A Plague on Both Your Houses

“A plague on both your houses,” Shakespeare wrote in Romeo and Juliet. While the Trump-Comey drama is not one of star-crossed lovers—indeed, there is little love to go around—the phrase is apt. Neither Trump nor Comey comes out of the Senate committee hearing yesterday with full credibility intact.

There is no hero here, but there was enough detail offered to make the plague comment applicable.

First, James Comey.

What to think of him? People who know him well say he is a man of integrity. If that’s so, why did he go before the public last July, lay out all the reasons why Hillary Clinton ought to be prosecuted, and then decline to do so?

He says now it was due to the problem he perceived with Loretta Lynch, reigning attorney general at the time, who told him to tone down the Hillary investigation and who met with Bill Clinton on that infamous airport tarmac while the investigation was going on.

Somehow, in Comey’s mind, to maintain the FBI’s independence, he had to drop the Hillary “matter” (the word Lynch wanted him to use publicly rather than investigation).

Democrats loved him in July.

Then in October, the dreaded October Surprise surfaced when he announced the investigation was opened again due to new information. Democrats squealed, Hillary lost, and they and she have used that incident to prop up the accusation that Comey lost the election for her.

Republicans loved him in October.

Once Trump took office, the Russian influence investigation began to circulate in the liberal media: the newest reason offered as to why Hillary lost. Tensions rose between Trump and Comey over that. Eventually, Trump fired Comey.

Democrats rejoiced over that, hoping it meant the FBI was on to something about Trump and Russia. Comey’s testimony, they enthused, would bring him down for good.

After yesterday’s revelations, their enthusiasm has dampened. The Russia allegations thus far cannot be tied to Trump or his top campaign officials. Gloom descends on Democrat headquarters.

Comey made it clear in his testimony that Russia definitely did try to interfere with the election, but he also made it clear that the investigation couldn’t connect anything to Trump (except for the ongoing Mike Flynn dramedy) and no votes were tampered with. The tally was accurate.

Of course, most Americans probably came to that conclusion long ago.

Now for the Trump side of the plague on both houses.

While firing Comey was his right as president, it was outstandingly foolish, and Trump has become adept at doing outstandingly foolish things, thereby making everything worse for himself.

Rather than abide by the official explanation for why Comey was fired—one that came from the adults in his administration—he opted instead to have an interview with NBC in which he said the firing had to do with the Russia probe.

All that accomplished was the appointment of a special counsel to look into all these matters. Again, the administration adults came out with a statement that declared this a good step in that it would finally put to rest the accusations.

Trump couldn’t let that stand. He tweeted that the appointment of the special counsel was an outrage, calling it “the single greatest witch hunt of a politician in American history.” Next time, maybe you shouldn’t be so restrained, Mr. President. Use some hyperbole instead.

Not settling for stirring the pot with that one, he then offered this tantalizing tidbit:

James Comey better hope that there are no “tapes” of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!

Comey commented yesterday in the hearing, “Lordy, I hope there are tapes!” He believes they will back up his accusations of what Trump said to him in their meetings.

So, now we have a special counsel, primarily because Trump couldn’t leave things alone and had to vent like a juvenile who wants the last word.

Comey was not reticent with his view on Trump’s honesty. In the hearing, he proclaimed that Trump is a liar, and that he took extensive notes on their conversations in order to document what Trump said.

The first major accusation is that Trump cleared the room of everyone else one day except for him and Comey, and then proceeded to urge Comey to end the Flynn investigation because Flynn is a good man. Comey says he didn’t follow that presidential wish.

While that doesn’t rise to the level of obstruction of justice, it still reeks of an attempt to unduly influence the course of an investigation. This may be the way Trump has operated in his business, but that’s not what’s expected in the Oval Office.

The second accusation is that Trump wanted a pledge of loyalty from Comey. The FBI is supposed to be independent in its investigations, not bowing to whatever a president wants. What kind of loyalty did Trump mean? Do whatever he’s told?

Trump’s lawyer came out later and stated that Trump categorically denies those accusations. They never happened, he says. Comey is making it all up.

Well, Comey was under oath. If it is discovered that indeed he is making it all up, he will be subject to prosecution. Does anyone really think he’s opening himself up to that?

Trump’s denial is not under oath. It’s simply a denial.

Who to believe? Is this merely a “he said, no, he said” quandary that has no resolution?

I can’t say that I have complete confidence in Comey’s integrity, and he certainly hasn’t displayed honor in all his actions. But then there’s Trump.

