Immigration, Refugees, and the Executive Order Fiasco

There was no crisis requiring emergency action. As has been pointed out in various places, no refugees from the seven countries subject to the restrictions have engaged in terrorist acts in the United States. So there was minimal risk risk of a potential terrorist slipping in during the time it would have required to prepare and issue an Executive Order which was not so unclear and which agencies were prepared to enforce. That minimal risk did not justify the hasty action. (I sarcastically suggest that this Executive Order was such a fiasco that we need a 120-day moratorium on executive orders until proper procedures can be devised for their preparation and enforcement, and that all EO’s after the moratorium must be subjected to extreme vetting.)

On the other hand terrorist acts have been committed by immigrants from other countries than those targeted and by people born here. The Executive Order does nothing to protect anybody from the sorts of terrorism which have actually occurred. It does nothing to prevent the radicalization of people, native or immigrant, who are already here. If the purpose of the order is to protect the American people from terrorist attacks, it fails because it is not directed against the actual threat.

Terrorist acts get widespread coverage, but we should remember that the casualties from such acts are minuscule in number compared to the deaths from non-terrorist violence, to say nothing of the much greater still number of preventable deaths by accident. Unfortunately, the terrorists have, to a considerable degree, won because we have let them turn our focus from much greater dangers to the almost negligible risk they present. As a nation we seem to be panicked quite unnecessarily.

Some people point to the terrorist actions in Europe and say that we should not allow people to come here and do the same. But Europe does not have the Atlantic Ocean between them and the Middle East. They are much more vulnerable to infiltration. Furthermore, spectacular as those events have been, they are of minor importance compared to all the violence committed by ethnic Europeans; and we must also, when the focus is on immigration, consider the degree to which terrorism is perpetrated by home-grown terrorists.

For years, some people have called the activities of the Transportation Safety Agency “security theater.” Their point is that what TSA does has very little effect in actually making travelers safer, but it gives a show which makes most travelers feel safer. It seems to me that the Executive Order, issued in haste without being thought through, practically useless because directed against a virtually nonexistent threat, and unconcerned with larger (though still small) threats, but garnering maximum publicity, must surely be considered a perfect example of security theater. It responds, not to reality, but to vastly disproportionate fears which politicians and media have — perhaps unwittingly at times — cooperated to stoke.

Donald Trump’s Inaugural Address

As I watched the inaugural address on TV, there were several points where I thought he was wrong or hyperbolic and some where I thought he was ungracious; but for the most part, I thought he was proposing good objectives. Before I turned of the TV, I listened for a few minutes to the commentators on CNN, and they said that the populism expressed made it the “most radical” inaugural address ever. On reflection, I had the thought that much of it could have been said by Bernie Sanders. Now I have a transcript on another window, and I’ll review it a little more closely, without giving a line-by-line analysis.

I liked the part early on about returning power to the people, away from the establishment and the promise that the forgotten men and women would be forgotten no longer. I hope that the corporate CEO’s and politicians he’s appointing to his cabinet will follow through on this promise. Of course, the people can’t exercise their power over the federal government directly except on election day, so it will be up to our politicians and administration officials to put the promise into effect.

While some may quibble with the seriousness or extent of the “carnage” he spoke of, I think that job loss, ineffective education, and urban violence are all real problems. As one who believes strongly in federalism, I don’t think that the federal government should be considered responsible for solving every community’s crime problems or improving their schools. These are areas which call for the people to exercise their power locally. As for the problems of the “rust belt,” I don’t know how much of them can be cured by better international trade policies, but it’s worth a try.

I agree with him that every country’s primary obligation is to its own people. So it makes sense for our needs to be the focus of decision making. Still, I don’t want to see us prosper by impoverishing other people, which is why I’m particularly hopeful that the infrastructure program will be effective. I also hope the global economy can grow along with ours.

I was very pleased to hear him say, “We will reinforce old alliances,” since his attitude toward NATO has been worrisome.

Given the support he had from the alt-right, I thought it was very important that he said clearly, “[T]hrough our loyalty to our country, we will rediscover our loyalty to each other. When you open your heart to patriotism, there is no room for prejudice,” and, returning to the theme later, “A new national pride will stir ourselves, lift our sights, and heal our divisions. It’s time to remember that old wisdom our soldiers will never forget, that whether we are black or brown or white, we all bleed the same red blood of patriots. We all enjoy the same glorious freedoms. And we all salute the same great American flag.”

