“Great Sleepovers” Are Enough — Globe Columnist

I’ve noted before that society seems to be saying to young people, “We want you to have sex as much as you can.” Even so, I was shocked when I read this in the June 6, 2017, Boston Globe “Love Letters” column: “Move on — as soon as possible. You are doing all of the work, and I’m not sure what you’re getting in return. There’s no great friendship. There are no great sleepovers.” (Emphasis added.) This piece of advice was given to a woman who is “new to college” and has met a man in his 20’s.

If you read the column, the problem the young woman has is that he doesn’t initiate text conversations, or even respond promptly to her texts. Apparently, they’ve been meeting in person, bot it’s not enough for her. This is certainly a problem of our time. People have been conditioned to expect instantaneous communication with acquaintances whenever they want. They can’t stand having to wait. This is certainly unfortunate. Similarly, there seems to be an all-or-nothing mentality. Neither the young woman nor the columnist seems to have any idea that friendships and courtships can take time to develop.

But to my mind the worst thing is the expectation that the columnist implies: you’ve got to have a great friendship or great sleepovers, pronto, or you write someone out of your life. Perhaps it’s best to have both, but great friendships without sleepovers are fine, and great sleepovers without friendship are fine. The attitude is not unique to her, of course. It seems, rather, to be typical of our time. Sex does not require marriage. Yet there often seems to be an unspoken expectation of temporary exclusivity until the couple breaks up, as they feel free to do at any time. “He cheated on me,” is an often seen complaint; and cheating isn’t even just having sex with another. A date can be cheating.

This world of noncommittal commitments leads to much heartache, but so have all the courtship mores of earlier times. The real problem now is that extra-marital sex — which has always gone on — is no longer considered taboo. Instead, it is recommended. Extra-marital sex isn’t frowned on, but the lack of it is undesirable in the eyes of our culture. If the man being written about would have sleepovers which she enjoyed, that would be enough. “Who could ask for anything more?”

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.

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.

President-elect Trump

I suppose he isn’t officially President-elect until the electors elect him, but that’s a foregone conclusion. Anyway, here are some thoughts I’ve been having since I woke up Wednesday morning.

 

I still think he’s unfit for office for all the reasons I’ve said, and maybe more. But there are some areas of expected action where it’s better to have him as President. The one I immediately think of is nominations to the Supreme Court. It has seemed to me for decades that many of the Justices of the Supreme Court have been reading their own personal preferences into the Constitution and creating “rights” which the framers never intended. This goes back at least to Roe v Wade. With the expected vacancies being filled by Trump nominees, we can hope for this judicial tyranny to stop, and even to have some of the willful decisions reversed.

 

More generally, we can hope to see greater recognition of religious freedom than a Clinton administration would have given and maybe even a curtailment of the scope of the federal government consonant with the 10th Amendment, although limited government as such wasn’t one of Trumps talking points.

 

Trump’s seeming willingness to ignore our NATO obligations, particularly toward the Baltic States, has me worried that Putin would see them as available for the taking. But it could conceivably happen that Trump’s friendly attitude toward the Russian dictator could end up making him feel more secure and therefore less inclined to grab more territory. This depends, of course, on whether his annexation of Crimea and attempted takeover of Ukraine are motivated by expansionism or insecurity, and which motives would apply to the Baltics.

 

On Thursday we’ve seen some hopeful signs. He assured Korea that under his presidency, the U.s. will continue to defend them. Maybe he’ll rethink out Nato obligations as well. His extended meeting with Obama and the kind words afterwards suggest that maybe he realizes that there’s more to being president that he had thought — although we have to bear in mind that it is normal procedure for him to say whatever he thinks people want to hear, with necessarily meaning it. And there was a recent headline stating that the mention of banning Muslims from entering the country has disappeared from his website.

 

I suppose we can see it as a function of his being totally unprincipled that he has no problem changing his positions. Nevertheless, it does seem that he is making changes in the direction of more sensible policies and actions. So I see some basis for hope that in practice, he won’t be as bad as I feared. I think it all comes down to his having good advisers and actually listening to them. One in particular on whom I pin a lot of hope is Newt Gingrich. He’s a true conservative, devoted to governing by constitutional principles, and I think if Trump listens to him, we will not see Trump acting as a dictator rather than a President.

