My country, ’tis of thee I [Still] Sing

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Letters from an American

American historian Heather Cox Richardson summarizes the latest political developments. Each morning she draws from multiple news sources, but she speaks only for herself. She has no need to shout. No need to draw attention to herself. Like a neurosurgeon in an operating room, she speaks softly while opening the patient’s skull in hopes of healing. What she finds in America today is life-threatening. She also offers hope. We re-post her reflections from last Monday. Click the link below to read it online.

Letters from an American, Heather Cox Richardson, September 6, 2020

Letters from an American
September 6, 2020
Heather Cox Richardson

Earlier this week, New York Times columnist Farhad Manjoo warned that American democracy is ending. He pointed to political violence on the streets, the pandemic, unemployment, racial polarization, and natural disasters, all of which are destabilizing the country, and noted that Republicans appear to have abandoned democracy in favor of a cult-like support for Donald Trump. They are wedded to a narrative based in lies, as the president dismantles our non-partisan civil service and replaces it with a gang of cronies loyal only to him.

He is right to be worried.

Just the past few days have demonstrated that key aspects of democracy are under attack.

Democracy depends on the rule of law. Today, we learned that Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, who rose to become a Cabinet official thanks to his prolific fundraising for the Republican Party, apparently managed to raise as much money as he did because he pressured employees at his business, New Breed Logistics, to make campaign contributions that he later reimbursed through bonuses. Such a scheme is illegal. A spokesman said that Dejoy “believes that he has always followed campaign fundraising laws and regulations,” but records show that many of DeJoy’s employees only contributed money to political campaigns when they worked for him.

Democracy depends on equality before the law. But Black and brown people seem to receive summary justice at the hands of certain law enforcement officers, rather than being accorded the right to a trial before a jury of their peers. In a democracy, voters elect representatives who make laws that express the will of the community. “Law enforcement officers” stop people who are breaking those laws, and deliver them to our court system, where they can tell their side of the story and either be convicted of breaking the law, or acquitted. When police can kill people without that process, justice becomes arbitrary, depending on who holds power.

Democracy depends on reality-based policy. Increasingly it is clear that the Trump administration is more concerned about creating a narrative to hold power than it is in facts. Today, Trump tweeted that “Our Economy and Jobs are doing really well,” when we are in a recession (defined as two quarters of negative growth) and unemployment remains at 8.4%.
This weekend, the drive to create a narrative led to a new low as the government launched an attempt to control how we understand our history. On Friday, the administration instructed federal agencies to end training on “critical race theory,” which is a scary-sounding term for the idea that, over time, our laws have discriminated against Black and brown people, and that we should work to get rid of that discriminatory pattern.

Today, Trump tweeted that the U.S. Department of Education will investigate whether California schools are using curriculum based on the 1619 Project from the New York Times, which argues that American history should center on the date of the arrival of the first enslaved Africans to Chesapeake shores. Anyone using such curriculum, he said, would lose funding. Government interference in teaching our history echoes the techniques of dictatorships. It is unprecedented in America.

Democracy depends on free and fair suffrage. The White House is trying to undermine our trust in the electoral system by claiming that mail-in ballots can be manipulated and will usher in fraud. While Trump has been arguing this for a while, last week Attorney General William Barr, a Trump loyalist, also chimed in, offering a false story that the Justice Department had indicted a Texas man for filling out 1700 absentee ballots. In fact, in 2017, one man was convicted of forging one woman’s signature on a mail-in ballot in a Dallas City Council race. Because mail-in ballots have security barcodes and require signatures to be matched to a registration form, the rate of ballot fraud is vanishingly small: there have been 491 prosecutions in all U.S. nationwide elections from 2000 to 2012, when billions of ballots were cast.

Interestingly, an intelligence briefing from the Department of Homeland Security released Friday says that Russia is spreading false statements identical to those Trump and Barr are spreading. The bulletin says that Russian actors “are likely to promote allegations of corruption, system failure, and foreign malign interference to sow distrust in Democratic institutions and election outcomes.” They are spreading these claims through state-controlled media, fake websites, and social media trolls.
At the same time, we know that the Republicans are launching attempts to suppress Democratic votes. Last Wednesday, we learned that Georgia has likely removed 200,000 voters from the rolls for no reason. In December 2019, the Georgia Secretary of State said officials had removed 313,243 names from the rolls in an act of routine maintenance because they were inactive and the voters had moved, but nonpartisan experts found that 63.3% of those voters had not, in fact, moved. They were purged from the rolls in error.

