Shine, perishing republic

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It is official. The man who would “Make America Great Again” now owns the record for longest government shutdown in history.

As 800,000 federal workers head into 2019 without paychecks—in a fight over funding a border wall that Mexico was going to pay for—news breaks that the president has been the subject of a counterintelligence investigation to determine if he was working on behalf of Russia against American interests.

Incidents like these would cripple any other presidency. But Trump supporters never waiver, never question, holding stubbornly firm like someone who always does the Sunday crossword in ink and refuses, no matter how Gordian it gets, to consider a pencil.

This is not uncommon. As military historian Thomas E. Ricks wrote in his 2017 book on Winston Churchill and George Orwell, “We should remember that most of us, most of the time, do not welcome the voices of people like Orwell and Churchill appearing in our midst…. To refuse to run with the herd is generally harder than it looks. To break with with the most powerful among that herd requires unusual depth of character and clarity of mind.”

When Sen. Mitch McConnell came to little Lawrenceburg, Kentucky in February 2017 for a closed, ticketed town hall, I recall him snickering, “Elections have consequences. Winners make policy and losers go home.”

McConnell was right, which begs basic questions. Why did the president, whose party controlled Congress for two years, not obtain wall funding and start building? If McConnell believes the wall is the solution to border security, why has he been sotto voce? Why is the president, holed-up and tweeting from the White House for the last month, not out hosting town halls to garner support for the wall?

And then there’s Russia. On Jan. 12, Judge Jeannine Pirro of FOX News asked the president point blank if he has ever worked on behalf of the Russians. He blamed his usual list of suspects—the NY Times, Jeff Bezos, James Comey, the FBI—then said, “I think it’s the most insulting thing I’ve ever been asked.”

How hard is it to simply say no, I am not a Russian agent?

Watching Pirro conduct this interview was like watching a wife waving a handful of hotel receipts, accusing her husband of having an affair, and his only response is, “You’re being ridiculous.”

Consider the opening stanza of “Shine, Perishing Republic” by poet Robinson Jeffers. “While this America settles into the mould of its vulgarity, heavily thickening to empire, and protest, only a bubble in the molten mass, pops and sighs out, and the mass hardens.”

No matter the constant, bubbling, molten mass of troubling news, Trump supporters remain dug in. Ask yourself: why was it easy to believe the absurd claim that President Obama was not born in the U.S. but hard to imagine Trump as the least bit compromised?

Ricks was right: to break with the herd is generally harder than it looks.

If the shutdown continues—and the president has warned it could go for weeks, or even months—how will federal workers pay rent, buy food, fill their gas tanks, afford medication?

A local woman wrote to me about the tertiary effects. “FHA loans have been suspended. Therefore, good friends who sold their home to a buyer who was FHA approved fear they will lose the home they are purchasing because closing dates aren’t met. Domino effect.”

Airport TSA employees are calling in sick. How long will air travel remain safe? If you were a terrorist, how vulnerable do we appear?

Sadly, the mass continues to harden. The new year begins with a paralyzed government. Our elected leaders are barely speaking. Almost a million Americans are either furloughed or working without pay. And the president (Mr. “I alone can fix it.”) storms out of meetings, refusing to negotiate, while also reportedly under investigation for working on behalf of Russia and against American interests.

It’s time to pick up a pencil.

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Season Finale

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As we approach the end of Season 2: The Trump White House, our president—the man holding both the nuclear codes and 800,000 federal paychecks hostage—held a raucous, rambling, televised cabinet meeting while displaying a Game of Thrones-inspired poster. “November 4,” the poster read, though it was January. “Sanctions are coming.”

Wait, was this an episode I missed?

I hone in on the poster. President Trump emerging from a thick mist, his coat waving in an imagined wind, a throwback to the way TV producers once sold him to audiences of “The Apprentice” in the opening credits. The unmistakable vision of wealth. A towering, mysterious man walking away from a helicopter to the tune of, “Money money money money. MON-aayyy.”

And then it hits me. The poster, the entire cabinet meeting in fact, are teasers for his season finale. Will Trump get his wall? Will almost a million American workers receive paychecks? It’s must see TV!

