Getting Past the Drama: What Trump Means for Policy

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Donald Trump has been elected president.  People are processing lots of emotional feedback, much of it related to the headline scrum that took place over Donald Trump’s purported racism, sexism, etc.  But the reality is that Trump’s presidency offers the possibility for a particular turn in public policy that has the potential to benefit virtually all Americans.  My argument is that the Trump administration will work to improve the American balance sheet through the development of national assets.  We don’t tend to think of public policy in those terms, but we should.  I’ll explain why.

The Democrats have emphasized the redress of racial or sexual grievance (such as the highly disputable pay gap) and the delivery of money and benefits through redistribution.  So, for example, President Obama managed to expand health coverage (though at a cost to many working class people) and aggressively increased the pool of food stamp recipients.  Republicans, on the other hand, have argued for the power of the growth that free markets can generate.  While the historical record is quite good on that front, it has seemed more recently (whether fair or not) that the benefits of such growth have not been widely shared.

Where does Donald Trump fit into this picture?  I think he embraces a third way.  He will prefer some kind of strong industrial/infrastructure strategy over the left-wing emphasis on entitlements and dependency.  And he will decline to believe with Republicans that free markets are the key to human flourishing (alas, but so be it).  Trump will try to build and protect America, Inc.

As a fairly orthodox small government, free market, free trade conservative, I prefer the Paul Ryans of the world to the Donald Trumps, but I think there is some benefit to Mr. Trump’s approach.  It may help to begin by considering comments from a 2012 Wall Street Journal interview with European Central Bank president Mario Draghi:

In the European context tax rates are high and government expenditure is focused on current expenditure. A “good” consolidation is one where taxes are lower and the lower government expenditure is on infrastructures and other investments.

Draghi’s insight is one American policymakers need to understand. If the government is spending a great deal of money simply to put dollars in people’s pockets, pay salaries, etc. (in other words, “current expenditure”), then we are not getting nearly the good we could obtain with better government spending that develops real assets.  Plus, we go bust trying to afford those ephemeral “current expenditures.” The superior situation is one in which you can keep taxes low and government spending is on items that last and have the potential to spur growth into the future.  I have the sense that Donald Trump, the businessman and builder, instinctively understands this point.

For example, consider the difference between a government paying for things such as the interstate highway system or the Tennessee Valley Authority power plants versus a government that sends out a lot of entitlement checks. The first government will see substantial benefit over the long run. Just consider the return on investment those highways, dams, and nuclear plants have generated decade after decade.  The second government (the one that focuses on entitlement payments) is mostly just poorer at the end of the year.

What I am suggesting (and friends on the left get ready to choke on your organic wheatgrass juice) is that Donald Trump buys into strategies suggested by John Kenneth Galbraith in The Affluent Society.  Galbraith encouraged liberals to stop focusing so much on income redistribution and to concentrate instead on investments in public goods.  Galbraith complained that we have a policy that encourages private consumption (both tax cuts and entitlements do that) when we should instead have one that tips the balance in favor of creating goods that benefit whole communities and provide a platform for better lives.  Thus, he argues that roads should be improved, power lines should be buried, better parks and libraries should be built.  Donald Trump’s thinking follows those same movements.

The upshot is that if a Trump presidency manages to shift our public policy away from simply encouraging more private consumption (via tax cuts or government checks) and in favor of providing work and generating public goods which could potentially serve us in good stead as national assets for a long time to come, then I think he could achieve something with broad based benefit to American citizens.

Hunter Baker, J.D., Ph.D. is a university fellow at Union University and the author of three books on politics and religion.

 

A Christian Approach to Thinking about 2016

I am a pro-life voter before anything else.  The reason has been that I consider the sanctity of life to be fundamental.  It seems to me that if the law removes the personhood of the unborn child, it operates in the same way that other laws have which dehumanized African-Americans, Jews, and others.  There is no truly moral and logical way to distinguish the unborn child from the recently born infant.  The dehumanizing logic of our abortion laws follow the old Greco-Roman practices the early Christians opposed as they sought to save babies who had been exposed or abandoned because their parents did not want them.  We live in a time when as many as 90% of unborn children with Down Syndrome are aborted for the same reason.  In any other context, we would call this practice barbaric.  Today, we call it a prudent result of genetic counseling. We are and have been in a bio-ethical crisis.