 

Ultimately what matters is what he does in office, not what he said during the campaign. We’ll have to wait and see.

Pulse (Orlando*)

* Although the attack occurred in Orlando, the most important fact about it is that it was perpetrated in a gay club. Just as the assault at the offices of Charlie Hebdo became known by the target, rather than the city where it occurred, this terrorist attack would better be known as Pulse than Orlando. The city is an appropriate designation for attacks where the victims are random and the location is not associated with a specific target group. In this post, I’ll be considering this attack in its character as an attack against gay, or LGBTQ, people.

The choice of Pulse for the attack, when any number of other clubs were available, is itself enough to show that the attack was motivated by hatred of gay people. The widely reported account by the killer’s father of his son’s anger at seeing two men kissing in public confirms the fact. Many comments and a candidate for President blame the hatred on Islam and target all Muslims in response. Other comments have blamed Christians who have opposed homosexuality for creating a climate of hatred.

I think it is inaccurate to blame Islam for this attack, even though the attacker was Muslim. The “Joint Muslim Statement on the Carnage in Orlando” shows clearly that many Muslims believe that such violence against gay people is wrong — this despite the fact the Islam considers homosexual conduct immoral and deserving of death. So it is unjustifiable to blame Islam as such for the actions of that Muslim, in the same way as it is unjustifiable to blame Christianity for violence against gays — despite the fact that some Christian churches continue to maintain the traditional doctrine that homosexual conduct is wrong. In fact, I think some Catholic bishops did very well in expressing that homophobia should not have any place among us.

Nevertheless, it is clear that some Christians do believe that violence against gays is justified, even that gays deserve to be put to death. The rest of us should explicitly reject such ideas. This is clear enough. But we need to go beyond that. This incident should be recognized as a wake-up call. We need to acknowledge that the insistence with which many of us have made an issue of homosexuality, the forcefulness with which we have upheld our positions — even if justified at the level of moral theology — have indeed been factors in promoting the climate of hostility within which some people feel justified in resorting to violence.

Somehow, we needed to be clearer that, while we were appealing to the consciences of individuals, we were not seeking to compel those who disagreed with our theology. In the first place, though, we needed to be clearer in our own minds about that. For many, homosexual conduct seemed to be some sort of “super sin.” That view doubtless shaped the thinking of those who turned to violence.

I think we “conservative ” Christians still need to be clearer in our own minds, as well as in our ways of expressing our beliefs, about our love and acceptance of gays as deserving of respect, and welcome in our churches. Some people say “Love the sinner, but hate the sin.” At a theoretical level, that may be cliché; but in reality it is hypocritical when the only time we say it is when we are talking about people who engage in homosexual conduct. We don’t say it about fornicators or adulterers, the proud, the avaricious, the calumniators, the rash judgers, the lustful. Some people have the attitude that homosexuals have to refrain from homosexual conduct as a condition of being welcome, but we never withdraw the welcome from gossips, from money-grubbers, from cohabiting couples.

The problem for many if us is that there are ingrained habits of mind which it will take sustained effort to change, but we have to do it. We have to catch ourselves whenever we find ourselves making judgments on gay, when we think of them as cases in moral theology, when we start regarding being on good terms with them as something we need to justify to ourselves. We need to see them as individuals, not as members of a category. Which means we have to be willing and able to become acquaintances, friendly acquaintances, and friends, with whom we deal as ordinary people. When enough of us do that, perhaps fewer gay people will perceive us as enemies.

It may be that the anti-gay prejudice which exists is similar to racism or prejudice against Jews. It can exist in us unnoticed or nearly so, and it can be overcome only with conscious effort. One thing which helps, of course, is getting to know people as individuals, so that we can no longer think of them merely as categories.

Beyond looking at our own attitudes and manners of expression, we should also do what we can to promote a climate in society where expressions of anti-gay prejudice are unacceptable.

Some responses to the killings have suggested that the expression of doctrines which hold homosexual conduct to be wrong is, in and of itself, so damaging to gay people’s sense of acceptance and so productive of a climate of fear among them that those doctrines must no longer be proclaimed. To me, that seems to go too far. It must be acceptable for simple traditional doctrine to be taught by churches to their members. That, however, doesn’t mean that churches need to or should make public statements condemning the private conduct of others.

