In Times Like These…

In Times Like These

In times like these, we have to help one another.

If you are like me, you are depressed that we live in a country that could elect someone like our current president. You knew the United States was deeply flawed, but you didn’t think it was so deeply soul sick as to elect someone who is so horrible in so many ways to be President of the United States.

If you are like me, you see how greed, cowardice, and lust for power have so weakened the systems that should be a check on someone like our current president. You see the reality that the Republicans will likely do nothing to bring this national nightmare to an end and will do almost anything to prolong it as long as it is in their self-interest to do so.

If you are like me, you see expressions of racism, religious nationalism, sexism, xenophobia, and antagonism towards persons who are LGBTQ and Muslim that you thought you would never see at this level at this time in our national experience.

It is easy to be so overwhelmed by all this and to simply want to give up; maybe just tend to our gardens and take care of our friends and family and avoid the toxicity of the established environment. Yes, gardening and taking care of our friends and family should be part of our response. It is part of resistance to the current established environment. But we must also find a way of taking care of each other on a larger scale and in the larger community of our society.

Freedom and justice have never been won easily or without a struggle in the history of humankind. Perhaps we thought that our big national struggles on these fronts were in the past, but they are not. They are here right now. Now is our time to take care of each other so we can join in this struggle together.

It is natural to be down. It is natural to want to give up. But people and the planet are counting on us to pick up the mantle and join the ongoing and urgent struggle for freedom and justice in times like these.

In times like these, we have to help one another.

 

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Declaring Independence from Religious Nationalism


As I spend Independence Day weekend in New York City, I have been reminded of the tremendous diversity of our nation in what may well be the most diverse and international city in the world. I am reminded especially of our religious diversity as I walk down the streets of Manhattan and see persons from so many of the world’s religions and persons who see themselves as being part of no religion at all. 

Being in New York reminds me of the millions of persons who immigrated to America, many of whom came to Ellis Island just miles from where I am writing this, and many of whom came to escape various forms of religious oppression. In spite of this history, I have a deep concern that we as a country are on the brink of creating an American era of religious oppression if we continue down the path that our president wants to lead us in relation to our Muslim sisters and brothers, and if we continue to increase the fervor of religious nationalism that Trump has cultivated so effectively in his rise to power. 

Religious nationalism is neither good for religion nor good for the nation. There is nothing more toxic to human rights and social justice than the combination of religion and nationalism. When religion and nation see each other as instruments for their survival or expansion, true freedom is in peril.

Religious nationalism is an affront to the commandment to love our neighbors as ourselves and a barrier to building the Beloved Community. Religious nationalism is also an affront to the ideal of equal protection of all people under the law. A nation that turns its laws against people based on their orientation to religion is no longer a nation of laws, for it is no longer basing its laws on justice and the equal dignity of all persons. As Saint Augustine and Martin Luther King Jr. have reminded us, an unjust law is no law at all. 

Loving God and country is great, but if you think people must believe in God the way you do to be in our country, that’s not great, it’s just oppressive. The legacy of religious nationalism is oppression, violence, executions, wars, crusades, inquisitions, colonialism, racism, slavery, pogroms, and genocide. Do not forget this as Franklin Graham, Jerry Falwell Jr, and Donald J. Trump continue to lead the growing chorus of American religious nationalism.

As we observe the Fourth of July, may we turn away from religious nationalism and turn towards the vision of a country that strives to uphold the free exercise of religion for all people and the freedom of persons who identify with no religion as well. 

Patriotism is loyalty to the highest ideals and values of our country, not loyalty to a president who upholds neither and who uses a toxic combination of religion and nationalism to manipulate large numbers of people to gain, maintain, and expand his power. Freedom from religious nationalism is a central ingredient of our country’s identity and one of the many reasons so many have been drawn to the flame of liberty that has the potential to make our country as great as we hope it can be. 

