Posts Tagged ‘Impeachment’

KINGS AND PRESIDENTS

The Mueller Report is out. I won’t comment (now) on whether Democrats should pursue impeachment. But more than ever, we need perspective. I look to the Hebrew Bible.

Biblical Israel was never a democracy. Yet the Bible teaches much about national leaders. Deuteronomy 17 presents God’s restrictions on any future king of Israel: He must not keep many horses or have many wives “lest his heart go astray.” Nor shall he amass excess gold and silver.

Saul became Israel’s first king. I Samuel 9 presents Saul’s “bona fides.” Although from Benjamin, a small tribe, Saul lookedlike a king: “… no one among the Israelites was handsomer than he; he was a head taller than any of the people.” Some of us remember how John F. Kennedy’s greater television appeal helped him defeat Richard Nixon—if narrowly—in the 1960 presidential race. 

David, Saul’s successor and Israel’s greatest king, offers incredible complexity. And hope. A celebrated warrior—as a young shepherd, he killed the Philistine giant Goliath with his sling shot (then cut off his head)—he expanded the kingdom’s territory. He also exhibited grave faults. David sent Uriah the Hittite into the front ranks of battle to be killed so he could take the loyal soldier’s wife Bathsheba. 

The prophet Nathan rebuked David and cursed his house. David could have labeled Nathan’s denunciation fake news and punished him. Instead, David responded, “I stand guilty before the Lord!” (II Samuel 12:13). Nathan announced that God would remit David’s sin but his first child born to Bathsheba would die. And so it was. 

David’s son Solomon—Bathsheba was his mother—was a paragon of wisdom. Almost everyone knows the story of the two harlots who claimed the same baby. Solomon ordered the child cut in half. The real mother renounced her claim, willing to give away her child rather than see him killed. Solomon awarded the child to her. He also built the First Temple in Jerusalem.

But Solomon, heedless of Deuteronomy, spent lavishly. He amassed 1,400 chariots and 12,000 horses. He also collected 700 wives and 300 concubines. Additionally, “King Solomon imposed forced labor on all Israel” (1 Kings 1:27). He made Israel supremely wealthy—at great cost.

Solomon’s son Jeroboam sought to seize the throne. Upon Solomon’s death, Jeroboam ruled the 10 northern tribes as the kingdom of Israel. His brother Rehoboam ruled over the southern kingdom of Judah. The two kingdoms often were at odds.

A long series of kings—north and south—followed. Some were good in the eyes of God, many bad. The latter included Ahab of Israel (reigned ca. 871-852 BCE), who “did more to vex the Lord . . . than all the kings of Israel who preceded him” (I Kings 16:33). Ahab married the wicked Phoenician princess Jezebel, who turned him from God to the worship of Baal. Ultimately, Israel fell prey to Assyria in the 8th century BCE, Judah to Babylonia in the 6th. 

The  Bible’s lessons seem clear. A leader displaying competence, morality and integrity stands a far better chance of maintaining his nation’s prosperity and security than one ignorant, immoral and greedy. 

Eighteen months remain until our next presidential election. Will Americans—many boasting of their religious faith and devotion to the Bible—have absorbed this lesson?

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THIRTY PIECES OF SILVER

On August 22, the S&P 500 Index set a record for stock market bull runs (an aggregate annual increase of at least 20%) by reaching 3,453 days. The streak began on March 9, 2009 when the Great Recession pummeled the economy; the S&P closed at 676. On August 23, President Trump told Fox & Friendsthat if he were impeached, the stock market would crash. Really?

Let me run some numbers. This past Wednesday (August 29), the S&P set another new record at 2,914. That’s a 27% increase over Trump’s 18 months in office—roughly 18% annually. That’s good. But over the seven months since last January 26 when the S&P 500 set a previous high, the S&P was up only 44 points—little more than 0.1%.

Now, go back to November 1, 2016 with the presidential election a week off and fewer than three months remaining in Barack Obama’s second term. The S&P 500 closed at 2,165—a 320% increase over the 92 months since the March 2009 low. From that date during the Obama presidency—remember, he inherited a financial collapse from George W. Bush—the S&P climbed nearly 40% a year.

Yes, the bull market continued under Trump. But it began under Obama. Did Obama have a better grip on the economy? Not necessarily. A president can affect the economy through good or bad judgement, but most economists warn that the economy has a life of its own. Raising or lowering taxes, the Fed changing interest rates, running a budget surplus or deficit, regulating or deregulating the financial industry may—or may not—produce corresponding market gains or losses.