To be fair, the show delivers. Consider some of the president’s most highly-rated episodes.

S1:E1—The Muslim Ban: A young man waits all day at the Los Angeles airport for the release of his 80-year-old Iranian grandmother who has already traveled 20 hours and is then locked in a small room with other detainees for nine hours. An Iranian couple with a four month-old baby scheduled for heart surgery is denied entry into the U.S., and even though the family is already in transit with their sick child, they have no choice but to return to Iran.

S1:E5—Russians in the Oval: After 17 U.S. intelligence agencies agree Russia interfered in the 2016 election, the president punishes them by firing his own FBI Director. He then invites Minister Lavrov and Ambassador Kislyak into the Oval office with only Russian media (no Americans) in the room. Afterward, the president sits down for an interview with ‘The Economist,’ after which the editors describe his grasp of economics as “unimaginative and incoherent.”

S1:E8—Charlottesville: Neo-nazis march in Virginia, carrying torches and chanting, “Jews will not replace us!” A woman is viciously murdered. The president declares good people on both sides, and the KKK’s David Duke tweets him a thank you.

S1:E9—Hurricanes and Dreamers: In Hurricane Harvey’s aftermath, as communities struggle to survive and recover, the president announces his intent to shut down DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) as the body of 31 year-old Alonso Guillen, a DACA recipient, washes ashore, four days after he drowned while voluntarily rescuing stranded Americans.

S2:E6—The Singapore Summit: Not long after announcing a meeting with Kim Jung Un, the president fires his National Security Advisor. Former NATO Supreme Allied Commander, retired Admiral James Stavridis, responds, “You look for the national security apparatus as guardrails around the presidency because of the immense power that’s invested in the executive branch. I feel like those guardrails are drifting. God help us if we lose Jim Mattis.”

S2:E7—The Helsinki Summit: After a two-hour, private meeting with Vladimir Putin, President Trump is asked who he believes regarding Russia’s interference in our elections, 17 American intelligence agencies or the Russian president? He chooses Russia. Sen. John McCain responds, “No prior president has ever abased himself more abjectly before a tyrant.”

S2:E11—Kids in Cages: After Central American immigrants walk more than a thousand miles to reach the United States, border patrol agents confiscate their children and store them in cages and tents, after which Homeland Security loses track of many migrant children in their custody. Meanwhile, the president shuts down the government, demanding billions for a wall, citing “caravans.”

In the Jan. 7 issue of The New Yorker, in an article about the making of “The Apprentice,” Patrick Radden Keefe describes how “camera operators often shot Trump from low angles, as you would a basketball pro, or Mt. Rushmore….His entrances were choreographed for maximum impact.”

As we await President Trump’s Season 2 finale, a new, up-close, visage of the president with the words “The Wall is Coming,” have been emblazoned on a new poster. Will the government re-open? Will he get his wall or declare a state of emergency? Tune in!

The American presidency has been reduced to a reality TV show, the star with the nuclear codes is disgruntled, and co-star General Mattis has left the show. God help us.

On the gaps in our education

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The magazine rack at our local coffee shop.

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When I was 20, I got a job in the typing pool of a big city law firm. One day, I scuttled into the office of a young lawyer and closed the door behind me. “Did you know,” I whispered conspiratorially, “that the Davises are Jewish?”

“Ummm, so am I,” he laughed, pushing back his chair. “My last name is Goldstein, for crying out loud.” When this failed to register, he tried more clues, but nothing he offered up made a dent. “Wait a minute,” he said finally. “Are you telling me you’ve never met a Jewish person?”

I recall my face getting hot and how I avoided him for days after. I felt small, ashamed of my ignorance, sorry for the nasty way I’d said, “the Davises are Jewish” like an accusation, when I had no idea what being Jewish even meant.

I grew up in a place much like Lawrenceburg in rural, southern Missouri. Everyone I knew was a Christian of some sort. When I was in high school, my mother remarried and we moved to a little town of 500 with one church, and the local joke was that if you were of a differing faith they ran you out on a rail. A joke that was not all that funny, frankly, when you bore witness to a family literally and cruelly being run out of town.

