Posts © 2011-2012 by Gerald G. Day

Saturday, June 30, 2018

June 29, 2018
            Donald Trump continues to demonstrate his unfitness to hold the office of President, or any other position of responsibility.  In the face of public outcry over child separation, he staged another of his look-I-can-sign-my-name events with an order which does nothing to reunite those already separated and leaves the zero-tolerance policy in place.             
            He is well on his way to destroying our alliances.  One aspect of that is his imposition of tariffs, leading to retaliatory imposts on our exports.  Back in February, 2017, Trump extolled Harley-Davidson as "a true American icon, one of the greats."  He thanked the company for "building things in America."  No doubt he didn’t intend to discourage the company’s producing motorcycles here, but that is what he did, by starting a trade war.  The EU now has imposed tariffs on American-made Harleys, so the company  is planning to avoid them by manufacturing abroad those intended for Europe.  Trump now has attacked the company and threatened to tax its motorcycles imported from overseas plants, apparently unaware that those sold here will be manufactured here.           
            Other industries also are about to feel the backlash from Trump’s trade tirade, in the form of tariffs imposed by the EU, China, Canada or Mexico. America’s largest  manufacturer of nails has laid off employees and may go out of business due to the increased cost of material and its effect on prices.  It will be interesting to see whether the President’s supporters will vote their pocketbooks next time.  
            The child-separation initiative resulted from bias, political calculation — confidence that an anti-immigration stance always would be a winner among the base — and a lack of moral sense great enough to blind him to the likely backlash.  The tariffs seem to have originated in a belief that the world is taking advantage of us; Trump would show the world who’s in charge.  The strategy would be economic warfare, encapsulated in his inane tweet, "trade wars are good, and easy to win." Ignorant may be too mild a term to explain that; delusional would be more apt.     
            Then there is his notion of diplomacy.  After his meeting with Kim, Trump declared "that there “is no longer a Nuclear Threat from North Korea.,” and “Everybody can now feel much safer than the day I took office.  Well, no.  Despite the boasting, Trump sent a report to Congress on June 22 stating: "The existence and risk of proliferation of weapons-usable fissile material on the Korean Peninsula and the actions and policies of the Government of North Korea continue to pose an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security, foreign policy, and economy of the United States."  Accordingly, he said, "I am continuing for 1 year the national emergency with respect to North Korea" declared in Executive Orders stretching back to 2010.
            Trump seems unable to resist saying, or tweeting, the first thing that pops into his head, regardless of truth or effect, or even the likelihood of looking foolish.  Sarah Huckabee Sanders recently was asked to leave a restaurant because the owner disapproved of her association with the administration.  Trump responded by calling the restaurant filthy, but it has a far better health record that several of his.  Obviously he never learned about glass houses and stones.
            The immigrant-child issue has caused a decline in Trump’s approval ratings, according to Gallup, from 45 positive (his high) - 50 negative, to 41 positive - 55 negative.  Approval  among Republicans went from 90 to 87.  The Donald has a different view, or views. At a rally on June 25, he offered this analysis, apparently unaware of (or ignoring) the drop announced that day: “We’ve never had higher polls than we have now,” he said. “Even Gallup, who treats me horribly. You know polls are fake news also, you know? What they do, it’s called suppression. They put out these horrible polls, and then they hope that everyone’s going to say ‘Hey, I like Trump, but he’s got no chance of winning.’ Suppression. It should be illegal, actually."  My numbers are great, but if they aren’t, here’s why, and there ought to be a law.
            In truth, those numbers are, even after the decline, bafflingly high considering his record, ability and tendencies.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