And, in what was perhaps an accident, in South Carolina, voters’ sample ballots did not include Democratic candidates Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, although they did include the candidates for the Green, Alliance, and Libertarian parties. When The Post and Courier newspaper called their attention to the oversight, the State Election Commission, which is a Republican-majority body appointed by a staunch Trump supporter, updated the ballots.

Democracy depends on the legitimacy of (at least) two political parties. Opposition parties enable voters unhappy with whichever group of leaders is in power to articulate their positions without undermining the government itself. They also watch leaders carefully, forcing them to combat corruption within their ranks.

This administration has sought to delegitimize Democrats as “socialists” and “radicals” who are not legitimate political players. Just today, Trump tweeted: “The Democrats, together with the corrupt Fake News Media, have launched a massive Disinformation Campaign the likes of which has never been seen before.”

For its part, the Republican Party has essentially become the Trump Party, not only in ideology and loyalty but in finances. Yesterday we learned that Trump and the Republican National Committee have spent close to $60 million from campaign contributors on Trump’s legal bills. Matthew Sanderson, a campaign finance lawyer for Republican presidential candidates, told the New York Times, “Vindicating President Trump’s personal interests is now so intertwined with the interests of the Republican Party they are one and the same — and that includes the legal fights the party is paying for now.”

The administration has refused to answer to Democrats in Congress, ignoring subpoenas with the argument that Congress has no power to investigate the executive branch, despite precedent for such oversight going all the way back to George Washington’s administration. Just last week, a federal appeals court said that Congress has no power to enforce a subpoena because there is no law that gives it the authority to do so. This essentially voids a subpoena the House issued last year to former White House counsel Don McGahn, demanding he testify about his dealings with Trump over the investigation into the ties of the Trump campaign to Russia. (The decision will likely be challenged.)

On September 4, U.S. Postal Service police officers refused Florida Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL) entry to one USPS facility in Opa-Locka, Florida and another in Miami. Although she followed the procedures she had followed in the past, this time the local officials told her that the national USPS leadership had told them to bar her entry. “Ensuring only authorized parties enter nonpublic areas of USPS facilities is part of a Postal Police officer’s normal duties, said Postal Inspector Eric Manuel. Wasserman Schultz is a member of the House Oversight and Reform Committee.

And finally, democracy depends on the peaceful transition of power. Trump has repeatedly suggested that he will not leave office because the Democrats are going to cheat.

So we should definitely worry.

But should we despair? Absolutely not.

Convincing people the game is over is one of the key ways dictators take power. Scholars warn never to consent in advance to what you anticipate an autocrat will demand. If democracy were already gone, there would be no need for Trump and his people to lie and cheat and try to steal this election.

And I would certainly not be writing this letter.

Americans are coming together from all different political positions to fight this attack on our democracy, and we have been in similar positions before. In 1858, Abraham Lincoln spoke under similar circumstances, and noted that Americans who disagreed on almost everything else could still agree to defend their country, just as we are now. Ordinary Americans “rose each fighting, grasping whatever he could first reach---a scythe---a pitchfork-- a chopping axe, or a butcher's cleaver,” he said. And “when the storm shall be past,” the world “shall find us still Americans; no less devoted to the continued Union and prosperity of the country than heretofore.”

Click HERE and scroll down to review the sources for this issue or to SUBSCRIBE to Letters from an American.

Some might call it treason and mistreason to do and to ignore what they cannot help but know: the strategic sabotage of a constitutional democratic republic some “losers and suckers” (DJT) still serve and some of us still pray and sing.

With thanks to Heather Cox Richarrdson,

Gordon C. Stewart, Views from the Edge, Chaska, MN, September 9, 2020.

The Incendiary President

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Good cartoons pack a wallop. They go to the heart of the matter. They squeeze book into a small picture frame. Steve Sack’s “GOT A LIGHT?” in Saturday’s Star Tribune does that. As we enter the home-stretch toward Election Day 2020, “Got a light?” cuts through the smoke and mirrors to issue a warning: “Don’t be stupid!”

Don’t strike the match that fuels the Trump campaign. Don’t be stupid!

