"I sought among them for a man that might set up a hedge, and stand in the gap before me in favor of the land." Ezekiel 22:30

Friday, November 11, 2016

Why I’m Celebrating This Election


I’m really excited about the results of the 2016 presidential election. So much so that I’m celebrating. But not for the partisan political reasons you might think.

It took me about 12 hours after the presidential election results became clear to come to grips with what happened. I knew going into Election Day that, unlike many people I know, of the two most plausible outcomes – a Trump win or a Clinton win – I wasn’t going to be particularly excited or in much of a celebratory mood about either.

This may surprise you. Throughout the campaign I conscientiously shared publicly (at least on social media) relatively very little in terms of political commentary. That was partly due to the responsibility of my job, but also because, frankly, the world has enough noise; I figured I didn’t need to contribute to the tumult. Plus, if you know me, you probably know or can guess where I stand on things. However, I did write one blog post specifically on Donald Trump which you can read here, and there were a few other twitter and facebook posts. My thoughts on Clinton were not as public, but again, if you know me, what I think of her candidacy will not be a shock.

Not that it matters to anyone, but in the interest of full-disclosure and to prove that I’m not celebrating for partisan reasons, I cast my presidential vote for neither Trump nor Clinton. Dismaying as this may be to some of you, I can look back on this election with a clear conscience knowing that I did not have to support a “lesser of two evils,” yet still got to see Clinton (the obvious pro-abortion candidate) blocked from the presidency. Many reluctant Trump voters I know cast their votes largely on the “lesser of two evils” argument or similar reasoning. Conversely, I chose to vote for what I believe was the greatest good given the options, because ultimately I am only morally responsible for my vote, not the votes of others.
I know the issue of abortion weighed heavily in the decision making of many of you, as it should. Without getting into too much detail, all the pro-life arguments for Trump in this regard were to me unconvincing at best. I’m willing to be pleasantly surprised, but that does not mean Trump earned my support.

All that to say, personal political opinions aside, even though I’m not elated about the winner of our presidential election, I am celebrating the results.

Yes, I’m celebrating the United States of America and our Constitution. The brilliant electoral system our founders designed has once again proved its worth. Although many of those who are disappointed in the outcome are howling about “unfairness” and are clamoring to do away with the “arcane, insane 18th-century idea” that is the Electoral College, I want to take this opportunity to celebrate it.
Consider this: in four of the past seven elections (’92, ’96, ’00, ’16) the President of the United States of America, the leader of the most powerful nation in the world, was supported by less than half of the population yet they still won the election! In 1824, 1876, 1888, 2000, and now 2016, the winner actually lost the popular vote to their opponent and still became president. So, if you fall into the camp that didn’t vote for Trump and now you’re upset because “the system” didn’t “respect” the “will of the people,” get over it. This isn’t the first time less than half the people have elected a president and it won’t be the last.

Some might look at these results and conclude that our electoral system is critically flawed. But I say it is ingeniously designed!

Why?

Because our country is a republic, not a democracy. Sadly, after years of bad education and plain ignorance or naivety, many Americans think we do live in a democracy. But under pure, majority-wins democracy, the majority wins. Period. No questions asked. In a republic such as ours, the will of the majority is tempered by the rights of the minority through a representative government. Instead of voting on everything, we choose representatives through a democratic process to vote for us on many important decisions, and more importantly the rights of the minority are respected, advanced, and can even be victorious, as we have seen! What a brilliant system!

Some might argue that under the Electoral College the votes of some are weighted more heavily than others based upon their residence. For example, the votes of those Trump supporters in California - currently one of the deepest blue states where Clinton won with 61% of the vote - seemingly don’t have as much of a voice as the Trump voters in Wyoming where Trump won 70% of the vote. But did you know that as recently as 1988, California was reliably Republican? Missouri actually voted in support of the winning presidential candidates in every election, save one, between 1904-2004. It has only been recently that Missouri has swung Republican on a consistent basis. That’s because candidates and races, demographics, economics, and any other number of factors vary from cycle to cycle.