I have also prized religious liberty in my voting choices.  However, that has been less of an issue until recently.  Up until the past 20 years or so, federal office holders tended to overwhelmingly embrace religious liberty and to accept the rigorous defense of it provided by the Warren and Burger Courts during the latter half of the 20th century.  It has primarily been the advent of the gay marriage revolution that has caused many office holders to abandon religious liberty due to the apparent conflict between Christian orthodoxy and broader acceptance of homosexual practice.

While the Republican party can make a strong claim to the moral high ground when it comes to abortion, it has a less certain record on religious liberty.  Democrats have been quicker to minimize religious liberty, but some Republicans (even in the south, see Governor Nathan Deal of Georgia) have shown a lack of interest in vigorously standing up for rights of free exercise and conscience.  As has been typical, the Republican party is highly responsive to corporate interests.  Corporate interests place little value on religious liberty.  Indeed, the executive class is currently wedded with entertainment and government elites in actively disdaining it.  With regard to the current presidential contest, however, there were many candidates on the Republican side who had demonstrated a strong interest in religious liberty.  All of those candidates lost in the primary to Donald Trump.

I believe that both of these issues, life and religious liberty, are issues that Christian voters should use to guide their choices.  To vote for a pro-choice candidate, in my mind, is highly morally and spiritually suspect.  The issue is so serious that I do not believe it can be balanced by saying that one agrees with the candidate in some other area.  A preferred policy on say, food stamps, does not buy amnesty for a candidate who endorses a policy which effectively means, as Secretary Clinton has said, that “the unborn child has no constitutional rights.”  Ask yourself if you would excuse a pro-slavery candidate as easily as you might a pro-choice one.  Yet, the logic in both is similar.

Religious liberty is critical as part of the understanding that God gives Caesar a clear mandate that is not comprehensive in nature.  We are bound to obey when the government acts within its appointed sphere, but it must not (as Augustine wrote) compel us to commit sins or claim our allegiance beyond what is right.  As government grows larger, unfortunately, we potentially face a greater number of potential conflicts.  For that reason, we need a candidate who will encourage a harmonious and thoughtful religious liberty for all persons.  Religious liberty is not about giving religious believers a right to disregard laws.  It is about respecting conscience and belief in a way that helps us to live together instead of trying to force each other to bend the knee in some insincere way.  Religious liberty also serves as an important reminder to the government that it does not own us, but rather serves us and that it is limited in its power.  In this way, religious liberty reminds us of our constitutional heritage as citizens of a limited government of delegated powers.

This is the first election I can remember in which there is not a major candidate who satisfies me as a champion of either life or religious liberty.  Hillary Clinton is a dedicated supporter of Planned Parenthood and abortion on demand, as is the current president.  Donald Trump is, I believe, essentially indifferent to the pro-life cause.  One has to believe he has converted on the issue, which is unclear to me.  So far, I’ve heard him say he changed his mind because a child who would have been aborted turned out to be “a winner.”  That doesn’t sound like someone who thinks Down Syndrome kids shouldn’t be aborted.

With regard to religious liberty, Hillary Clinton strikes me as someone who would likely have supported efforts to protect religious liberty in the early 1990’s (as did her husband), but who views free exercise as something which must decrease as same sex-transgender revolution increases (as does her party).  Donald Trump, again, seems to me to be essentially indifferent.  I’ve heard him say that we’ll get people saying Merry Christmas in December again, but that’s not what I want the president to be doing.  That’s what the church is for.

