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April 17th, 2016
I’m writing you this letter in the hopes that you will learn. I write sincerely hoping you will read this in humility. The Presidency requires some basic understanding of how our nation runs and it’s clear that you’re behind the curve.
Last June you announced your intent to run for President as a Republican even though your party affiliation is questionable. I wrote about this here but let’s face it: Your credibility as a Republican is suspect at best.
Given that, it’s not surprising that your complaining of the process of choosing a candidate is unfounded.
You see, you’re complaint boils down to this: The process of choosing a nominee cheats you and your supporters.
But it really doesn’t. The process is complicated and Byzantine but it’s ultimately intended to put forth a candidate who has the best chance to win the general election.
But more to the point, your remarks point to your ongoing refusal to pay attention to the process of how candidates are chosen. You complain that “this is not a democracy.”
In fairness, you’re right: we are not a democracy. We’re a republic. I know this is complicated, but I’ll make it as easy as I can.
In a democracy voters make all the decisions: all legislation is voted on by all the voters. A republic, on the other hand, elects people (members of congress) who represent us, and they vote on legislation. This makes sense on a few levels. Even back in the 1700s it would have been arduous for every voter to vote on every piece of legislation. But it would be impossible now. Since January of 2015 the 114th Congress has passed 143 laws (out of 9,095 proposed).
But that’s not the only reason. In 1787 and 1788, James Madison, John Jay, and Alexander Hamilton wrote a series of essays we now call the Federalist Papers. They were written under the pen name “Publius.”
The Federalist Paper, Number 10 was written by James Madison and he spoke to this issue. He wrote about the danger of factions and Don, I think you should look closely at this.
James was afraid that a faction would gain enough votes to push this new nation into a bad direction; he recognized that, even before social media, we could get caught up in this “dangerous vice.” He felt that electing representatives (congress) would prevent this.
Don, I’m writing this because you clearly haven’t done your homework on how our nation runs. This has become evident in the last few days when you’ve argued that the delegate selection is rigged.
But, and I say this with all due respect, it isn’t rigged. All political parties make their own rules on how they choose their nominee. When it comes to the Republican Party everyone else running has done their homework and you haven’t. Now that this has been found out, you can’t blame the teacher, you can’t blame the principal, and you can’t blame the school board. You have only yourself to blame.
I pray you don’t become our next President, but if you do, you need to do your homework. You’ll be called to negotiate complex multinational treaties. You’ll be called to meet with other world leaders who have done their homework who will expect that you’ll be able speak with some intelligence and competence. And you’ll be called to make hard decisions where there just isn’t time to “bring you up to speed.”
I know this isn’t easy for you to hear, but you need to stop being lazy. You’ve run your campaign without doing the hard work of learning how to be President. You’ve filled halls with people who like you and you’ve made certain that nobody with hard questions gets anywhere near you. Of the few times where you’ve actually taken questions you haven’t done well (do you really believe that women who have abortions need to be punished?).
We choose a President every four years and we do so with great expectations. We expect a President who will keep us safe but we also want more. We expect a President who has a vision of who we are and where we are going. We don’t want a President who speaks to our worst fears and governs by exclusion.
Don, get to work.
April 5th, 2016
Donald Trump’s campaign makes several claims. I’ve been fascinated by one: Vote For Me Because I’m Rich. He has essentially said that he can be successful as President because he’s been smart enough to get rich.
But here’s where it gets hard. Don claims to be worth $10 billion but there’s really no way to verify that. Some believe his net worth is half that.
But that’s OK. Let’s take him at his word and believe him when he says he is worth $10 billion.
Many times during his campaign he’s bragged that he started his career with a “small loan” of $1 million from his father. But he won’t tell anyone when he got the loan or how long it took him to pay it back.
In any case, let’s accept the fact that he got the loan shortly after he graduated from college in 1968. Assuming his math and timeline, he has turned $1 million in 1968 to $10 billion in 2016. That’s a gain of 10,000%. That’s impressive.
