Trump and RyanFor someone who ran on the strength of his skill as a negotiator – indeed, with deal-making as his supposed crucial advantage over political experience or a track record with social policy – Donald Trump has fallen shockingly short on the world stage.  In my decades as an attorney, I’ve engaged in numerous negotiations, and without Trumpian conceit I have a solid grasp on the basics.  The President, to all appearances, does not.

Observing the epic fail of the Republican effort to replace Obamacare as a case study in Negotiating 101, Trump made seven fundamental missteps:

  1. He was equivocal from the outset. As the Republican bill was being crafted with a shroud of secrecy and then was unveiled to a skeptical public, the White House kept its distance.  There was a tweet or two endorsing it, in rather measured terms for Mr. Superlative, but he didn’t place himself in the middle of any fanfare.  After building a career out of making “Trump” a brand, he was reluctant to attach his name to it.  It’s hard to sell if you can’t own it.  Maybe he could see it was likely to falter, and wanted to preserve his option to disassociate himself from a failure.  But at this point in his presidency, he really needed an achievement.  His travel bans have stumbled in the courts, he’s been dogged by relentless revelations about ties between Russia and his campaign, his budget gored his base supporters and horrified others, and the taxpayer expense to support his frequent golf trips to Florida and his family’s lavish lifestyle continues to overshadow his agenda.  Targeting Obamacare has been a Republican mantra since 2010 and was a persistent theme in Trump’s campaign appearances.  The man did not have the luxury to sit out the rollout to make it easier to blame others down the road.
  1. He made no effort to pitch it to the public. Paul Ryan was widely mocked for his roll-up-the-sleeves power point presentation, but at least he was trying to explain why he thought the package was good policy.  Trump lacks the attention span to master the “complicated” details of health care policy, but he should be able to tick off some bullet points in its favor.  To be sure, it would be challenging to square the bill with his campaign promises, and difficult to explain to his blue-collar fans why they were being screwed to support tax breaks for insurance companies and the very wealthy, but he didn’t even try.  It was as if the reasons why Republicans hated Obamacare were too obvious to point out, and it should just be assumed anything else must be an improvement.  Trump skipped altogether the part where he was supposed to make the case for the change, and went straight to the political calculation of who’s on board and who isn’t.
  1. He identified the bill as an opening bid. You don’t generally start negotiations with no room to compromise, but you also don’t typically go out of your way to flag your starting position as merely a beginning point.  By doing so, you admit to posturing and convey an expectation of retreat.  The better approach is to emphasize the merits of the proposal as already reasonable and balanced, so any later concessions become reluctant steps to gain consensus.
  1. He bullied his natural allies. Trump’s infamous communication to wavering Republicans in Congress was to beware of 2018, at best a prediction of political consequence and at worst a veiled threat.  Sometimes in complicated negotiations, in addition to interacting with the opposition, you also have to work with others that have aligned interests.  There’s an art to finding common ground with allies, but bullying is not the best path to build consensus.  Maybe Trump can sink those on his enemies list, but he has yet to prove he can carry anyone, either.  He already has too much baggage to bank on turning it into a test of personal fealty.
  1. He lost patience too early. There was no particular rush to bring the matter to a head on Friday, insisting on a vote after a tactical retreat a day earlier.  It was another bully move, expecting Republicans to fall in line when as of Thursday the votes weren’t there.  An able negotiator has a sense of pace, knows when to pause and rebuild, when to press an advantage.  Instead of reading the currents and taking the time to assemble a coalition of support, Trump pushed when he should have pulled.
  1. He backed down on an ultimatum. After the vote was postponed Thursday, Trump insisted on a come-what-may vote on Friday.  By Friday afternoon, when the outcome was apparent, the bill was withdrawn without a vote.  Trump may have thought his bold ultimatum would force the no-votes in his party to change position, but he failed to follow through by forcing them to cast their votes in defiance.  Anyone with experience in litigation knows you should not, as a negotiating tactic, make threats you are not prepared to carry out.  If you say you’re going to file a lawsuit unless your demands are met, you better be prepared to file.  The House Republicans called his bluff, and he backed away.
  1. He was a sore loser. News flash.  I don’t think anyone expected Trump to accept a political setback with anything resembling grace.  But it wasn’t long ago that we had someone in the White House who, in a corresponding position, would have offered conciliatory comments aimed at future efforts.  Trump, by contrast, blamed the Democrats.  Republicans control the White House and both Houses of Congress, indeed with a 40-odd advantage in the House, and Trump still couldn’t muster a majority, yet somehow the blame lies with the Democrats.  Trump’s vision now is that Obamacare will explode and Democrats will come crawling.  A sour-grapes revenge fantasy is hardly the foundation for a productive bipartisan working relationship in the future.




