On Lion Ted

Lion Ted

What follows is the inevitable violation of my pledge not to speak of Donald Trump again prior to the election. (You called it, reader Ted.)  I’m about to do so only in the context of responding to some requests I’ve received to share my thoughts about Sen. Cruz’s non-endorsement speech at the Republican Convention last week.

But first, as is often the case with me, a little historical context . . .

In February of 1988, two candidates were locked in a heated battle to be the Republican nominee for President. Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole  mounted a serious challenge to Vice-President George H. W. Bush’s plans to succeed Ronald Reagan in the White House.

Dole had massive momentum coming out of a strong win in the Iowa caucuses and heading into the New Hampshire primaries. Bush, the sitting vice-president and consensus favorite, had come in a distant third in Iowa. (Do you recall who finished second? Pat Robertson!)

Suddenly, New Hampshire became a must-win for for the stumbling Bush campaign. Not surprisingly, Bush went negative—attacking some of Dole’s past Senate votes throughout the New Hampshire primary. When the votes were tallied on February 16, 1988 Bush won New Hampshire by nine points.

In an inteview with NBC News later that night, Tom Brokaw asked a clearly dissappointed Dole if there was any thing he’d like to say to Bush.

Cranky Bob

Stop lying about me. And get off my lawn.

Dole groused, “Tell him to stop lying about my record.”

{Cue the sounds of a record needle being dragged across a record; men gasping in horror; women fainting; and the media shifting into high dudgeon mode.}

Dole’s testy use of the word “lying” became an instant scandal. Political historians widely view this as the moment Dole lost his chance to become president.

For days afterward, media headlines and office watercooler chatter revovled around the question of whether Dole’s cranky use of the “L” word revealed that he didn’t have the temperament or character to be President of the United States.

Let that sink in for a moment.

Only seven presidential elections ago, simply saying your opponent was lying disqualified you for the White House in this nation because you were clearly some sort of loose cannon.

That was then. Now . . .

The new Democrat nominee just narrowly avoided a federal indictment in the middle of the primary but instead was only declared to have been “extremely careless” bordering on “gross negligence” with national security secrets.

And, as I noted here, the Republicans just nominated a man who uses boasts and insults as a substitute for arguments and schoolyard taunts in place of reasoned rebuttals.

In response to critiques of his policy positions, he reflexively resorts to crass mockery of his oppenent’s appearance or name. A few examples from the primaries:

  • Lyin’ Ted; “liar, crazy, or very dishonest” (Ted Cruz)
  • Little Marco; “this little guy”; “total joke artist” (Marco Rubio)
  • “this low energy guy”; “a loser”; “a pathetic figure”  (Jeb Bush)
  • “Look at that face. Would anyone vote for that? Can you imagine that, the face of our next president?” (Carly Fiorina)
  • “ran him out of the race like a little boy” (Lindsay Graham)
  • “a spoiled brat without a properly functioning brain” (Rand Paul)
  • “should be forced to take an IQ test” (Rick Perry)
  • “pathological”; “a sick puppy”; “incapable of understanding foriegn policy” (Ben Carson)
triumph

Winning. You can’t spell Triumph without Trump.

In other words, “lying” may the most gracious, temperate thing Mr. Trump said about any of his opponents in the primaries. And it worked. Running as Triumph: The Insult Comic Dog cost him nothing. Two weeks ago the Republian party made him their standard bearer.

Keep in mind, Mr. Trump has shown little interest in wooing or reassuring the sizable portion of the Republican base that supported Ted Cruz.

On the contrary, three weeks before the convention, Trump was still dragging out the “Lyin’ Ted” smear in front of the microphones out on the campaign trail.

That’s right. With the nomination already sown up and Cruz out of the race, Trump was still using precious media minutes—not to criticize Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama—but rather to jab a stubby thumb in the eyes of Cruz’ voters one more time.

I was flabbergasted when I saw it. I literally couldn’t believe what I was seeing. This has to be some old footage, I hoped. Nope.

