“A Soulless Coward”

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The President’s lies about former presidents Obama and Bush in reaction to criticism that he had not made presidential calls to the families of four soldiers killed in Niger struck me as just one more example of his unfitness for office.

Then The Nation exclusive interview — “‘A Soulless Coward’: Coach Gregg Popovich Responds to Trump” — popped into my inbox. “[T]o lie about how previous presidents responded to the deaths of soldiers—is as low as it gets. We have a pathological liar in the White House.”

Gregg Popovich, the United States Air Force Academy alumnus and head coach of the San Antonio Spurs, is affectionately called “Pop” but one has to wonder how long the affection will last after calling the president a soulless coward.

The interviewer, Dave Zirin, The Nation‘s sports writer, concludes the article: “Should be one hell of an NBA season.”

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, October 17, 2017.

 

 

 

Grandpa, did the President (not) say that?

President Trump’s statement and silence about white supremacy following the terror in in Charlottesville prompted a brief but telling conversation in Minnesota.

IMG_5234“Grandpa, the President just said he wants me to feel safe to play outside, right?”

“Right, Elijah, that’s what he said. That had nothing to do with the reason for the violence in Charlottesville, but, yes, he did say that.”

“Yeah, if he cares about all the children, why didn’t he say the words?”

“What words, Elijah?”

“You know, Grandpa. You know!”

“I do, Elijah. I do.”

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, August 13, 2017.

 

The Guarantor of “America Second”

Introduction: Today we share this essay by John Miller (“the OLD Philosopher”), pastor of the Chapel without Walls, Hilton Head, South Carolina, U.S.A.

“THE GUARANTOR OF ‘AMERICA SECOND'” or: “How Much Time Will It Take, and How Much Time Should He Be Given?”, June 7, 2017

For the past few weeks I firmly resolved both as a preacher and as a citizen to refrain from directly addressing vital issues prompted by the actions or statements of the President of the United States. However, as both Isaiah (62:1&6 and 64:12) and Jeremiah (4:19) said, I can no longer keep silent.

Almost immediately after being sworn into office, the President made an executive order greatly inhibiting immigration and travel to the United States by anyone from Muslim-majority nations. That was immediately struck down by two federal courts, and the Supreme Court is about to render its decision regarding the constitutionality of his action.

Then President Trump proposed to revoke and to reform the Affordable Health Care Act. The details were sparse, but the intent was there: a major tax break for the very wealthy, higher insurance premiums for many, fewer people would be covered who had pre-existing conditions, and eventually, depending on whose numbers you choose to believe, from twenty to fifty million additional Americans, in addition to those already not covered, would lose their health insurance altogether. It was dismaying. Yet it was unashamedly touted as health care reform.

Then tax reform. There would be fewer tax brackets than previously, and all taxes would go down. The biggest advantage would go to the wealthiest Americans. Millions of Americans would have to pay only 15% in taxes on their income, because they could incorporate themselves as individuals and pay the 15% corporate tax instead of the individual tax. For many taxpayers, that would lower their taxes by more than half. But again, very few details were offered.

Neither health care reform nor tax reform has gone anywhere in Congress. It is not only because of Democratic opposition; many Republicans are also opposed. How can anyone vote on something which is not clearly spelled out? Because most of the White House staff are political novices, they have no idea of how to negotiate the inscrutable but essential process of getting legislation passed. The President attempts to manage them by threatening to fire staff members. After all, he did that each week on his reality television show.

In a Wall Street Journal opinion piece, Peggy Noonan, the longtime Republican insider, wrote, “It is absurd to think the president can solve his problem by firing his staff. They are not the problem. He is the problem. They’re not the A-Team, they’re not the counselors you’d want, experienced and wise. They’re the island of misfit toys. But they could function adequately if he could lead adequately.”

Charles Krauthammer is a longtime conservative columnist. He was unrelenting in his attacks on Donald Trump during the Republican presidential primaries. A few weeks after Mr. Trump was elected, Krauthammer wrote, “With near unanimity, my never-Trump friends confess a sense of relief. It could have been worse….Admittedly, this is a low bar. And this is not to deny the insanity, incoherence and sheer weirdness emanating daily for the White House, with which we’ve all come up with our own coping techniques. Here’s mine: I simply view President as the Wizard of Oz. Loud and bombastic. Nothing behind the screen – other than the institutional chaos that defines his White House and the psychotic chaos that governs his ever changing mind.”

These are not the opinions of dyed-in-the-wool Democrats. These are lifelong Republicans writing these sentiments.

