Category Archives: Freedom

Candidates Hot to Beat Trump


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It was hot Sunday, so I feel like I made a minor sacrifice as part of my civic duty.
I braved the heat to hear a number of Democrats who want to be my president speak. I think the Gazette did a fair and accurate summary of the event in their story.
For me, even the crazy author lady who doesn’t stand a chance would still be a smarter, more qualified president than the current occupant. President Trump, with his recent tweet storm, shows that his instinct is to shout, divide and do damage to democracy, all in the name of drawing attention and firing up the basest instincts of his 40 percent base.
I want him gone, now more than ever. Sure, the Obama recovery is continuing, but at the cost of piling up debt by cutting taxes and boosting arms spending at the same time—an old way of gunning the economy that is not long-term sustainable.
And on any other metric other than economics—international relationships, rule of law, sane immigration policy, the environment, race relations, women’s and minorities’ advancement and rights—this president has not only not made any progress, he has dedicated himself to doing real harm.
He didn’t drain the swamp. He brought in dumber alligators.
So, I showed up on a hot Sunday knowing that I am lucky, as an Iowan, to be able to help weed out this field of candidates. I get to start the process that leads to the nominee who (knock on wood) will crush Trump in fall of 2020.
Say what you will about Tangerine Hitler, besides energizing the basket of deplorables, he’s certainly energized us Democrats. Yet, just as he is not the whole problem in the Republican party, being against him can’t be the whole message for the Democrats.
We know what we don’t want—Trump. What do we want?
Well, of the numerous speakers who appeared Sunday, three stood out to me:
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Amy Klobuchar, senator form Minnesota. “America needs a president who tells the truth,” she said, and I agree. Truth telling is not a long Washington tradition; most politicians, including Democrats, spin. But the current occupant actively and intuitively lies, which is part of the caustic poison of the Trump era.
Klobuchar appeals to me for several reasons. I don’t think being a woman is the key qualifier for office, but I’m inclined to support a woman, if I can. It’s long past time for a madam president.
And Klobuchar is a folksy, talented speaker. She had many resonate lines, including stating that as president she would “stand with our allies and not coddle dictators.”
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Julián Castro, former HUD secretary and former mayor of San Antonio, Texas. My third choice, foreshadowing, is Pete Buttigieg, and Castro reminds me of him. But Castro is a bit older and has more national political experience as a former cabinet member—the biggest reason I hesitate with Buttigieg is my feeling he’s not quite ready for the top job. Castro is a slightly older, more experience former mayor.
Castro is a decent story teller, and that’s an important presidential skill. I liked his short anecdote about the phone call from Barack Obama that lifted Castro on to the national stage: “If you ever get a phone call from a number that says ‘private,’ answer it,” he said. “It might be me (after he is elected president).”
I guess my reasons for picking Castro are also a bit personal and idiosyncratic. He’s from San Antonio, city that gave America one of my daughters-in-law. Hola Nalena! Then again, I’m sure that the fact Amy Klobuchar’s dad was a newspaperman doesn’t hurt her, in my book.
Anyway, Castro scored one of the biggest applause lines of the cattle calls when he set up the scene of him saying goodbye to President Trump, the helicopter in the background at the White House, newly sworn in President Castro shaking Donald Trump’s hand, and his final word to the Don: Adios!
That is what we all want to say to Donald Trump, unless it’s “you’re fired!”
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Pete Buttigieg, mayor of South Bend, Indiana. The fresh new face of the party, a clear crowd favorite, and it’s easy to see why. He’s bright, he’s witty and he appears thoughtful.
And he’s the anti-Trump—a soft-spoken, gay, military veteran who is a sharp young contrast to the grumpy old man.
“We may be under reacting to the moment we are in,” Buttigieg said, partly referencing Trump’s infamous Sunday morning rant.
Buttigieg had several political warnings for Democrats. One, that the party does not do well just winning the presidency back. He pledged to help other Democrats.
In Iowa, we need to keep Abby in Congress, send Steve King back to Kiron and get a senate candidate who can knock out Joni Ernst. None of those will be easy—and taking back the House and Senate are important in 2020. Buttigieg was not the only candidate to point that out, but he did it the best.
He also noted that the country does not need a “return to normal.” He said that message won’t beat Trump, and “normal does not work anymore.”
One of his lines particularly resonated with me: “Freedom is not a conservative value; it is an American value.”
I faded a bit as the candidates droned on—it was darn hot. Luckily, I had picked a patch of shade to loiter in, and my only wish would have been a place to sit down.
Still, I enjoyed a New Bo lunch, had a refreshing glass of hard cider and also heard and saw a political party that is fired up.
I’m not ready to declare for any of my three favorites, yet. I’m also interested in some candidate who did not make it to the Sunday event in Cedar Rapids, especially Senator Harris. I’m sure I’ll spend some time on web sites like this one.
But I do know which party I’ll favor in 2020. Democrats, we will be fighting it out over the next few months during the caucus and primary season, and 2020 already is shaping up to be a rough, nasty election. Whatever happens, though, I was heartened on Sunday to see so many qualified women and men who can see themselves as president.
I can only hope one of them is right. We desperately need a new direction after the dumpster fire that was Donald Trump.
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Forget Friday the 13th—Thursday the 12th!


