Trump: Lessons Learned?

At first, it appeared that Trump had this president thing all figured out. He was quick out of the block to undo many of President Obama’s unconstitutional actions. He was signing executive orders right and left.

Then came indications that maybe he’s still enmeshed in on-the-job training. While I agree that his executive order regarding immigration was within his authority and had the right intent—ensuring we aren’t importing terrorists—the rollout was bungled. People were caught in it who shouldn’t have been; Trump didn’t get ahead of the narrative so that the opposition, both Democrats and the media, couldn’t use it as a cudgel.

A misstep, to be sure.

Then when a federal judge put a stay on the order and it went to the Ninth Circuit Court, commentators were quick to note that Trump’s advocates in the court weren’t apparently top-notch. The Ninth Circuit upheld the stay.

It’s easy to criticize that particular court because it has a history of tacking to the political Left. No other circuit has had so many of its decisions reversed by the Supreme Court. It would have more credibility if it actually followed law rather than its own political ideology.

Trump, throughout this controversy, did what he always does so well: go to Twitter to denounce and insult. That’s not a tactic designed to win over the opposition.

Now we have the Mike Flynn fiasco. When Flynn was picked to be National Security Adviser, I was not entirely on board. Whenever I saw him offering commentary, I had reservations about his approach and his temperament. Yes, he seemed to understand the Islamist threat, but he also seemed far too cozy with Russia, which mirrored Trump’s attitude.

Flynn resigned late Monday night over reports that he hobnobbed with the Russian government prior to taking office. There is no law against that, but there was concern about what he was promising the Russians. Personally, I think it’s good to start talking with foreign governments when a national security official is about to take on that duty.

However, Flynn attempted not only to hide what he had done; in addition, he lied to VP Pence about it, making Pence an unwitting liar when he defended Flynn publicly.

That is inexcusable. As we always hear, the coverup is often worse than the original offense.

So Flynn is gone, undermining another of Trump’s boasts that he will surround himself with the best people. Flynn was not one of those “best” people.

Some report indicate that Trump is surprised by the resistance he is experiencing and is trying to figure out how to handle it. I know, we never can tell if such reports are genuine or fake in this heated environment, but I don’t have trouble believing this one. Trump is used to having his way, and he probably thought that being president would make it easy to get done what he wants to get done.

Welcome to the real world, President Trump. It’s time to get this under control. Will he learn his lessons?

The Left Going Crazy, Trump Being Trump

Watching the cultural/political Left go crazy the past few weeks should be instructive to many Americans. Although there’s nothing really surprising about the “progressive” reaction to Trump’s presidency, their out-of-control rage, whining, and actual destruction of property offers a valuable lesson about the dangers of Totalitarian Leftism.

The University of California Berkeley retains an iconic status in the minds of those on the Left. They believe it is the place where free speech was born in the 1960s. That image is imaginary. Free speech existed long before the presumed free speech movement at Berkeley.

Recently, Berkeley is again in the news as riots have broken out on campus, complete with attacks on local businesses. No one is allowed to have a different idea at Berkeley; genuine free speech is a rarity on many American campuses—all in the name of tolerance.

As a university professor myself, I think I can assign a grade:

Conservative voices are either silenced or harassed in many of our cultural venues. Calm, reasoned debate no longer is the norm; emotions rule all too often:

Stakeholders on the Left are all upset that a woman who fervently believes children need better educational options is now confirmed as the new secretary of education. Apparently, working for school choice (I thought the Left loved “choice”) and donating tons of personal funds toward helping children get the education they need is now a disqualification for being the education secretary. Their reaction has become typical:

And of course there are all the organized and funded protests over a travel executive order that has been characterized undeservedly as a “Muslim ban.” Never mind that it was in accordance with previous legislation and similar to what other presidents have done; rationality and constitutionality are not part of the Left’s thought process anymore.

The real problem with that particular EO was the way Trump handled it and how it was applied to people who should not have been targeted. What Trump should have done is make a short address to the American people about what he was going to do and explain the precise nature of the order ahead of time, thereby short-circuiting some of the hysteria that erupted.

Instead, he just dumped it out there without sufficient explanation. That’s one of Trump’s ongoing problems. He just does things and doesn’t take into account the possible reaction.

