Thursday, November 16, 2017

A Sermon Preached in 1998 Recommending the Resignation of Bill Clinton as President

“This Dark Valley”
September 13, 1998; Rev. Carl W. Lindquist
Highlands United Methodist Church
Highlands, North Carolina 

Psalm 23

I want to postpone the sermon I had planned to deliver today in order to deal with the serious matter of the troubles surrounding the Presidency of the United States. 
Let me say how truly thankful I am that I am not President Clinton’s pastor this morning. That person is the Rev. Philip Wogaman of Foundry United Methodist Church in Washington, and some years ago, I once met him at a conference and had a long chat with him.  Perhaps this very moment, he is also preaching his sermon in the presence of the President and First Lady.  As we speak, I pray for him and the heavy responsibility that he has this morning.
I speak to you this morning with a heavy heart.  As you well know, I strenuously avoid preaching about contemporary political issues that might make me appear to be politically partisan in this pulpit, whether of the right or of the left.  But there comes a time, I think, when moral leaders in the communities of our nation have an obligation to speak to important national and international issues, and I believe that time has come for me.  And let me assure you that what I say this morning will, unlike the recent Starr Report, be fit for the ears and eyes of our children.  [I’m not sure that that report should have been released as it was on the Internet, given its sexually explicit content.]
What I say now I say most circumspectly and carefully.  We are seeing most politicians trying to ascertain the will of the American people, and that is their job I suppose.  But I am not putting my finger in the wind this morning to see which way it is blowing nor am I simply mirroring what I think this congregation might think.  My remarks are simply my own heart-felt perspective and conclusions, based on what I consider to be largely moral considerations and in our nation’s best interests.
I want to begin by saying what is obvious: that the United States is the world’s largest and most powerful democratic nation.  And within the US, the Presidency is the single-most important and powerful political office.  Therefore the office of the President of the United States is the most important position of political and governmental authority in the entire world. 
Nonetheless and somewhat paradoxically, the greatest power of the Presidency lies not in the nuclear button or some such physical force, but rather in its moral authority and the fact that it embodies the ideals and values of the American People.  It is for that reason that the Oval Office, where the President carries out his duties and from where he addresses the nation on matters of great national concern, is considered by the American people to be a revered, almost sacred, place.
It is a commonplace to observe that the American Presidency has to be filled by human beings, not angels.  That means that unlike the angels, the President of the United States will be imperfect, just like the rest of us, occasionally making mistakes, committing sins, violating society’s code of morality.  Nevertheless, there is still the expectation that the President will somehow both embody and practice the great virtues that are strongly believed in by the American people: virtues such as honesty, fidelity, compassion, loyalty, courage, and selflessness. 
It is in the tension between these two insights, that a President should embody and practice extraordinary virtue while of necessity also remaining a sinner, that every President must live and act in history.
Oddly enough, the President is not alone in this—there are other positions of responsibility that have this tension about them.  For example, a clergyman is also a human being who remains a sinner while at the same time also being expected to live a life of extraordinary virtue.  (Indeed, I have long thought that a pastor’s job is more like that of a politician than a doctor or a lawyer!)  We who are clergy also live in the tension between those two expectations. 
The difference between the President and we clergy of course is in the degree of authority and power that we wield.  The President of the United States literally has the power of life and death for not only this country, but for the entire world, in his hands.  So that while the serious moral failing of any individual pastor can end up damaging or even destroying a congregation as well as the faith of many Christians,  the consequences of the President  failing in a serious moral issue are potentially many, many times greater, affecting possibly the fate of the entire world. 
It is therefore a matter of terrible significance not only to we Americans but to the entire world that our President has been found to have betrayed both his marital and his official Presidential obligations and duties.   It is now beyond dispute that the President, while in office and over a period of some two years, committed sexual immoralities with an immature young woman in his employ and for whom he is responsible, and then was  intentionally dishonest  when asked under solemn oath about his conduct by constituted judicial authorities.
These are extremely serious charges that, if true, strike at the very heart of the trust that we the American people place in our President.
It is no accident that numerous clergyman have been interviewed in the media since all of this came out.  In yesterday’s New York Times, Dr. Robert Schuller had a guest column in which he really pushed President Clinton with some hard questions.  He wrote,

“How will the President react and respond to the unfolding scandal…?  More damage control?  More retrenching?  More digging in, holding on, firing back, summoning the tears, in an effort to win back the support of each people to keep himself in office…?  The questions I think the President needs to ask himself are these: Which course of action will be in the best interest of my family and my country?  Which course of action will restore honor and dignity to me and to all others who have been hurt?”

