Lemmings, not leaders

There was a time that when abroad I never conceived of being ashamed of America. It wasn’t that the country was ever free of racial discrimination and other grave errors. It was that efforts were afoot to heal at least some of our civic sins. Political parties skirmished over their differences and politics could get dicey. Largely, however, we believed that “politics stop at the water’s edge” and that in the end, it was the country’s benefit that mattered, not politicians’ or their party’s. Please forgive my emotional worship of the past here, but it is true that we respected the flag and sang the anthem at baseball games (we actually knew the lyrics). This all seems unsophisticated now—enough for me to be self-conscious about these words—but it was our reality then.

Wednesday this week we were treated to a group of out-of-control Republican Representatives storming against House rules into an otherwise secure meeting, each a Donald Trump mini-me out to demonstrate his or her allegiance. Their fidelity was not to the country, not to the flag, not even to a semblance of Congressional order, decades in the making. (White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham was quoted saying that Trump was pleased with the Republicans’ “bold stand.”) Theirs was loyalty to a pompous, emerging tin pot dictator who’d not only disgraced the presidency in three short years, but had demanded that they descend to his level of ignorance and treachery. In fact, this president—separated only by a technicality from being under criminal indictment—we have vacuously called “leader of the free world.”

Appearing more juvenile than Members of Congress are normally expected to be, they brought no new facts to disprove Trump’s serious misbehaviors. They came only with distraction and the silly claim that the hearing should be public, an invalid point that may have seemed sensible to citizens who don’t follow these political shows. Republicans already had a fair proportion of members in the hearing, but their share of questions to witnesses was as if they constituted 50%. This was preparation, it must be remembered, for a possible impeachment (like an indictment) of the president, not a decision as to his guilt.

It is true that in the Clinton impeachment, a “special counsel” method was used to prepare the indictment, which is why a similarly closed-door process is being used now, parallel to the special counsel’s privacy. All testimony will be open to the public at the impeachment if there is one. Besides, Republicans, who became masters of interminable find-the-dirt investigations, kept their Benghazi hearings closed throughout, leaving them able to cite the investigation qua investigation—as if it had unveiled misbehavior simply by existing. Interestingly, the Republicans’ outlandish, quasi-mob interruption of the Wednesday meeting brought to mind a Trump-like flailing, disregard for both facts and decorum.

Trump and Lenin

And so goes the deterioration of America’s democracy, an advanced form of government in world history, to be sure, yet one that requires constant tending. Our many decades of pride in the American experiment has been comforting, productive, and of benefit to the world as well as to us. But it cannot be preserved by political theater, weakened rule of law, manufactured “facts,” substitution of demonstrations for the hard work of government, or—worst of all—following a despotic leader to please the least knowledgeable among us.

Whether the federal government of the United States is becoming more amateurish or more attracted to despotism is hard to say, but neither enhances democracy. What is clear is that these matters and the substance of every day’s news are not politics as usual from which we safely bounce back after another election. They are an alarming threat to our Founders’ dream, America’s global leadership, and a peaceful world. The threat is embodied in Donald Trump and increasingly those devotees willing to protect him against what decreasingly remains of a stable, powerful, humane, and trustworthy America.

 

Posted in Politics | 2 Comments

Red caps to tin pot

Having been sidelined by despondency over America’s unraveling present and conceivably dystopic future, this is my first post in just over six weeks. My gloom—not to mention that which you’ve endured—is, of course, only an infinitesimal bit of what Donald Trump and his Republican collaborators have wrought. High crimes and misdemeanors are an exhausting mix, even beyond reading tweets, counting lies, or comprehending clumsy, unprofessional actions. His slapdash and amateurish behavior even when dealing with critical circumstances include transactional decision-making in the absence of strategy, harshly criticizing and judging subordinates upon criteria only ambiguously given if at all, and failure to integrate available expert knowledge into decisions.

Most if not all senators and representatives of the president’s party would in normal times find his behavior deplorable and intolerable, creating an unacceptable endangerment of the republic. But that same party has been willing to carry Trump’s water all the way to the edge of autocracy, an edge that beckons Trump daily. I charge Republicans not with unpatriotic intent but with recklessness and political protectionism that together have the same worrisome effect.

The presidency requires proficiency in hiring and laying out performance expectations of numerous high-level managers who themselves must further delegate and set expectations. The number of levels in the federal government are far greater than in the largest of corporations, further complicated by entanglement of matters both political and managerial. Yet Trump’s managerial competence would be insufficient in even a very small organization. This has been true, of course, of other new presidents. However, in this case a self-professed claim to need no education (he knows “more than the generals”) renders his ignorance especially alarming. Further, he is a wellspring of blunders due to pathological narcissism, inability to admit mistakes, and being frequently unhinged over even slight opposition and personal challenges. Moreover, he fails to exhibit a moral center, an ethical base to palliate his otherwise deficient self-control and strained dealings with subordinates.

Voters often mistakenly assume that experience as a “business person” automatically includes managerial expertise. It does not. It does not particularly if management is exercised through several levels of organization (the Trump companies did not). Although managing even one level of subordinates is improved by skilled delegation ability, further levels demand it. That is reflected in the emphasis given by many management scholars to summarize management so similarly, to wit: “The art of getting things done through people”—Mary Parker Follet. “The art of getting things done through others and with formally organised [sic] groups.”—Harold Koontz. “I look for people who can get things done through other people.”—Sam Wyly.

Of interest in the Trump context, the next sentence in the Wyly quote is, “The most important thing for a good manager is that the people on his team feel like he or she has integrity.” That sentiment was also emphasized by “the father of American management,” Peter Drucker, who warned that a corrupt boss produces corrupt subordinates. Trump’s personality is given to rapid changes in directives, blaming others for his mistakes, expecting subordinates to protect him from his own quirks, and frequent unbalanced rage, and mendacity—in short, a lack of interpersonal integrity that produces great organizational stress and further proliferation of that shortcoming throughout lower levels.

For a constitutional democracy to work, honorable men and women, when elected, must not only maintain their personal integrity, but the integrity of the constitutional system and rule of law as well. The most perfect and clearly written broad commitments on paper—like our Constitution—are necessary but not sufficient, for they are unable to survive on their own. Ben Franklin’s warning (“a republic, if you can keep it”) requires officials’ deeds to studiously fit those words.

