Republicans, Do You Ever Listen To Yourselves?

You blame Democrats for playing partisan politics with the Brett Kavanaugh nomination to the US Supreme Court while withholding mountains of documents from his time as a political operative, including the lengthy period he was investigating President Bill Clinton. You “plow” forward with the judiciary committee hearing while refusing to ask the FBI to investigate credible claims that Kavanaugh may be guilty of sexual assault. You schedule a vote for his confirmation the day after one of his alleged victims was set to testify before listening to her testimony. You say the process must not be delayed even though you left a Supreme Court seat vacant for more than a year, refusing to even schedule a hearing.

And then you voice outrage over politicization of the process? Really? Are you unable to hear the hypocrisy in that?

When pressed, you claim your actions are justified by the failed nomination of Robert Bork. However, you refuse to acknowledge that Bork promised to roll back civil rights gains if seated on the Court and that he had participated in the Watergate cover-up by firing Independent Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox on Nixon’s orders. And I’ll remind you that Democrats weren’t the only Senators who voted to deny Bork a seat on the Court. Six Republican Senators did, as well.

Despite extolling your religious and family values, you engage in victim shaming, saying that Dr. Blasey Ford must be lying since she came forward 36 years after she was nearly raped. Some of you excuse Kavanaugh’s alleged behavior claiming that “boys will be boys” and that “all teenage boys engage in groping and sexual assault.” Even some of your sanctimonious pastors excuse the behavior saying that it wasn’t sexual assault if he stopped short of rape or if she was unable to scream!

Do you not hear how cruel and obnoxious such statements sound? And your outrageous statements surrounding the Senate confirmation are just scratching the surface of your hypocrisy.

Let’s look at your leader. You howl about our government being controlled by the East and West Coast elites, yet you chose to vote for a billionaire from New York who inherited millions. You talk of “draining the swamp.” To do that, you voted for a man who has long-time mob ties and who has bullied the individuals and small businesses who worked for his organization, often refusing to pay them for their work. Moreover, once in office, he filled his cabinet posts with people who have used their positions to fill their own pockets and to offer sweetheart deals to lobbyists.

You angrily protested and threatened President Obama when he signed a stimulus bill to drag the economy out of a ditch – a ditch you created. You screamed that the resulting deficits and the growing national debt were going to ruin our country. But you’re now perfectly okay with the much larger deficits caused by your party’s trillion-dollar gift to the wealthy and corporations in the form of tax cuts.

You claim yours is the party of family values, yet you voted for a man who is thrice married and has bragged about his sexual assaults and perversions. A man who cheated on his wife with a porn star. A man who carried on a near year-long extramarital affair with a Playboy playmate. Worse, his long-time “fixer” pleaded guilty to writing checks on his behalf to cover it up.

You say you want to restore the US as a Christian nation (something prohibited by the Constitution), yet you follow a president who spends his Sundays playing golf at his own resorts so he can charge the government for the rooms and golf carts needed for his Secret Service protection. He couldn’t cite a verse from the Bible if it wasn’t on his teleprompter or scrawled on a note. Even then he’d probably screw it up. You claim that your president was sent by God to save America. Really? Who knew that God so loved pussy-grabbing misogynists and racists?

You blame immigrants for all of your problems. Yet your president hires immigrants to do the labor at his resorts, instead of hiring American citizens. What’s more, his wife is herself an immigrant who, without a green card, illegally took modeling jobs away from American citizens before marrying money. Then she engaged in the so-called chain migration you so deplore by bringing her family to the US.

You chant “freedom” while denying African-Americans, Native Americans, and LGBTQ citizens the same freedoms that you enjoy. At the same time, you refuse freedom to refugees of violence and war. You call for young Latin Americans – even those who have served in our military – to be deported from the only country they’ve ever known. And you praise your leader for ripping immigrant children from the arms of their parents and placing them in cages?

You wave the flag in an ostentatious show of patriotism and you claim to support the troops. Yet you say you hate liberals and Democrats more than the nation that interfered in our democracy. You support our enemies over our long-time, loyal allies. As for supporting the troops, you voted for a gutless man who refused to take a stand on the Vietnam War, instead claiming a deferment for bone spurs. The same man who verbally attacked a war hero who was a member of his own party and a Gold Star family who gave a valiant son in service to our nation. A man who plans to reduce funding for Veteran’s health care.