June 19, 2018

Along, no doubt, with many others, I have wondered how low the Trump administration can go. The answer has been given, at least until something more despicable comes along: separating children, including infants, from parents. The government has refused to stop this practice despite complaints by loyal supporters such as Franklin Graham, and by three former First Ladies. Trump has added hypocrisy to the mix by pretending to disapprove the practice. He and his Homeland Security Secretary have tried to shift blame to the Democrats for a policy announced by the current, Republican, Attorney General.
Sessions has attempted to justify that practice by citing the Bible, a ploy which presents several aspects. He referred to Romans 13, and paraphrased verse 1: "obey the laws of the government because God has ordained the government for his purposes." There is no law requiring separation, so apparently he means that laws against illegal immigration must be enforced. Some have entered illegally only because our border agents have refused asylum, leaving illegal entry the only option for those afraid to go back. In any case, enforcing immigration law does not require separation; that simply is the chosen, barbaric, way of discouraging entry.
Romans Chapter 13 also was cited in support of slavery — we must uphold laws of slave states and the Fugitive Slave Act— a history which resonates through Sessions’ southern accent. Sessions’ reading probably is not accurate exegesis, but that’s hardly the point. The use of proof texts is bad enough in religious debate; to resort to it in defense of a government policy demonstrates that policy’s lack of merit.
One measure of Trump’s failure to make America great is the condemnation of the policy of separation by the United Nations Commission for Human Rights. In a statement which labors the obvious for an administration unable to see it, a spokeswoman for the Commission said this:
The use of immigration detention and family separation as a deterrent runs counter to human rights standards and principles. The child’s best interest should always come first, including over migration management objectives or other administrative concerns. . . . Detention is never in the best interests of the child and always constitutes a child rights violation. . . . We call on the US authorities to adopt non-custodial alternatives that allow children to remain with their families and fulfil the best interests of the child, their right to liberty and their right to family life.
Does this abandonment of civilized principle, this international embarrassment matter to voters? Trump’s job approval rating is, according to Gallup, at an all-time high.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

  June 16, 2018

The Time cover of Donald Trump seeing himself as king reminded me, as do his actions and blather, of another demented monarch:

— I will do such things —
What they are, yet I know not: but they shall be
The terrors of the earth.
King Lear, Act II, Scene 4.
Shakespeare could have been thinking of King Donald. He will do wonderful things, but what, and how? His signature line is "let’s see what happens." 
He promised to Make America Great Again, but has no idea how to accomplish that, or even of what greatness would mean. Nearly all of his policies or attitudes have lowered our standing in the world and made us more vulnerable. He alternates between praising and insulting both allies and foes.
Even when his promises are — verbally — specific, they are illusory. Trump wants to save or add to American jobs. How will he do that? One plan is to impose a tariff on imported automobiles and parts. Even The Wall Street Journal couldn’t swallow that one, estimating a net loss of 157,000 jobs. Policies or rationales change almost from day to day. Proposed tariffs on steel and aluminum won’t be applied to Canada or Mexico; yes, they will. Tariffs imposed on Canada are based on national security; no, they are in retaliation to Canada’s tariff on dairy products.
A wall on the Mexican border will be paid for by Mexico; no, Congress is at fault for not funding it. His policy on China — punish it, seek its aid in Korea, impose tariffs, help save jobs for ZTE — is anyone’s guess on any given day.
He wanted to bring North Korea under control and destroy its nuclear capacity, or maybe just talk. He threatened fire and fury, then had a medal struck showing him and Supreme Leader Kim Jung-un. He called the meeting off, insulting Kim, but then decided that it’s on, and hoped that they will like each other. Operating without knowledge, experience or preparation, he declared that summit negotiations are just a matter of attitude.
After babbling about Canada’s burning the White House, Trump arrived late to the G-7 meeting, left early and attacked the host country and Prime Minister Trudeau by his ususal route, Twitter.
He then flew to Singapore to meet Kim. The meeting was a made-for-television affair at which he embarrassed himself and his country by fawning over Little Rocket Man and saluting a North Korean general.. He wants to dominate the world, but he gave status and legitimacy to a cruel dictator who boasts that his missiles can reach the U.S.
Trump got nothing in the joint statement but a vague promise of "denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula," given before without result. He gave up joint war games with South Korea, without having alerted that nation or our Defense Department. He had denounced the agreement with Iran, which had teeth, and now is touting one with North Korea which does not. Trump, the master of the deal, was played.
He tossed off a few of his usual inanities, the topper being his suggestion that we view North Korea from a real estate perspective: "They have great beaches. You see that whenever they’re exploding their cannons into the ocean. I said, ‘Boy, look at that view. Wouldn’t that make a great condo?’ "
Trump’s disdain for alliances, his trade wars — and threats of the shooting variety — and his fascination with dictators such as Kim illustrate his desire, like Lear’s, to be the terror of the earth. His megalomania and autocratic ambition, along with his daffiness, were revealed in an episode yesterday. Noticing that "Fox and Friends" was taping on the White House lawn, he tweeted: "Wow, the highest rated (by far) morning show, @foxandfriends, is on the Front Lawn of the White House. Maybe I’ll have to take an unannounced trip down to see them?" After all, who beats them in adulation of our leader? During an impromptu interview, he said, referring to Kim: "He is the strong head. . . . He speaks and his people sit up at attention. I want my people to do the same."
Trump’s tweet brought other reporters to the grounds. Wandering among them, he was in full fantasy mode, praising himself for imaginary successes ("I did a great job this week"), and blaming Democrats for everything wrong, for example his administration’s policy separating immigrants from their children.
Donald Trump is, to put it bluntly, as dumb as a post, even as to matters of self-interest. He is under investigation for colluding with Russia, so he proposed readmitting Russia to the G-7. He claimed that he fired James Comey based on a memo criticizing Comey’s handling of the Clinton e-mail investigation, but admitted on national television that it was about "the Russia thing" and, in a meeting with Russian officials, said "I just fired the head of the F.B.I. . . I faced great pressure because of Russia. That’s taken off."
At that meeting he gave away a secret provided by Israeli intelligence; he later said publicly that he didn’t identify Israel as the source, which of course made everything right. He is under investigation for obstructing justice, but has criticized his Attorney General for recusing (rather than shutting the investigation down), threatened to take over the Justice Department, floated the possibility of pardons for those who might turn on him, and even asserted the power to pardon himself. He’s innocent, but manages to look very guilty.
His only visible talent is for self-promotion, but even that is simply the working out of his pathetic need for adulation. His frequent references to opponents as weak, or to critical news media as failing, reveal his fear that he is weak.
A republican form of government was supposed to be an improvement over hereditary monarchy because it would avoid the advent of an incompetent leader. It doesn’t always work.