Still, even more destructive than a president’s inability to administer with precision through multiple levels, the most crucial irresponsibility would be to jeopardize the Constitutional integrity of the United States—that which protects us from becoming the tin-pot tyranny our Founders feared. Thoughtlessness about our founding document yields damage to the very basis of governmental roles at the top end of government structure, an impairment shockingly perpetrated by the Senate during the Trump presidency. The guiding consideration should not be whether Trump deserves impeachment and removal from office, but whether America deserves to have the integrity, wisdom, and transparency of government that its Constitution—if not violated in word or deed—provides.

As I posted here nine months ago [“Risking America,” Jan. 3, 2019], political disagreements about normal partisan politics are the sort that politicians regularly struggle with—like agriculture subsidies and military budgets. I’ll call those “event decisions” to separate them from “system decisions.” The latter constitute the framework of authority, roles, values, and philosophy within which all event decisions are made. Some event decisions are crucially important. All system decisions are.

It is critical for any actor or body to recognize when he, she or it drifts into system decision territory, for otherwise the system may be modified without due care. For example, if senators come to be engaged more as the president’s apologists or even the president’s enablers than is their the proper (that is, Constitutional) role, they will have initiated an unspoken alteration of that role, making an implicit system change absent the recognition of having doing so and the care such awareness would stimulate. When such carelessness constitutes an abandonment or inattention to its proper role, some feature or Constitutional protection will have gone unfulfilled, an important obligation uncovered.

Consequently, maintaining a “government of laws, not of men” can only work if the “men” involved constantly act with self-imposed fidelity to those laws. Failure in that allegiance assaults the roots of the republic. Deterioration in one branch’s work affects more than its own performance, but that of at least one other branch. The greater the deficiency, the more the resulting deterioration of the system as a whole, for weakening one strut of government causes untoward strengthening of another strut. The more the Executive Branch acquires unconstitutional strength, the greater is the risk of totalitarianism. On a smaller scale, Republican senators and representatives who find their voice only when they near retirement are indicators of a severely cowed Legislative Branch.

I am not contending here that the United States will descend into an actual dictatorship, only that a number of pre-dictatorship behaviors have already occurred and continue to occur, with no clear curbing of the trend. I’m not charging that Republican apologists for Trump want a dictatorship. I am saying that during Trump’s administration the party has been willing to risk innumerable assaults on the rule of law and on established norms of protecting the integrity of American government. Is that just a slight risk? Perhaps. But even a slight risk carries massive weight when the downside would be catastrophic.

Trump’s behavior beginning with 2016 has degraded further with each month. Remember when most people found Trump’s not being “presidential” to be his chief flaw? My, what naïve children American voters have been . . . and to watch his televised campaign events, a few million still are. What will be the next of his steps toward despotism? At each stage we’ve thought he had gone toward madness as far as he would, but each step only promised the next.

As the calendar moves us closer to the 2020 election, expect even further of his attacks on the America whose trustworthiness and thoughtfulness we and the world had come to expect, even depend on. What form will America’s deterioration take in the coming months? Americans have no reason to believe the current state of affairs will right itself without major alterations, largely by Republicans. We may be seeing early signs of that now, though at this stage Republicans are showing only sporadic, weak moves to save America from its president. Fox News is showing small reductions in its slavishness and misrepresentations. These changes must occur soon lest we move even closer to the point of no return from authoritarianism and Constitutional deterioration.

*   *     *     *

President Donald Trump and his subordinates comprise the most corrupt administration in the history of the U.S. presidency. As to our vaunted “checks and balances,” in the Legislative Branch, the Republican Party has seemed to have no limits to how far it would go in denying and covering up inept, unethical, indecent, dishonest, and dishonorable behavior of that administration or of itself. In short, the Republican party in the House and Senate, and obviously the White House, has endangered American security, refused to protect integrity of the ballot, taken aim against science, failed to correct lies spread by the White House, lying about then ignoring the Mueller Report, and other misdeeds.

I am happy to assume Republican senators and representatives care about their country, but since January 2017 they have acted as if they do not. Now, for the first time in history the United States has leaned toward authoritarianism. While the country needs the balancing effects of a respectable conservative party like we have had in the past, it is not clear that the present Republican Party—as degraded as it is—can rise to the challenge of avoiding further deterioration of governmental integrity, nor can it be trusted with any role in the federal establishment for possibly years to come.

 

Posted in Politics, Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Americans trade lives for hobbies

The half-life of American horror over mass shootings begins—and largely ends—with profuse thoughts and prayers, neither ever shown to have any effect. Politicians’ superficial slogans of mourning, frightened Americans’ pleas of “something must be done,” and a quickly exhausted round of discussions about background checks enable a great nation to go back to sleep and political campaigns to continue accepting NRA bribes.

After each mass shooting, scores of opinion-writers, experts on television news, and faith leaders come forth to warn us that the loud outcry will soon be forgotten. At any rate, it’ll be forgotten until this plague of projectiles returns, announced by the staccato sounds of automatic weapons and plaintive cries of those who’ve sacrificed family and friends due to somebody’s “gun rights.”

I’ve published on this blog several posts (essays) dealing with gun rights (see below). There is no doubt about the 2nd Amendment wording, “The right of the people to keep and bear Arms shall not be infringed.” In 2008 the Supreme Court interpreted (District of Columbia v. Heller) which individuals, which rights, and which arms. Pertinent to this post, the ruling stated that “it is not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose.” Unless there is a serious legal flaw in my commonsense reasoning (I am not a lawyer), there is no Constitutional right to have an AK47, oversize magazines, access to guns in the absence of background checks, or other expansion the Supreme Court has decreed.

It is as if this country has a death wish. We manufacture these weapons. We import them as well. We bestow on them more statutory protection than we give their victims. And we honor their owners’ entitlement to buy more and carry them about. We currently control guns, it is said by those who believe we’ve controlled quite enough already. They actually do have compelling arguments. First, guns don’t kill people, people do. Second, a gun doesn’t pull its own trigger. Besides, nothing can be done, gun rights are forever, after all, there’s the vaunted 2nd Amendment. To question it is to question Americanism.

These straightforward, simple assertions have two characteristics in common—first, each seems quite logical; second, each is entirely useless. So if you don’t want to face living in a country seemingly satisfied with recurring mass shootings, turn off the news and don’t read the paper. Let the shooters and the shot work it out.

