Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Trump's legacy: The good, the bad, and the ugly

 Today is Donald Trump’s last full day as President of the United States. Although I’m of the opinion that we can’t appreciate the full impact of a presidency until we look back years later, it is an appropriate time to take an objective look back at the past four years of the Trump Administration on this momentous day in an already turbulent year.

As everyone knows, I’m a Trump critic, but I’ve tried to look at the president with a balanced perspective. I’ve never been a Trump supporter, but I have supported his policies when they were good for the country. Even the worst presidents have had some good ideas. As they say, a stopped clock is still right twice a day.

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On the positive side of the ledger, the obvious wins of the Trump era include tax reform, judges, deregulation, and pro-life rules. There was also the movement of the US embassy in Israel to Jerusalem and the negotiation of new peace treaties in the Middle East. Many of these accomplishments come with caveats, however.

For instance, much of what Trump accomplished was through Executive Orders. In four years, the president did not sign a single major piece of pro-life legislation. That means that his moves to restrict abortion can be easily reversed by a future president. The same is true for deregulation. What one president changes in bureaucratic rulemaking, another can change back. Trump’s inability to work with Congress to build the bipartisan coalitions needed to pass legislation was a major weakness.

Similarly, President Trump was given credit for a strong economy, but much of that credit is misplaced. If we look at the big picture, the Trump economy, at least until the pandemic, was a continuation of the recovery that started in 2009. Business Insider provides a handy source for comparing economic indicators during the Trump Administration to previous presidents. Looking back, the increases in job growth, wages, and the stock market of Trump’s first three years were actually part of a trend that began during the Obama Administration. GDP growth during the Trump Administration was not exceptional and was in line with both Obama and George W. Bush.

The 2017 tax reform did help to stimulate the economy, but there was a hefty price tag in terms of increasing the deficit. Back in 2019, when I was writing for Resurgent, I wrote that the Trump Administration had increased the deficit on both sides of the equation. Even before the pandemic, President Trump had submitted a record-high federal budget request of $4.7 trillion. At the same time, tax revenues were also at a record high but were lower than they would have been without tax reform. Tax revenues did not decline after tax reform, but they did flatten. The result was that spending and deficits increased in Trump’s first three years and then exploded after the pandemic hit in 2020.

The flip side is that Trump’s trade wars slowed important portions of the economy. The Trump tariffs amounted to a huge tax increase that offset much of the benefit of tax reform. American farms required massive subsidies after the trade wars cost farmers their export markets, damage which may outlast Trump’s tenure in office, and American manufacturing spent much of 2019 in a recession. The economy as a whole was entering a recession in February 2020 just as the pandemic hit.

The Trump Administration’s peace deals were unequivocally good, but their importance may be overstated. While any peace deal in the Middle East is a good thing, Trump’s agreements were between nations that had never been at war. Further, it may be that the deals were less an embrace of Israel by Arab and Muslim nations than a response to growing Iranian influence in the region. Even moderate Arab countries fear a powerful Iran.

That brings us to Trump’s handling of the budding nuclear powers. In 2017, Trump decided to withdraw from President Obama’s executive deal with Iran. This is one of those decisions that will have to be judged by future historians. Obama’s deal was flawed, but Iran seemed to be abiding by its terms. In January 2020, Iran announced that it would no longer follow the terms of the agreement and by early 2021 the breaches had accelerated. The issue of Iranian nuclear ambitions is far from resolved and may yet lead to war.

Speaking of unresolved issues, North Korea is once again threatening to bring its “arch-enemy,” the US, “to its knees” with an expanded nuclear arsenal. It was hoped that Trump’s charm offensive would lead to a d├ętente with North Korea, but it now seems that the halt in the North’s nuclear testing may have been due to the accidental destruction of their nuclear test site rather than a desire for peace.

“We squandered the best opportunity we had on North Korea,” Rex Tillerson, Trump’s first Secretary of State, said recently, adding, “We’re in a worse place today than we were before he came in, and I didn’t think that was possible.”

With all that being said, there are two glaring negatives for President Trump’s legacy. The first is his two impeachments. Whatever you think of the impeachments, and I thought both were justified, the fact is that Donald Trump has secured his place in history as the answer to the trivia question, “Who is the only president to be impeached twice?”