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

June 4, 2018

 In a column in The Wall Street Journal on May 31,  John Kasich, Governor of Ohio, presented an example, as if we needed another,  of the ability to see only that part of reality congenial to one’s political views.  Although the column was captioned , "Entitlements Will Eat America’s Economy," Governor Kasich began by attacking the federal spending bill enacted this year.  The bill "did more than continue to fund the federal government; it also set America on a course to add at least $1 trillion a year to the national debt by 2020."  
That is, indeed, a problem and, for him, a dire situation.  If the national debt rises, or even remains where it is now, he warns, it will "strangle economic growth, push interest rates higher and put fiscal well-being and national security at risk."
One could question many of the spending bill’s provisions, such as the usual massive military funding, or perhaps the Governor is unhappy with a more liberal provision.  We don’t know, because he said no more about it, except to assert that Congress must "get serious about meaningful spending restraint and entitlement reforms."  With that segue, spending restraint, whatever that may encompass, leaves the picture, and the real culprits are identified: Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.
"Why is entitlement reform so important?  Because government spending and increased borrowing — driven by entitlements — continue to gobble up America's gross domestic product, putting economic growth at risk . Without growth, the debt can't be paid down."  Leaving aside whether "entitlements" are the major contributor to debt,  real GDP (adjusted for inflation) has grown every year since 1992 except for 2008 and 2009, devastated by risky banking practices, controls over which are about to become looser.
 Kasich managed to avoid any mention of the tax cuts enacted by the same Congress, which will have a direct impact on deficits and debt.  The balance sheet could be improved by reversing those cuts and, better still, increasing certain taxes; as to the funding of Social Security, begin with eliminating the annual-earnings cap.
However, tax increases will not happen soon; Republicans know only how to cut them.

Monday, May 28, 2018

May 28, 2018

     A recent Supreme Court decision, in Epic Systems Corp. v. Lewis, dealt with employment agreements which contain arbitration clauses.  The statement of facts in the majority opinion is sketchy, so the description which follows is based in part on the dissenting opinion and in part on the opinions of the Seventh and Ninth Circuits, two of the three Courts of Appeal from which appeal was taken.

     The underlying issue is, as described in the dissent, that the "employees in these cases complain that their employers have underpaid them in violation of the wage and hours prescriptions of the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 (FLSA), 29 U. S. C. §201 et seq., and analogous state laws."

