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.

What Does the Georgia Election Mean?

Update: Formerly vitally important election with national implications that can’t be overstated now scheduled to be irrelevant by 10 am.

That was a humorous tweet from conservative commentator Mary Katherine Ham last night as Karen Handel, the Republican, rather easily beat Jon Ossoff, the Democrat, in the highly charged, most expensive House race in American history.

Handel won by about 6%, despite polls throughout the campaign showing Ossoff ahead in the special Georgia election.

This district had been held by Republican Tom Price, who left his seat to become secretary of HHS. Price won the seat last November by 23 points. Bruised Democrats are therefore claiming some kind of moral victory here.

Yet keep in mind that Trump won this district by a mere 1% while Price was running away with his election. That’s why Democrats were so keen on putting Ossoff in the House, thinking it would be a massive repudiation of Trump. It might have been, had it occurred, but there is a distinction that must be drawn between Trump and Republicans overall.

Personally, I don’t think Trump had anything to do with this victory, and if Handel had lost, I doubt that it would have been because of Trump.

What finally seemed to tip the election in her direction was the blatant attempt by Democrats to promote someone who didn’t even live in the district (yes, you read that right) and whose massive funding came from out of state—liberals nationwide contributed in the hope that they could embarrass Republicans, and Trump specifically.

Ossoff did his best to impersonate a moderate, but he is a rank-and-file progressive. Perhaps the impersonation didn’t resonate as well as he had hoped. Well, at least he can now continue to keep his residence outside the district with his live-in girlfriend. A bullet was dodged here.

Democrats are chagrined, of course. Republicans, though, would do well not to be too exuberant. The fact that this district was a possibility for a Democrat pickup, even with as poor a candidate as Ossoff, is a cautionary tale for congressional elections in 2018.

Republicans in Congress and the presumed Republican in the White House had better fulfill a few more promises if they hope to retain the majority.

Who’s Responsible?

A man goes to a baseball field and shoots up the place where congressmen and their staffers are practicing for a charity baseball game. First, he asks one of the congressmen who is leaving whether the ones practicing are Democrats or Republicans. Glad to hear they are Republicans, whom he has castigated on social media and seeks to wipe off the face of America, he opens fire, spraying the field and wounding four; one congressman remains in critical condition.

The man who perpetrated the crime finally is taken down by police and dies shortly after at the hospital. Then the blame game begins.

Who is responsible for what this man did? Since he was a socialist and a follower of Bernie Sanders, is Sanders to blame? After all, Sanders has said some pretty harsh things about Republicans. Since the man hated Trump so much, perhaps Trump is the one who should be responsible because he “triggered” the man with his policies?

What’s the Biblical position?

Personal responsibility is an overwhelming theme in Scripture. We are responsible for the choices we make in life. No one forces us to make those choices. There can be influences upon us, things that push us in a certain direction, but when it comes down to choosing, that’s all on us.

There were influences on the man who decided to target Republicans. Some of those influences were way over the top in bitterness and hatred. There are people who are saying Republicans want everyone to die because they want to take away their healthcare. That’s one of the middle-of-the-road accusations. I won’t repeat the worst ones.

Yet those were influences only; he had to decide whether to follow through on them with a terrible deed. He died in his own sins; he’s responsible for what he did, regardless of what others said that might have egged him on.

However, there remains some culpability whenever anyone descends into hateful diatribes. God holds them accountable for that.

There is a difference, though, between vicious, hateful speech and truth-telling. As Christians, we are to speak the truth in love and we are called, as far as it depends on us, to be at peace with all men.

What’s the difference between truth-telling and hateful speech? Are we never, in our truth-telling, allowed to point out the real nature of certain philosophies and/or individuals who promote those philosophies?

Did I sin in numerous blogs when I disagreed with virtually everything Barack Obama stands for and how he conducted himself? Am I sinning now when I take Donald Trump to task for his character?

Have you ever looked carefully at Matthew 23? It’s a fascinating chapter wherein Jesus takes on the Pharisees in no uncertain terms. As you peruse that chapter, you find Him saying the following about them:

Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to.

Was Jesus over the top when He referred to them as hypocrites? Notice that He even said they were not entering into heaven. Was that an unjust judgment?

Further down in the chapter, He calls them “a child of hell,” “blind guides,” “blind fools,” and “a brood of vipers.”

My particular favorite is his characterization of them as “whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean.” They appear to be righteous but are really “full of hypocrisy and wickedness.”

