An Evangelical Case for Separation of Church and State

Ask any evenagelical “what’s the difference between the Old Testament and the New Testament?” and they’ll quickly say “Law and Grace”.  As a seminary student, I took on the project of delving more deeply into that phrase, grappling with the question of the essence of “law” and how it relates to grace through faith.  At the root of the issue lies questions most average born-again Christians struggle with.  If I’m saved by grace through faith, what’s the role of the Ten Commandments? Aren’t I supposed to follow them?  How many times can I commit the same sin before I can’t be forgiven? If God always forgives me, can I do anything I want?

Christians, of course, start with grace. Salvation through Jesus Christ, whether one comes to that point having been raised in the faith or as a radical conversion event, marks the entry point into the Christian’s mindset and understanding of God.  The Old Testament, while important, stands more as a backdrop – the somewhat interesting origin prequel to the main feature. Unfortunately, this leads to a critical lack of understanding of what, exactly, Paul was talking about in his letter to the Romans.

The most important thing to understand about “The Law” is that it is, in fact, a legal system.  It exists in the context of a political entity in space and time – the Nation of Israel.  Here’s where it becomes very dicey for a white former Christian to speak without being misunderstood.  An entire article could be written on the different entities, ideals, and meanings included in the words Judaism, Israel, Jews, etc. Here, let me be very clear that I’m speaking of the specific ethno-centric, theocratic nation that existed in the time and space described by the books of the Old Testament.

Most modern Christians have an extremely difficult time understanding the true nature of a real Theocracy.  In pre-Christian Israel, the concepts of ethnicity, nationality, religion, and politics all linked together into the identity of the People of God.  God’s people was Israel and Israel was God’s people.  One’s very relationship to God was determined by one’s relationship to the nation, including her or his legal status. The Law wasn’t some list of rights and wrongs, an ethical checklist or moral guideline. It was, well, the LAW.  Breaking it meant punishment by the government and therefore a break in one’s relationship to God.

This itself is somewhat an overstatement of the individual.  In reality, the Deuteronomic Law isn’t so much a regulation of the individual as it is a regulation of the Theocracy itself.   God, through the Prophets, often stood in judgment not of the people but of the nation when leaders became lax on prosecuting breakers of the Law. It’s interesting to note that prior to the Gospels, there’s little concept of Heaven or Hell.  Punishment and reward for the individual consisted in one’s relationship to God via legal status within the nation, ultimate punishment being expulsion either through execution or banishment. Punishment and reward for the People of God as a whole consisted of God’s presence in and support of the nation as proven out through property and peace.  How closely the Law was upheld and applied defined the relationship of God with the People.  How closely one observed the Law defined one’s relationship to God.

Against this backdrop, Jesus arrives on the scene.  He preaches and teaches, of course, but any good evangelical will tell you that he came with a very specific purpose – to die “for our sins” and be resurrected.  The Gospel of Matthew makes most clear the purposefulness of the Christ Event, when, in chapter 20, Jesus tells his disciples, “hey, we’re going to head to Jerusalem so the religious leaders can get me crucified”.

Shortly after this very alarming proclamation, Jesus tells one of his most enigmatic and interesting parables.  In the story, a man owns a vineyard that he lets out to tenant farmers.  He sends servants to collect the rent, but they’re ignored. He then sends his son, and the tenants figure they can kill him and take the vineyard for their own.  Of course, the actual result is the owner of the vineyard wrecking vengeance on those tenants, casting them out and destroying them, and letting it out to new tenants.  He makes the meaning of this particular parable (directed at the religiopolitical leaders of Israel):

“Therefore I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit. Anyone who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; anyone on whom it falls will be crushed.”i

Take this parable and it’s symbolism to it’s logical conclusion,  put it context with his purposeful journey to be crucified, and you get what I believe to be the core message of the Christian faith:

Jesus came purposefully to be killed by the Theocratic leaders so that God, once and for all, could pass judgement on the concept that the People of God consists of the political entity of a particular ethnocentric nation.  “Israel” as the nation state is “cast out” of the garden of “Israel” (the People of God) which is given to people who are defined not by their adherence to a legal system or citizenship in a state, but by their relationship with God’s son.

This idea of re-constituting the People of God (Israel) is further borne out by the very organization he adopts. Twelve close friends and followers take the place of twelve blood-related tribes.  Throughout the Gospels, these very human individuals persist in showing flaws and a lack of understanding, but their inclusion and standing in the Kingdom is defined by how they personally relate to Jesus.

