Competing Obsessions: Impeachment and Car Shopping

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A READER’S COMMENT

The comment left by a reader in reply to yesterday’s post on the impeachment trial (“This Day in History“) expresses a more widely held sentiment.

“I watched most of the Congressional hearings, but watching the Republican Senate pretend that ‘everything is JUST FINE” and there was NOTHING WRONG and NO CRIME is madly depressing. I am not handling this well. I’m trying to believe it will all work out, but I don’t really believe it. It has been a hard, hard, hard few years. Doesn’t it feel so much longer than that?”

Views from the Edge reader’s Comment in reply to “This Day in History” (Jan. 21, 2010)

LOSING OUR FOOTING

The first day of the Senate impeachment trial left me scrambling for sure footing in a world whose foundations are shaking, a condition familiar to the Psalm on which I had focused early yesterday morning. ‘Evil’, ‘the righteous’, and ‘evildoers’ are words of judgment readers of Views from the Edge do not expect to hear here. We do best to steer clear of these words of spiritual pride. Dividing the world into good and evil, sheep and goats, is the opposite of a gospel of reconciliation. But the words of an ancient Psalm gave expression to what I felt watching the Senate’s resistance to “doing impartial justice”.

1 Do not fret because of the evildoers;
    do not be envious of those who do wrong,
for they will soon wither like the grass,
    and like the green grass fade away.

Be still before the Lord, and wait patiently for him;
    do not fret over those who prosper in their way,
    over those who succeed in evil schemes.
[Psalm 37:1-2,7]

My faith tradition practices the Confession of Sin before the One “to whom all hearts are open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hid.” There are sins of omission (“we have left undone the things which we ought to have done”) and there are sins of commission (“and we have done those things which we ought not to have done”).

My father and mother taught us the spiritual practice of confession, repentance, forgiveness, and “the amendment of life.” But it’s often hard to tell when one is committing or omitting. Obsession manages to succeed at both. What dawned on me yesterday was my obsession with evil schemes.

COMPULSIVE OBSESSIONS – IMPEACHMENT AND CAR-SHOPPING

Can I, should I, will I part ways with my beloved 2003 Toyota Avalon? It’s an existential dilemma.

My beloved 2003 Toyota Avalon XLS (171,773 miles)

A person’s relationship with a car isn’t “BREAKING NEWS!” No one cares about my three-week long obsession with a car! Not even when it replaces my obsession with writing for Views from the Edge. Who cares?

Preoccupation with the sirens that call me to sell or trade my faithful Avalon may be Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), but this car thing feels familiar. It has a history. I’ve been here before.

THE APPLE DOESN’T FALL FAR FROM THE TREE: finding and staying with the Avalon

Maybe it’s in my DNA. “Let’s go out and look at that new Buick,” Dad would say. It didn’t matter that Parkinson’s and the Department of Motor Vehicles had put the car thing in his rear view mirror; Mom and Dad’s Buick Skylark was 21 years old. “Oh, Ken, for heaven’s sake!” We don’t need a new car! You can’t even walk anymore, and, besides, we don’t have the money for a new car.” It didn’t matter. When the car itch took over, he had to scratch it.

Mom and Dad’s 1983 Buick Skylark

Finding the Avalon nine years ago was completely unexpected. I dropped by Total Auto, a mom-and-pop used car dealer, to look at a one-owner Subaru Legacy. I took the Legacy for a test drive, but didn’t like it. But there was another car, covered with snow and ice, a one-owner 2003 Toyota Avalon XLS traded at a Lexus dealer after 115,000 miles. We dug it out of the snow and took it for a spin. It drove like a dream. What’s not to like about a low-miles, loaded top-of-the-line Avalon XLS?

All these years later, after nine good years together, the car itch returned. I’ve been scratching it every day over the last month. But it occurs to me that obsession is a spiritual and mental health thing, and that the return of Dad’s car itch may have been a healthy substitute for the three-year obsession about which I have no control: the rogue president and the political party obsessed with pleasing him and protecting him with evil schemes that prevent a trial.

