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Finding Hope This Fourth of July

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Happy Independence Day. I guess. It hardly feels worth celebrating this year, unlike last year when the vast majority of Americans celebrated the end of trump’s reign with a heartfelt “PHEW!” By last 4th of July, the trauma of the insurrection had begun to fade and denial was settling in, at least in my beleaguered brain. 

One year later, it’s hard to deny that the trump damage is wide and deep and lasting — for all of us, but especially for women and for the poor among us, who are hardest hit when voting and abortion rights are denied and the climate crisis worsens. 

IS THE SUN SETTING ON OUR REPUBLIC?

Life is overwhelming lately, right? I’ve had to abandon this blog post several times. Finding solid words to stand on is difficult, as I stumble between disbelief and grief, outrage and numbness, shock and hardened cynicism. Cynicism is the most dangerous, because it kills hope, and without hope we don’t vote and we don’t march and we don’t show up. And we “writing activists” don’t write. 

A STRONG DOSE OF HOPE

Thank God for Cassidy Hutchinson, who offered a strong dose of hope to those who seek truth and justice in the wake of the January 6th attempted coup. (Which is, let’s not kid ourselves, ongoing.) Everyone says her testimony was “shocking” and “stunning.” I suppose in a normal world, that would be so, but the most shocking part to me was that I wasn’t shocked.

A WOMAN OF COURAGE

As alarming as Hutchinson’s testimony was, none of it was out of character for the 45th president. Not the rage, the violence, the pettiness, the crazy. Not even the part where he demanded metal detectors be dismantled so that an armed mob could enter the ellipse and make a better photo op for him before descending on the Capitol building where the entire Congress and the Vice President were doing the work of democracy. 

OK, that particular bit did shock me. But not because of trump’s treasonous behavior — I just did not expect the Committee to hand the Department of Justice such a clear smoking gun. (Never has “smoking gun” been a more apt metaphor.)

WOMEN OF COURAGE

So if not shock, then what was my overwhelming feeling as I watched that brave 25 year-old woman raise her hand and risk her career — and perhaps her very life — for love of country? As she promised to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth to that even braver 55 year-old woman from Wyoming who daily takes those same risks, only on steroids? I felt grief. Deep grief for our nation. I was surprised by my tears. My hard trump-shell cracked. Most of us knew we were in great peril when that man took over, but I honestly never imagined. And trust me, I thought I was fearing the worst. 

Let me be clear: I’m not saying Hutchinson and Cheney are heroes. They enabled and abetted trump every step of the way. Until they didn’t. They are courageous and they are strong and their bravery may save what’s left of democracy. Thank God for them, and may others follow their lead. But let’s not call them heroes. They and their ilk are largely responsible for America’s minority overrunning the majority, and for the Supreme Court’s dismantling of our freedom and independence just in time for the Fourth of July, 2022.

PRAYERS AND SPIT

I pray fervently for our nation this Fourth. Most especially for the direct victims of the Court’s recent rampage through our life, liberty and happiness: My heart is with all women — especially low-income women — and with Black voters, Native Americans, and kids who fear getting blown to bits at school. And of course my heart hurts for every living creature threatened by the Court’s choice of corporate profits and climate chaos over life. Amen.

Let’s celebrate this day with intention and determination and courage. May we all spit in the face of fear and take a hard hold on hope this Fourth of July.

An Ash Wednesday Confession

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Today is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent in the Christian calendar. It’s really a Catholic thing, but lots of Jesus followers participate in the Lenten season leading up to Easter, usually by giving up something for forty days. Chocolate, sugar, coffee, cursing, whatever. 

I try to refrain from an activity that I feel separates me from God or distracts me from my efforts to more fully become who I’m meant to be, i.e., my spiritual journey. Once I gave up alcohol (thinking it dulled my God-given senses and feelings), once saturated fat (to honor the body God gave me), and once driving over the speed limit (busyness and hurry being antithetical to mindfulness). There was really no question what I needed to release this year, but I fought it.

What the Hell is Happening?

