Archive for the ‘ Politics & Government ’ Category

The Hope & the Agony of Politics

I’ve never been a utopian when it comes to politics. I’ve always known heaven won’t be created on earth. Yet, along with that realization, I’ve maintained a commitment to instilling Biblical values into politics as much as possible. When government follows policies based on Biblical principles, I believe we get closer to the ideal, regardless of the pervasive sinfulness of men.

This past political season was a jolt to my hopes. Faced for the first time with two candidates for president who never should be allowed close to the Oval Office, I had to go another route with my vote. My conscience constrained me.

What bothered me most was what I consider a nearly wholesale abandonment of principle by those who call themselves conservatives, and even worse, those who are my fellow Christian believers who ultimately decided that principles no longer mattered in this situation.

Note: this is not an indictment of many who struggled with their consciences and voted for Trump because they couldn’t imagine the alternative. My concern is with those who have become unapologetic apologists for a man regardless of what he says or does.

Yesterday, I read a column by Erick Erickson that echoed what I’ve been feeling. I’m going to share some of his pertinent comments and intersperse mine. Erickson feels betrayed by politics and by those he thought were his spiritual/intellectual companions. He says that, although he’s always been a Republican, he no longer has a home in that party.

I understand how he feels.

On the right, a party that used to be centered around the idea of smaller government and individual empowerment is instead captured by its own personality that centers around a strong man in Washington and whatever he wants.

I have argued for a constitutional understanding of government for more than thirty years. I thought Republicans, on the whole, agreed with that perspective. Instead, I’m seeing far less concern for that now that “we” have a supposedly strong man in power.

Erickson then addresses the Christian community that has sought, like I have, to return Biblical principles into our governing (especially after the ill effects of the Obama tenure):

Christians are supposed to find some peace in the world by knowing that there is a last day and they are on the winning team. But right now a bunch of American Christians are looking to political solutions for spiritual problems and convincing themselves they’re making a Heaven on earth. . . .

So many people going to church on Sunday looked at Trump and called him a Cyrus, but increasingly this looks like a Maccabean revolt. Sure, they threw out those they saw as pagans and set about purifying temple America, but things did not exactly go well for the people or the kingdom thereafter.

Of course it was all downhill to Herod and the first coming, so maybe it’ll all be downhill from here to the second coming. That increasingly looks likely as the world goes mad, this country included.

Hyperbole? Not from where I’m sitting. That’s my perception also.

He then switches to what he would like to see in politics; I’ll share a few of his dreams:

I want a new party, and a conservative one where conservatism is not defined by beating the other side, but by pursuing the best policies.

I want a party that is pro-family and structures the tax code accordingly and fights for school choice so parents can get their kids educated instead of indoctrinated.

I want a party that is pro-life and that does not run from the Bible.

I want a party that does not define people by the color of their skin or where their families came from, but sees us all as part of the American experiment.

And I want a party that is beholden to ideas, not men.

I will add my “amen” to all of that. And with Erickson, I can also say that I, at one time, thought that existed. Now I’m not so sure. You see, I’ve not changed, but my party has. Ronald Reagan used to say that he hadn’t changed, but that the Democrat party he had always been a part of was the one that moved away from his beliefs.

What happened to a conservatism that was based on ideas, not nationalism? Caring for one’s nation is good, but there is a line that can be crossed. When does one’s devotion to the nation become a substitute for devotion to God?

Here’s one more short paragraph from Erickson’s piece that resonates with me:

To the extent that I have changed, though, I think I have changed for the better. I have a harder time reconciling my faith to my politics and see so many of my friends trying to squeeze their faith into their politics. I would rather go the opposite way and connect my politics to my faith, giving up those things that cannot be reconciled.

One of the key concepts I’ve tried to communicate to students, and to anyone else who will listen to me (I guess that’s why I write this blog) is that you start with Scripture and then make everything align with that. You never start with what others say is true and then do your best to inject Scripture into it, thereby making a false attempt to Christianize something that is not Christian at all.

I’m going to continue on the path of making God’s truth my cornerstone. I will not bow to the political gods who say I should set my Biblical principles aside for the sake of a few Supreme Court justices or some temporary victories via executive orders.

I want to look back on my decisions and not experience deep regret over my subordination of God’s ways to man’s ways. He calls us to be faithful, and that is what I intend to be.

Columbus, Racism, & Protests

Wealthy football players claim America is oppressive. Their protest over the national anthem goes viral. The nation gets thrown into turmoil.

Columbus Day arrives. We have our annual Columbus-was-a-genocidal-maniac theme trumpeted from the mouths of those who, like the football players, believe America is the bastion of systemic racism.

As a historian, I know that our history includes some terrible things. Yet we need some sense of comparative analysis, not emotional outbursts, to deal with what has happened. We also need to see more clearly that many of those things we don’t like have been corrected.

