What we must not do

Although none of these assumptions can be taken for granted, let’s assume that Trump’s presidency will feature more or less what his campaign promised, that his term in office will be limited to 1260 1460 days, and that it will come to be widely derided as a disaster for the country. If we look back at the Church’s dealings with governments around the world during the last hundred years, we can see things in retrospect that the Church and its members should have avoided in the past that suggest things that we should avoid now.

Let’s be clear at the outset, though, that the Church can’t simply avoid all dealings with any government, especially the U.S. government. And it is naïve to think that anyone emerges from life under an oppressive government smelling like roses. The most effective resisters have often been deeply complicit in the system they are resisting. Refraining from joining a protest is not the same as complicity.

And yet there is the potential for active complicity that must be avoided, both for the sake of doing the right thing and for the sake of future generations in need of moral examples. Some of these are hills worth dying on.

Involvement in deportation. In retrospect, it is clear that the Church, like the United States in general, should have done more to welcome refugees in the 1930s and 1940s, even if that would have been an unpopular position during an isolationist time. Since then, welcoming refugees, speaking out for immigrants, and aiding minority religious communities has become one of the Church’s public faces. Official statements urging compassion and restraint should continue. Church members should avoid aiding mass deportations. Above all, members should not provide information about the immigration status of other members or neighbors. History has not been kind to informants.

War crimes. While the Church as an institution is not at risk, the actions of individual members may nevertheless bring the Church as a whole into discredit. A decade from now, few people will accept the excuse that you were merely following orders to take part in torture, the intentional targeting of civilians, or the pillaging of other nations. Church members should avoid planning or carrying out war crimes or anything like unto it.

Campus speeches. BYU: you cannot invite this man to speak or accept an offer from him. You cannot control the message of someone who cannot control himself. There are many other government officials to welcome to campus, but not this one. Sending the choir to sing “America the Beautiful” was perhaps merely a way to avoid a political spat, but it was also a reasonable attempt to preach the words “God mend thine every flaw, / Confirm thy soul in self-control, / Thy liberty in law” to someone who needs to hear them. Perhaps some people were touched by the choir in some positive way, and the cost was worth it. But a sober assessment of the choir’s performance would find, I think, that any intended message was lost in the din of an inauguration that rejected traditional rhetoric of inclusiveness and unity. The Church’s message will be drowned out if it provides a platform for this president.

Dividing against ourselves. I hate how this presidency dominates all news and all forms of media to the exclusion of most other topics. (And I resolve to pause from posting on political topics for a while, world events permitting.) I hate how it divides us into camps of supporters and bystanders and resisters and those who don’t resist enough and those who resist in the wrong way. Unless we find a way to maintain community despite him, the terrorists have won.

There are undoubtedly more things that I have overlooked, and some of my judgments are quite possibly wrong. Maybe there will be something that far outweighs the cost of letting this president speak on campus. I usually hope that Church leaders studiously ignore the opinions of Internet ranters, but if anyone wants to know where I would draw the line, this is what I would choose.

27 comments for “What we must not do

  1. President Trump is a misdirection and ultimately, I believe, a scapegoat. If you do not think that what he has been implementing and approving is not 100% the message of the Republican base and leadership, you have not been paying attention.

    Perhaps this is not what a “Mormon” Republican would believe, but…

  2. Dick Cheney gave the commencement at BYU because it was about the only school that wouldn’t have booed him off the stage. I could see Trump giving the commencement at BYU for the same reason.

  3. The students at BYU are smart enough to boo Trump off stage. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for Mormons in general.

  4. “If you do not think that what he has been implementing and approving is not 100% the message of the Republican base and leadership, you have not been paying attention.”
    I know plenty of Republicans who despise Trump. I was, until recently, registered as a Republican and also a #NeverTrumper.
    Your absolutist rhetoric is easily disproven.

  5. I’d like to know more about the Church’s stance on immigration in the 1930s and 40s. Are there any sources you can recommend for further study?

  6. Mary, there are certainly elements of the current Republican Party base and leadership that are 100% behind Trump, but I doubt he is simply a puppet of their demands. He can’t do anything without willing Republican enablers, but the initiative seems to start at the top. As Ben points out, the Republican Party is still a diverse coalition with competing interests, for now.

