Where There’s Fire, There’s Fury

There sure has been a lot of attention given to this new book Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House. Cable news and online sites don’t seem to get enough of it.

Author Michael Wolff has created a firestorm of sorts with his account of what those who work in the Trump administration have told him about their boss. Bottom line is that they think he’s somewhat off his rocker.

Or did they say the things he says they said? That’s what has created an equal firestorm as some of those he quoted and/or paraphrased have now branded the quotes as false, inventions of a man who simply wants to embarrass and take down a president.

Where is the truth?

I really don’t know.

As an academic, I want everything sourced/documented in the most detailed way. My goal in any writing I have done is to ensure that readers can trust what I’m quoting. By those standards, Wolff’s book is apparently deficient. Perhaps that’s what publishers want—sensationalism to sell the books, not unimpeachable accuracy.

Even some journalists who are not exactly Trump fans have criticized Wolff. Some have pointed out factual inaccuracies that bring into question the integrity of the work as a whole. Didn’t the publisher have any fact-checkers assigned to this volume?

Wolff does note that he can’t vouch for the accuracy of everything people told him; he claims to be simply reporting what they said and it’s up to the reader to figure out how true those statements might be.

Truth is particularly suspect when one of your major inside sources is Steve Bannon, a man who comes across to me as someone who’s out to puff up Steve Bannon more than anything else. Principled is not an adjective I would use to describe him.

All the attention to the book and to Bannon’s alleged comments in it has led him down an apology path. One wonders how sincere his apologies are when it is obvious he is now in a tentative position with respect to his tenure at the Breitbart news [?] site.

Trump has denounced Bannon, as he always denounces anyone he believes has betrayed him. So it seems a trifle phony for Bannon now to sing praises to his former boss.

My personal opinion about the book is that it is a mixture of fact and fiction and that it’s difficult to know which tidbit is which.

As as result, I have no compelling desire to read it; I have better things to read.

However, as Jonah Goldberg has noted, the reason it can gain some credibility is that it depicts a president that some of us think we already see. It doesn’t surprise us if all of what is said might be true.

How should one respond to a book that depicts one as unfit for the office of the presidency? I can remember the 1980s when journalists attempted to paint a portrait of Ronald Reagan as some kind of a dumb jock that others were leading around by the nose because he had no idea what was going on.

How did Reagan respond to accusations of that type? With jokes about himself, not attacks on the attackers. He defused the charges by self-deprecating humor. Americans saw a man who could laugh at himself, not take himself too seriously, and they readily dismissed the highly partisan, distorted caricature presented by the journalists.

How has Trump responded? On Twitter, of course. Here’s the verbatim tweet, in case you missed it:

Throughout my life, my two greatest assets have been mental stability and being, like, really smart. Crooked Hillary Clinton also played these cards very hard and, as everyone knows, went down in flames. I went from VERY successful businessman, to top T.V. Star to President of the United States (on my first try). I think that would qualify as not smart, but genius….and a very stable genius at that!

First, let me say that if you have to defend yourself, the best way might be through humility. But that seems to be foreign territory for Donald Trump. When you have to assert that you have “mental stability” and that you are “like, really smart,” you have undermined your credibility from the start.

Trump then brags about all his successes (proof that he is “like, really smart”), ending with the modest comment that “smart” is not a strong enough term—no, he’s a genius—no, make that “a very stable genius”—thereby accomplishing the opposite of what he intended.

That tweet only gives credence to the accusations that he is an ego-driven, arrogant yet insecure man-child, who can’t control his reactions. I’ve commented many times that he too often comes across as juvenile; this tweet could be the apex of his juvenile behavior.

The first half of this post will alienate The Resistance, which aims for impeachment. The second half will anger Trump supporters who think he truly is a genius. My goal was not to anger anyone but to be fair and balanced in my assessment.

The book is most likely a travesty that doesn’t deserve much credibility, yet Trump has to stop being his own worst enemy if he doesn’t want the book to gain credibility.

The Old Testament prophet Malachi might have penned this warning to both sides in our current controversy, and the words seem to fit the fire and fury motif:

“Surely the day is coming; it will burn like a furnace. All the arrogant and every evildoer will be stubble, and the day that is coming will set them on fire,” says the LORD Almighty. “Not a root or a branch will be left to them.

May we take that warning seriously.