In a moment in which a rational candidate should be seeking to reassure and woo and the supporters of his most successful rival, Trump was going out of his way to rub salt in their wounds.

Hand to heaven, the thought passed through my mind that Trump doesn’t really want to win. That his fragile, insatiable ego is enjoying the attention but doesn’t want the headaches, responsibilities, or constraints of actually governing. (And that was before I saw this!)

“The Speech”

Which brings us to Ted Cruz and his now infamous speech before the Republican National Convention. As you probably know, Cruz’s decision not to endorse Trump, and to close his address with the words, “Vote your conscience,” enraged many, disappointed others, and bewildered the rest.

Cruz was booed off the stage and instantly vilifed for being “self-serving” and “selfish.” He “betrayed” his party. He was “cowardly.” It was a cold “political calculation” designed to advance his own personal interests rather the interests of the party and the nation.

Every word of this is nonsense on stilts—but that last bit most of all.

Cruz was most likely setting fire to any future national aspirations with that speech, and he knew it.

No, the move most in alignment with Cruz’s self-interest and future political prospects was to bow to party pressure, hold his nose, and endorse the bloviating, know-nothing gas-bag clearly troubled individual. The next-best, next-least-career-damaging option for Cruz was simply to stay home, as Ohio governor John Kasich did.

Cruz took neither of these path-of-least-resistance options. In my view, he took the path of honor. Allow me to explain.

Keep in mind that the RNC, with Team Trump’s approval, invited Cruz to speak in a prime time slot. Keep in mind that all were given copies of his speech in advance.

Also keep in mind that during the primary campaign, Mr. Trump saved his nastiest and lowest smears for Cruz. (Yes, I know all political campaigns turn ugly and run negative ads. I’m not naive. But Trump’s attacks on Cruz were orders of magnitude beyond the pale.)

They are legion. But two of the most egregious of these were Mr. Trump’s repeated references to a nutball conspiracy theory that Ted Cruz’s father, a devout evangelical Christian, played some role in the assassination of JFK.

Even worse was Mr. Trump’s approving retweet of a rabid Trump fan’s side-by-side comparison of Cruz’s wife, Heidi, with Melania Trump, a former model, featuring a particularly unflattering shot of Mrs. Cruz:

Trump-TweetBy the way, for the record, here’s a couple of more-representative samples of Heidi Cruz’s grotesque visage. Brace yourself:

heidi-cruz 2

Heidi Cruz

I warned you.

Yes, we’ve come a long way since 1988. Today, being the kind of candidate willing to say, “my wife is so much hotter, so vote for me” actually works with a large swath of the American electorate.

What a time to be alive.

My point is that Ted Cruz’s non-endorsement speech at the RNC had absolutely nothing to do with selfishness or self-promotion, and everything to do with family honor.

That’s right. Honor. An old-fashioned and nearly extinct concept in our postmodern era.

In other words, I believe Cruz chose to walk into a no-win situation simply because being a loyal husband and son means more to him than being a successful politican. Isn’t this at the heart of the explanation he offered in a meeting with the Texas delegation the very next day?:

“I am not in the habit of supporting people who attack my wife and attack my father. That pledge [to support the Republican nominee] was not a blanket commitment that if you go and slander and attack Heidi, that I’m going to nonetheless come like a servile puppy dog and say thank you very much for maligning my wife and maligning my father.”–Sen. Ted Cruz

Why not take him at his word? It’s just too simple for many to grasp. Most in our dying culture are too jaded and cynical to believe a politician can choose principle over self-promotion. But there it is. And it is perfectly consistent with the way Cruz has handled himself since entering the Senate.

Before announcing his candidacy for president, Cruz was already one of the most unpopular figures in Washington precisely because he stubbornly refuses to play the game. Former Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn was like this, but Cruz is Coburn on steriods.

It is clear to me that Ted Cruz is constitutionally incapable of compromising his principles to advance his own interests—of “going along to get along.”

Frankly, I’m really not interested in hearing complaints about Cruz from any person who has ever whined about how all politicians abandon their values once they get to Washington, and put career advancement above their principles.

