Where I Stand: Leadership in a republican democracy

An open letter to my nephew

By Joseph J. Muñoz

Professor Emeritus, Feather River College

I am pleased that you would take the time to question my support for Joe Biden, and do so referencing with specifics your own support for Donald Trump. These included: the economy, pro-life, support for Israel, promoting the right to defend religious liberty in the public square, and the principle of “America First” in economic and foreign policy. You raised these and other points. I will comment primarily on principles of leadership and character.

I defend your right and that of every other American citizen to make political judgments and act on them. You followed your supporting arguments with a litany opposing the position Democrats and Joe Biden have officially taken in the Democrat platform. After reading candidate platforms for 60 years, I find them to be of little significance once an election is over. Presidents have little room to make dramatic changes once in power. The main change will be in style and process. Biden, as president, will bring a reasoned and modest tone to governing; and he will restore institutional procedures to decision making.

If I were to take on all your criticisms this polemic would have to be two or three times as long. This I will not do, since we have the prospect of divided government with Republican control of the Senate, but I will speak to a few of them.

The plan of this essay is to share with you historical, practical, constitutional and biblical reasons why I opposed the reelection of Donald Trump. I will begin by discussing the need for Americans of differing opinions to talk to each other. This is something at which Biden excels. After viewing his press conferences since November 3, I am so at ease with the prospect of a proven statesman guiding the ship of state. I can listen to him speak and be at ease. From DJT with no political experience before the presidency we go to Mr. Biden with 36 years in the US Senate and 8 years as Vice-President. As a professional academic I value proven experience.

Let’s begin with something practical. Some of the best conversations that have ever taken place involved people who held opposing points of view. The dialogues of Plato in 5th century BC Athens were conversations of this kind: beginning with one man stating an opinion, a thesis, followed by someone else with an opposing opinion, an anti-thesis … leading after a spirited and lengthy conversation to a synthesis (a new idea). Socrates and Plato lived in the first Western direct democratic city-state and witnessed more advances in knowledge through this kind of reasoning than any other nation in the world at that time.

This approach to learning has been the basis of leadership training and intellectual advancement in the West ever since. We learn very little if we only talk with people who think and hold the same positions we do. A dogmatic singular voice leads not just to isolation but also to a harsh tribalism that regards people who think differently as enemies. This trend in national perspective is perilous for our nation and has occurred due to those on the right and the left. And I believe it has accelerated due to the uncompromising style of President Trump.

America is the first nation in the modern world to embrace republican government based on the rule of law as contrasted with ideological, theological, aristocratic, or royal government. Institutionally, it operates on the principle that minority voices in a legislative context must be able to express their views without fear, but majority opinion must rule. This is not always true in a presidential election, due to the Electoral College. We have had “minority presidents.” Mr. Trump lost the popular vote in 2016 by 3 million votes, but won in the Electoral College. This left millions of Hillary Clinton supporters believing the system was unjust, and they never accepted Trump as legitimate. Four days after the election in 2016, President Obama invited President-elect Trump to the White house to discuss the transition of power. Constitutional traditions are paramount when dealing with the U.S. presidency. Mr. Trump has declined to be as gracious or sensible.

Our Republic has over time become more democratic. All adult citizens have the right to vote with the expectation that their votes will be counted. Yet there still remain constitutional inequalities. A U.S. Senator from California represents 85 times as many people as a U.S. Senator from Wyoming, and etcetera. How fair is that to the people of California? When Federal Judges or Supreme Court Justices are being selected, should states with a fraction of the larger state populations have equal say in their confirmation? Under our present Constitution rules the answer is yes. We live in a republican, not an absolute democracy.

A constitutional amendment may take place only if two thirds of the members of both Houses of Congress pass a proposed constitutional amendment and three quarters (38) of the states ratify the proposed amendment by majority vote in each legislature or by special constitutional convention.

Our body politic has never been perfect, but it has always strived to be “a more perfect union.” Twenty-seven times the U.S. Constitution has been amended, in an effort to improve governing. But the likelihood of changing Senate representation in the Senate or the role of the Electoral College is nil. These inequalities have been divisive, but not debilitating.

In democracies that are ethnically, philosophically, and religiously pluralist, like those of the Western World, a democratic process that achieves consent through conflict resolution is vitally important. Competing viewpoints always exist and cannot be resolved without conciliation and compromise. These are practical issues. A universally respected Christian leader has addressed this.

