BOOK REVIEW

omarosaandjohnallen-d1e2d43b-7e71-43d1-8d0e-dbefa08c2554

“Unhinged: An Insider’s Account of the Trump White House”

It’s challenging to review a major book penned by someone who is plainly a clever and sometimes grasping opportunist. Omarosa Manigault Newman confesses to a deep admiration of Barack Obama. She served for two years on the Ready For Hillary PAC, hoping to elect Mrs. Clinton – “a woman I deeply admired” – as America’s first female president. Then, when Hillary officially declared her candidacy, Newman and her team were passed over for permanent positions with the campaign. In a fit of pique, she did an about-face, cashed in her Trump connection from her days on The Apprentice, and worked 18-hour days to elect Donald Trump instead. So if you don’t read any further, I totally get it.

Was this pure cynicism, or a raw craving for power and position? It’s true that both parties need to court the minority vote; it wasn’t a bad thing for Ms. Newman to want to help Mr. Trump relate to the African-American community. Democratic big-shot Donna Brazile, stunned by her defection, managed to say: “Okay, it’s important that we have people in both camps.”

So readers have to take everything this lady writes with a wheelbarrow-full of salt. Will she write or say literally anything to sell a lot of books? I don’t know. However, from a purely literary and reporting POV, this is a decently crafted exposé of an exploding, bitterly dysfunctional administration. And no one can deny that Omarosa “was there”; she went right into the Oval several times a week and was a Trump confidant for many years.

One must also put on the table that this woman is now an ordained Baptist minister and has served as a missionary. After her relationship with Michael Clarke Duncan (“The Green Mile”) was tragically ended by his death, she fell in love with and married a devout Christian minister and serves side-by-side with him in a megachurch in Florida. So there’s that.

The world of bestsellers is awash in books like this one, so I’ll simply pass along three points that she makes with conviction. First, she attests to a scary deterioration in Donald Trump’s abilities and mental acuity. “The Donald Trump of 2003 was as smart and shrewd as he claimed to be,” she writes. But thirteen years later in the White House? “His mental decline could not be denied.” He rapidly gained weight, eating mounds of junk food. This may partially explain the president’s purple rages. “When his temper flares, he does not – cannot – hold back, and it’s terrifying to watch,” she says. “Trump screamed at [Chief of Staff] John Kelly with such violence; he’d never been spoken to by anyone that way before.”

Many political junkies were surprised and offended when President Trump literally shoved Montenegro PM Dusko Markovic out of the way during a photo op. “You came off a little aggressive,” Omarosa protested to him. “Why did you do that?” The president waved her off with this: “Oh, he’s just a whiny punk bitch.”

Many Christians quietly acknowledge that Mr. Trump isn’t their ideal candidate, but hope and trust that the Lord will “use him anyway.” One anecdote upends that cherished longing. On September 3, 2016, in the fiercest part of the campaign, Newman and others arranged for their candidate to speak at a large black church: Great Faith Ministries Church. Candidate Trump’s repeated complaints to his aide went along these lines: “You can’t leave me with these people.” “This is the longest I’ve been in church in my life. When is this going to end?” And finally: “God, how much longer do I have to sit here?” When elected, and planning for his inauguration, he openly mused about his desire to get sworn in using “The Art of the Deal” instead of the Bible. “Trump has no knowledge of the Bible at all.” Once in the White House, she regretfully noted: “Being offensive, inappropriate, and off-color is normal for him.”

Her most wrenching confession is how she was so blinded for years to two stark realities that were never going to change. “Donald Trump’s single greatest character flaw as a leader and human being is his complete and total lack of empathy,” she now testifies. Second: “The change in my mind and heart was due to a combination of factors, but mainly, my growing realization that Donald Trump was indeed a racist, a bigot, and a misogynist.” It’s no secret that he hated Obama to the point of paranoia. “The only item on his to-do list would be to erase the legacy of Barack Obama by undoing his policies.”

Again, this woman, faults and all, was right there standing next to her boss as the hate spewed forth in an unadulterated stream. “I had to go through the pain of witnessing his racism with my own eyes, and hearing it with my own ears, many times, until I couldn’t deny it any longer.”

I’ll let the writer share one glimmer of optimism in her conclusion, and then let me tack one last thing. “Playing upon people’s fears for the sake of legislative expediency is not a sustainable model for a healthy democracy, and, ultimately, we will reject it. We will come to the conclusion that the apparent gains of division pale in comparison to the benefits of unity and the pursuit of the common good.”

