Thursday, June 30, 2016

Taxation and Representation

When I was in Washington, D.C., this month, once again I saw many license plates with the words “taxation without representation” on them. The newest plates with those words look like this: 

The issue, of course, is that the citizens of D.C. must pay federal income tax just as all U.S. citizens do, but they do not have representation in Congress. The words “taxation without representation” were first used on some D.C. license plates in 2000—but, as you know, it was expressing a sentiment from long ago.
A Boston pastor used the phrase “no taxation without representation” in a sermon as early as 1750. After the Stamp Act of 1765 it became common for the colonists to exclaim that “taxation without representation is tyranny.”
Have you seen the new U.S. postage stamps that were issued on May 29? They commemorate the 250th anniversary of the repeal of the Stamp Act in 1766. These new “forever” stamps are sold only as souvenir sheets of 10 stamps and are $4.70. 
The USPS website explains: “The commemorative stamp art depicts a crowd gathered around a ‘liberty tree’ to celebrate the repeal of the Stamp Act.” Such “liberty trees” were “found in a number of cities throughout the colonies, and were popular gathering spots for community meetings, political discussions, celebrations and more.”
The new British legislation required American colonists to pay a tax on a wide array of paper materials, such as newspapers, legal documents, mortgages, contracts—and even playing cards. A revenue stamp embossed on those papers indicated payment of the tax.
Many colonists were not happy with the new tax, to say the least. Accordingly, the USPS website also says that the Stamp Act, which was passed by the British Parliament in March 1765, “proved historic in galvanizing and uniting the American colonies, setting them on a path toward independence.”
The first chapter of The Beginnings of the American Revolution (1910) by Ellen Chase is sub-titled “Stamp Act Causes Riot,” and then the second chapter is “The Colonies Unite Successfully for Repeal.” Thus, actions resulting from the negative reaction toward the Stamp Act was a major impetus toward the colonists’ declaration of independence from Great Britain on July 4, 1776.
The tax levied by the Stamp Act was not exorbitant; it was the principle that rankled the colonists. As Chase says, “The exception was not taken to the tax in itself. . . . The objections rose solely from Parliament’s assumption of supremacy in the Colonies’ internal affairs” (p. 23).
For a long time after independence from Great Britain, however, U.S. citizens mostly had representation without taxation. There was an excise tax placed on whiskey in 1791—but that led to the Whiskey Rebellion in 1794.
The first personal income tax resulted from the Revenue Act signed into law by President Lincoln in August 1861. He who wanted government “of the people, by the people, for the people” needed to raise money to pay for the Civil War activities of the Union.
The first permanent income tax in this country, though, was not established until 1913—and the first general sales tax not until 1930.
In D.C. now, though, there is taxation but no representation on the federal level. Statehood for the District is one possible solution to the problem.

However, the “party of Lincoln” that freed the slaves in spite of strong objection by the Democratic Party then does not want to grant statehood now to a territory that would most probably send Democrats to the U.S. Congress. As I wrote earlier, the Parties have switched positions.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Reflections on Baseball, an Old Friend, and a Wonderful Aunt

In May 1951 I graduated from the 8th grade, and my Aunt Mary Seat gave me one of the most memorable birthday presents I have ever received—a trip to St. Louis to see a Cardinals game. Aunt Mary, an ardent baseball fan herself, said I could ask a friend to go with me.
I invited Talmadge Hass, my good friend who was a year younger than I but also an enthusiastic Cardinals fan, to make that memorable trip with me. (He has long gone by his first name, Walter, but I knew him by his middle name, often shortened to Talm.)
That first major league game that Talm and I saw was on June 14, 1951. Sadly, the Cardinals lost that game to the Brooklyn Dodgers 2-1 on a 2-run home run by Gil Hodges in the 9th inning (you can see the box score here—and note that Stan Musial and Jackie Robinson were the opposing cleanup batters).
Aunt Mary had planned to take us for a steamboat ride on the Mississippi River the next day. But Talm and I were so disappointed that the Cardinals lost we convinced her to take us to see another Cardinals game instead. That change was made, the Cardinals won, and we were happy.
Sixty-five years and four days later, last Saturday on June 18, I met Talm in St. Louis, where he has lived in the suburbs for decades, and we went together to see another Cardinals game—which they also lost by one run with the opposing team scoring two runs in the 9th inning.
Talm even had a Cardinals shirt and cap for me to wear, as you see in this picture taken just before we left for the game:

I didn’t remember where we boarded the train for our 1951 trip to St. Louis, but Talm said we took the train from Stanberry, Mo., a town about 25 miles from our home town of Grant City—and over 300 miles from St. Louis.
The game we attended was at Sportman’s Park, which was the home for the Cardinals games from 1920 to 1966. Last week was the first time I had been in the second new stadium since then, and here is the picture I took from near where our seats were:

Aunt Mary, my father’s older sister, was born in 1907, so she would have been 44 years old in 1951. Although, like me, through the years she shifted her allegiance from the Cardinals to the Kansas City Royals, she remained a baseball fan until near the time of her death in April 2000.
Perhaps it was for a Christmas present in 1952 that Aunt Mary gave me her old typewriter after she had purchased a new one. That was a wonderful present, too, at a time when I may have been the only one in my high school who had his own typewriter.
Aunt Mary never married or had any children of her own, but through the years she made a significant impact on me and on the lives of all her nieces and nephews—especially on the lives of two of my cousins whose father died when they were fairly young.
I am grateful for the memorable trip to St. Louis in 1951, for being able to be with my old friend again this month, and especially for the memories of my wonderful Aunt Mary.

Monday, June 20, 2016

What Does “Of the People, By the People, For the People” Mean?

It is sobering to visit Cemetery Hill in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania—as I did for the first time last week.
Cemetery Hill is the name of the place where a private cemetery was started in 1854. Nine years later, from July 1-3, 1863, it became the site of one of the most important battles of the Civil War.
That was also the place where in November of that year President Lincoln delivered what we know as the Gettysburg Address, a speech that took about two minutes. In the picture below you see June looking at the bust of Lincoln. His entire talk is engraved on the bronze plaque behind her. 

In some of the most widely quoted words from Gettysburg Address, Lincoln expressed his strong desire that “the nation shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
Those words are generally taken as a clear call for democracy—and surely that is correct. But there is almost no one in this country, regardless of political party, who does not advocate or support democracy. 
For some reason, though, more than one speaker at the meeting of the Faith and Freedom Coalition meeting (that I wrote about here) thought it important to cite Lincoln’s words—and to emphasize that he was a Republican.
Some say that Lincoln was making a clarion call for equality among all people of the nation. Those words were spoken after the Emancipation Proclamation was issued on Jan. 1, 1863. Still, that proclamation only freed slaves in the Confederate States.
Moreover, it would be another 57 years before women of any color could participate equally in the democratic process by voting.
Others may point out that a government “for the people” is one that actively promotes the “general Welfare,” as stated in the preamble of the Constitution.
That, though, seems to be at odds with a major emphasis of the Republican Party since the days of President Reagan, who emphasized that “government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem.”
It is somewhat puzzling that in his inaugural address of 1981, Reagan went on to say, “From time to time we’ve been tempted to believe that society has become too complex to be managed by self-rule, that government by an elite group is superior to government for, by, and of the people.”
Republicans now repeatedly talk about smaller government, states’ rights, and decisions made locally rather than in Washington.
Lincoln’s words, though, were spoken in the midst of the Civil War, fought first of all to keep the Union together. He was surely talking about a federal government “for, by, and of the people.”
If it had been left up to the individual states, or to local governments, how long would it have taken for the slaves of the South to be freed? Another 50 years? Another 100 years? Perhaps.
As it was, it took almost a hundred years for the Civil Rights Act to be passed in 1964 and the Voting Rights Act to be passed in 1965—and those two extremely important pieces of legislation were enacted by a Democratic Congress and signed by a Democratic President.
Basic positions of the Democratic and Republican parties in the 1960s were almost completely reversed from those of the 1860s—and people who fail to note that change misconstrue American history.

So, I want a federal government of, by, and for the people—just like Lincoln did. 

