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.

On Political Courage

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Donald & Hobbes 1

Donald & Hobbes 2

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

Let Us Not Lose Hope

We can be too cynical at times when we see politics at work and how politicians carry out that work. It’s easy to spot the ego-driven characters who are all too often attracted to the limelight and who are only in the political world for their own advancement. This cynicism expresses itself in frustration, particularly directed at Congress. How often have you heard someone say, “Let’s just throw all the bums out and start over”? That’s stereotyping. It doesn’t take into account the many public servants who are doing their jobs for the right reason. I’m happy to say that I have a congressman who fits the description of what a congressman is supposed to be. Dennis Ross, a first-term representative from the Lakeland, Florida, area, was swept into office in the election of 2010 as part of the repudiation of the emerging Obama agenda. It was an honor to have him come speak to the faculty, staff, and students of Southeastern University this past Tuesday.

Ross, whose Christian faith is foundational to his desire to be involved in politics and government, shared his personal story with those who came to interact with him. He spoke of the failures he experienced in his younger years and how those failures were absolutely essential for learning the lessons he needed to learn about life. Failures, he told them, are what lead to future successes. If government attempts to shield people from all failure, we never understand the real meaning of success.

I served as the moderator for the event. After he gave his background, I asked him a series of questions on what might be considered hot-button issues for Christians. How should a Christian view national security issues? Is pacifism the Biblical requirement or can we defend ourselves? Is there such a thing as a just war? What about poverty? How should it be handled—via government or primarily through the church and other voluntary organizations? How can a Christian legislator combine compassion with the necessity for upholding the rule of law when it comes to illegal immigration? Is it moral to have as much debt as we currently do in our nation? How can that debt be reduced? Ross provided solid answers for each of these inquiries.

Then I turned it over to the audience to let them ask whatever questions they might have for the congressman. I have to admit I wondered if there would be enough questions to fill the remainder of the time. I was already formulating some additional questions of my own, just in case. I needn’t have worried. There was an active interest in hearing more from Rep. Ross on a number of issues. The questions just kept coming. When I called a halt to the proceedings, there were still students lined up with more questions. Dennis graciously stayed after the meeting to address those questioners personally.

All in all, this encounter between a congressman and his constituents was a positive experience for everyone, and it showed how politics is supposed to work. I hope those who attended left with a little less cynicism in their hearts and lot more appreciation for the difficult task that awaits anyone who enters the political fray. My heartfelt thanks to Dennis Ross for being what we need to see more of—a role model.

The nice thing for those of us who count Rep. Ross as their congressman is that he is running unopposed for reelection. He will continue to represent the Lakeland area. His devotion to constitutionalism and his Christian faith will be in the Congress for at least another two years; my hope is that he will be there for many more after that.

As we anticipate the election in less than two weeks, we need to pray for principled leaders such as Dennis Ross to come to the forefront. We need to vote for such men and women and not despair. A passage of Scripture comes to mind that applies quite well; it contains a warning but also offers us a promise:

Do not be deceived; God is not mocked. For whatever a man sows, this he will also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary.

Head to the polls this year with confidence that no matter what happens, God has some of His people in positions where they can do much good. Even when we don’t see it, God is working in and through those who are committed to Him. Despair needs to be banished from our hearts and replaced with hope.

Ever-Diminishing Journalistic Integrity

The national attention had barely been drawn to Aurora, yet for one newsman—a term used loosely in his case—the speculation abounded. Brian Ross of ABC had done “research;” he had found a James Holmes in Aurora who was a member of the Tea Party. Keep in mind that the story was only a few hours old at most, and he was attempting to draw a connection. Of course he was wildly wrong: the James Holmes of the Tea Party was over fifty, not in his twenties. ABC had to write an official apology for this erroneous reporting. What led Ross to do such a thing? Might I speculate as well? Could it be that he has an agenda? That he desires to link the Tea Party to violence? An identical scenario played out in the Tucson shooting back in January 2011. Conservatives, Tea Partiers, and in that case Sarah Palin personally, were accused of fostering a climate that led to tragedy.

Yet there has never been any evidence of Tea Party violence. No one can legitimately say the same thing about the Occupy Movement, yet that phenomenon goes largely unreported. Ross has outed himself as a biased journalist. If ABC had any integrity, he would be gone.