dot-to-dot-trumpStart with the assessment by the intelligence community that yes, Russia engaged in concerted efforts to interfere with the presidential election, involving cyber attacks and disinformation spread on social media, and furthermore that it was one-sided, aimed at undermining the Clinton campaign and promoting Trump.  Undeniably, there were lines of communication between the Trump campaign and Russian officials.  What the White House still denies, though, is that there was any coordination or cooperation.

Let’s make the assumption that the Trump campaign indeed colluded with the Russians, and consider how the circumstances mesh with that hypothesis.  As a premise, if you’re going to work with a hostile foreign power to influence an American election, you need to keep the informed participants to a minimum, because if dozens of low-level staffers get involved it will be hard to keep the secret.  Assume, then, a core of close advisors, inner circle only.  With that premise, look at three pairs of individuals.

First, we have Paul Manafort and Carter Page.  Both had blatant ties to Russia.  Manafort, Trump’s campaign manager for a period of time, was a paid lobbyist for a pro-Russia political party in the Ukraine.  Page, brought in to the Trump campaign as a foreign policy advisor by Jeff Sessions, visited Moscow many times and worked with Russia’s state-owned oil business.  In the famous dossier compiled by a former British intelligence officer, Page was identified as a major liaison between the campaign and Russia.  He traveled to Russia in July 2016.

After the Republican National Convention, when media coverage about Manafort and Page and their ties to Russia began to ramp up, both were disassociated from the campaign.  This was at a time before Russian interference with the election was widely known, though the question was in the air.  If they were involved in coordinating with Russia, removing them from the campaign would be a logical measure to deflect focus from the relationship.  At that point, they were expendable to the campaign but potential liabilities as news stories.

The second pair is Michael Flynn and Jeff Sessions.  Both were actively involved in the Trump campaign, and both were appointed to senior positions in the executive branch.  Between Flynn as National Security Advisor and Sessions as Attorney General, they had both the intelligence and law enforcement apparatus of the United States government under their oversight.

What they both have in common, moreover, is the pattern that when confronted regarding communications with Russian officials they both reacted with false denials, followed by a strategic retreat when contrary evidence came to light.  Flynn resigned and Sessions recused, without much of a fight.  Both suggested their contacts with Russians were innocent and not memorable, and Trump himself vouched for both, but they backed off in the face of publicity when caught in lies, without loud proclamations of indignation.

Flynn and Sessions are in a different category from Manafort and Page, because they assumed positions of responsibility in the Trump administration.  In that respect, the story is no longer zealous campaign operatives working angles for their candidate, but high-ranking government officials in a position to formulate and implement official United States policy found to be in a compromising position.  In other words, it looks less like complicity in Segretti-style dirty tricks on the campaign trail, and more like a quid pro quo.  So the billion dollar question remains, how much did Donald Trump himself know and how involved was he personally?  That brings us to our last pair, Jared Kushner and Donald Trump, Jr.

Kushner, notable as Mr. Ivanka, has a position as policy advisor in the White House.  It recently came out that he, along with Mike Flynn, attended a secret meeting in December with the Russian ambassador.  Perhaps it was all completely innocent, albeit secret, and though this was the same Russian official with whom Flynn infamously discussed the U.S. sanctions against Russia on the day they were imposed.  Trump Jr., in the midst of crunch time for the campaign last October, took time off to fly to Paris for a speaking engagement sponsored by an obscure organization notable primarily for pro-Russia sympathies.  Maybe he was offered a lucrative speaking fee and just really needed the money, and it may only be a coincidence that the event was sponsored by pro-Russian advocates.