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Why Conservatives Christians Will Vote for Trump

The Faith and Freedom Coalition’s Road to Majority 2016 gathering in Washington, D.C., was held last weekend. I attended that meeting on Friday, and among the speakers was a man you may have heard of: Donald Trump.
You may have even heard or read about that meeting and Trump’s speech there. Among other things, he was interrupted by some protesters, led by Medea Benjamin of Code Pink. (I mentioned her in a blog article back in Nov. 2012; see this link. Here is a link showing what happened on 6/10.) 
The Faith and Freedom (F&F) Coalition was founded by Ralph E. Reed, Jr., in 2009. Reed was also the founder executive director of the now defunct Christian Coalition of America in 1989.
This was the second F&F meeting I have attended, and I wrote about my 2011 visit here. This year’s seemed to be a smaller and less significant meeting than the one five years ago—and this one was co-sponsored by Concerned Women for America, the conservative Christian organization founded by Beverly LaHaye in 1979.
At the “gala dinner” on Saturday evening (which I did not attend for more reasons than one), Mrs. LaHaye, whom I imagine doesn’t want to be called Ms., was awarded the 2016 F&F’s Lifetime Achievement Award. Dr. Ben Carson delivered the after dinner keynote address.
The first principle F&F mentions on its website is “Respect for the sanctity and dignity of life, family, and marriage as the foundations of a free society.” The most common emphases at last week’s meeting was the need to oppose abortion and same-sex marriage—and the use of cross-gender bathrooms by transgender people.
(In his speech on Friday morning, Rep. Louis Gohmert of Texas spoke mostly about the transgender issue—repeatedly saying that transgenderism is a “mental disorder.”)
To his credit, near the beginning of his speech Reed said, “We are Christians first, Americans second, and members of a political party third.” But before he finished it was quite obvious that he thought for patriotic Americans being a Christian and being a Republican were pretty much the same thing.
Reed, who is an excellent speaker and a skillful executive, emphasized that this election is a fight between good and evil. Abortion was his first example of the latter. The second evil he railed against was gay marriage.
He urged support of Trump because of these two issues—and because of the upcoming SCOTUS justice appointment.  
Reed then praised “imperfect people who will work for God’s will to be done.” That idea is highlighted in an online article I recommend: “A Theological Case for Low Expectations.”

Another article, also worth reading, is “Conservative Christian Women Confront Their Doubts on Trump.”

The latter article explains why many conservative Christians are hesitant to vote for Trump. But I am quite confident in predicting that most of them, with perhaps the exception of those who are quite young, will end up voting for him.

Or perhaps it is more accurate to say that they will vote against Hillary and for Trump’s party. They may not like Trump or know if they can trust him, but they know they can trust Hillary—to do the wrong thing.

Hillary will clearly do the wrong thing in their eyes on abortion since she is clearly pro-choice. She will clearly do the wrong thing regarding same-sex marriage and LBGT rights. 

If those are two of the greatest evils in the country, as was repeatedly emphasized at the F&F meeting, how could conservative Christians not vote for Trump?

Friday, June 10, 2016

Sin: Doing What Seems Good

People don’t talk or think much about sin anymore, it seems—except for the notable exception of many evangelical Christians. Even more than forty years ago the noted psychiatrist Karl Menninger wrote a book titled Whatever Became of Sin? (1973). 
That is also the title of a subsection in my book The Limits of Liberalism (2010), just before a longer section on the widely misunderstood and misinterpreted doctrine of “original sin.” In “polite company” the word “sin” is seldom mentioned—and “original sin” is usually mentioned only in derision.  

What has been called the doctrine of original sin was based, of course, on the third chapter of Genesis. In that theological/mythical story, the serpent said the following to Eve about the forbidden fruit: “God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

Genesis 3:6 goes on to report, “So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate.”
Note that Eve didn’t take the forbidden fruit because she thought it was bad or sinful or wrong to do so. She took and ate it because she thought it was good, delightful, desirable.

That is the way most sin is. We commit sin because at the time such actions seem desirable, delightful, and good—at least for us (and who else do we usually think about?).

