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Sovereignty
June 18th, 2017

     From my undergraduate days as a political science major, I've found politics a source of both inspiration and amusement. From Eisenhower to the present, however, American politics has never been so laugh-out-loud hysterical as it is currently.
     Over the last several weeks, we have been given a full measure of "no, you-gotta-be-kidding" craziness. While it is difficult to mark a starting point for the latest round of Administration pratfalls, I would suggest we look back to what the world press is calling "the shove heard round the world." In this "yes, he really did that category," Trump prepped for a photo with world leaders by shoving the Prime Minister of the tiny nation of Montenegro aside so he could stand front and center. Talk about embodying the Ugly American abroad!
     So, let's run down his predecessors from both parties. Would Eisenhower have done this-no; would Kennedy-no; would Johnson-no; would Nixon-no, not even Nixon; would Ford-no; would Carter-surely not; would Reagan-no; would Bush the first-no; would Clinton-no; would Bush the son-no; would Obama-oh, please.
     The second hysterical moment of late came when Trump announced withdrawing U.S. participation in the Paris Climate Agreement. No, I agree that isn't funny, but his rationale was a "he said what?" gaff. Trump argued that the climate agreement, signed by every other nation except Nicaragua (the agreement didn't go far enough for them) and Syria, threatened U.S. sovereignty.
     I will repeat. Trump said that signing onto the climate control agreement would threaten U.S. sovereignty. If there is any issue in the world that has no connection with national sovereignty, it is climate change. There is no U.S. climate, Canadian climate, German climate, French climate, or even North Korean climate. There is only our common global climate which most first-graders in the world know is systematically changing for the worse.
     Does anyone ever travel from the U.S. into Mexico or Canada and say, "Wow, feel that different climate"? Of course not. We feel a difference in temperature, but rising temperatures are happening globally, indications of climate change for the entire planet. There are only two poles for the entire planet, and both are shrinking.
     For Trump to say American sovereignty is threatened by the Paris Climate Agreement is to announce clearly that America is withdrawing from the world. Every leader Trump met with on during his first trip abroad, from Pope Francis to Britain's Prime Minister, gave him the same sermon-consider the planet; consider humankind; don't withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement. All of those leaders know that the biggest polluter on the planet per capita is the U.S.
     But this is not the funniest part of Trump's statement on sovereignty. At precisely the moment when the U.S. is facing the greatest threat to her sovereignty and her democracy in my lifetime, when we are all wondering how much Russia has sabotaged and is sabotaging our way of life, Trump plays the sovereignty card on climate change. I know; "you have to be kidding."
     Lest there is a reader who has not been watching the hearings in Washington, who doesn't know who James Comey and Jeff Sessions are, and who thinks I am exaggerating, please study a recent cover of TIME magazine, where the whiteness of the White House is slowing being overtaken by the redness and the onion-shaped domes of the Kremlin. Is the picture clear enough?
     All of this leaves Americans from both parties with a common demand of this Administration: Explain, Mr. Trump, how you can argue that the Paris Agreement threatens our nation's sovereignty and at the same time say with a straight face that the Kremlin's illegal activities do not.


