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.

Trump Supporter? Our votes say more about US than about him (or her)

“‘I Alone’: Trump’s Dangerous Authoritarianism” (Commonweal Magazine Editorial)

Do you support Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump? Do you plan on giving him your vote when you enter the voting booth come November? If you do, do yourself and your fellow Americans a favor. Take five minutes and read the editorial from Commonweal linked above. As you do, ask yourself if you really and truly believe in the ideals and principles of American Constitutional Democracy. Ask yourself if you believe in the principles that distinguish the United States from monarchies and oligarchies and theocracies and dictatorships. Ask yourself if you understand what separates American Constitutional Democracy from Fascism, Nazism, and even from anarchy. Ask yourself if “justice for all” and “checks and balances” and “E Pluribus Unum” are more than slogans, but have real meaning for this country we all cherish. Ask yourself these questions, because at some point, this presidential election becomes not about him (or her), but about us. Your vote, my vote, will say more about ourselves than it will about the person for whom we vote.

Please read the full editorial. But if you don’t read the full piece, the last paragraph sums it up:

I alone. That is how Trump promises to govern: as an authoritarian who trusts his instincts and refuses to be bothered by Washington’s outdated constraints, otherwise known as checks and balances. And that is exactly what too many of his supporters seem to want. During Trump’s speech at the convention, as he shouted his way from one grandiose promise or ominous threat to another, the assembled delegates—whipped up into a braying mob—could be heard chanting ‘YES YOU CAN!’ This is not what democracy looks like.”

Clinton/Kaine vs Trump/Pence – a study in religious contrasts

Hillary Clinton and running mate Tim Kaine

Hillary Clinton (r) and running mate Tim Kaine

From the perspective of Christian faith, it’s hard to imagine a more stark study in contrasts than that between the recently announced presidential/vice-presidential teams. Tim Kaine gave a rousing speech yesterday (July 23, 2016) when he appeared for the first time after being chosen by Hillary Clinton as her running mate. Kaine proudly declared, “Soy católico … I’m Catholic…” and his speech was filled with explicit references that show how deeply his Catholic Christian faith has formed his values and directed his life’s work. Kaine impresses as profoundly influenced by his Jesuit education, his missionary work in Honduras, and his commitment to the teachings of Jesus as a lawyer who worked to defend the housing rights of the poor. The Clinton/Kaine duo proclaim that their lives were formed by a faith that asked how they could help others. It is a faith that puts belief into practice, living out the social, communal dimension that Christianity absolutely requires.

Trump/Pence, on the other hand, seem to be much more formed by or comfortable with the so-called “Prosperity Gospel” (an oxymoron if ever their was one).  While there are some Christian leaders in the Evangelical tradition who recognize that this “gospel” is an aberration of historical, biblical Christianity, there are many others who have succumbed to its allure. This philosophy is uniquely American. It is the spawn of the marriage between 19th century Protestant fundamentalism and that brand of American individualism which puts the self before others, the individual before community, and one’s own success ahead of or at the expense of others’ success. Its focus is on “my rights” and not the common good. To be clear, this focus on the “rights” of the individual can be exploited on either end of the political spectrum. It’s the same right espoused by gun-owners, abortion advocates, and the increasing number of laws that permit assisted suicide. At its root, the “Prosperity Gospel” makes two basic claims: First, if your faith is strong enough, God will shower you with earthly riches, wealth, and worldly success; and, second, if you have earthly riches, wealth, and worldly success, then these are signs of God’s favor.

Perhaps it does need to be stated, but this view of the Christian Gospel — preached by such megachurch leaders as Joel Osteen (who, by the way, has no theological training) and Joyce Meyer — bears so little resemblance to the actual teachings of Jesus that it cannot be rightly called Christian. It is a “gospel” without humility, without prudence, without a sense of justice. It lacks a belief that the goods of this earth are for all God’s People, not just the industrious few who stake their claim first, whose might trumps right, or who know how to manipulate the economic and legal systems to their advantage. On the contrary, as Pope Pius XI wrote in his encyclical Quadragesimo Anno (1931),

Therefore, the riches that economic-social developments constantly increase ought to be so distributed among individual persons and classes that the common advantage of all, which Leo XIII had praised, will be safeguarded; in other words, that the common good of all society will be kept inviolate. By this law of social justice, one class is forbidden to exclude the other from sharing in the benefits,” (no. 57).

To anyone schooled in the social justice tradition of Christianity in general and Catholic Christianity in particular, this quotation will ring true. Pius XI’s reference to his predecessor, Leo XIII, is a reference to that pope’s encyclical, Rerum Novarum, which is generally considered the first papal document in modern times to spell out some of the basic principles Christian faith requires for a socially just society. From the perspective of Christianity and its two-thousand year tradition, there is no doubt that the Gospel of Jesus does not exist without Jesus’ “new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another.” (John 13:34). Come November, each of us must decide which of these two teams contending for the highest offices in the land have lived lives that most exemplify the common good the Gospel requires.