You’re So Vain, I Bet You Think This Crisis is About You

Just when I think there is a bottom, there isn’t. Today Donald Trump tweeted the following:

As I write this, 137,025 people have tested positive for COVID-19 and 2418 Americans have died. Trump brags about his ratings as if the crisis was about him. Narcissism was named after the myth of Narcissus who was smitten with his own image. Perhaps it is time for a new term derived from Trump. He is so sure that he is the center of everything and that it is him we are tuning in to see.

At the least, I have some additional illustrations of how narcissists operate. Many narcissists know enough to hide their self-absorption. A wise and discrete narcissist would realize how self-centered it would seem to appropriated one of the most catastrophic events of a generation and make it about how great his television ratings are. But not Donald Trump. He is just out with weapons-grade narcissism. He doesn’t see the issue. He is a star and everybody who matters will admit it. If they don’t see it, they are lame and don’t matter anyway.

For those who don’t get the title of this post:

Carly Simon – You’re So Vain

Eric Metaxas Finds His Moral Whisper About Harassment Claims Against Mike Bloomberg

Oh I see how it is. Mike Bloomberg’s past harassment allegations get some press and Eric Metaxas finds his moral concern.

I don’t think this was “whoa” as in “whoa, he is as much of a louse as Trump, maybe I should support him too.” I think this was “whoa” as in “whoa, that’s bad.” What do you think?

Metaxas and other Trump court evangelicals will be severely blasted if they try to play the morality card on Trump’s opponents during this election. They can’t really do it with a straight face. I suspect Metaxas only wrote a muted “whoa” because he knew he would be ridiculed unmercifully if he went for a stronger condemnation.

Recently CBN’s David Brody (a supporter of Trump) acknowledged that making an issue of Pete Buttigieg’s sexuality was not a winning play for Trump supporters since Trump has no moral high ground. Watch:

Brody just ruled out this out as a plausible strategy given Trump’s questionable behavior. I don’t think Bloomberg is going to prevail, but I can’t see how Republicans can make an issue of it if he does.

Ecumenical National Prayer Breakfast Tribute to Jesus

At least that what Rep. Jody Hice (R-GA) says about it.

Rep. Hice remembered to say the gathering was bipartisan but he gave away the fact that the NPB isn’t an ecumenical meeting. It is not a multi-faith event. It is all about portraying a tribute to Christianity by Congress and the Executive branch.

Today, in a move that should shock no one, Trump used the event to tout his acquittal.

In essence, Trump and all of the politicians there get to use religion for political purposes. Trump has a very specific purpose but even the Democratic pols conflate political power with Christianity by their presence and support. I can’t see how either Christianity or government is served well.

This is a good time to point you to the Netflix documentary series on the organization who puts on the NPB – The Fellowship Foundation. While I do believe the organization does and has done good philanthropy, I think the NPB should be halted or modified to make it transparent that Congress doesn’t host it.

UPDATE: Part of Trump’s speech turned out to be a campaign rally of sorts.

Trump will use any opportunity to exalt himself and the Fellowship Foundation smiles and looks on. Everybody pretends to be unified in Jesus.

Jesus wept.

Ted Cruz’s False Ukraine Narrative

There are so many lies and half-truths floating around the trial of Donald Trump that it is hard to know where to start. People who do fact checking for a living are working round the clock to try to keep up. I picked this one mainly because I am interested in it and because I see it as a deliberate, clever and sadly effective attempt to deceive masses of people. I have seen this approach used often by David Barton in his historical misadventures. Often, Barton takes a little truth, a little error and puts them together for a false story that seems plausible to the listener who wants to believe it.

In this case, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) has accelerated his promotion of the Russian narrative that Joe Biden’s opposition to Ukrainian prosecutor general Viktor Shokin in 2015 was motivated by a desire to bring financial gain to his son Hunter. Watch:

The main point is summarized by Cruz at the end:

If you have a sitting Vice President making public policy decisions to benefit his family to the tune of $1-million a year, that raises a serious question of corruption and a president is not only justified in asking for that to be investigated but has a responsibility to see that that’s investigated.