I gather from Jesus’s own example that we don’t have to pull our punches when pointing out sin. But here’s the catch: we can’t be hypocrites when we do so and we have to honestly seek to redeem those who are erring (check out chapter 7 of Matthew on proper judging). If we ever take satisfaction in merely telling people off and get a smug attitude about being right, then we’ve violated the spirit in which we are allowed to point out sin.

We all need to be willing to be truth-tellers, yet, at the same time, we must continually guard our hearts so that we carry it out in the proper spirit.

Each person is responsible for his/her own actions, whether in carrying out an evil deed or in using extreme language that might influence a person toward that deed.

Discernment in the Trump Era

Feelings run high on Donald Trump . . . on both sides. What I’m seeing on the Left and on some parts of the Right is practically an unthinking response to anything Trump does.

The “Resist” movement won’t rest until Trump is impeached or, as in the case of New York City’s “Shakespeare in the Park” program, possibly assassinated. The group put on a modern version of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar with “Julius” looking suspiciously like the current president. It was so blatant that big corporate sponsors have pulled out.

Certain media outlets have made Trump their focus with a constant barrage of stories, documented or not, that always put him in a bad light. Here’s looking at you, CNN, with a dishonorable mention to MSNBC.

Real journalism doesn’t rely on anonymous sources before airing “news” stories. Real journalism finds the facts first. Real journalism wants to inform, not promote an ideological agenda. But unthinking ideology is where we are today.

Bottom line: the Left, which usually is unhinged anyway, has gone off the deep end.

The antidote, for me, used to be certain talk radio hosts and Fox News, which were willing to give the other side. They provided the balance so that progressive brainwashing wouldn’t have complete sway over people’s minds.

I no longer listen to Rush Limbaugh because I believe he has allowed his principles, which he used to enunciate so clearly, to drift downstream.

Let me be clear (how often do I say that?) that I still appreciate the straight news offered by Fox. Bret Baier’s Special Report, for instance, is one program I continue to watch because I trust his journalistic integrity. Chris Wallace is another who doesn’t let an agenda drive his interviews. Neil Cavuto is willing to tell the truth no matter whom his target may be.

But I’ve been greatly disappointed with some of the other Fox programs. I stopped watching Sean Hannity long before the last campaign. Intellectual depth was in short supply. Now he’s basically a shill for Trump regardless of what Trump does.

Then there’s the Fox and Friends morning show. It was always a favorite of mine because the hosts are very likeable and Christian views have been respected on the program. Those two factors remain. Yet I can hardly stand to watch it now because it’s one long commercial for how grand and glorious Donald Trump is.

I hope you’re getting my point—I disagree with blind loyalty no matter which side of the political spectrum.

Here’s the difference, though: I’ve come to expect ideological blindness from the Left; it’s how they naturally operate. What’s new, ever since the Trump Bandwagon has appeared, is the same type of blindness on the Right. And that is deeply disturbing.

An essay on the Red State site yesterday laid out the problem very well. Responding to someone who tweeted that principles are only a means to an end, the writer countered,

Principles are not a means to an end. Principles are those things you believe to be fundamentally true. If you can easily set them aside in order to attain a goal, they weren’t principles so much as they were postures. If your moral compass is only something you use to gauge what you can probably get away with, it’s not really a moral compass.

Those of us who have tried to maintain balance on the person and actions of Donald Trump, praising him when he does something right and drawing attention to those things he does that are damaging, are now being accused of disloyalty. I see it differently, and the writer of that essay does as well:

I do think that for people who once claimed to be outraged by the immoral antics and low character of certain Democrats, the morally superior choice is to apply the same standard to your own party.

It’s the only rational choice, unless you’re someone who really doesn’t know the difference between postures and  principles or who thinks political expedience is more important than telling the truth.

If you don’t think Trump is his own worst enemy, you may not be paying close attention:

And if you haven’t noticed the near-chaos within his administration—constant rumors of Trump’s disapproval of his people, threats of firing, general incompetence in running the executive branch—it’s time to remedy that inattention.

While I’m concerned about what has happened to conservatism in the Trump Era, I’m even more distressed about what I see in the evangelical community. I’m witnessing far too many Christians who are willing to turn a blind eye to Trump’s faults and automatically rush to his defense no matter how foolish he has been.

God calls us to discernment.

We are not to be tribal loyalists who willfully shield our consciences from unpleasant truths about our president.

We are called instead to be the conscience of the nation. We abandon that calling when we refuse to call out sin and/or incompetence on our “side.”

My goal ever since Trump won the election has been to support him whenever I can and to critique him honestly when he goes astray from a principled foundation.

Trump needs us to critique him because we are not the ideologically driven Left. He needs to hear from those who want him to succeed. Our honesty and integrity is crucial for the future of our nation.

Evangelicals, please heed this call.