Certainly, there is more he could have said — about curbing the size of the federal government and protecting freedom of conscience, for example — but I’ll take what we got and hope for the best.

Sunday Scriptures — OT A 02, Jan. 15, 2017

With this Sunday, we have plunged back into Ordinary Time. Actually, the plunge took place last Tuesday, since the liturgical celebration of Christmastide ends with the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord. This year, that feast was celebrated on Monday, January 9, and the remainder of the week constituted the First week in Ordinary Time. Nevertheless, there are resonances with the Christmas season, just as Ordinary Time merged into Advent, as we focused at first on the return of Jesus in glory at the end of time. Now, as we begin to look at the ministry of Jesus, we start with the testimony of John the Baptist to Jesus, which was also part of what we heard in Advent and on the Feast of the Baptism. In addition, we hear again from Isaiah prophecies about the calling of the Messiah.


The first reading — Isaiah 49: 3: 5-6 — is one of the four passages which are called the Servant Songs. They are read during Holy Week. Although the passage seemingly begins as an address to Israel as the Lord’s servant, in the preceding and following verses, it refers to an individual. The servant’s mission is one which God intended for him from before his birth. He is to bring the nation of Israel back to the Lord. Beyond that, he is to be a light to the nations, to bring salvation to all the world.

The responsorial psalm — verses of Psalm 40, with a refrain based on verses 8 and 9 — we make our own the Messiah’s response the the Father’s call. He, and we, will do God’s will.

The second reading — 1 Corinthians: 1:1-3 — is in the customary form of of the beginning of letters at the time of Paul. The writer identifies himself: Paul. He adds identifying information and associates Sosthenes with himself. Next the addressee is named: the church in Corinth. Again, Paul expands the format by referring to their salvation in Christ, and noting that their call is one which goes to believers everywhere — just as the servant in the first reading is to bring salvation to the whole world. Finally there is a greeting: he wishes them grace and peace from God. Over the next six weeks, until Lent begins, we will hear further passages from the first four chapters of this letter.

The gospel — John 1:29-34 — is remarkable in the first place because Year A is the year in which Matthew’s gospel is read on most Sundays. John the Baptist uses the phrase “Lamb of God” to identify Jesus. This reminds his hearers of the events of Passover, when the Israelites sacrificed a lamb, whose blood protected them from the tenth plague of Egypt, the killing of every firstborn. Jesus, Mary’s firstborn and the Father’s only-begotten Son, will save us from destruction through his Passover sacrifice of himself. We don’t use the phrase often, but in Mass we address Jesus as Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world in the Gloria on festive occasions and before Communion at every Mass. Then, holding up the host, the priest says, “Behold the Lamb of God. Behold him who takes away the sins of the world. Blessed are those who are called to the supper of the Lamb.” This recalls the Israelites’ eating of the paschal lamb, whose blood protected them. The image of the Lamb is also frequently used in the Book of Revelation to refer to Jesus as the redeemer, slain on earth and triumphant in heaven.

Next, John refers to his earlier promise of one greater than himself who was to follow him. Jesus is the one he expected, and he knows this through revelation: at Jesus’ baptism, the sign God had promised happened. It is a sign which means that Jesus has been empowered by the Holy Spirit and will in turn confer that Spirit on others. making them sharers in his mission to bring salvation to the world — a call to which we responded in the responsorial psalm.

Could Trump Become a Fascist Dictator?

From time to time the suggestion is made that the answer to my title for this post is, “Yes.” I’ll admit that at times during the presidential election campaign I was alarmed at some of Donald Trump’s rhetoric and the things said and done at his events. Clearly his rhetoric attracted neo-Nazis and white supremacists. There was a certain cult of personality in which he seemed to see himself as the one who could solve all the country’s problems, that he needed to be unfettered in doing things his way; and his supporters seemed to agree. There seemed to be tactics of intimidation employed by his supporters without any disapproval on his part. In short, it seemed that he was leading a movement with clear similarities to those of Mussolini and Hitler.

