Saturday, April 21, 2018

Nose schmutz screeches white n' wet n' drippy across our window pain
Eyes laser focused on movement in the yard
Muscles tense like a sprinter at the starting line
   still       pouncing       curiosity 
   explosion in heat
Double dog dared to sniff a distant corner of his kingdom

Saturday, April 7, 2018

Wrong on So Many Levels
Dana Milbank’s recent commentary in the Washington Post focuses on what has now grown to a very long list of statements from this president bragging about himself that are all clearly inaccurate. 

Milbank reminds us that our current president has said the following since he became a candidate:
  1. Nobody has been tougher on Russia than I have.
  2. I am the least anti-Semitic person that you’ve ever seen in your entire life.
  3. I am the least racist persons you have ever interviewed.
  4. Nobody knows more about trade than me.
  5. Nobody respects women more than I do.
  6. Nobody loves the Bible more than I do.
  7. I have one of the great temperaments.
  8. There’s nobody that’s done so much for equality as I have.
  9. I can be more presidential than any president that’s ever held this office.
  10. My IQ is one the highest.
  11. I have the best words.
  12. I am a stable genius.
  13. I have one of the great memories of all time.
  14. I was always the best athlete.
  15. I know more about ISIS than the generals.
  16. Nobody in the history of the world knows more about taxes.
  17. I am the most militaristic person ever.
  18. I received a red carpet like I think probably nobody has ever received.
  19. My Poland speech was the greatest speech ever made on foreign soil by a president.
  20. There’s nobody that understands the horror of nuclear better than me.
  21. My cabinet has by far the highest IQ of any Cabinet ever.
  22. Never has there been a president who’s passed more legislation.

While the president might someday call this the greatest list of quotes from the greatest president of all time, I am sure this is not an exhaustive list of the obviously inaccurate boastings from this dangerous and indecent president. I am not sure why I am so drawn to the disgust here, because I should retain a focus on policy and, more importantly, on the midterm elections. But today, reading these all in one place captured my attention. A weak but honest moment. How did we elect this man?

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Sinclair Script
The script was published by a Sinclair station in Seattle, KOMO.

"Hi, I'm(A) ____________, and I'm (B) _________________...
(B) Our greatest responsibility is to serve our Northwest communities. We are extremely proud of the quality, balanced journalism that KOMO News produces.
(A) But we're concerned about the troubling trend of irresponsible, one sided news stories plaguing our country. The sharing of biased and false news has become all too common on social media.
(B) More alarming, some media outlets publish these same fake stories... stories that just aren't true, without checking facts first.
(A) Unfortunately, some members of the media use their platforms to push their own personal bias and agenda to control 'exactly what people think'...This is extremely dangerous to a democracy.
(B) At KOMO it's our responsibility to pursue and report the truth. We understand Truth is neither politically 'left nor right.' Our commitment to factual reporting is the foundation of our credibility, now more than ever.
(A) But we are human and sometimes our reporting might fall short. If you believe our coverage is unfair please reach out to us by going to and clicking on CONTENT CONCERNS. We value your comments. We will respond back to you.
(B) We work very hard to seek the truth and strive to be fair, balanced and factual... We consider it our honor, our privilege to responsibly deliver the news every day.
(A) Thank you for watching and we appreciate your feedback"

NPR story on this script and Sinclair.

Also in today's news a very thoughtful analysis of the Supreme Court by Joel Richard Paul (arguing the court will ultimately decide on Russian interference etc... and then the question will be does the president ignore the court).

The analysis compares Roberts to Marshall, focusing on Marshall to use his tenure as a standard against which we can measure Roberts.

Before Marshall each justice on the court issued their own opinion. This small change had a huge positive impact on the court and on our balance of powers.

"Marshall oversaw more than 1,100 cases over 34 years and wrote more than half of the opinions for these cases. In all but 36, the decision was unanimous."


When Marshall was on the court the justices shared one boarding house and ate their meals together. 

Most importantly, Marshall successfully stood up to two populist presidents (Jefferson and Jackson). Will Roberts do the same?

Joel Richard Paul recently wrote Without Precedent: Chief Justice John Marshall and His Times.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Recycling Sound Bites from the Four Basic Food Groups Era
My hometown newspaper rocks. I read it every day without fail and always appreciate that value it brings to my life. This does not mean I always agree with the writers. 