The sheltered, uninformed way I grew up came to mind last week when I read that our high school principal wants to hire a preacher to teach Bible class.

Unlike my little Missouri town with one church, we have dozens of churches here, as well as a multitude of Sunday schools, Bible study groups, and Vacation Bible Schools. Most businesses around town have Bibles in the waiting rooms and/or Christian radio playing over the sound-system. I think it is fair to say Anderson County is awash in both Biblical study and Christianity.

When I graduated high school, I knew plenty about the Bible, but lacked so much else. I had a hard time managing a budget, ran up credit card debt, had never been to the theatre or a museum, struggled filling out the most basic tax forms, bought cars I did not realize I could not afford, and sometimes made unintentional but unkind comments around people of different cultures or faiths.

My question for the principal is this: what educational gap is Bible class expected to fill?

What if we offered more classes about how to buy a car or a house, how the stock market works, ways to save for retirement, how to budget and cook for a family of four, how to interview for a job? What if we took our kids on more field trips to Louisville and beyond to experience the theatre, a museum, a synagogue or a mosque, ethnic foods?

Last week a friend shared a story about her church’s Sunday service. The pastor had asked someone to sing parts of traditional Christmas songs and then he offered commentary. Can we sing still “White Christmas,” he said, or is that too politically incorrect? After a song about a boy wanting a toy gun and a girl wanting a doll, the pastor asked (sarcastically, I assume) if we can still sing a song about gender-specific toys without offending the liberals.

I do not profess to understand the purpose of that sermon, but sadly it seems both petty and no more informed than me at age 20. Instead of teaching the Bible in high school, maybe we should have a class that teaches our kids how to discuss differences of religion, ethnicity, and politics with respect, because as I can sadly attest, many of the same folks lecturing me with long lists of Bible verses recently have also made public comments and filled their Facebook pages with memes that do not exactly denote a civil, Christian spirit.

If the high school principal is set on offering a new class, why not add something like “World Religions and Cultures,” instruction that could send our kids out into the world more tolerant and less fearful of people, ideas, and religions different from them?

Filling this ever-widening gap might be the most Christian, most Biblical, education of all.

What healthcare for the very, very rich looks like

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Portrait of Dr. Gachet, one of the most revered paintings by Vincent van Gogh

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I am sitting down the dinner table from a wealthy man when I hear him describing a term I have never heard before: concierge medicine. “$1,200 a month,” he explains, “and worth every penny. If I get sick on a holiday or a Sunday, my doctor answers his phone. Same-day appointments, prescriptions filled in an hour, no waiting for a nurse to call you back.”

Looking up and down the table, I expect surprise, some pushback, but nobody balks, so I go back to picking at my salad, calculating the value of $14,000 a year before taxes. Then I picture myself calling Dr. Lu or Dr. Charlene at home on Christmas morning. It’s me, my throat hurts, are you busy?

Money might not buy happiness, but for the wealthy it buys … and I feel I should say this with the French flair it demands … concierge de sante.

I recall the gleaming promises of healthcare that President Trump made within days of his November 2016 election. “We’re going to have insurance for everybody,” he told The Washington Post. “There was a philosophy in some circles that if you can’t pay for it, you don’t get it. That’s not going to happen with us.”

He told 60 Minutes he would replace Obamacare (the Affordable Care Act) with “great healthcare for much less money. So it’ll be better healthcare, much better, for less money.

Two years on, the president’s plan for better, cheaper, insurance-for-everybody still does not exist, but he took to Twitter on Dec. 14 to cheer a Texas court ruling on the ACA. “As I predicted all along, Obamacare has been struck down as an UNCONSTITUTIONAL disaster! Now Congress must pass a STRONG law that provides GREAT healthcare and protects pre-existing conditions. Mitch and Nancy, get it done!”

What kind of man gleefully chalks up a big win at the idea of vulnerable Americans losing their healthcare? The kind of man who has never laid awake nights wondering if he, or his children, can afford to see the doctor. A man born rich.