This incident, though, is only the latest in an unremitting string of biased reporting. Andrea Mitchell of NBC recently outdid Ross, yet she’s still a “respected” reporter. She, or her team for which she is responsible, selectively edited a statement from Mitt Romney. In an apparent attempt to make Romney sound out of touch with the world at large, she showed a video of Romney being amazed by how you could order a sandwich on a touchscreen at a Wawa store. The only problem is that wasn’t what earned Romney’s amazement. The full video revealed that he was commenting on how private sector initiative could create such innovations.

In a later report, under pressure from those who clearly knew this was a hit job, Mitchell ran more of the video showing the entire context, yet there was no apology on air. It was presented simply as a response to a request from Republicans to show more of the video. No mea culpa because, in Mitchell’s mind, there was nothing wrong with what she had done.

I’ve used the Mallard Fillmore comic strip many times to illustrate the dishonesty of the media. The strip picked up on this distortion rather handily. Here is a four-comic sequence about it that I think hits home:

Journalistic integrity has never existed to the extent that people in the profession believe it has, but it is suffering now more than ever.

A Tale of Christian Martyrdom Well Told

I used my Christmas break to do some reading for a new course I’m developing: The American Republic, 1789-1848. The ideas and resources for the course are coming together. One of the books I’m definitely planning to use for this course is An American Betrayal: Cherokee Patriots and the Trail of Tears by Daniel Blake Smith.

As a Christian conservative who deeply appreciates the Biblical grounding of our earliest generations, I’m always alert to those who may try to undermine that understanding of the era. Yet both my Christian commitment and my training as a historian requires that I maintain integrity and put truth-telling ahead of what I would like to believe. In the case of the Cherokee tribe, the negation of Biblical principles by President Andrew Jackson and the government of Georgia, in particular, was abhorrent. The term “travesty of justice” is aptly applied to this event.

I would normally be suspicious of any book that simply bashed American policy, but Smith does a superb job of showing the complex nature of this entire situation. He does, with justice, reveal the bad attitudes, racism, and greed that was at work to force the Cherokees from their homeland. He also fingers those who named the name of Christ, yet allowed racist views to influence them. Whether some of these individuals were true Christians is unlikely.

But what shines through the book and its tale, for me, was the genuineness of Christian love the missionaries to the Cherokees had for this persecuted people and the authentic Christian faith of some of the Cherokee leaders. This is where the book departs from the traditional interpretation, and does so convincingly. The two most prominent Cherokee Christians were John Ridge and Elias Boudinot. They have come down to us, in most treatments of this event, as the “sellouts” who negotiated a bad treaty with the U.S. government that forced the Cherokees out of their land. Some accounts simply refer to them as businessmen just out to make a buck.

Smith disagrees. The Cherokee nation was split over the issue of removal. The chief, John Ross, held out to the end, trying to change the government’s mind, without success. He’s usually hailed as the hero of the tale. Smith, though, points to his stubbornness in the face of a done deal, and to the traditional Cherokees’ devotion to the land rather than to the survival of the tribe. It was Ridge and Boudinot who saw the handwriting on the proverbial wall and sought to place people’s lives over land. They wanted to help their people prosper in a new place, and they acted with the best of motives and with integrity.

Boudinot, in particular, worked with missionary Samuel Worcester to translate the Bible into the Cherokee language. Both Boudinot and Ridge suffered accusations of treason, and both eventually were murdered by the traditionalist Cherokees for helping uproot their people from their ancestral land. This was an early cultural war as missionaries and Christian Cherokees attempted to bring truth to these people. In effect, their murders were martydoms for the cause of Christ.

I highly recommend this book as a corrective to the simplistic interpretation too often placed on the Trail of Tears. No one is whitewashed in this account; those who were responsible for the tragedy are clearly named. Yet there is a sense of magnificence and redemption in the story as we read of those who gave their all for their faith.

Facts vs. Sleight of Hand

Perusing Facebook this morning, I came across this comment from my congressman, Dennis Ross of Florida:

In the past 10 years (2000-2010), revenue to the federal government has grown 7%. We have not lost revenue because of tax cuts, wars, etc. Federal spending, on the other hand, in the past 10 years, has grown 93%. In 10 years, we’ve spend $28 trillion and taken in $23 trillion. $5 trillion deficit . . . $1 trillion was war, $4 trillion is other spending.