You claim to believe in the rule of law, but you ignore the growing list of guilty pleas and indictments of the president’s closest friends and campaign staff. You think the Russia investigation is a witch hunt that should be stopped. Instead, you want to conduct yet another investigation of the president’s former political opponent. In fact, you don’t even want to wait for another investigation of her imaginary crimes, as you chant “lock her up.” You look the other way after mass shootings, even after the slaughter of elementary school children, offering nothing more than “thoughts and prayers.” And you stand silent when your president equates Nazis and White Supremacists to those who nonviolently protest their hate.

You and your media pundits claim that Democrats and liberals don’t try to understand you. You claim that we don’t listen to you. I beg to differ. We’ve been listening to your anger and your hatred for the past decade and longer. I wonder if you’ve been listening to yourselves.

Our Political Divide Is More The Result Of Differences In Personality Than Issues.

Political pundits have expended a lot of effort to try to understand our political divide. In particular, they want to understand what led so many people to vote for a man who outwardly defies their oft-stated values. Was it the browning of America? Was it the loss of manufacturing jobs? Was it the decline of rural, small-town America? Was it that Hillary Clinton seemed to be a flawed candidate? Was it a backlash to the Obama years?

All of those may have been factors. But I believe those explanations fall short. I believe there are emotional and psychological issues that have created the chasm between liberal and conservative Americans fed by the fragmentation of media. Since the demise of the Fairness Doctrine, conservative propagandists have been able to feed their audiences a steady stream of outrage and lies. So, too, have websites and social media. Many Americans now expose themselves only to “news” stories that fit their preconceived ideas. And the once unifying presence of evidence-based network news is now dismissed by a large percentage of conservatives as “fake” news. This new media reality has tapped into the long-seething anger and fear of conservative Americans who feel they are ignored and left behind by Washington and the so-called intellectual elites.

As an accomplished con-man, Trump recognized the vulnerability of these conservatives and, with the help of Russian interference, he was able to manufacture and exaggerate their outrage. It was his ability to manipulate them that ultimately led him to the White House.

Let me be clear, I don’t believe that today’s conservatives are bad people. But, for the most part, they lack a curiosity for the unfamiliar. They lack compassion and empathy for people unlike themselves. They are fearful of change, even if that change promises to make things better. They see compromise as a weakness. And they have far too much regard for authority, especially when it is accompanied by the American flag and the Bible. It is because of these characteristics that they are especially vulnerable to being manipulated by unscrupulous politicians and pastors. To fully understand what I mean, let’s examine those characteristics one at a time.

CURIOSITY – Studies have shown that fewer conservatives have passports than liberals. They are less likely to travel outside of our country and, when they do, they tend to travel to countries where they don’t have to try to understand another language or another culture. This lack of curiosity has also led to their growing contempt for science – a discipline that is based on curiosity.

COMPASSION – Liberals are quick to support charitable causes to aid the impoverished, to preserve the environment, and to support human rights. But studies show that conservatives contribute even more money to charity. However, most of that money is donated to churches. Further, their compassion is too often limited to those they know or those who are like them. Want an example? Conservatives, especially evangelicals, are horrified when a white, evangelical pastor is imprisoned in Turkey for trying to convert Muslims to Christianity. But they are unmoved by the plight of brown Christians fleeing violence in Central America and Syria. And they seem perfectly okay with brown refugee children being ripped away from their parents and held in cages along our southern border.

CHANGE – For the most part, liberals see change as good if it promises improvement – improvement in the quality of life; improvement in the lives of others; improvement of the environment. Conservatives, on the other hand, seem to embrace change only if it directly helps them (America First). Otherwise, they seem bound by the rules of what once was (Make America Great Again). They would rather deny freedoms to thousands in the LGBTQ community rather than accept them as they are. They refuse to accept people of another color or another religion unless they personally know them. And they refuse to risk changing our economy to address climate change, even when it has been proven that it would improve our environment and the economy at the same time.

COMPROMISE – Many conservatives see the world in stark contrasts of black and white. Of winners and losers. Having embraced the sports axiom that a runner-up is the first loser, they have even learned to despise average. To the people who support Trump, negotiations are a zero sum game. There is no such thing as a win-win solution. There is no place for political compromise or moderation. It is that philosophy that led to Mitch McConnell’s decision to block nearly every one of President Obama’s initiatives and appointments regardless of its merits. It is what caused them to rail against the Affordable Care Act, a Republican idea. It is what caused them to block the Supreme Court nomination of Merrick Garland, a man who was selected precisely for his moderate views. It is that attitude, and that attitude alone, that led to today’s hyperbolic political partisanship despite conservative claims that both parties are equally at fault.