With the priorities I have outlined, Donald Trump would be a defensive vote for me if I were to choose him.  I have no doubt of Secretary Clinton’s ability to implement the will of her party to the greatest effect possible.  Mr. Trump, on the other hand, is a political amateur.  I suspect his subordinates would have a great deal of influence.  To vote for him, I’d be voting for a unspecified outcome versus one that is specified.  Not very inspirational, but there is a logic to it.  I’d be hoping that he’d be responsive to his electoral coalition, but he may not see people like me as part of that coalition.  When I ran for office, I recall a man saying, “All this religious stuff is fine, but what about jobs and immigration?”  Mr. Trump probably sees that man as his supporter and me as somebody stuck with voting against Hillary.

What about Gary Johnson?  He has identified himself as pro-choice on abortion, pro-gay marriage, and anti-religious liberty.  He called religious liberty “a black hole,” which is an odd choice for a libertarian.  No relief there.

That leaves me with other possible choices of Evan McMullin, a former CIA agent and Mormon who is effectively a stand-in for a typical Republican and Mike Maturen of the American Solidarity Party, which is seeking to bring European Christian Democracy of the Kuyper type to the U.S.

If you want to hear something pragmatic on voting, here it is.  Let’s say Trump and Hillary were running neck and neck.  In that case, I’d be hard pressed to grit my teeth and vote for Trump just on the chance that I can better achieve my objectives that way.  But every revelation alienates me more and pushes me to ask whether honor demands that I reject him categorically as a candidate.  Honor may be well past that at this point.  However, if Hillary seems poised to win easily (which is looking likely), then I think my best choice is to both deprive Trump of my support and to vote for someone else so as to maximize the power of the message that we must not have another nominee like Trump in the Republican party.

Chicago Travelogue: Fall Break Edition

We just returned from a four day weekend trip to Chicago.  What was it like for a middle-aged (forties) couple and their two kids (11 and 14)?  Here’s the story.

We left from Jackson, TN late on Wednesday afternoon and drove to Champaign, IL to stay for the night.  On the way, we stumbled into an apparently famous restaurant called the 17th Street BBQ.  While the restaurant has been nationally profiled and the food much lauded, I suffered from the curse or blessing of having grown up during the heyday of Big Bob Gibson’s Barbecue in Decatur, AL.  I have yet to meet the barbecue pork that exceeds it, except maybe its almost across the street rival, Whitt’s.  So, 17th Street, you provided good, warm food to weary travelers and I thank you for that.  It’s not a small thing.

After a stay in a Drury Inn, we took off for Fair Oak Farms, which was only a little out of the way to Chicago.  Ruth had been there before and enjoyed watching baby cows blow through the birth canal and land heavily on straw.  (She has a professional interest.)  We went along for the ride.  This was my first encounter with big time farming.  I’d seen a lot of the smaller version as a kid, but I got to see the pigs all the way from birth to pregnancy.  I also saw the cows living together in a quest to provide massive amounts of milk to the world.  It was clear to me that the cows had it better.  They get to be more or less outside and spend a lot of time riding the carousel where they get hooked up for milking.  The pigs’ life looked more boring.  One thing blew me away in both cases, the agricultural use of information technology is astonishing.  If you thought computers were just for the office, think again.

What’s the best part about Fair Oak Farms?  It’s the food.  They make their own ice cream, milk, and cheese.  We had all of it.  The grilled cheese sandwiches rank in the special category.  I had the sweet, smoky swiss, while the rest of the family ate cheddar.  In both cases, you’ve got world class grilled cheese.  We ate so much dairy we had to delay any pizza for later in the Chicago journey.

After spending several hours at the farm (and that is virtually unavoidable if you want to full experience), we hit the road to Chicago.  We were entering the city between 6 and 7’oclock pm.  My hopes that traffic would be light were entirely unfounded.  Things were pretty good at first, but the closer we got the worse it was.

Tolls.  I have to talk about the tolls.  If you don’t have an EZ-Pass for Chicago, the tolls are absolutely barbaric in nature.  We are all accustomed to being able to throw change into a bucket and then to quickly move on.  These toll booths required that you put each coin separately into a slot.  Doing so with tolls of a few dollars or so at a time made me feel as if all human progress had been lost.  If you had cash, you were going to wait a while.

