Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

Desperation

Wednesday, June 19th, 2019

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What happens when the façade crumbles and all you’re left with is your own lies?

We may finally be approaching that point with this President.

The Trump administration started with a big lie about the size of his inauguration crowds. Now 10K lies later, his behavior is common knowledge but it continues.

The Mexican foreign minister said that no secret immigration deal exists and that there is no promise to buy more of our agricultural products.

A Homeland Security watchdog retired early after admitting that their audits of disaster response were altered to reflect the President’s claim of effectiveness.

He fired his own pollsters because their leaked polls contradicted his narrative that he was winning. Instead he blames the media.

He even denies that he said things that were recorded. He did call the Duchess of Sussex “nasty”. He was the person the appearing in the Access Hollywood tapes. He did tell an ABC interviewer that he would accept opposition research from a foreign power rather than notify the FBI because “everybody does it”.

He lied about considering firing Mueller and then lied about telling his chief counsel to lie about being told to fire Mueller.

He lied about his payoffs to coverup affairs.

Some people say that it doesn’t matter, that “everybody does it” and that he’s just a “salesman” and all salesmen lie.

The fact is that everybody doesn’t do it.

But worse, the suggestion that lying is OK is damaging to our moral fabric as a society. What happens when we can no longer hold our leaders accountable for telling the truth?

Yet that’s where we are. Truth has become a morally irrelevant term. The religious right has abdicated their normal role of being a moral scold and as a result lost all future credibility for any culture discussion.

Truth is now defined for some by tribe or affiliation. Truth is what agrees with your fundamental world view rather that your world view being informed by truth.

In a country that has some respect for the truth, people like Lenny Pozner would not have to go to court in order to prove that his son was murdered at Sandy Hook. Instead he has had to take conspiracy theorists like Alex Jones to court because his Infowars site was making money suggesting that Pozner’s son never died and Pozner was a paid actor. He also had to take the publisher of James Fetzer and Mike Palacek’s book entitled “Nobody died at Sandy Hook” to court to get them take the book off the shelves. They claimed it was a FEMA drill. He had to pressure Facebook to remove conspiracy theory videos that were leading to death threats against him. Lucy Roberts was sentenced to five months in prison for threatening Pozner and was banned from visiting any conspiracy theory websites in the future.

Lenny Pozner wasn’t interested in being a public figure. He was just a grieving parent that was forced to fight back against this culture of situational truth.

The scope of the hypocrisy is honestly breathtaking.

Trump says that the economy is great and getting better while at the same time browbeating the Fed to lower interest rates. The Fed raises rates when the economy is good in order to give themselves room to lower interest rates when the economy is bad. The stock market is going up because they anticipate that the Fed will soon lower interest rates. Why? Because the economy is getting worse.

Trump says that China is paying the tariffs that he has raised. At the same time he has a system where US businesses, who are really paying the tariffs, can request exemptions. If China WERE paying the tariffs, there would be no need for exemptions.

Trump claims that he didn’t receive any help from the Russians in 2016. Senate Majority Leader McConnell is blocking a vote on bi-partisan bills which would clarify what candidates should do in 2020 if they learn of any attempts by foreign powers to influence an election.

IMHO Trump and the Republican Party share blame for this culture because they have promoted it for political gain.

This is very dangerous territory and it is exactly where Trump wants us to be.

This culture allows Trump to claim that he can and would accept election help from a foreign power because “everybody does it”.

When asked whether or not a president can obstruct justice, he responded, “I run the country”.

This is the same response that Nixon gave to David Frost when he said that a President couldn’t do anything illegal because he gets to define what is legal.

Both Trump and Nixon felt that Article II of the constitution provides the President broad powers. That is basis for Trump and was the basis for Nixon’s claims that no crimes were committed.

There is no larger reason to conclude that Trump is unfit for office. He has expressed a willingness to do whatever he needs to do to stay in office. He has even suggested that he might defy the constitution and run for a third term if he has the opportunity. His motivations, in this case, don’t matter. His willingness to state that he was willing to challenge the constitutional term limit says all that we need to hear.

He simply can’t be trusted with the immense power that we have chosen to give the President.

Transparency

Tuesday, June 4th, 2019

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President Trump won the 2016 election on the strength of his personality. Since then, he has forced all who support him to regularly re-affirm their loyalty.

Each crisis, gaffe, insult, unseemly revelation, or assault on democratic norms forces a choice. A long list of appointees left or got fired. Some went to jail. With each concession, his defenders get dragged deeper into an alternate reality of Trump’s own making where he is defending the country against an imaginary “deep state” army of traitors.

Despite numerous dead-end investigations chasing down one rabbit hole after another, there is no evidence to support this claim of organized secret opposition, but then proof was never really the goal.

The goal is to position Trump as the only reliable source of information for his supporters.

This reality distortion field allows him to claim that he doesn’t do cover-ups, even though he’s on tape approving the one that jailed his lawyer.

Everyone outside his reality distortion field KNOWS that US businesses and consumers are paying his Chinese tariffs. The Fed estimates it will cost every US family $831/yr. When Kudlow publicly contradicted him, Trump read him the riot act according to some sources.  Sources quoted in the Washington Post suggest that he is willing to put the economy at risk in order to get re-elected.  

President Trump is telling advisers and close allies that he has no intention of pulling back on his escalating trade war with China, arguing that clashing with Beijing is highly popular with his political base and will help him win reelection in 2020 regardless of any immediate economic pain.

In other words, Trump expects that his base will not hold him accountable for lying about tariffs and will not hold him accountable for the damage those tariffs are doing to individuals and the economy.  He believes that his base will re-elect him BECAUSE he is willing to confront China in a zero-sum celebrity death match.  They WANT to see this country assert itself on the international stage in a “might makes right” exercise.  This was the attitude that had us begin a foolhardy neocon mission to remake the middle east in our image and likeness.  Almost 20 years and trillions of dollars later we’re still mired down in Afghanistan, Iraq is still a mess, Iran is still a threat, Syria has collapsed, and Israel is still fighting with her neighbors.

He responded to criticisms by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi by circulating a crudely altered video of her and questioning her health or sanity.