One writer, the parenting guy, I disagree with most of the time. Usually I either ignore my reaction or sometimes I don't even read him because it is too easy to predict what he is going to say. While I believe it is likely that his is a good man, a person I would probably like having a beer with, in his column he only has one message.

My initial reaction to his most recent column "Lying Kids are Sociopaths in the Making," was to think, lying comes in many forms, including having such a relentless ax to grind that one concocts opportunities to repeat one’s favorite sound bite in circumstances where the initiating event or comment actually have no relationship to what you wanted to say.

That type of lying is also deeply disrespectful and dishonest, since one simply lurks in the shadows ready to pounce like a medieval troll on truly unsuspecting passersby, who are engaged in a conversation unrelated to your soundbite.

Another form of lying, related to this, is to transform stories told by others who do not confirm the brilliance of your sound bite into straw men so you can eviscerate them with your trusty sound bite anvil. Even though no one was talking to you, and certainly no one was talking about your archaic sound bite.

After beginning to read the offending statement that triggered yet another launching of that same pitifully self-loathing sound bite ABJ readers have suffered through for too long, it occurred to me that something else was going on.

Reading the offending article requires one to be curious, to be interested in learning more about the world we live in, to be humble about the complexity of real world challenges we all face. This ABJ writer, unlike nearly all others who write for this amazing newspaper, lacks these characteristics.

It might still be true that his knee-jerk reaction remains a sociopathic form of lying, but it is also true that he central message to readers is to abandon inquiry and reject curiosity, distrust data and dismiss education, so you can simply cling to the same tired sound bites I have been feeding you since the dark ages.

Okay, now that all that is off my chest, let’s turn to the offending New York Times article, pasted below in its entirety.

Odds are, most of us would say yes. We believe honesty is a moral imperative, and we try to instill this belief in our children. Classic morality tales like “The Boy Who Cried Wolf” and “Pinocchio” speak to the dangers of dishonesty, and children who lie a lot, or who start lying at a young age, are often seen as developmentally abnormal, primed for trouble later in life.

But research suggests the opposite is true. Lying is not only normal; it’s also a sign of intelligence.

[I suspect our ABJ guardian of morality stopped reading at this point, unable to contain his fury over the suggestion that a moral imperative is not always more important than anything else…including understanding the behavior of the children we hope might become morally uprights adults.

Read the text would be a good place to start. Because simply reasserting (again) a superficial understanding of morality-without-gray-areas does not help and is likely to prevent us from seeing the developmental stages in play here, and as such likely to encourage us to misinterpret what is going on to the detriment of our children.

Our ABJ guardian reads the effort to wrestle with the data here as rejecting morality, which it is not, other than in the sense that the NYT author is not choosing to focus on morality or to adopt our ABJ’s thin understanding of morality as my way of the highway.

Yes, we observe that lying is normal. Let that sink in. That is what the data makes clear. Over 80% certainly suggests it is the norm. And the data further shows that the more intelligent children lie more often at this stage in their development.

At this point, my curiosity is piqued because this sounds counter intuitive. At the same time, I immediately wonder if the usual punitive approach to normal childhood lying might not overlook a more complex picture…as punitive approaches nearly always do…causing more harm than good. But not our ABJ guardian. I readily admit this is my preferred sound bite here, but I am not using it to stop reading.

Our ABJ colleague reframes this in a way that looks nothing like what we actually read below. What he sees here (which is not actually here) is a recipe for creating sociopaths.

He chooses to then frame it as a parenting choice to ‘put a higher premium’ on either intelligence or morality. Again, not what the NYT says at all. That is what one would call an either/or sucker’s choice, a question designed to look like an honest question but since it has only one ‘right’ answer it is anything but honest…and entirely unrelated to the NYT article. Let’s turn to that now and come back to our ABJ guardian later.]

Kids discover lying as early as age 2, studies have found. In one experiment, children were asked not to peek at a toy hidden behind them while the researcher withdrew from the room under false pretenses. Minutes later, the researcher returned and asked the child if he or she peeked.

This experiment, designed by the developmental psychologist Michael Lewis in the mid-1980s and performed in one form or another on hundreds of kids, has yielded two consistent findings. The first is that a vast majority of children will peek at the toy within seconds of being left alone. The other is that a significant number of them lie about it. At least a third of 2-year-olds, half of 3-year-olds and 80 percent or more of children 4 and older will deny their transgression, regardless of their gender, race or family’s religion.