A New Year of Observations & Analysis

I’m settled into my comfy recliner in my study, surrounded by books and enjoying a unique kind of coffee (I won’t go into that). So I’m relaxed and ready to begin another year of observations about God, man, society, and life in general.

Most people probably have this particular view of the new year:

Am I concerned about all those things? Absolutely.

Am I living in daily fear of nuclear holocaust, the undermining of the Republic, or the societal trends? No, because fear is too strong a term. I’m deeply disturbed by societal developments, but that’s not the same thing as living in fear.

I have a promise from a Higher Authority that when all is said and done, He will still be the Sovereign whom we all must eventually acknowledge, either willingly or with great regret:

At the name of Jesus every knee will bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Phil. 2:10)

I also lean on this promise as well as I face whatever may come this year:

For God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power and love and discipline. (2 Tim. 1:7)

I won’t be timid this year. I will speak clearly about the truth of Christian faith, the necessity of discipleship, and the faith’s application to our world’s woes.

I will also speak clearly about what I see happening in our government. There are those who say we should never involve ourselves with matters of this world since it is passing away. Yet I read that we are supposed to be salt and light.

The responsibility for being salt and light is to be honest about what we see. So not everything I write will be praise for the actions of those who wield the levers of temporal power. Yet I will strive to be fair.

Regular readers of this blog know full well my concerns about Donald Trump. I am gratified by many of the decisions being made by his administration, but I also know he can’t take credit for everything. Others work hard behind the scenes, thankfully, to do their best to correct his natural bent.

How I feel about the Trump presidency at this point is precisely what commentator David French explained yesterday. It’s a fair and balanced assessment. I offer it here for those interested.

I do want the best for Trump and for the nation. But there are the issues of character, ignorance of facts, and temperament to consider.

I pledge to pray for him and all those who work with him. That’s a commandment I take seriously.

My year of observations and analysis, though, will not be dominated by politics. If you have been following this blog, you may have noticed that the number of posts devoted to politics has lessened. I believe the Lord is directing me more toward other reflections. We’ll see how that plays out.

So as we enter into the tempest of 2018—for that is undoubtedly what it will be—may we do so with full confidence that if we have submitted our lives to Him, we can be sure He will direct our path.

I leave you today with this bit of encouragement:

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Phil. 4:4-7)

The Latest News Roundup

Republicans have almost accomplished something—almost because the House and the Senate still have to iron out differences—but it looks like a tax cut bill is ready to become reality.

Democrats criticized the Senate version as being cobbled together at the last moment, thereby not giving enough time to study it. Does that concern jog anyone else’s memory?

Yes, they didn’t exhibit this type of concern back in the Obamacare days.

One feature of the bill is something Ted Cruz added to it. I’ll let him explain:

The Senate also voted to adopt my amendment to expand 529 College Savings Plans to include K-12 elementary and secondary school tuition for public, private, and religious schools, including K-12 educational expenses for homeschool students.

I appreciate Cruz’s concern for families, and that it extends to Christian schools and those who choose homeschooling. The Democrats’ reaction to the Republican bill is perhaps best expressed by their Senate leader, Chuck Schumer:

What else has been happening? How about the wheels of justice in a place like San Francisco, where the illegal immigrant who was deported five times and then shot and killed Kate Steinle was acquitted by a jury of San Francisco citizens?

I think most of America has a different verdict to offer to the denizens of that Far Left enclave:

Also, the Mueller probe continues, in which former Trump advisor Michael Flynn has now accepted a guilty plea for lying to the FBI. I don’t condone Flynn’s actions nor his sometimes shady activities, but the glee on the Left reached new heights when ABC reporter (?) Brian Ross, citing a single anonymous source, declared that Flynn was prepared to testify that Donald Trump, as a candidate for president, told him to contact Russians.

The glee turned gloomy when the report turned out to be false. Ross has now been suspended for four weeks and has been informed that he will not be allowed to cover Trump news.

Lest you think everything has been rosy for the president, don’t forget that he tweets. He’s now claiming that the voice on that infamous NBC tape in which he boasted about how he could do pretty much anything he wanted with women due to his celebrity—you know, the tape that almost brought down his candidacy—is not really his voice at all.

Really.

We’re supposed to ignore the fact that he acknowledged back then that it was indeed his voice and that he offered somewhat of an apology for those words. I say “somewhat” because apology is not part of his vocabulary.

Even when things go right for Donald Trump, he is capable of ruining good news.