He also continues to have a brain-to-mouth issue. In an interview with Bill O’Reilly, when asked about Putin, whom O’Reilly correctly called a killer, Trump came back with the quip that the US has done its share of killing as well.

That came across as Trump proclaiming a moral equivalency between an increasingly totalitarian Russia and the US. Putin finds ways to create suspicious deaths for those who criticize him; when has that been US policy?

Trump continues to harbor admiration for Putin and other strong dictators, and he somehow seems to think that America has been just as bad as other nations in how its citizens have been treated. Tell that to the 7 million Ukrainians starved to death by Stalin. Explain how the persecution and executions of Christians in communist countries compares favorably with how we treat our people.

This moral equivalence argument is fantasy land, and Trump needs to disavow it immediately. It reverses the realistic view that Reagan brought to policy in his day.

Donald Trump remains his own worst enemy. If he wishes to succeed as president, it’s going to take more than bluster and insults toward those who disagree with him. He’s going to have to learn some statesmanship. Will his basic character allow this?

The Confirmation Circus

Confirmation hearings for Trump’s nominees have become quite a circus. It was to be expected, unfortunately. I remember when Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin was putting forth his agenda a few years ago. Democrats in the Wisconsin legislature ran away to Illinois so there wouldn’t be a quorum to conduct business. Senate Democrats seem to be copying that strategy, refusing to show up to vote on whether to send nominees to the full Senate.

It’s a tried and true method used by toddlers, angry juveniles, and immature people everywhere.

Republicans had to alter the rules even to get the nominees out of committee. Perhaps it’s the only way to deal with temper tantrums.

In the Democrats’ crosshairs now is Betsy DeVos, slated to be the new education secretary. Since she’s an advocate for private schooling, the teachers’ unions are up in arms. They’ve been busy consolidating their support with the Democrats:

I’m always amused by cries of “influence” when aimed at various conservative groups who donate to Republicans. The National Education Association (NEA) and its allies practically own Democrats; they have more money to throw around than all conservative groups combined.

Soon we’ll be treated with the confirmation hearing for Neil Gorsuch, chosen to take Antonin Scalia’s seat on the Supreme Court. The circus will continue. Over a decade ago, Gorsuch received a unanimous vote for his current judicial position. That’s history.

I trust Gorsuch is prepared for what he is about to experience:

Will Republicans have to turn to what is called the “nuclear option,” not allowing a filibuster on the nomination?

What a shame that this scenario has turned into an unbridgeable political divide. Democrats have become unhinged over these nominees, using their outrage to raise even more funding for their theatrics.

I know that theatrics have played a role throughout American political history, but I don’t believe we’ve ever witnessed the kind of role-playing that has come to the forefront ever since Ronald Reagan was elected in 1980, at least not on such a sustained basis. We are a nation that is verging on a complete cultural and political division not seen since the Civil War.

What will be the result?

Religious Liberty: A Crystal-Clear Message?

It would be wonderful if President Trump’s executive orders wouldn’t battle one another. As seems to be the case with everything our new president does, we get great news along with not-so-great.

I won’t diminish the great news. The latest in his series of executive orders is a win for religious liberty. Neither do I believe it attempts to write a new law or extend presidential authority beyond proper constitutional limitations. This EO merely establishes what already is ensconced in the First Amendment to the Constitution and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

Let’s rejoice over the following assertions in the EO (H/T to Erick Erickson’s wording on his Resurgent website):

  • It tells the entire federal government to respect federal statutes and Supreme Court decisions that make clear the free exercise of religion applies to all people, of all faiths, in all places, and at all times—that it is not merely the freedom to worship.
  • It notes that religious organizations include all organizations operated by religious principles, not just houses of worship or charities. And it follows the Religious Freedom Restoration Act in saying that religious exercise “includes all aspects of religious observance and practice,” not just those absolutely required by a faith.
  • It instructs all agencies of the federal government, “to the greatest extent practicable and permitted by law,” to reasonably accommodate the religion of federal employees, as required by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
  • It instructs the secretaries of health and human services, labor, and treasury to finally grant relief to the Little Sisters of the Poor and others who weren’t exempted from the Obamacare abortifacient and contraception mandate.
  • It instructs the secretary of health and human services to ensure that all citizens have the ability to purchase health care plans through Obamacare that do not cover abortion or subsidize plans that do.
  • It instructs the secretary of health and human services to ensure that the federal government does not discriminate against child-welfare providers, such as foster care and adoption services, based on the organization’s religious beliefs.
  • It adopts the Russell Amendment and instructs all agencies of the federal government to provide protections and exemptions consistent with the Civil Rights Act and Americans with Disabilities Act to all religious organizations that contract with the federal government or receive grants.