It’s undemanding and amateurish to approach a problem with more energy than understanding, for oversimplification is ever with us. Yet we can also be petrified, convinced by complexity that the objective is undoable. The former can look uninformed or even stupid, but the latter is arguably the greater blunder inasmuch as going in circles may be worse than not going at all. In that spirit, I wonder why we seem unable even to consider that the dilemma of mass shootings facing America cannot be approached successfully by these actions:

  1. Congress and state legislatures make the buying, importing, and owning of all firearms above the minimal level already suggested in relevant Supreme Court rulings. The criteria for those “minimal levels” focus on characteristics of the weapon such as magazine size, ammunition features, firing rate, etc., but not owner characteristics.
  2. Congress and state legislatures establish whatever requirements must be met in properly researched background checks and personality traits to control ownership and use of the guns that remain legal (shotguns, small caliber handguns, etc.). Criteria for the remaining legal guns would be chosen by law to satisfy the 2nd Amendment as interpreted as judicially interpreted, though below the criteria established in action #1.
  3. Congress and state legislatures fund scientific research by CDC into all issues of gun ownership, gun characteristics, gun prevalence, and all aspects that might increase available relevant knowledge (as well as possibly alter some of the foregoing actions), allowing the sharing of findings by researchers, though not lobbying.
  4. Congress and state legislatures establish “buy back” programs to prevent owners of unacceptable firearms, as defined in action #1, from suffering financial loss due to their previously owned firearms having become illegal. Australia (though with a smaller population) overcame the complexity and opposition to mount a similar challenge. Our situation would be different in size though likely not in concept.

This approach to gun ownership and use focuses on the weapons rather than the users as is now the case. The latter (background checks, convictions, and problematic, often changing life circumstances) has been—and can be expected to stay—unsuccessful due to the inaccuracy of psychiatric predictions and the hesitancy of family and other persons to give testimony for anything less than frankly psychotic behavior. Moreover, if the focus remains on gun users rather than the guns themselves, what is the logic to prevent pressure to expand weapon availability to include RPGs [rocket propelled grenades] or, for that matter, tanks. After all, a person psychologically “clean” enough to have passed a stiff background check would also be unlikely to endanger public safety by discharging his RPG in a shopping mall.

The argument that gun manufacturers, importers, and sellers would lose a source of revenue would be true, though the needs of public safety have often caused income loss for dangerous substances and mechanisms. The argument would also be true that the National Rifle Association (NRA) would lose its powerful control over Congress and state legislatures, along with its deceptive disinformation about what the 2nd Amendment demands. The argument that “good guys,” through no fault of their own, would lose a source of pleasure and weaponry competence would, of course, be true as well.

Like many Americans, I have honestly tried to discover a motivation for advocating that military weapons be spread across the land. They are not needed for self-protection, target practice, or for hunting. They are needed only for military action, a use that most Americans consider to be without merit in this country, that is, unless one is willing to adopt the necessary conspiracy thinking with regard to white nationalists. Consequently, in the absence of that kind of civil deterioration, these are weapons for which there is no civilian utility. However, though I am not convinced that armed revolt is actually in the plans of such groups, it would be beyond foolish for American law to allow a growing cache of military weaponry in the hands of professed revolutionaries.

Allow me, then, to make the following assumption: Public safety from guns larger, faster, and more quickly rearmed than ones sufficient for minimally meeting the level of Constitutional assurance would be a public policy valued more than the profits of what are now legitimate trading in guns and the NRA’s anti-democratic power over legislators If those assumptions are warranted, they compel us to consider this question of our time:

Do American voters choose to continue subjecting persons in the United States to mass murder in order to protect the hobby of gun owners?

.    .    .    .    .    .

I have published previous posts on gun issues in this blog: “Are we crazy? October 3, 2017; “America has too few dead kids,” February 16, 2018; “The lethal cost of playing with guns,” March 4, 2018; “America and its gun culture,” August 8, 2019.

Posted in Politics, Uncategorized | 4 Comments

Lying for god and party

The antics and lies of President Trump have for three years distracted Americans—including me—from better use of our time. I established this blog in the pre-Trump bliss of mid-2013 chiefly to address church/state issues and the immorality of religion. The 2016 Trump invasion of lies, errors of fact, mean-spirited politics, and assault on American rule of law jarred me into political commentary, resulting in a little more than 14% of the 207 posts (essays) so far being Trump-related. “Sad.”

Last week I became aware of an incident combining Trumpian lies and religious dishonesty. Frankly, religious fraudulence and deceit occur with stunning frequency, so they aren’t hard to find. I plan to write a post demonstrating that widespread condition soon, but this one got my attention just last week. The matter concerned Vice President Pence’s statements during an August 28, 2019 speech at the American Legion National Convention. It regarded a Veterans Administration issue, about which VP Pence said:

“This administration will always make room for the spiritual needs of our heroes at the VA as well. You might’ve heard even today that there’s a lawsuit to remove a bible that was carried in World War II from a missing man table at a VA hospital in New Hampshire. There’s a lawsuit underway. It’s really no surprise because under the last administration, VA hospitals were removing bibles, and even banning Christmas carols in an effort to be politically correct. But let me be clear: Under this administration, VA hospitals will not be religion-free zones. We will always respect the freedom of religion of every veteran of every faith, and my message to the New Hampshire VA Hospital is: The bible stays!”

That evening, Pence sent the following tweet, thereby carrying his remarks to a far, far larger group:

Mike Pence‏Verified account @mike_pence       During the last Administration the VA was removing Bibles & even banning Christmas carols to be politically correct, but under President @realDonaldTrump, VA hospitals will NOT be religion-free zones.      Message to the New Hampshire VA: the Bible STAYS!     1.31M views      9:31 PM      28 Aug 2019

I learned of the Pence messages when they were reported by the Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRF), a well-established, nationwide nonprofit dedicated to the Constitutional requirement that keeps religion out of government and government out of religion. FFRF found Pence’s statements to be “troubling on several counts,” as presented in the following five paragraphs [numbering mine, JBC] of the FFRF release:

  1. “First, he [Pence] misrepresented the lawsuit that he referenced. Actually, an Air Force veteran is suing to remove a bible from the POW/MIA table at the Manchester VA Medical Center in New Hampshire. In the lawsuit itself, the veteran explains that he is ‘a devout Christian,’ and ‘as a Christian, he respects and loves all his military brothers and sisters and does not want to be exclusionary by the placement of the Christian Bible.’ In other words, this is not an anti-Christian attack. It’s simply one patriot’s admirable attempt to uphold the Constitution.
  2. “Second, the tradition of POW/MIA tables was started by Vietnam combat pilots as a memorial to all who have served, regardless of religious belief, and did not ‘customarily include a bible. The original POW/MIA table at the Manchester VA Medical Center did not contain a bible; it was added later. The VA has secured a special place of prominence for this bible while denying other religious groups equal opportunity to place their own texts on the table. To defend the Manchester VA Medical Center’s actions is to defend Christian privilege, not religious freedom.
  3. “Third, contrary to Pence’s claims, the previous administration did not ban Christmas carols. In reality, a VA center in Augusta, Ga., asked high school carolers not to sing overtly religious Christmas carols in the public areas of the hospital. This VA hospital should be commended; instead, Pence distorted the hospital’s honorable intentions in an effort to fearmonger and peddle a Christian persecution narrative that is demonstrably false.
  4. “Finally, the VA policy that Pence complained about was most recently revised in July 2008, not during the Obama administration, as Pence implies, but actually under George W. Bush’s administration. The VA’s 2008 policy reflects the mandates of our godless Constitution. VA hospitals are not, and never have been, ‘religion-free zones,’ as Pence claimed. Veterans are free to practice their own religions in their own ways; the VA respects that freedom by not endorsing any religion. The 2008 policy drew the line in the correct place, but even the new policy states that passive displays should respect and tolerate differing views and should not elevate one belief system over others. The bible display at the Manchester VAMC fails even under this newly watered-down policy, because it elevates Christianity above all other belief systems.
  5. “No Christian is prevented from the free exercise of their religion when a bible is not displayed on a public table or religious carols are not sung in a public space,’ FFRF Director of Strategic Response Andrew L. Seidel concludes his letter to the vice president. ‘Those Christians can still read their bible and hear those carols, it’s just that the VA is not imposing the bible and carols on everyone else. Sadly, it seems that the lack of imposition, which is required by our Constitution, is precisely what upsets you. And for that, you should be ashamed.’”

Ashamed, indeed, Andrew Seidel [author of The Founding Myth: Why Christian Nationalism is Un-American, 2019], though don’t hold your breath. Pence, having merged fundamentalist arrogance with Trumpian refusal to admit errors, is unlikely to exhibit or confess to shame, at least publicly.

The most advantageous environment for religious persons and groups (churches and other organizations of believers) is that government be required to stay out of their theology and religious practices. The necessary swap, though, is that religions are not to call upon government for funds, backing, or other supportive interactions. That is what Thomas Jefferson meant by a “wall of separation.” However, as U.S. history shows repeatedly, religions have a habit of accepting the freedom while demanding government endorsement or aid, resulting in blurring of the distinction laid out in Article 1 of the Constitution.

Further, individual politicians make it worse by currying favor from religious voters. Religionists routinely expect politicians to pay homage to religion or, more accurately, to their specific religion. Enough national self-discipline to maintain a respectful separation has not been easy to maintain. It has been made even more difficult by the unfounded claims that the U.S. is a “Christian nation,” so that not only is government to give favorable treatment to religion, but to do so for Christianity above other religions. Indeed, a number of Christian writers have gone so far as to argue that freedom of religion applies only to Christians, even then perhaps only to specific denominations of Christians.

I’m indebted to the Freedom from Religion Foundation for its report of Pence’s spreading misinformation. FFRF is a nationwide nonprofit dedicated, in its words, “to fighting Christian Nationalism and its push to undermine the religious freedoms of all Americans, including the more than 110 million who either practice a minority religion or no religion at all.”

Disclosure: I have long been a Life Member of FFRF and have great respect for the years of dedication by its founders and staff. It is a foremost organization in the struggle to respect and defend the 1st Amendment of the United States Constitution.

Posted in Church and state, Politics | 2 Comments

The Republican conspiracy

If there’s anything enigmatic about America’s experience of Donald Trump that is shared by both Republicans and non-Republicans, it must be the baffling nature of each side’s conception of the other side’s reasoning. Human beings have a great store of understanding, even empathy for each other’s thinking. Yet our advanced “theory of mind” capability seems in this case to fail us. I am not untouched; I’ve a frequently recurring quandary: what on earth are Republicans thinking?

I realize Republicans must think things just as unflattering about some of my views. But before I go further, I need to point out a difficulty about using the term Republican. I know they have to call themselves something, but Libertarian is already taken and National Socialist has an unpleasant reputation (due to the loathed S word?). Perhaps I should stop being so picky and just stick with Republican after all, though it does confuse me.

I’ve known Republicans. They stood for low or no deficits. They stood for free trade. They stood against “picking winners and losers” in the market. They stood for keeping government out of our personal choices. They stood for standing tall among the nations, representing stability, reliability, and being an international force for democracy. They stood—as did arriving Puritans—to make America a “city upon a hill.” On the other hand, maybe I just wasn’t paying close attention.

I used to agree with a good portion of Republican political philosophy. And whether I like the outcome or not, I’m a sucker for propositions based on truth and precisely reasoned, no matter their origins or results. Almost everything I hear from Trump fails on those scores and, increasingly, much of what I hear from his sycophants is similarly tainted. For example, here are a few comments that have come my way straight out of the Republican playbook within the past few weeks.

[1] Regarding Trump’s continual lying: “Politicians lie, including Presidents of the U.S., for example, (a) ‘I did not have sex with that woman’ and (b) ‘If you like your [current] health care plan, you can keep your health care plan, period.’” The Republican position is that these Democrat lies or purported lies are equivalent to Trump’s lies, and overlook that Trump’s lying occurs with dizzying frequency. But let me focus on these two instances cited by Republicans.

[1a] “I did not have sex with that woman.” That was definitely a lie and must be admitted to be so. Yet if all partisan identities are removed from the story, do Republicans really believe Americans—Republicans or Democrats—would argue that the severity of impeachment is justified for a behavior so common it likely occurs by Americans millions of time each day by persons considered upright, maybe even blameless?

[1b] “If you like your health care plan, you can keep your health care plan, period.” As it turned out, this intention of Obama did fail. A Republican could honestly say Obama was ineffective, didn’t try hard enough, or broke a promise. But no way is a campaign plank a lie in the normal way the word lie is used, even by Republicans. If, for example, despite trying as hard as possible, Trump’s great wall just cannot overcome opposition, does failing to build it constitute a lie? Of course not. We could establish a new standard of what counts as a lie, for example, anything a politician promised but can’t accomplish will be called a lie. But what you will have established is that every time a politician, no matter how honest, doesn’t achieve what he or she sets out to achieve constitutes lying. That’s a pretty useless redefinition of “lie.”