REGAINING SOLID FOOTING

10 Yet a little while, and the wicked will be no more;
    though you look diligently for their place, they will not be there.
11 But the meek shall inherit the land,
    
 23 Our steps are made firm by the Lord,
    when he delights in our way;
24 though we stumble, we shall not fall headlong,
    for the Lord holds us by the hand.

27 Depart from evil, and do good;
    so you shall abide forever.
28 For the Lord loves justice;
    he will not forsake his faithful ones.

… and the U.S. Constitution, division of powers, and a faltering Republic may yet survive. You can’t trade the Constitution for a new car.

— Gordon C. Stewart, Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness (2017, Wipf and Stock), Chaska, MN, day two of the Senate Impeachment, January 22, 2020.

This Hour of History — What would Martin Luther Luther King say?

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What the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. might say today to the Senators who have pledged to “do impartial justice” as jurors of the Senate’s impeachment trial requires no imagination.

Behind every Moses is an Aaron. Behind the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was John Lewis. If Dr. King was the primary face and voice of the civil rights movement, John Lewis was, and still is, its soul.

News of Congressman John Lewis’s Stage IV pancreatic cancer was a sad day that shocked the heart of America’s better self. On the eve of the Senate impeachment trial, John Lewis’s voice echoes those of his Moses and his late Congressional friend and colleague, the Honorable Elijah Cummings who chaired the House Oversight Committee.

John Lewis knows now what he learned in the years after he was beaten on the Pettus Bridge: some cancers metastasize and change into new forms and symptoms that defy treatment. America’s “original sin” of white racism — the presumption of white supremacy and the rights of white privilege — continues to re-create itself in the American psyche. John Lewis knew that the original sin would not be destroyed by passage of the Voter Rights Act. He knows how quickly a victory for justice can be overturned by Congress, the Courts, and a President. He knew how quickly the cancer of white supremacy turns Black Lives Matter to dust and ashes. Like Elijah Cummings and Martin Luther King, Jr,, he will leave this world shaking his head, refusing to hate, and praying for the nation’s repentance, healing, and redemption on the other side of America’s original sin.

“TODAY IS NOT A DAY OF JOY”

The House Articles of Impeachment sent to the Senate for trial were framed in no small part as the result of the work of Elijah Cummings, the integrity of whose oath of office gained respect on both sides of the political aisle. Like Elijah and Martin, John Lewis will continue to bear the authentic witness to “the right side of history” until his last breath and far beyond in the annals of American history.

Congressman John Lewis addressing the U,S. House of Representatives re: Impeachment of Donald. Trump
This hour in history – The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Gordon C. Stewart, author, “Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness” (Wipf and Stock, 2017), Chaska, MN, January 22, 2020.

Christmas: He has scattered the proud!

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This Christmas we share a chapter from Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness (2017, Wipf and Stock) first aired on MPR’s “All Things Considered” during the Occupy Wall Street Movement. Today there is no Occupy Wall Street. There are no tents. No camps. No protests. But Mary, and the hope she sings in her Magnificat, will never goes away.

Mary of Occupy

He has shown strength with his arm; 
 he has scattered the proud 
 in the thoughts of their hearts.
 He has brought down the powerful 
 from their thrones,and lifted up the lowly; 
 he has filled the hungry with good things, 
 and sent the rich away empty.
 - Gospel of Luke 1:53-55
 

in other cultures, and other times, the young woman would be called a peasant. But here and now, she is a protester, one of a dwindling number of ragged young people on the government plaza. She moves among the occupier sleeping bags and protest signs in the cold of winter, singing her song of hope and joy.

She makes no demands, which is confusing to some. Hers is a different way: a bold announcement that the old order, symbolized by Wall Street, is already finished. Her purity and her message are impervious to the game of demand-and-response that serves only to tweak and tinker with the old system of greed and financial violence.

She simply affirms the great new thing that will come to pass. to her it is more real than much of what she sees.

A song like hers is being sung this season in churches through- out the world. The song rejoices in a new world order about to be born. The “same old, same old” world, the one defined by who’s up and who’s down, by social pride and social humiliation, by the overfed and underfed, by extremes of extravagant wealth and pov- erty—that world is over. The mountains of greed are brought down and the pits of desperation are raised up to the plain.