Does anyone recall how blatantly Trump lied during the campaign season? How he threw out whatever hints of scandal against his opponents that crossed his mind? How he insulted everyone running against him for the nomination?

If you have no problem with Trump’s history of insinuations, hints, and outright falsehoods to get what he wants, I’m not sure what I can say at this point that will make a difference.

The takeaway?

  1. Trump didn’t obstruct justice in the legal sense. There is nothing there for Democrats.
  2. The Russia probe is probably a dead end. Democrats and the liberal media are going to have to find a new narrative.
  3. Comey hasn’t exactly distinguished himself in his actions. He did leak some of his comments about Trump, he allowed Lynch to derail the Hillary investigation, and he never stood up to Trump when asked to do things he thought were wrong.
  4. An investigation of Loretta Lynch is needed; did she obstruct justice?
  5. Trump’s honesty and integrity have every reason to be questioned.

Shakespeare was right: “A plague on both your houses.”

The Obliteration of Common Sense

It was nice, first of all, to have a break from blogging while I was in England. It was also nice to write blogs when I came back that could highlight the trip rather than turning back to the political sphere right away.

That respite is now ended.

I have both an intense interest in current events and a sense of obligation to try to shed as much light on what’s happening as I can. This certainly doesn’t mean that everything I write is spot on; only time will clarify how accurate my comments are.

The one thing that has bothered me most lately is the polarization within the culture. It only manifests itself politically—it runs much deeper, based on differing worldviews.

The cultural and political Left, which are virtually identical, have gone close to insane in many cases. Trump Derangement Syndrome has obliterated whatever common sense might try to assert itself. Take the withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accord.

I believe Trump did the right thing. In this instance, he showed clear thinking (he wasn’t tweeting at the time). Yet how has the Left responded to his decision?

Good question.

Watch out for the rise of the oceans that will surely kill us all:

I guess elections really do have consequences:

Here’s another salient point: Obama just did this agreement unilaterally, never submitting it to the Senate for ratification. It was a treaty; the Constitution clearly states that all treaties must go through Senate ratification. He simply dismissed that “minor” detail as nonessential to promote his own ideological goals.

What terrible things are now going to happen as a result of pulling out of this accord?

Precisely.

Then there was the Kathy Griffin story dominating the news cycle for a while. Her stunt left the Left reeling, as very few of her ideological soulmates were willing to support her performance art (a nice way of describing it).

Abandoned by CNN and her usual Trump Derangement Syndrome fellow travelers, she tried an apology, but it had to be worst attempt at an apology on record, blaming the Trump family for her now-ruined career.

So, Trump’s decision to pull out of the Paris agreement was common sense. The foolish and reprehensible Griffin gave plenty of reason for the public to rally to his side. One would think he could take advantage of that politically.

But he still has that Twitter account:

That particular tweet was more puzzling than anything; at least it had nothing to do with policy. If only it would have stopped there. President Trump seems determined to remain his own worst enemy. More on that in a future post.

Seeking Truth

Conservatives in general, and Christian conservatives in particular, are looking at a couple of events from yesterday and rejoicing. I’m pleased as well, but my pleasure at what transpired isn’t of the ecstatic variety.

Yes, the House finally passed something that would begin to peel back the onerous Obamacare, and yes, I do understand that sometimes you must do things in stages. From what I’ve read, the House bill does reduce funding to Planned Parenthood substantially. What puzzles me is how this works with the recent, atrocious budget bill that doesn’t touch that funding at all.

The mixed message is, well, mixed.

I would like to believe that stage one in the Obamacare repeal and replace will actually be followed by the promised steps two and three. Forgive me, though, if my faith is weak; when it comes to Republican promises, seeing is believing, unfortunately.

Then there was that executive order Trump signed that supposedly protected religious liberty. If you look at it with some degree of scrutiny, it appears to be more symbolic than real.

First, it directs the IRS to be more flexible. Are we really going to trust IRS Director John Koskinen, the protector-in-chief and prevaricator-in-chief from the Obama years, to follow this directive?

There is nothing substantive in this executive order; it is primarily show. It doesn’t do a thing to protect, say, a Christian florist or baker who seeks to stand by his/her conscience. But apparently it’s enough to make Christian conservatives rejoice publicly and declare Trump as our political savior.

I’m not trying to be exclusively negative here. The Gorsuch appointment to the Supreme Court is a relief. So far, he hasn’t “grown” and morphed into a swing vote, never knowing which direction he will go.

The House healthcare bill is a start toward the proper goal, but it still has to get through a divided Senate. Republicans walk a tightrope there, so nothing has solidified yet.