That’s a tremendous list of assurances. As I’ve said, I will give credit where it is due, and this deserves our entire approbation.

So then why did Trump, the day before, allow an Obama executive order to stand that prohibits “discrimination” against gays when giving out federal contracts? While that may sound good to many, what it did was discriminate instead against Christian organizations that seek to aid the poor via contracts with the federal government. Those organizations would have to deny their basic beliefs about sexual morality and marriage before they can have an equal place at the table.

How does allowing that Obama dictate to continue mesh with this new EO on religious liberty, in particular that last provision that supposedly protects religious organizations seeking a federal grant?

Of course, my argument is that Christians shouldn’t try to get federal money at all. Let’s not intertwine our faith with government authority. Let’s not become dependent on funding from government to accomplish what God has called us to do.

Yet, it would be nice if the new administration wouldn’t send out conflicting signals. The message needs to be crystal clear. This whole matter of liberty of conscience is kind of a mess right now in our society.

I’ve noted before that Trump doesn’t really grasp the problem most evangelicals have with the LGBT agenda. He has no real issue with that agenda. We need to continue to pray that his understanding of Christian morality will become sharper over time.

The Gorsuch Pick

President Trump’s choice of Neil Gorsuch for the Supreme Court fulfills one of his campaign promises. Gorsuch, from all accounts I’ve read, will be a superb replacement for Antonin Scalia.

Those who know him praise his keen mind and devotion to following the Constitution and not making up rights that don’t really exist.

His record as a judge is stellar on issues of religious liberty. His explanations for his opinions (often as dissents to the prevailing liberal majority in his district) point to a clear understanding of how our system ought to work.

He has offered judicial opinions in favor of Hobby Lobby and The Little Sisters of the Poor, the religious liberty of a prisoner, and against the American Atheists organization when it successfully sued for removal of cross-shaped roadside memorials in Utah.

In that case, specifically, he disagreed with his fellow justices who, he said, mistakenly viewed the memorials through the eyes of a so-called “reasonable observer” who was “biased” against religion, “full of foibles and misinformation,” “prone to mistake,” and burdened with “selective and feeble eyesight.”

In his career he clerked for two Supreme Court justices: Byron White and Anthony Kennedy. The latter was very impressed with him and, I’m sure, would welcome him on the Court. Perhaps that respect might sway Kennedy over to the right side on upcoming cases.

The Democrats in the Senate have already begun the smear campaign against him. As many have noted, the slogans and accusations were already prepared ahead of time to be used against whoever was nominated. All they were waiting for was to fill in the blank where the name goes. Let’s be clear: they would be making the same accusations no matter whom the nominee was going to be. It’s a template they follow regardless of the individual.

As long as all Republicans remain firm, there should be no problem putting Gorsuch on the Court, even if it means abolishing the Senate rule for a 60-vote supermajority to allow the actual vote for confirmation to go forward.

Prepare for more hysterics from the perpetually peeved and perturbed:

Give Trump credit for one more good decision, but stay alert. You never know what he might do after this.

Trump’s First Days

Donald Trump’s first days in office have been filled with controversies—some genuine and created by him, others phony and played up by the usual suspects. Continuing my pledge to be fair and balanced in my comments on how Trump is doing, let’s begin with the phony ones.

Because of his executive order that started the ball rolling on reversing Obamacare, we now hear hysterical rantings about how all the poor will lose their healthcare. Not so. A large portion of Obamacare enrollments, it seems, have swelled the number of people on Medicaid. Obamacare itself has done little to ensure everyone is covered. Its primary achievements have been astronomical deductibles and premium hikes for those forced into it.

If Republicans can unite on how to dismantle this foolishness, everyone will benefit, rich and poor alike.

