The Senate Needs to do a 9th Step

Step Nine. The 9th Step of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and other 12-step support groups is familiar to anyone involved in recovery. It’s the step in which individuals recognize that their past behavior under the influence of addiction has caused harm to others; and that if they are to have any integrity in their recovery, they must do what they can to make amends, to make things right again. Here’s Step Nine in the words of AA:

“Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.”

Step Nine of Alcoholics Anonymnous

The “such people” referred to in Step Nine are those mentioned in the previous Step Eight, “… a list of all persons we had harmed.”

What does this have to do with the Senate of today? Well, in 2016 Leader Mitch McConnell and Republican Senators did grave harm to the tradition of the US Senate, to the United States Constitution, and to the American People. McConnell and friends took great pride in blocking then-President Obama from fulfilling his Constitutional duty when they would not even consider Judge Merrick Garland, nominated by Obama to fill a recently vacated Supreme Court seat after the untimely death of Justice Antonin Scalia. None of this history is in doubt. Nor, in doubt, are the reasons McConnell took such action — to block a duly-elected President with 11 months left in his term from filling a vacancy on the nation’s highest court.

Instead of doing what they were supposed to do — and with 270 days before the upcoming presidential election — McConnell and Senate Republicans chose to leave the Supreme Court with just 8 Justices. McConnell’s choice to leave the Court with hands tied did not take long to have real life consequences. In March 2016, the Court handed down its first deadlocked 4-4 decision in the case of Hawkins vs Community Bank of Raymore.

The power to which McConnell and his senate colleagues are addicted is no less destructive than the substances of alcohol and heroin and crystal meth that can destroy not only brains and bodies, but also families, friendships, and the bonds of affection between fellow humans.

Does the sitting president have the right to nominate someone to fill the current Supreme Court vacancy upon the very recent passing of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg? Yes. When such a nomination is received, does the US Senate have a constitutional responsibility to act on that nomination as they give “advice and consent” to such presidential nominees? Yes, again.

But the issue, however, is that none of what is currently happening exists in a vacuum. There is one inescapable aspect in the situation described above — McConnell’s 2016 unprecedented attack on the authority not of the Presidency, but on the authority of one particular President, Barack Obama. That inescapable fact is that the actions of the Senate at that time did not just do harm, but did grave harm — harm for which amends must be made if they and the Senate, the Constitution, and the American People are to be made more whole once again.

If we as a nation are to return to a less-politicized notion of the Supreme Court — thinking of the Justices not as one writer put it as “politicians in black robes,” but rather as the (almost) final arbiters of Justice in our Constitutional democracy — then the Senate now must make amends. They must NOT take action on any nominee offered by the current president.

By not taking action now, Senators will demonstrate that they recognize that in 2016 their actions revealed just how drunk with power they were (and in many ways still are). By not taking action now and by waiting until the inauguration of a new president in 2021, they will tell the American People that they recognize they were wrong in 2016, and that they wish to make amends. By not taking action now, they will be telling the American People of today and future generations that they can put country over party, that they can put aside petty politics and do what is right.

Justice Ginsburg died just 47 days before the presidential election scheduled for Nov. 3, 2020. In fact, however, she died after voting in this election has already begun, given that several states began mail-in voting in early September. (See Then and Now: What McConnell, others said about Merrick Garland in 2016 vs. after Ginsburg’s death for a more complete timeline.)

If the Senate moves forward with a nominee that the current president seems intent on putting forth, they will show that not only are they still very drunk with power, but that the deadly effects of such addiction are affecting us all, and that — like most addicts in the midst of addiction — they don’t care about anyone or anything else, other than their next fix.

Race, Religion, and Empathy

Donald Trump at his June 20 rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma

The National Catholic Reporter reports that Trump support declines among white and Hispanic Catholics. From my perspective, that’s a good thing. This indicates that the president’s support among Catholics is trending in the right direction. But … and there’s always a “but” … that story’s sub-heading is not so positive: But poll finds he would still win the white Catholic vote. Based on a recent poll from the Pew Research Center, it seems that 57% of White Catholics still say they would “vote for/lean toward voting for” Trump. Though different conclusions may be drawn from the same data, these data continue to paint a picture that says this: White Catholics tend to value their “Whiteness” more than their “Catholicity.”

