Nel's New Day

February 5, 2020

Profiles in Courage

Only one Republican senator voted to convict Dictator Donald Trump (DDT) in one of the two articles of impeachment, abuse of power. When Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT) gave a speech on the floor of the Senate to explain his vote, only three Democrats and two Republicans, one of them there to preside over the Senate, were present. Yet the transcript and video of Romney’s have gone viral. DDT was so upset by both the vote and his speech that he disinvited reporters to join him in a meeting with Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó.

Mitt Romney’s speech about his vote against DDT:

The Constitution is at the foundation of our Republic’s success, and we each strive not to lose sight of our promise to defend it. The Constitution established the vehicle of impeachment that has occupied both houses of Congress for these many days. We have labored to faithfully execute our responsibilities to it. We have arrived at different judgments, but I hope we respect each other’s good faith.

The allegations made in the articles of impeachment are very serious. As a Senator-juror, I swore an oath, before God, to exercise “impartial justice.” I am a profoundly religious person. I take an oath before God as enormously consequential. I knew from the outset that being tasked with judging the President, the leader of my own party, would be the most difficult decision I have ever faced. I was not wrong.

The House Managers presented evidence supporting their case; the White House counsel disputed that case. In addition, the President’s team presented three defenses: first, that there can be no impeachment without a statutory crime; second, that the Bidens’ conduct justified the President’s actions; and third that the judgement of the President’s actions should be left to the voters. Let me first address each of those defenses.

The historic meaning of the words “high crimes and misdemeanors,” the writings of the Founders and my own reasoned judgement convince me that a president can indeed commit acts against the public trust that are so egregious that while they are not statutory crimes, they would demand removal from office. To maintain that the lack of a codified and comprehensive list of all the outrageous acts that a president might conceivably commit renders Congress powerless to remove a president defies reason.

The President’s counsel noted that Vice President Biden appeared to have a conflict of interest when he undertook an effort to remove the Ukrainian Prosecutor General. If he knew of the exorbitant compensation his son was receiving from a company actually under investigation, the Vice President should have recused himself. While ignoring a conflict of interest is not a crime, it is surely very wrong.

With regards to Hunter Biden, taking excessive advantage of his father’s name is unsavory but also not a crime. Given that in neither the case of the father nor the son was any evidence presented by the President’s counsel that a crime had been committed, the President’s insistence that they be investigated by the Ukrainians is hard to explain other than as a political pursuit. There is no question in my mind that were their names not Biden, the President would never have done what he did.

The defense argues that the Senate should leave the impeachment decision to the voters. While that logic is appealing to our democratic instincts, it is inconsistent with the Constitution’s requirement that the Senate, not the voters, try the president. Hamilton explained that the Founders’ decision to invest senators with this obligation rather than leave it to voters was intended to minimize—to the extent possible—the partisan sentiments of the public.

This verdict is ours to render. The people will judge us for how well and faithfully we fulfilled our duty. The grave question the Constitution tasks senators to answer is whether the President committed an act so extreme and egregious that it rises to the level of a “high crime and misdemeanor.”

Yes, he did.

The President asked a foreign government to investigate his political rival.

The President withheld vital military funds from that government to press it to do so.

The President delayed funds for an American ally at war with Russian invaders.

The President’s purpose was personal and political.

Accordingly, the President is guilty of an appalling abuse of the public trust.

What he did was not “perfect”— No, it was a flagrant assault on our electoral rights, our national security interests, and our fundamental values. Corrupting an election to keep oneself in office is perhaps the most abusive and destructive violation of one’s oath of office that I can imagine.

In the last several weeks, I have received numerous calls and texts. Many demand that, in their words, “I stand with the team.” I can assure you that that thought has been very much on my mind. I support a great deal of what the President has done. I have voted with him 80% of the time. But my promise before God to apply impartial justice required that I put my personal feelings and biases aside. Were I to ignore the evidence that has been presented, and disregard what I believe my oath and the Constitution demands of me for the sake of a partisan end, it would, I fear, expose my character to history’s rebuke and the censure of my own conscience.

I am aware that there are people in my party and in my state who will strenuously disapprove of my decision, and in some quarters, I will be vehemently denounced. I am sure to hear abuse from the President and his supporters. Does anyone seriously believe I would consent to these consequences other than from an inescapable conviction that my oath before God demanded it of me?

I sought to hear testimony from John Bolton not only because I believed he could add context to the charges, but also because I hoped that what he said might raise reasonable doubt and thus remove from me the awful obligation to vote for impeachment.

Like each member of this deliberative body, I love our country. I believe that our Constitution was inspired by Providence. I am convinced that freedom itself is dependent on the strength and vitality of our national character. As it is with each senator, my vote is an act of conviction. We have come to different conclusions, fellow senators, but I trust we have all followed the dictates of our conscience.

I acknowledge that my verdict will not remove the President from office. The results of this Senate Court will in fact be appealed to a higher court: the judgement of the American people. Voters will make the final decision, just as the President’s lawyers have implored. My vote will likely be in the minority in the Senate. But irrespective of these things, with my vote, I will tell my children and their children that I did my duty to the best of my ability, believing that my country expected it of me. I will only be one name among many, no more or less, to future generations of Americans who look at the record of this trial. They will note merely that I was among the senators who determined that what the President did was wrong, grievously wrong.

We’re all footnotes at best in the annals of history. But in the most powerful nation on earth, the nation conceived in liberty and justice, that is distinction enough for any citizen.

Sen. Doug Jones (D-AL) denied that his vote to convict DDT was a “profile in courage,” but he is running for reelection this year in a very red state. He said, “It is simply a matter of right and wrong. Doing right is not a courageous act.”

Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) explained her vote against DDT to the Arizona Republic:

“The facts are clear — security aid was withheld from Ukraine in an attempt to benefit the president’s political campaign. While White House attorneys claim this behavior is not serious, it is dangerous to the fundamental principles of American democracy to use the power of the federal government for personal or political gain.”

The irony of her statement is that at least ten GOP senators agree with her first sentence, but they still voted to acquit with a variety of justifications for DDT. One excuse will come back soon to bite them–that he’s learned his lesson. Proponents of this flawed argument include Sens. Lamar Alexander (TN), John Boozman (AR), Mike Braun (IN), Sherry Capito (WV), Susan Collins (ME), John Cornyn (TX), Joni Ernst (IA), James Lankford (OK), Lisa Murkowski (AK), and Rob Portman (OH), and others expressed concern about DDT’s actions.  [A few hours after her vote to acquit, Collins admitted she was probably wrong.] DDT has learned his lesson–that he can do anything and Republicans will cover for him. These senators, part of what Chief Justice John Roberts called “the greatest deliberative body in the world,” will go down in history with their profiles of cowardice. 

 

January 6, 2019

Christians Lead the Way to Making DDT King

Day 16 of the government shutdown: On the day that the debacle caused by Dictator Donald Trump (DDT) ties for the third-longest shutdown in history, U.S. lawmakers on the Mexico border are rejecting DDT’s wall in favor of technology and staffing at legal ports of entry for improved security and crossing times. DDT offered $400 million for these purposes but still demands $5 billion for his wall.

Part of Mike Pence’s job as vice president is to swear in newly-elected senators, and the far-right Christian evangelist is the first VP to swear in an openly pagan and bisexual person for the chamber. Even more horrifying for Christian conservatives was Kyrsten Sinema’s use of the Constitution for her swearing in. When she saw the photo marking for “spouse,” Sinema asked, “Can we get a spouse?”

People who think that the Constitution begins with the Second Amendment—skipping freedom of press, religion, assembly, etc—were resentful when they thought Rashida Tlaib, the new representative from Michigan, who they claimed was sworn into office on a Koran once owned by Thomas Jefferson. One person wrote a concern that Muslims will “both receive a security clearance given to congress members.” Another one sputtered in a tweet:

“This is a disgrace of epic proportions. It is also unlawful. I am disgusted for every soldier who ever gave their life to protect our Constitution!!! I feel sick.”

Not much has changed since the fury of then Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN) carrying the same Koran during his swearing when he became the first Muslim in Congress.

Representatives, unlike senators, simply raise their hands while swearing to support the Constitution of the United States. The House member with the longest continuous service, in the 116th Congress Don Young (R-AK) with 46 years of service, swears in the duly-elected Speaker who then swears in the other members en masse. A book of choice, whether it be a bible or koran, is used for photographs with the Speaker after the general swearing in.

Although many conservatives claims America only for Christians, Islam came to the continent in the 17th century with the West African slaves. Thomas Jefferson bought a Koran when he was 22 years old, 11 years before drafting the Declaration of Independence. He criticized Islam as well as Catholicism for “stifling free enquiry” because both religions tied religion to government, yet he supported the rights of believers. His private notes paraphrase the English philosopher John Locke’s 1689 “Letter on Toleration”:

“(He) says neither Pagan nor Mahometan (Muslim) nor Jew ought to be excluded from the civil rights of the commonwealth because of his religion.”

Jefferson copied Locke’s ideas in writing the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom:

“(O)ur civil rights have no dependence on our religious opinions.”

Drafted in 1777, the Statute became law in 1786 and thus the basis for the U.S. Constitution’s “no religious test” clause and the First Amendment.

In Jefferson’s 1821 autobiography, he affirmed that the failure to add the words “Jesus Christ” to his legislation’s preamble proved the application of his Statute to be “universal.” Therefore religious liberty and political equality cannot be exclusively Christian but protect “the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and Mahometan [Muslim], the Hindoo, and Infidel of every denomination.” “Universal” includes every one of every faith or non-faith.

Jefferson also welcomed the first Muslim ambassador, one from Tunis, to the White House in 1805. Because it was a time of Ramadan, Jefferson changed the time for the state dinner from 3:30 pm to be “precisely at sunset” to recognize the ambassador’s religious beliefs.

The month of Ramadan celebrates when Prophet Muhammad is believed to have first received revelations from God by fasting from sunrise to sunset. Each year, the event begins ten or eleven days earlier than the previous year, beginning on May 6 in 2019. Beginning in 1966, the White House commemorated Ramadan for two decades with an iftar dinner that broke the fast at night; DDT chose to ignore Ramadan in the first year after his inauguration.

While DDT’s supporters completely reject the Islam religion, they compare his election to the anointing of King Cyrus by God, a nonbeliever used by the faithful, as told by Mark Taylor, a former firefighter in The Trump Prophecy. Evangelical author Lance Wallnau, also in the film, said, “I believe the 45th president is meant to be an Isaiah 45 Cyrus,” who will “restore the crumbling walls that separate us from cultural collapse.”

DDT’s anti-Christian and anti-democratic attitudes make him popular with Christian nationalists who claim to follow the constitution and Founding Fathers while preferring autocrats and kings. Ralph Drollinger, the White House evangelist leading Bible study groups, has made “king” into a verb, i.e., “Get ready to king in our future lives.” DDT follows King Cyrus by making himself above the law, for example his most recent claim that he will build the wall with no authority from Congress. DDT’s evangelical followers also want only a king—no queens. Drollinger maintains that the Bible allows only “male leadership.” Even people who question his sexual language and behavior think that he’s a miracle sent from Heaven to lead the United States to God. To them, resisting DDT is resisting God. The current leading Christian movement in the U.S. today is unbending, authoritarian, patriarchal, and paranoid; it is an attack on democracy.

A sample of the far-right Christian sects and movements supporting DDT:

POTUS Shield: Televangelist Frank Amedia, leader of these self-described “warriors, worshippers, and watchmen,” insists that God visited him before DDT’s inauguration to ask him for a protective shield of prayer around DDT because he was sent to create a Christian fundamentalist takeover of the government. Members are Jerry Boykin, executive vice president of the Family Research Council, and Lou Engle, promoter of the Ugandan “kill the gays” bill—among other hate policies. One of their goals is doing away with Islam.

People of Praise: Predominantly Catholic, the group incorporates Pentecostal practices such as speaking in tongues, and requires members to swear an oath of loyalty to the group. Judge Amy Coney Barrett, who sits on the 7th Circuit Court and on DDT’s short list for a Supreme Court justice appointment, belongs to this group believing that women must submit to male authority. The terms “handmaid” and “handmaiden” to describe women are reminiscent of Margaret Atwood’s 1985 novel The Handmaid’s Tale, popularized in the 1990 film and 2017/2018 television series.

Quiverfull: This movement within fundamentalist Protestant Christianity claims that preventing a pregnancy is a sin and that all contraceptives are tools of the Devil. Christian wives, who must be submissive to their husbands, should have as many children as possible. Author Nancy Campbell called the womb a “weapon against Satan.” Kathryn Joyce wrote:

“If just eight million American Christians began supplying more ‘arrows for the war’ by having six children or more, they propose that the Christian Right ranks could rise to 550 million within a century.”

Wives are not allowed to have bank accounts or email addresses with their husbands’ permission, and they are to be always sexually available to their husbands.

Project Blitz: This coalition of Christian fundamentalist activists floods state legislatures with bills promoting a theocracy with the hope that a few may succeed in passing. Model bills come from the Congressional Prayer Caucus Foundation (CPCF) playbook under the guise of “religious freedom.” Five states have passed “In God We Trust” bills mandating that the phrase be on public buildings, schools, and public vehicles include police cars. Other bills could provide proclamations that move religious teachings into schools through something like a Christian heritage week, followed by anti-LGBTQ bills to promote “biblical values concerning marriage and sexuality.” Christians are to rule the United States with their far-right vision, according to Project Blitz; all other people are second-class citizens.

WallBuilders: Founder David Barton, also active in Project Blitz, is a former chairman of the Texas Republican Party and director of Keep the Promise PAC that supported Sen. Ted Cruz’ 2016 presidential campaign. A history revisionist, he teaches that separation of church and state is unconstitutional and that the government should be based on strict biblical law.  Barton has advised Newt Gingrich, Michele Bachmann, Sam Brownback, and Mike Huckabee and regularly appeared on Glenn Beck’s Founders Fridays radio broadcasts. God established national borders, according to Barton, who opposes any immigration. In 2010, he tried to keep Martin Luther King, Jr. from Texas textbooks because “only majorities can expand political rights.”

Through the National Prayer Breakfast, far-right Christians connected with Russia to maintain the GOP leadership of the United States. Jeff Sharlet, author of The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power, explained the background for the National Prayer Breakfast and its connection to Russia:

“It’s run by a private, sectarian, fundamentalist organization called The Fellowship and The Family that believes in precisely this kind of action. In fact, the long-time leader of the organization has called it quiet diplomacy, back channel, back door interactions between international leaders, that they use the prayer breakfast to bring them together. As recently as a year ago, the current leader, Doug Burleigh, was predicting alliance between [President Donald] Trump and [Russian President Vladimir] Putin. He predicted that at a Russian prayer breakfast.”

Russian Maria Butina, recently admitted to being a Russian spy, allegedly sought to influence U.S. officials not only through organizations such as the National Rifle Association, but also by exploiting the National Prayer Breakfast. Butina was denied entry into the United States until the NRA pushed through a visa for her. The affidavit stated that she intended to use the prayer breakfast to “establish a back channel of communications” between influential Russians in the U.S. with power U.S. citizens. This year, the Breakfast had the biggest group of any country. One of the Russians formally invited was sanctioned two months after the prayer breakfast.

Christian evangelicals are leaders of the movement to involve Russia in making DDT king of the United States with his support from Pence and the GOP base.

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