He accused Comey and McCabe of treason punishable by death and implicated Lynch and Obama. He demanded justice department investigations of his political opponents. His press secretary justified the investigations because of unproven claims that the President is already aware of “outrageous amounts of corruption” at the FBI. His AG agreed to investigate that “corruption” while at the same time acknowledging that he was unaware of any treasonable acts. He celebrated the fact that Kim Jong-un, one of the worst dictators in the world with whom he claims to have a close personal relationship, shared his same low opinion of the leading Democratic candidate for President.

This isn’t supposed to happen in a free and open democracy.

In his most stunning “through the looking-glass” moment, he claimed to be the most transparent president in history. He’s the one refusing to release his tax returns, divest himself of his business interests, appear before the Mueller grand jury, accept court losses, or agree that the constitution grants Congress the right to oversight.

His treasury secretary suggested that the 2016 election already decided the issue of releasing his taxes and the American people don’t care. He also suggested that the courts will decide what should be done, as they have done in the past. The reality, however, is that we haven’t had a situation in the past where the courts had to compel a President to release his taxes.  That’s because all candidates for President for the past several decades have voluntarily released their tax returns during their campaigns for office. Trump did not campaign on keeping his tax returns private.  He promised the American people that he WOULD release his taxes once the IRS had concluded their audits of him. The IRS has since declined to confirm or deny that he was under audit, but stated that a public release of a tax return would not affect the outcome of an audit. Beyond that, he is opposing all other efforts, by Congress and at a state level, to release any tax information. An audit doesn’t appear to be his primary concern. Currently a majority of Americans polled would like to see his tax returns released.

The result of all of this is a deepening divide between those who feel Trump is a welcome change and those who are aghast at the destruction he is leaving in his wake. Trump’s supporters believe he’s a victim. History suggests otherwise. We’ll get to vote on that in 2020. Healing our damaged democracy will likely take much longer.

Truth About Tariffs

Friday, May 17th, 2019

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Trump is the ONLY person who is claiming that China pays the tariffs. Even officials in his own administration admit that this is a tax which the importer in this country pays to our government. That importer either covers that tax by reducing their profit margin, or they pass that tax along to whomever is buying the goods. Often that tax is reflected in higher prices paid by the consumer.

Even Trump KNOWS that his claim is a lie because he has agreed to a program where IMPORTERS can apply for waivers. Those waivers relieve the importer from paying the tax that they would otherwise pay on the goods that they are importing from China. If China was in fact paying the tariff, why would there be ANY need to provide ANY importer a waiver?

Trump is claiming that he will be able to use the taxes which he is collecting from China to provide some relief from the business which US exporters are losing because of tariffs that China has placed on US goods, in particular agricultural products.

This is another LIE. Instead what he is really doing is shifting dollars around in our own domestic economy. He is taking dollars from importers but mostly paid by consumers and using it to prop up farmers who are being bankrupt by his trade policies. This is not a formula for economic success.

This is VERY dangerous stuff. That’s because a portion of the country believes these lies and supports a policy that has been proven ineffective.

The reason why the world has moved to multi-lateral rather than bi-lateral trade agreements is to avoid trade wars. That’s because trade wars sometimes lead to REAL wars as both sides try to ramp up leverage on each other or retaliate for what they perceive as an attack on their country.

In the case of China, we are dealing with our major global economic competitor who has recently taken a dramatic turn toward authoritarianism under Xi Jinping. Here’s how Bret Stevens characterizes them.

Domestically, it has shifted from one-party to one-man rule and become a surveillance state that locks up innocent people by the hundreds of thousands in concentration camps. Abroad, it snoops, steals, kidnaps, cheats, pollutes, undermines, corrupts, proliferates, and bullies. The goal of “Xi Jinping Thought,” the party’s new official dogma, isn’t stakeholdership. It’s dominance: “Why question the Communist Party,” goes its message, “when the alternative is chaos and corruption?”

Worse, they may already be facing internal problems which may become increasingly desperate because of a declining economy, exploding debt, aging population, shrinking workforce, and flood of its most successful citizens leaving.

Trump seems oblivious to all of this. Instead he has characterized this as a war of wills which he has to win in order to demonstrate that he is the Uber strong man in the world. In simplest terms his calculation is that he is better positioned to ride out the pain that his trade war is causing in this country compared to a defacto dictatorship where people don’t have a vote.

Even if Trump could somehow prove that trade wars result in better bi-lateral trade deals than would otherwise be available to us, it still doesn’t address core geopolitical issues.

Trump has been silent on the subject of human-rights abuses. His administration has shelved sanctions intended to punish China for mass incarceration of Chinese Muslims. Trump has failed to sanction the Chinese entities who are stealing our intellectual property. China is expanding its military and economic influence around the world. Trump is weakening or abandoning the military and economic alliances which would provide an alternative to those who might see some benefit to aligning themselves with China. Even longtime allies like Japan and South Korea are considering closer ties with China because of Trump’s America First policies.

The facts are that Trump has failed to deliver the significant economic benefits that he promised from his go-it-alone trade strategy.

The new NAFTA is not a whole lot different from the old NAFTA.  Lawmakers in all three countries refused to ratify the new deal unless Trump dropped the steel and aluminum tariff’s that he put in place to force Canada and Mexico to come to the table.  Trump had no choice, particularly given the pain that the China tariffs are causing.  He caved.

This outcome is virtually certain in all of the trade wars that Trump is engaged in, or may start in the future.  There are no winners because, in a global economy, everyone needs everyone else.  Virtually everyone is trading with everyone else.  There are very few countries that have a monopoly on a particular good or service.  There are also very few countries that can sustain themselves exclusively on what they produce domestically.  For example, the trade war was bad news for US soybean farmers, but great news for Brazilian soybean farmers who were happy to get a bigger share of the Chinese market than they had previously had.

Trump will of course claim that he won the trade war, but there is precious little in the new plan that he can point to which will justify the economic pain his policies caused.  The new NAFTA deal has already been criticized for weak environmental protections, weak unfair labor practice rules, and language which allows US pharmaceutical companies to continue to charge higher prices in this country for drugs that are available at much lower prices in Mexico and Canada. 

Finally, though it is clear that Trump’s policy is ill conceived, we still don’t have an answer to the question of why Trump continues to lie.

All we can do is speculate. But often the simplest answers prove to be the closest to the mark. The simple answer is that Trump is lying because he can. He has successfully created an atmosphere where his core supporters believe everything that he says and discount any criticism as politically motivated.