As a White Catholic who is also gay and of Irish heritage (today would be the 108th birthday of my Dublin-born maternal grandmother!), this is what I find so troubling: I and those who came before me know what it feels like to be “othered,” to be excluded, to be on the outside looking in. Thankfully, great progress has been made for Irish-Americans, though there was a period not too long ago when there was significant anti-Irish sentiment in America, and “NINA” (No Irish Need Apply”) signs often accompanied employers’ Help Wanted advertisements. Even more recently, the increased acceptance in American society of LGBTQ people has been a beacon of hope for those who, less than a generation ago, were often compelled to remain closeted about a fundamental aspect of who they/we are. The great promise of America is that there is no such thing as the “other.” Our national motto — E Pluribus Unum (Out of Many, One) — enshrines the more folksy sentiment that in this country, every stranger is simply “a friend I haven’t yet met.” Americans’ greatness becomes real when we practice what we preach, when we welcome with open arms the world’s tired, poor, and huddled masses “yearning to breathe free.”

And yet … when we look at our current president, and especially at our fellow citizens who so vocally support him at his rallies and online, we hear nothing but “othering” language which tries to build walls between the false dichotomy of “us and them.” Trump’s entire presidency (some might say his entire life) has been marked by using race, religion, sex, gender and ethnicity to “other” any and all who might challenge him, disagree with him, or see things differently than he. As humans, the experience of having been “excluded” is an experience that should increase our empathy, not propagate discord, disdain, and division. Empathy is the ability to stand in someone else’s shoes, to see the world through their eyes, and recognize that their experience is valid and valuable. Empathy opens my mind and my heart, and leads me to embrace more deeply the truth that we are much more alike than we are different. Empathy — and my faith — tell me that, deep down, there really is no “us and them,” there’s only US.

The Morality of a Vote

Does my vote mean anything? Does it really make a difference if I check the name of Candidate A or Candidate B? Does it matter whether his/her name has an “R” or a “D” next to it?  If you think your vote has little impact, think again.

Just as surely as every elected official is responsible for his/her policies pursued and official actions taken, so too does your vote, my vote, have a moral impact.  If you voted for Donald Trump and you don’t see the link between that vote, Trump’s election, and the murder of George Floyd, then your blindness is either willful or ignorant. Either way, you bear responsibility.

In his opinion piece today, George Will lays it out pretty clearly.  In part, he writes:

“The person voters hired in 2016 to ‘take care that the laws be faithfully executed’ stood on July 28, 2017, in front of uniformed police and urged them ‘please don’t be too nice’ when handling suspected offenders. His hope was fulfilled for 8 minutes and 46 seconds on Minneapolis pavement.”

Screen Shot 2020-06-02 at 7.48.18 PM

Trump’s Angry Tirade

Screen Shot 2020-04-14 at 5.42.32 AM“That’s just the left-wing media,” or “You need to stop watching that fake news.” Such are the baseless comments from Trump supporters whenever I’ve tried to engage them in thoughtful conversations about the current president.  When I try to explain that no, I’m not just parroting back what I’ve read in the Washington Post or the New York Times or seen on CNN; that what I’m sharing has come directly from Trump himself, I’m dismissed either with disbelief or an assertion that I’m exaggerating or taking him out of context.  Well, my Republican friends, what do you say when there’s no interpretation, no spin … just the words of Mr. Trump himself to provide full context and no exaggeration?

Yesterday’s White House briefing, ostensibly another update from the federal Coronavirus Task Force, was a sight to behold.  The paper-thin-skinned resident of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue apparently couldn’t take it anymore.  Apparently the aptly-titled and well-documented article from the NY Times, He Could Have Seen What Was Coming: Behind Trump’s Failure on the Virus was more than that thin skin could bear when the president was asked about it.  So, instead of spending the news conference providing reporters and the American people with much needed information about the virus’s impact on us all, the complainer-in-chief spent most of the time trying to defend himself against that article’s assertions — doing so, I might add, using a campaign-like piece of propaganda prepared by Federal workers on the our dime. The video, by the way, was instructive not so much for what it included, but what it excluded.

While this story from the Washington Post is correctly categorized as “analysis,” it accurately recounts what the “news briefing” was all about.

Here’s the whole briefing:

 

Trump, too, has blood on his hands

For millennia, faith-based principles have attempted to guide the forces of war and peace between powers and nations. I challenge any Catholic or other Christian – or any person of good will, for that matter – to educate yourself on some of these philosophical and theological principles. We do not subscribe to any version of “might makes right” or “my country, right or wrong.” We must hold our leaders and military to strict standards that reflect our deepest values.

https://www.ncronline.org/news/justice/catholic-ethicists-question-us-assassination-iranian-general

The Truly Catholic Vision of Religious Freedom

Today's post from Bondings 2.0, On the USCCB's Fifth (And Hopefully Final) "Fortnight For Freedom", prompted me to re-read Dignitatis Humanae [DH], the Second Vatican Council's Declaration on Religious Freedom. After all, if the bishops or others think that religious liberty and the free exercise of religion are under attack in the US, one would think we should be looking to this important document for guidance.