AUTHORITY – Liberals often pride themselves on questioning authority and showing a healthy skepticism of those in power. On the other hand, conservatives, especially those who have embraced Trump, display a blind, unquestioning loyalty to their leaders. Moreover, like their leaders, they will never admit to a mistake. In the minds of conservatives, people like Trump and Charles Koch are winners to be admired and emulated despite their ethical and moral failures. To today’s religious conservatives, such “winners” didn’t inherit their wealth from their fathers or steal it through bullying and accounting tricks. They actually believe that those “winners” were chosen by God.

So, my liberal friends, I submit to you that it will do you no good to reason with today’s conservatives. They may hear you, but they will not listen. They will not change. They will not compromise. But they will undoubtedly expect you to do what they won’t.

Remembering 9/11.

Since 2001, September 11 has become a somber occasion – a sad reminder of an attack on American soil that shattered many lives. Almost every American who was alive at the time can remember where they were and what they were doing when New York’s World Trade Center towers came down.

That day impacted everyone – some far more than others.

I have known people who were in New York that fateful day, people who worked to clean up the site in the aftermath, people who were in the air and rerouted to airports outside the US. All of their lives were dramatically changed in a moment; a flash from the explosion of jet fuel; a massive cloud of dust; the unknown of what and who would be next.

Sadly, there are casualties from that day that have been overlooked or forgotten, such as the first responders who worked around the clock to help survivors and to find the bodies of the dead. Many of these people have been stricken with cancer and other diseases, yet had to fight Congress in order to receive funding for the health care they need. Many of the first responders have prematurely died as a direct result of that day. Many have suffered from PTSD and taken their own lives in percentages that far exceed the suicide rate of other Americans.

Indeed, it is expected that the premature deaths of these heroes will exceed the deaths of the 2,977 original victims of 9/11 by the end of 2018!

In addition, there are other things about that day that have been largely ignored. In the tribalization of our national politics, too many Americans have refused to acknowledge that the Bush administration had clear warnings of the impending calamity. Richard A. Clarke, the former National Coordinator for Security, Infrastructure Protection and Counter-terrorism, has written about running around Washington with his “hair on fire” trying to warn that we were about to be attacked. The PDB (Presidential Daily Briefing) of August 6, 2001 was headlined “Bin Laden Determined To Strike In US.” The text of that PDB even included the possibility of the hijacking of aircraft.

Many of us never knew or have forgotten about the British immigrant Rick Rescorla who, as Security Chief for Morgan Stanley Dean Witter, accurately predicted the attack on the World Trade Center towers and created an emergency evacuation plan. On the day of the attack, he led 2,700 people to safety before he died after going back into the tower to look for stragglers.

Too few of us recognize that many of the victims of 9/11 were citizens of other nations.

Too many US politicians have conveniently overlooked the fact that 15 of the 19 terrorists were from our so-called ally, Saudi Arabia, in order to maintain the flow of Saudi oil to world markets. The same Saudi regime that bombed a school bus full of Yemeni children with US-made weapons and US-provided guidance. The same Saudi Arabia that is responsible for creating and exporting a radical and hateful form of religion based on Islam.

Too many of us have forgotten that America’s longest-lasting war – the war in Afghanistan – which began as a direct result of the 9/11 attacks is still raging and still costing the blood and treasure of our nation. Too many have forgotten that the invasion of Iraq was falsely tied to 9/11, resulting in the deaths of tens of thousands of Iraqis and more than 4,800 members of the American-led coalition. And almost no one recognizes that the radicalization of Islam began in Saudi Arabia. That it was exported to Pakistan during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. And that its flames were fanned by US-sponsored propaganda created by a former professor from the University of Nebraska at Omaha.

So, on this somber day, I would suggest that you remember the issues and mistakes that led up to that fateful day in 2001 and that still plague us today in order that we not repeat them. And I would suggest that you remember all of the heroes and victims, including the first responders and the families of those who have died.

Camp Trump’s Unholy Connection To Russia.

Aside from the myriad of meetings and financial connections between the Trump campaign and Russia, there are two less obvious threads that bind the two together: Religion and discrimination – discrimination against the LGBTQ community, discrimination against black and brown people, discrimination against refugees, and discrimination against non-Christians.

Following the atheist days of the Soviet Union, many Russian Orthodox Christians believe that Vladimir Putin resurrected the church. They believe that he was “inspired from above.” To support their view, they point to his last name. “Put” in Russian means “the path” or “the way.” The former KGB agent who would have happily killed anyone, including church leaders, who challenged the authority of the Soviet Politburo, oversaw the reconstruction of more than 23,000 churches. As a result of Putin’s support, the church has returned to its former position of power as the state religion of Russia. In a further show of support, Putin has embraced the Church’s positions that abortion and homosexuality are unforgiveable sins.