While it may seem as though the votes of certain people in a particular presidential elections don’t have the same level of importance as other votes in choosing the president, that simply isn’t true. Remember, your votes for president aren’t actually votes for your chosen presidential candidate. Your votes are for representatives who cast the votes for president, just as we elect representatives to Congress and the Senate to vote for us on many important issues.

If you don’t think you have a voice, with relative ease you can move to a state where you will. If you don’t want to move, just wait! Depending on the candidates, geographic shifts, and the realignment of the Electoral College every ten years, the next presidential election could be dramatically different. You can also join with other like-minded residents of your state to campaign for your candidate or issue, and begin changing the hearts and minds of your community.

Some might say that the Electoral College system only works when the popular vote and the electoral vote are both won by the same person. I contend that it works best when they are split. This prevents one faction from becoming too powerful. Republicans can’t simply sit back in 2020 and assume that Donald Trump will be easily elected. For the next four years they’ll have to work very hard making the case to the American people and a majority of voters who didn’t vote for Trump that he deserves re-election. Think about this for a second. The Democrats, the party that lost the presidential election, starts off the next election cycle with presumably more popular support than the current occupant of the White House. In this case, even in defeat, the losing party has remarkable strength, which in turn strengthens our republic (unless you want to make the argument that our binary political system is a problem in-and-of-itself. That's a topic for another day).

The United States of America has a long history of characteristics most democratic societies can’t claim: peaceful transfers of power, free & stable elections, respect for the rule of law, and essentially an unchanged form of government which has lasted longer than any of the most powerful countries in the world during the same time. Besides some universal changes like women’s suffrage that all major nations have adopted, just think of how the other major nations have changed forms of government since our constitution was ratified in 1788. China, France, Germany, Great Britain, Japan, Mexico, Russia, and Spain to name a few have endured bloody civil wars, revolutions, or otherwise dramatic changes in their form of government.

What change has the United States seen in our form of government? Well, in addition to adding 37 states to our federation, and in turn dramatically increasing the number representatives in Congress, we’ve changed our constitution to allow for direct election of senators. That’s essentially about it. There is something about the American system of choosing our presidents that gives it remarkable staying power. You can thank the Electoral College in large part for that stability.

Is it perfect? No. Some tweaks could probably be made to the Electoral College to increase it's effectiveness and improve our system. But it’s for all the reasons above that I’m celebrating this crazy, whacky, shocking, unprecedented, terrifying, and demoralizing 2016 presidential election, because after all, if you’re an American the President of the United States is your president for at least four years, whether you voted for him or not.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Those Catholic Men: The Long Run


My latest article for Those Catholic Men deals with looking at the long run vs. the short run as a Catholic man. Should we worry about the way things are shaping up in 2016, or should our concerns be tempered by the knowledge that we need to think about eternity? Here's a sample:
The 20th century economist John Maynard Keynes famously wrote: “In the long run, we’re all dead.” The quip was meant in some ways as a tongue-in-cheek jab at those who did not share his views about the long-run effects of high government spending, and in context is a criticism of what Keynes perceived as flaws in his opponents’ thinking. Although technically speaking the term “long run” has no definitive calendar equivalent in economics (“long run” is really only applicable within the context of a given model), and despite Keynes’ more ironic intentions, the statement is ultimately true, for in the longest of runs within the only model – life – that truly matters we are dead, on earth at least. 
But for a Catholic, that is precisely the point.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

A Blockbuster Tax Plan to Save the Country

What follows is a piece written in May, shortly after the Obama Administration issued a directive to the nation's public schools regarding "inclusive" bathroom policies. It is not a thoroughly detailed article, at least in terms of specific policy proposals, but it should spark some conversation and discussions, and hopefully I will be able to get back around to writing about this topic of tax policy in the future.


- - -

Ever watch a terrible movie or series that started out great but became an obvious train wreck right near the end? If the history of the United States was a movie series, we would probably now be on the sequel that does its best to ruin the earlier installments with a lame script, flat jokes, and no point. The latest episode in the on-going saga of federal government overreach now centers on who has a right to certain bathrooms. It’s like the sequel that never should have been (ahem, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides).

