Pondering Biden’s Question: “What are the Republicans for?”

THE WEEK OF JANUARY 16, 2022 STARTED on Monday with Martin Luther King Day. Next, on Tuesday, came the Republicans and two suborn Democrats in the Senate blocking Biden’s and the Democrats’ voting rights bill. Then, on Wednesday, came Biden’s press conference, framed by the highlights and the shortcomings of his first year as President. During his 2-hour press conference, a frustrated Biden asked:

“What are Republicans for? What are they for? Name me one thing they’re for?”

As we ponder, consider:

On Monday, January 17, 2022, the Washington Post published an article, Martin Luther King Jr. was right. Racism and opposition to democracy are linked, our research finds. It’s subtitle: “Americans who don’t think institutional racism is a problem are more likely to believe that Jan. 6 was a protest, not an insurrection, and that Donald Trump won the 2020 election.”

On Tuesday, the Washington Examiner published Chris Sununu explains going from ‘pretty close’ to ‘no’ on New Hampshire Senate bid. Sununu is New Hampshire’s Republican governor, on the verge of running for the Senate. He changed his mind after consulting Republican Senators. The Washington Examiner explained, “the message from virtually every GOP senator [Sununu] chatted with — and he chatted with most of them — was that they plan to do little more with the majority they are fighting to win this November than obstruct” Biden. “More than that, Sununu was ‘bothered’ by Republicans’ seeming inability to answer this question … ‘OK, so if we’re going to get stuff done if we win the White House back, why didn’t you do it in 2017 and 2018?’ How did the Republicans Sununu spoke with answer his challenge? ‘Crickets. Yeah, crickets,’ the governor said. ‘They had no answer.’”

Also on Tuesday, Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell warned that attempts by the Democrats to get around the filibuster rules to pass their voting rights act would not be “harmless” or “cost free.” ABC News reported:

“‘This is about one party wanting the power to unilaterally rewrite the rulebook of American elections,’ McConnell said. ‘Democrats have been pushing the same policy changes in the same Chicken Little rhetoric since 2019,’ he added. ‘The Democratic leader’s effort to break the Senate long predates the latest pretext. Too many of our colleagues across the aisle still want to respond to a 50-50 Senate with a rule-breaking power grab. Those voting to break this institution will not be a free vote or a harmless action, even if efforts fail,’ McConnell continued.”

(Of course, McConnell didn’t comment on the idea that the voting rights act might be necessary to counter the 400 bills Republican state legislatures introduced since the 2020 election to gerrymander voting districts and suppress voting rights of Americans who might disagree with the Republican agenda.)

On Wednesday, The New York Attorney General told a court “its investigators had uncovered evidence that former President Donald Trump’s company used ‘fraudulent or misleading’ asset valuations to get loans and tax benefits.”

In the meantime, on Wednesday, Florida’s Republican governor, not happy with the way the Florida Senate set district voting maps, sent the legislators his own map that “would convert Black-majority districts in North are Central Florida into nonmajority districts.” He also pushed a law to “prohibit public schools and businesses from making white people ‘feel discomfort’ when they teach students or train employees about discrimination in the nation’a past…”

On Thursday, the Guardian reported that Trump held secret meetings before the January 6, 2021 capital attack. The Guardian also reported “Trump made several phone calls from the Yellow Oval Room and elsewhere in the White House residence to lieutenants at the Willard hotel in Washington the night before the Capitol attack, telling them to stop Joe Biden’s certification.”

Also on Thursday, the Washington Post’s Opinion: In Florida Ron DeSantis is creating a paradise of authoritarianism, included DeSantis’s proposed “creation of an Office of Election Crimes and Security, answerable to him, which would roam the state looking for phantom election fraud.”

On Friday, the Americans for Tax Fairness published a study, Billionaires are spending 39 Times More on Federal Elections Since Citizens United Supreme Court Decision in 2010. The opinion was approved over four dissents from liberal Justices Stevens, Ginsburg, Breyer and Sotomayor, who were concerned that by deciding money is a form of free speech the Court would be undermining election law integrity.

