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Posts from the ‘politics at the crust’ Category

Evangelicals, let’s get something straight.

My fellow Evangelicals, I’d like to explore a topic that matters more than abortion, the Supreme Court, governorships, the Electoral College, and globalism — combined.

I’d like to talk about the purity of the Gospel message.

Not purity in the sense of sexual abstinance, but in a “let’s not pollute the core of our message” kind of way.

The biggest problem for the church, now that the 2016 election has ended, is the tragic sacrifice of its message to achieve the election result. I’m talking about one specific thing here.

Donald Trump claimed to be a Christian, and this is a mockery of the truth of the Gospel.

Let me break this down:

Fact: Donald Trump claims to be a Christian.

Apparently this is very hard to track down, although even that should be a red flag. There was an awkward moment in June when James Dobson made a strange, vague remark about it. Over the years Trump has said various things here and there about religion. The clearest moment seems to be here:

People are so shocked when they find … out I am Protestant. I am Presbyterian. And I go to church and I love God and I love my church.

This is from the Frank Luntz interview, which comes up later.

The statement “I am Protestant” “I am Presbyterian” and “I love God” are all the closest thing Trump has acknowledged. His use of imprecise language doesn’t help. At any rate, this is certainly claiming membership in Christendom, explicitly claiming intellectual agreement with a denomination, and forwardly making the statement that he loves God. These all seem characteristic of someone’s profession of faith.

Unarguably he claims affinity with the wider cultural Christianity phenomena. Perhaps he best fits what Christian Smith called Moralistic Theraputic Deism, or the belief that a God exists who gives us our desires and comforts us when we need emotional support, but otherwise remains detached from the world. This may be a stretch, and it’s partially based on intution I’ve built up over the years, but let’s operate with this as our minimum.

Moreover, Trump later made the statement that “I have a great relationship with God.” So that’s about as clear cut as you can get. Billy Graham-style, 1950’s individualistic Christianity (although he didn’t say personal relationship) between the creation and Creator. Pretty straightforward, right?

Fact: Donald Trump is not a Christian.

There are several red flags for consideration that demonstrate what may be going on beneath the surface in Trump’s mind & soul.

CP summarizes it like this:

Throughout the campaign, Trump has struggled with issues related to his claim that he is a Christian. He declined to name his favorite Bible verse. Later, he cited a verse that’s not in the Bible as his favorite while claiming no one knows the Bible better than him. He said he never asked for forgiveness, a necessary step to becoming a follower of Jesus Christ, because he hasn’t done anything that needed to be forgiven. He claims to be a Presbyterian and a member of Marble Collegiate Church, but Marble Collegiate is not Presbyterian and has no record of him being a member. And, at a Liberty University speech, he referred to 2 Corinthians as “two Corinthians” and then blamed Tony Perkins for giving him the scripture and writing it as “2 Corinthians.”

Stop.

Stop right there.

Forget “two Corinthians” and lying about church membership and fake Bible verses. There was something incredibly important tucked within that paragraph of otherwise-telling information. “He said he never asked for forgiveness, a necessary step to becoming a follower of Jesus Christ, because he hasn’t done anything that needed to be forgiven.”

Before the context police cry out for justice, Trump made the initial comments in July of 2015, followed up a week later in another interview, and then repeated them once more in January at a Republican primary debate. (You can scroll past these if you want, it is essentially the same thing three times).

A. With Frank Luntz, July 2015:

Trump, who told CNN earlier that he is both anti-abortion and anti-same-sex marriage, said people are surprised to learn about his Christian faith.

“People are so shocked when they find … out I am Protestant. I am Presbyterian. And I go to church and I love God and I love my church,” he said.

Moderator Frank Luntz asked Trump whether he has ever asked God for forgiveness for his actions.

“I am not sure I have. I just go on and try to do a better job from there. I don’t think so,” he said. “I think if I do something wrong, I think, I just try and make it right. I don’t bring God into that picture. I don’t.”

Trump said that while he hasn’t asked God for forgiveness, he does participate in Holy Communion.

“When I drink my little wine — which is about the only wine I drink — and have my little cracker, I guess that is a form of asking for forgiveness, and I do that as often as possible because I feel cleansed,” he said. “I think in terms of ‘let’s go on and let’s make it right.’”

B. With Anderson Cooper, one week later:

The Christian Post previously reported on comments made by Trump regarding his faith at the Family Leadership Summit in Ames, Iowa.

Clarifying his comments on forgiveness, Trump declared, “I go to communion and that’s asking forgiveness, you know, it’s a form of asking forgiveness.” During the interview the current GOP frontrunner stressed that he “likes to work where he doesn’t have to ask forgiveness.”

Trump has reiterated on several occasions on the campaign trail his Protestant and Presbyterian background, and more recently, his admiration for his former pastor, Norman Vincent Peale, a popular Reformed minister.

When further asked about repentance again by Cooper, Trump said “I think repenting is terrific.”

“Why do I have to repent or ask for forgiveness, if I am not making mistakes?” asked Trump. “I work hard, I’m an honorable person.”

In talking about his Iowa appearance, Trump said, “We were having fun when I said I drink the wine, I eat the cracker, the whole room was laughing.”

Trump denied that his statements damaged his chances with Evangelical voters and accused Cooper of only wanting “to bring up the negative.” Trump countered that his polling in Iowa is very strong.

Trump, known for his bravado and aggressive criticism of opponents on the campaign trail, admitted to Cooper that he’d “change” his “tone” as president.

“Right now I’m trying to do something to make this country great again,” he declared.

C. With Jake Tapper, January 2016:

TAPPER: Well, let me ask you because one of the potential attack lines has to do with an answer you gave to Frank Luntz months ago when you said that you’ve never asked God for forgiveness.

Do you regret making that remark?

TRUMP: No, I have great relationship with God. I have great relationship with the evangelicals. In fact nationwide, I’m up by a lot — leading everybody. But I like to be good. I don’t like to have to ask for forgiveness. And I am good. I don’t do a lot of things that are bad. I try and do nothing that’s bad. I live a very different life than probably a lot of people would think. And I have a very —

TAPPER: Always or just now?

