America’s Dark Underside

From the very beginning, America has struggled with a dark underside of paranoia, fear, insecurity. We were the little cluster of colonies intimidated by the English monarch. We were a ragtag little army threatened by the English military.

Then, against all odds, we established our own government and our sense of being threatened, rather than disappearing, was simply transferred to a fear of our own government. Our first attempt at a constitution, called the Articles of Confederation, gave so little power to the national government that it could barely function after the Revolutionary War.

So the Articles were scrapped and a new Constitution was created. We boast of it so often that we usually forget it is a seriously flawed document. There were three areas of major contention. One was slavery, a moral affront in the north but an economic necessity in the south. The issue was not resolved by the new Constitution and even today we have a serious problem with the residue of slavery: racism.

Tangled up with this issue was that of the relation between the government and the individual on one hand and that between the federal and state governments on the other. The first was addressed fairly well in a series of ten corrections — called the Bill of Rights — while the second was handled by the creation of a system of government marked by a delicate balance of powers, of checks and balances.

The paranoia is still with us and has been smoldering in the dank recesses of talk radio and its great love of conspiracy theories. trump, not caring in the slightest about what is good for America, discovered that he could build a winning campaign on the base of this, the sickest dimension of the American character.

He has also magnified the tendency of our two major parties to destroy the checks and balances by each struggling to dominate the three branches of government: the executive, legislative, and judicial branches.

And, as has usually been the case, the argument for increased States’ Rights is just a cover for the evil that dominates many of our states, especially in the south.

    Having undertaken, for the Glory of God, and advancements of the Christian faith and honor of our King and Country, a voyage to plant the first colony in the Northern parts of Virginia, [we]do by these presents, solemnly and mutually, in the presence of God, and one another, covenant and combine ourselves together into a civil body politic; for our better ordering, and preservation and furtherance of the ends aforesaid; and by virtue hereof to enact, constitute, and frame, such just and equal laws, ordinances, acts, constitutions, and offices, from time to time, as shall be thought most meet and convenient for the general good of the colony; unto which we promise all due submission and obedience.  (Mayflower Compact)

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. . .(Declaration of Independence)

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America. (US Constitution)

Those words have never seemed so fragile as they do today. Millions of our citizens, now freshly encouraged by our President-elect, completely reject the idea that America is the land of the free and home of the brave, that we are a nation devoted to liberty and justice for all.

Falling short of ideals is a common habit in the human race. Rejecting those ideals, however, is far more serious. When we reject the lofty ideals by which we are to measure good and bad, we are in a position of severe moral weakness. And that leaves us vulnerable to a thousand ways in which the human spirit can be extinguished.

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An Imbalanced Balance of Powers

Essential to the genius of the American government as envisioned by the Founding Fathers is the balance of powers. Not trusting in the innate goodness of the human heart, they wanted a system of checks and balances so that no one person could gain monarchial or tyrannical power.

Think of where we are at now. A Republican Congress which has already demonstrated that non of its members have the wits to withstand the manipulative and deceitful powers of our Republican president-elect. One of trump’s first acts, of course, will be the nomination of a Supreme Court Justice and he has already made clear that he will nominate someone who will tilt the balance strongly in his own direction.

White House, Congress, Supreme Court: For at least two years and maybe four, all three will be centered on a man who has a long and thoroughly proven record of being a crook, a liar, a manipulator, a man who does not hold himself accountable for his own words, who believes he is the smartest person in the world, who prefers ignorance because it allows him more freedom to manipulate “truth” from day to day and moment to moment.

How did we work ourselves into such an extremely weak and vulnerable position? There are a thousand parts to the answer. We’ve tolerated racism as the detritus of the Civil War. We’ve let right wing talk radio foster an extremely unhealthy mentality of conspiracy thinking. We’ve not done well at teaching history and civics to our children.  We allowed the rise of the “Tea Party” and its elevation of ignorance as a virtue. On and on, the list could go.