Trump campaigned on the tariff lie. He knows that if he told the truth about how tariffs really work his base would reject his plan. If he told his base that they should be willing to accept significant increases in the cost of consumer goods and farmers should be willing to accept the risk that they will go out of business before the deals get done, in return for some much better deal in the future, he would be accepting accountability for all of the pain that he is currently causing.

Hopefully, those in his base who are dealing directly with the harsh economic realities that tariffs are causing them have figured out that he is lying. Hopefully they, their families, and their friends will finally realize that they can’t afford the cost of another conservative Supreme Court justice. If so, democracy will render an appropriate judgement on the Trump administration in 2020.

Being Christian

Tuesday, April 9th, 2019

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In simplest terms, being Christian means following the teachings of Christ.

From there, it is all about faith, honesty, and humility.

In that regard, I feel that I can only talk about my own belief.

That belief is that there is only one God. That God is all powerful, all knowing, all loving, infinite, and spiritual. The Christ is His message (His son) to His creation (us).

We all reflect our Creator to the degree that we embody that Christ message of love, obedience, humility, generosity, honesty, and spirituality.

Jesus was the perfect embodiment of the Christ. He came to show us the way we can better understand who we really are through deeper understanding of our infinite Creator.

Even though God gave Moses Ten Commandments, they were delivered in the context of what those people could understand – judgement and punishment. They were emerging from a long period of slavery, oppression, and religious persecution. This was a might makes right world. All those around them tried to make sense of their dangerous brutal world by imagining a set of brutal, vengeful, capricious gods who were also in constant conflict. Why wouldn’t the world be chaotic if those in charge of it were also locked in a constant struggle for dominance?

Jesus effectively rewrote the Old Testament by reducing the Ten Commandments to just two – Love God and love your neighbor as yourself.

The life of Jesus documented in the New Testament was one of upending common wisdom regarding the role of the promised Messiah. It was rebuking the political and cultural roles of those who controlled the Jewish temple. He regularly pointed out the hypocrisy of those who felt that material success was evidence of God’s favor. By implication, those who had struggles must have done something to deserve their condition. He also rejected the whole Jewish concept that because they were a chosen people, they were inherently better than anyone else who didn’t share their beliefs.

His teachings then and now are a radical. We are told to love our enemies and do good to those to treat us badly. That’s in direct opposition to the Old Testament “eye for an eye” revenge culture.

Instead of revenge, Jesus told that God is our only judge. He also warned us that God will judge us harshly if we fail to show compassion to the poor, help the sick, visit those in prison, welcome the stranger, and provide food and drink to those who are hungry and thirsty.

We are told that it is our responsibility to focus all of our attention on our own salvation because it is not assured. Any time that we spend in selfish, hard hearted, or mean spirited endeavors puts that salvation at risk.

Jesus threw those who had attempted to profit from piety out of the temple and called them thieves.

Given all this, why would anyone who truly understood what it means to be a Christian question the faith of someone else?

Why would anyone who had read the Bible and turned their life over to God, for a moment suggest that they know how God would judge someone else FOR ANYTHING?

How could anyone condemn another as a sinner? Jesus told us that this was the height of folly. In no uncertain terms he told us that if we have any issue with anyone, we have to resolve that issue BEFORE we can honestly continue our own journey toward holiness.

There is only one way to resolve the issue of condemning someone else as a sinner. That is to admit your own hubris in making that statement and humbly seek forgiveness from God and those that may have been wronged. Jesus said as much in the story about the Pharisee and the tax collector.

How could anyone who truly understands Jesus teachings suggest that theirs is the ONLY path toward salvation? How could someone really know that those who choose a different path will without question be punished for their choice?

Jesus did say that He is the only way to get to heaven. He did not say that Christians are the only ones who get into heaven. What He did say is that you should follow him. What that means to me is follow His teachings. That’s what following Him in “deed and truth”, means to me. Those teachings contain universal truths that are present in many religions. So I believe that it is entirely possible to follow the teachings of Jesus and not be a Christian.

Whether it is the woman at the well, or the woman who washed Jesus feet, or Jesus eating with the publican, or Jesus healing the servant of the Centurion, the message is clear. No one is separated from the love of God. Goodness and Godliness are not associated with any particular religion. They are attributes that everything and everyone in God’s creation share.

Jesus told us that there were many paths to heaven.

We only have to worry about ours.

Facing Reality

Tuesday, February 12th, 2019

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After 35 days of government shutdown over funding a border wall, Congress has delivered Trump a deal that is WORSE than the compromise deal that Trump rejected last year.

The CBO estimates the shutdown will cost $11B and will shave 0.2% off the current economic growth forecasts. Most of that money will be recouped but at last $3B is gone and the real economic impact could be even larger.

The Guardian says;

CBO’s estimates do not incorporate other, more indirect negative effects of the shutdown, which are more difficult to quantify but were probably becoming more significant as it continued,” the report said. “For example, some businesses could not obtain federal permits and certifications, and others faced reduced access to loans provided by the federal government. Such factors were probably beginning to lead firms to postpone investment and hiring decisions.

The good news is that Trump will never be able to use the threat of a shutdown again.

He also likely is not going to be able to blow up deals on a whim. Democrats have demonstrated that they are not going to be intimidated. Whatever deal is on the table will be the best deal that you can get. If you reject it, whatever deal eventually takes its place will be worse than the rejected one.

Also, just to be sure, House Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows has joined other Republicans in signaling that they will support a regular, clean government funding bill if Trump rejects the current deal that is on the table.

What does that mean for the Democrats?

They have belled the cat. Trump was forced to reopen the government without a guarantee of wall funding. Now Trump is going to be forced to accept a deal that he doesn’t like BECAUSE his own party will open the government on their own without a border deal if he refuses.

This is all happening because the Republican KNOW that the Democrats could have struck an even tougher deal than the one they finally agreed to. They also know that Trump will likely throw them under the bus whether he chooses to sign or not. So they have little to lose in opposing him.

Besides they are also gearing up for the next battle which likely will be opposing the President’s attempts to steal money from other parts of the budget to appease the most conservative parts of his base.

In the meantime, Trump went to El Paso to repeat all of the lies that he told during the state of union address. He claimed that his crowd was bigger that Beto’s (it wasn’t). He repeated his lie about crime going down when El Paso built a wall (it didn’t). And he talked about winning (he isn’t).

