Punishing Times

“Religion is regarded by the common people as true, by the wise as false, and by the rulers as useful.” ~ Seneca the Younger

“If a man would follow, today, the teachings of the Old Testament, he would be a criminal. If he would follow strictly the teachings of the New, he would be insane.” ~ Robert G. Ingersoll

“Life in Lubbock, Texas, taught me two things: One is that God loves you and you’re going to burn in hell. The other is that sex is the most awful, filthy thing on earth and you should save it for someone you love” ~ Butch Hancock

To an impartial observer – there are none – Christianity is a hot mess. Fear the wrath of God. He is a jealous God. Don’t love Him correctly, or sufficiently, or break this rule or that, and you’ll burn in hell forever, in endless excruciating pain. He demands obedience and praise. But He is a God of love and mercy and will forgive your sins, as you should forgive the sins of others – except if those others are gay, or especially if they’re gay – or if they’re Muslims, or atheists, or not. It’s a bit confusing. Do God’s work and punish those who deserve punishment – show no mercy – be righteous – or do God’s work and forgive them their sins and mellow out. Hate the sin and love the sinner. Confuse a gay person today!

Much of this is simply that the severe fear-based Old Testament was supplemented and improved upon by the New Testament with love and charity at its core, while there was no way to say that the Old Testament was wrong in any way at all, since the Word of God is the Word of God and that’s where all the origin stories are. All of this has to coexist, one way or another, and it does coexist out here in California in the many massive evangelical megachurches with their Contemporary Christian services – sappy Christian soft-rock music and a lot of hand-waving. That’s the world of Rick Warren and his Saddleback Church (named for the small mountain there) – and Warren wrote The Purpose-Driven Life – his book on how one should live. Fight Satan and join the Republican Party and that sort of thing.

This is where you’ll hear about the Muscular Jesus – Jesus was no wimp, He was a warrior. And you’ll hear about personal responsibility and tough love – when you help another you ruin them, by making them dependent on others, and that makes Jesus weep. Jesus wants strong self-reliant people, people who don’t whine. And you need to help Him with that. Sermons might revolve around tax policy (you should be able to keep all your stuff because charity begins at home) or unemployment insurance (it rewards the leeches and fools) or healthcare policy (your business, or God’s business, but not the government’s business) – or a defense of torture as righteous and the need to kill terrorists, and that might mean those Mexican asylum seekers who might be incipient terrorists. Jesus is not who you think. One does not love one’s enemies, really, and of course the meek shall not inherit the earth, as they’re pathetic losers and Jesus, who was a Real Man and not an effeminate wimp, hates them. And so on and so forth. This resolves the conflicts in Christianity.

At least that resolves the conflicts as far as the evangelical Christian religious right is concerned. Pope Francis has kept the Catholic Church on the other side of this argument – Jesus was never a muscular and heavily armed free-market Republican follower of Ayn Rand and never will be. Other mainstream moderate Christian churches don’t buy this either – but all of the white evangelical Christian right does buy this. Christianity is about righteous punishment, done in the name of Jesus, for Jesus, to please Jesus. And that means that Donald Trump is fine with these particular Christians. Everything he does is righteous punishment of people who deserve to be punished – Mexicans and Muslims and gays and uppity black folks and the Chinese and NATO and the EU nations and Canada and Jeff Bezos and the Washington Post and the New York Times and CNN and MSNBC and Saturday Night Live and John McCain. That’s the core list, subject to revisions and additions. Elizabeth Warren has dropped off the list, for now, but Hillary Clinton is bound to return. Lock her up!

The culture shifted, or, for now, it settled on a new way of defining how life is best led. America is now about righteous punishment. What matters? Retribution is everything. It’s pay-back time. Now, it’s always pay-back time:

Judge Jeanine Pirro returned to her Saturday night Fox News show two weeks after controversy erupted over her remarks about Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), which drew condemnation from Fox.

On March 30, Pirro’s opening statement touched on special counsel Robert Mueller’s report that found no evidence President Trump colluded with Russia.

