The Trump Chronicles, Volume 38: She Will Not Be Silenced (And Neither Will We)

President Trump has chosen a stunning number of cabinet members who don’t posses basic skills for the job, or who have a troubling history. His pick for Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, belongs in the second category.

He is from Alabama and in 1986 he was nominated to be a federal judge. His nomination was blocked when it came to light that he had made some racist comments. Additionally, Coretta Scott King wrote a letter opposing Mr. Sessions’ nomination.

Fast forward to this week. Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, during the senate debate, attempted to read Mrs. King’s letter. Idaho Senator James Risch objected and invoked Rule 19 that states: “No Senator in debate shall, directly or indirectly, by any form of words impute to another Senator or to other Senators any conduct or motive unworthy or unbecoming a Senator.” Until his appointment as Attorney General (and at the time of the incident), Mr. Sessions was a senator from Alabama. After Senator Risch made the charge, the senate voted along party lines and Senator Warren was removed from the debate.

Many (myself included) immediately saw this for the sexist attack that it is. I’m certain I’m not the only one who had never heard of Rule 19 and there’s a reason for that: it’s a complicated process.

In fact, I found only one time it was invoked, in 1979. It’s been threatened a few times.

But the senate’s history brims with members impute another. My best example comes from 2015 when Texas Senator Ted Cruz called Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell a liar.

It’s also worth noting that after Senator Warren was silenced other (male) Democratic senators finished reading Mrs. King’s letter.

The Trump Chronicles, Volume 37: Can Someone Explain to Him About the Balance of Powers?

As children we all learned that our nation is led by a a government that is balanced by three branches. The Legislative Branch makes laws. The Executive Branch enforces laws. The Judicial Branch interprets laws.

The Framers of our Constitution did this on purpose. We declared our independence to flee the absolute rule of one king.

I will be the first to admit it hasn’t always worked well. In 1798 Congress passed the Alien and Sedition Act that prohibited anyone from criticizing the government. In 1857 the Supreme Court ruled in favor of slavery in the case of Dred Scott v. Sandford. In 1942 President Roosevelt ordered the internment of Japanese Americans.

But these exceptions are rare. And respect for all branches undergirds our very democracy. But respect does not undergird our President.

Last June, while he was defending Trump University against a lawsuit, he charged that the judge couldn’t preside fairly because he’s Mexican (though born in Indiana).

I wrote about President Trump’s executive order on immigration last week. Lawsuits began almost immediately. Judge James Robart, a Republican appointee of President George W. Bush, halted the executive order; President Trump called him a “so called judge”.

After (we assume) hearing the oral arguments he said this:

You could be a lawyer, or you don’t have to be a lawyer. If you were a good student in high school or a bad student in high school, you can understand this, and it’s really incredible to me that we have a court case that’s going on so long. I was a good student. I understand things. I comprehend very well, OK? Better than, I think, almost anybody. And I want to tell you, I listened to a bunch of stuff last night on television that was disgraceful. It was disgraceful because what I just read to you is what we have. And it just can’t be written any plainer or better and for us to be going through this.

And so, to sum up, when he disagrees with a court ruling, he claims the judge couldn’t be fair, or the judge isn’t legitimate, or that he’s smarter than the judges.

Stay tuned, I’ll be writing more.

The Trump Chronicles, Volume 36: Did He Just Sell Us Out?

Those of us who supported President Obama learned early on that we needed to develop a thick skin. From his first days in office he was accused of not being an American. But perhaps the most puzzling false accusation was this: he doesn’t love America.

We listened to the same speeches, and we couldn’t understand how anyone heard anything that indicated he wasn’t a patriot. And in fact, none of them ever pointed to an example: a speech, a remark, a photo op.

And so we couldn’t believe what we heard on Super Bowl Sunday. President Trump, in an interview with Bill O’Reilly made comments we never expect a U.S. President would ever say.

The birth of the Soviet Union in 1917 began a century long competition between them and the United States for world domination. This competition accelerated after World War II and is commonly known as the Cold War.

Many of us believe the Cold War ended in 1991, in large part due to the policies of United States Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush (both Republicans) and Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev.

Most of us find no nostalgia for those days. But today, in 2017, we recognize that our current leaders in the United States and Russia do not share that nostalgia. And as Americans we should be worried.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, commonly referred to as a thug and a murderer, yearns for the days of the Soviet Union and the quest for world domination.

And so during the interview Mr. Trump spoke of the respect he has for Mr. Putin. In response Mr. O’Reilly called Mr. Putin “a killer.” Here is how Mr. Trump responded: “There are a lot of killers. Do you think our country is so innocent? Do you think our country is so innocent?”

I’m going to let this sit in, but at the very least he said this country is no better than Vladimir Putin. His fawning need to be liked by Mr. Putin apparently means more to him than his love of our country.

And President Obama is the one who doesn’t love this country?

The Trump Chronicles, Volume 35: Why We Need the Johnson Amendment

I wrote recently about President Trump’s remarks at the annual Prayer Breakfast. In addition to disrespecting his office and prayer, he also called for the repeal of the Johnson Amendment. Briefly it states that churches and other tax exempt organizations cannot participate in a political election and cannot endorse a candidate.

Evangelical Christians like Jerry Falwell, Jr. oppose the Johnson Amendment as limiting his free speech. We disagree on this point, but I’ll get to that later.

Right now there is a clear divide. You can belong to a church and contribute, and you can deduct those donations on your tax return. Essentially our government encourages us to belong to places of worship and donate to charities. And if you want to contribute to a political campaign, you can do that but you can’t deduct those monies.

But if places of worship can take political stands, it won’t take long for overtly political groups to claim that they are churches.

