Why I Voted for Bernie Sanders Today

Math – today on Super Tuesday there are two candidates who are viable for the Democratic nomination for President of the United States. Neither of those candidates was my first choice for the nomination in 2020, but that is the nature of politics – you don’t always get what you want, but hopefully we will still get what we need.

My first choice was Elizabeth Warren. I respect greatly all who will be voting for her today, but I have looked at the numbers and the polls of all the states, and her chances of being in the top two candidates in delegates going into the convention are extremely low (FiveThirtyEight puts her chances now at less than 1 out of 100 to win the nomination – Bloomberg’s chances are not any better than Warren’s). I still think Warren would make the best president, but she is not going to be the next president. She will be brilliant and excellent at whatever is next for her, continuing in the Senate or perhaps in another role if the Democrats retake the presidency.

This morning, I voted for Bernie Sanders in the Oklahoma Democratic Presidential Primary. I am a social democrat, and of the two remaining viable candidates Sanders’ policies and vision are closer to my own than are Biden’s. I believe that we need revolutionary change in the way we are addressing the climate crisis, healthcare, poverty and income inequality, equality of opportunity, quality education for all, and the eradication of a system that puts college students under crushing and sometimes lifelong debt.

I wish Sanders referred to his views as social democracy rather than democratic socialism given that what he is proposing is much closer to the former than it is to the latter. He is giving the opposition the opportunity to define him as a socialist, which as we know is a problem for a significant portion of the electorate, especially older Americans. I hope that if Sanders were to win the nomination that moderates will look closely at what he is actually proposing and see that it is basically the same as what the social democracies in the Nordic countries have, and they are the happiest, healthiest, best educated, and least corrupt countries in the world.

I voted for Sanders today, but if Biden wins the nomination, I will do everything I can to work for him to be the next president and then work to keep challenging him to address the climate crisis, healthcare, education, and poverty with the fierce urgency and systemic change that are necessary. If Sanders wins the nomination, I hope Biden supporters will do the same because if we do not unite after the nomination, we run the very real risk of losing our republic.

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Young Voters and Social Democracy

We should not be surprised that the clear majority of Democratic voters under 45 years of age support Bernie Sanders and his Social Democracy platform (a platform very similar to that of Elizabeth Warren). Unlike people over 45, these young people have lived most of their lives in the aftermath of the Reagan-Bush-Clinton-Bush destruction of many of the social services and safety nets that exist in all of the happiest, healthiest, safest, most educated, and least corrupt countries in the world.

Many of these young people have seen their parents and grandparents struggle under massive medical debt (some of them have already incurred significant medical debt themselves), they have watched wealth inequality become more extreme than ever before, and many are afraid to go to the doctor because they know that in this system they are one serious illness from bankruptcy. For many of these young people, a financial crisis caused by reckless banks wreaked havoc in the lives of their families, from which some have never recovered. Many of them are also living under crushing student debt that they had to incur because our society chose not to support strong public education at all levels.

The criticism that young people support Sanders and his Social Democracy platform because they think Sanders will give them free stuff is the most disingenuous criticism I have ever heard, especially when it comes from persons from generations who paid a fraction of the current cost of college and a fraction of the current healthcare costs and who enjoyed a much better societal infrastructure than decades of austerity have delivered to us, all the while doing almost nothing about the most pressing crisis in human history – the climate crisis.

Young people are not for Sanders because they want free stuff. They are for Sanders because he gives them a consistent message of hope that we might garner the political courage to give young people and future generations a chance at survival, greater equality of opportunity, and maybe even the possibility for flourishing.

Personally I think Elizabeth Warren’s vision and plans are stronger and more thorough than those of Sanders, which is why she has been my number one choice, but I absolutely understand why young people and many others show such strong support for Sanders. It is not because they want free stuff, and it is not because they don’t know history. It is because they have first-hand experience of the failure of the last 40 years of American politics and know in their hearts and see from the example of many other countries that there is a better way.

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Social Democracy and the Democratic Party

It would be helpful for Democrats to be more careful with their language. None of what they are advocating in terms of policy is what one would define as democratic socialism. Even Bernie Sanders, though he refers to himself as a democratic socialist, is arguing for policies that resemble the social democratic systems of the Nordic countries, and this does not include the social ownership of the means of production that socialism entails.

What Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren are really arguing for is a social democratic philosophy of government and economics. In such a system, government provides services that are essential to equality of opportunity for all persons and fair and equitable access to the core necessities of life regardless of one’s income. This entails strong public K-12 education and access to strong college and vocational education for all. It also entails universal healthcare and social programs for the elderly and most vulnerable in our society.

Such a social democratic system also uses progressive taxation to support social programs and infrastructure for human and ecological flourishing. In social democratic systems there is less income inequality and greater equality of opportunity. This does not mean that government owns everything or operates everything. It does mean that the government maintains systems and regulations to maintain fairness, justice, health, safety, workers’ rights, and ecological sustainability – all of which are essential for the flourishing of persons-in-community.

None of this is remotely close to the totalitarian socialism of the former Soviet Union, China, Cuba, and Venezuela. It is very close to the social democracies of Costa Rica, Denmark, Finland, Norway, and Sweden, which by all measurements are the happiest, healthiest, most participatory, and least corrupt countries in the world. These countries are the success story of social democracy, and this system has proven to be the best way to organize our societies for the well-being of both people and the planet. Democrats would do well to be clear about this distinction in their language as they articulate their vision for our country.

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Unite or Lose the Republic

It pains me greatly to say this, but it is very likely that unless we see the greatest political mobilization in U.S. history, Trump will win the United States Presidency again this year. The Republican Party is his party now, and there will be no accountability between now and the election when Trump attempts to lie and cheat his way to a second term.

The support of Trump’s base has hardened to such an extent that their enthusiasm will be extremely high. Republican presidents have often given lip service to the desires of the party’s nationalist and theocratic base, but President Trump has actually done what previous Republican presidents only talked about – rejecting immigrants and refugees even to the point of actively separating thousands of children from their families, scapegoating Muslims and discriminating against them in practice and policy, favoring Christianity over other religious expressions, and moving systematically towards the banning of all abortions no matter what the reason.

When the Democratic primaries are over, those who understand the threat that Trump poses must come together like never before. This is it – our last chance. The urgency of the climate crisis and the rise of nationalism around the world call for comprehensive action right now. A second Trump term slams shut our last window of opportunity to address the climate crisis. We don’t even want to think about the unthinkable suffering this will continue to create in our earth community. At the moment, we are not responding with the unity and urgency needed to address this most pressing existential threat facing our republic and the earth as a whole.

If Trump wins in 2020, we may very well see a Trump in the White House for the foreseeable future. As long as a Trump wins, they will keep running Trumps – Donald Trump Jr. in 2024 and 2028 and Ivanka Trump in 2032 and 2036. I am deadly serious about this. In addition to Trump wanting his family to remain at the highest pinnacle of power and thereby furthering Trump’s legacy, a 2020 win by DJT followed by a 2024 win by DJT Jr. is likely the only way DJT avoids prison time, and he will do anything to avoid this.

Trump’s first term was deadly for refugees and immigrants, a deep threat to women’s autonomy, a significant diminishment of rights for persons who are LGBTQIA+, a time of experiencing scapegoating and deep discrimination for persons who are Muslim, a disaster for the climate and the environment as a whole, a threat to the health and safety of the most vulnerable, and a test to see how far Trump could take his presidential authority (the senate trial provided us with the answer – as far as he wants).

As bad as the first Trump term has been, a second term will be exponentially worse and could make it nearly impossible to maintain anything close to a democratic republic. This is a warning. We will be a theocratic fascist state barreling the planet towards climate chaos if Trump wins this November. The only way to keep this from happening? – the greatest political mobilization in U.S. history. Democrats, Progressive and Moderate Independents, and Moderate Republicans Unite or Lose the Republic!

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Long Live Nixon!

It was just a break-in at the DNC headquarters. Yes, Nixon covered it up. Yes, Nixon lied about it. Yes, there were tapes. But Nixon was just doing what he thought he needed to do to get elected for the good of the country. It was such a total sham that he was effectively forced to resign from office in disgrace for the kind of things that the Republican Party has clearly shown are not impeachable offenses.

Is what Nixon did inappropriate? Of course it was inappropriate, but today’s Republican Party has shown us that Nixon got a raw deal because you can’t be removed from office for doing something inappropriate to get elected when you think your being elected is in the public interest.

Perhaps we should posthumously revoke Nixon’s resignation from office. What a witch hunt! This week Nixon was exonerated by the Republican Party! Nixon was right all along. He was not a crook. Our long national nightmare of thinking Nixon should have resigned from office is over. Long live Nixon!