This is the difference between Law and Grace.  Law isn’t simply “do this or you go to Hell”.  It’s “be a citizen of this particular nation in order to be one of God’s People”.  Jesus’ intentional rejection by the religiopolitical leaders and crucifixion by the dominant world super power ultimately rejects the ideal of relating to God through any political entity.  His resurrection re-creates the “Nation of God” as a non-political non-entity consisting of individuals who’s only qualification for membership is their relationship to the person of Jesus.

What constantly surprises me is how Christian leaders constantly think they know better than Jesus.  God, once and for all, disposed of theocracy, but we keep trying to re-create it.  Christians talk about America being a Christian Nation, throwing the very crucifixion of Jesus back in God’s face.  The Christian Right is like Aaron, impatient with what God is doing up in the mountain with Moses and imposing on the people a system of rites and practices God has already judged and rejected.  It is simply far, far easier to create a golden calf than to worship a non-temporal, invisible God over which one has no control.

Christianity has wrapped itself so tightly to politics and the state that the church has lost her own identity.  Consider the question of same-sex marriage.  We’re so busy fighting each other over whether it should be legal for gay people to get married that we’ve completely missed the point that the church has abdicated and sold the very concept of the rite of marriage.  The question isn’t what kind of marriage the state should allow but why the state has any governance over marriage in the first place. The “sanctity” of marriage was violated and destroyed the second the state became responsible for licensing it.

It’s not that same-sex couples should only be allowed to have “domestic partnerships”, but that the state should only deal in domestic partnerships.

Whether it’s with marriage, “blue laws”, or God in our pledge or on our money, what starts as an attempt by the church to force itself on the state always ends up with the state seducing the church.  Always.

God, through the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ, put an end to the church-state. When are Christians going to stop trying to undo what God has done?

Make America Great Again … For ME

I wasted a lot of time and energy of late tweeting and blogging against Trump. I say “wasted” because I realize how counter productive all of this republican and Trump bashing is. Especially for me. In the end, all Mr. Trump wants to do is Make America Great Again for me.

It’s really not fair, you know. I was born just a little too late. America’s glory days were fading or faded. The 60s had already done their damaged and we’re almost over when I was born in the summer of love.  I inherited an America broken, an America that has only continued to spiral and fracture.

Back before the Civil Rights movement got going, things were just so damned simple. We had one dominant, common culture. It would have been a beautiful time for me to live in. 

Women, first of all, knew and understood that the strength of our nation depended on strong, male leadership. We weren’t worried about what a woman would think or do, or what would make life easier for them. Those kinds of distractions have eroded our focus on the issues that are really important, like winning wars and having constructive, serious, conversations without being distracted by females while getting our hair cut. 

We didn’t have a lot of crime back then. Good black people accepted their poverty and powerlessness as their patriotic duty. They did their part by staying out of things and letting us take care of them. Yes, there were some who just couldn’t be content with the way things were meant to be, but we had a very strong system of law and order. Nothing deters would-be trouble makers and keeps the good folk on track like a healthy dose of justice. 

Just as a side note, we also kept crime levels low and the American justice system lean and mean by a really tight focus on true crime. Women back then weren’t crying “rape” every time a man demanded his husbandly rights or a red-blooded young man gave her what she was asking for. You just think about how overcrowded our prisons are and slowed down our courts are today by this kind of nonsense. 

What really sickens me is how I completely missed out on those days when a man could be a man. You could walk around naked in the gym wothout worrying if some other “man” was going to “approach” you. Gays back then were appropriately ashamed of themselves. We didn’t have to spend so much time and energy on their “issues.” How much time is wasted today making signs and standing outside funerals? Everyone back then already knew gay was evil. 

I could go on and on. Don’t even get me started about the fracturing of our religious identity. The point is, we were great because we all shared a common set of values and a common culture. As long as you were normal, you could thrive and be free. The only people unhappy or were other people: people who weren’t white straight 1Christian males, like me. 

So go ahead, Republicans. Vote for your party and let Trump Make America Great Again. I just can’t wait!

1 Okay, I’m not Christian. I’m agnostic. Just keep that to yourself, okay, buddy?

The parable of the two gardeners 

Once there was a great king who lived in a beautiful palace. He loved surrounding himself and his people with beauty. He commissioned stunning sculptures and  paintings, and  his palace and city were filled with stunning architecture. His greatest passion, however, was his many gorgeous gardens. People from all other nations would come just to enjoy their beauty, and it was well known throughout the world that the citizens of his kingdom lived rich, happy lives surrounded by their beauty. 