[Regardless of whether or not a child is raised in a God-fearing, morality-driven household held in high esteem by our ABJ guardian…80% of the children chose to lie. That is what we mean when we say it is normal, it is the norm, it is what happens most, or nearly all, of the time. Denying this fact gets us no where.]

Children are also remarkably good at lying. In a series of additional studies based on the same experimental model, a range of adults — including social workers, primary-school teachers, police officers and judges — were shown footage of kids who were either lying or telling the truth about having committed a transgression, with the aim of seeing who could spot the liars. Astonishingly, none of the adults (not even the kids’ parents) could consistently detect the lies.

Why do some children start lying at an earlier age than others? What separates them from their more honest peers? The short answer is that they are smarter.

Professor Lewis has found that toddlers who lie about peeking at the toy have higher verbal I.Q.s than those who don’t, by as much as 10 points. (Children who don’t peek at the toy in the first place are actually the smartest of all, but they are a rarity.)

[This is where our ABJ guardian might have found grounds for his sound bite, which is why I suspect he did not read past the first two paragraphs. While our ABJ writer believes the question to ask is does being a good liar make one smarter or being smarter make one a good liar…that is not at all what we observe here. We observe that when we compare liars to non-liars we find that liars are smarter.

We have no data on the direction of causation. But we do have data that ought to suggest some humility and caution—we cannot assume that a child who lies is making a stupid mistake or that our response to childhood lying can assume we can successfully intervene by exclusively focusing on the morality of truth-telling, ignoring the cognitive attributes associate with learning to communicate this way.

Notice that little here is set up to refute our ABJ guardian’s sound bite, but rather designed to use the findings to help us ask new and more illuminating questions, so we might improve our understanding of the world and our parenting…rather than to justify returning to the same tired sucker’s choice questions that have gotten us nowhere.]

Other research has shown that the children who lie have better “executive functioning skills” (an array of faculties that enable us to control our impulses and remain focused on a task) as well as a heightened ability to see the world through other people’s eyes, a crucial indicator of cognitive development known as “theory of mind.” (Tellingly, children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, which is characterized by weaker executive functioning, and those with spectrum disorders such as autism, which are characterized by deficits in theory of mind, have trouble with lying.) Young liars are even more socially adept and well adjusted, according to recent studies of preschoolers.

[So, if this is accurate, it suggests we want to approach childhood lying carefully, perhaps tapping into our child’s heightened observational skills and capacity to put herself in another’s shoes as an indicator of how to nudge them from using these skills to lie rather than to communicate more clearly. Our ABJ guardian actually closes his piece with a suggested action that might follow from such an inquiry.

But he is so blinded by his sound bites that he does not see that he is celebrating an approach to parenting premised on parental lying as an effective tool to stop childhood lying. So, while his suggestion does focus on the cognitive (despite his insistence we should focus on the moral) dimension, because he comes to this without engaging with the data and his own curiosity, he fails to consider the negative consequences of teaching the morality of truth-telling through systematic lying.]

The psychologist Kang Lee, who has been researching deception in children for more than two decades, likes to tell parents that if they discover their child lying at age 2 or 3, they should celebrate. But if your child is lagging behind, don’t worry: You can speed up the process. Training children in executive functioning and theory of mind using a variety of interactive games and role-playing exercises can turn truth-tellers into liars within weeks, Professor Lee has found. And teaching kids to lie improves their scores on tests of executive functioning and theory of mind. Lying, in other words, is good for your brain.

[This is where our curiosity-impaired ABJ guardian’s head explodes. He says “teaching a child to lie in the hopes he or she will become smarter is not recommended.” He might be right here. But teaching our children to be clever, to understand how communication is layered, nuanced, and self-interested--the many ways the meaning of words are often not what they initially appear to be--is certainly an important life skill for anyone who does not want to grow up to become a welcome mat. So, rather than dismiss it out of hand, I am again intrigued. Curious. And skeptical.]

For parents, the findings present something of a paradox. We want our children to be clever enough to lie but morally disinclined to do so. And there are times when a child’s safety depends on getting at the truth, as in criminal cases involving maltreatment or abuse. How can we get our children to be honest?