What about that wall?

Trump is one to make big promises. He loves the adoring crowds who roar with approval at everything he says, so he keeps saying more. Never mind that a lot of what he says is pure hype. Lately, he’s been saying some rather interesting things:

Those quotes certainly put him in the same league with those esteemed presidents, don’t they?

I know many of Trump’s loyalists don’t mind that he backtracks, or that he can be startlingly inconsistent, but it does bother me because principles matter. I’m still concerned that he refuses to release his taxes; all other presidents of late have done so. By refusing, he continues to fuel speculation on how he handles his own finances.

Lest you think that I’m being unbalanced in my criticisms of Trump, let me offer something to help balance it out:

For some reason, the media never cared about all the things Obama didn’t release.

My point today is to caution you not to become unbalanced yourself. Weigh each new law, executive order, and nomination in the scale of honesty and integrity. Don’t make a judgment too precipitously. Make sure you know what is real movement forward and what is not.

Seek out truth above all.

Principles, Courage, & the Budget

A budget vote is coming. I’ve done my best to read both sides of the debate on what the Republican Congress has come up with this time. Yesterday, VP Pence was on the Rush Limbaugh program proclaiming it’s a win for the president, primarily because it increases defense spending.

Well, I’m glad it does that, given the various global crises we face: ISIS, Iran, North Korea, just to name the most prominent.

But what about the rest of this $1 trillion bill?

It continues to fund Planned Parenthood, that vile organization that has created a modern holocaust.

It continues to send money to sanctuary cities that are thumbing their noses at any type of curtailment of illegal immigration. Why should they be rewarded?

Some extra money is in it for border security, yet there is no mention of anything even remotely connected to Trump’s promise of a wall (not that I think he ever really believed in that long of a wall in the first place).

We’re told we must support this budget to keep the government running until September, then the Republicans in Congress will finally get down to business on what they said they would do.

The main reason why they don’t seem prepared to fight for anything substantive at this point is fear that they will be blamed for a government shutdown. That’s always the fear, and fear appears to drive their decisionmaking.

As a historian, I do understand that you can’t always get everything you want in legislation. Yes, there are compromises to be made. But how about compromises that don’t sacrifice basic principles such as the inherent value of human life? Allowing the funding of Planned Parenthood is a participation in murder. When will Republicans draw a line that cannot be crossed?

The litany of excuses grows:

  • We only have one house of Congress; how can you expect us to get anything passed?
  • We have Congress, but not the presidency, so anything we send to the White House will only get vetoed
  • We have Congress and the presidency, but we don’t have a 60-vote majority in the Senate to get what we want

If they were ever to get that 60-vote majority in the Senate, I’m almost convinced the argument will be that they don’t want to be portrayed in the media as heartless, so they will have to bow to what the Democrats want in order to be liked.

Whatever happened to principles? Why has spinelessness become the Republican fallback position?

In that interview that Pence did with Limbaugh, the host’s frustration came to the forefront in these words:

Okay, but why then is the president now suggesting a budget shutdown in September or October? If it’s no good now, why is it good then?

You guys were sent there to drain the swamp. There’s a clear Trump agenda that just isn’t seeable. It’s not visible in this budget, and some people are getting concerned that there’s more concern for bipartisanship and crossing the aisle, working with Democrats, than there is in draining the swamp and actually peeling away all of the roughage that is preventing actually moving forward here on so many of these issues that affect people domestically.

I’ve been a critic of Limbaugh ever since he jumped on the Trump Train with apparently no reservations, but he’s voicing a very important concern here, and he’s right to do so.

I’m reminded of this quote from Whittaker Chambers in Witness:

Men have never been so educated, but wisdom, even as an idea, has conspicuously vanished from the world.

I would add that principles and courage have dissipated along with wisdom.

Trump Backtracking on Religious Liberty?

The Trump Justice Department, headed by pro-life AG Jeff Sessions, is inexplicably backtracking on promises of religious liberty. Obamacare, which many of us had hoped would be gone by now, attempted to force a birth-control mandate on Christian organizations that opposed it in principle.

Trump loudly proclaimed throughout his campaign that he would be a champion of religious liberty, that the federal government would not interfere in deeply held religious beliefs. But look what’s happening now.

A district court ruled in favor of the religious organizations, which led to the Obama Justice Department (yes, I know the oxymoronic quality of that title) appealing the decision. Everyone expected the new Justice Department, led by the conservative Sessions, would drop that appeal.