Roger Stone, you should go shirtless this week in prison to celebrate. You probably won’t have to stay there much longer with a pardon coming soon for you and all of Trump’s loyal associates who have been convicted of crimes by our increasingly obsolete and irrelevant justice system. Sorry Cohen, no pardon for you.

While Trump is at it he should probably also go ahead and pardon all of those poor souls who were convicted and spent time in prison related to Watergate. Maybe they can all get together for a little vacation and celebrate at the Watergate hotel. Wait, what am I thinking? – the Trump Hotel of course!

And to Ben Stein, who has argued valiantly over the years that Nixon basically did nothing wrong and even once tearfully said that Nixon was a saint,  your tears of sorrow have finally been turned into tears of joy. Tears of joy Ben Stein, tears of joy.

Note – This is satire. If you cannot recognize that it is satire, please seek professional help.
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I Am Watching This Movie…

scales of justice

I am watching this movie about a mob boss who is on trial for really serious crimes, but somehow he figures out a way to get a bunch of his accomplices in the crimes on the jury for the trial – can you believe that?! And get this, the foreman of the jury has a wife who actually works in a really high level and high paying job for the mob boss! She literally owes her job to the mob boss, and the court still allowed this guy to be on the jury! I know right!

The evidence against the mob boss is overwhelming. There are even tapes of him saying and doing things that he and his defense lawyers claim he never said and did. In one of the tapes he is caught telling some of his associates (criminally indicted associates whom the mob boss denies even knowing – never even talked to them he says) to get rid of a woman who is getting in the way of his criminal schemes. He tells them to “take her out.” Later he tells another person that “she’s going to go through some things.” This movie reminds me so much of The Godfather, really.

Through his corrupt power over key persons in the justice system who are compromised and complicit in the crimes of the mob boss, he ends up having control over people who are related to the trial who could force him to turn over incriminating documents, but they won’t turn on the mob boss. They are probably afraid that if he goes down, so will they.

All the mob boss’ lawyers can do in his defense is attack and try to intimidate the prosecutors, but it doesn’t really matter because in the end the mob boss’ lawyers know that they have enough of the mob boss’ accomplices on the jury.

There A LOT of witnesses to the crimes, and the mob boss would do almost anything to keep these witnesses off the stand. The mob boss has told the witnesses that they should not testify, and the witnesses who had the courage to testify in the pre-trial hearings were intimidated by the mob boss, believe it or not, WHILE they were on the stand! To make matters even worse, the jury in the trial has said they won’t even listen to any witnesses or listen to any of the tapes, and the judge seems okay with it!

I am having trouble watching the movie to the end because it seems so crazy and unrealistic, but I have watched so much already, I guess I will have to see how it ends. I just hope no one ends up sleeping with the fishes.

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A Tribute to My Friend and Colleague John Starkey

I had the deep privilege of giving the tribute for my believed friend and colleague John Starkey on the occasion of his Memorial Service, January 19, 2020 in the Chapel at Oklahoma City University.

(Following the reading of John’s obituary)

Like all of you I so deeply cherish the personal connection I had with John Starkey, and I know that he deeply cherished the personal connection that he had with all of you. I have been so fortunate to know John since the fall of 1992 when we were both graduate students at Boston University. John was 13 years my senior and already had many years of high school teaching experience during and after his years with the Jesuits. Unlike so many graduate students, John already knew how to teach, and this experience along with his many years under spiritual direction in which he engaged in deep spiritual discernment made him a natural mentor for many of the younger graduate students like myself, though he never made any of us feel as if we were not his equal. That being said, it only takes a little time reading his doctoral exam papers or his eloquently written dissertation to quickly realize that very few persons could match his academic prowess or the depth of his theological engagement, much less the immense skill of his teaching. Like so many of his students for years to come, John’s graduate student colleagues were in awe of his gifts and filled with gratitude to be in community with him.

When I came to teach full time at Oklahoma City University in the philosophy department in 1996, I certainly had the hope of staying engaged with John and at least seeing him from time to time at annual American Academy of Religion meetings or at other conferences. But as very good fortune would have it, two years later after John had completed his 800 page doctoral dissertation (yes, 800 pages) on the resurrection of Jesus, I received a call from John asking me about the theology teaching position opening in the Wimberly School of Religion, and in fall of 1998, John, Dr. Starkey, returned to the state of Oklahoma where he had lived a number of years as a boy when his father was stationed at Fort Sill, and began his new career as one of the most beloved college professors on the planet.

