It’s Not Binary

“It’s not binary—you can be decent and gifted at the same time.”

Steve Wozniak’s words to Apple’s co-founder in one of the final scenes of the movie Steve Jobs are a plea to his friend to be the person he knows he can be. It’s leadership of the best kind: that which calls out the best in others. The kind of leadership that sees untapped greatness in others, and inspires them to rise to levels not previously known to them before.

This is true leadership. It’s what sets apart the truly great leaders from the pretty good ones. Seeing the greater vision and inviting others to participate in achieving it.

Steve Jobs had that ability when it came to products. Steve Wozniak seems to have had it with people—at least with his friend. Elon Musk has that vision with his innovations. The Wright brothers had a vision of people flying like birds. George Washington had visionary leadership in guiding his men into battle, and our country into an independent future. Abraham Lincoln had a vision for a free people of all colors. John F. Kennedy had a vision of walking on the moon and leading the world in the space race. Martin Luther King, Jr. had a vision of equal rights for all.

These people may have been angry about the status quo. Some were probably anxious and fearful about what could have been if they had failed. But they weren’t fundamentally driven by anger or fear—at least that’s not the vision they cast or the legacy they left behind.

Each had naysayers, telling them their dreams were impossible. But they pushed ahead anyway, believing the best possible outcome was only achievable if they believed and inspired others to believe and join their cause.

I believe we should aim higher, dream bigger, and try to be the best versions of ourselves. In every aspect of life, if we have a choice, why not choose the best?

Yes, this is my answer to the question: What will you do if our choice for president is between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump?
(Part two of two in the case against Donald Trump. Read part one now.)

I realize many people will think I’m naïve, unrealistic, a dreamer. That’s okay with me.

I think we should think beyond this election cycle—this battle, so to speak. We should decide who we want to be. As people, as families, as communities, as a nation.

What if we believed we could be better? What if we would start believing we deserve better than to be represented by a career politician lacking in accomplishment but awash in scandal, or an angry crony-capitalist obsessed with belittling and bullying anyone he decides is a loser?

Here’s an idea: We can be better. We are better than that.

It’s not binary. Let’s choose to be great. And let’s choose to be good.
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I agree with Carly Fiorina and Marco Rubio that this election is about the character of our nation and that we should be hopeful and optimistic about our future.

I want my children to inherit a better country than I did. And because I believe the United States is already among the best countries in the world, I know that’s a big vision.

I don’t think playing election politics and trying to pick “the lesser of two evils” moves us toward that vision. That strategy only ends one way: with evil. And while that may be what we end up with, we can certainly choose not to be complicit.

So when I vote this year, I don’t plan on sacrificing core values in order to help one political party defeat another. My loyalty is not to a party. It is to God, my family and my country.

If Donald Trump becomes the Republican Party nominee, I will continue to be engaged. I will keep learning as much as I can about the candidates for senate, congress, council and school board on my ballot, and I will vote for the best ones. I will cast my votes for the candidates who will uphold the values our country was founded on. The people who will fight to reduce spending and restrain the growth of our federal government.

I may for the first time in my adult life not vote for a presidential candidate. Or I may vote for a third-party candidate whose policies I could support. I may even write in a person’s name that I feel confident supporting.

Some may call this naïve while others may suggest that I am shirking my civic duty. And I understand that means it’s more likely one of the two candidates I could never support will win. But I won’t have to look my kids in the eyes and explain that I voted for Donald Trump—despite my firmly held convictions—because “we” had to win an election.

In the short term, that may be the losing choice. It may not make sense now. But I believe a bigger story is at play than all the immediate, election cycle politics. Though I may not understand His plan or His ways right now, I believe God has established our governing authorities.

The last eight years don’t make sense to me, except for the fact that millions of Americans are paying more attention and learning about who we are and where we came from. The fact that the Tea Party movement was mocked and ridiculed when it started in 2009, only to go on to change the face of congress, and to have three Tea Party-backed senators winning delegates in this year’s presidential race, seems to suggest that even bad circumstances can have good outcomes.

I don’t claim to have all the answers. But I don’t have to. God does. So I won’t just study candidates and write blogs informing my friends and neighbors about the pros and cons of particular people. And I won’t just cast my vote. I will continue to pray throughout this winnowing process known as an election.

I pray prayers of gratitude for the part we get to play in choosing our representatives. I thank God we don’t live under the rule of a king as so many civilizations before us have. I pray we will seek to become more informed about the people asking us for the sacred responsibility of representing us in government. I pray for our elected officials and the heavy burden they shoulder on our behalf.