Trump ordered the bombing of a Syrian Air Force base. By doing that his plummeting ratings went up several points for several days, before plummeting again. But many citizens were pleased that the President had finally made what seemed like a sensible decision and actually carried through on it. Its sensibility is debatable.

He ordered the world’s largest non-nuclear bomb to be dropped on an ISIS complex of caves in eastern Afghanistan. He approved a shipment of arms to a group of Kurdish rebels in Turkey, despite the strong objections of the Turkish dictator Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The US has tried to keep a strong relationship with the increasingly autocratic Erdogan for years, because Turkey has been one of our strongest allies since the Korean War. That did not deter our President from taking an arbitrary action which greatly peeved Erdogan.

Diplomacy does not seem to be one of the President’s long suits. Still, it is surprising the President forged ahead to take a step he should have known would anger Erdogan. Despite that, he seems to relate better to dictators than to democratically-elected heads of state. But no one can predict what he will do, or why he will do it.

Trump attempted to prevent any tourists or immigrants entering our country from several Muslim nations where terrorists and terrorism are in abundance. Many of these are refugees from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq in which American troops have been engaged for years. Most of these particular refugees also supported our side in those conflicts. If they are not admitted into the US, some of them will surely be killed by our enemies in these wars. But because they are Muslims, and because they were born in Muslim states where terrorists find refuge, they are prevented from applying for asylum in America. It makes no sense.

In late May the Secretary of State announced that the State Department would be breaking a two-decades-long tradition of holding a reception in Foggy Bottom to mark the beginning of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. Mr. Trump considers radical Islam to be our primary enemy, as he has often stated, and he seems quickly to have acquired an extraordinary skill in creating many other radical Muslims.

The President insisted that General Michael Flynn become his National Security adviser, despite strong objections from many quarters, including Republicans in Congress. Within fifteen days Flynn was fired because of allegations over improper contacts with the Russian government prior to and after the presidential election.

Having complimented FBI director James Comey on his handling of the Hillary Clinton investigation regarding the Bengazi attack and her email problems, the President fired Mr. Comey within weeks of his compliment when the director apparently refused to stop the investigation into the growing instances of the so-called Russian Connection with the President. Early in his presidency, Donald Trump has gained the reputation of man who threatens to end or who actually ends the employment of many high-level government officials. He is a first-class firer.

It is bruited that life in the Trump administration feels secure for almost no one, save for family members. Now, even they, or at least one of them, may be in jeopardy.

The President hailed his first trip abroad as a great success. He met with members of the Saudi leadership, with Benyamin Netanyahu in Israel, and with the Pope. When he got to the NATO meeting, he managed to alienate nearly every head-of-state of every western liberal democracy gathered there. Even to hint that the US might be less committed to the major alliance in which we have been a signatory since the end of World War II is a huge military and diplomatic blunder. But he did that with no hesitation. The looks on the faces of his international counterparts spoke volumes of how very negatively his remarks were received.

A week later, after having previously alerted the press that after giving climate change more thought, he would soon be making an announcement about the Paris Accord on Climate Change. And shortly thereafter the President indeed made his statement  before a collection of sycophants. Previously there were only two nations in the world which had refused to affirm the Paris Accord: Syria and Nicaragua. Now, by his action, he rescinded the American official commitment. “So we’re getting out,” he proudly declared. But then, to honor the title of his book, he added, “We will start to negotiate, and we’ll see if we can make a deal that’s fair.”

There is no way to minimize the massive damage of the President’s speech at the NATO summit and his remarks on the lawn of the White House. His impetuous, ill-considered words are disastrous for American foreign policy. NATO was the main means of containing Soviet aggression from 1945 to 1989. It has held the line against Russian aggression from the time Putin succeeded Yeltsin as leader of Russia to the present.

As for the Paris Accord, it was never envisioned as a panacea in guaranteeing planetary environmental health. But it was widely accepted as an enormous step in the right direction. Now one unpredictable and misguided man may have erased the efforts of hundreds of diplomats to garner widespread agreement to move forward, if only in small increments. And by his impetuosity, he may also encourage other nations to back out.

*****

From the earliest days of his campaign for the Republican nomination for the presidency, Donald Trump trumpeted “America First” as his campaign motto. As President, he has persisted in maintaining that stance.

Trump has often stated that he wants an emphasis on American jobs, American products, and American power. Overtly and covertly, he turned away from internationalism in trade and diplomacy to unvarnished nationalism.

It is ironic that our President insists on “America First” as our national and international policy. The irony is that unless his policies are reversed, and quickly, we shall inevitably become “America Second.”

In only a few months, three of his pronouncements have especially eroded America’s position as Number One in the world. His attempt to ban Muslim tourists and immigrants, his thumbing his nose at NATO, and his cavalier removal of the United States from the Paris Accord have all had the unavoidable effect of elevating China into the world’s Number One position.