I’m sure I’ve mentioned before that I’m somewhat addicted to Twitter. Facebook can give my brain tiny shots of dopamine, but it’s nothing compared to Twitter. I blame donald trump, as I do for most things. But seriously, the heightened sense of anxiety I’ve been drowning in for four-plus years, exacerbated by the COVID stress, made me feel that I HAD TO KNOW WHAT WAS HAPPENING ALL THE TIME. DAY AND NIGHT. To feel safe, I had to be on top of the news minute-by-minute. Twitter also made sure I knew what thousands of people thought about that news minute-by-minute. There’s no downtime on Twitter. When east-coasters go to bed, I’m happy to stay up and either chat with or debate with strangers in California. 

I don’t like Twitter. It brings out the absolute worst in me, aggressive behavior and negative energy. Because I’m afraid. I believe that the people who enable trump — even after January 6th — threaten our democracy. I mean, they are pretending the election was illegitimate, hence so is President Biden. They now have us exactly where Putin wants us. His money was well spent on trump. That’s not an excuse for my unhealthy behavior, it’s just the reason: hyper-vigilance and fear. 

Trying to Be Nicer

Once I deactivated my Twitter account for a month because I didn’t like who I was in that world. I gave up all my followers and started over. I followed other writers, other climate activists, other progressive Christians, and — slowly at first, then more and more — news sources and other “resisters” of trump. Before I knew it, I was back in the political fray. 

What Twitter really is, is a giant gossip echo chamber. Fortunately, I know very few Hollywood types, TV shows, sports figures, and the like. So I ignore that gossip. But the politics is just gossip, too. Mean gossip. And I get right down in the mud. 

This is all my doing. There are lovely people on Twitter, delightful things happening. Book lovers sharing treasures, kind people comforting bereaved strangers, writers encouraging each other. (Though it seems most of the writers are just trying to get others to follow them and/or buy their e-books.) I like a lot of the people. But I too often wander into the dark alleys looking for another dopamine hit. And so beginning today, Ash Wednesday, I’m giving it up for Lent. 

I just heard Rush Limbaugh died. I could have spent a lot of my day opining and arguing with strangers about his legacy. I might have been very clever. I would have got some “likes” and maybe a few follows. But instead I was silent because I wasn’t there. 

I expect I will be anxious with all the free brain-time over the next forty days. So maybe, just maybe, I’ll take a bit of time to think about God and how I can make this world more kind and beautiful.


To dust we shall return

Trouble with the Trump Transition? You’re Not the Only One

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The guy occupying the Oval Office isn’t the only one having trouble with the transition to a post-trump world. 

When I asked my Facebook friends whether anyone else was feeling unspeakably tired, the response was a resounding “Yes, yes, and yes.” People spoke of migraines, tension, and a sense of unreality, but mostly exhaustion. How else could we feel after being anxious, grieved, and/or outraged for such a long, long time? 

Even if we were engaged in “normal life,” we knew that all was not well. Not by a long shot. The president is a walking diagnostic manual of multiple mental disorders. Still, many also spoke of feeling “ecstatic” and “liberated” and being able to breathe deeply and sleep soundly for the first time in four years. So it’s both/and. Ecstatic and exhausted. Still grieving, but profoundly relieved.

#Irrelevant

This transition period is fraught in its own special way. The president is mostly quiet — golfing, watching TV, occasionally rage tweeting: “FRAUD!!!…THEY CHEAT!!!….RIGGED ELECTION!!” But you can tell  his heart’s not in it anymore. He is like a caged, wounded beast. His suffering is palpable — it feels pathological, like everything about him. He mostly hulks in the corner and sulks, occasionally lashing out ineffectually from behind his bars. (Won’t it be a fine day when Biden removes all the barricades trump has erected around our White House?)

I know trump is still the president, he still has the nuclear codes, he is still firing every effective and ethical civil servant who comes to his attention in these last days. Yet I feel he is increasingly becoming background noise. Irrelevant. And so my mind and body are relaxing in stages, little by little. I think this explains my daily mood swings. My brain chemicals are sloshing side-to-side so much that it’s dizzying. 