But as time has passed, especially since the election, the resemblances have faded, and my fears have abated. There have been signs that Trump has come to realize that he doesn’t have all the answers and can’t, and shouldn’t try to, rule by decree. He seems to be getting some degree of understanding and acceptance of what it means to be President rather than ruler. His Cabinet choices have not simply been people who have been “movement” loyalists from the outset, and in the first couple of days of confirmation hearings they have demonstrated disagreement with some of his campaign rhetoric.

At this point, therefore, I would answer my question with a definite, “No.” No doubt he will take actions and adopt policies with which I disagree, perhaps very strongly, and I’m sure there will be other people who oppose even more of what he does. But I see no likelihood at all that a subservient Congress will pass an enabling act that would grant him absolute power. He may very well chafe at the necessity for obtaining legislation to pursue many of his proposals, but he will learn that that’s how it is. Like Reagan, he may well be able to appeal to the people and develop enough support to get some of his proposals enacted, but that isn’t dictatorship. Dictatorship is a government which does as it pleases regardless of public support or opposition.

But as I was mulling over the question of whether Trump could be our Hitler, I came to another question: if there really is any danger of a neo-Fascist regime in the U.S., whose fault is it? When I was in school I was taught that our system of government contained a threefold bulwark against tyranny expressed in the principles of 1.) limited government, 2.) federalism, and 3.) separation of powers, all three of which were enshrined in our Constitution. Because the President was the head of only one branch of a federal government with limited powers, it was impossible for him to become a tyrant.

Why, then, do people now seriously fear a dictatorship? It is because all three principles underlying our Constitution have been lost sight of. Americans in general look primarily to government to solve whatever problems we face, and they see no problem which is outside the purview of the federal government to solve. In other words, the federal government is regarded as omnicompetent. If there is no area in which the federal government cannot take action, then there is nothing to prevent tyranny except the separation of powers. Unfortunately, we live in an era of hyperpartisanship, and there is a widespread acceptance of the idea that the President runs things, and resistance to what he wants is obstructionism. It is this state of affairs which makes it even slightly plausible for people to imagine an American dictator.

I come again to the question: “Whose fault is it that we’ve reached this point?” Since at least my college days, going back more than 55 years, I’ve been a conservative. I’ve said that matters such as public education, relief of poverty, prosecution of crimes such as murder and robbery, construction of housing, medical practice, drug policy, consumer protection, and marriage laws are not the responsibility of the federal government. When conservatives complain about any federal action as being outside the constitutionally limited powers of the federal government, the usual liberal response is that the matter in question is just too important to leave to the States or that we need uniformity. But most people seem to accept without question that the federal government can do whatever it decides to do (apart from taking away their guns).

How did we get from 1787 to here? The Civil War discredited the idea of States’ Rights, which, properly understood, is merely a corollary of federalism. The sense of being a citizen, and not merely a resident, of Massachusetts, or Pennsylvania, or Ohio as a significant part of one’s identity faded away. It may be a matter of cultural pride and awareness, but not of real political significance. (This is why people can glibly call for the abolition of the electoral college.) Then came the Great Depression which brought acceptance of the idea that if a problem was big enough, the federal government was responsible for solving it. And recently, it seems that most people accept unthinkingly that there is almost no zone of personal freedom which the government cannot intrude on “for our own good.” We may not smoke in public buildings, even in public housing units which we occupy, nor — in various jurisdictions — in outdoor public spaces. We may not purchase various foodstuffs. We may not use various recreational drugs. We must fasten our seatbelts. We must wear helmets when riding motorcycles and bicycles.

There is more that could be said to flesh out my theses and to nuance my broad assertions, but I think it’s fair to say, as a generalization, that if there is any real danger of dictatorship in the United States, it’s the fault of the liberals who are normally untroubled by thoughts of federalism and limited government, and to whom separation of powers matters only when a Republican is President.

Solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord, January 8, 2017

I posted last year about this feast day, and since the Mass is the same every year, I’ll let that post suffice.


As I noted then, there are three events to the Epiphany: the adoration of the Magi, which is emphasized in today’s Mass; the Baptism of Jesus in the Jordan, which gets its own feast day, this year on January 9; and Jesus’ changing of water into wine at the wedding feast of Cana, which was the gospel passage read on January 7.


Since this is my first post of 2017, I also want to wish a Happy New Year to all!