These are the kinds of facts that need to be disseminated. In the current national debt/debt ceiling talks, President Obama and his allies on Capitol Hill have pressured Republicans to raise more revenues, claiming that’s the main problem. But if revenue has increased by 7% over the last decade, that’s not the real problem at all. The same politicians like to say that it was all that money spent on the War on Terror that has caused our fiscal chaos. Again, as Rep. Ross points out, that is not the case. The war effort is only 20% of the deficit during this time.

Yet as the election season heats up, we’re going to be treated to even more dishonesty and sleight of hand:

Obama himself will revert to his alternate persona:

What does he mean by that? Here are some examples:

Some, of course, will see through the deception:

Now, if only “people” will be as perceptive, they won’t fall for lines like this:

Personal Election Highlights

The high points in the past election for me center on the three states that I have called home throughout my life: Florida, Virginia, and Indiana. I’ve been a Floridian now for a little more than four years and am thrilled with Tuesday’s results here.

The whole nation was watching the Florida Senate race, wondering if Marco Rubio could succeed in a divided field—divided because current governor Charlie Crist, running as an independent, was attempting to take Republican votes away from him. While that might have been Crist’s original strategy, he had to shift over time to concentrate more on scraping together Democratic votes instead since most Republicans repudiated him and stayed loyal to Rubio. But hey, “shifting over time” is one of Crist’s talents:

If this signals the end of Crist’s political career, I will shed no tears. Rubio, meanwhile, is already perceived as a “rising star” in Republican circles. He needs to be careful and not let this go to his head. If he can remain as optimistic and as humble as he has been through this long campaign, his principled leadership can be a tremendous plus for the country. As long as he stays principled, he will continue to be effective.

The Florida governor’s race was extremely tight, but Republican Rick Scott pulled it out in the end. He had to overcome the challenge of a bitterly divided party after the primary. While some resentment remained, and he didn’t get the same level of support as Rubio, enough healing took place for him to eke out the victory by about one percentage point. The size of the victory doesn’t matter now, as long as he fulfills his promises. He wants to bring business expertise to the governor’s role and create a Florida that is business friendly. If he can do what is in his heart, state government will be leaner and more effective, and the state’s dismal unemployment figures will turn around. In my view, if anyone might be able to accomplish this, it will be Scott. His slogan for the campaign was “Let’s Get to Work.” Now he has his chance.

The Lakeland area also will be sending a man to Congress that it was an honor for me to support: Dennis Ross. I had lunch with him a few months ago just to get a feel for who he is. I came away convinced that his passion was for upholding the Constitution and maintaining integrity in government. It’s not often you have the opportunity to rally behind a person who understands the Founders’ concepts and who seeks to keep the federal government within its appointed boundaries. Dennis, I believe, is such a man. He not only will represent his district well, but by doing so, he will do what is best for the nation.

Honorable mention: Daniel Webster practically destroyed Alan Grayson, thereby kicking out of Congress one of the most obnoxious members ever to hold the office of representative. I will trade a radical, self-centered socialist for a Christian gentleman any day. Adieu, Mr. Grayson.  

On to Virginia, where my former state completed the transformation it began one year ago when it elected Bob McDonnell as its governor and Ken Cuccinelli as attorney general. This past Tuesday, three Democratic congressmen were given the door and replaced by conservatives who want to stand up to the Obama agenda.

Then there’s Indiana, which duplicated Virginia’s move by replacing a number of Democratic congressmen. In addition, it added a new old name to the Senate—Dan Coats. Coats had served previously in the Senate, then set aside politics for a number of years. He is a fine Christian gentleman who always served with integrity. New blood doesn’t have to come only from those who have never served before. Experience is also a valuable commodity.

Florida, Virginia, Indiana—all states that went for Obama in 2008. Now they are all overwhelmingly “reddish” in color. What a difference a mere two years can make, particularly when the president tries to fundamentally change the nature of America. Based on his press conference the day after the election, I still don’t think he grasps what really happened, and the part he personally played in this stunning defeat for his party:

If he stays the course and continues living in his fantasy world, 2012 could be just as devastating for him. If it is, I wonder if he’ll notice?