The song celebrated in churches is the Magnificat, the Song of Mary, a composition of the Gospel of luke. it has special meaning to Christians who believe that Mary bore in her womb the savior of us all. But the Luke story also serves as a metaphor for the compassionate character of a new society about to be born.

“My spirit rejoices in God my Savior,” sings this peasant girl living in the time of the Roman empire’s foreign occupation. She is full of the One who “has scattered the proud in the imaginations of their hearts,” who “has brought down the mighty from their thrones, and has lifted up those of low degree,” the leveling God of mercy and justice.

Imagine for a moment an opera house. At one end of the stage stands Mary, the voice of prophetic madness, her tender voice softly rejoicing in the hope growing inside her. At the other end stands a massive chorus, in tuxedos and gowns, thundering its hymn of praise for the market, for its grandeur, for the preservation of the status quo.

“He has filled the hungry with good things,” the girl sings, “and the rich he has sent empty away.” Her voice cannot compete in volume. But in its clarity, it drowns out the mighty chorus.

As Mary’s song is read in churches this Sunday, some anonymous girl will slip unnoticed into the back pew. She will listen to the reading of luke’s Magnificat, and she will hope, like Mary, that the world will hear the message.

Merry Christmas from Views from the Edge.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska MN, Dec. 25, 2019

Christianity Today Yesterday

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EVANGELICAL REBELLION OR A HICCUP?

Christianity Today, the flagship journal of conservative evangelicals in the U.S.A., has called for Donald Trump’s removal from office.

[T]he facts in this instance are unambiguous: The president of the United States attempted to use his political power to coerce a foreign leader to harass and discredit one of the president’s political opponents. That is not only a violation of the Constitution; more importantly, it is profoundly immoral.

The reason many are not shocked about this is that this president has dumbed down the idea of morality in his administration. He has hired and fired a number of people who are now convicted criminals. He himself has admitted to immoral actions in business and his relationship with women, about which he remains proud. His Twitter feed alone—with its habitual string of mischaracterizations, lies, and slanders—is a near perfect example of a human being who is morally lost and confused.

Mark Galli, Editor-in-Chief, Christianity Today

The New York Times saw Mr. Galli’s criticism of the president as a crack in the evangelical voting bloc’s foundation, but not the beginning of the end of evangelical support.

Barring the unforeseen, Mr. Trump will be the first American president to face voters after being charged with high crimes and misdemeanors. One voting bloc voicing criticism this week: evangelicals. But the critics remain a minority in a political movement that Mr. Trump has reshaped in his own mold.

NYT, Dec. 20, 2019

DISCLAIMER

I am a Christian. I don’t read Christianity Today. I don’t even read The Christian Century, the progressive counterpoint to Christianity Today. I’m too old and ornery for flagships. Any sort of flag-waving, especially when done in the name of Jesus, turns me into what I don’t want to be: just another noisy name-caller. What do I know? I could be dead wrong in my understanding of faith and public life. But I still would vainly hope that what Swiss theologian Karl Barth wrote about Thomas Hobbes might be said of me. “Greater than the horror his strange kerygma arouses is the praise he deserves for not being blind and stupid . . . and for his vision and knowledge. It should be part of Christian vigilance to see and know what [Hobbes] saw and knew.” — Karl Barth, The Christian Life.

I’ve never attended a Billy Graham crusade. I always found it ironic that evangelicals who believe that everything boils down to an individual decision rely on mass rallies.

TRUMP RALLIES AND MINDS WITHOUT COMPASSION

Watching Mr. Trump’s facial expression and body language, listening to speech that dehumanizes, humiliates, treats his critics as enemies of the nation itself makes my skin crawl. Only the knowledge that some in the crowd claim to follow Jesus is more disturbing. How can people hoot and holler on cue from a man with orange hair who makes fun of disabled people, lies so often no one keeps count anymore, throws away women, lawyers and fixers like bubble gum, builds a wall against Central American refugees and takes children from their mothers’ and fathers’ arms at the border, fattens the rich and sends the needy away, and alienates America’s traditional democratic allies with insults with the swagger of Vladimir Putin?

