In Debt We Trust

June 26, 2017

When I’m in the car, I listen to CNN, so I get to hear the same ads over and over again. In addition to learning that Tommy John men’s underwear makes a guy’s junk feel all warm and cozy (I wouldn’t know), I also know that Madison Reed hair color will empower you for only $30.00 a month (note to listeners: Amy Eric looks nothing like you think she will), and that ZipRecruiter takes the hassle out of hiring quality employees. Whether it’s the Third Love bra ladies (Heidi Zack and Rayelle Cohen), Scott Tannen of Boll and Branch luxury linens (thank god his annoying wife, Missy, who sounds much like an anxious Chihuahua, no longer appears in the radio spots), or one of the ten thousand mattress companies that deliver right to your door (like, how is that even possible?), I’ve pretty much got clothing, personal care, and household items wrapped up. All because I listen to CNN.

What I’ve also learned from CNN’s sponsors is that if you don’t feel like paying your taxes, or those pesky credit card balances, you don’t actually have to. After you’ve bought your hair color and luxury linens and pee-pee nestling underpants, you can hire some credit agency, or some tax relief company, and with a flick of the wrist, poof! Your liability dissolves, and you can go on with your life of sleeping on really great mattresses in a bra so comfortable you’ll forget you’re wearing it.

Now, if you know anything about me, you are aware that I am a bleeding heart liberal of the most earthy-crunchy variety (excepting that I don’t like granola, or trail mix, or raisins – particularly raisins. I hate raisins.) I do yoga. I meditate. I read the writings of the Dalai Lama and try to live his teachings. I encourage others to look for the best in people and, when confronted with the assholes of the world – the person who cuts you off in traffic, the lady who jumps ahead of you in line, the sales clerk who is rude – I tell myself that maybe they are having their worst day ever, and I try to find something nice to say to put a smile on their face. It doesn’t always work.

I regularly tout the crises we face throughout our lives as marvelous opportunities for personal growth. I exhort others to practice peace, respect and compassion to such a degree that some wonder if one of my children could just hit me over the head with a shovel already. I’m a sunny and optimistic person who believes in universal affordable healthcare and the idea of America as a welcoming place of love and tolerance for all, where our diversity is our strength, and our strength is our shared commonality of love of country.

Bottom line? I’m a pretty forgiving, compassionate sort who is willing to let a lot – A LOT – slide when it comes to how other people act and what they do (unless they are toxic negative horrible narcissistic people, and then all bets are off), so what I’m about to say may come as a shock, and you may want to hold onto your underpants:

Pay your damned bills, people. Pay your damned bills.

At the risk of displaying some serious privilege here (and feel free to call me on it if I am), if there is one thing I cannot tolerate (besides being interrupted – that really gripes my cookies), it’s a lack of personal accountability, particularly when it comes to one’s financial obligations. That makes me tear-out-my (not Madison Reed colored) hair, throw a shoe at the wall crazy.

I’m not talking about people who find themselves in the middle of a crisis they could not have planned for – a sudden layoff, a catastrophic injury or illness, say – and I am a firm believer that personal bankruptcy laws are an important resource for those who have been confronted by unexpected financial hardship. I’m not even talking about people whose credit card balances largely reflect predatory interest rates and penalties, or those who have been out of work so long they are forced to pay for basic necessities with plastic. I’m talking about people who use their credit cards to buy things they don’t need and can’t afford in the first place, people who refuse to live within their means, people who spend every penny they make not on necessities but on things they could do without, and believe it or not, you can, in fact, do without a 56″ screen television or a Michael Kors handbag.

I have compassion for those who are experiencing real financial hardship not entirely of their own making, but let’s face it: The vast majority of consumer debt that is forgiven was not incurred paying for medical bills or diapers; in most cases, it was the result of a simple lack of discipline, and I have some first-hand experience to back that up: As an attorney arbitrator, I have heard many, many credit card cases in which it becomes crystal clear that the debt at issue was incurred on dining out, clothing purchases, vacations…you name it. Some of these same consumer debt defendants show up for their hearings driving late-model luxury cars which they backed out of the garage of their beautifully landscaped single family home. Don’t believe me? Hang out at the Lehigh County Bar Association, where such hearings are held, and see for yourself.

When it comes to not paying taxes, moreover, I am even less tolerant. Remember when you got your first job making $2.50 an hour, and after working 20 hours, you thought your paycheck would be $50.00? That’s when you learned about taxes, and FICA, and all those other withholdings that someone takes out of your paycheck every month, whether you want them to or not. Responsible Americans pay their share – even for things they might not like paying for (Mitch McConnell’s salary, for example), and when the amount they’ve withheld throughout the year turns out not to be enough, they write a check for the balance. Then they drink an entire bottle of vodka. That’s called being a grownup.