China, under the adroit if also autocratic leadership of Xi Jinping, has taken many long strides economically in the past few years. Their GDP has grown geometrically. Since Deng Shiaopeng led the Middle Kingdom from Maoist ideological communism into state-managed capitalism in the 1960s, China has quickly moved into second place in the world economy. Now, courtesy of the major mistakes of Donald Trump, it could be argued that suddenly China has politically moved into the Number One position. Trump has effectively knocked us out of that position all by himself.

Clearly the President never intended to do that. But just as clearly, he gave no thought to the results of the Muslim immigrant ban, the deliberate undermining of NATO, and the American removal from the Paris Accord. Donald Trump does not carefully calculate the results of anything he does; he just does it, on impulse.

*****

Elections in democracies are, by definition, democratic. Ultimately the people rule, by means of their votes. However, in the USA, the Electoral College rules, but that is the topic of another essay. By the uniquely American constitutional compromise of its Constitution, Donald Trump won the 2016 election, even if he received three million fewer votes than his chief opponent.

After the 2008 presidential election, Barack Obama said, with an uncharacteristic gloat, “Elections have consequences.” Nevertheless, no one could have adequately imagined the unintended consequences of the 2016 American presidential election.

It is constantly evident that the President’s actions are still approved by the great majority of his political “base.” It is less evident that other Republicans, particularly Republican Members of Congress, are becoming increasingly alarmed by the President’s capricious and sometimes outrageous behavior. Nonetheless, recently more notable Republican office-holders have been willing to speak out against some of the more clearly egregious actions Mr. Trump has taken as President.

It is not possible for any of us to have a detailed knowledge of every American presidency. But surely no previous President has ever begun his time in office under such a cyclone of controversy as has this President. Everyone other than the most dedicated of Trump supporters would have to admit some if not many reservations about some of the things the man has said and done.

Because of who Donald Trump is, and because of who he very likely shall continue to be, he has thrust America into a totally uncharted situation in our history. If advisors were able to deter him from his impulsive behavior, it certainly would have happened by now. But they cannot and it shall not.

We are in the midst of a unique constitutional crisis in our national history. There is nothing thus far that warrants an impeachment trial of the President. But demands for impeachment increase by the week. The demands themselves add to the gravity of our constitutional crisis, because what is demanded cannot come to pass under current conditions.

There are three “Russian Connection” investigations presently underway, the two in the two Houses of Congress and the special one by special prosecutor Robert Mueller. If any of these probes quickly turns up evidence of any “high crimes and misdemeanors” (the constitutional necessity for even contemplating impeachment), then an impeachment trial could quickly begin. Such a rapid discovery of irrefutable evidence, however, is quite improbable. By its very nature, impeachable evidence is difficult to obtain.

In the meantime, the national dis-ease grows. Most who supported Mr. Trump from the early stages of his campaign continue to support him, and apparently very few have fallen away. Many of those who were neutral about him remain neutral, though some have openly begun to question or even to denounce him. Those who were viscerally opposed to him since late 2014 are even more opposed in mid-2017. Politically the American people are fraying very badly.

John Gartner is a practicing psychologist who has taught in the Department of Psychiatry of Johns Hopkins School of Medicine for nearly thirty years. He has founded an organization which includes hundred of mental health professionals. The group is called Duty to Warn.

Dr. Gartner wrote a recent article in USA Today. It was entitled “Diagnosis: Malignant Narcissism.” Here are two paragraphs from his startling monograph.

“Psychologist and Holocaust survivor Erich Fromm, who invented the diagnosis of malignant narcissism, argues that it ‘lies on the borderline between sanity and insanity.’ Psychoanalyst Otto Kernberg defined malignant narcissism as having four components: narcissism, paranoia, anti-social personality and sadism. Trump exhibits all four….

Some say it is unethical to dare to diagnose the president, but hundreds of mental health professionals have come together to found Duty to Warn. We believe that just as we are ethically and legally obligated to break confidentiality to warn a potential victim of violence, our duty to warn the public trumps all other considerations.”

These are extremely serious allegations. Professional mental health experts would be very hesitant to affirm such statements unless they were truly convinced of their accuracy.      

Countless Americans are gravely concerned about the behavior of our President. The longer they remain silent, the more likely it is that behavior shall continue unabated. Political caution may incur incalculable damage as long as caution is the national modus operandi. How long will it take, and how much time should he be given?

At the present time, there is probably nothing that can be done to deflect the President from impulsive and disastrous tendencies. But sensibility should tell us that it is no longer either acceptable or wise to remain silent.