I suppose Cruz could defend himself by saying that he qualified his statement by saying, “if.” However, the video presents a narrative that has Joe Biden withholding over a billion in funds from Ukraine until the Ukrainian leadership fired Viktor Shokin, their prosecutor at the time. That part is true but incomplete. Cruz goes on to suggest Biden did that in order to protect his son’s company from scrutiny from investigation by that same prosecutor. That is false.

At the end of this post I provide annotated links to articles which describe the bipartisan and widespread support for the ouster of Shokin. Shokin was not investigating corruption in Ukraine which is why the U.S. wanted him removed. Biden acted on directives from the Obama administration. If anything, Shokin’s removal made an investigation of Hunter Biden’s company more likely because it increased the chances that a prosecutor with integrity would be appointed. If Biden wanted to help his son, he would have supported Shokin and wanted him to stay in office because Shokin was leaving Burisma (Hunter Biden’s company) alone.

This is fairly easy to learn by reading reports filed at the time in the international, U.S. and Ukrainian press. The Congressional Research Service also provided a similar perspective on this situation and was not controversial at all until Trump needed a defense of his efforts to get Ukraine to investigate Burisma. I have no doubt that Ted Cruz has been briefed on this and is aware that Shokin was not a reformer and that Biden did not act alone or in his son’s interest to get Shokin fired. He knows that U.S. and EU policy at the time favored the removal of Shokin and that Biden was just the person on the scene to carry it out. As Vice President, Biden’s presence in Ukraine signaled how serious the donor nations were, but he wasn’t acting on his own.

I realize I am speaking to readers who know this. Most, if not all, regular readers here know this. I am revisiting this because I want to document this shady use of events to craft a false narrative for myself and my teaching. I also want to provide the links below as a resource for those who want evidence to provide skeptical friends who have been bamboozled by Trump’s defenders.

Annotated timeline of Viktor Shokin’s tenure as Prosecutor General:

February 10, 2015Shokin replaces Yarema as top prosecutor – Viktor Shokin was a deputy under former prosecutor Vitaliy Yarema. Yarema failed to prosecute officials in former President Viktor Yanukovych’s administration and generally showed no results in fighting corruption. Shokin’s nomination was opposed by corruption fighters in Ukraine since he came from the same office as Yarema. The Ukrainian Weekly reported:

Fiery debate preceded the vote in which critics warned he’d perform just as badly as Mr. Yarema, having served at the heart of Ukraine’s corrupt law enforcement system for more than a decade, including under the Yanukovych administration.

Shokin did not have a reputation as a corruption fighter when he entered the job.

July 24, 2015Shokin and Guzir were “burned” under the GPU – After just five months on the job, the Center for Combating Corruption in Ukraine grew impatient with Shokin’s lack of action and burned him and others in effigy. This is a Google translation of the Ukrainian statement underneath the video.

Avtomaydan, together with the Center for Combating Corruption and activists from Kharkiv, Poltava, under the GPU, hold an action for the resignation of sabotage reformers of Prosecutor General Shokin and his deputies Huzyr and Stoliarchuk.

September 24, 2015Remarks by US Ambassador Geoffrey Pyatt at the Odesa Financial Forum – In his remarks, Pyatt specifically scolded the Prosecutor General’s office for interfering with a UK investigation of Burisma. Shokin’s predecessor had failed to cooperate. Then Shokin failed to hold anyone accountable for the neglect of a thorough investigation of charges against Burisma. If Biden wanted to encourage corruption and take heat from Burisma, he would have left Shokin alone. Instead, Biden carried out U.S. policy and insisted he be relieved of his position.

October 8, 2015Testimony of Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Victoria Nuland to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee – Viktor Shokin was still Prosecutor General when Nuland said the following to the Senate committee:

Like Ukraine’s police force, the Prosecutor General’s Office has to be reinvented as an institution that serves the citizens of Ukraine, rather than ripping them off. That means it must investigate and successfully prosecute corruption and asset recovery cases – including locking up dirty personnel in the PGO itself;

October 12, 2015Sobolev’s case for firing Shokin steadily gains momentum – Ukrainian legislator Yegor Sobolev’s effort to get Shokin fired was featured in this Kyiv Post article. Biden was just one of many people inside and outside of Ukraine who wanted Shokin replaced. What did Sobolev have to gain from Shokin’s removal from office? According to Sobolev, legislators were fearful of speaking out because Shokin used the power of his office to target his political enemies.