TRUMP: I have a very great relationship with God and I have a very great relationship with evangelicals. And I think that’s why I’m doing so well with Iowa.

TAPPER: The life you have now when you say that you try to do good, that sounds very different from decades of tabloid media coverage in New York in which some of your wilder escapades were —

TRUMP: No, I’m talking about — I’m talking about over the last number of years.

TAPPER: OK.

Does this need explanation?

If it does, then notice right away the great tension: Trump claims to be a Christian, as I’ve tenuously established, and Trump simultaneously also does not believe in the need for forgiveness, as these interviews establish. Yet the need for forgiveness is central to the Gospel message in two separate ways.

In one way, a person needs forgiveness as justification. At the intital moment of salvation, when from nowhere the Holy Spirit enters into a person’s spirit and indwells them, they are justified — declared right — before God. Here, forgiveness is the nullification of sin’s penalty on the human account, because it had previously been paid by Christ. This forgivenes is a change in status, it becomes permanent and secures the believer in an officially right relationship with God.

But in another way, forgiveness of sins means something totally different. What did it mean when Jesus said “Our Father … forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us”? This type of forgiveness does not imply the same official status as justification does. Wayne Grudem writes that this is “a prayer that God’s fatherly relationship with us, which has been disrupted by sin that displeased him, be restored, and that he relate to us once again as a Father who delights in his children whom he loves” (Systematic Theology, 740). In this case, forgiveness is the process where people, already being justified, reestablishing right relations with God.

In either case forgiveness is necessary. Forgiveness from God to initiate salvation and forgiveness from God to continue sanctification are essential to the Christian life. In fact, without them, there is no Christian life.

(On a side note, perhaps none of this should surprise us when the two most influential spiritual figures in his life are Paul White and Norman Peale. Look up their theology.).

Does this matter?

Trump was elected Commander in Chief, not Sunday School Teacher in Chief. Why bring theology into the mix when his job is to run the nation?

I agree that this shouldn’t impact policy. Evangelicals can continue to support or not support each individual policy that Trump proposes, and I hope that we do not just support them all because “our guy” made it in. I’d put forward three non-policy reasons why this matters.

For one, Evangelicals should harbor great concern for the soul of the President, as for all people.

Second, we have been explicitly commanded in scripture to pray for the ruling authorities over us, and this prayer should not stop at wisdom and success. Here before us we see a president-elect who has spent his entire life desperately clining to his sin. He, like all, needs forgiveness.

But third and most importantly, the Church must preserve the integrity and purity of the Gospel message. The Gospel message — that though humans have erred, God offers forgiveness — is the only doctrinal objective of the church. We do not seek to advance our particular view of infant baptism vs adult baptism, views on predestination vs free will, or wine communion vs grape juice communion. No sidebar doctrinal squabble matters compared to the message of redemption through Christ.

To uphold Donald Trump as “living a life of loving and helping others as Jesus taught in the Great Commandment” without reference to salvation is to nullify the salvific grace of God at the expense of common grace, performed by a man desperately caught up in the love of money. This wouldn’t matter if any random person in a Facebook comment said this. This was Jerry Falwell, Jr., the President of Liberty University, one of the most prominent Evangelicals in the country. Falwell, Jr. personally benefited tremendously from his endorsement of Trump.

I feel anger, partially because I’m about to throw my entire life away for the message here bastardized by Falwell, Jr. and partially because nobody seems to care.

Evangelical credibility has been largely swept under the rug — because Hillary! — but now that Hillary has lost, we no longer need to think on the margins. Marginal analysis makes sense when there are two candidates, but now we have one president-elect, and Evangelicals can safely return to moral absolutes by calling out Trump for what he is.

This has already happened once

I should mention that after the Access Hollywood tapes came out in October, Evangelicals did exactly what I am recommending. Endorsements were pulled, strongly worded statements issued, and stump speeches cancelled. I am saying: this should now continue.

There is no legitimate threat to the presidency anymore. Evangelicals, you’ve won! Now please, before things get ugly and people start calling us out for hypocrisy because people have called us out for hypocrisy, we must get on with the rest of the Trump denunciation:

  • Mexicans are thieves and rapists
  • the whole Khizr Khan incident
  • expanding and promoting the Birther myth
  • Scamming people through his “university”
  • Supporting abortion for decades
  • Lying about giving to chairty
  • Failing to give to Caesar what is Caesar’s through extensive tax loophole manipulation

I’m just going to stop the list there. I have some more, but after thinking about it, these are the natural byproduct of the sinful nature of man.

Failure to control his language? James 3.
Failure to turn the other cheek? Matthew 5.
Failure to make any attempt at peace? [“bomb the shit out of them”] Also Matthew 5.
Being unkind to others? Ephesians 4.
The love of money, leading to all types of evil? 1 Timothy 6.
Rampant sexual immorality? Romans 1.

So I refine my argument to this: Trump, as unrepentant as he is, does not deserve the public moral affirmation of Evangelical leaders or the private moral affirmation of the Evangelical base. For the credibility of the faith, and by extension the Gospel message itself, movement leaders must begin to denounce.

 

 

A Theology of Election Trauma

To my Evangelical friends, a plea:

A common refrain at my Evangelical university yesterday was to melodramatically say “oh, well, no matter who wins God is still in control.” And I laughed a bit then, because they are right, but now that we see the results, this idea means so much more than I anticipated. America has spoken — or rather, the xenophobic alt-right conspiracy theory underbelly of America has spoken.

Yet even in a philandering, casino and strip club owning, adulterous, undignifiable, hyper-materialist fool, God will act. Maybe this is the judgement social conservatives for years have been proclaiming will fall on America?

No matter who won today, we see a great loss ahead for personal liberty, for international economic freedom, for social and political justice and for global peacekeeping efforts (so, everything?). Yet even still, He uses our worst circumstances to advance the opposite of what those people had intended.

