Nazis, Republicans, and Donald Trump

Dear Rebecca:

Here’s what I wanted to say yesterday, but a technical error prevented it:

When conservatives complain about the horrors of Nazi authoritarianism, they’re referring to universal health care.

When liberals complain about the horrors of Nazi authoritarians, they’re referring to … Nazi authoritarians.

Pithy. Clever. But, frankly, cheap.

In the last 24 hours, we’ve seen Speaker Paul Ryan and Sen. John McCain both call out the evil in Charlottesville for what it is: The work of white supremacists at odds with what’s best in American culture. Good for them.

Don’t get me wrong: Both have enabled Donald Trump at various times. And that enabling led to yesterday’s shameful equivocating by the president. But it’s not so easy to say Republicans = Nazis and leave it at that. So let’s not make this so easy on ourselves.

What we can say, however, is this: Donald Trump, in his inability to ever denounce the David Dukes of the world — or to do it grudgingly on the rare occasion he has — has revealed to us who he is. Racist? I don’t know that man’s heart. But his actions say this: He is reluctant to denounce the clearest examples of racism that exist in American society. And the people he is reluctant to denounce proclaim him their leader.

We know how such silence would be met if, say, left-wing eco-terrorists proclaimed themselves to be acting in the name of Barack Obama.

I have been reluctant to say that Trump supporters are objectively racist, though many of my friends on the left have felt no such compunction. But at this point, again, Trump has revealed who he is. If you endorse him, you endorse racism.

And because, again, this seems to come down to religion and abortion for so many of the president’s supporters: To be silent or neutral or equivocating on racism is not pro-life. You cannot lament the black babies killed by abortion, suggest that it is racism, then stand silent when clear racism declares some lives — black lives, Latino lives — less valuable than others. This president does not deserve your support. Your continued backing of him will be your witness.

We know who Donald Trump is. Who are you?

Respectfully, Joel


Dear Rebecca,

I assume by now you’ve heard the news:

CHARLOTTESVILLE — This picturesque college town devolved into a chaotic and violent state on Saturday as hundreds of white nationalists, neo-Nazis, Ku Klux Klan members — planning to stage what they described as their largest rally in decades to “take America back” — clashed with counterprotesters in the streets.

Despite the decision to quash the rally, clashes continued on side streets and throughout the downtown. In the early afternoon, three cars collided in a pedestrian mall packed with people, injuring at least 10 and sending bystanders running and screaming. It was unclear if it was accidental or intentional.

    There was at least one death,

Charlottesville Mayor Mike Signer indicated in a tweet. The Post could not confirm the death.

I have no wisdom to offer here.

I know that evil must be resisted. I know that racism is evil. And I know that overt David Duke-style racists feel suddenly empowered to parade their evil through American public life.

And so I know this, from President Trump, is insufficient: “We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides,” he said.

Nope. Liberals have many, many flaws. And we aren’t always as right on race as we should be.

But this is not a “many sides” kind of issue. There is good and there is racism. There is good and there is bigotry. The two reside on opposite sides of the spectrum. President Trump’s equivocation is wrong.

This feels like a good moment for repentance. And that’s just to start.


White Supremacy Brings us to War, Again


One final thought about abortion and the current administration’s pissing contest in North Korea:

For folks who believe that women who choose abortion are making a selfish choice, you are usually right. In the vast majority of abortions, women are choosing to have abortions because they don’t want the children their pregnancies would produce, and they don’t want those children because those children will impede the lives they want to live. They are choosing the lives they want–free from this pregnancy and that child, right now–over pregnancy and parenthood. That is selfish in the sense that the choice focuses on their happiness, safety, and financial security. (Are there other reasons why women have abortions? For sure. But for most women choosing an abortion, the procedure isn’t a matter of their health but of their preference not to be a mother (usually again) right now.)

For folks who believe that the cost of a woman choosing the life she wants is too high–that that choice in fact comes at the cost of another human’s life–war should outrage you even more because it excuses killing other people for far less of a useful reason: to show that you can.

Why should the US be fighting a war? Why should we be talking about dropping a bomb in North Korea? Only for selfish reasons–and reasons that are not simply selfish but entirely immaterial because our lives will not improve if we bomb North Korea. At least a woman who is exercising her right to get an abortion is probably going to see her life improve because of it. (This isn’t to say that women don’t have ambivalent feelings about their abortions or that there aren’t negative personal consequences to abortion. But most women are relieved that they made the decision they did.)