I find the notion that the President’s behavior is somehow strictly “personal” behavior that has no bearing on the public realm or that does not affect his Presidential obligations to be a fairly ridiculous notion.  As an analogy that I think is fairly apt, the President’s behavior is no more “personal” or “private” than if I as pastor had made the decision to have an intimate relationship with our female Duke Intern this summer and then lied about it when caught.  It is exactly the same situation.  If I had done that, I would have not only sinned against God and forfeited the trust of my wife, but I also would have rightly lost the trust of this congregation in my office as pastor.  And for me to expect to continue in my position as pastor of this church as if nothing had really happened, would be, it seems to me, a sign of both arrogance and lack of integrity.
In fact, several years ago, in serving on our Conference Board of Ordained Ministry, I was in a position, along with thirty-some other clergy, of having to decide the fate of several ministers who had done things in the same ballpark as President Clinton has now admitted to doing.  One of them, as you know, was my predecessor in this pulpit.  In each case, we felt that the only proper course for all concerned—pastor and family, congregation, denomination—was to remove these ministers from their churches and place them on leave of absence, despite the fact that none of them had any other truly viable means of making a living.  They were all encouraged to go through a substantial process of psychotherapy and spiritual renewal, with the understanding that return to ministry was an real option if they got their lives back together. 
Of all these ministers, only our friend Tom Steagald faithfully went through the process of recovery and renewal, saved his marriage and has now successfully returned to the ministry, a better person and a better pastor (all of which he shared with us last fall when he was back in this pulpit). Unfortunately, the rest simply could not deal with their problem or the mandated recovery process, and they never returned.
President Clinton has twice taken his oath of office, in which he vows to “faithfully execute the office of the President of the United States.”  In doing what he has now appears to have done, the President has in my opinion violated his oath of office and has lost the vital trust of many, many Americans in his basic character and integrity.  As with the pastoral office, so it is even more true with the Presidential office: what is more important than personal character and integrity?  What is more important than a President’s word?  Can a President continue to effectively lead and to govern when this happens?
President Clinton is perhaps the most gifted politician of his generation.  He has incredible charisma and relationship ability, as well as a tremendous intelligence when it comes to policy matters.  I’ll never forget the evening we were having dinner with Chuck Colson a couple years ago, courtesy of Jack and Ruth Eckerd, and Chuck was sharing his experience of having met President Clinton at the funeral of former President Nixon.  He told of talking to President Clinton for perhaps 15 minutes and of having been captivated by this man’s relational charisma even when they were on opposite sides of the political and ideological spectrum.  President Clinton was, according to Colson, simply an extraordinary politician, one whom one was almost forced to admire and like by the sheer force of his personality.
And so, both because of his immense charisma, as well as the prosperity and peace in which we find ourselves for the moment, many Americans, according to the polls, continue to like and admire President Clinton, despite his immoral and tawdry unpresidential behavior.
All partisan politics aside, what is happening is a real tragedy, both for the President and for this nation.  Aside from a few political zealots, nobody is happy to see happen what is happening. 
One thing we must always remember is that the office of the Presidency is bigger and greater than any person or occupant.  It is a great privilege, as well as a great responsibility, to be the American President; it is not a right.  And if someone in that greatest of all political offices commits misdeeds or crimes sufficient to destroy his or her credibility and their ability to govern and to lead the nation in its many important undertakings, then for the good of the nation, perhaps that person should step aside and allow their designated successor to take over the responsibilities of the office.
I believe that we have reached that point. The honorable thing for our President to do, having chosen to act in such a reckless and mendacious manner and with such disrespect for his office, is to resign that office and return to private life to begin the process of recovering and renewing his personal life, his family life, and perhaps even his political vocation.  Vice-president Gore, who is prepared by background and experience to assume the Presidency, would then succeed him. 
Unfortunately, what is quite unseemly now is that the President appears ready to cling to his office, no matter the cost to the nation.  While finally confessing his sin and misdeeds in such public settings as last Friday’s National Prayer Breakfast, seeking forgiveness from individuals who have been involved as well as from the nation, the President also instructs his attorneys “to mount a vigorous [legal] defense.” 
Honestly, I am quite troubled by this.  I find this dichotomy to be very peculiar, quite troubling, and ultimately unconvincing.  How can one lay down the sword in contrition, as it were, and at the same time, wield the sword in one’s defense?  It does not compute.
 The issue is not whether we like this President.  Many of us do, while some of us don’t.  Furthermore, many people agree with his basic policies while others don’t.  Neither of these things really matter now.   The sole issue is whether the behavior of our President has caused his credibility as President to disintegrate and has severely damaged our trust in his capacity to faithfully serve in the high office of the Presidency.
Are the President’s misdeeds grounds for impeachment?  I don’t know; but even more than that I hate to see for this whole affair to go to that length, only drawing out the trauma and damage to the nation while keeping us from dealing with the terribly important issues that face us as we are about to enter the 21st century.  Though it may eventually have to come to a long drawn inquiry, I wish that our President were wise enough and truly humble enough to realize that his behavior, whatever their cause or origin, has severely damaged his ability to serve, that he is not irreplaceable, and that he could best serve this nation he says he loves by humbly offering to step aside so that the nation’s business might go on.
 Our actions, no matter who we are, always have consequences.   If we are contrite, we should receive forgiveness, both from God and others, for our sinful actions.  But that does not change the fact that we face consequences as a result of our decisions and actions which are often permanent in nature.  The seeds we sow, good and bad, do in time bear fruit, both good and bad.   That is the truth of our moral universe, and nothing will change it.
I wish it were different, but I am not optimistic in this situation.  The most statesmen-like act that President Clinton could do would be to honorably resign, but it doesn’t look like he will.  So we will probably move into a time of obsessive and partisan wrangling and divisiveness, while other important issues of foreign and national concern are placed are the backburner and basically ignored.  It is a dark valley that we are entering, and while we are there, we need to keep faith and hope.
Dr. Schuller concluded his column with these words:  “The world is facing dangerous times, financially, politically, physically, spiritually and morally.  The United States needs to be at its strongest now, more than ever.  This country and the world demand honest, moral and humble leadership immediately.  We can go no longer without it.  The nation awaits the President’s answer.”
And while we wait, we should keep President Clinton, Mrs. Clinton and Chelsea in our prayers.  We keep the members of the House of Representatives and of the Senate in our prayers as they consider what they shall do.  We pray for our nation as we dwell in this very dangerous time of weakened leadership.  And we pray that God will lead and guide us all through this peril, through this dark valley in which we are now walking.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Friends Forever: A Graduation Sermon