At this point my thinking on how we should go forward is provisional, but it seems to me that our church leaders should refrain from public statements, press releases, or the like, proclaiming opposition to homosexual conduct. Such positions are already well known and do not need to be repeated. What is needed is a living out of Pope Francis’ “Who am I to judge?” If someone asks a question about what we think, we should answer truthfully, simply, and as non-confrontationally as possible. But otherwise, for those of us who aren’t someone’s pastor or spiritual director, their perceived or proclaimed orientation isn’t really our concern and shouldn’t be an issue, and the sooner we can realize that and live accordingly, the better it will be.

For gay people to feel accepted in our churches, it is necessary that they actually be accepted. For them to feel safe in our society, it is necessary that they be safe. We need to do what we can to promote that acceptance, based on love and respect, and to bring about that safety

Trump, NATO, Putin, & the Baltic States

It seems to me that If Donald Trump becomes President, the Baltic States will be at high risk of being wholly or partially overrun by Russian armed forces and incorporated into Russia. I was led to think about this as I reflected on seeing Congressman Seth Moulton at our Memorial Day services at Abbot Hall, since I had recently corresponded with his office about a recent study by the RAND Corporation — http://www.rand.org/pubs/research_reports/RR1253.html — which found that NATO, as its forces are currently deployed, cannot successfully defend the territory of those states from a Russian invasion. The study further found “that a force of about seven brigades, including three heavy armored brigades — adequately supported by airpower, land-based fires, and other enablers on the ground and ready to fight at the onset of hostilities — could suffice to prevent the rapid overrun of the Baltic states.” Would Donald Trump support such a deployment? Given his attitudes toward NATO and toward Vladimir Putin, I don’t think so.

First, here are some reports of recent statements by Trump regarding NATO.
From Reuters, March 21: Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump said the United States should decrease the amount it spends on the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

“We are paying disproportionately. It’s too much and frankly it’s a different world than it was when we originally conceived of the idea,” Trump said in an interview on CNN.

“We have to reconsider. Keep NATO, but maybe we have to pay a lot less toward NATO itself,” he said.

From Fortune, March 22: Donald Trump added another twist to his already unconventional campaign for the presidency on Monday: he became the first mainstream candidate to ever suggest that the United States withdraw from NATO. His rationale? It costs the U.S. too much money.

In an interview with The Washington Post, the Republican frontrunner chided the North Atlantic Treaty Organization or NATO for its expense. He said the U.S. might need to reduce its involvement in NATO in coming years, a move that would flout Washington’s long-standing support for the 28-member military alliance. “We certainly can’t afford to do this anymore,” Trump said. “NATO is costing us a fortune, and yes, we’re protecting Europe with NATO, but we’re spending a lot of money.”

… He said the United States should not be focused on nation-building overseas; money should be spent domestically instead. “I just think we have to rebuild our country,” he said.

Later on CNN, Trump clarified that he didn’t necessarily want to shrink the U.S.’s role in NATO; he just wanted the nation to pay less.

From CNN, March 22: Donald Trump said the U.S. should rethink its involvement in NATO because the defense alliance costs too much money.
In remarks to CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, Trump said the U.S. pays a disproportionate amount to NATO to ensure the security of allies.

“Frankly, they have to put up more money,” he said. “We are paying disproportionately. It’s too much, and frankly it’s a different world than it was when we originally conceived of the idea.”
For instance, Trump said Washington was “taking care” of Ukraine and that other European nations were not doing enough to support the Kiev government that has been locked in a long showdown with Moscow. …

Later in the interview, Trump qualified his remarks saying that the U.S. should not “decrease its role” in NATO but should decrease its spending.

Here’s analysis on March 24 in Business Insder: Geopolitical expert Ian Bremmer said Thursday that Donald Trump’s skepticism of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization would give the Kremlin more breathing room on the world stage.

“That’s certainly a reason Putin decided to endorse Trump — he understands that US allies will be supported less in a potential Trump administration, giving the Kremlin more room to maneuver,” Bremmer, who is president of the Eurasia Group, told Business Insider in an email.

Earlier in the day, Trump criticized NATO, the world’s most powerful military alliance, as “obsolete.”

“It is time to renegotiate, and the time is now!” the Republican presidential frontrunner tweeted.

