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I’ve read several articles about Trump supporters since the election.  I’m operating on the assumption (not shared by all) that all Trump voters are not evil and many of whom must have had some sort of rational, however misguided, reason for voting for someone both so staggeringly unqualified and incompetent, while also espousing truly despicable views.

Now, while there are plenty of people whose justifications are patently (if not always knowingly) sexist, racist, paranoid…there are a lot of people (who appear, for lack of a better word, normal) whose main concern seems to be the economy or healthcare, which feeds into an overriding feeling that the system just isn’t working for them.  Their concerns and rhetoric aren’t conservative; all of this mirrors a lot of the language of supporters of Bernie Sanders, another outsider candidate arguing for change.  There were a lot of people who were sympathetic to both Bernie and Trump, a confluence that really made almost no sense to many of us from a policy perspective.
Ironically, I found one of the best models for me understanding what I’m seeing to be Game of Thrones (yes, that probably means we’re in trouble).  I was explaining this quote of Dany’s to my dad to illustrate the point.  In Westeros (aka America), all the different great house are fighting each other and going round and round in a rise and fall of power (“Lannister, Baratheon, Stark…they’re all just spokes on a wheel…first that one’s on top then that one’s on top and on and on it goes) and Dany’s point is that she’s not planning on stopping the wheel or making sure she’s on top, she’s planning on breaking the wheel.  I think that’s what a lot of working-class voters were trying to do with Trump.  Democrat, Republican, Democrat, Bush, Clinton, Bush…it all just seems to keep spinning for people and despite whatever claims of change, people aren’t feeling that things are truly getting fixed.  I think a lot of people voted for Trump because they see him as the hammer to break the system…and they didn’t particularly care what tool they had to use because they were willing to do anything that might work.  They’re not die-hard Trump supporters; a lot of them don’t even seem to like him that much.  It’s desperate and dangerous, but I do admit that I sympathize, on some level, with the feeling that our government has completely stopped working in our interests, has stopped advocating for and supporting the voters, and is operating on a system that, if it benefits anyone, it certainly isn’t the average person.  Things get fixed, things get broken, and people still feel, overall, that they’re stuck in a cycle that has no end.

I’m not defending their choice, but providing a way of trying to understand the thinking of another segment of our community.

“First they came for the Latinos, Muslims, women, gays, poor people, intellectuals and scientists and then it was Wednesday.”

 

I saw this tweet last week.  It someone managed to sum up all of my feelings, along with the difficulty of fighting against everything at once.  As Jon Stewart said, “The presidency is supposed to age the president, not the public,” but it already feels like months.

 

Two weeks ago, almost to the day, Donald Trump was sworn in as president, and at the end of the day, I felt like, “Okay, well, we’re all still here, good start…”  The next day I was at the women’s March in Boston.  I had wanted to write a blog post about it, but, you know, life.  It was a great day, though, as a person with a disability, the standing took a toll after about three hours and I never even got to actually march…but I was there and I stood for what I believed in.  I really felt the small children who got to ride in strollers and sleep when they were bored were doing the March right…  I loved how many people came out.  There were people climbing trees in order to see the speakers, and, for all the complaints about protestors, I didn’t see a single person disrespect a police officer or engage in any sort of vandalism.  It was very peaceful.  I do want to note, though, that while I am proud of everyone for ensuring that that was the result, it is a lot easier for things to remain peaceful when no one is opposing you.  The water protectors at Standing Rock are facing an entirely different kind of protest, and it’s important to remember that instead of just patting ourselves on the back for a job well done.

 

So, what has happened in those two weeks?  Well, I could write articles on specific issues, BUT THERE ARE TOO MANY OF THEM and I have a job.  We’ll go through the greatest hits and we’ll do our best to ignore anything that’s just stupid or doesn’t happen to be to our taste (example: I wouldn’t have picked that person for the supreme court, but I have no objections to his qualifications and I’m willing to take an agree to disagree on that one (even though I remain disgusted that, with a year left in office, no one would even vote on the president’s nominee as required by law).