Those earners who don’t have withholdings taken out – the self-employed, the independent contractors, etc. – have to be responsible in setting aside enough of their earnings so that when April 15 rolls around, they can pay the taxman, and the vast majority do. Turns out, however, that some people don’t, don’t get around to actually filing a return, or writing the check that entitles them to drink an entire bottle of vodka. They just don’t pay their taxes. And I’m like, that’s a thing? I didn’t think that was a thing.

Apparently, however, you can not pay your taxes, sometimes for quite a while, before there’s any dire consequences. In fact, if you never apply for credit, if you don’t keep large balances in your bank accounts, and if you don’t own anything to which a lien could attach, you could potentially avoid paying taxes pretty much forever. Yes, I know that they eventually got Al Capone, but unless you’re running an organized crime syndicate, you’re probably okay. Which means that those of us suckers who dutifully set aside a portion of our wages or else assure that our withholdings properly reflect our income tax liability are paying not just our share, but those of a bunch of deadbeats as well. Thank rankles me, and I don’t think they should be let off the hook.

I certainly recognize why credit card companies and the IRS are willing to negotiate with debtors – they’d rather recover something rather than nothing, and it’s cheaper to work things out than to pay for attorneys to file suit and then execute on the debtor’s assets – if there are any, that is. It’s a business decision, not a matter of principle for the creditors, and anyway, credit card companies know that those consumers who end up having some or all of their debt written off will be back, sooner rather than later, applying for credit and running up their balances again, thereby generating profits in the form of interest payments that line the pockets of bank CEO’s. Banks are willing to take less now because they know that people rarely change their spending habits and that the American consumer will not be deterred in the never-ending quest for more stuff.

And that’s part of the problem: While I don’t have any statistics on this, I think it’s pretty much a given that in providing “credit relief,” banks are essentially enabling bad habits and a lack of fiscal discipline that will likely be repeated in the future, because the only way anyone ever learns how to use credit cards responsibly is by having to pay them off on their own. Ask someone who’s had their debt paid off by someone else whether or not they currently have any outstanding credit card balances (not that you would do that, because it would be really rude), and I’ll bet you a nickel the answer is yes. Credit card banks profit when consumers are fiscally irresponsible, and so those banks have no interest in rehabilitating them of their belief that it’s possible to acquire things you can’t afford without ever having to pay for them.

My annoyance that so many end up having consumer debt or tax liabilities forgiven is partially rooted in an embarrassing resentment that stems from the fact that it’s taken Michael and I a long time and a lot of hard work to come to a place of fiscal health. Medical and law school loans and a child with special needs whose therapeutic services weren’t covered by insurance created a sword of Damocles that hung over our head for years. Sure, we’re strong earners, and we have always been able to provide for our family. But at the risk of sounding like my Dad, no one bailed us out when things were tough, and the position we are in now reflects sacrifice, hard decisions, and a lot of Kraft Macaroni and Cheese.

As well, at least one former friend expressed surprised at the modesty of our living accommodations based upon her assumptions about our income, having the audacity to say to me about the home we still (and proudly) inhabit, “you guys must have a lot of debt to live where you do.” Michael and I made decisions over the years about what we thought was worth spending our money on (education, therapy services, travel when possible), that’s how we spent it, and not once did we ever ask someone else to foot the bill. Bottom line – you buy it, you pay for it, period. There is no free lunch. Death and taxes. You get the idea.

There’s a larger issue, however, one that’s less mean-spirited and more global: When people don’t pay their credit card debt, it’s bad for everyone. Today, the average household with credit card debt has balances totaling $16,748. This debt reflects, at least in part, the fact that, since 2003, the cost of living has outpaced income growth by 2%. For most Americans, this discrepancy has meant not belt-tightening or doing without, but, rather, more credit card debt.

You may say, who am I to sit in judgment of how others spend their money? Perhaps I’m not, until it’s you and me who end up paying for it. At its worst, large-scale unpaid credit impacts the economy even for those who pay their bills: Remember when the housing bubble burst in 2008, and all those banks had to be bailed out? Guess who paid for that? The American public – those who pay their taxes, anyway. We also pay for it in the form of higher interest rates and more stringent credit/lending criteria – anyone who has tried to get a mortgage in the past eight years can tell you that gone are the days of low down-payment adjustable mortgages (which is probably a good thing), and even people with excellent credit, reliable income, and substantial assets are reporting that it’s more difficult than it used to be to get approved for financing of any kind.

I wish I believed that more stringent restrictions on credit would reduce the amount of debt that Americans take on, and would encourage them to be more mindful and responsible in their spending and saving, but they won’t, because we are a society that thrives on immediate gratification – I want it, I have to have it, I get it. While many are aggressive in their retirement planning, few maintain a good, old-fashioned savings account – not one that they feed very often, anyway. According to a Federal Reserve report, nearly half of Americans couldn’t cover a $400 emergency expense without borrowing the money or selling something, and of those who have savings account (roughly one in five do not), almost 30% report having a zero balance, and 62% have less than $1,000 in savings. Which is why they rack up credit card debt. And so on, and so on, and so on.