[2] “Because of my [Trump’s] policies, Black Unemployment has just been reported to be at the LOWEST RATE EVER RECORDED!” Nothing Trump says can be trusted as truth (I mean that literally), but as in this case the Republican reaction is to do just that, swallowing the Cool Aid on a regular basis. (If there were no Fox News, I wonder if Trump fans would have nothing to say.) Since Trump’s fans care little about reality, others are continually distracted by having to unearth the truth. Actually, black unemployment had been falling since March of 2010! Characteristic of Trump, he woke up on third base and claimed he hit a triple. Trump took full credit for “his” achievement of that falling black unemployment. Further, even then the rate was not the lowest ever recorded as he said, but the lowest in decades. As the Bureau of Labor Statistics chart below illustrates, the black unemployment rate has been in a years-long downward trend that continued under Trump.

Black Unemployment Rate
Years 2009 – 2017

The black unemployment rate at Trump’s inauguration was 7.8 percent, the lowest it had been in nearly 10 years (not the lowest ever recorded, as Trump claimed) according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. By the end of 1917, it dropped to 6.8 percent in December, the lowest rate since 1972 when regular tracing of unemployment by race began. However, the rate in the year before Trump’s presidency had dropped the same amount, and in each of the three years earlier fell 1.9% (2015), 1.5% (2014), and 1.8% (2013). Yes, the downward trend continued under Trump, but as a continuation of the previous fall and not due to anything Trump caused, a phenomenon hardly reflected in his tweet announcing the lowest rate ever recorded and due to Trump’s policies! Keep in mind that even if we can find similar self-serving misstatements by other presidents, the extensive number that Trump treats us to sets him apart from all others.

[3] “There was no collusion with Russia that affected the results of the 2016 presidential election (except by the Clinton campaign).” These Republican claims serve, I assume, to protect Trump from having to face the possibility that Russia won the presidency for him. But let’s look at them more closely.

[3a] It is possible—maybe even probable unless Russians were just ineffectively throwing their money away—to argue that thousands of Facebook (and other?) messages meant to stimulate Trump votes made a difference in the election (I have no evidence to make that claim). Maybe there was no effect of Russian actions. But to assert as fact that there was “no collusion” is to allege as a certainty that which is only an undemonstrated claim. Doing that is the moral equivalent of lying.

[3b] Notice the unrelated charge slipped in, muted by parentheses, that Clinton colluded with Russia. Where did this claim come from and why? Was it to have made any Trump campaigners’ collusion, if found, look less reprehensible? Frankly, I don’t know. (Trump’s has a quasi-paranoia habit of charging or blaming others with offences he himself has committed. Republicans pick up his drift and adopt it for themselves.) There is no collusion by the Clinton campaign supported by evidence. But this is the kind of slippery construction that shows up repeatedly in Trump’s and Trumpists’ speech, much like making an allegation without actually making an allegation, like the old saw, “Have you stopped beating your wife?”

The futility of having an untrustworthy president

I began this post by marveling at Republicans’ bizarre thinking during this presidency. I’ve never thought Republicans were evil or unintelligent. (I’m overlooking Newt Gingrich’s 1990s conversion of his party from dutiful governing to intra-congressional warfare, clearly damaging my commitment to internal bipartisanship!) I’ve spoken in this post to a few of many actual Republican contentions. Obviously, they are not exhaustive, though a much longer list easily gathered are quite exhausting.

Such pure craziness in a president and in a president’s followers first looks shameful and disgraceful, but as more craziness occurs becomes not just pathetic and risible, but boring and occasionally (out of desperation) something to make fun of, like announcing that the United States now has “the best economy in history” and “the greatest we ever had” just as another announcement restated America’s “highest debt since shortly after WW2” (as a % of GDP).”

Chasing all the daily, self-serving lies of this president as well as those of his followers (as the examples above), many of whom are or were otherwise intelligent, even judicious persons squanders considerable resources. The pursuit to see through dishonesty is a boring and wasteful engagement of millions. They (we) continue because it is not inconsequential that a president can seem determined to explore how low he can sink in integrity, thoughtfulness, and common truthfulness. It is vital to scrutinize a powerful man-child dragging our country down to his despicable level toward weakening the rule of law and the growth of authoritarianism.

I began today’s rant with a quandary: To be behaving so corruptly, so hell-bent on taking America to at least the frightening border of tyranny, what on earth are Republicans thinking? The state of this nation could not be so endangered or the republic’s stabilizing framework so challenged without Republican complacency and endorsement. Americans who are not Trump’s sycophants are at a disadvantage so far due to a Trump bootlicker Senate and fourteen months until a possible turnover in the White House. It troubles me that we—or more personally, I—have so little to offer except to put a name to the dark clouds over America with what will seem at first to be amateurish hyperbole, though not words without meaning, to wit:

 

Republicans have entered into a conspiracy with Donald J. Trump, a written, spoken, or implied conspiracy. . . . .

  • to adopt Trump’s foolish statements and conclusions as their own.
  • to blame whom Trump blames for damage and failures of his own making.
  • to deny that Trumps lies are lies and his intimations intended.
  • to avoid criticism of Trump’s treatment of allies.
  • to minimize attention to climate change and any natural phenomena Trump denies.
  • to minimize check-and-balance instances that would expose or thwart Trump
  • to accept anything Trump does as acceptable and to be emulated.

 

Posted in Politics | 6 Comments

Republican leaders on church-state separation

Politicians and individual voters change their views over time. Seeking consistency in any party is certain to be a confusing search even from year to year, much less over a few decades. For example, in the 1930s there was great resistance to social legislation like social security by Republicans and conservative Democrats. It was widely seen as socialism and the “Sovietizing” of America, strongly opposed by the American Bar Association and the U. S. Chamber of Commerce. Yet by late 1954 Republican President Eisenhower said, “Should any political party attempt to abolish social security, unemployment insurance, and eliminate labor laws and farm programs, you would not hear of that party again in our political history.”

Citing Eisenhower is only to illustrate that sweeping changes in views about governmental matters occur in the natural order of things. I’m not making a point that they are either good or bad. Rather than political issues like those Eisenhower mentioned, the changes over time can be viewed with respect to any topic in the Constitution (for example, attitudes and practices toward bearing arms). With respect to the interaction of religion and government, we can trace changes or stability as the years progress. Because we are currently in a Republican administration, I have chosen to sample Republican attitudes for the period the GOP has been in existence. Interestingly, I found attitudes expressed by a sampling of party leaders since Lincoln to be remarkably stable on the church-state matter.

