The Porch Swing

It’s only been ten days. And it may be worse than we imagined.

In the meantime, a personal story:

Like the fall season this year, the fall of 1963 was a time of unthinkable, unspeakable misfortune, as well as a time of natural death. I was five years old. John F. Kennedy—my mom idolized him—was killed in November.  C. S. Lewis, the great Christian writer I would later come to admire as a young evangelical, died on the same day Kennedy was shot. So did Aldous Huxley, whose Brave New World introduced many Americans, in 1932, to a fictional dystopia—and as we witness the creation of the Trump administration here in 2016, we can see that what is coming may be no dystopian fantasy. It could be all too real.

The fall of 1963 also saw the assassination of Ngo Dinh Diem, president of the Republic of (South) Vietnam. The United States government had apparently sought the overthrow of Diem and not his murder, but his death—the killers cut out his gallbladder while he was still alive—would nevertheless lead to greater instability and chaos, which meant greater American involvement in a war in Vietnam that would ultimately cost more than 58,000 American soldiers their lives and would lead to a profound lack of trust in the integrity of our government and the basic honesty of our leaders. That war, the first to be brought into our living rooms by way of television, also demonstrated just how powerful broadcast journalism could be, for good and, as this past election cycle demonstrated, for ill. Thus, one can plausibly argue that the televised Vietnam War, and the cultural cynicism it fathered, helped bring us what we see today in Trump and the deviance and decline he represents.

As remarkable as the deaths and events late in 1963 were, they did not much concern me, a five-year-old boy living in Kansas, in a little town called Fort Scott. Something much more important happened in my life that year, something that changed my world forever. On December 5, Louis Edward Lowry passed away. He was my grandpa. Everyone I knew called him “Pop.”

My mother and father both worked. My dad was a union cloth cutter who commuted to a coat factory twenty miles from home. My mother worked at a “dime store” downtown. Thus, most working mornings I was put in the hands of Pop, my grandmother having passed away a few years earlier. His tiny, fatigued frame house, at 1835 East Oak, was only two long blocks from mine, just up the hill on the edge of the city limits. He had a few cows and some chickens and the smartest dog you ever saw, named Tippy. Pop would always cook me a nice breakfast and lunch, and throughout the day I would drink the coldest and tastiest water in the world from an old tin dipper he had hanging in the kitchen. I can still see the patina and dents. I just wish I could taste the water again.

Pop, who was born in 1888, had once been something of a pool hall hustler. According to family legend, his cue skills were unmatched by the locals. He was really good. There is little doubt that his gambling helped his large family—he had 10 kids—through some tough times. As did his craps shooting. My dad wouldn’t play with him because Pop had a bad habit of taking his money.

popThose things about Pop I didn’t know until later. The Pop I knew at five was a devout believer, a man of God. He prayed a lot. I remember my mom telling the story of how he once prayed a burned-out light bulb back to life. I heard other stories like that. And I believed them. My grandpa was larger than life to me.

Next to his house, just down a small hill, was an empty lot Pop used for planting. I’m sure he grew a lot of things, but I just remember the corn. And I remember the corn because it is tied to the oldest, perhaps most disturbing, memory I have.

After breakfast that December day, Pop and I, with Tippy following, went down the hill to his dried-up garden to get some corn stalks for the cows. We walked back up to the house and around toward the back, past the primitive chicken coop, to where an old wire fence barely kept the cows contained. Just before getting to the pen, Pop turned around toward me and told me that we had dropped some of the stalks and I needed to go back and get them. I looked back and, sure enough, there was one or two dried-up corn stalks on the old narrow sidewalk in front of the house. Right in plain sight.

I obeyed. I got the stalks. When I came back, Pop was flat on the ground, face down. His head had landed such that it was just underneath the old, curled-up wire fencing. One of the cows was licking through Pop’s white hair. I shooed it away again and again, as I tried to wake up my grandpa. But he wasn’t moving. I began to get scared.

On the front porch was an old swing that Pop and I sat on together. That was to be my refuge for I don’t know how long. I sat on that porch swing and rocked. And rocked. And rocked. I didn’t know what had happened. I knew nothing at all about death, about how people die and what that might look like, what it might feel like. I just knew I was frightened and confused—and very much alone.

It happened that my uncle, one of Pop’s boys, pulled up in the driveway. I don’t know why Johnny showed up when he did or why he was there. And I don’t know how long I had been alone on that swing. But I do know I was glad to see someone, anyone. Uncle Johnny got out of his old car and began to gesture toward where Pop was, shouting at me about leaving my winter coat out like that. He had not noticed that the dark heap he saw out by the cows was not my coat. I told him. It’s Pop. And from there, I don’t remember anything that happened, except the arrival of a large black car, men whispering and women crying, my heartbroken mother among them.

Did my grandfather know he was going to die? Did he send me away so I wouldn’t see the moment he was to fall, in an attempt to shield me from something little boys shouldn’t witness? I used to think so. As I was growing up, I used to think that Pop had a special kind of relationship with God, one that involved the two of them speaking back and forth, one that enabled Pop to hide his moment of death from me. Now, I just don’t know and can’t know.

