The Trump Administration’s war on the poor, continued


Dear Rebecca:

Remember when I told you that the Trump Administration wants to let employers take the tips left for their employees? Lot of our readers got angry at that.

They’re going to be angrier:

Labor Department leadership scrubbed an unfavorable internal analysis from a new tip pooling proposal, shielding the public from estimates that potentially billions of dollars in gratuities could be transferred from workers to their employers, four current and former DOL sources tell Bloomberg Law.

Senior department political officials, after viewing an annual projection that billions of dollars in tips could transfer to businesses as a result of the proposal, ordered staff to revise the data methodology to lessen the expected impact, several of the sources said. Successive calculations showed progressively reduced values, but Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta and his team are said to have still been uncomfortable with including the data in the eventual proposal. The officials disagreed with assumptions in the analysis that employers would retain their employees’ gratuities, rather than redistribute the money to other hourly workers. They wound up receiving approval from the White House to publish a proposal Dec. 5 that removed the economic transfer data altogether, the sources said.

I try to resist painting ideological rival as stock villains.

But hiding information about the likely effects of your actions … that’s not honest, is it?

What a horrible presidency we’re living through.

— Joel

Does Jesus want me to love Chuck C. Johnson?

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Dear Rebecca:

A little more than 10 years ago, I worked with Chuck Johnson.

This Chuck C. Johnson: 

In 2015, Johnson was permanently banned from Twitter after soliciting donations to help “take out” prominent Black Lives Matter activist Deray McKesson.

This Chuck C. Johnson:

Johnson runs a crowdfunding site that has raised tens of thousands of dollars for legal fees related to the white supremacist website the Daily Stormer, as well as various other figures in the alt-right movement.

Johnson has also said that the actual number of Holocaust victims is far lower than the accepted total, and questioned whether gas chambers were used at Nazi concentration camps, though he maintains that he is not a Holocaust denier.

He’s a nasty bit of work. And he was an intern at a startup I worked at about a decade ago.

There are no surprises here: He was a dick. The difference between then and now,  mostly, is that he’s famously a dick. (To be clear: I don’t recall that Holocaust denial of any sort – or even anything in the neighborhood of that – was part of the package at that point. He was just more a dick in that “I’m not sure we need to be in touch on Facebook” way.)

I wonder if it might’ve been different. After he left college, Chuck wrote a book about Calvin Coolidge. It was a bit dry. And it had the misfortune about the same time that another conservative with higher profile also came out with what became a fairly celebrated Coolidge book. I’m fairly sure that was an oversaturated market, and Chuck lost out.

I read the book. Even interviewed Chuck for it as part of a podcast I was doing at the time. I was hopeful maybe he was growing up. From everything I’ve seen reported in the years since: He didn’t.

I do wonder how things might’ve turned out if the incentives had aligned differently — if the Coolidge book had become a high-profile success, would Chuck be … Chuck now?

Probably. Maybe not. Who knows?

But as I think through my shabby old faith these days, I think about him. Chuck Johnson is about as detestable a person as I’ve ever known. And that raises a question for me.

Does Jesus want me to love Chuck Johnson?

I don’t want to love Chuck. I don’t think there’s much lovable about him. But that’s kind of the point.

43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor[a] and hate your enemy.’44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47 And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Oh, I’m not perfect.

But I suspect the answer to my question is that yes, Jesus wants me to love Chuck Johnson.

It doesn’t mean sharing or affirming his opinions. It doesn’t mean standing silent in the face of his unjust pronouncements. It just means … loving him. Maybe it even means being willing to be in relationship with him.


This is why I resist Christianity as tribalism. Following the example of Jesus means putting down our swords, dining with tax collectors, and doing a host of other seemingly foolish things. It’s hard to do.

Praying for your enemies, loving them, is probably the hardest.

Sometimes, it’s nearly impossible.

— Joel

The Redemption of Sean Spicer? Choke on it.

Hi Joel,

So, we could see this coming when he appeared at the Tony’s.

Sean Spicer wants us to be redeemed. He regrets embarrassing his friends, families, supporters, and the nation. He made some mistakes. Oopsies.

We see in his comments on MSNBC earlier this week, though, that he doesn’t really get it. He doesn’t regret taking the job because it was the “opportunity of a lifetime.” So, in other words, it was great for him (even though it was also hard), with no consideration of what his lies and his normalization of lies and his gaslighting did to the nation.

You’ve heard me complain before about entitled white men who cavalierly inflict pain on others because it looks good on their resume. I’ll spare you a repeat of the argument.


In other news, my littlest received a beautifully illustrated Aesop’s Fables for Christmas, and we have been reading it almost daily. A favorite right now is “The Wolf and the Crane.” In the story, the wolf has gobbled his food too fast and gotten a bone stuck in his throat. He can’t dislodge it–which means he can’t eat, and “naturally that was an awful state of affairs for a greedy Wolf,” the story tells us.