 

In no particular order…

 

  • EPA has been put on some sort of lock down. No communicating with the press.  No renewing grants.  No projects.  In other environmental news, the Utah senator tried to sell off 3.3 million acres of federal land and the House just repealed a regulation banning mining companies from dumping waste in rivers and streams.  I was reading about that this day and…I was just so confused.  So there are people who don’t believe in global warming.  So there are people who believe that there’s too much regulation and government overreaching.  But who really thinks companies dumping waste in our water supply is a good thing?  Where are your children getting their drinking water for schools?  This really just made absolutely no sense to me.
  • Half the federal agencies have gone rogue on twitter what would be really amusing if it wasn’t real life.
  • Jared Kushner and Steve Bannon replaced the chairman of the joint chiefs and the head of the CIA as voting members on the National Security Council. This, frankly, is insane. Neither of these people have any experience or role that qualifies them to weigh in on national security.  I assure you, also, when they’re deciding whether or not to use force, I want the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs weighing in.  When they’re debating whether or not to bomb someone in the Middle East, I want the CIA there giving the best information they have available.  Even numerous Republicans have denounced this move.
  • Apparently we all need guns in our schools to defend ourselves from grizzly bears…. In case you missed it, Betsy DeVos, President Trump’s pick for secretary of education, advocated guns in schools, citing a school that needed to defend itself from grizzly bears attacking the students.  The best part of this story was that when they called the school that was referenced, they don’t have a gun…
  • The House just repealed a regulation that prevented people with serious mental illnesses from buying guns. This again falls into the category of “aren’t there some things that we can just all agree are bad ideas?”
  • Trump announced that we are indeed going to build a wall. And who’s going to pay for it?
  • We have spent a lot of time arguing over things like how many people were at the inauguration
  • He has accelerated the approval of the Keystone and Dakota Access Pipelines
  • And then we come to the one that caused mass chaos this past weekend: the Muslim Ban.

 

There are numerous issues with the ban, some practical, some ethical.  First of all, the utter airport chaos indicated how poorly thought out and executed this idea was.  It targeted people who already were in this country legally but just picked the wrong time for a vacation.  People detained in airports were denied due process or the right to see attorneys, even when attorneys were provided for them or congressmen and women wanted to help intercede for them.  The ban ended up affecting numerous Christians and Yazidis, the very religious minorities that Trump suggested would not be affected by the ban.  The implication that Christians are the only religious minorities in these countries shows just how clueless Trump is about foreign policy.  If we are going to show favor to religious minorities in the immigration process, does that include Shiites coming from a Sunni-majority country?  No one has been killed by a refugee since the 70s.  Since 9/11, no one has been killed in a terrorist attack by anyone from these banned countries.  The main country that the 9/11 hijackers were from, Saudi Arabia, was not included in the ban (some people have noted that Trump has business ties in Saudi Arabia).  All of these refugees are heavily vetted, in a process that usually takes over two years.

 

But most of all, all I can say is that I felt a punch in the gut as all of this came out.  I am, like all of us who are not Native Americans, descended from immigrants, and mine are within the twentieth century.  More than that, my heart hurt for all of the people, God’s people, who were being shut out, who were being rejected, who were being damaged and ignored by this order.  All I could hear was the verse in Matthew: “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’  They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’ He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’”  As a nation, we have rejected God’s people and therefore we have rejected Jesus.  All I can hope is that the religious extremists who believe that the collective country bears the sins of their leaders are wrong, for our country has committed a great sin and God hears the cries of those whom we have turned away from.

 

And so, moving forward, I’m doing the best I can.  I take deep breaths.  I pray.  I work.  I hope.

When I’m at work tomorrow, I will be praying for Donald Trump.  I’ve been praying for him to have wisdom and compassion, and to make the right decision for all of God’s children living in this country.  Donald Trump will be praying tomorrow too, at his pre-inaugural prayer service.

 

His choice of pastors is deeply concerning.  He chose Robert Jeffress, a man who is best known for his controversial comments in the 2012 primaries where he discouraged people from voting for Romney because he wasn’t a real Christian and Mormonism was a cult.  He is a frequent guest on Fox news and leads a Texan megachurch.  In addition to his critiques of Mormonism, Reverend Jeffress has also insulted the Catholic Church, which he believes is a “counterfeit religion” under the direct influence of the devil, referring to it as “the genius of Satan.”