Eventually we all have to deal with reality. The reality here is that we have moved pass “peak Trump”. It will all be downhill from here.

The Great Potato Famine

Monday, January 21st, 2019

This isn’t the first time poverty, starvation, and violence have caused people to flee their country.

The Great Potato Famine forced 2M Irish to come here.

The British believed that the natural course of free markets would solve the crisis.  The head of relief said, “Great Britain cannot continue to throw her hard-won millions into the bottomless pit of Celtic pauperism” and “The judgement of God sent the calamity to teach the Irish a lesson, that calamity must not be too much mitigated”.

1M Irish died.

The Irish fled on cheap converted freighters.  Conditions were deplorable.  They were called “coffin ships” because half didn’t survive the voyage.

Americans complained that the British were not sending their best people.  These Irish were poor, unskilled, and Catholic.  Conspiracy theories raged.  Priests raped nuns and killed babies.  The pope was moving to Cincinnati where cannon law would be imposed.

The Irish were portrayed as drunken disease-ridden hideous criminal apes.

The Know-Nothing Party promised to restore “Temperance, Liberty, and Protestantism” by supporting native-born Protestant candidates.  Massachusetts required 21 years of residency before naturalized citizens could vote.

In 1855, Lincoln despaired of the whole situation.  “When it comes to this I should prefer emigrating to some country where they make no pretense of loving liberty—to Russia, for instance, where despotism can be taken pure, and without the base alloy of hypocrisy.”

We are mostly a nation of immigrants.  Each new wave of immigration also creates politicians who use xenophobia and racism to gain power.

Those of us with immigrant ancestry owe them a debt.  Opposing legal asylum seekers ignores the sacrifices others made for us.

Jesus said welcoming the stranger is an immigration requirement for heaven (Matt 35:31-40).  Christians who oppose the legal rights of asylum seekers are building their own wall between political beliefs and their own salvation.

Those who claim to be pro-life, but then oppose the rights of some children born in this country to become citizens, are hypocrites indeed.

Those who claim all immigrants are lawbreakers are ignoring the fact that asylum seekers are OBEYING our laws.  The government breaks the law when turning asylum seekers away, purposely under staffing the courts, and callously ignoring the humanitarian crisis they created.  They’re using threats of imprisonment, sickness, child abuse, and death as deterrents.  It’s shameful.

In my case, several of my ancestors came to this country at different times from England.  The first bunch came on the ship that resupplied the Mayflower.  They were Puritans fleeing religious persecution.

The next bunch came here during the potato famine.  The potato crops failed in England too.   Two brothers made their way to Buffalo.  One headed for the Canadian side of the border.  The other walked to Lake Geneva Wisconsin where he started a dairy farm.  Some distant cousins are still milking cows there 170 years later.  From Wisconsin some of my relatives helped open up the Oregon Trail and Texas territories.  I think I can say with certainty, that they all believed in the American Dream and many took risks and made great sacrifices in the hope of a better life.

Today’s immigrants, relatives of past immigrants, and most current citizens all share the same simple desire for a better life for our children.  That is the promise and blessing of this country.  It was how our country was settled.  It is an experience that is renewed with each new wave of immigrants that come to our country.  Now is not the time to turn our backs on those who want the same chance today that our ancestors were seeking when they took their own long and dangerous journey to a new land.

The Wall

Friday, January 4th, 2019

White evangelicals are getting a lot of attention in the larger press these days. That’s because they appear to be the most loyal demographic of Trump’s support.

I’ve posted on this topic before. Most recently, I speculated that it was Trump’s support of Christian Nationalism that could explain at least some of it.

I’ve also posted about the revisionist history that is a popular by-product of the fundamentalist belief that the founders intended this be a Christian nation. In fact, reliable historical accounts prove that their intent exactly the opposite. They realized that this experiment with democracy would fail if religion become politicized. Just as they distrusted the ability of a king to reflect the best interests of the people, they also believed the best way to get religion out of politics was to create a government with no religious preference.

So let’s dig into the question a little bit more to see if we can figure out why the white evangelical support for Trump is unwavering even as his support from other groups erodes.

White Evangelicals
The first question we need to address is why it appears to be specifically WHITE evangelicals rather than evangelicals in general, or even whites in general.

According to surveys, white evangelicals are more conservative than the larger white population on things like welfare, climate change, and immigration. 80% of white evangelicals voted for Trump in 2016. 59% of whites in general voted for Clinton. This may be the result of a fundamental fear of demographic change in general and racial resentment in particular.

Twice as many white evangelicals oppose climate change spending compared with other non-white evangelical groups. Twice as many white evangelicals oppose raising taxes on the wealthy compared with other non-white evangelical groups. White evangelicals are significantly more conservative on racial issues like Black Lives Matter or apologizing for slavery. 50% of white evangelicals believe that immigrants hurt the economy. Less than a quarter of non-white evangelicals share that belief. White evangelicals have the most negative attitudes toward immigrants of all US religious groups. That is in spite of the fact that most conservative white evangelical leaders strongly favor a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.

Here’s the answer that researchers have come up with.

My research indicates white evangelical conservatism correlates strongly with their perceptions (of) anti-white discrimination, even after taking into account economic status, party, age and region. Fully 50 percent of white evangelical respondents to our 2016 survey reported feeling they face discrimination that’s comparable to, or even higher than, the discrimination they believe Muslim Americans face. Those who hold this perception are more likely to hold conservative attitudes on issues as wide-ranging as climate change, tax policy and health-care reform.

This racial resentment is exacerbated by the rapid growth in non-white evangelical membership.  While 66% of evangelicals are still white, their numbers are declining rapidly.

The number of white evangelical Protestants fell from about 23 percent of the US population in 2006 to 17 percent in 2016, and only 11 percent are under 30, according to a survey of more than 100,000 Americans.

A Wall
67% of white evangelicals support building a wall. That is compared with 39% of the larger population. Here’s some additional research.

“For white evangelicals who see the sun setting on white Christian dominance in the country, the wall is a powerful metaphor,” said Jones, who has spent many years analyzing the attitudes of religious voters, and published the book “The End of White Christian America.”

Jones added that this metaphor embodies a white evangelical view of the world “as a dangerous battleground” made up of “chosen insiders and threatening outsiders,” as well as an “embattled minority trope that is rooted deep within southern culture,” such as the “Lost Cause theology following the Civil War,” and in “evangelical culture generally.”