One day, I fear that trump is encouraging violence between Proud Boys and Antifa so that he can declare marshall law and at long last have his beloved military parade in the streets. The next day, I meet my neighbors at the local farmer’s market, buy some kale, cabbage, and sweet potatoes, and also some flowers and a stupidly expensive bottle of local Cabernet Franc. (The orchardist told me that Franc grapes are the “daddy” of both Cabernet and Merlot, so it’s got to be good.)

Getting outside, laughing with other people, and spoiling myself brings me back to our new reality. 

Yes, COVID. Yes, rampant racism. Yes, our democracy is shockingly fragile. But donald trump is done. The voters have spoken, and spoken loudly. Even though he continually tweets that he is “just getting ready” to reveal “massive fraud,” he is history. 

And speaking of history, hidden in his twenty morning tweets today is a plea for “historians” (in quotes because I guess he doesn’t believe in historians) to recognize that COVID vaccines were discovered under his watch. Perhaps he’s thinking about his legacy? Is reality getting through? More shall be revealed. 

New Head Space

For now, please take of yourself. Drink lots of water. Drink good wine, if you partake. Sleep late. Go outside and move your body. Eat chocolate. Treat yourself to flowers or books or whatever makes you happy. Breathe in. Breathe out.

Because amidst the darkness that is COVID and the national security risks caused by the man-child’s refusal to allow a peaceful transition, there is also room for happiness and joy and relaxation. As his yammering fades, there’s a lot more space in our heads for peace and goodness. We deserve that. 

And may we use our new-found head space to engage with the January 5th Georgia run-off election so that those same voters who rejected trump will continue to reject ugliness and division by denying trump’s enablers a majority in the Senate. Make a difference, here.

Just imagine if the Congress could once again do the people’s work! 

“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” — John 1:5

I Will Not Enable trump’s Psychological Warfare

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I have experienced some psychological trauma in my life — not nearly what some people have survived, but enough to know what it feels like. What happens to your brain and body. I felt the nausea, pounding heart, headache and disassociation from reality last night, as I watched the so-called “presidential” debate.

When I woke this morning, it was all still there, plus a sense of panic because my cat had escaped and spent the night outside with the wild animals in the pouring rain. Perhaps she felt safer out there than trapped inside with the abuse and vitriol emanating from my computer.

I read a quote this morning that put our national nightmare in perspective for me:

“The president is engaging in psychological warfare against the American people — as tin-pot dictators do.”

— Tom Nichols, international affairs expert

(Tin-pot dictator: An autocratic ruler with little political credibility, typically having delusions of grandeur.)

No Trespassing, trump

So today I choose not to further expose myself to his abuse. He will not be in my head or my heart today. I’m staying away from screens, except perhaps to post pictures of colorful leaves or my cat (who came in for breakfast). There’s a part of me that wants to stay engaged, to watch the war on Twitter, the disbelief from the pundits, the rage on Facebook. It feels like therapy, in a warped way. Only it’s not — it’s enabling. I won’t listen to him, I won’t allow him to disturb my peace.

I’m making pancakes from scratch for brunch. I might build a fire even though it’s sixty degrees. I’m going to read my Bible and my Mary Pipher book, “Writing to Change the World,” because we each have to use the gifts we’ve been given. And I’m going to write — perhaps make progress on my unlikely essay about what trump can teach us about spirituality. Maybe I’ll edit some poetry I’m working on, or plaster my dining room walls with easel-sized Post-Its and start mapping out my memoir in bold colors. I’m stalled in my early thirties.

I’ll light scented candles and drink copious amounts of tea. I’ll cuddle up in a blanket and treat myself as if I’m having a sick day. Because I kind of am. But I know the cure. I’m with Joe Biden on this one:

 

“Will you shut up, man?!”

Choosing Peace

Questioning Christianity

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I continually struggle with the term “Christian,” as I know many of us do these days. For a religion that has framed itself as having all the answers, it surely has some questions to answer.

 

These days, of course, the main question I hear from Christians and non-Christians alike is how on God’s green earth could millions of Christians *still* be supporting trump? Heck of a good question, one that this particular Christ-follower struggles with and prays about daily.

A closely related but more important question for me is this: how, how, HOW did a religion that began with (and is ostensibly still aligned with) a leader who preached love, compassion, and radical inclusion end up preaching wrath, judgment, and exclusion?

