The Schmookler & Huffman Show (Episode XLII)

On Wednesday, December 7th, Andy Schmookler and Joshua Huffman appeared on 550 AM, WSVA for their monthly political radio hour.  We looked back on 2016, including the surprising presidential election, and spoke about the 2017 elections, which includes the race for the next Governor of Virginia.  After all, there is at least one election in Virginia every single year.

As always, if you missed the show live, you can catch it on the WSVA website.

Thanks for listening!

Donald Trump is…My Fault?

Photo by Gage Skidmore

Photo by Gage Skidmore

Usually, when an election is over, especially a highly contentious one such as the 2016 presidential election, tensions run high for months or even years later.  Nevertheless, I was still quite surprised when a local Democratic elected official recently declared that I was one of the people responsible for the election of Donald Trump.

For the regular readers of this website, many of you already know that I am not nor have I been a supporter of Donald Trump.  Ever since he descended that escalator, announced his candidacy for president, and declared that most Mexican immigrants were “bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people,” I became a vocal critic.  As I wrote back in August of 2015, “Mr. Trump’s rhetoric appeals to some of the worst elements of our society”.  I called his comments “reprehensible” and, along with his blatant sexism, said that he “demonstrates that he isn’t presidential material”.

A year later, I didn’t view Mr. Trump anymore favorably and called both the Trump and Clinton campaigns, “A Campaign of Fear and Hatred.”  I’m sure it doesn’t come as any surprise, but I didn’t vote for Donald Trump in the Virginia Republican primary nor did I cast a ballot for him in the general election.  Yes, I may have declared Marco Rubio was the worst Republican candidate on the Virginia primary ballot, but in that same piece I called Donald Trump “unacceptable”.  However, just because Donald Trump was terrible, that didn’t somehow make Hillary Clinton somehow acceptable by comparison.

I would challenge anyone to point out any of my statements where I encourage any voter to cast a ballot for either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton.  And yet, as this elected official claims, anyone who voted for a third party candidate or chose not to vote is at fault for the election of Donald Trump.  This viewpoint, in my opinion, is quite sophomoric and harkens back to George W. Bush where a third way was inconceivable to him.

Now, this local official isn’t alone in expressing this idea.  For example, about a year ago a Republican leader credited me with electing Terry McAuliffe governor of Virginia because I didn’t support either the Republican or Democratic candidate in that election.  As such, because the Democrat won, the only explanation is that it was “my fault” and the fault of everyone who voted Libertarian.  Surely it had nothing to do with the weakness of the campaigns and the lack of issues and substance from both of the major party candidates.

It is important for you to remember that you own your vote and no candidate or party has an automatic claim to it.  They must earn it and if they fail to speak to you, either figuratively or literally, then you are under no compulsion to support them.  And, if one of the major party candidates wins, it is exceedingly foolish to declare that it is the fault of third party voters that your side didn’t win.  If one side is looking for someone to blame for their loss, maybe they ought to blame themselves.  Perhaps the major party that lost shouldn’t have nominated a candidate who the voters found so detestable.  Perhaps they should have run a more competent campaign.  And, if voting for your principles means voting for a third party candidate or an independent, that is your right and that should not be demeaned.  As Penn Jillette says, (warning for language):

Remember, despite what some Republicans and Democrats might say in order to guilt trip you into supporting someone who you don’t believe in, it is not the fault of a third party voter if the lesser (or greater) of two evils wins.  Heck, if we had a level playing field and a multiparty system, like just about every other Western democratic nation, which many Democrats and Republicans have been actively trying to suppress, the only people to blame for electing a bad politician are the people who actually cast a vote for him or her.

4 Years at RISE

Image used by RISE on 11/20/16

Image used by RISE on 11/20/16

For those visiting this site looking for post-election thoughts, I apologize for the lack of new material.  As some of you may know, last Saturday I suffered through food poisoning and then, shortly thereafter, fell ill with a nasty cold and an ear infection.  Although the doctor tells me I am now on the mend and have been medicated, I still have a persistent cough and cannot hear properly yet.

Anyway, putting politics aside for a bit, I wanted to tell you why today is a special day for me.  Four years ago today, I attended my first service at RISE United Methodist Church in Harrisonburg.  Back then, I had no idea what RISE was all about nor what I was getting myself into; I was simply following the calling of my heart.  Although I suppose you can say that I first went hoping to win the affections of a certain woman, I ended up finding something else, something unexpected.