DH clearly and strongly promotes the rights of individuals and social groups "… to be immune from coercion on the part of individuals or of social groups and of any human power, in such wise that no one is to be forced to act in a manner contrary to his own beliefs, whether privately or publicly, whether alone or in association with others, within due limits."

The bishops' concern that religious persons and institutions might be forced by the government to act in a way that is coercive and violates their "own beliefs" clearly finds some support here. However, that nasty 3-word phrase at the end puts a different slant on things: "within due limits." Several times DH references the "just order of society" and the "due limits" on one's religious freedom. Perhaps the clearest statement is in Article 7, which begins:

"The right to religious freedom is exercised in human society: hence its exercise is subject to certain regulatory norms. In the use of all freedoms the moral principle of personal and social responsibility is to be observed. In the exercise of their rights, individual men [sic] and social groups are bound by the moral law to have respect both for the rights of others and for their own duties toward others and for the common welfare of all. Men are to deal with their fellows in justice and civility."

While the bishops and other "religious freedom" advocates look with limited vision to the US Constitution, they seem to have forgotten the teachings of their own Tradition. DH reminds us of the "due limits" and "regulatory norms" which a just and civil society must enact to ensure the "rights of others" are respected. The bishops' original concern related to healthcare, though quickly was extended to the area of LGBT rights. The US Supreme Court has decided to hear a case from Colorado about the refusal by the owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop, Jack Phillips, to bake a wedding cake for a same-sex couple. Phillips cited his disapproval of same-sex marriage, which he claims to be rooted in his Christian faith, as the reason.

From a Catholic teaching perspective, it'd be quite a stretch to say that the baking of a wedding cake rises to the level of a "religious act" worthy of protection. If it did, then where would it end? In theory, no end would be in sight. After all, any religious person who takes faith seriously would try to express his/her religious values in all aspect of life, right? If that's true, what's to stop said religious person from hiding behind such "religious freedom protections" for any and all acts in which he engages?

As the bishops of Vatican II rightly recognized, civil society has the obligation to impose due limits and appropriate regulatory norms on the exercise of religious freedom. Such limits and norms must respect the rights of ALL citizens. As we celebrate today 241 years of independence from political tyranny, may we be always strive to be free from tyranny of all stripes, even when wrapped in red, white and blue.

 

Trusting that All Will Be Well

Demonstrators in front of US Capitol (Dec. 2012)

Demonstrators in front of US Capitol (Dec. 2012)

This week has been hard.

Taking a brief 3-day cruise that began last Sunday, we were at sea and “off the grid” for the final days of the recent election. I did not sleep Tuesday evening, tossing and turning and praying all night. By 6 am we had arrived within sight of Port Everglades and cellular service was returning. While following my morning routine of going to the Deck 5 coffee shop, I was able to get a ful cellular signal. I opened the Washington Post app on my phone and saw the words, “Trump Triumphs.” I felt ill; I sat down for a few moments in the empty lounge I was passing through. I returned to our stateroom (sans cappucino) to share the news with my partner. I don’t think I’m revealing too much when I say that we cried. It remains unfathomable to me how anyone — including some family and friends — could have voted for a man who seems to be without moral compass and whose campaign brought out the worst in the human spirit. This Huffington Post commentary expresses what I and so many millions of Americans are feeling. As commentator Jennifer Sullivan writes, “The entire Trump/Pence ticket’s platform revolves around making other individuals be made to feel less than. It is divisive. It is harmful. And it stands in stark opposition to every ideal this country was founded upon.”  For me, the enduring feeling — as someone on Facebook stated — is as if my neighbors, my family, my friends voted against me.

It Is What It Is

One of the essential elements of mental and spiritual health is the ability to live in reality. And so I recognize and accept what is. Tuesday cannot be undone. Our quirky Electoral College system that allows someone who came in 2nd to be named the winner cannot be retroactively changed. One hundred million voters who decided their vote didn’t count cannot now cast their ballots and have their voices heard, too.

The only option we have is to move forward, reminding ourselves daily of the values we hold most dear and how those values impact our daily lives and daily choices. Like the demonstrators above who were not afraid to demonstrate for peace on the grounds of the US Capitol, we too must find ways of ensuring that our voices are heard in the public square — whenever and however we can.

julian-of-norwichAgain, this has been a tough week. But I took comfort this morning from this passage in Richard Rohr’s Everything Belongs (p. 132).

“Again I quote beloved Julian of Norwich in her famous thirteenth Showing. ‘In fear and trembling,’ she asked Jesus, ‘O good Lord, how can all be well when great harm has come to your creatures through sin? And here I wanted, if I dared, to have some clearer explanation to put my mind at rest.’ And he said, ‘Since I have brought good out of the worst-ever evil, I want you to know by this; that I shall bring good out of all the lesser evils, too.'”

Or, as Julian is famously quoted:  “All shall be well, and all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well.”