How can people who profess Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior applaud a well-coifed billionaire madman dressed in a starched white shirt with gold cuff links, a silk tie, and a suit that costs more than the people standing behind him make in a month? How will they sing “Silent Night” and “Joy to the World” this Christmas Eve when a poor woman doesn’t get to gently lay her child lowly in a manger because the nation to which she had fled for safety has taken her child away?

Crowds have always been a refuge for people driven by demagogues into the arms of fear, which may explain why in the Christmas story the angel says to the shepherds, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy that will be for all the people” (Luke 2:10), and why, centuries later, the early Italian Renaissance scholar and poet Petrarch answered the question how and why such a thing as a rally happens.

In the hateful, hostile mob (O strange vagary!)
 My only port and refuge can I find,
 Such is my fear to find myself alone.
 
- Petrarch, “Laura Living,” Conzanier 

Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, Dec. 23, 2019

Is Recusal in Order?

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Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has greater reason to recuse himself from participation in the Senate impeachment trial than Jeff Sessions had for recusing himself from the DOJ investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election.

An online dictionary defines ‘recuse’ as “the withdrawal of a judge, prosecutor, or juror from a case on the grounds that they are unqualified to perform legal duties because of a possible conflict of interest or lack of impartiality.”

Until the day Mr. Sessions made his announcement, the terms ‘recuse’ and ‘recusal’ were unfamiliar to most Americans who work outside the court system. Though Mr. Sessions’ decision angered the president, it was the right thing to do. Senate Majority Leader McConnell should do the same.

U.S. Senate floor

If public perception is nine-tenths of reality, a Senate trial that is not a trial will deepen and spread the cynicism that threatens the survival of this Constitutional Republic. Unless the Senators act like Senators willing to lay aside partisan rancor for the sake the greater good, the distrust in America’s foundational institutions and democracy itself will widen further into a chasm that no one can cross. We need to believe that our better angels have not left us.

Senator McConnell’s view that impeachment is a partisan sham is a matter of public record. Sen. McConnell has established the rules for the trial in close collaboration with the White House, which seems unusual. He has decided there will be no witnesses. The trial will be short. The verdict appears to be in before the trial begins,

No trial is more important than an impeachment trial. The Senate is composed of women and men as flawed as the rest of us. But is it too much to ask that the Senators approach this moment of crisis the way American jurisprudence expects a jury of peers to assess the evidence before coming to verdict? Prospective jurors for a trial on Main Street who have come to conclusions of guilt or acquittal are dismissed during voir dire as unfit for jury duty.

Members of the Senate will serve as the only jurors, after swearing an oath many Senators cannot take in good conscience: “I solemnly swear [or affirm, as the case may be] that in all things appertaining to the trial of the impeachment of [the person being impeached], now pending, I will do impartial justice according to the Constitution and laws: So help me God.”

This oath taken before an impeachment trial is secondary to the Oath of Office to “support and defend the Constitution against all enemies foreign and domestic.” There is a remedy for any Senator who cannot honestly swear the oath “to do impartial justice. . . . So help me God” in an impeachment trial. It’s called recusal.

A jury and trial that are shams will stab at the heart of who we thought ourselves to be. Pogo will again prove right. But this time, the consequences are odious. We will have met the enemy and discover he is us.

Gordon C. Stewart. Chaska, MN, December 19, 2019

Boris Trump and Donald Johnson

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INTRODUCING THE GUEST COMMENTATOR

Views from the Edge occasionally publishes a guest commentary that speaks with a different voice. John Miller begins most every morning reading through newspapers that represent diverse perspectives, left, right, and center. John’s readers respect his astute social criticism, and enjoy John’s unexpected turns of phrase, quick wit, and inveterate habit of going where angels fear to tread . . . all in the name of the LORD, of course! Views from the Edge added the photograph to the original commentary.

“BORIS TRUMP AND DONALD JOHNSON”

by John D. Miller

The British people have had three elections thrust upon them in the past year. After two of those elections, the new prime minister turned out to be Boris Johnson.