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Not Here by Accident

How did we get here

We didn’t just get here by accident. By “here,” I mean:

  • a situation in which all three branches of the federal government are controlled by the large corporate interests represented by the Republican Party
  • a situation in which income inequality is greater than at any other time since before the Great Depression
  • a situation in which almost unlimited amounts of money can be used (often anonymously) to sway political processes
  • a situation in which our tax structure becomes evermore regressive and harmful to the poor and middle class
  • a situation in which laws are passed to make it more difficult to vote and in which some states are so gerrymandered that many seats in legislatures are practically permanently held by one party, while the politicians holding those seats often run unopposed
  • a situation in which unions have been decimated and the minimum wage is falling
  • a situation in which deregulation of financial institutions and industry in general has more momentum than protection of the environment, public health, and safety
  • a situation in which public schools are chronically underfunded, undervalued, and under siege by private corporate interests
  • a situation in which public institutions of higher education have gone from being almost fully publicly funded, to partially publicly funded, to barely publicly funded and thus more dependent on funding from the persons and powers that benefit from the established environment
  • a situation in which court appointments are blocked for political purposes with almost no negative political consequences
  • a situation in which insurance companies and healthcare providers are enriched by our healthcare system, while patients and their families are impoverished
  • a situation in which a greater percentage or our population is in prison than any other country in the world, with vast disparities in the incarceration rates for people of color as compared to those who are white
  • a situation in which women are underpaid and in which women’s healthcare is under-supported
  • a situation in which we treat drug use as a crime to be punished as opposed to a problem for both persons and communities that requires access to affordable and compassionate treatment
  • a situation in which a handful of corporations own most of the major media outlets and in which news is more often propaganda than not
  • a situation in which our religions, our race, and our places of birth are used to divide us (for the people and powers who benefit from the established environment know what will happen if we are not divided)
  • and a situation in which we are the only country in the world rejecting the global consensus of climate scientists that climate change is real and caused primarily by human activity.

No, we did not simply get here by accident. Our situation, our current established environment, is the result of planning, strategy, organization, and massive amounts of funding. It is the result of a major and well coordinated project of systemic transformation implemented by some of the most wealthy and powerful persons and corporations in our country and the world. Until we come to grips with the fact that we didn’t just get here by accident, we will likely never be able to recognize what it will take to move us from “here” to a future in which a more flourishing community is possible.

Moving from “here” to that more flourishing future will be one of the most difficult and challenging things we will ever do as a society, but it also has the potential to be the most life-giving, joyful, and world saving work that humanity has ever witnessed. One thing is sure – without this work for systemic transformation, the “here” we are now experiencing will only get worse. Our challenge, our mission, is to figure out how we are going to get from the “here” of our current established environment to the “there” of a more just, peaceful, participatory future. The good news is that the systemic change required to get there is possible.

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These Three Things for Oklahoma

oklahoma-flag

In conversation with hundreds of Oklahomans over the past couple of years and after years of analysis concerning systemic change in the Oklahoma context, I am convinced that Oklahoma needs three things to happen before we will be able to begin digging ourselves out of our current crisis, and these things are: 1.) the Repeal of State Question 640, 2.) the Restoration of the 7% Gross Production Tax on Oil and Gas, and 3.) the Implementation of Ranked Choice Instant Run-Off Voting. All three of these together will not fully get Oklahoma where it needs to go for the creation of a flourishing human community, but without these three things, we will remain a glaring example of what happens to our social fabric when we cut taxes for the wealthy to the detriment of the common good and encourage the economic and political hegemony of the oil and gas industry.

The repeal of Oklahoma State Question 640 would allow the Oklahoma Legislature flexibility to raise state taxes to address Oklahoma’s budget crisis. State Question 640 was passed by a vote of the people in 1992 and requires a 75% vote in both the senate and the house of representatives of the Oklahoma Legislature in order to raise taxes. The effect has been multiple tax decreases over the past 25 years, mainly for the wealthy and large corporations, and no tax increases, even in times of severe revenue failure and budget crisis. Only one other state (Arkansas) has a threshold that is this high for approving tax increases. At the very least, we need to lower the threshold for approval, if not revert back to a simple majority vote. (See https://www.facebook.com/RepealOKStateQuestion640/)

Restoration of the 7% Gross Production Tax (GPT) rate on oil and gas is needed to save our schools and save our state from its revenue failure. Oklahoma’s effective tax rate on oil and gas production is 3.2%  and is one of the lowest in the country. Restoration of the 7% rate is essential to raising teacher pay and reversing the largest decline in general state spending on public education in the entire country since 2008. Oklahoma has the lowest teacher pay in the nation, and ranks fourth lowest in the nation in per pupil spending. Our neighbor Texas, by contrast, has an effective tax  rate of 8.3%  on oil and gas production and pays its new entry-level teachers about $20,000 more than Oklahoma. Over time Oklahoma has lost billions of dollars of revenue owing to our unnecessary tax breaks for the oil and gas industry. (See https://www.facebook.com/OklahomansForRestoring7PercentGrossProductionTax/)