[This is the type of framing that drives our ABJ guardian bonkers. This framing recognizes the complexity of the challenges here, rather than seeking refuge is simplistic sound bites that only capture the most superficial dimensions of the real world challenges embedded here…for our children and for ourselves.

It is complicated. There is gray area. Framing it as a paradox is appropriate and smart, because parenting requires us to think (rather than read from his list of commandments that are never wrong) and wrestle with ambiguity and listen to our children in order to find ways forward that actually work.

Then the next paragraph hits our ABJ guardian right between the eyes because he has long been an advocate of spanking and other excessively punitive approaches repeatedly shown to be either ineffective or counter-productive.]

In general, carrots work better than sticks. Harsh punishments like spanking do little to deter lying, research indicates, and if anything may be counterproductive. In one study, Professor Lee and the developmental psychologist Victoria Talwar compared the truth-telling behaviors of West African preschoolers from two schools, one that employed highly punitive measures such as corporal punishment to discipline students and another that favored more tempered methods like verbal reprimands and trips to the principal’s office. Students at the harsher school were not only more likely to lie but also far better at it.

[Since this West African study is not used to celebrate making students smarter through harsher punishments, this tempers the earlier claim about teaching executive functioning skills. The author of the NYT article (not the author of the study) appears to have been extending this idea to teaching lying as a journalistic technique likely not reflecting the scholarly work of the researcher here. Or this contradicts the earlier claim. This is a question I still want to know more about.

As I read the text below the difference seems to be approaches that are restorative and relational work better (than ‘scared straight’ approaches) because they recognize that lying is just one illustration, one area, where we are trying to teach our children communication and relationship skills, empathy, the ability to read non-verbal communication and situational cues that will help them stay safe and succeed in life.

When our children are paralyzed by fear they may be more obedient, but they are almost certainly not learning the communication skills they need to navigate future conflicts successfully—the cognitive deficit we are embedding within them is sure to make it even more difficult for them to develop and honor their own moral compass as they grow older--to find a way to be both thoughtful and discerning, moral and not a welcome mat.

I don’t at all know what to do with the final insight here that we can reduce lying by paying children to tell the truth. That seems to contradict other research on the counter-productive nature of using extrinsic motivations to try to boost intrinsic motivational skills.]

Witnessing others being praised for honesty, meanwhile, and nonpunitive appeals for the truth — for example, “If you tell the truth, I will be really pleased with you” — promotes honest behavior, Professors Lee and Talwar have found.

So does a simple promise. Multiple studies have shown that children as old as 16 are less likely to lie about their misdeeds, and the misdeeds of others, after pledging to tell the truth, a result that has been replicated widely. The psychologist Angela Evans has also found that children are less likely to peek at the toy while the researcher is out of the room if they promise not to. Curiously, this works even with children who don’t know the meaning of the word “promise.” Merely securing a verbal agreement — “I will tell the truth” — does the trick. By the end of infancy, it would seem, children already grasp the significance of making a verbal commitment to another person.

As for those childhood morality tales, you might want to skip the more ominous ones. Professor Lee and others have found that reading stories to children about the perils of deceit, such as “The Boy Who Cried Wolf” and “Pinocchio,” fails to discourage them from lying. Reading them the story of George Washington and the cherry tree, on the other hand, in which truthfulness is met with approval, does reduce lying, albeit to a modest degree. The key to fostering honest behavior, Professor Lee and his colleagues argue, is positive messaging — emphasizing the benefits of honesty rather than the drawbacks of deception.

You can also simply pay kids to be honest. In research involving 5- and 6-year-olds, Professor Lee and his colleagues attached a financial incentive to telling the truth about a misdeed. Lying earned children $2, while confessing won them anywhere from nothing to $8. The research question was: How much does the truth cost? When honesty paid nothing, four out of five children lied. Curiously, that number barely budged when the payout was raised to $2.

But when honesty was compensated at 1.5 times the value of lying — $3 rather than $2 — the scales tipped in favor of the truth. Honesty can be bought, in other words, but at a premium. The absolute dollar amount is irrelevant, Professor Lee has found. What matters is the relative value — the honesty-to-dishonesty exchange rate, so to speak.

“Their decision to lie is very tactical,” Professor Lee said. “Children are thinking in terms of the ratio.” Smart kids, indeed.