Doctor J.I. Packer, who died in July of this year, was a Professor of Theology at Regent College in Vancouver and author of Knowing God, one of the most highly regarded Christian books of our time. In a 1985 Christianity Today article (recently reprinted), How to Recognize a Christian Citizen, he suggests: “The more citizens have shared in the decisions that now shape their lives, the more they will adhere to them. This process leads to political maturity and stability. The name given to the resolution of political conflict through debate is compromise.”

Packer’s wise counsel is contested in our day as being unnecessarily conciliatory: why give any ground if you need not? This doctrinaire rigidity by those in government who take an adversary position against those who do not wholly endorse their views and goals leads to bitterness, disunity, and instability. This is precisely the situation in which we find ourselves now.

Wise leaders in our history have acted on the principle that half a loaf is better than no bread. While I was in college President Lyndon Johnson (LBJ), a democrat and long time Senate leader, guided the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and over 400 “Great Society” programs that helped millions of Americans build an economically better life. He did this not by demanding adherence to political dogma, but by finding out how far his counterparts in the Republican Party could go. Respectfully engaged, Republicans provided most of the votes for the Civil Rights Act and Voting Rights Acts, because the Dixiecrats (representatives and senators of Southern states) would not budge.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi is a very different kind of Democrat than LBJ. She wants the next Stimulus Relief Bill to be the 2.2 trillion the House approved in early October. Senate Majority Leader McConnell wants it to be only $500 billion, for the sake of fiscal conservatism. Trump has agreed to 1.8 trillion. Pelosi will not send to the Senate a compromise bill. All fiscal appropriations bills, must originate in the House, so to date there is no progress. In a time period when Covid 19 shutdowns make it impossible for millions of Americans to run their business or ply their trade, relief from the federal government is not forthcoming.

A more rigid, less civil approach to governing has taken place gradually in the last 2½ decades, ever since Newt Gingrich in 1994 introduced the “Contract with America.” The Contract placed litmus tests such as a commitment never to vote to raise taxes on Republican candidates for any state or national office. This principle served two masters: exceptionally wealthy donors, who effectively control candidate success or failure, and ideologues who killed the diverse composition of the Republican Party, by slandering moderates. These measures served to instill timidity and fear in Republican members of Congress. Most dare not criticize President Trump or Majority leader McConnell, lest they be deprived of endorsements or funds for reelection. Where are the fearless lions of the Republican Party who would not be intimidated?

Moreover, in such a context of strict discipline, the leadership may paint the whole caucus with a dirty brush. Senate Majority leader McConnell and Judiciary chair Lindsey Graham were unwilling in March of 2016 to consider confirmation of Merrick Garland, President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee with 8½ months left in his term of office. This action defied Senate tradition.

Graham and McConnell argued that there was now to be a new Senate rule: in the last year of a president’s term no Supreme Court nominees would be considered by the Senate. This year these two men showed themselves to be hypocrites and liars by racing to approve President Trump’s nominee, Amy Comey Barrett, with only a few months left of his term of office. What is the result of this kind of leadership? Democrats in the Senate and their constituents watched current Republicans lie about the process of confirming a US Supreme Court Nominee, so they ask how can the Republicans be trusted to keep their word about anything.

In my view Trump’s conduct of the presidency was destructive. Lies, threats, disorder and bullying were normal practices in business for him, and as president they remained so. This led to 4,000 lawsuits in his career— 2,000 for breaches in payments to Atlantic City construction contractors. Mary Trump, PhD, in her book, Too Much and Never Enough, said that her uncle was taught by her grandfather to seek to win using any means, regardless of who was hurt in the process.

That ends and means are inseparable is an age-old tenet of Classical and Christian virtue. Trump’s brazenly unrighteous actions are excused if his political base gets the outcomes for which they pray. His character pattern directly affects his presidential decision-making.

Trump defies hallowed constitutional traditions and law at will, and powerful Republicans do not challenge him. The best examples of this are the blatant violations of the emolument clause. According to the September 11, 2020 issue of FORBES magazine, the president held onto ownership of his assets after taking office, ensuring that he would continue to generate money while serving in the White House. Long standing tradition is for a president-elect is to sell all their assets or place them in a blind trust. Jimmy Carter sold his ancestral farm in Plains, Georgia, before taking office. All modern presidents have done similarly, or placed their wealth in blind trusts that they cannot influence.