Steve Sack cartoon showing a person a man in black standing in the rubble left from a riot, holding a torch, and broadly grinning Donald Trump offering the rioter the fuse that that will ignite the fuel for his "Trump Campaign" rocket.
Steve Sack, Star Tribune, August 29, 20

White Supremacy dressed in Black: “Umbrella Man”

The backdrop for “Got a Light?” is the moment alleged to have turned a lawful citizen protest following George Floyd’s murder into a lawless scene of window-breaking, looting, and torching of the Third Precinct headquarters of the Minneapolis Police Department. A cell phone video preserved the provocative behavior of an unidentified white man dressed in black, wearing a gas mask, and holding an open umbrella on a sunny day. The video went viral.

The StarTribune reported that, before he smashed the store windows on Lake Street with a 4-pound sledge-hammer, “Umbrella Man” had spray-painted “free [expletive] for everyone” on the doors of AutoZone. Who was the white provocateur who lit the match that turned a peaceful protest into a riot? Why was he there so conspicuously?

"Investigators finally caught a break when a tipster e-mailed the MPD identifying him as a member of the Hells Angels biker gang who 'wanted to sow discord and racial unrest by breaking out the windows and writing what he did on the double doors.'

“Subsequent Investigation claims his association with the Aryan Cowboys Brotherhood, ‘a small white supremacist prison and street gang based primarily in Minneapolis and Kentucky.'”

Agent Provocateur

Whether or not those claims are true, one thing is certain. The white man dressed in black holding an open umbrella on a sunny day appeared suddenly, shattered windows, and casually slipped away. He came from somewhere. He returned to somewhere. Umbrella Man was not a demonstrator. He did not come to protest the killing of George Floyd. He was a provocateur.

Both “agent provocateur” and the shortened “provocateur” can refer to someone (such as an undercover police officer or a political operative) whose job is to incite people to break the law so that they can be arrested, but only “provocateur” is used in English with the more general sense of “one who provokes.”

Synonyms: agitator, demagogue (also demagog), exciter, firebrand, fomenter, incendiary, inciter, instigator, kindler, rabble-rouser

“provocateur,” Miriam-Wester.com Dictionary, Accessed 9/1/2020

American White Alt-Right nationalist provocateurs like Umbrella Man may seem strange, but they are not new. The difference is they longer wear white hoods, carry torches, or burn crosses on the lawns of Black houses. They have no need to work under cover of darkness. The occupant of the White House permits encourages them to light matches in broad daylight to provoke the civil unrest that will rally an electorate to heed his call to establish law and order.

During the press conference the eve before his visit Kenosha, a President of the United States of America again refused to denounce the lawless abuse of power that killed Jacob Blake. Today, defying the expressed request of the grieving family, the mayor, the Governor and other Wisconsin elected officials, the president made his appearance, praising the police and adding further insult by answering a journalist’s question directed to the grieving parents of Jake Blake. The president again stoked the fires of white supremacist lawlessness, encouraging white men holding umbrellas on a bright sunny day to create the civil turmoil that will get him re-elected. “I am your law-and-order President!” “Russia, if you’re listening . . .

Provocateurs and the Rise to Power

The Nazi Party and Adolf Hitler rode to power on the civil unrest created by the Sturmabteilung (SA), the Nazi Party’s paramilitary, whose acts of violence they blamed on Leftists, anarchists, traitors, and non-Aryans created a climate that would welcome the Strong Man.

Once in office, Hitler no longer needed the SA or their commander, Ernst Röhm, whose loyalty he had come to doubt. When Herman Göring and Heinrich Himmler alleged that Röhm was organizing a coup, Hitler authorized and led the covert operation that became known as the Night of the Long Knives, the murder of SA leaders, including Röhm, whom Hitler had ordered to gather at a hotel in Bad Wiessee, a small town far from public notice. Eighty-five SA officers were murdered on the spot, or, like Röhm, taken to Berlin to be executed.

Cruelty Does Not Stay Masked Forever

Some things cannot be kept quiet. When the press began to learn of the purge, Reich “Minister Without Portfolio” Joseph Göring ordered newspapers not to publish the names of the dead, and ordered police stations to burn “all documents concerning the action of the past two days.” Minister of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda Hermann Goebbels went on the radio to announce to the nation that Hitler had prevented traitors from overthrowing the government and throwing the country into turmoil. Eleven days later (July 13, 1934) Hitler gave the nationally broadcast speech to the Reichstag (the German equivalent of the U.S. Congress) in which he conflated the nation and himself. The strong man who has promises to make Germany great again proclaimed himself “the Supreme Judge of the German people” and called those who opposed him traitors.