What I do know is how hard that little boy, rocking on that porch swing, tried to cope with all the fear and confusion. How hard he tried, in the only way he knew how, to deal with something he had never seen, something beyond his control. Pop just would not wake up. He never would. I would never see him again. Tippy, who never left Pop’s side, who would bow his head as Pop said grace, would soon wander off and get killed by a car on the highway leading out of town. All that is tough stuff for a little boy. It is tough stuff for grownups, too.

As I sit here, ten days removed from that devastating election, I think about that little boy on his grandpa’s porch swing. I think about how he felt. About how little he knew of the world, how it works and how it doesn’t, how things live and how they die. Part of me wants to reach back in time and tell him to never leave that swing. To just keep rocking. Because too often there is little comfort in the truth, in facing reality. Once you leave that swing, you never know what might happen, what you might find out. Stay put.

But another part of me is wiser. We can’t just sit. We can’t just ignore what is happening simply because it is too terrible to contemplate. We have to get up and do something. Dystopia will certainly come if we don’t. It may even come if we do. After all, societies, like grandfathers, don’t live forever. But even if our cultural demise is inevitable, we can at least try to push back the date. Yes, the election of Trump is a significant sign of American decline. And it is likely there is more decline ahead. But what real choice is there but to fight?

How to fight is what I am now trying to figure out.

 

Always Winter, Never Christmas

Image result for the white witch

I have been unable to clearly think through all the possibilities, or impossibilities, of a Trump presidency. Honestly, it has been much too terrifying to contemplate, to imagine. I just can’t do it. Maybe later.

Right now, what I have mostly is a feeling.

In C. S. Lewis’s fairy tale, The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, the White Witch put a spell on Narnia: there would always be winter and never Christmas. Nothing to look forward to except more bone-chilling cold. That’s what this world with President-elect Trump in it feels like to me. A chilling winter with no end in sight. And this paralyzing season doesn’t come with a blanket of beautiful, stunningly white, fresh-fallen snow. The snow I see piled up everywhere is spoiled and dirty and unsightly. Kids can’t play in it. Thoughtful grownups can’t look on it without dread. And fear. Fear that it will never melt, never go away, that a thaw is not in sight. It appears that no amount of low-heat light from a low-sky sun, no flip of a cosmic calendar, no miraculous forecast, can deliver us from this Narnian nightmare.

For some of us of advanced or advancing age, we may never again awake with this nightmare behind us, forgotten with the newness of another day. Four years, we might tell ourselves. Four years isn’t that long. “We can and will survive his term,” we might be tempted to whisper as therapy for our pain. But it isn’t just four years. Or eight years. It’s a generation of a Supreme Court lost to the forces of reaction. It’s a generation or two of young Americans who will face the consequences of doing nothing about a warming planet. And it is the lingering doubts about our democracy. That it is on the brink of a breakdown. That, paradoxically, it may be too late to save it from its own hands.

How fascinatingly ironic it is that it was the Founder’s fear of the ignorant and noisy rabble—a fear that fathered a system in which the popular-vote winner doesn’t win— that will now ensure that the ignorant and noisy rabble will rule. The Electoral College, which was designed to subdue the will of hot-blooded people and cool the nation’s temperature, will soon bless what feels like a perpetual chill. When it votes in December, the Electoral College will in effect become Trump University. It will be perpetrating a democratic fraud by making him president, so he can go on perpetrating his own fraud and enriching himself from the White’s House.

But the Electoral College-turned-Trump University actions next month will do more than make a bloated and bigoted grifter our leader, a leader who, as we can already see, will bring with him to Washington hearts and souls like his own. The electors empowered to vote will memorialize a sad and disturbing truth about us as a people: too many Americans are in love with their prejudices and pale-faced pride. And now they have a champion willing to make them feel at home, feel like they have retaken once-lost ground. And that national fact about some Americans makes too many other Americans, the majority who actually voted for Hillary Clinton, dangerously suspicious of a system that allows a minority of Americans to plunge us into a melancholic wintertide. If that suspicion turns into an incurable cynicism, we are truly doomed.

We now know that a great number of our fellow citizens have a very different understanding of citizenship, a very different set of political and moral values. That’s why it feels so much like a winter without Christmas, a winter without the hope of spring. Trump and Trumpism represent an open rebellion against, a repudiation of, what we thought were unimpeachable American values, what we thought was a universal thirst for equality, a collective hunger for tolerance, and a welcoming spirit. A summer of American progress now seems like a distant memory, or a good dream that has evaporated with eye-opening reality.

All of this brings on a dilemma, as most crises do. For those of us who see Trump for who he is and see his voters as either fools or willing participants in his pageantry of bigotry and hate, what are we to do? Can we tolerate and welcome Trump and his voters in a spirit of reconciliation? I have heard many voices this week try to articulate a need for us all to make peace with each other and move on. The peaceful transfer of power is the one American value we can all agree on, these earnest and hopeful people, including President Obama, tell us.