Gardeners in this kingdom were, of course, highly valued and honored. It was also well known that to be a Gardner in this country came with great personal sacrifice since the King and all the world sharply critiqued and scrutinized the gardens. Gardening in the Kings garden became one of the most prestigious and difficult jobs in all the land. 

It came to pass that a great plague of weeds spread throughout the world. The weeds were ugly and, as weeds will, choked out the other plants. All the nations of the world feared the weeds and the ugliness and death they spread. The King, too, had great fear, for indeed weeds had begun growing in the Kings precious gardens. Despite the efforts of all of the gardners, precious and beautiful plants had already been destroyed by these blightful weeds.   

Now there were in those days two Master Gardners, each responsible for half of the Kings gardens. One day the king issued a decree that he would inspect the gardens and see which Master Gardner had the best plan for fighting the weeds. A day was set for the great inspection and all the people waited in great expectation of the day. 

For 40 days and 40 nights the Master Gardners each toiled in secret, studying and planning and commanding their Gardners to work day and night. A garden in the East and a garden in the West were each chosen as a showcase for the Master Gardners’ master plans, and were hidden from the citizens and the King until the day of the Great Inspection.

The great day finally arrived, and early in the morning the King arose to great fanfare for his inspection of the gardens. First he went to see the Garden of the East, as the sun was still low and wouldn’t light the Western Garden for many hours.  He met the Master Gardner of the East at the wall of the garden, with all the people looking on with great expectation. 

As the King and the people passed through the great gate, a murmuring arose. The King looked around with some small confusion and a critical look in his eye. “I don’t quite understand,” said the King. “I gave you increased funds to hire more gardners and implement your great plan, yet I see little change. The Eastern Garden looks much as it did before.  And lo! There! I see what seems to be a weed! And gardners still at work throughout the the garden though the time allotted to implement your plan has come to an end.  Explain yourself, Master Gardner!”

“Sire,” the Master Gardner of the East said humbly, “we do continue to toil for there is no end to the danger, and you are right that the garden is much the way it has always been. We have used your gracious increase to hire more gardners to work throughout the garden night and day to find and remove the weeds as they spring up. The multitude of kinds of plants Your Highness loves are many and diverse and we continue to carefully bring new, exotic flowers as other Nations honor us with gifts from their own gardens.  It takes much of our time to vigilantly watch for weeds coming in and to learn to tend to new plants so that they thrive.  It is a constant and never ending job. The same soil and water that feeds all our beautiful flowers also benefits the weeds, and sometimes the plants themselves hide the dangerous weeds. I admit that weeds have, from time to time, caused damage and we weep for each flower choked when a weed slips through our hands.”

The King continued to wander through the garden, as did the people and the King’s advisors. Many seemed angry and a few were outraged when they came upon a rare weed. The king turned a dissatisfied eye towards the Master Gardner and as they passed back through the gate he said “These sound much to me like excuses and you have much to answer for, Gardner.  We shall see if your peer fared better.”

As the King and his entourage progressed to the Western Garden, the Master Garden of the West spoke with great pride and pleasure. “You will see, Your Majesty, how much better my plan is. I have put your funds to great use. I hired more workers to completely remove every weed, and I have ensured that not a single new weed can come into your gardens. You will be well pleased with me, Sire.”

Many people heard the words of the Master Gardner of the West, and a great cheer arose. The King was also well pleased with the Gardner’s words and stood before the great, closed door of the Western Garden with eager anticipation and hope. 

The door swung open.  A great gasp arose from the people. The King looked upon the Western Garden and a great cloud of pain and sadness passed before his face. “I suppose it possesses a certain stark, pristine, beauty,” he said sadly to the Master Gardner of the West.

Dispersed among complex patterns raked in a large expanse of rich, dark soil, a few beautiful plants flowered within carefully erected fences. Gone were many plants that had flourished for generations.  The once diverse garden of many colors now grew only a few variations of a few plants native to the King’s city. Gardners lined the few paths and stood at the entrance, carefully watching and guiding the people, admitting only two or three into the garden at a time.

The King, having wandered sadly through the garden, left the gate and came to the Master Gardner of the Eastern Garden.  

“I owe you my apologies and my greatest praise, my faithful servant and most loyal friend.  You have diligently served tirelessly to protect these gardens from harm yet allow them to thrive in all their diverse beauty, even in these difficult and dangerous times.”