Unfortunately, there is no one in Washington with the power to do anything about it. the deck is now strongly stacked against thoughtfulness, wisdom, compassion. Mental enslavement to a few pat answers, mostly about a simplistic view of economics, is going to leave us nearly helpless for some time to come.

To a frightening degree, the key to our future lies in the hands of a man who has already proven he will abuse the law in any and every way he can for his own personal gain. Even in his choice of Secretary of Defense he abuses the law, which says no one can be part of the Cabinet who had being active in the military in the prior seven years. trump simply expects in this — and undoubtedly in countless other areas — that the laws will be bent to suit him.

My worst fears about trump preferring tyranny as a form of leadership are already being fulfilled and the man isn’t even president yet. Shame on America for letting this happen.

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trump’s Sense of Being Above the Law

Goebbels said of Hitler: “Whatever Hitler wants is the law.” Nixon, insulted that the press was making such a fuss over Watergate, said, “Whatever the President does, that means it is legal.” And now the world’s newest tyrant wants to appoint as Secretary of Defense a newly retired General, though the law is clear that no person recently retired from the military can serve on the Cabinet.

True, trump will have to get Congress to grant a waiver from the law or change it altogether, but he is confident he can get Congress to support him in ignoring whatever laws he wants.

Like all tyrants from Mayor Daly to Hitler to Stalin, trump will be able to accomplish some good by ignoring the laws and the Constitution, but it will all be temporary and his efforts to make America as trump-centered as he himself is will ultimately fail. He will be eternally shamed and America will take a long, long time to recover.

We can only hope and pray against the probability that he is going to antagonism so many other nations, including some of our closest friends, that we become entirely disreputable in the eyes of the world.

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trump Thinks He Is President

trump seems unable to read a calendar, apparently not knowing — or caring — that he is not yet president. He bribes (whatever happened to his big threats?) Carrier into keeping some of its jobs here in the US and it only costs Indiana $7,000,000. How many companies can be bribe before January 20?

Steve Benen (MSNBC) writes:

“Just two weeks ahead of Election Day, Trump was receiving information from U.S. officials about security matters, which he chose not to believe.

“And now we’re learning that the president-elect, in most instances since the election, isn’t even bothering to receive the information put together for his benefit.

“It’s hard not to feel uncomfortable with these circumstances. The least experienced, least knowledgeable presidential candidate in American history – prone to believe weird conspiracy theories and disregard facts he finds inconvenient – is preparing to take office soon, and at this point, he seems passively indifferent towards security information.

“The fact that Trump has no idea what he’s doing is alarming. The fact that Trump doesn’t seem eager to learn is almost certainly worse.”

Apparently, trump’s hubris has him permanently trapped in his ignorance. some may have thought him merely silly when he told a reporter months ago that he was his own best advisor on security matters “because,” he said, “I have said a lot of things.” the stupidity of that comment is only exaggerated by the now obvious fact that he actually believes he has greater knowledge than any and all in the world, though he has simultaneously proven that his ignorance is abysmal.

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trump’s style

I am very tired of commenting on trump but some things must be said. The three primary characteristics in trump’s leadership style are manipulation, intimidation, deceit. If you want a fourth, I suppose hypocrisy would have to be listed next.

Clinton, he used to say, belonged in jail for her incredibly bad judgment in exposing her emails to the possibility of betrayal of state secrets. So who is high on his list to be our next Secretary of State? Petraeus, who had admitted not the possibility but the fact of betrayal of secrets.

Evaluating trump’s character, we cannot help but concluding that he is a piece of moral trash. He is already shaming America.

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Castro — Did We Learn Anything?

Cuba gained its independence from Spain in 1902 and then experienced decades of turmoil as various factions fought to fill the power vacuum that was left. It was not until after WW II that a degree of stability was established but then it was only because one dictator, Fulgencio Batista, gained dominance over other would-be dictators. He was a cruel leader, hated by the Cubans for keeping them in poverty while he and his friends — including a number of American companies — gained enormous wealth at their expense.