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Dr. Eden Wales Freedman and Scarlett O’Hara–two strong feminist icons.

Of course, the superstition is that Friday the 13th is an unlucky day, so any comparison to Thursday, Oct. 12, 2017, isn’t totally apt. It wasn’t, for me, a particularly unlucky day, although it did wear me out.

I had to give a mid-term exam that afternoon, and it was a bit dicey getting everything ready and printed. I am behind in grading for that class, too—and how I have an exam to add to the pile. After hustling to the exam, I had a newspaper meeting. There may have been cookies.

Anyway, the meeting broke up early because there were three big events that students needed to cover that night. First, at 6 p.m., the MMU Law and Politics Club was sponsoring a visit by Ronald K. McMullen, former U.S. ambassador to Eritrea. He shared many interesting stories about his career as a U.S. diplomat.

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Ronald K. McMullen, former U.S. ambassador, speaks Oct. 12 at MMU.

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MMU Times reporter covers the ambassador’s visit.

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2017 Fall Faculty Series Logo by MMU.

He also noted that he had wanted to study geology, and admired the many geodes in MMU’s Grotto. The state rock, he said the geode “is rough on the outside, like many Iowans, but inside we are all gems.”

But I had to rush off. At 7, Dr. Eden Wales Freedman, assistant professor of English, was speaking as part of our Fall Faculty Series, “Divided we Fall.” Her topic was “Feminism is for Everyone.” The theme was that the feminist movement in this country has often been focused on the needs of affluent white women, to the detriment of others.

Despite the many competing events on this crazy Thursday, Dr. Wales Freedman attracted yet another full house to Flaherty Community Room.

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Dr. Eden Wales Freedman, demonstrating the face we’ve come to call the “Robertson eye roll.”

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Dr. Wales Freedman with Dr. Joy Ochs, professor of English. Dr. Ochs coordinates the Fall Faculty Series at MMU.

On the way in, I had been greeted with the thump of Latin music. The Latin Club was doing some Zumba on the plaza. Because, you know, Thursday the 12th.

I noticed my sister and sister-in-law attending, but felt bad I could not linger and chat with them. Because at 8, Jason Sole was visiting to describe his personal journey from prison to earning a PhD.

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Jason Sole speaks in the Chapel of Mercy to the third sizeable crowd drawn to an interesting Thursday night lecture at MMU.

Sole’s speech was compelling, but I didn’t quite make it to the end. I had to finish grading an exam I needed to get back to a Friday class, so about 8:30 I packed it in and headed home. To work until about 11 p.m. or so.

That’s what Thursday was like. MMU is an exciting, vibrant place, and was, especially on this Thursday. To cap it all, right before the 6 p.m. speech I had spotted a pair of hawks hanging out on Warde Hall. Honestly, birds of prey on that high perch are not that unusual, but I’ve not seen two together before.

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Iowa hawks at MMU–on top of Warde Hall, framed by pine trees.

I’m cheating a bit on the hawk image—they were back on Friday and I shot this image that day. But here are links to more images from Thursday: the ambassador’s visit, the feminism speech and the student-organized prison to Phd presentation.

Thursday the 12th—it was a day that we’ll remember for a long time. Honestly, I hope it’s not repeated—I liked all of the events, but may have liked them even more spread out just a bit.

