Saturday, September 28, 2019

An Evangelical Explains Trump

Why did evangelicals vote for Trump?
Thomas L. Johnson, July 18, [otherwise undated; presumably 2019]

NOTE: In order to do anything involving President Donald Trump -- from impeachment to presidential election defeat -- it is necessary to understand as much as possible about the man. There are a number of blog posts and columns in which I've taken a stab at it. For example:
"Intelligence Community's Inspector General and Impeachment," September 26, 2019
Understanding Trump: Know Thine Opponent," September 23, 2019
"Trump Won't Be Beat With Plans Alone," The Gazette, August 17, 2019, p. A5 (blog post title: "Marianne Williamson's Questions and Answers")
"Trump Will Lose? Don't Be So Sure," The Gazette, May 29, 2019 (blog post title: "Why Trump May Win") (a list of 13 categories of Trump's advantages)
• For a contrary view to the one presented here, see Anthea Butler, "White Evangelicals Love Trump and Aren't Confused About Why. No One Should Be.: Focusing on the Disconnect Betseen Trump's Actions and the Moral Aspects of Evangelicals' Faith Misses the Issue That Keeps Their Support Firm," Think, NBC News, September 27, 2019.
However, one perspective I have not, and cannot, provide is how the evangelical portion of his base rationalize to themselves their relatively solid support of the man, seemingly regardless of his violations in thought, word and deed of what one would assume to be evangelicals' beliefs and standards.

As Mayor Pete Buttigieg has put it, "I do think it’s strange, knowing that no matter where you are politically, the gospel is so much about inclusion and decency and humility and care for the least among us, that a wealthy, powerful, chest-thumping, self-oriented, philandering figure like [Donald Trump] can have any credibility at all among religious people. ... Your morality is deeply lacking if all you want is a child born but not a child fed, not a child educated, not a child housed. ... That’s not pro-life. That’s pro-birth." Sojourners. "For a party that associates itself with Christianity, to say that … God would smile on the division of families at the hands of federal agents, that God would condone putting children in cages, has lost all claim to ever use religious language again." The Atlantic.

[Photo caption: "Members of Cross Community Church, an EA congregation in Berne, Indiana, pose for a photo published on the Evangelical Assocation's Desk Calendar." Photo credit: FatherRon2011, Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0,]

The following piece by Thomas L. Johnson (no relation) provides some helpful insights:
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As an evangelical who did not and never will vote for Donald J. Trump, I fully understand why many evangelicals voted for a man who is crass, mean-spirited, personally unethical, and embarrassingly self-serving. They felt that they had no choice and have every reason to feel that again in 2020:
• Trump gave them two Supreme Court justices who will vote their interests for the next thirty years. Given the reality that many if not most evangelicals have never come to terms with abortion, particularly later term abortion, that absolves Trump of his extramarital dalliances.
• Trump has evoked the sort of tribalism that evangelicals understand. They live in a world of us versus them; so does Trump.
• Like Trump, evangelicals do not allow science to compete with their preconceived notions in areas like global warming or perceived conspiracies.
• Trump has embraced Israel. Many conservative Christians see Israel as part of the end-of-times prophecies.
• Like Trump, evangelicals are not fans of social change of the sort that came out of the Obama years. They believe in two genders determined and defined at birth, in a biblical view of marriage as the union of one man and one woman, and of a level of patriotism that rejects figures like Colin Kaepernick or Megan Rapinoe.
While Hillary Clinton’s campaign and personality were non-starters for evangelicals in 2016, often for reasons created or exploited by Cambridge Analytica, a Democratic candidate from the Medicare for All, open border, free education wing of the Democratic Party will present an even larger challenge.

Given their 25–26% share of the total electorate and their over 80% allegiance to Trumpism, evangelicals will more than offset the moderates who will move out of their comfort zone in the middle to vote for an Elizabeth Warren or Bernie Sanders.

Thursday, September 26, 2019

Intelligence Community's Inspector General and Impeachment

Now What?
As I watched the three hours of the House Intelligence Committee's questioning of Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire it increasingly seemed to me that (1) no one was entirely pure, and (2) the Constitution and Acts of Congress are inadequate to resolve the challenges confronting the Committee and the Director. [Photo: Director Joseph Maguire; source: Wikimedia Commons.]

The Trump-can-do-no-wrong Republicans were overstating President Trump's innocence. The Democrats were playing fast and loose with the language of the Inspector General of the Intelligence Community Act (IGICA) and trying to get Director Joseph Maguire to make statements in support of their case for impeachment that Maguire was at least entitled, if not required, to refuse to make. And Director Maguire was refusing to acknowledge the conflict of interest he had in (a) serving the President who had appointed him and to whom he reported, and (b) carrying out the spirit (though not the language) of the IGICA. [Photo: President Donald Trump; source: Wikimedia Commons.]

This blog is not a "legal opinion." I have read the IGICA -- which can be found here 50 USC Sec. 3033 -- and scanned the 8000-plus-word Responsibilities and Authorities of the Director of National Intelligence Act -- available here 50 USC Sec. 3024. That's not enough research to produce a definitive judgment about the applicability of either or both laws.