Step back and think about this: The United States of America, a nation founded on some of the highest ideals of human freedom imaginable – ideals which were nearly unthinkable at the time - by some of the most enlightened men of their era, which went on to survive civil war, multiple economic collapses, invasion and attacks by foreign and domestic enemies, to win two world wars because of the bravery of an entire generation, to stare down the barrel at nuclear war without a flinch, and to defeat the Soviet Union, is now grappling with the oppressive notion that one should take care of one’s “business” in the restroom that corresponds with one’s sexual identity.

If past performance is an indicator of future results, I would reckon a guess that our fair nation would vanquish said enemy and ensure bathroom equality for all! Except that I’m writing this after the fact, so we know how this turns out.

Seriously, George Lucas couldn’t have written a more boring script with better original material (okay, okay, Peter Jackson might take issue with that).

The point is that our once great country has now stooped to the level where the commander-in-chief of the most powerful military in the world is giving directives on bathroom policy to our nation’s schools.

Aside from the obvious moral, philosophical, and religious issues with this new edict (the importance of which I cannot overstate), it violates two of the most fundamental tenets of what makes America so unique: subsidiarity and federalism.

Without relying on a dictionary to define these terms, let’s simply say that subsidiarity is the principle that people nearer to a problem should be the ones dealing with it. Federalism is a system of government that attempts to put this principle into practice. In other words: local people, local problems, local solutions.

Taking a page from Catholic social doctrine, American conservatives and the broadly defined political “Right” have made federalism and subsidiarity the bedrock of their policy proposals for generations. Many on the Right are especially fond of saying issues like abortion and marriage should be “state” issues, as opposed to “national” issues decided by the Supreme Court. On the other hand, liberals and the “Left” have shown utter contempt towards federalism and subsidiarity, first during the Wilson administration, then more forcibly through FDR’s New Deal. Instead of allowing local people to solve their own issues, they prefer to foist their radical, ideologically-based “solutions” upon Americans across the country, regardless of whether or not a problem actually exists. Liberalism has unceremoniously discarded the concept of solidarity.

This is why we now face a situation where our federal government is telling the roughly 98,000 public schools across this country how they should set an “inclusive” bathroom policy to accommodate the estimated less than one-third of one percent of the population who is transgendered.

How can this happen? Two words: Moo. Lah.

Any government has essentially two methods for imposing the rule of law: force and funds. One relies on the barrel of a gun, the other on a checkbook. Money may not actually be the thing that makes the world go ‘round, but it pays the people who do. When it comes to government programs and directives, money talks and it’s a lot nicer than the barrel of a gun.

The ability to withhold funds is how the federal government can coerce thousands of schools into submitting to its warped ideology.

It’s a broken system and it’s a problem for federalism.

If conservatives are serious about restoring federalism and subsidiarity to our system of governance and the nation itself, then we need to get serious about our broken tax system. All the most prominent tax proposals from leaders like Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, and even Herman Cain (remember the 9-9-9 plan?) fundamentally misdiagnose the problem because they all maintain the status quo of the federal government as direct collector of taxes and wealth redistributor. We pay our taxes, they spend the money thousands of miles away. In this way the government is allowed to continue strong-arming state and local governments into adopting policies against the will of local citizens. Is that what we really want? Is that at all what the founders envisioned?

What we need is a system that eliminates the direct taxation of individuals by the federal government and replaces it with a taxation of the states based on a formula of state population, state GDP, and other economic factors. Think of it like a membership fee for states to be part of the Union. States could determine the method, or methods, of taxation that work best for them in order to fund state programs and pay their “fee” to the federal government. Welfare programs like Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security would be operated solely at the discretion of the individual states to the degree and in the manner they choose. The federal government would be strictly limited, by law, to operating necessary services such as national defense and the regulation of interstate commerce, including enforcing uniformity and standards in production (yes, this would include enforcement of child labor laws for all you liberals wondering).