And I thank God that He is in control, that He knows better than we do what we need, and that even if we get it wrong, He will work all things together for good.

With that in mind, I leave you with these words, believed to have been spoken by a philosopher who visited a fledgling new nation known as the United States of America in the nineteenth century:

“America is great because she is good, and if America ever ceases to be good, America will cease to be great.”

In order to “make America great again” we have to first rediscover our goodness as a nation. And that starts with the individual choices we make in our daily lives—including who we vote for (or not).

It’s not binary. Let’s choose to be great. And let’s choose to be good.

Party Foul

As I mentioned in my last post, I will never vote for Donald Trump for president. I will never vote for Donald Trump for city councilman nor will I vote for him for dog-catcher, for that matter. But I realize my post about Ben Carson’s endorsement with my conclusion about never voting for Trump left some readers with a few questions.

So I’d like to address those two questions. The first: Why will you never vote for Donald Trump? And the second: If it comes down to Donald Trump versus Hillary Clinton, what will you do?

The first question is easy.

The Case Against Trump

It is not because of his multiple affairs and divorces, or the way he brags about his dealings with women, or the way he objectifies women, or the way he compares women he doesn’t like to animals. It’s also not because of the way he incentivizes violence at his rallies, or the way he is threatening riots at the Republican convention if he doesn’t emerge as the nominee. And it’s not because he tried to evict a woman from her house so he could build a parking lot for his since-bankrupt casino. It’s not even because of his vulgar and pompous late-night Twitter tirades against any and all who dare question him.

I don’t mean to diminish the weight of these things. These things make Donald Trump a nasty human being. These are the kinds of things that disqualify a person from dating my daughters, as Max Lucado eloquently put it. And I think the character of a person matters when we’re considering electing that person to public office. The writer of Proverbs noted, “When good people run things, everyone is glad, but when the ruler is bad, everyone groans.” And about three thousand years later Benjamin Franklin wrote, “Wise and good men are in my opinion, the strength of the state; more so than riches or arms.” And in his farewell address, George Washington said, “It is substantially true that virtue or morality is a necessary spring of popular government.”

Granted our country has a rich history of electing nasty human beings as presidents. From Andrew Jackson to Woodrow Wilson, and Richard Nixon to Bill Clinton, we’ve had a solid roster of unsavory characters leading the charge for our nation. We even revere Jackson by putting him on our twenty-dollar bill—despite that blemish on his legacy known as the Trail of Tears. And there are apparently strategists who believe Clinton helps his wife by supporting her on the campaign trail—despite his reputation as a sexual predator.

To be clear, I don’t think we need to elect a pastor or priest to be our president. And we know Jesus isn’t running for office this year. So we’re limited to only electing humans, which means we have to accept some level of moral failure. As the apostle Paul said in his letter to the Romans, we have all sinned and fall short of God’s glory. At the foot of the cross, I’m equal to Donald Trump. In terms of my need of God’s grace, I’m with Donald Trump, along with Bill Clinton and Andrew Jackson.

But we’re at a time when voters are willing to look the other way in regard to a person’s character, because of a perception that that candidate can “get things done.” I don’t fall into that category, but because there are many people who do, it’s necessary to make the case against a Trump presidency aside from all of that.

With that in mind, my decision not to vote for Donald Trump (no matter what) is because of his—drumroll, please—policies. Or lack thereof.

I know. Kind of anticlimactic, huh? That’s definitely not exciting or sexy.

But since we have been blessed to inherit this democratic republic, it seems we should look to elect people who represent the values we believe will further the best interests of our country. We should look at their policies, or their proposed policies, rather than their personalities.

We should figure out what each person wants to do as president, rather than examine who we would like to have a beer with.

We should look for the policies which will give us the best chance of creating our preferred future, rather than the ones which play to our fears and encourage us to hunker down and shut ourselves off from the world.

Here’s the biggest problem with Donald Trump: In my assessment of his policies, I can’t figure out what he actually wants to do. Like I mentioned, I agree with Dr. Carson’s observation that there are “two Trumps.”

It’s nice that he has begun posting policy proposals on his website, but he is known for contradicting his own policies in interviews and debates—and we still don’t know what he says about his policies behind closed doors. We do know he has a strong admiration for himself and his poll numbers. But we don’t know what his core values are, or which policies he will choose to stick with if elected. Is his strongest value pleasing people, such as the editors at the New York Times? Or is he willing to stick with what he believes is right, despite ebbs and flows in public opinion?