Well, sure. Peace must rule or ruin will certainly come. But there will be no reconciliation. At least as far as I’m concerned. It is one thing to be friendly toward and tolerant of people who don’t share your politics or your political solutions to the country’s problems. And it is one thing to break bread with people who have different religious views from yours. Or who don’t like your favorite sports team. Or who hate your kind of music. Of course we should make an effort to understand and appreciate all kinds of people who don’t share our religion or our politics or our likes and dislikes.

But it is quite another thing to pretend that our friends or family or neighbors or coworkers who posted or promoted hate-filled bigotry during this election cycle—and there was a lot of it on Facebook and beyond—are people with whom reconciliation is possible. No, no, no. As strange as it sounds to say, there is no tolerating the intolerable. There is no welcoming those who want to tear down an inclusive America, who don’t value diversity. There is no welcoming those who are willing to reject learning and knowledge and science in favor of ancient pride and prejudices. There is no embracing the unembraceable. Hugs won’t fix the divide between those who think Trump is a national savior and those who believe that if he is the savior then the nation is not worth saving.

Trump does not deserve my respect. He did not respect President Obama. He bullied his way into the electorate with racist attacks on Obama’s citizenship. He didn’t respect the job of president enough to learn anything about it or the world. He literally trashed the process and anything or anyone who got in his way. He said he would jail his opponent. He invited in the Russians to sabotage her chances.

And Trump voters do not deserve my respect. By electing him they did not respect our national values and appreciate the beauty and power of a nation of immigrants. Many of them were cheerleaders for his ignorance, for his racism, for his verbal and predatory misogyny. Others had a cultish attachment to him. Still others saw him as a way to blow up a system that so many people depend on.

And Republican Party leaders do not deserve my respect. They sabotaged Obama’s presidency from start to finish. They made the government dysfunctional and then capitalized on the dysfunction by lying to the electorate. They erected barriers to voting for too many young voters and voters of color. They failed to appreciate the fragility of a nation built on an idea, an idea that has evolved over time to now include “all people” under “all men are created equal.”

Finally, there are those who didn’t attempt to vote and those left-wingers who voted for a third party. In some ways these people deserve even more scorn than Trump voters. To purposely not participate, when an authoritarian-talking, vengeful, disordered monster was on the ballot, is unforgivable. For them to say they thought Trump could never win, or to say that there were no good choices, or that they were too busy working, is no excuse. At least Trump voters had the virtue of actually fighting for something, albeit a horrible something. There is no virtue in apathy.

And for those on the left who did see the danger of Trump but failed to distinguish that danger from their hatred of Hillary Clinton and who then voted for Jill Stein or Gary Johnson, they may be the worst of all. My contempt for these people is probably deeper because I am closer to them in their vision for the country. We share many ideas and many policy prescriptions. That’s what makes their behavior so disgusting. They knew Trump’s presidency will end up hurting vulnerable people. But they didn’t really give a damn. Some of them openly rooted for a Trump victory, so the country could hit bottom, so then a bottom-feeding electorate would turn to the left for its next meal. Well, to hell with these people. Their temperament and tactics are no better than the Trumpers.

So, there you have it. My feelings four days into our new cold world. None of the people above deserves my respect. And they will not get it. All they will get is a promise of peace, as I find a way to make it through this long winter and, in some way, break the spell of the White Witch.

“You Can’t Be Forever Blessed”

Many’s the time I’ve been mistaken
And many times confused
Yes, and I’ve often felt forsaken
And certainly misused
Oh, but I’m all right, I’m all right
I’m just weary to my bones
Still, you don’t expect to be
Bright and bon vivant
So far away from home, so far away from home

I don’t know a soul who’s not been battered
I don’t have a friend who feels at ease
I don’t know a dream that’s not been shattered
Or driven to its knees
Oh, but it’s all right, it’s all right
For we’ve lived so well so long
Still, when I think of the road
We’re traveling on
I wonder what’s gone wrong
I can’t help it, I wonder what’s gone wrong

And I dreamed I was dying
And I dreamed that my soul rose unexpectedly
And looking back down at me
Smiled reassuringly
And I dreamed I was flying
And high above my eyes could clearly see
The Statue of Liberty
Sailing away to sea
And I dreamed I was flying

Oh, we come on the ship they call the Mayflower
We come on the ship that sailed the moon
We come in the age’s most uncertain hour
And sing an American tune
Oh, but it’s all right, it’s all right
It’s all right, it’s all right
You can’t be forever blessed
Still, tomorrow’s going to be another working day
And I’m trying to get some rest
That’s all I’m trying to get some rest

© 1973 Words and Music by Paul Simon

It’s Cancer.

The doctor, armed with our election test results, just told us what somehow we already knew: America has cancer. Stage 4.

Let us hope that our radiation therapy doesn’t come in the form of a nuclear holocaust.

In the meantime, goodbye.

