Predicting the U.S. Presidential Debates

It has been said that only novelists know the future. Even so, I don’t think it’s much of a risk for us to to predict what the debates between Donald J. Trump and Hillary Clinton devolve into. The first of the three scheduled debates begins in a few days, on Monday evening, September 26. For one thing, they will be anything but presidential. Instead, they will be…, well, why wait for Monday? Here’s a sneak peek from the never predictable John Cleese and Michael Palin. This short video from a 1972 Month Python skit tells us what the debates will be like.

A segment from Monty Python’s “Argument Clinic.” Standard YouTube license.

Is Donald Trump Merely Lending His Name to “America”?

Donald Trump & White HouseHaving recently returned from three weeks in England, I can tell you it was a relief not to be Trump-blitzed everyday by the media. But I’ll also tell you this. When conversation in my home-away-from-home turned to American politics, as it frequently did, not one person I spoke to – and I was with many different kinds of people in varied contexts and cities – was a fan of the Trumpster.

In the interest of full disclosure, I should add that most had concluded that Hillary Clinton was no great catch either. And among some that I met, I heard a wryly spoken running joke: “Until June, we used to take pride in not being as divided as America. But now we have Brexit.” Welcome to the club, I’d reply. You guys import too much stuff from America! Misery loves company.

Anyway, I’m back home and again running for cover. But I did happen to catch a most enlightening piece of television journalism the other day about Donald Trump’s so-called business acumen that made me take notice. It speaks for itself, so I’m not going to comment on it. I’m just going to quote the speakers. All I want to say, first, is that it left me with the title of this article: “Is Trump Merely Lending His Name to ‘America’”?

During the September 8, 2016 PBS-TV NewsHour program, correspondent William Brangham talked with Mark Fisher and Tim O’Brien. Fisher is senior editor of The Washington Post and co-author of Trump Revealed: An American Journey of Ambition, Ego, Money, and Power. O’Brien is executive director of the international news agency “Bloomberg View” and author of Trump Nation: The Art of Being the Donald. Both have extensive knowledge of Donald Trump and his business dealings over many decades, and O’Brien is one of the few journalists who has actually seen some of Trump’s tax returns.

O’Brien doesn’t think Trump will release his tax returns “because I think they will go towards offering substantiation around a bunch of things that Trump has made central to his political campaign: his track record as a business person, how charitable he is as a philanthropist, his operations overseas, and the kinds of business and financial conflicts that could potentially come to bear on him should he end up in the oval office.”

Specifically, however, Brangham pressed the two journalists for some understanding about what we should conclude from Trump’s decades’-long roller coaster ride with his many and varied businesses, for Trump talks about his successes but he’s also had terrible failures, including many bankruptcies. It was Fisher’s and O’Brien’s replies that made me take notice; after all, what did I know, really, about Trump’s business history?

We know a lot about Hillary Clinton’s long, diverse political history – the good, bad, and ugly – so we can therefore make an informed conclusion about what that might mean for America if she were elected President. But about Trump’s long, diverse business history, what do most of us really know? On this question, I found Fisher and O’Brien offering a major piece of of the picture. And what might that mean if he were elected President?

Fisher and O’Brien both pointed out that in recent decades Trump has changed his business model. Instead of organizing and running businesses, which were many and varied and included taking on a lot of debt, and which had both successes and terrible failures, including many bankruptcies, Trump, said Fisher, has been “taking on less debt and less risk. [Now] he essentially rents out his name and uses others to take the risk – investors and others – so he merely rents out his name and gets a guaranteed income stream from that.”

O’Brien confirmed that. “The Donald Trump of the ‘80s and ‘90s,” he said, “was essentially a creature of debt. The last time he really operated a large business that involved complex financial and management decisions was when he was running his Atlantic City casinos, which he essentially ended up running into the ground. He put those through four separate corporate bankruptcies. And he almost went personally bankrupt in the early 1990s. And the Trump who emerged from that is essentially a Trump who is now a human shingle, as Mark said. He oversees a licensing operation where he puts his name on everything from mattresses to men’s underwear to vodka and buildings. And he’s got his golf course development operation, and then essentially a self-promotion publicity machine that made itself most visible during the ‘Apprentice’ years.”

To me, this was enlightening. It’s certainly not an unlawful business practice – what he’s doing lending his name to products. And it’s making the billionaire tycoon more money. Fair enough. But it said to me: “Donald J. Trump businessman” is certainly nothing like the image of a Henry Ford or a Steve Jobs or a Nelson Rockefeller (41st U.S. Vice-President). Instead, I was left wondering: is Trump going after the U.S. presidency to lend his name to “America,” like he has done to other products he wants to hawk for personal profit? Is he letting “America” take all the risk? Why not? That is his business. I want to see him asked these questions during one of the presidential debates, which start September 26.