Consider this remark from Joseph after reuniting with the brothers who sold him into slavery:

“You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.”‭‭ Genesis‬ ‭50:20‬

Or consider the prayer of the Apostles in early Acts when discussing Jesus’s death:

“They did what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen.” ‭‭Acts‬ ‭4:28‬

In both, we see that God’s total authority over the earth extends to acts of evil, working through and around and within them to achieve whatever good may lay ahead.

I’m shocked. I really am. Not in the failure of public polling or the betting markets to predict the outcome. I know enough about statistics to recognize margin of error and vote trending tabulation when I see it.

I’m shocked that, 17 months after his campaign started, in the whole time that anyone else could have been chosen — and there were many other Republican options — 48% of America went with him.

I’ve got a lot to say about Christian engagement in the public and political realms. About the electoral college. About the social media clickbait effect. About racial inequality. In time I will say those things.

But for now, all I can say is that we will need prayer and action, and both for two reasons each.

-We need prayer because through it God affects circumstances and makes actual change in the world. I believe it works.

-We need prayer because in it God realigns our will with his, he motivates us to action, he checks out double standards and biases, and refocuses our attention.

-We need action because it is the process, in that strange way that God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility overlap, where God works through us to affect change in the world.

-We need action to demonstrate that Evangelicals only marginally preferred Trump. We must be the thorn in his side that Bernie had promised to be in Hillary’s side. May we never offer what we cannot give: our unconditional approval.

Let’s not choose between prayer and action. Let’s defy the Evangelical Right leaders who endorsed Trump, who will now call for us to pray, but will shun those who act. Likewise, let us defy those who act without the power of the Holy Spirit via prayer.

 

The Christian is called to submit to governing authorities and to pray for and honor the king. In one sense this gets flipped in a popular sovereignty system, because we are the king, and in another sense Paul lived in an empire, so his points may need minor adjustment to be applied today.

Nonetheless, we pray. For the reasons above, we pray. Mostly because we know that America needs it, we pray. Trump certainly needs it.

We have as president-elect a man who, for all I can tell, has falsely claimed to be a follower of Christ. This is a mockery of the gospel, and honoring the king comes second in my priorities to the purity of the message.

82% of Evangelicals voted for Trump. This can mean many things, like that Evangelical as a term is far too inclusive, or that Evangelicalism is actually just a proxy for in-group social ties and has little to do with the gospel, or that Evangelical voters stand for nothing.

All three are probably true to some extent, and all three dampen the witness of the gospel in society. Evangelicals: now that the election is over, can we stop being the moral relativists we so passionately denounced 10 years ago? (Russell Moore quote). Let’s stop thinking on the margin and let’s denounce Trump as the moral degenerate and foe of the gospel he is. Sure, you can argue Hillary is too, but Trump also is, and now that the election is over, marginal preferences are irrelevant. Let’s return to absolute morality.

In the Providence of God we see the potential for American destruction at the hands of a demagogue, or American success and prosperity at the hands of a demagogue. But notice, a demagogue nonetheless.

We will pray for Trump, we ultimately will obey whatever rulings he and his inane congressional counterparts issue, and we will civically and vocally denounce anything that hinders the purity of the gospel message.

Trump included.

“And While I’m At It” – Explained

A few weeks ago I performed a slam poem at my university’s open-mic night. Here is a link to the footage. Lest ye explode with the furious rage of ten million momma grizzly bears separated from their cubs, I’ve provided lengthy justifications of each stanza below.


And While I’m At It
Ross Neir (2016)

You see,
I was a conservative until last fall
He came and I fell out of my party
He spoke and I departed
He rebranded us as the alt-right
but i’m not alright with voting liberal either
so where does that leave me?
It leaves me put off with less hope in the political
System than even Trump could pretend not to have.

I began politics with an extreme right-wing ideology. Somewhere around 7th grade I had my first exposure to politics, when a few fundamentalists — who held to absolute truth! — taught me their perspective on the world. I didn’t know to question it. Everything they said was absolutely true. If you followed along from their premises, like I did, it all made sense — and their logic checked out quite well. I was pro-family, pro-war, and anti-secularism.

But during the fall of 2011 when the Ron Paul Revolution went into overdrive, I learned about the Libertarian Party, and it changed my mind on a lot of policy issues. Lockean ideas like self-ownership and the rights to life, liberty and property seemed like a good basis for policy, and from this logically came all the Libertarian Party positions, minarchism, (and even anarcho-capitalism), with rigor and consistency. I still hold most of these positions.

But last fall it all started shifting again. I went from a Libertarian leaning conservative to a Libertarian learning liberal.

But did I? Is that even true? I still believe in free trade, I still believe in laissez-faire capitalism, I still believe in de-escalation of the US military presence in the world, I still believe in immigration, I still believe in drug decriminalization. I didn’t change. But the Conservatives changed in sync with Trump’s campaign and I no longer fit with their label.

Trump didn’t coin the term ‘alt-right,’ but his supporters now dominate my demographic (white, teenage and college-aged, middle-class males who spend too much time on the internet) (see Tucker on the alt-right at this link). But was I supposed to automatically become a Democrat in response? I completely disagree with that party on economics, which is very important to me. This unresolved tension comes up later in my poem.

He says “They’re bringing drugs.
They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists…
And some, I assume, are good people”
But I say “They’re my neighbors
They’re sojourners.  They’re human
And all, I assume, are made in the image of God.”

This is a quote from Trump’s campaign launch speech in June of last year. He was arguing that we have no idea the mix of people that cross the boarder illegally into the United States from Mexico. Now, there are dozens of the problems with this, and Wikipedia has a nice list of them (link, other link, also follow Wiki’s footnotes for some well-done studies). Also I’d add that if we can’t conclude with certainty that Mexican immigrants are saints, then we also shouldn’t conclude with certainty that they are demons. My lines in this stanza rephrase Trump, because I think that our default attitude toward human rights issues should be to recognize their humanity before jumping to policy conclusions.