We decided to get a hotel deal via Hotwire in the tony part of town.  As a result, we got the Hyatt Regency on East Wacker.  It was a little less expensive than usual, but still pretty aggressive price-wise relative to what I’m used to in my interstate Hampton Inn world.  We had the idea we’d drive into downtown and get a parking garage.  Around 7pm, that was an absolute nightmare.  I never pay for valet if I can avoid it.  In this case, after fruitlessly trying to get a parking garage where I could leave the car for a few days, I gave up and gratefully put the car in the hands of the capable men at the Hyatt.  More money, yes, but my sanity was at stake.

Inside, some kind of assistant director spotted us in the check-in line and waved us over to his kiosk.  I think he took to our disheveled, nuclear family appearance and enjoyed getting us set up with a double queen room on the 21st floor.  He recommended we eat at Portillo’s, which turned out to be a restaurant that essentially contained a mini-food court inside.  An American place and an Italian place in one building.  The food was unspectacular, but good after a long day.

We had to get up the next morning for the Shoreline Architectural River Cruise.  It was on the way that I snapped this immortal picture:

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The fellow was annoyed, but who could avoid snapping that pic?

In any case, we made it to the cruise, which docked near the Navy Pier and had a tremendous time navigating the Chicago River as our guide regaled us with stories about the town and its eclectic architecture of classical, art-deco, modern, brutalist, and postmodern styles.  After we disembarked, I tipped the gentleman and told him that “I am a professor and I enjoyed your class today.”

This was a shot from the cruise:

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After a big cruise, you have to eat.  I had one meal in mind for Chicago.  A bucket list meal.  I had to go to Lou Malnati’s for Chicago-style pizza.  I’d seen it on the Food Network and I wanted it.  Somehow, we got seated within a reasonable period despite the throng that extended well past the lunch hour.  And then we waited and waited for the pizza.  But no problem, that’s part of the experience.  What can I say about it?  First, it’s good.  Let’s get that out of the way.  It’s good.  But you have to compare it with other types of pizza.  I simply find that I prefer the perfect balance of crust, sauce, cheese, and toppings you get from a New York style slice.  Lou Malnati’s has a really good, thick, crunchy crust.  I liked that.  But it is absolutely overwhelmed with meat, sauce, and cheese.  I had the sausage pizza.  Virtually every slice was basically covered with a flat patty of sausage.  It was like a meat crust on top of the crust.  Some people will love that.  But it wasn’t for me.  I’m glad to have tried it.

We also visited the Field Museum.  It is an impressive museum, but it also has a pretty powerfully retro feel to it.  It is very much a museum of the 1980’s in terms of how it presents.  After one has spent much time in the Smithsonian, the Field Museum seems fairly far from the cutting edge.  Plus, it’s expensive.  If I am the calculating tourist, I’d arrange as much of my museum going for Washington, DC as possible.

There were other things, but I think what I’d emphasize in the end is the overall sense of coordinated human achievement you get from visiting Chicago.  The buildings are spectacular.  The way the river intersects the downtown area is beautiful.  Almost all around you there are working monuments to human ingenuity.  If I had it to do all over again, I think I’d spend all of my time touring.  I’d take the cruises.  All of them.  And I’d spend time riding on the sight-seeing buses with the narrated tour.

 

Religious Liberty: The Government Doesn’t Own Us

When I spoke at Southeastern Baptist Seminary last month, I also participated in an interview with Bruce Ashford.  These remarks on religious liberty are excerpted from that interview.

On temptations to curtail religious liberty.

“That’s one thing I observed on the campaign trail. This is West Tennessee that we’re talking about, where I was running [for office]. Part of my logic [was] that these are people who will be very interested in religious liberty.

“But that having been said, I would very regularly get people saying, ‘I’m totally with you on religious liberty, but what about the Muslims?’ I told them, if we embrace this concept of religious liberty, then we also will tolerate the Muslims to build their mosques and to live their lives….’