Sobolev has so far collected 114 signatures in parliament for dismissing Shokin, still well short of the 150 signatures needed to put the issue on the agenda.

He said in an interview with the Kyiv Post that not a single signature has been collected since the Sept. 17 arrest of Radical Party lawmaker Ihor Mosiychuk on suspicion of bribery. Critics see the arrest as political revenge by Shokin for Mosiychuk’s support for his firing.

“After Ihor’s arrest everyone started thinking ‘what if this happens to me tomorrow’?” Sobolev said. “One of Shokin’s goals is to show to lawmakers what consequences could happen to those who submit signatures for his dismissal.”

October 31, 2015Protesters drive to Poroshenko’s mansion to demand dismissal of Shokin – About 200 protests drove to the Ukraine president’s house to call for Shokin’s removal. Were they working for the Bidens?

February 16, 2015; March 29, 2015 – It seems clear from a review of sources during the term of Shokin that he was not popular with reformers and corruption fighters. The U.S., EU, and Ukrainian politicians and civilians wanted him removed. Joe Biden delivered the message which was consistent with U.S. policy toward Ukraine. Shokin resigned initially on February 16, 2015. He didn’t leave office right away though and had to be voted out by the legislature which occurred on March 29, 2015.

 

Christian Counseling Keynote Speaker Mike Pompeo Delivers Some Nasty Examples

UPDATE: (1/26) – The NYT obtained emails supporting Mark Louise Kelly’s assertion that questions about Ukraine were to be a part of the interview with Pompeo. He claimed Ukraine wasn’t on the agenda.

Mike Pompeo must be about to break the cognitive dissonance meter. He is in the thick of the Trump Ukraine scandal having to defend his boss while holding himself up as a Christian leader at the State Department. I am old enough to remember his talk at the annual conference of the American Association of Christian Counselors.After he spoke at the AACC conference, he posted video of the speech with the caption, “Being a Christian Leader.” There were mighty and many complaints about this apparent favoring of Christianity by the Secretary of State and the caption was eventually changed.
Now with the caveat that anyone can have a bad day, I bring you Mike Pompeo’s performance in an interview with NPR’s Mary Louise Kelly on Ukraine’s former ambassador Marie Yovanovich:

Christian leadership?

Obviously Pompeo was caught in an effort to save face. He hasn’t defended every state department employee if he hasn’t defended Marie Yovanovich. There is an obvious exception and he can’t even acknowledge this. That would be bad enough but then it gets worse.

According to Kelly, Pompeo then dared her to find Ukraine on a map, swearing in a belligerent manner.

If all of this took place as portrayed, Pompeo owes that reporter an apology and should answer the questions. He owes that to Yovanovich and his department at State, as well as the citizens of the nation. Trump and his administration don’t seem to have a sense that they work for us.

Today Pompeo came out with a statement defending himself. Here it is:

With this statement Pompeo suggests that a reporter agreed to have a conversation after the interview and that the conversation would be off the record. While that could be true, I am skeptical. Furthermore, it isn’t clear when the interview was over.

In any case, even if the reporter agreed to keep the conversation off the record, Pompeo is not denying it took place or any of the contents. I still can’t square this with his claim to be a Christian leader. Berating, challenging and swearing at a reporter who asked a good and relevant question is not Christian leadership. He is mad he got caught but that is on him. He projects his mistake on the entire media as a scapegoat, but I see what happened. Then he implied the reporter pointed to Bangladesh instead of Ukraine when he asked her where Ukraine is on a map. The reporter has a graduate degree in European studies, I doubt she made that big of a mistake, if she did at all.

Here is another problem with Pompeo’s remarks. He implies that U.S. Ukraine policy should depend on how many Americans care about Ukraine. This is frightening and again speaks to how politicized this administration has made our foreign policy. Ukraine is an ally that helps keep Russia from redrawing the map in eastern Europe. They are a freedom loving people who do not want to become Putin’s subjects. Mike Pompeo, I care about Ukraine and many Americans do too.