If anyone reproaches me and asks why I did not resort to the regular courts of justice, then all I can say is this. In this hour I was responsible for the fate of the German people, and thereby I became the supreme judge of the German people. I gave the order to shoot the ringleaders in this treason, and I further gave the order to cauterise down to the raw flesh the ulcers of this poisoning of the wells in our domestic life. Let the nation know that its existence—which depends on its internal order and security—cannot be threatened with impunity by anyone! And let it be known for all time to come that if anyone raises his hand to strike the State, then certain death is his lot.

Adolf Hitler, broadcast speech to the Reichstag, July 13, 1934.

Concerned with the potential resistance of the Reichstag and the courts, Hitler’s cabinet pasted a veneer of legality over the purge: “The measures taken on June 30, July 1 and 2 to suppress treasonous assaults are legal as acts of self-defense by the State.”

Germany Then and America Now

There is no official equivalent of the SA in the USA. But neither the president nor his storm troopers need a command structure to carry out the mission they share. Provocateurs like Umbrella Man need the the Commander-in-Chief to stay silent and shift the blame to the non-Aryans among us.

Is it unreasonable to suppose a president with no moral compass, fearful of losing his bid for re-election, at risk of losing his fight to keep his tax returns from public scrutiny, and facing multiple felony indictments after leaving office would use the provocateur’s playbooks his first ex-wife and the co-author allege to have been only books in his bedroom, Mein Kampf and The Speeches of Hitler?

Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, August 29, 2020.

A Burglar’s Narrative on the White House Lawn

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A Singular Achievement

During 3+ years in the Oval Office, Donald Trump has succeeded in doing what no president before him had accomplished. He’s told more lies than the cumulative lies of all his predecessors, an accomplishment that history will remember as his singular achievement.

Burglar Narratives

The stories we tell about ourselves shape our reality. Facts may or may not matter. Objective reality may or may not matter. The trustworthiness of the story-teller may or may not matter. It’s the narrative that matters. Even the best convictions are vulnerable to burglary.

Chart of Donald Trump’s “False or misleading claims” (The Washington Post) and “False claims” by Daniel Dale (Toronto Star, later CNN)

Burglars rob houses that belong to other people. They don’t claim to own the houses they’ve burgled. They don’t occupy the houses they burgle. They don’t break tradition by making nationally televised speeches on the lawn of the house they’ve burgled.

The 2020 Campaign Speech — a Burglar’s Narrative on the People’s Lawn

Last night some owners of the burgled house on Pennsylvania Avenue heard the “law-and-order” candidate for re-election sound the alarms against “violent anarchists, agitators, and criminals” who threaten to occupy the house he thinks he owns.*

– Gordon C. Stewart, author of a different narrative — Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness (2017 Wipf and Stock) — Chaska, Minnesota, August 28, 2020.

Missing from the Narrated Crown

*There were no chairs on the South Lawn for former National Security Advisors Michael Flynn, H.R. McMaster, and John Bolton, Defense Secretary “Mad Dog” Maddox, long-time attorney-fixer Michael Cohen, old friends Jeffery Epstein (RIP) and Ghislaine Maxwell, family members Mary Trump (niece) and older sister Maryanne, grieving relatives of police shootings and of the 175,000 Covid-19 dead, or Dr. Anthony Fauci.

Christianity Today Yesterday

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

Boris Trump and Donald Johnson

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.

The Ides of March — Are the boys still there?

JULIUS CAESAR AND THE IDES OF MARCH

Statue of Julius Caesar Via dei Fori Imperiali
Leomudde [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)]

Last Friday was not the Ides of March, but it may have been the day the soothsayer warned Julius Caesar of the consequences of overstepping the Roman Republic’s limits to executive power.

According to Plutarch, on his way to the fateful meeting of the Roman Senate on the Ides of March, Caesar passed the seer, mocking his fortune-telling with a confident sneer: “The Ides of March are come.”

“Aye, Caesar,” said the seer, “but not gone.”

That same day in 44 BCE the soothsayer’s warning was confirmed. As many as 60 senators ended the threat to turn the Roman Republic into an eternal dictatorship.