Thanks to a reminder from a former parishioner, I just ran across this sermon I wrote in 2000.  Thought I would publish it here, since it contains a lot of valuable advice for both current graduates and the rest of us too!

"Today we want to honor our seniors as they come to their graduation from high school.   This morning I find that I speak from my heart as both as a pastor and as a parent, though I don’t happen to have a senior this year, (though in another sense I feel like a father to some of you seniors).
In the course of 18 years, we have seen you go from being helpless, totally dependent babies nestled in your mother’s arms to what we now must acknowledge to be independent young adults, ready and able to venture out into this big wide world that God has created for us.  What an amazing change we have witnessed!
Highlands UMC 2000 Graduating Class
We who are your parents still want to call you kids.  And you are our kids.  And in a sense you’ll always be our kids.  And as you all know from time to time, we still try to treat you as ‘kids,’ as our dependent children to protect and nurture and keep from harm.   Of course that’s more of a habit, or maybe a wish to go back in time, to reverse direction in our family’s life and go back to when you needed us, and we could care for you and protect you against those things in this world that can harm you.
But deep down in our hearts we know those days are over.  We know it.  Oh, you might still need a small loan, or we might still have to spend a small fortune on your college education or your wedding.
But the bottom line is that we recognize that you are young adults now.  Like a baby bird that has been growing big and strong, with wings of feathers capable of soaring on the winds, you need to get out of the nest and fly on your own.  For you were born to fly, to soar high and beautifully.  And fly you must if the circle of life is to be completed.
 And we know that you need that.  If we parents have been doing our job right, this is a time we have been preparing for.  But still it frightens us, not because you lack anything, but because it’s just hard for us to change what we’ve been doing for so many years now.
So have patience with us if we have a difficult letting you go.  Over the last 18 years you have become part of us.  We have poured our lives into yours, and while it has been a lot of work, it has given us the greatest joy and satisfaction.  You may not fully understand this until, God willing, you raise your own children and experience it yourself.   Your leaving is a bit like cutting off an arm.  We’ll adjust in time, but in the meantime it just plain hurts.
But it’s time for you to fly, to soar on your beautiful wings that are strong and ready, if yet still a little untested.  We want you to go and you need to go.  But always know that we still want to be a part of your lives, though on a different basis than before, which we’ll work out together, as adults.
So what do we want for you?  The best, of course. 
But more specifically, we want you to fulfill your life and your God-given destiny, whatever that is.   We want you to go out and take the abilities, skills, and talents that God has given you and you’ve developed, and both develop them more and find a place to apply them.  We want you to do something useful and productive, something that will make this community, this society, and this world a better place than it was before you arrived.  Probably, it isn’t perfectly clear to us or to you what that is, and that’s okay.  That will develop as you go through your life, and for some of us, it may take quite a while!  And if you let him, God will help you find it.
We of course want you to be happy.  But our faith tells us that happiness is not something that we seek for directly, but rather it is largely a byproduct of other things.  One thing is for sure: happiness certainly does not depend upon being wealthy or beautiful or powerful.  Those may or may not be worthy goals in their own right, but don’t count on them making you happy.  Many people grasp for happiness by being self-centered or materialistic or by seeking a life of constant pleasure.  But true happiness is not to be found there. 
So how does one find true happiness?  Yes, that is the ‘million dollar question’, isn’t it!  But we believe that God has given us the answer to that question.  But rather than it being the answer to a ‘yes or no’ question or a ‘multiple choice’ question, it’s more like the answer to an ‘essay’ question—there are as many ways to answer it as there are individuals, yet some answers are more correct than others.  So let me give you Carl’s brief essay answer to this question of where one finds true happiness in this life, understanding that everyone here would put this in a slightly different way.
And my answer is simply this:  remember who you are.  You are God’s beloved child, you are his beautiful creation, you are made in God’s own image.  Everything else you do or make of yourself should revolve around this understanding of who you are. 
If you will live your life with this understanding of who you are and live out its meaning, true happiness will come to you as naturally as the rain falls on the earth.  True happiness is none other than what the Bible refers to as the joy and peace that comes to you when you live out the reality of being God’s beloved child.
  So, make room for God in your life.  Indeed, more than make room, surrender your life over into His keeping through trust in Christ.  Never forget that you are ultimately a spiritual being, and that faith in Christ is as natural and as essential a part of your life as anything else.  Therefore, practice being a faithful person, using the spiritual disciplines of prayer, worship, scripture study, fellowship in community and deeds of love and mercy.
I don’t know of a better recipe for real happiness and blessedness than the Sermon on the Mount, which Jesus taught his disciples in Matthew’s gospel, chapters 5-7, and which he demonstrated for us in his life.  Blessed are the humble, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers.  Do not store up for yourself treasures on earth, but store up for yourself treasures in heaven.  Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.  Do not worry about your life or about tomorrow, but seek first God’s kingdom and his righteousness.  Build your house (and your life) upon a rock and not upon shifting sand, because a house built upon a rock will not fall when the storms comes.
Christ put it well in the gospel of John, when he said that we are to love one another as he loved us.  In doing so, we become friends, friends of our brothers and sisters and friends of Christ, friends forever.
One more thought on happiness.   One contemporary writer, Richard Carlson, author of the “Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff” series, put it this way:  “The truth is, there’s no better time to be happy than right now.  If not now, when?  Your life will always be filled with challenges.  It’s best to admit this to yourself and decide to be happy anyway.  There is no way to happiness.  Happiness is the way”  (from Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff).