Dear Mr. Putin
May 18th, 2017

     Dear Mr. Putin,
     I know that both of us are busy - you with trying to remake the world in your image, and I with my grading. But I thought I'd drop a note to ask you to please give me my country back.
     Democracy is not something you understand and respect, and I admit that democracy can be messy. But that mess is our mess, and we actually like the suspense of wondering whom Americans will elect into office. You definitely ruined the 2016 election for us with all your dirty tricks to get your buddy elected. For the three million more who voted for Hillary than Donald, you were the Grinch who stole our Christmas. You played us, and we're left with a sour taste in our mouths.
     But as someone has said, that's all blood under the bridge. Yet, you persist in meddling, which has to stop. At your request, Donald allowed Russian journalists to sit in on his conversation with your ambassador, while American journalists were excluded. In this meeting, your buddy Donald through your ambassador gave you classified intelligence that even some in our own intelligence community were ignorant of. All that makes me wonder which nation's flag was flying that day in the Oval Office.
     Look, as one survivor of the Cold War to another, let's not mince words. Your invasion of the Ukraine led to European and American sanctions for this aggression. You blamed former President Obama for this slap in the face, and I am quite sure I understand why.
     Obama represented all that you consider weak about democracy. He led the nation even as he took the high ground – all the while racial and personal slurs were uttered against him and his family. Obama sought the advice of allies as he faced one crisis after another in the Middle East. He not only considered what was best for the U.S., but what was best for the world. But I think we both know what really galled you about Obama was his absurd notion that telling the truth is important.
     Your concept of leadership, of course, views truth as constructed, rather than respected. In your understanding of the world, the truth is what you say it is. If I listened to you and Donald, I might believe Russia is a great ally in the fight against ISIL, not a nation that is propping up that master of genocide, Assad in Syria. No doubt this cavalier attitude toward truth is something you learned in Stalin 101. With you, Donald is learning from a master. But please understand that most Americans know that a lie, in the end, is just a lie, not an alternative fact.
     Of course, you have crossed moral lines that Donald simply can't. Citizens who hold up a protest sign in the streets of Moscow can be carted off to jail. Despite Donald's rage, Americans will continue to resist with massive protests in the streets. Political opponents and journalists critical of your regime are found shot or poisoned, no matter where they live in the world. All Donald can do is fire those with integrity and wish that he could jail journalists.
     Finally, please note the era of your pranks against America is coming to a close. We're on to your tricks, and, face it, Donald isn't exactly clever. The day is near when we will flush your unwelcome influence out of our system. But cheer up, Assad will still love you.


The Need To Form Spiritual Friendships With People of Other Faiths
April 18th, 2017

     The tragedy of 9/11 changed America and continues to change our country. Even as the imploding towers threw debris in all directions, so Americans responded to the tragedy in very different ways. Predictably, all of us felt fear. For some of us, that fear led to a suspicion of people of other faiths, especially Muslims, but not only them. Mosques, synagogues, and Sikh gudwaras were attacked or vandalized, their members feeling exposed and vulnerable.
     For other Americans, the fear felt on 9/11 led to a far different response, an awakening. They realized that the crisis called for a coming together as peoples of different faiths. These Americans realized that if they did not build bridges to one another, then fear would build walls of separation.
     The program, "Celebrating Interfaith in the Heartland," to take place at St. Luke's United Methodist Church, 100 W. 86th St. (in Indianapolis, Indiana) at 7 pm on Tuesday, April 25th, honors the organizations and program in central Indiana that are bringing peoples of different faiths together.
     A question that I sometimes hear is, "Isn't tolerance enough?" No. We tolerate a headache or a screaming child on an airplane. Tolerance of other faiths is often expressed this way: "You get to be you; I get to be me. Let's leave it at that." No wonder such tolerance wasn't able to withstand the challenge of 9/11. Within minutes of the attacks, tolerance was overcome by suspicion, anger, and hatred.
     Other people have taken the challenge of 9/11 to say, "Yes, we need to be more than tolerant. We need to understand one another." Understanding one another is certainly preferable to benign tolerance. Understanding other religions reduces the power of distorted portrayals of other faiths. Understanding other religions is also essential for making constructive foreign-policy decisions, especially regarding the Middle East.
     But even understanding isn't the most promising response we can offer to 9/11. Understanding others who are different can be done at a distance, by reading books, watching programs on TV, or attending a lecture. A person seeking understanding of another's religion doesn't have to enter a relationship with a living person of that other faith.
     The most promising response to 9/11 is what we will celebrate at St. Luke's United Methodist Church on April 25th, and that response is forming spiritual friendships with those of other faiths. In spiritual friendships, we share our stories, the journey we have taken to know God more fully. In spiritual friendships, we listen to these stories with an open heart, not a debating mind. When we do this, we receive an astonishing gift-we experience the shining presence of God in another's story.
     At the April 25th event, leaders of interfaith organizations and programs from central Indiana will share their experiences in establishing and experiencing spiritual friendships. The program will also officially launch Countering Religious Extremism: The Healing Power of Spiritual Friendship, a record of interviews I conducted in America's heartland with those who have been transformed through these friendships.
     Building walls of separation or bridges of encouragement-those are the choices facing religions at this critical time in history. If you are interested in bridge building, come join us at St. Luke's United Methodist Church on April 25th.