Paul David Miller recently made the case at The Federalist that it’s time to resurrect the Federalist Party. “The central political issue of our generation is the assault on human dignity and self-government by the ‘progressive’ left and the Trumpist right,” he says, then later follows with some rhetorical questions:
What if, instead, we stopped looking to the federal government to engineer our national culture? Our nation is big, broad, and wonderfully diverse. Why in the world should we all have a single education policy? Why not let lower levels of government make their own social policy?
If it can be done with social and education policies, why not our tax policies? Why do conservatives freely speak of abortion and marriage as issues to be dealt with at the state level but not taxation? A complete overhaul and localization of our tax system would unleash ingenuity and creativity like never before because of the unprecedented competition between the states.

To effectively make a Federalist Party vision a reality, not only would we need a new party, we need a new tax system. If a new Federalist Party does begin, one of the foundational aspects of the new party’s platform ought to be a complete overhaul of our tax system similar to what is outlined above. Such a position would radically differentiate it from the Republicans and Democrats. Sure, more research would need to be done, and it would need to be sold to the American people. The millions of federal employees, bureaucrats, and the special interests who leech off our broken, bloated federal government will resist because many of them would likely lose their jobs. Laws would need to be changed and the Constitution may even have to be amended. It will be a difficult task accomplishing it all, but one worth doing when our freedom is at stake.

Just like any movie script, laws sometimes need to be revised to produce a better final product. Even though we are in the midst of a terrible sequel, we know our original material of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness is second-to-none. We’ve had a few mistakes along the way, but it’s not too late to change things. If we’ve learned anything from Hollywood, it’s to keep trying until you get it right, because you never know when you’re sitting on the next blockbuster.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Those Catholic Men: Don't Check Your Privilege - Live Virtuously

My latest article for Those Catholic Men addresses head-on the topic of modernism's most egregious sin: "Privilege."
Unlike Christian virtues, which are based on reason and revelation with the purpose of leading man “to become like God” (CCC, 1803), modernism’s “virtues” are typically based on utility; one of the principle virtues being tolerance. Former film critic and author Michael Walsh says “’tolerance’ has taken on the status of a virtue – albeit a bogus one – a protective coloration for the Left when it is weak and something to be dispensed with once it is no longer required” (Walsh, The Devil’s Pleasure Palace, 45). In other words, tolerance and other virtues of modern secularism are not aimed at lifting man up to be “partakers in the Divine Nature” but rather serve to tear down and divide.
Read the rest at ThoseCatholicMen.com.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

I Prayed for My Child's Death


My wife and I are expecting our third child, Liam Julius, any day. We know Liam is very much alive and doing well, though not yet born. Even so, I have already prayed for his death. Yes, you read that right: I prayed for my son's death. No, I did not pray that he would die, because it is an inevitable part of life. Rather, I prayed for his death. Confused?

As with our previous two children, I am making a novena of sorts in the weeks leading up to the birth by attending Mass every day beginning 30 days before the due date until the day of birth.

Aside from the opportunity to attend Mass in churches I wouldn't normally attend, this novena affords the opportunity to pray for my wife as she enters the difficult final weeks of pregnancy, especially all the pain and discomfort she must endure. The novena is also offered for a safe and healthy delivery, but perhaps most importantly I pray for the holiness of my new child.

As Catholic parents, we know we have a duty to impart the gift of the Catholic faith on to our children.
"Through the grace of the sacrament of marriage, parents receive the responsibility and privilege of evangelizing their children. Parents should initiate their children at an early age into the mysteries of the faith of which they are the first heralds for their children" (CCC, 2225).
So, I pray for the graces to be a good father, and for my wife to be a good mother, as we raise our children in the faith. I pray that they will learn this faith, love it, grow stronger in it, and become closer to God. In doing so, I hope and pray they reach Heaven. That's the ultimate goal.

If you want to get to Heaven - no matter your profession, education, or socio-economic status - you have to die first. It's the ultimate equalizer. But it's not just some moment to be avoided. We ought to contemplate death and in so doing be prepared for it. Tempus fugit, memento mori. Time is short, remember death.

A holy death, hopefully with access to the Sacraments, is a tremendous blessing and grace in those final moments of life.

