The Thoughts and Musings of Tom Allain

If this is going to be a Christian nation that doesn't help the poor, either we have to pretend that Jesus was just as selfish as we are, or we've got to acknowledge that He commanded us to love the poor and serve the needy without condition and then admit that we just don't want to do it

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(b.1964)

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Archive for February, 2016

I Had a Conversation That Made Me Think: What Would I Say To Me at Twelve Years Old?

Saturday, 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.

The Election Chronicles, Volume 25: What Happens if Trump Gets the Republican Nomination?

Wednesday, 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.

The Election Chronicles, Volume 24: Coming Out of South Carolina, Minus One Candidate

Monday, 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.

The Election Chronicles, Volume 23: Keeping Track of the Delegates

Saturday, February 20th, 2016

Four years ago I set up a table to keep track of delegates for each of the two major parties. I mistakenly believed that it would be an easy task, but instead soon found that different media outlets disagreed on the numbers.

There are several reasons. The road from vote count to delegates won can be arduous. In the 2012 Iowa Caucus Mitt Romney appeared to be the winner, but the final results showed that Rick Santorum edged him out. Additionally, both parties invite unpledged delegates (oftentimes called “superdelegates”) who may voice a preference but don’t have to cast their vote until the convention.

And so once again I’ve built a table that tracks several media outlets and their delegate count. I only have a few now, but I suspect that as time goes on, more media outlets will have their own trackers.

Interestingly enough, as I write this, all three media outlets show exactly the same numbers. I suspect they are all getting their numbers from the Associated Press.

You can find my tracker here.

Justice Antonin Scalia (1936-2016)

Monday, February 15th, 2016

Saturday we received sad and unexpected news: Justice Antonin Scalia died in his sleep.

He leaves a clear legacy. He was nominated to the Court by President Reagan prompted by the retirement of Chief Justice Warren Burger (1907-1995). President Reagan nominated Justice William Rehnquist to fill the Chief Justice’s post. He then nominated Antonin Scalia to replace Rehnquist; Scalia was confirmed unanimously by the Senate on September 17, 1986.

In the nearly 30 years since his appointment virtually all of us learned a few things: his views consistently skewed conservative and his intellect was second to none. We view each other across a long political divide (ie, I’m as liberal as he is conservative) but we actually agreed on how we interpret the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Among them is the case of Maryland v. King. This case, from 2012, questions whether law enforcement has the right to collect DNA through a cheek swab from someone who has been arrested (but not convicted). He and I believe this constitutes an unfair search and seizure and violates the fourth amendment.

That said, we have different philosophies on the Constitution. He considered himself an “originalist.” That means he believes that in interpreting the Constitution we should look only toward the intent of those who wrote the document.

I respect that, but I hold more to the philosophy of Chief Justice Earl Warren (1891-1974) who felt that the Constitution was a “living, breathing document.” Earl and I hold that our basic understandings of truth, morality, and how treat each other, develop over time. Just as our understanding develops, so should our interpretation of the Constitution.

My best example lies in Justice Warren’s flagship decision: Brown v. Board of Education. In 1954 the Court held that schools could no longer segregate students by race. It overturned the 1896 decision Plessy v. Ferguson that allowed “separate but equal” segregation.

Originalist arguments must hold that the Court has no right to demand integration because the authors of the Constitution included slave owners and likely none of them would have held that the races are equal. None of them would have supported a decision that virtually all of us find necessary.

I argue for the “living breathing” interpretation because I value progress. I pray that whoever claims Justice Scalia’s seat also looks to progress.

That said, I was saddened but not surprised by the immediate response of the Senate Republicans. Seemingly before the mortuary arrived to pick up Justice Scalia, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced that President Obama “had better not” nominate Justice Scalia’s successor because the “American people” should have a say in his successor.

He is delusional on several fronts. He claims that since President Obama’s Presidency is in its last year he is a “lame duck” and shouldn’t nominate anyone. This ignores the fact that President Reagan nominated Justice Anthony Kennedy who was confirmed in the last year of his administration. Furthermore, our Constitution claims nowhere that there are conditions on the President’s ability to nominate a justice. There is no “lame duck” exception.

Finally, and this runs through both terms in the Obama Presidency, the Republican leadership refuses to play by the rules. According to the Constitution the Senate is responsible for providing “advice and consent” of Court nominees. Mitch McConnell, et al, have announced that they will not fulfill their responsibilities.