Pompeo told the AACC audience that he was working for religious freedom around the world. I don’t believe him if he doesn’t care about Ukraine. Putin doesn’t care about religious freedom. He only cares about his freedom to establish his religious machine. Religious minorities in Russia don’t have it as good. Is this what Pompeo wants for Ukraine?

Here is a link to the entire interview.

Why You Should Not Listen to Dennis Prager Ever Again

I have never been a fan of Dennis Prager or Prager University. Now, I can say that sentiment has risen to a recommendation to avoid it completely. Watch this clip about the relationship between private comments and character. Specifically, Prager makes reference to Donald Trump’s vulgar comments on the Access Hollywood tape.

You can watch the whole fireside chat here.

In this video, he correctly says that humans in private say and think things that are bad. This observation follows from the Christian doctrine of sin. Private evil is also consistent with a psychoanalytic perspective, whether it stem from Freud’s id or Jung’s shadow. However, Prager’s reference to Trump’s Access Hollywood comments as “private” is deeply flawed. As a result his moral lesson is also flawed.

Trump spoke on a television set to another person about what he had done (“moved on her like a bitch”) and what he claimed to do as a matter of course (sexually assault women). His comments were not private and they were not about his private wishes. He described what he had done and claimed to do as a matter of practice.

What Trump disclosed to Billy Bush in that conversation was not normal. For Prager to attempt to excuse this or normalize it is a disgrace. Remember Trump did not say that he worried about these fantasies or that he wished he didn’t have them or that he was fighting them. He wasn’t disclosing troubling thoughts to his therapist in an effort to help himself rise above them. They weren’t even jokes or hyperbole (which would be a less reliable indicator of character). Trump boastfully described something he had done and might do again.

Prager’s general point that private talk “is not an accurate indicator of a person’s character” isn’t consistent with common sense, the Bible, or psychological work. While I agree that humans are flawed, we are not all troubled in the same ways. It is not original with me to cite the words of Jesus on this point:

Social psychological research has demonstrated several ways that we present a front. We manage our appearance and behavior to give socially advantageous impressions. The results of self-report on tests is often questionable because of social desirability bias. Even though we don’t often know ourselves well, we often put on a different persona than we really feel. Most people agree with the idiom: you can’t judge a book by its cover. Prager wants us to believe you can’t judge a book by the book.

Prager’s effort to level the moral playing field to the lowest common denominator is a transparent effort to ease the conscience of Trump supporters. If Prager is going to be consistent then he will need to tape another fire side chat to excuse the private behavior of Bill Clinton and Richard Nixon.

Prager was unprepared to speak intelligently about the matter. He didn’t even know the name of the show (he called it “Planet Hollywood”) and he tap danced around the specifics of what Trump said. Prager also revealed something about himself, saying that he engages in stereotypes about gender and ethnicity while he is driving. I can honestly say that I have had lots of road rage, but I have never attributed a person’s bad driving to their ethnicity or their religion. That information is something he probably should have kept private.

Additional point: Other Trump’s defenders want us to judge what they say is Trump’s heart and not his public words or actions. Defending Trump’s apparent ridicule of a disabled reporter, Kellyanne Conway once asked Chris Cuomo:

You can’t give him the benefit of the doubt on this and he’s telling you what was in his heart? You always want to go by what’s come out of his mouth rather than look at what’s in his heart.

So if we can’t judge based on private disclosures and we can’t judge based on his public actions and words, then how may we judge him? I get the strong suspicion that Trump’s followers don’t want anyone to judge him at all.

Image via Wikipedia, taken by Gage Skidmore

Wayne Grudem Stewards His Gifts By Having His Students Answer His Mail

On December 30, 2019, Phoenix Seminary professor Wayne Grudem wrote a rebuttal to Christianity Today‘s call for the impeachment of Donald Trump. In that editorial, Grudem made several fact claims that were unsupported with very few sources. One of the key claims in Grudem’s piece was about the Ukraine scandal.