Even still, the number of undocumented Mexican immigrants to the U.S. has flatlined for several years (link), meaning either that no new Mexican immigrants are entering illegally, or they are entering and existing at mostly equal rates. Most immigration to the U.S. is legal (link) and “India was the leading country of origin for new immigrants, with 147,500 arriving in 2014, followed by China with 131,800, Mexico with 130,000, Canada with 41,200, and the Philippines with 40,500″ (link). At any rate, most illegal residency in the U.S. is from overstaying Visa times, not from dashing over the boarder at night, hence The Wall idea (link, very conservative perspective).

Trump does not regret this statement either (link), at all. “It’s common sense: they don’t want these people, so they send them to the United States because the United States is run by stupid people, we have stupid leadership, we have incompetent leadership that doesn’t know what it’s doing… so we take them…We take them because nobody else wants them. We are like a dumping ground. The United States, Erin, is like a dumping ground for the world’s problems.”

Now aside from the fact that immigration does not increase crime and that immigrants are less violent than non-immigrants (wiki links from three paragraphs up), who does Trump think is “sending” them? Is this an intentional state-sponsored program from other governments? Because if those other governments can’t make people follow their laws (crime, drugs, rape), then it probably also can’t get them to up-and-move to another country that barely speaks their language. Moreover, I’d expect criminals to favor their home countries, which have less strict and more corrupt policing than the U.S.

Trump’s language here is designed to evoke an emotional response more than a policy response — but the real tragedy is that he immediately follows up with a policy proposal and conflates the two. It becomes difficult to argue against The Wall logically or policy-wise when his followers are arguing from a deeply emotional place, and especially when that emotion is fear.

And While I’m at it,
I’d say that I’m okay with
Trump praising Putin
but can anybody really
Lie like that?
Can I support a man who supports a man
That supports men to kill for his power?
Conservatives hated Putin- until they didn’t.

This refers to his interview at the Commander-in-Chief forum a month ago (link). Slate published a great article on this (link). This author makes a really good point, that “Whatever else he may be, Putin projects responsibility*, sobriety (in multiple senses of the word) and a steady hand* on the affairs of state. And he has, indeed, ensured that Russia remains relevant* on the world stage.”

*Trump projects none of these things and his economic isolation and opposition to free trade agreements would minimize the U.S.’s place on the world stage. So in the sense that Trump wants to run the country like a dictator CEO, sure, he can love Putin’s leadership style all day; in any other regard, and in any way consistent with the American principles of separation of powers, he cannot.

U.S. foreign policy has been messy, nuanced, technical and complicated for over a century. We can’t, I stress, we cannot, I stress, we can not afford one president to leave and another to take office, only to have the other completely break line with the original’s plan. We need long term consistency in international relations. This was the tragedy of Obama’s ‘middle eastern power vacuum’ from leaving Iraq during his first term. Yet where Obama’s transition was subtle and gradual, Trump would be abrupt and abrasive. Day One: end NATO (link), which will lead to a large international conflict.

This should scare you. It scares me. Our world seems so strong, so solidified and so unbreakable. It would only take a few missteps to expose just how precariously perched the world really is above the ravines of global conflict and economic slough.

And While I’m At it,
Politically Correct This
Politically Correct that
But what if its racial inequality
That we’re mad at?
So what if Kaep takes a knee
When soldiers fought bled and died
So that he could speak free?

Conservatives complained for two years
about black lives matter being too violent;
someone let the coons out!;
get the animals back in their cages!
We want nonviolent protests! They said.
Yet Kaep’s nonviolent protest met their demand
And they still wanted him dead.

The Colin Kaepernick episode highlighted a great irony in conservatism: the same people who decry Political Correctness, meaning the repression of ideas outside the mainstream because they are deemed offensive or intolerant, were overwhelmingly offended at and intolerant of Kaepernick’s outside-the-mainstream method of protest. “But what if it’s racial inequality that we’re mad at?” means that conservatives selectively see and criticize Political Correctness – which means they don’t actually care about Political Correctness, they care about the issue being Politically Corrected, and they use Political Correctness as an abstract principle that happens to support them.

If you didn’t get what I just said, then here’s Slate Star Codex to the rescue:

“This is related to an idea I keep stressing here, which is that people rarely have consistent meta-level principles. Instead, they’ll endorse the meta-level principle that supports their object-level beliefs at any given moment. The example I keep giving is how when the federal government was anti-gay, conservatives talked about the pressing need for federal intervention and liberals insisted on states’ rights; when the federal government became pro-gay, liberals talked about the pressing need for federal intervention and conservatives insisted on states’ rights.” (link)

So, I’m saying that the same effect is true here. Conservatives aren’t actually against PC, they are just pro-conservative values, and sometimes that actually means being pro-PC..

When I say that “soldiers fought, bled and died so that he could speak free,” we have to remember that soldiers do not:

  1. sign up for war to protect US oil interests;
  2. sign up for war to help W. avenge his father’s misgivings a decade before;
  3. sign up for war to be pawns in a geopolitical and economic chess game.

These are the real reasons for war, among many others. But soldiers, in their mind, are fighting for the ideals of freedom and democracy. So to use soldiers in any other way than to support the free exchange of ideas is to defame their honor, to cast them as liars. Like ol’ Ron Paul said in one of those 2011 primary debates, “We don’t have the freedom of speech to talk about the weather. We have the first amendment so we can say some very controversial things.” And this, I say, is why we should honor individual soldiers by speaking out against the nation when our conscience convicts us to do so.

Conservatives complaining about BLM being too violent: Exhibit A, Exhibit B, Exhibit C, Exhibit D, Exhibit E, Exhibit F, Exhibit G, … and if I had a link for every time I’ve heard this in person, my whole blog would be underlined in blue text.

Please note I myself am not calling blacks ‘coons’ or ‘animals,’ I am quoting a general sentiment among racist people kid from my high school who ranted on Facebook about BLM violence during the Ferguson protests in 2014 (or was it Baltimore in 2015?). He called blacks ‘animals’ in general, and then when a black kid from our school replied, he called him a ‘coon’ without remorse. He deserves to have his name posted here, and every fiber of justice in me wants to eternally blast him for his attitude towards blacks and hispanics. But I’ll relent. This enters into emotional waters, and I try to keep policy discussions dry when possible. At any rate, those three lines are within quotation marks because they do not originate from me.