From 2017 to 2019, the president’s businesses raked in an estimated $1.9 billion of revenue. A significant amount of this revenue is due to Republican Party spending at his resorts, golf courses and hotels. According to “The Swamp that Trump Built,” an October 10, 2020 report of the New York Times, more than 200 companies, lobbying groups and foreign governments have given business to President Trump’s resorts and hotels, while gaining benefits from him and his administration.As president, Trump considered COVID19 a public relations crisis, rather than a health crisis. He even went so far as to call the virus a “Hoax” last March, when Senator Lindsey Graham was warning him that mishandling COVID19 could end his chances for reelection.

To date the virus has killed more than ¼ million Americans on his watch. That is more than all the car accidents, murders and suicides combined this year. When asked in a press conference shortly before the election if he took responsibility for ineffective handling of the virus, he answered: “Yes, but it is not my fault.” Truman’s “the buck stops here,” has no currency with this president.

Now, President Trump is contesting the outcome of the election, claiming that it is being stolen from him by fraudulent actions taken by poll workers and county and state officials that oversee and certify elections. He does not care that he is slandering citizens and public officials involved in this crucial work all over America.

Trump’s lawyers have substantiated no evidence of widespread voting irregularities or voter fraud in 36 court cases.

Homeland-security officials appointed by the President earlier this month called the 2020 contest “the most secure election in U.S. history.” One of them, head of Homeland electoral cyber-security Christopher Krebs, Trump fired on November 17th for contradicting the conspiracy theories espoused by the president and his lawyers. Bi-partisan reactions against the Krebs firing were voiced in Congress, because Krebs had led in successful efforts to block foreign cyber warfare in the American elections.The National Association of Secretaries of State affirmed on November 17th that even with COVID 19, election-day balloting, dramatic increases of mail-in balloting, and absentee balloting …“The November 3rd election was the most secure in American history.” The statement went on to say, “… There is no evidence that any voting system deleted or lost votes, changed votes, or was in any way compromised.”

And now, by not conceding, Trump is preventing President-elect Biden from beginning a smooth, informed transition of power. The orderly transfer of power is bedrock of American Democracy since Washington recognized the election of John Adams. Trump appears to be doing this to undermine the legitimacy of the Biden victory among the more than 70 million citizens who voted for him and to make it more difficult for Biden to begin governing effectively on January 20.

Peggy Noonan, a Republican and daughter of a deceased Republican Senator, wrote in her Nov. 20 Wall Street Journal column:

“The irony is that this election will be remembered for the president’s attempts to sow chaos, not for what it actually appears to have been, which is a triumph for America. In the middle of a pandemic, with new rules, there was historically high turnout. Under stress the system worked. Voters were committed, trusting, and stood in line for hours. There was no violence at the polls, no serious charges of voter suppression. In a time of legitimate hacking fears, there were no reports of foreign interference. Our defenses held. On top of all that, the outcome was moderate: for all the strife and stress of recent years, the split decision amounted to a reassertion of centrism.”

There are practical and national security reasons why Trump should have immediately approved the transition process. Biden has 4000 “at will” (free of civil service merit hiring process) positions to fill before Jan. 20, 2021 and 1500 of these must be approved by Congress. This is also a potential national security risk for the nation. The 9-11 Commission found that the delayed transition due to the 2000 Florida recount might have hampered the Bush Administration’s preparedness for a terrorist attack.

Molly Murphy, head of the General Services Administration (GSA), declined to issue an “ascertainment” that would formally allow the new presidential transition to begin until Nov. 24. Once issued the incoming administration receives millions of dollars in funds, suites of federal offices, and temporary security clearances to handle classified information. President Obama was not pleased with the election outcome of 2016, yet he immediately ordered the “ascertainment” and permitted President-elect Trump to begin receiving the President’s Daily Intelligence Brief. The delay in granting this ascertainment for the Biden team more than any other action of his presidency shows Trump’s contempt for the well-being of our democracy and people.

Many of my friends who like me are Republicans are appalled at the way President Trump has governed, and by those in high office who have uncritically supported him

So we were donors to the Lincoln Project, which worked to unseat Trump. We did so hoping for the revitalization of the Republican Party. Our hope is for a return to the party of Lincoln, the Savior of the Union; Teddy Roosevelt, the Trust Buster; Eisenhower, masterful WWII Supreme Commander and centrist president; and George H.W. Bush, unparalleled Diplomat. Current Republicans leaders chose this summer not even to have a formal platform, because its platform is Trump. Whatever the GOP stood for, voters today associate it with one thing: Donald J. Trump.