    Tim, I give members of the Church more credit than you do. I don’t pretend to have access to a representative sample of American Mormons, but I haven’t detected many signs of enthusiasm. If BYU students can manage it, I suspect the rest of us can, too.

    Tom, that’s a good question, and I hope someone who has looked at that part of history will suggest something. I can’t recommend the things I’ve read that come to mind, unfortunately, unless you enjoy tendentious interpretations and bibliographic dead ends.

  7. Thanks for this. I think your last point is particularly important. Trump is a man whose personality and policies have been reviled not just by liberals and Democrats in the past, but also conservatives and Republicans. Mitt Romney said his policies would enable trickle down racism, misogyny, and xenophobia. Ted Cruz called him a pathological liar. Paul Ryan called him out on racist remarks against a US-born judge with Mexican parents. His approval rating is below 40%, which is extremely low for an incoming president. Let’s take the opportunity of Trump’s presidency to unite behind basic principles upon which the US was founded and reject authoritarianism and xenophobia.

  8. The Mormon News Room just published this today, which is of some revelance:

    “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is concerned about the temporal and spiritual welfare of all of God’s children across the earth, with special concern for those who are fleeing physical violence, war and religious persecution. The Church urges all people and governments to cooperate fully in seeking the best solutions to meet human needs and relieve suffering.”

  9. A similar post could be written against Barack Obama
    — 2.5 million deported during his presidency
    — plenty of war crime accusations
    — also needs to be reminded of “thy liberty in law” given the numerous overreaching executive orders
    — dividing us against ourselves with Obamacare, “bitter clingers” comment, policies of AG Eric Holder, etc.

    Would the OP also recommend that BYU not invite Barack Obama to speak? Would the OP also state that those who supported Barack Obama were not providing moral examples for future generations?

  10. It has only been eight days. Looks like liberals are going to have a really rough four years.

  11. “History has not been kind to informants.”

    Despite the best efforts of the modern anti-narc culture, this is false as a blanket statement.

  12. Bryan, the rhetorical framework of “But, but…Obama” expired a week ago. It is true that there were many things to criticize about his presidency, including the rate of deportations that you mention. To his credit, he did not make torture, pillage, or other war crimes part of his campaign promises (or governing policy). And the man can give tremendous speeches, so it’s too bad he never came to BYU. Maybe that can still happen. But this post is not about what Obama should not have done or about what Trump should not do – there are many things that he should not do that he is itching to try – but about what we as members of the Church should not do under any circumstances, whoever the president is, adapted to the current reality.

    Also, citing Obamacare as an example of Obama’s malfeasance undermines your persuasiveness. The law was passed by both houses of congress, survived multiple rounds of judicial review, and extended health insurance to many millions of Americans. If your big issue is opposing a health insurance plan based on Romney’s state plan in Massachusetts, I begin to suspect that you are completely bonkers.

    Anon, if it’s only the liberals who have a rough four years, we will all be very fortunate.

    N. Whilk, it’s still a career-ender today for people if it becomes known that they were informants for the East German Stasi. If I understand your comment correctly, you see informing DHS that the people next door are undocumented immigrants as more like an upstanding citizen calling the police to report a car being stolen (and let me know if I haven’t understood your comment). I suspect that tipping off DHS that your ward mission leader is an undocumented immigrant will be seen more like the actions of a Stasi informant than those of an upstanding citizen. Maybe I’m wrong, but I know which one I’ll choose.

  13. The but but but Obama is important. Presidencies are important for their current action to us now but more important over history because of their precedent. Obama laid the foundation Trump builds on. It’s absolutely clear that whatever Trump’s abuses, he will again lay a stronger foundation for more abuses unless the people of this nation repent. Repent doesn’t mean freak out about Trump and protest his every action.

    Bush created DHS, Obama politicized it, Trump weaponized it. The cycle will continue until you can recognize what Obama rarely acknowledged — we are a nation of laws not men.

    There’s no way; none, that Trump is elected without Obama’s Presidency. It’s important to consider the cause when evaluating the course for the future. Those who can’t see this of course will continue to post outrage after outrage, but you won’t find peace or any effectual changes.