Simply put, they are in contempt of the Constitution.

The Election Chronicles, Volume 22: More Winnowing

Wednesday, February 10th, 2016

We woke up this morning to find the winners in New Hampshire. It was a good night for Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders and the end of the road for Chris Christie and Carly Fiorina who both suspended their campaigns.

By any metric this campaign is one for the books. Trump and Sanders are sucking up most of the interest and neither are faithful members of the parties whose nominations they seek. I wrote about this in a previous post: Trump has bounced around to several parties and Bernie describes himself as a Socialist while caucusing with the Democrats.

Despite reams of articles who claim that these are signs of the apocalypse, I don’t believe that either of them will ever be President. It’s become fashionable to decide that government is broken and needs new people or new ideas or whatever.

But at the end of the day we have a large and complex government. We expect our government to protect us from foreign invaders (and even the Libertarians believe this). But we also demand that our government embody our basic values.

Our government was born on September 17, 1787 when the delegates to the Constitutional Convention signed the final document. To this day, 229 years later, we all look to this document (and the amendments that followed) as the blueprint of how our nation runs.

Today the role of President demands a skill set that would have bewildered our founders. We live in a nation and a world much more complex and nuanced than ever before. The idea of a “gentleman farmer” who leads for a few years and returns to his farm is quaint but obsolete.

Politicians in the 21st Century demand an understanding of how to get things done. We will elect a President in nine months who will lead our nation from 2017 to 2021 and perhaps to 2025.

I’m not telling anyone how to vote but I pray we Americans vote for someone who possesses the skills to respect where we’ve been and envisions where we should go.

The Election Chronicles, Volume 21: The GOP Field Continues to Winnow

Wednesday, February 3rd, 2016

The Iowa caucuses gave us our first snapshot in the 2016 campaign, and also gave a few of the GOP candidates the news they didn’t want to admit: they were done. Today we learned that Rand Paul and Rick Santorum have both suspended their campaigns.

This means that there are only 10 viable candidates for the Republican nomination. In a few days we’ll have the results of the New Hampshire. Let’s see who drops out after that.

I’ve updated my Presidential 2016 page.

The Election Chronicles, Volume 20: An Iowa Surprise

Tuesday, February 2nd, 2016

We woke up this morning to some surprises in Iowa.

For the past several months America’s attention has focused on Iowa and the practice of caucuses instead of primaries. Only Iowa, Nevada, Alaska, and American Samoa caucus.

Caucuses present a nightmare to pollsters. Simply put it’s hard to predict who will actually show up and participate. Two days ago the Des Moines Register reported that Republican Donald Trump led with 28% and Ted Cruz followed with 24%. Marco Rubio commanded only 15%.

That’s not what happened. Today we learned that Ted leads with 28%, Don follows with 24%, and (most surprisingly) Marco surprised everyone with 23%.

On the Democrat side of the isle Hillary Clinton feared a defeat, given that Bernie Sanders is heavily favored in New Hampshire and losing the first two states bodes ill in the long run. It was close, but it appears Hillary won by a razor thin margin. To quote her campaign: a win’s a win.

Not surprisingly these results did winnow the field, even if a little. On the Republican side Mike Huckabee, and on the Democratic side Martin O’Malley, both suspended their campaigns. They made good choices. Neither were viable candidates and needed to leave.

This makes the Democratic nomination a two person race. On the Republican side, several candidates need to do the same thing. Right now Marco Rubio is the candidate of the “mainstream” wing, Ted Cruz is the candidate of the “Tea Party/Evangelical” wing, and Donald Trump is the candidate of….geez I can’t even describe this.

In any case the ultimate nomination lies in one of these three people. If you’re an Abraham Lincoln or a Teddy Roosevelt or a Dwight Eisenhower or a Ronald Reagan Republican, you need to come together and support Marco Rubio.

As a Democrat I hope you’ll ignore my advice but I have to confess a fear: there’s always a chance that the Republican nominee will win. If that happens I think we can survive a Rubio Presidency. Indeed we survived (but paid the price for) the Presidency of George W. Bush. But a Ted Cruz Presidency would lead us to a Christian Caliphate where our laws won’t lead us to freedom but instead to a nation that cares only for those who look like Ted and believe in his homophobic and exclusionary agenda. A Donald Trump Presidency would make us so xenophobic that our collective fear would drive all of us into poverty.

Here’s my plea to Republicans: Don’t nominate someone who will destroy us.