“Trickle Down:” Inefficient Stimulus

As I understand it, the “trickle down” theory says that if the top tax rates are reduced, those in the top brackets will put the money into business activities which will hire lower-bracket people. Those people, in turn will spend the money they get, which will support a growing economy. The increased wage and business income will lead to additional tax revenue which, it is claimed, will balance the revenue lost when taxes were cut.

Thus, the benefits are largely dependent on additional money finding its way into the pockets of those in the lower tax brackets. Lowering the top rates is a means to that end. It seems to me that, instead of the two step process of trickle down, it would make more sense to focus the tax cuts on the lower brackets and increase the refundable credits in order to benefit even those who have no tax liability.

Another thing which would help drive the expansion of the economy would be what is generally called “universal basic income:” a fixed amount, sufficient to provide necessities of life, given monthly to every resident (possibly less for minors living at home). For the unemployed and those living paycheck to paycheck, this would represent a significant increase in spending power, leading to a significant increase in spending, further stimulating the economy. Businesses would expand, producing the goods most people need and want.

Unlike “trickle down,” which depends on the wealthiest to use their tax savings in ways that put money in the hands of the less well off, lowering the taxes of the less well off and (or) providing a universal basic income will accomplish directly what trickle down can only accomplish indirectly and with a real possibility of some of the lost revenue going to other things (e.g., foreign travel, investment, or purchases).

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Trump and the Protests against Racial Injustice

As appalling as Donald Trump’s statements about the protests in the NFL during the National Anthem have been, I’m more unhappy at the reactions of many who have commented on social media.

Although Colin Kaepernick spoke about the reason for his protest, many people ignore what he said and insist, contrary to what he said, that the protesters are disrespecting the flag and the country, some going so far as to insist that the protest was exactly the same as burning the flag or spitting on it. They are fabricating a straw man — possibly as a way of justifying their failure to deal with the real issue. At any rate, unlike many protests, this is peaceful, non-disruptive, and about as respectful as a protest can be (no signs, no chants, a genuflection). As I see it, the protest does not disrespect the flag or the country. It calls the country to live up to our professed values and principles, specifically in the way black people are treated.

Some people try to make the issue one of respect for our armed forces, past and present. Again, that is a fabrication. Not only is it clear that the protest isn’t directed at our armed forces, but also it is an error to suppose that the National Anthem is specifically about the troops and veterans. It’s about the whole country, “the land of the free,” which promises “EQUAL protection of the laws” to all because “ALL … are created equal … with [the same] unalienable rights.” (Emphasis supplied.) The protest is over a perceived failure of the country to deliver what it promises, and many veterans share the perception of the protestors.

Beyond the misrepresentations of the meaning of the protest, there is a denial of the validity of the protest on its own terms. People say, in effect, “What racism?” either they deny racism outright or they try to deny that it’s a big problem. But even if the opponents haven’t observed any racism that doesn’t mean it isn’t there. If they think it’s not a major problem for black people — since clearly it wouldn’t be one for white people — the question is how they could know that. One has to understand the experience and perceptions of black citizens. What has made the protests ring true to them? Until someone realizes that. one is in no position to dismiss the complaint of injustice. Any attempt to dispute the validity of the protest will fail to convince the protestors. Furthermore, it will not truly address the protest.

Some people do not dismiss the protest itself or misrepresent its meaning but still try to argue that, valid as the protest may be, kneeling during the National Anthem is the wrong way to make the protest. The editors of National Review, for example, said that there were “a dozen ways” in which the protest could appropriately be made. But they didn’t offer any. If people want to say, do it differently, they need to give specifics about what form of protest would be acceptable. It seems significant that when one team knelt, not during the anthem, but before it, they were booed as if it were during the anthem, giving rise to the suspicion that for many, it’s not about the National Anthem  — that what they really hate is these uppity black people protesting at all.

What Donald Trump has done is to confirm the misrepresentations of the issue in many people’s minds, and he has done so in a way which once again shows that he is a boorish demagogue. His praise of NASCAR introduces a real irony with regard to the “disrespect for the flag” spin. It has been pointed out that NASCAR events are notable for people waving Confederate flags in the stands. It’s a greater disrespect to the flag, to the armed forces, and to our country to proudly wave the flag of rebellion against the United States than to genuflect quietly during “The Star Spangled Banner.”

I’ve heard it suggested that the protests were fading out of public awareness, and that Trump has blundered into making them a big issue again. Whether they will continue at the level of last weekend is doubtful, but at least many more people have been thinking about the protests than would have if he had kept quiet about them. But since he has misrepresented the issue, it has done nothing to promote the reflection which should be taking place. He did the country no service. Some people think he did this to take people’s attention away from his failure to get a repeal of Obamacare or his terrible performance in dealing with North Korea. I doubt he is intelligent enough to plan such a diversion. But I have no doubt he’s been paying attention to the protests to the detriment of fulfilling his real responsibilities.

The sooner he leaves office and is replaced by someone sane, intelligent, and competent, the better it will be for all of us, but it will take more than what has happened so far for the votes to be there to remove him from office. Meanwhile there is only a slender hope that he will decide he is tired of being President and resign.

Impeach Now!: Profile in Courage or Quixotic?


According to Aristotle the principal virtue needed in a statesman is prudence.

For a number of years I was vaguely aware of Sheriff Joe Arpaio, But I didn’t think much about him until a minister from Marblehead went to Phoenix to participate in a protest against his actions. When she returned, she told the story which is repeated in this article. Hearing her account of the brutality of Joe Arpaio and his deputies is what convinced me that he deserved no support from anybody. There are other, more widely circulated, accounts  of what can only be called police brutality at his behest over the years, as well as other sorts of malfeasance in office.