Economic trends, domestic politics and world affairs also produce unexpected results. For example, markets often drop during the threat of war then rise when war begins. Investors prefer certainty to uncertainty, knowing when to choose between plan A or plan B. Also, investors—particularly on Main Street—often act irrationally, chasing bull markets and driving up stocks until they’re overvalued and collapse.

If you own stocks in some form—about half of Americans do—and follow them daily, your financial hopes and dreams experience regulars ups and downs. When a president “delivers” positive market returns in the present, you might fear rocking the boat, ignoring historical fact that long-term, markets rise. So here’s a question:

If Congress finds wrongdoing on the part of Donald Trump before or after the Mueller commission releases its report, would you oppose impeachment? The hit to the market—if there is one—likely will be short-term. Remember the dot.com boom? The dot.com bust followed. Then a recovery. Then another plunge. Then another record recovery.

Despite market history, some Americans may heed Trump’s warning. They’ll betray the nation for thirty pieces of silver. Or, depending on their portfolios, a great deal more. All to prop up a facade of short-term stability. That would make a mockery of American ideals.

This nation doesn’t need Donald Trump to thrive. Yes, Americans put him in the White House—albeit with fewer citizen votes than Hillary Clinton thanks to the Electoral College. Still, the United States deserves better. We’re hardly a perfect nation. But we’re far too good to be misled by an egotist who professes faith in Jesus while worshipping the dollar.

I have not computed percentage increases to account for compounding, but the absolute numbers are—pardon the word—facts. This post was vetted by my financial advisor, Ira Fateman of SAS Financial Advisors. Any errors, however, are mine alone.

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LEVITICUS AND THE PRESIDENCY

This week, Jews studying Torah are completing the Book of Leviticus. Its copious laws include animal sacrifices, sexual unions, physical impurities and dietary restrictions. While not necessarily the writers’ intentions, Leviticus also informs us about the American presidency.

The last portion of Leviticus offers the Tochechah or Admonition (essentially repeated in Deuteronomy). If the Israelites obey God’s commandments, they will live in peace and prosperity. If not, they will suffer calamities, including starvation (even cannibalism), war and exile among the nations. God, however, doesn’t intend to punish the Israelites on a whim. God wants them to exercise their free will (the Rabbis discuss free will at length) and make proper choices.

Granted, many of Leviticus’ biblical injunctions seem archaic. But the essence of the Tochechah, even for atheists, is simple. A community or nation enjoys the best odds for tranquility and good fortune when it chooses to do right. A society of just laws reinforced by compassion will—eventually—outperform one riddled with anarchy or tyranny and selfishness.

Where does this leave the United States? We pride ourselves on our democracy, imperfect though it may be. We believe that in regularly choosing our leaders, we promote life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. But as God warns Israel, we can make good choices or bad ones. The latter can bring dire consequences.

Last November, America chose a new president. The popular vote went to Hillary Clinton, but as provided by the Constitution, the Electoral College determined the winner. That was Donald Trump. Many Trump supporters had no idea what his policies would be; Mr. Trump apparently had no idea either. But many voters liked that “he says what he thinks.” Mr. Trump said a lot, including calling his opponent “Crooked Hillary.”

Since taking office, Mr. Trump referred to his predecessor Barak Obama as a “Bad (or sick) guy!”, called the media—a bulwark of democracy—a “disgrace” for spreading “fake news,” and labeled James Comey, the FBI director looking into Trump campaign connections to Russia, a “showboat” and “grandstander.” That was after he allegedly asked Mr. Comey to go easy on fired national security advisor Mike Flynn—and before Mr. Trump revealed sensitive intelligence concerning ISIS airline bomb plots to two senior Russian officials.

On Wednesday, the Justice Department appointed former FBI director Robert Mueller as special counsel to determine if the Trump campaign engaged in collusion with Russia. Mr. Mueller will be given wide latitude, including the power to bring criminal charges. Mr. Trump issued a brief statement welcoming the special counsel. Then he backtracked, calling the investigation a “witch hunt.”

Mr. Mueller may find no grounds to impeach Mr. Trump. (Trial in the Senate would follow.) Impeachment doesn’t concern popularity or competence. I suspect, however, that the special investigator’s report will highly damage Mr. Trump’s presidency, very possibly to the point of inducing resignation.

As to Leviticus, it’s not all doom and gloom. God promises that even after being severely punished, Israel can choose to return to the commandments. If it does, God will restore the people to their land. Going forward, Americans and their representatives in Congress will have to make difficult choices regarding chaos in the White House—chaos we chose to inflict on ourselves.

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