Trump’s overturning of Obama’s unconstitutional executive orders is one of the most positive and rational things he is doing. May it continue.

The Left is also apoplectic over the immigration EO Trump signed over the weekend. There are things wrong with the way it was implemented, hitting green-card residents and others who were previously approved to be in the country. Particularly painful were the stories that highlighted Christian families being sent back as well as an Iraqi interpreter who has worked on behalf of America for a decade. That misstep has been officially corrected by new DHS head John Kelly, who has come out publicly stating it doesn’t apply to those kinds of people.

Neither did this new EO specifically target Muslims. It only kept in place the Obama policy toward seven of the fifty Muslim-majority nations, the ones most likely to harbor terrorists.

I have a hard time understanding criticism of a policy that simply requires vetting and caution before allowing certain people into the country. Open-borders advocates accuse anyone who is concerned about terrorists using immigration to infiltrate and attack us of being without compassion. I wonder how many of those advocates leave the doors of their homes unlocked at night, welcoming whoever wants to come in for whatever reason?

Yet Trump is being castigated as a racist/bigot/fill-in-the-blank-with-your-favorite cliché. Keep in mind this would have happened with any Republican taking over the presidency. Trump, though, with his penchant for stirring the pot unnecessarily, has lowered the point at which professional leftists boil over.

Another of Trump’s EOs that is excellent is the one that reinstated the so-called Mexico City Policy, which bars international non-governmental organizations that perform or promote abortions from receiving US government funding. I give him praise for that.

Lost in the flurry of hysteria over the immigration edict are others, both good and/or questionable.

I would think that all points along the political spectrum should agree with the ones that apply a five-year ban on lobbying by those currently serving in the administration and a lifetime ban on foreign government lobbying. Let’s applaud those.

The most questionable action, though, is Trump’s decision to shake up the personnel on the National Security Council. He removed the Director of National Intelligence and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff from attending the meetings. Um . . . how are they not involved with national security?

The coup de grace was then to place Steve Bannon, his chief political strategist, on the NSC instead. Huh? I haven’t heard a good explanation for those moves yet.

Trump also says he will name his nominee for the Supreme Court this week, possibly even today. Rumors had it that Neil Gorsuch was the probable pick, a man who seems to be solid in all areas; some even say he would be better than Scalia in some ways.

Now there are new rumors that Thomas Hardiman may be the top choice. From what I’ve read, Hardiman, while considered conservative, has never been tested on hot-button issues like abortion. After so many evangelicals voted for Trump based on his promise to place someone on the Court who can be trusted on that issue, Hardiman could turn out to be a major disappointment. Trump’s sister, a pro-abortion judge, has spoken out in favor of Hardiman.

Potential problem here? Another David Souter or Anthony Kennedy? We don’t know. Gorsuch or Hardiman? We’ll find out very soon.

The one major positive, however, that all conservatives can point to as the new administration gets underway is this:

For that, I am grateful.

On Being a “Word” Guy

I’m a “word” guy, and becoming more so after writing two books in the past two years. I’m always looking for just the right way to say things, and I appreciate writers whose originality with words makes one rethink, or think more deeply, about life.

That’s why I’m attracted to the wordsmithing of people like Whittaker Chambers and C. S. Lewis. It’s not just what they say—which is truth-hitting-you-where-it-helps/hurts-most—but the way they say it.

Most of us have a hard time coming up with anything approaching what Chambers or Lewis have written. That’s fine. They were unique, and each of us needs to find our own way of communicating. I’m not pretending to be the latest incarnation of either, but I gladly try to incorporate anything I can from them to spice up my own style.

Why am I thinking about this today? Well, first, I’m currently teaching classes on both Chambers and Lewis. As I go through their writings with students, I’m renewed in my appreciation for their contributions; I also love it when students get their first taste of that quality of writing. For some, it’s like an awakening.

And that’s the true reward of teaching.

I’m also alert to commentary on how we speak and write. Sometimes, the best commentary can come from unexpected places:

Avoiding clichés is a constant effort. Then there are words that become so ubiquitous that you almost wish they would disappear from our national vocabulary:

My goal: to use only the “best” words. You know, like President Trump. Should he be my new model?

Lord, deliver me from such thoughts.