Here is one who didn’t, and it seems to be wildly unpopular.

Running to the Left

As I write here in the days immediately following the Democrat’s convention, Mr. Trump displays much more interest in wooing Bernie Sanders voters than courting skeptical conservatives like me. This speaks volumes about Trump’s ideology (or lack thereof.)

It actually makes some political sense because Trump is running to Hillary’s left on a number of issues—among them national defense, trade, and a couple of other issues. In other words, a number of Trump positions are more in line with the left-wing Bernie voters than than conservative Cruz fans.

Me? I’m with Lion Ted.

I plan to vote my conscience. I’ll try to explain what that looks like in an upcoming post. (Just as soon as I figure it out.)

Our Crisis of Empathy

 (Photo: Charles Rex Arbogast, AP)

(Photo: Charles Rex Arbogast, AP)

It was dark, but I could still discern in the headlights’ glare that a shotgun was pointed directly at my chest.

“Son, that’s a good way to get your head blown off,” said the voice behind the gun.

Perhaps I’d better back up and offer you some context here.

This was the mid-to-late seventies in rural Oklahoma. I was only 17 but this was not the first time a rural law enforcement officer had taken a look at my shaggy hair and fast car and decided I was a trouble maker. (That’s right, kids. I had long, thick brown hair.)

Only an hour earlier I had graduated from high school. At that moment, many of my classmates were headed out to keg parties to celebrate by getting blitzed.

Three other friends and I were headed over the mountain to a larger town to grab a nice dinner. You see we were the good kids. (eyeroll) We were walking the straight and narrow. Trying to stay out of trouble.

Halfway to our destination, as we passed through a tiny town notorious for being a speed trap, I noticed a pickup behind me with a flashing yellow light. I assumed it was some sort of road construction or utilities vehicle, so I eased over to the shoulder to let it pass. It didn’t pass, but rather stayed right behind me.

So, I pulled on over on a pitch black stretch of two-lane highway and stopped my vehicle.

The pickup stopped at a distance behind me, as a powerful door-mounted spotlight, commonly used in that part of the country for illegally hunting deer at night, illuminated the back end of my ultra-sweet 1972 Cutlass S. As I looked in my rearview mirror, all I could see was the blinding glare of that spotlight.

Deciding this might possibly be some sort of weird law enforcement traffic stop, I did what I had been taught to do in my Driver’s Ed classes. I remained in my vehicle, rolled the window down, shut off the engine, and waited. And waited.

Eventually I heard a person from behind my vehicle shouting for me to get out of the car. So I did so and started walking back toward that retina-burning light. That’s when I met Mr. 12 Gauge.

“Son, that’s a good way to get your head blown off.”

“Okay,” I agreed. I had no clue what he was referring to but I wasn’t feeling inclined to explore the matter.

He fired off a series of questions: Where are you coming from? Where are you going? Who is your daddy? (Seriously, he wanted to know who my dad was.)  Then he looked at my drivers license for a minute, handed it back, and sent me on my way with no explanation.

It was a terrifying, traumatizing experience. But quickly the residual fear I felt morphed into anger. In fact, nearly 40 years have past since that night and thinking about it right now still cheeses me off.

So do my memories of another run in—roughly six months earlier—with a local Neanderthal deputy sheriff. He, having made about a half-dozen incorrect assumptions about me, pulled me out of my after-school job bagging groceries, hauled me down to the sherrif’s department, and tried to intimidate me with foul, abusive language and crazy accusations that made absolutely no sense to me.

I can vividly recall my feelings of powerlessness and anger when dealing with a person with a badge and a gun who (wrongly) thought he knew something about me based upon the way I looked.

For a long time I really wanted to hate that guy.

Perhaps this gives me a tiny headstart in understanding why so many of my black friends and acquantances are battling a storm of mixed emotions at this moment.

I can’t possibly know what it’s like to live in their shoes (or their skin), but I can empathize. And I do.