As if two wrongs make a right, on Friday, McConnell reminded us that the Democrats liked the filibuster rule when Trump was President. (In 2017, 32 Democrats and 24 Republicans signed a letter approving it.)

On Saturday, there was disclosure of Trump’s executive order draft (thank God his staff said no to it) to justify his ordering the Secretary of Defense to “seize, collect, retain and analyze” all 2020 election “machines, equipment, electronically stored information, and material records.”

Also on Saturday, the Insider reported that “Republican supporters of Trump in Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin submitted to Congress falsely claiming Trump won [in 2020] the states after a majority of votes actually went to Joe Biden….” CCN reported.“Trump campaign officials, led by Rudy Giuliani, oversaw fake electors plot in 7 states.” The documents have been referred to federal prosecutors by at least two state attorney generals.

Saturday, the Tampa Bay Times also published an article about Florida’s Republican legislature’s proposed legislation allowing businesses to sue local governments if any ordinance passed reduces business revenue, or profits, by 15% or more. There are very few proposed statutory exceptions. Essentially, the law would thwart local governments protecting or enhancing the rights of, or providing benefits for, the people if those rights keep any business, savory or unsavory, from making a buck. Like Texas, which recently delegated the right to individuals to sue abortion clinics, whether they were or not they were harmed or had an abortion, Florida has delegated its responsibilities to decide the wisdom of local laws to businesses, measuring the harm by revenue or profits and not by human benefits or harm. A review of other state actions in process indicates Texas’s and Florida’s legislative suppression is under consideration in several Republican-controlled states.

A similar weekly report could be provided for most of the weeks following the January 6, 2021 insurrection attempt; and, most likely for next week and the following weeks.

OUR PONDERING LEADS US to the question raised by former Texas Congressman Martin Frost in his op-ed: Who has the guts to resist authoritarian rule?

Frost opines:

“The tolerance of authoritarian threats of former President Trump by current Republican leaders and GOP rank-and-file is intolerable and impossible to understand. Their silence is a stain on what was once a great party. President Biden and Democratic members of the House and Senate have every right to call out Republicans on this threat to our democratic system.

“It will be a great irony if our democracy, once admired by the people of authoritarian communist regimes, is brought down by anti-democratic forces at home.”

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Extra Credit: A Few Words on Senate Filibuster Rule

The web is filled with articles on the filibuster rule. Few of them are historical. Most are political. One such article with an inaccurate twist is the August 29, 2021 article, Ending the Filibuster Would Destroy the Very Purpose of the Senate. Here’s Why. For filibuster support, the author quotes James Madison. The author claims that in 1787 Madison reasoned that the Senate (at the time, appointed by state legislatures and not elected by the people) was intended to be “a necessary fence” protecting “the people against their rulers” and also from “the transient impressions into which they [the people] might be led.”

The author is wrong. Madison was talking about the importance of the separation of powers between the three branches of government. In Madison’s day, Senate votes were decided on a majority basis, not by the filibuster rule. The founders’ idea Madison discussed, which hasn’t worked out as planned, was that the lack wisdom of the people’s House of Representatives about the public good, could be balanced by the public good wisdom of enlightened Senators, appointed by state governments from among the best minds available (sort of like the English House of Lords). The 60% vote filibuster requirement was not on the mind of Madison or the rest of our founders. In fact, Alexander Hamilton wrote in Federalist Paper #22 about the horrors of giving the minority the right to overrule the majority through high vote requirements, one of the defects in the Articles of the Confederation that the Constitution was to overcome. Hamilton’s conclusions include:

“But this is not all: what at first sight may seem a remedy, is, in reality, a poison. To give a minority a negative upon the majority (which is always the case where more than a majority is requisite to a decision), is, in its tendency, to subject the sense of the greater number to that of the lesser…. If a pertinacious minority can control the opinion of a majority, respecting the best mode of conducting it, the majority, in order that something may be done, must conform to the views of the minority; and thus the sense of the smaller number will overrule that of the greater, and give a tone to the national proceedings.”