    We’ve broken our system of government by demanding to be ruled by men, not laws. Even the judges make this mistake often enough.

  14. Based on Obama’s precedent the “but but but Obama” excuse still has another 7.99 years left on it…

  15. Bryan in VA, spare me the false equivalence. Deportations under Obama were not based on religion or country of origin. Plus, we have every reason to believe that deportations will increase under Trump and that they will be far more discriminatory on the basis of race, ethnicity, and religion than those under Obama. In his first and second terms, Obama issued 147 and 129 executive orders, respectively. Contrast that with Reagan’s 213 in his first term and 168, and W. Bush’s 173 in his first term and 118 in his second. This is far down from FDR who issued over 3,700 EOs his entire presidency. The executive branch has simply played a stronger role in the government since Lincoln, and for good reason. This isn’t overreach. Obamacare was based on Romneycare, which was partially based on a plan put forward by the right-wing Heritage Foundation in the 1990s. Obama came into office with aspirations of bipartisanship. Little did he know that the Republican Party would be hijacked by the tea party, a small yet vocal and organized reactionary minority within the Party that is far more responsible for divisiveness than Obama himself.

  16. @JG #13
    One would hope that on an LDS-oriented forum that the participants do not resort to name calling regardless of differences of opinion.

  17. Bryan, I apologize for going with “bonkers” instead of a more clinical term. But you – and everyone else, including me, in some way or another – have got to be smarter about these things. We’ve got to learn to differentiate between a law we may detest (but was much discussed during the campaign, and duly passed and signed in democratic fashion) and government actions that are deeply abnormal and violate democratic norms. Decades of treating everything the other party does as illegitimate have made us nearsighted and given us some bad mental habits. Ross Douthat today linked to an essay by Damon Linker that makes the point better than I can. I fully expect the Republican control of all branches of government to result in things I deeply disagree with, but that isn’t the stuff of nightmare I am most worried about.

    P. L., it’s true but banal to say that Trump could only be elected because of Obama. After two terms of one party in office, it’s very difficult to win a third. It’s mostly false to say that Trump is merely the continuation of Obama’s presidency. Again, you’ve got be be smarter than that. It’s easy to point to examples of their policies that are completely opposite. The really interesting cases, the ones that bear thinking about, are the exceptions where their policies are actually congruent. But you have to get better about identifying and describing them.

  18. @JG #18
    Apology accepted. God bless you. My general point is that IMHO Trump for all of his outrageous statements and behaviors – which are many, and I didn’t vote for him – is not more flawed/corrupt than Obama or Hillary. (I.e.,why should BYU invite a speaker who repeatedly claimed that the Bengazi attack was was caused by an anti-Muslim video knowing that it was not the case? I would say that deception was a “government action that is deeply abnormal and violates democratic norms” too!) Your piece and comments seem to indicate that you believe otherwise, which is your right to do. Take care.

  19. “Trump for all of his outrageous statements and behaviors – which are many, and I didn’t vote for him – is not more flawed/corrupt than Obama or Hillary”

    A false equivalence of massive proportions. Not even remotely true.

  20. Bryan (19) I think it impossible to say Trump isn’t more problematic than Clinton or Obama. However we never should have had to make a choice between two horribly flawed candidates. Thank the primaries for that. But Trump’s level of lying and corruption seems far worse than HRC’s. Of course one could also say that politically nominated one of the more hated politicians in the country who was under FBI investigation isn’t the most strategically wise either. Yet she almost beat Trump who was a pretty horrific candidate on his own.

    Dan (16), it’s important to note that all parties have coalitions. Just because one part of the coalition favored a plan (say Heritage on medical reform in the early 90’s) doesn’t mean the rest of it does. Raising ACA relative to Romney or Heritage is thus more than a little misleading. A bit akin to saying Bernie favored immigration restrictions so all liberals do.

    I’d add too that the issue isn’t the number of EO but the nature of the orders. So absolute numbers doesn’t tell us much. A bigger problem though is that some of the EO made by Obama on immigration set case law that Trump can now take advantage of. This means that legally those who oppose Trump’s actions may have a much harder time overturning them. I should add that many conservative intellectuals were warning of this at the time – well before the reality of Trump was even a fever dream nightmare let alone reality.

