An Honest Appraisal of the First Weekend

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

Let’s begin with praise.

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

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

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

Welcome back, Mr. Churchill.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Sober Assessment Going Forward

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ideology & the Height of Irresponsibility

I think the Obama inaugural is worth at least one more day’s commentary. But I’ll let the cartoonists carry most of the weight today. For instance, we all know the president takes his oath of office while putting his hand on the Bible. According to one cartoonist, perhaps this should have happened at that moment:

It didn’t. God rarely makes such a dramatic gesture; He prefers we figure it out because, frankly, it shouldn’t be that hard. All one has to do is look at Obama’s actions for the last four years. If we’re so comatose not to be aware of his attitude toward the rule of law, we deserve to suffer the consequences.

The speech itself also has generated commentary for its unabashed and unapologetic liberal/progressive nature. Again, why would anyone be surprised? When some were saying Obama would tack to the center to get support for Obamacare and other initiatives, I never bought it. He is too ideological for that. He boldly ventured where few publicly dare to go:

He’s also quite adept at appearing to venerate American tradition and reverence for the Founding. But if you listen closely, you realize he’s uprooting those principles, replacing them with an opposing ideology:

One of his points, in passing, was the importance of reasoned debate and how we all should refrain from name-calling. Are we really that absent-minded with respect to his own conduct?

In the entire speech, there was not one word about the danger of the mountain of national debt he has accumulated. He’s not really all that concerned about it. One of his mentors, economist John Maynard Keynes, who was largely responsible for convincing politicians that government spending was the pathway to prosperity, once famously [or infamously] remarked about his lack of concern over debt, “In the long run, we are all dead.” In other words, don’t worry about it—we all die anyway, so spend to the hilt.

The biggest problem with that scenario is that future generations will have to deal with what we’ve done. They will be stuck cleaning up the mess.

That’s the height of irresponsibility. That’s the kind of president we have.

Interpreting Obama’s Inaugural Address

One of the key ways to mislead people is to use the same words everyone else uses, but to give those words a different meaning without explaining to the listeners the new definitions. President Obama’s inaugural address needs to be interpreted in that way. He used “Progressive-Speak” to make his points, yet most Americans don’t understand this particular language. I feel it is my duty to be his interpreter. I won’t include the entire speech; it would be far too long. Oh, for another Lincolnesque inaugural! I will instead provide key sentences and phrases, to be followed by my comments. The president’s words will be italicized; mine will be in bolded letters afterwards.

Each time we gather to inaugurate a president we bear witness to the enduring strength of our Constitution.

That’s the same Constitution he has criticized for being too negative. It’s the same Constitution he has ignored wholesale. But a nod to it is essential if he wants to reel in the unsuspecting to accept what is to follow.

What makes us exceptional—what makes us American–is our allegiance to an idea articulated in a declaration made more than two centuries ago . . .

He then quotes the Declaration of Independence about our Creator giving us inalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Right to life? Since when has he believed that? Certainly not in the case of unborn children.

Today we continue a never-ending journey to bridge the meaning of those words with the realities of our time.

Sounds good. However, what’s behind those words is a deep-seated belief that the Founders failed in their time, that most of American history is a failure to make those words realities, and only now, under his leadership, will we see them fulfilled.

Together, we determined that a modern economy requires railroads and highways to speed travel and commerce, schools and colleges to train our workers. Together we discovered that a free market only thrives when there are rules to ensure competition and fair play. Together, we resolved that a great nation must care for the vulnerable, and protect its people from life’s worst hazards and misfortune.

“Together” is Progressive-Speak for government control and direction, and it applies to travel, commerce, and education: the government needs to direct all of them. The free market, however, cannot be truly free; government must set up rules ahead of time to force what the government deems to be “fair.” Caring for the vulnerable and protecting people from life’s hazards means the government will ensure no one fails. All are protected by Big Brother—except, of course, the unborn.

Through it all, we have never relinquished our skepticism of central authority, nor have we succumbed to the fiction that all society’s ills can be cured through government alone.

When Ronald Reagan said something like this, it meant exactly what those words say. When Barack Obama says this, it means . . . nothing. It’s a sop in the direction of those who are wondering if we’ve gone too far. To be charitable, he may be referring to those “private” organizations that he can direct and control, such as community organizers. Yet they are simply arms of his government, doing his bidding.