For more that 100 years, U.S. presidents – Democrats and Republicans – have been increasingly running the United Sates like a business enterprise rather than a political community. Like them, Trump as president of “America” would amplify this fundamental problem of our nation, big time. During an ABC-TV 20/20 interview (Friday night, Nov 20, 2015), before he won the Republican nomination, Trump was asked what he would do should he lose in November. He admitted it was possible, noting that he was up against many “not stupid people.” He then quickly added, “What’s next? I go back to what I was doing.” It’s an answer that speaks volumes.

Image via VAZVorpal Creative Commons

©2016 by Charles Strohmer

The Kindness of Strangers in a World of Pain

Twin Towers laser memorialIt began this way, 35,000 feet above the Atlantic, flying from London to Atlanta:

“The Boeing 777 droned on. Five hours to go before touchdown in Atlanta. Suddenly everyone’s attention locked on to the Texas drawl coming from the intercom. ‘Ladies and gentlemen, this is your captain speaking. May I have your attention. Your serious attention.’ The dreaded words. Worst nightmares sprung from the fuselage, the overhead compartment, the unconscious –  wherever you had stowed them before boarding. A kind of holy moment spread through cabin. No one spoke. No one dared. It seemed much longer than the millisecond it took before Captain William’s steady but troubled Texas drawl continued: ‘There’s been a major incident in the United States and all air space throughout the nation has been closed….’”

With all the reporting of criminal behavior, hate, violence, and terrorist acts that get dished out to us by the media everyday, I thought it would be good to take a break today, on September 11, and reflect on what is possible when we rely on the better angels of our nature to rule our actions. I was blessed to experience this in a hugely moving and inspiring way fifteen years ago over a five-day period that began the morning of another September 11. An essay I wrote about it was later published in magazines in the US and the UK for the one year anniversary of 9/11.

The above quote is from the beginning of that essay, which soon moves from the shocking and frightful to what is redemptively possible from the milk of human kindness in the face of great evil. For five days, I and hundreds of other “strandeds” were cared for by strangers where “selfish interest and alienation were transformed into opportunities for self-denial, cooperation among the different, unity in our diversity. A depth of compassion and caring had been awakened in us that I don’t think we knew we carried within, amid our wood, hay, and stubble. Heaven broke in and walls broke down between races, professions, classes, nationalities. Human suffering tasted something sweet of the saving grace of God as strangers became neighbors.”

If pain and murder is just a click away, why not grace and healing? Just click here to read the full essay.

Image courtesy Creative Commons.

©2016 by Charles Strohmer

A Christian View of Not Voting for Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump

choices coffee mugsSeveral times over the past few months I’ve tried to explain to people I’ve run into why I’m not voting for Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump in the November presidential election. Mostly, I’ve been bumbling through the explanations, still trying to get a good handle on my position. But recently when I tried it out I thought, okay, that’s nailed it. So, heart on sleeve, here it is. It’s pretty simple, actually. Here’s my story

When the Democratic and Republican conventions took place in July, I watched all 12 hours over the four nights of each of them that were shown on PBS-TV. And I approached them as a professional researcher – as someone who knows what his own biases and beliefs are but who has been trained to know how to set those aside as far as possible to listen as objectively as possible – for the sake of learning and discovering further truths, and perhaps even the changing of one’s mind.

And at the beginning of each 12-hour period I said to the TV: okay, convince me; I’ve already decided not to vote for Hillary or Trump; change my mind. But neither party convinced me to support its presidential candidates. Instead, most of the speakers on those stages for the Democrats and the Republicans, including Hillary and Trump, left me deeply grieved that this is the best America can do for itself and the world.

I’m not voting for Hillary for many reasons, but the tipping point for me came during Bernie Sanders speech, when he announced that there had been a “significant coming together” of the Democratic Platform Committee – between his campaign team and Hillary’s – to produce “by far, the most progressive platform in the history of the Democratic Party” – a point he emphasized with exceptional clarity and deliberateness several times during is speech, to huge applause.

