Clearing Away the False Image

From the start of the Trump presidency, I committed myself to be a fair and balanced commentator. Regular readers of this blog know I wrote consistently during the primary season that Trump should not be the Republican nominee; those regular readers also know I could not bring myself to vote for him in the general election (no, I didn’t vote for the person he donated to for many years either).

I have tried to be honest about his accomplishments (the Gorsuch pick for the Supreme Court being the primary example) while maintaining a deep concern over the character of the man occupying the Oval Office.

The Left, of course, has gone even crazier than they did during Reagan’s years, and their characterization of Bush Jr. as Hitler has only gone on steroids in the first months of Trump’s tenure.

I never watch award shows anymore because they have become progressive-fests, lashing out at all things Christian, conservative, and Trump (he’s neither of those first two, by the way).

From what I’ve read, the latest Emmy awards were one long diatribe against Trump. The ratings turned out to be the lowest ever.

Certain media giants—CNN and MSNBC come to mind—have devoted themselves to Trump-bashing. But if you turn to Fox News for balance, you have to stay with the actual news programs like Special Report to find the balance; all the opinion programs are so blatantly pro-Trump that the hosts are little more than court jesters at times.

Trump’s most ardent apologists will find an excuse for anything he does. His latest foray into “reaching across the aisle” to Democrats basically violates most of what he promised his base, yet, for many, he can do nothing wrong. Why is he hobnobbing with Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer? It’s those stubborn Republicans who won’t get anything done, we’re told. He had no choice. Yet for someone who’s supposed to be a master dealmaker, he didn’t get anything in return for his latest hobnob.

Trump was a Democrat most of his life. His recent “conversion” to the Republican party, in my view, was always more of a convenience than a heartfelt conviction. He needs to be careful. His new allies are not really his friends.

So what am I trying to communicate here today? Merely this: if you have been one of those who defend the president no matter what, clear away the false image you may have of Donald Trump and see him for what he is, then be sober and sensible in your evaluation of his words and actions.

Don’t drink the Koolaid. Don’t go down with this ship. Maintain an integrity that will stand the test of time. Be someone that others will trust when this bizarre chapter in American politics has mercifully ended.

Charlottesville: A Christian Perspective

The rally and subsequent violence that erupted in Charlottesville, Virginia, this past weekend has dominated the news. I want to comment on it as I trust a Christian should, starting with some overall statements about groups in general, then on to some specifics.

First, there is no place in a Christian worldview for beliefs about racial superiority or inferiority. Any group claiming to be Christian while simultaneously promoting racial division is not really Christian; it’s merely using Christian cover for its sinful purposes.

The “white supremacists” who staged the Charlottesville rally, ostensibly to protest the removal of a Robert E. Lee statue, but actually devoted to racial hatred, are a moral stain on the nation. Neo-Nazis and the KKK were prominent in their ranks.

They should be called out for what they are: immoral, hate-filled hypocrites.

Second, there is no place in a Christian worldview for those in a minority group to rise up and call for violence, regardless of the treatment they have received. Members of Black Lives Matter, spurred on by their own bitterness, have promoted violence against law enforcement officers, painting them all with the broad brush of a stereotype—which is the very thing they claim to be opposed to.

Third, there is another group out there calling themselves “Antifa,” which is supposed to mean they are anti-fascist. The strange thing about them is that they use fascist tactics to make their point, thereby becoming in practice what they say they oppose in theory. They were part of the violence in Charlottesville, although you don’t hear much about that.

Interestingly, though, a New York Times reporter at the scene did tweet this: “The hard left seemed as hate-filled as alt-right. I saw club-wielding ‘antifa’ beating white nationalists being led out of the park.”

This movement also is anti-Christian and should have no place in the heart of anyone calling himself/herself a disciple of Jesus Christ.

Now, on to the specifics.

The primary blame for what occurred in Charlottesville rests with the white supremacists. They staged the rally, knowing full well it would spark a counter-protest. They wanted a reaction from the extremists on the other side to try to make their point more pointedly.

They succeeded, if indeed you can describe what happened as a success.

Moreover, this group of sinful racists (a tautology, I know) tried to carry out this rally in the name of Christian faith, political conservatism, and as an arm of what many see as the Trump agenda.

It was not Christian, it was not representative of true conservatism, and Republicans nationwide have denounced the actions of these racists. That won’t stop the media, however, from constantly trying to make those connections.

The only sliver of accuracy here is that Trump did rely on their votes as a segment of his support in the campaign. Steve Bannon, his chief strategist, when he ran the Breitbart website, actually referred to it as a platform for the alt-right (the term used to incorporate such racists and others who sometimes lend them credibility with their “America First” ideology).

David Duke, one of the more prominent white supremacists in America, spoke at the Charlottesville rally and said the following: “This represents a turning point for the people of this country. We are determined to take this country back. We’re gonna fulfill the promises of Donald Trump. That’s what we believed in. That’s why we voted for Donald Trump because he said he’s going to take our country back.”