[We now know that a core ‘scientific’ principle adorning the walls of our childhood classrooms—the four basic food groups—was neither scientific nor principled. It was an intentional and self-interested lie.

Who knows the harm that was caused and likely continues to be caused, since people like our ABJ guardian still refer back nostalgically to the simplicity of these 'good old days’ sound bites like the four basic food groups, like kids who do anything wrong that is not immediately and definitively punished are sociopaths on the prison track.

My parents and grandparents were right about many things, parenting and otherwise. They were also misguided in some ways as well. By do-gooders like our ABJ guardian of morality. When the next well-intentioned charlatan tries to sell you a simplistic and obvious answer to a complex and important question—think twice. Particularly when the ‘simple’ solution is appealing because it promises to make the complexity headache keeping you awake at night go away.

But unlike the guardians of morality, do not premise your rethinking on dismissing the ideas of those who disagree with you by fiat. Consult with others, including with experts in the field but also with others wrestling with the same challenges. Listen and experiment. Prototype and avoid becoming rigid, because we all need to learn from our mistakes to improve our parenting in real time. Complexity never goes away. Curiosity remains our best weapon against it.]

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Sermon on the Swamp
Marc Thiessen and Michael Gerson are both conservative commentators. Some would say, not without reason, that they are both ultra-conservative. Both write for the Washington Post.
It is worth noting that the Washington Post is often (inaccurately) demonized by the far-right as a leftist publication. But one (of many) things that expose this as a lie is that the Post employs people like Thiessen and Gerson—the Post is a professional new organization interested in helping us understand the conflicts we face and doing that requires us to understand the multiple perspectives in play.

This is one (of many) reason the criticism of Fox Noise as a right-wing propaganda outlet is not a lie—they make no effort, zero, of presenting all sides on the issues we need to understand today. Quite the opposite.

Anyway, back to the story at hand: understanding why voters for whom being Christian is the most important part of their identity so overwhelmingly support the most indecent and crude and unchristian president in our lifetime.

This question continues to perplex me. I also think it is an important question for us all to wrestle with thoughtfully and seriously—that is, without framing it as ‘this confirms what I have always thought’ about either evangelicals or Trump or voters or democracy.

Below you will find the full text of both Gerson and Thiessen. Both conservatives. Gerson argues evangelicals have sold their soul and makes a good case that this will ultimately hurt them and the political causes they support.

Thiessen does not so much disagree with Gerson as examine the question from another angle, arguing there are good reasons for evangelicals to support Trump. He makes a good case and if we extend his logic to loop back to Gerson, the concrete gains noted are likely to pay enormous political dividends for evangelicals and the causes they care about for generations to come.

As I see it, a core of the shared argument here is that Trump appeals to these voters because he voices their grievances. Stating it this way makes Trump like just about any other politician in kind, if not in degree. Trump goes beyond voices the grievances of his supporters—he has raised grievance to a political ideology that validates the sense among many that their way of life has been under attack and Trump is fighting back for them.

As Gerson (and Perkins) put it, what many see as Trump’s greatest liability is likely seen by these voters as his greatest strength. His “approach to public discourse is actually the main selling point. His bullying — his cruelty, crudity and personal insults — is admired because it is directed at other bullies.”

In this sense it matters less that he often gets the facts wrong and more that, right or wrong on the specifics, he is accurately articulating a grievance-centric world view the animates many voters…and he is willing to back up his crude and often inaccurate rhetoric with decisive and powerful action against those seen as the ‘real bullies’ by those who hold this grievance-centric world view.

See what you think.

With their reactions to the Roy Moore candidacy and the Stormy Daniels scandal, the Trump evangelicals have scaled the heights of hypocrisy to the summit. Family-values conservatives who dismiss credible accusations of sexual abuse and wink at hush money for a porn star have ceased to represent family values in any meaningful sense. They have made a national joke of moral standards that were once, presumably, deeply held. At least when a Democrat violated them.

My friend Pete Wehner proposes a thought experiment: If a militant atheist were to design a trap with the goal of discrediting evangelical Christians, could they do better than Moore and Daniels? It would take some consideration.

But this barely scratches the surface of the moral compromises being made. The problem with Trumpism is not only the transparent excuses it offers (and requires others to accept) for shoddy and offensive behavior. As I argue in the Atlantic , the deeper issue is the distinctly non-Christian substance of President Trump’s values. His unapologetic materialism. His tribalism and hatred for “the other.” His strength-worship and contempt for “losers,” which smack more of Nietzsche than of Christ.