The second is his response to the Coronavirus pandemic. History will show that Donald Trump was the wrong man at the wrong time for this emergency.

A full discussion of Trump’s mishandling of the pandemic is too large for this article. Entire books can and will be written on his flawed approach to the crisis, but there are several aspects that seem to stand out. Among these are the initial White House plan for “15 days to slow the spread” that proved woefully inadequate but that fueled resentment against continued mitigations, pushing the country back to normal far too early, undermining and attacking White House medical experts, refusing to set a good example by wearing a mask, holding superpreader events, touting unproven and disproven treatments, and, yes, the infamous suggestion for using disinfectants for “injection inside” the body. On balance, Trump probably put out as much disinformation about the virus as he did accurate information. The US death toll would have been horrific no matter who was president, but Trump’s poor leadership and denial of the pandemic’s danger definitely led to unnecessary loss of life.

Now, as Trump prepares to leave office, a final failure is becoming known. In June, the government announced plans to stockpile doses of COVID vaccines even before they were certified. It seems that was never done. In December, we learned that the government had passed up the chance to lock in additional shipments of the Pfizer vaccine. Now, a few days ago, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said that the national vaccine stockpile does not exist. The Trump Administration has also come in for criticism for its vaccination distribution plan.

Finally, the most damaging aspect of Trump’s presidential legacy may be one that is not readily apparent. We have become inured to the president’s attacks on government customs and norms. Trump was a one-man wrecking ball who destroyed many of the checks and balances on executive power. Among his abuses were using national emergency declarations bypass Congress, firing inspectors general who tried to hold him accountable, urging his party’s congressmen to overturn the election, and provoking a partisan mob to attack Congress itself. These abuses are dangerous and many of them are unprecedented. Even though many of them ultimately failed, a future despotic president could learn from Trump’s example just as Trump learned some of his tricks from Barack Obama.

My fear is that this ugly side of Trump’s legacy will be the most enduring part of his administration. This is especially likely if he faces no consequences for his abuses of power. And so far, there has been little in the way of punishment for his excesses. Republican partisans have criticized him but failed to vote to rein him when the chips were down. In the past, that was because Republicans feared political retribution by Trump’s base. Now, the situation has escalated and it seems that their fears are of a more physical nature, namely violence against themselves and their families.

Donald Trump is leaving a dangerous legacy, but in a few weeks, Senate Republicans will have a chance to redeem themselves for enabling the president’s worst instincts for the past four years. Voting to disqualify Trump from ever holding federal office again is small punishment for a man who will be 78 years-old in 2024, but it will send a message to future Americans and presidents that character does matter. Even when the president is a Republican.

From the Racket

Monday, January 18, 2021

Confessions of a white guy

 When I think of Martin Luther King and the Civil Rights Era, I think of Wichita, Kansas.

Most of you know that my full-time job is as a pilot. That has given me a great opportunity to travel around the country and see things that I never would have seen otherwise because I would have had no idea to even look for them. That was the case when I was walking in downtown Wichita one day and saw a small lot between two buildings that had a lunch counter populated with statues.

Photo credit: David Thornton

Naturally, I was intrigued so I checked it out. The statues commemorate the lunch counter sit-in at the Dockum Drugstore in 1958. For those who might not know, many restaurants were “whites only” at that point. A popular and peaceful civil disobedience tactic was for black patrons to come in and sit down even though the business would refuse to serve them, often because it was against the law to serve blacks at a whites-only counter. Occupying the space kept paying customers away and put economic leverage on the owners. You can read the full story about the Dockum sit-in here.

Seeing the lunch counter replica was one of the things that made the struggles of the Civil Rights Era come alive for me. Another was visiting the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham where Klansmen planted a bomb that killed four little girls attending Sunday School in 1963.

Looking back on the race relations of the 1950s and 1960s, it’s easy to see that we’ve come a long way. It has been tempting to say that the race problem is resolved, but after the past few years, racial tensions seem to once again be raising their ugly head. From a white guy’s perspective, we sometimes look at affirmative action and equal opportunity laws and say that we’ve done everything that we can to combat racism and that it’s up to them now.