In the midst of my aforementioned pilgrimage/novena for Baby Liam, I happened to attend a Requiem Mass offered at the Shrine of St. Joseph near Downtown St. Louis as part of the Church Music Association of America's 2016 Sacred Music Colloquium. The Mass was offered for the souls of all the faithful departed, especially CMAA members who passed away in the last year.

During this Mass I realized that not only should my prayers be offered for a safe delivery, or that my son would lead a holy life, or that I might be a good father, but I should also be praying for my son's death - that it might be a holy death, that he will have access to the Sacraments and a good priest, and that he will be surrounded by his loving family. I also prayed, somewhat selfishly, that I would not be alive to see his death even though that wouldn't change the other intentions.

I fully realize this reflection is a little morbid. Death is not something modern society likes to contemplate, and frankly neither do I. But the Catholic faith teaches us not to ignore or fear death, but instead to realize it's place in our path towards salvation, and most importantly to relish the thought of death as a birth into eternal life.

If as a parent I do my job well, my son's death, whenever that may be, could be his birth into life in heaven. At least, that's what I pray it will be.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Finding Charity In a Bag of Chips

I didn't even notice him at first. I mean, I did, in the sense that I knew there was something there next to me at the stoplight, in the same way you would notice a street sign, a bike rack, or a fire hydrant. But the vagrant at the corner of Wacker and State Street in the heart of Chicago wasn't just a street sign, a bike rack, or a fire hydrant. He wasn't just a something. He was a guy huddled into a cardboard box to guard against the famous wind which has earned this city its most endearing nickname.

Almost half an hour earlier, I had stepped out myself into the brisk, sunny Chicago afternoon. Even though I had already walked several miles that morning, the cold air was still jarring, albeit slightly refreshing. It was the first time since about 8:30 a.m. I had set foot outdoors. The several hours in-between then and now had been spent in a subterranean hotel conference room. A tornado could have swept through and in that basement we probably wouldn't have noticed. I wondered how far I must have walked already as I began my journey towards Union Station for my 7 p.m. train back home. It was nearly one and a half miles from my hotel to St. John Cantius Catholic Church where I had attended the 7 a.m. Mass (a decision I made hesitantly but one I assuredly won't regret.) The same distance back to my hotel (plus a quick stop at McDonald's - it was going to be a long day, and a sweet tea would make the day much more manageable). Then about another mile walk from my hotel to the bomb shelter-like hotel conference room put me over three and a half miles for the day with almost two more miles to go. Knowing a long train ride back home was ahead of me, getting food was now my priority.

The total came to $8.60. A sandwich, a bag of Nutter Butters, a bottle of milk, and two bags of chips from a street corner convenience store. Really it was a lot of food for the price, I thought, and very logical. The sandwich was obviously necessary for a proper dinner - as proper as my transient situation would allow. The bag of Nutter Butters would be my snack for the train (not to mention a decent source of protein), and a bottle of milk is a required accessory for Nutter Butters. The chips were an afterthought. They weren't exactly the healthy option and I didn't need them. But they were 2 for $2, so why not?

I headed back outside through the store’s revolving door. The freshly toasted sandwich in my hand provided a welcome contrast to the chilly springtime air. Hundreds of my cohorts joined me on the quest from point A to point B on this sidewalk in the evening rush hour. Busy professionals, young and old, hurried through the many street crosswalks; the color of the lights often didn't matter. Tourists casually strolled along the river walk; their eyes darting every which way to take in the sights. The cars packing the streets zoomed past, or stood still at the stoplight, while the more impatient drivers leaned on their horns. Some in the crowd wore ear buds, some talked on a phone or to the friend with them. But almost all seemed wrapped in their own world. It was there, in the commotion and bustling activity of Chicago rush hour, that I noticed him.