And yes, Kaepernick did receive death threats for his protest.

And While I’m At It,
The media shoots for ratings
The alt media shoots for nonsense
How can I know whats happening?
How can I know whats happening?
But then again, who cares?
Who cares whats happening?
I did, but I don’t, and I won’t again.

I could say a lot about media cycles and the clickbait effect, but complex theoretical discussion aside, it is discouraging that I have to go unbelievably out of my way to receive accurate information when an entire field of Western professionalism is supposedly dedicated to doing that for me. Journalism is a paid field. Why should I, an unpaid, random teenager, have to move mountains to find the truth?

As much as Deplorables complain about the mainstream media, their media (the alt or alternative media) falls into the exact same incentives schemes as the MSM, but those outlets are obscure enough to mostly avoid fact-checking. This is even worse.

I’ll admit, it’s melodramatic to say that I won’t care about politics again. In fact, that is not true at all. But it expresses a sentiment of discouragement within myself and large swaths of the population who are tired of the same nonsense-on-loop that media outlets produce.

And While I’m At It,
Donald Trump may hate Muslims,
But hey, he loves cake-baking businesses
That can’t seem to understand
That Jesus made water into wine
And stopped the pharisees from stoning the adulterer
Jesus said “He who is without sin cast the first stone”
But Trump says “He who isn’t unluckily Middle Eastern cast the first stone”
Does he remember Simon the Zealot, the terrorist, the apostle?
Or Saul the persecutor of the Church, the murderer, the apostle?

His hatred of Islam has made him the center of Islamophobic thought in the country, naturally. He wants to “bomb the shit of them” (exact quote), doesn’t care about civilian casualties in the Middle East, wants to torture and kill the families of terrorists (per one of the primary debates last year), wants to give Saudi Arabia nuclear weapons (!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!), had made a variety of discriminatory remarks about Muslims, and can we ever forget the Khizr Khan moment?

But again, he isn’t for or against discrimination itself. He is no where near principled enough for that. He just selectively employs it when convenient, and that happens to exclude the entire Christian/gay cake baking scandal.

Jesus’s attitude is probably not reproducible on a national policy level. Actually, I’m certain that it isn’t. But Trump himself, as a person, could try it out and see what happens.

I delivered this poem to a crowd of 19-22 year old evangelical students at an evangelical university. Everyone understood my references. I was amazed at how, two weeks later, I gave the same poem, and nobody at the secular, underground grunge/punk art show audience understood my metaphors. The audience’s religious background makes the difference. I’ll leave it to the reader to research Simon the Zealot and Saul the Persecutor of the Church. They are powerful New Testament figures, and all Christians should pray that more like them rise up out of the Middle East and Asia.

And While I’m At it,
I’ll coin a new term: The Trump Dump
Because Trump’s charity Dumped 200k in the pocket of
The Attorney General suing him for conning the rest of us
Oh, am I not supposed to say that out loud?
Could another Trump Dump be his
list of Supreme Court nominees come November 9th?
Oops. I’m really not supposed to say that out loud.

Trump rhymes with Dump. Aren’t I clever?

I’m sure that someone else has made that connection elsewhere but I had yet to see it when I wrote the poem, so it felt unique. I felt creative! In a lame, moronic way.

Whatever. The Attorney General case in Florida is a huge deal. That should have screamed corruption louder and more directly than even the Clinton Foundation did, which is a high standard to pass.

[CORRECTION, apparently the figure is 25k, not 200k (link). I’m not sure why I didn’t look this up. Most of the same principles still apply, regardless of scale.]

This article (link) makes the argument that Trump is the most corrupt candidate ever. After all, you don’t usually make it in business without collaborating with the government when all your competitors are collaborating with the government. So his corruption in business is based on economic self-interest rather than political self-interest (Clinton). Is that any better?

I see four types of elites in the American public landscape. The political establishment is the aggregation of all politicians that hold public office and maneuver to stay in office at the expense of principles. They tend to coalesce to the center, be neo-conservative on foreign policy, and gladly cooperate with party authorities. The mainstream media is a term for popular news companies that hold to a generally centrist line while having a very scripted, professional tone. They aren’t necessarily non-partisan (MSNBC and Fox are both very partisan in my opinion) and there are a lot of inconsistencies in defining it, but it tends to hold high standards for publication and therefore is seen as suppressing information sometimes when it actually just isn’t willing to break controversial news that may not be credible. The business elite are the billionaires that Bernie Sanders decried throughout his campaign. They run large banks or companies, own most of the country’s wealth, pull the economic levers behind the scenes, and work together with the bureaucracy to suppress competition. The cultural elite are actors, celebrities, art producers, musicians, relatives of other famous people, former politicians, and other leaders in the culture. They tend to lead the way in attitudes and cultural norms and disproportionately live in California, Oregon and the East Cost.

Donald Trump belongs to group number three. He may not have been liked by his fellow business elites: I remember seeing that Goldman Sachs even used him as an example in their staff training on avoiding terrible investments. But nonetheless, he has acted just like them. He hasn’t been scruntinized for as long as Clinton or as hard as Clinton (link on Steve Bannon, Trump’s campaign CEO, notice the line “we’ve got $1.3 billion of equipment I’m using at almost full capacity” being used to dig dirt on the Clinton Foundation. To my knowledge, this isn’t being done against Trump). So in that more broad sense, he is just as much a part of the corrupt system as the rest.

In May, Trump published a list of SCOTUS nominees to replace Scalia (link) and in September released a new list (link). I’d not be surprised if a President Trump scraps both and goes with someone else, although I’d also not be surprised if he just picks the most business-elite-friendly option from his lists, whoever that is.