“Unless we make an example of the traitorous, treasonous group that accused Donald Trump of being an agent of the Russian government and as they spewed their hate I want to know who the unmasking, who did the leaking, and if we don’t have a consequence of the highest level of government are not held responsible for this then it is a blueprint for a future effort to overthrow the government,” Pirro said on her show.

There it is. Those who doubted Donald Trump must be punished. Doubt is treason, or something, and the president is with her:

Before her return this weekend, her show was off the air and she didn’t tweet after questioning whether Omar was more loyal to Muslim Sharia law than to the U.S. Constitution after Omar made what many believed were anti-Semitic remarks. Pirro’s remarks drew a swift rebuke from Fox News…

In mid-March, Trump denounced the move, calling on Fox to resist in the face of a social media backlash.

There were the endless Trump tweets. Don’t punish Pirro. Punish Ilhan Omar, and punish Fox News for punishing Pirro. Punish the right people, damn it!

It’s all about punishment. There was Trump on the campaign trail:

Would I approve waterboarding? You bet your ass I would. In a heartbeat. I would approve more than that. It works. And if it doesn’t work, they deserve it anyway…

That, and comments about Hillary Clinton, and Mexicans, and anything else people resented, was a core part of his closing argument just before the election. There would be no analysis or diplomacy or strategic planning in his administration. He would do one thing and one thing only. He would punish those who deserved to be punished. That filled just enough Americans with glee. He won the presidency. And then he did just what he said he would do. He insulted and sneered at everything and everybody. He punished those he could – tariffs on everything from everywhere – not because tariffs work but because they deserved those tariffs. And when there was no available punishment there was always the belittling nickname – Little Rocket Man and now this:

“Little pencil-neck Adam Schiff,” Trump said, prompting boos from the crowd. “He has the smallest, thinnest neck I have ever seen. He is not a long-ball hitter. But I saw him today – ‘Well, we don’t really know, there could still have been some Russia collusion.’ Sick. Sick. These are sick people.”

Schiff chairs the House Intelligence Committee. He’s smart – Stanford and Harvard Law – and articulate and a former federal prosecutor. His neck appears quite normal, but Trump has done what he could. Every talking head on Fox News will now say that Adam Schiff is a pencil-neck geek and that’s that. That’s the punishment.

It may be that Donald Trump, as much as he lives to punish others, isn’t that good at it. The New York Times’ Elisabeth Malkin explains Trumps’ latest dramatic punishment of those who anger him:

President Trump’s plan to cut off aid to three Central American countries for failing to stop the flow of migrants toward the United States breaks with years of conventional wisdom in Washington that the best way to halt migration is to attack its root causes.

The decision also runs counter to the approach advocated by President Andrés Manuel López Obrador of Mexico, among others. Mr. López Obrador has been lobbying Washington to join his government in investing billions of dollars in Central America and southern Mexico, arguing that economic development and reducing violence are the most effective ways to encourage Central Americans to remain home.

Cutting off aid is “shooting yourself in the foot,” said Adriana Beltrán, the director of citizen security at the Washington Office on Latin America, a human rights research group that tracks aid closely.

The choice is to spend a bit of money to encourage Central Americans to remain home, or to punish them severely by making their lives even more miserable and then to punish them for not staying home. Will it be New Testament charity and hope or Old Testament anger and wrath? Most of the religious right will choose anger and wrath, with Donald Trump as their Angel of Vengeance:

The president has become incensed at the growing numbers of families arriving at the southern border asking for asylum. His administration notified Congress late Friday that it intends to reprogram $450 million in aid to Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador and has already sent instructions to embassies in the region.

“No money goes there anymore,” he told reporters on Friday. “We’re giving them tremendous aid. We stopped payment.”

It wasn’t that much money and tantrums are always absurd:

The decision turns American policy in the region on its head. Not only will it cut development and humanitarian assistance, but it will also halt joint law enforcement efforts, such as anti-gang units vetted by the United States, that had been supported by Republicans and the Trump administration until now, said Juan S. Gonzalez, a former deputy assistant secretary of state in the Obama administration.