    Jonathan (13) The “but Obama” charges of hypocrisy, even if often true (especially by how the press covered him) don’t tend to achieve much.The reality is that nearly all partisans are hypocritical and that news is what people think is unusual – a problem when nearly all mainstream reporters have similar secular center left views. (Not much intellectual diversity)

    However Republicans if they were truly about values and ideas wouldn’t be justifying things on the basis of Obama doing them if they thought them wrong. What’s massively discouraging about the lack of spine in the GOP the last year where things they’d been condemning as evil suddenly were excused.

  21. Clark, you’re being obtuse. Obamacare is partly derived from Romneycare and the Heritage plan, that’s just basic fact. The point is that Obamacare was designed to be a sort of bipartisan compromise and is evidence of Obama’s bipartisan outlook. The tea party is largely responsible for moving the Republican Party further right and thus thwarting Obama’s bipartisan hopes. By contrast, Trump appears to have barely any bipartisan aspirations and is acting largely out of spite for liberals and Democrats.

    On executive orders, it is important to take into consideration the nature of the orders themselves; however, numbers give us some indication of executive action. The point was that the executive branch has become more active since Lincoln, largely because of the Civil War. The executive continued to expand its role since, largely in part because of the personality of the Age of Progressivism, WWI, the Great Depression, WWII, and the US’s ever-expanding role in world politics and the global economy since WWII. Plus, I was responding to a comment about overreach. The idea that Obama’s executive orders, on immigration and other matters, were overreach is completely ridiculous, especially considering the fact that Obama was dealing with a deadlocked Congress and an obstructionist opposition party that was held hostage by a highly reactionary bloc within. The executive branch has to execute, right? It can’t have its hands tied indefinitely. Besides the question in my post and the OP is not over the legality of the actions of the president (both Obama’s and Trump’s EOs are legal) but the morality. And where Obama was on the right side of morality by issuing an executive order to defer the deportation of parents whose children were US citizens, Trump is on the wrong side of morality by basically attempting a first step on banning Muslims from the US. Obama’s “overreach” did not pave the way for Trump’s immoral actions. A reactionary minority plus a fluke election victory did.

  22. Dan, I’m not being obtuse. I’m simply pointing out that the fact some conservatives favor a plan doesn’t make it conservative in terms of being accepted by the whole. I consider myself very conservative yet I recognize some of my ideas are out of the mainstream. The idea that by picking some policy idea some conservatives liked meant he was bipartisan regardless of what most wanted is non-sensical. It’s like saying Trump is bipartisan on immigration because some aspects of his policy were liked by left of Democratic party. There was very principled opposition to the ACA over mandates and the perceived expansion of taxes where taxes are any government mandated spending. Obama and the Democrats played fast and loose with the semantics of what was or wasn’t a tax of course. That was because they new taxes were unpopular publicly. Calling the mandate & fines a tax would have made it impossible to pass the ACA. So they fudged (although some of use would say it was explicitly deceptive). Fortunately for Obama John Roberts went along with them with their semantic wrangling.

    This distinction between what a few conservatives wanted versus what the party or base wanted was particularly true in 2008. McCain (who also favored a somewhat similar medical insurance expansion) was in many ways out of the mainstream of the GOP which had become far more populist than in the 80’s and 90’s. The reality was even if GOP members and worked with Obama more, among the base there was widespread opposition to the ACA. Now I think the GOP made the mistake of milking this for political aims. I still fume at the GOP running against the ACA with fearmongering on ‘death panels.’ The GOP of the prior decade would have been fine with limiting spending on medicare and allowing people private insurance on top of medicare. But it was convenient for short term gain (and of course their base was overwhelmingly older). Intellectually though I knew it was the beginning of the end for the GOP. I think we can trace a direct line from such expediency to Trump.

    To say that Obama’s actions weren’t overreach seems grasping, especially since several were overturned by the courts. I say that as someone who was very critical of the expansion of executive powers under Bush as well. The reality is though that much of the expansion of the executive branch has come by the conscious decisions of the legislative branch to avoid their responsibilities. They do this by passing laws (including both the ACA and Obama’s finance regulation reforms) where much of the law is ‘written’ by regulators after the law is passed allowing legislators to pass the buck of responsibility.