We have to stop living on borrowed money, both as individuals and as a society as a whole. I won’t get into the whole federal deficit and its ramifications, but it’s not good. There are plenty of tips to avoid creating mammoth credit card balances (keep an emergency fund, pay your balance in full each month, etc.), but what it really comes down to is this: If you can’t pay for it with cash and it’s not an emergency, you don’t need it and can’t afford it, so don’t buy it and stick the rest of us with the bill – we all have enough of our own. I’ll happily contribute to universal healthcare for all by means of my tax bill; I’ll fork over money to fund the arts, pay for schools, and underwrite scientific research, and if a few extra dollars to Uncle Sam would ensure that no child went hungry, ever, you could sign me up for that, too, but I’m not paying for your trip to Disney, your Home Shopping Network addiction, or your Franklin Mint State Bird spoon collection. Pay your bills, pay your taxes, and stop buying into the notion that more things will make you happier – they almost never do.

I’m going to retreat into my Grumpy Troll Cave now and scarf down some Milanos, which will no doubt return me to my normal bleeding-heart Mother Wendy self in no time, and then I’ll go out for a walk in a new pair of Target socks that nestle my toes and make them feel all warm and cozy. Milanos – $2.49. Six-pack of athletic socks – $8.99. Fiscal responsibility – priceless.

Gun Violence, Abe Lincoln, and Pollyanna

June 19, 2017

After last week’s shooting of GOP lawmakers and staff who were practicing for a charity baseball game, I think we can all agree that the divide between left and right, Republicans and Democrats, conservatives and liberals, progressives and the alt-left, has grown so broad and deep it seems virtually impossible that two people on the opposite sides of the political spectrum can have a civil conversation about anything, including, say, pancakes versus waffles (waffles, by the way), let alone about what’s going on in Washington. Every news item that mentions President Trump, Congress, policy, or pretty much any aspect of government, is fodder for thousands of tweets, posts, and panels of screaming lunatics on (insert news show of your choice), and way too much of what’s being said is opportunistic and mean.

Too frequently, what passes for “political discourse” is over-the-top, hyperbolic rhetoric that, when squeezed, will produce a nice tall glass of contempt. There’s little respect, or tolerance, for any opinion other than one’s own, and yes, I’m guilty of that. There are too many people who are as convinced that they’re the smartest guy/gal in the room as they are sure that those who disagree with them are too stupid, and too pig-headed, to listen to and accept reason and truth.

I’m guilty of that, too.

But what to do, I wonder, when the stakes are so high, when the conduct of those who govern appears to be creating a legitimate threat to national safety, the fate of all carbon-based lifeforms, and women’s reproductive rights, just to name a few? How to avoid being shrill as violence against Muslims and people of color increases, as the United States, by and through its Commander in Chief, sends the clear message to the people of the world that they’re on their own, thereby undoing years of relationship building, credibility, and leadership? What words are strong enough to effectuate change (and, at the same time, communicate to those outside our borders that not every American supports the policies being enacted by our government), yet not so strident as to be pre-emptively ignored by those for whose ears those words are intended? Is it even possible to say anything that those on “the other side” would be willing to consider – me included?

In other words, how do we communicate with those who have strongly-held opinions that differ from our own? How do we do that when one side believes that anyone who voted for Donald Trump is a de facto racist xenophobic misogynist, while the other side thinks that anyone who doesn’t support Donald Trump is a lazy godless nutcase who hates this country? Smarter and more articulate people than me have said that we have to be more respectful of each other, and that’s a start. Contempt is a big part of it, too: Malcolm Gladwell, in his excellent book, “Blink,” discusses a study that looked for predictors of divorce, and the number one factor isn’t infidelity or financial problems – turns out, it’s contempt. Stated differently, if a conversation is underpinned by a lack of respect and an abundance of contempt – and that’s pretty much a given as far as political discussions go these days – there’s really no reason to have it in the first place, because no one is listening.

The only thing that has ever changed a person’s mind about an opinion they held to the point of utter certainty, is a shared commonality. Justice Kennedy and Dick Cheney are pretty conservative as things go, but they both have close relatives who are gay, and guess what? Neither one had an objection to marriage equality. A few months go, I posted an excellent article about a man who freely admitted that he used to hate Muslims. His opinions changed drastically when a Syrian family moved in next door and showed him that they weren’t so different, so much so that he babysits their kids and has dinner with them on a weekly basis.

This tells me that if I want people to be open to my thoughts and opinions, I have to find some common ground, and for starters, that means no more name-calling. That’s going to be a tough one, because I don’t happen to have a very high opinion of our president, and, as well, it’s so satisfying to get off a good one. But it has to stop, and it’s going to. That doesn’t mean that I will refrain from criticizing policy with which I passionately disagree (or that I am going to stop being passionate), but I’ll tone down the rhetoric. That’s my pledge. It’s a start.