Trump argued that NATO, which was formed in 1949 to counter the Soviet Union and nationalist militarism in Europe, should focus more on terrorism. The terrorist group ISIS claimed responsibility for Tuesday’s attacks in Brussels, where NATO is based, that killed more than 30 people.  …

Considering NATO’s tensions with Russia, Trump’s suggestion that the US might back away from this alliance could be seen as a coup for the Kremlin.

Putin has spoken highly of Trump. And Trump has defended Putin when the US media asks about the Russian government’s alleged assassinations of its political enemies.

This is a change in tone from American politicians who have criticized Russia or emphasized the need to keep the Kremlin in check. …

Trump’s comments are also consistent with his campaign message of negotiating better “deals” for Americans.

“The strongest consistent piece of Trump’s policy platform isn’t to Make America Great Again,” Bremmer said.

He continued:

It’s America First. Blaming outsiders for America’s woes. Mexicans are coming to rape our women. Chinese and Japanese are robbing us blind. Muslim refugees want to come here and blow us up. And the Europeans are free riding on American defense.

Finally, from ft.com, April 3: Donald Trump has stepped up his attack on Nato, saying he would force member nations to leave the transatlantic security organisation unless they contributed more money to what he said was an “obsolete” defence alliance.
The Republican presidential contender has been lambasting Nato since he told the Washington Post recently that he would downgrade the US role in the 28-member alliance, which has formed the cornerstone of the US-European defence relationship for decades.
Speaking in Wisconsin ahead of the state’s primary on Tuesday, he went further by saying that Nato’s demise would not be a serious problem.
“Its possible that we’re going to have to let Nato go,” Mr Trump told supporters in Eau Claire. “When we’re paying and nobody else is really paying, a couple of other countries are but nobody else is really paying, you feel like the jerk.”
Mr Trump said that, if elected US president, he would contact many of the other 27 Nato members and put pressure on them to make a larger financial contribution or leave.
“I call up all of those countries . . . and say ‘fellas you haven’t paid for years, give us the money or get the hell out’,” Mr Trump said to loud cheers. “I’d say you’ve gotta pay us or get out. You’re out, out, out . . . Maybe Nato will dissolve, and that’s OK, not the worst thing in the world.”
Addressing a crowd in Wisconsin on Saturday, Mr Trump asserted that the US was paying 73 per cent towards Nato, but figures from the organisation show that Washington contributes 22 per cent of the direct budget, followed by Germany which pays 15 per cent, and France which puts up 11 per cent. …

With such an attitude toward the alliance, he seems unlikely to want to use American armed forces and money to defend our allies.

 

As for Vladimir Putin, here’s what Trump says.

From The Guardian, July 30, 2015: … He admitted that he had no idea what characteristics he shared with Putin, but the Russians loved him. “I think I would probably get along very well with Russia. I think I would probably get along very well with Putin. I think I would probably get along very well with the people of China.” …

From the Atlantic, December 18, 2015: “It is always a great honor to be so nicely complimented by a man so highly respected within his own country and beyond.

I have always felt that Russia and the United States should be able to work well with each other towards defeating terrorism and restoring world peace, not to mention trade and all of the other benefits derived from mutual respect.”

From Washington Post.com, December 29, 2015: Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump defended Russian President Vladimir Putin against accusations that he has assassinated political adversaries and journalists, responding to criticism from his rivals over his embrace of praise from the Russian leader.

“Nobody has proven that he’s killed anyone. … He’s always denied it. It’s never been proven that he’s killed anybody,” Trump said on ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday. “You’re supposed to be innocent until proven guilty, at least in our country. It has not been proven that he’s killed reporters.”
On Thursday, Putin praised Trump during a wide-ranging news conference, calling him “talented without doubt” and “brilliant.” Trump has embraced the remarks, drawing fire from critics such as Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who facetiously called the alliance “a match made in heaven.” Trump welcomed Putin’s praise, citing it as proof that a Trump administration would be able to work well with the Russians.

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, at a campaign event in Iowa, continued to tout praise from Russia’s Vladimir Putin saying, “Wouldn’t it be nice if … Russia and us could knock out an enemy together?” (Reuters)
“If he has killed reporters, I think that’s terrible. But this isn’t like somebody that’s stood with a gun and he’s, you know, taken the blame or he’s admitted that he’s killed. He’s always denied it,” Trump added.