Of course, only after nearly bumping into him did I truly notice that it was a person huddled at that street corner, not a fire hydrant or street sign. I, like most people, often ignore the vagrants who cross my path in any given situation. Perhaps it's because I don't have anything readily available to give them, as if reaching for my wallet would be so inconvenient. Or perhaps it's that I'm jaded by those reports we've all heard of the street corner beggars who make six-figure income purely off the altruistic impulses of passers-by. But, for some reason, this encounter suddenly seemed different. I looked up at the streetlights, pretending to ignore the person there at my left. I looked down again and noticed more acutely the huddled frame of this man who seemed aware, painfully so, of the shame involved in his inglorious predicament. The seconds seemed to tick away slowly now. I became suddenly conscious of the bag full of food dangling from one hand, a warm sandwich in my other. I looked up at the lights again, perhaps hoping subconsciously that if only they would change I could cross the street guilt-free. But it didn't change.

I tapped him on the shoulder with a bag of chips in my hand. "Want some chips?" was my simple question. I had two bags as it was and I didn't really need both. "Oh, thank you, brutha'!" came the muffled reply. He took the bag, and with that, the light changed. The waiting crowd of pedestrians began moving. He had looked up, but I never even saw his face. I definitely didn't have time to ask for his name. I crossed the street with the crowd and didn't look back. That was it. The moment was gone.

Yet, for some reason I can't let this go. I've given stuff to the homeless before - money, food, even shoes. But for some reason the feeling from sharing a simple $1 bag of chips has lingered with me. Perhaps it was the early morning, the travelling, and the fatigue of a long day which together made me more emotional. Perhaps it was the weather, and that cold wind blowing between the high-rise buildings. Perhaps it was hustle-and-bustle of a busy sidewalk in an unfamiliar city during rush hour. Perhaps, deep down, I just really wanted that second bag of chips and I regretted missing out on it. Whatever the reason, is it too much to hope that perhaps my simple gesture changed a life? "It was just a bag of chips!" I tell myself. "Who knows if he'll actually eat them! He may not even like the flavor!" In reality, it doesn’t matter.

But then again he might eat them. He might really enjoy that flavor but hasn't been able to taste it for who knows how long. Perhaps that guy I encountered at the street corner hadn't eaten anything all day and those chips, albeit a very poor meal, were all he had. "The poor you have always with you," Christ told His apostles. But does that excuse inaction on our part? When we have more than we need, are we obligated to share it? "For it is in giving that we receive," goes the prayer of St. Francis. It neglects to recommend how much to give, or how much we can expect to receive in return.

What then can I expect from giving a bag of $1 chips to a homeless bum on a busy Chicago street corner during rush hour? Will what I receive be commensurate with what I gave? Is that my good work for the week, the month, the year? I would hope not. I wouldn't be a good Christian if that was the end of my charity. Did I do anything to guarantee my salvation? Not likely.

I don't know all the answers to my questions. I still can't explain why it impacted me so much.

But I do know that one heart will be forever changed because of a simple act of kindness. One life will impacted in an immeasurable way, not at all commensurate with the value of the exchange, and it may not be the guy who got a free bag of $1 chips.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Those Catholic Men: Preparing for Martyrdom

I realized I never shared my most recent article from Those Catholic Men here on A Man In The Gap.

Here's a teaser:
The challenge is to hear the story of these Missionaries of Charity and not allow ourselves to be unmoved by it. The situation we face in much of the Western world is more subtle, but no less real than what our Christian brothers and sisters have to face in the Middle East. In the United States of America today we are blessed that we do not have to fear widespread physical violence and death because of our beliefs. But we are facing legal and spiritual persecution, and martyrdom, for our faith. How many Catholics are mocked, ridiculed, and scorned on a daily basis? The Little Sisters of the Poor and many other Catholic organizations are currently facing heavy fines for not complying with the government’s contraceptive mandate. What will the Sisters do if the Supreme Court does not rule in their favor? We do not know. A form of martyrdom may be necessary.
Read the rest over at ThoseCatholicMen.com.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Those Catholic Men: Socialism Is Wrong For Men