This is a determination to live in the present, making the most of every hour and every day, because we never know when our life will end.  The prominent philosopher John Lennon once wrote:  “Life is what’s happening while we’re busy making other plans.”  Now is the only time we have!  So, plan for the future, and learn from the past, but live in the present and enjoy or at least appreciate every day as it comes.
  Let me go on to some other aspects of living life wisely.  Accept yourself—who you are and where you come from.  And be grateful for it.  One of the truest things I ever saw on a poster was this: “What you are is God’s gift to you.  What you make of yourself is your gift back to God.”  This is, I think, the heart and soul of service.  When we serve, we give back to God what he has first given to us.
Learn the lessons that life has to teach you, which interestingly enough mostly come from the problems we encounter in life.  Life is difficult, about that there is little doubt.  All of us will, at some point in our lives, turn to the book of Job for solace and comfort.  But in the face of tough times, determine that you will not ever give into despair or become cynical.  Hang in there when things seem to fall apart, and friends desert you, and even God seems to have hidden his face.  For in reality, like the sun beyond the clouds, God is still there and your real friends are still there.  Always keep hope alive in your life.
Strive to be a person of integrity.  Always keep your promises and commitments, or don’t make them in the first place.  Be honest in all your dealings, and know that lies, whether large or small, will always find you out.
But in your honesty, don’t be so blunt to the point of brutality or cruelty.  Practice speaking the truth with gentleness and compassion, and if that proves too difficult, at least be civil.  We often find that a hard thing to do, when we are filled with passion in our beliefs and thoughts.  At all times, always look to build other people up, to share in their joys and their sorrows, to be a peacemaker.
Practice true humility.  You don’t need to seek other’s approval by bragging about your accomplishments.  They speak for themselves.  People are actually drawn to persons who have a quiet, inner confidence and don’t need to make themselves look good.
Never hate anyone or allow yourself to become bitter or cynical.  These negative attitudes are toxic poisons to the soul, both your own and that of others.  They will slowly kill you.  Forgive one another.  Forgive one another.  Forgive one another.
Be grateful.  Focus on what is good in your life and the things for which you can be grateful.  And of course the ultimate recipient of our gratitude should be the One who has made us and provided us with good things, our loving and almighty heavenly Father.  Someone has written that “everything has God’s fingerprints on it.” And we should try to view the world from that perspective.
And I should like to add how important it is that we as a human community try to reconnect with the natural world, God’s creation.  In all our Western affluence, with all our technology, we have increasingly become disconnected from the creation, from nature.  We have forgotten that we are not gods, that we are also a part of nature.  And what we do to nature, we do to ourselves.  So let us begin to treat the earth and all its creatures with more respect, gentleness and compassion.  Remember, the creation doesn’t belong to us, we belong to the creation.
Now let me become even a bit more specific, graduates.  Except for a house and a car, avoid debt like the plague.  Throw away those applications for credit cards that you’re already receiving in the mail.  Spend less than you make.  Save and invest as much as you can.  In your finances and in every other part of your life, practice self-discipline and self-control.  Control your desires, your passions, your feelings, your habits, and your actions. Make these your servants, and never allow yourself to become their slave.  And if you ever do become enslaved, seek help.
Set goals for your life, both short and long term, and then do what is necessary to achieving them.  Strive for excellence.  But at the same time, don’t forget to enjoy the simple and daily pleasures of life.
Avoid television and movies as much as possible, and when you do watch, make sure it’s not mental and emotional “junk food.”  Read more good books.  Listen to good music, for music is the language of angels.
Don’t read People magazine!  In other words, don’t envy or try to imitate celebrities, because most of them know less about living the “good life” than you do, and certainly less than your parents do.  Instead, find yourself a real hero to emulate, maybe your father or mother or a grandparent or uncle or aunt, or a teacher or coach, or a saint or prophet.  Set for yourself high ideals.
If you get married, and the chances are that most of you will, be very careful about the person you select as your life’s partner.  Get serious premarital counseling.  But once you have made your wedding vows, keep them!  Work hard at your marriage, and be prepared to change, because both you and your partner and your relationship will change over the years.  And make this the basic operating principle of your marriage:  when in doubt about whose turn it is to take out the trash, go ahead and take it out.!
Finally, although I know that it’s probably hard for you to think about his now, don’t forget to grow old gracefully.  Early in our lives, it’s easy to think we’re going to live forever.  Later on, when our bodies start to go bad, we begin to face the hard truth of life and our eventual mortality.  That’s when some of us go kind of crazy and have mid-life crises and so forth.
But actually it’s a pretty good idea to once in a while consider your death and in so consider the state of your life.  When you lie on your deathbed, what will you think of your life--your relationships, your priorities, your achievements?  What would want your epitaph, carved on your tombstone, to be?
Most people look back on their lives and wish they had spent more time with the people and activities they truly loved and less time worrying about aspects of life that don’t really matter all that much.
There is something to be said for living each day as if it were your last day on earth.  Not to be morally reckless or to neglect your responsibilities, but simply to help remind yourself of how wonderfully precious life really is and what your real priorities in this life should be.
Well, that’s it for today.  Graduates, we wish you the very best.   We’re proud of you, and we love you and will always support you.  God go with you, and know that you are loved, and that you are always in our thoughts and prayers, wherever you are.