Prior to discovering RISE, I hadn’t had a church family for a number of years.  From time to time, I would visit a new church, but nothing seemed to fit.  And yet here I am still, four years later.  Now does that mean I never miss a Sunday?  I’d be lying if I said yes. But RISE has become my home, as it has for others in the community.  Not since high school graduation have I stuck with the same church for such a length of time.  However, back then, the church was chosen for me.

In some ways, you could call RISE the church of misfits, those who do not fit neatly into the rigid and premade duties that some other churches require.  To be honest, it is an imperfect church (though if we are honest with ourselves, every church is) but unlike some places, it is open about its imperfection.  It doesn’t pretend that the folks who go to RISE are the world’s greatest saints, that perfect knowledge and salvation rests with that church, and that the rest of the world is comprised of little more than sinners and heretics.  Then again, if everyone acted and thought in perfect lockstep, there would be no chance for dialogue and no prospect for either growth or change.  Their often repeated mission statement is “mending God’s creation together”.

Although I suppose I could make a specific list, let me just say that I am grateful for not only the folks who lead RISE, but for many of the attendees as well.

Yes, I wouldn’t have predicted many of the journeys that I’ve shared with the RISE community from late 2012 to the present day.  What is next?  Where will we go from here?  Who can say?

The Schmookler & Huffman Show (Episode XLI)

img_0140This morning, Wednesday, November 9th, Andy Schmookler and I (Joshua Huffman) returned to WSVA 550 AM to discuss the surprising results of the 2016 presidential election.  Although pollsters had predicted a fairly sizable win for Hillary Clinton (as did Andy and me during our October show), many were shocked by Trump’s upset.

In this episode, we discuss the election, what happened to create such a victory, and what this could mean for the future of the United States.  As always, if you missed the show live, you can listen to it here.

Voting & Polling in Harrisonburg

Putting up a Gary Johnson sign last night.

Putting up a Gary Johnson sign last night.

At about 1 PM, I visited my polling place, Keister Elementary, to cast my ballot in the 2016 election.  The drive leading up to the school was blanketed with signs for the various candidates.  Outside of the building, there were people handing out both Republican and Democratic sample ballots.  The fact that the Republicans openly encouraged voters to cast their ballots for Independent City Council candidate George Hirschmann seemed to further prove that he is not, in fact, an independent, but rather a Republican who is trying to obscure his party status.  In addition, a woman stood outside conducting an exit poll, which I thought was quite exciting!  More on this issue in a moment.

I expected that there would be quite a long line inside, but was surprised that I only had to wait for a minute or two.  Apparently, traffic had been particularly heavy earlier and many people had already voted, but I just happened to be there during a lull.

Voting was actually fairly difficult this year.  I knew my vote for president, of course, but hadn’t decided upon the names for my write-ins for various offices where I either didn’t know or care much for the candidates listed.

Anyway, when I got back outside, the pollster asked for whom I cast my ballot for president and whether I had voted in the 2012 presidential election.  I told her that I voted for the same candidate in 2016 that I did in 2012.  I then asked if she could tell me the results of her poll thus far.  Although I expect that Hillary Clinton will win Harrisonburg, given that Keister is one of the most Republican precincts in the city I assumed that Donald Trump would be winning the exit poll or that it would be very close.  However, that was not the case.  Of the multitude of respondents, about 60% said they voted for Clinton, 30% were for Trump, and Gary Johnson, Jill Stein, Evan McMullin, and write-ins split the remaining approximate 10%.  Yes, in this exit poll Clinton had about twice the votes that Trump had.  The pollster theorized that perhaps Trump voters were far less likely to admit that they cast their ballots for Trump, but I thought this unlikely.  What it told me is that if these numbers hold, Hillary Clinton will win Harrisonburg by a far larger margin than I anticipated and will likely perform even better in Virginia than what people say.  If she wins Virginia by a sizable factor, then it might end up being a very quick election night reminiscent of 1996 when Bill Clinton bested Bob Dole.

Yes, Keister is only one of many polling places in Harrisonburg, but the exit poll doesn’t seem to bode well for Mr. Trump and the Republicans.  It will be fun to discover if this poll is accurate or not!

The Worst Election

Image from ifunny.co

Image from ifunny.co

Tomorrow, millions of Americans will go to the polls and cast their votes for electors for president.   Although I started following politics in 1994, volunteered on my first campaign in 1995, and cast my first vote for president in 2000, this election has been, without a doubt, the worst election I’ve ever seen.