America’s Bone Marrow Biopsy

Even though I don’t want to, every year I have to see my doctor. He won’t continue my prescriptions if I don’t, so I go. And every time I go he tells me I need to have “blood work” done. “You’re at the age now where we need to take a look,” he says. But I refuse. I just won’t submit to the tests. Why? Because I am one of those people who worry about what the results might be. I worry that the tests might show something is going on inside me that would scare me to death. How did I get to this ridiculous point? Let me explain.

Around 25 years ago I had an illness—some kind of severe blood infection—that resulted in a four-day hospital stay. My doctor couldn’t figure out what was wrong with me. He eventually came in one day and said, “I think you may have leukemia.” Huh? Leukemia? Me? He said he wanted to do something called a bone marrow biopsy to see what was going on. I easily consented. It hurt, but I was so sick I didn’t care.

I was released from the hospital to await the results of the bone marrow test. It took a week. In the meantime I thought I was doomed. I read all I could about leukemia. It appeared I had all the symptoms. Yes, I was definitely doomed. I worried and worried and worried, and the worry and stress damaged by digestion. I was nauseated most of the time. Something was wrong and leukemia seemed like the culprit. No doubt about it, I thought.

When I finally got the news that I actually didn’t have cancer, I was absolutely relieved. But the way the doctor delivered the news unnerved me. He said something to the effect, “You don’t have it right now.” He was, I suppose, only making a weirdly placed technical point, but it planted a terrible thought in me. Even though I eventually got myself back to where I had been physically, the psychological damage was done. I knew eventually that something would get me. I had only dodged the bullet this time. If it wasn’t leukemia, it would be something else. No more tests for me, as foolish a notion as that is.

This election, it turns out, is a bone marrow biopsy on America. And like before, I am scared. But this time I fear for our country. What is going on in our national bones? In a bone marrow test the idea is to find out whether your bone marrow is producing healthy Image result for bone marrowblood cells, or whether you have some kind of disease like cancer. This election will ultimately decide whether the obvious infection coursing through our democratic blood—Donald Trump and the alt-right racists and xenophobes and conspiracy nuts he has attracted and normalized—is actually cancer or whether it is something less severe, but still troubling, still able to negatively affect our quality of life as Americans.

No matter who wins on Tuesday, America—understood as one nation united under certain political and moral assumptions—is sick. And we cannot blame our sickness only on Donald Trump. The pathology he represents has been with us since our founding. It afflicts every self-governing civilization to some degree or another. In modern times, America’s democratic immune system has mostly been strong enough nationally to fight demagoguery, bigotry, xenophobia, and other forms of blood- and marrow-fouling hate. In the past we have been strong enough to reject malignant figures like Trump, who has cheated his way through life, molesting women, workers, and the truth.

But there are signs our immune system is weakening. We have symptoms of something terrible going on inside us.

Our FBI director inserted himself, and his agency, into the electoral process ten days ago. James Comey helped Donald Trump and the Republicans, whether he meant to or whether he was merely covering his own behind or whether he was “extremely carelessImage result for james comeyin his handling of the email investigation. He, and the rogue agents inside the bureau who have been leaking damaging (and unsubstantiated, if not false) information about Clinton, have sullied the reputation of an agency we all need to trust, at least as far as elections go. Millions and millions of Americans voted between the time Comey first suggested there was election-affecting significance in a trove of emails found on Anthony Weiner’s laptop and Comey’s subsequent letter on Sunday saying, essentially, “never mind.” All of that unnecessary and damaging institutional interference is a bad sign of something within America going wrong, but it is not the worst sign.

Generally, the behavior of our political press, which in theory is supposed to protect our democracy from demagogues and dangerous authoritarians, is a more ominous sign that we are in deeper trouble than we might care to admit. In this election cycle, political journalism has ingloriously failed to protect us from a quasi-fascist. Trump can win on Tuesday. That fact itself is enough to cause us to worry that something is terribly wrong with contemporary profit-based journalism and the democracy it helps to preserve, even though there have been several reporting heroes out there like Newsweek’s Kurt Eichenwald and The Washington Post’s David Fahrenthold.

Another worrying fact is that, judging by results, campaign reporters have managed to make Hillary Clinton more untrustworthy to voters than a deluded pathological liar. Focusing on her email controversy (which is, and always has been, a whole lot of nothing) and using Russian-supplied stolen material, they have virtually convicted her of high crimes and misdemeanors—or simply made her appear sneaky and sleazy. The effect has been that large numbers of voters believe that both Clinton and Trump—who is clearly a stranger to facts and a friend of fraud—are equally unworthy to hold office. During the election coverage, Donald Trump’s outrageous and dangerous displays of unhinged behavior faded with every news cycle, but Hillary’s emails, no matter how trivial they were, never went away.

These journalists, taken as a whole, have managed to make a self-admitted adulterer and sexual predator—with many accusers courageously coming forth to confirm Trump’s predation prowess—morally equal to someone whose husband has cheated on her and who is made to pay for his sins—or in the case of the Comey intervention, pay for the sins of Anthony Weiner. Additionally, television journalists and their producers have particularly ignored nearly every substantive issue, which has benefited a policy-stupid Trump and hurt Hillary Clinton, who knows more about domestic and foreign policy than perhaps any candidate in modern times.