Kushner and Trump Jr., of course, are not just campaign officials or political appointees.  They are family, who regularly and routinely have private time with Donald himself.  You might ask, too, what kind of businessman is Donald Trump, who made a fortune with casinos and real estate ventures?  Is he known for honest dealing and forthright competition, the kind of guy who might say well, we came up short but we gave it our best effort?  Or is he more the type to win at all costs, even if it means cutting some corners or engaging in questionable practices?

Before Russian hacking and manipulation became a focus, Trump was overtly making rather odd statements praising Putin and advocating better relations with Russia.  The official Republican platform on Ukraine was changed to soften opposition to Russian aggression in the Crimea.  Trump questioned American commitment to NATO, suggested joint efforts with Russia against ISIS, targeted China as the Asian threat, and proposed isolationist policies, all consistent with Russian interests.  He praised Putin’s restraint as “very smart” one day after Flynn discussed the new U.S. sanctions with the Russian ambassador.

As Russian influence in the election and the connection to the Trump campaign has continued to dominate the news, the reaction from the White House has ranged from histrionic to demented.  Trump insisted he won the popular vote, insulted the intelligence community, denounced accusations as the work of sore-loser Democrats, and declared the media to be purveyors of “fake news” and enemies of the state.  According to Trump, the real scandal is leaks of sensitive information, and Obama is the real villain who supposedly tapped the phones at Trump Tower.

All of this may just be the man’s reaction when his dignity is wounded by unfounded innuendo.  Or it could be a bully’s response to justified criticism.  The point is, it’s a lot more plausible that Donald Trump was fully informed and an active participant in collusion with Russia to influence the campaign, than to suppose his vocal pro-Russia policies have nothing to do with Russia’s concerted support of his campaign and the many contacts with Trump insiders.


Colin Kaepernick

The reaction in some circles to Colin Kaepernick’s refusal to stand during the National Anthem, and the similar expressions of outrage when Gabby Douglas failed to place her hand over her heart during a metal ceremony in Rio, struck other circles in American society as an overreaction.  Colin certainty got the publicity he was seeking, and then some.  But why are these gestures of ceremonial respect to flag and country treated with such religious fervor?  There’s something familiar about it.

The elevation of significance to ritual obeisance and blind fury to the point of violent emotion in the face of insults to sacred traditions are the hallmarks of not only rightwing nationalists in the United States, but, too, the Muslim extremists in the Middle East being recruited by terrorist organizations.

The backlash against Kaepernick and even an otherwise beloved national treasure like Gabby bespeaks a current of blood in the American pulse that is quick to boil.  To the far right, a quarterback declining to stand and look noble while the Star Spangled Banner is playing seems the equivalent of a mocking sneer of contempt at every member of the armed forces who risked life and limb to protect our precious freedoms.  The instinct to punish the impudent offender, demand his obedience by force, even an undercurrent of violence and desire to beat the guy up, it all denotes a submerged rage awaiting but an insult to burst into incensed anger.

Look, then, at the Islamic radicals that Donald Trump and his ilk depict as our mortal enemies.  They, too, harbor resentful pride and devotion to the sanctity of core cultural traditions.  When cartoonists in France mock the Prophet Muhammad, it is an infuriating act of blasphemy that provokes an extreme reaction.  When a novelist like Salman Rushdie defiles Muhammad with The Satanic Verses, the world will not understand the depth of profanity it represents unless the author is marked for execution.  In both American nationalists and Islamic radicals, a dedication to cherished values within the community can instill an insular antipathy towards outsiders and an acute sensitivity to insult.

That is not to say, of course, that Muslims in general are extremists or routinely exhibit irrational hostility in the face of gestures of disrespect.  Indeed, it appears radical nationalism is a deeper infection in the United States than radical Islam is elsewhere.  The nativist fervor at Trump rallies and white supremacist undertones in the rising alt right power play within the Republican party are disturbing, and the fact that Trump is not a fringe candidate and actually has a chance to become President is downright chilling.