But let me tell my own story. I’m much younger than Don, and I graduated from Woodbridge Senior High School in 1978. My parents gifted me with an electric razor that was probably worth $35.00
Now don’t think I was cheated. My father was weary of my using his razor and gave me one of my own. And this was long before high school graduations commanded trips to Europe, SUV’s or other lavish gifts. Most of my classmates received gifts of a similar nature and none of us felt cheated.
Fast forward to now. In the 38 years since my graduation I’ve done many things, but now my wife and I are worth about $2 million. This comes from the value of our house, our cars, and the money we’ve saved for retirement. I won’t bore you with the details, but here’s my point:
Donald has increased his value by 10,000%. I’ve increased mine by 57,000%.
Full disclosure: I’ve been blessed. Much of my education at George Mason University, Boston College, St. Patrick’s Seminary, and Catholic University were paid for by my parents, the Stigmatine Fathers, and the Paulist Fathers.
But unlike Donald I’ve never declared bankruptcy. He claims he has never filed for “personal” bankruptcy but his companies have filed four times.
By Donald’s measure, I’m more successful than he is.
March 31st, 2016
Last October I suggested that this election would mark the end of the Republican Party.
I argued that registered Republicans may claim the same party but hold different views. Almost all Republicans claim allegiance to President Reagan and view his Presidency with nostalgia. They all claim to be “Reagan Republicans.”
But they aren’t.
The “mainstream” Republicans looked to Jeb Bush and expected to have wrapped up the nomination by this time. Jeb favored smaller government and garnered significant popularity from his time as governor of Florida. His wife, Columba, was born in Mexico. They married in 1974 and she became a US citizen in 1979. Clearly he was the best candidate to reach out to the fastest growing demographic in our country. And, by the way, Jeb had the best argument to claim the mantle of Ronald Reagan. His candidacy never got footing, and now most of his supporters are looking at Ohio Governor John Kasich.
Christian Conservative voters looked to Ted Cruz. They recognized that his successful Texas Senate campaign in 2012 made it clear he did not join the Senate to make friends. Most Senators recognize that they best serve their constituents by cooperating and working together with other Senators. But Ted and his supporters believe they are not following their own agendas, but God’s. And if you believe you are advancing God’s agenda, any compromise with your opponents diminishes your commitment to God’s agenda and places your soul in peril. In October of 2013, against the wishes of the Republican leadership, Ted forced a 2 week shutdown of the federal government over his call to repeal the Affordable Care Act. It didn’t work, it made his party appear out of touch, and it made much of the Republican Party hate him. But for his supporters it made him appear brave and visionary.
The libertarian wing of the Republican party has always attempted to find their voice. They believe that government should provide for a national defense and almost nothing else. They claim that the framers of the Constitution worked hard to limit the role of government in the lives of individual Americans and the expansion of government, particularly in the last 80 years, has betrayed their memory. They hold that only the free market can adequately pick winners and losers and social welfare programs incentivize the wrong people. They favored Rand Paul (and earlier his father Ron Paul). This wing never had much of a chance but they were OK with that.
The greatest surprise of the 2016 campaign (and the topic that will be written about for decades to come) comes from Donald Trump. He is a real estate developer and has never held elective office. When he began his presidential bid in June of 2015 he wasn’t given much of a chance. But he successfully tapped into long simmering anger among many Americans, and he drew huge numbers of people to his cause. And so what is his cause? It’s hard to pin down but Don’s rhetoric comes down to this: Washington is broken. The people you have elected for the past 50 years have betrayed you. They promised to serve you and make your life better but instead they made themselves comfortable at your expense. It’s time to throw them out and “make America great again.” I’m wealthy and smart and I know how to get things done. I will fulfill the promises the establishment promised.