Heavenly Father,
We are thankful for these young people you have shared with us, as our children and our friends.  We now humbly present them back to you.  Go with them and keep them safe as they leave our control and our protection.  Continue, in your ultimate wisdom and providential care, to make them into what you would have them to be.  And may your love continue to fill their hearts and lives, as we all together remain your people and your spiritual family in humble service in this place and throughout the world.  In Christ’s name we pray.   Amen."  

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Anti-Semitism in America

Anti-Semitism.  A subject that, unfortunately, has been recently politicized (against you know who) but still deserves comment, especially with these recent damnable Jewish cemetery desecrations.

Having spent last summer visiting many very old cemeteries in New England for Mary Beth's ancestry research, I can tell you that few things outrage me more, as I get older, than cemetery vandalism and desecration. To me cemeteries are a sacred place, no less so than a holy place of worship. And to damage or desecrate these places is a terrible, degenerate thing.

I am something of a amateur history buff, particularly concerning WWII, and so I've read a considerable amount about Hitler, the rise of Nazism with its extreme form of anti-Semitism, and the consequent experience of the Holocaust.

Also, when I was preparing for my role as Tevye in 'Fiddler on the Roof' a few years ago, I did a study of Jewish life in Christian Europe over the last two millennia, along with the accompanying anti-Semitism.

Finally, in my research on Islam over the last 2 years or so, I looked at the Muslim views of Jews and the widespread anti-Semitism to be found in the Islamic world today.

So I think I can safely say that I know a thing or two about anti-Semitism, at least from an historical perspective.  Furthermore, I think I can make an assertion here without fear of contradiction that, aside from Israel, the United States is the least anti-Semitic country in the world today. As a ethnic and religious group, Jews are more welcome in America than anywhere else, again except for Israel, the Jewish homeland.

Of course, that hasn't always been the case. Prior to WWII and the Holocaust, Jews were somewhat frowned upon in American life, much like they were in Europe. Despite that, however, millions of Jews emigrated to the United States in the 19th and 20th centuries and made a life and a home here.  And since WWII, anti-Semitism has largely been pushed to those tiny nooks and crannies of American life where a few neo-Nazis hide away.

Now, in the last 6 months or so, claims have been made that President Trump is anti-Semitic, or that he has staff around him who are anti-Semitic, or that he has a significant group of political supporters who are anti-Semitic. These claims has been made, of course, by political opponents and (not too strong a word) enemies of Trump.

Of course, some of these critics are the same ones who were ready at the drop of a hat to call a good quarter of the US population (in the case of Hillary's 'deplorables') "racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamophobic--you name it".  (I'm actually surprised that she didn't add 'anti-Semitic' to her list, maybe because she knew it wouldn't sell?)

Needless to say, I'm not particularly inclined right now to give much credence to those accusations against the Trump administration, unless there is some significant evidence to go along with them. And frankly, there really isn't, at least that I've seen. To the contrary, from what I can see, the Trump administration is the most pro-Israel, pro-Jewish administration since the Reagan years.

Speaking now as a (somewhat reluctant) Trump voter, I can honestly say that I have only run across one other Trump supporter whom I would consider to be anti-Semitic. It was a young man who we met on the plane flying out to Colorado a year ago January. Sitting next to us, we got a chance to talk about things, and though he clearly was a 'country boy' from rural North Carolina, he was very smart and amazingly well-read, particularly in theology, which surprised me greatly. (Incidentally, he was on his way out West with a few friends to do some big-game hunting of elk.)

When I got back home, I friended him on Facebook to continue our dialogue, which we did. And then, all of a sudden, a few months later last spring, I started seeing some videos show up on his FB wall that were clearly anti-Semitic, and almost crudely so. (He had become a Trump supporter by this time, though separately from what I was now seeing.) So I messaged him to inquire about what I was seeing, to make sure he understood what he was posting, to make sure he wasn't being hacked or something, and, frankly, to express my distress at what I was seeing.