And While He’s at it,
He’ll just divide the country any way he sees fit
And slander anyone who calls him out on it
But in spite of the propaganda and the panda panda panda
We aren’t all as different as Trump makes us feel
And we don’t have to ruin the nation
To demonstrate some ill-placed zeal

Political polarization is when the population moves farther to the extremes and leaves the middle ground. This has happened and has been extensively documented over the last decade (link). 

polarization

And the data hasn’t come out yet for 2015 or obviously for 2016, but I’d speculate that this has accelerated. The left is getting lefter and the right is getting righter. Trump’s hyper collectivizing of the most divisive segments of society doesn’t help. His racially charged rhetoric, or even just his support of Blue Lives Matter over All Lives Matter, has further solidified this along racial lines. I think this is a huge problem in American society and having an ultra-controversial figure lead the way is a great solution.

Does he slander anyone who calls him out? Not ‘anyone,’ because that would be impossible given that half of the name-recognizable figures in the country have called him out, but we’ve seen it over and over throughout the campaign. He’s threatened to sue the NY Times for publishing his sexual assault advocacy tapes, let’s not forget the Khan family episode (and this article about Trump defamation in that case (link)), and I’m sick of writing this blog post so you can go research other lawsuits he has threatened. There are a lot.

Trump’s propaganda is just as bad as anyone else’s propaganda. The ‘panda, panda, panda’ refers to that one song that I hate and it just seems vaguely creepy. That is a good description of Trump’s rhetoric — I hate it and it just seems vaguely creepy. This isn’t a very strong argument. There is a racial dimension to the song Panda, though I’m unsure of that as well, and again like Trump, it’s something vaguely racial that I’m unsure of.

What is this ill-placed zeal? It’s the passion of the Evangelical Right, the passion of people who care about constitutional original intent, the people who value economic freedom, all being willing to support these issues over the issue of racial justice. The swap didn’t have to happen, and I recognize that people are choosing the lesser of two evils, but the race piece didn’t have to be this way. The other Republican candidates held to those principles without the race shtick. It didn’t have to be this way.

But before you think I’ve come to support Clinton
I’ve got a few emails to show you
And a bridge to sell you
But no story here to tell you
Only the story of a boy who turned 18
And couldn’t escape the two party system.

Hillary Clinton represents almost everything wrong with the political establishment. Politically connected – to the point of corruption. Tries to be efficient – to the point of overstepping boundaries. Involved in the action – to the point of making mistakes. Works in the law – to the point of being above the law. Tries to save face and put forth a diplomatic front – to the point of lying.

Her policies on war continue the current administration’s policies. Her policies on the economy continue the current administration’s policies. Her policies on social issues continue the current administration’s policies. It shouldn’t surprise anyone that voters see her as a puppet for some grand globalist NWO conspiracy. She seems to exist as a politician but not as a policy maker, an empty hollow pant-suit shell, and the least common denominator is neoliberal economics and broadly rational-sounding diplomacy-based foreign relations.

Scandal after scandal after scandal — after a while I have to wonder, “couldn’t we have just found someone else?” There have to be at least a dozen senators or high-office holders in the Obama administration who are relatively scandal-free, not to mention Bernie Sanders. The conspiracy theorists are rarely wrong about her. She really isn’t great.

By emails, I refer to her email server, the deletion of 33,000 emails, and the DNC email hacks. I didn’t know at the time, but there would also be the Podesta emails leaked in the weeks following my writing of this poem. Emails seem to be a general theme.

Until he did.

What led me to my current political philosophy? Ron Paul’s campaign in 2012 opened my mind to libertarianism. Stefan Molyneux’s radio show from 2014 to early 2015 (before he went full Trump and reversed half his philosophy) gave my critical thinking stills and expanded my perspective on rationalism. My political science professor at Beloit College last fall gave me the professionalism-in-politics mindset that I now choose to use, along with the categories necessary to understand international relations. The blog Slate Star Codex (mentioned in this post probably at least five times) has helped me view policies on a system-level and understand the dilemma before evaluating right and wrong. I’ve done lots of independent study — lots, and spent years thinking critically about governance.

These gradually led me away from conservatism, but I didn’t see how far I’d drifted. I still identified as a Republican — because, after all, I’m not a Democrat! — and voted in the Republican primary in March. After that, it occurred to me.

In the past months I’ve come to believe that the US Constitution is deeply flawed and needs revision or replacement. Now, I am a constitutionalist; countries need founding documents that specify how the government will divide powers, and that document should prevent or delay the state-sprawl of politics beyond its original scope. But the 1789 US Constitution was drafted without consideration of 21st century instant communication, or the now 240 years of experience upon which political scientists draw conclusions. First-past-the-post voting must end. This means revising Congress to be a parliamentary or other system, providing party accountability instead of individual political accountability (which barely exists anyway).

The two party system will either collapse or reorient itself along new battle lines. I am hoping for the former, somehow, but without the aforementioned constitutional changes, the two party system will creep right back in. It isn’t the product of random history; it is the product of the structure in which it operates. I’m writing a very, very, very long article about this. About 15,000 words. Give me some time there to explain myself, it should be done before the election.

Because, While I’m At it,
Maybe my vote may be a protest vote
And maybe my vote may be a throwaway vote
But I’ll tell you this:
I’m fully convinced in my own mind on this vote
That the only vote I’ll be casting on November 8th
Is a Gary Johnson vote.

Gary Johnson is not a perfect candidate. He doesn’t have the intellectual purity and command of policy that Ron Paul had in 2008 and 2012. He appears to not have much grounding in international relations. He sure climbed Mt. Everest, though! I wish that he hadn’t ran at the convention in May. Austin Peterson or John McAfee could have carried the torch much better.

Nonetheless, the Libertarian Party represents the most acute attack on the two party system that I can see. They are in third place in this election and therefore will send the loudest message. But beyond that, I am a libertarian, so it makes sense anyways.