     The employees wished to arbitrate as a class, for practical, financial reasons.  Again quoting the dissent: "Individually, their claims are small, scarcely of a size warranting the expense of seeking redress alone. . . .  But by joining together with others similarly circumstanced, employees can gain effective redress for wage underpayment commonly experienced."  However, the arbitration contracts not only required arbitration, as opposed to trial in a court, but required that each employee present his case in a separate arbitration, rather than joining similar claims in a single proceeding.

     The employees contended that the requirement to present each claim separately was unenforceable. The issue was summarized by the Ninth Circuit: "whether an employer violates the National Labor Relations Act by requiring employees to sign an agreement precluding them from bringing, in any forum, a concerted legal claim regarding wages, hours, and terms and conditions of employment."

     The Court held, in an opinion by Justice Gorsuch, joined by Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Kennedy, Thomas and Alito, that the employees are bound by the contracts, a result which they held to be mandated by the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA) of 1925.     Here is the operative section of that statute:

§ 2.  A written provision in any maritime transaction or a contract evidencing a transaction involving commerce to settle by arbitration a controversy thereafter arising . . ., or an agreement in writing to submit to arbitration an existing controversy arising out of such a contract . . ., shall be valid, irrevocable, and enforceable, save upon such grounds as exist at law or in equity for the revocation of any contract.

The statute also provides, in §1, that "[N]othing herein contained shall apply to contracts of employment of seamen, railroad employees, or any other class of workers engaged in foreign or interstate commerce."  It might seem that §1 would exclude employment contracts of workers in companies engaged in commerce.  However, the Supreme Court, in an earlier decision, held that, although an employment agreement may be, under § 2, a "contract evidencing a transaction in commerce," an employee such as these is not part of "any other class of workers engaged in foreign or interstate commerce." Circuit City Stores, Inc. v. Adams 532 U.S. 105 (2001).  The rule applies; the exception does not, even though the language arguably is the same.  (The weakness in that conclusion was pointed out in the dissents in Circuit City, another 5-4 decision).

     The employees’ remaining basis for avoiding the individual-claim requirement was  its inconsistency with the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA).  The majority acknowledged that the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) had held "that the NLRA effectively nullifies the Arbitration Act in cases like ours," but set those rulings aside by noting that "the Executive [read: Trump Administration] has disavowed" that interpretation. 

     The NLRA was passed ten years after the FAA, and declared a new and more liberal labor policy.  As the Seventh and Ninth Circuits had held in the cases under review, those policies, protecting joint action, should be held to have modified the FAA.

     The majority brushed the NLRA aside: it "secures to employees rights to organize unions and bargain collectively, but it says nothing about how judges and arbitrators must try legal disputes that leave the workplace and enter the courtroom or arbitral forum. . . .This Court has never read a right to class actions into the NLRA."  Again: the NLRA deals with "efforts by employees related to organizing and collective bargaining in the workplace, not the treatment of class or collective actions in court or arbitration proceedings."  The notion that collective action in arbitration might be protected by a statute protecting collective action in other aspects of labor relations seemed too subtle a notion for the majority to grasp.

     Although the Court recited that it has a duty "to interpret Congress's statutes as a harmonious whole," it drew a bright line between them: "[T]he Arbitration Act and the NLRA have long enjoyed separate spheres of influence and neither permits this Court to declare the parties' agreements unlawful."

     That would be regressive and repressive enough in any case, but two of  the "agreements" in question barely qualify as contracts; as noted by the dissent — oddly only in a footnote —  "Petitioner Epic Systems Corporation e-mailed its employees an arbitration agreement requiring resolution of wage and hours claims by individual arbitration. The agreement provided that if the employees ‘continue[d] to work at Epic,’ they would ‘be deemed to have accepted th[e] Agreement.’ . . . Ernst & Young similarly e-mailed its employees an arbitration agreement, which stated that the employees' continued employment would indicate their assent to the agreement's terms."  Take it or leave.  The majority opinion referred to only one of the three contracts, but selected as its example one of those created by e-mail; no issue there, apparently. 

     The majority cited AT&T Mobility LLC v. Concepcion 563 U. S. 333 (2011), as authority for denying class arbitration.  However, it’s not clear what the rationale was in that case.  Its majority opinion stated that "[r]equiring the availability of classwide arbitration interferes with fundamental attributes of arbitration and thus creates a scheme inconsistent with the FAA."  However, in the preceding paragraph it had offered a different theory: "Although §2’s saving clause preserves generally applicable contract defenses, nothing in it suggests an intent to preserve state-law rules that stand as an obstacle to the accomplishment of the FAA’s objectives."  The latter would not include the NLRA, a federal statute.  More to the point, Concepcion was not an employment-contract case.