Trump’s wall is a metaphor for the belief that Trump will protect white evangelicals from the demographic and cultural changes that they feel threaten their way of life.

On this score, historian John Fea has noted a longtime strain in white evangelical culture of “racial and religious fear” built on anxiety over immigrants, secularization, modernization and demographic change. While white evangelicals are not a monolith, Fea argues, many believe Trump is God’s vessel for “delivering them from the ‘captivity’ of the Obama administration,” so there’s little Trump could do that would “lead white conservative evangelicals to abandon him.”

As Stewart points out, some leading evangelical figures have even talked about this in wall metaphors. One such figure, who appears in the film, has declared that “America has become a nation without walls,” and that Trump will “restore the crumbling walls that separate us from cultural collapse.”

Walls appear deeply ahistorical as responses to the actual challenges to national sovereignty mounted by the facts of 21st-century globalization, Brown writes, but their overtones of long-vanished historical times are key to what makes them reassuring.

Walls have long been a metaphor for cultural strength and rebuilding community. Here’s how David Barton of the revisionist history WallBuilders movement describes it.

In the Old Testament book of Nehemiah, the nation of Israel rallied together in a grassroots movement to help rebuild the walls of Jerusalem and thus restore stability, safety, and a promising future to that great city. We have chosen this historical concept of “rebuilding the walls” to represent allegorically the call for citizen involvement in rebuilding our nation’s foundations. As Psalm 11:3 reminds us, “If the foundations be destroyed, what shall the righteous do?”

King Cyrus
There is a belief spreading among white evangelicals that Trump is a modern day version of King Cyrus.

This has been prompted by the release of a new movie, “The Trump Prophecy,” which tells the tale of a former firefighter who experienced an epiphany in 2011 that Trump would be elected president.

Analyzing the film, Katherine Stewart, a journalist who covers the Christian right, notes that it positions Trump as a modern-day “King Cyrus,” the 6th-century B.C. king of Persia who freed Jews from captivity in Babylon. As Stewart notes, Cyrus is the “model for a nonbeliever appointed by God as a vessel for the faithful,” and in the eyes of white evangelicals, Trump plays that role. In this telling, Trump is a savior figure for “Christian nationalism,” so his personal failings and misconduct are beside the point. Indeed, Stewart notes, his autocratic and anti-democratic conduct is a virtue, since it is being marshaled toward that end of rescuing evangelical culture from extermination.

Summary
To be clear, this is not an economic issue.

Economic anxiety isn’t a primary reason for white evangelicals supporting Trump. They fear losing racial status. White evangelicals’ belief that they’re the targets of discrimination – more so than other groups — influence far more than simply their votes for Trump.

While facts don’t support this fear, it remains an issue of belief just as strong as any other evangelical interpretation of the Bible. The problem is that you simply can’t argue belief.

So it doesn’t matter what the Mueller investigation turns up. Even if there is evidence that Trump committed treasonous acts, this particular group of supporters will continue to believe that God is working out His plan through Trump.

I believe that God IS working out his plan through Trump, but that His plan has no more to do with politics now than it did 2000 years ago when some questioned whether or not Jesus planned to overthrow the Romans.

As a result, I believe that the white evangelical group will face the same reckoning that every other group that confused politics with piety have faced throughout history. Unfortunately, pride goeth before the fall. Where there is great pride, as in the expectation of white privilege, the fall will be also be great.

God’s plan is simple. As the Bible tells us, God is no respecter of persons, or wealth, or influence, or privilege. His plan is that we work out our own salvation with fear and trembling. The best way to secure that salvation is to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, welcome the stranger, provide clothes to the needy, care for the sick, and visit those who are imprisoned. God will judge all of us the same way. He doesn’t need our help separating the sheep from the goats. He doesn’t need a wall to carry out his plan. He doesn’t need a King. He certainly doesn’t need a president. He just needs us to love each other, listen humbly for His direction, and follow the leadings of Truth.

 

Evil Has No Power

Monday, November 26th, 2018

I have seen the wicked in great power, and spreading himself like a green bay tree. Yet he passed away, and, lo, he was not: yea, I sought him, but he could not be found. Ps 37:35-36

As a warning, this post is about belief. It is the result of looking more closely at our current political situation from a spiritual point of view.

I’ve thought a lot about this Bible citation.

What it means to me is that God is all powerful. He is also the only power, since if there were any other power, it would mean that God is not ALL powerful. As a result, any suggestion that there is a power opposed to God is an illusion. That’s why when you go looking for what appears to be an opposing power, you can’t find it. It’s like looking for that mirage of water on the horizon or the end of a rainbow. They are illusions that lose their reality when closely examined.

Applying those lessons to the current political situation suggests that good (synonym for God) is the only reality. Anything else is an illusion that vanishes on closer inspection.

Trump is a good example.

It appeared as though his rapid rise to power was the result of the anger, resentment, and fear of a significant number of voters.

It seemed that he wasn’t bound by the same rules and norms that previous president’s observed.

You could certainly make the argument that democracy had failed when a minority of the voters could hand power to someone who called so many of our shared values into question. What’s worse, we seem to have elected someone whose first priority is what is best for him. Whether it is deliberate or delusional, he seems to believe that his own interests are always in the best interests of the country.

Here’s how a Wash Post opinion piece describes Trump’s response to the Khashoggi killing.

He’s putting his own naked self-interest over what’s good for America, and prioritizing the real-world policy realization of his own prejudices and hatreds over any good-faith, fact-based effort to determine, by any discernible standard, what might actually be in the country’s interests.

There is no big and unpleasant truth at the core of Trump’s vision of what’s good for the country. That vision is largely a void filled with unchecked self-interest, both disguised and sustained by lies.

Fortunately voters were recently able to express their opinion about Trump’s administration. The House vote was as close as we are going to get to a national referendum until 2020. Trump was certainly helpful in that regard by insisting that the election WAS about him. The result was a huge turnout from both sides.

That’s how democracy is supposed to work. We resolve our differences peacefully at the ballot box rather than through armed conflict.

The election was also a resounding rejection of the Trump agenda. The Democrats flipped more seats than they had in any election since Watergate which was a similar referendum on a sitting president. In total, House Democrats received 8.6M more votes than Republicans. That exceeded the margin of victory in the 2016 election.

