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    NCR Today

    NCR Today: No one would accuse the latest crop of seminarians and newly ordained as being wildly liberal, but change is evident, especially in the area of social justice.

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    NCR Today

    NCR Today: It is time to retire the Fortnight for Freedom and focus on the real needs of our people — of all people. 

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    NCR Today

    NCR Today: On his second trip abroad, instead of defending our country, our values and our government, President Trump has gone on the attack.

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    NCR Today

    NCR Today: Through the recent article in the Jesuit magazine La Civiltà Cattolica​, the Vatican continues to make its case against Christian and Catholic fundamentalism. 

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    NCR Today

    NCR Today: Pope Francis seems to be focusing on people and their needs, as the center of church decision making, while others seem to still be focused on a body of rules.

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    Construction workers in Texas
    Highway construction workers are seen in Dallas in 2011. Democrats have wanted to work with the president on a strong infrastructure program since the 2016 November election. (CNS/Larry W. Smith, EPA)

    The current consensus seems to be that the Democratic party has no plan, vision or agenda, other than being an anti-Trump party. My contention is that the anti-Trump agenda is in fact, at least partially, a positive agenda. Let me provide some examples.

    Democrats oppose the president's efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act. On the positive ledger, they are saying that Americans should have quality health care, and they promote fixing the flaws in Obamacare rather than repealing it. They want to stabilize the insurance markets and keep insurance rates from rising.

    Their opposition to the travel ban addresses many issues including fairness and due process. Democrats assert that, as a national security issue, there is a need to work with Muslims in America to identify and address young people who may be radicalized. Respecting all Americans, including Muslims, and cooperating with them to keep our country safe is a vital and positive issue. Alienating American Muslims and Muslim countries around the world is a short-sighted and dangerous approach to the threat of terrorism.

    Opposing the president on his immigration policy of aggressive deportation is again an issue of fairness. The positive message is the critical need for a comprehensive and sensible policy that recognizes the contributions of immigrants and does not criminalize people for wanting a better life for themselves and their children. A path to citizenship is the only sensible way to address the millions of immigrants who are undocumented. Comprehensive immigration policy is good for the country and good for citizens and non-citizens alike.

    Supporting and encouraging those who came to this country as children, and who are Americans in every way except in their documentation, is especially important. So many of them are talented and enthusiastic. They have so much to offer to our country, and to their country.

    Democrats have wanted to work with the president on a strong infrastructure program since the election. Here the issue is jobs and necessary improvements to our problematic infrastructure. This is clearly a bipartisan-positive issue. Yet no efforts at all are underway on this issue from this administration. 

    Democrats believe the government, particularly the State Department, should be staffed with experienced and qualified people for the government to function effectively. The failure of this administration to fill hundreds of positions in this government represents another national security issue. As crises arise in various parts of the world, who will have the knowledge base and the historical context to assist in the development of a coherent strategy?

    Finally, Democrats believe we need to hold Russia accountable for its actions during the election and since. There is evidence that President Vladimir Putin is taking actions in different areas of the world that are not in our interest. Democrats and Republicans moved to enact sanctions to hold Russia accountable for its actions. The Trump administration, however, has shown little interest in challenging the actions of the Russian government.

    It may also be advisable to ask whether the Republicans themselves have had a meaningful and clear agenda over the last eight years. It is clear that during the last administration, their agenda had been to obstruct everything President Barack Obama tried to do. Even Republicans would agree this was their agenda. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell even promised to ensure that Obama would be a one-term president.

    Of course, the items I mention do not constitute a full and comprehensive agenda, though I believe they represent significant issues all Americans need to consider. The missing puzzle piece must include specifics about how to make life better for the average American. Ultimately, I believe that will require a spokesperson to organize and present the Democratic case for America. That might have to wait till we have a candidate for president. The Democratic National Committee, or any member of Congress cannot really fill that void.

    Someone will emerge who can state the case for the future of the party and the country. Who might that be? Although I believe Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren represent an important and vital part of the party, I don't see them as representing a winnable vision for the country, one that can achieve a consensus throughout the American electorate.