The moral of this thinly veiled social commentary is obvious, but I’ll state it anyways. Safety and security is important, but we must protect our personal liberties, civil rights, and place within the world.  We are constantly working to “weed out” terrorist organizations from within our borders and protect ourselves from dangerous elements wishing to enter our country. We constantly walk the tightrope balancing security and Liberty, protecting our own interests and reaching out to be an active citizen of the larger world. Since 9-11 we are constantly pulled and pushed to fall from that rope into sacrificing our liberties in favor of our safety. But we are, above all else, patriots. Patriots have never bowed to tyranny to obtain safety, but she’s their blood to protect our liberty and secure our personal human rights. 

We do not need radical new ideas and practices to combat radicalism. We do not need more extreme measures to combat extremists.  We need to continue to work together to help fund and support our ongoing efforts, and to understand the issues driving radical movements and ideologies.  

Mr. Trump, you ARE the issue

I heard it again this morning on the radio: a Trump supporter (they’re calling them “surrogates” this year) complaining to a news host that the media is skewing the perception of the American public by focusing on one of Trump’s verbal indiscretions rather than “the issues.”  

Okay, it’s as obvious to me as it is to anyone else that the media isn’t exactly the image of objective truth-telling idealism. I’ve blogged elsewhere how it’s basically impossible to find an unbiased news source. I listen to CNN because their bias lines up more with my own biases. Fox just pisses me off. But here’s the thing – none of them are biased “just because” or even out of idealism. They’re biased because they’re after ratings and advertising dollars. Like any other business, they’re driven by demand. In the case of CNN, the target audience demands information that somewhat comforts our left center leanings and that we consider “newsworthy.”

What the Trump surrogate either don’t get or choose to ignore is that these statements, what they call this inability of Trump to “stay on message” – are newsworthy. Very newsworthy. The aren’t distractions from the issues. They are collectively the biggest issue for a great number of us, and obviously for a good percentage of rational Republicans. 

It’s ironic to me that one of the things we fear is Trump’s fear mongering. But let’s just put it out there. We’re afraid. This isn’t like anything my generation has ever seen before. 

Anyone with any real political opinion experiences a little fear in any presidential election season.  The stakes are high. We’re quite sure the economic policies of the other side will be ruinous (for me this time it’s another go at trickle-down).  The next administration may influence the balance of the Supreme Court for decades. These are usually the “real issues” that give us a healthy dose of anxiety. 

This time around, the fear takes on a different quality and rises to a completely different plane. We fear not the policies, but the man himself. 

There are very real and horrific images in our minds. A cult of personality leading a wave of isolationism and fear with rhetoric of changing the system and returning us to greatness – yes, there is the image of Hitler and his Third Reich. And yes, we imagine nuclear war. Really. Whether we start it because we’ve elected a hot-headed megalomaniac that’s already asking what the point of having nuclear weapons is if we can’t use them, or we spiral into a Third World War because our President doesn’t plan on maintaining  international organizations or honoring treaties, the threat is very real. 

I hate to mention Clinton’s emails or the rise of ISIL. Whatever my own opinions are on these matters, I have to admit that these are issues that should be discussed. I happen to agree with Obama that Hillary Clinton is the most qualified person on the planet to sit in the Oval Office, but I freely recognize that there are some rational, intelligent, and knowledgable people who think she’s a crooked politician.  But neither these nor any other issues we face today can compare with the one single issue of Trump just being Trump 

Raising minimum wage: the least we can do

I’ve flip-flopped back and forth on the issue of raising the minimum wage over the years, because I honestly see both sides of the equation. When just starting out in adult life, I worked for an exceptional man who owned a steakhouse in my home town. It was the second of two jobs I was working while trying to support a wife who was finishing up college and a brand new baby.  When the minimum wage jumped from $3.35 to $3.80 in 1990 (followed in 1991 to $4.25) I had  one of my first truly eye-opening experiences where I learned that the world is a very complex place. 

Personally, I was excited.  I needed every cent I could make.  It just seemed like it was a great thing – a progressive step forward for all of us working people. Then the owner (I’ll call him Mr. E.) called everyone in for a meeting. He approached the situation in a very positive light, but as he walked through the decisions he, as a small business owner, had to make, I saw first hand the complexities unfold. He had decided to raise everyone’s wages across the board, so that people who had worked hard to earn their past raises didn’t feel cheated. He had decided not to reduce staff. He had decided not to raise menu prices in order to offset the increased labor expenses. 

Mr. E., in other words, took the entire hit to his company’s bottom line. And in doing so, he gave me my first real-world experience of the fact that policy changes and regulations, whether they’re needed or not, can have complex impact on the overall economy. Other business owners didn’t make the same sacrifices Mr E. took on. There was a drop in morale among much of the workforce, a few lost their jobs outright, and prices went up. Overall, it was the right thing to do, but it came with a price.  As much as I agree with the 2016 Democratic platform that the minimum wage should be increased – that  no person working hard to support their family should be living below the poverty level – there is little doubt that such a move will, in fact, come with some counterbalancing negative effects. 