I shouldn’t neglect to mention that North Korea keeps firing missiles. It appears that rogue nation now has the ability to send one directly into the heart of America. What’s the next step for us in response to this threat?

I really hope we come up with something better than that.

Virginia: A Trump Referendum?

There’s no way to sugarcoat for Republicans the results of Tuesday’s elections, especially in Virginia, where prognosticators thought the governor’s race would be close. It wasn’t. Republican candidate Ed Gillespie lost by 9 points to Democrat Ralph Northam.

It’s difficult to argue that the fault lies wholly with Gillespie when the results were the same down ballot also. The lieutenant governor and attorney general races were also Democrat victories. The most stunning outcome is that a House of Delegates, which Republicans controlled with a super-majority, is now likely to reverse course and be controlled by Democrats—a few races are still too close to call, but even if Republicans retain a majority, the margin will be slim.

New Jersey’s elections were also Democrat gains, as Gov. Chris Christie has become increasingly unpopular in the past few years.

Back to Virginia. Polling shows that of those who voted, 17% were voting because they ardently supported Donald Trump, but nearly double the number, 33%, voted for exactly the opposite reason: they ardently opposed Trump.

You can’t have that kind of disparity and expect a good outcome for Republicans. Most commentators I’ve read see what happened in Virginia not only as a referendum on President Trump but a harbinger of what might await Republicans in the 2018 midterm elections.

It’s conceivable that they could lose control of both houses of Congress in 2018. The more vulnerable house is the Senate, and if that goes Democrat, all who were hoping for a reworking of the Supreme Court will see their hopes dashed. No Democrat Senate is going to confirm a solid conservative constitutionalist to the Court.

Trump will continue to nominate should vacancies occur, but I predict that, because he will want to be perceived as a winner, he will abandon the quest to find good conservatives and will instead promote nominees acceptable to Democrats. That’s what happens when someone without principles is awarded the authority of the presidency.

I do believe this last election was a referendum on Trump, and it is a warning. Personally, I wish Republicans had heeded all the warnings many of us gave during the Republican primaries in 2016, but nothing can be done about that now.

Trump’s character, more than his policies, is what turns many people off. Consider his response to Gillespie’s defeat. Immediately he jumped on Twitter to make it clear that it wasn’t his [Trump’s] fault. Gillespie lost, proclaimed Trump, because he didn’t tie himself closely enough to the president.

Massive ego can never admit fault.

All indicators are that Gillespie would have come much closer, perhaps might have won, without the albatross of the Trump presidency around his political neck.

Some angry Trump supporters are saying that Republicans who are not enamored of Trump are happy with the Virginia results. Well, I know that’s not true for me. I can never be happy with a turn of events that allows the Democrat agenda to advance.

My sincere hope is that Republicans can regroup and offer real solutions so that the electorate sees the folly of following the Democrat vision. The next two years will determine whether they are up to the task.

The Probe Boomerangs

I’ve never had a problem with the Russia probe. I believe in investigating all possible connections between a foreign power that would like to create havoc in our elections and those in our country—Republican or Democrat—who may have colluded with that enemy. And let’s make no mistake about that: Russia is not a friend.

Indictments in the Robert Mueller investigation are supposedly coming down today. As of this morning, I have no idea who is being indicted, but the probe is not over, to be sure.

What’s bothering Democrats, who were the main instigators of the probe, is that it seems to be taking a different direction, and actually may be fair after all. The latest info points to themselves, and in particular, the Clintons, especially the Hillary campaign during the presidential election.

 

And this time, a clandestine meeting with an attorney general may not get the desired result:

Why are both Clintons concerned? It appears that while she was secretary of state, a deal was concluded that gave Russia control of one-fifth of all uranium production capacity in the United States. That deal led to a flow of cash from the Russian-controlled company into the coffers of the supposedly charitable Clinton Foundation.

Then there’s the issue of the dossier that was released during the campaign on Trump’s connections to Russia and his moral behavior while in Russia. True stories or concocted rumors? That’s what the probe is attempting to decipher.

However, it’s becoming increasingly clear that the Hillary Clinton campaign was behind this, paying big time for what they endearingly call “opposition research.” I think it went well beyond that.

 

As I said, this is not what Democrats expected:

The media isn’t too thrilled with this turn of events either. How can you tell?

This doesn’t put Trump or any of his people in the clear, of course. All the facts have not yet come to light, but the light does need to be shining on both sides of our political divide.

Stay tuned for more.

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.

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.