I think that misses the point. I favor a colorblind society and have always liked the U2 lyric, “I believe in the kingdom come when all the colors will bleed into one,” but what we have to realize is that being colorblind doesn’t mean that colors are not there. We may not see them, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t exist.

People of different races often have different experiences in life and those perspectives are something that I, as a white guy, struggle to understand. For example, I typically don’t worry about interacting with police (unless they are driving behind me), but if even someone like Senator Tim Scott (D-S.C.) says that they have problems with latent racism in 21st century America, I have to listen and take that seriously.

As with many things, I think the truth lies somewhere in the middle. It’s pretty clear that we have not totally achieved the colorblind society, but neither are we the blatantly racist nation that we were just a few decades ago. Some people do cry wolf about racism, but that does not mean that racism doesn’t exist.

If you don’t think that racism exists, just take a look around some of the internet chat groups. One thing that I’ve noticed is that there is a default reaction to racial issues that includes bringing up the black crime rate, poverty rate, and problems with family structure.

For example, whenever a black person is killed, the typical response is usually to first look at the person’s criminal record and assume that he or she was up to no good and therefore “had it coming.” That is typically followed by an assertion that more black men are killed by other black men than by whites. Finally, the questions of upbringing and intact families are raised. What this really boils down to is an attempt to absolve the killers. Even people who know and like members of other races can fall victim to this stereotypical thinking.

One of the most egregious cases was Ahmaud Arbery, a 25-year-old black man who was killed a little less than a year ago in Glynn County, Georgia. Arbery was jogging when a group of white residents chased him down and shot him in the street. Originally the shooting was considered justified, but subsequent videos showed that the residents lied to police about what happened and that they had attempted to unlawfully detain Arbery. Their attempt to detain him for questioning was illegal under Georgia’s law regulating citizens’ arrests.

Arbery had past run-ins with the law, but there is no evidence that he had committed a crime that day. A security video purportedly shows Arbery entering a home under construction, but this would not have been illegal under Georgia law since Arbery did not force entry, damage the property, or steal anything from the site. Nevertheless, he was tried and convicted by many in the court of social media, partly on the basis of false claims that the video of the shooting showed that he was wearing work boots and carrying a hammer.

Arbery’s murder is one crime that we can say definitely would not have happened if he had been white. The people who killed Arbery may not have thought of themselves as racists, but the notion that a black man jogging through the neighborhood (in broad daylight) must be a burglar is unequivocally bigoted. Any doubt as to that fact should be removed by Arbery’s killers using a racial slur (you know which one I mean) after the shooting.

What is most disturbing about Arbery’s murder is that they almost got away with it. Arbery died on February 23, 2020, and police and the DA quickly shelved the case. The viral video did not go public until mid-May when it was leaked by one of the killers, who mistakenly thought that it would corroborate his story.

Think about that. If the killer had not leaked his cellphone video of the murder, the legal record would still show that Ahmaud Arbery was a burglar who was shot while resisting a lawful citizens’ arrest. This should bother anyone with an ounce of compassion or a sense of justice.

The incident also makes me wonder how many more cases of justifiable shootings are dramatically different from how they were presented to police. Not every shooting has a video to debunk the perpetrator’s claims. What does that say about racial crime statistics overall?

I’m skeptical that the incident was an isolated occurrence because a similar situation (without the shooting) became public shortly after the Arbery video went viral. A white woman in Central Park falsely claimed to police in a 911 call that a black man was threatening her. Again, without the video, the story would have had a much different ending.

Most of my political beliefs haven’t changed a lot over the past few decades, but there are exceptions to that rule. If you don’t allow new information to be reflected in your beliefs, you aren’t really thinking or being intellectually honest. So, as I’ve watched the news and the behavior of people on the internet, I’ve come to the conclusion that this racial thing isn’t as settled as I once thought it was.

Martin Luther King Day is a good time to resolve to change that. King’s example of nonviolent change is one that we should continue to follow. It is a powerful testimony to look back on the dogs and water cannons that were turned against peaceful civil rights marchers and know that King still resisted the temptation to return violence for violence and hate for hate.