As a result, Russia bans abortion after 12 weeks and, under Putin, the government has abused, beaten, and jailed anyone accused of being gay or lesbian.

Not surprisingly, many American evangelical leaders envy the power of the Russian Orthodox Church. They long to see Christianity declared the state religion of the US. (Never mind that doing so would be unconstitutional and in direct conflict with the beliefs of our Founding Fathers.)

Likewise, American evangelicals would love to see a federal ban on abortions, a ban on gay marriage, a federal ban on gay adoption, a ban on gays in the military, a ban on transgenders.

And the American evangelicals’ view of Trump is not unlike the Russian Christians’ view of Putin. In a textbook example of the ends justify the means philosophy, they overlook Trump’s many moral and ethical transgressions. In fact, some admire them as signs of success, masculinity and power. Instead of holding him accountable for his excesses, they applaud his anti-choice judicial appointments and his support for “religious freedom” – the freedom to discriminate against anything and anyone based on religious beliefs.

In twisted evangelical logic, these so-called “family values Christians” even support the administration’s policy of kidnapping children from refugees at the border. They support the separation of families through deportation. Indeed, they support anything that will stop what they consider “cultural genocide” committed by those who do not fit the mold of a bygone era based on white Christian male superiority. Some are even delusional enough to believe that Trump is an agent of God.

Of course, the narcissistic sociopath-in-chief rewards such adoration by pandering to the Christian right at every opportunity.

All of this explains the unbreakable bond between Trump and his supporters. It explains why they are not swayed by Trump’s obvious deference (I would argue subservience) to Putin. Their support is immune to facts and truth. It’s about faith.

Why I Won’t Be Celebrating This July 4th.

In the US, the 4th of July is recognized as Independence Day – a day to celebrate our independence from the British empire. A hard-won independence that required the blood sweat and tears of our ancestors to defeat the most powerful military forces on earth. Indeed, a least eight of my ancestors fought for the Continental Army, one suffering through a devastating winter at Valley Forge. As a result, Independence Day has been an important holiday for my family for generations. And though I have long been bothered by the extreme militarization of our nation and the accompanying politicization of patriotism – an unprincipled “our country right or wrong” kind of patriotism – I have proudly celebrated the holiday along with everyone else.

But this year is different. This year, I fear that our independence is in danger as never before.

We have reached a point where the founding principles of our nation are being compromised by a winner-takes-all, pay-to-play political party that ignores the majority of its constituents to serve the interests of a few. A political party that has turned our democratic republic into an oligarchy. A party that is now led by an unethical and immoral bully who gained office with the help of our nation’s most dangerous rival and support from evangelical “Christians” – religious zealots who have sold their souls to the man based on the belief that controlling women’s bodies to “save” fetuses is more important than preserving our nation’s core values.

Our first president, George Washington, was guided by 110 Rules of Civility and Decent Behavior in Company and Conversation. But if the man who now occupies the White House has a guide, it’s likely to be titled The Art of the Insult. Indeed, he takes a perverse pride in putting down others in order to feed his all-too-fragile ego.

So I cannot, in good conscience, stuff my cheeks with hot dogs and watch the “bombs bursting in air” when I know that our government has greeted refugees fleeing violence, repression and abject poverty – conditions every bit as severe as those that brought our ancestors to these shores – by arresting them and even wrenching their children from their arms.

I cannot celebrate a nation that takes pride in feeding our bloated defense department with hundreds of billions of dollars while, at the same time, denying food stamps and medical care to the poor.

I cannot proudly wave the flag when our Congress and state legislatures are constructing new barriers to deny minorities their right to vote.

I cannot sing the Star-Spangled Banner knowing that it was written by a racist and that those who are not white or heterosexual are still treated as second-class citizens.

I cannot celebrate when our government refuses to lift a finger to stop gun violence and the mass shootings of school children.

I cannot celebrate freedom when so many of our citizens have none – imprisoned for victimless, non-violent crimes.

I cannot celebrate when the president continues to call the independent press – one of our most precious institutions – the “enemy of the people.”

I cannot celebrate when the president describes his political opponents as un-American and calls for them to be locked up.

I cannot celebrate when the president attacks long-time allies while embracing enemies and brutal dictators.

I cannot celebrate after watching Trump appoint a group of corrupt and unqualified sycophants to government agencies with the express purpose to undermine and damage the agencies they control.

I cannot celebrate a nation governed by people who view the environment as a mere supermarket of resources with no concern for the impact of their extraction on our ecosystem.