Given the turnout, the wider margin of victory can only be attributed to a change in heart for at least some of those who voted for Trump in 2016.

Some of this was voters holding Trump accountable for failing to keep his promises.

Michelle Goldberg from the NYTimes listed some of those broken promises.

Trump’s first two years in office have been rife with debacles, including the botched response to Hurricane Maria and the sadistic policy of snatching undocumented children from their parents.

Tens of thousands of veterans haven’t received promised housing and education stipends because of technical glitches at the Department of Veterans Affairs. Some veterans are facing eviction and homelessness, and at a hearing last week, V.A. officials couldn’t tell Congress when the problem would be fixed. NBC noted that the agency lacks a permanent chief information officer. Over the summer, ProPublica reported that the V.A. was being unofficially run by a trio of Trump cronies out of Mar-a-Lago.

The Times reported on problems with the $12 billion bailout program the Trump administration created to help farmers hurt by its trade policies. Thanks to what the story called “red tape and long waiting periods,” few payments have been made so far.

Under a 2007 law, people in some public service jobs are eligible to have their federal student loans forgiven after 10 years of payments. Last year, according to Department of Education data, only 96 of nearly 30,000 applicants for loan forgiveness were approved, which appears to be partly the fault of the Trump administration. Attorneys general for 10 states and the District of Columbia have written to Trump’s education secretary, Betsy DeVos, about her department’s “failure to keep its promise to borrowers.”

In the spirit of this post, however, Trump can be viewed as a blessing.

As his administration continues to unravel, we are seeing that the American people ARE able and willing to hold him accountable for his actions. His lies and poor performance did erode his 2016 base of support. His power is not only an illusion, it is now working against him. Rather than dismantle democracy, he has reinvigorated it. He has awakened those who stand aghast at his actions. Rather than just complain, they voted in record numbers.

It wasn’t just them who voted in record numbers either. His base of support turned out too. The result was democracy in action. Voters took power away from the incumbent President because they disapproved of that incumbent’s performance. A Democratic congress will certainly serve as a check for at least the next two years.

There were also big gains for Democrats at the state level. Those gains will lay the foundation for an unraveling of the gerrymandering and restrictive voter registration laws which had been giving Republicans an unfair advantage in previous House votes. Michigan even passed a public proposal to hand all future redistricting to a non-partisan citizen’s panel. We don’t know whether any of these actions would have occurred without a Trump presidency. It is clear that making it easier to vote and making those votes of equal value in every conservative district are both going to strengthen democracy.

We don’t know how the next two years will go, but it is clear that the seemingly unstoppable spreading green bay tree that was the Trump administration is losing its power before our very eyes. We may go looking for him in two years and he will be hard to find.

Tinkerbell Effect

Monday, October 15th, 2018

via GIPHY

This is a term which describes things that are thought to exist only because people believe in them. One of the areas where is it used fairly widely is with money. Money has no intrinsic value. It only works because everyone using it believes that it will continue to work for the foreseeable future.

Populism at its core is built on the Tinkerbell Effect. Populists believe that “crowds” are self-validating. Whatever the crowd believes must be fact because everyone in the crowd shares the same belief.

Science, while it studies the “wisdom of crowds”, has never accepted the claim that belief should replace proof regardless of how popular any particular belief might be.

The modern era began with the introduction of the scientific method in the 17th century. That method requires all assumptions to pass a series of rigorous tests in order to gain credibility. The scientific method created the concept of objective truth. It freed reality from being narrowly defined by popes or potentates. Instead it handed the responsibility of understanding the world to a select group of highly decentralized critical thinkers around the world – experts in their particular fields. These groups are self-selecting based on their areas of interest. Anyone can join, regardless of race, color, creed, or nationality. They simply have to prove through their publications that they have sufficient understanding of the subject matter to be taken seriously by their peers.

When Galileo improved the Lippershey telescope to provide ultimately 30x magnification, he was able to confirm the Copernican helio-centric theory of the solar system. This was a direct challenge to the Biblical claim supported by the Catholic Church that the universe revolved around the earth.

Galileo championed the idea that all of the laws of nature are mathematical. That meant that natural outcomes should not only be predictable, but also repeatable by anyone with a comparable understanding of the underlying mathematics. In other words, you didn’t have to be Galileo to see the moons of Jupiter transit across the face of the planet. You only had to have the same telescope that Galileo had and understand what those dots moving across the image of Jupiter actually represented.

This ushered in a new age where scientists could reliably explain all natural phenomena. Reality was no longer dependent on opinion or dogma. Instead there was (and is) an unbiased group of experts who could not only separate fact from fiction, but were eager to test new ideas even if they questioned accepted theories. This group almost by definition is constantly pushing the boundaries of understanding while simultaneously strengthening those theories that survive rigorous testing.

This group earns the right to test all theories about reality through the professional credentials they acquire, the reputation they have with their peers, and their own success in producing original work that can be duplicated by other experts in the field.

By definition, these experts also know more about their subject than any random crowd regardless of its size.

Therein lies the rub.

Populist movements, including the one in this country, strive to take back the right to determine what is fact and what is fiction. They reject any and all outside groups who suggest that any but their own trusted group can dictate their beliefs.

Here’s why all of this is important.

Trump’s lying is not a character flaw or pathology. It is not a “salesman” characteristic. It IS a deliberate strategy to weaken our collective ability to distinguish truth from falsehood. Steve Bannon summarized this strategy when he said, “The way to deal with [the media] is to flood the zone with s**t.”

Trump’s singular success as a politician has been his ability to create an alternate reality in which he and his supporters live. He has been successful because he is exploiting a weakness in our democracy. That weakness is the power that we invest in the chief executive. An untrustworthy chief executive in our system can acquire a lot of power very quickly. The only checks to that power are congress, the courts, and voters. A free and independent press is supposed to inform the voters so that their choices are fact based.

Trump’s strategy is to delegitimize the press, create an alternate reality where he is the only arbiter of truth, and demonize all those who oppose him. Because he is the President, he has the power to accomplish that. Facts are no longer relevant in this discussion because Trump’s supporters reject experts as biased elites and the press as “the enemy of the people”. Democrats are “traitors” and “evil people”. All those who oppose Trump, in the minds of his supporters, should be “locked up”. The Republican Party has long since abdicated any role in checking the President’s power. Those who might provide leadership have either died or been drummed out of the party. The courts are slowly being bent to Trump’s will too as his appointments flood positions that a Republican Senate majority had kept open during the Obama administration.