There are several reasons that 2016 has been particularly terrible.  First is the candidates themselves.  Both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are some of the most reviled people in American politics.  Whether it’s due to perceptions of corruption and dishonesty, or claims of racism and sexism, the average American has a negative perception of both.  Most Republicans who once condemned Trump and Democrats who declared Clinton unacceptable during their respective party primaries, in a display of blatant hypocrisy, have since come out in favor of their candidates.  It is amazing to me that some people can give all sorts of reasons why a candidate is abysmal and should not be elected, but then completely ignore these glaring flaws simply due to their attachment to party labels.

Now, we do have third party choices too; in Virginia, we have five candidates on the ballot.  Besides Trump and Clinton, we also have Johnson (Libertarian), Stein (Green), and McMullin (Independent).  However, none of these candidates have been particularly outstanding, nor have they run particularly competent campaigns, nor have they made much of an effort to make either a long or short-term effect on politics in this state.  But, even if this weren’t the case, the media and the political system itself has done a pretty good job marginalizing third party candidates, framing the election as a choice between the lesser of two evils, and, there is little doubt in my mind that both the Republican and Democratic choices are indeed evil and thus unsupportable.

However, what I would say is the absolute worst aspect of this election has been the nastiness exhibited by average Americans.  Yes, we all have differing political opinions, but rather than expressing these views with civility and respecting opposing viewpoints, many have resorted to personal attacks and name-calling.  As one metric, in every election cycle, I have lost several Facebook friends.  However, in the last several months of this election, I have either been defriended or have defriended by at last a dozen folks.  The majority have been Republicans and/or Trump supporters, though to be fair, I know far more Republicans than Democrats.  While some have quietly defriended me because of my steadfast belief that Donald Trump is unfit for office or due to my inclination to cast my vote for Gary Johnson, others have been unbelievably nasty.  Yes, some say things like I am throwing my vote away, but others have told me that Donald Trump is owed my vote and if I vote for any other candidate I must be: an idiot, moron, stupid, a fool, ignorant, a traitor, or even suffering from a mental disorder.  Besides the name calling, they say that this election is simply too important and thus I must surrender my political free will by helping elect an evil person in order to prevent someone who is even worse from winning.  Although I’d like to think that my friends could show at least a modest amount of  respect, this election has brought out the worst in some people.  There are both good and bad people supporting Clinton & Trump as well as sound and poor reasons to cast a vote for them and the same can be said of the various third party candidates.

Last week, I met my pastor at a local cafe, mainly to discuss politics and, at the end of our talk, she asked if I would give the opening prayer at church the Sunday before the election.  I agreed to do so and, after thinking about these recent experiences, offered something similar to what is below.

Dear God,

First, let me thank you for those who came out to hear your word this morning at Court Square Theater. Yes, some days it is difficult to come, maybe because the message is tough, or we’d rather watch football in London, or maybe it’s just that our beds are simply too darn comfy.

With the advent of next election in just a few short days, we have struggled mightily as a people. We have been divided into camps and told that we must hate those who hold opinions different than our own. Whether we consider ourselves to be Democrats or Republicans, or Libertarians or Greens, independents or something else, are we not all made in your image? Is it your plan for us to make our friends and family enemies due to mere political disagreements? So many pundits and politicians have been goading us into fear, urging us to make choices based on which person or persons we detest the least. Where once there was reasoned political dialogue, as we get closer and closer to Tuesday, civility has all but disappeared and has been replaced with naming calling and insults. The temptation to lash out in the same way others treat us is strong, but we ask that you would imbue us with the strength not to fall into this trap. Remind us that we are your people and you call us to be better than this world.

We pray for our pastor, our theologian in resident, our worship team, and each and every person here today, and those who are unable to join us. May you watch over us, guide us in your wisdom, and correct us when we stray. Please direct our nation and our leaders, no matter which candidate emerges the winner in Tuesday’s election and may we be mindful and courteous to everyone even when some people attempt to divide us over our skin colour, sex, national origin, and yes, even political affiliation.

In the name of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Saviour, we ask these things.

Amen

As I told the JMU student that I am tutoring, Election Day to me is like Christmas is to most people.  However, this year I am relatively certain that I don’t want most of the gifts the American people will be unwrapping tomorrow but unfortunately we can’t return them.  My great hope is that no matter how things turn out, Tuesday will be the end of the awful 2016 elections, citizens will accept the results, we can put this particularly nasty season behind us, our overblown fears will subside, and we can work for greater civility and support candidates that actually share our values, as opposed to relying on party labels and this whole lesser of two evils nonsense.