Next, I’m going to propose that we look for commonality. I’m unlikely to find too many Republicans who will agree with me on healthcare, but here are some things I think we can all get behind:

  1. Pizza.
  2. Pizza.
  3. Koala bears.
  4. Pizza.

Okay, there’s more:

  1. Will McAvoy’s brilliant speech on the first episode of “The Newsroom” notwithstanding, the United States of America is in fact the greatest nation on earth.
  2. Our government, as conceived by our founding fathers, is, simply put, brilliant.
  3. When we get hit, we come together like nobody’s business. Remember how nice we all were to each other after 9/11? We have a tremendous capacity to love and support and share and give of ourselves. That goes for Democrats and Republicans and Libertarians and Socialists and Independents and the Green Party…it’s who we are.
  4. Russia trying to infiltrate our country – however they may or may not be doing it – isn’t cool, and we should all be concerned if that’s what’s happening, regardless of who may or may not be facilitating it.
  5. Pizza.

There’s a reason people want to come to America, and it has something to do with the shared sense of freedom and opportunity and doing the right thing. We don’t always get it right, and there are too many people in our country who are hurting right now, but we are a nation of people who love this country so thoroughly, so vigorously, so passionately, that we are willing to lose friendships over it – except that’s not good, either. So stop doing that.

We need to become what the name of our country says we are – the United States of America. Not black and white, rich or poor, Christian or Jew or Muslim, Republican or Democrat. Yes, we should celebrate our diversity, but we have to start acting like brothers and sisters. We just have to. We really, really just have to.

My favorite movie of all time is “Pollyanna.” Yeah, it sucks that her parents died and she never had a doll and her aunt is kind of a bitch and she falls out of a tree, but she nevertheless brings the whole town together. She shows them how to look for the silver lining and teaches them the Glad Game. She gets Reverend Ford on her side when she says that “no one owns the church,” and she shares with him the immortal words of Abraham Lincoln: “If you look for the bad in people, expecting to find it, you surely will.”

Let that sink in for a moment. (Every time you forget how incredible Abraham Lincoln was, something reminds you, and you say, “damn, that man was a genius.”)

And so everyone in town starts looking for the best in everyone else, and they rally together to build a new orphanage where the kids don’t get burned or drowned or electrocuted (something we can all get behind), and Aunt Polly and Dr. Childers rekindle their love, united in their resolve to help Pollyanna get better, and Mr. Tarbell stands up to Mrs. Tarbell, and Nancy and George get Aunt Polly’s blessing to get married, and then Reverend Ford sums it all up when he says to Pollyanna, as she’s being taken to the train station to go to Baltimore to get an operation so she can walk again (yeah, that actually happens), “We looked for the best in them, and we found it.”

Let’s start looking for the best in our fellow man, and maybe we’ll all come together and everything will be better. Hell, what with my newfound love of pruning, I’ll even fall out of a tree if it would help.

We are all Americans. We all bring something to the table. I love you all. Let’s make things better.

Mother Wendy’s Letter to Young People

June 23, 2017

Last week, a Massachusetts judge found Michelle Carter guilty of manslaughter after she sent a series of text messages to her boyfriend urging him to commit suicide. At the time, she was 17; her boyfriend, Conrad Roy, was 18. Both had a history of emotional problems.

The texts sent by Carter to Roy on the night he killed himself are chilling, and the story is heartbreaking on so many levels. As the mother of a teenager and two young women in their 20’s, I can’t even imagine what Roy’s parents must be going through – or Carter’s, for that matter, as they contemplate the years their daughter will serve in prison.

But Mother Wendy feels compelled to speak to the Young People (not that I have many Facebook Friends under the age of 40), and so I ask that you please indulge me as I address all the teenagers who may read this post.

Dear Young People:

Being a teen isn’t easy. Sometimes, it out-and-out sucks (my mother hates that word, by the way, and I only use it when I really want to make a point).

You have a lot on your mind, hormones coursing through your body, parents and teachers who are annoying and think the Periodic Table of the Elements is like, super important, and you don’t have a lot of power or self-determination. You’re dependent upon others for your basic necessities, which means that those others get to make a lot of decisions you maybe don’t like, and they also get to tell you what to do or, at the very least, severely limit your ability to do what you want.

Or maybe you have no one – no reliable adults, no support, nothing. Maybe the people who are supposed to be there for you aren’t, because of their job or drugs or prison or because they’re narcissists who should never had children. Maybe you have too much responsibility, and not enough resources. Maybe it feels like there’s no one there to help.

If there are supportive adults in your life, maybe they don’t remember what it’s like to be a teenager. They think that because they have jobs and mortgage payments and have to pay for health insurance and new transmissions that whatever you’re dealing with is minor by comparison, and maybe it is, to them, but it isn’t to you.