In the end, King’s nonviolence and love won out. Today, where it still exists racism has been driven underground. Those attitudes are not socially acceptable anymore even if they occasionally bubble to the surface.

I think that King would have known that racism is a human flaw that will never be totally eradicated. Human hearts are inherently flawed and sinful. We have moved in the right direction, however, and we should keep doing so.

I think the best way to do that is for both sides to put ourselves in the other’s shoes. Rather than thinking of what “they should do,” let’s resolve to try to understand how and why those different from us think and react the way they do. When there are incidents, we need to objectively look at the facts and not confuse the forest of statistical big pictures with the trees of each particular case.

The bottom line is to follow the Biblical commandment to love your neighbor, an admonition that applies on the internet as well. If we do that, everything else will fall into place.

From the Racket

Saturday, January 16, 2021

New details make the riot look worse. That's bad for Trump's chances in the Senate.

 A federal court filing against Jacob Anthony Chansley, better known as the “QAnon Shaman” or Jake Angeli, hints that Capitol rioters had more in mind than just protesting or cheering on members of Congress who were raising objections.

By TapTheForwardAssist - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=98670006

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The brief in support of detention describes Chansley as “one of the insurrectionists who entered the Capitol building.” The document is worth reading just for its description of Chansley:

Chansley wore horns, a furry coyote tail headdress, red, white and blue face paint, and tan pants. He was shirtless and carried a bullhorn and a six-foot-long spear with an American flag tied just below the blade.

A previously unknown fact relating to the riot was that Chansley left a note on Vice President Pence’s desk while he was in the Senate chamber. The note read, “It's only a matter of time, justice is coming.”

In a January 7 phone call to the FBI, Chansley denied that the note was a threat but expressed no remorse for his actions. He called the rioters “patriots” and said that he would like to return to Washington for the inauguration.

“I’ll still go, you better believe it,” Chansley told FBI agents. “For sure I’d want to be there, as a protestor, as a protestor, fuckin’ a.”

In a television interview, Chansley said that he responded to President Trump’s call for “patriots” to come to Washington, adding, “The fact that we had a bunch of our traitors in office hunker down, put on their gas masks and retreat into their underground bunker, I consider that a win.”

His lawyer also seems to be using the claim of incitement by Donald Trump as a defense, saying, “He took seriously the countless messages of President Trump. He believed in President Trump. Like tens of millions of other Americans, Chansley felt — for the first time in his life — as though his voice was being heard.”

At this point, Chansley is charged with two felonies and four misdemeanors. The felonies are obstructing law enforcement officers and corruptly obstructing an official proceeding of Congress.

Another insurrectionist, retired Air Force Lt. Col. Larry Rendall Brock Jr. of Texas, was among those who carried zip-ties into the Capitol. Prosecutors note that Brock seemed to have more sinister plans than just protesting that day.

“He means to take hostages. He means to kidnap, restrain, perhaps try, perhaps execute members of the U.S. government,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Jay Weimer per KTLA.

Court documents also show that Brock was planning for a civil war and favored secession.

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Further charges may be added against Chansley, Brock, and the other insurrectionists. Politico reported that the Justice Department is considering sedition and conspiracy charges against those arrested for breaking into the Capitol. Such charges could carry a 20-year prison term.

The more information that comes out about the riot, the worse it looks. What seemed like a spontaneous riot looks more and more like a coordinated attack that used the demonstration as cover. And the worse the riot looks, the worse things look for President Trump in his Senate trial.

As we have discussed before, Majority Leader McConnell has said that he has no plans to bring up impeachment before the inauguration. While some view this as slow-walking the impeachment to keep Trump in office, the strategy really does not do the president any favors.

The best scenario for the president would be a quick up-or-down vote similar to the one that acquitted him a year ago. As we saw in the House this week, most Republicans are still sticking by Mr. Trump at this point and another acquittal would be likely.

However, if the trial is put off for a month or two, the situation is a lot less certain. With all that we know after only a week, there is no telling what details will have emerged after several months of discovery. President Trump won’t have the benefit of friendly cabinet officials to stonewall the coming congressional investigation either, which means that Trump’s second trial will be a completely different ballgame.