So here’s the problem: John Kasich simply does not have the support he needs to lead. Ted Cruz’s promise of a “Christian Caliphate” emboldens conservative Christians but frightens the rest of us. There just aren’t enough libertarians to go anywhere. And Donald’s ongoing xenophobic, misogynist, racist and hateful remarks only shows us he cannot lead.
This doesn’t make headlines, but there are Republicans who have already recognized that they don’t have a candidate who can beat Hillary. Neither Trump or Cruz will have enough votes. But a Cruz nomination will at least keep the GOP intact while a Trump nomination will not.
If the GOP dies in 2016, conservatives will regroup, but it’s hard to know how.
March 24th, 2016
I know that we all carry certain dates in our memories: our birthday, the birthdays of our spouse, children, siblings, friends, etc.
Today is one of those days for me.
On this day in 1909 my maternal grandmother, Imelda Mailloux Cazeault was born in Gardner, Massachusetts. Blessed by good fortune I was able to spend part of my summers growing up with her and my grandfather, Thomas Joseph Boyle Cazeault. She died on August 9, 1981 and I was blessed to be one of her pallbearers. I miss her still.
My grandmother was blessed with 72 years among us. Alas, the other memorial is sadder. My father’s older brother, Andre Joseph Allain (who continues to be known as “Tonto”) was born on March 24, 1928. He died tragically and accidentally on July 4, 1964. I was four years old and don’t remember him. But my parents, cousins, aunts and uncles have filled in the blanks. By all accounts he would have become the “cool uncle” that I would have revered. That said, I had several “cool uncles:” Uncle Chet, Uncle Ed, Uncle Joe, Uncle Norman (who is still alive), Uncle Ziggy, Uncle Al, and Uncle Roland.
That said I’m sad I didn’t get to know Uncle Tonto. Happy Birthday to you both.
March 17th, 2016
Ten years ago today I drove off with my brand new Toyota Prius. At the time I wasn’t sure how long I would keep it, but I generally keep cars for as long as they last. Ten years and 218,860 miles it’s still getting me where I need to go.
Three years ago I had to replace the large battery and that was a few thousand dollars. But other than that, a few minor repairs, and routine maintenance, it’s been great. The first battery lasted seven years and when I replaced it I assumed I’d keep it for the life of the second battery. There’s no way to know how long this battery will last, but assuming I have four years left, that may do it.
I’ve averaged 21,886 miles per year (and assuming all trends continue) the odometer will read 306,404 on March 17, 2020. At that point it will be a 14 year old car and I don’t imagine I’ll pony up for another battery.
But who knows?
March 14th, 2016
In the last month or so we’ve been hearing about unacceptable levels of lead in the drinking water in Flint, Michigan. How did happen?
First some background: Like cities all over the country, Flint looks to its past for it’s best days. In the first half of the 20th Century, Flint prospered from the automobile industry. But when their plants closed in the 1980s their population dwindled and it became harder to raise the money to run the city.
Previous to 2014 Flint purchased its water from the city of Detroit who got water from Lake Huron (you can read about this here). But in an effort to save money the leaders in Flint decided to switch over and get their water directly from the Flint River. Almost immediately residents of Flint noticed a change in their water quality. You can find an excellent article here.
But the real danger was not the color or smell of the water, but elevated levels of lead. In response to ongoing protests by Flint’s citizens the city began to test the water. There are a few heroes here, and one of them is LeeAnne Walters. She was a loud critic of the water and when the city tested the water coming out of her tap, they found something alarming.
The Environmental Protection Agency claims that no lead is acceptable, but by law 15 parts per billion (ppb) is allowed. The water coming out of the Walter’s tap: 400 ppb. When she had her children’s lead levels tested, they all tested positive and one of them received a diagnosis of lead poisoning. Lead levels in children cause irreversible brain damage.
LeeAnne, digging through city documents, learned that when Flint switched water providers they failed to provide “corrosive controls” that prevented lead from water pipes to leach into the water supply. During this time local and state officials continued to insist that the water was safe even when they knew it wasn’t.