    The reason many of us are intellectually committed to limits on executive authority is because we saw what happened in the 19th century and during the early Progressive era (roughly the two Roosevelts) Someone like Trump was inevitable and he’ll use the precedence to run roughshod over our government. There’s a compelling reason to put most authority in the legislative and judicial branches and have strong states with most legislation done there rather than nationally. I hope liberals are seeing why that’s a good idea now that Trump is active.

  23. Clark, I don’t think it will work to say that the ACA was not a conservative-inspired health care plan as it lacked GOP support, when the problem at the time was that the GOP was reflexively rejecting anything put forward by the Obama administration. That was their right, of course; the job of an opposition party is to oppose. But then GOP opposition can’t be taken as an indicator of the intellectual origins of a program, either. Also, how many thousands of pages did the ACA end up running to? I’m unconvinced that it wasn’t detailed enough.

    It seems eminently reasonable to me for governmental agencies to promulgate rules in line with the law to implement it. It’s true that executives faced with balky legislatures are liable to reach for more than the judiciary may ultimately allow. I’m not convinced that we can blame Trump on the Roosevelts any more than we can blame him on Obama, though. I could very much use another Roosevelt right now, or a couple more Obamas.

  24. Jonathan, while there’s no doubt the GOP was being obstructionist it’s also true that Obama’s attempts at bipartisanship were extremely limited. But my point is simply that the ACA can’t be seen as a bipartisan good faith effort on Obama’s part given the extreme rejection of certain key aspects of the ACA by most Republicans. That’s independent of the obstructionism.

    My other point is simply that if you expand what the President can do independent of the legislative branch don’t be surprised when a President you don’t like uses those power. The problem I have is that the process of government – especially checks and balances – too often have been disparaged by liberals who only were concerned with their desired outcomes. Now we are reaping what we sowed. But don’t get me wrong. There’s plenty of blame to go to the GOP on this including Bush’s expansions of executive authority (which Obama condemned right up to the point he found he could use them to get what he wanted).

    What I hope is that liberals are finally starting to see the benefits of federalism.

  25. Clark, for what it’s worth, many Democrats at the time were frustrated with Obama for wasting so much time on unnecessary and ultimately unsuccessful attempts at bipartisanship. I also am not arguing that the ACA needed to be bipartisan in order to be a law worthy of respect. Health care was highly debated in the 2008 election, and then the Democrats won the election, and then they passed a law made possible by their sizeable majorities in both houses of Congress. That’s simply how laws get passed, not an example of government run amok. Republicans who don’t want laws like this passed should focus on winning elections. (Of course, now their problem is they have successfully won all the elections they need to win, and they have to decided if they really want to leave tens of millions without access to health insurance.)

    I also don’t have issues with executive orders in general. They’re a necessary part of running the country. For the same reason, I don’t think it was a bad thing for the Democrats to make a bare Senate majority sufficient for cabinet picks. Presidents should be able to run the government with the cabinet secretaries they choose. The filibuster is antidemocratic, whoever is in office.

    So, basically, no, I’m not in favor of federalism or a weak executive. I’ve lived in some highly dysfunctional states where federalism would have disastrous consequences, and the challenges facing the U.S. and the world are things that require strong national action (by sane and capable leaders), rather than endless deliberation by 50 squabbling states.

  26. By and large many (most?) Presidents come in wanting bipartisanship and rarely get it. Bush did too since he’d governed in a very bipartisan way. Indeed he went pretty far to meet Democrats in the middle enraging the right. He didn’t really get a whole lot for it despite getting Medicare Part D and No Child Left Behind.

    The incentives against bipartisanship are huge and getting worse. Honestly most of the campaign finance “reforms” have made it much worse although they’re hardly the only issue. Transparency laws and better information ironically make it much harder to be bipartisan since the partisan base will know of it and try and stop it. If they can’t stop it they’ll primary figures. That happened to GOP about 10 years ago and is happening to Dems today.

    While I agree with your point about majorities, now the shoe is on the other foot. I just disagree it has to be like that as it didn’t used to be like that. The polarization is relatively recent – largely started in the 90’s.

    The problem with weak states seems different and has much more to do with people not participating in local government.

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