Another factor is that Trump may not have as strong of a grip on Republican senators after he leaves office. Granted, Trump’s base will still largely overlap the Republican congressional base, but there are signs that the two groups are already moving apart.

While Trump’s loyal base will probably never desert him, traditional Republicans might be nearing the end of their ropes now that Trump is no longer useful to them. Nate Cohn of the Upshot noted that Trump’s approval is already seeing a sharp decline. The president’s average approval among Republicans is now at 60 percent.

FiveThirtyEight has unveiled a new impeachment poll tracker that shows majority support for impeachment among all Americans. The average of polls currently stands at 52.8 percent in favor of impeachment, which, it should be noted, is already about three points higher than the plurality that favored impeachment on the president’s first time around. Different polls phrase the question differently but many ask the question to include both impeachment and removal.

The one thing that politicians can be trusted to do is to plan for re-election. If public opinion on impeachment becomes a groundswell that threatens their next term, senators may find themselves growing more willing to split with Trump. This is especially true in purple states or those with large suburban voting blocs. The fate of David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler is fresh in every Republican senator’s mind.

With the continual dribble of salacious and seditious details emerging for the next few months, Donald Trump’s approval is sure to drop further, and the popularity of impeachment is likely to rise. It may turn out that Joe Biden, who wants to focus on his political agenda and not be distracted by impeachment, becomes Donald Trump’s new best friend.

From the Racket

New restrictions are going around Facebook - Here's why

 Friday afternoon, people on Facebook started getting upset. Users were seeing their access to groups restricted to block posting and commenting. As it turned out, I was one of those users.

I opened Facebook like normal and posted one of our Racket links to a political group that I’m in. Then I laughed briefly at a friend’s post on my newsfeed. The lady, who has a lot of cats, had posted that she was restricted and I jokingly commented, “I didn’t know cat pictures were against the Terms of Service.” Afterward, I tried to post in another group and got the message below.

Facebook screenshot by David Thornton

I knew that I had not posted anything bad so my thoughts turned immediately to the inauguration. This morning my suspicions were confirmed when the woman that posted the restriction shared a link to a blog post by Facebook titled “Our Preparations Ahead of Inauguration Day.”

The blog post explains that Facebook is taking two broad measures ahead of the inauguration. The first is to block “the creation of any new Facebook events happening in close proximity to locations” where events associated with the inauguration will take place. The company says that it is also “conducting a secondary review of all Facebook events related to the inauguration and removing ones that violate our policies” as well as “continuing to block event creation in the US by non-US based accounts and Pages.” The second measure is “restricting some features for people in the US based on signals such as repeat violations of our policies.”

It is the second measure that is causing consternation among Facebook users. Another lady I know thought that she had been banned for posting a Bible verse since that was her last post before she was notified of the restriction.

To be clear, the restrictions are not a ban and they are not necessarily related to any recent violation of the Terms of Service. Affected users can still post on their own wall and the walls of their friends. They just can’t create or comment on posts in groups, Pages, or events. And even that restriction is not complete. I set up posts for two pages that I admin, the Racket News and the Common Sense Conservative, and those posts were published as normal.

The restrictions seem to target people who have been in trouble with Facebook moderators before. A few days ago, I described a couple of run-ins that I have had with the platform’s moderators so I clearly fit this description even if it was unintentional.

However, I’ve also heard from some restricted Facebook users who say they’ve never been in trouble for violating the Terms of Service. While these claims are impossible to verify and may represent selective memory, it is likely that other triggers for restrictions are at play as well. The “such as” qualifier in the Facebook post is a tell that there are other triggers for the restrictions.

It is worth noting that the restrictions seem very broad and not focused on conservatives. I can still visit various groups and I’m seeing lots of new posts in pro-Trump groups while some liberals and Trump critics are reporting that they are restricted. The new restrictions do not fit the narrative of an attempt to silence conservatives (or Republicans or Trump supporters). In fact, one of the new posts that I saw this morning in a conservative group perpetuated the stolen election myth, although it did not use the “Stop the Steal” phrase.