    I don't know who that individual will be, but I don't doubt that someone will emerge who will connect with the American people and provide a vision of where we will choose to go as a country. Corey Booker, senator from New Jersey, is just one person I would suggest who has the kind of rhetoric that could catch fire.

    Donald Trump became president, among other reasons, because he was seen as "telling it like it is," and as being an authentic messenger for his populist message. Unfortunately, he has failed to genuinely attempt to implement many of the policies he touted during the campaign.

    A democratic messenger with an authentic message that he or she believes in may be exactly what we need. 

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    health care protest
    A woman holds a sign during the launch of a 23-hour prayer vigil June 29 on Capitol Hill in Washington. (CNS/Jaclyn Lippelmann)

    Today, I just want to share a few random thoughts relative to my most recent blog on identifying the Democratic Party's agenda.

    In some ways, the agenda of the Democratic Party is a difficult one to sell. At the same time, without denigrating the value of Republican Party principles, there are parts of its message that can be easier to convey. I'm not talking about mainstream Republican notions of smaller government or pro-growth tax policies. These are legitimate political positions whether one agrees with them or not. I'm referencing the campaign rhetoric of then-candidate Donald Trump and the policies his administration has pursued since the election. 

    I believe, and I think experience demonstrates, that all of us exemplify both good and bad tendencies. We do care about other people, even beyond our own families. When confronted with the plight of other people in need, we can be motivated to reach out to provide necessary assistance. Americans have always shown great resolve in a crisis to roll up their sleeves and work together to help in any way possible.

    Yet, all of us have another side. I am reminded of the cowboy movies I used to watch as a kid. An innocent man would be arrested for murder and put in jail. Some individual would stir up the good citizens of the town and they would descend on the jail to tell the sheriff to release the prisoner so he could be hanged. Only when the sheriff threatens them and reminds them that everyone is entitled to a fair trial do they sheepishly return home.

    Collective behavior or a mob mentality is a reality. We can all be susceptible to it. A skilled communicator like President Trump can be very persuasive. It is not that difficult, for example, to rile up a crowd of Boy Scouts and get them cheering for a dubious political agenda.

    It is not exactly a great feat to get thousands of 12-year-old boys booing former President Barack Obama or Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Perhaps that is why so many parents protested the use of a Scout jamboree for a political rally.

    The issue to my mind, is that it is relatively easy to get people to see the flaws in others and respond in a negative way. Rhetoric suggesting that other people are lazy or taking advantage of government generosity can be appealing. Finding someone other than ourselves to blame for whatever problems we may see is tempting.

    On the other hand, demonstrating that we actually benefit when we help others is a more difficult concept. Explaining why immigrants contribute to the well-being of our country, and ourselves, is a bit more complicated. It may also be easier to say that I'm young and don't need health care, than it would be to say that I will need health care someday, and the health care system will work for everybody only when everybody contributes.

    Someone who is willing to demagogue controversial issues can be difficult to refute.

    Moreover, many have observed that there is an increase in hate groups since the election. Violence against immigrants, Muslim Americans, and others has increased. Groups that denigrate those they see as different and thus "not real Americans," feel they now have the White House on their side.

    My concern is that the Trump effect has not just impacted those who already participate in or are sympathetic to such groups. I believe the Trump effect has affected the rest of us as well. The civil behavior we have been used to when interacting with each other is deteriorating. Good people now seem empowered to express some inner biases that they have been reluctant to voice in the past. As a country, we are moving backwards on issues of race, immigration and compassion for one another.

    We all know that the level of civility and reasoned political debate has eroded. Every hateful tweet emanating from this White House reinforces a new way to be president, and the need to find a new way to exist in a democracy. Will we even be able to retain our democracy?

    As we draw closer to our next national election, we would do well to contemplate what it will look like and what will be the result. Will we again be subjected to fake news, demagoguery, over-the-top negative ads, etc.? How will we respond to such an election? Will we be only too willing to succumb to the negative rhetoric and believe the worst about each other?