In case you haven't seen it, my latest article over at Those Catholic Men is published. Here's an excerpt:
Volumes could be, and have been, written on the detrimental effects of socialism as an economic and political system, while Rerum Novarum, other Church documents, and countless other writings have detailed its disastrous philosophical and theological implications. The flavor of socialism as described by Pope Leo may be more heavy-handed than the “softer” European socialism of our contemporary era and that advocated for by some presidential candidates, nevertheless, his prophetic warning about the unjust nature of socialism rings as true today as it did more than a century ago. One only need count the millions killed in the 20th century by socialists like Lenin, Stalin, Mao, and Guevara to grasp the scope of injustice brought about by this system.
Read the rest over at ThoseCatholicMen.com

Saturday, March 19, 2016

I'm Fighting For Air

For yet another year, I am participating in the Fight For Air Climb. "The Climb", as it's simply referred to, is not just another 5k, or something-something-a-thon. No. The Fight for Air Climb is a "race" to the top of the Metropolitan Building in downtown St. Louis. That's 40 flights of stairs in about 10 minutes, depending on fitness level (my fastest time was about 6:30 a couple years ago when I won 3rd place in my age group).

As the race nears, I would appreciate your help.

You see, a few weeks before I started dating my wife, her dad, Robert Farley, was diagnosed with lung cancer. Sarah and I had been friends for a couple years prior to dating, so when she and her family learned of the diagnosis, it was obvious that something changed in her. She was obviously deeply saddened by this new situation but knew that whatever happened would be God's will.

For the next 2 years and 49 weeks, her dad battled the disease despite the tolls on his body. During that time Sarah and I grew closer, and eventually I proposed.


One Monday morning he went to the hospital for what seemed like a common cold. The next Monday, he passed away, a mere 5 months before we were married. He was the father-in-law I never had.

This is now my sixth year (I think) participating in the Fight For Air Climb. The first two years I participated for multiple reasons, not the least of which was to satisfy my competitive nature.

But now it's different.

I'm a little older, not quite in the same shape I was while playing college basketball, but I'm still submitting myself to 10 minutes (or so) of grueling physical activity in memory of Robert Farley and his valiant two year and 50 week battle with lung cancer.

Please consider joining Bob's Builders by making a generous donation to the American Lung Association to support our Fight For Air.

Thank you in advance for your contribution.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Donald Trump, Authentic Masculinity, and the Descent of Politics

Trump in Manchester, New Hampshire, Feb. 8, 2016. Photo by Marc Nozell (source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/marcn/24622320840/
“Nothing in this election makes logical sense,” says John Feehery in a recent opinion piece for The Hill. Sadly, he is right. All elections have their quirks, but what is shaping up in the 2016 election seems unprecedented in its quirkiness and irrationality. In his column, Feehery is specifically referring to the remarkable rise in popularity of Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump, but with respect to Vermont senator - while it is true that he is gaining in popularity – until very recently he has been considered an “also-ran” behind Hillary Clinton, recent and upcoming primary results notwithstanding. The more noteworthy development is the sudden and startling rise of “The Donald” to a level of popularity which seems to make the prospect of him becoming the Republican Party’s presidential nominee an increasingly likely scenario.

Avoiding Donald Trump is nearly impossible these days. Every major television network devotes exorbitant amounts of time covering him. In fact, according to one recent study of nightly network news broadcasts, Trump had received more than twice the amount of coverage as Clinton, the second most popular candidate. Seemingly any statement he makes, controversial or not, is splashed across headlines all over the internet. He is a frequent suave and charismatic guest on late night television, evocative of a movie star promoting a new film, not a rehearsed politician running for the highest office in the land.

It is Trump’s persona as the brash, no-nonsense tough-guy that has given him the apparent charm he so effectively wields to win support. He has become the candidate of the average American, the “middle-class,” the “silent majority.” He doesn’t sound like a politician, he doesn’t back down, and he’s going to get stuff done, so argue his supporters. He says repeatedly that he is going to get tough on immigration, strengthen our military, stand up to China and Russia, and all-in-all “make America great again.” To his credit, he has ably diagnosed many of the problems ailing our country. For many Americans, hearing a candidate speak so glowingly about the promise of our country is a refreshing development, and frankly, it is difficult – if not impossible – to argue against a candidate with that kind of powerful pro-America rhetoric.