My real point here is that we have to be looking at the whole picture. We need to look at other ways we can raise the overall living wage of people working hard in the food service, retail, and other industries with high percentages of minimum wage earners. 

Admittedly, I’m speaking now entirely from anecdotal experience. I have no hard data to support my thoughts, but I’ve seen first hand how the service industries have become infused with a particular brand of corporate evilness that not only directly impacts the ability of hard working providers to support their families, but also, in my opinion, is fueling the alarming phenomenon of an entire generation of young adults continuing to live with their parents past the point of where “young adult” becomes a misnomer. 

My wife and I raised 5 kids. They’re all pretty much on their own at this point, but not one of them had an easy go of it. They’re all smart and resourceful, and we made it clear early on that we expected them to work for their living. But every single one of them faced the same core hurdle.

First, it’s almost a universal reality that for families like ours – families that can’t afford to send kids to college and support them throughout their higher education – the service industries are the only real option for entering the work force. That’s nothing really new. As illustrated above, I spent my time in the food industry, and I’m glad for the experience. So let me go on record here and say I have nothing at all against working as a server or cashier or burger cook. I’ve often said half-jokingly that every American citizen should be required to spend two years in the front lines of the service industry.  Work is work, and it’s no more or less noble to make a career out of providing excellent service than it is to climb a corporate ladder. 

It’s the second point where the problem arises. Across the board, the service industries – especially large corps and franchises – seem to have adopted policies of maximizing profits by relying on part-time labor.  I believe this has created a loophole through which a huge sector of our economy has been able to effectively circumvent most of the laws we’ve put in place to protect our labor force and encourage self-sufficiency. 

If it hadn’t been for Obamacare, most of my kids would have been without medical insurance up until the past few months, although they’ve all been “on their own” for over a year. They had insurance only because I can now carry them on mine until they’re 26. You don’t have to provide benefits for part time workers. 

My kids would often be unable to budget or get any kind of credit because they honestly had no idea how much they would be making week by week. Maybe this week they would be scheduled for 20 hours, and next week for 5.  There were times when, after finally establishing something like a regular schedule, they would suddenly stop getting any hours on the schedule at all – or just enough to carry them as “employees”. This would usually coincide with their having worked at that specific company almost long  enough to meet the policy cutoff for being considered for full-time positions, or right before or after a promised raise. 

It’s more than just my fatherly pride that convinces me that it’s not that my kids were just not pulling their weight. I would hear the same stories from their friends. I’ve heard the same from my own friends about their adult kids. I’ve heard the same from not-so-young adults trying to provide for their families.  

Companies are relying more on part-time labor, and intentionally adopting policies that make it next to impossible for people to survive long enough to work into full time, salaried positions. This enables them to avoid paying benefits or encorporating other fair labor practices for a large part of their workforce. And a large part of their workforce is a large part of the nation’s workforce. 

Maybe some legislative group is already looking into this issue, but it certainly isn’t getting any attention in the current election season. I’m not sure what the answer is. Require a higher percentage of a company’s workforce to be full-time?  Require the same benefits for part-time laborers?  Maybe have a separate, higher minimum wage for part-time workers? 

Let’s get that higher working wage in place, but let’s also get to work on figuring out how to encourage businesses to create not just more jobs, but more “real” jobs where hard working providers aren’t wondering how many hours they’re going to get on the schedule next week. 

Trump’s dilemma 

It’s become a weekly pattern – a rhythmic pulse in my daily commute as I listen to the news.  Trump makes a speech that sounds fairly normal, everyone talks about the question of whether or not he can “stay on point”, and then: bam! He says something “stupid” and gets slammed for going “off message”. 

But that’s just the thing. He’s not going off message. Or you could say that it’s precisely when he serves up standard Republican fare that he’s really off message. That’s when he’s off his message. 

Everything from his glib joking about presidential assassination to his “attacking” an Islamic gold star family – and everything in between – is often reported as “slip ups” because he “can’t control himself.” But just listen to the crowds when says these things. They go nuts. And they’ve been going nuts since he first grabbed most of our attention in that first “build a wall”, “make America great again” speech. 