Turns out that indeed he had been posting the anti-Semitic videos and that he had been sucked into the anti-Semitic ideology they were pushing (and believe me, you know it when you see it, it's so obvious).   I was shocked to put it mildly and tried to persuade him that this was a very wrong direction to go. But that didn't work, for whatever reason, and so I told him that I could not be FB friends with a dedicated anti-Semite. So we parted ways and I've lost touch with him.

All this to say, I KNOW that there are susceptible individuals out there who can get sucked into an extremist ideology like neo-Nazism, and who can also support a conservative political candidate like Trump. BUT if my personal experience is any guide, these kind of people are very far and few between in America.

Whoever is committing these anti-Semitic attacks on Jewish cemeteries and synagogues needs to be caught and prosecuted. I hope law enforcement is committing resources to track them down.

Clearly, there are extremists on the Left--as we've seen with a number of 'black-bloc' anarchist riots--and extremists on the Right. Both extremes need to be condemned and corralled.  What we don't need to do is politicize these extremists and use them as weapons in our political and media campaigns against our public officials.

Monday, February 6, 2017

On the Comparison of Trump and Hitler

The picture below shows some of my collection of books on Hitler, the Nazis, and the Second World War. I think it's a pretty good collection, considering I'm neither a scholar on Adolf Hitler nor an historian of the Nazi era in German history.  Though you may not be able to make out the individual titles, they include several outstanding biographies of the Führer, along with an old copy of his primary manifesto, Mein Kampf.

I started gathering and reading these books decades ago, of course, but my interest definitely peaked after my father, Lennart Lindquist, died in 1998. At that point, my appreciation of what Dad had done in WWII--piloting a B-17 on 35 bombing missions over Nazi Germany--grew immensely, as did my interest in learning more about Hitler and his Nazis, the target of my Dad's 500 lb. bombs.  So I committed myself to learning as much as I can about those topics (again as an amateur), along with a similar interest in Communism and the Soviet Union, the other great totalitarian threat of the 20th Century.

My Dad in front of his B-17 Flying Fortress, 1944.
As I mentioned a few days ago, all this talk of our new President being a new American Hitler has led me back into rereading some of the books on that shelf.

Which leads me to say this: anyone who thinks there is any significant resemblance between Hitler and the Nazis on the one hand, and Trump and the Republicans, on the other, is talking sheer nonsense. And not only is it historical and political nonsense, it also is symptomatic of a political hysteria, an hysteria on the liberal-left which is not only quite offensive to everyone who ended up voting for the Republicans this year, but in its own extreme way, it is very dangerous to the country.

Though I really wouldn't need to do this in a country that had even a rudimentary understanding of American and world history, since that seems clearly not to be the case, let me share just a few of the distinctions and differences between Herr Hitler and our President to make the basic point here.

First, are there any similarities?  Well, yes, it is true that both men have German-sounding names, given that they both are of German ancestry:  Hitler/Trump.  They both abstain(ed) from alcohol and tobacco.  They both were interested in buildings: designing and building them (Hitler loved talking architecture with Albert Speer, his chief architect).  They both were effective public speakers (much like Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, for that matter).  And they both managed to become the primary leaders of their respective countries, through a legitimate electoral process.  That's about it, in terms of what they might have in common, it seems to me.

Oh, and they both wrote a best-selling book, which described their larger goals.  Hitler wrote Mein Kampf, and Trump wrote The Art of the Deal.

In Mein Kampf, written in the early 1920s (about a decade or so before he gained power), Hitler described the basic elements of his worldview: Aryan Supremacy (his Racialist Doctrine of the Master Race), the sub-human and even Satanic nature of the Jews, and the need for the German people to conquer the lands to the East (slavic lands including Russia) in order to achieve continental, and eventually world, domination.

All this was to be achieved by eliminating parliamentary democracy in Germany and consolidating all national power--political, economic, and cultural--in the Nazi party.  And once Hitler gained power as Chancellor on January 30, 1933, over the next 12 years, he carried out the goals of his vision almost without deviation.  Fortunately for us, he was only defeated by the combined armed forces of the United States, Great Britain, and the Soviet Union, (including my brave father).

Now, Donald Trump's book, The Art of the Deal, gives you an insight into his life goals.  Which has been to make great business deals, to build great buildings, and get rich.  That's about it.  And he was successful in fulfilling his goals in life.

While Trump talked occasionally about running for President over the years, it never seemed to be a serious ambition, until, it is said, President Obama goaded him into it by making fun of him in public, at the 2011 White House Correspondents dinner.  And even then, the campaign seemed totally quixotic until, well, against all odds he actually won.  And then half of America lost their minds.

Actually, I think I've made my point.  If you want to read more about Hitler and the Nazis, you can find dozens of biographies/histories around.  I recommend a very readable biography by John Toland, entitled simply Adolph Hitler, but there are others by Ian Kershaw, Alan Bullock, etc.

Or, on the other hand, if you want to continue to listen to political fools like Ashley Judd, with her moronic rantings about Trump's Nazi inclinations, well, it truly is a free country where a person can get up onstage within a mile or so of the President and make fun of him, and there are simply no consequences.  Madonna can even ruminate about wanting to blow up the White House, and yet no one is sent to jail, beat up, or put in a concentration camp.  God bless America.