The only reliable check that remains is voters. That fact isn’t lost on Trump and Republican either. Trump has already built the narrative that any vote that doesn’t go his way must be the result of a rigged system or voter fraud. Republicans have stepped up their efforts at every level of government to suppress the vote from those who generally vote for Democrats.

This brings us to the current crossroad.

Our country appears to be split.

We have conservatives who vote based on a set of ideological beliefs that they share regarding government, taxes, the free market, and personal responsibility. Whether smaller government actually increases human freedom is never questioned. If tax cuts and deregulation don’t result in faster economic growth, at least they are giving individuals more control over their own property – which seems to be good enough. Conservatives believe that people choose to be poor and that any attempt to mitigate the circumstances surrounding poverty discourages people from putting in the work that would improve their condition. There is no data to support this view either, but put that hasn’t stopped Trump from blaming the poor, immigrants, and people of color for the country’s problems.

Republicans were concerned about debt and deficits when a Democrat was in the White House. Now that Republicans control all branches of government, they are running up deficits and increasing the debt at an historic rate.

Liberals on the other hand are focused these days on achieving a pragmatic balance between the market and the state. They view government as tool to constrain corporate excess. Decisions on each specific issue of government involvement are the result of extensive evidence-based study and a good faith attempt to produce outcomes which benefit the most people. If liberals have a religion it is the belief that science will always produce the best answer. One of the potential outcome of this philosophy is a technocracy where all power as well decision-making is concentrated in a small group of supposed experts. China claims that this is their form of government, but it looks a lot more like an oligopoly because the Chinese “experts” who have the power are also personally benefiting from their decisions. While that isn’t the case in this country, there is a deep suspicion among conservatives that those who are making decisions based on their academic credentials MUST somehow also be benefiting personally from the positions that they are taking. There is no proof to support that claim, but conservatives still insist that “experts” can’t be trusted. This leaves conservatives free to insist that their beliefs are more credible because they are based in “common sense”.

From an ideological perspective, however, modern liberalism in this country may not be well equipped to deal with the anti-state anti-intellectual radicalism that has become the Republican Party. The pragmatic Clintonian Democrats come off as passionless technocrats rather than true believers. This more than anything else explains the rise of the Bernie Socialists. Democratic Socialism is on the rise because it brings a new vision of the expanded role of the state that can match the populist fervor that swept Trump into office. Both the Democratic Socialists and the populists share a deep distrust of what they view as the establishment. They both want to tear it down and build something new.

The populist challenge is they have failed to dislodge the Republican establishment. Instead the Republican establishment has figured out how to ride this populist wave. The result is that the power of establishment has increased. The only difference is that this establishment is speaking in populist terms rather than traditional conservatism. The policies, however, are the same as they have always been.

All indications are that the Democrats will regain control of the House and make significant gains at the state level.

What will that mean for the next two years?

If past is prologue, the path forward is pretty obvious.

Regardless of the election outcome, Trump will double down on his authoritarian tactics. He will try to end the Mueller investigation. He will increase attempts to suppress the 2020 vote. He will refuse to comply with court orders limiting his power. He will refuse to cooperate with congressional investigations. The resulting constitutional crisis will have to be resolved in a Supreme Court where Kavanaugh could be the deciding vote. Whatever the Supreme Court decides will only increase divisions between those who believe in their own views and those who seek the objective reality.

He will crack down on protests and try to further weaken the influence of the press. He may cause an international crisis in an effort to boost his status as a “war” president. He will almost certainly continue his misguided trade war.

Finally, the recession that we have all been waiting for will arrive. Trump will fumble the response and deepen the crisis rather than resolve it. Trump will use the crisis to impose even more draconian immigration enforcement in an effort to blame the failure on Muslims, Hispanics, and the poor. Violence against all of those groups will increase.

Next up a different take on this whole picture.

Flopping

Wednesday, October 10th, 2018

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Flopping is a technique in a number of sports. It is an intentional fall by a player after little or no contact from an opposing player. The intent is to fool the official into believing that a foul actually occurred when in fact nothing happened. It is widely practiced in soccer and basketball. To a lesser extent, you see it also in football on almost every incomplete pass. The defender jumps up celebrating his success and the receiver jumps up looking around in dismay for a flag to confirm the fact that his failure to catch the ball was because of interference from the defender.

Flopping has found its way into the politics of victimization. It even has its own acronym – DARVO. That stands for Deny Attack and Reverse Victim and Offender.

DARVO is President Trump’s favorite tactic.

Here is a recent example.

Trump mocked Dr. Ford at a rally and lied about her testimony. He went on to suggest that Kavanaugh and his family are the real victims and blames the Democrats. He then called Democrats “evil people”.  He said their aim is to “destroy people” and create a culture in which people are “guilty until proven innocent”. The ultimate irony, probably lost on those in the crowd, occurred when the crowd began to chant “lock her up”.

The press then held Trump accountable for both his tone and his lies regarding Dr. Ford. His press secretary denied that he was mocking Dr. Ford and said that he was only stating the facts of the case. That was also a lie since the facts of the case include many of the details where Dr. Ford’s memory was clear.

Sprinkling facts with lies is also a common Trump tactic.  Lies, however, taint any claim of stating the facts.  Telling only the half of the story is also misrepresentation.

Dr. Ford, for example, provided solid scientific reasons why she did not remember some details and did remember others.  That science of trauma has been widely corroborated by other psychologists.  Ignoring this important part of Dr. Ford’s testimony was just additional evidence that Trump had no interest in the facts.

Then Sanders repeated the Trump’s claims that the real victim here is Kavanaugh and the real villains are the Democrats who single-handedly turned the confirmation process into “a complete and total disgrace”.

Sanders and Trump also claimed that the FBI had free reign in their investigation.  Later statements from the FBI confirmed that it was in fact “limited in scope”.

Trump later justified his attacks on Dr. Ford as an attempt to “even the playing field” and that Kavanaugh’s ultimate successful confirmation was the direct result of his attacks.  The common statement is “level the playing field”.  Characterizing this as an “uneven” playing field may have been a subconscious admission that Dr. Ford had strong public support.

Political flopping and DARVO are all different versions of a flawed philosophy – the end justifies the means.