The Senate filibuster rule is neither constitutional nor statutory. It was adopted in 1917. It’s a Rule that has been changed by the Senate several times. In fact, the Rule has been modified more than 160 times since 1969, most recently in December 2021, to allow Congress to approve an increase in the national debt by majority vote. (Fred Wertheimer points out in his January 19, 2022, article, Trump and the GOP’s biggest voting rights lies — and why they’re wrong, the two Democrats who voted against modifying the Rule to permit a vote this week on the voting rights act, voted to modify the rule to vote in December 2021 to approve the national debt.) The Rule was little used until the mid-1960s when the Southern Democrats opposed President Lyndon Johnson’s push to enact the Civil Rights Act proposed by President Kennedy before his death. When Nixon, a Republican, became President (Lyndon Johnson got Kennedy’s Civil Rights Act passed), Nixon adopted his “southern strategy,” (accentuated later by Reagan) converting the disgruntled Southern Democrats into Southern Republicans. And it’s been that way ever since.

A Special Christmas Message: His Gift of the Magi

December 20, 2021

This is the time of the year when I customarily “publish” my Christmas message. Usually, like last year, a light, humorous poem about Pete Polar Bear, Rudolph the Rednosed Reindeer, and Santa.

But, no poetic humor this year. “These are the times that try men’s souls,” Thomas Payne wrote about 245 years ago, on December 19, 1776, in The American Crisis.

Muscular Christianity

What changed my mind was Peter Manseau’s article in today’s Washington Post, Why so many guns on Christmas cards? Because Jesus was ‘manly and virile.’

Manseau’s article begins:

“When two members of Congress recently shared images of their well-armed families gathered in front of Christmas trees, many assume it was merely an act of provocation, a loaded gesture designed to exasperate opponents and excite supporters. [Representative] Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), responding to the photographs posted by Reps. Thomas Massie (R-Ky) and Lauren Boebert (R-Colo), asked on Twitter, “Tell me again where Christ said ‘use the commemoration of my birth to flex violent weapons for personal political gain’?”

Manseau points out that the “photos represent a tradition far older than our current penchant for political trolling …. That is the tradition of Muscular Christianity.” Quoting scholar Kristin Du Mez from her 2021 book, Jesus and John Wayne: “Writers on evangelical masculinity have long celebrated the role guns play in forging Christian manhood…. From toy guns in childhood to real firearms gifted in initiation ceremonies, guns are seen to cultivate authentic, God-given masculinity.” Turns out that “More than 40% of White evangelicals own firearms, far outpacing other religious groups and the general population….”

I couldn’t believe what I was reading. But, after a little googling “god and guns,” it turns out Manseau is on to something. Beyond Amazon’s offerings of Christmas gun ornaments, my favorite stock photographer, Shutterstock, has pages of photos you can download of Santa, Jesus and Bibles decked out in guns for your Christmas cards and letters.

Muscular Christianity is the subject of a 1912 Book, The Masculine Power of Christ, apparently sourced in America’s early Frontier Religion, written about by Ross Phares in Bible in Pocket, Gun in Hand. Manseau concludes his article:

“All of this might seem far removed from holiday cards, until one recalls that it is Jesus himself who has been proposed as the exemplar of the “manly and virile” faith found at the root of Christmas trees festooned with ammunition.”

Enough!

And so I said “Enough!” I set aside the Christmas poem I was writing about Santa and Pete Polar Bear. I knew it was time. Time for me to revive a Christmas Message I wrote some 40 years ago. Yes, it is about Jesus and his manhood. But a different kind of manhood. Real manhood not defined by AR-15s but by His life.