It hasn’t happened. In fact, . . . well, I’ll quote from a newspaper report:

Several religious groups are dismayed and confused by the Trump administration’s move, including the Little Sisters of the Poor — a group of nuns — that fought the mandate for several years but expected an immediate reprieve under the GOP president. They believed either the Justice Department would halt its appeal in the case or the administration would seek a rules change from the Department of Health and Human Services.

East Texas Baptist University and other plaintiffs represented by the nonprofit law firm Becket are now asking the Justice Department to drop its appeal of a district-court ruling in their favor, allowing them permanent relief from the mandate.

Conservatives who oppose the birth control mandate on religious liberty grounds are bewildered by the move at a Justice Department headed by former Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., who is well known for his conservative views.

As things stand now, it appears that Justice plans to continue defending the way the Obama administration applied the birth-control mandate, said Eric Rassbach, a Becket attorney.

Continue defending the Obamacare mandate on birth control? Why on earth would this administration act like the Obama administration on this issue?

I’m willing to wait and see. My hope—giving the benefit of the doubt here—is that there is some confusion in the department that will be straightened out. Perhaps the outrage over this report will awaken them to what they are doing.

Meanwhile, I continue to offer the same caution I’ve been offering all along: don’t expect principle from an administration that is headed by a man without principle. Sometimes, he will do what is right, but one can never depend on that.

Principles and Christian character remain the cornerstones for good government. Without them, it’s like Forrest Gump’s box of chocolates: you never know what you’re gonna get.

Bombs Away? A Reagan-Trump Comparison

President Trump has stirred the criticism pot with his military actions: striking an air base in Syria and using the largest bomb in the US arsenal to destroy terrorists’ caves in Afghanistan. It has led some to question exactly what authority a president has to use the military without first consulting Congress.

That’s an important question because the Constitution gives Congress the authority to declare war, not any president unilaterally. Of course, Congress hasn’t passed an actual war declaration since WWII. All of our actions militarily since then have either been in conjunction with the UN (Korea, Persian Gulf War) or with tacit approval of Congress to defend American lives (Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq). The latter were with congressional resolutions that fall short of true declarations.

Yet are there times when a president cannot wait for Congress to debate a matter because surprise is essential? Can the use of the military for one specific action be taken by presidential authority without a full declaration of war?

Let’s look at the Reagan years for a couple of examples.

In 1983, a militant pro-Castro faction overthrew the government of Maurice Bishop, a moderate Marxist, on the island of Grenada. Reagan immediately understood the implications of the coup: if the new government survived, a third Cuba (Marxist Nicaragua was viewed as the second Cuba in Reagan’s mind) would have come into existence during his watch. Grenada would become another Soviet client-state in the Western hemisphere.

The new Grenadian administration brought in 600 Cubans to construct an airstrip that could accommodate large military planes. This worried not only the US but other island-nations in the region. Prime Minister Eugenia Charles of Dominica came to the White House to share her concerns with Reagan and ask for help.

Another factor Reagan had to take under consideration was several hundred Americans who were attending a medical school on the island. He wanted to ensure their safety, but knew that if word got out that action was being contemplated, those Americans could easily become hostages. The threat of another Iranian-type hostage situation loomed.

So, for national security reasons and fear for the safety of American lives, Reagan chose to act swiftly and as quietly as possible. He did bring in congressional leadership, both Republican and Democrat, before taking action, informing them of the situation. He got the go-ahead from them to proceed.

On October 25, Reagan sent 10,000 U.S. marines and army airborne troops to invade the island. All resistance was eliminated after three days of fighting. At first, some members of Congress were outraged, but public support for the invasion soared as TV coverage featured interviews with the grateful American students.

Then there was Libya in 1986.

This radical Islamic state ruled by strongman Muammar Qaddafi had used its oil revenues to bankroll terrorists in Europe and the Middle East. On April 15, 1986, having concluded that Libya had supported and financed the bombing of a nightclub in Berlin frequented by American military personnel, Reagan ordered the bombing of five targets in Libya, including the presidential palace.

Reagan wanted to send a message to Qaddafi that he needed to back off his financial support for terrorism, and that he should think twice before aiding and abetting attacks that might kill and injure US soldiers.

Again, Reagan felt that giving advance warning for this punitive action would allow Libya to prepare for it and minimize the damage. He had already publicly proclaimed the US perspective on Libya and other nations directly involved with terrorism when he said in a speech that Iran, North Korea, Cuba, Nicaragua, and Libya were “outlaw states run by the strangest collection of misfits, loony-tunes and squalid criminals since the advent of the Third Reich.” Of Qaddafi, he said, “He’s not only a barbarian, he’s flaky.”