From the time I heard Donald Trump in the debates during the campaigns, I have been convinced that  he is intellectually and psychologically unfit to hold public office. My hope has been that his advisors and subordinates would be able to restrain him from leading us into a disaster. But the danger he represents is so great that I hope he will be removed from office as soon as possible.

There are two possible methods of removal: impeachment by the House for high crimes and misdemeanors and conviction by a 2/3 vote of the Senate; or a declaration by the Vice President and a majority of the Cabinet that he is unable to discharge the duties of his office (supported by votes of the House and Senate if the President claims he isn’t disabled). Each method has hurdles.

Impeachment requires an impeachable act. In my opinion, the pardon of Joe Arpaio is an abuse of the pardoning power so egregious as to be grounds for impeachment and removal, and I said, “Impeach Now,” in several things I posted at the time of the pardon. I realize, however, that a motion to impeach based on the pardon would be unlikely to pass in the House, much less gain sufficient votes for conviction in the Senate.

Similarly, Trump’s unfitness for office is not the sort of discrete event, such as a heart attack, which the 25th Amendment was intended to cover — even if the grown-ups around him realize that he’s not right in the head. It would take some serious event demonstrating his disconnection from reality for the VP and Cabinet to say, in effect, “He’s incompetent now in a way he hasn’t been since the day he took office.

Beyond these considerations, there is the question of prudence, as Aristotle reminds us. An officeholder must consider the consequences of his actions. A good officeholder can make accurate judgments about the likely consequences. Thus, a Vice President, Cabinet member, Representative, or Senator needs to act based on the likely result of a possible action. What will happen if s/he acts to declare the President unable to govern or votes to impeach or convict?

Clearly, if the votes aren’t there to make the action stick, if the necessary majority does not exist, any action will be futile, and will only expose the person to possible loss of office either by removal from the Cabinet, or by defeat at the hands of angry voters who support the President. We can admire “profiles in courage,” but it does no real good to be defeated over a predictable failure.

But what if one could be part of a successful majority and still face defeat at the next election by voters angry at the removal of Donald Trump? The facile answer is that removing him from office is so much more important than the details of future legislation as to make it prudent for the long term good of the country. But I can concede that a moderate might consider being replaced by an alt-right candidate in the primary is worse for the country, especially if it is likely to happen in many districts. Similarly, a Republican could consider that losing his or her Senate seat to a Democrat, with consequences for the confirmation of conservative nominees to the Supreme Court, would be too great a price to pay.

At this point, the best hope is that the Mueller investigations will produce enough evidence to convince Representative and Senators that they must impeach and convict Donald Trump, and that the case will be clear and strong enough that even many who voted for Trump will realize the his removal was justified. Alternatively, and even better, would be an outcome similar to that with Nixon — Trump decides that he can’t win, or that the cost of fighting would be too much (such as disclosure of compromising tapes) — and he decides to resign.

I hope that those with the authority to act, especially Republican Senators and Representatives, are discussing privately what might feasibly and prudently be done to bring about Donald Trump’s removal from office.

Free Speech, Trump, Charlottesville, and Boston

Freedom of speech is a right of American citizens guaranteed against government interference by the First Amendment. While the protection does not directly apply to  actions against speech by individuals or non-governemntal organizations, the laws against violence apply. Clearly, the right of free speech is not absolute: incitement to violence and the like are not protected, for example.

 

Nevertheless, over the past year we have seen a number of examples of scheduled right wing speakers being disinvited by universities because of threats from the left wing. Dennis Prager’s appearance as guest conductor at several has been opposed because of his right-wing opinions. In Berkeley, the anti-right protestors actually resorted to rioting.

 

Whether or not Donald Trump had these examples or left wing intolerance, protests, and violence against right wing people (not all of whom are Nazis, KKK, or advocates of violence) in mind when he spoke after the violence at Charlottesville, it is clear that there has been violence advocated and perpetrated by “both sides” in our recent history. A “Free Speech” rally was scheduled to take place in Boston a week after Charlottesville. Even before Charlottesville there was much handwringing by the mayor, others, and the press about not wanting the event. The anonymous organizers went public, claimed that they were only interested in upholding the right of unpopular speakers to speak,  and disinvited some scheduled alt-right speakers from their event. Counter-protests were planned; and the mayor, governor, police commissioner, and newspapers called for both sides to refrain from violence. The event took place without serious incident. The police decided that they needed to protect the rally organizers and speakers from potential violence by driving them away in police cars.

 

It seems to me that there is hypocrisy when Trump is excoriated for calling attention to the presence of violence-prone and peaceful people on both left and right, while others who acknowledge the fact receive no rebuke (since they are merely acknowledging what is common knowledge).

 

Clearly, Nazis and neo-Nazis profess allegiance to an ideology hostile to the United States. The KKK and other white supremacists set themselves in opposition to the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence. There is no justification for them to resort to violence, but they have not forfeited their First Amendment rights. Nobody is obligated to provide a forum for them or to listen to them, but nobody has a right to prevent them from speaking peaceably where they are invited. Similarly, the opponents of Trump and the opponents of the alt-right have no right to resort to violence, but they have the right to present their position peaceably.

 

The threat of violence, and worse still its use, strikes me as a serious challenge to our system of self-government. The legitimate way for citizens to achieve their goals is by petition and through elections, not by violence.

 

 

“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