Please note that I’m not saying Trump is a racist; I’m simply saying that many white supremacists see him as their hope to fulfill their racist fantasies.

Trump’s response to the violence was technically accurate: “We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence, on many sides. On many sides.”

I can read that and say I agree. But I can also read that and wonder why he refused to single out the one “side” that created the problem this time. It’s as if he doesn’t want to go the entire way and point out that white supremacists were the real culprits in this particular event.

Usually it’s Trump’s words that get him into hot water; for the first time in my memory, it’s now what he didn’t say that’s causing the problem. Trump has this uncanny ability to make things worse.

The apostle Paul, in his letter to the Colossians, chapter 3, says explicitly what our attitude must be. He tells us to put aside “anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive speech” from our mouths. He then goes on to say that through Christ we are being renewed:

A renewal in which there is no distinction between Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and freeman, but Christ is all, and in all.

He concludes the passage with these positive words:

So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you.

The groups I mentioned in this post are opposed to forgiveness, choosing instead to highlight their grievances. Nothing about any of them is remotely Christian, and it’s incumbent upon Christians to be clear about that. We cannot allow a false image of the faith to gain predominance.

Kelly Taking Over

I avoided writing about Anthony Scaracmucci last week when he was unceremoniously escorted off the White House grounds by security. He lasted less than two weeks as Trump’s new director of communications. In fact, he hadn’t even officially begun the job; he was just taking advantage of the notoriety by being very public with his statements.

Those statements are what led to him being shown the door, a particular White House door that a number of staffers have gone through lately.

Upon hearing of Scaramucci’s quick exit, I joked (well, maybe it was only half a joke) that I wouldn’t comment yet because I wanted to be sure first that new White House Chief of Staff John Kelly still had his job after a couple of days had elapsed.

Kelly’s arrival at the heart of the Trump administration is coming at a crucial time. Reports of internecine fighting within Trump’s troops are not all fake news. Major disagreements have surfaced between factions vying for prominence.

It’s also becoming increasingly clear that Trump lacks any real managerial skills, despite his bravado. He’s far more concerned with his personal image and making grandiose claims about how great he is.

The latest example was his declaration that the leader of the Boy Scouts called to tell him his speech before the organization was the best speech ever delivered to them. That was followed by a strong denial from the organization that any such call had occurred.

Who’s the one putting out fake news now?

Unfortunately, Trump tends to surround himself with people just like him. That makes for extreme dysfunction.

Now that Kelly is in control (well, we’ll see how much he can truly control), perhaps things will run more efficiently.

As a highly decorated general, he knows what it takes to achieve difficult goals.

This may be his hardest task yet. All the best to you, Chief of Staff Kelly. There are many of us out here who want you to succeed.

A Bitter Deal

All the drama in the Trump administration and in a dysfunctional Republican Congress has overshadowed the effort by Democrats to re-energize their base and try to figure out what regular Americans are really like. Perhaps the best development in the six months of the Trump presidency has been the irrelevance of the minority party.

As if to emphasize their irrelevance, they’ve concentrated on coming up with a new slogan, one that’s supposed to provide confidence for voters that they know what they’re doing. And what did they come up with?

What is it with Democrats and “deals”? Apparently, they think the public will look back fondly on FDR’s New Deal and Truman’s Fair Deal and fall in love with this rehashed slogan.

Somehow, I doubt it. Those of us with some historical context might see a different connection:

If you think that worked out just fine for Russia, you probably are thrilled by the slogan. Individuals with active brain cells, however, might not see it that way:

All of this sloganeering, of course, has as its primary goal to return Congress to Democrat control in 2018. The party is hoping to attract candidates who can win, although I can understand why some might be reluctant to board this ship.

Actually, the only thing Democrats have going for them in the next election cycle is the incompetence of Republican leadership, both in Congress and in the White House. If that can be turned around, Democrats will remain the minority party. But that’s a big “if.”

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.

Saving Christian Conservatism’s Soul

Above all else, my identity is as a Christian—a follower of Jesus Christ in which I consistently acknowledge His lordship over all of life. I take seriously the admonition that our time on earth is temporary and that we are pilgrims on a spiritual journey. Our primary focus in not anything in this world.

However, I also take seriously the call for Christians to be salt and light in every situation in this world to help guide others into the truth. We don’t live in a corner somewhere, ignoring the world.

That’s why I’ve always been very involved in teaching Christians how to understand politics and government. Yes, those are transitory as well, but they have a tremendous impact on everyone’s daily existence. Government is a realm where Christians should make a difference.

At this point, allow me to recount my bona fides as a political conservative, especially as what I will say later may dismay some readers.

I have been a conservative in principle most of my adult life. I was conservative before many of you reading these words were even born. In the 1980s, I wrote for the Heritage Foundation and the American Conservative Union. In the 1990s, I chaired a county chapter of the Christian Coalition.