Polling and the click- and ratings-increasing melodrama it creates has dominated the campaign coverage, while one researcher found that only 32 minutes of air time on the big three nightly news casts this entire year have been devoted to matters of substance—and 24 of those minutes were spent on terrorism and Middle East issues. “No trade, no healthcare, no climate change, no drugs, no poverty, no guns, no infrastructure, no deficits,” the Tyndall Report says. Most Americans, those who get their news from television anyway, don’t have the slightest idea that Trump’s policy ideas are ridiculous and ridiculously unrealistic, or that Hillary Clinton’s are as comprehensive as you are ever likely to see from a presidential candidate. Yes, that journalistic failure is definitely a symptom of something seriously wrong.

Wrong too is the fact that too many Americans get their news on social media platforms or self-select their news sources to avoid news they don’t want to hear. We all know how it goes: Uncle Bill posts on Facebook some propaganda from a fringe website and off it goes, selectively reproduced by those who believe it is true because it has to be true. Facebook itself is to blame for propagating a lot of misinformation, as Vox makes clear:

Facebook makes billions of editorial decisions every day. And often they are bad editorial decisions — steering people to sensational, one-sided, or just plain inaccurate stories. The fact that these decisions are being made by algorithms rather than human editors doesn’t make Facebook any less responsible for the harmful effect on its users and the broader society.

Add all that to the failure of institutions like the FBI to remain neutral in a presidential election and to the profit-obsessed political press that has too many voters confused about the quality of the candidates and we can see that the country has some troubling issues to overcome. But none of that compares to the biggest problem we have: one of our two major political parties is hopelessly disordered.

The Republican Party is the worst symptom of our national disease. It’s crotch-groping presidential candidate last night rallied with crotch-groping Ted Nugent, perhaps the most vile human being breathing American air. Earlier this year Nugent said Hillary Clinton and President Obama “should be tried for treason & hung.” He has called Clinton “a toxic cunt” and a “two-bit whore” and a “worthless bitch.”  But the Republican Party, and the Christianity for which it stands, still cannot manage to denounce Trump for embracing Nugent, an NRA board member. Sick? You betcha.

Maybe sicker is this: The GOP has in many places been at war with democracy by deliberately trying to suppress voters it perceives as political enemies. Thankfully the courts have often intervened on behalf of self-government for all, but not always and not always comprehensively. The story of Republican attempts at suppression has largely gone unreported on television news programs. It is scandalous. But it’s not something most political journalists, or their bosses, find worthy of coverage. I suppose the voter-suppression story doesn’t generate as much income as the gladiators fighting in the pit.

Then there is the fact that not only have most Republican leaders embraced Trump and Trumpism, but some Republicans in Congress are suggesting that Hillary Clinton, even if she triumphs on Tuesday and becomes our first female president, will not really be the president. She will be subjected to enhanced obstruction techniques, to endless investigations and disruptions. Republicans appear willing to waterboard her presidency before she’s even sworn in. In the Senate, some Republicans are suggesting she will never get any of her Supreme Court nominations confirmed. Ever. This is another scandal that not only reveals a nasty pathology in the veins of the Republican Party, but, again, reveals the failure of political journalism because this outrage has largely gone unreported, at least compared to poll results and email news.

Here’s the deal. We know this election season we have had problems with FBI leaks and some shoddy journalism and a grungy Republican Party. But does America really have the social equivalent of cancer? Allow me to quote from the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society:

Leukemia begins in a cell in the bone marrow. The cell undergoes a change and becomes a type of leukemia cell. Once the marrow cell undergoes a leukemic change, the leukemia cells may grow and survive better than normal cells. Over time, the leukemia cells crowd out or suppress the development of normal cells. The rate at which leukemia progresses and how the cells replace the normal blood and marrow cells are different with each type of leukemia.

Is the emergence of Donald Trump and his extremist followers a sign that cancerous cells in our national bone marrow—which cells undoubtedly exist—have begun to “crowd out or suppress” normal cells? We will know the answer to that on Tuesday night. If Trump wins, we are in trouble. We will have failed the bone marrow test. The worst diagnosis will be upon us.

More likely at this point is that Trump does not win but refuses to go quietly and civilly. If that happens, we will obviously still face big trouble down the road. We will need aggressive treatment—what that entails is anybody’s guess at this point—for our pathology, and most Republicans, as noted, can’t be counted on to help, especially if they retain their command of Congress. Congressional leaders are perhaps the biggest part of the problem and will do all they can to feed the cancer, rather than eradicate it. After all, they actually need Trump’s legion of angry white voters to win future elections.

Speaking of whom, here is an entry on leukemia from the Mayo Clinic:

Leukemia usually involves the white blood cells. Your white blood cells are potent infection fighters — they normally grow and divide in an orderly way, as your body needs them. But in people with leukemia, the bone marrow produces abnormal white blood cells, which don’t function properly.

In so many ways, this election has been about “abnormal white blood cells,” angry or agitated or aggrieved white voters who find Trump appealing. As many people have pointed out by now, how ironic, if Hillary Clinton wins tomorrow, that it will be people of color who save, at least temporarily, the country from a full-blown Trumpian cancer. It will be people of color who are the “potent infection fighters.”