But the IGICA's title referencing the "Intelligence Community," its numerous uses of variations of the phrase "programs and activities within the responsibility and authority of the Director of National Intelligence" throughout the Act, can reasonably lead one to the conclusion that the probable legislative history of the Act (i.e., events preceding and surrounding its creation, press reports, committee hearings, and debates on the floor) would not support an interpretation of the language of the Act as including the process to be followed in the case earlier before Director Maguire and now before Congress: namely acts of the President alleged to be "fraud and abuse," other criminal violations, or threats to national security. [Photo: House Intelligence Committee Chair, Adam Schiff; source: Wikimedia Commons.]

Of course, this does not mean that the President did no wrong. It is only to say that it is not clear that the IGICA contemplated or addressed, let alone compelled, the Inspector General to investigate, or Director Maguire to send to the Intelligence Committee the Inspector General's findings.

What they clearly could do, and did do, was to refer the whistle-blower's complaint to the FBI.

The central problem, as I now see it, is that neither the Constitution nor acts of Congress address the challenges to our democracy posed by a president like President Donald Trump. Indeed, I doubt that the founders' effort to avoid a monarchy in the White House, and their single choice of impeachment as a check on "high crimes and misdemeanors," envisioned the possibility we would ever elect a president like Trump.

The Constitution provides for impeachment of the president and other officials, Article II, Sec. 4, that the House "shall have the sole Power of Impeachment." Article I, Sec. 2, clause 5, and that the Senate "shall have the sole Power to try all Impeachments." Article I, Sec. 3, clause 6. (Article II, Sec. 4, provides: "The President, Vice President and all civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.")

The 25th Amendment, certified by the President in 1967, provides for removal of a president found to be "unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office" -- a remedy primarily focused on physical or mental disability.

While the allegations in the whistle-blower's complaint may be among the most serious of Trump's offenses, the challenge confronting Congress is the tsunami of Trump's governance by tweets, over 14,000 false or misleading statements, attacks on columns of democracy (such as an independent media and judiciary), brazen violations of previously accepted required norms, ethics, morality, laws and constitutional restraints on presidents. For a partial list, see, e.g., Max Boot, "Trump Isn't Just Violating Norms -- He's Also Breaking the Law," The Washington Post, April 25, 2019.

What Congress must do is (1) reassert the constitutional powers it has been granted, that have gradually been taken over by the Executive branch, and (2) then address what additional checks are necessary to deal with this unprecedented string of presidential abuses. Perhaps what is first needed is a kind of Congressional Inspector General whose sole job it is to oversee the president and White House staff, receiving whistle-blower complaints, doing its own monitoring, then reporting to the House and Senate leadership and relevant committees. Perhaps this could provide the congressional incentive to create the constitutionally appropriate additional legislation to restrain the variety and quantity of presidential abuses unimagined by the constitution's drafters.

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Monday, September 23, 2019

Understanding Trump: Know Thine Opponent

Understanding Trump

For 2500 years humans have been advised of the importance of knowing, of understanding, one's opponent in politics and enemy in war. Notwithstanding the availability of such advice it is more often ignored than followed -- including our "wars" in Vietnam and soon-score of years in Afghanistan.

The first known offer of this advice came from a famous Chinese general, Sun Tzu (544-496 B.C.). He wrote:
If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.
Sun Tzu, The Art of War, III. Attack by Stratagem, 18.

I read books when I have time to sit. When I'm driving, walking, or tending to home chores that require my eyes but not my ears, I listen to audiobooks. This morning, while doing kitchen chores, I was listening to Cliff Sims' Team of Vipers. Sims was involved with the Trump campaign and White House and seems capable of a relatively balanced portrayal of the President -- at least as far as I am in the book. What he said reminded of Sun Tzu, so much so that one section of Sims' chapter 7 caused me to go back to it later, when at my laptop and able to transcribe it. [Photo: Cliff Sims with President Trump on walkway outside Oval Office; photo credit: Yellowhammer News]

Cliff Sims was describing former Speaker Newt Gingrich's effort to categorize politicians by using the ancient Greek poet Archilochus' line, "a fox knows many things, but a hedgehog one important thing." Hedgehogs are the "big picture guys." Foxes are the policy wonks, focused on details and creative alternative solutions to problems.

With these ancient literary sources in mind, here is what Sims wrote:
Trump is a hedgehog who knows one very big thing: 'We need change.' . . . He is the agent who will deliver the needed change. . . . Trump believes he alone, often through shere force of will, can solve certain problems. That's one lens. Layered on top of that is his belief that all of life is a negotiation, and that all negotiation is a zero-sum game. There's no such thing as a 'win-win.' Someone will win and someone will lose. Layered on top of that is his belief that personal relationships are paramount, taking precedence in all negotiations, even over mutual interests. And layered on top of that is his belief that creating chaos gives him an advantage, because he's more comfortable in the mayhem than anyone else.
Make of it what you will. This characterization of Trump helped me to understand the Democrats' opponent. And I'm with Sun Tzu -- knowing, understanding, Trump is an essential part of any successful campaign.
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See also, "Trump Will Lose? Don't Be So Sure,""The Gazette, May 29, 2019, p. A6.