Trump’s nasty mash-up of the power of positive thinking, the Playboy philosophy and the will to power is a naturally poor fit for religious conservatives. Or so one would have thought.

Trump evangelicals defend their support for the president in the pose of political realists. A president, they argue, is not a pastor. A certain amount of compromise is necessary to get conservative judges and more favorable treatment of Christian institutions. This is the way of the world.

There are sometimes conflicted political choices in a fallen world. But this argument would be more credible if so many Trump evangelicals were not such sycophants. It is one thing to point to the difficult binary choice between Trump and Hillary Clinton. It is another to provide Trump political cover in every scandal and offer preemptive absolution of every character failure.

There is something else at work here than weary realism — something that Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council recently clarified. Conservatives, he said, “were tired of being kicked around by Barack Obama and his leftists. And I think they are finally glad that there’s somebody on the playground that is willing to punch the bully.” In this explanation, Trump’s approach to public discourse is actually the main selling point. His bullying — his cruelty, crudity and personal insults — is admired because it is directed at other bullies.

This is, perhaps, politically and psychologically understandable. But it has absolutely nothing to do with the Sermon on the Mount. Nothing to do with any recognizable version of Christian ethics. The very thing that should repel evangelicals — Trump’s dehumanization of others — is what seems to fascinate and attract some conservative Christians. It is yet another example of discrediting hypocrisy.

The Trump evangelicals are best understood as conservative political operatives, seeking benefits for their interest group from politicians who are most likely to provide them. So how good is the quality of their political advice?

Not particularly good. Identifying evangelicalism with Trump’s ethno-populism may have some short-term benefits. But public influence eventually depends on the persuasiveness of public arguments. And close ties to Trump will eventually be disastrous to causes that evangelicals care about. Pro-life arguments are discredited by an association with misogyny. Arguments for religious liberty are discredited by association with anti-Muslim bias. Arguments for family values are discredited by nativist disdain for migrant families.
The damage radiates further. Trump evangelicals are blessing the destruction of public norms on civility, decency and the importance of public character.

And the ultimate harm is to the reputation of faith itself. The identification of evangelical Christianity with ethno-nationalism and white grievance is a grave matter. Evangelical Christians hardly distinguished themselves during the civil rights movement. Some used Christian academies as a cover for continued segregation. Getting this issue wrong again would be particularly damning in a nation — and in Christian churches — growing inexorably more diverse.

Here are the sources of hope: Evangelicals have a rich history that includes abolitionists and social reformers to inspire them. They have a rising generation of leaders — from Pastor Timothy Keller, to the Southern Baptist Convention’s Russell Moore, to Bishop Claude Alexander, to Bible teacher Beth Moore, to anti-slavery activist Gary Haugen — who are embracing a different and better model of social engagement. And they hold to a faith that for two millennia has survived not only the wrath of its opponents but the cynicism of its advocates.

Why Conservative Christians are Sticking with Trump, Marc Thiessen
As "60 Minutes" prepares to air its interview with adult-film actress Stormy Daniels, conservative Christians are being accused of hypocrisy. How can so-called "values voters" continue to stand with President Trump despite revelations that he allegedly had affairs with a porn star and a Playboy model, and paid them for their silence?

No doubt some Christian leaders have gone too far in rationalizing Trump's past personal behavior and excusing his offensive comments while in office. He is a deeply flawed man. But Trump does have one moral quality that deserves admiration: He keeps his promises.

During the 2016 campaign, Trump pledged to defend religious liberty, stand up for unborn life and appoint conservative jurists to the Supreme Court and federal appeals courts. And he has done exactly what he promised. The abortion-rights lobby NARAL complains that Trump has been "relentless" on these fronts, declaring his administration "the worst .?.?. that we've ever seen." That is more important to most Christian conservatives than what the president may have done with a porn actress more than ten years ago.

Trump's election came as religious liberty was under unprecedented attack. The Obama administration was trying to force the Little Sisters of the Poor to violate their religious conscience and facilitate payment for abortifacient drugs and other contraceptives. During oral arguments in the Obergefell v. Hodges case, President Barack Obama's solicitor general told the Supreme Court that churches and universities could lose their tax-exempt status if they opposed same-sex marriage.