Like it or not, there is a huge number of people out there who are afraid and angry. I don’t think they’re really all afraid of and angry about the same things, but their are enough similarities and overlaps that they can all be reached by a few vague comments about “returning to greatness”, putting up a wall, or taking matters into their own hands and standing up against whatever it is they feel is so broken about America and the world. That’s why Trump likes to use those catch phrases like “it’s a mess”. Never mind about what’s a mess or why it’s messy or even the particulars about how to clean it up. Every dissatisfied, frustrated patriot can fill in their own details. The goal is just to get all of that frustration and fear pointed in one general direction in a wave of negative energy Trunp can ride into the whitehouse. 

Here’s the problem: there are just enough people out there who can be stirred up by hate and fear to help get Trump where he is today. This is his core. He can add to that core a lot of conservatives who are attracted to his seeming success in the business sector and his belief in trickle down economics. This group gave him more than enough critical mass to win the nomination of a party already deeply divided and with no really strong, charismatic, centered candidates. And they’re obviously a large enough following to keep him way too close to Clinton’s poll numbers for our comfort. 

But thankfully, there aren’t enough haters out there to carry trump to the Whitehouse. If he’s going to win, he has to get “on message” and reach out to more of the center. And here’s the dilemma: the center is terrified and repulsed by the very things that his core loves him for. 

When you think about it, this really only makes sense. Fear and hate speech have gained Trump a great deal of momentum as he’s continually called upon the old “throw the bumbs out” mentality. This works in an environment where there truly is a general nation-wide sense of despair and anger. While there are obviously far too many people dissatisfied with things in Washington, there is also an enormous number of people that are exactatic about the social changes we’ve seen over the past 8 years. In fact, many who are dissatisfied are really frustrated that things aren’t changing fast enough. And another large group of frustrated folks are frustrated because of the gridlock caused by a party whose sole objective has been (in their perception) to block Obama on everything, solely because Obama supports it.  

This puts Trump in a very difficult spot. He can’t push past those double digit poll deficits without really appealing to the more rational Republicans and independents.  But his core is based on rhetoric that, by its very nature, repulses the vast majority of these people he now needs. If he begins embracing even just the true core of the established Republicans, he faces being perceived as turning his back on the people who follow him precisely because he’s been diametrically opposed to the establishment. The outrageous “slip ups” are calculated to keep his core riled up, but continue to dampen any chance he has at legitimizing himself with the rest of the conservative world. 

The irony is that this is both our hope and fear. We hope, and I still believe, that there aren’t enough people out there who are so loyal to the Republican Party that they will vote for Trump in spite of his appeal to people driven by hate and fear.  We’re terrified that there are enough hateful, racist, violent individuals out there than any of us could have imagined. 

And it really wouldn’t be that hard …

There’s an upside to procrastination. If I had written this post when I first intended to, I would have started off by saying that everyone seems to have glossed over the third scariest thing I’ve heard come out of Donald Trump’s mouth. Then he made that joking reference to how there might be something the second amendment people could do to protect their guns if Clinton wins and picks the next Supreme Court justice.  Boy, would my statement have looked silly after that!  So now let’s talk about how the media and even Clinton’s campaign has let slip by the fourth scariest thing I’ve heard come out of Trump’s mouth.

In the spirit of transparency, I’ll admit that I didn’t listen to all of The Donald’s speech where he laid out his economic plan. I only heard the core statements as reported by the news outlets and spoken to by his campaigners in interviews. But I heard enough to realize he wants to bring back trickle-down economics (no surprise there), and that he seems to think Clinton is silly for putting the climate above the economic well-being of the 1%ers. But one phrase really caught me, and has haunted me since I heard it: 

I want to jumpstart America. And it can be done. And it won’t even be that hard.

Obama spoke of Trump not having the temperament to be commander-in-chief, and now everyone has started repeating that phrase like a mantra. It’s true, of course. But this quote of Trump’s, together with so many other if his glib, egocentric, only-I-can-do-it statements, shouts his complete mental unpreparedness for this job. It suggests that he truly believes that he can waltz into the Oval Office, execute a few CEO-styled decisions, and voila! America is fixed (as if it’s broken now). 

Let’s consider for a moment what makes “fixing” America (economically or otherwise) difficult, and how that’s different than, let’s say, turning around the financial performance of a corporation. 

First of all, our Nation isn’t a corporation with the one overriding goal of turning a profit. Most of us may work in and for organizations which, by their very nature, always serve the bottom line, but we are not employees of the government.  The government doesn’t exist to maximize income and serve the stockholders. That’s why economics isn’t easy. When you walk into the Oval Office thinking you have reduced all of the complexities of the multitude of competing demands and conflicting needs of an entire people, you are only proving how grossly you have misjudged your own capacity for mentally grasping the job at hand. For Trump, economics is simple: make as much money as you possibly can. People should be treated well only to the extent that their morale is conducive to maximizing efficiency and output. Employees should be paid salaries that are just high enough to ensure you have the talent you need to realize your financial goals. In the end, everything is done with the one simple goal of maximizing the income of himself and his investors. That’s how you run a company. 