     The dissent in Epic, by Justice Ginsberg, joined by Justices Breyer, Sotomayor and Kagan, pointed out that the labor legislation relied on by the employees, although directed specifically to such matter as unionization and strikes, reflects a broad concern for the rights of employees.  The NLRA protects "the right to self-organization, to form, join, or assist labor organizations, to bargain collectively through representatives of their own choosing, and to engage in other concerted activities for the purpose of collective bargaining or other mutual aid or protection." (emphasis added by the dissent)

     Two other problems with separate arbitrations were noted by the dissent: "Fear of retaliation may also deter potential claimants from seeking redress alone."  There is strength in concerted action.  Also, "individual arbitration of employee complaints can give rise to anomalous results. Arbitration agreements often include provisions requiring that outcomes be kept confidential or barring arbitrators from giving prior proceedings precedential effect. . . . As a result, arbitrators may render conflicting awards in cases involving similarly situated employees — even employees working for the same employer."  The Epic Systems contract is an example: "The arbitrator’s authority shall be limited to deciding the case submitted by the parties to the arbitration. Therefore, no decision by any arbitrator shall serve as precedent in other arbitrations . . . ."

     The dissenting opinion countered various of the arguments put forth in the majority opinion, but its basic position is that the arbitration contracts are unenforceable: "Beyond genuine dispute, an employer ‘interfere[s] with’ and "restrain[s]’ employees in the exercise of their §7 rights by mandating that they prospectively renounce those rights in individual employment agreements. . . .. Properly assessed, then, the ‘waivers’ rank as unfair labor practices outlawed by the NLRA, and therefore unenforceable in court."

     The majority’s detailed argument was little more than window dressing.  Its refusal to admit any progress in labor relations was announced, and the case was decided, by a passage in the first two paragraphs of the Gorsuch opinion: "Should employees and employers be allowed to agree that any disputes between them will be resolved through one-on-one arbitration?"  That is straight out of nineteenth century labor law: the employee has a "right" to submit to a one-sided arrangement with his employer, who holds all the cards.

     The statement continued with this : "Or should employees always be permitted to bring their claims in class or collective actions, no matter what they agreed with their employers?

As a matter of policy these questions are surely debatable. But as a matter of law the answer is clear."  Actually, his view of the law is limited and mistaken but, unless one is mired in the past, the policy issue should be clear: the ability of an employee to join with others to enforce rights should not be canceled by an adhesion contract.

     The majority opinion complained that, in the dissent’s view, "today's decision ushers us back to the Lochner era when this Court regularly overrode legislative policy judgments. So it does. "But like most apocalyptic warnings, this one proves a false alarm." It doesn’t. Lochner,[43] decided in 1905, struck down a statute which prohibited employers from requiring employees to work more than sixty hours in one week.  The Court then  justified its action by referring to "the general right of an individual to be free . . . in his power to contract in relation to his own labor."  Compare that to the majority’s reference here to the right of an employee to give away collective action.  Freedom’s just another word for everything to lose.


43. Lochner v. New York, 198 U.S. 45

Saturday, May 5, 2018

May 4, 2018

     By various measures the country is in poor shape. The federal government is mired in corruption and moral failure.  We might reasonably look to religious leaders for answers and guidance; think of the civil rights crisis, in which pastors such as Martin Luther King led in spirit and in action.  Unfortunately, now the most visible religious figures are part of the problem.

     Support for Trump by conservative Christians is a continuing puzzle.  Why would they stand behind a man who embodies, in numerous ways, the opposite of their beliefs and standards?  The question swirls around the announcement in April that "evangelical leaders are organizing a sit-down with President Trump in June."[37] "We're very concerned" about the Clifford/Daniels affair, "said a leader of a faith-based ministry."  That might be expected; Trump’s behavior, alleged and known, should be offensive to them.  Although they are, as stated, "concerned," that is not, apparently, because of  moral or religious principles, at least not directly.  Their reason for the meeting seems to be anxiety that Democrats might prevail in the midterm election. 