Mr. Trump sold himself to working class voters as self-made, but The New York Times has reported, “a vast trove of confidential tax returns and financial records reveals that Mr. Trump received the equivalent today of at least $413 million from his father’s real estate empire, starting when he was a toddler and continuing to this day.”

The Man in Black, Johnny Cash, is famously quoted as saying, “Success is having to worry about every damn thing in the world, except money.” Maybe, but I would argue that easily shelling out $1,200 a month for the privilege of calling your doctor’s personal cell phone 24/7 eliminates one very big damn thing.

An oft-reported exchange between F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway went like this: “The rich are different from you and me,” Fitzgerald said, with Hemingway adding, “Yes, they have more money.” These days, they also have access to dark money and the colossal power to enact or withhold legislation, like healthcare and tax reform.

This time last year, the president had just signed his massive GOP tax cut bill—the creme de la creme of his first year in office—and told reporters, “I consider this very much a bill for the middle class and a bill for jobs.” And then he jaunted down to Mar a Lago for the long Christmas break and announced to the members of his private club at a dinner party, “You all just got a lot richer!”

At a candidate forum in Anderson County on October 18, a voter asked Congressman Andy Barr about how the tax cuts helped regular people like us, and Rep. Barr took the opportunity to boast about what a boon $2,000 a year is. How thankful we should all be! Two-thousand a year is a lot of money!

Well, I’m no tax expert, but I can multiply and divide and I know $38 a week is nowhere in the ballpark of, “You all just got a lot richer.”

Now, if I only had an extra $1,200 a month for concierge de sante so I could see my doctor before her first available appointment: April 25.

What it takes to build a shelter

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Donna Callahan, Director of Anderson Humane Society, with elderly beagle Hope.

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We found Handsome, an elderly Golden Retriever, in a small rural shelter in December 2013. He had been surrendered there and was listed as very thin and a little timid. “I am looking for someone to love me and to build my confidence again,” his profile read. “I am very loving and gentle. Please come meet me and give me a chance to show you who I am.”

He was thin alright, and weak. I rode with Handsome in the backseat for the two-hour drive home, his head resting on my lap, as my husband watched us through the rearview. “I don’t know,” he said. “Poor guy might not last six weeks.”

And yet, we knew what we were in for. The previous year we had adopted Annie—a 12 year-old Chocolate Lab surrendered by the family she had been with from puppyhood—because a woman named Debbie, a tireless, rescue volunteer made it her mission to find Annie a home, and eventually found us.

Annie had lived only eight months, but they were joyful and comfortable months, and we were ready to give Handsome the best of whatever time he had left as well. All thanks to dedicated people like Debbie, and small-town shelters.

Animal rescue groups, even those with recognizable names, do not spring up out of whole cloth. They are born of hard work. Donna Callahan, Director of Anderson County, Kentucky’s Humane Society, was just 20 years old in 1978 when a woman named Ann Garrison discovered the local warden kept the dogs he picked up in a barn, and once a week or so he either killed them or sold them to medical labs.

“Ann led a group of mostly women, and she was relentless,” Donna recalls. “She went to every court hearing demanding change. And while the court finally agreed to let me take over Animal Control, they could not pay me or provide me with a facility beyond a concrete pad with chainlink around it at the old sewer department.”

But this new “facility” was no more tenable than the old one. “That’s when I took over all but one stall in my father’s barn,” Donna says. “We built kennels for the dogs, letting the cats and kittens roam free inside, and when somebody donated a trailer load of food, my dad graciously let me take over his garage as well.”

Volunteers met every month at the library and raised money with events like bake sales on the courthouse lawn. And while Anderson County eventually founded a building in which to house Animal Control and hired a paid officer, there was still no place dedicated to finding permanent homes for the animals they brought in.

Donna and others soldiered on, working weekends and holidays, and after filing 501(c)(3) paperwork and receiving a small grant, they were finally able to erect a small building up the road from the Wild Turkey Distillery, the place we know today—40 years after Donna first took over her dad’s barn and garage—as the Anderson Humane Society.

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Donna is 60 now, and while she would be the first to dismiss any credit, I think it is fair to say her life’s work has been taking care of the most vulnerable animals in this small, rural county, and with little money. Every dollar here is so very hard to come by.