So how did this happen? Alas, this has led to the hand wringing and finger pointing that has become all too common in our current political discourse. There are calls for the resignation of Governor Rick Snyder.
This won’t solve anything. I’m frustrated by the fact that whenever we uncover a crisis we look for a scapegoat instead of looking to a permanent solution. The phrase drinking the Kool Aid owns a place in our vocabulary for a reason. In 1978 nine hundred and thirteen people willingly committed suicide by drinking cyanide laced Kool Aid because they were told to by Jim Jones.
Since 1978 the phrase “drinking the Kool Aid” has expanded to people who sacrifice their integrity for job security. This, I believe, informs what happened in Flint. This, I believe, explains why officials in Flint and Lansing continued to lie to the good people of Flint about the safety of their water. They sacrificed the safety of children they will never meet to ensure they won’t lose their job.
Really? Yes. It’s hard to imagine but job security matters to people. Fear is a frighteningly powerful motivator and the fear of losing our job easily leads us into dangerous territory. Flint and Lansing are full of bureaucrats who lied about water safety and prayed they would get away with it.
The other factor is even worse. Those in power knew that they would likely never meet the people their decisions would affect. The African American population in Flint is currently 53.27%. They are poor and black and easy to ignore. Lying about the dangers to children you’ll never meet is easier than lying about your neighbors.
Sadly I’ve witnessed times where people I knew “drank the Kool Aid.” I’ve seen people who, under pressure to “not make waves” or “go along” or “not be a problem” have remained silent when they should have said something. And even more sadly, I have to admit there have been times when that person was me. I pray those times not happen again.
That said, there are heroes in Flint right now. I told you about LeeAnne Walters. I also want to give a shout our to Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha.
Let us all aspire to be LeeAnne’s and Mona’s and let us pray that no more children are damaged by cowardice.
March 3rd, 2016
Many of us (or at least some of us) spent last Tuesday watching the news to see how the different candidates fared on “Super Tuesday.”
We learned that it was a good day for the frontrunners. Of the 11 state races in the Republican race, Donald Trump won 7, Ted Cruz won 3, and Marco Rubio took 1 (Minnesota).
Meanwhile on the Democratic race, Hillary Clinton won seven and Bernie Sanders won four.
At this point in the election cycle it appears that it’s Hillary’s and Donald’s to loose. For Democrats it’s the news that surprises no one. Bernie has successfully awakened several groups: young Democrats, socialists, people who believe that wage unequality makes us weaker, and people who strongly favor Single Payer Health Care. But Hillary has been a household name for 24 years since her husband was elected our 42nd President.
On the other hand the Republican party is in full panic mode. Last October I posted the possibility that this election could well lead to the death of the Republican Party. I argued that the current GOP consists of several factions that are only coming into view now.
Trump speaks to Republicans who feel the United States is no longer the leader of the world and need to reclaim it. They believe that we Americans are under attack by immigrants from Mexico, Muslims from Syria, and the Chinese who benefit from trade deals that steal American jobs.
Cruz speaks to Republicans who have a strong belief in a Christian God. They believe that God chose America to be (as Ronald Reagan called it) a shining city upon a hill. America will be judged by God based on whether we follow God’s laws. Abortion, gay marriage, and cooperation with Muslims anger God and will make us weaker. Our country needs to reclaim “family values” and our worst enemies are those who choose “political correctness” over faithfulness to our Creator. A vote for Cruz guarantees God’s blessing.
Rubio speaks to the “establishment Republicans.” They speak to an America where government is limited, free enterprise is valued, and laws are passed only when they need to be. In previous election cycles he would have claimed the best road to the nomination. Unfortunately he is seen as “part of the mainstream” and an upstart.
The panic over the concept of Trump nomination has caused the GOP to run in several directions. Some, like Chris Christie have sold out and back Trump, hoping for a cabinet post.