Image result for american flag middle finger

Above, an extended middle finger, covered in the stars and stripes of the US flag, the symbol of what Joel has called the “Effyouacracy,” has shown up repeatedly in online conversations I’ve been following about whether and why the US should drop a nuclear bomb on North Korea. What is this worrisome threatening and posturing about except proving that we have a “real man” as a president, as one Trump Deplorable shared in a post. 

Racism, sexism, xenophobia, and a politics of resentment (and potentially collusion with Russia) gave us this fool of a president. There are Americans among us–60 million of them–who will destroy the world through nuclear war in order to insure that white people get to feel powerful.

What is more selfish than that?



If abortion kills children, what does war do to them?

Dear Joel,

I appreciate your empathy for a pro-life position–and your willingness to hold pro-life Christians to a fully pro-life position. “Birth to natural death” means nothing if Christians can find a way to excuse every war that their leaders bring to them.

To your well-made point that it’s not pro-life to advocate nuclear war, I’ll add a few more:

If you believe that abortion is wrong because it kills innocent people, you should oppose war, too, because most of the people killed in war are also innocent. Even with our most precise drone technology, we kill a lot of people we’re not aiming for. 


Above, the face of a Pakistani girl whose family was killed in a 2010 US drone strike, as seen from above. If you think that doctors who perform abortions are doing evil, what do you think that drone operators are doing?

If you believe that abortion hurts women, you should oppose war because it hurts women, too. Women are injured when rape is used as a weapon in war, and they die in attacks that kill civilians. The UN estimates that 86% of refugees fleeing violence in South Sudan are women and children. But it’s not just “bad guys” who hurt women. The international system of US bases feeds prostitution that harms women and children.

If you believe that women who have abortions are seeking an easy-way-out from a problem of their own making, see if you can tell me why we entered the War of 1812, the Mexican-American War, the Spanish-American War, the Philippine-American War, or any war of the twenty-first century. Also, tell me how much military budget you are willing to cut to put toward efforts that are more likely to work than war. War isn’t just a moral failing–it’s a practical one. 

If you think that abortion is a sign of a self-centered culture that hates children and God, don’t say that the military protects people or that war is holy. Just admit it: you don’t love women and children. You love power over others.




Nuclear war isn’t pro-life

Dear Rebecca:

I’m not, strictly speaking, “pro-life,” but I have a lot of sympathy for my pro-life friends. I understand why they think abortion is murder, and while I’ve decided there are also real and important issues of women’s freedom and health to be considered as well, I’ve never really had it in my heart to fight about this. For somebody who considers themself, ultimately, “pro-choice,” I’m about as sympathetic to pro-life folks as you can possibly get.

I even understood why evangelicals were big fans of Donald Trump, despite the fact his life and habits appear ignorant of Christianity at best and hostile to its moral precepts at, well, also best. It was abortion. And the Supreme Court. Everything else zeroed out for such folks. OK. I get it. I’m not going to persuade you to vote for Hillary.


To my mind, the problem with Donald Trump was never merely ideological. I don’t like his stances on many issues, but we’ve survived Republican governance before. What troubled me was his temperament. He’s a narcissist verging on nihilism — I see no public evidence that he’s interested in the existence of a universe that doesn’t center around him.

Before the election I wrote this:

Understand: Probably all politicians (and writers) are narcissistic to an embarrassing degree. The smart ones put that self-regard to the service of a broader agenda, one that benefits the people that they represent.

The, uh, less smart politicians have a two-year-old’s sense of object permanence, unable to see past the irritation in front of them to take the long view. And that leads to trouble.

With Trump, we know. We know exactly what we’re getting and … we know exactly how that story ends.

And, separately, this:

Trump has shown little evidence that he knows much about the issues facing American policymakers and doesn’t seem to care to know. His instincts are not just dangerous but perhaps catastrophic: Joe Scarborough reported this week that Trump had asked a foreign policy expert why America doesn’t use its nuclear weapons to solve international problems.

“And three times (Trump) asked about the use of nuclear weapons,” Scarborough said. “Three times he asked at one point if we had them why can’t we use them.”