IS NATO OBSOLETE?
March 1st, 2017

     Because I was traveling in Europe in the days before the inauguration, I was able to see the Trump presidency from the European perspective. Clearly, the Trump shockwave that most concerned Europeans was his statement that NATO is obsolete.
     This statement did more than puzzle Europeans; it clearly alarmed them. To understand that reaction, we need to remind ourselves what NATO is and stands for. NATO, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, began in 1949 as a response to the Soviet takeover of Eastern European countries, including East Germany, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Estonia, Georgia, Yugoslavia, Albania, Lithuania, and a major part of Eastern Finland.
     NATO initially bound Western European Countries, such as Italy, France, Belgium, Great Britain, Norway, Canada, the Netherlands, and Portugal in an alliance that promised mutual support in the event that any one of them was attacked. In subsequent years, Greece, Turkey, West Germany, and Spain joined. Without a doubt, however, the backbone of the NATO promise was the United States' commitment to NATO, a commitment that meant that any attack on one of those smaller countries would face the might, even the nuclear might, of our country,
     In a real sense, NATO created the Cold War, for it froze Soviet aggression in its tracks. Because of NATO, even Berlin, buried deeply in East Germany, was divided into West and East Berlin, with West Berliners enjoying freedoms that those on the other side of the Berlin Wall could only dream about.
     After the Soviet Empire collapsed between 1989-91, 12 Eastern European countries, which had been under Russian control in the Cold War era, applied for membership in NATO. Why? Because they wanted to ensure that they would enjoy the democratic freedoms of the West and never again have to face Russian aggression.
     Did this nearly unanimous decision by these eastern European countries embarrass Russia? Absolutely. It was like Russia's dance partner for 45 years suddenly told Moscow that she has always hated him and wants nothing to do with him in the future. Ouch.
     That is what Europeans find so shocking about Trump's proclamation that NATO is obsolete. Clearly, Trump never heard the alarm bells that sounded across Europe when Putin invaded Crimea in the Ukraine in 2014. Clearly, Trump has never talked with a Pole, a Lithuanian, a Latvian, and, most of all a Ukrainian, who feel that Russia is once again an enemy on their doorsteps.
     For these small countries that border Russia, NATO is their only hope of independence. These countries know that Russian troops, to be a threat, don't have to cross their borders, although Putin might do this. These small, Eastern European countries know that to live even in the shadow of Russia is to live in dismal darkness.
     So where did Trump get the bizarre idea that NATO is obsolete? There is only one person who knows NATO is far from obsolete but nevertheless wants NATO to disappear. And that person is Vladimir Putin.
     If Trump has his way in walking away from NATO, the backbone of that vital organization will be gone. And if Putin even subtly threatens these small nations, such a development would be the biggest betrayal of American promises and values in our history. Such a decision could even mean that the next president would face something no American, Republican or Democrat, wants-a war with Russia to save Europe.