Sure, someday you’re the one who’s going to have to pay for the new washing machine or deal with a boss who’s an asshole, but for now, you have teenage-sized problems, and compared to middle-school or elementary school problems, they can feel all-consuming. Parents sometimes forget that things like chemistry tests, or not being included in a social event, or being teased for something about yourself that you can’t change, can feel like the world is ending. They may scoff when you complain about school, or friends, or your job, or maybe they one-up you with an “in my day” story in which they spent their entire youth wearing the same pair of underpants and working in a factory where people routinely got their arms cut off (probably not true, by the way).

Please try to remember, when this happens, that sometimes adults really don’t remember what it’s like to be young. Even more importantly, they probably don’t realize just how different a place the world is these days. My oldest was 10 when 9/11 happened, and she’s spent her young-adult life with an awareness of just how quickly a beautiful Tuesday morning can turn into a nightmare that changes everything, forever. She has lived with the uncertainty and fear that the terrorism and school shootings and economic collapse have fomented, and so has every other young person under the age of 30. So it’s not easy, and when adults tell you to shake it off, it’s because they forget that when they were younger, they used to ride their bikes to the store to buy a soda, walk unaccompanied to school, and didn’t have to be taught about “good touch/bad touch.”

So, even when you have supportive adults in your life and a pretty stable situation (a relative privilege these days, it seems), things can still be rough, because neurotypical teenage behavior is fraught with drama and angst and urgency. Your body and your brain aren’t done baking yet, so that you’re subject to wild mood swings and may be easily frustrated when things don’t go your way.

Guess what? That’s normal.

What you don’t know yet is that how things may feel on any given day is very much like the weather in London: Don’t like it? Wait a few minutes. It’ll change. I don’t say this to minimize the importance of the things you may be struggling with, or to be patronizing, or to suggest that the things that teenagers are focused on are frivolous. I was a teenager once, and for all my wailing about my Double A bra size and the fact that no boy would go out with me, you would have thought I was a penniless, homeless orphan with terminal cancer and a bad perm – just ask any of my high school friends. They’re all on Facebook. They remember.

What you also don’t know is that, with the exception of very extreme and dire circumstances (and, frequently, even in the case of very extreme and dire circumstances)…this too shall pass. It gets better. Hang in there.

I know, I know, I KNOW. Not the words you want to hear, not very helpful when it feels like the world is about to end. You don’t understand, Mother Wendy, you may be thinking.

Ah, but I do. I do. There’s a reason that old people like me say things like this: Because we’ve been there. We’ve felt that fear and frustration and sadness, and we’ve cried those tears. Just because we dye our (grey) hair, don’t know how to Snapchat, and are totally lame in just about every way a person can be, if there is NOTHING else that we know, we know this:

You won’t always feel this way.

I promise.

But when you ARE feeling this way, and if it isn’t going away, and you’re starting to feel like there are no answers, you must hear this: No matter how sad, depressed, desperate, or lonely, you may be, THERE IS HELP. There are people to talk to, medications that can drastically improve your mood and correct organic chemical imbalances, and facilities where care is available.

There are ways to get better, and people who want to help. No one will judge you – they’d rather help you than mourn you. If your parents won’t listen, talk to a friend. If your friends won’t listen, talk to a teacher. If a teacher won’t help, because she’s busy staring at the Periodic Table of the Elements, talk to your friends’ parents, and if none of those people will help, Uber yourself to the emergency room and say, “I NEED HELP.” Yes, that’s hard and dramatic and scary beyond belief, but it’s better than being dead.

Young People, there are answers, and whatever is going on, you can endure this. So, no matter how bad things may seem, DON’T KILL YOURSELF. DON’T. JUST DON’T. And if you’ve got a “friend” who’s suggesting that you should, you need to end that “friendship,” like, yesterday.

I’m an old lady with a bad right knee, I am wildly out of touch with pop culture, I love nothing better than doing crossword puzzles in my jammies, or pruning trees, or watching koala videos. I use words like “notwithstanding,” and things I find interesting include memorizing world capitals and the Periodic Table of the Elements. In other words, I’m completely irrelevant.

Except that I will always be here for you, Young Person, whomever you are, even if you don’t know me, even if you think I’m an idiot (mostly, you’re right). I’m at least one person who cares about you, even if I don’t know you, but I’ll bet I’m not the only one. If things are rough, I will be here in any way I can, and so will a lot of people. Even if you’re getting through life one minute at a time, there are people who care.

Stay tough, get help if you need it, and know that things will get better. It may take a while, but they Will. Get. Better.

Love, Mother Wendy

Reba McEntire and the Battle for My Soul

June 4, 2017

Recently, I saw a post on someone’s Facebook page with a link to a Reba McEntire song and the provocative clickbait, “AMAZING New Song Will DESTROY Every Single Trump-Hater In America!”