There’s a reason the United States doesn’t use nukes so cavalierly: They are genocidally lethal. Using them would make other nuclear powers nervous and angry, increasing the likelihood of a war that could destroy this country — and a good portion of the world. Donald Trump should understand this. It is frightening that he doesn’t.

Which leads us to today:

President Trump threatened on Tuesday to unleash “fire and fury” against North Korea if it endangers the United States as tensions with the isolated nuclear-armed state grow into perhaps the most serious foreign policy challenge yet in his young administration.

“North Korea best not make any more threats to the United States,” Mr. Trump told reporters at his golf club in Bedminster, N.J. “They will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen. He has been very threatening beyond a normal state and as I said they will be met with fire and fury and frankly power the likes of which this world has never seen before.”

Let’s review:

I believe the North Korean regime is evil. It inflicts suffering on its own people, and on occasion spreads violence to its neighbors. I do not wish it to possess a nuclear weapon and a rocket capable of delivering that weapon to the United States.


The North Korean regime is regularly given to bombastic statements. The job of U.S. presidents has traditionally been to ratchet down the rhetoric, and thus the likelihood of devastating war.

Donald Trump, who never met a dick-measuring contest he didn’t elbow his way into, would rather satisfy that particular itch rather than be the adult and ratchet down the rhetoric.

I do not feel safer tonight.

And to bring this full-circle: Donald Trump may appoint the “right” justices for my conservative friends, but I have no reason to believe he possesses any ethic that is reasonably called “pro-life.” It is not pro-life to threaten nuclear genocide. And if you think abortion kills babies, you should see what a nuclear bomb can do.

This was foreseeable. Donald Trump was always going to be a horror show as president. Let us hope he doesn’t show his toughness all the way into helping create some of the worst horrors ever seen.

Related: National Interest, delete your account.

Screen Shot 2017-08-08 at 6.49.15 PM


The mythical “Responsible Handgun Owner”

Dear Joel,

Recently over at PennLive, you asked for an honest conversation about guns, which can only begin if we start by admitting that guns are for killing. In the US, there are a lot of guns owned solely for this purpose. I encountered one of them last week.

I had taken the kiddos out to Chuck-a-Rama, which is like a better Hoss’s (if you are from PA) and a much, much better Bonanza (which raises the question: Why are so many buffets Western-themed?). It’s perfect if you are feeding bottomless teens or preschoolers who have been pushed past their limit and need food NOW. The key detail here is that it’s a buffet, so you get up from your seat frequently.

Still, the table next to ours had been empty except for dirty dishes for a long time when I saw that there was a purse left on the bench seat. I watched it for a bit longer, but no one returned, so I asked by littlest (the hungry preschooler now in heaven because of the endless Jell-O options) to pick it up, and, escorted by me, he carried to the the parking lot, where we hoped to find a woman who realized she’d left it when she wasn’t able to find her keys. No luck, so we opened it, hoping to find a cell phone without too much sorting through someone’s personal belongings (The thing was huge!) so we could call the In Case of Emergency number and let them know that we’d found the purse. They couldn’t have gotten far, I thought.

That’s when I saw the little pink handgun, floating right there amid assorted cosmetics, tubes of lip balm, and a miniature pack of tissues. Which, by the way, is totally legal in Utah, where I live.

Utah is an open-carry state with very few laws that protect the public from the mishandling of weapons. Utah has a higher-than-average rate of accidental gun deaths among children, which is not a surprise at all given that we have the youngest population and many, many guns. And accidents from guns that are tossed into bags happen (like this one, this past April, in a busy college cafeteria) which is also not a surprise.

I say that gun accidents are “not a surprise” because handgun owners are inherently irresponsible.

Granted, I know a lot of dirtbags, but I also know of no–not one single one–responsible handgun owners. By this, I mean that I don’t know a single person who I know owns a handgun who is able to insure that these guns are kept in such a way that they have never presented a danger to the public.

Certainly not the woman who left her handgun in her bag. She hadn’t disappeared after all. She’d left it there on purpose while she went to the restroom, then refilled her plate. After, shaking with anger, I’d delivered the purse to the manager (Seeing that he did not share my fury about this, I realized that I should have just kept it, a justified theft, I think.)  and returned to my seat, I saw her seated again. She didn’t even realize that the purse was missing! How silly of her!

And how common. And how deadly.