And the absence of universal condemnation of the Trump campaign by organized religion in the United States, what can be fairly regarded as an implicit deal with the devil, says a lot about the close bond between cultural identity and religious dogma.  The man worships money, built his fortune on gambling, scorns the downtrodden and glories in earthly power and force.  By the precepts of the New Testament, it is not a close question.  Yet to the conservative Christians on the far right end of the political spectrum, his appeal to a vision of a bygone America more in tune with their sensibilities is a lure more compelling than the actual candidate’s scorecard on the scale of basic Christian principles.

It’s not a coincidence that conservative Christians as a political demographic tend to identify with militant patriotism.  There’s a common emphasis on group ritual and reverent incantations, and an element of word magic.  Not taking the name of the Lord in vain has the status of a Commandment, of which there are only nine others of equal import.  So, too, the symbolic gestures of national pride and affirmations of fealty like the Pledge of Allegiance take on a transcendent quality, aligning the minds of the free and the brave with the higher bonds of the American spirit.  To the zealous, the mockery of an outsider is a spiritual insult.

Which brings us back to radical Islamic extremists.  They are humans, too, subject to the same tendencies and failings and internal fires and group dynamics as other groups of people.  For the radical American nationalists, and the alt right political movement surging into prominence with righteous indignation, take a lesson from those you villainize.  Extremity fired by cultural grievance and religious zeal may be a tribal instinct, but it is not a virtue in either faith.  As Bo Diddley once said, before you accuse me, take a look at yourself.




In the world of comic books, there’s no path to pleasing everyone with the selection of gender, race or religion for key characters.  Take a hero who is traditionally white and/or male and reimagine as someone else, and there’s a backlash.  Populate your universe with too many white males, and there’s a backlash.  Is there too much emphasis on diversity or not enough?  The answer is that, for skilled storytellers, the selection of characteristics should be a beginning point, not a conclusion.

The question of diversity in the entertainment industry is a subject of pervasive debate, and is certainly not unique to superhero depictions.  It does take on a heightened significance for a juggernaut like Marvel Comics, however, for several reasons.  With Marvel superheroes (and DC), your starting position is defined by a tableau in which the most iconic, famous figures – the signature elements of the brand – were created 50 to 75 years ago and are undeniably dense with white males.  Whether that’s a fault of the times, a lack of vision in a different era, or simply a mirror of the predominantly white male writers and artists in the industry back then, it is too late now to change the past.

Marvel, moreover, is wildly popular and enjoying a fabulously successful Renaissance.  The MCU is a multi-billion dollar enterprise, and in a state of perpetual evolution with each new movie, television initiative and print development.  The casting and character choices made by such a high-profile entertainment dynamo will naturally have a spotlight that a lesser franchise would not inspire.  The core fan base, too, tends to be a younger crowd than many brands, and the conventional wisdom is that millennials place a higher premium on diversity than earlier generations.

In print, Marvel has been leading a charge in diversification.  Thor is now a female, Captain America is African American and Iron Man is a black woman.  Characters like Miles Moreno and Kamala Khan are wearing the costumes of formerly plain vanilla heroes.  Has Marvel gone overboard?  I’ll assume the creators know what they’re doing in terms of satisfying the core fan base while expanding the appeal for commercial and artistic success.  As has always been the case, it will all depend on what the artists and writers do with those characters, beyond the selection of gender and ethnic characteristics.

In film, it’s been a recurrent source of controversy.  The protagonists in the first five installments of the MCU were all white guys.  Why so long to schedule a female lead with her own movie?  Why no films yet featuring a hero of color?  The Iron Fist of the comic books was a Caucasian male, but the choice of a Scandinavian-looking dude for the Netflix series was regarded as a missed opportunity for an Asian master of martial arts.  Take the Ancient One, an elderly mystic from Tibet, and make him a white woman – what’s that all about?  And now the latest flare-up is the casting of Zendaya as Mary Jane Watson in the upcoming Spider-Man movie, when the Mary Jane in the comics is clearly a redheaded white girl.

Anyone criticizing the Mary Jane decision, in my view, is missing the point.  Zendaya is a much better choice for the part than Kirsten Dunst, notwithstanding her redheadedness.  The essence of Mary Jane in the comics is that she’s a head-turner who knows it, gorgeous, self-confident and out of Peter Parker’s league, a wild party girl who ultimately shows unexpected depth and resolve.  Her first line in Spider-Man #42, when meeting Peter, is “Face it, tiger – you just hit the jackpot.”  Kirsten Dunst is far from unattractive, but she projected a vulnerability and self-doubt that was out of whack with the MJ from the comics.  Zendaya has the ravishing looks for the part.  We’ll see if the scriptwriters and director can better realize the original character.