I cannot celebrate knowing that our narcissistic president is filling his bank accounts with taxpayers’ hard-earned money in defiance of the Constitution’s emoluments clause; that he refuses to release his tax returns; that he refuses to divest himself of his businesses; and that the Trump name appeared in the Panama Papers (a list of those using off-shore tax havens) 3,540 times!

I cannot celebrate independence knowing that the man was placed in office with the help of Russia; knowing that at least 11 members of his presidential campaign had suspicious contacts with Russians; knowing that Russian oligarchs have invested nearly $100 million in Trump buildings; knowing that the NRA spent more than $30 million on behalf of Trump’s campaign after accepting donations from 23 Russians; knowing that Trump is willing to take Vladimir Putin’s word over that of our own intelligence agencies.

And I cannot sleep knowing that the actions of a man who is, quite likely, illegally occupying the world’s most powerful office cannot be overturned even if, as I suspect, he will be impeached and removed from that office.

So call me un-American if you want. But the America I celebrate is almost completely at odds with that of the president and his followers. I believe in an America that embraces the words on our Statue of Liberty: “Give me your tired, your poor. Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free. The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me: I lift my lamp beside the golden door.” I believe in an America that cherishes equality, fairness and opportunity for all.

Until we become that nation again; until we value human rights over the rights of corporations; until we take more pride in our treatment of the poor than in our latest military technology; until the Oval Office occupant and his administration have been sent packing; until we, once again, strive to live up to the hopes of our Founding Fathers, I’ll sit out the 4th of July celebration. I will be flying the flag. But I will be flying it upside down. Because our nation is most certainly in distress.

The Great American Con.

The news media – the ones Trump so viciously attacks – continue to treat his administration as any other. They devote hours of airtime and barrels of printer’s ink in an attempt to decipher the actions of the Trump administration. But the sad truth is that Trump is not a typical president. He gained the office with the help of Russia and Vladimir Putin while failing to garner a majority of the popular vote. And, since taking office, his actions have defied presidential norms.

What the media fail to recognize or acknowledge is that Trump is nothing more than a con man. A man who, as defined by the dictionary, “Cheats or tricks someone by gaining their trust and persuading them to believe something that is not true.”

The definition fits Trump to a T.

And like any con man, he has chosen his marks. Those consist of evangelical “Christians” who are willing to overlook his many moral and ethical shortcomings as long as he opposes abortion and continues to make judicial appointments who are willing to take away a woman’s right to control her own body.

His other marks consist of angry, disillusioned white people who oppose immigration and who hope the image of financial success portrayed by Trump’s many properties will somehow rub off on them. In addition, he has pandered to a collection of neo-Nazis, white supremacists and other deplorables who have been attracted to Trump by his verbal attacks on immigrants and refugees from Mexico, Central America and what Trump describes as “shithole” countries.

And, like any con man, having selected his marks, Trump has bombarded them with promises to return the US to the days when whites were the clear majority, when most immigrants came from Europe, when white male industrialists were in firm control, when businesses could extract natural resources and pollute with impunity, and when you didn’t have to worry about being impolite. Indeed, those promises are all summed up by his slogan “Make America Great Again.”

When he fails to deliver on his promises or when one of his scams is exposed, he either assigns blame to others (usually President Obama, Hillary Clinton or other Democrats) or merely claims success while burying his failures in an avalanche of lies.

Then, with everyone focused on reports of his scandalous behavior or the corruption of his appointees, he claims the prize he is really after: Money. He retreats almost weekly to his own resorts forcing taxpayers to pay for the accommodations of his security detail and those of other government officials. He asks his personal attorney to sell government access to corporations and foreign interests. He asks his cabinet to overturn regulations for the benefit of his own company and those of his friends. He leverages his position and those of his children to pave the way for trademarks, licenses and developments in other countries. And he continues to build his brand for the future.

It’s all a complex game of three card Monte run by a man with all of the sophistication and class of a carnival barker. And it’s long past time for the mainstream media to expose that man for what he really is before he costs us something far more valuable than money: Our democracy.

Beyond Tribalism.

Today, most Americans are members of a political tribe – Trump’s tribe, the Republican tribe, the Conservative tribe, the Libertarian tribe, the Democratic tribe, the Liberal tribe, the Evangelical tribe. But no matter which of the labels we prefer, we should find many issues upon which we can all agree.

On the most important issues, we should all be members of the same tribe – the American tribe.

So, for the time being, let’s set aside the questions of possible conspiracy between Russia and the Trump campaign and whatever Hillary Clinton was accused of doing or not doing. We should all be concerned that all of our intelligence-gathering agencies agree that Russia – one of our greatest rivals – interfered with our elections. If we, as Americans, are to have confidence in our elected leaders, we need to know that they were fairly elected.