Ranked Choice Instant Run-Off Voting would strengthen participation in our democracy by allowing persons to vote for their candidate of choice in elections with three or more candidates without the concern that their vote would be wasted or contribute to the election of their least favorite candidates. This would allow political parties outside of the Democratic and Republican parties to gain more traction and to be taken more seriously in the political debate. It would likely also increase political participation of those citizens who do not feel represented by the two major parties. In such a system, you could give first preference to the candidate you really want elected. If he or she does not have enough votes to make the instant run-off,  your vote would go to your next preference on the ballot. (See https://www.facebook.com/RCVOklahoma/)

These three things (repeal of 640, restoration of the 7% GPT, and ranked choice voting) will at least give us a fighting chance for systemic transformation in our state, and for that very reason, those who benefit from the established environment will do almost anything to keep these three things from happening. If Oklahoma is to have a future other than becoming even more of a commodity colony than it already is, the people must take back their power through sustained participation in the political process to achieve these three things and then press on towards more systemic change for a more just, peaceful, participatory, and sustainable Oklahoma.

Once these three things happen, it will be more possible to do what is necessary to generate adequate revenue for education, infrastructure, basic services, public safety, environmental protection, healthcare (including mental healthcare), and care for the least vulnerable among us.

Once these things happen, we can begin to focus on diversifying our economy and break the dominance that the oil and gas industry has over our economic and political processes.

Once these three things happen, we can build on the increased political participation that will come when people have more political choices and are able to vote for their first choice in elections without hurting their second choice or helping their least favorite candidate. Vibrant third parties will finally be able to gain traction to allow more diverse voices in our political process.

You can see why these three things will be resisted, which is the very reason we must do all we can to begin with these three things. It is possible…

 

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Love not Hate, Baseball not Bullets

Sometimes resistance to Trump can seem like an overwhelmingly daunting task. How does one resist a person who is so willing to lie, so willing to play outside of the normal rules of decent human behavior and interaction, so willing to smear the reputation of others, so willing to put millions of people in danger, so willing to use fear and hate to manipulate the public, and so willing to pursue propaganda that is most often demonstrably false yet still effective with his base?

It is a monumental task to resist Trump, but it must be done in such a way that it is grounded in the core values of love, inclusion, justice, and nonviolence.

When Trump lies, we must relentlessly illuminate his falsehoods with truth and evidence. When Trump plays outside the rules, we must use the rule of law and the justice system to block his course. When Trump attacks people’s character, we must work together and defend those who are standing for what is right. When Trump uses rhetoric and the power of his office to divide Americans and pit them against one another, we must join hands in solidarity with the most vulnerable among us and protect them from harm. When Trump uses fear and hate to incite exclusion and violence, we must use love and nonviolence to cultivate a beloved community. When Trump spews propaganda, we must follow a path of unwavering pursuit of the truth to educate and persuade others with integrity.

Resisting Trump is an immense challenge, but we must not become Trump-like in our resistance. The more we become like Trump, the less likely we will ever make our way through this dark time to a flourishing future. We must resist Trump, but we cannot lose our souls in the process.

The shooting at the Republican Congressional baseball practice makes it crystal clear why it is so important to stay true to nonviolence in both rhetoric and action. It is the only way to a more just, peaceful, participatory, and sustainable society and world. We have before us the choice that Martin Luther King, Jr. saw many years ago: Chaos or Community?

Love not hate, nonviolence not violence, inspiration not provocation, justice not vigilantism, bridges not bombs, baseball not bullets.

baseball

Reps. Cedric Richmond, Louisiana Democrat, and Steve Scalise, Louisiana Republican

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Comey, Trump, and Kohlberg’s Stages of Moral Development

Kohlberg

Looking at the discussions over the past few days concerning Comey’s actions and testimony, Lawrence Kohlberg’s stages of moral development are illuminating.

I would argue that Trump is trapped somewhere between pre-conventional and conventional levels of moral development, specifically between stages 2 and 3 in which his behavior and decisions are driven by self interest and rewards (stage 2) and in which his behavior is driven by social approval (stage 3).