dominoesI’m not voting for Trump for many reasons, but the tipping was the accumulative effect of the speeches during the Republican convention. Speakers: defining themselves by what they are against; blaming Hillary Clinton and President Obama for all the turmoil in the Middle East and with Russia; and giving shockingly inane analyses of domestic and international problems and offering the vaguest generalized (i.e. impossible) policies as solutions (something the Dems also did the following week). And there was: the explosive, war-mongering speech of Gen. Michael Flynn (former Director of the US Defense Intelligence Agency); Chris Christie’s utterly stupid mock prosecution of Hillary Clinton, in which he had the coliseum rocking and screaming “Guilty!” every time he presented his “evidence” – and this is the guy who would like be appointed Attorney General if Trump wins the presidency?!. The flagrantly misleading claims about the rise of terrorism and ISIS were unconscionable, and there was not a word, not one single word, about how the Iraq policy of the George W. Bush administration gets implicated in the tragic condition today of Iraq. And especially for solving problems of international relations, the barrage of militaristic hubris overwhelmed me. Didn’t we get our fill of what a disaster that can be from the first four years of the Bush administration? I could go on, but I’ll stop.

Since this is a time when both main presidential candidates are the most unpopular candidates in modern history, surely our country must be under some sort of judgment from God. If so, it’s not “just the Democrats” fault, or “just the Republicans fault,” or just anyone else’s fault. We’re all at fault in our own ways. So what’s a Christian who tries to be a good citizen to do?

You can makeup your own mind. Here’s where I have arrived. I had told friends for a long time that I would probably not vote this year. But recently I went on the Internet and discovered that the state in which I live is one of dozens that permit a write-in vote for President. So that’s what I’ll probably do this November 8. I know, I know, the person I vote for isn’t going to win. But I figure that if enough millions also cast protest (write-in) votes, maybe it will send a good message. That doesn’t mean that either party will listen. But we are not responsible for others’ actions. Only for our own.

The heavyweight theologian St. Augustine taught that Christians must assume the obligations of citizenship. Let us remember, however, that there are limits to the claims that political parties have on conscience. For some, and I’m one of them these days, there may be too much distance at times in our land between the City of God and the City of Man. If the two major candidates seem to you capable only of furthering that distance, God is not forcing you to vote for either one. Yet you can still participate in political community as a responsible Christian citizen by finding a way to protest against the status quo. You don’t have to stay away from the voting booth, as I was going to do. Find out if your state allows write-in voting.

gobsmackedIf you’re not up for voting this year, you can find other ways of engaging in political community for righteousness sake. For example, think through your political view, so you can clearly communicate it to others, or explain your good and sufficient reasons (briefly!) in a “letter to the editor” or to your senator or representative. You could start a group (or join an existing one) to pray for elected officials in local, state, and national governments, or meet with politically frustrated, like-minded others and brainstorm creative forms of political witness, and then chose one and go for it. And it is especially good to get involved in the lives of the poor, the needy, the helpless, the outcasts, on whom the Bible places special emphasis – for they need our help more than the rich, who have power and means to be their own advocates.

In other words, for heaven’s sake and for your community’s sake exercise some political muscles. If you have not done this for a while, those muscles will soon let you know they exist – you’ll notice the ache! It’s good feeling.

©2016 by Charles Strohmer

Images via Creative Commons. Top, by Lauren Macdonald. Middle, by Great Beyond. Lower, by Magdalena Roeseler

A note from Charles: If you want more of the perspectives that Waging Wisdom seeks to present, I want to invite you to follow this blog. Just click here and find the “Follow” button in the right margin, enter your email address, and then click “Follow.” You will then receive a very short email notice when I publish a new post. Thank you.

Donald Trump is Wrong about the Founding of ISIS

the White HouseMost people had forgotten all about it, but Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump recently revived a comment he had made in January, stating that President Obama was the founder of ISIS. “President Obama. He’s the founder of ISIS,” Trump said at a campaign rally in Florida on August 10. Apparently he did not want anyone to mistake his point, for he immediately added: “He’s the founder of ISIS. He’s the founder. He founded ISIS.” Then he added: “I would say that the co-founder would be crooked Hillary Clinton.”

Asked about his comment in interviews the next day, Trump did not back down. To conservative talk show host Hugh Hewitt, who seemed to be fishing around with Trump to try to find a way to soften Trump’s language, Trump said, “No. I meant he’s the founder of ISIS. I do. I don’t care. He was the founder.” It seems a ridiculous waste of time to have to state the obvious: President Obama did not found ISIS (see below). But Trump’s handle on foreign policy lends itself to the ridiculous.

Now I hold no brief for the CIA, but you really should read this New York Times op-ed by Mike Morell, the acting director and deputy director of the CIA from 2010 to 2013. No matter what you think of the CIA, it’s clear that one thing they do well is to identify vulnerabilities in people and exploit them. With that in mind, keep in mind that for months Trump has been singing various praises of Russian President Vladimir Putin (see this link also).
In his op-ed., Morell explains why.