I can only hope and pray she’s right.

In C. S. Lewis’ wonderful Christian sci-fi thriller, “That Hideous Strength,” there’s a minor character named Mark Studdock who is enthralled by his chance of getting into that inner circle where the big men like Professor Frost make dark and thrilling plans. It’s pure evil, of course, but he’s too naïve, too trusting, too fawning,  too gullible and in awe of the power neckties and the boasts over cocktails in a posh men’s club.

And finally the scales are stripped away and this fragile man begins to find his soul. Lewis writes about that moment of conversion. “But what Mark could not understand was how he had ever managed to overlook something about the man [Frost] so obvious that any child would have shrunk away from him and any dog would have backed into the corner with raised hackles and bared teeth. Death itself did not seem more frightening than the fact that only six hours ago he would in some measure have trusted this man, welcomed his confidence, and even made believe that his society was not disagreeable.”

 

 

 

Advertisements
Posted in Elections, Trump, U.S. Presidents, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

REVENGE ON DOYLE LONNEGAN

1973, THE STING

 

THEOLOGY AT THE MOVIES: THE STING

 

The Sting has got one of the classiest endings in film, and it earned a Best Picture Oscar in 1973. Audiences enjoyed seeing Paul Newman and Robert Redford pair up again after their successful partnership in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.

Johnny Hooker is a two-bit con man who accidentally swindles a mob runner out of five grand. Doyle Lonnegan (Robert Shaw) takes his revenge by ordering the assassination of Hooker’s partner, Luther Coleman (Robert Earl Jones). Angry and hot for revenge, Hooker seeks out Henry Gondorff (Newman), who agrees to help lift a half million dollars from the New York crime boss.

But as they consider the scheme, Gondorff has a prescient observation about revenge. He eyes Redford skeptically. “Just don’t want a hothead looking to get even coming back halfway through sayin’ it ain’t enough. Cause it’s all we’re gonna get.”

In other words, hoping to “balance the scales” in a universe of sin and tit-for-tat is a fool’s errand. You can’t do it. There’s no way to gain monetary satisfaction when your best friend’s been tossed from a second-story balcony.

Henry Gondorff goes on to acknowledge that a thirst to get even is a powerful motivator. “Do you think we can get some guys together?” Hooker asks hopefully. This kind of “big con,” a massive horse-racing scheme, will take quite an army of street hustlers. His mentor says bluntly: “After what happened to Luther, I don’t think I can get more than two, three hundred guys.”

The story unfolds with a myriad of plot twists, and I won’t give away any of the slick maneuvers. Suffice it to say that, yes indeed, Robert Shaw is suckered right out of his suitcase stuffed with $500,000 as the final credits roll. But as Newman and Redford prepare to part ways, they both acknowledge that revenge is never a complete and satisfying treat.

“Well, kid, you beat him,” Newman beams.

Redford cocks his head, savoring the joy of besting his enemy. Then acknowledges: “You’re right. It’s not enough.” Then a laugh. “But it’s close!”

So it’s not a perfect movie sermon. Because sure, it’s delicious to see Robert Shaw being taken for  $15,000 in his own rigged poker game. And then the suitcase with all his bank’s skimmed profits. Half a mil is a sweet load of sugar in 1936 Chicago.

Theologically, though, the Bible plainly tells us that “you can’t get there from here.” Rom. 12:19: Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge: I will repay,” says the Lord. Leaving the business of score-settling to the Lord is a biblical mandate, buttressed by the human reality that we simply cannot get even. We can’t balance the scales. What would you or I ever do to “fix” the Holocaust? Or get full satisfaction for 9/11 and those hijackers? Let along that jerk who stole your promotion at the office?

I’ll get into the even better cinema “revenge” moment in another essay, but Sister Helen Prejean’s brilliant Dead Man Walking painstakingly describes how the victims of violent crime absolutely cannot recover emotionally by seeking vengeance. A grieving mom or widow can wait twenty years to see their beloved’s killer strapped down to a lethal injection gurney. They watch the poison cocktail flow. They see the murderer slowly expire and stop twitching. They watch him die!! And it’s not enough. She writes how it’s like having sand slip through your fingers. You try to clench your fist, preserve your hot, murderous hate . . . and it’s not enough. You can’t grasp it or keep it real.

Whimsical Scott Joplin piano music plays as Robert Redford slowly walked out of The Sting still in his tux, the fake blood all over his shirt, and with a handsome half-smile on his face. But a half smile is all it can ever be when we try to fix the greedy sins of others all by ourselves.