Perfect Love Drives Out Fear

How did fear of a place called “hell” become the driving force in the effort to recruit followers to a religion whose God is Love, according to their holy book? Here’s a news flash: To most humans, a wrathful God who will banish you to a fiery place of eternal conscious torment if you dare question “Him” doesn’t sound like good news. At all.

Will the “Christian Church” as a body ever grow out of their fear-fueled need for answers, certainty, & control, and open their collective minds and hearts to the deepest truths in their sacred book? Can they overcome their fear of not having all the answers and instead allow God’s mysterious love and endless grace to have the last word?

“The opposite of faith is not doubt, it is certainty.” — Anne Lamott

Going Around the World to Escape America

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At long last, I have found a reason to thank Donald Trump. I’m not certain, but there’s a good chance that without his spectacular take-down of my country, I would not be here in Auckland, New Zealand at the start of a Grand Adventure. (I also want to thank the Accidental president for dictating that random capitalization is a Big and perfect Win.)

Pondering the Grand Adventure

I hadn’t realized that America’s Great Embarrassment had anything to do with my impulsive exit from the U.S. of A., but this morning as I pondered my maps, I realized for the first time that I have journeyed to the far side of the earth from my home near Washington, D.C.

As far away as I can get.

Note: In actuality, the antipodes of D.C. is a 15,912-foot-deep trench in the Indian Ocean called the Diamantina Fracture. These waters are known as some of the stormiest and loneliest in the world — could it be that the vicious D.C. vortex penetrates the earth’s core, ruptures rock, churns magma, and agitates the depths of the Indian Ocean on the other side of the planet? I’d believe it. At any rate, New Zealand is one of the nearest land masses to the trench, and this is where I have landed after seven hours of hanging about in three airports, eighteen hours of flying through the air, and the total loss of November 5th, 2019, which was left hanging somewhere over an ocean.

Blessed Space

I’ve written a bit about my motivations for coming here, but thus far they’ve been in the “life is short and I’m not getting any younger and you only live once” category. I feel I’m in a dynamic transition after long years of grieving family losses, leaving my pastoral role last year, and shedding thirty-plus pounds this year. Exploring the wilds of New Zealand in a camper van seems as good a way as any of spending a month while I try to open my spirit to sense what God has next for me.

I had not identified the need for escape as part of my motivation. Yet last night over spinach cannelloni and salad, as my Kiwi cousin implored me to explain what in bloody hell is going on in America and who ARE these trump voters anyway, and I struggled to articulate what I have spent three years trying in vain to grasp, I felt a familiar sense of heaviness descend, a physical sensation of added weight, as if I were carrying not just those lost thirty pounds, but another hundred as well.

In America, I walk around with this heaviness all the time, sometimes in the form of dread, sometimes despair, sometimes grief, sometimes horror, sometimes numbness. And it never entirely goes away because there is a Malignant Narcissist in the White House who is trying to destroy my beloved homeland. Here in New Zealand, the heaviness seems to be lifting. This morning when I saw on the news that there is a big rally in D.C. tomorrow calling for the impeachment of our Great Embarrassment, I thought, “Excellent, I hope a million people turn out.“ And then I thought, “I wonder what I’ll have for breakfast.”

I finally have some blessed distance from America’s crisis: 8,774 miles, to be exact. Or 12,742 miles if you go straight through the center of the earth. I have space to breathe. This morning I lounged in bed with my tea and gazed out the window, where I swear a bird was singing something very like, “Thank you, thank you, thank you.” I scrolled past atrocity after atrocity on my newsfeed, but instead chose to read Mike Tidwell’s fun example of travel writing about his 1998 expedition to a place I will not be visiting: a big rock that juts out of the lower Indian Ocean and is the actual antipode of Washington, D.C. 

Morning view over the rooftops of Botany Downs, Auckland to the volcanic mountains beyond

Precariousness Happens: Autumn, Impeachment, and Anxiety

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This happens sometimes, usually in the Autumn when I’ve been cloistered away at my New Hampshire retreat for a time. It starts as a vague feeling of perhaps needing someone to talk to, progresses through the sense that your skin doesn’t fit and you might need to get out of it, and ends with lying awake at dawn wondering what terrible fate is about to befall you. Sometimes cancer, sometimes bankruptcy, sometimes North Korean missiles. You get the picture.

