Keeping families together is an American value

Criminal charges brought by Special Counsel Robert Mueller. Possibility of Russian hacking upcoming elections. A trade war destined to destroy more U.S. jobs than it creates.

The scrapping of clean air and water regulations. The end of affordable insurance coverage for those with pre-existing conditions. Net neutrality’s demise, rising gas prices, work requirements for SNAP (food stamps).

All are possible column topics.

But traumatized children occupy my thoughts.

Separating children, especially infants and toddlers, from mothers and fathers is not politics as usual. It is cruel and unusual punishment — of the innocent.

Americans once inflicted such suffering on blacks and American Indians, but over the past century we’ve developed a more just society that gives substance to the values we profess, values rooted in the Christian admonition to treat others as we’d like to be treated.

What was the president thinking of?

His administration has presented several arguments: seizing children would stop families from coming; the parents committed a crime entering the country illegally; current law requires such separation.

All are false.

The flood of people at our border are not ordinary immigrants, but refugees. They have fled violence in Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador in hopes that U.S. immigration judges will agree that their lives would be in danger if they returned.

For 50 years the United States has honored an international protocol for the humane treatment of refugees. One provision clearly states that refugees who contact a border agent and seek asylum cannot be prosecuted for illegal entry (

During weeks of walking, most refugees failed to learn about President Trump’s tweets that border agents would seize children. And, no, there is no “Democrat law” requiring seizures, and they were not done previously. President Obama had enough problems providing for minors arriving at the border without parents. And federal courts ruled he couldn’t keep families in detention centers more than 20 days.

President Trump had to know that the courts would not allow his policy of seizing children to continue. So what was he hoping to accomplish?

He could assure his supporters he was a bold strongman standing against an invasion of immigrants.

Moreover, by getting others to attack his acts, he would drive home the need for his supporters to rally behind him.

He could claim that Democrats support open borders.

He could gain support for the two harsh immigration reform bills Republicans are proposing and kill any chance for a bipartisan bill.

And he could call for a great “red wave” in November to see that the harsher bills will pass.

It’s a classic “us versus them” move aimed at dividing the strong majority that favors reasonable immigration reform and continuation of DACA.

And it only required sacrificing a couple thousand families. (Reuniting them didn’t add anything to the plan so there was no database linking the seized children to their parents. Strong leaders don’t let the suffering of others slow them down.)

We won’t know until November whether President Trump calculated correctly.

I like to think, however, that the strength of response from the American people shocked him.

They gathered at border crossings and airports. They hounded their representatives. Flight attendants pushed the airlines not to fly the children without their parents.

Laura Bush wrote an editorial condemning the practice, and Michelle Obama praised her.

And Southern Baptist leaders in convention unanimously passed a resolution stating that “God commands His people to treat immigrants with the same respect and dignity as those native born.”

I am proud so many share American values.


Note this editorial published by Idaho Tribune June 25, 2018

Government ‘steals’ to keep people healthy and safe

Wayne Hoffman’s column last week is a good example of the persuasive writing from the far right —clearly stated, carefully developed and absolutely wrong. For that, I thank him.

The article’s premise is that taxing some people to pay medical expenses for others is no different than using a gun to steal from them.

The fallacy might not be so evident if Hoffman attacked government taxes used for economic programs — perhaps crop support payments so many of our legislators receive? — rather than health care.

By attacking Medicaid expansion, Hoffman makes it clear that he believes the right to property trumps the right to live.

If taxing for Medicaid expansion is theft, what about Medicaid itself? Medicare? The catastrophic medical payments that county and state governments pay?

And why stop with medical care?

Schools can be run by private charities. Libraries. Swimming pools. Campgrounds. Recreation programs.

And what about the taxes we spend on having clean air and water and a safe food supply? Or police and firemen?

Oh, we “steal” a lot to keep people healthy and safe.

Hoffman based his logic on one absurd premise. “It is unethical to pass a law that gives the government the power to do that which, if committed by ordinary citizens, would be illegal.”

I believe traditional conservatives would support the antithesis: Government exists only to do those things which would be illegal (or impossible) for ordinary citizens to do.

Moderate Republicans might regret that the post office is written into the Constitution and have reservations about unemployment insurance or workers’ compensation. Most accept, however, that the government should negotiate treaties with foreign governments, draft young people for military duty, and jail — even kill — people for committing crimes. And most consider eminent domain allowing government to decide what it pays for land needed for roads and government buildings as a necessary evil.