This morning we listened to a speech given by Mitt Romney. Mitt warned that Trump has no idea what he’s doing and that he’s suckering his supporters.
It appears there is no realistic path to Trump coming into the GOP Convention with a majority of delegates. But if he doesn’t come with more than 50% of the delegates we will have what’s often called a brokered convention. The hope then lies in Trump’s opponents coalescing around one candidate and the combined delegates outvote Trump.
Many of us see this as a possibility but I still think the more likely path forward is that another Republican announces an independent candidacy. My money is still on Ted Cruz but other possible candidates include Michael Bloomberg or even Mitt Romney.
Fasten your seatbelts. It’s going to be a wild ride.
February 27th, 2016
In the course of my work as a hospice chaplain I have the opportunity to speak with all sorts of people with all sorts of experiences, and of all sorts of ages.
I recently had a chance to speak with a 12 (nearly 13) year old girl whose relative was on hospice. We spoke about the usual things, including the question of what she’ll do when she grows up. She was equal parts hopeful and fearful. I remember well thinking I had to choose a path as a teenager that would inform the rest of my life. But now I know how silly that was.
In my parents’ generation most people worked in the same field (if not with the same employer) for their entire career. In my generation most of us worked in the same or related fields for a good part of our career, even if we had multiple employers. That’s the case with me. I’ve had a few unrelated jobs: I worked at libraries in Woodbridge, Virginia and at Mount Vernon College, and I spent 6 months working for the Salvation Army.
But the bulk of my career has centered on faith. I’ve been a seminarian, Director of Religious Education, Youth Minister, priest, and hospice chaplain. Interestingly enough, I’ve spent the last 18 years as a hospice chaplain, a position that barely existed when I was twelve. As a matter of fact, it was a volunteer position until 1982.
When speaking with this young lady I encouraged her to dream big and recognize that she may well spend a good part of her career in a field that doesn’t even exist now. I graduated from high school in 1978 and none of my classmates found their future in internet startups, only because the internet didn’t exist.
But our conversation got me thinking about what I would say to the 12 year old me if I had the chance. Here’s what I think I would say:
- Forget about your classmates whose approval you crave. By the time you’re 30 you won’t even remember their names. They are playing the same “please like me” game you’re playing and if they are more successful it won’t translate into anything with meaning beyond high school.
- You know that teacher who won’t let up on you? The teacher who keeps telling you that you can do something you don’t think you can (or want to) do? That’s a name you’ll remember. This teacher gave you a gift: you’re more than you think you are and you’ll be more than you think you’ll ever be. Say a prayer for him or her.
- Oh yes, and that girl who doesn’t know you’re crazy about her? Yeah, maybe she’ll be your girlfriend and maybe she won’t. Maybe you’ll be too shy to talk with her or maybe she’ll shoot you down. In any case you’ll find the person for you and you’ll be happy she did the same.
Finally, relax. None of the stuff you worry about will really hurt you. You never saw your greatest gifts and your greatest tragedies coming. And yet you find yourself still here and your greatest tragedies were you best teachers.
And while your greatest tragedies were your best teachers, your greatest gifts were your best celebrations. Maybe it was the day you got married, likely it was the day your children were born, but in any case they were experiences you cannot explain, only experience. And worst of all, you don’t have the vocabulary to fully translate how you’re feeling at that moment.
February 24th, 2016
I’ve written about this topic often, but it continues to fascinate me. The Republican primary is running in directions that nobody could have predicted. A year ago Jeb Bush was the presumptive nominee and he was swimming in money. It was his to lose.
But in June Donald Trump announced his candidacy and at that time few thought of him as a serious candidate. Don came with no experience in governing anything, a history of avoiding responsibilities for his mistakes by declaring bankruptcy, and very little experience as a Republican.
But for numerous reasons Donald’s numbers have gone up while Jeb’s tanked. Many of us (myself included) expected Don to flame out in late summer or early fall. Or late fall. Or early winter. Or…well, you get the point.