 

He has made inflammatory comments about Islam, referring to it as a “heresy from the pit of hell,” an “evil religion,” and that Muslims, along with Hindus and Mormons, worship a false God and are therefore not heavenly favored like Christians.  Additionally, he has made despicable comments about homosexuality, stating that is a “miserable lifestyle” that leads to suicide or substance abuse.  He argued that gay rights have the potential to destroy our country and that people who are gay are attempting to brainwash people into being gay.  He compared it to incest, pedophilia, and bestiality.  He has argued that Obama’s support of gay marriage shows the ease with which the antichrist will takeover our society.  I haven’t read anything about derogatory comments about women and their roles in society…but I really can’t imagine that someone who takes these kind of Biblical views doesn’t have those on the record somewhere.

 

This is who Donald Trump has chosen as his spiritual guide as he steps into the Presidency.  It sends a heart-rending message to those of us who believe in a God of love, who see Catholics as brothers and sister in Christ, who believe that Muslims pray to the same God, and who, above all, want this president, who claims to be LGBTQ –friendly, to represent all Americans and to see justice done for them.

 

In addition to that, two of the pastors speaking at his inauguration are proponents of the “prosperity gospel.”  The prosperity gospel, or prosperity theology, sees religious faith as a contract between the believer and God.  If a person is a good Christian, God will reward them with wealth and health.   Donations to churches or religious organizations will lead to a person receiving more wealth (for more details on this, see John Oliver’s segment on church financing, it probably will make you nauseous).  The corollary of that is, of course, is that those who are poor or sick or otherwise struggling are doing so because they are bad Christians, that God does not favor them or care about them as much, and that it is their fault, for their lack of faith and obedience, that they are not well-off.  This is a theology that I believe is painfully contradictory to the words of Jesus Christ, who exhorted us to care for the poor and to have compassion for all those who were struggling, whose deep and equal love for all human beings is the foundation of Christianity.  I suppose it should not surprise me that someone with President-Elect Trump’s background would gravitate to the prosperity gospel, but I find it tragic that this theology, and the bigotry expressed by Jeffress, is being promulgated on a national level from the white house.

With what appears to be an imminent repeal of Obamacare/the ACA, Republicans are starting to offer some alternatives and I wanted to discuss one that is featuring very prominently in discussions at the moment: Health Savings Accounts.

My understanding is that health savings accounts are similar to IRAs or 401Ks. They’re tax-advantaged savings accounts that can be used towards medical care. For more specific details, I suggest you go deeper into the internet and start familiarizing yourself with them.

Now, why doesn’t this work? Well, let’s for example, look at my fictional friend Sue. Sue is in her mid-thirties and works two jobs. Her ex-husband won’t pay child support for their two children and she hasn’t heard from him in over a year. Her parents are retired and are living off of a small pension and social security, so Sue will never ask them for money. All of Sue’s money each month is accounted for. She is getting by on a budget, but barely. Sue’s personal savings account currently has $56 in it and she doesn’t have a retirement plan. She’s just worried about how she’s going to buy winter boots for her son because he’s had another growth spurt this year. Sue is struggling, but doesn’t qualify for government programs. Now, for obvious reasons, Sue can’t put any money into a health savings account and therefore will have nothing if she or her kids get sick.