So, Americans are, like I was long ago, awaiting the lifestyle-changing, perhaps life-threatening, results of an important test. Whatever happens on Tuesday, America will wake up on Wednesday. We may wake up diagnosed with a severe case of national leukemia, with a President-elect Donald J. Trump.  Or we may wake up to the good news that Trump’s presidential hopes are dead. If so, we can rejoice. But we can only rejoice for a day. Trump may be dead as a potential president on Wednesday, but a leukemic Trumpism will still be very much alive in our national bone marrow and bloodstream. How much it thrives will, ultimately, be up to We The People.

Vote.

Barabbas, Trump, And The Death Of The Right-Wing Jesus

jesus-on-trump-cross

I will begin this post with a note to my religion-minded readers. I’m not opposed to religious belief. I’m not opposed to spirituality. I’m not opposed to faith in a higher power. What I am opposed to is the cult of certainty that surrounds so many religions or belief systems. I’m opposed to fundamentalism, to the kind of beliefs that lead to the beheading of infidels in Syria and to the murder of abortion providers in Kansas.

I also want to say that I’m not even opposed to belief in Jesus. Even though I am a former conservative evangelical Christian, I don’t get too worked up over anyone who still does believe, who holds on to the idea that Jesus was killed and then awakened by God as if he were merely sleeping. Such beliefs are your business, as far as I’m concerned. If they motivate you to do good, all the better. If they motivate you to put down others and condemn them, shame on you.

But because I am a former conservative evangelical Christian, because I still closely follow the Religious Right and its attempt to influence, if not control, public policy, this post is about the Jesus of the conservative evangelical movement, the Jesus who conservative Christians say we all should follow and submit to as we await his promised return. This post isn’t necessarily about your Jesus, the one you worship in your church. It is about the Jesus I grew up with, the one I worshiped as an evangelical right-winger, the one that so many prominent evangelical leaders present to us from their pulpits, or on television or through the radio or the mail or, these days, online. And that “family values” Jesus—the Jesus of Pat Robertson, James Dobson, Tony Perkins, Jerry Falwell, Jr., Ralph Reed, and other prominent Religious Right leaders—is at this very moment hanging on a cross, a Trump cross, being tortured to death in a way even Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ understates.

The New Testament tells us that Pontius Pilate, the governor of Roman-occupied Judea from AD 26-36, observed the alleged Jewish Passover custom of allowing the public to commute the death sentence of one prisoner held in custody. According to the biblical accounts, Pilate offered to the crowd a man named Barabbas, who was an anti-establishment revolutionary, or Jesus of Nazareth, who claimed to be the son of God. Unfortunately for Jesus, the crowd chose Barabbas. I thought about that story when I read this morning about yet another evangelical pastor who is endorsing Donald Trump. We can add Reverend Tony Suarez to a long list of evangelical Christian leaders who have chosen their Barabbas over their Jesus.

Three months ago, a prominent and influential conservative theologian, Wayne Grudem, authored a piece for Townhall called, “Why Voting for Donald Trump Is a Morally Good Choice.” Grudem’s intellectual credentials are sterling: the man graduated from Harvard (BA), Westminster Seminary-Philadelphia (MDiv. DD), and took a PhD from Cambridge (yes, that Cambridge). In his pro-Trump article, Grudem says he “has taught Christian ethics for 39 years.” In other words, he’s no Jimmy Swaggart from Ferriday, Louisiana.

Grudem told us in July that, despite Trump’s many, many flaws, voting for him “is the morally right thing to do.” Here is a stunning paragraph from a professor of conservative Christian ethics:

He is egotistical, bombastic, and brash. He often lacks nuance in his statements. Sometimes he blurts out mistaken ideas (such as bombing the families of terrorists) that he later must abandon. He insults people. He can be vindictive when people attack him. He has been slow to disown and rebuke the wrongful words and actions of some angry fringe supporters. He has been married three times and claims to have been unfaithful in his marriages. These are certainly flaws, but I don’t think they are disqualifying flaws in this election.

Please note something very important: Grudem categorized Trump’s infamous call for the murder—the murder—of the families of terrorists as just one of several “mistaken ideas.” To Grudem, Trump’s call for murdering innocents was not a morally disqualifying policy statement, not a terrifying glimpse into Trump’s terrifying mind, but merely a mistaken notion that can easily be overlooked because Trump abandoned it (well, no he hasn’t). If such reasoning represents Christian ethics, then there are no Christian ethics.

Grudem came to regret that article, after Trump’s “pussy” recording came out. Suddenly, our pedigreed professor of ethics found his moral footing. Writing again for Townhall, he said,

I previously called Donald Trump a “good candidate with flaws” and a “flawed candidate” but I now regret that I did not more strongly condemn his moral character. I cannot commend Trump’s moral character, and I strongly urge him to withdraw from the election.