THE DAY OF THE SOOTHSAYER

Events last Friday echo the soothsayer’s warning:

  • Maria Yovanovich, the nonpartisan diplomat of impeccable character summarily recalled from her duties in Ukraine with no explanation, honored the House Intelligence Committee’s subpoena to appear for testimony at the Committee’s impeachment inquiry hearing;
  • The president who had suddenly dismissed Ms. Yovanovich just as suddenly smeared her reputation with a tweet while she was testifying before the Committee;
  • Roger Stone, the career dirty-trickster and long-term friend and mentor of Donald Trump, architect of the 2016 “Make America Great Again” campaign strategy and tactics, was convicted by a jury on all seven counts of making false statements, obstruction, and witness tampering;
  • President Trump tweeted:

“So they now convict Roger Stone of lying and want to jail him for many years to come. Well, what about Crooked Hillary, Comey, Strzok, Page, McCabe, Brennan, Clapper, Shifty Schiff, Ohr & Nellie, Steele & all of the others, including even Mueller himself? Didn’t they lie?”

Donald J. Trump tweet during Maria Yovanovich testimony, November 15, 2019.

ROGER STONE’S RULES

Roy Cohn and Roger Stone are the the political dirty-trickster mentors who who trained Donald Trump in the Machiavellian rules for how to succeed in business and politics.

The following are a few of “Stone’s Rules” as he shared them in the documentary film Get Me Roger Stone:

  • “Hate is stronger than love”
  • “Unless you can fake sincerity, you’ll get nowhere in this business”
  • “Politics isn’t theater. It’s performance art. Sometimes, for its own sake”
  • “White shirt + tan face = confidence”
  • “Hit it from every angle. Open multiple fronts on your enemy. He must be confused, and feel besieged on every side.
  • “Always praise ’em before you hit ’em”
  • “Admit nothing, deny everything, launch counterattack”
  • “Attack, attack, attack, never defend”
  • “Never turn down the opportunity to have sex or be on TV.” (attributed to Gore Vidal)
  • “Nothing is on the level”
  • “It’s better to be infamous than never famous at all.”

CONGENITALLY INCAPABLE

Presidential historian Jon Meacham spoke within hours of the president’ latest tweety. “My sense,” he said, “is that we have a president who is congenitally incapable of seeing beyond his own self-interest. And what these witnesses have done is proven that while he wants to build a wall at the border, he has no interest in building a wall around our elections.” (The Beat, Friday, Nov. 15.)

ARE THE BOYS (THE KING’S MEN) STILL THERE?

“A political leader must keep looking over his shoulder all the time to see if the boys are still there. If they’re not, he’s no longer a political leader.” (NYT obituary for Bernard Baruch, June 21, 1965.)

Bernard Baruch Obituary, New York Times, June 21, 1964

The impeachment inquiry is about much more than a sitting president’s continuance or removal from office. It’s about the survival of the Constitution of the American Republic in an era when an entire political party has substituted the habits of Stone’s Rules for the sworn duty of every elected member of Congress “to support and defend the Constitution of the United States of America.”

“Admit nothing. Deny everything. Launch counterattacks. Attack, attack, attack. Never defend. Distract, distract, distract!” is a heinous violation of the Oath Office.

Is it too much to hope that soothsayer’s warning will result in coming to our senses? If not, we may be left to hope John Arburthnot was right that “political parties die at last of swallowing their own lies.”

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, Nov. 18, 2019.

Fake news from the Pearly Gates

Maid exposes Peter in the courtyard. The Denial of St Peter by Gerard van Honthorst (1622-24)

Saint Peter: Greetings, Donald. I’ve been expecting you, but not so soon. I have a few questions before you go through the Pearly Gates to the streets of gold.

Donald: Sure, fire away. I’m very familiar with pearly gates. It can’t be much better than Mar-a-Lago. Fire away!

Mar-a-Lago Club entrance gate

Okay, Donald. But I have to warn you–everyone up here is equal. There are no private clubs. No towers. No penthouses. No White Houses. No barrios. No borders. No trade restrictions. No nations. No classes other than the de-programming and re-training classes. Everyone has free medical care. No one is rich. No one is poor. It’s a lot like Karl Marx hoped society would be … except for God. Karl was surprised. Are you ready?

Are you serious!!! Why would I want to go in there? This is crazy. Karl Marx was evil. Communism was evil. Socialism is evil. Obama’s evil. Nancy’s evil! Are they here?

Barack and Nancy haven’t arrived yet, but, when their time comes, we’ll treat them the same way we treat everyone else. Lots of your friends are here in the re-training course: Joe [McCarthy], Roy [Cohn], other members of the Trump family.

What about Karl? He’s been dead a long time.