Now, obviously none of what I have said here is meant to say that we all can't criticize Trump for his words and actions as President.  Of course we can, and I have routinely criticized every President, including our current one.  That's normal politics and that's good.  Free speech and assembly, checks and balances, frequent elections: all that good stuff that we all love about this stable constitutional republic we call the United States of America.

But the kind of apocalyptic rhetoric I'm seeing from the (hopefully) loyal opposition in our country is out of control.  People, get a grip, please.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

The Trump Doctrine: Turning the Clock Back to 1991

For those trying to make sense of Trump's controversial interview with The Times of London and the German newspaper Das Bild, it is important to combine his ideas about nationalism, mass immigration, Islam, and Russia.

In that interview, Trump spoke candidly about the European Union and its current troubles.
The president-elect is much less sanguine about the future of the EU itself. A combination of economic woes and the migrant crisis will, he believes, lead to other countries leaving. “People, countries, want their own identity and the UK wanted its own identity. But, I do believe this, if they hadn’t been forced to take in all of the refugees, so many, with all the problems that it . . . entails, I think that you wouldn’t have a Brexit. This was the final straw that broke the camel’s back. . . I believe others will leave. I do think keeping it together is not gonna be as easy as a lot of people think. And I think this, if refugees keep pouring into different parts of Europe . . . I think it’s gonna be very hard to keep it together because people are angry about it.”
Trump is clearly a Euroskeptic; in other words, he sees the project of the European Union--created for the purpose of forging a superstate not unlike the United States out of the many disparate nations of Western, Central, and Eastern Europe--as problematic.

The way the EU has developed, when a country joins the Union, that nation gives up a significant amount of its national sovereignty, including the right to establish and police its own borders.  Instead, the various bureaucracies of the EU makes those decisions.  That is the essential problem, as Trump views these things.  The 'natives' of the various European states are getting restless, as they see the power to make their own decisions about their own countries depleted and turned over Brussels bureaucrats.  This is especially true when it comes to mass immigration.
While he expresses admiration for Angela Merkel, Mr Trump believes that she made 'one catastrophic mistake' by welcoming an unlimited number of Syrian refugees. More than one million migrants from north Africa and the Middle East arrived between 2015 and 2016. He adds that he believes the West should have built safe zones in Syria — paid for by the Gulf — to limit the surge. 'I think she made one very catastrophic mistake and that was taking all of these illegals, you know taking all of the people from wherever they come from. And nobody even knows where they come from.'
There is no rancour or glee in his prediction of the break-up of the EU, quite the opposite. His demeanour is warm and genial, the flame-throwing rhetoric of his rallies and press conferences replaced with showers of compliments. He describes Jean-Claude Juncker as a very fine gentleman, and says that he has great respect for Mrs Merkel.
His pessimism about the EU is rooted in his view of it as anti-jobs and anti-growth. And it springs, as so much of his world view does, from his experience as a businessman rather than any ideological preconception.
Mr Trump’s view is that Europe is dominated by Germany, and Britain was wise to extract itself: 'You look at the European Union and it’s Germany. Basically a vehicle for Germany. That’s why I thought the UK was so smart in getting out.'
President Obama was opposed to the Brexit vote, Trump was in favor of it.  The UK, to everyone's surprise, voted in favor of getting out of the EU.  Trump's position was vindicated by the British public, and so it should be no big surprise to anyone that he is now talking about working closely with the current UK leadership to forge a new and closer alliance.

The rest of the EU is creaking and groaning toward the future.  The Euroskeptical nationalist (so-called 'far-right') parties of the various EU countries are gaining in popularity and political power, again mostly because of their loss of power to determine such crucial issues as immigration and counter-terrorism.  Right or wrong, it seems clear that Trump is not opposed to a fragmenting of the European Union.

Trump is also opposed to mass, uncontrolled immigration, whether it's from Mexico and Central America into the US, or from the Muslim nations of the Middle East and North Africa into Europe.  Such immigration threatens the historical and national identity of the Western countries and given the importance of nationalism to his worldview, it's no wonder that he opposes it.  And when you add in the threat of Islamic jihadist terrorism, well, what more needs to be said?

But it's not just the EU, it's also the NATO alliance.  Trump has been openly critical of NATO, which has led to much gnashing of teeth both in Europe and in the American political Establishment.
Mr Trump’s hostility to the EU has been matched by his scepticism towards another pillar of the postwar order, Nato. But the president-elect was at pains to emphasise that he is committed to the defence of Europe and the West. His concerns are, principally, that Nato had not reformed to meet the main threat that we face — Islamist terrorism — and its members had relied too heavily on America. “I said a long time ago that Nato had problems. Number one it was obsolete, because it was designed many, many years ago. Number two the countries aren’t paying what they’re supposed to pay. I took such heat, when I said Nato was obsolete. It’s obsolete because it wasn’t taking care of terror. I took a lot of heat for two days. And then they started saying Trump is right.