I blame it on the shortening days, the darker nights, and the mood of these northerners who are dreading another long winter of shivering and shoveling. Today I had lunch with a friend at the Badger Balm factory where she works, surrounded by hillsides bursting with near-peak color. As I walked out of the building and into the beauty, the woman following me sighed heavily and said, “It really smells like fall, I guess it had to happen.”

Had to happen??? I just drove ten hours to see this happen! But if you live here, autumn heaviness is apparently part of life. And it might be contagious, even if you don’t live here year-round.

I guess it had to happen

Happenstance

This year the depression/anxiety engulfed me on my first day. It probably had something to do with the fact that our president is quite clearly out of his cotton-pickin’ mind, as my father would say, and also with the fact that my financial planner just really, really screwed up, resulting in a massive tax bill and the possibility of losing my health care.

These two realities staged a fierce competition to see which could wreak more havoc with my brain chemistry during the two-day drive up from Maryland. Although I was listening to an outstanding audiobook (Lab Girl, by geobiologist Hope Jahren), every time I stopped the car, trump was still president and my financial world was still rocking. I had way too much time to cogitate and fret. I watched late-night news in my hotel room, diving ever deeper into the details of impeachment.

Yesterday I spoke to my financial planner over the phone and finally lost it — which I never, ever, do — when she kept telling me how complicated taxes were and how she wouldn’t exactly call this a mistake, more of a “learning experience.” It felt good to yell in the moment, but not so good afterwards. To comfort and numb myself, I spent the day on Twitter. I repeat: to make myself feel BETTER, I spent the day on Twitter. ‘Nuff said.

Hence, my 3 a.m. musings on North Korea’s latest missile launch — from a submarine, mind you, which can cross oceans — which took place while the so-called president was tweeting about his impeachment being BULLSHIT, in all caps in case we missed it. (This was all before he stood before a bank of cameras on the White House lawn this morning and encouraged Communist China to investigate his political opponent.)

Precariousness

Today I have been thinking about the nature of the word “precarious.” It just popped into my head as I was journaling and meditating this morning.

It’s a good word, even better than an onomatopoeia, which merely sounds like the action the word implies, like buzz or hiss. Precarious is more clever than that, kind of sneakily apt. As if you might unwittingly step onto the platform of “pre” and totter at the top of that brief, crisp “c” before tumbling headlong into the “AAAaaaaar-eee-ooouuus” abyss.

It doesn’t sound it, but precarious was a legal term in the 1600s — “held through the favor of another” — from the Latin, meaning “obtained by asking or praying.” This notion of being “dependent on another” led to the broader meaning of risky or dangerous.

So here I sit seeking comfort in language and writing, gazing out the window at the flaming leaves precariously clinging to their branches until the will of a breeze or a rainfall decides otherwise, and feeling grateful for my health, my financial security, and the democracy in which we live. And praying for the favor of God’s protection on all of it.

“All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.”

– Lady Julian of Norwich, 1342 – circa 1416

Listen to Greta, Please

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Please take five minutes to watch Greta speaking to the UN Climate gathering this morning. This is history in the making and, I pray, the future in the making. As world leaders gather to talk about how they are trying to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement, sixteen-year-old Greta Thunberg asks, “How dare you?”

Meanwhile, the American so-called “President” and his profile-in-courage Vice-President staged a walkout after making sour pouty faces for about ten minutes. And no, I’m not kidding.

 

 

 

What September 11th Means To This American

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September 11th: we call it the “National Day of Service and Remembrance.” Honestly, I’d rather not remember that soul-shattering day in 2001, except for the surreal sense of oneness and belonging — the connection, concern for others, grief for the state of the world — dare I say universal love? I do want to remember that. There were beautiful tributes at American embassies worldwide, thousands of flowers and flags and candles and cards. And of course we remember those first responders, many of whom are still paying the cost of their sacrifice. No wonder this date is dedicated to unity and charitable service.