All of the HR stuff – the things that make employees’ lives livable – are only in play because they either increase output or because they’re imposed on the corporation by the meddling government. 

Trump thinks it’s easy because this is his mental vision of the US economy. That’s frightening. 

Second, and most important to the sheer terror of the thought of Trump as president, is this:  even if you had the godlike genius to have devised a plan that would suddenly create a utopian economy, in our country you don’t have the power to easily implement it. For Trump to suggest that it won’t be hard indicates that he expects to have the authority to simply make his economic will known, and that it would be carried out. He expects to be able to dictate economic policy. I don’t know about you, but in my vision of America, the word dictate doesn’t fit. Anywhere. 

But this is Trump. He knows how to run companies (although there’s some question about that). He knows how to be a CEO where he has the power to point his fingers at a “problem” and say “you’re fired”. He knows how to execute his vision of how to turn the biggest profit in an organization where people a) have to do what he says, and b) only exist as tools to make his corporation great. 

This is why Trump is so dangerous. He says the audacious things he says and makes the claims he makes because his vision of himself is that of an all-powerful CEO, and his image of us – the American people is that of hired hands responsible for maximizing the profits of him and his investors. In that vision, he knows what to do and if he could only realize that vision, hey, it wouldn’t even be that hard.

C’mon … You can trust me

The thing about being a pragmatic cynic is that you find yourself having a great deal of peace-of-mind. You make peace with the world as it is, even while looking for practical ways to solve the problems you can. You get the chance to pull apart puzzles and analyze things, like the denotative and connotative meanings of words. Words like “trust”.

You almost can’t find a conversation in the media that discussed Hillary Clinton that doesn’t at some point come around to the question of trust. Polls indicate that a lot of people say they simply don’t trust her. But when I hear the word trust, I always immediately ask myself the question “trust to do/be what?”

 I learned as a parent that if you want to be able to trust your kids, you have to trust them to be kids. I’ve learned as a cynic and pragmatist that you trust politicians to be politicians.

Look, I expect people to lie to me or at the very least be deceptive by omission. We all do. We expect our friends to tell us that sweater is slimming or the stain on our shirt isn’t noticeable. I hope my government is doing things to protect our security that they would never admit to. And I completely understand someone “putting the best possible spin” on a mistake like using a second server to host government emails. 

Everyone makes such a huge deal out of Clinton “lying” while we all know for a fact that there are probably tons of leaders and politicians lying about far worse things every single day. And quite frankly, I don’t think most of us really mind. FBI director James Comey found no evidence of Clinton lying to the FBI or of acting with any kind of criminal intent. I expect any politician – especially one running for office – to stretch the truth to best  gloss over what she’s admitted was a mistake. I don’t feel some sacred trust has been violated when she carefully craft statements like “Director Comey said my answers were truthful, and what I’ve said is consistent with what I have told the American people…”

To be honest, I just don’t feel angry when someone tells a fib to save their skin, or spin the truth to cast themselves in the most possible light. But what I do get angry about is someone purposefully being deceitful for financial gain or power at the expense of other people. A politician lying to protect her image I can live with. A billionaire cheating small businesses to increase his own profit is something I can’t stand. 

Burden of Proof

When the founders of these United States of America established a nation committed to the principals of liberty and justice, they set before us a most worthy journey towards an impossible goal. As long as human beings are human beings, there will be injustice and there will be violations of individual rights.  We can write laws that attempt to concretely realize these ideals, but we cannot control the thoughts and actions of individuals, even individuals in positions of power such as police officers, lawyers, judges, reporters, etc. But we must constantly move forward in that journey, striving towards that more perfect Union. 

Sometimes our attempts to ensure justice and protect our human rights necessitate policies which, when enforced in any particular instant, often seem horrendous miscarriages of justice. We live in a time of a growing impatience, for example, with a justice system that seems too often to allow criminals who are obviously guilty of terrible crimes to go free on “technicalities”.  A piece of evidence mishandled or an officer acting on instinct but without the proper protocol or process can result in acquittals that enrage us. But when I reflect on the broader implications I always ask myself the one key question at the heart of any morally difficult question, “what kind of society do I want to live in?”  Is it better for the guilty to occasionally go free or for our civil liberties to be threatened in the attempt to make sure every bad guy gets punished?  The framers of the Comstitution believed that our rights as a people outweigh the need to ensure no criminal goes unpunished, and I agree. 