I wish more of my fellow white brothers and sisters could find their way to some of this empathy. We’re so quick to minimize the real wounds good, decent black citizens carry around; and minimize the fears and resentments they live with every day.

This isn’t helpful.

On the Other Hand

I pray every one of my black brothers and sisters in Christ battling feelings of resentment and bitterness today (I see your social media feeds) can find some empathy for what law enforcement officers face daily—and especially nightly.

Being a cop, particularly in a major city, means dealing with the worst aspects of our society for a lot of your work-life hours. The job involves seeing and mopping up after the very worst that fallen, broken humans are capable of.

Addicts, pimps, prostitutes, child abusers, wife beaters, pedophiles, muggers, rapists, con men, thieves . . . the violent, the self-destructive, the drunk, the stoned, the cruel, the amoral, the twisted, the psychotic, the psychopathic. Police work requires wading around in all of these all the time—all while surviving and maintaining an awareness that the next person you encounter may very well be a decent human being.

It also means receiving training about staying in command of situations and speaking authoritatively. It is, by necessity, drilled into the police officer that losing control of a situation can easily get them killed.

I wish every one of the Black Lives Matter protesters throwing rocks and rebar at St. Paul police last night would do a few overnight shift “ride alongs” with a police officer. I suspect it would be an eye-opener.

Perhaps they might find some space in their wounded, angry souls for a little empathy as well.

Social Media Bubbles and Echo Chambers

Empathy for others has always been a challenge for all of us—for some more than others. But the advent of social media has ampflied this problem many fold.

We have built our own newswires out of sources that confirm our biases and people who see things just as we do. It feels good to have your assumptions validated. It feels bad to have them challenged. We prefer to feel good.

So, if a source or person brings us information that we don’t like—that doesn’t comport without preferred way of viewing things—we can mute or unfollow with the click of a mouse.

Thus the custom-made information bubbles we live in get purer and purer.

And we get surer and surer that the world is exactly as we believe it to be.

It is Clear to Me . . .

. . . that Mankind’s oldest and bitterest enemy is keenly interested in dividing people along racial (tribal) lines. It’s his oldest, tiredest, and yet still most effective trick.

Cain Kills Abel

Cain killing Abel.

Tribalism has been the spawning ground of murderous hate ever since the very first farmer grew resentful of the very first rancher back in the Garden.

In a 100-day period back in 1994, somewhere between 500,000 and a million Tutsis were killed by Hutus—most of them hacked to death with machetes—because . . . tribes. Us and Them.

Here in America, tribalism now goes by the more sophisticated name of identity politics. We call our tribes “communities.” The enemy of our souls doesn’t really care who you hate, just as long as you pick a side and let the news and social media fuel your tribal fire.

The devil is a sadistic, twisted kid nudging two hungry dogs toward each in hopes they’ll fight to the death over a scrap of food. I’ll pass.

As a citizen of a kingdom in which race and sex are meaningless concepts (Gal. 3:28), I have only one side to take. The side of love.

Some Random Strung-Together Independence Day Thoughts

1861 Flag Sky

Captive people long to be free.

After several generations of freedom, free people start longing to be taken care of:

  • To be insulated from risk.
  • To be immune from the consequences of their own bad choices.
  • To have somone else look after their neighbor so they don’t have to.
  • To be generous with other peoples’ money instead of their own.

A people can never be both free and taken care of.

Free people gradually trade their freedom for false promises of security and comfort.

The impulse to craft a governmental solution to every human ill is a religious impulse. It’s messianic at the root.

Big government is a false messiah. It promises utopia, heaven on earth, but can never deliver on those promises.

Freedom means equality of opportunity, not equality of outcome.

Real freedom means freedom to fail, pick yourself up, and start again.

 

Giving Honor Where Honor is Due

I attended a funeral service in the old hometown in Oklahoma yesterday.  Dr. J. N. Baker was of one of the finest Christian men it has ever been my privilege to know. He was 96 when he passed into heaven last week and was buried with full military honors yesterday.