Don’t believe me? Let’s look back at Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. In 2010 the Supreme Court held that corporations and unions are “persons” and are protected by the First Amendment. This led to an explosion of “social welfare groups,” or 501(c)(4) groups. Political campaigns recognized that they could set up a 501(c)(4) social welfare groups without having to disclose who is supporting them (as do Super PACs). This essentially allowed wealthy people to donate to someone’s campaign anonymously. They specifically avoided transparency.

So how do you create a church and register it so your parishioners can deduct their contributions on their tax returns? It’s actually pretty easy, and you can walk through the process on the IRS page. Nowhere does it say anything about beliefs or teachings, or doctrine.

Earlier I spoke about disagreeing with Jerry Falwell, Jr. Here’s why: I’ve spent nearly all my adult life in the world of religion. Since 1980 I’ve been a seminarian, a youth minister, a director of religious education, a deacon, a priest, and a hospice chaplain. During all that time I’ve been identified by my role. I’ve also been a registered voter since 1978. People who know me have known my political views, and how those views have changed over the years. As an American I’ve been enthusiastic about my personal political views.

But from day one I’ve recognized that when I’m representing my church I cannot and should not tell others how they should vote. When I’ve preached, in any venue, I’ve recognized that I serve those I preach to. I care deeply about their moral compass and how they make decisions, but I care not at all about who they vote for. The Johnson amendment protects members who love what their pastor preaches and disagrees with who their pastor votes for. As Americans we need this distinction.

I call all of of us to oppose the repeal of the Johnson amendment.

The Trump Chronicles, Volume 34: Maybe She Was Thinking of Kent State

Last week President Trump issued an executive order blocking anyone from seven nations for 120 days (except Syria where it’s open ended).

During the past week several members of Mr. Trump’s administration have tried to portray this as an emergency order to protect American lives. This past Thursday Trump advisor Kellyanne Conway appeared on Hardball with Chris Matthews on MSNBC. This is what she said (and I got this from an Associated Press article from the Los Angeles Times:

President Obama had a six-month ban on the Iraqi refugee program after two Iraqis came here to this country, were radicalized, and they were the masterminds behind the Bowling Green massacre. Most people don’t know that because it didn’t get covered

Oh dear, where to start. Let’s start at the beginning with Ms. Conway’s claim that President Obama instituted a six month ban on Iraqis. rated this “mostly false.” In 2011 the State Department slowed issuing of SIV’s (Special Immigrant Visas) after finding that two Iraqi men entered the United States and were living in Bowling Green, Kentucky who shouldn’t have been let in. Because of this the Obama administration added layers of vetting of immigrants from Iraq, but by 2012 the process was back up to full speed. And it bears stating that they slowed one type of visa from one country.

But this wasn’t what made Ms. Conway look like an idiot. She spoke of the “Bowling Green Massacre.” At first I thought she was talking about Bowling Green State University in Ohio, or perhaps the four people killed on May 4, 1970 at Kent State University in Ohio. Problem is, there is no such thing as the “Bowling Green Massacre.”

Never one to miss an opportunity to play the victim, she responded by saying she only misspoke one word. Instead of massacre she should have said terrorists.

Yeah, but it was an important word. She and the rest of the Trump administration have shown us a stunning appetite for falsifying events to advance their agenda (see also Mr. Trump’s claim that his inaugural crowd was the largest ever).

By the way, if you want a giggle, the Bowling Green Massacre has a funding page. You can click here. Full disclosure: it links you to the donation page for the American Civil Liberties Union.

The Trump Chronicles, Volume 33: Disrespecting the Prayer Breakfast

On Thursday President Trump spoke at the annual National Prayer Breakfast. President Eisenhower began this tradition in 1953.

For those of us who find great power in prayer, this has been an important event. It’s a time to gather and to pray for and with our President, even the ones we didn’t vote for. And we expect the President to come to the breakfast in humility and respect. I’ve spoken before about how this President shows a lack of respect for his office. Thursday we saw how he holds the prayer breakfast in the same contempt.

This is a quotation from his remarks:

But we had tremendous success on “The Apprentice.” And when I ran for President, I had to leave the show. That’s when I knew for sure I was doing it. And they hired a big, big movie star — Arnold Schwarzenegger -– to take my place. And we know how that turned out. The ratings went right down the tubes. It’s been a total disaster. And Mark will never, ever bet against Trump again. And I want to just pray for Arnold, if we can, for those ratings, okay?

Mr. Trump famously craves attention and approval. Apparently he will choose any venue, even a prayer breakfast, to settle scores and puff up his own ego. Mr. President, those of us who value prayer are ashamed of you.

The Trump Chronicles, Volume 32: The Immigration Order Is Just a Bad Idea

Last Friday President Trump issued an executive order suspending entry into the United States from seven nations (Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen). For six of the seven countries the suspension will last 4 months; for Syria it will last indefinitely.

This created chaos on an epic scale. In a tweet on Monday President Trump claimed that only 109 people were detained out of 325,000. Like many of his claims, this was blatantly untrue. An excellent article in the Washington Post estimates the number at about 90,000. You can read about this here but some travelers were blocked from boarding planes, others were detained once arriving on U.S. soil.

This order covered anyone coming from these countries, regardless of their status. Some had travel visas, others had student visas, some were refugees, and some had “green cards” (non citizens who are here legally and can work here). Eventually those who had green cards were allowed in.

President Trump insists he did this to prevent terrorists from entering the United States (like the terrorists from 9/11) and the four month delay allows “extreme vetting.” But refugees come here only after incredible vetting. Right now it takes between 18 and 24 months. Several people endured this process and were on the verge of finally coming here when they were stopped by this executive order.

So President Trump, here’s my question: If these people spent 1 1/2 to 2 years being vetted, and we’re convinced they pose no threat, what do you expect to learn in the next 120 days?