As would be expected with any subject, however, the actual, fine-tuned interpretation of what church-state means is not as stable. Despite the similar wording through decades, questions still exist about whether religious liberty is only for Christians, whether “voluntary” prayer for minors in public schools can really be voluntary, whether there are exceptions to religious freedom (e.g., Mormon polygamy, Jewish circumcision, child care licensing), and whether the religion of a state employee is grounds for refusing to honor a proper citizen request. It is no surprise that slight variations since the 18th century call for further refinement, particularly since the whole idea of church-state separation was unique to begin with, so that interpretation problems had not had long to rise to attention. Separation had not been established in law until the 1st Amendment to the U. S. Constitution in 1791. In most other countries, of course, there was hardly any attempt to disentangle religion and politics at all.

One of the specifics Americans had to learn was that the singular word religion, while useful, can overlook the fact that critical differences separate one religion from another. In fact, in some cases, the only similarity between two religions might simply be belief in a supernatural god or gods and nothing else. Further, religious freedom must be construed as freedom from other religions even of the same denominational name. As I have pointed out in previous posts, religions very rarely have little to fear from atheists, but a great deal to fear from other religions.

An early example of that occurred with the Danbury Baptist Association (church) in Connecticut. Religious freedom of the Danbury Baptists had been under the thumb of majority Christian churches in league with the Connecticut Legislature. In answer to their fears, Thomas Jefferson provided comforting assurance in 1801 that the new federal Constitution would protect Danbury Baptists from such religious oppression. In so doing so, he used the analogy of a wall separating church and state, giving rise to the term still used. That wall guarantees religious freedom from any government that threatens it, even if the government is acting in concert with members of the same or similar faith.

In the present context, the Trump administration identifies far more with fundamentalist Christian religion than other branches of Christian belief. Those “others” differ not only from fundamentalist Christians, but from each other. They are not necessarily pleased with President Trump’s camaraderie with one religion above all others, for he thereby immerses government in various religions’ passionate theological arguments with themselves. That is not only a blatant violation of the church-state barrier, but illustrates the Founders’ good sense to keep religion and government separate. Previous administrations had not completely avoided such an error, but none in a long time has done it in so wholesale a manner.

The advent of Christian Nationalism (I’ll have more on that in a future post) along with the Trump administration’s courting of fundamentalist leaders, has raised the stakes concerning the mixing of government and religion. While many (though not all) fundamentalist Christians seek greater involvement, others are more worried that having a favored religion can’t help but pit one version of religious faith against others, a phenomenon already underway. The demands on government are sufficiently complex that its choosing to engage with so fraught a subject as religion would be unnecessarily taking on the riding of yet another tiger.

There is much more to be said about these matters, but in this post I want only to underscore how leaders in the Republican party have considered the matter of church-state separation since the party began 165 years ago. In the quotes listed below, Republican leaders from the beginning have been remarkably (though not totally) consistent in their support of strong church-state separation.

The party, growing out of anti-slavery Whigs, was founded in March 1854. By 1860 the party had fielded and won the presidency with Midwest lawyer Abraham Lincoln. As one would expect—especially with the Civil War and Reconstruction—the Republican party dealt with changes due to time and various shifts in the political environment. To illustrate the level of consistency, you’ll find quotations in the relatively random list below of Republican leaders—mostly presidents—from 1862 to 2016.

I will treat the 2016 candidacy and administration of Donald Trump separately, likely in a future post on Christian Nationalism. I have not sought to focus on either strong or weak attitudes toward church-state separation. I do not propose that the historically random Republican quotes prove anything in any concrete way. For me they are best seen as educational and perhaps entertaining.

Comments of Republican Leaders 1864 – 2016

“My earlier views of the unsoundness of the Christian scheme of salvation and the human origin of the scriptures, have become clearer and stronger with advancing years and I see no reason for thinking I shall ever change them.” And “The United States government must not undertake to run the Churches. When an individual, in the Church or out of it, becomes dangerous to the public interest he must be checked.” President Abraham Lincoln, 1862.

“The divorce between Church and State ought to be absolute. It ought to be so absolute that no Church property anywhere, in any state or in the nation, should be exempt from equal taxation; for if you exempt the property of any church organization, to that extent you impose a tax upon the whole community.” Congressman (later President) James A. Garfield, 1874.

“I would suggest the taxation of all property equally, whether church or corporation.” And “Leave the matter of religion [religious teaching] to the family altar, the church, and the private school, supported entirely by private contribution. Keep the church and state forever separated.” President Ulysses S. Grant, 1875.

“We all agree that neither the Government nor political parties ought to interfere with religious sects. It is equally true that religious sects ought not to interfere with the Government or with political parties. We believe that the cause of good government and the cause of religion suffer by all such interference.” President Rutherford B. Hayes (while Governor of Ohio), 1875.

“There is nothing so despicable as a secret society that is based upon religious prejudice and that will attempt to defeat a man because of his religious beliefs. Such a society is like a cockroach—it thrives in the dark. So do those who combine for such an end.” President William Howard Taft, 1914.

“I hold that in this country there must be complete severance of Church and State; that public moneys shall not be used for the purpose of advancing any particular creed; and therefore that the public schools shall be non-sectarian and no public moneys appropriated for sectarian schools.” President Theodore Roosevelt, 1915.

“In the experiences of a year of the Presidency, there has come to me no other such unwelcome impression as the manifest religious intolerance which exists among many of our citizens. I hold it to be a menace to the very liberties we boast and cherish.” President Warren Harding, 1922.

“The fundamental precept of liberty is toleration. We cannot permit any inquisition either from within or without the law or apply any religious test to the holding of office. The mind of America must be forever free.” President Calvin Coolidge, 1925.

“I come of Quaker stock. My ancestors were persecuted for their beliefs. Here they sought and found religious freedom. By blood and conviction, I stand for religious tolerance both in act and in spirit.” President Herbert Hoover, 1928.

“And I should like to assure you, my Islamic friends, that under the American Constitution, under American tradition, and in American hearts, this Center, this place of worship, is just as welcome as could be a similar edifice of any other religion. Indeed, America would fight with her whole strength for your right to have here your own church and worship according to your own conscience. This concept is indeed a part of America, and without that concept we would be something else than what we are.” President Dwight Eisenhower, 1957.

“As you know, the separation of church and state is not subject to discussion or alteration. Under our Constitution no church or religion can be supported by the U.S. Government. We maintain freedom of religion so that an American can either worship in the church of his choice or choose to go to no church at all.” President Richard Nixon, 1960.