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Above, the Crane plucks a bone stuck in the Wolf’s throat in this illustration from Aesop’s Fables. 

So he asks the Crane, with his long beak, for help. She’s a little nervous about the prospect, but as “she was grasping in nature,” she sticks her head in his mouth and picks out the bone. The Wolf immediately begins to walk away, and the Crane boldly demands her reward. He reminds her that surviving having her head in the mouth of a wolf is reward enough.

The moral: Expect no reward for serving the wicked.

In other words, Sean Spicer is lucky to have gotten out in one piece. He doesn’t deserve anything more.


The immorality of Trumpist immigration enforcement: An ongoing series

U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan (left) hugs Amer Othman Adi after learning on January 5 that immigration officials suspended his deportation. Until they didn’t

Dear Rebecca:

I’m going to keep spotlighting these kinds of stories, because of all the things I don’t want “normalized” by the Trump Administration, the ability to disrupt communities in order to remove people of color from our midst is pretty high on the list.

I don’t know a better way to describe the deportation of Al Adi Othman, a longtime businessman in Youngstown, Ohio.

U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan of Howland, D-13th, released the following statement in response to the deportation of the Youngstown business owner:

“It is a sad day for Amer, his family and our entire community. In a highly irregular rebuke of Congressional authority by ICE, Amer Othman was ripped from his four daughters, his wife, and the country that he has called home for over thirty years. Amer was a pillar of the community and brought commerce to a downtown that craved investment. He hired members of our community. He paid taxes. He did everything right. There are violent criminals walking the streets, yet our government wasted our precious resources incarcerating him.

You know who thought Othman was worthy of staying? Congress, which for years passed “private bills” keeping him off-limits to deportation. But times have changed.

The Flight 93 Election,” the Trumpist manifesto, rails against “the ceaseless importation of Third World foreigners with no tradition of, taste for, or experience in liberty.” The suggestion? We shouldn’t allow in folks who aren’t committed to the “American idea.”

Othman’s deportation shows that ideal to be a lie, and suggests again — as if we didn’t know already — that color is the big issue here. He was an employer in a community with a desperate need for jobs. There’s no suggestion that he was anything other than a leading light in his community. He was American in the sense that usually matters most to Republicans: He was a business owner.

The needs of the community, however, are outweighed by Trumpist disgust for outsiders. And so we all suffer a little more. Needlessly.


BREAKING NEWS! Esther Koontz wins early victory in fight for conscience in boycott!

Hi Joel,
If you know Esther Koontz, you might not have been surprised that she has challenged a Kansas law requiring contractors working with the state to sign a statement saying she won’t engage in a boycott of companies engaged in business in contested zones in Israel. Esther is a deeply principled, thoughtful person who loves both her job as a teacher (and as a teaching coach, which is where this disputed law came into her life) and the freedom of conscience that runs deep in Mennonite culture.
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Above, Esther Koontz, the Kansas teacher challenging the idea that the state can force you to agree to a political position in order to hold a contracting job. 
But if you know Kansas, you might not have had much faith that she was going to win.
And yet here were are: a federal judge just today issued a preliminary injunction that forbids enforcing the law while Esther’s case, which has been taken up by the ACLU, moves forward.


The case is bigger than Esther or Kansas. Twenty states have laws that aim to curtail boycotts of companies operating on occupied territories. The win is thus bigger than Esther and her job as a teacher trainer, too. Says Brian Hauss, the ACLU’s attorney:

This ruling should serve as a warning to government officials around the country that the First Amendment prohibits the government from suppressing participation in political boycotts.

The judge is clear that the right to boycott is “a key tenet of the First Amendment”  and that Kansas’ law is a likely violation of the First Amendment. You can read the full decision here. 


Love and Collective Action

Hi Joel,

Thanks for sharing the Elizabeth Bruening piece from the Washington Post. In it, she argues that many Americans see ourselves as “alone before we are together.” We despise e pluribus unum and imagine that it’s our fellow Americans (citizens or not) who are the ones keeping us from living our best lives and so we resent, degrade, and deport them.  Dangerously, we forget that we depend on each other. Trump may be the perfect example of what happens when we don’t recognize our need for other humans–the very thing that makes us human. He’s lived a lifetime of using up people and discarding them, sure that he doesn’t need them.

Which reminds me of this:

How many times have I wondered if it is really possible to forge links with a mass of people when one has never had strong feelings for anyone, not even one’s own parents: if it is possible to have a collectivity when one has not been deeply loved oneself by individual human creatures.

That’s the Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci. He was writing in 1926–and not about Trump at all but about himself. He wondered if his own lack of personal connection hadn’t “had some effect on my life as a militant,” if it had “not tended to make me sterile and reduce my quality as a revolutionary by making everything a matter of pure intellect, of pure mathematical calculation.”

Image result for gramsci

Above, Gramsci, the template for every crush I’ve ever had. 