And as a historian, I also know that not many people are well versed on that history. They simply follow the lead of some who claim they know the truth, even though often they are following a political agenda, not truth.

Take Columbus. Who really knows that one of his prime motivations was to spread Christianity? Oh, I know—he was also vainglorious and coveted rank and honor. He loved the title bestowed: Admiral of the Ocean Sea. But how many know that when he returned for his second voyage that all the men he had left in the New World had been slaughtered and that another native chief joined him in attacking those who committed that slaughter?

We have a much-too-romanticized view of what life was like among those natives. Jesus’s comment about how there will always be wars and rumors of wars applied among them as well as European nations. They were not as innocent as sometimes portrayed. They connived politically for advantage over other tribes and engaged in types of behavior not countenanced today.

In other words, they were people just like all other peoples—and where there are people, there are problems.

Just a hint: don’t get caught in a war; your end will be slow and torturous.

Back to Columbus. Here’s a comic I found a number of years ago that probably is closer to the truth than anything nowadays:

I’m no apologist for Columbus Day. I can take it or leave it. But neither do I bow to a modern political correctness that can only see evil in the arrival of the Europeans. I can draw distinctions between those who carried out evil and those who didn’t.

When it comes to American history, I can decry the racism that led to slavery, while simultaneously rejoice that America became one of those nations that put an end to the practice.

I can clearly see that the segregation that followed slavery was evil, yet I can enthusiastically applaud the end of that particular evil empire.

I know that the inner cities of America are a place of disadvantage for success in life. Yet I also know that government programs to “help” have only led to the disintegration of the black family structure, thereby creating more poverty. When over 70% of children born in the inner cities grow up without a father, consequences follow. God intended that all children have both a father and a mother.

So, in an ironic twist, it’s all that government help that has created an atmosphere that some see as oppressive.

If the family structure were to be reestablished and genuine capitalism be allowed to flourish (not the crony type that dominates cities run by so-called progressives), I believe we would see much greater prosperity across the board in our society and much less rationale for the protests we see now.

Where do those foundational beliefs in the necessity of a strong family and a vibrant, free economy come from? They are Biblical principles. Only a return to those principles will bring this about.

Guns or the Evil Within?

I try to follow a policy of waiting a while before commenting on news that is not fully vetted. As we all know, much of what is said at first is speculation, and many early accounts are found to be discounted rumors as the fog dissipates.

That’s why I’ve written nothing until now on Stephen Paddock and his reign of unmitigated terror and murder in Las Vegas. What I particularly despise, as I’m sure many of you do also, is the way some people jump on a tragedy like this to score political points.

In perhaps one of the most ironic statements to emanate from a politician after this murder spree, Hillary Clinton tweeted, “We can and must put politics aside, stand up to the NRA, and work together to try to stop this from happening again.”

Well, I’m glad she put politics aside.

To be clear, I’m not a gun owner. I wouldn’t mind being one, but it hasn’t become a top priority for me. I went to an NRA shooting range once (did pretty well, I’m told) and was impressed with their instructions on how to handle firearms safely. That is not an organization foaming at the mouth to use guns indiscriminately; it believes in responsible gun ownership for the purpose of protection.

The old cliché about how gun control laws ensure that only criminals will be the ones with guns is accurate. Criminals don’t follow gun laws.

Erick Erickson also hit home with a comment about statistics, noting, “Many of the gun violence statistics count legitimate self defense, hunting accidents, domestic accidents, and police shoots as mass gun violence. Remember that today as the press talks about ‘mass shootings.’ They have skewed the statistics to make it look far worse than it is. This is done to perpetuate an agenda.”

Some use the term “violence” with abandon. If I were to push someone into the path of an oncoming vehicle, that is a violent action. If, however, I were to do the very same thing and push someone out of the way of that vehicle, my outward action would be the same. Would that be “violence”? Of course not.

Using a gun to protect other people is the opposite of setting oneself up in a hotel room and spraying a crowd with bullets.

Why do we have to keep explaining that which ought to be common sense?

Yet politicians will always do what politicians do. It’s so predictable.

Gun control laws don’t work and they never will. Take a trip to Chicago next week and you will be in a city that registers more gun deaths during your time there than Stephen Paddock was able to achieve in his maniacal burst.

Overall, guns save more innocent lives than they take. And it’s not the guns that are the problem. As people search for the big “why” behind Paddock’s rampage, those of us who take Scripture seriously already know the basic reason, whatever other considerations one might add in. Jesus noted it quite clearly in the 15th chapter of the gospel of Matthew:

For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witnesses, slanders.

Spiritual heart surgery is the only real solution. Recognition of sin must come first; genuine repentance must follow; then and only then is forgiveness offered and a new life begins.

As the apostle Paul explains in his second epistle to the Corinthians, chapter 5:

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: the old has gone, the new is here!

