Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Should A President's Religion Matter?

Sometimes I'll take a break from political satire and write a serious opinion piece like the following:

     As the Mueller investigation inexorably grinds on, the possibility of impeachment continues to be discussed. Many on the left welcome this result and believe that the consequent elevation of Mike Pence to the presidency would be preferable to the current Trumpian state of affairs.
     Personally, I’m not so sure. Although Mr. Pence looks and sounds presidential, there’s no guarantee that he would be a good choice. After all, he is a self-declared evangelical Christian and could be more dangerous than Donald Trump.
     For some reason, Americans are loath to carefully examine a presidential candidate’s religious beliefs. There was a time when one’s faith could be fatal to one’s political aspirations, particularly prior to the 1960 election of John F. Kennedy as America’s first Catholic president.
     However, once Kennedy assured the nation that “the separation of church and state is absolute” and that “no Catholic prelate would tell the president how to act”, everyone seemed satisfied that his religion no longer was an issue. Since then, there has been a wealth of presidential candidates of varying faiths including a Mormon, a Quaker, a Baptist, a Greek Orthodox and even another Catholic and few, if any, voters have considered that an issue of importance.
     Contrary to JFK’s assertion, if a presidential candidate is devoutly religious, I seriously doubt that he or she can clearly separate matters of faith from matters of governance. It may not have been a major problem for Kennedy since he did not seem overly concerned about following the tenets of Catholicism. But where someone is a devout believer and his faith is unorthodox at best, there could definitely be a problem.
     In the case of Mike Pence, the issue is particularly troubling because Mr. Pence is strongly guided by his faith, a faith that could lead to disastrous consequences for the country. Already we have seen evidence of how his evangelical beliefs have affected his governance such as voting to defund Planned Parenthood, voting to block the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and, while governor of Indiana, signing that state’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act and a severely restrictive anti-abortion law.
     What’s worse, however, is how Pence’s faith could affect America’s foreign policy, particularly in the Middle East. As a devout evangelical, Pence no doubt believes in the second coming of Christ and possibly even the rapture. Now some might say what’s wrong with that since that’s just his personal religious belief and many religions have peculiar articles of faith.
     What’s wrong with that is that Pence’s faith directly affects his position on Israel. Given that evangelicals believe that the formation of the state of Israel was foretold in the Bible and that it is a precursor to the end times and the eventual second coming of Christ followed by a thousand-year reign of peace, it is likely that a President Pence would do everything in his power to promote that end.
     He has already made it crystal clear that he unconditionally supports Israel including recognizing Jerusalem as its capital and reducing America’s foreign aid to the Palestinians. Remember, this is a man who refuses to dine alone with a woman other than his wife and has, in the past, quoted scriptures in support of different policy arguments. Given that, it seems quite likely that the Bible’s apocalyptic predictions would guide his foreign policy as president.
     Mike Pence thinks Jesus “tells him to say things.” In other than an evangelical Christian context, such a statement would be delusional. Even then, for the rest of us, it is seriously troubling. What if he’s one of those nutty evangelicals who feel divinely guided to hasten the end of the world as we know it?
     Given that possibility, I’d seriously think twice before hoping for Donald Trump’s impeachment. For now, it’s probably better to keep the crazy but uber-secular Trump in the White House and just hope for the best.    

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Trump: The Cancer Spreads North

Dear American friends and neighbours,
     I’ve got a bone to pick with you and it has to do with Donald Trump.
     Up until now, I’ve been watching your presidential train wreck with a touch of smugness. Sure, Donald Trump is a political disaster and a disgusting human being. But he’s basically your problem, a problem I don’t have to worry about here in Canada.
     Well, it turns out I may be wrong on that. In case you haven’t heard, the Ontario Progressive Conservative Party just chose Doug Ford to be their leader and potentially the next premier of the province if he prevails in the upcoming election.
     Now you’re probably saying “that name sounds awfully familiar” and you’re right; Doug Ford is the older brother of the late Rob Ford, the former mayor of Toronto. Yes, that Rob Ford, the guy who embarrassed the entire nation with his wild drunken and drug-addled escapades.
     Cast your mind back a few years and you’ll surely recall various Rob Ford episodes that resulted in him becoming the most popular punch line on American late night TV. Among others, there was his DUI in Miami in 1999, his drunken escapades on St. Patrick’s Day in Toronto City Hall in 2012, the video of him smoking crack cocaine in 2013 and the one of him running over a councilwoman in the council chamber that same year.
     What was most amazing about Rob Ford was that he was Donald Trump before Donald Trump entered the 2016 presidential race. No matter what Ford did, he seemed to be untouchable, a Teflon mayor. His populist appeal garnered him a solid base of unwavering support, a base that became known as Ford Nation.
     With Rob Ford’s death in 2016, we hoped that we had put this sad political chapter behind us. But it turns out that the cancer eating away at your body politic has apparently metastasized and spread north. Rob’s older brother Doug, a former Toronto city councilman and unsuccessful mayoral candidate has not only resuscitated Ford Nation; he has taken it to the next level with his campaign to become the next premier of Ontario.
     So far, it appears that Doug Ford has no platform apart from his Trumpian attacks against anyone and everyone. He wants to severely cut government services and has no use for the media.
     It took a bit of luck for Doug Ford to end up in this position, particularly when newly-elected Ontario PC leader Patrick Brown was embroiled in accusations of misconduct and had to step down. Even then, he had to pull out all the stops in order to defeat more centrist candidates like Christine Elliot and Caroline Mulroney, daughter of Canada’s much-reviled former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney.
     Like Trump’s surprise victories in 2016, it appears that Doug Ford barely squeaked by thanks to a solid base of unthinking, uncritical populist support. And given the widespread unpopularity of Ontario’s incumbent premier Kathleen Wynne, it looks like he might just pull off another upset and saddle Canada’s biggest province with an unqualified disruptive blowhard as leader.
     I can’t help but think that all this would have been nothing more than an unrealized nightmare but for the antics of your current president. As the Canadian mouse that sleeps with the American elephant, we are often under your spell and subject to the trends unfolding south of the border including a misplaced faith by some in the prejudices and promises of one Donald J. Trump and his copycats.
     I’ll cross my fingers and hope that Ms. Wynne can reverse her increasing unpopularity or that the New Democratic Party leader Andrea Horvath will pull off the impossible or that Doug Ford will follow in his late brother’s footsteps and self-destruct. If none of those things happens, however, I will offer you folks an apology, lose my smugness and check out American immigration rules.
     Trump can’t happen in Canada? I’m no longer so sure.
Yours truly,
Dave Martin 