Take heart in how “The Message” paraphrase puts it. Dear friends, never take revenge but turn your hostility over to God. The Scriptures make it clear: “I will see that justice is done. I WILL TAKE CARE OF IT,” says the Lord.

Posted in Films, Forgiveness, Resentment, Revenge, Uncategorized | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Catch a Wave and You’re Sittin’ on the Top of the World

WAVES

I’m on a read-thru-the-Bible regimen and was having a hard time slogging through the brittle first part of Isaiah! But then this amazing watery metaphor jumped out at me from ch. 48:

If you had only listened to Me and paid attention to what I told you, your peace would have been like the gentle flow of still waters and your righteousness as powerful as the waves of the sea (v. 18).

Lisa and I just enjoyed an idyllic week of vacation in Oceanside, where the highlight of our evening schedule was to stand side by side on the pier and watch the waves quietly roll in. Surfers are still out, determined to catch that last brief ride. Some waves are larger than others; there are surges of energy that don’t pan out. Others crest and crash too soon. But for sure, the waves just keep coming.

Wouldn’t it be amazing if my Christian witness was as reliable as the Pacific’s endless waves? (Okay, that’s a faulty example; forget I said that.) But what if – for the entire body of Christ – it was known around the globe that our collective righteousness and fidelity and unselfish kind deeds were as faithful as the waves coming up onto the shore and bathing a weary world’s blisters and hurts?

Why do the waves keep coming? Well, there are trillions of gallons of water out there. That’s the grace of God flowing from Calvary. There’s also the gravitational tug of the moon and surging currents: promptings from the Holy Spirit. We don’t see all those things. But as the sun faithfully sets behind the far golden horizon, yes, you do see the waves and the delicious, comforting splashing sound they make as they plow inexorably toward us.

The Message paraphrase adds this nice twist: Your life would have flowed full like a river, BLESSINGS rolling in like waves from the sea. That takes the anxiety of performance right out of our hands; even the good we do is God working through our transformed hearts, blessing others through the cool bath of our obedience.

And finally, those surfers in their wet suits surely did enjoy catching a thrill ride through the gathering twilight shadows. When the church bands together and offers healing and kindness, the whole world gets the opportunity to catch our wave and ride along with the blessings.

Posted in Christianity, Isaiah, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Impeachment? That’s America’s Call

goldwater

I suggest it’s a mistake when Democrats prematurely announce themselves for impeaching a president as a campaign issue. Two pillars of reality exist in the current case. First, let Robert Mueller and his team complete their investigation and make their report. Possible collusion with a foreign power is a grave matter; despite the agitation of some, Washington and the rest of us can wait for a full accounting.

But the second truth is this. As with any key legislation, e.g. healthcare, the most lasting solutions always have crucial buy-in and support from both sides of the aisle. Anything jammed through at midnight by one party is immediately suspect, fragile, and subject to endless subversion. And Congress should only act in response to an unmistakable tidal wave of indignation from the broad American populace in both parties. In a thing like this, the House and Senate ought to do what we want, not what they want.

In the Watergate saga (1974), the entire nation was inexorably moving toward the conviction that President Nixon was guilty of a cover-up. But it wasn’t until July 24 that Nixon lawyer Fred Buzhardt cued up the infamous June 23 tape that detailed the plot. IMMEDIATELY, key Republicans faced the reality that a crime really had happened, and that this was a moment to put country before party.

Two anecdotes from the Woodward/Bernstein book, “The Final Days,” reveal how our American Congress, acting on behalf of an indignant and aroused public, swung into action. The following Saturday, a House Judiciary Committee had to vote articles of impeachment. Democrat Peter Rodino led the vote and the count was 27, exactly the number needed. Later . . . “The talk stopped. Rodino’s body started to shake. Then his small hands clutched his arms, and tears streamed down his face. Weeping quietly, he left the room, went to a washroom and then to the counsel’s office, where he called his wife at home. ‘I pray that we did the right thing,’ he said to her. ‘I hoped it didn’t have to be this way.’”

Tellingly, on August 7, three Republican Senators – Scott, Goldwater, and Rhodes (pictured) – made an appointment to see Nixon in the Oval Office. It was calm and professional; they were respectful and so was Nixon. But they essentially told their own president that his Watergate sins had ended his presidency. National support had melted away; the collective conscience of millions of their fellow citizens had been inflamed beyond repair. There were almost no Republicans willing to vote for his acquittal in a Senate trial. He would have to step down.

The following night, Nixon resigned his office.