But it was still my best day this week.

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Ben Franklin Is Fake News!


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MMU Times photo by Brooke Woolley. Me and some other dude.

I can relax now. My presentation in the Fall Faculty Series is in my rear-view mirror.

It went well, from my point of view. The Flaherty Community Room at Mount Mercy University was packed Sept. 7—standing room only. I quickly counted chairs and estimated there were about 100, so I would say the crowd probably numbered between 110 and 120.

Jon, Phil—Facebook ads may be working! Dixie from marketing also notes that the Happenings on the Hill pamphlet went out in the neighborhood and could be an additional factor.

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My pre-talk photo of the crowd. Dr. Joy Ochs, series coordinator, is introducing me.

The title of my talk was “Fake News vs. the Free Press,” and I began with a short review of why the press is free—the “marketplace of ideas” concept that was enshrined by the First Amendment.

Then, I started in on “fake news.” The concept, and even the words, is not new—my first example was Silence Dogood, and I was pleased someone in the audience recognized it as the early pen name of Benjamin Franklin. Today on Facebook, a faculty member who was there noted that a tidbit from the evening was that Ben Franklin being the first Mrs. Doubtfire, to which another faculty member replied that he was also the first catfish.

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2017 Fall Faculty Series Logo by MMU.

Anyway, I gave a 10 minute synopsis of the use of the term “fake news” leading up to 2016, and then talked about how the term last year originally referred to the false, real-looking stories that were deliberately placed on social media.

And then along came Donald Trump and his cooping of the term to mean anything that The Don doesn’t like.

I was hoping to highlight the need for us, the larger “us,” to be responsible news consumers and to be able to recognize when news is fake and when it’s not. Hint: If Donald Trump labels it “fake news,” it’s almost always not. I put in a plug for one of my favorite pipe dreams, that due to the economic model that supported news media in this country being broken, we need an American BBC. Forget the wall—build PBS.

I was also speaking against the easy, politically based fussing we do about “media bias.” Whether the media are liberal or conservative only makes sense to ask in the rather odd, narrow way Americans define their politics, and, while worth considering, political bias is not the most consequential form of bias built into our news system.

News, for example, focuses on conflict and human interest—which distorts the picture of the world that it presents. I don’t consider that kind of distortion necessarily terrible, as long as the audience is on to what’s going on, but it is pervasive. Bias is furthermore inherent in who presents the news—that it’s mostly white, college educated Americans.

My plan was to talk for 40 minutes and take questions for 15 or so, but I probably spoke for an hour and five minutes. It was past 8:30 by the time we were done, yet the audience seemed engaged, and I had lots of side conversations at the end of the evening.

Earlier in the day, I had emailed our library about recording the talk, but the library can’t spare the staff right now. However, Dr. Joy Ochs, series coordinator, already had that base covered and arranged to have Bob Najoks, a retired professor of art, do the recording.

For me personally, seeing Bob again, having my sisters attend, chatting with some neighbors and seeing so many faculty—that made it a fun evening. Thanks, guys.

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Bob Najoks.

In addition, Robin Kash of “Neighborhood Network News” recorded the program, and says he plans to post a video of it. I’ll pass along a URL when I get it.

So far, we’ve had two events in this year’s series, and both have been SRO in their respective venues. My communication colleague Dr. David Klope is the next faculty speaker on Sept. 25 at 3:30 p.m. in Betty Cherry Heritage Hall, but the series includes other events. Check it out at the MMU web site.

Fake news! I don’t think that was what we had last night, but then again, I do not claim to be an objective observer. I appreciate that I’ve received some kind notes—the chair of the faculty stated that her husband though it could be a TED Talk, although there aren’t a lot of 90 minute TED Talks—but mostly I appreciate that my presentation was of interest to such a crowd.

It is always nice to speak before a large crowd, but I’ll try not to fixate on crowd size or ratings alone. Doing so would feel too fake.

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Sober Optimists Erected Government Guardrails


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Dr. Richard Barrett, assistant professor of political science, speaks Aug. 29 at Mount Mercy.

The 2017 Fall Faculty Series is underway! Called “Divided We Fall: Finding Common Ground in a Fractured Age,” this year’s Mount Mercy University series started Tuesday night with an introductory presentation by Dr. Richard Barrett, assistant professor of political science.