“Gary Johnson recently said that religious liberty is a ‘black hole,’ meaning that he thinks it authorizes just any unlawful activity. But that’s not really the case. If you look back to the founding fathers and their understanding of religious liberty, the idea [was] that people are entitled to the free exercise of their religion as long as they don’t essentially threaten the peace and safety of the community. So cutting people’s heads? That’s out. Sacrificing virgins? That’s out. Throwing the girls in volcanoes…. But, within the bounds of what we understand as the normal life of religious people, that should be accommodated.

God has given Caesar a certain mandate, but it’s not everything.

“Now, why should we request religious liberty? Well, first of all, if we embrace religious liberty, we are implicitly saying that the government does not own us. We’re kind of taking that Caesar’s coin view of things. Yes, God has given Caesar some things to do. God has given Caesar a certain mandate, but it’s not everything. Some things belong to Caesar. Some things are God’s and jealously guarded as such. And when you embrace religious liberty, you’re saying that, ‘Hey, Caesar, you don’t get it all. Sometimes I’ve got to obey the higher law.’ And it’s better if you acknowledge that.

“And, look, human beings’ integrity means that [we] live according to [our] beliefs. So if the government is going to interfere unnecessarily with you doing that, then it is truly oppressing you. It is oppressing your conscience. It is trying to force you to live in accordance with a code that you do not hold. And there’s something terrible about that….

“John Courtney Murray, the great Catholic theologian, did a lot of work in religious liberty back when it wasn’t popular for Catholics to do so. He said [that] you need to look at the religion clauses in the first amendment as articles of peace. That these are clauses that if we learn to respect them, then we can live in harmony with each other. We don’t have to stamp on each others’ beliefs and force each other to conform in ways that are unnecessary. In that way, it’s easier for us to live together. And in a pluralistic society, that’s even more important.”

The Cruel Reality of Trump/Clinton

The mixture of politics, Christianity, and conservatism has served as a continuing running theme in my life.  I have delighted in the exploration, the debate, and the expression.  And for the first time, I’m watching an election that is taking all the joy out of these things I have loved.

Trump v. Clinton is an acid in my life.  Some things it dissolves.  The things it doesn’t dissolve, it leaves marred.

Since I sat on the sofa with my mother watching Ford/Carter election returns coming in on television in 1976, I have been interested in politics.  My dad was a proud former Goldwater voter, not all that surprising for a meritocratic engineer-type of guy.  As a teen, I began paying close attention to the early CNN and its amazing show Crossfire with Pat Buchanan and Michael Kinsley.  An interest in politics developed into something more like an obsession.

Two big things happened in college at Florida State University.  The first was that I became a born-again Christian tutored by Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship to bring everything in my life under the lordship of Christ.  Second, I came under the influence of some serious free-market economists in the persons of James Gwartney and Randall Holcombe.  As a result, my anti-communist tendencies (pretty natural for a Cold War kid) combined with Christian social conservatism and powerful free-market thinking to create a worldview that turned me into a highly fusionist type of conservative without apologies.

Later, I would come to understand that there was a conservatism other than National Review’s style (such as the classic Burke/Kirk version) and that Christians came in a wide variety of viewpoints, too, but the underlying point is that I became a nerd of the type who has always been drunk on ideas and somewhat religious about them as well.  Although stopping the Soviet Union and protecting the free market were the first attachments, I later found the writing of Francis Schaeffer.  Schaeffer made a thorough-going pro-lifer out of me.  And Schaeffer associate John Whitehead showed me the fundamental importance of religious liberty over the course of a summer at his Rutherford Institute.

Take this package of beliefs and intellectual commitments and combine them with the presidential election of 2016.  I was a Marco guy with strong sympathies toward Ted Cruz, as well.  (Why Cruz?  I think that few understand the original constitutional design as well as he does.)  It also happened that I was a conservative who appreciated Jeb Bush.  Though he was often pilloried as some kind of sell-out squish, I knew he hadn’t governed that way in Florida.

In the beginning, I saw Trump as a novelty candidate.  I called him the guy who says all the stuff your uncle drives everyone crazy with at Thanksgiving.  When he criticized John McCain for getting captured, I was sure he was done.  To my horror, he continued to climb.  Debate after debate took place.  Each time I saw a boorish performance by a man who was unprepared on policy and who just blustered his way through every encounter.