The Hidden Wave That Fooled Us
January 17th, 2017

     In an article I wrote during the Republican primaries, I compared Donald Trump to "the last comic standing." I, along with many Democrats and some Republicans, underestimated the man.
     I now view Donald Trump not as a comic, but rather as an expert surfer who rode a wave that grew higher the closer we came to the election. The fault of liberals like me was that we concentrated on the bizarre actions and statements of the surfer, when we should have been focused on the rising wave beneath him.
     The wave did not start with Donald Trump's candidacy. It began long before, going back at least to the election in 2008 of Barack Obama, our first African-American president. Those of us who loved him and continue to do so noticed, but didn't pay much attention to, the rise in gun sales and the proliferation of hate groups after he took office.
     But it is not fair to many who voted for Trump to interpret the wave as solely an upsurge of racism. The wave is more complex than one issue. World events, particularly the civil war in Syria that prompted hundreds of thousands of immigrants to flood into Europe, frightened many Americans. Would they be coming here? Would that lead to terrorism? The wave grew.
     Syrian refugees were only one aspect of immigration that worried many Americans. Many white males were confused and bothered by the growing number of Muslims and Hispanics in our country. White, Christian, English-speaking dominance seemed to be slipping away. The wave grew yet higher.
     The confusion of many Americans deepened with the rapid change brought by the legalization of same-sex marriages. Those of us who expected a backlash to this sudden openness to alternative lifestyles were surprised at the near silence. Yes, a Kentucky state employee made the news as did our own Governor, but they were quickly vilified and laughed at. But not by all. And the wave grew higher.
     In the police shootings involving while police and black victims, many of us on the left saw the issue as one of eradicating bias with police forces. Others saw these events differently as being attacks on the police and an attack on the need for order in our society. When Donald Trump was asked in a debate about police violence and the Black Lives Matter movement, his answer centered on the phrase "law and order." This was the very phrase used by Nixon to crack down on blacks in the late 1960s and 1970s and by the apartheid regime in South Africa. "Law and order" is a coded way of saying police will be supported and not questioned about how they keep the peace. Many Americans understood Trump's coded promise, and the wave grew higher.
     Even seemingly small events built the wave. The controversy in North Carolina about bathrooms for transgender men and women caused many Americans to ask, "What is our society coming to?" and "Where does this all lead?"
     As this wave grew higher and higher, those of us on the left focused too much on the bizarre statements of the man surfing on top. We falsely assumed that with each frightening, racist, sexist, or xenophobic action or comment by Trump, his support would crumble. Those of us who voted for Clinton couldn't believe that rational Americans would entrust the world's largest nuclear arsenal to this bizarre man. We failed to note that more Americans were more concerned about the next U.S. Supreme Court appointee than about nuclear war, increased racism, Trump's infatuation with Putin, or xenophobic promises to build a wall with Mexico.
     But there is sobering news for Trump supporters. History is a river that does not flow in reverse. A strong wave going against the current can only temporarily dam a river.
     The Broadway sensation of 1966 was the musical "Stop the World: I Want to Get Off." This fear of change is the sentiment that fueled Great Britain's exit from Europe and built Trump's wave of support. But Trump and Vice President Pence will not be able to turn the clock backwards. Mass immigration in the world can only continue. White dominance in our country will continue to decline demographically. The climate will continue to warm despite those who deny the existence of Global Warming. Islam will grow as a religion in our country.
     The flow of the river, in the end, will reign supreme. For, as the Buddhists tell us, change is inevitable.


Silence Is Not An Option
December 22nd, 2016

     More than one friend has shared with me that they don't feel much like celebrating Christmas this year, given the direction our country seems to be headed. Friends in this country from minority groups-racial, ethnic, or religious-have shared how frightened their children are with the uncertainty about their status or acceptance.
     Friends from Europe have shared the fear and dismay that they feel in response to the American election. To them, the U.S. moved overnight from being the cornerstone of stability in the world to being one of the world's great uncertainties. Foreign leaders, strong allies of the U.S. in the past, feel abandoned while some countries have already warned their citizens not to travel to the U.S. because of the upswing of hate groups.
     In all of these responses, I hear hopelessness and a sense of "darkness over the land," as the biblical writer expressed it.
     In light of this widespread despair, I have been thinking more and more about a comment I first heard in 2007 and have repeatedly heard in the years since. Leaders within Christianity, Buddhism, and other religions, as well as within various spiritual movements, have been predicting a great spiritual awakening that will soon occur in the world.
     The first time I heard this prediction, I laughed inwardly. Such a change is what our world needs, but I saw little evidence of such a transformation at the time. And on the surface, it would seem that our next president, who demeaned, labelled, and targeted one group after another in his campaign, makes a mockery of any hope of a spiritual awakening.
     But I am now not so sure. In fact, I am thinking that this moving of the human spirit is more likely to occur under Trump than under Clinton. Clinton's victory would have seduced those of us in the center and left of center to sit back and watch as Hillary battled the waves of intolerance, fear, and hatred that had found voice in the election.
     But on November 9th, we who voted for Clinton awoke to the reality that we would not have someone in the White House, nor a majority in the Senate and House to do the work for us. The work is now up to us. The good news is that are many signs of new progressive activism since the election.
     I think of the school systems that, in the wake of increased harassment of minorities, have acted immediately to remind all students that such behavior will be punished.
     I think of the Muslim college student who in the days following the election was blocked from entering her class by a wall of white students. The next day, three hundred fellow students escorted her to her classes.
     I think of the increasing number of persons who are wearing a large safety pin prominently on their shirts, blouses, sweaters, or coats. Although this campaign began in Britain after Brexit, many Americans in the aftermath of the election are wearing the pin to make a similar statement: that they are safe persons for minorities.
     I think also of all those Americans who have pledged, if any government official tries to make Muslims register in this country, to declare themselves as Muslims as well.
     A study of such movements in the past reveals that spiritual growth rarely occurs in times of ease and comfort. Instead, it is times of crisis that stir the human spirit.
     Even as Obama's election and reelection spawned racist and hate groups in our country, so Trump's election is bringing to the surface a commitment by millions to stand with those who are labeled or targeted. We will no longer pretend that we don't hear the racist or homophobic joke. We will no longer lower our heads when someone's religion is demeaned. Those who think the election result gives them permission to belittle others should expect to hear from us. And we won't be whispering.
     So, let us celebrate this holiday season, and do so by changing the story of Christmas. As those of us who are Christians remember the story of Joseph and Mary, that refugee family from Nazareth that was turned away by the ancient citizens of Bethlehem, we pledge to do the opposite: to leave our lights on and our hearts open to the coming of God in the guise of our neighbors-all of them.