 

Posted in Impeachment, Trump | Tagged | Leave a comment

It’s the Kremlin Calling, Mr. President

Lyndon B. Johnson

Last week’s tumultuous events in Helsinki reminded me that American Presidents have always had complicated relationships with their Russian counterparts. After Nikita Khrushchev was so suddenly deposed by the Kremlin, humorist Art Buchwald imagined this bit of clever trans-Atlantic dialogue with LBJ. Collusion, anyone?

HELP WANTED, TOVARICH

With all their efficiency, the one thing the Soviets forgot to do was take out Khrushchev’s hot line to the White House. It probably will be denied, but the other night the hot line rang and Khrushchev was on it.

“Hello, Tovarich, it’s Nik,” a voice whispered when the President answered the phone.

“Howdy, Mr. Khrushchev! How’s everything?”

“Sh, sh, sh, not so loud. They may be listening outside the door. Congratulations on your election.”

“Well, thanks very much.”

“I imagine you have a lot of jobs open, Tovarich?”

“Well, yes. There are a few appointments I have to make.”

“You couldn’t use a good Russian expert, could you?”

“I hadn’t thought of it. Did you have anybody in mind?”

“Me.”

“Gosh, Mr. Khrushchev, that’s nice of you to offer, but I don’t think I could get you a security clearance. Don’t forget you once said you’d bury us, and it’s probably in your FBI file.”

“I was misquoted, by state controlled Communist press,” Mr. K whispered. (NOTE: now we call this ‘fake news.’) “I could make a good Russian expert. I know everything I did wrong in the last twelve years.”

“It isn’t just the bury-us line that would cause trouble. But remember when you took your shoe off at the United Nations? Well, the security people would probably think you were unstable. They take that kind of thing into consideration.”

“Tovarich, I swear on ‘Das Kapital’ the only reason I took my shoe off was because it was too tight. I can say this now. Russian shoes are not very good.”

“I’d like to help you, Mr. Khrushchev, but we got too many Russian experts as it is, and I’ve got an economy drive on. I don’t know how I could justify it.”

“What about the Department of Agriculture? I’m tops in farming. I could be in charge of collective farms.”

“We don’t have any collective farms, Mr. Khrushchev.”

“I could start some for you,” he begged.

“I don’t think that would work.”

“Is there anything open at Disneyland?”

“I could check for you, but you know that’s not a government-owned project. Mr. Disney hires his own people.”

“Tovarich, I don’t like to beg, but I need a job bad. Could I be a Senator from New York State?”

“We already have one from Massachusetts,” (Bobby Kennedy), the President replied. “Even if there was an opening, I’m afraid if you ran they would bring up the carpetbagger issue again.”

“There must be something for me to do. Perhaps advertising testimonials. I could be the one who uses greasy kid stuff on his hair.”

“I couldn’t help you there.”

“Maybe baseball Czar?” Nikita asked.

“Baseball is America’s national pastime. I’m not sure they’d want a Russian to head it up.”

“There must be something, Mr. President. After all I did for America these past few years.”

“Well, I did hear they were looking for someone to take over the Republican National Committee.”

“Wonderful. But wouldn’t they object because of my background?””

“It wouldn’t bother me.”

 

Posted in Helsinki, LBJ, Russia, Uncategorized | Tagged , | Leave a comment

And Let the Rest of the World Go By

LET THE WORLD   dad and mom

 

This old love song just STABS me whenever it rolls through my ear buds. The soundtrack to “Out of Africa” is great for grading trig tests, but when the quiet orchestra strains of this sentimental hit from 1919 comes on, I always set down my red pen and begin dabbing at my eyes.

With someone like you, a pal good and true
I’d like to leave it all behind and go and find
A place that’s known to God alone
Just a spot we could call our own

We’ll find perfect peace where joys never cease
Somewhere beneath the starry skies
We’ll build a sweet little nest somewhere in the west
And let the rest of the world go by

Dad always liked that song. Way back when, I remember him picking up a guitar to serenade his bride with it. He had a somewhat reedy voice, and comic pauses as he fumbled for chord changes. But I think back now on the 51 years he shared with Mom and there never was much of the sweet-little-nest-in-the-west in what L-O-V-E spelled out for them. Instead they rode together on a grimy freighter, six unglorious weeks, out to Asia. Where life was dirt roads, village Bible studies, annual baptism reports in single digits, setbacks and sorrows and separations. Not to mention the nonstop friction of raising so many less-than-sanctified boys: the four D’s.