Of course, he won.  In retrospect, I see his victory as a classic 1980’s business phenomenon that fits perfectly with his 1980’s birth as a celebrity.  Trump’s coalition enabled him to perform a hostile takeover of the Republican party.  Like most corporate raiders, it looks like he’ll take control, drain the party of its useful assets, and then leave behind a crippled wreck.

Despite this dim view of Trump and my support for virtually anyone else at the primary stage, I did commit myself to supporting him in the general election.  The answer is simple and should be easily understood by all.  I know Hillary and her plans.  She is a pro-choice, secular collectivist of the type with whom I tend to disagree most vehemently.  The best thing about her, in my view, is that she is a much worse salesman for her views than President Obama has been for his.  Other will put the emphasis on her record, on Benghazi, on the email scandal.  Fine, but for me it is the continued development of U.S. policy in a direction I think of as hostile to true liberty and the marginalization of unborn human life that troubles me the most. Next to this, I saw Trump as a wildcard and an amateur.  I continue to think he would cede most governing to his vice-president and that he would mostly be a sloganeer and an image maker.

But I cannot deny the points that friends ardently opposing Trump have made.  They view him as a faux-Republican, a total non-conservative, a man of wealth without an apparent moral compass, and a political opportunist who must not be trusted.  In light of his recent comments which suggest sexual assault, they argue that he lacks even a baseline of character that we should expect of a president.

On the other hand, there are the friends who say that Hillary represents a generational threat for two reasons.  They fear that she will embrace an immigration policy that will fundamentally reshape America’s electoral balance.  (I disagree here, believing that even illegal immigrant families have a good chance of becoming Republicans.)  In addition, they say that she will turn the Supreme Court like a pro, which she is, and that the causes of life and religious liberty will be set back for decades.  While they often deeply regret Trump as the candidate, they feel that failing to support him represents a lack of seriousness and determination to fight.  Those who are unwilling to sully themselves by supporting Trump should get out of the way and let real warriors do battle.

I have many friends in both camps.  For my part, I have tended to be closer to group two than to group one because of my worries about the court.  I figured that a blustering dilettante with no government experience could scarcely do the harm that a master of the process could do.  For that reason, Donald Trump the candidate has seemed to be worth the trouble (if just barely).

But with this latest revelation (and knowing more is likely to come), the pain of the whole thing has intensified.  I have had to ask myself whether there is ANY point at which my personal sense of honor kicks in so as to deny the candidate my support, even in the face of an awful alternative.  (There must be such a point.  There must be.)

My #nevertrump friends don’t understand how hard it has been for me and others.  They look at me backing away from Trump in these last days and say, “What has changed?  Didn’t you always know this about him?”  In truth, probably so.  All I can say is that when one determines to persevere in order to vindicate a cause he is able to withstand the stacking of a great many straws before his knees begin to tremble.

We have to face the fact that it is terrible to be a conservative, a Christian, and/or both who faces the electoral decision before us.  There is no truly pro-life Republican or Democrat candidate.  There is no true religious liberty Republican or Democrat candidate.  There is nothing approaching an actual conservative of any type, really.  There is no one who genuinely shares our values, our spiritual commitments, and our way of life in this race.

We have before us a creature of Washington and a creature of Manhattan, one whose wealth was made through leveraging government access and another who made money selling vice and paying off politicians.  

Our situation is bad enough.  The least we can do is to stop tearing each other apart and to stop treating one another as though we no longer recognize whatever good once drew us together.  Goodness help us, we have all tried to do what we thought was right.

Trump v. Clinton: Round One

The first thing to say is that Hillary Clinton won this debate.  She won the debate when it should have been almost impossible for her to do so.

Why do I say it should have been impossible?  The answer is that Donald Trump faced a super low bar of expectations.  Basically, all he had to do was to appear calm, decent, and rational.  Despite that, he tripped over a bar sitting at ankle height.