    Hopefully we will remember that we are all in this together. None of us are perfect, but most of us are trying to advance an agenda that will make life better for ordinary Americans. If we can latch on to such a belief, we just might be able to come out of the 2018 election pointed towards solid legislative goals that can make things better for all of us, and not just for a privileged few.

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    President Donald Trump protesters weep outside Trump Tower during a demonstration in New York City Aug. 14. (CNS/Amr Alfiky, Reuters)

    My brother Vito graduated from the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, in 1962. He loved the university and the Charlottesville community. Several years later, following medical school and military service, he wanted only to return to Charlottesville to live. He was able to make that happen, and enjoyed every aspect of living there from Cavalier basketball games, to treating the children of the community as a pediatrician.

    If my brother were alive today he would be profoundly disturbed that the violence of Saturday, Aug. 12, could happen in his beloved Charlottesville. His family, including his son Tom, a recent candidate for governor in the state, were actively part of those who protested against hate and violence.

    The notion that the president of the United States could equate such counterprotesters with the Ku Klux Klan, is beyond belief. 

    The presence, in the White House, of officials who support the ideology of these hate groups tarnishes the administration and our country.

    So now, President Trump has condemned the white nationalist groups, even though his condemnation comes two days late. Is that delayed response enough? It is not enough, but it is necessary. For the leader of the free world to have been silent in the face of such bold actions by what have always been fringe groups is intolerable. He needs to go further, and eliminate those in his administration who support such ideologies.

    There will always be those who espouse extremist views in our country. They have always been around and can never be completely rooted out. However, they have no place at the center of power in our government.

    There is a real danger that such protests and demonstrations will become commonplace and result in more violence. All responsible leaders must speak out again and again to make clear that these groups do not represent the core values of our country. Many members of the president's own political party strongly condemned these hate groups by name.

    This kind of hate and inciting of violence represent a failure to understand the history of the United States, what our country stands for, and the continuing struggle of the U.S. to ensure equality for all. We need our president to lead the charge against hate. Trump has not been reticent in attacking those he disagrees with. He has attacked Muslims, Sen. John McCain, immigrants, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, and many others. Yet he has trouble publicly disavowing white supremacists.

    Time will tell whether this country stands against these new threats to our unity and diversity. Those characteristics that have represented our strength are under attack. We fought a Civil War because we understood the evils of slavery. Later, we were determined, as Martin Luther King once said, to rise up as a nation and "live out the true meaning of its creed." Black and white citizens marched during the '60s to demand equality and an end to the evil of segregation.

    President Donald Trump has given no indication that he is part of that tradition of guaranteeing and furthering the rights of all of our citizens, be they black, Jewish, Muslim, immigrant, gay, etc. We have arrived at crunch time. We have a president who may not serve out his full four-year term. What will his legacy be?

    However long his presidency lasts this is his opportunity to do something good. Let him show that he believes in this country that has been so good to him and his family. Let him stand up for human rights and make clear that he will not tolerate the kind of ideology in evidence in Charlottesville on Saturday. The opportunity and the need is there. Let's see if he can respond to it.

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    Clergy lead a gathering in song in Charlottesville, Virginia, on Aug. 12. (Flickr/Evan Nesterak)
    Clergy lead a gathering in song in Charlottesville, Virginia, on Aug. 12. (Flickr/Evan Nesterak)

    Two presidential business councils have been dissolved in the wake of President Donald Trump's remarks regarding the tragedy in Charlottesville, Virginia.

    Military leaders have denounced racism and white supremacy in no uncertain terms.

    A number of Republican Senators have challenged the president's words that both sides were responsible for the violence in Charlottesville.

     The Arts and Humanities Council has disbanded.

    A segment of the counterprotesters in Charlottesville was a large group of local clergy protesting the hate espoused by the groups who marched.

    I received an e-mail from my niece in Charlottesville who expressed her disappointment that she saw no Catholic priests represented in the clergy group. I have also been eagerly waiting for some word from the pulpit that even acknowledged awareness of what had taken place in Charlottesville. I have heard none. 