I do not believe in protest votes or throwaway votes. If you are running for president of my country, you have to earn my vote. It is the height of entitlement — which Trump’s supporters so loudly decry — to assume you deserve my vote just because I am not a Democrat. Nor does not voting for Trump mean that I’m implicitly casting a vote for Clinton. I live in Illinois, after all, and I’d predict at least a 10% margin for Clinton in this election. My vote doesn’t count anyways. This is another problem with the current Constitution – the Electoral College nullifies the votes of anyone living in a “safe” state and amplifies the votes of anyone living in swing states.

“I’m fully convinced in my own mind” refers to Paul in Romans 14. It is a matter of conscience. See also Luther before the Diet of Worms: “To go against conscience is neither right nor safe. Here I stand, I can do no other.”

This is the point in the performance where I unbutton my outer shirt and reveal to the audience that I’m actually wearing my Gary Johnson shirt. It’s pretty dramatic, it doesn’t mean anything in and of itself, but it’s memorable and audiences eat it right up. It’s a piece of visual rhetoric to accentuate my point.

So, when my absentee ballot comes in the mail sometime next week, I’ll be filling in the bubble for Gary Johnson and Bill Weld. I’ve known this for a long time. Back in May of 2015, I said I’d end up voting for Rand Paul in the primaries and the Libertarian candidate, whoever that is, in the general. 17 months later, and it’s hard to believe it has been that long, we are here. The election is over in just about two weeks. I’m glad, and I’m happy to move on to non-electoral politics again. Or just non-politics again, though it seems inescapable in many ways.

Politics, and how to get them.

A usual conversation about politics, when you boil it down, sounds something like this:

Person A: So what do you think about politics?
Person B: Well, I’m a Republican.
A: Oh. Well, I’m a Democrat.

B: I think being a Democrat is wrong because abortion should be illegal.
A: I think abortion should be legal because women should get to chose if they want an abortion or not.

B: But what do you think about gun control?
A: Good point. I think being a Republican is wrong because guns should be illegal.
B: I think guns should be legal because we should get to choose if we want guns or not.

[repeat with more topics]

A: I think we can agree to disagree here.
B: Goodbye.

[The alternate ending involves screaming, frustration and some passive-aggressive comments the next few times they see each other in person.]

These conversations volley back and forth, but never end. Both sides give their position and then paraphrase it once the opponent replies. Notice, though, that they do not elaborate or offer supporting evidence.

You are a reasonable person. You want to be able to elaborate and offer supporting evidence, as reasonable people do. You want information — but not just any ol’ information. You want good information, the truest, most relevant, most helpful information out there. You don’t want to be like Persons A and B, who lack the facts and arguments necessary to support their opinions.

This is no easy task. How do we find high quality arguments and facts? How do we find truth in politics? More generally than that:

How do we find high quality anything? Especially in politics, where people lie to us?

If we can find a foothold in politics, where people get paid to lie, then the same strategies will also work on other topics, where people are generally honest. This article gives general principles that apply to most topics, and gives pointers relevant to politics. These will help us find an answer — not the full answer, but at least the beginning of it — to the above, bolded question.

General Principles

Diversity between viewpoints – Try to listen to both sides of an argument. Everyone knows they should, but few actually do. People live in bubbles, surrounded only by people who think like they do, and never leave. If this seems false, see any of these four links: 1. 23. 4. We should ask the question, “what percent of our information comes from the right? What percent comes from the left?” These answers should be close to balanced. If they are not, consider reading into the other side.

Diversity within a viewpoint – People disagree not only between social circles, but also within them. Do all people of a certain ideological group think alike? Yes: they share a common ideology… but no: because they hold various interpretations and positions within that ideology. So, dig in to the nuances of the other side; it is better to know both halves than only one.

Quality – Imbibe only trustworthy sources. How do I know which sources are trustworthy? It is hard to know, but always try. Sometimes is is obvious whether a source is good or bad, and we take the information accordingly. Some sources are of more… intermediate quality. Make sure to take them with intermediate confidence.

Quantity – Consult several dozen sources rather than one. My new fun trick for school essays, even though it becomes a pain, is to double-cite information. Everything that needs one proof has two. (Another fun rule of thumb: use 25 sources for every five pages). Likewise, do not settle for one article. Read and read, because knowledge builds on itself over time like compound interest.

Specifics – Intricate details are important, so use them. The “fact-checking” approach really does work. We can argue with a vague narrative all day long, but can we argue about a specific fact? Maybe, but it is much more difficult. In a primary debate, Rand Paul undercut Donald Trump’s argument against the TPP in this way.

Big Picture – In contrast with the previous principle, the ability to zoom out and see the bigger picture can also help. When a journalist presents specific facts, he or she could be employing selective facts to support only their stance. Take a step back to see everything and work from there. Experts call this a cohort study, a meta-study, a study-of-studies, and other terms like that. Here is a good example.

Specific Techniques

journalism photo

Original Voice – Listen to politicians in their voice. Don’t listen to someone else’s review of the President’s speech. Go watch it yourself. It is refreshing to hear them speak, and you can know that you are receiving exactly the message they are sending. Sometimes media middlemen don’t have that politician’s best interests at heart. Can you trust them to be accurate? By listening to politicians themselves, you cut out the middlemen.

Individual Journalists Find a news organization you like, and go follow the individual journalists on Twitter. Don’t follow the website itself. This way, you see their unfiltered content. (And, not to mention, skip the clickbate that clogs most sites). I follow Glenn Greenwald from The Intercept, German Lopez from Vox, Nick Gillespie from Reason, and others.

Political Books – A boring suggestion, but worth it. The last one I read was about George W. Bush’s first term in office. It was so specific! It had the highest quality information I could have found. (It wasn’t helpful, because it was so out of date, but if it were still 2003? Checkmate.). Careful, probing journalism is more likely in a book — sold for money — than online — published for clicks. Buying and reading books takes time and money, so head to the new arrivals section at the local library, and skim.