The Surfer and the Wave: Trump's Victory
November 13th, 2016

     In an article I wrote during the Republican primaries, I compared Donald Trump to "the last comic standing." I, along with many Democrats and some Republicans, underestimated the man.
     I now view Donald Trump not as a comic, but rather as an expert surfer who rode a wave that grew higher the closer we came to the election. The fault of liberals like me was that we concentrated on the bizarre actions and statements of the surfer, when we should have been focused on the rising wave beneath him.
     The wave did not start with Donald Trump's candidacy. It began long before, going back at least to the election of Barack Obama, our first African-American president. Those of us who loved him and continue to do so noticed, but didn't pay much attention to, the rise in gun sales and the proliferation of hate groups after he took office.
     But it is not fair to many who voted for Trump to interpret the wave as solely an upsurge of racism. The wave is more complex than one issue. World events, particularly the civil war in Syria that brought hundreds of thousands of immigrants flooding into Europe, frightened many Americans. Would they be coming here? Would that lead to terrorism? The wave grew.
     Syrian refugees were only one aspect of immigration that worried many Americans. Many white males were confused and bothered by the growing number of Muslims and Hispanics in our country. White, Christian, English-speaking dominance seemed to be slipping away. The wave grew yet higher.
     The confusion of many Americans deepened with the rapid change brought by the legalization of same-sex marriages. Those of us who expected a backlash to this sudden openness to alternative lifestyles were surprised at the near silence. Yes, a Kentucky state employee made the news as did our own governor, but they were quickly vilified and laughed at. But not by all. And the wave grew higher.
     In the police shootings involving while police and black victims, many of us on the left saw the issue as one of eradicating bias with police forces. Others saw these events differently, as attacks on the police and, in that attack, an attack on the need for order in our society. When Donald Trump was asked in a debate about police violence and the Black Lives Matter movement, his answer centered on the phrase "law and order." This was the very phrase used by Nixon to crack down on blacks in the late 60s and 70s and by the apartheid regime in South Africa. "Law and order" is a coded way of saying police will be supported and not questioned about how they keep the peace. Many Americans understood Trump's coded promise, and the wave grew higher.
     Even seemingly small events built the wave. The controversy in North Carolina about bathrooms for transgender men and women caused many Americans to ask, "What is our society coming to?" and "Where does this all lead?"
     As this wave grew higher and higher, those of us on the left focused too much on the bizarre statements of the man surfing on top. We falsely assumed that with each frightening, racist, sexist, or xenophobic action or comment by Trump, his support would crumble. Those of us who voted for Clinton couldn't believe that rational Americans would entrust the world's largest nuclear arsenal to this bizarre man. We failed to note that more Americans were more concerned about the next Supreme Court appointee than about nuclear war, increased racism, Trump's infatuation with Putin, or xenophobic promises to build a wall with Mexico.
     But there is sobering news for Trump supporters. History is a river that does not flow in reverse. A strong wave going against the current can only temporarily dam a river.
     The Broadway sensation of 1966 was the musical "Stop the World: I Want to Get Off." This fear if change is the sentiment that fueled Great Britain's exit from Europe and built Trump's wave of support. But Trump and Pence will not be able to turn the clock backwards. Mass immigration in the world can only continue. White dominance in our country will continue to decline demographically. The climate will continue to warm despite those who deny it. Islam will grow as a religion in our country.
     The flow of the river, in the end, will reign supreme, for, as the Buddhists tell us, change is inevitable.




Copyright © 2016. David C. Carlson. All rights reserved.

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