The Grand Old Party must be more than one man. And I repeat what Oliver Cromwell, Lord Protector of England in the 17th century had inscribed on his tombstone: “God not man is king!

I am grateful to our LORD that Joe Biden has been chosen by the electorate to be the next President; a view Margaret and I share. The Electoral College vote is projected to be 306 for Joe Biden and 232 for Donald Trump when the presidential electors meet in December. Biden leads the popular vote count by more than 6 million. Soon all the Secretaries of state will have certified the vote counts in their states.

Biden’s campaign was successful in part because he stressed decency and national unity and pledged to listen to and respond to the needs of all Americans, including those who supported President Trump. One of his themes is a quote from Ecclesiastes: it is “a time to heal.”

Trump’s base may remain strong. The principal rallying cry focused on just a few things: Trump’s support of Christianity, at home and abroad, and his appointment of “strict construction” Federal Judges and Supreme Court Justices. These appointments were designed to promote anti-Abortion laws, religious liberty, and gun ownership rights. These are reasonable political positions. But in my view they were sought without taking any care to conciliate disparate views.

I believe that the killing of the unborn violates Scripture: “Thou shall not murder;” and the 14th amendment’s commitment to the “equal protection of the laws.” And I believe it is salacious to refer to such procedures as a woman’s right to determine what happens to her own body … as though what is growing in her is not a distinct living person.

The practice injures everyone involved. Abortions since ancient times have been actions taken by women when they do not wish to have a child brought to term … they will not end. Even if Roe v. Wade is overturned legal oversight will devolve to the states, and abortions will still be legal in about 30 of these United States; California among them.

That is why I support legislation to make abortions rare. This approach has been succeeding: the Guttmacher Institute has shown that abortions per 1,000 women were 24 in 1992, 21.3 in 2000, 19.4 in 2008 and 13.5 in 2017. This has been the result of birth control education, pregnancy centers, foster care, and state legislation. Notice that the downward trend happened under Democrat and Republican presidents. Biden as a candidate for the presidency in 2007 wrote in his book, Promises to Keep, that while he is ‘personally opposed to Abortion’ he did not believe that he had the ‘right to impose his view on the rest of society.” Yet this June Biden agreed to no longer support the Hyde amendment and support funding Planned Parenthood. I don’t like it, but I understand that he had to compromise to maintain support of the progressive Democrats, Independents, and Republicans whose votes he needed.

My dear nephew, it is interesting that you bring up the issue of a priest refusing to offer Holy Communion to Mr. Biden and others. This event gives me opportunity to ease out of writing a thousand more words.

Father Morey of Florence SC proved himself to be a self-righteous prig in October of 2019 by denying Biden the sacrament because of Biden’s pro-choice stance. If the sacrament is not affected by the holiness or sins of the priest (canon law), how can reception of the sacrament by a sinner defile the sacrament?  The Apostle Paul told the people, not the priests or bishops “to examine themselves so as to not receive in an unworthy manner.” (I Corinthians 11:28)  Taking or not taking communion was Biden’s call, not Fr. Morey’s. If every member of Morey’s parish were denied the sacrament on the basis of sin, how many communicants would there be at the rail? One might ask of Fr. Morey, as did many … how many defrauders, adulterers, gluttons, perjurers or upholders of capital punishment has he publically denied the sacrament? Morey was chastised by his diocesan bishop for his excess of zeal and warned not to do so in future.

Morey’s denial was to infer that Biden isn’t really a Christian. Biden did not despair when he tragically lost his 1st wife and daughter; he took the train home every night from the Capital while serving in Congress, to be with his family. He honors God, worshiping every Sunday with his second wife Jill in their local parish church. He does not slander or degrade those he disagrees with. Bipartisan members of the Senate have called him trustworthy and conciliatory. Senator McConnell and President-elect Biden have had a productive and respectful relationship for decades.

Christians of all denominations voted for both Trump and Biden. We must all keep in mind that we all did so prayerfully, pleading with God to guide the outcome and bless our country. God be with you and bless you, both today and forever!

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