     "The source said the combination of the Stormy Daniels sex-scandal allegations and Trump's continued reputation for divisive rhetoric could suppress evangelical turnout in the November midterm elections."  Granted, they do worry about some specific issues: " ‘It is a concern of ours that 2018 could be very detrimental to some of the other issues that we hold dear,’ like preserving religious liberty and restricting abortion rights, the source noted." In other words, a Republican Congress and conservative judges are their goals. Trump’s reputation might interfere.

     Abortion is a subject worthy of discussion, and of compromise, although the evangelicals may be no more inclined to compromise than liberals. "Religious liberty" likely is a euphemism for freedom to discriminate or to impose views on others, as in the Hobby Lobby case (which also involved hyper-conservative abortion views).  The religious leaders are willing to empower a man who is so incompetent and erratic as to endanger the country, in order to pursue a narrow agenda.   The same could be said of other Trump supporters, but it seems especially odd among people who claim the moral high ground.

     Although the unidentified spokesman said that "Trump's tone and personal life remain a concern for many evangelicals," others, including Penny Nance of Concerned Women for America ("your voice for Biblical values") were less concerned.  As to the Daniels storm, "I just honestly don't hear hand-wringing over the issue. They're not surprised," she said, apparently referring to Trump’s Christian supporters; "they made that decision a long time ago. This president is not Rick Santorum or Mike Huckabee; he doesn't pretend to be a Bible-banging evangelical." Support of Trump by any voice for Biblical values, especially the leader of a women’s group, is puzzling.

      "Ralph Reed, chairman of the Faith and Freedom Coalition, also said it's ‘highly dubious’ that the allegations will substantially erode support for the president or suppress midterm turnout."  Opportunism becomes a religious tenet.

     A month earlier, Pastor Robert Jeffress, a member of Trump’s evangelical advisory board, said: “Evangelicals know they’re not compromising their beliefs in order to support this great president. And let’s be clear, evangelicals still believe in the commandment ‘thou shalt not have sex with a porn star.’ However, whether this president violated that commandment or not is totally irrelevant to our support of him."  That sounds like compromising their beliefs.  Evangelicals knew they “weren’t voting for an altar boy, he said;” they support Trump for his “policies and strong leadership.”[38]

     One meeting of evangelicals, but without Trump, took place last month.  "Evangelical" is a term more often applied than defined; usually it seems to equate to conservative Christian, or white conservative Christian, and carries an implication more of politics than of religion.  A report of the gathering this month used the word in a more traditional, literal sense. 

     The article, by Katelyn Beaty, formerly managing editor of Christianity Today, began with a description of the memorial service for Billy Graham, who was an evangelist, that is a spreader of the Christian message, with the intent of conversion.  However, "[m]any evangelical leaders, including some in attendance at Graham’s funeral, were fearful that this association with Trump now threatened the focus on personal salvation that Graham spent a lifetime preaching."[39]  Accordingly, a meeting was arranged at Wheaton College, a Christian school in Illinois.  The invitation stated that "support of ‘eighty-one per cent of self-identifying white evangelicals’ for Donald Trump is a call to self-reflection on the current condition of Evangelicalism.”  Indeed.

     The meeting seems to have gone nowhere.  Some participants left in protest of comments critical of Trump.  Although a formal statement was contemplated, none was issued.  The author clearly was disappointed in the result: "Without a statement, and with the bewildering skittishness about getting political, my time at Wheaton left me feeling deeply unsettled about the moral and political fortitude of my spiritual community in the era of Trump and beyond."

     Ms.Beaty wanted evangelicals to take a stand, to do good. "Much of evangelicalism still functions with a spiritual-secular divide, as if the physical concerns of this world can be neatly fixed with worship and prayer. But worship and prayer are not the only things that this Trumpian moment demands of us. Rather, the moment calls for risk."  This calls to mind the formulistic call for prayer after each mass shooting, a substitute for action. 

     She named some who had taken a stand, who had risked, including King; they "stood against corruption with courage and grace. They hadn’t been afraid to get political, to challenge unjust systems and policies. The Church was made stronger for it."  The society was improved as well.  However, there is little sign now of such an effort.

     The spiritual-secular divide, the flight from dealing with urgent real-world problems, is exacerbated by the rejection, by many conservative Christians, of scientific facts.  Some, such as evolution, are opposed to traditional belief, or are thought to be. Others are politically inconvenient.  Senator James Inhofe, Republican of Oklahoma, cited Genesis to prove that global warming is a hoax.