Hillary Clinton promised to escalate those attacks. In 2015, she declared at the Women in the World Summit that "religious beliefs ... have to be changed" -- perhaps the most radical threat to religious liberty ever delivered by a major presidential candidate. Had Clinton won, she would have replaced the late conservative Justice Antonin Scalia with a liberal jurist, giving the Supreme Court a liberal judicial-activist majority.

The impact would have been immediate, as the court prepares to decide two cases crucial to religious liberty.

In Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, the Court will soon determine whether the government can compel a U.S. citizen to violate his conscience and participate in speech that violates his sincerely held religious beliefs.

In National Institute of Family Life Advocates v. Becerra, the Court will decide whether the state of California can compel pro-life crisis pregnancy centers to advertise access to abortion to their clients, in violation of their conscience.

Those cases are being heard not by five liberals, but five conservatives, including Justice Neil M. Gorsuch -- because Trump kept his promise to "appoint justices to the Supreme Court who will strictly interpret the Constitution and not legislate from the bench."
The president is moving at record pace to fill the federal appeals courts with young conservative judges who will protect life and religious freedom for decades. He also fulfilled his promise to defend the Little Sisters from government bullying, by expanding the religious and conscience exemption to the Obamacare contraception mandate to cover both nonprofit and for-profit organizations.

Trump ordered the creation of the Conscience and Religious Freedom Division at the Department of Health and Human Services to protect the civil rights of doctors, nurses and other health-care workers who refuse to take part in procedures such as abortion, reversing an Obama-era policy that required them to do so. And his Justice Department issued 25-page guidance to federal agencies instructing them to protect the religious liberty in the execution of federal law.

While Clinton promised to repeal the Hyde Amendment barring federal funds for abortion, Trump has been a pro-life champion. He became the first president to address the March for Life when he spoke by satellite video from the White House's Rose Garden. He reinstated and expanded the "Mexico City policy" -- which prohibits U.S. foreign aid from going to groups that perform or promote abortion. He signed legislation overturning an Obama-era regulation that prohibited states from defunding abortion service providers.

Indeed, Trump has arguably done more in his first year in office to protect life and religious freedom than any modern president. Little wonder that religious conservatives stick with him despite the Daniels revelations. This is not to say that Christians don't think a culture of fidelity is important. But the culture of life is important too. So is a culture that is welcoming to religious believers rather than waging war on them.

No one upholds Trump as moral exemplar. He is not the most religious president we have ever had, but he may be the most pro-religion president. Christian conservatives are judging Trump not by his faith, but by his works. And when it comes to life and liberty, his works are good.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Midterm Election: A Call to Defend Democracy
Putting aside for the moment that I have serious policy disagreements with the current president, I want to focus on a deeper clash over the future of democracy and liberty.

It is normal in a democratic society for some to disagree with a current president on policy positions, because in a democracy sometimes the other side wins. Those out of power struggle but the main focus is on winning back power in the next election.

Except when the current president is governing in ways that threaten the future of elections, democracy, and freedom. Then, two things happen.

First, policy disagreements continue but become more divisive because these are intertwined with deeper concerns about the ill-informed and autocratic way decision making threatens to undermine respect for the rule of law and our democratic traditions. 

Similarly, persistent and ungrounded attacks on the free press (and on data-driven problem solving itself), assaults on courts and law enforcement encourage disrespect for institutions essential to a functioning democracy.

Second, the opposition party has a difficult choice. We can focus on policy (because this is what animates most in our coalition, of course) and risk enflaming internal divisions that will prevent us from winning back power. Or we can focus on democracy & freedom, the rule of law & tradition, protecting the functioning of democratic institutions like elections.

In the 2018 midterms we need to focus on the latter. We need to build a coalition of moderates mobilized around a call to defend democracy. This coalition will include Democrats of all stripes as well as moderate Republicans (particularly those formerly known as Reagan Democrats).

The three pillars of this defense are a government that puts American families first by ensuring elections are free & fair, the rule of law is respected, and leaders are expected to be problem solvers who use the best available data to figure out how to rebuild America’s shrinking middle class.

Stein Ringen’s commentary today, Who will Defend Democracy, provides a way to frame foreign policy consistent with, and reinforcing, this approach to the midterm elections.