What’s this? I thought.  While not strictly a Trump Hater, anyone who knows me understands that I have zero respect for or confidence in the low-information, petulant toddler less than half our nation elected president.  I know I’m not alone in my opinion of Trump – he’s universally reviled by most of the rest of the world (including many of the 51 million who elected him) – and so I was curious:

If I watched this video, would it literally destroy me? (Answer: No. I watched the video, and I’m still here).

Still, I think that what (translation: White People Who Voted for Trump and Hate You Libtard Snowflakes Who Represent Everything That’s Wrong With this Country) was likely trying to say is, if you watch this video, you fascist, socialist, morally bankrupt liberal who lives off the public dole, you will no longer be able to deny that Donald J. Trump is the Second Coming and maybe you’ll shut up already.  Because Reba McEntire.

So I thought, what if there actually were a song that would change my mind about Donald J. Trump? What if Reba McEntire, of all people, was the one person in the world who could make a good argument for why it’s okay to demonize immigrants, deny access to affordable health insurance to those who need it most, and tell the rest of the world’s people that they’re on their own when it comes to climate change, even though our country has been one of the leading causes of global warming in the first place? Is anyone capable of that sort of persuasion? And if so, how?

I’ve never been a big country music fan (though I do like Faith Hill and Johnny Cash), but I once had a client who was a Reba McEntire impersonater, and she was a nice lady who had a lot of positive things to say about Reba, so I thought, hey, let’s see what I’m missing.  I clicked on the link, and I watched the video, and while it’s not exactly my cup of tea, I thought, “well, that’s nice.”  And then I ate a Milano and I considered some of the other things that had to say.

First, the USA has become “spiritually poor” because everyone, particularly the “young folks,” have forgotten “the existence of God and the true, moral and Christian values our country’s philosophy was based on.”  I guess hasn’t read the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, or the writings of many of our Founding Fathers, who made clear their intention that, regardless of their own personal beliefs, the United States of America should be beacon of religious tolerance and diversity for all, even (heaven forbid) the Jews. at fn. 3.  For starters, then, has got its history wrong.

It’s also worth noting, moreover, that since time immemorial, grumpy old people everywhere have pointed to the declining morals of the young, including a decreased respect for God and organized religion, as the cause of all society’s ills and proof that the End of Days is near.  It’s an oldie but a goodie, and whether and when you may chose to invoke it is also a good indicator of just how far along the Crotchety Scale of Life you are.

I have often found, incidentally, that those who are most concerned with how young people behave, particularly with regard to a lack of religious fealty, are frequently the same people who in their early years were hellraisers themselves.  Perhaps because of their own less-exalted conduct as teenagers and young adults, they are acutely aware of and appreciate the capacity for young people to do things that are in direct contravention with many religious tenets.  Now that they’ve had their fun, of course, no one else should, either.  But I digress. next bemoans the level of discord in our country since the election, noting that “Americans are burning flags, dishonoring our military and police officers, rioting in the streets…Clearly, we do need to get this country back to God.”  It seems worth recalling that this is exactly the behavior we witnessed in the 1960’s during the Civil Rights movement and as our country continued to fight an unjust war.  Know what ended those protests? Enacting legislation that forced our nation to treat all people equally and pulling out of Viet Nam.  Or maybe it was God.  Who knows. also says that I, and others like me, are the problem with all that is wrong in America because we “don’t want to ‘conform’ to one belief” and are “too cool” to believe in God.  (N.B. – To my everlasting chagrin, I’ve never once been tagged “cool,” but thanks for that,!)  Call me a wonky egghead who thinks we ought to consult the Constitution on this one, but I just sort of think that people should be able to search their hearts and decide which religion, if any, makes sense to the rational, inquisitive brains that God or some higher power apparently gave us, and then act accordingly, rather than foist one set of beliefs upon the rest of the world.  It would appear, however, that being a Proud Patriot means you ignore the clear import of the words of Madison and Jefferson and all those men who are claimed to have intended ours to be a “nation under God,” notwithstanding that those same men expressly said that under no circumstances was this to be a “nation under God.”  But why quibble with words, or logic, when you can demonize those with whom you don’t agree? goes on to say that no one is forcing Christianity on anyone and that what it is most angry about is the “discrimination” Christians endure as disciples of the one true God.  In the interest of full disclosure, I’m a big fan of Jesus and think more Christians ought to act like him, but I’m still struggling with the idea of a higher being named God, who at one point thought it was okay to destroy the entire world (save Noah and his crew) and who was okay with polygamy and spousal abuse and killing people who ate bacon, but then underwent some amazing metamorphosis in which he became more compassionate and forgiving, although I know having a kid can do that to you.  But just for the record, I don’t hate Jesus, even if I’m not sure he or his dad are divine.  (This is why Michael is always worried to enter a church with me).  For the record, I have zero problem with Christians, except for the ones who claim to be but act instead like assholes.