I’m also particularly partial to this passage in the 12th chapter of Romans:

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.

Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

Renewing the mind is an ongoing process, and only renewed minds walk in the will of God.

The Lord uses even the wickedness of men to shine a light on His holiness. May people be drawn to Him and His goodness as they witness the evil around them. May they also understand the evil that lurks within them and receive His cleansing and His renewed mind.

A Dual Spiritual Biography

I spent parts of ten years researching the links between Ronald Reagan and Whittaker Chambers. Those years also were spent documenting the difference in outlook between the two conservative icons: Chambers the brooding intellectual who doubted the wisdom of men and their commitment to truth; Reagan the optimist who always saw a bright future ahead.

Yet despite that basic disparity in outlook, Reagan was deeply appreciative of what Chambers had taught him, primarily through his autobiography, Witness. Pearls from Chambers’s depth of personal struggle found a prominent place in Reagan’s utterances as president.

Chambers’s depiction of the communist mentality stayed with Reagan throughout his life. He referred to Chambers a number of times in his speeches. Like all presidents, Reagan had a corps of speechwriters, but he contributed valuable edits to his speeches, adding and deleting lines, passages, and even full pages.

Whenever he included Chambers in a speech, he did not just mention him in passing, but often used direct quotes from Witness. At other times, the author of Witness went unmentioned, yet the words Reagan used sounded familiar to those who knew and appreciated Chambers’s writings.

For instance, at a Fourth of July speech in Decatur, Alabama, in 1984, the president, comparing the totalitarian world of communism with America, said that man was created to be free. “That’s why,” he opined, “it’s been said that democracy is just a political reading of the Bible.” Chambers’s exact words had been, “Political freedom, as the Western world has known it, is only a political reading of the Bible,” but the source for Reagan’s comment is unmistakable. It was a phrase from Witness that found a home in his memory.

Speaking before friendly audiences—those with whom he could share more personally in an ideological sense—the president invoked Chambers regularly. Just two months into his presidency, he addressed the Conservative Political Action Conference Dinner.

In a tone reminiscent of the language used in Witness, he proclaimed, “We’ve heard in our century far too much of the sounds of anguish from those who live under totalitarian rule. We’ve seen too many monuments made not out of marble or stone but out of barbed wire and terror.” He then spoke of “witnesses to the triumph of the human spirit over the mystique of state power,” and declared that “evil is powerless if the good are unafraid,” as if channeling Chambers’s decision to cross over the bridge on his witness and not turn back.

Marxism, he said, is a “vision of man without God” that must be exposed “as an empty and a false faith … first proclaimed in the Garden of Eden with whispered words of temptation: ‘Ye shall be as gods.’” Where were all these ideas coming from?

The crisis of the Western world, Whittaker Chambers reminded us, exists to the degree in which it is indifferent to God. “The Western world does not know it,” he said about our struggle, “but it already possesses the answer to this problem— but only provided that its faith in God and the freedom He enjoins is as great as communism’s faith in man.”

The real task, Reagan concluded, was a spiritual one: “to reassert our commitment as a nation to a law higher than our own, to renew our spiritual strength.” Only by having this kind of commitment could America’s heritage be preserved. The emphasis on spiritual strength, while also part of Reagan’s core beliefs, certainly was consistent with Chambers’s foundational message.

Near the end of his presidency, in December 1988, addressing his own administration officials, Reagan thought it important to remind them of what Chambers had said. He recalled the sad state of the nation when he took over the reins of the presidency, and how the people had been accused by former president Carter of suffering from the disease of malaise. Everyone at the time, it seemed, had bought into the lie that “there wasn’t much we could do because great historic forces were at work, the problems were all too complicated for solution, fate and history were against us, and America was slipping into an inevitable decline.”

A quote from Chambers seemed appropriate here: “Well, Whittaker Chambers once wrote that, in his words, ‘Human societies, like human beings, live by faith and die when faith dies.’” America, Reagan reminded his audience, possesses “a special faith that has, from our earliest days, guided this sweet and blessed land. It was proclaimed in the Declaration of Independence and enshrined in the Constitution.” It was faith in what a free people could accomplish. “And in saying that America has entered an inevitable decline, our leaders of just a decade ago were confessing that, in them, this faith had died.”

This particular use of Chambers is instructive: it shows how Reagan almost always took a quote from him and turned it into something positive, no matter how negative the quote was in context. Reagan’s optimism enveloped Chambers’s pessimism and made it encouraging and upbeat instead.

These excerpts from my book are only a small sampling of what awaits the reader who cares to delve into this dual spiritual biography. And a spiritual biography it is, as both men based their beliefs on their grasp of Christian faith.