As a history professor, I’ve tried to communicate Christian conservatism to my students now for twenty-eight years. My book on Whittaker Chambers and Ronald Reagan grew out of what I have researched and taught for all those years.

I teach a course on Chambers specifically (who is considered practically the godfather of modern American conservatism) and another one on Reagan and the varieties of cultural and political conservatism that have developed since WWII.

My goal always has been to show students that, as Christians, our political beliefs should be grounded in Biblical principles, and that we should never be led astray into some kind of secular salvationism or put anyone on a pedestal, especially any political leader whose life doesn’t reflect Biblical principles.

I’ve attempted to instruct them on the distinction between a principled compromise and a compromised principle.

Have I made my point yet?

All during the presidential primary season last year, I wrote about and admonished my fellow conservatives, and Christian conservatives in particular, to be focused on principle and not simply jump on some kind of nationalistic bandwagon offered by any candidate. I also questioned quite pointedly the character of Donald Trump, issuing warning after warning that he was not a conservative and that his character (as revealed in the manner by which he campaigned) would do great harm long-term to conservatism as a political force.

When he became president, despite his many flaws, I made it clear that I would support him whenever he did something that aligned with sound policy, but that I would not be a cheerleader for him whenever his policies departed from principle or whenever his character undermined the office to which he had been elected.

Frankly, I don’t see how a Christian conservative can maintain integrity without that dual commitment.

I won’t go through a laundry list today of all the problems I see with Trump and his administration. It is sufficient to say that he continues to be his own worst enemy.

I know. His most ardent devotees will cry “fake news” about everything negative in the media. Is there a lot of fake news out there? Of course. Again, I will point to the fact that I’ve critiqued the media continually in this blog for the past nine years that I’ve written it.

Is there a double standard toward Republicans in general and toward conservatives specifically? No question about it. A political cartoon that came out back in 2007 makes a case that can still be made today.

Yet those who are defending President Trump, no matter what he does, are relying far too much on what some commentators have called “whataboutism.” Every time Trump does anything questionable, crass, or unprincipled, they cry, “Well, what about the Democrats? Remember what they did?”

While this might soothe some consciences, it doesn’t soothe mine. Wrong is wrong regardless, and if we want to be true disciples of our Lord, we cannot dismiss wrongdoing because the one involved in the wrongdoing is “on our side.”

I’m trying to be charitable here, and I hope you see it in that light. This is not a diatribe against those who are outraged at the obvious double standard and hypocrisy all around us.

But it is a caution, especially for all of us who call ourselves Christian conservatives. In the understandable desire to have a voice in the current political climate, we must not violate the trust God has given us to be His spokesmen. We must not sell our souls for transitory and ephemeral political clout. We must remember these exact words from the One we say we love and obey:

What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world yet loses his own soul?

Let’s not sell our souls and our birthright as children of the King for that which doesn’t truly advance His Kingdom. Be a voice of integrity in the midst of party spirit, acrimony, dishonesty, and unprincipled behavior.

By doing so, we save the Christian conservative soul and become the type of witnesses we are called to be.

American Politics: Stranger Than Fiction?

I want journalism to be insightful and devoted to finding truth. That is the ideal, but it seldom is achieved. Those without historical context seem to think that there was a time when journalism was balanced and fair. As a historian, I can debunk that. From the first decade of the nation, in the 1790s, through the Civil War, newspapers were financed by one political party or another. Balance was in short supply.

Later, we got sensationalistic journalism that helped push us into the Spanish-American War. The 20th century has seen liberal/progressive “journalism” dominate. Sometimes, when the media attempts to shape the news, it gets some blowback, as the recent CNN woes indicate.

The Left nevertheless continues its crusade to remake our thinking as a nation, and media outlets like CNN and MSNBC cater to its peculiar logic:

Conservatives have tried to counter that Leftist perspective. Fox News became the favorite source for many conservatives because it allowed views to be expressed that were ignored in other outlets.

Then came Donald Trump, and a number of Fox programs (primarily the opinion-oriented ones) jumped on his bandwagon, promoting and excusing him no matter how indefensible his actions.

It’s becoming an old story now that Trump gets himself into unnecessary controversies through his tweeting. Even conservative cartoonists are calling him out for lowering the dignity of the office he holds:

He’s not exactly a role model:

Yet no amount of criticism dissuades him; he continues to create turmoil. His almost-paranoid obsession with hitting back at those with whom he disagrees is a major stumbling-block to doing his job, and it’s hurting the GOP’s agenda.

Is this where we are now?

We’re reaping the consequences of the seeds we have sown for many decades. We’re replacing the Biblical worldview and seeing the sad results.

I write about politics and government all the time, but I want it clearly understood that I don’t look to them for any kind of temporal salvation. Without the Biblical undergirdings, the system goes astray. While I continue to believe in the need for Christians to work in the political sphere, only an internal heart change based on Biblical principles will lead us back where we need to be.