Barrett surveyed key points about our democratic republic—including that the founders were fairly sober about what they were doing. They recognized democracy is a fragile form of government, subject to the potential of internal divisions tearing the experiment apart.

So they introduced balanced powers between branches of government, and a complex federal system that balances interests between states.

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2017 Fall Faculty Series Logo by MMU.

It is, Barrett noted, far from perfect. But perfection and the pursuit of the perfect ideal is dangerous in politics, which must be a messy business of give-and-take. So the United States was not so much designed to be the ideal, but rather to avoid the dangers of democracy. In effect, we were designed to be OK when we are divided. The founders aimed to put guardrails on our national political roadway.

“Democracy is fragile,” he noted. “Our government was designed to minimize the chance of bad outcomes.”

Of course, at various time in our history, we’ve come close to a bad outcome. A Civil War that consumed 600,000 lives (in a country of 30 million—imagine a war consuming 6 million lives today to be of the same scale) was one of those times.

And the Civil War is worth noting today, Barrett said, because our level of political division is again almost at that level.

A chilling thought, indeed. But he did offer some hope. The key, he said, is for us to commit to continued communication with those who disagree with us.

And he made, I think, an excellent point. We need people to express disagreement with us—whoever “we” are. Without vigorous opposition, any political viewpoint can become blind dogma whose rationale is forgotten. It is the need to defend our ideas in debate that keeps us in touch with the reasons why we have a particular point of view.

In that spirit, I thought the questions at the end were a highlight of the event. The start, I hope, of an ongoing, engaging conversation.

The series had an interesting start. Betty Cherry Heritage Hall was packed for the session—there were 72 chairs, and a handful of people standing in back, so the crowd was around 80 people. It was encouraging that they were a mix of young and old. I saw a high school senior I know there, along with many university students, faculty members and people from the community. There seemed to be a lot of elderly in the crowd—which, honestly, doesn’t surprise me too much, since I think older members of our citizenry are often the most politically engaged.

Maybe it takes a lifetime to learn that politics matters.

Anyway, I enjoyed the first session—and enjoyed seeing English Professor Dr. Joy Ochs start it off as the new series coordinator.

I hope you can join us for future sessions. I speak next week about “Fake News and the Free Press.” For more information see the MMU web site.

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The Bottom Line? It’s Complicated, but Good


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Dr. Amyan Amer, associate professor of economics at Mount Mercy University, speaking Nov. 15 on the economics of immigration.

So, is immigration a net plus or minus for our economy?

It depends on who you ask and what you’re asking about. There is no single, simple answer.

“It’s complicated,” said Dr. Ayman Amer, associate professor of economics, who spoke Nov. 15, 2016 as part of the Mount Mercy University series on immigration. “You can’t just say ‘yes’ or ‘no.’ ‘Yes’ or ‘no’ to what?”

Still, after an extensive analysis of the many winners and losers, both in the U.S.A. and other countries, I think Ayman reached a conclusion about this country.

“GDP is my proof,” he said near the end of the presentation. “Two hundred years of GDP growth.” The U.S.A. has become the richest nation in the world partly due to the dreams, desires, energies and aspirations of her immigrant peoples.

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Two faces in the audience.

And, Ayman said, it makes a big difference where you start and stop your analysis. For example, if you are talking about immigrants themselves, their net economic impact seems to be either a wash or slightly positive. There are many who benefit and many who do not—for example, because of how taxes work and what the different levels of government pay for, the immigration population is a net plus to the federal government, but a drag on the state and local fiscal picture.

That’s the tax question, not net economic impact. As Ayman said, most analysis seem to indicate that immigrants themselves don’t have a huge economic impact one way or another—but that’s ignoring an important reality.

image-of-logo-colorYou also need to consider the next generation. The children of immigrants are parented by driven, motivated people who came across the world to make a new home and a better life—for their children. Those children tend to inherit their parent’s drive to work hard and succeed—and that first American generation is more educated than their parents or the population as whole, less likely to use social services than their parents or the population as a whole.

If you expand the analysis beyond the immigrants themselves to that first American generation raised by immigrations, it’s much harder to argue that America isn’t much richer due to the “teeming masses” that have been welcomed to these shores.