The world loved America that day, warts and all. Even this old hippie drove around with an American flag tied to her car antennae for months afterward. Remembering the unity and big-hearted patriotism that surrounded us in the weeks after 9/11 makes me feel homesick, wondering how we could have fallen so far so fast. The seeds of division and nationalism that plague us today were already planted and well-rooted in 2001, but they were easy to ignore if you were a privileged white person such as myself. I was busy.

Now, though, there’s no denying it.

America is desperately ill, and the seeds of evil have grown into gnarled trees of corruption and greed and white nationalism. Our president and his cronies are intentionally feeding and watering those trees. Evil is flourishing right out in the open: we have a mentally unbalanced, strongman authoritarian seeking dictatorial power with the complete compliance of the once “Grand Old Party.” There may be violence if he loses, he warns, as he stokes the fires of anger and fear at his hate-fueled rallies.

I barely recognize America anymore. She never really was “one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all,” but at least we all wanted her to be. Now the strongman tells elected officials of color to “go back where you came from.”

But here’s the thing: I still love America, even more than I did when I tied that flag to my antennae on September 12, 2001. Her founding ideals may have become a mockery, corporate money may have damaged democracy beyond repair, and greed-driven climate denial may spell the beginning of the end for our species. But that “liberty and justice for all” thing? That’s still worth pursuing and defending with all we’ve got. Good-hearted women and men have fought for those ideals for hundreds of years, some in uniform, some in courtrooms, some protesting in the streets, some being martyred. Their spirits live on.

So on this “Day of Remembrance and Service,” let’s remember what this country stands for. Let’s commit to speaking up when we see racism and injustice in our daily lives. Let’s commit to educating ourselves fully, to admitting and learning from our mistakes, to voting, and to teaching our children to vote. Let’s march in the streets to protect one another, and let’s get involved in the upcoming election.

“Don’t mourn, organize!”

Joe Hill, songwriter and union organizer executed by the state of Utah in 1815.

In Remembrance

 

 

I Don’t Want to Dwell on the Sharpie Thing, But . . .

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Of all the bizarre, twisted, scary, unfathomable actions and statements from the man we all wish we could ignore, this latest “Sharpie-gate” thing has thrown me into the deep end. I can’t reach reality with my feet or find a safe flotation device to cling to. It’s as if one tiny scrawl on a map means more than the entire Mueller report. I don’t know if it’s just me, but I have a hunch I’m not the only one who feels this way. My mind is on strike and refuses to process any more of this.

I can’t even . . .

The person sitting in the Oval Office has the emotional maturity of a nine or ten-year-old, so his lying to cover a mistake isn’t a surprise, even a mistake that could have been deadly: Thank God that the man-child’s magical forecast did not accidentally omit a state targeted by the hurricane, rather than add one. He undoubtedly would have spent the week insisting there was no danger in South Carolina, no flooding or destruction happening; he would denied federal aid and raged at fake media outlets for showing victims on TV.

But there’s no need for speculative craziness, what we have is more than enough. The president if undeniably unwell and unfit.

What I can’t fathom is the White House staff and agency personnel who coddle and enable him. Do they all have Stockholm syndrome – has every one of them completely lost all sense of shame, responsibility, decency, duty, reality? The latest reports are that the man-child himself literally took his Sharpie in hand and altered an official weather map (a crime punishable by fine and/or imprisonment, but criminal activity doesn’t seem to hinder this White House). He faked the map to continue his fantasy falsehood that Alabama was in deep doo-doo due to Dorian.

He did this in front of staff – lots of them. During an official briefing leading up to a press conference, he decided at the last minute to change the map being presented. How on earth could not one person in the room say no? “You can’t do that, Mr. President, that’s our official map and lives depend on its accuracy.” Sure, he/she would have been fired, but how, how, how could they not speak up? There is some deep psychological distortion emanating from this president, and it seems to engulf everyone around him. Smart people. Experts. Public servants.

Most of all, why has the Vice President not invoked the 25th Amendment? And is it possible that Mitch McConnell is every bit as sick as the president? If Sharpie-gate isn’t enough to see what a clear and present danger trump presents to all humanity and what a completely broken psyche he has, what is?

“How long will you defend the unjust and show partiality to the wicked?” Psalm 82:2

 

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