If you are in my family and own a gun and my claim that you aren’t responsible with it hurts your feelings, ask yourself honestly: Have you ever lost track of that gun, even for a moment? Forgotten where it was? Told yourself that you didn’t need to lock it up because you’d hidden it somewhere where the kids wouldn’t find it? Not known exactly how many rounds it had left in it at any moment? Shown it off to someone because you wanted their admiration? Let a friend handle it who wasn’t trained properly? Taken it out in public when it didn’t need to go? Felt safer because you were carrying it (even though you’re not)? Not known the laws in the place where you were carrying it? Brought it into the home of someone you know who didn’t want it? Left your house or car unlocked while a gun was inside? Allowed your safety and shooting skills to lapse but not gotten rid of your guns?

Lest I sound too harsh, I’ve forgotten and lost many things: keys, phones, wallets, purses, children. I’ve left jackets hanging on the back of bathroom stalls, and I just forgot my favorite cardigan on an international flight. I’ve had to page children at the swimming pool, grocery store, and farmer’s market. I’ve forgotten where I parked the car and which one I drove to the grocery store.

Which is why I don’t believe that anyone should ever own a handgun. Handgun owners cannot be responsible enough to keep handguns safe because handguns are inherently dangerous (which is why we prize them), and to be used for their purpose–to kill people–they must be always kept in a state of constant dangerousness. If that woman’s handgun wasn’t loaded, what the hell was the point? (What was the point, anyway? If you really think you might need to use lethal violence there, why are you at Chuck-a-Rama?)

The point is always to kill, but to be constantly ready to kill requires constant vigilance–which most people (perhaps only members of the Secret Service and other bodyguard types) simply aren’t able to give.

This past May, Utah did not charge a father who rested his gun against the wall of the room where his two young children were playing while he went to wash up in the bathroom. While he was gone, his three-year-old daughter shot and killed his two-year-old son. The father, like about half the adults in such situations, wasn’t charged. The state called it an “accident”–though it is not an accident at all but an outcome that is going to happen to some children as long as we have handguns in homes. This doesn’t give me much hope that if my son had been the one to unzip that handbag and he had used that gun, that this woman would have been held responsible. A tragic accident, born out of her selfishness, fear, arrogance, and inattention.

We can’t make guns safe because they’re not. And, of course, many gun owners don’t want them to be safe–and neither does the gun industry. They want them to be stylish, accessible, deadly, and everywhere.


Gun purseTeal gun


Top, a handbag, with matching wallet, designed to store a handgun, which I suppose is an improvement over the free-floating weapon. It’s statement of faith–“With God all things are possible”–seems at odds with the faithless choice to carry a handgun. Below, a matching handgun. 

Riding the rails (This is not a post about Donald Trump)

Dear Rebecca:

Sorry for my recent absence. As you know, I took a few days to take a real vacation with my family — the first time we’d taken a trip with my almost-9-year-old son that didn’t involve going to see family for one reason or another. We went to Chicago. And we took the train to get there.

Let me tell you, this is the only way to travel.

Sunset in Missouri, as seen from the Southwest Chief.

The trip happened to coincide with the first anniversary of our return to Kansas after eight years in Philadelphia. The return has brought me a renewed appreciation of the overlooked beauty of “flyover country” — the Flint Hills are as fine as any of God’s creations, and an evening spent on the back patio watching rabbits is probably one of the easier ways I find contentment these days.

My trip on the Southwest Chief added to that sense. We rolled through the rural parts of Kansas, Missouri, Iowa, and Illinois — over verdant rolling hills, crossing the Mississippi River, past the cornrows and wind generators, through tiny brick towns that didn’t look much different from how they appeared 100 years ago.

And you haven’t seen a sunset until you’ve sat in the observation car and watched all 90 minutes of it, from the first pinkening of the skies to the last sliver of red on the horizon, all of it with Masonic cemeteries and backyard fire pits passing through your line of sight on the way.

Best of all: You can get up and stretch your legs without stopping, take a nap while still traveling, and the legroom is far in excess of what you’d get on an airline.

Maybe I’m romantic about the railroad because my dad and grandfather both worked on railroads during their lives. I wonder if I should’ve gotten my hands dirtier. Oh well.

What does this have to do with politics or religion? Nothing. (Unless we want to argue about Amtrak funding, I guess, but let’s save that for another day.) Sometimes it’s just good to reflect on the things that make life a little better lived. For me, a trip across the Midwest on a train in one of those things.

Sincerely, Joel