I felt that Ayman gave a very careful, balanced analysis. But he finished with poetic lines that cre carved in the base of the Statue of Liberty and an image of that statue. It was a fitting way to end. The bottom line may be complicated, but I think it’s still accurate to say that the U.S.A. has greatly benefited, and continues to benefit, from immigration. They don’t come here to take our jobs, they come here to build lives, and that life-building process grows our economy, and our culture.

And that’s to our benefit. As we argue over the right balance in our immigration policies, that’s a key point to keep in mind.

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Dr. Amer answers questions–final slide was fitting, showed Statue of Liberty. He noted that immigration is more than an economics question, and is important from an ethical point of view. An immigration from Egypt himself, Dr. Ayman Amer is an example of how this country benefits from immigration.

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A Timely Immigration Reminder from Jesus


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Dr. Bryan Cross, assistant professor of philosophy, Mount Mercy University.

Two days after the candidate who trumpeted he would “build a wall” won the American presidential election—to our country’s great shame, in my opinion—Dr. Bryan Cross, assistant professor of philosophy at Mount Mercy University, gave us a timely reminder.

As part of the Fall Faculty Series on immigration, Cross spoke about what the Catholic Church says about the ethics of the immigration issue. It’s no surprise that the church doesn’t exactly line up with Donald Trump.

For one thing, scripture is full of references, from Abraham serving passersby to the parable of the Good Samaritan, of the Christian obligation to treat all humans as having worth—of the “other” being also our neighbor. That “welcome to the stranger,” Cross said, is central to Christianity. He backed that point up with multiple quotations from Catholic saints, popes and scripture.

As it says in the 25th chapter of the Gospel of Matthew:

Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?” The King will reply, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”

Mexicans included. And Muslims from Syria.

image-of-logo-colorBoth the global and American parts of the Catholic Church are very clear on several points, Cross said. Humans have a right to migrate when necessary for their safety or welfare, and families have a right to stay united. While a nation can control its borders and limit immigration for valid reasons related to the common good of that country, “emigration and immigration should not be impeded.” Especially not out of blind fear or needlessly.

In particular, the church specifically rejects categorical exclusion—the idea of banning all Muslim or all Syrians from the U.S.A. is simply against Catholic teaching. Catholics are instead required to practice hospitality. Welcome to the stranger is “an essential condition” of Christianity, Cross said.

“If you seek absolute security, you will not be able to engage in hospitality,” Cross noted.

Cross was careful to distinguish between patriotism—a healthy love of country that allows for other people to also love their countries—with nationalism, the insistence on promoting one’s own country over all others. A patriot may love her country, but she will aid the stranger. For example, the Good Samaritan was not a Jew, but recognized the need to aid a fellow human, a member of an antagonistic national group (the Jews) who was in need.

And countries, under Catholic teaching, have a particular obligation to not only treat migrants with respect, but to be especially helpful and welcoming to refugees.

Well, the crowd was larger for this presentation than some other recent ones in this fall series. I can’t but think we wanted some words of wisdom in the wake of the harsh new political landscape that is settling over this country. More than 50 people listened patiently to Cross. I wish you could have been there. Most of all, I wish DJT had been watching. It was quite a lot of material to absorb, and I’m afraid I am not doing it justice.

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But the crowd listened attentively. There was a subdued mood, a somberness to the group. Catholic teaching, it seemed to me, on this ethical point was both clear and balanced. And, sadly, our country has chosen a man as president whose campaign promises were often actively in the opposite direction—not welcoming to the stranger, not treating the least among us well at all.

“Build the wall,” he cried. And I couldn’t help but think of Gabriel, who spoke so eloquently in earlier events in our series—a DACA student at MMU who is facing an uncertain future. A gifted artist who has lived almost all of his life in Iowa and who is on the cusp of earning a bachelor’s degree—exactly what would we gain by exporting him to Mexico? Nothing. It would make us poorer as a country.

It’s crushing. It’s a travesty.

If I were to Tweet about Trump’s repeated calls for anti-Christian actions, for his approach to immigration that is directly opposed to central ideas of Christianity, I suppose only one word comes to mind, and it seems inadequate.

Sad.