I recently stopped by to see Donna following a weekend fundraiser, the annual rummage sale. She gave me a big hug, showed me a set of little pink dog sweaters a friend had dropped off, and introduced me to her latest arrival.

“This is Hope,” she said, her voice catching as she got down on the floor to cuddle with a gray-faced, elderly beagle no one had claimed after being picked up as a stray. “Older dogs, you can just see it in their faces, that look of ‘I’m not supposed to be here, I’m supposed to have a person.’ These are the ones who tug at me the most.”

They tug at me, too.

Handsome, the sweet old guy we did not think would last six weeks, is about to celebrate his fifth Christmas with us. He limps around a bit, but he is healthy, loves ice cubes, and begs for truck rides. We still have no idea how old he is, but no matter. It turns out he needed so very little: a family, an enzyme to sprinkle on his food, and Debbie, his angel on earth like Anderson County’s Donna Callahan.

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Anderson Humane Society
1410 Versailles Road
Lawrenceburg, KY 40342
(502) 839-8339
http://www.andersonhumane.org

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Handsome.

It’s not about the Bible

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Driving through the business district of our rural Kentucky town, you can’t miss this spray-painted message, proudly displayed on a bed sheet.

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We moved to Lawrenceburg, Kentucky in 2015, the year the U.S. Supreme Court ruled same-sex marriage the law of the land and Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis, for religious reasons, she said, refused to issue marriage licenses to gay couples.

After three and a half years, First Christian Church here has become the first to allow its reverends to perform gay marriage ceremonies, while “Pastors at other area churches said they were aware of the decision and didn’t know of any other churches in Anderson County that currently perform gay marriages.”

We have more than 70 churches. Local businesses display reminders that this is a county of Christians: the Bible prominently placed in the magazine rack of the coffee shop, Christian radio playing while you’re getting a physical therapy treatment, t-shirts for sale with cute sayings like, “I love Jesus, but I drink a little.”

And yet, the pastor of Alton Baptist was quoted in an Oct. 17 article saying he believes only 15 percent of the county goes to church. Why? Could it be lack of inclusivity? Could it be that rigid, puritanic social stances have pushed people away?

Many will say hogwash. And many, as they did on the Anderson County News Facebook page, will point solely to the Bible:

“When you go to CHURCH that preaches out of the BIBLE Gods holy word. You will not find anywhere in the Bible it’s ok for homosexuality. Plain and simple.”

“Problem is ppl try to fix the Bible to fit the sin. It plainly says that not one word in the Bible is to be changed. He is the Alfa and the omega the beginning and the end. He says you will be punished and put to death for sin and you will. Homosexuality is a sin.”

“This is Crazy!! GOD and the Bible teaches not to do these things so why would a church say it’s ok!!”

“You can love the people but the Bible says a marriage is between a man and a woman. I believe the whole bible so are you believing only part of it?”

I am reminded of an episode of The West Wing in which a woman insists it is the Bible, not her personally, that condemns homosexuality. Fictional President Bartlet responds, in part: “I am interested in selling my youngest daughter, as sanctioned in Exodus 21:7, what would a good price for her be? My chief of staff insists on working on the Sabbath, and Exodus 35:2 clearly says he should be put to death. Does the whole town really have to be together to stone my brother, John, for planting different crops side by side? Can I burn my mother in a small family gathering for wearing garments made from two different threads?”

For those holding up the Bible (and not simply their personal distaste) as justification for opposing same-sex marriage, are we still required to kill someone for working on the Sabbath, or have I missed something?

I often hear, “I don’t care what people do in private, I just don’t agree with gay marriage,” and so I refer you to faith columnist Gary Thompson’s Oct. 24 column in which he wrote, “The laws under the Constitution of the United States must not be abandoned simply because we don’t agree with them.” While Mr. Thompson was likely not referring to same-sex marriage, the rules still apply. Same-sex marriage is the law, and the law is the law whether you agree with it or not.