Whatever you may think about Christianity, however, it’s absurd to suggest that those who practice this faith in our country are being persecuted.  The last time I checked, the Congress was overwhelmingly Christian, as has been every man ever elected to the office of President.  Anywhere from 70 – 85% of Americans identify as Christian, as do roughly 1/3 of the peoples of the world, making Christianity by far the most dominant religion on Earth. As Louis C.K. so astutely noted, we measure time based upon the date that Christ was born, – how much more Christian do you Christians need the rest of the world to be before you’ll admit that you won?

As for this alleged anti-Christian prejudice, is just wrong.  You want to know what discrimination is? Being lowered onto a pointed stick, with or without weights tied to your feet, until your anus was perforated (or until you recanted your deeply held religious beliefs, whichever came first).  Being crammed into railroad cars and whisked to Eastern Europe to a virtually certain death, along with 5,999,999 of your brethren, simply because a certain group of people feel economically threatened by you. That’s persecution.

The fact that some choose to say “Happy Holidays,” instead of “Merry Christmas,” out of deference to the possibility that the person to whom they are extending their good wishes might not be a Christian is not persecution, and the placement of menorahs on the town hall lawn is not discrimination.  It’s called inclusion (look it up), and it doesn’t diminish you or your beliefs unless you faith is so fragile that it cannot withstand the fact that others may not share it.  And yet, those at (and, to be fair, a lot of others websites, too) claim to be discriminated against because the United States of America allows people who aren’t Christian to live here.

Pardon me if I don’t attend your candlelight vigil, Snowflakes.  You don’t know from persecution and discrimination, not in America, anyway, and if you’re so damned worried about Christians in other parts of the world who are being persecuted for their beliefs, then maybe consider demanding that they be granted sanctuary here in the United States, where they might take all the high-paying jobs and not speak English the minute they clear Customs.  But again, I digress.

So here’s where we are so far:  The United States is in a real pickle because liberals aren’t Christian (like that selfish bastard, Jimmy Carter, building houses for the poor, or that shithead Pope Francis who opened up laundromats for the homeless).

But wait, there’s more:  According to, liberals are “aching for the kind of values” that faith gives good Christians and that without faith, there are no values.  This is because the only way you can be a morally sound, ethical person, is to be a Christian.  You know.  Because people who aren’t Christians have no morals or ethics.  Sorry, Buddhists.  Hindus, you’re out of luck, too.

Sounds pretty grim, eh? But wait! Don’t get discouraged, all you non-Christians currently destined for an afterlife of eternal damnation and suffering, there is hope!  Thanks to Reba McEntire, soon liberals everywhere will come to know Donald J. Trump and will rally behind him in his faith-based agenda of compassion, unity, and world peace.  See, Reba recorded this song, and it’s going to change EVERYTHING.  All you have to do is tie a Trump Hater to a chair and make them listen to it, and guess what? They, too, will come to see that Donald J. Trump is indeed the answer to all of our problems.


 A few things about the song, “Back to God,” written by Randy Houser in 2008.  Apparently, it’s always been a favorite of Reba’s, one she chose to include on an album that dropped in January 2017 and which was likely recorded before the presidential election had even taken place.  As to why she chose to record this song now, Reba said, “I think it is always the right time to give it back to Him because we seem to mess things up on our own. We all need to just love each other more unconditionally, without judgment, because we can’t do this on our own.”  That’s a nice idea, even if you don’t believe in God.

If you listen to the song or read its lyrics (I’ve done both), you’ll hear that it’s about dealing with hard times and how God can be a comfort to those who are struggling.  It specifically invokes “the innocent dyin’,” expressing empathy for the heartbroken and those who have lost a loved one before exhorting those in pain to call on God in their time of need.  The video, moreover, includes vignettes of people who appear to be in real agony – though it’s not exactly clear to me why.  It looks as though two teenagers may have died and that their community, black and white, is in mourning, but ultimately comes together in a gorgeous southern Church to unite in their grief and move forward through their shared faith in God, and that’s a nice message, too.  Many people find great comfort in their faith, which is a better way of dealing with hardship than drinking, taking drugs, or shooting up a preschool with an assault rifle.

But the song, like Reba, is utterly silent about Donald J. Trump, or the issues currently facing our country, of the fact that it’s so politically divided right now, or that the rest of the world thinks we’re all assholes.  Nothing in this song – nothing – suggests that it was intended to respond to the state of the nation since November 8, 2016, nor does it advance the idea that El Presidente could fix things if only the liberals, who can’t accept that their (severely flawed) candidate lost, would just pipe down and give him a chance.

Neither Mr. Houser nor Ms. McEntire ever say that Mr. Trump is the answer to all of our problems, but does.  Wanna know why?

Wait for it…


I swear to God that’s what it says.  Guess what else?