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Friday, September 20, 2019

Presidential Qualities

Considering Bullock's Presidential Qualities

Nicholas Johnson
The Gazette, September 18, 2019, p. A6

Democrats will end up voting for whomever their convention picks. This column is too early for an endorsement. My favorite will be someone as a campaigner who can beat President Trump, and as president will have the competence, compassion, relationships, experience and ethics to be effective.

Get out the vote? Yes. But to win the Democrats’ candidate will have to win over independents, Libertarians, Greens, and yes, Republicans and the 40-percent-plus of voters who still support President Trump. Where do those voters live? Where Democrats must go to become a national party: those 80 percent of U.S. counties that President Trump carried in 2016.

Earlier I wrote about Marianne Williamson’s formula for Democrats’ victory – while acknowledging her odds of becoming the party’s candidate were somewhere between slim and none. ("Trump Won't Be Beat With Plans Alone," The Gazette, Aug. 17, 2019) Governor Steve Bullock’s current odds may be no better. But his qualities and strengths are something Democrats should look for in whomever they choose next July.

Bullock is the only incumbent Democratic governor to win re-election in a state that Trump carried (in Montana by 20 points).

He’s persuaded his Republican Legislature to pass progressive programs: campaign finance reform, Medicaid expansion and more. He is, as we say, mostly “right on the issues,” both as governor and as campaigner.

He’s been sufficiently pro-labor as Montana’s attorney general, governor and practicing lawyer to have been endorsed by the AFL-CIO – and Iowa’s Attorney General Tom Miller. And he’s sufficiently respected by other governors to chair the National Governors Association.

He is a young 53. I have two sons older than that.

He and his wife, Lisa, grew up in Montana, have been married to each other for 20 years and have three children. Both are well educated; he has a law degree, with honors, from Columbia, she a degree in mathematics and computer science.

[Photo credit: Gage Skidmore; Governor Steve Bullock speaking with attendees at the 2019 Iowa Democratic Wing Ding at Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa.]

He comes across as genuine, comfortable in his skin and his Levis. He can connect with small town folk, farmers, ranchers, and others in the mountain time zone and the 80 percent of counties Trump carried, as well as Washington (where he practiced law) and New Hampshire, where he’s picked up support.

We have no training program for presidents. Any president would benefit from experience on the receiving end of the White House’s impact on school boards, cities, counties, state governors, legislatures, the U.S. House and Senate, military, intelligence and executive branch agencies, federal courts, international organizations and our allies.

No Democratic presidential candidate today has the range of experience in those venues possessed by President George H.W. Bush (43’s father) or former New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson (

“Senator” is not an administrative position. Governors come the closest to the administrative and legislative challenges confronting presidents; 17 presidents had experience as governors.

Whomever the Democrats ultimately choose, Bullock provides examples of the strengths they should be seeking.

Nicholas Johnson of Iowa City is a three-time presidential appointee whose latest book about Washington is Catfish Solution. Comments:

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Links to Governor Bullock Sites
As explained in the opening paragraph, this blog post is NOT an endorsement. But if you are intrigued by what you've just read, here are links to Governor Bullock's Web site and some of his supporters' Facebook pages:

Web Page
Bullock 2020,, and see "Meet Steve,"

Steve Bullock For President
Bullock For America
Governor Steve Bullock
Gov. Steve Bullock For President 2020

And here are some of the sources used in writing this post:

(1) Brandon Duffy, “Democratic hopeful Steve Bullock on what Amazon and President Trump have in common, and why young voters should care,” CNBC, Sept. 1, 2019,

(2)Wikipedia, “Steve Bullock (American politician),”

(3) S Grace Panetta, “Steve Bullock is running for president in 2020. Here's everything we know about the candidate and how he stacks up against the competition,” Business Insider, Jul. 31, 2019, 11:11 AM

(4) Steve Bullock’s Biography, Vote Smart,

(5) Jonathan Martin, “Steve Bullock, Montana Governor, Is Running for President,” New York Times, May 14, 2019, p. A18,

(6) Steve Israel, “Can Steve Bullock Win?” The Hill, Aug. 21, 2019,

(7) “First Lady Lisa Bullock,” Office of Governor Steve Bullock,” undated,

(8) “List of Presidents of the United States by Previous Experience,” Wikipedia

(9) The tinyurl following the Governor Bill Richardson experience reference ( links to one of my prior Gazette columns, “Candidates’ ‘Experience,’” (The Gazette, March 30, 2008, p. A9,

(10) For number of counties carried by Trump in 2016 see, e.g., Mark Muro and Sifan Liu, “Another Clinton-Trump Divide: High-Output America vs Low-Output America,” The Avenue, Brookings, Nov. 29, 2016

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Note: Some of the handful of words that were deleted for reasons of space in the published column have been included in this version.