In an earlier post I spoke about the possibility that the Republican Party may well fracture because different Republicans point to different values. There are “mainline” Republicans who favor smaller government but see their path as one of cooperation and coalition building. Marco Rubio speaks to this group. Christian conservatives populate another faction. They strongly believe that we are one nation under God and we are subject to God’s laws. They agree with the idea of smaller government but they also believe that government must defend traditional marriage, ban abortion, and ensure Christians never be compelled to violate their beliefs. They see our future best defended by Ted Cruz. Donald Trump speaks to a group much larger than anyone expected. They believe that government is so broken that someone from the outside, someone who has a track record of getting things done, who is not afraid to say bold and even offense things gives us our best path forward. They look at Don and believe he can translate his success in real estate to making “America great again.”
Last fall I honestly thought that he would flame out, lose Republican support, drop in the polls, and announce an independent candidacy. As a Democrat I saw this as good news. Trump and the Republican nominee would divide the Republican vote and the Democrat would win.
Now I’m not so certain. It’s true that we are in the delegate count’s early stages (and you can track that here) but Trump continues to steam ahead. Perhaps he will still flame out, but the “Republican establishment” is trying to figure out what to do.
I suspect that if Trump’s momentum continues and his delegate count rises, he will not leave the Republican race. I suspect Ted Cruz might.
Ted comes to the 2016 race with decent Republican credentials. After graduating from Harvard Law School he clerked for William Rehnquist and later served as the Solicitor General of Texas. In 2012 he was elected to the United States Senate.
But as a member of the Senate he went out of his way to offend his fellow senators. House Speaker Sam Rayburn (1882-1961) famously stated: “You have to go along to get along.” Ted never got the message. He has consistently claimed the “high moral ground” as a rational to prevent progress in Congress.
The U.S. Constitution grants Congress the power to write the annual National Budget for the President to sign. This gives the Congress the “power of the purse” and allows Congress to defund any program they don’t like.
Several times Congress has refused to fund the government over budget disagreements and when they do the “federal government” shuts down. This means that thousands of ordinary government employees (including my sister) stay home, don’t do their work, and pray that they won’t be docked the time they lost while Congress and the President can’t get along. It also means that National Parks close and a host of other services are out of reach.
This may be a long way around my point but Ted has made his career based on not playing well with others. Simply put, other senators hate his guts and not even Republican senators want him to be President.
Since Ted is behind in the delegate race, and since he has no loyalty to himself (and claims a loyalty to God), I wonder this: if Donald Trump appears to be winning the GOP nomination, will Ted leave the Republican party and run as a candidate of his own party? I think there is a real possibility that Ted will claim that he is God’s candidate and will found his own party (perhaps called the Christian Party). He will run on a platform that the only way forward for our country lies in following God’s Law.
February 22nd, 2016
A few days ago we got the results of the Republican primary in South Carolina and the Democratic caucus in Nevada. There was no surprise that Donald Trump won South Carolina and won all 50 delegates. It was closer in Nevada, but Hillary Clinton got he victory she needed. Interestingly enough the Republicans now travel to Nevada and the Democrats to South Carolina.
Jeb Bush called it quits, and even people like me who would never have voted for him feel a little sadness. Last year at this time he was seen as the presumptive GOP frontrunner but his campaign never got traction. Frankly, this had nothing to do with the man, and possibly everything to do with his last name.
We find ourselves at a time in our history when large swaths of our population grow weary of “politics as usual” and are apparently willing to gamble on outsiders without the experience, temperament, or skills to lead. Too many Republicans looked at Mr. Bush and had no stomach for another Bush/Clinton campaign.
I disagree with many of his positions, but I do respect him as a man, a husband, and a father. I wish him well.
I’ve begun to keep track of the delegate count in both parties here and I’ve removed Jeb from the table.