Karl is enjoying the pleasures of the equality he preached while still with you. Karl’s big surprise was that there is a God.

I don’t want to be any place where Karl is welcome. Jerry [Falwell] and Franklin [Graham] told me all about the Judgment. No way Karl is here! No way!

I guess that’s a matter of judgment, don’t you think?

Right. I’m President. I make the judgments. I decide.

I see. It seems you don’t quite get it, Donald. There are no presidents here. No one owns any property here. Everyone here is a child, just like Jesus said. Can I call you ‘Donnie’?

No. I hate that! Mother called me ‘Donnie’. My dad called me ‘Don’.

Okay, Don, I won’t call you ‘Donnie’.

And don’t call me ‘Don’. Dad kicked me out of the house and sent me away to a military academy. I hated that!

But your dad did help you avoid the draft, right? That bone spur thing. Remember?

I did have bone spurs! They were terrible!

Do you still have them? Show me your foot. Everyone up here has bare feet. There are no shoes. Nothing is hidden. Let me see your foot.

No, they’re gone!

Donald, bone spurs don’t just go away, and, when they’ve been removed, the foot will bear the scars from surgery. Show me your foot.

I don’t have a scar! My sister came to the rescue with EZorb. It went away! I’m not hiding anything. I don’t hide things like the fake news and the whistleblowers.

I see. Donald we have a truth problem. Your sister couldn’t have given you EZorb. It didn’t exist when the draft board gave you the deferments. Truth is truth up here, Donald.

That’s fake news! Fake news! You’re part of the deep state that was out to get me.

I’m sorry you feel that way, Donald. Here it doesn’t matter how you feel. It matters what you did. Only facts matter here.

I was making America great again. I’m not like you. I never let a maid expose me out in the courtyard!

You’re in for a great surprise. This is not Mar-a-Largo. Here the maids who spoke truth in the courtyards and cleaned the toilets, and all the undocumented workers, are equal to everyone else. It’s only a matter of time before your family’s driver and all those people at the border join the maids and me up here.

You believe everything you read in the Times? What driver?

Zoltan Tamas, who’s been in ICE lock-up for the last six months.

I don’t know anything about that! It’s all fake news. All fake news!

I’m sorry, Donald. You’ve failed the test. But, like I said, there’s grace here. Feel free take a seat here outside the Pearly Gates until your family’s driver and all the other ICE detainees arrive. In the meantime, a little scripture might help prepare you for the re-training.

I don’t need re-training by a loser, a big time lose just like Judas! Anyway, I didn’t bring my Bible.

I know! You don’t have a Bible, Donald. So…Click THIS LINK for Jesus’s surprising story of the sheep and the goats, the parable of the Last Judgment, to help you understand why people go through re-training here. The Losers turn out to be Winners, and the Winners are Losers. We do our best up here to keep hell empty!

— Gordon C. Stewart. public theologian, Chaska, MN, October 16, 2019

‘Trouble’ is God’s middle name

Robert McAfee Brown is not a household name for most folks, but it is for a dwindling multitude shaped by his life and teaching. Few of us sat in his classes at Macalester College, Union Theological Seminary in New York, or at Stanford, and few of us marched with him for civil rights or an end to the Vietnam War. Although we never met him, he seemed to know who were, and spoke of God in ways that struck a chord with adolescent ears itching to change the world.

One of the people who did know him personally was Jo Bede. Jo knew him up close as his student assistant at Macalester College, typing the manuscripts for the books he published. All these years later, Jo is in a Memory Care Center here in Minnesota. Like many other members of the multitude, she no longer remembers his name or the name of her alma mater.

Unlike many members of the Robert McAfee Brown multitude, Jo remembered everything until Alzheimer’s stole’s her powers of recognition. Many other members remain unaware of their membership, though they read (or didn’t read) Brown’s book used in Presbyterian confirmation classes all across the United States. Like most kids that age, we didn’t pay attention to the author. We didn’t want to be ‘churchy’. But if The Bible Speaks to You sounds ‘churchy’ to you today, it’s likely because ‘church’, as Robert McAfee Brown understood it, bore no resemblance to the churches that decades later would replace intelligent faith with platitudes in the era of Donald Trump.

Some things are stranger than strange. In 2019 few things feel as strange as the likelihood that a young Donald Trump had become part of the multitude as a member of the confirmation class at First Presbyterian Church of Jamaica Heights, NYC. He was just another kid who didn’t give a thought to Robert McAfee Brown or crack the book we were supposed to read.