Flopping and DARVO are both cheating.

They are attempts to twist the truth in order to gain an advantage.

At this point, partisans are going to be hearing a lot of “yah but” arguments in their head. That’s fine. But just because someone else “flops” does not make it any more ethical for you to flop.

Also just to be clear, Trump earned the right to nominate SCOTUS judges as a result of winning the election. He just happened to pick someone who, like many of his past nominations for other offices, was poorly vetted. Just because Republicans had the votes to confirm Kavanaugh, doesn’t mean that they should have.

The philosophical conclusion of accepting the “end justifies the means” rationale is that ANYTHING is acceptable behavior as long as you can justify whatever is accomplished.

IMHO, that is what has been exposed in the Republican Party by the Trump presidency.

This President can lie (well documented) with no recourse because those lies advance the agenda (ends) that the Republican party feels cannot be advanced in any other way. Or in fact to be more precise, Republican leaders ignore Trump’s lies because they don’t want to confront him and his supporters. The problem is that Trump has demanded the leaders in his party to declare that they are either with him or against him. He won’t, in fact, even tolerate their silence. Most chose the path of least resistance, actively defend Trump, and regularly praise his good works. Meanwhile the march to autocracy continues.

Trump and his supporters seem to live in an alternate reality where angry protesters are characterized as a mob. Worse yet, they can’t seem to accept that those people who are exercising their first amendment rights to protest are doing so voluntarily. Instead, even Republican Senators circulate the conspiracy theory that the protesters are paid by George Soros, but fail to produce any evidence to support their claim. They seem to forget that the current Republican majorities were won by angry protests by the Tea Party that started in 2010. Instead this protest must be motivated by paid provocateurs or revenge-seeking Clinton supporters.

Another flawed right wing meme is that young men are now somehow at risk from the #MeToo movement. This makes a false equivalence between women who are concerned about their physical security and long term psychological health and men who fear that a false accusation would damage their future employment prospects.

Blaming the victim, particularly when they are women, is a damnable defense that our current president has legitimized. The #MeToo movement started with powerful men in the entertainment industry. It has spread to those in all walks of life. Those who attack women should be held accountable.  Those who employ the DARVO technique are reprehensible cowards.

(rant starting) When multiple women came forward to accuse Kavanaugh of abusive behavior, Republicans including Kavanaugh suggested that this was evidence of “an organized political hit”.  Why are three women who chose to come forward LESS convincing for Republicans than one woman?  Bias is the only reasonable answer.

When Kavanaugh lied about the meaning of entries in his yearbook, everyone paying attention knew this was a lie – but Republicans gave him a pass on the basis of youthful exuberance.  But putting your hand over the mouth of a screaming woman IS NOT youthful exuberance.  It is abuse regardless of the age of the abuser.

It also isn’t that times have changed.  Rape and sexual assault have always been wrong.  I graduated from an all boy’s Jesuit High School.  While there may have been a culture of privilege at Kavanaugh’s school, I can guarantee that he was taught that with privilege comes responsibility.  The core of all Jesuit schools is to teach boys to become “men for others”.  He knew that abusing alcohol was wrong and he knew that attacking women was wrong too.

So please tell me why Kavanaugh couldn’t just admit that he had a drinking problem in his youth?  He could have admitted that he did drink to the point where he was not able to remember everything that happened.  He could have said, whether it was true or not, that he has no memory of the events that these three women described.  At that point, a man for others would have apologized for any harm that he may have caused and promised that his life since that time has been dedicated to seeking justice and protecting the powerless.

Instead he turned it all into a partisan rant and as a result became the LEAST trusted justice in recent history to hold a lifetime appointment. (rant ending)

The conspiracy theorists are also weighing in, but now they happen to be Senators. Tom Cotton for example believes that this is all a Democratic plot orchestrated by Chuck Schumer. Specifically, Cotton claims that a friend of Dr. Ford had worked at one time for Attorney Preet Bharara who had at one time been Schumer’s chief counsel. The problem is that the friend never did work for Bharara and there is no evidence suggesting that Schumer knew about Dr. Ford’s claim any earlier than anyone else. This theory is based on the same magic thinking that suggests that people are incapable of coming to the same conclusion (i.e. trusting Dr. Ford’s testimony) on their own. That the only way to explain such a broad and deep emotional response as we’ve seen from the public is that it had been carefully planned months before. If that was the case, Schumer clearly fumbled the ball because all they got out of it was a week’s delay and a shallow FBI investigation. If they had brought these allegations to the committee earlier, it is likely that there would have been sufficient time to do a more thorough FBI investigation which may have led to a different outcome.

What we can take from this is another turn of the autocratic wheel.

Trump supporters, which include most of the Republican Party now, don’t just have contempt for the truth, but now rush to demonize any and all criticism. In the past this tendency was limited to Trump and a small group of his vocal defenders. Now senior Republicans freely embrace crazy conspiracy theories about what motivated opposition to Kavanaugh and NO ONE in the party is questioning them.

When conspiracy theories move from the delusional fringe to mainstream politics, it becomes a deliberate strategy to delegitimize opposition. This creates excuses for punishing anyone who dares to oppose those in power, because that opposition in and of itself is regarded as treason. Even the high ideal of protecting women from being abused quickly fell by the wayside when the accused abuser was a powerful Republican.  Rather than take these accusations seriously and conduct a thorough and detailed investigation into all claims, those claims were dismissed as being politically motivated and a majority of senators who represent a minority of voters imposed their will on the rest of the country.

The question remains, how is democracy going to respond? It clearly isn’t the Republican Party. If there was any previous question, it is clear now that they are all-in. The Supreme Court is no longer going to be a reliable check on presidential power either. The highly politicized appointment process disregarded any damage that might be done to the credibility of the court in the minds of a large majority US citizens in return for potential short term political gain in the upcoming midterms.

The only thing that stands between Trump and his march toward authoritarianism are the voters. Regardless of the outcome of the midterm elections, Trump will dare both the voters and the courts to try to stop him. It will take more than a defeat in the upcoming midterms.  If Republicans retain their Senate majority, which seems a likely outcome at this point, it is likely that Trump will take action to shut down the Mueller investigation by whatever means available to him.  The only thing that will stop him are Democratic wins in every election between now and the next time we can vote directly on Trump’s political future.  Hopefully, voters and the courts will be up to the task when they are called to make a choice.