Ultimately, with all of these diversity choices (or lack thereof), the critical thing to remember is that an accent is not a character, nor is a skin color, religion or gender.  You can assign those incidents of identity at the outset, but having done so you can’t think you’re done creating an interesting or engaging character.  Robert Downey, Jr. breathed dynamic life into Tony Stark – he wasn’t just playing the part of a generic white male.  Zendaya can be an awesome MJ, but it won’t be because of her pigment.  You can’t treat diversity as an end game.  You still have to tell a compelling story with three-dimensional characters who will move and thrill the audience.  Diversity won’t redeem a failing effort, but certainly won’t hinder success.

And no matter which way they go with casting choices, they’ll never satisfy everyone.



Electoral map

It’s obvious to everyone that Donald Trump’s presidential campaign has been a spectacular success.  Look at his rallies – tremendous crowds, they all love him.  Everything he says is headline news.  No one, including himself, can take their eyes off him.  He’s the most amazingly popular candidate in human history, you can just smell it in the air.  Yet there’s a malicious rumor circulating on the internet, and it’s been picked up by the liberal media elite and blared like tuba music across the liberal airwaves.  Supposedly, somehow, Trump is allegedly behind in some kind of “polls.”

There’s only one possible explanation: massive poll fraud.

The polls are rigged, there’s no doubt about it.  You can’t go to a Trump rally, overflowing some stadium, with a sea of people united in the conviction that this is the man who will make our country great again, and not walk away without a shred of doubt that indeed he will be the next President of the United States.  The depth of certainty inside each and every Trump supporter is worth a dozen random calls to a sampling of potential voters.  Whoever is responding to these polls obviously doesn’t have a clue what this election is all about.

Internal polling by the Trump organization, based on in-person interviews with a representative cross-section of the American public at Trump campaign events, shows Mr. Trump with an insurmountable lead.  Indeed, many of those polled believe prison with hard labor would be too good for Crooked Hillary.  Surveys filled out by visitors to the Trump for President website confirm the same common sense conclusion.  Gangs of Trump supporters report the same results derived from informal straw polls taken at a wide variety of drinking establishments.  The truth is apparent to anyone willing to examine the hard cold facts.

Yet the leftist media elite is fixated on the story that some unidentified “polls” suggest the next President, Mr. Trump, is under water among potential voters.  They claim that phenomenon is showing up in national polls, and is also the case in carefully selected places they choose to describe as battleground states.  When they’re asked to identify which polls, they say all of them.  They can’t name a single one.

Some left-wing gurus like Nate Silver try to get around the facts by aggregating the data from multiple polls, as if taking an average is the way to find out what’s really going on.  Mr. Silver, of course, has an agenda.  This is the same guy who predicted in the last two elections that Barack Obama would win.  Pretty clear which team he’s cheering for.  Adding together a bunch of crappy polls and dividing by three doesn’t make him right.  That’s the same Rotten Tomatoes formula that tried to convince America that Suicide Squad was a lousy movie.

The corrupt Democrats taking these polls probably aren’t even actually communicating with real people, maybe just calling each other and saying “What do you think?”  If they do make contact with actual voters, they must be calling the same reliable liars again and again.  Poll responders that give the answers they’re looking for are taking calls five times, ten times.  If the crooked pollsters accidentally get a Trump voter, they probably hang up fast.  This is poll fraud on a massive scale, to support the myth that Donald Trump could possibly be behind when he’s not.

This is the man, after all, who performed superbly in the polls throughout the Republican primaries.  Little Marco, Lyin’ Ted, they hardly dared look at the polls.  The Trump leads then were massive, no problem there.  That was back when polls meant something, back when an honest candidate could occasionally make reference to his lead in the polls, secure in the assurance that he was simply conveying the candid facts to an adoring public.