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The Roots of the Extreme Immigration Debate


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Dr. Norma Linda Gonzalez-Mattingly, associate professor of education, speaks about the immigration election.

It was a little depressing to hear recent U.S. history. As part of a presentation tonight entitled “The Immigration Election: How Has Immigration Become a Hot Topic & How Has It Been Discussed,” Dr. Norma Linda Gonzalez-Mattingly, associate professor of education, recapped some past election cycles.

Presidents who promised immigration reform included Ronald Reagan, George Bush, Bill Clinton, George Bush and Barack Obama. Presidents who delivered immigration reform? Well, all of the previously mentioned resorted to changes in immigration policy via executive order because Congress failed to act.

And today, in 2016, we have two candidates who both promise changes to U.S. immigration policy. Don’t hold your breath.

For one thing, one of those candidates, Donald Trump, is running his campaign like a reality TV star. He makes broad, evocative statements that are good sound bites and, usually, both unsound policy and reflective of an odd alt-right “reality” that isn’t real at all.

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Well, at least there were lemon bars.

Thus, Trump promises a wall (it won’t be built) that Mexico will pay for (no way, hombre). And if Trump did somehow get the magic southern wall with the best technology built, how well would it work? It wouldn’t, but that’s beside the point. The point is to score TV ratings and inflame the passions of his base—and on both of those points, if not on any sound public policy, Mr. Trump is very good.

He calls Mexican immigrants rapists and drug dealers. He says all incoming Muslims should be banned. He wants “extreme vetting,” whatever that is.

Hillary Clinton, on the other hand, talks like she lives in the real world, and has an evolutionary, rather than revolutionary, immigration plan. But can President Clinton II get it through Congress?

The first President Clinton couldn’t. Granted, the Nasty Woman running today has some advantages over The Bill—she was a Senator and has some resulting connections that Bill Clinton never had. I’m betting President Clinton II would have a better chance than President Trump of actually doing something on immigration, but I would also bet that the odds against her accomplishing anything on this issue are also pretty steep.

And that’s partly what I talked about tonight. I was the other half of the show. Dr. Gonzalez-Mattingly ended her remarks by sharing a compelling anecdote from her hometown of Brownsville, Texas, in which she and her mother accidentally ended up harboring an illegal immigration girl that they found wandering the streets as they exited a store. They ended up taking the girl to their local Catholic parish, and aren’t sure how the story ended.

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Me, photographed with my camera by Dr. Joy Ochs, English professor and chair of the MMU faculty.

Then, Dr. Gonzalez-Mattingly talked movingly about her experience of voting this year. She didn’t need it, but she felt compelled to take her birth certificate with her. She was worried about the rhetoric this year, and how she would be treated.

She is Hispanic, and looks it. She is also a fourth generation American citizen, which, if that’s the standard you use to measure these things, makes her more American than I am (third generation—grandparents on my father’s side were immigrants).

The election this year has taken many twists and turns, but the odd and extreme rhetoric that has characterized the campaign mostly comes from one source—Donald Trump.

His followers think he is a refreshing breath of fresh air, willing to speak the truth. Most reputable fact check sites, on the other hand, find him to be consistently and wildly off base. The best way to understand what Trump says? You know he lies because his lips are moving.

But, while Trump has warped our political discourse, on the other hand it was President Nixon who began an organized attack on mainstream media and who also laid the groundwork for the “Southern man” strategy that has benefited the GOP for two generations. To some extent, the Trump candidacy is the illogical outcome of that trend going to its extreme. And possibly ending, if Trump goes down in flames—as seems likely, but we won’t know until after Nov. 8.

And Trump may be the most extreme example of egregious nonsense on the immigration issue, but it was Rep. Steve King, who it pains me to admit is a Republican from Iowa, who in 2013 said the U.S. is in danger from Mexican immigrants who have calves like “cantaloupes” from hauling heavy loads of Mary Jane through the arid Arizona badlands.

King was crazy and still is. But his remark showed the kind of rhetoric that the most deplorable of Republicans were getting into three years ago. And so today, we now have Trump.

God helps us. The American people will express their will in less than two weeks. It was painful for me tonight to read Trumps convoluted, inarticulate and borderline racist words when talking about his rhetoric.

America, I have a favor to ask. Please don’t make me do that for four more years.

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