He had moments.  Hillary referenced her vast experience.  He made out a case that much of it was bad experience for the country.  When she offered a short treatise on the implicit racism of police officers and systemic racism in the nation, he responded with a call for law and order for the benefit of people in the inner cities who have to live in unsafe conditions.  I thought that was reasonably well done.

He missed a big opportunity.  Hillary talked about how he had been very fortunate to have a rich father.  I thought he could have responded that she “had the great fortune to marry the future president of the United States.”  But he missed that.

In addition, let’s face it, he was a boor.  He frequently interrupted Hillary during her turn to speak.  When it was his turn, he often rambled and struggled to make a point.  There was a low information density to his answers.

But what about Hillary’s performance?  She betrayed no sign of ill health.  The concentration was there.  So was the patience and endurance.  I have to give her credit for being alert enough to tweak Trump at virtually every opportunity.  She knew what the points of attack were and she pressed them relentlessly.

And how about the email controversy?  Hillary was asked about it and made no attempt to excuse or explain.  She simply said that she made a mistake and takes responsibility.

Trump attempted to push that point, but he would have been wise to follow her example.  When she pointed to issues regarding his taxes, bankruptcies, etc., he put forward long, windy rationalizations that just made him look untrustworthy.  It would have been better for him to say that he has spent his life in an ultra-competitive business environment and often competed in a cutthroat way.  He might have regrets, but you’d want somebody as tough as him looking out for the country.  Something like that.  And again, he may have tried to basically say that but it was lost in the meandering mess of rhetoric.

By the end, Trump seemed deflated and beaten (and so was I).  He walked off the stage with his family while Hillary stayed up front shaking hands and smiling.  She knew she’d thrashed him.

The Need to Prepare for What You Want

During the past month or so, I concluded a campaign for Congress, wrote a couple of articles about it, submitted a significant scholarly project, and then spoke at one of the big Southern Baptist seminaries.  In between, there was a lot of teaching.

As I stood in front of the seminary audience of what looked like a couple hundred people or so, I felt the challenge.  Felt the necessity of having had to write something that would be meaningful to them.  Felt the obligation to try and keep their interest.  I had written about 6000 words for that purpose.

When you speak to an audience and have about 50 minutes, that can be a big mountain to climb.  It isn’t the same as teaching.  When you teach, you invite the students into conversation (or at least I do) and between the questions and answers 50 minutes can go by quite rapidly.  But when you carry that ball alone (and the audience is grading you instead of receiving a grade from you), it’s a bigger task.

I thought about how much I wanted to speak to audiences like that one when I was younger.  How I wanted to get the attention of groups and have them listen to what I had to say!  Now that I look back, I realize that was a classic example of the immature desire to do something when you aren’t even close to being ready.

I make no claim to being a great speaker.  For example, I don’t have the gift of memorization.  (It was tremendously comforting to me when I learned the same was true of William F. Buckley.)  But I do make a strong effort to develop the content and to really have something to say.  When I was younger, I think I would have felt fantastic about speaking to a big audience all the way up until the moment when I suddenly realized I didn’t have the rhetorical horse to ride.  (The same was true of the first time I tried to write a book.  I suddenly realized that I barely had enough for a chapter!)

I didn’t begin to hit my stride career wise until I was in my mid-thirties.  But all during those earlier years I was reading, thinking, making attempts at writing, learning from wiser men and women, and generally preparing.  I didn’t know whether all the preparation would bear fruit, but it did.  And now, when the time has come that there is some interest I have something to offer.

So, to follow the title of this piece, I want to offer advice to the young (or maybe even the mid-career or the old).  Perhaps you are like me.  Maybe you are that person who didn’t have a clean path to engineering or accounting or nursing or whatever profession where the steps seem fairly clear.  Maybe you have had some ideas about what you want to do with your life, but you have a lot of uncertainty about how to do it.  My advice is to turn preparing for that life into your hobby.  Read, watch, and learn.  Find smaller opportunities to do the things you hope to do on a bigger and possibly professional scale.

If you spend enough time getting ready, you just might have something to offer when a door opens before you.