Indeed, just a day before Mr. Trump made the comments, the United States signed a border security agreement with the three Central American governments intended to increase cooperation against human trafficking and organized crime.

Mr. Gonzalez said the aid withdrawal “undermines our interest,” adding that “we have actually had success against gangs in the United States by cooperating with regional law enforcement. It helped us prevent increased gang flow.”

This is punishing the wrong people, and messing up what was beginning to work:

Advocates argue that stopping aid will only aggravate the root causes that drive migrants to leave the three countries, where a long history of corrupt governments and rigid inequities perpetuate deep poverty.

Gang violence, drug trafficking, and abusive security forces – some of it the result of American policies in the region that focused on fighting communism in the 1980s and drug trafficking since the 1990s – have led to the highest homicide rates in the world outside of war zones.

The Obama administration ramped up aid after a surge of Central American children arrived at the Texas border in 2014. Aid to the region doubled in 2016 to about $750 million, according to the Washington Office on Latin America.

Ms. Beltrán, a director of the group, said that aid after 2016 not only focused on violence and insecurity but reflected an understanding that “you needed to address the issues of governance and corruption, and you needed to create economic opportunities and build institutions.”

But all of that isn’t as much fun as punishment:

Much of the humanitarian aid is distributed through local governments and non-governmental organizations. Cutting off that help is “illogical and vindictive,” said Tim Rieser, a senior foreign policy aide to Sen. Patrick Leahy, the vice chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee.

Cutting off that help is illogical and vindictive? That’s the whole point. Donald Trump was elected to be illogical and vindictive, and that’s what this is:

Critics argued that Trump’s aid cuts to El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala will worsen economic hardship in those nations and force more people to flee out of desperation.

“This will create more refugees. This is the exact opposite of what we should be doing,” tweeted journalist Thor Benson.

Some observers accused the president of manufacturing a crisis at the border for political gain.

“Making desperate people even more desperate and less able to stay in their own countries… it’s almost as if Trump wants more asylum seekers at the U.S. border,” Andrew Stroehlein, European media director with Human Rights Watch, tweeted on Sunday. “It’s as if he wants more media images that he will then twist for his fear-mongering.”

There is something self-perpetuating about it all, but his anger and wrath was not confined to El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala. Donald Trump has punishment to spare:

The White House doubled down Sunday on President Trump’s threat to close the U.S. border with Mexico, despite warnings that the move would inflict immediate economic damage on American consumers and businesses while doing little to stem a tide of migrants clamoring to enter the United States.

This may be a bad idea:

Sealing the border with Mexico, America’s third-largest trading partner, would disrupt supply chains for major U.S. automakers, trigger swift price increases for grocery shoppers and invite lawsuits against the federal government, according to trade specialists and business executives.

“First, you’d see prices rise in­cred­ibly fast. Then we would see layoffs within a day or two,” said Lance Jungmeyer, president of the Fresh Produce Association of the Americas in Nogales, Ariz. “This is not going to help border security.”

This may be a bad idea but bring on the pain:

Two of the president’s most senior aides defended the move on the Sunday news shows. Acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney said on ABC News’s “This Week” that it would take “something dramatic” to persuade the president to abandon his border-closing plans. And Counselor to the President Kellyanne Conway insisted on “Fox News Sunday” that the president’s threat “certainly isn’t a bluff.”

Trump sparked the latest immigration-related controversy Friday when he complained to reporters about Mexico’s failure to stem the migrant influx, a point he underscored in a tweet the next day. “If they don’t stop them, we are closing the border. We’ll close it. And we’ll keep it closed for a long time. I’m not playing games,” Trump said Friday.

That may be so, but he’s not playing much of anything at all:

Administration officials have offered no details about the president’s intentions, and border control officials have received no instructions to prepare for a shutdown, according to a U.S. Customs and Border Protection official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the issue. Implementing such an order would require time to notify Congress and labor unions representing Border Patrol agents and customs officers, the official said.