I would like to share my message with you:

It’s hard to believe that Christmas is here! Goodwill. Cheer. Christmas carols. Up feelings. Parties. However, sometimes we become so caught up in the glitter and excitement of Christmas that we forget what Christmas is about. Christmas is, after all, a celebration of a birthday.

The birthday of a Man who, in the later part of His life, faced overwhelming odds, disappointments and stress, as well as ridicule and uncertainty that pale anything we might face today. And yet, His exemplification of manhood, His meeting of adversity, His living His life in unaltered fullness, His message of love and compassion, have changed lives and challenged men and women for more than 2,000 years.

He was physically strong. Did He not walk miles across deserts and between Palestinian villages?

He was intellectually curious. Did He not challenge the scholars of His day when He was but 12 years old?

He loved crowds and people. Were they not with Him everywhere?

He was anything but meek and mild. Did he not stand up to Caesar and cleanse the Jerusalem temple?

He was compassionate and generous to a fault. Did He not wash the feet of His disciples rather than they His?

Of His 33 years, we know but only a few days. Most of those days deal with His period of great adversity; when He was ridiculed; when His 12 closest friends lost faith in Him and abandoned Him.

Passages of scripture describe His emotion, His fears. His sweat, the physician Luke wrote in his Third Gospel, was like beads of blood on His brow.

Yet, He did not falter nor change His course.

His strength, His vision, His ability to be true to His purpose, His sense of right, survive his death and have inspired nations and men and women of all faiths throughout the ages.

In a sense, His message is a Gift of the Magi message for each of us – it’s a message about how we ought to live here on Earth. O’Henry’s Gift of the Magi is one of my favorite Christmas stories. The story is of a very young and loving, but poor couple. In the story, the young girl, down to her last 14 cents, sold long locks of her precious hair to buy a fob for her husband’s treasured watch, while he, also broke, pawned his treasured watch to buy a comb for her precious hair.

Is that not how we should live? Is that not how Jesus lived his life? Is that not our Christmas Message, regardless of our faith?

Gift of the Magi

Now, some of us may be uncomfortable with the idea that we become active participants and facilitators of our own Gift of the Magi for humankind and our Earth. And, some will say we have an excuse. He, whose birthday we celebrate at Christmas, had a special gene, a God Gene, a gene we don’t have.

But the real Christmas Story – His Gift of the Magi – is not about His God Gene; it is about His humanity.

It is His humanity that inspired Thomas Jefferson, our third President (1801-1809), author of Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth, to write:

“It is in our lives and not our words that our religion must be read. … “It is the innocence of His character, the purity and sublimity of His Moral precepts, the eloquence of His inculcations, the beauty of the apologues in which He surveys them, that I admire. … I am a Christian, in the only sense He wished one to be: sincerely attached to His doctrines, in preference to all others; ascribing to Himself every human excellence; and believing He never claimed any other.”

It is His humanity that inspired theologian, philosopher, musician, physician and medical missionary Albert Schweitzer, 1952 Nobel Peace Prize winner, to dedicate his life to serving humanity, to devote his life to the Albert Schweitzer Hospital in Lambaréné [now Gabon] in west central Africa and to inspire us with his philosophy, Reverence for Life. His Nobel acceptance speech, The Problem with Peace, is considered one of the best speeches ever given. As the young physician Schweitzer prepared for his African venture, he wrote more than 100 years ago:

Our culture divides people into two classes: civilized men, a title bestowed on the persons who do the classifying, and others, who have only the human form, who may perish or go to the dogs for all the ‘civilized men’ care. … If all this oppression and all this sin and shame are perpetrated under the eye of the German God, or the American God, or the British God, and our states do not feel obligated first to lay aside their claim to be “Christian’ – then the name of Jesus is blasphemed and made a mockery. … The subject of all His preaching is love …. Jesus sets up the ethic of active love!”

That is the message of His Humanity, His True Manliness – guided not by guns, but by active love. By how we should live our lives. That’s His Christmas message with real muscle!