In addition, there should be plenty of other areas of agreement among ordinary Americans. For example, we should all be worried that many of our longest-standing institutions – the press, FBI, CIA, justice system, educational system, science, even the truth – are under attack. Moreover, it should be abundantly clear that there is also an all-out attack on America’s working class.

Ideology aside, we should all be horrified that corporations and the very rich received 83 percent of the benefits from the most recent tax cuts – cuts resulting in deficits that will add multiple trillions to our national debt. We should all be concerned that the president ignores the Constitution’s emoluments clause by spending nearly every weekend at one of his resorts in order to charge taxpayers millions for the rooms needed for Secret Service, as well as government and foreign officials.

We should all be outraged over reports that the president’s longtime lawyer – his “fixer” – paid hundreds of thousands to buy the silence of women with whom he had affairs. And we should be even more troubled by reports that the same “fixer” was apparently selling access to the White House and accepting millions from a Russian oligarch.

We should be skeptical of Betsy Devos’s push to privatize education, thereby taking money away from public schools in order to finance parochial and private schools for the well-heeled. We should recoil at the dozens of reports detailing Scott Pruitt’s corruption and his rollback of environmental protections, thereby threatening clean air and water.

We should be angered by Steven Mnuchin’s use of government planes for his honeymoon and other private trips. We should be equally alarmed at Ryan Zinke’s taxpayer-funded vacations, his unjustified cuts to national monuments and his sweetheart deals for campaign donors who have placed bids for drilling rights on public lands. We should be universally sickened by Ben Carson’s plan to triple the cost of rent for poor Americans (many of them seniors) who live in public housing while others in government scheme to cut funding for food assistance, Medicaid, Medicare, SNAP and Social Security.

It cannot be stated often enough or strongly enough: This is not normal!

The Real State Of Our Union.

Last night, Donald Trump basked in the light of his predecessor, taking credit for declining unemployment, a rising stock market and low African-American unemployment…all things that began under President Obama and have continued as a result of their own momentum combined with improved economies throughout the world.

So what is the real state of our union under Trump?

Since Trump took office, we have seen unparalleled corruption in the executive branch. We’ve seen the president and his cabinet squander hundreds of millions of dollars on trips and vacations using private jets. We’ve seen a growth in the influence of corporate lobbyists, which culminated in a massive tax cut for corporations and the wealthy that was pushed through Congress with such haste most representatives and senators had no time to read it. And, of course, the Congressional Budget Office had no time to fully score its impact.

We’ve seen America’s international standing and its “soft power” precipitously decline. We’ve seen the GOP try to take away access to health care from millions of Americans. We’ve seen consumer and environmental protections diminished. We’ve seen GOP attempts to destroy the world’s greatest public education system and replace it with private schools that prioritize religion and myths over science and facts.

We’ve seen and heard an astounding number of lies emanating from the White House. We’ve seen an unprecedented attack on the free press, accusing the news media of being “enemies of the state.” We’ve seen multiple attacks on free elections by the GOP and Russia. We’ve seen the proliferation of guns continue unabated resulting in the unnecessary deaths of thousands of Americans each year. We’ve seen White House-led attacks on women; on gays; on transgender citizens; on Muslims; on immigrants; on refugees; on the impoverished; on diplomatic norms; on decency itself.

We’ve seen threats of nuclear war tweeted from the White House bed while the “president” consumes Fox News and cheeseburgers. We’ve seen the administration open public lands…even national monuments and parks…to extraction industries with little regard to the long-term environmental impact. We’ve heard Trump’s racist comments about “shithole” countries. We’ve seen Trump ignore the plight of tens of thousands of American citizens in Puerto Rico trying to survive without electricity and clean water. And we’ve seen the administration take giant steps backward on the environment and technology by raising tariffs on solar panels and encouraging more mining of coal.

At the same time, Trump and the GOP have ignored many of the most pressing problems facing the nation and the planet. Trump announced that he would pull the US out of the Paris accords designed to mitigate the worst effects of climate change. There is no plan to deal with the inevitable rising sea levels; no plan to offset the coming tsunami of workplace layoffs created by robotics and artificial intelligence; no plan to modernize our transportation systems.

The state of our union is that we are now living in an oligarchy where the 1 percent control our politics, our government and an astonishing amount of wealth. Indeed, Oxfam stated that the world’s 100 richest people (many of them living in the US) gain enough money each year to end the world’s extreme poverty several times over. Instead, many of these greedy bastards spend their money on lobbyists and political campaign contributions in order to elect a compliant Congress that will help them further increase their power and wealth!