 

Given all of this, it is hardly surprising to read in the Wall Street Journal of May 13, “One proposal that has garnered positive Russian attention is Mr. Trump’s suggestion that the North Atlantic Treaty Organization focus on combating terrorism instead of deterring Russian aggression. That alarms officials in Ukraine and the Baltics, former Soviet states that fear they could become Mr. Putin’s next targets following Russia’s annexation of Ukrainian region of Crimea in early 2014.”

It does not seem to occur to Mr. Trump that there can be benefits to the United States other than monetary ones from our alliances, nor does it seem to occur to him that other countries aren’t as well fixed to provide for their defense, nor does it seem to occur to him that small countries certainly cannot maintain or pay for military forces strong enough to defeat aggression from large countries, nor does it seem to occur to him that keeping our word in the form of our treaty obligations to our allies is both legally and morally required.

While NATO was established to defend against a threat that does not now exist, namely expansionist international Communism, Russian expansionism is a new threat, taken seriously enough by RAND for them to undertake their study. Even if Putin would be content to stop at hegemony over the territory of the former Warsaw Pact, there is no justification for is expansion into any of those now independent nations of Europe (or Asia, for that matter). It seems probable that Donald Trump would see no financial benefit, and hence no value, in protecting the Baltics from a Russian takeover. If he could get an agreement from Putin to destroy ISIS, he’d probably think it was a good deal for the U.S. to sacrifice the Baltic States to get that agreement. The risk is too great. We must not elect Donald Trump.

 

 

Memorial Day in Marblehead — 2016

Because of a rainstorm moving up the coast overnight, our parade was cancelled and the ceremonies moved indoors to the Abbot Hall auditorium. (When I was a selectman, we never had rain on Memorial Day.) It was unfortunate that the units that make up the parade were unable to participate, except for the band which comes from Lawrence. They provided music before the program began and provided the national anthem, “Marblehead Forever,” and “God Bless America” at the end.

The ceremonies began with the advancing of the colors from the rear of the auditorium followed by an excellent invocation by Rabbi David Meyer of Temple Emanu-El. Next was the laying of wreaths by various officials, including Roger Hamson the honorary grand marshal, our speakers, Congressman Moulton in his marine uniform, and various Town officials. Our speakers were two Grader cousins, both Marine Corps veterans. (See this story for brief biographical information.) The first speaker was Lt. Col. Derek Grader, who had served in the Middle East. He spoke specifically of the holiday as one honoring those who gave their lives in defense of our country. He gave three specific examples of individuals he had known in the service. Two were people he had met during his service, good people whose deaths he grieved. The third was a classmate of his from Marblehead, Chris Piper. All three left children behind when they were killed. He made the point with these examples that the people whose memories we honor are not numbers in a toll or names on a page or monument: they are individuals with their own life stories; they are sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers. It was a very poignant speech.

Next, Capt. Moses Grader spoke of our military as citizen soldiers. In the oath of enlistment they freely take they swear “to defend the Constitution of the United States of America,” — not the United States, not a king or queen, idea or ideology. This, he said, is unique. It is the Constitution which guarantees our rights and liberties as citizens and makes the United States exceptional. Thus what they defend is those rights and liberties. In swearing to obey the orders of the President and the officers above them in the chain of command and the regulations of the service, they give up some of their freedoms and liberties as citizens in order to defend those freedoms and liberties for their fellow citizens. Because of the burden of service which they willingly  undertake, it is appropriate that the oath concluded with an invocation of God’s help in fulfilling it. It was a thought-provoking speech. Both speeches were well received.

Then Dave Rogers, our Veterans Agent, read the roll of the veterans who had died since Memorial Day, 2015. It amazes me that there are still dozens of World War II veterans whose names are read every year. It seems as if most of our young men at the time must have served. The playing of Taps followed the reading of the names of the deceased. After a fine benediction by Rabbi Meyer, the musical selections and the retiring of the colors concluded the ceremonies.

I’m very proud of Marblehead for the way we observe Memorial Day every year. Other towns may do something similar; I’m not familiar with their observances. But what matters to me is that my town maintains such a fine tradition, reminding ourselves on this day, and again on Veterans Day, of the gratitude we owe to those who served in our armed forces and, especially today, those who gave their lives for us. It’s good that that we honor them as we do.

Red Cups in the Sunset (or Starbucks)

The past couple of days have seen a fair amount of internet talk about Starbucks’ red cup for this year. It’s basically just a plain red cup with a Starbucks logo on the front, and the usual spaces on the back to indicate things about the contents.