Along with many other heroic missionaries at Bangkok’s Mission Hospital, Mom and Dad traded in the lyrical hideaway for a life of service. Clear up until retirement and beyond, Dad just kept on knocking on doors, visiting people, and inviting them to join God’s family. Sure, he and Mom generally marked their wedding anniversary, but church duties and mission commitments did sometimes push the June 3 party back to the following day or two.

So there never was a little cottage out beyond the horizon, a carved-out hideaway. It never happened. In fact, my parents were really just beginning to taste the awaited honeymoon of retirement when a drugged-out guy in a pickup truck ran up on the sidewalk and Dad’s love serenade got cut off even before the second verse.

Two points. Donald and I had the grim privilege of spending the rest of that night with our mom in a house suddenly barren and filled with permanent shadows. I still cannot believe how she bit back tears, gave us each a hug, comforted US, and then climbed into her bed alone. She lay there in prayer for a long while, asking for God’s presence, thanking Him for 51 years with her mate, and asking her Father to “help her be a good and cheerful widow and witness.” True story. I’m here to testify that my mother is a heroine beyond what I could have ever dreamed.

But I can’t help but think of that wistful song and the moment Dad and Mom meet again on the far shore. I think Jesus will greet them both and go through the “well done, good and faithful servants” bit. Then He might take them to the side, point through a grove of trees to where there’s a little cottage with trees in the front yard and swans on the lake. And murmur to them: “I know, I know . . . Matthew 22:30. Just go and enjoy it for a bit. We’ve got a party out here that’s gonna last ten thousand years. Join us when you’re ready.”

And right before He sends them off on that heavenly honeymoon, He’ll also hand Dad a guitar and show him how to hit that E major chord.

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Heaven, marriage, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

BOOK REVIEW: “A Higher Loyalty”

 

COMEY

I hope partisans on both sides will set aside their “Comey rage” – I’m still fuming too – and take the time to read his well-thought-out bio, “A Higher Loyalty.” It’s clear, honest, reflective, and written with a citizen’s heart. He’s a good writer, and the man obviously kept detailed notes. If you’re still on the fence regarding “Okay, who’s lying here,” I got to the finish of his testimony and feel assured that: a) he’s telling the truth, and b) he labored earnestly to make the best decisions possible during impossible moments.

Comey writes with passion about the FBI and its reputation, an agency “with no party.” As director, he cared about keeping its reservoir of goodwill brimming full. When it came to the Clinton email investigation, he made two wrenching decisions which very likely caused the election of Mr. Trump – as he realized it might. Along with millions of voters who supported the Democratic ticket, I was sorely frustrated both times. But it is helpful to read his explanation, and to come to understand that the FBI had two awful choices: Speak? Conceal? If the agency had held back, and then after the election it had leaked that the FBI had quietly resurrected its investigation just two weeks before voters went to the polls, Comey’s diagnosis is likely correct: “The reservoir would be empty.”

I’m still exasperated by what happened. But I concede now that when a patriotic American citizen who leads such an agency sit around a table with solid advisors, lots of them, and they wrestle for hours and days about the best course to take, pros and cons, playing out the various scenarios, and then finally make a gutsy call, then commoners like me need to stand down. Things went south; it was a mess. They were picking from two lousy, near-fatal options. But Jim Comey does tell the truth and he does love his country.

Just from a “color” point of view, I’ll observe that the book is professionally written with a mostly cheerful flow. There are nice bits of humor. Be advised that he’s a street-smart FBI guy; some of the language is salty, although not prurient or gratuitous.

I’ll let the author provide the close in his own words.

“Policies come and go. Supreme Court justices come and go. But the core of our nation is our commitment to a set of shared values that began with George Washington – to restraint and integrity and balance and transparency and truth. If that slides away from us, only a fool would be consoled by a tax cut or a different immigration policy.

“But I choose to be optimistic. Yes, the current president will do significant damage in the short term. Important norms and traditions will be damaged by the flames. But forest fires, as painful as they can be, bring growth. They spur growth that was impossible before the fire, when old trees crowded out new plants on the forest floor. In the midst of this fire, I already see new life – young people engaged as never before, and the media, the courts, academics, nonprofits, and all other parts of civil society finding reason to bloom.

“The next president, no matter the party, will surely emphasize values – truth, integrity, respect, and tolerance – in ways an American leader hasn’t needed to for more than forty years. The fire will make something good grow.”

 

Posted in Hillary Clinton, Trump, U.S. History, U.S. Presidents, Uncategorized | Tagged | Leave a comment