The state of our union is that we have the world’s most inefficient health care system that costs many times more than those of other advanced nations yet leaves millions without access to medical care. The state of our union is that there is little control of the cost or the amount of pharmaceuticals available…where the opioid prescriptions in some counties and states exceed their populations. But we have made a non-addictive alternative – marijuana – illegal. The state of our union is that we have incarcerated a higher percentage of our population than any other nation on Earth. The state of our union is such that the Department of Defense cannot account for trillions in spending that, by some accounts, equals our entire federal debt. Yet we continue to increase its budget.

The state of our union is that, under GOP control, our democracy is crumbling as fast as our infrastructure.

Evangelical Extremists.

I’ll begin by admitting that I have always struggled with the idea of a group of people – any group of people – trying to push their ideas of morality onto others. I was horrified when I discovered that my family church was more interested in paying for building improvements than in helping others. I have marveled at the lack of substance and critical thinking of those who ring my doorbell wanting to “share the good news.” I have recoiled at the lavish structures and amenities of mega-churches paid for with the help of taxpayer money.

I was horrified to learn of pastors preaching partisan politics from the pulpit in direct violation of the Johnson Amendment. I was stunned by the belief that actions don’t matter – only faith will determine your afterlife. And I was shocked to learn of the advent of “prosperity gospel” – the stronger your faith, the more you will be rewarded with money and possessions.

Despite all of this I have remained relatively silent with regard to one’s religious beliefs. Whoever and however you choose to worship should mean little to those who believe differently than you…unless you make it their business by asking them to support and help pay for your beliefs.

That brings me to the subject of this post.

Churches only became tax exempt in 1954. Before the anti-communist Christian revival of the 1950’s, churches were subject to paying taxes as do most other private clubs. But accepting them as 501(c)(3)s, in effect, blurred the Founders’ intent of separation of church and state. It was predicated on the belief that churches contributed to the health of society – by feeding the hungry and sheltering the homeless. But, for the most part, that belief is based on churches of another time. For example, how does that comport with “prosperity gospel?” How does it fit with mega-churches operating as private clubs in which church members only do business with other church members? How does it fit with subsidizing Israeli development of Palestinian land in order to speed the Rapture?

Initially, obtaining 501(c)(3) status required churches to fill out an application and agree to the stipulation that they operate exclusively in the public interest. More recently, it was decided that churches, their integrated auxiliaries, and conventions or associations of churches no longer need apply. They no longer have to tend to the needy to be tax-exempt. In fact, churches no longer need to adhere to any real guidelines of operation in order to avoid taxes on their buildings, their religious schools, even their businesses.

This new reality is horrifying to those of us who reject organized religion. (And before you start moralizing, recent studies have shown that those of us who do not participate in organized religion are actually more generous and more compassionate than those who do.) If Hobby Lobby can avoid paying for their employees’ contraception based on religious grounds, why must we subsidize their properties?

All of this is bad enough. But, for many evangelical churches, there are no longer any apparent standards of acceptable behavior. There is only politics.

For example, when President Obama was in office, many evangelist leaders called him the anti-Christ despite the fact he regularly attended a Christian church. Evangelists demeaned the First Lady when she wore a sleeveless dress to a public event. They openly opined that the Obamas were trying to indoctrinate children. And they were furious that President Obama helped the LGBTQ community achieve civil rights.

Then along came the Donald.

Although his orangeness rarely, if ever, attended church, the evangelicals supported him. They looked the other way at Trump’s three marriages and adulterous behavior. Of the First Lady’s nude photos, Pat Robertson, pronounced them art. They have ignored Trump’s racist and hateful comments. They ignored his bragging of sexual assaults. They ignored reports of rape, including one from a minor. And they have taken a “hear no evil, speak no evil, see no evil” approach to Trump’s marital infidelity with porn stars as his wife was recovering from childbirth.

As former RNC chair, Michael Steele, recently said of evangelical leaders, “I have a very simple admonition. Just shut the hell up and don’t preach to me about anything ever again. After telling me who to love, what to believe, what to do and what not to do and now you sit back and the prostitutes don’t matter, the grabbing the you-know-what doesn’t matter, the outright behavior and lies don’t matter, then shut up…[Evangelicals] have no voice of authority anymore for me.”

Well said! But I’d take it a step farther. Why don’t you shut up and pay up? Why don’t you admit that you don’t belong to a church? You are merely leaders of a political club. It’s time you pay taxes on your property: Your mega-churches, your extravagant sound and video systems, your elaborate fund-raising schemes, your child-indoctrinating schools, your “religious” businesses, your palatial estates, your limos, and your private jets.