Think Tanks and NGOs – Think Tanks receive funding from private donors. That makes them more biased on average than other sources, yes, certainly. But the content will be higher quality, because the funding model alleviates the click-traffic problem. The Cato Institute, for example, makes no claim to neutrality, but publishes very good studies (like these six: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6). Examples of good Think Tanks include the Heritage Foundation (Conservative), the Center for American Progress (Liberal), and Cato (Libertarian). NGOs, or Non-Government Organizations, handle topics that the American media often ignores. (As in, anything outside of the US). Some are specific — like the Small Arms Survey — and some are general — like Human Rights Watch. They provide minimally-biased reports, it seems. Use these for bedrock facts when questioning other sources.

Philosophers and Public Intellectuals – I love the series published by Daily Nous called “Philosophers On.” The editor gathers philosophers to write their opinion on a political issue. Why is this any different from regular people writing their opinion? Philosophy is a discipline based on making good arguments. This is their job. They should be good at it. A “public intellectual” comes close to the same thing, but without working as a professor. They also spend their days constructing arguments. Search Google for “_____ public intellectuals” to find people making very good arguments for their position. Fill in that blank with any given political ideology.

Bookmark Folder – Use Google Chrome’s bookmark feature to accumulate links. If you need information, the search function will find something support the point at hand… or provide a contrasting perspective. Mine now sits at well over 2000 links.

Critical and Scholarly Writing – Professors and scholars will take their arguments and compress them into a 15 page or so essay. These are great! They are much shorter than books, and usually the local library has subscriptions to all the publishing journals. Mine does. They include peer reviewed writing by academics and scholars in the field. Sometimes journals publish articles online without paywall, like my personal favorite for theology  Themelios, or MDPI’s Social Science journal. Quality scholarship is published here first, and quoted elsewhere later. This is where “breaking news” in political science ends up.

Political Science Textbooks – After enough time, we tend to develop a vague idea of how things work, generally. What if we could have clear-cut, certain knowledge about how that thing works? Textbooks give the latter. They provide the categories, the framework, to understand everything else. Now, never go out of your way to buy these… but when a professor assigns it for a class, or you spot one in the clearance section at a used bookstore, indulge.

Rehashing – Rehash an old debate to learn something new. How else can our opinions on political issues change, or grow? Over the years I have supported drug legalization, rejected it, supported it, rejected it, supported it, and finally settled on agnosticism. These changes happened in a only a few years, all because of rehashing. The rehashing stage says “Well, now that I’ve said that, I could be more specific by saying…” and then we nuance our positions. Most of the time, this makes them more accurate.

Avoid the Sensational–  Public policy should be boring. Would you rather go watch a movie in a theatre, or argue at a board meeting whether a 2.4% or 2.6% tax increase on cigarettes is better for the public balance of economy and health? Nobody cares!… which is exactly the problem. Anybody saying exactly what you want to hear is probably lying to you. Crazy headlines like “Sarah Sanders implodes while denying Comey was fired over Russia: He committed ‘atrocities’ against Clinton” is probably more spin than truth. In that example, she did not implode. She used the word atrocity, and said it so confidently that nobody questioned it until afterwords. Did that headline really capture the moment? Sensational reporting exaggerates and spins the truth at the same time.

Conclusion: Journalistic Quality

Right after the election, this chart popped up in everyone’s newsfeeds:

chart

What a great chart! I disagree on some of the specifics, like that Fox should be further right, NPR higher, BBC higher, and New York Times just a tad further left.

Here’s another chart:

chart2.png

We could tinker with the chart by moving the outlets around in each direction, but the main point is the still same. There are two axes: the usual left/right axis, and then a vertical axis for Journalistic Quality.

This essay provides a practical guide to moving vertically on the chart, to higher Journalistic Quality. Notice that this axis is independent of the left/right one; there are high quality sources on both sides of the aisle. Are you an extreme conservative? Aim for higher quality sources. Are you an extreme progressive? Do the same. Are you a radical centrist without a home in either party? This essay has given advice even to you, my independent friend, since anybody of any political persuasion can move vertically on the chart.

So, dip into the other side. Explore higher quality sources on your own side. Spend time gathering a large amount of information, and double-if-not-triple-check that it is true. Look at the technical specifics, the ground-level facts, but don’t forget to zoom out every now and again to see the big picture. In it all, do not try to be right; try to find the truth.

[revised May 15, 2017]

Cynicism

So much of life is a waste of time.

It seems like my peers and I wander around our lives. It seems like we lack purpose, like everything is accidental to us. We live on autopilot and pay no attention to the important parts of life, as time slips away.

We get caught up in irrelevant details. Who will be Valedictorian? It doesn’t matter; our dream school has already accepted us. What food will the cafeteria serve today? It doesn’t matter; the food never changes except to become worse. Who will handle the fallout from the Senior page? It doesn’t matter; school ends in five months and nobody cared in the first place. How can I do well on this Physics test? It doesn’t matter; homework and some previous good tests will gently offset it.

I am 90% done with high school, and just now I realize that it all is irrelevant.

I scroll Facebook and see posts about politics. (I’m into politics, just not the supersaturated nonsense that people tend to share). I see status updates from religious friends so consumed with accuracy in doctrine that their siblings in Christ come second. I scroll and scroll and scroll trying my hardest to avoid accidentally liking something, lest I see 45 of that person’s posts in the next week. I ignore dozens of anti-vaccine, anti-gmo, anti-round earth (not kidding), anti-climate change, and generally anti-science posts. I skip over video after video after video from Buzzfeed or other clickbate websites.

What actually matters?  Answering that question is a lot like answering “what should I do with my career?” Especially when younger, there wasn’t a clear answer- just eliminate some things that don’t work. Take a biology class; looks like I’m not going into biology. Take a Spanish class; looks like I’m not going into Spanish. Take a Band class; looks like I’m not going into music.

What actually matters? Not scrolling through Facebook. Not politics. Not recycling old, disproved arguments against climate change. Not trying really hard in class. Not social connections. Not working your way up in the student council world, or leadership development at all for that matter. Not leaving a legacy. Not “maintaining a good reputation”. Not. Not. Not. Not. Not.

What actually matters? I’m not sure- but I know what doesn’t matter.