the benefit of the doubt, but his record certainly bears scrutiny.

Wilbur Ross, the secretary of commerce designee, is another lifelong Democrat who is an outspoken critic of free trade, which is Trump’s position also. Personally, I favor free trade, so I’m at odds with Trump’s views on that from the start.

As someone who has spent his career buying up and restructuring failing companies, Ross does have vital experience to offer if he truly knows how to bolster commerce in that way. But Trump has another reason for choosing him.

Trump owes Ross a lot. His relationship with Trump goes back decades. Ross helped Trump keep control of his failing Taj Mahal casino in the 1990s by persuading investors not to push out the real estate mogul.

What? Trump, the expert businessman who is great at all he does, needed to be bailed out? Balloon punctured.

Those are the most questionable of Trump’s cabinet picks. All of the ones I’ve highlighted, both positive and negative, over these last two posts, require Senate confirmation. Tillerson, in particular, may face some rough sledding, but Senate Republicans may feel like they have to give Trump what he wants at this point.

There are other appointments Trump has made that don’t have go through the Senate confirmation process. I will deal with those in another post.

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.

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.