You aren’t religious leaders. You are mere con men, much like the president you have chosen to support come hell or high water. And frankly, I hope it’s both.

The GOP Tax Scam.

For weeks, the GOP Congress has been working behind closed doors to craft a tax “reform” bill. They promise that their bill will “give everybody a raise.” They claim that it will simplify tax codes so much that you will be able to “file your income taxes on a postcard.” And they claim that the tax cuts will accelerate the economy so much that they will pay for themselves.

We’ve heard all of this before. Remember Ronald Reagan’s trickle-down economics? Or how about George W. Bush’s tax cuts?

Instead of stimulating the economy, those plans merely stimulated the bank accounts of the very wealthy while ballooning deficits and our national debt. And though we haven’t yet begun to pay for those tax cuts, the GOP is back with more cuts and more empty promises.

Indeed, most economists who have looked at the GOP plans have concluded that they will result in adding at least $1.5 trillion to the federal deficit over the next 10 years. Further, the nonpartisan Tax Foundation concluded that the impact on economic growth would only pay for about a third of the costs. In other words, in a best case scenario, the tax cuts will add more than $1 trillion to the deficit. And some economists worry that the tax cuts could actually slow economic growth based on increased debt and government borrowing which will result in higher interest rates!

Undeterred, the GOP responded by saying, “We don’t expect the plan to pay for itself. The only way to reduce the deficit is through spending cuts.” What they’re really saying is, “We don’t care about the consequences, the billionaires who fund our campaigns demand tax cuts.” Indeed, the GOP has admitted as much. Both the Mercers and the Kochs have threatened to stop funding GOP candidates unless they get what they want.

And fear of the sponsors is only part of the reason the GOP is in such a hurry to pass the tax cut bills. The temporary spending bill that is funding our government expires on December 8, and the GOP has made tax reform mandatory for a budget deal.

Moreover, by rushing a bill through Congress with little debate, the GOP can bury some unsavory items in the bill. For example, the Senate is considering repealing the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate, which would for all intents and purposes repeal Obamacare.

The House tax bill would also repeal the Johnson Amendment which prohibits churches and other nonprofits from endorsing or opposing candidates for public office. Though the amendment is seldom enforced – pastors, especially evangelicals and conservative Catholics have been politicking from the pulpit for years without consequences thanks to GOP. This provision could impact our elections as negatively as the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision that opened the floodgates for campaign donations by nonprofits – all of which can be made anonymously through money laundering from one nonprofit to another.

The House tax bill even includes an abortion poison pill. It has a provision that would, for tax purposes, give a fetus “personhood.” That would make any abortion, for any reason, murder.

However, the most disingenuous claim made by the GOP is that their tax plan will give most working Americans a $4,000 raise – a claim refuted by most economists. But let’s, for a moment, assume that it’s true. Who wouldn’t be in favor of giving less money to the government and having more money to spend on themselves? But what if getting that money meant that there would be a cut to most government services combined with increases in fees?

What if they told you that $4,000 tax cut would be offset by eliminating tax deductions for home mortgage interest, and for state and local tax payments – deductions that could total far more than $4,000. What if they told you that there wouldn’t be enough federal revenue to rebuild our infrastructure and that the result would be toll roads? What if they told you that cutting taxes would result in less money for medical research, less money to help with natural disasters, less money for environmental clean-ups, and less money for food safety inspections?

What if they told you that the tax cuts would mean that the cost of your health care and prescriptions would, once again, skyrocket? What if they told you that, as part of the tax cut, your Social Security savings would be given to millionaires and billionaires? What if they told you that you would be asked to subsidize big bonuses for the executives of multinational corporations? What if they told you that you might have to pay for your parents’ medical costs because their Medicare would be gutted? What if they told you it would mean the end of veteran’s benefits? What if they told you there would be no more money for food stamps and welfare, so millions of Americans would have to beg for food or die? What if they told you that that their tax cut would result in trillions more in debt for your children and grandchildren?

All of those things are likely under the GOP tax plans.

If that doesn’t give you pause, ask yourself this: Since the people writing the bills are millionaires who were put into office with the help of billionaires, do you really think they have your best interests at heart? And, if the GOP ideas for tax reform are so good, why are they being crafted in back rooms out of the view of the public? Why have they not included Democrats in the discussions?

Perhaps the best question of all is one posed by Catherine Rampell of the Washington Post in a recent editorial: “If the tax bill is so great, why does the GOP keep lying about it?”