“And the other thing is the countries aren’t paying their fair share so we’re supposed to protect countries. But a lot of these countries aren’t paying what they’re supposed to be paying, which I think is very unfair to the United States. With that being said, Nato is very important to me. There’s five countries that are paying what they’re supposed to. Five. It’s not much.”
Add to all this Trump's view on Russia and you have the makings of a sea change in American foreign policy (and I haven't even brought up China!).  One of Trump's long-standing views is that we need to try and normalize our relations with post-Communist Russia, given the fact that they have left their Marxist-Leninist ideology behind and restored their old Russian identity, which is (potentially) much less hostile to the US, Europe, and the world.

One of the least discussed realities of the last 20 years is how the US (and its European allies) pushed the NATO military alliance toward the new borders of Russia, in the process antagonizing the Russian leaders and causing them to become both defensive and increasingly hostile toward the West.  Trump has tried to reverse this process, though in the process infuriating the Western foreign policy Establishment.

Bottom-line, Trump's views are almost diametrically opposed to the foreign policy Establishment of both Republican and Democratic parties.  He has honestly earned their enmity.

It strikes me that if Trump could turn back the clock to around 1991--when we were still friends with Russia, before NAFTA, before the Iraq Invasion, etc.--and start over again, he would.  And perhaps that's exactly what he's trying to do.  He probably won't succeed, but hang on, because,one, he's starting to shake things up, and two, it doesn't pay to be too skeptical of the Donald.

Monday, January 9, 2017

On The Wikileaks Emails

With regard to the Wikileaks emails and the alleged Russian hacking of the election, here are some of my thoughts.

First, I always assume that all the world's major powers are conducting espionage and 'cyber-warfare' against each other all the time, to the best of their ability and in their own self-determined national interest.  That's just the nature of international politics.  First and foremost among those powers is the United States, China, and Russia.   But they are joined by many others, including the U.K., France, Germany, Israel, Iran, and so on.

Second, I'm not sure why it should be so surprising to anyone that Russia may have an interest in 'interfering' in our election.  We have certainly not hesitated to 'interfere' in their political system since the end of WWII, and that continued in a even more enhanced way after the fall of the Soviet Union in the 1990s.

The best accounting of this US involvement in Russian politics that I've read is by Stephen Cohen, long-time professor of Russian History at, first, Princeton and now at NYU, both in his numerous articles for The Nation magazine and in his books, esp. 'Failed Crusade: America and the Tragedy of Post-Communist Russia'.  What he shows is how extensive (and counterproductive!) our 'democracy-promotion' efforts in Russia have been in the last 25 years, actually causing the majority of Russians to move from a pro-US position to an anti-US one over the decade of the 90s and into the new century.  Add to this the efforts of the US to push the NATO military alliance to the borders of Russia, and you have all the ingredients necessary for a new and very dangerous Cold War, which is what Cohen says is going on now.

Furthermore, we conduct espionage and influence campaigns on our own allies, for God's sake.  In Germany in 2013, the US was caught wiretapping the phone calls of Chancellor Angela Merkel.  Israel does it to us all the time, and I assume we do it to them.  And Russia and China do it to all of the above.  It's just the way the real world works.

My sense of this recent post-election contretemps is that no one 'in the know' is really shocked about all this, except for some gullible Americans.   And that of course is the whole point, isn't it?  Keep the outrage and resentment about the recent election churning.

Third, why should the recent pronouncement of Messrs. Comey, Brennan, Rogers, and Clapper be considered as if it were objective, non-partisan, and, well, infallible?  If I remembered correctly, the Clintons were as recently as a few weeks ago blaming FBI Director James Comey for Hillary's loss.  I guess they don't figure that he is so infallible.  And wasn't DNI Director James Clapper being considered for perjury charges for having lied to Congress about NSA bulk data collection from Americans just a few years ago?  And isn't the CIA widely considered to be the private army of the President, with its director being under the direct control of the President and no one else?  Why would anyone necessarily think that CIA Director Brennan is totally and completely impartial when it comes to this very partisan issue?  I don't.

I for one will be very interested to see how the assessment of all this changes when Trump's people take over.  If they have a different take, then I guess it shows that the leaders of the Intelligence Community can't always be taken as totally objective, infallible, and non-partisan.  Which is what I happen to think now.

Fourth, for what it's worth (and I'm not sure how much it is), Julian Assange, the head of Wikileaks, has said that it was not the Russians who gave Wikileaks the Podesta emails.  And again, for what it's worth, it doesn't look to me like it would be all that difficult to have hacked Podesta's emails....or Clinton's for that matter, given she had her private server in her bathroom at home.  With such nonchalance and indifference to cyber security, why give the Russians any credit at all for having 'hacked' these emails?  It probably could have been any reasonably talented teen computer nerd of any nationality.

And finally, the Wikileaks emails, wherever they came from, were not the reason Hillary lost this election.  There were any number of reasons more important, starting with the fact that Hillary was just a really lousy and unpopular candidate.

In any case, the Wikileak emails, none of which by the way have been refuted or denied, just added a little pizzazz to the excruciating spectacle of the 2016 Presidential Election.  Indeed, far from being misinformation of any kind, the Wikileak emails were just a tiny, transparent window onto the actual operations of the Democratic party and the Clinton Campaign.  And it wasn't very pretty at all.  But who ever said democracy was pretty and neat, instead of ugly and messy?