     In an excellent article in The Atlantic, Michael Gerson, a graduate of Wheaton, described one of the sources of modern fact-aversion.  In the early twentieth century, "the religiously orthodox published a series of books called The Fundamentals. Hence the term fundamentalism, conceived in a spirit of desperate reaction."  It represented a break with older evangelicalism.  "In reacting against higher criticism, it became simplistic and over literal in its reading of scripture. In reacting against evolution, it became anti-scientific in its general orientation. In reacting against the Social Gospel, it came to regard the whole concept of social justice as a dangerous liberal idea.”[40]

     Now, as noted above, evangelicals have taken another step: establishing a hierarchy of virtues which relegates personal merit to a lower rank, and threatens to reduce religion to another, rather hypocritical, special interest.  In describing the fall of Alabama Governor Bentley, in a sex scandal, an article offered this summary:  "[I]t had become clear that for conservative Christians, the cultural and political issues that define modern conservative politics mattered at least as much as moral piety.  . . .’The idea that moral hypocrisy hurts you among evangelical voters is not true, if you’re sound on all of the fundamentals,’ said Wayne Flynt, an ordained Baptist minister and one of Alabama’s pre-eminent historians. . . .‘At this time, what is fundamental is hating liberals, hating Obama, hating abortion and hating same-sex marriage’.”[41]

     Many of the comments by evangelical leaders defy belief.  Here are several from Gerson’s article: Following news of Trump’s tryst with Stormy Daniels and the payment of hush money, Franklin Graham vouched for Trump’s “concern for Christian values.”  Somewhat more evasively, Tony Perkins urged forgiveness or, in his phrase, Trump should be given a "mulligan" for his fooling around.  "Pastor David Jeremiah has compared Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump to Joseph and Mary: ‘It’s just like God to use a young Jewish couple to help Christians.’ According to Jerry Falwell Jr., evangelicals have ‘found their dream president,’ which says something about the current quality of evangelical dreams."

     Some have been driven from the fold.  Peter Weiner, a conservative writer, declared in a recent column that he no longer could call himself an evangelical.  During the Alabama special election, in which Roy Moore was the Republican candidate, Weiner wrote: "the support being given by many Republicans and white evangelicals to President Trump and now to Mr. Moore have caused me to rethink my identification with both groups. . . . I consider Mr. Trump’s Republican Party to be a threat to conservatism, and I have concluded that the term evangelical — despite its rich history of proclaiming the ‘good news’ of Christ to a broken world — has been so distorted that it is now undermining the Christian witness." [42] 

     Others have expressed similar views to him.  One said "the term evangelical “is now a tribal rather than a creedal description.”   Gerson summed the problem up in similar terms: "The moral convictions of many evangelical leaders have become a function of their partisan identification. This is not mere gullibility; it is utter corruption. Blinded by political tribalism and hatred for their political opponents, these leaders can’t see how they are undermining the causes to which they once dedicated their lives. Little remains of a distinctly Christian public witness."


37. trump-as-sex-scandals-swirl?utm_source=The%20Muck%20Rack%20Daily&utm_campaign =068597c810-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2018_04_06&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_ af2b2023a3-068597c810-20027577&via=newsletter&source=CSPMedition







Saturday, April 21, 2018

April 20, 2018

Paul Ryan’s retirement has prompted many comments.  One of the more unusual is a column in USA Today by Andrew Cline.[33]  Mr. Cline is "president of the Josiah Bartlett Center for Public Policy, a free-market think tank in New Hampshire."  The caption to his column is "America is done with adults like Paul Ryan. Donald Trump and celebrities are the future."

"Preceding [Ryan] to the exit was the numbers-crunching, economics-guided GOP he had supposedly molded in his image only a few years ago." It isn’t clear what that means.  Was there no such GOP, or was it not in Ryan’s image?  I’d suggest the former. " Trump will be blamed, naturally."  For Ryan’s  exit or that of the number-crunching?  "But Trump is a symptom, not a cause. Paul Ryan is a serious man in an unserious time. American culture is undergoing a transformation. It is jettisoning adulthood."  He’s right that Trump is a symptom, although he also is a cause, of the condition of the Republican Party and, therefore, in part a cause of Ryan’s retirement.  More on that later.