Here is what Grudem wrote:

The background to that comment is that a Ukrainian prosecutor named Viktor Shokin had been investigating Burisma Holdings, a Ukrainian gas company, and that company had been paying Hunter Biden, Joe Biden’s son, around $600,000 per year to serve as a member of its board. But Joe Biden boasted that, when he was vice president and on a visit to Ukraine, he withheld $1 billion in loan guarantees in order to force the Ukrainian government to fire that prosecutor.

In fact, Joe Biden can be seen on a YouTube video from January 23, 2018 (which was subsequently reported on by The Wall Street Journal), saying this: “I looked at them and said: ‘I’m leaving in six hours. If the prosecutor is not fired, you’re not getting the money.’ Well, son of a b___. He got fired. And they put in place someone who was solid at the time.”

When I understand that background, it seems to me reasonable for officials of the U.S. government to investigate whether there was any corrupt dealing connected to Hunter Biden receiving more than half a million dollars a year, the Ukrainian prosecutor investigating the company that was paying him, and Joe Biden withholding $1 billion in loan guarantees until that prosecutor was fired. I do not know if there was any corruption involved or not. My point is only that the situation raises enough suspicion to warrant an investigation.

Based on several sources (here, here and here), I believe this is a misleading narrative based on a misunderstanding or deliberately false telling of several events. In fact, Shokin was not investigating corruption at Burisma at the time he was fired and had held up investigations by foreign governments of the company. Shokin was under pressure from not only Biden but the United States government, and European Union because he was not investigating corruption. Shokin was fired because he was not investigating corruption, not because he was. Grudem presents a narrative which is contradicted by the timeline and reporting at the time. In addition to that, the more that Ukraine players such as Lev Parnas reveal, the more the actual events appear to be at odds with Grudem’s presentation.

At the least, a Christian scholar should present citations and source material and give readers and his students all sides of the issue. This is a slanted narrative. While it is true that Shokin has made contradictory claims about his activities, others in Ukraine and in the U.S. besides Biden have corroborated the observation that Shokin was not investigating corruption. At the least, Grudem should have indicated that there is a plausible case to be made for presidential misconduct and that the narrative Grudem presented has been advanced principally by Shokin and the president’s defenders.

Given the seriousness of presenting errors to a public audience, I wrote to Grudem and expected that he would reply with his source material or some explanation why he believed Shokin was investigating when independent sources said he wasn’t. Also, I had hoped for a correction of the record about Biden’s actions in demanding Shokin’s ouster. Biden was not acting on his own; he based his actions on U.S. policy and was acting consistent with the policy of our allies. These are critical facts that Grudem omitted. As a scholar, he should correct the record.

However, the following response is what I got. He had a student assistant answer.

My name is J. B. I am Dr. Grudem’s assistant as well as a student here at Phoenix Seminary. One of my jobs is to facilitate correspondence on Dr. Grudem‘s behalf.

Dr. Grudem appreciates your correspondence. In an effort to best steward his gifts, Dr. Grudem has decided for the present season to prioritize research and writing. For this reason, he regrets that he is unable to respond to your comments.  Please accept Dr. Grudem’s humble apologies.

I can assure you that Dr Grudem continues to pray for our country and all our leaders, regardless of their party line, as the Bible tell us we should. (1 Timothy 2:1-4)

Unable? No, he is unwilling. He is unwilling to take responsibility for what he wrote. I urge readers to consult the sources I linked to above. As always, I am willing to read any sources readers provide in the comments.

Crown Him with Many Crowns – Trump Upon His Throne

This speaks for itself.

Keep in mind that this is a political rally in a church. These evangelicals have political goals which are more important than their religious ones.

For more, see these posts by John Fea and Andy Rowell.

Does Romans 13 Support the Case for Keeping Trump?

In response to Mark Galli’s Christianity Today op-ed calling for President Trump to be removed from office, Peter Leithart at First Things appeals to Romans 13 as one reason to put up with a bad executive. I have heard this in defense of Trump, but I don’t think it is a correct application. First, here is the passage:

Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended. For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience.

This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing. Give to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.