I suspect that if Gramsci was asking the question, then he had enough sensitivity to know the answer. Trump doesn’t, of course, and it’s a personal tragedy with international consequences.



DACA, bigotry, and democracy: Our Ross Douthat problem

Dear Rebecca:

A few months ago, I asked what you’d trade to get a deal on DACA.

You responded with what I like to call “The Godfather Part II counteroffer“:

So where are we at?

Let me gently suggest that the “no compromise” option looks a bit iffy at this point. While President Trump has said he’ll sign whatever bill Congress gets to his desk, the signals coming from the White House are both confused and straightforward: Confused, in that every Trump statement on the issue gets immediately walked back by his aides; straightforward in that what they want — and what they’ll get him to accept — will involve some combination of increased border security and reduced levels of legal immigration.

It’s worth asking again in light of today’s Ross Douthat column in the New York Times, in which he suggests the Stephen Millers of the world are going to have a seat at the table that crafts that compromise.

Miller is the White House’s point man for immigration policy (and for strange and strident encounters with the press). He is also an immigration restrictionist: He wants a policy that favors skills-based recruitment over extended families, and he wants a lower immigration rate overall. He says he’s concerned about assimilation and crime and native wages; his critics say he just wants to keep America as white as possible, and that by even bringing him to meetings Trump is making a deal impossible to reach.

Yeah. Miller’s odious. But Douthat says he’s essential.

Americans have become more pro-immigration since the 1990s, but there is still a consistent pattern when you ask about immigration rates: About a third of Americans favor the current trend, slightly fewer want higher rates, and about a third, like Miller, want immigration reduced.

The present view of many liberals seems to be that restrictionists can eventually be steamrolled — that the same ethnic transformations that have made white anxiety acute will eventually bury white-identity politics with sheer multiethnic numbers.

But liberals have been waiting 12 years for that “eventually” to arrive, and instead Trump is president and the illegal immigrants they want to protect are still in limbo.

Douthat’s remarks have received derision in the lefty Twittersphere for what I think are understandable reasons.

Screen Shot 2018-01-28 at 9.11.20 AMScreen Shot 2018-01-28 at 9.10.35 AM

Here’s the problem: In crucial respects, Douthat’s not wrong.

Presidents going back to George W. Bush have sought a grand bargain on immigration. They’ve failed, because the immigration hawk faction has always had enough power to block any agreement. And that faction isn’t fringe: They’re, um, running the country right now. Try as we might, we can’t wish that away, or factor them out of the equation.

Underlying Douthat’s column is an attempt to wrestle with a question liberals haven’t answered very well since 2016, but which we’re going to need to answer soon. Let me put this as succinctly as I can:

How do we do democracy when so much of the electorate seems, plainly, animated by bigotry? 

Democracy isn’t just about who wins elections: It’s also frequently marked by compromise.  (Or was, at least.) Sometimes the minority gets a voice because it has leverage; sometimes, people in the majority realize that elections will eventually put them back into the minority and so want to pass legislation that won’t be repealed immediately when the other side takes power. Steamrolling isn’t always an option, and it’s an option probably less often than you’d think.

When it comes to the Trump Administration and immigration, the options, it seems to me, are twofold:

• Shut down all cooperation and wait for 2018 — or maybe even 2020.

• Hold our nose and strike an imperfect deal.

The former route is tempting. But it leaves DACA recipients in limbo, maybe even deported.

The second part maybe saves the DACA recipients, but leaves us feeling soiled. It maybe also gives the Trump Administration a victory that signals to middle-of-the-road voters he’s not so bad after all. Which might give us eight years of Donald, when one has already been exhausting enough.

Neither route is perfect.

Since we bring a Mennonite perspective to the blog, it’s worth noting there’s a longstanding tradition of the church of staying out of politics altogether, in part because it requires compromising oneself to get anything done.

Understandable approach. I sat out the 1996 elections because I thought it correct.

In this case, though, there’s the “Dreamers” to think of. And my own sense is that the worst act is to leave them in limbo or see them deported; the best act is to secure their future to help the live full lives that can contribute fully to our communities and country.

My own answer to the problem of democracy is this: Work for compromise where you can — as long as you don’t compromise your way into, say, half-genocide; know where your limits are — while working to convince as many people in the electorate to boot the Stephen Millers of the world from power and influence.

I’m mindful, writing all this, of Dr. King’s well-known contempt for “white moderates.” I’m not interested in being one. But I am interested in securing the future for the Dreamers, and I’m not sure how else to get there. Maybe this is a failure of my own imagination, but I don’t see anybody out there offering a magical option where we get that result without compromise.

It’s easy to get mad and call Ross Douthat a racist, I guess. It’s less easy to get a solution to the DACA situation without dealing with the people we think are racist. And it doesn’t offer us a way to do democracy in a country where racists get a vote too. It’s a terrible conundrum, but it exists nonetheless.