Wednesday, March 07, 2018

Toddler Trump

     Commentators and politicians alike have spent the last year trying to predict and analyze the words and actions of one Donald Trump. Much electronic ink has been spilled in what has ultimately been a fruitless effort.
     As I see it, Trump’s critics are approaching this problem mistakenly. Their underlying assumption is that the President is a rational adult who will eventually see reason and alter his behavior to conform to accepted norms. But as Trump might say: “Wrong!”
     A more fruitful approach would be to accept Donald Trump for what he is: a spoiled unruly toddler. Check out his behavior and you’ll see that the current occupant of the White House is essentially a tiresome two-year-old.
     So if Trump is a two-year-old then what’s the answer? Treat him like a two-year-old, that’s what.
     All of us have been toddlers at one time and many of us have had to suffer through our children’s “terrible twos.” So it stands to reason that pundits, politicians and partners should employ the same tactics they used in the past to deal with young children.
The art of distraction
     When Trump has insulted someone for the tenth time or has lied over and over again, it would be helpful if his handlers distracted him. Whether it’s a shiny object, a game of golf or a few minutes of praise, hopefully those closest to him have lots of ways to divert his attention elsewhere.
Think like a toddler
     Toddlers often have difficulty understanding why they have to perform a specific task or behave a certain way. That’s when it’s helpful to put yourself in his booties and see the world from his perspective. Help him to understand why he can’t do anything he wants or why he has to follow the rule of law.
Avoid stressful situations
     Over time, you get to know what triggers will set off a toddler and possibly result in a full-blown tantrum. That’s why it’s advisable to avoid certain situations. For example, in the case of Mr. Trump, it might be wise to unplug his TV in the morning or hide his phone at night. The fewer opportunities he has to tweet or watch Fox & Friends, the easier it will be for everybody.
Try a timeout
     Sometimes a toddler becomes so upset and over-stimulated that he simply won’t listen to reason at all. In such cases, it’s often a good idea to give him a timeout. But don’t couch it in terms of a punishment but instead use it as an opportunity for the President to have some quiet time free from too much social media or TV viewing. You can always try offering a book as a distraction but most toddlers aren’t that interested in reading.
Relax and stay calm
     I’m sure most of you have been in that situation where a toddler is acting out and you tend to lose it and overreact. That’s the last thing you want to do since he’ll simply act up even more. Sometimes it’s best just to walk away and not buy into his antics. If he gets no reaction or attention, oftentimes he’ll just cry himself to sleep.
Just give in
     You don’t want to do this too often but sometimes it’s just easier all around to let your two-year-old have his way especially when it’s a fairly trivial matter. For example, if he wants to say that his Inauguration crowd or State of the Union address audience or tax cut was the biggest ever, it may not be worth the trouble to question it. Let him pretend and don’t rile him by presenting him with facts. That way you’ll be able to save your energy for another day. 

Friday, March 02, 2018

Seven Minutes of Hell


    January’s congressional game-playing resulted in a brief government shutdown followed by an extension of funding only to February 8th. A second shutdown was averted at the last minute and now the U. S. is facing a March 23rd deadline.  Here we go again.

      As usual, it starts out with a game of “chicken” with each party daring the other to pull the plug on government financing. Usually one party blinks before the deadline and the money issue is resolved. This time, however, the only thing clear is that all sides will be playing even more games. Games like:  

Pin the blame on the Democrats (Republicans)
     This one’s a favorite game at and for parties, in this case the Democrats and the Republicans. Watch as leaders like Mitch McConnell, Paul Ryan and Chuck Schumer try to recast this whole mess and blame it on each other.
Broken telephone
     The Republican Congressional leadership and selected Cabinet members are lined up in a room with President Trump. One leader whispers a legislative solution to another leader who then passes it on to one or more Cabinet members and the White House Chief of Staff. It finally reaches the ear of the President who manages to completely misunderstand the original solution.
Spin the media
     Members of both parties sit in a circle with assorted media reporters and take turns spinning tales of how theirs is the best funding plan. A party member may select one of the reporters to join him in a separate room for “seven minutes of hell” followed by a rowdy session of “fake news.”
Twenty questions
     Traditionally a game requiring creativity and deductive reasoning, “twenty questions” as played by politicians is a whole different animal particularly when the person answering the questions doesn’t know the rules of the game. That person is President Trump who often forgets that you’re not supposed to lie.
Musical seats
     Patterned on the old game of musical chairs, “musical seats” includes the entire Congressional membership circling their assigned seats until the music stops. Depending on an incumbent’s electoral chances this coming November, he may withdraw from his seat and join the likes of Bob Corker and Jeff Flake on the sidelines.
Donald says
     This modern version of the children’s game “Simon says” has legislators from both sides trying to reach a bipartisan goal by taking cooperative steps. The problem is that they can only take those steps if “Donald says” and it turns out he rarely does.