Mr. Cline blames loss of seriousness on "[t]he rise of youth culture in the mid 20th century." The result of the dominance of youth, he says, is that "the worst mistake a politician can make is to be uncool" As proof he argues that "[e]very losing presidential candidate since 1980 was the least ‘cool’ candidate in the race."  The list includes Jimmy Carter, losing to Ronald Reagan; Walter Mondale, losing to Reagan; Michael Dukakis, losing to George H.W. Bush;  Bush, losing to Bill Clinton; Bob Dole, losing to Clinton; Al Gore, losing to George W. Bush; John Kerry, losing to Bush; John McCain, losing to Barack Obama; Mitt Romney, losing to Obama; and Hillary Clinton, losing to Donald Trump.  That’s an unusual interpretation, and it founders on the victories in the popular vote by the uncool Gore and Hillary.  Also, would he have been happier with Carter, Mondale, Dukakis, Gore and Hillary Clinton?  I doubt it, but his formula seems to lead to that conclusion.

The further implication of Mr. Cline’s complaint is that the adult Paul Ryan is uncool, although he puts it this way: Ryan has dignity, decency and gravitas.  Let’s grant the first and pass on the second for now.  Apparently the last means that he has ideas: "Ryan is the latest in a [long line] of political figures of both parties who were drawn to politics by ideas only to find themselves at the mercy of forces that are more powerful than spreadsheets and footnoted policy papers." Under this theory, Ryan, who attempted to offer detailed, constructive ideas, is out because the adolescent public elects adolescent people who won’t listen to him.

"Sober, calm and judicious are out. Loud, obnoxious and incessant are in. The social dynamics of the nursery are governing our political discourse."  That could describe the advent of Donald Trump, and Mr. Cline’s complaint that the media don’t pay enough attention to policy issues has merit, but those factors don’t fully explain Ryan’s retirement or validate his ideas.

The column uses the word "sober" four times, no doubt to emphasize Ryan’s distance from everyone else’s frivolity, as in "sober analysis of health care policy . . . was Ryan’s strength."  Here’s what Ryan’s health-care notions produced, his attempt to repeal Obamacare: "The bill weakens protections for people with pre-existing medical conditions. It rolls back the expansion of Medicaid and cuts taxes on the wealthy. . . . It also significantly reduces federal assistance to lower-income Americans paying for health insurance, and it defunds Planned Parenthood.".[34]  Fortunately, the Senate didn’t go along. 

Ryan had an undeserved reputation as a deficit hawk, which disappeared with the tax cut, his true priority.  Here’s another relevant evaluation, from Paul Krugman: "[Ryan’s] ‘deficit reduction’ proposals were always frauds. The revenue loss from tax cuts always exceeded any explicit spending cuts, so the pretense of fiscal responsibility came entirely from ‘magic asterisks’: extra revenue from closing unspecified loopholes, reduced spending from cutting unspecified programs."  Ryan’s "decency," if we define that in terms of fair treatment of the non-wealthy, also evaporates:  "Can anyone name a single instance in which his supposed concern about the deficit made him willing to impose any burden on the wealthy, in which his supposed compassion made him willing to improve the lives of the poor?"[35]

A conservative columnist, Ross Douthat, doesn’t think much of Ryan’s intellectual leadership.  "He was miscast as a visionary when he was fundamentally a party man — a diligent and policy-oriented champion for whatever the institutional G.O.P. appeared to want, a pilot who ultimately let the party choose the vessel’s course." [36]

Ryan can blame his early retirement in part on the disaster that is Donald Trump, though Ryan was not noted for standing up to him; Republicans in Congress have been willing to tolerate Trump as long as they can use him.  Ryan’s retirement seems to have more to do with electoral chances, his and the party’s, than weariness in dealing with the less serious.  Republicans are in trouble this year because of Trump’s unfitness for office, but also because of their policies, which Ryan advanced. 


33. congress-adults-out-donald-trump-column/507904002/

34. ab70ca59da53/

35. %2Fcolumn%2Fpaul-krugman&action=click&contentCollection=opinion&region=stream&module=stream_unit&version=latest&contentPlacement=3&pgtype=collection

36. html?em_pos=small&emc=edit_ty_20180416&nl=opinion-today&nl_art= 9&nlid=22748210emc%3Dedit_ty_20180416&ref=headline&te=1