So disliked was Batista that he could not have held power for long had it not been for the strong support of the US government and businesses. Our position was that we would support any regime that called itself anti-Communist.

Fidel Castro, Che Guevara, and a handful of other leaders organized a small number of guerilla fighters and overthrew the Batista and gained very enthusiastic popular support. Castro was also a dictator but he tended to use his power to serve the people to a greater degree than did Batista. He remained a popular figure until his death this week in Havana.

One would think the lesson would be clear: When you support evil dictators solely because they oppose your enemies, the gains are short-lived and the costs are huge in the long run.

During the 80s President Reagan proved he had not learned the lesson, staunchly supporting anyone in Central America who claimed to be anti-Communist. The problem, to which Reagan was quite blind,  was that regimes which oppress their people are no better than the Communists. In the minds of the populace, they may even seem much worse than Communism. One friend of mine, after living in Central America for years during and after the Reagan administration, said that Reagan had been the best recruiter the Communists had ever known, since his anti-people policies drove large numbers into the camp of the Communists.

Whenever the gap between the wealthy becomes so great that the less wealthy begin to feel oppressed, a nation is in trouble. The US in our day is approaching a dangerous period. Will trump have the sense to stop favoring the wealthy? I haven’t much hope but maybe it will happen. It is certainly worth praying for. . .

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I Give Thanks. . .Again

Yesterday my thanksgiving was centered on the center: the love and grace of God. This morning, before we head off to our big family feast, I want to express my thanks for the smallest signs of that grace.

I thank God for the hungry chickadees, high in the mountains just as the winter snow was melting. By sitting quietly for several minutes, I draw then closer and closer with bread crumbs until they were sitting on my hand, plucking the crumbs from my lips. What an honor to be so trusted!

I give thanks for the seal that swam into the miniature cove as I stood 40 feet above it at the edge of the cliff. He did somersaults in the water, spun, dove, swam on his back — all for the sole purpose (I assume) of entertaining me. What a delight!

I thank the Lord for the tree that fell in the night while my wife and I were camping in the forest. suppose a tree fell and the forest and we were the only two people on the planet who heard it? Did it still matter? Of course it did. The Lord made that giant crash to break the silence just for our pleasure. And what a pleasure it was!

I give thanks for the poor rattlesnake I discovered with some friends. He had apparently just swallowed a rat or something and was trying to get back in a hole but his midsection was too big and he was stuck. We laughed, unkindly, perhaps, at his situation.

I thank God for the humpback whale who breached in front of Hana’uma Bay in Hawaii, clearing the water with all but one fluke. What an awesome sight! And for the three manta rays gliding down the shoreline nearby, the largest in front and the smallest behind. It seemed like a family out for a leisurely Sunday drive. How peaceful it was.

I am thankful for the moment when the swans, flying directly toward the setting sun, passed very low over me with the working of their breast muscles clearly visible in the direct sunlight. What graceful beauty!

I’m thankful for the fourth of July concert, outside at the edge of the lake. During the first piece of music a bald eagle sailed just over the head of the musicians and during the last piece the setting sun lit up the stainless steel cross across the bay while the deer grazed around its base. What perfect, divine choreography!

I thank the Lord for the beautiful double rainbow set against the dark charcoal-colored storm clouds that had just drenched me. And for the huge bull moose swimming near my kayak in the snowstorm the next morning. And for the spotlight of sunshine that broke through the clouds soon after, centered on the blazing yellow birch tree. I was in a northern wonderland.

I give thanks for a thousand such memories, none important but all too delightful to forget. And I gladly accept each as a gift from God. Irrational, you say? Perhaps so, but I’d rather have a heart overflowing with thanksgiving than a head that withers everything into meaninglessness coincidence. Fill my heart, O Lord, with gratitude.

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