To prevent the rigged system of poll fraud that has arisen since the Republican Convention from infecting the electorate and deceptively cooling the Trump fever that is sweeping the entire nation, we must immediately institute a system for verifying the legitimacy of any future poll results.  Go to the Trump website and volunteer to be an impartial Trump Poll Observer.  Only polls conducted under the direct scrutiny of TP Observers, including intervention where necessary to make sure alleged respondents are actual citizens who know what greatness means in America and to keep pipsqueak pollsters from getting out of line, will be recognized as reliable indicators of the national attitude.

Those volunteering to be Trump Poll Observers will also make a voluntary financial contribution to the Trump campaign.



Suicide SquadThe latest entrant in the DC Extended Universe, Suicide Squad, has been released, and three things are happening just as expected.  First, the reviews are bad.  Second, the DC faithful are angry about the negative critical reception.  Third, the movie will have strong but ultimately disappointing performance at the box office.

None of these circumstances should come as a surprise.  For the DC fans who petitioned to shut down Rotten Tomatoes due to perceived anti-DC bias, the idea of Marvel manipulation is not a plausible conspiracy theory.  With the disclaimer that I am a loyal Marvel enthusiast and I have not seen Suicide Squad, here are ten reasons why the drubbing by critics is exactly what an informed observer should think would happen – and only as to the tenth item will I confess my own allegiance may be a factor.

  1. Second-comer status. The DCEU is attempting to replicate the success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.  Everyone knows that is the jealous objective here.  It is never easy to be the second entrant in a market dominated by an established competitor.  Good luck, Bing, in displacing Google.  The natural reaction is skepticism, not enthusiasm.
  1. Saturated market. There are a lot of comic book-themed movies out there these days.  And a lot of sniffling and moaning about it among filmmakers and critics who aspire to higher artistic pretensions, as evidenced by the excess of disparaging comments at the Academy Awards, for example.  I regard that as a misapprehension that comics are juvenile by nature, but whatever the reason there’s not a welcome wagon for yet another superhero franchise, much less the launch of an entire additional universe.
  1. Playing catch-up. Marvel was able to build methodically.  When Nick Fury referred to “the Avengers initiative” at the end of Iron Man, it had the thrill of surprise, the opening of a secret door.  By the time Superman met Batman, on the other hand, the next six or eight installments had been announced and there was an air of impatience to get to the Justice League.  The rush to introduce the players was reduced to an internet search in BvS and a three-ring binder presentation in Suicide Squad.
  1. Corporate drive. Hollywood studios generally are oriented on making money, but something about the DCEU smacks of a boardroom initiative aimed at providing talking points to executives for quarterly financial updates to investors.  The brain trust at Marvel are comic book devotees who preach reverence for the source material, and they’re paired with Disney and its tradition of Imagineers.  It shows in the product.
  1. Weight of expectation. Every DC offering is measured not just by its internal merits, but by its role as a building block.  It has to perform strongly enough to serve as a foundation for the coming structure, yet it is cursed by telegraphing the predicates for future components.  That’s something that can be handled more or less clumsily, but it comes easier for Marvel with its longer fuse and more established platform.
  1. Poor track record. The DCEU entrants have all underperformed, so far.  DC and its fans have been dying for runaway blockbusters that to date have failed to materialize.  Blame the critics, or the caprice of the market, or the fates, but a string of disappointments casts a shadow on the next.
  1. Dark branding. Doubtless to differentiate itself from the lighter touch at Marvel, and building from the tone of the Dark Knight trilogy, DC has adopted a dark cinematic persona.  It didn’t have to be that way – the Richard Donner Superman films and the Tim Burton Batmans were successful both in terms of dollars and with critics, but were not grim and oppressive.  But DC has chosen its path now, and it’s a bit of a downer.
  1. Zack Snyder. There’s a fair consensus that the selection of Zack Snyder as chief visionary for the DCEU was a misstep.  Yes, the man has vision, but it’s rather lacking in humor, subtlety, character development and coherent plot, and heavy on heavy-handed violence, striking images and pounding themes and sound tracks.  If you’re going for acclaim from critics, try someone a little farther removed from Michael Bay.
  1. Troubled production. It’s a bad sign when the pre-release news leaks are about reshoots in the wake of wretched reviews for the previous movie.  Especially when they hire a company that makes trailers to spruce up the film.  That’s like putting the ad agency in charge of quality control.  Fantastic Four exhibited similar warning signs, and that landed with even more of a thud.
  1. Inferior source material. What Marvel has done right is to capture the exuberant spirit of the Silver Age revolution of the 1960s, when Stan Lee expanded the comic book market to older fans by incorporating more complex characters, social relevance, a zip of humor and high drama and adventure.  Marvel heroes have always lived in the real world and had real-world problems.  They are relatable and lend themselves to interaction with each other.  DC fans can say “Us, too!” but I’m not seeing it.