The respected evangelical theologian said Trump’s “vulgar comments in 2005 about his sexual aggression and assaults against women were morally evil and revealed pride in conduct that violates God’s command, ‘You shall not commit adultery.'” Yes! Finally, Grudem was on an ethical roll:

I have now read transcripts of some of his obscene interviews with Howard Stern, and they turned my stomach. His conduct was hateful in God’s eyes and I urge him to repent and call out to God for forgiveness, and to seek forgiveness from those he harmed. God intends that men honor and respect women, not abuse them as sexual objects.

Amen! All was right with the world after all. A prominent Christian professor of ethics had found his way back to the ethical! Thank you, Dr. Grudem!

But wait. What? He changed his mind again? Again? Yes. A week ago. He wrote:

I overwhelmingly support Trump’s policies and believe that Clinton’s policies will seriously damage the nation, perhaps forever. On the Supreme Court, abortion, religious liberty, sexual orientation regulations, taxes, economic growth, the minimum wage, school choice, Obamacare, protection from terrorists, immigration, the military, energy, and safety in our cities, I think Trump is far better than Clinton (see below for details). Again and again, Trump supports the policies I advocated in my 2010 book Politics According to the Bible.

Without Trump repenting, without Trump calling out to God for forgiveness, without Trump seeking forgiveness from those he wronged—in fact he’s called them all liars and threatened to sue them after the election—Dr. Grudem nevertheless has, again, chosen Barabbas. And that deplorable turnabout represents the Jesus I have known all my life being nailed to a Trump cross. Such tortured reasoning by a renowned evangelical theologian represents the slow torture of the right-wing Jesus, the one shoved down our throats election after election, the one used to trash Democratic candidates and Democratic policies, the one offered as condemnation of liberalism’s alleged moral failings, or of the real moral failings of liberal candidates.

The conservative-created Jesus is up there hanging on a cross in front of Trump Tower, where so many right-wing evangelicals have gone over the past year to cast their lots with the Republican candidate. The Trump-branded Jesus of conservative evangelicalism is dying before our eyes. And no matter whether Trump wins or loses the election, that Jesus will soon be dead and buried. Like the crowd who supposedly stood before Pontius Pilate so long ago, evangelicals on the Religious Right could have chosen Trump or they could have chosen their family-values Jesus. But they couldn’t choose both. Overwhelmingly, judging by the polls, conservative evangelicals have made their choice. And this time there will be no resurrection from the dead. There will be no Easter Sunday for the Jesus of Wayne Grudem or Jerry Falwell, Jr., or Pat Robertson. And I, for one, will be glad to see that Jesus gone forever.

Who Runs The Government Matters For Reasons Other Than National Security. Here Is Just One.

Back in 1997, after the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) was signed into law by Bill Clinton, some right-wingers were placing the blame on Hillary (surprise, surprise). But by all objective accounts, Mrs. Clinton did play a significant role as First Lady in getting her husband’s administration to not only push for the bill, but stay with a more generous version of it, after House Republicans had cut down its funding (surprise, surprise). Ted Kennedy, who was the leading legislative force behind the CHIP bill, gave Hillary credit for providing “invaluable help, both in the fashioning and the shaping of the program.” 

Today, according to the government, 8.4 million kids are enrolled in CHIP, which covers children whose parents make too much money to qualify for regular Medicaid but not enough to afford private insurance. The program provides qualified kids with health coverage and their parents with, well, some peace of mind. CHIP is funded by both the states and the federal government and likely would be insuring even more kids today if George W. Bush had not vetoed an expansion of the program in 2007 (surprise, surprise). Why did he veto it? Did he hate children? Nah. The bill contained a tax increase on cigarettes to pay for the expansion and Bush told Congress that he “was willing to work with its leadership to find any additional funds necessary to put poor children first, without raising taxes.” In other words, Bush put children second and lower cigarette taxes first (surprise, surprise).

As you can theoretically see, it matters who manages the government, both in Congress and the White House. Barack Obama signed an expansion of the program in 2009, which helped more children and pregnant women. The program was renewed again in 2015 with overwhelming bipartisan support (although there was a “discussion draft” created by right-wingers that was designed to reduce the number of those covered). But it is worth noting three of the eight Republicans in the Senate who opposed that renewal in 2015Ted Cruz. Marco Rubio. Jeff Sessions. All three have a Trump connection. Cruz and Rubio infamously ran against him and more infamously support Trump despite saying horrible things about him. And Sessions was the first big-timer to legitimate Trump and has been his most prominent defender on Capitol Hill.

There were also 33 Republicans in the House who opposed the renewal of CHIP. One of them was Jim Bridenstine, who essentially represents Tulsa, Oklahoma, in Congress. Bridenstine recently blasted Speaker Paul Ryan for not supporting Trump: “If Paul Ryan isn’t for Trump,” he tweeted, “then I’m not for Paul Ryan.” Well, we all know that Trump has repeatedly and forcefully vowed to get rid of the Affordable Care Act, which, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, helps “strengthen coverage for children and financing for CHIP.” Again, it matters very much who creates legislation, votes on it, and signs it into law—or doesn’t.