Awash in Foolishness

My response to the whole NFL national anthem controversy is decidedly mixed. On the one hand, I have a visceral reaction: who are these spoiled brats making more money in one year than either I or anyone reading this blog will make in a lifetime? What do they really have to protest? What’s “wrong” with the words of this anthem?

I’m an American historian who deeply appreciates the Founding of this nation—its Biblical framework of thinking and its overall goals. I also believe that despite the sins and/or problems of its past, America has tried valiantly to correct many of those missteps and has been more of a beacon of hope to the world than any other nation one can name.

Two world wars ended because of America’s reluctant participation in both; the Soviet empire crashed and burned under American pressure and the Cold War came to a satisfactory conclusion.

So, yes, it disturbs me to witness professional football players who bask in the glow of athletic fame, and who draw rather obscene salaries in light of what they actually produce for the nation, decide to disrespect the nation that gave them this opportunity.

On the other hand, as a Christian, I don’t equate national pride with sacredness. The Constitution, while remarkable and worthy of our esteem, is not on the same plane as Scripture. The flag, while a vibrant symbol of what America says it stands for, is not the emblem of the heavenly kingdom. The Star-Spangled Banner, thrilling as it is when one knows its history, is not the banner of eternity.

Then there’s another factor thrown into the mix that makes it all even more mixed up: Donald Trump.

The protests were already an issue before Trump entered into the cultural battle, but, as usual, his words turned a smoldering burn into a blazing fire. By using his bully pulpit to denounce the protesters and call for their firing, he misused the office he has been granted by the voters.

In my mind, there is this comparison that is always present: Trump vs. Reagan. I ask myself how Reagan would have handled such a situation and, from what I know of his character and history, I come away thinking that he would have defused it with his humor and adult behavior. Not so Trump. Adult behavior, in his case, is rarely witnessed.

Those last two paragraphs will raise the ire of Trump defenders, I know. Yet I can’t help but wonder why he won’t simply attend to the weightier issues he was elected to deal with and avoid getting involved in lesser controversies.

It always comes down to character, or the lack thereof.

Due to Trump’s involvement, the protests increased, and now no one really knows if those protests are against the anthem itself or against a president who unwisely inserted himself into the foolishness.

Foolishness. I guess that’s the word that stands out to me as I survey this mess. The NFL players who are protesting are foolish. The president of the United States is being foolish. We are awash in foolishness.

Christians, this message is for you: don’t get carried away by any of this. Focus instead on the eternal. Pray for all those invested in this foolishness, on both sides. Pray that knowledge, understanding, and wisdom may prevail—for the sake of what has been, historically, the best country on the globe.

Reviving Obamacare Repeal

A final attempt this year at Obamacare legislation is coming up for a vote in Congress next week. Will it advance the principle of eventually overturning the [Un]Affordable Care Act or will it leave too much in place? I’ll come back to that, but first some context.

Despite assurances to the contrary from progressives/Democrats, Obamacare fails on nearly every promise. It is not affordable and insurance companies are pulling out regularly. In some areas, there is only one company taking part, meaning consumers really have no choice.

Those who can’t bear to think of it going away are blind to its disastrous nature:

And when the word “entitlement” gets attached to anything, people feel they are, well . . . entitled. People worry, so they cling to false promises and ignore the reality.

Republicans have used Obamacare repeal and replace as a rallying cry ever since 2010. Many are sincere; others just wanted to stir the base to get reelected. When Republicans finally took both houses of Congress and the presidency, they had their chance to show their true colors. For some, the true color was yellow. The move to remove stalled.

Repeal would be easy, we were told. No problem. When it didn’t turn out that way, voters were given a substitute promise.

That hasn’t happened either, by the way.

Now we have a proposed bill that doesn’t repeal most Obamacare regulations, pre-existing conditions are still covered (too popular to touch), and it keeps spending money at a rapid rate.

So it should be rejected?

Here’s where principle comes in. If a new law moves the ball down the field, so to speak, and gets us closer to where we should be, isn’t that worth supporting? Take abortion, for instance. I believe all abortions are wrong, morally wrong. Some would say that any bill that allows any abortions at all to remain legal should be rejected. However, I would look at such a bill and say instead that many thousands of innocent lives can be saved with it and it should be passed.

It would get us closer to where we need to be.

This current Obamacare modification bill does the following:

  • It repeals the individual mandate.
  • It repeals the employer mandate.
  • Its block grant approach puts state governments in charge of the funds, allowing states to develop their own system, thereby reducing control by the federal government.
  • It defunds Planned Parenthood.

For all those reasons, especially the last one, Democrats will not support it.

For me, as I look at those benefits of the proposed bill, I believe it will advance the cause of eventually overturning this monstrous system. I therefore hope it will pass.

It’s one last opportunity this year to make a dent in something that never should have become the law of the land in the first place. Republican senators should find their courage, set aside petty concerns about whether their state will get enough funding, and vote to take this significant step in the right direction.

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.