Ted CruzJohn Boehner made a splash by calling Ted Cruz “Lucifer in the flesh.”  That’s a provocative way of putting it, calling out a candidate who identifies himself with Fundamentalist Christians as the Devil Incarnate.  It doesn’t speak well for his popularity in Congress, but suggests a more cynical interpretation of his frequent displays of piety than may be warranted.  If you give the Devil his due, as it were, and assume Cruz has a genuine core of faith and is not just pretending to be Christian in order to lead others to damnation, the more apt depiction of his posture is like that of a Pharisee in the New Testament.


Even casual Christians will recognize Pharisees as the recurrent foils of Jesus in the Gospels.  Along with Sadducees, priests and scribes, the Pharisees represent the rigid and unforgiving religious establishment of the time.  They are shown as self-important and condescending, passing judgment on others, insistent on adherence to orthodoxy, intolerant of outside influences and unsympathetic to the suffering of others.


Historically, there are significant differences between the Pharisees and Sadducees, who ought not be lumped together indiscriminately, and the New Testament characterization of both has been criticized as inaccurate and unfair.  But when a candidate like Ted Cruz casts himself as a deep-rooted Christian for whom the Bible is the ultimate reference work on what is and what’s right, you might think he’d try a little harder to adopt the views of Jesus and avoid the mindset of the guys Jesus consistently shows as getting it wrong.


Consider a few examples.  Jesus chastised the Pharisees for being covetous of wealth, telling them you cannot love both God and money.  Ted Cruz wants to end progressive taxation of income to the benefit of the very wealthy, cut spending for social programs supporting the underprivileged, and abolish Obamacare without an alternative for those left uninsured.  When the Pharisees asked a trick question about taxation, Jesus told them to render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.  Ted Cruz has signed the anti-tax pledge and wants to abolish the IRS.  Jesus scolded the Pharisees for their intolerant reaction when an adultress washed his feet, and when they wanted to stone another adultress he said the one without sin should cast the first stone.  Ted Cruz dismissed a campaign worker, herself a born-again Christian and devoted Cruz supporter, when he learned she had appeared in an adult film.  Jesus, generally, was on the side of the poor and innocent.  Ted Cruz is willing to carpet-bomb Syria at the sacrifice of massive civilian casualties.


When Cruz confers blessings like “God bless the great State of Iowa,” he speaks to his own glory.  He seems to be saying “Ted blesses” or “God has blessed his chosen vessel, Ted.”  He likes to pray in front of crowds and make grand public displays of righteous indignation, like rushing to the side of the Kentucky clerk who refused to issue marriage certificates to same-sex couples.  He trumpets a form of religious liberty that stigmatizes and discriminates against those targeted as social outcasts.  He ought to consider carefully what Jesus had to say about Pharisees at Matthew 23:


“They do everything so that people will see them.  . . .  How terrible for you, teachers of the Law and Pharisees! You hypocrites! You give to God one tenth even of the seasoning herbs, such as mint, dill, and cumin, but you neglect to obey the really important teachings of the Law, such as justice and mercy and honesty. These you should practice, without neglecting the others.  . . .  You clean the outside of your cup and plate, while the inside is full of what you have gotten by violence and selfishness.  Blind Pharisee! Clean what is inside the cup first, and then the outside will be clean too!”


Jesus taught compassion for the downtrodden, humble faith and mercy for sinners.  The Pharisees made a prideful show of their righteousness and ostracized those they regarded as unworthy.  Ted Cruz is a Senator whom other Senators do not want to endorse, and a son of Cuban immigrants whom Latinos aren’t anxious to claim.  Christians should approach him with the same skepticism.