Mr. Johnson has had a long, colorful, and unpredictable career as a politician. To Americans, he was best known as the Mayor of London. After that he was elected to Parliament, where he was appointed foreign minister by Theresa May. Having Boris Johnson as foreign minister would be like making Bernie Madoff the Secretary of the Treasury. Neither man would be naturally well suited to the office.

When Mrs. May was rejected by her fellow Conservatives in Parliament, Mr. Johnson rose to the pinnacle of British political power. He was unable to keep the natives from becoming overly restless, however. In an attempt to solidify his position, he called the third election of 2019, which he won, predictably, on December 11, because his opponent as leader of the Labour Party was even more odious, or ineffective, than he. Jeremy Corbyn would probably be an horrendous PM.

When Donald Trump became President of the United States in early 2017, he had never held a political office, unlike Boris Johnson, who had been in politics for many years. Trump was a billionaire real estate developer and television reality show host. Both men were very popular populists, each attaining his popularity in his own singular, inscrutable ways.

Despite the differences in their backgrounds, Donald Trump and Boris Johnson are so much alike in most ways that their names could be transposed. Donald Trump could be Boris Trump or Donald Johnson, and Boris Johnson could be Donald Johnson or Boris Trump. I have chosen to call them Boris Trump and Donald Johnson.

Both men look alike. They think alike. They act alike. They speak alike.

Photograph of Boris Trump and Donald Johnson at 2019 G7 Summit.
Aug. 26, 2019, in Biarritz, France, site of the G7 Summit. (Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead)

Obviously they are not exactly alike. For example, Donald Trump has his own hair, and lots of it, and he combs it into a unique coif. Boris Johnson also has his own hair, but it looks like he never combs it. It appears to be a jostled nest in which several birds have recently roosted.

Nevertheless, both men are highly narcissistic. (Anyone who chooses to call that much attention to himself is a classic narcissist.) They are astoundingly unpredictable in what they say, except that they both have said so many unpredictable things their pronouncements have become quite predictable in their unpredictability. That is no way to govern reasonably or well.

Boris Johnson will lead the United Kingdom into disaster when shortly he promotes the Brexit vote, urging his zealous lemming followers to leap into the sea. Almost certainly the vote shall pass, and Britain will be catapulted into its worst crisis since World War II. British voters knew all this when they elected him. But they did it anyway.

Welcome to our world, British voters! Now you will know in your churned innards how half of your electorate feels. You chose someone you knew was a lethal wild card, also knowing exactly what he would do to undermine your political system and your economy. But you went ahead and elected him, because you thought the other choice was worse, which he probably was.

Fortunately, American voters still have eleven months closely to observe Boris Trump before our election is held. The UK will not be prevented from their plunge, which is already a tragically foregone conclusion. However, the USA still has a chance to come to its senses.

John D. Miller is Pastor of The Chapel Without Walls on Hilton Head Island, SC. More of his writings may be viewed at www.chapelwithoutwalls.org.

Elijah shares his pizza

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ELIJAH SHARES WITH GRANDPA

“Pull up a chair. Take a taste. Come join us. Life is so endlessly delicious.” – Ruth Reichl

Turn up the volume to hear Elijah, Grandma, and Grandpa

Elijah’s pizza

THE FULL VALUE OF JOY

“To get the full value of joy you must have someone to divide it with.” — Mark Twain, Notebook (1935)

Grandpa Gordon, Chaska, MN, celebrating Elijah at Elijah’s house, Dec. 16, 2019.

Elijah and the Mad Men

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Grandpa and Elijah

Grandpa, why’s that man so mad?

Well, he’s the senior member of the minority.

So, he’s mad because he’s old?

No, he’s mad because he’s lying.

Do all old people lie and get mad?

Not all, and not just old people. Some liars are young.

Yeah, I heard ’em yelling on C-Span.

You watch C-Span at day care?

We do, Grandpa. We’re Americans!

Well, not all Americans watch C-Span. Some watch MSNBC, CNN, or FOXNews.

Yeah. We don’t. We want to make up our own minds about de-peachment.

Grandpa Gordon and two-year-old grandson Elijah

Worldly Wisdom for the day after

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Today is the day after an exhausting day for many Americans. It’s the day after the day that began with congressional impeachment hearings and ended with the latest presidential candidates debates. The day after our heads spun seems a good day to reach back to taste the sweetness of wisdom.