Here in Anderson County, we have a Bible in the coffee shop, Christian radio at physical therapy, and “I love Jesus” t-shirts, but only 15 percent of us attends church. Perhaps it is time to consider this Facebook message from one of your neighbors:

“Well it is 2018. The faith as a whole must evolve or face loss of their congregation. The way the Bible is interpreted has always and will continue to change, and the overwhelmingly consistent message of acceptance and love endures regardless. As human beings we must evolve on this topic. The fact that two people love each other enough to bind themselves before a God they still believe in when it’s purely an option, in the face of a still broad society of un-acceptance is reason enough to get on board.”

To First Christian, I say thank you for having the courage to lead.

To the more than 70 additional area churches, I ask, with so many folks today feeling afraid and alone, is the marriage of two people who love each other really such a burden?

Trump MIA as Commander in Chief

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While there are many things in the Trump administration that defy credulity—his Twitter tantrums, his flailing against the press as the “enemy of the people,” his seeming inability to offer comfort in the wake of tragedies like the Tree of Life Synagogue or the California wildfires—his ongoing defamation of our military leaders and his snubs of the traditions for honoring our troops are nothing less than conduct unbecoming.

There is a famous Denzel Washington scene from the 1993 movie “Philadelphia,” a line of dialogue that best reflects my bewilderment at President Trump’s role as Commander in Chief. “Explain this to me,” Denzel says, rubbing his hands hard over his face, “like I’m a two year-old, because there is an element to this I just cannot get through my thick head.”

On Nov. 10, the president tweeted, “I am in Paris getting ready to celebrate the end of World War One. Is there anything better to celebrate than the end of a war, in particular that one, which was one of the bloodiest and worst of all time?” But then he skipped the celebration altogether, a last-minute no-show for his meticulously planned memorial visit to Aisne Marne American Cemetery, a short 50 mile drive from Paris.

The reason given? It was raining.

Upon his return to Washington D.C., the president then took a pass on paying his respects at Arlington National Cemetery on Veteran’s Day, a long-held presidential tradition.

The reason given? Too busy making phone calls.

The president has been in office almost two years, and while he has made plenty of boondoggles down to Mar a Lago and has visited his golf courses more than 150 times, he has yet to visit our troops deployed to war zones.

The reason given? “He does not want to associate himself with wars he views as failures.”

To paraphrase Denzel, could someone please explain all of this to me like I’m a two year-old? Because there is an element to this level of disrespect I just cannot get through my thick head.

And let’s not forget the troops deployed here at home.

In the days leading up to our Nov. 6 midterm elections, the president insisted a dangerous invasion threatened our southern border, that thousands of migrants who were both on foot and still more than a thousand miles away, posed an imminent threat. “Our military is being mobilized at the Southern Border,” he tweeted. “Many more troops coming. We will NOT let these Caravans, which are also made up of some very bad thugs and gang members, into the U.S. Our Border is sacred, must come in legally. TURN AROUND!”

He immediately deployed almost 6,000, active duty troops to the border. He warned that he might deploy up to 10,000! Fifteen-thousand if need be!

But a mere three weeks later, this caravan has all but disappeared from public view. Where did they go? What happened?

No credible explanation has been given, and “according to Army Lt. Gen. Jeffrey Buchanan, the commander of U.S. Army North, who is helming the operation from San Antonio, Texas, ‘Our end date right now is 15 December, and I’ve got no indications from anybody that we’ll go beyond that.’”

In a recent interview with Chris Wallace of FOX News, the president took umbrage, inexplicably defaming Adm. William McRaven, the commander of Seal Team 6 who served honorably for 37 years, accusing him of being a partisan hack and musing offhandedly, “Wouldn’t it have been nice if we got Osama bin Laden a lot sooner than that, wouldn’t it have been nice?”

These are the president’s own words, his actions, and they defy decency.

We often hear the president’s loyalists insist he is doing a fine job, that the poor man receives too little credit and too much criticism, and that, above all, they did not vote for a saint, a minister, or a moralist to serve in the Oval Office.

What about Commander in Chief? Did they vote for one of those? Maybe they could explain it to me like a two year-old, because by his own actions, the president as the leader of our great military is woefully missing in action.