“We can be sure that ‘Trouble’ is God’s middle name,” he wrote, “and that such a God will be alongside us in the midst of trouble rather than off in a remote heaven practicing neutrality. And if we begin to make that most difficult switch of all — away from the gods of middle-class values and upward mobility, and gilt-edged retirement plans — and if we can explore, even tentatively and gingerly, what it would be like to think and act for those who are the victims, we just might uncover ‘the most unexpected news’ of all: that God got there before we did.”

All these years later, I imagine Bob Brown inviting all of us to his home in Palo Alto for a reunion of the crowd we didn’t know. Jo, Donald, and I are in the Browns’ living room. He begins the welcome by turning to Jo, whose head is down and who appears to be asleep. “Jo, it’s so good to see you after all these years! Do you still have that typewriter?” Jo lifts her head and smiles at the sound of her old teacher’s voice. “And, Donald and Gordon, Carolyn, Woody, Ted, Bob, Dottie, and David, I can’t wait to hear what you’ve done with your lives.” We go around the circle, introducing ourselves to each other from across the country. After the last of introduction, there is a silence while all eyes return to our host.

“So . . .,” he begins with a kindly smile, “how are all of you doing with the God whose middle name is ‘Trouble?'” All eyes lower into a deafening silence. Before any of us speak, he asks the second question for which he has brought us together:

“‘How are you doing with the switch?”

  • Gordon C. Stewart, from the wilderness, August 10, 2019.

Tell me what you know

“I notice that as soon as writers broach this question, they
begin to quote. I hate quotations. Tell me what you know.”
— Ralph Waldo Emerson, Journals

If we don’t say what we know, what happens next will be on us. We can’t let that happen.

The question to which Ralph Waldo Emerson referred in his journal was different from the one we broach now, but — with apologies for the quotation he would have hated — his challenge to us would be the same: Tell me what you know. If we don’t speak what we know, the shredding of the U.S. Constitution’s system if checks-and-balances among three equal branches of government will be on us.

Emerson was referring to immortality. He knew what many others did not. No one really knows about immortality. Not first-hand. His advice can be understood differently by reading the last sentence aloud, stessing different words— tell me what you know, or tell me what you know — but no matter where you put the emphasis, Emerson’s point seems to have been the same. Don’t speculate. Speak of what you know from your own experience..

What you see with your eyes, hear with your ears, smell with you nose can be delusional, but seeing, hearing, and smelling are the ways mere mortals know whatever we know, or think we know.

What my EYES know

Whenever Donald Trump comes into view — I see a peacock. A peacock’s feathers are stunning. They’re beautiful. And they know it. They strut. A peacock commands everyone’s attention. You can’t help but look. Such confidence! Look at all those eyes!

But, as I Iearned years ago visiting wealthy parishioners whose peacocks had free reign on the grounds of their estate, you keep your distance from a peacock. If you get too close, they make a ruckus. They shriek to put you on notice. Come closer and you will pay the price. Peacocks are mean.

Donald Trump speaking at CPAC 2011 in Washington, D.C. photo by Gage Skidmore from Peoria, AZ.

Watching the current American president feels like that. I see facial expressions when he tells an audience what he knows they want to hear instead of what he knows. He’s lying. Even his secure base knows it. I see the 2020 rallies, the crowds cheering for a peacock strutting around, fanning his feathers.

What my EARS know

You don’t need to have stood in the Rose Garden to know when a peacock is feeling cocky. Or threatened. You know from the sound. Bring a friendly television camera crew to show off his feathers by fanning his tail, and give him a microphone with free range and the peacock is in his glory. Camera crews permitted on his property have taken orher photos of the peacock strutting across the lawn with one of his harem, knowing the cameras already are rolling to show other TV-watching peacocks what he has that they don’t — except in their dreams — a hen with feathers like that! The peahen is all show. She never makes a squack. She only speaks out to shine the light on school bullies, guys like Daryl at my elementary school and like whoever bullied her peacock before he learned to preen and parade his way to the world’s biggest playground.

The peacock hardly ever tells the truth. Everyone knows he lies all the time. He may know it; he may not. It’s hard to tell. He speaks convincingly as one who knows, and knows more than all the other peacocks and members of the camera crews. He never quotes anyone, routinely referring to himself in the third person, as though someone else is speaking about him. What we hear is very strange. Ornotholigists provide a more objective description of the peacock’s behavior.