I started thinking again about this matter after reading Thinking Friend Fred Heeren’s recent comment: “How could we be honorable in our war killing unless these people deserved to die? . . . We need to know these were ‘bad’ people and be ‘glad they were killed’ in order to justify our wars.”
Yes, in war “the enemy” always has to be demonized, for how else would soldiers be able to kill them? Probably few Americans realize, though, that to those the U.S. engages in war, Americans are the enemy. 
While it is easy, and probably correct, to label Hitler or Tojo as evil or extremely sinful, what about those who fought under their command? Most of them were conscripted into service—or volunteered in response to the propaganda (brainwashing) they were subjected to. 
Also, Japan and Germany were both under severe economic pressures during the 1930s. In addition, Germans were still chafing under harsh treaties from the end of WWI and many Japanese were greatly irritated by what they considered racial and/or cultural affronts. 
And what about the people of the South in the U.S. in the 1860s? Most of the whites there were simply trying to maintain their way of life and economic stability. In resisting the demands of the North, they were mostly doing what they thought was good, right, necessary. 
What most of us call the Civil War has long been called something different in the South. For example, in 2012, the year before he became president of the NRA, Jim Porter referred to the Civil War as the War of Northern Aggression.`
In the book I introduced in my previous blog article, Bartoletti states that The Clansman (1905), a novel by Baptist minister Thomas Dixon, portrayed the Klan as noble white-robed knights who saved white civilization from racial violence in the South (p. 147).
Yes, all who are “sinners” do things that they think are good, right, and necessary. So maybe we should act with “malice toward none, with charity for all.”

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Can Trump Make America White Again?

Although many people (including me) long thought there was no way Donald Trump would become the Republican candidate for President this year, he is now the presumptive nominee and could be the next President of the United States.
There are many explanations for the rise and continuance of Trump’s popularity, none of which are fully adequate. But since the bulk of Trump’s support comes from white Americans, especially angry white men, his slogan “Make America Great Again” is seen by some as his attempt to “make America white again.”
It is clear that he has received the support of, and endorsements from, various white supremacy groups in the country.
Back in November of last year, Huffington Post published an online article titled “Donald Trump’s Plan to Make America White Again.”
Similarly, “Make America White Again?” is the title of an article in The Atlantic in March of this year. The subtitle is “Donald Trump’s language is eerily similar to the 1920s Ku Klux Klan—hypernationalistic and anti-immigrant.”
This is an opportune time to think about the KKK, for according to the African American Registry, the founding of the Ku Klux Klan is said to have been 150 years ago, on May 31, 1866, in Pulaski, Tennessee.
Actually, that was the first KKK, which mostly shut down in 1871. It was reorganized in 1915 and flourished in the 1920s, peaking with perhaps as many as five million members in 1925. Then it began to decline again. 
KKK March in Washington, 1925
In the early 1950s it became quite active once again—especially after 1954 when the Supreme Court declared that the system of segregated schools in the U.S. was unconstitutional.
I have never directly seen KKK activities. It was quite different, though, for James Cone, an African-American who was born in southern Arkansas the same month that I was born in northern Missouri.
Cone writes, “During my childhood, white supremacy ruled supreme. White people were virtually free to do anything to blacks with impunity. The violent crosses of the Ku Klux Klan were a familiar reality” (The Cross and the Lynching Tree, 2011, p. xv).
In 2012 ABC News produced a 13-minute program titled “Inside the New KKK.” It featured interviews with people in the Klan and aired their talk about “race war”—based partly on their fear of the black President.
According to that program, there were then about 6,000 KKK members in the U.S. The Southern Poverty Law Center reports that there are now 25 states with KKK chapters, and a total of 190 chapters. Only two are in Missouri and just one in Iowa, but there are eight in Arkansas and 52 in Texas.
The founding of the KKK in 1866 and its early history is excellently told in They Called Themselves the K.K.K.: The Birth of an American Terrorist Group (2010) by Susan Campbell Bartoletti (b. 1958), an award-winning American author of “juvenile literature.”
Her book on the KKK is well-researched and enhanced by numerous photos from the 1860s as well as a few from more recent times. According to Bartoletti, the original KKK creed maintained that the U.S. “was founded by the white race and for the white race only” and that the words “All men are created equal” meant only white men (p. 45).

Is that part of the meaning of the slogan “Make America Great Again”? While it may or may not be what Trump means by his slogan, that may well be how it is interpreted by many of his supporters—and one reason for his surprising, and somewhat alarming, popularity.