But let’s say that Sue is really determined. Her daughter has asthma and Sue knows that she needs to prepare for an emergency. So Sue cuts down on the fruits and vegetables at the grocery store to cut costs and she tries to find some more overtime on weekends, leaving her daughter to baby-sit. So, every month Sue tries to put a little away in that health savings account. She tries her best, but she has to buy those boots for her son in November, and then she cuts into the amount in February so she can buy her daughter a birthday cake, but most months the amount grows. Sue’s daughter gets a bad spring cold and it goes into her lungs. Since she has asthma, she’s very susceptible to things like pneumonia. She starts having trouble breathing one night and Sue takes her to the hospital. They tell Sue that not only do they have to keep her daughter overnight to stabilize her, but they need to do an x-ray to see if she has pneumonia. Sue and her son sleep in her daughter’s room and in the morning, Sue’s daughter is able to breathe better after the medication and fluids. The doctor would like to keep her another 24 hours, because she’s a high-risk patient, but Sue can’t afford it. The hospital stay has already cost several hundred dollars in deductibles and cleaned out Sue’s health savings account. She’s going to have to scrimp next month to pay for the more expensive medication that the doctor says her daughter needs. Since her daughter is better, but still sick, Sue has to use one of her own sick days to take care of her the next day and make sure she’s okay. Sue is now back to where she started in terms of health savings and has nothing for more medical care, including for the asthma medication that she had budgeted for. She’s thinking about this when she slips on the recently-washed stairs on her building and dislocates her knee.

The fact is, most people aren’t going to be able to save enough, when they’re living month to month, to pay for their own healthcare without good insurance. Sue is lucky in this case in that she seems to be getting by, she’s employed, and she has a very basic insurance package that defrays a few of the cost, which will put her ahead of many Americans, but we know it’s not enough. Also, it’s really going to be a problem when an insurance company rejects her or raises her premiums sky-high because of her daughter’s asthma…

In summary, a solution in place of Obamacare has to actually be practical for every American, especially ones who might have more trouble with insurance in the first place. I can’t see how this is feasible on any sort of basic level.

A week or so ago, while scrolling through CNN, I found a video, that I think was supposed to be amusing, of people stealing Trump lawn signs. I strongly dislike Donald Trump and what he stands for…and almost everything that he says…however, I found myself upset at this.  My family and I took our first European trip this summer and we spent three days in Paris.  Our tour guide at Versailles told us that the thing that she thought was so startling about America was how we had political lawn signs.  She explained how signs like those would just get vandalized in France.  Now I see the same thing happening here.  A fellow alumna from my alma mater just posted that her Clinton/Kaine sign was taken down within a day.

 

Why do we think that this is an appropriate way to share our feelings or to react against those we disagree with? Having a Trump bumper sticker shouldn’t lead to your car getting vandalized.  The reason so many of us are afraid of a Trump presidency is that we believe he does not represent America’s enduring values.  One of those is freedom of expression.  We all have the right to our own beliefs and to share them.  The right of all of us to put up lawn signs, hold posters at polling places, and to fully participate every day in the dialogue of democracy is one of the things that makes our country great.  It’s hypocritical to tear down another’s property in the name of protecting American values.  Just because the news might read like a reality television show doesn’t mean that we need to act like it.  Protecting the rights of everyone is what America should stand for, even those that are different or that disagree with you.

 

To paraphrase Evelyn Hall, I might disapprove of who you vote for, but I’ll defend to the death your right to choose.

One of the first posts I ever wrote for this blog dealt with the ban of the burqa and niqab by French authorities. It offended me that women were not allowed to choose their own dress and practice their faith as they wished. I had hoped at the time that France might relent and realize that instead of freeing women, they were instead oppressing them by taking away their right to choose. Yet, this past week, I suddenly found that this controversy had reignited after several French cities chose to ban the “burqini.” To clarify, the burqini is very different from a burqa. It doesn’t cover the face, for starters. Essentially, it is leggings and a long-sleeve shirt with an attached head-covering. It is worth noting that the burqini is not exclusively used by Muslims. In fact, the creator of the burqini said the new publicity has led to many more orders from non-Muslim women, especially survivors of skin cancer who need extra protection from the sun.

Already there have been numerous incidents of conflict. Multiple women have been ordered to leave beaches and fined as a result of wearing the swimwear. The most recent incident was a mother with her crying daughter who was forced to publically strip while three policemen stood over her with pepper spray. Numerous bystanders shouted at her and told her to go back where she came from; the woman in question comes from a family who has been citizens of France for at least three generations. Several of the women who have been forced to leave were in fact not wearing the burqini, but were stopped because they had covered their hair.