A Pentagon spokesman said the military, which has about 5,300 troops in the border region, has not received such orders either.

Okay, maybe this was no more than a way for Trump to say how very angry he is, right now, about all this. He really wants to punish everyone in sight. He wants everyone to know that, and he especially wants his base to know that, and that’s all he wants. Make that known, and then call it all off, and then claim to be the hero who saved the nation.

That might be the plan. That had better be the plan:

The U.S.-Mexico border is a key artery in the global economy, with more than $611 billion in cross-border trade last year, according to the Commerce Department. Each day, more than 1,000 trucks cross the border at the port of Calexico East, Calif., while more than 11 daily international trains go through Laredo, Tex., according to the U.S. Transportation Department…

In Laredo, business leaders and elected officials held frantic conference calls over the weekend about the threatened closure. Gerry Schwebel, executive vice president of the international division of Laredo-based IBC Bank, said U.S.-Mexico traffic has occasionally been restricted, but only temporarily and only in the event of emergencies, such as floods, tornadoes or security checks after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Even a border slowdown could create shortages of goods and services and lead to higher prices for consumers, he said, adding: “If you want to create an economic crisis, then shutting down the border will create an economic crisis.”

The economic consequences of a complete shutdown would be immediate and severe, trade specialists said, with automakers and American farmers among the first to feel the pain.

No one in the Trump administration seems to have thought this through:

At this time of year, trucks travel to Mexico to collect watermelons and table grapes. Once full, they head for the United States, where they drop their cargo at American warehouses before quickly returning to Mexico for another load.

Eliminating one workday at a port that handled 337,179 trucks last year would disrupt that carefully-calibrated schedule.

“It messes up harvests. It messes up your ability to service customers on the U.S. side of the border,” Jungmeyer said.

Suddenly halting the passage of people and goods between the United States and Mexico also would interrupt the flow of parts headed to American factories, which could bring some production to a halt. Likewise, refrigerated trucks full of perishable commodities such as beef would jam border crossings.

“The first question would be: Where do you put it?” said William Reinsch, who served in the Commerce Department under President Bill Clinton. “Stuff is going to stack up at the border because it’s already on the way there.”

Details, details, details, but this is about punishment. Donald Trump is all about punishment, and the religious right’s “Muscular Jesus” is all about punishment too. Let the economy crash, and create more misery in Central America, and thus more and more desperate people asking for help, creating more and more chaos at the border – and punish John McCain too.

Punishment is an odd organizing principle for any society. But that was the nation’s choice a few short years ago. Just a few more weeks of this and the nation may regret that choice.

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About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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1 Response to Punishing Times

  1. Rick says:

    “Just a few more weeks of this and the nation may regret” electing Trump, you say?

    I suspect that those who will, already do. But if history is a guide, those who don’t regret it will continue not regretting it.

    Ask any Iowa farmer who voted for Trump and they’ll admit that the Trade War, if continued much longer, will probably kill their careers, but do they absolutely still stand behind Trump? Absolutely!

    Yes, there will be news stories reported about it, but will most people feel it? No. Most Americans don’t really seem to look to the news media for information they need to live their daily lives. And if I’m wrong, Trump will just change his mind and somehow claim victory, and those who don’t like him won’t believe him, and those who do, will continue to believe him.

    The more news there is out there, the less we take seriously. Write that down. That actually happens.

    Oh, and one more thing:

    Do you think there’s a chance that Trump, by nicknaming Adam Schiff “pencil-neck”, may finally be guilty of overreach?

    First of all, maybe he’s mistaking Schiff for someone else, since Schiff’s neck is not shaped like a pencil. Also, go to the following link, look at the guy on your right, and than ask yourself if someone shaped like that should be insulting anyone else’s physical features:

    And this view of him isn’t even as unflattering as the view from his other side! Every time I see that, it occurs to me that God may be punishing this hypocrite by letting him be born with a name that rhymes with “Rump”.

    Rick

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