“I believe that prayer in public schools should be voluntary. It is difficult for me to see how religious exercises can be a requirement in public schools, given our Constitutional requirement of separation of church and state. I feel that the highly desirable goal of religious education must be principally the responsibility of church and home.” President Gerald R. Ford, 1976.

“We establish no religion in this country. We command no worship. We mandate no belief, nor will we ever. Church and state are and must remain separate.” President Ronald Reagan, 1984.

“Mark my word, if and when these preachers get control of the [Republican] party, and they’re sure trying to do so, it’s going to be a terrible damn problem. Frankly, these people frighten me. Politics and governing demand compromise. But these Christians believe they are acting in the name of God, so they can’t and won’t compromise. I know, I’ve tried to deal with them.” Presidential Candidate Barry Goldwater, 1994.

“I’m mindful in a free society that people can worship if they want to or not. You’re equally an American if you choose to worship an almighty and if you choose not to.” President George W. Bush, 2004.

“What we end up with is the first example of the criminalization of a Christian for believing the traditional definition of marriage.” Presidential Candidate Mike Huckabee, 2015.

My Thanks to Ed Buckner

Many thanks for the assistance of my valued friend, Ed Buckner, past president of American Atheists, Inc. It was his idea to match historical quotations with a roster of Republican speakers and writers, with an emphasis on presidents. Ed assembled these data into a clever game for persons who have an interest in what Thomas Jefferson in 1802 called a “wall of separation between church and state. ”From his list I selected almost all the quotes cited in this post. Ed graciously made his game and the information he’d collected for it available for my use.

 

Posted in Church and state, Politics | 3 Comments

America and its gun culture

Here we go again . . . last weekend of American right-wing terrorists misusing a fictional constitutional right to wreak deadly havoc on people just going peacefully about their lives. Yes, here we go again; a criminal and narcissistic President trying to impersonate decency. We have no more reason to believe his “act nice” remarks as we have had for any of the unceasing stream of lies and mean-spirited histrionics he emits.

Only days before, the National Rifle Association had held its convention of 5,000 or so enthusiasts in a Dallas arena. (For the president’s protection, the arena had been declared a gun free zone.) The governor of Texas, Gregg Abbott announced his solution to gun violence: religion and the Second Amendment! He argued that “The answer to gun violence is not to take guns away” from Americans, but “to strengthen the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding citizens.” Yes, you heard that right, he said “The problem isn’t guns, it’s hearts without God [italics mine, JC].”

Inspirational! Who knew? The solution is more guns and more religion, a ridiculous prescription anywhere else on earth. To my knowledge, no one questioned whether religion includes liberal Episcopalians, Jews, or even—God forbid—Muslims. Donald Trump, ever the logician, added “If we’re going to outlaw guns, like so many people want to do—Democrats—then we are going to have to outlaw immediately all vans and all trucks,” since they can be used to kill. By the way, what exactly does it mean to “strengthen” the Second Amendment?

Putting a finer touch on the “more guns” part of Abbott’s remedy, Trump added, “We want highly trained teachers to carry concealed weapons.” Why? Because, he said, “When [killers] know there are guns inside, they’re not going in.” OK, Trump’s conviction that would-be killers would be deterred is worth study (see below); it does seem to make sense. Further, as could have been expected, Trump and Pence moved on to the bigger issue, finding a way to connect mass killing to crazed immigrants.

When such remedies are so confidently touted by Abbott, Trump, the NRA, and your next door neighbor, it would be useful to ask what remarkable wisdom led to their certainty. Maybe more stringent background checks are not a good answer after all. Maybe guns on college campuses would make everyone safer. Maybe requiring all private homes to have a gun would help. Maybe good guys should be required to carry guns. Maybe enforced fundamentalist church attendance would cure the problem. Maybe tighter restrictions on rate of fire or magazine capacity is all we need. Possibly getting the president to refrain from malicious rants would help, after all such rants did have an effect in Germany in the 1930s; they worked even on regular folks. And we can link them to courage and patriotism as Trump bravely did in Dallas, saying, “We will never give up our freedom [ostensibly to carry military weapons into shopping centers; JC]. We will live free and die free!” If you can’t hear the muskets and see the galloping horses, you’re just not a patriot.

However, regardless of how all opinions about firearms are advocated by either Republicans or Democrats, we really don’t know much. “In the area of what works to prevent shootings, we know almost nothing,” said Mark Rosenberg, who supervised the CDC’s gun research efforts in the early1990s. How would Donald Trump know? How would your favorite pundit know? How would the most dedicated, honest observer know? I can guarantee you that I don’t know either. Even if the NRA and arms manufacturers knew, they are hardly disinterested so their findings and opinions are suspect. Consequently, we are all a bunch of amateurs stumbling in the dark about what has proven to be a life-or-death quandary.

But there are ways to discover relevant facts in the matter of reducing gun violence. To use them, we’d have to understand that a vote of senators and representatives in Congress won’t do it. In fact, a perfectly run referendum of citizens cannot settle it. Opinions do not matter, not Trump’s, not the NRA’s. Nobody’s opinions matter about, e.g., magazine size, firing rate, or similar factors help; they serve only to clutter a legitimate search for truth. That is what we have now, our options solidified because each faction has already decided that its opinions are the facts.

We need facts first. Only then do opinions matter, for the second question is what to do with the facts we’ve discovered. The NRA has less interest in facts than in pleasing gun manufacturers. Many Republican elected officials have less interest in facts than in pleasing the NRA. Pity, for research using the scientific method when applied to tough quandaries has yielded countless breakthroughs in understanding otherwise unsolvable mysteries for almost three centuries. (Careful though, all research, even honest research, is not constructed with the scientific method’s rigor.) We are a nation that has frequently put scientific research to work to enlighten teaching methods, rocketry, power production, drug efficacy, and a host of issues in all fields of endeavor.

Why, then, can true scientific research not be applied to the use of our deadly devices? Fact is, it can if we do not choose to stay in the dark. We have done, and continue to do, just that, throwing up our hands with inane statements about gun control like that of Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin’s “You can’t regulate evil.” Or we blame mental illness. (A pundit recently observed that Republicans rarely concern themselves with mental illness except to bring it up as the reason for mass murders.) The real stopper, however, is the belief that Americans have an absolute constitutional right to have and carry firearms. Statements by the NRA, elected officials, and uninformed citizens expose an assumption that this right applies to any size or any lethality of firearm.