I don’t know the answer to that. No one does. If you are planning to vote for Donald Trump and you think you know what he is going to do, just remember, even he doesn’t claim to know what he is going to do—he wants to leave room to negotiate and make deals on seemingly everything.

With that said, it would be difficult to clearly define the positive policies of a Trump presidency. But there are some definite negatives, and some clear reasons I have come to the conclusion I will never vote for Donald Trump. Here are a few:

Planned Parenthood

When Donald Trump praised the “wonderful things” Planned Parenthood does—in a Republican primary debate—I wondered, what will he say in the general election when he is campaigning against the first presidential candidate to earn Planned Parenthood’s endorsement? I also wondered, when referring to Adolf Hitler, why do so many people forget to mention the Autobahn or his plans for a really cool future city? Why are they so hung up on the one or two bad things he did? I wonder what percentage of Hitler’s activities were rounding up and killing Jews as opposed to all the really wonderful things he did?

Here’s the bottom line: For me, taxpayer funding of abortion is absolutely a non-negotiable. There is no “deal” to be made in that regard. A candidate whose moral clarity wavers on the issue of taking my money and giving it to the organization that murders the most babies in the United States is not a candidate I will ever consider voting for. Ever.

Supreme Court Nominees

Our country suffered a devastating loss when Justice Antonin Scalia died in February. He was perhaps the most eloquent and convincing defender of the Constitution and individual liberty we have ever had on the Supreme Court. If there is any hint of a bright side to his death, it is that this wake-up call happened during this election. His passing serves as a reminder that the presidency is only four years, but the legacy of each president lives on for decades through the lifetime appointments of justices.

On this Donald Trump waivers again. His first inclination was to announce that his sister, a judicial activist and progressive statist, would make a phenomenal Supreme Court Justice. On the contrary, I think she would be a horrible replacement. He later retracted his statement (as he often does), saying that he couldn’t nominate her because it may be seen as nepotism. In terms of determining Trump’s rationale for appointing judges, nepotism is a non sequitur. As in, yeah, that’s great—don’t nominate your sister because of favoritism. But what about the fact that her values are completely different than the guy you’d be replacing?

No, thank you. We can’t get this wrong. The future of religious liberty in this country, along with the lives of a multitude of unborn children, hang in the balance, largely because so many important votes come down to 5–4. If that one vote swings the other way because we like the guy who is good at “telling it like it is”, we are literally bringing judgment upon ourselves.

Economics

Imagine with me that you are really good at making sneakers, and I am really good at making potato chips. I can make 35 bags of potato chips in one hour, and you can make four pairs of sneakers per hour. Since you’re so good at making sneakers, you should focus on that, and not spend your time making potato chips. And since I can’t make more than four pairs of sneakers in an hour, I’ll focus my time and energy on making potato chips, and we’ll trade with each other. I’ll give you some of my potato chips in exchange for some of your sneakers. Win-win, right?

Play that out a bit more. Say you recruit your neighborhood to help you make sneakers, so you can make a lot more of them. I do the same thing. And now our neighborhoods can buy and sell our products with each other, and also with neighborhoods all around us, so that we are able to make the things we specialize in, and trade for things like cars and toothbrushes and pencils.

That’s a very rudimentary way of explaining a basic economic concept called comparative advantage. This concept based on free trade is at the heart of productive, flourishing societies. It should come as no surprise then that it is also part of the economic foundation of our own society.

What comes as a surprise is a man who is seen as having great wealth because of his success in business who seems to have little to no understanding of basic economic concepts, such as these. And yet, Donald Trump wants to economically wall off the United States from the rest of the world by imposing tariffs on China and Mexico as punishment for their success in trade, and for their illegal immigrants. But as any economic novice (like myself) understands, charging a tax on imports only costs us more. To put it into real life terms, if we have to pay more for iPhone parts made in China, the price of our iPhones could go from $650 to $950, based on Trump’s 45% tariff. That’s just one product. Look no further than the “made in” tags on all your stuff—everything from T-shirts to computers—to discover how many times that could play out.