THE ART OF WORLDLY WISDOM

Never exaggerate. It is a matter of great importance to forego superlatives, in part to avoid offending the truth, and in part to avoid cheapening your judgment. Exaggeration wastes distinction and testifies to the paucity of your understanding and taste. Praise excites anticipation and stimulates desire. Afterwards when value does not measure up to price, disappointment turns against the fraud and takes revenge by cheapening both the appraised and the appraise. For this reason let the prudent go slowly, and err in understatement rather than overstatement. The extraordinary of every kind is always rare, wherefore temper your estimate.”

Baltasar Gracián y Morales (1601-1658) The Art of Worldly Wisdom (1647)

Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, November 21, 2019

The last refuge of the scoundrel

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THIS MOMENT IN TIME

At long last, this Wednesday (Nov. 13, 2019) we will see the faces, hear the voices, and watch the body language of the members of the House Intelligence Committee and those who testify. Witnesses to the quid pro quo — we’re no longer arguing whether there was a quid pro quo — will bring their testimonies. Members of the Committee will examine, weigh the evidence, and decide whether to recommend impeachment.

This Wednesday we will be ushered to our seat in the observer section through different doors chosen by the flip of remote to select the door that suits the conclusions to which we have already come. Some will be ushered in by Fox; some by MSNBC or CNN; a few who prefer no pundits, will watch it on C-Span. Those who walk through different doors to the left or the right will watch the same thing so differently that an outside observer might wonder whether we were seeing different things.

THE QUESTION AND THE VOICE OF THE DEAD

The question at issue is whether the President violated his oath to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution. As each of us considers the gravity of Mr. Trump’s quid pro quo with Mr. Zelensky, we might do well to listen to the dead. Our ancestors no longer belong to a political party. Some of the dead were patriots, others were not. The harshest critic sometime was a patriot while the one who talked incessantly of patriotism turns out to have been a scoundrel. G.K. Chesterton is among the dead who speak from the grave with wisdom and wit and a twinkle in his eye:

I have formed a very clear conception of patriotism, I have generally found it thrust into the foreground by some fellow who has something to hide in the background. I have seen a great deal of patriotism; and I have generally found it the last refuge of the scoundrel.

G.K. Chesterton, The Judgement of Dr. Johnson, Act III.

WHAT KIND OF “QUID PRO QUO?

Michael Mulvaney was right, and he was wrong in saying that quid pro quo‘s “happen all the time.” “Something for something” is not evil. I want an apple; you want an orange. II give you one of my apples; you give me one of your oranges. “We do it all the time.” “I’ll support the funding bill for bridge repair in your district, if you support the bill for road repair in my district.” We do it all the time. That’s the nature of politics in a democratic republic. We elect public servants to serve us within the wider context where local self-interests convene to get thing done by the art of compromise.

But this alleged wrongdoing is not that kind of legitimate quid pro quo between equals. There is nothing inherently unconstitutional in a “something for something” transaction to protect, preserve and defend the Constitution of the United States of America. The question is whether the President’s “something” (release of $300+ Million of military assistance with an invitation to the White House) in exchange for a conditional “something” (Ukrainian investigation of a likely opponent in the 2020 U.S. election with a public announcement by Mr. Zelensky) was in the best interest of the United States or whether it served his own personal purposes for re-election.

THE DEMOCRACY OF THE DEAD

The American Republic is still young among the nations, but we have a tradition, an inheritance of self-government under the Constitution and the rule of law. Tradition and freedom are not opposites. “Tradition means giving voice to the most obscure of all classes, our ancestors,” wrote Chesterton, sounding like an Ojibwe teaching his people to make decisions after looking back seven generations of the ancestors and forward seven future generations yet unborn. “[Tradition] is the democracy of the dead.” — G.K. Chesterton, “The Ethics of Elfland” in Orthodoxy.

Was the President’s quid pro quo an act of patriotism, or was it the behavior of a scoundrel. If Donald Trump was a scoundrel, does the offense rise to the level of “high crimes and misdemeanors”?

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, November 11, 2019.