But according to the Supreme Court, there is no such right (District of Columbia v. Heller, 2008) as discussed in The lethal cost of playing with guns,” my post of March 4, 2018. Of course, we somehow know the Second Amendment doesn’t apply to howitzers and surface-to-air missiles, but the Court’s interpretation clarified more than that about which individuals, which rights, and which arms, thereby establishing a “floor” under individuals’ rights to “keep and bear Arms.” Whenever gun rights are brought up, Americans should carefully inspect what is being said. You will find inferences that such rights apply in such a generalized way that an uninformed listener could reasonably conclude that guns of all sorts are available to anyone. Hence I found Governor Abbott’s prescription to “strengthen” the Second Amendment strange; do we not mean to enforce all parts of the Constitution.

It is permissible for lawmakers at state or federal levels to impose whatever gun restrictions they wish as long as Court-determined minimum rights are protected. As expressed in the Court’s decision, rights guaranteed are “not unlimited. It is not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose. Moreover, in United States v. Miller, 307 U. S. 174, the Court held that the sorts of weapons protected are those “in common use at the time” finds support in the historical tradition of prohibiting the carrying of dangerous and unusual weapons.”

So how might legislatures and Congress go about establishing what leads certain perpetrators to violence against certain persons in certain settings with certain guns? What are the characteristics of those persons and their experiences, and what are the characteristics of weapons themselves and current efforts to control them? The former leads toward psychological considerations, mental illness, and so forth. The latter leads toward mechanical distinctions in gun manufacture, sale, characteristics, and disposition, as well as various control methods. Here arises a great problem in finding a reasonable solution, a problem created inside the walls of the Capitol itself.

Consider Jay Dickey. Dickey was a Republican congressman from Arkansas who crusaded in the mid-1990s to stop the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) from funding gun violence research. Every year the Congress reauthorized what came to be known as the Dickey Amendment. However, Dickey (now deceased) later changed his mind after multiple waves of mass shooting. NRA had not changed its mind, however, and still accused the CDC of promoting gun control. So in 1996, the Republican-majority Congress threatened to strip funding from CDC if it continued research into firearm injuries and deaths. (In such matters, the chilling effect on others can depress research nationwide beyond the researchers directly affected.) Gun control research in 1996 came to a standstill.

It is not that in 2019, there is no firearms research going on, though likely not nearly enough to match the importance and apparently growing incidence of gun violence. One example is the Violence Prevention Research Program at the University of California, Davis, a multi-disciplinary program of research and policy development. Another example is the National Institute of Justice (an arm of the U.S. Department of Justice) in its funding of gun-related studies 1993 to 1999 then 2009 to 2012, though it resumed in 2013.

Further, in 2013 the prestigious National Academies, Advisers to the Nation on Science, Engineering, and Medicine, became home to the “Committee on Priorities for a Public Health Research Agenda to Reduce the Threat of Firearm-Related Violence.” The multi-disciplinary research products would be comprehensive and extensive, not capable of being concluded quickly, even if adequately funded. It is important to understand that although the formidable and professional task of prescribing research goals (not research results) is a time-consuming activity, for naught unless there are sufficient appropriations.

Unfortunately, I could not complete a more extensive look into the ostensibly broader research that might have been funded. I did find that Congress, while not continuing to prohibit CDC research, achieved the same effect by passing federal budgets in which such research went unfunded. More-or-less, that amounts to “you don’t have to refrain from researching firearm matters, we just won’t give you any money to do it.” I cannot judge whether that was due to political oversight or to a budgetary “intentional accident,” though my own direct experience in the ways of Congress would not find deceit out of the question.

Meanwhile, the NRA has stated its position is that “tax dollars should not be used to take sides in a policy debate.” That is ludicrous. Tax dollars are regularly used to pay for policy debate or facts useful to enlighten that debate. What must be avoided are claims that unbiased facts are not needed and that preconceived notions of either Republicans or Democrats constitute facts.

 

An excerpt as an addendum

A preparatory statement of the Priorities for a Public Health Research Agenda

to Reduce the Threat of Firearm-Related Violence

Fatal and nonfatal firearm violence1 poses a serious threat to the safety and welfare of the American public. Although violent crime rates have declined in recent years, the U.S. rate of firearm-related deaths is the highest among industrialized countries. In 2010, incidents in the United States involving firearms injured or killed more than 105,000 individuals; there were twice as many nonfatal firearm-related injuries (73,505) than deaths. Nonfatal violence often has significant physical and psychological impacts, including psychological outcomes for those in proximity to individuals who are injured or die from gun violence. The recent, highly publicized, tragic mass shootings in Newtown, Connecticut; Aurora, Colorado; Oak Creek, Wisconsin; and Tucson, Arizona, have sharpened the public’s interest in protecting our children and communities from the effects of firearm violence.

In January 2013, [the president] issued 23 executive orders directing federal agencies to improve knowledge of the causes of firearm violence, the interventions that might prevent it, and strategies to minimize its public health burden. One of these executive orders noted that “in addition to being a law enforcement challenge, firearm violence is also a serious public health issue that affects thousands of individuals, families, and communities across the Nation,” and directed the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), along with other relevant federal agencies, to immediately begin identifying the most pressing firearm-related violence research problems.

The CDC and the CDC Foundation2 requested that the Institute of Medicine (IOM), in collaboration with the National Research Council (NRC), convene a committee of experts to develop a potential research agenda focusing on the public health aspects of firearm-related violence—its causes, approaches to interventions that could prevent it, and strategies to minimize its health burden. In accordance with the CDC’s charge, the committee did not focus on public health surveillance and potentially related behavioral/mental health issues, as these will be addressed separately. The research program envisioned by the committee, which is designed to produce impacts in 3-5 years, focuses on

  • the characteristics of firearm violence,
  • risk and protective factors,
  • interventions and strategies,
  • gun safety technology, and
  • the influence of video games and other media.

The committee identified potential research topics by conducting a survey of previous relevant research, considering input received during the workshop, and using its expert judgment. The committee was not asked to consider funding for the research agenda, and in addition to the CDC, it is likely that other agencies and private foundations will also implement the research agenda. Consequently, the committee identified a full range of high-priority topics that could be explored with significant progress made in 3-5 years. Research on these topics will improve current knowledge of the causes of firearm violence, the interventions that prevent firearm violence, and strategies to minimize the public health burden of firearm violence. To allow the research community flexibility in designing the research protocols, the report does not specify the methodologies that should be used to address the research topics.

The evidence generated by implementing a public health research agenda can enable the development of sound policies that support both the rights and the responsibilities central to gun ownership in the United States. In the absence of this research, policy makers will be left to debate controversial policies without scientifically sound evidence about their potential effects.

 

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