At my house growing up he was a respected and beloved family friend, and very much a surrogate grandfather to my younger sisters. For many who knew him as the former Dean of Students at OSU and then the president of Eastern Oklahoma State College where my parents were on the faculty — he was always “Dr. Baker.”

For the thousands of fighting men who served under him in both World War II and the Korean conflict, he eventually became “General Baker.”

He was born in 1919 in rural southeastern Oklahoma but was orphaned before he was old enough to begin attending the one-room school nearby. One of his daughters noted at his service that he liked to observe: “My parents came to Oklahoma in a covered wagon, yet I’ve lived to see men walk on the moon and to hold a powerful computer in the palm of my hand.”

ThunderbirdIn the 1930s he joined the Oklahoma National Guard while still in high school. (Apparently that was possible back then.) For the next three decades he was an integral part of the Oklahoma’s 45th Infantry Division—the Thunderbirds—established in 1920. The 45th was one of the very first guard units called up when the U.S. entered World War II in 1941.

In 1943 the Thunderbirds were part of the tip of the spear in the invasion of Italy, beginning with the amphibious assault on Sicily and then the intense fighting at Anzio and Monte Casino.

This was followed by an amphibious invasion of southern France at Dragoon, then the push across France and into Germany. Ultimately it would be the 45th that liberated the infamous German concentration camp at Dachau.

Their work finally done, the division got to come home in 1945. Five short years later Cold War hostilities erupted on the Korean peninsula. At that point, only 20% of the men of the 45th had fought in WWII, but Dr. Baker was one of them.

Eventually, he became the Thunderbird’s final commanding General, serving from 1964 to 1968.

Three surviving World War II veterans who served with him were there at the funeral to pay their respects  yesterday. Yes, members of ” the Greatest Generation” were in the house — but we’re losing them rapidly. Soon the last of them will be gone.

However, it wasn’t the military man my family knew and loved—although his perfect posture and a meticulous, squared-away approach he brought to every project and enterprise hinted at his training. Otherwise, you might never have guessed his background and rank.

He wasn’t the course, gravely George Patton stereotype. Quite the opposite. He was soft-spoken, humble, gentle, immensely thoughtful, and carried a deep, abiding faith in God.

He a was regular guest at my parent’s Sunday table for lunch after his cherished Helen, his wife of 64 years, died after a long illness that left her blind in her final years.

Whenever someone would remark admiringly about the tender, extraordinary efforts he was expending in caring for her in those years of heartbreaking decline, he would smile and brush them off. “She took care of me for sixty years. It’s my privilege to take care of her now.”

Whenever any of us was home for a weekend visit, it was our privilege to participate in those lunches with him. As the elder statesman at the table, the honor of blessing the meal frequently fell to him.

I remember being deeply impacted by one of those Sunday lunch prayers a few years ago. I can honestly say it changed me.

As we prepared to dive into mom’s pot roast, it wasn’t his prayer’s eloquence or profundity that marked my soul that day. It was the genuine gratitude that welled up out of his heart and flowed from his lips.

“Heavenly Father, you’ve been so very good to us. (long pause) . .  Thank you. (longer pause) Thank you, thank you, thank you . . . “

This was no perfunctory, religious saying of “grace” over a meal. Those repeated thank yous were an offering.

Thank you, Dr. Baker.

I’m grateful to have had the example of a life so well-lived.  Strength in kindness. Confidence in servanthood. Gratitude in selflessness. Cheer in hardship. This was the gold standard of Christian manhood.

Now he has joined that great cloud of witnesses who waits to see how we’ll run the balance of our races.

You’ll have to excuse me now . . . I’m suddenly feeling the need to lay aside some weights.

J. N. Baker (1919-2016)

On the Patience of God

Luther

Martin Luther once wrote:

“God will not be able to bear this wicked world much longer, but will come, with the dreadful day, and chastise the scorners of His Word.”

Luther died in 1546.  God is still bearing this wicked world. And the spirit that moved immature disciples to want to call down fire on those who rejected them still lives, as well.