Even though the Facebook restrictions seem to be overly broad and impact me personally (and for no good reason, I might add, since my posts usually call for unity and peace while debunking conspiracy theories and lies), I maintain my previous position that Facebook is within its rights to set its own standards and enforce them as it sees fit. There is no constitutional right to post on Facebook or Twitter.

And Facebook’s actions are not without cause. There is a growing body of evidence that the Capitol insurrectionists used social media and other websites to plan the attack in the weeks before January 6 as well as for relaying tactical information such as routes to take to avoid police or how to pry open doorsFacebook was among the platforms that were used.

And the danger is not over. Right-wing (I’m not going to call them “conservative”) groups are planning additional “armed march[es}” over the next week.

It’s also important to remember that restrictions, especially those with a defined end date, do not necessarily equal tyranny. That’s especially true when the restrictions are rules imposed by a private company with numerous alternatives. I’ll add that the people who have asked for a more equitable application of Facebook rules seem to be getting their wish here.

The lesson here is that freedom requires responsibility and people are held accountable for their behavior. When freedoms and privileges are abused by some, especially in a violent manner, it often leads to restrictions on people who have done nothing wrong. This is unfortunate but often necessary.

That’s something to consider going forward as well. Many states have enacted liberal (meaning “lightly regulated”) gun laws that allow open carry and concealed carry. If these laws are abused and lead to violent protests, they could easily be replaced with more restrictive gun laws.

I, for one, would hate to see that.

From the Racket

Thursday, January 14, 2021

When good Christians go bad

 This morning I heard from an old friend in a roundabout way. One of my wife’s Facebook friends called to tell my wife about someone she saw in a Facebook group that had launched into a rant about being banned from a local youth sports complex. This amateur Facebook detective noticed that she had a mutual friend with the woman in question: Me.

The woman turned out to be a friend of former coworker and the story, as I received it, was that she had refused to wear a mask at a basketball game where her young sons were playing. She allegedly caused a scene and told the officials that she was within her rights not to wear a mask. The officials then instructed her to exercise her rights somewhere else and not to come back.

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The woman’s husband was a good friend when we worked together. We had a lot in common and enjoyed flying trips together. We were both Christian, conservative, and liked to explore the outdoors on layovers.

On the other hand, we had some differences as well. He and his wife were anti-vaxxers, for example, and when Donald Trump became a candidate in 2016, he quickly boarded the Trump train. As most of you know, I never did.

2020, and it seems 2021, have not been kind to Christians. Not only have we had to deal with the fringes of our religion that have fought simple public health measures such as wearing masks and reducing crowd sizes in a pandemic, but, after last week, we have evidence of a militant faction of Christian nationalists that are ready to engage in political violence.

David French and others have mentioned seeing Christian flags flying among the Trump and Gadsden flags in the attack on the Capitol. I’ve personally seen video of one of the rioters inside the Capitol holding what appears to be a Bible straight up a la Donald Trump at the BLM riots.

I have to wonder what makes good Christian people like my friend’s wife and the rioters do such bat-poop crazy things. It is not hyperbole to say that this sort of behavior is unchristian.

All of you must obey those who rule over you. There are no authorities except the ones God has chosen. Those who now rule have been chosen by God. 2 So whoever opposes the authorities opposes leaders whom God has appointed. Those who do that will be judged. 3 If you do what is right, you won’t need to be afraid of your rulers. But watch out if you do what is wrong! 

Romans 13:1-3a

But why are so many Christians going off the deep end?

I have to believe that the root of the problem is that too many Christians today worry less about what they put into their mind than what they put into their stomach.

Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.

1 Corinthians 6:19-20

The Bible tells us that our body is a temple. Many of us try to eat healthy and exercise but pay far less attention to the garbage that we shovel into our brains.

When I was growing up the Southern Baptist church, we talked a lot about discernment. That word doesn’t come up nearly as much in today’s church, but it essentially means that we shouldn’t take everything at face value. That’s a huge problem today with the evangelical right.

As Paul wrote:

Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. 

Ephesians 5:6

and

For the time will come when they will not tolerate sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance with their own desires

2 Timothy 4:3

In other words, don’t be deceived. Don’t just listen to people who tell you what you want to hear, but seek out the truth, even when that truth is unpleasant and bursts the bubble of deeply-held beliefs.