It was in Trump’s self interest for Comey to let go of the Flynn investigation, and he saw nothing wrong in expressing his hope to Comey that he would do so. Trump sees nothing wrong with the conflicts of interest and rewards related to his ongoing international business enterprise because it serves his self interest and the interest of his family – an extension of himself. Trump gravitates to FOX News and like-minded media outlets, and in return for their social approval, he tweets his praise for them. Trump expects his subordinates to serve his interests, express loyalty to him, and obey his authority. If they do not do these things; they are fired.

The critics of Comey who are fixated on the “impropriety” of Comey sharing portions of his memos to the press seem to be arguing at a conventional level of moral development from a stage 4 perspective that emphasizes obeying authority and confirming to social order. Some of Comey’s critics also argue from the even lower stages from which Trump himself is operating. Under normal circumstances, obeying authority and confirming to social order would entail not sharing details about a private conversation one has with the president unless given permission to do so, but Comey recognizes that these are not normal circumstances.

Comey seems to be working from a post-conventional level of morality in both stages 5 and 6 in which he is carefully considering the importance of our social contract and balancing social order and individual rights (stage 5) and acting according to a more universal ethics guided by internal principles (stage 6).

Comey did what I think any serious and thoughtful moral person in the post-conventional level of moral development would do in his situation. He knew he would receive criticism for sharing portions of his memos with the press, but he looked at the fullness of the moral situation and did what he found to be the most fitting thing to do given the gravity of the president’s actions.

Comey felt that sharing portions of his memos would help lead to the appointment of a Special Counsel, which would be in his mind the best way to get to the truth of what has happened and what is happening and do what is right for the social good. Comey was capable of doing a complex contextual moral analysis of the situation, and he acted accordingly.

The fact that Comey did something that would open himself to criticism actually strengthens the underlying morality of his choice in my understanding. He was willing to do something that he knew would bring him criticism, but he did it anyway for the sake of the greater good. Comey knows that one must be a moral realist in times like these and make decisions that are both nuanced and difficult.

There is a reason why Comey turns explicitly to people like Reinhold Niebuhr and Martin Luther King, Jr. to guide his moral thinking. There is also a reason that a person like Trump turns to people like Franklin Graham and Jerry Falwell, Jr Keep this theory of moral development in mind when you hear the pundits and critics debate over who is right, Comey or Trump? Almost all the Trump arguments are coming from a lower level of moral development.

Graphic from https://www.boundless.com/psychology/textbooks/boundless-psychology-textbook/human-development-14/theories-of-human-development-70/kohlberg-s-stages-of-moral-development-268-12803/

 

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Things Hoped For


“Hope” is not the first word that comes to mind when I think of the Trump presidency, but the word came up in James Comey’s testimony about his private interactions with the president. This may mark the only time when any substantive discussion about the word hope will occur during this presidency, so I won’t let the opportunity pass to join the discussion.

Comey testified that Trump cleared the room of all people other than the two of them and proceeded to tell Comey, “I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go… He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go.”

Comey says he understood this to be a directive in that the president was communicating something that he wanted to have done. Comey was justifiably concerned by this expressed “hope,” and he decided to make a record of the conversation in a memo. This conversation, combined with Trump’s public comments about Comey’s firing, led Comey to believe that he lost his job as FBI Director for not fulfilling Trump’s hope of “letting this go.”

The White House and the president’s defenders have hence embarked on a tortured analysis of what the definition of “hope” is. Perhaps given the fact they have so little experience with the concept of hope, one should not be surprised with their difficulties in understanding its meaning in the context in which Trump used it with Comey. 

If we are to believe the Republican analysis, when Trump used the word hope, he meant something like this: “I hope you will do this, but please don’t take that as expression of my desire for you actually to do it, and if you do take it as expression of my desire for you to actually do it, I hope you will understand that I will deny that it was an expression of such desire. I hope you understand. Also, if you do not do what I hope for and what is not an actual expression of my desire for you to do, I will fire you for not doing it, but yes, I was only hoping.”

I guess it all depends on what the definition of “hope” is as opposed to what the definition of “is” is, except in this case we are talking about an investigation of Russian interference in our elections as opposed to an affair with an intern. 

I hope that what will not get lost in all of this is that we have an urgent investigation occurring about Russian interference in our election processes. I hope that Republicans and Democrats in both the Senate and the House of Representatives will take this investigation seriously and follow the evidence wherever it may lead. I hope that Special Counsel Mueller will be given every tool and resource needed to get to the truth of what has occurred and is occurring. And when I say hope, I mean that I actually want these things to happen. 

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