No Faith & No Freedom

faith-freedom-logoEarlier this month, the nonprofit group Faith & Freedom Coalition released their voter guides for the 2016 election.  On their website, they offer free “nonpartisan”  information.  Simply click on the link for your state, and presumably, you receive information tailor-made for your ballot.  Interested to see what they had to say, I decided to check it out.  For Virginia, they listed Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump as well as their stances of a variety of issues.  However, here in Virginia, five candidates qualified to make the ballot for president.  In case you didn’t know, the other candidates are Gary Johnson (Libertarian), Evan McMullin (Independent), and Jill Stein (Green).  Would the Faith & Freedom Coalition really leave out over half the candidates?

I decided to try another state.  After all, only three candidates appear on every state’s presidential ballots, but some states feature candidates that others do not.  The results were the same.  They only included information for Clinton and Trump.  I tried another and another and another.  Each time, the voter guide for the next state was the same as the one which preceded it.  Why would the Faith & Freedom Coalition exclude a majority of the candidates?  Wouldn’t doing so intentionally cause them to be guilty of a sin of omission?  Check it out for yourself.

14642453_10154023403516705_7858503810550547758_nGiving them the benefit of the doubt, that they didn’t actually do their research about who was actually on the ballot in each state, I left a message for them on their Facebook page alerting them of their error.  When I went today to check if they responded, I discovered that they had deleted my comment and banned me from posting any further messages.  This response is particularly amusing and hypocritical, especially given that before posting their voter guide they put up the image you see to your right.

Unfortunately, as I’ve written in a previously piece entitled “The Fall of the Religious Right“, I am coming to the opinion that the Faith & Freedom Coalition may very well be one of these sham faith groups, claiming to be nonbiased and nonpartisan, but serving as a shill for the Republican Party to herd unwary Christians into supporting the GOP and their candidates even when these candidates, like Donald Trump, have held contrary opinions on almost every major issue, including abortion, and subscribe to a personal morality far removed from traditional Christianity.  After the tape of Donald Trump’s bragging of supposedly committing sexual assault emerged, Ralph Reed, the founder and chairman of the Faith & Freedom Coalition, became one of Trump’s most ardent defenders.

Given this effort by the Faith & Freedom Coalition to misled people into believing they only have two choices, I would strongly recommend that my friends and local church congregations not distribute these deceptive “voter guides”.  How is a group who engages in this sort of activity any different from the corrupt Commission on Presidential Debates?  Perhaps, if the Faith & Freedom Coalition were a little more honest about their efforts, they should call themselves the No Faith & No Freedom Coalition for it seems that with this voter guide they have no faith in the American people to make the right decision if properly and honestly presented with all of their options and that they have no desire to expand political freedom beyond the two choices that a growing number of American Christians find equally unacceptable.

Not Pretty Enough to be Assaulted

14666152_1149900021742063_6973398896478308030_nRecently, a few of my Facebook friends have been sharing the image you see at the beginning of this article.  As you likely know, an increasing number of women have been coming forward declaring that Donald Trump has sexually assaulted them.

Now, are these women telling the truth or it is simply an attempt for them to gain some notoriety and hurt Trump’s campaign for president?  The short answer is that I don’t know. Neither do you.

Is it true that sexual assault occurs?  Of course!  Is it also true that some people fabricate stories in the hopes of becoming famous or tarnishing the reputation of others?  Again, yes.

However, this photo dismisses the claim of the woman on the right using the following logic.  Donald Trump is married to an attractive woman (as pictured on the left), therefore, why in the world would he sexually assault a woman society would consider far less attractive?  She must be lying!

This is a horrifying rationalization and one that I hope all decent people would reject regardless of their opinion of Donald Trump and his candidacy for president.

From what I’ve read, sexual assault isn’t so much about sex but rather an expression of power.  Abusers enjoy the thrill of dominating another person, especially the unwilling and imposing themselves on others. It isn’t about two people sharing each others’ company and expressing this mutual affection physically, but one person asserting themselves as a dominate party, despite the wishes of the other.  It is an ugly reflection of a badly damaged soul.

When I was an undergrad at William & Mary, I was informed that one of my fellow students and political associates was sexually assaulted.  Never once did I ask myself, is she pretty enough to be assaulted?  Is her story believable based on her physical appearance?  No, this thought never entered my mind because it is absolutely monstrous.