The Trump era has been a case study in tickling ears. We knew that Donald Trump was truth-challenged, in the politically-correct vernacular, when Republicans nominated him, elected him, and then nominated him again. Nevertheless, much of the country, Christians included, has allowed their ear to be tickled over and over. Too many of us have not been discerning.

For a long time, our lack of discernment didn’t matter that much. Then, in 2020, the pandemic hit. In the midst of a viral emergency, lack of discernment and concern for the truth led to hundreds of thousands of needless deaths.

The lies that got people killed are too numerous to mention. Among the greatest hits are the claims that COVID-19 is no worse than the flu, that masks don’t work, that hydroxychloroquine is an effective treatment, that the pandemic was a hoax designed to impose tyranny, and that it was all a plot to destroy Thanksgiving and Christmas. Those claims have all been debunked. If you still believe them, you believe a lie.

Then the election came and things got worse. Donald Trump laid the groundwork for the lie that the election was stolen with claims months before Election Day that undermined faith in the electoral process and absentee voting. Since the election, Trump and his surrogates have emitted a steady stream of baseless disinformation that does not stand up in court.

Whether it meets the legal test for incitement or not, there can be absolutely no doubt that Trump’s endless claims of a stolen election over a two-month period provoked last week’s attack on the Capitol. Sadly, the evidence shows that many Christians were in the middle of this assault on the Constitution and federal authority.

The root of the problem is that we have created a system in which we can live in a bubble that gives us an alternate reality. If you only take in news from Fox News, OANN, Breitbart, and the like then you probably were not aware that President Trump’s legal team not only had zero and fifty-something record in their legal challenges but that they did even make their fraud claims in court. Those spurious allegations were reserved for right-wing media.

If this is you, you have not been discerning. You have not treated your mind like the holy place in God’s temple. As a result, you have allowed yourself to be deceived. If you don’t think this is possible, refer to Matthew 24:24.

Being deceived won’t cost you your salvation, but it can cost you in other ways. The Capitol Hill rioters may have truly believed that their country was being stolen from them, but that is not stopping them from being arrested and prosecuted and sent to prison.

God is a forgiving and understanding God. Federal prosecutors? Not so much.

Likewise, sincerely believing that the pandemic is a hoax and that you don’t need a mask won’t prevent you from getting sick with COVID-19. Or worse, infecting someone you love and having to live with the knowledge that you caused their death.

As Christians and conservatives, we owe it to ourselves, our families, our country, and our faith to be discerning about the media that we take in. We need to stop falling for fake news so that we do not find ourselves being used as pawns in a coup attempt and that we do not make the Gospel a laughingstock through our actions.

And while I’m on the subject, when we screw up, we need to take our medicine like adults. The social media purges going on are not an attempt to suppress conservative thought. They are a response to the fact that many so-called “conservatives” used social media to conspire against the federal government and plot a violent insurrection. These people deserve to be banned.

People are not being persecuted because the post Christian or conservative things. They are being banned because they used social media platforms to engage in a conspiracy to overthrow the duly-elected government of the United States.

If you obey the rules on social media, you will almost certainly be fine. If you feel the need to plot violence or make threats on social media, then there is no site where you are safe. And if you are going to act like a heathen on the internet, please do not claim to be a Christian.

Christians of all political persuasions should be denouncing political violence and the lies that lead up to it. Yet, far too many have learned nothing from last week’s tragic events. All over conservative media I see people rationalizing (“they had it coming”), minimizing (“it wasn’t really an insurrection, it was mostly peaceful”), using moral relativism (“what about the BLM riots?”), passing the buck (“the media and Democrats are to blame”), and even praising the attack.

Too many Christians have lost their moral compass and substituted political strategy for Biblical truth.

God was in control during the Trump years. God is still in control in the Biden years. But the harsh truth is that maybe God’s plan for America wasn’t what you thought it was.

What we can be sure of is that God wants us to love both our neighbors and our enemies. That means working to help the sick and keep others from getting sick. It also means we should not be bashing police officers in the head with a fire extinguisher.

Originally published on The First

and the Racket