“Donald Trump is going to be bringing God back into this country….He’s put the Lord back in our Pledge of Allegiance.”  I hate to be all insistent that arguments be based upon actual facts and stuff, but the words “under God” weren’t even in the Pledge of Allegiance when it was first written in 1892 (by a socialist minister, no less) or when it was adopted by Congress in 1945.  Just to be clear, though, ever since those words were first inserted into the Pledge back in 1954, they haven’t been removed, there is no bill in the House or the Senate proposing to remove those words, and they’re not going anywhere.  (Also, “Touched by an Angel” wasn’t cancelled because of atheist Madalyn Murray O’Hair, who was already dead at the time, either).  But, okay.

So Donald J. Trump is a pillar of Christian morality? Really?  I have an easier time accepting that there may be benefits to abstinence-only sex ed.  I can think of four Commandments (I’m referencing them as they are enumerated by the Catechism of the Catholic Church) he’s violated without even having to think about it over a bag of tortilla chips:  The Sixth (thou shalt not commit adultery – think Marla Maples); the Seventh (thou shalt not steal – you know – all those vendors he refused to pay in full when he was building casinos in Atlantic City); the Eighth (thou shalt not bear false witness – like, every day) and the Ninth (thou shall not covet thy neighbor’s wife – “I moved on her like a bitch”).

It’s not just the sinning that makes’s assessment of Trump as a man of God so ridiculous.  We all sin, some of us more than others.  Also, I don’t presume to see into and discern the contents of Trump’s heart any more than and its ilk should purport to comment on the contents of mine.  It’s not that he hasn’t set a foot inside a church since his inauguration, or that he can’t recite a single Bible verse save “an eye for an eye,” or that he referred to Second Corinthians as Two Corinthians – attendance at church and an affinity for memorizing passages from the Good Book is not proof positive evidence of a humble servant’s soul.

Rather, what leads me to my conclusion that Trump is as much a devout Christian as I am a dedicated vegan who works out with weights and tractor tires every morning is the behavior that so obviously demonstrates Trump’s belief that he answers to no one – not Congress, not the American people, and certainly not God.  In a million years, I cannot begin to summon the image of Trump, on his knees, hands folded, begging, pleading, praying, crying tears of pain, “pounding the floor and screaming His name,” as Reba tells us we all need to be doing.

Try to imagine that, if you can; I just can’t.  Trump’s charitable works, in proportion to his wealth, are de minimis; in-depth analyses of his “charitable giving” reveal that he’s awfully good at taking credit for the monetary donations of others but that he has not made a single cash donation to charity since 2011 and had made no contributions to his own foundation since 2008.  Can you name a single cause or disease on whose behalf Trump has ever worked to raise awareness?  Have you ever seen him visit the sick or tend to the hungry (before he ran for office, that is)?

No.  Because Trump has spent his life in service of one thing and one thing only:  The Promotion and Aggrandizement of All Things Trump.  That’s the single thing he cares about (well, that and pussy), and anyone who genuinely believes that Donald J. Trump is about kindness, empathy, humility, forgiveness, service to others, self-sacrifice, and the betterment of mankind, is either the most naïve or else self-delusional person ever to have lived.

No,  Just, no.  Donald Trump isn’t a Christian, and Reba McEntire doesn’t think so, either.  The conversion of liberals, or anyone else who doesn’t practice Christianity, to your way of thinking, isn’t going to save this country until it’s got leaders in Congress, the White House, governors’ mansions, and state legislatures who understand that the United States (1) was founded upon principles of religious liberty; (2) is, was, and always will be a nation of immigrants; and (3) is the most powerful, privileged and prosperous country on earth and therefore must act responsibly, with an awareness of the impact its actions will have on the rest of the world.  When we are a nation that cares about the sick and mentally ill; that refuses to stand by while children in developing countries die from preventable disease and malnutrition; that finds a way to open its hearts and borders to those who are desperate for freedom and opportunity; that leads the way in addressing the threat of climate change; then we can truly call this country a nation that espouses Christ’s teachings, or maybe we could just say that we’re a country of decent human beings.

I’m all for people practicing whatever religion makes sense to them, if it makes them happy, as long as they don’t insist that I do it with them, but if ever anyone wanted to “convert” me, they’re going to have to come at me with better ammunition than Reba McEntire (talented though she may be) or the staggeringly incredible argument that Donald Trump “came from nowhere to bring the message of unity, peace and the love of the almighty god.”

Here’s the truth:  Donald Trump came from the 58th floor of the Trump Tower to bring a message of hatred and intolerance aimed at uniting a base that claims to love God even though they could give a crap about most of His people.  He came because he was bored, and because he’s a narcissist, and because those campaign rallies stroked his ego in a way that grabbing women by the pussy and firing D-list celebrities did not.  He came for the sole purpose of increasing his name recognition and profits, and not once prior to November 9, 2016 did he ever think he’d actually win, which was why he never stopped to think about what would happen if the policies he espoused were actually implemented.

He’s not a Christian and he’s not going to save our nation, but if you’re looking to “destroy” something,, look no further than to the country you claim to love, or to the “man of God” who’s destroying it.  Maybe Reba McEntire could do a song about that – because that would be worth listening to.