In the case of CHIP, most Americans may not care about who did what and who didn’t. Most folks don’t need the program and probably don’t know anyone who does. Thus, it is an abstraction, something that doesn’t necessarily matter all that much. Sometimes, though, people need a reminder of how much programs like CHIP matter to their fellow citizens and who it was out there fighting for them. Here is one such reminder:

Margaret Sanger, American, World Hero

“We should not have Planned Parenthood exist at all, because we should have a national health care system that covers men, women, and children, where they get full options for all their health care, including reproductive.” 

—Alex Sanger, grandson of Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger

Alex Sanger told Vox that he was twelve or thirteen years old when he saw his grandmother, Margaret Sanger, give her last speech in 1960. She was around 81. She “spoke for about 15 minutes about her struggles and about her vision,” he said. More Americans should know about those struggles and that vision.

You should read all of Vox’s interview of Alex Sanger to better understand how profoundly Margaret Sanger changed the world and how hard it was to do it. Along with her sister and a friend, Sanger—a hundred years ago—opened the country’s first birth control clinic in Brooklyn. That eventually led to the Planned Parenthood we know today. Here’s how the organization’s official website described what the courageous women’s rights activist faced in 1916:

In Sanger’s America, women cannot vote, sign contracts, have bank accounts, or divorce abusive husbands. They cannot control the number of children they have or obtain information about birth control, because in the 1870s a series of draconian measures, called the Comstock laws, made contraception illegal and declared information about family planning and contraception “obscene.”

Her grandson added this:

I mean, she saw women on the Lower East side of New York and in Brownsville, Brooklyn who were dying from self-induced abortions because they could not have any more children. They simply couldn’t. They couldn’t cope with the children they already had. She saw rampant infant mortality; the infant mortality rate was close to 40 percent in the slums of New York, and she considered this an affront to decency and civilization.

The city of New York’s solution was to open milk stations. And her solution was birth control.

Alex Sanger also remarked on what he called the “great universal among women,” even in 1916:

they wanted to make something of their lives other than childbearing. They wanted the chance to have their children survive. They wanted the chance to be good mothers and nurture the children they had.

Those things don’t at all strike anyone as outrageous demands here in 2016. And that is the point. That they don’t sound outrageous is due to people like Margaret Sanger. And it’s too bad that many young women today don’t fully appreciate that the long struggle to nImage result for margaret sangerormalize women and empower them was directly related to getting women the right to control their own reproductive lives.

And those same young women don’t seem to understand that there exists in this country a reactionary movement that has as its number one goal the limitation, if not complete restriction, of a woman’s right to make her own child-bearing decisions. Donald Trump has pledged to defund Planned Parenthood, often the only resource for poor women seeking birth control. Right-wingers in Congress are more than willing to make sure the defunding happens. That’s a far cry from the historical fact that it was both Republicans and Democrats who fought to liberate women and give them control of their bodies and thus control of their lives.

Margaret Sanger went to jail many times. At one time she was exiled from her country. She started “the first scientific journal devoted to contraception.” She spent half a century trying to change laws regarding birth control, finally and fully succeeding in 1965, a year before her death. And as her grandson Alex said,

It was her idea to create a birth control pill, and she found the scientists, put together the money. It took her almost ten years, but the birth control pill was the result. She did that in her 70s — it was really extraordinary.

Yes. Extraordinary. And she was able to move her liberating message and resources around the world—International Planned Parenthood Federation is working in almost 200 countries.

Like any of our cultural heroes, Margaret Sanger wasn’t without blemishes. Her flirtation with eugenics is something even her grandson cannot condone. But Alex Sanger is on solid ground when he says,

I’m obviously biased, but I can’t think of anyone who’s done as much for the welfare of humanity as my grandmother. A hundred years ago, women and children were dying in droves. And now they’re not. Women are in the workplace, and contributing to the fabric of our society and to the world, and hopefully a women is going to be our next president. This is made possible by women being able to control their fertility, have the children they want when they want them. And she was the one who started it.

And Donald Trump can be the one who ends it.

Trumpangelicals: Explain These To Your Sunday School Class

 

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Trump Jesus

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[H/T to New York Magazine. Photo credits from top to bottom: Michael L. Brown/Twitter; John Bazemore/AP; David Martosko/Daily Mail; Ben Jacobs/Twitter; Matt Stopera/BuzzFeed; Matt Stopera/BuzzFeed; Unknown; Unknown; M. Scott Mahaskey/POLITICO; CNN; Dennis Nett; Dominic Holden/ BuzzFeed; Chris Snyder/Twitter; Jenna Johnson/ Twitter; Heart of Platinum/Twitter; Molly Ball/Instagram; screen shot from MSNBC; Associated Press; Sally Kohn; James McLeod; Philip Rucker; Don Gonyea/NPR; Mark Wallheiser/Getty Images; Jim Acosta/CNN/Twitter (screen shot of video); Jim Acosta/CNN/Twitter]

Michelle. Barack. Period.

It would be hard to find two more powerful speeches given on the same day. I’ll miss them when they’re gone:


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