Since I don’t regularly patronize Starbucks, I hadn’t been aware that they’ve traditionally had a red cup. But it seems many people are frankly incensed because in prior years the cups had a seasonal design, and they take the lack of imagery this year as symptomatic of a war on Christmas or a war on Jesus.  I think the controversy is a tempest in a teapot.

In the first place, there is nothing inherently wrong with this year’s design.

Even more to the point is this article which I came across. It shows that over the past several years the designs on the red cups were of things such as snowmen, sledders, people dressed for cold weather, and words like “hope.” In other words, no nativity scenes, now word Christmas, nor anything else explicitly Christian. The idea that winter scenes are what Christmas is about, of course, is nonsense. The idea that not having winter scenes on a red cup is anti-Christian is even greater nonsense.

I’d even say that Starbucks has, probably inadvertently, taken a small step to restore the true meaning of Christmas by removing the secularized images which often pass for Christmas decorations. Instead of complaining, Christians who know what Christmas is really about should be thanking Starbucks for this year’s design, not criticizing and even calling for boycotts. In that spirit, I went to a Starbucks today, and bought a cup of their Thanksgiving Blend coffee.

Once there, what to my wondering eyes should appear, but bags of their Christmas Blend coffee for sale (rushing the season a bit, but that’s what retailers do). Even more wonderful, in front of the bar was a barrel with large boxes whose cellophane front showed the contents: a large white triangle with colorfully covered round objects, looking sort of like Christmas tree ornaments. They were labelled Advent Calendar, and they promised a daily treat.

Far from warring on Christmas, Starbucks is recognizing not only Christmas but, truly rare and worthy of applause, Advent as well. Those calling for a boycott have made themselves look really foolish.

Avoiding Great Performances

As part of my subscription  to the Boston Symphony this season, I had a ticket to the October 15 performance of Richard Strauss’s opera “Elektra.” This was the first of three performances. It was given again on Saturday, October 17, and again in Carnegie Hall the following Wednesday, October 21. It drew reviews ranging from the favorable to rave — Boston Musical Intelligencer, Boston Globe, The Arts Fuse, and the New York Times. It seems to have been a performance not to be  missed, one for the ages.

I say “seems” because I wasn’t there, having exchanged my ticket for one to the November 5 concert, which will include the American premiere of Unsuk Chin’s “Mannequin,” a work co-commissioned y the BSO. I try to attend all premieres given by the orchestra in Boston, whether they are the world, American, Boston, or BSO premiere. I consider them special events, and therefore worth attending. I think of famous premieres of the past, such as the concert where Beethoven premiered four of his works, or the premiere of “The Rite of Spring,” where a riot broke out; and I think how wonderful it would have been to be there. Any premiere holds the possibility of being a similarly noteworthy occasion. Facetiously, I say, “Fifty years from now, I can tell people I was there for the premiere.”

As for “Elektra,” I had seen a video performance on TV a number of years ago, and the opera wasn’t something I wanted to hear again. So even if an end-of-season Race Committee party had gotten scheduled for the 15th, I probably would have made the ticket exchange, even though I could have gotten a ticket for the 5th some other way.

The result was that I seem to have missed hearing a really spectacular performance. Of course, in advance I had no way of knowing it would be that good. If I had somehow known, I might have deliberated seriously about it. There is something to be said for hearing a really spectacular performance, even if it isn’t a piece one particularly likes. But there are limits. I don’t think I’d ever go to hear “Lulu,” even if I knew it would be the best performance ever. Berg’s music and the story are just too repulsive. Similarly, I’d never go to a performance of something by Milton Babbitt, no matter how well it was to be played (unless it was part of a larger program). Under James Levine, the BSO played something by Babbitt, and it’s among the worst things I’ve ever heard. On the other hand, although I have no real interest in hearing “La Boheme” or “Also Sprach Zarathustra” again, if I had reason to believe that an upcoming performance would be one for the ages, I’d be interested to hear it. The “reverse side of the coin” is that I’d be happy to hear a mediocre performance of Beethoven’s 3rd or 5th symphony or piano concerto, or “Il Trovatore,” but not a really terrible one.

In this particular instance, I have mild regret that I missed this “Elektra,” but I’m not “kicking myself” over it.