John was a former Jesuit who became a Quaker who lived much of his last 21 and half years in service to Methodists both at OCU and through teaching in United Methodist camps and churches. John practiced and taught the best of what he experienced in these spiritual communities, and he loved and sought deeper understanding of his siblings from many other faiths and from those who oriented themselves in different ways to religion.

John loved the classroom and his books, but he was equally at home and happy enjoying the beauty of nature as could be seen when he would take his St. Francis like walks on campus finding beauty in the trees, flowers, and the native plants. He also spent many days hiking in the Green and White mountain ranges of New England with his dear friends. John found joy in nature. One of his students noted that “the way Starkey looked at trees is the way we looked at Starkey.”

As some of Dr. Starkey’s students reflected on their memories of him, here are some of the things they said about John:

“He would listen to everyone and engage them as they are.”

They said Dr. Starkey told them “I give everyone an opportunity to say what they believe.”

“Dr. Starkey loved the arts, loved to sing, supported all of his students by going to their plays, recitals, and performances, and he cherished the artwork that students created for his classes.”

The first question he would ask students at their religion scholarship interview was (religion majors say it together with me) “What do you like to read?” And throughout students’ time at OCU, he would continue to ask them “What are you reading?” And he would expect a good answer.

Dr. Starkey was a master teacher. As one of his students recollected, “He could always find the best way to explain something for everyone in the room. He explained things three ways: advanced, commonsense, and funny (not necessarily in that order)” Many students referred to Dr. Starkey as their Yoda, not the baby Yoda, but rather the fully matured Jedi Master Yoda. John was our wise spiritual guide and sage, connecting heart and mind in the example of his own life.

When commenting on his students’ papers, Dr. Starkey used green ink to avoid what he jokingly referred to as the violence of the red pen and the appearance of bleeding on the page. I have to say that I corrected my errors in this tribute in green pen, and I felt much better about the mistakes I made. In addition to the many insightful theological papers and presentations Dr. Starkey wrote and gave at regional and national conferences and the scores upon scores of wonderful Sunday School lessons he left with us, John probably wrote volumes of theological works on his students’ papers with his now famous green pen and in his many notes of encouragement to current and former students.

I have thought more than once that If Mr. Rogers had chosen to become a college theology professor instead of a Presbyterian minister and children’s show creator, he would have been a lot like John Starkey. Both of these gentle men would say “I am proud of you” in a way that made a permanent imprint on your soul. Both of them found creative ways to let people know that you are loved and accepted “just the way you are.” Both of them gave the people around them deep encouragement to face the world, even in the most difficult and challenging of times. I cannot imagine a better neighbor to have in this journey of life than John.

John loved God deeply and lived the way of Jesus’ love and justice with integrity and authenticity. He gave all he could for others as long as he could, and when he did not have the energy or the health to give of himself as much as he wished; his family, friends, students, and colleagues carried him through his last days in their arms of care and love, and he felt deeply loved by the outpouring of care he received. In his life, in his death, and now as we come to together to mourn but also to celebrate John’s life, he continues to remind us that we are meant to live together in beloved community.

John once wrote a student these words, and they summarize beautifully his way of being in the world in a way perhaps only John himself could do. He wrote: “I cherish my premodern heart, which is where the feelings live. I cherish my modern mind, which is where the thoughts live. I cherish my postmodern skin, which is where I am open to all the input of all the world, including all the cultures with all their religions, and all the arts with all their insights, and all the sciences with all their stringent criteria. It is not easy to live this way. But I wouldn’t want to live any other way either.”

John went on to write, “one of my favorite scriptures is Luke 7:35 – Wisdom is proven right by all who are her children.” All of us who knew and loved John have no doubt that he was a child of wisdom and that his life has proven wisdom right. And now that John has found rest in his eternal skin in the loving arms of God, his wisdom will continue to teach us all, even though it may no longer be through the temporal green pen.

As we grieve together the loss of our beloved John, our beloved Dr. Starkey, perhaps we might find some comfort and courage in the words of Elizabeth Kübler-Ross who once wrote, “The reality is that you will grieve forever. You will not ‘get over’ the loss of a loved one; you will learn to live with it. You will heal and you will rebuild yourself around the loss you have suffered. You will be whole again but you will never be the same. Nor should you be the same nor would you want to.” Amen

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