An enormous public outcry for the President to resign will only heighten the crisis. A man of his stubborn temperament will never resign. But also to say nothing only further encourages more of his outrages. We are faced with a massive political dilemma.

The President has had more than enough time to learn the essentials of statecraft. He has proven himself incapable of learning even the most elementary of lessons. The American people at large do themselves no service by continuing quietly to give the leader of our nation more time to conduct himself properly in his office. By now it is evident that shall never happen.

The presidency of Donald J. Trump has become a carbuncle boil on the American body politic. Until it is lanced, the problem will only get worse. Who does the lancing and when and how it is done are the questions that shall vex us until something is done.

Shall it be the Twenty-Fifth Amendment to the Constitution that solves our dilemma? How shall the boil be cured? How shall the republic be saved?

Everyone of good will has a duty to join the chorus of alarm. But what shall result from the growing turmoil is anyone’s guess.

 

John Miller is a writer, author, lecturer, and preacher-for-over-fifty-years who is pastor of The Chapel Without Walls on Hilton Head Island, SC.

 

 

 

Faux reality on Maundy Thursday

Views from the Edge re-publishes this piece from March 24, 2010. In November 2016 the American people were sucker-punched by an alarmist apocalyptic spirituality underlying the alt-right politics of Rush Limbaugh, Steve Bannon, and the candidate for president who led and funded “the birther movement”.

Maundy Thursday and Good Friday call for sober reflection on the difference between faux-reality and reality. We republish it here without updates or edits – except for a new title – for the sake of historical perspective. – GCS

Ecce homo -  "Here is the man" Albrecht Durer

“Ecce Homo” (Behold the Man), Albrecht Durer

Something from the Christian tradition – the idea of ‘the Anti-Christ’ – is lifting its ugly head, a word and concept that could trigger unthinkable tragedy unless we clean up our civil discourse.

According to Harris Interactive Poll taken between March 1 and 8, “more than 20% believe [President Obama] was not born in the United States, that he is ‘the domestic enemy the U.S. Constitution speaks of,’ that he is racist and anti-American, and that he ‘wants to use an economic collapse or terrorist attack as an excuse to take dictatorial powers.’ Fully 20% think he is ‘doing many of the things that Hitler did,’ while 14% believe ‘he may be the anti-Christ’ and 13% think ‘he wants the terrorists to win.”

The poll reflects what we all know: our civic health as a nation is being poisoned by inflammatory rhetoric from both sides of the political aisle. This toxic disregard for truth lies behind the results of the Harris Poll. Trigger words like ‘socialist,’ ‘communist,’ ‘terrorist,’ ‘anti-American,’ and ‘the Anti-Christ’ and the allegation that America’s first black president is the nation’s chief domestic enemy take us beyond the McCarthyism of the ‘50s. This cocktail is lethal.

As a Christian pastor I rue the use of Christian scripture to stoke the fires of fear and hate. The Christian life – or spiritual life of any sort, for that matter – is a life of discernment about the powers that shape ordinary life. It is not blind to evil. But loud spirituality is an oxymoron. We need to be reminded that all the great religions hold some version of the essential tenet expressed in the First Letter of John. “Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is in the darkness still” and “If any one says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar, for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him, that he who loves God should love his brother also.”

Labeling the President of the United States ‘the Anti-Christ” gives deranged minds a license to kill . . . in the name of the non-violent, crucified Jesus. If some deranged American patriot like the Marine who plotted to assassinate the President should succeed . . . God forbid! . . . the blood will be on the hands of all who remained silent when the hate speech was being poured into the public stream of consciousness. And if you claim to be a disciple of Jesus, get yourself to church Maundy Thursday and Good Friday to ground yourself again in the love that conquers hate and fear.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, Maundy Thursday morning, Chaska, MN.

“Share your story with the President”

Funny thing happened to my computer last night after replying to an unexpected whitehouse.gov email with the subject line “Share Your Obamacare Disaster Story“.

I did.

“Obamacare meant that members of the congregation I served for eight years received insurance coverage for the first time in their adult lives. It meant that children under 26 were covered by their parent’s health insurance. It meant that the American working poor were part of a movement toward having in the Unites States what all other industrialized western nations regard as a basic right to be honored.

I write this because Whitehouse.gov asked me how Obamacare “impacted” me. Although far from perfect and needing improvement, the proposals to improve the Affordable Care Act met with iron-clad resistance from a party intent on destroying it rather than improving it.

Now, today, it is estimated by reputable sources that 20,000,000+ now-insured Americans will lose their health insurance with repeal. Shame on you. In the name of Jesus and all things compassionate and merciful, shame on you! Do the right thing and stop the blame game.