Yet, it is equally as difficult to logically conclude how a multi-billionaire real-estate mogul and reality television personality who counts the Clintons among his friends could capture the support of so wide a swath of “average” Americans, including a majority of Catholics, by appealing to them as if he shared their commonness. Such apparent demographic disparity aside, Trump’s record on issues of import to conservatives (e.g., abortion, marriage, and individual freedom) reveals further obvious incongruent characteristics with the conservative Republicans, especially religious conservatives, he attracts. Such incongruity is not going unnoticed. National Review, a leading conservative publication, recently published a lengthy, multi-author editorial simply titled “Against Trump.” The notoriously conservative CatholicVote recently documented a laundry list of reasons why Trump is not conservative and should not be supported by Catholics. Serious questions have been raised about his numerous flip-flops, which have been widely documented elsewhere and do not need to be re-hashed here. Suffice to say that candidates with records so inconsistent are often deemed unelectable. (Some of us will recall the 2004 presidential election when John Kerry’s campaign was severely hobbled by his flip-flop on a single issue.) All this to say nothing of his policy proposals, which as S.E. Cupp recently wrote, “are usually unconstitutional, un-American or un-conservative -- and very often an alarming hat trick of all three.”

Despite his privileged background, his inconsistent principles, and shoddy policy proposals, Trump remains and grows more popular than ever. One might argue that his popularity represents the continued descent of politics as a profession for megalomaniacs, narcissists, and sell-outs willing to shift their principles any which way for the sake of gaining support, as opposed politics being a noble activity for true statesmen who put the common good ahead of their own, in the fashion of Thomas More. Political commentator Ben Shapiro aptly describes this phenomenon of politics as a “cult of personality” where “celebrities have become royals, and our politicians have become celebrities.” It is characteristic of our entire political and social system. The phenomenon is not of Trump’s creation, nor of recent development, but one which he seems to take every advantage of for his own political gain. Without a doubt he is as shrewd a politician as he is a businessman, which might help to explain his popularity.

As we approach this 2016 election, we must ask ourselves: what is important in this election? Is it about character, policies, or both? Should we judge a candidate on personality and charisma, popularity and appeal, knowledge and achievements, or some combination thereof? Do we place more importance on strong, emotional rhetoric, or do we support pragmatic, principled, and reasonable solutions to problems?
None of these questions have simple answers, and no candidate will perfectly suffice any formula. But, regardless of political affiliation, one would think that any honest voter would be able to see Trump for the charlatan that he is. Catholics, and especially Catholic men with a basic understanding of the “masculine genius” ought to recognize that Trump in many ways personifies the modern crisis of authentic masculinity. Whereas authentic masculinity demands that we be measured, humble, and charitable, Trump is boisterous, haughty, and insulting (you can actually watch ten hours of Trump’s insults on YouTube). His “conversions” seemingly happen at the most politically opportune times, but we know that true conversions require a difficult process of discernment. Trump displays his “strength” by tearing down his enemies. But scripture tells us that “power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Cor. 12:9)

Supporters of Donald Trump may dismiss all the above as misconstrued, as inapplicable to a candidate for president, or for a host of other reasons. Conversely, were it not for his shockingly high polling numbers, Trump could be dismissed as a petulant multi-billionaire who gained his wealth by unmitigated, self-interested greed, and who is only interested in increasing his own power. Considering the gravity of the situation at hand, dismissing Trump is as unwise as it is impossible, no matter how much of a narcissistic megalomaniac he really is.

Although this author believes there is very little that is truly Christian about Trump, that his character is devoid of morality and decency, that his policies are devoid of forethought and substance, and his leadership style is, frankly, devoid of real leadership, there is no reason to demonize him or his supporters. While my belief is that he is a populist and a progressive - neither of which are aligned to Catholic social teaching - the beauty of our system is that we can freely speak out for, or against, candidates for office. I simply pray that there are enough voters, especially my fellow Catholic men and women, who will be honest enough with themselves to recognize that, despite bold promises and strong rhetoric, our political leaders must first be people of character. If we can grasp that concept, perhaps this election will begin to make some logical sense.