The peacock’s behavior is a common cause for fear. They are known to be aggressive, fiercely territorial birds…. The peacock’s low intelligence has caused wild peacocks in urban areas to attack dark-colored luxury cars: the birds see their reflections, interpret it as a second bird and attack. Peacocks have also been seen chasing people to take their food. At the same time, when a peacock is angry they have a tendency to spread themselves out – and seeing a bird your size or larger fan out, with feathers that could be misconstrued as eyes, is more than enough to cause a child to develop a long-standing phobia.

–Blake Flournoy, “Reasons to Fear Peacocks,” Sciencing, 2018.

I hear loud shrieks as the peacock chases the camera crews off the property. But the shrieks are not loud enough to drown out the sound of paper shredders shredding the papers the camera crews have come to see.

What my NOSE knows

I have a long-standing fear of fire. I remember watching the flames and smelling the smoke from the four alarm fire I watched through my bedroom window. My father, a volunteer fireman, had left home that night to put out the fire. I was afraid he wouldn’t come back.

I’m no longer five years old, but my nose knows the smell and knows that where there’s smoke, there’s fire. I smell smoke coming from the White House. I smell the Constitution burning, and see a peacock running loose, attacking his own reflection on the presidential limousine.

Leave YOUR COMMENT to widen the conversation. Tell me what you know.

–Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, April 26, 2019.

Donald Trump Photo Attribution: Donald Trump speaking at CPAC 201; photo by Greg Skidmore.

Of Kings and Jesters

King George III in coronation robes

King George III’s in gold coronation attire

William_Merritt_Chase_Keying_up

Jester – “Keying Up” by William Merritt Chase

The kingdoms of former times were ruled by kings. The kings appointed court jesters who acted the fool to bring the king pleasure and keep him honest. Some of the kings were what Rex Tillerson called the king, but, for the most part, those who were loyal kept the secret as best they could. Even the kings who were clinically insane didn’t confuse their roles with the jester’s. They knew who was king. They left it to the jesters to play the fool. They knew the difference between governing and entertaining. Throughout history, however, there were kings who may have been as entertaining as their court jesters, and there were kings who were insane, but they never had television cameras.

King Charles VI of France (1368–1422) became known as Charles le Fou (Charles the Mad) for a strange psychosis that included the medical diagnosis “glass delusion.” Crossing the forest in Le Mans, King Charles VI mistook his protectors for enemies and attacked them with his sword.

King Charles VI

“Madness of Charles_VI” (15th Century)

Ludwig II Bavarya GHP 447796

King Ludwig II (Mad King Ludwig)

Ludwig II of Bavaria

Mad King Ludwig later in life.

King Ludwig II of Bavaria (ruled 1864–1886) became known as “Mad King Ludwig,” thought to have suffered from  frontotemporal dementia, schizotypal personality disorder or Pick’s disease.

And there was King George III (see above), remembered for losing American colonies midway through his reign (1760–1820), alternating between eruptions of volcanic rage and sinking into panic attacks, delusions and visual and auditory hallucinations.

None of these kings had a television to assure him he was not about to shatter like a broken glass. None of them had Fox News applauding pantomimes of physically challenged reporters or terrified women who claimed sexual abuse. Nor did any of the kings have to wonder what to do when their favorite TV station no longer covered every rally after their Neilsen Ratings dropped.

What to do? 

Schedule a Thursday lunch with Kanye West and invite the White House press corps for the live, not to be missed, impromptu Oval Office visit with Kanye. But first, go on the road to Erie. Hold a rally. Pack the house with loyal subjects. Do the old campaign schtick. Attack the wicked pretender to the throne: “Lock her up! Lock her up! Crooked Hillary!” Ramp up the act. Make faces. Poke fun at the terrified woman whose story had stolen the spotlight. Bring the ratings back. Play the jester and the king. Prove to Fox you’re still entertaining.

The house in Erie isn’t packed. The schtick is old. But there’s always tomorrow’s photo op with the court jester he can count on to assure him he’s not a glass about to shatter. The Oval Office is packed! The king sits behind his desk for a little entertainment. Kanye is bizarre. Ludicrous. Off the wall. Delusional. Clearly not well.

Which was worse — the Wednesday campaign rally in Erie or Thursday’s intimate moment with the jester on steroids — is hard to say. Both lent credence to Rex Tillerson’s alleged demeaning slur. Mad King Donald — Donald the Mad — made a fool of himself.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, October 20, 2018.