In both of these instances, Reagan took into consideration national security and saving the lives of American citizens. Both actions were short-term, not full-fledged wars, and required secrecy for their success.

Trump’s decisions have to be evaluated in that same light. I have no problem with the Afghanistan bombing, as it is part of an ongoing effort to eliminate terrorism aimed at America. It would be nice, though, for Congress to go the whole way for a declaration of war and make it more constitutional. Yet I realize that it is difficult in this situation because terrorism is not confined to one nation; it is a continuing problem that pops up everywhere.

As for Syria, I have mixed feelings. Trump apparently decided to go ahead with that bombing because of the use of chemical weapons on Syrian citizens. He saw pictures of the results and was horrified. Who wouldn’t be?

But was there a direct danger to American citizens over Syria’s use of chemical weapons? Was our national security threatened by this terrible action? We are a compassionate people who want to stop atrocities, but can we do that everywhere in the world? Aren’t atrocities occurring in many nations? Where do we strike and where do we not?

Decisions need to be made on the basis of national security and saving American lives first and foremost. Other reasons may enter in as well, but there needs to be a compelling need to act; we can’t merely make emotional decisions.

My concern is that Trump often makes decisions based on emotion. He has little understanding of constitutional authority and limitations; neither does he care to learn.

While I can inwardly cheer that the bombing in Syria sends a message, I can wonder about the wisdom of that decision and whether it really accomplished its purposes.

My concerns about how Trump makes decisions and whether he has any bedrock principles have never gone away. I’m also concerned that too many Americans don’t care about those principles. Yet without a proper understanding of the rule of law, we are in trouble.

The Credibility Problem: Russia & Susan Rice

I try to stay away from definitive statements on current issues until most or all of the facts are known. That’s why I’ve written so little on the whole controversy about Russia’s influence over the presidential election.

Of this I am certain: Trump is not now president because Russia somehow sabotaged voting machines. Trump is president primarily because he ran against Hillary Clinton, arguably the worst major-party presidential candidate in the last . . . oh . . . well, perhaps since the birth of the Republic.

Hillary still hasn’t come to grips with that. She’s still out there making comments about how discrimination against women is why she lost. Fortunately, what she thinks doesn’t matter much now; she’s free to live in whatever fantasy world she chooses.

But did Russia try to influence public opinion toward Trump in devious ways? Keep in mind that Russia always has tried to do whatever it could to undermine America. Back in the Reagan years, there is evidence the old USSR was using Sen. Ted Kennedy to get Reagan out in the 1984 election, and the senator was a willing accomplice. He was never a model of pristine character.

By the way, Russian interference in 1984 didn’t exactly count for much in the final tally:

As the current probe slogged along, Republican Devin Nunes, chair of the House Intelligence Committee, made a misstep by making a public announcement about how our intelligence services incidentally caught information on Trump transition members apparently being mentioned by Russian operatives, but that such incidental information did not reveal any collusion. Nunes’s false step was to say something about this publicly rather than going directly to his committee.

That bad decision led to a political furor by the Democrats (who are well-practiced in political furor), and now Nunes is under investigation for an ethics violation. He has had to recuse himself from the Russia probe.

The names of those Trump people somehow were made public. That is against the law. All kinds of suspicion, entirely warranted, has been directed at the Obama administration in its final days doing whatever it could to weaken the incoming administration.

The name that has come to the surface is Susan Rice, Obama’s former UN ambassador and national security advisor. Isn’t it amazing how she always seems to show up whenever there is a need to find someone to explain away Obama’s misdeeds?

Rice doesn’t have a history that engenders confidence in her integrity. Anyone recall that she became the face of the Obama team when they totally mishandled Benghazi? Anyone recall how she went on all the Sunday talk shows and peddled the Big Lie about a video causing the attack on American personnel in Libya? Anyone recall how she did it with no embarrassment at all?

Well, she’s back. She started off by saying she knew nothing about the intelligence gathering that caught some Trump people. Then that shifted into an admission that she did request to know the names of those people—within the legal allowance—but that she certainly wasn’t responsible for leaking those names to the public.

That’s her story and she’s sticking to it.

Susan Rice has no credibility.

What really happened with Russia and what should we be concerned about? The investigation is ongoing. The real question is whether it will be a real investigation or merely another in a long line of political one-upsmanship.

The House Intelligence Committee needs to demonstrate that it has more credibility than Susan Rice.