The point I want to make is that we are called upon by our nation’s great guiding principals to place the burden of proof as well as a the burden of following due process on the State, even to the extent that in some individual cases the result is tragic and abhorrent. When there is any question on either matter, the State loses and the individual is assumed innocent. 

That means that police officers involved in questionable shootings should be considered innocent until proven guilty, correct? If there is no hard evidence of wrong doing, a brave server and protector who makes the difficult call to end the life of an assailant for the safety of themselves and the general public should be exonerated and returned to duty. Right?

Here’s what I think:  the problem is that the person on the other end of that bullet is the defendant. The officer is the State. One of the things that infuriates the friends and families of police shootings is that their loved one was denied due process. You hear a lot of rhetoric in these cases about how the bad guy was a criminal or engaged in illegal activities, so he got what he deserved. But remember that had things gone differently, had Paul O’Neal been apprehended, the “bad guy” would be a defendant in a trial in which the laws of our land and the policies put in place to ensure all of our rights and civil liberties would be in play. The State would have to prove he was guilty of the crime for which he was being pursued and prove that he reieved due process. But he’s dead. No trial, no chance to prove his innocence, no assurance of his rights. Because he was shot by an officer of the State, the State is released from its responsibility to prove that O’Neals’s civil rights were in no way violated. 

It sounds harsh, and even contrary to the principal of presumed innocence, but imagine how things might have gone differently if the officer involved had been trained that the burden of proof would be on him. What if every fatal police shooting resulted de-facto in the officer’s permanent dismissal from duty and possible jail time unless he or she proved beyond the shadow of doubt that the shooting was righteous? Perhaps body cams and dash cams would be “more effective”. Maybe law enforcement agencies would spend more of their budgets on non-lethal methods of disabling potential criminals.
Would more innocent officers be punished? Unfortunately, yes. But perhaps more innocent civilians would be alive.  

The truth about Trump v. Khan

One of the things that really frustrates me – and has been painfully apparent in the past three weeks – is the inability to find an honest, unbiased news source. I listen to CNN because Fox makes me mad, but I’m fully aware of how far to the left CNN leans.  The reporting on the Khan V. Trump war is a perfect example. CNN keeps harping on Trump’s “attacks” on Khan, Trump’s people keep saying he was just defending himself, and in all the noise – as too often happens – the truth issue becomes lost in all of the noise. 

If you didn’t see Khizr Kahn speek to the DNC, you missed the powerful, heart-felt outcry of frustration and anger of an Islamic father in reaction to a presidential candidate’s verbal treatment of the entire Islamic faith. Khan directly attacked Trump for statements he’s made in speeches, such as his suggestion that we ban all Islamic people from immigration to the US. Khan spoke of his own son, who was killed in action while serving in the U.S. military. To me, it brought clearly to mind the sacrifice of Japanese-Americans who fought in WWII, despite their families living in deterrent camps. 

To be fair to The Donald, what he has said over he past few days can hardly be said to be “attacking” Khan. Trump made some comments that he didn’t understand why Khan was attacking him, since he wasn’t even involved in the war in Iraq. He probably went a little too far in suggesting that Khan’s wife, who didn’t speek at the convention, was somehow being silenced by her husband and the democrats. It was a bizarre statement, and could even be interpreted as Trump taking a jab at the Islamic faith, suggesting she wasn’t allowed to speak because she’s a woman. But honestly, it can hardly be seen as an attack.  The media has blown the entire “attack” spin out of proportion, casting Trunp as the kind of person that would go on the offensive against a Gold Star family. 

While I can’t help being a little glad to see Trump on the defensive, in appalled at how all of this rhetoric has completely drawn attention from the real issue. Trump’s response is worse than a childish sparring with a Gold Star family. What he hasn’t said is far more important than what he did say. He hasn’t said, “yeah, you know what? I was totally out of line when I made blatantly prejudicial statements lumping all Islamic people together and wanting to forbid them from entering our country.”  That is the real issue. And the scary part is that he doesn’t even seem to get it. 

When Trump responded in confusion over Khan’s attack, he entirely missed the point of the family’s anger. Either he truly didn’t get it because he’s that blind to the prejudicial ideals of his own positions, or he was intentionally diverting attention away from his positions on Islam, or he just flat doesn’t care. All three options are terrifying to see in a man who just might become president.