Having completed the submission and click with the mouse, the President’s voice spoke through my computer, thanking me for my support and going into an extended attack against Obamacare which, he said, was getting worse even as we spoke.

When I clicked again to silence him, my computer cursor went mousey, jumping all over the screen beyond my control.

An hour or so later I watched KellyAnne Conway explaining how I could be surveilled through . . . my microwave, and I wondered whether I’d just fallen into a dark alternative universe with KellyAnne, Steve Bannon, and their boss.

Today, just in case, I think I’ll get rid of the microwave.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, March 13, 2017.

The Hoax – an Exceptional Performance

“He became President of the United States in that moment, period,” said Van Jones, one of the President’s harshest critics, on CNN’s Anderson Cooper following the President’s Address. Jones was referring to President Trump’s recognition of Carryn Owens, the young widow whose husband Chief Petty Officer William “Ryan” Owens was killed in the raid in Yemen, the first American soldier casualty in his Administration.

“That was one of the most extraordinary moments you have ever seen in American politics,” Jones added.

It was that. But did anyone else recoil at the scene and the President’s remarks? Watch her eyes and face closely. “Than you. Thank you! But then, after it went on too long, “Can we please stop now?”

She was a prop. And she was abused in her grief. Her grief was FRESH. Her husband was killed 30 days before in a raid, authorized while the President was sitting at dinner in his Margo-Lago Dining Room – a long way from the White House “Situation Room” where Presidents, Secretaries of Defense and State, and other Presidential advisors gathered for other high-risk attack like the one that killed Osama ben Ladin.

Chief Petty Officer William “Ryan” Owens’s father, Carryn Owens’s father-in-law, had called for an investigation into the raid and had refused to meet the President upon return of his son’s body at Andrews Air Force Base. Click HERE for the NPR report.

Last night’s excessively prolonged applause from the floor of Congress was “a record,” declared the President, after he used the “heroic” Navy Seal and his widow’s grief, against William “Ryan” Owen’s father objection, to establish himself as the nation’s Pastor-President, declaring that the aggrieved widow’s husband was looking down on her, and that he is “very happy. His legacy is etched in eternity.”

Are we happy now?

“That was one of the most extraordinary moments you have ever seen in American politics,”said Van Jones. It was extraordinary. Truly an exceptional performance.

It’s a hoax, folks. It was a hoax.

-Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, March 1, 2017.

 

Not good! Not good!

Learning to trust my eyes and ears took years. But now, I’m old, and I do.

What I see looking at the President’s face and body language and what I hear from his mouth send chills down my spine. I’ve seen and heard it before . . . inside the gates of  locked down psychiatric institutions.

As the President said during Friday’s press conference to shut up a reporter:

“Not good! Not good! Not good!”

Lord help us all.

 

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, Feb. 18, 2017.

Should we pray for the President?

“Should we pray for Trump?” asks The Washington Post Saturday Opinions piece by Colbert I. King.

While it’s well worth the read, we draw your attention to After Presidential power shifts, Episcopalians ask: How should we pray? which looks deeply within a single Christian denomination for a look at the meaning of prayer for the President in this time of deep national division.

Over the last eight years of ministry in a Presbyterian (USA) local church, we often used the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer‘s Prayers of the People. It became our practice to pray for the president, governor, and mayor by their first names, not because we voted for them, liked them, agreed with them, or approved of them, but because the public trust was in their hands; they, like us, were human – weak and frail, and in need of guidance; and, even though we may have despised one o them, we were called to pray for our enemies.

Increasingly I sense beneath our new President’s bravado a deep insecurity and fear, a deeply troubled, as well as troubling man. I see a lonely little boy desperate for approval playing with some very big toys. I’m doing my best to pray for him even as I pray for the world. I cannot pray for the world without praying for him. In the end he’s just Donald, and I’m just Gordon, and only God is God. God, help us all.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, Feb. 11, 2017.

 

 

Barack Obama after the Presidency?

Quote

Ever wondered what President Barack Obama will do after he leaves office? 

The President’s 50th Anniversary of “Bloody Sunday” speech in Selma, Alabama is a masterpiece in the tradition of the Church of the Bridge (see earlier post “The Church as Bridge” on Views from the Edge). Think of the President as pastor-preacher in the prophetic preaching tradition that speaks truth to power, celebrates hope, honors courage, and preaches a gospel that calls us all to cross the Pettus Bridge toward the world for which our hearts yearn.  The President’s speech was, in fact, a sermon rooted in Hebrew and Christian Scripture, freely quoted from memory.

Click HERE to hear the President on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama.