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The Normalizing of Immorality

The normalizing of immorality is dimming the “light” of the Biblical “city set on a hill.”  President Donald Trump is not the cause of America’s decaying morality.  He is the latest symptom — much moreof the same.  He is quickening the decay.  He makes other presidents look good, even though they are responsible for far more immorality than he – at this point.  This is an analysis of Trump’s immorality, as he represents the galvanizing tip of America’s growing corruption.  Alarming is the degree to which his immoral behavior has become accepted.  Informative is that he sanitizes his immorality with calculated hollow moral trappings to make it palatable.

Early in the presidential campaign, Donald Trump declared, “We must maintain law and order to the highest or we will cease to have a country,“ therefore, “I am the law and order candidate.”  And, “Not only am I the law and order candidate, but I am also the candidate of compassion, believe it.” (“Trump: ‘I am the law an order candidate,’”By Louis Nelson, POLITICO, July 11, 2016)

“Law and order” sounds moral – and even humanizing when infused with “compassion.” But that is not what “law and order” means to President Trump.  When Colin Kaepernick, joined by and other National Football League players, knelt for the playing of the national anthem, to protest racial injustices, especially the “law and order” killings of unarmed and non-threatening black persons by police, Trump called the players “sons of bitches” and said they should be fired.   He also declared, “You have to stand proudly for the national anthem or you shouldn’t be playing, you shouldn’t be there. Maybe they shouldn’t be in the country.” (“Donald Trump vs. the NFL players: Tracking president’s anthem remarks in war on protests,” Scott Gleeson, USA TODAY, May 24, 2018)

The NFL players are “stand[ing] proudly” for what the flag supposedly stands forby kneeling.   It is not about respecting the flag – and by extension America’s military personnel and veterans.  True respect for them involves ensuring and exercising the rights of freedom they supposedly have protected with their sacrifices – and for which the flag is presumed to stand.

This is the president who took the following oath: “I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of the President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution.”  Sadly, we have a self-absorbed president.  A president who equates the Constitution with his narcissistic constitutional make-up: it is there to serve him.   The constitutional right of free speech goes against his authoritarian grain.  His bottom line is loyalty to his wishes, not liberty for all.

The latest example of President Trump’s anti-democratic tendencies is his reaction to a senior official in his administration who wrote an anonymous New York Times Op Ed piece titled, “I am Part of the Resistance Inside the Trump Administration.”  The anonymous official states that “the root of the problem is the president’s amorality,” and his related “leadership style, which is impetuous, adversarial, petty and ineffective.”  Especially dangerous is his “impulsiveness,” which “results in half-baked, ill-informed and occasionally reckless decisions that have to be walked back.”  Thus the writer and “many” other “senior officials in his own administration are working diligently from within to frustrate parts of his agenda and his worst inclinations.” (Sept. 6, 2018)  The writer’s description of a White House in moral disarray is supported by Bob Woodward’s new book, Fear: Trump in the White House, which documents the president’s “amorality” detailed in the Op Ed piece.

The Op Ed writer concludes by confessing to America’s growing immorality: “The bigger concern is not what Mr. Trump has done to the presidency, but rather what we as a nation have allowed him to do to us.  We have sunk low with him.”  The writer’s Op Ed piece represents “a quiet resistance within the administration of people choosing to put country first.” (Ibid)

President Trump’s response to this constitutional exercise of free speech was one word: ‘TREASON,’ he tweeted.  And then fumed, “If this GUTLESS anonymous person does indeed exist, the Times must, for National Security purposes, turn him/her over to government at once!” (“Trump Lashes Our After Reports of Quiet ‘Resistance’  By Staff,” By Peter Baker and Maggie Haberman, The New York Times, Sept.5, 2018)

If The New York Times turned the anonymous senior official over “to the government at once,” what would President Trump do to that person?  Have him or her shot in the middle of New York City’s Fifth Avenue – as, during the campaign, he said that he could shoot a person there and still not lose the support of his base?   Or hand the anonymous writer over to his base, and let his base take care of the “traitor?”  Apprehending the covert anti-Trump senior official is not about “National Security,” but about Trump’s security – and protecting the authoritarian “swamp” he is creating.

The anonymous senior official – and all the “many” other like-minded “senior officials” referenced in The Times Op-Ed piece – should come forward and own their truth.  Such a powerful display of solidarity could lead Republican members of Congress — and even faith leaders — to forsake their own anonymity  and come out from behind their desks and pulpits and exercise their First Amendment right by calling for an end to Donald Trump’s corrupting presidency.  It is the anonymity of otherwise well-intentioned citizens that has accommodated President Trump’s “worst inclinations,” thus enabling the normalizing of immorality in America.

In an Intercept column on “Dear Anonymous Trump Official, There Is No Redemption in Your Cowardly Op-Ed,”British political journalist Mehdi Hasan criticizes the TimesOp Ed writer and his/her “many” senior official colleagues for hiding behind anonymity.  In a commentary, he faults the writer for “excoriating Donald Trump’s ‘worst inclinations,’ while omitting any and all references to his racism, bigotry, Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, and white nationalism.”  Hasan asks, “Where were your ‘unsung heroes’ when the administration was snatching kids from their parents and locking them in cages?”  He concludes with a challenge to the “resistance inside the Trump administration” to own their truth for the sake of the country’s larger moral good:

Don’t hide behind anonymity.  Don’t pretend that you have ‘gone to great lengths’ to restrain Trump and ‘put country first.’

Tell us your name.  Quit your job.  Call out this president in public.

Call him out for his bigotry, his mendacity, his sheer mental and emotional unfitness for the office he occupies.  Call him out in front of a Congressional committee.  Or a Court of law.

Otherwise, I say again: Screw.  You. (Sept. 6, 2018)

The “law and order” president.  Hardly. The Justice Department brought substantial charges against two “very popular” Republican Congressmen, as the Midterm elections near.  Chris Collins of New York, a reported “ardent supporter of Mr. Trump, was indicted on charges of insider trading.”  And California’s Duncan Hunter “was indicted on charges that he and his wife, Margaret, used more than $250,000 campaign funds for personal expenses.”  President Trump’s sarcastic response to Attorney General Jeff Sessions: “Two easy wins now in doubt because there is not enough time. Nice job Jeff.”  Never mind that “Mr. Hunter and his wife are accused of hiding personal expenses as gifts for ‘wounded warriors’ and using the money to pay for lavish expenditures, including vacations and a plane ticket for a pet rabbit.” (“Trump Blasts Sessions for Charging G.O.P. Members Before  Midterms,”By Katie Rogers and Katie Benner, The New York Times, Sept. 3, 2018)

The “law and order” president.  Immigrants fleeing persecution and seeking asylum in the United States, through official ports of entry, have a constitutional right to have their appeals heard by a judge.  President Trump is reported to oppose that right, “suggest[ing] immigrants at the border could be summarily deported without any hearing to determine if they deserved asylum or were US citizens wrongly apprehended.”  Also, “in a Fox News interview . . . Trump flatly deemed the system of immigrant judges ‘corrupt’ and said, “Whoever heard of a system where you put people through trials?” (“Trump’s sustained attacks on American rights,” By Joan Biskupic, CNNPolitics, May 31, 2018)  That system is called “due process,” which is the foundation of democracy.

President Trump’s “zero tolerance” policy that separates immigrant children from their parents at the border is causing irreparable developmental damage to these victims.  His heartless policy is a violation of a basis Christian teaching, as well as constitutional law.  Jesus himself is recorded as saying, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.” (Matthew 19: 14)  He also warned, “If anyone causes one of these little ones – who believes in me – to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.” (Matthew 18: 6)

The “law and order” president.  Donald Trump feeds on violence.  During the presidential campaign he encouraged his supporters to rough up protesters, and promised to pay their fines if charges were brought against them.  He also urged his base to act violently against protesters, saying about one protester, “I’d like to punch him in the face.” (“Trump on protester: ‘I’d like to punch him in the face,’“ By Ben Schreckinger,POLITICO, Feb. 23, 2016)

President Trump is not beyond encouraging his base to resort to anarchy if his presidency is threatened.  During the presidential campaign, he told CNN “that his supporters would respond with ‘riots’ if he fails to secure the nomination at July’s convention in Cleveland. I think you’d have riots.  . . . I’m representing a tremendous many, many millions of people.” (“Donald Trump Warns Supporters Could Riot if He Doesn’t Get GOP Nomination,”by Benjy Sarlin, www.nbcnews.com, Mar. 17, 2016)  He was telling his supporters what to do if he were not nominated.

President Trump projects his  personality tendencies on to others.  Recently, he told evangelical Christian leaders that, if Democrats win control of Congress in November, there would be “violence from the left.  . . . They would overturn everything that we’ve done, and they’ll do it quickly, and violently.”  So, “ ‘You’re one election away from losing everything that you’ve got,’ he said, according to NBC News.” (“Reports: Trump warned evangelical leaders of ’violence’ from the left if Republicans lose the midterms,” By Felicia Sommez, The Washington Post, Aug. 28, 2018)

And that “everything” these white evangelical Christian leaders “got” from President Trump is a little more power in their effort to impose their imperialistic biblical beliefs and practices on American citizens.  Their own unspoken motto is “Make American Christian Again” – white evangelical Christian, that is.

“I am the law and order candidate.”  These are white supremacist code words.  Trump was telling his mostly white supporters that, if elected president, he would keep black people and other persons of color in their place: at the bottom of America’s white-controlled hierarchy of access to political, economic, legal and religious power.  To prove his commitment, he rode the birther movement hard, seeking to prove that President Barack Hussein Obama was not born in the United States and therefore was an illegitimate president – and maybe even a Muslim.  The birther movement was embraced by citizens whose white supremacist conditioning was greatly threatened by a black president in their White House – for eight years.  They knew what Trump meant by “Make America Great Again.”  It was about restoring white power and privilege.

Along with “law and order,” President Trump relies on optics: appearances that deny or soften very opposite behavior.  For example, at televised meetings, we often see a black man or a white woman sitting beside PresidentTrump, with mostly white men surrounding them.  The real picture: CNN’s Jeremy Diamond’s review of 48 senior White House officials” reveals that “only a handful . . . are Latino, Asian or Arab descent.  . . . Instead, the president is being advised by a senior White House staff that is overwhelmingly white.  And “Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson is the only African American Cabinet member.” (“Trump has no black senior White House staff,” Aug. 13, 2018)  Thus the usually visibly placed black man standing near Trump at rallies and waving a “Blacks for Trump” sign must be very lonely.

Strategically placed women are usually seated next to President Trump at meetings and standing behind him at rallies. Here, again, appearance belies reality. According to CNN’s Jennifer Hansler, “The assertion that Trump has appointed more women to his Cabinet is false.  Only 22% of his senior-level Cabinet jobs are held by women, a number far lower than those of his recent Democratic predecessors.” (“GOP touts women in Trump cabinet – but the number lags behind Obama, Clinton,” March 10, 2018)

A designed role of President Trump’ wife, Melania, appears to be that of softening and transforming certain of his “worst inclinations.”  She initiates a “Be Best” anti-cyberbullying campaign by encouraging “kindness and open communication” between young people on social media.  While her cyberbully-in-chief “ husband sent fresh tweets about John Brennan, calling him ‘the worst CIA Director in our country’s history’ and a political ‘hack’.“ (“Melania Trump Warns of Online Bullying as Her Husband Slings Insults on Twitter,” By Darlene Superville, Time.com, Aug. 20, 2018)

The first lady goes to the Texas border, engages in a brief visit with immigrant children separated from their parents, tells them to “be kind to each other,” and upon leaving says, “Good luck.”” (“Melania Trump visits with immigrant children at Texas border,” By Jordan Fabian, TheHill, June 21, 2018)  While her husband’s unkind“zero tolerance” policy has separated over 2300 children from their parents and locked many children in cage-like detention centers.  Also, Melania Trump’s “office announces a solo trip for the first lady this fall to Africa, a continent her husband has disparaged with coarse language”  [calling them “shithole countries”]  Mrs. Trump’s executive director, Stephanie Grisham wrote in an email: “The president is proud of her commitment to children and encourages her in all that she does.” (“As Trump Goes on a Twitter Rampage, Melania Trump Announces a Solo Trip to Africa,” By Katie Rogers, The New York Times, Aug. 20, 2018)

President Trump’s normalizing of immorality serves to hide the far greater immorality contaminating America.  He makes former presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama look like statesmen.   He helps Americans forget about Bush’s unnecessary, criminal invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq and the horrible destruction and uprooting of life those falsely-based invasions caused.  And President Obama followed in Bush imperialistic footsteps, continuing those wars, increasing the use of drone warfare that has resulted in the deaths of thousands of civilians, and creating a kill list” that denies due process to and assassinates suspected terrorists, including Americans.  Also, Bush launched and Obama continued the so-called “global war on terrorism,” which serves as a convenient front for America’s capitalistic pursuit of world domination.  Trump has merely inherited immoral policies and is putting his own authoritarian stamp on them.

President Trump makes warmongers look good.  Another is the late Sen. John McCain, who endured five years as a Vietnam prisoner of war – when his Navy fighter plane was finally shot down after 23 missions of dropping bombs on defenseless Vietnamese civilians.  He is lauded for enduring those years of imprisonment, made worse by the injuries he sustained when his plane crashed.  At recent memorial services, he was widely praised as an American hero.  His stature made more heroic when compared to Trump’s history.  In her eulogy, McClain’s daughter “Meghan McClain gave an implicit rebuke of President Trump’s famous motto ‘Make American Great Again,’ “ and said, “ ‘The America of John McCain has no need to be made great again because America was always great.’  . . . The audience reacted with applause.”  She then “ ‘denounced the ‘cheap rhetoric’ characterizing politics today, and referred to men who avoided service in the Vietnam War.  Mr. Trump had five deferments from serving in the war.”  But “most of McCain’s tribute was spent honoring her father not as a war hero or vaunted politician, but as a loving parent.” (“Meghan McCain says ‘America was always great’ in tribute to her father,”By Grace Segers, CBS NEWS, Sept. 1, 2018)

One can sympathize with a loving daughter’s mourning of her loving father’s death.  But moral questions must be raised.  What about the many loving Vietnamese mothers and fathers and children Navy pilot McCain dropped bombs on and killed and wounded?  Dare we also think of the hundreds of thousands of Iraqi parents and children killed and widowed and orphaned in a criminal war that McCain voted for and strongly supported?  Shall we allow ourselves to think of the millions of parents and children in Iran whose could have been at risk if McCain had become president?  Remember on the campaign trail, how, to the tune of the Beach Boys song “Barbara Ann,” he sang, “Bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb” Iran?

Here Sen. McCain is no different from President Trump.  Trump put, in all caps, a Twitter warning “to Iranian President Rouhani: ‘NEVER, EVEN THREATEN THE UNITED STATES AGAIN OR YOU WILL SUFFER CONSEQUENCES THE LIKES OF WHICH FEW THROUGHOUT HISTORY HAVE EVER SUFFERED BEFORE. WE ARE NO LONGER A COUNTRY THAT WILL STAND FOR YOUR DEMENTED WORDS OF VIOLENCE AND DEATH.’ (“Trump Threatens Iran on Twitter, Warning Rouhani of Dire ‘Consequences,’ By Austin Ramzy, The New York Times, July 22, 2018)  Both McCain and Trump believed Iran “worthy” of bombing.

Where does patriotism end and immorality begin?

The normalizing of immorality in America should be of great concern to faith leaders, as they profess to be and are perceived as moral authorities. Sadly, the very power-seeking that leads white evangelical Christians to fawn over President Trump is the same motivation that leads many mainstream faith leaders to remain anonymous in the face of Trump’s “worst inclinations.”  If these faith leaders were to publicly embrace their prophetic role and call for his removal from office, such rocking of their denominational boats would lead some members to jump ship and seek safer harbor in a less “political” faith group. Such status quo-controlled faith leaders fail to realize that there are other citizens who shun faith groups precisely because they remain invisible in response to pressing, conflict-laden moral issues.  For many faith leaders, protecting their power trumps morality.

Much needed is the example of 19thCentury Unitarian minister, reformer and abolitionist Theodore Parker, who declared:

A church that believes in inspiration now will appeal to God; try things by reason and conscience; aim to surpass the old heroes; baptize its children with a new spirit, and using the present age, will lead public opinion, not follow it. (“The church is called to lead public opinion, not follow it.”)

More articles by:

Rev. William E. Alberts, Ph.D., a former hospital chaplain at Boston Medical Center, is both a Unitarian Universalist and United Methodist minister. His new book, The Counterpunching Minister (who couldn’t be “preyed” away) is now published and available on Amazon.com. The book’s Foreword, Drawing the Line, is written by Counterpunch editor, Jeffrey St. Clair. Alberts is also author of A Hospital Chaplain at the Crossroads of Humanity, which “demonstrates what top-notch pastoral care looks like, feels like, maybe even smells like,” states the review in the Journal of Pastoral Care & Counseling. His e-mail address is wm.alberts@gmail.com.

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