He reminds us that Putin was a career intelligence officer, skilled at identifying people’s vulnerabilities and exploiting them. Noting Trump’s “obvious need for self-aggrandizement,” Morel writes that “[t]his is exactly what [Putin] did in the primaries. Mr. Putin played upon Mr. Trump’s vulnerabilities by complimenting him. He responded just as Mr. Putin had calculated.”

Egyptian lamp and jug (Matt Create)In his op-ed, Morrell also argues persuasively why Trump is not only unqualified to be President but that he has already posed a threat to U.S. national security. A few days later, Morell was on the Charlie Rose television show for a major interview, in which he explained in great detail why he wrote the op-ed. You owe it to yourself to listen closely to that interview.

But to return to Trump’s ignorance about the founding of ISIS… I wrote a series of articles for this blog two years ago that traced a large and important branch of the roots of ISIS back through al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden to the militant vision of Sayyid Qutb, a radicalized Egyptian intellectual in 1950’s Egypt. Never heard of Sayyid Qutb? Apparently neither has Donald Trump.

So, having suggested that you take time to read the above links and listen to Mike Morell on Charlie Rose, now I’m going to give you some more homework. For a crash course on what Trump doesn’t know about the religious-political roots of ISIS, set aside time to read this series of articles. It will take you about an hour, but it will be time well spent.

Here’s the first one in the series. They are all linked, so you can read through them at your own pace, or skip through them to find those that interest you. And lets talk about this along the way. The Comments area for those articles is open. I hope this helps you. If it does, do forward this post to your friends. This issue is too important to let an outrageous falsehood hang in the air unaddressed, as if it were true.

©2016 by Charles Strohmer

Images by Adam_Inglis (top) and Matt Create (lower) from Creative Commons.

A note from Charles: If you want more of the perspectives that Waging Wisdom seeks to present, I want to invite you to follow this blog. Just click here and find the “Follow” button in the right margin, enter your email address, and then click “Follow.” You will then receive a very short email notice when I publish a new post. Thank you.

Special Announcement – The John Peck Website

John Peck holding a tiny BibleI am very pleased to announce that a website has been launched to carry the sermons and other talks of late Revd John Peck, British theologian, philosopher, and so much more. Revd Peck was an extraordinary person, family man, preacher, teacher, and mentor to many. To see why people say this, check out this memorial to him.

John and I were close for 30 years. He was my mentor for many of those years, and we collaborated on a number of projects, including co-authoring a book. His sermons and other talks are real gems. You won’t get a rehash of what you already know. So I highly recommend this new site. Have a look-see for yourself, and a listen. I would love to hear your impression of it, and of John.

If you have never heard of Revd Peck, you can get a quick taste by reading his compelling his vision for a vibrant church. Or a bigger drink from this exclusive interview from 1998.

To visit the new site for his sermons and talks.

Thank you.

Photo of John holding a tiny Bible courtesy of Peck estate.

A note from Charles: If you want more of the perspectives that Waging Wisdom seeks to present, I want to invite you to follow this blog. Just click here and find the “Follow” button in the right margin, enter your email address, and then click “Follow.” You will then receive a very short email notice when I publish a new post. Thank you.

©2016 by Charles Strohmer

The Revd John Peck (1924-2016)

John Peck smilingThis is just a short personal note from me to readers of this blog to express my appreciation for everyone’s notes, good wishes, and prayers after hearing news of the death of John Peck, a dear friend and mentor. On July 5, in memory of John, I posted his “I Have a Vision” statement for the church, written nearly 40 years ago, but timeless in essence. We have been astounded at the large number who have read it, liked it, and shared it. Just today, when I thought the sharing had ended, I saw another blogger who had picked it up. Cool.

For those who would like a glimpse behind the scenes at what made John Peck a remarkably admired and sought-after Christian leader and thinker in the UK, and in parts of the US and Europe, the official obituary has captured that. If you would like a taste of his wisdom on a wide range of issues, within and outside church walls, check out this interview with John.

I am also very glad to be able to say that the project to put John’s sermons and other talks on the Web for a new generation should soon be completed. Stay tuned.

That website is now up and running. Here it is.

“If you belong to Christ, then his history has changed what you are.” John Peck, British theologian

©2016 by Charles Strohmer

Photo courtesy of Ann Horn (check out her photographs).

A note from Charles: If you want more of the perspectives that Waging Wisdom seeks to present, I want to invite you to follow this blog. Just click here and find the “Follow” button in the right margin, enter your email address, and then click “Follow.” You will then receive a very short email notice when I publish a new post. Thank you.