But we have always understood that when times change, so must we; that fidelity to our founding principles requires new responses to new challenges; that preserving our individual freedoms requires collective action.

Collective, collective, collective. We no longer live in the founding era, so now we must lay aside those ideas and follow the newer collective model. Collective = government direction and control.

A decade of war is now ending. An economic recovery has begun.

[Insert hearty laughter here.]

For we, the people, understand that our country cannot succeed when a shrinking few do very well and a growing many barely make it.

That evil 1% is really going to suffer now. And please don’t ask why so many are barely making it after four years of my administration. It’s probably Bush’s fault.

We are true to our creed when a little girl born into the bleakest poverty knows that she has the same chance to succeed as anybody else, because she is an American; she is free, and she is equal, not just in the eyes of God but also in our own.

This is to convey the impression that American poverty may be the worst on the planet, notwithstanding all those Third World nations whose citizens would grasp at the chance to be as poor as the typical poor American. Notice the little girl is allowed to be born. That’s not always the case in Barack Obama’s vision of America where Planned Parenthood receives taxpayer funds to abort more than 330,000 children in a year.

We must make the hard choices to reduce the cost of health care and the size of our deficit.

Never mind that Obamacare is poised to send health insurance costs through the roof and add to the deficit. Never mind that Obama inherited a $10 trillion deficit and has somehow accomplished raising it to more than $16 trillion in four years. [Feel free to insert more laughter here.]

We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations. Some may still deny the overwhelming judgment of science, but none can avoid the devastating impact of raging fires and crippling drought and more powerful storms.

We are to accept this just because he says so. We are not to come to our own conclusions based on the best climate analysis, but instead are to bow to his interpretation. Climate change deniers are idiots.

The path towards sustainable energy sources will be long and sometimes difficult.

Like the billions of taxpayer dollars he wasted on failed “green” industries owned and operated by his cronies/supporters.

We, the people, still believe that enduring security and lasting peace do not require perpetual war. . . . We are also heirs to those who won the peace and not just the war; who turned sworn enemies into the surest friends—and we must carry those lessons into this time as well.

We have an inordinate fear of Islam. Those people are not really wanting a war with us. As long as we are reasonable, they will learn to love us. [Insert deep sigh here.]

 America will remain the anchor of strong alliances in every corner of the globe. . . . Peace in our time requires the constant advance of those principles that our common creed describes: tolerance and opportunity, human dignity and justice.

Applied to all non-Western societies, but not to Israel. Tolerance can only go so far, you know.

We, the people, declare today that the most evident of truths—that all of us are created equal—is the star that guides us still; just as it guided our forebears through Seneca Falls, and Selma, and Stonewall.

Women and homosexuals have been just as unfairly treated as blacks in American history. Oppression abounds at all times, and to all people who are not white males, in our past.

Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law—for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well.

Nothing hidden here. Homosexuals are born that way, and their love for one another is just like any love a man and woman have for one another. Same-sex marriage must become the law of the land.

Being true to our founding documents does not require us to agree on every contour of life. It does not mean we all define liberty in exactly the same way or follow the same precise path to happiness.

You must now define liberty the way I say it ought to be defined. Set aside the traditional definition of the word and accept my new definition.

Progress does not compel us to settle centuries-long debates about the role of government for all time, but it does require us to act in our time. For now decisions are upon us and we cannot afford delay.

I don’t want any debate on the proper role of government or the limitations put on our government by the Constitution. I want to act now and do what I want to do without any hindrances. Anyone who gets in the way is opposed to “we the people.”

We cannot mistake absolutism for principle, or substitute spectacle for politics, or treat name-calling as reasoned debate.

We must cast out those evangelicals/conservatives who are always talking about principles because they are impeding my goals. We must always treat with respect those with whom we disagree and not resort to demonizing them. [In other words, follow the president’s excellent example in which he has never called his opponents names or demonized them. Another good place to insert hearty laughter.]

The rest of the speech is the typical fluff with which most speeches end. Chris Matthews is comparing this inaugural with Lincoln’s Second Inaugural. Sorry, but I consider it a contrast. If you want to read a great inaugural, go to Lincoln’s Second and savor its magnanimity toward his opponents. The spirit is entirely different than the one delivered yesterday.

We are in for a long four years.