It seems obvious that governing authorities involve more than the president. Congress is an authority, the Judicial branch is an authority. There are state and local authorities. Critically, the Constitution via the Supremacy clause is the law of the land. Paul did not specify a form of government. In our form of government, the authority is the Constitution. Rulers are elected by the people and are considered public servants. Citizens and rulers are subject to the Constitution which is the governing authority.

Thus, it is important for Christians to respect Congress and who God has placed in office there. Many Christian Trump supporters right now are myopically focused on the executive branch. However, I believe they have encouraged President Trump to violate Romans 13 by supporting his resistance to subpoenas and parroting his rhetoric about a witch hunt. I think a case can be made that Trump is in violation of Romans 13 since he will not bring himself under the authority of Congress and the Constitution.

Trump supporters might counter by saying he has a right to go to court to seek a favorable interpretation of the law in his resistance to Congressional oversight. While that is true, it should be noted that he has argued that the president has absolute immunity from investigation and indictment while in office. The president could commit a crime in broad daylight and according to the argument he has advanced, he could not be investigated until he leaves office. This is an extreme position and has not prevailed in any court challenge thus far. The Supreme Court will hear related cases soon.

Trump’s legal strategy aside, my main point is that current Christian Trump supporters must find a way to respect all of the authorities. I think Leithart is clearly wrong to say Christians should put up with bad behavior in our Constitutional form of government when Congressional oversight exists.

In Leithart’s article, I read no argument for why Christians must honor the executive branch more than the legislative branch. Trump Christians have shown a consistent bias on this front. The Constitution gives impeachment power to the House. Trump Christians such as Franklin Graham, Tony Perkins, and Robert Jeffress blasted the impeachment procedures as biased and unfair. In fact, the House leaders had the right to conduct the business as their preexisting rules dictated. Giving Congress honor and respect as an authority was not at all what these leaders did. Instead, they left their religious callings and became partisan political players.

Now, Senate Republican leaders are threatening to dishonor the Constitution by making the trial a sham. Christians should insist on a trial which brings forward evidence. Christians should publicly call on the president to obey subpoenas and submit the authority over him — the Constitution. Christians should honor the Constitutional order for the role of the Senate. The Senators take an oath to be impartial. Christian Senators who follow Romans 13 should strive to follow that oath. Christian citizens should call on the Senate to follow their oath and honor them for doing so.

In short, governing authorities involve more than the executive branch.  Christians need to support the legitimate work of the legislative branch and insist that the president honor the Constitution. There is no reason to elevate one branch over another in our system since the law of the land isn’t a potentate but the Constitution.

UPDATE: This post at American Creation blog is a nice summary of Calvinist views of Romans 13. Gregg Frazer, Dean of The Master’s University and historian of the founding era wrote to address Calvin’s perspective on political rebellion. In short, without some governmental sanction for resistance (e.g., impeachment), Christians should not rebel. However, impeachment and removal is built in to the Constitution and therefore legitimate. Christians should not appeal to Romans 13 as a reason to oppose impeachment.

About Eric Metaxas’ Tattooed Pilot

In a 12/20 interview with Chris Cuomo on CNN, Eric Metaxas was asked how he can support Trump given Trump’s actions. Watch:

Metaxas wants us to think Trump is just a naughty president with his bad language and womanizing. Here’s the thing; I don’t care if Trump has tattoos. I really don’t care that much that he has been married three times. It is relevant that he paid off women to keep his affairs secret but even that isn’t the main event for me.

Sticking with the pilot analogy, I want to know if the pilot get his license by bribing the person who tests pilots? Did he cheat taking the pilot’s exam? Did he lie to get it or keep it? Has he been accused of any crimes as a pilot? If so and he’s investigated, does he lie about matters related to the charges? Does he hide pertinent documents?  Does prevent witnesses from talking?

Metaxas is infuriatingly dense on this point. He portrays his opponents as legalistic prudes. This is simply dishonest.

Trump right now is keeping his staff from providing Congress with information. He is withholding documents from Congress. He lies to the public and Congress about his “perfect” call to Ukraine’s president. He lies about being exonerated by the Mueller report. If Trump is a tattooed pilot, being tattooed is the least of our concerns. He’s dangerous and needs to be grounded.