I’ve felt pain as I’ve read these stories. I myself choose my swimwear based on my religious beliefs; I refuse to wear bikinis of any kind or any swimwear that doesn’t cover my stomach or sides. This is what makes me most comfortable. I don’t choose my bathing suits or any other clothing because I am pressured to do so, but because these are what make sense for me. The thought of being forced to wear clothing that was too immodest for me is a horrible feeling. And this is a line that every woman should be able to decide for herself. For those of you who happily wear bikinis, as you should be able to, think of what it would be like if you went to a beach and were informed that you could only be on the beach topless or without any bathing suit at all. Additionally, there are plenty of women who prefer more modest swimwear simply because they prefer it, and it has absolutely nothing to do with their religious beliefs.

What’s most outrageous behind this religious discrimination is the logic that people are using to justify it. For instance, that it is a religious symbol that is linked to ISIS and therefore a threat to France. Grandmothers swimming with their families are really not trying to destroy your country. The conflation of the practice of Islam with ISIS is dangerous and offensive. Secondly, the assertion that this swimwear might be offensive to people of other religious beliefs or non-religious beliefs is ridiculous. In a free society, one religion isn’t supposed to have to accommodate the other; all are supposed to be able to practice freely. If an atheist asked me to cover up my cross so as not to offend them, I would probably look at them as if they had two heads.

Women in France deserve the right to make their own decisions and have full autonomy, and that includes the right to choose their own clothes and practice their own religion. To do otherwise is a manifestation of bigotry and of sexism. Any country that claims to take women’s rights seriously cannot do it by legislating their behavior and dress.

For more details: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3754395/Wealthy-Algerian-promises-pay-penalty-Muslim-woman-fined-France-wearing-burkini.html

Yesterday, a video came out that showed the Pope suggesting that Donald Trump was not a Christian. He said that a person who did not speak of building bridges, but only of building walls, was not a Christian because that was not the Gospel.  He also noted that he was willing to give Trump the benefit of the doubt.

 

The timing of this was particularly interesting as it occurred only hours before a Republican town hall where Trump was scheduled to speak. To my surprise, neither Kasich nor Bush, both committed Catholic, took the opportunity when CNN gave it to them to throw Trump under the bus.  Trump also did not respond with the level of bluster or insults that one might have expected.  He did suggest that the Pope was likely misinformed and misled by the Mexican government and that he did not believe the quote was as bad as the media made it out to be.  Trump maintained that he is a Christian.

 

I struggled with the questions posed by this situation. It’s not a new scenario.  Both sides of the gay marriage debate have been hurling insults at each other and accusing the others of not being ‘real’ Christians for a decade or two.  It has always seemed to me to be a very dangerous practice.  Ultimately, a person’s relationship is with God, and only they can know their religious beliefs and the content of that relationship.  The fact that I believe marriage should be between two adults who love and respect one another, regardless of gender, as a manifestation of my Biblical and spiritual principles, does not mean that I think that those who disagree with me are not Christians.  But, I’ll have to admit, that when stories come up about assaults upon and murders of gay and transgendered individuals, in the name of the loving, forgiving God that I know, I question those people’s faith.  I can’t help it.  How can I not wonder how a Christian, who claims to believe in the God of the New Testament, justify committing acts of violence against someone, often fellow children/teenagers in schools, in his name?  Is this the same God who instructed us to turn our cheeks?  Who, when an adulteress was dragged forward, said, ‘Let he who is without sin throw the first stone’?

 

So, do we believe that a person is religious by their faith or by their actions? I choose to believe that, while I do not believe that Trump’s actions are in accordance with the Gospel, as Pope Francis has said, that doesn’t mean that he’s not Christian.  I do and say things that aren’t very Christian.  It doesn’t invalidate my faith.  Trump’s faith is ultimately between him and God.  But I won’t pretend that our actions don’t reflect our faith, that the actions and the goals that we strive for don’t say something about us.  The sad fact is, one can be a Christian and not live the Gospel.  We all do it, accidentally or not; and we all need to live the teachings of Jesus better in our lives.  Being a Christian isn’t meant to be the end goal, it’s meant to be the beginning.

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