    I know there has been a pre-Charlottesville statement from the Catholic bishops attacking discrimination against immigrants and others.

    I don't doubt that there are other examples of Catholic involvement in supporting equality for all. I also have no doubt, however, that it is not nearly enough.

    I guess my problem is that I was in the seminary during the civil rights movement of the 1960s. The involvement of the Catholic Church during that period was a major element of the movement. Blacks and whites marching arm in arm to demand an end to segregation was the norm. Catholic priests were visible at every demonstration. 

    Somehow, it seems that the traditionalist movement in the church has so highlighted the sacredness of the clergy that priests have found themselves back in the sacristy. We have lost the social activism of the '60s when the reality is that there is little reason to consider the priesthood a bastion of the sacred. Our clergy needs to be out there in the streets more now than perhaps any time in our history.

    I have to add another note to this blog post. On Sunday, our pastor did acknowledge the problems in Charlottesville and talked about how we had to show Christian love to those who were different. I was pleased that he made this effort. It was still weak. He seemed to send mixed messages. He said this had nothing to do with politics. He mentioned white supremacy but didn't mention Nazis. The first part of his message seemed to echo some of the anti-Semitism found in the Scriptures.

    I know I live in an area that supports Trump, and the pastor felt he needed to be careful. Yet, I also know clergy were often severely criticized by their parishioners in the '60s, but they held fast to doing what they were convinced was the right thing to do.

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    Trump's evangelicals
    Johnnie Moore, top right, stands behind President Donald Trump as he talks with evangelical supporters at the White House on July 11. (RNS/courtesy of Johnnie Moore)

    A member of President Donald Trump's evangelical advisory board, Johnnie Moore, talks about why he will continue to support the president and will not resign. He sees his role as a spiritual advisor to those who work in the White House and to foster prayer for the success of this administration. Moore claims that he can't think of a single Christian leader who hasn't spoken out against white supremacy, and he feels the media coverage has not been fair.

    Moore goes on to say that evangelicals have seen progress on judges, religious liberty, right-to-life issues, and foreign policy. He says, "You only make a difference if you have a seat at the table." He adds, "We are not responsible for whether we are able to make a difference, but whether we tried."

    In an article in USA Today, Jonathan Merritt sees it quite differently. Merritt sees a major disconnect between what evangelicals are presumed to believe and their allegiance to Trump. He sees evangelicals as squandering their moral authority by sticking with Trump.

    Merritt cites numerous examples. Evangelicals have historically opposed pornography and gambling. Trump appeared in Playboy magazine and has owned casinos. They decry secularization in our society, yet Trump does not regularly attend church. They oppose same-sex marriage, but Trump says he will not seek to overturn its legalization.

    Trump nominated a gay man to be his ambassador to NATO. Members of Trump's advisory board said they would support the decision. Yet a few years earlier, when candidate Mitt Romney selected the same man as a foreign policy advisor, religious leaders revolted.

    When questioned about Trump's willingness to launch a nuclear attack against North Korea, Robert Jeffress, member of the president's advisory board, had this to say: "God has given Trump authority to take out Kim Jong Un."

    Jeffress also says a majority of the board is just as supportive of the president as they were on the first day of his presidency. Only one member of the committee resigned in the wake of the events in Charlottesville. Other board members say they can think of no comment or behavior that would cause them to resign.

    Merritt closes his article by noting that Christianity has never fared well when it has chosen to align itself with partisan powers. He wonders whether these leaders actually believe in the values they claim to hold. Merritt sees their ongoing support of Trump as tarnishing their reputation. He believes they are losing their ability to move the broader society in their direction on major issues.

    I cannot speak for evangelicals, but I do think the time has come for Christians to take a stand. As I said in my most recent blog post, Catholic clergy need to be highly visible in the fight against discrimination and hate.

    We are getting a daily dose of rhetoric and actions that demean or harm one or more segments of our nation's population. The pardon of Sheriff Joe Arpaio is but the latest example.

    We cannot sit on the sidelines any longer. What do we believe? How can and should we make our beliefs known to resist this president and the direction he is wittingly or unwittingly taking this country?