The result of Trump’s absurd retaliatory tariff can’t just be measured in the cost of things we buy. The Chinese would almost certainly impose their own tariff on any goods we sell to them, thus hurting our companies overseas. They may pass the cost of lost business onto consumers here at home, or perhaps cut back workforces in order to meet the lower demand. Higher prices, and less jobs—but we’re going to make China (and their 100 million people living on less than $1 a day) pay. Just one way Donald Trump plans to make America great again.

These are the top three on my list of reasons not to vote for Donald Trump. I would also add his fascistic desires to close off part of the internet and to force companies to make products in the United States to the list.

To wrap up, there may be some positive things about Donald Trump as a political candidate. But it’s difficult to discern which is the real Donald Trump. Is he in favor of a high border fence, or is that just rhetorical framing for negotiations? Is he “very, very pro-choice,” or is he so pro-life he thinks we should punish women who have abortions? It would be difficult to objectively define his position on most of the issues. But there are enough strong reasons for me not to vote for Donald Trump.

That’s a high enough word count for one post (or seven). I’ll answer the second question, If the presidential election is Donald Trump versus Hillary Clinton, what will you do? next week. (UPDATE: Read part two now.) Thanks for reading.

Day of Deliverance

There is a lot of turmoil in the United States and around the world today. Stateside politics and Supreme Court decisions have us divided as a nation. People in countries all over Europe, Africa, Asia and South America are rising up in revolt, leading to unrest all over the globe.

But despite our troubles and the tumult all around us, today remains a dichotomous day of solemn reflection, and of celebration. I think our second President, John Adams, said it best:

I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated, by succeeding Generations, as the great anniversary Festival. It ought to be commemorated, as the Day of Deliverance by solemn Acts of Devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more. You will think me transported with Enthusiasm but I am not. I am well aware of the Toil and Blood and Treasure, that it will cost Us to maintain this Declaration, and support and defend these States. Yet through all the Gloom I can see the Rays of ravishing Light and Glory. I can see that the End is more than worth all the Means. And that Posterity will tryumph in that Days Transaction, even altho We should rue it, which I trust in God We shall not. (The Book of Abigail and John: Selected Letters of the Adams Family, 1762-1784, Harvard University Press, 1975, 142).

Americans have come a long way in our 237 years together. We have had turmoil and trouble throughout our history. But I believe it’s the pursuit and protection of freedom, and the “firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence” which have allowed this fledgling nation to rise to such prosperity that the entire world benefits from its existence.

Today let’s eat a burger, watch some fireworks, and celebrate. Let’s also pause to give thanks for our freedom—given by God, enshrined in our founding documents, and protected by the men and women of our military. We are truly blessed.

Happy Independence Day!

Richard Mourdock is coming to my church! Why am I not ecstatic?

It was in the news this past week that US Senate candidate, Richard Mourdock is coming to Granger Community Church this weekend. When I heard it on Friday, I was less than impressed, despite the fact that I like the candidate and love the church that my wife and I have been actively involved in for years. Why don’t I think this is amazing? Two main reasons:

  • Church isn’t a campaign stop. I’m all for politicians going to church, and I think the influence of the Church in our government is just as vital today as it was in the Revolutionary Period and in the anti-slavery movement. But being a part of a church is one thing. Showing up once and alerting the press is quite another. If he’s seeking a new church, anyone, including him, is certainly more than welcome. But, knowing that Joe Donnelly has been coming to our church’s annual Food Drop for years—without telling the media—it seems likely that Mourdock is trying to sway potential religious voters from the second district which Donnelly represented as a Congressman.
  • Endorsements of particular religions or denominations are forbidden by the Constitution’s First Amendment. “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof” is the precise language. Granted, by showing up, he’s not passing a law, or even endorsing my church. It just seems like somewhat of an implied endorsement. I understand that this church happens to be the largest in the area, and therefore, has the most potential voters, but what about the other churches in the area? I would have a different stance if the press release stated that Mr. Mourdock was spending a few weekends promoting the value of religion in a democratic republic, and that he was going to be making visits to the local mosque, the large catholic church nearby, a tabernacle and our church. In that case, it wouldn’t be as much of a political move as a person of influence promoting something our nation’s founding fathers felt was very important. It would be difficult to argue against that.

Having said all that, I do prefer Mr. Mourdock’s stances and policies to those of Mr. Donnelly, so at this point, he’s the one I’ll be casting my ballot for in November. But if I may borrow an analogy from baseball (since the playoffs are approaching), if Mourdock wins and goes up to bat as Indiana’s newest US Senator, he will be stepping up to the plate with one strike against him, in my opinion.