Imagine, if you will, that a friend, neighbor, or perhaps even your own daughter came to you and confessed that she had been sexually assaulted by some rich and powerful individual.  Would you dismiss the claim out of hand declaring, “Honey, I’m sorry, but you just aren’t attractive enough to be assaulted.  This man you are accusing could do so much better than you.”

Along those same lines, what if this kind of defense could be used in a court of law?  Regardless of the merits of evidence, a person could be acquitted simply on the basis that the supposed victim isn’t attractive enough to be sexually assaulted.  What a horrible perversion of justice that would be!

Now, we know from a recent audio recording that Donald Trump has bragged about sexually assaulting women.  And no, that should never be considered mere “locker room talk”.  Sexual assault is a serious violation of a person’s rights and it shouldn’t be swept under the rug simply because the person doing the assaulting is rich and/or powerful.  Everyone should have equal rights and equal dignity under the law.

I’m not saying that these recent allegations of sexual assault against Donald Trump are true or false or that some are true and others are false.  Again, I don’t know and, chances are, you don’t know either.  However, to dismiss claims of sexual assault based upon the appearance of the supposed victim is ludicrous and anyone who promotes this line of thinking ought to be ashamed.  I never want to hear the line “she isn’t pretty enough to be assaulted.”

The Fall of the Religious Right

Image from Jerry Falwell Jr's Twitter page

Image from Jerry Falwell Jr’s Twitter page

One of the more peculiar aspects of this election season is the fact that many evangelical leaders of the Christian right seem to stand steadfastly behind Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump regardless of the overwhelming evidence that he is a bigot, a racist, and a misogynist.  Then again, many of us surmised as much when he first announced his candidacy declaring that Mexican immigrants are criminals and rapists.  In addition, although paying lip service to Christianity, Trump’s speeches and comments clearly demonstrate a very shallow knowledge of the Bible and gloss over or outright contradict the important tenets of the religion.

So, why do some important Christian leaders continue to stick with Trump?  After all, back in the 1990s, many of these very same people condemned Bill Clinton for his moral indiscretions such as his adultery, mistreatment of women, and his deception regarding the whole affair.  And now, after all of the evidence, both past and present, isn’t it abundantly clear that Donald Trump shares Clinton’s questionable (or downright immoral) moral character?  When you look at it objectively, what is the real difference between Bill Clinton and Donald Trump?  And yet some ignore, forgive, or even defend Donald Trump’s moral failings.  If our religious leaders won’t defend the dignity of women and the rights of minorities, what does that tell us about their view of God?

Image from Pathos.com

Image from Pathos.com

I worry that many years ago quite a few Christian leaders made a Faustian bargain with the Republican Party.  These people have such a desire for power that they were willing to downplay or even sanctify the moral failing of Republican politicians while condemning their opponents in exchange for political influence.  Only now, with a man like Donald Trump, does this pact become undeniable.

It is becoming painfully obvious that Donald Trump was right when he said the following.  “I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose any voters.  Okay?  It’s like incredible!”  This maxim seems to be especially true regarding the support of the Religious Right.  Unfortunately, with each new revelation about Trump, there is little doubt that some of our so-called moral leaders suffer from a broken moral compass.  Even worse than that is the fact that they use their influence and supposed holiness to delude their followers into following their poor example.

This whole affair reminds me of something Jesus said. “What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you shut the door of the Kingdom of Heaven in people’s faces. You won’t go in yourselves, and you don’t let others enter either.” -Matthew 23:13 NLT.

I’m certain that these same leaders would not hesitate to condemn Donald Trump if he were the Democratic nominee for president instead of the Republican one.  They would declare that his moral character is deficient and is unworthy to be president.  Yes, I support there are some reasons to vote for Trump, but none of them include his character or morality.  Therefore, how can this behavior be considered anything but gross hypocrisy?

The Schmookler & Huffman Show (Episode XL)

img_0392On Wednesday, October 5th, Andy Schmookler and Joshua Huffman appeared on WSVA, 550 AM for their 40th radio hour.  The main focus of their discussion was the previous night’s vice-presidential debate between Senator Tim Kaine of Virginia (D) and Governor Mike Pence of Indiana (R).  Toward the end of the program, with one month to go until the election, they also offered their predictions of how things will turn out.

As always, if you missed the program live, you can find it here.