Do I need to point out that all of these acts are crimes for you or me?

Eisenhower Republicans even supported the federal government building of interstate highways — not for commerce, but for quicker transport of military units. Toll highways were common along the densely populated East Coast but weren’t happening in rural states. (Eisenhower Republicans actually saw wealth as responsibility and supported high income and estate taxes.)

Hoffman also makes it clear that his absurd premise trumps majority rule. “No one in their right mind would approve, for example, of a majority vote that legalizes murder, rape, arson or other acts of violence against others. So why do we condone the same tactic to take money from people by use of force?”

Democracy does require trust in people to make choices fair to all and — if they fail in that — to learn over time. It’s inefficient, but we haven’t found anything better.

None of this would be so important if Hoffman didn’t head the Idaho Freedom Foundation that ranks Idaho legislators annually. A lawmaker who respects property over life — one who supports little but cutting taxes and regulations — gets a high rating. Republicans Heather Scott and Ronald Nate both scored over 98. The lowest score, 56.9, went to Boise Democrat Cherie Buckner-Webb.

All the top 19 scores went to legislators outside Canyon County.

Greg Chaney, District 10, ranked 20th with 88.9.

Brent Crane, District 13, Gary Collins, District 12, Jim Rice, District 10, and Scott Syme, District 11, all scored 79 to 84. The other scores in districts 9 to 13 were 75.7 to 69.7. (Is it surprising that Caldwell’s legislators are ranked more conservative than those from the more rural districts 9 and 11?)

Life or property? Our votes decide.

Note this editorial published by Idaho Tribune June 11, 2018

Us-versus-them is a powerful political dividing tool

Just how serious is racism in America?

A recent NBC poll reported that not only do 64 percent of Americans think it is a serious problem, 45 percent believe it is getting worse.

At a rally in Tennessee, President Trump spoke of “chain immigration” flooding the country with foreigners, of our trade deficit with Mexico, of the arrests at the border, and of the wall we will have.

And he didn’t stop there.

The president spoke of the MS-13 gang and prodded the crowd to respond “animals.” Over and over. “Animals.”

A “good news” story online provides a contrast. A white man stopped to help a black family, stranded on a freeway with a flat tire and no jack. Not just any white man — a young one wearing a Confederate flag T-shirt. He had passed them by, exited the freeway and doubled back to help.

An appreciative family member posted, “The Confederate flag obviously doesn’t mean to him what it does to me.”

Maybe we aren’t as divided as we fear.

A 1930s study indicated that. A Stanford sociologist traveled 10,000 miles with a young Chinese couple, stopping in 250 restaurants and hotels. Only one refused them.

Then he sent out questionnaires and got 150 returns. All but two said no, we do not serve Chinese (Stanford Magazine, Jan. 2017).

Faced with a real, live couple, people were more cordial than they wanted others — and perhaps even themselves — to believe.

That fits my own experience growing up. Idahoans would say, “he’s not like other Negroes.” They could could embrace both their friendship and their prejudice.

It’s great to learn that we are nicer than we think.

It’s not so great to realize that socially transmitted prejudice can override personal experience.

Apparently, humans are preprogrammed to need us-versus-them conflict and to believe that we are winning — or will be when everything is set right.

The need is so strong, it persists even when everyone knows the rivalry is a made-up one — like studies on dividing blue-eyed and brown-eyed students or Stanford’s infamous experiment giving some students the role of prisoner and others, of guard.

And people use this need to gain power.

During the Populist movement of the 1890s, blacks and whites united to battle the monopolies that kept farm income down. It was destroyed when those in power revived the Ku Klux Klan and passed Jim Crow laws. Whites who didn’t own shoes and couldn’t sign their own names abandoned their own cause to join a winning team invented by their oppressors.

Iranian women had centuries of participation in politics and education behind them and seemed poised to win the fight against Muslim extremists, but a war against Iraq demanded loyalty to country and undercut all opposition.

And while us-versus-them makes many disregard their own nature, it releases inhibitions against violence and dominance in others. All-American kids sent to Iraq not only tortured prisoners of war without orders, but proudly photographed themselves doing it.

So now we have a president — and a party — opposing refugees and undocumented aliens. Thousands supported Trump and joined in shouting “animals” when he spoke of a “them” few had heard of until a few weeks ago.

This is the question. How many of those supporters could take toddlers and frightened youngsters away from their parents day after day?

Or are they encouraging actions that contradict their own internal values?

Note this editorial published by Idaho Tribune May 31, 2018