Saturday, September 24, 2022

Musings on the Means and Motivation to Counter Russian Escalation in Ukraine

            By  Rudy Barnes, Jr., September 24, 2022

The West, led by the U.S., is facing an escalation of violence by Putin in Ukraine with a lethal game of Russian Roulette, and there’s little certainty of its outcome.  Russia claims to be a democracy, but up to last week the Russian people have given Putin a free hand to conduct his aggression in Ukraine.  President Biden will have to answer to a more demanding constituency.

The strategic factors in the escalation of the Ukrainian conflict are means and motivation.  Putin seems to have both, with little public opposition in the past to his escalation of aggression in Ukraine.  Western democracies led by the U.S. have the means to counter Putin, but their motivation is subject to an American election in November and a worsening world  economy.

The facts are fluid.  After Ukrainian forces liberated territory previously occupied by Russia, Putin called up Russian reserves, asserted his right to annex territories under Russian control, and threatened nuclear war if the West continued to support Ukraine.  The U.S. and NATO have vowed to continue to defend Ukraine, but not against a Russian nuclear attack.

Putin has the full support of Patriarch Kirill (Cyril) of the Russian Orthodox Church for his invasion of Ukraine to restore the Russian Empire of Peter the Great.   Kirill leads a Christian nationalist church similar to white nationalist churches in America, and within Russia Kirill has given legitimacy to Putin’s aggression.  Even so, in Russia public opposition to Putin is growing. 

The strategic options for Ukraine and its supporters are to continue conventional combat to liberate Ukraine; and if Russia tries to annex any part of Ukraine, to transition to partisan unconventional warfare in annexed areas.  Any annexation would be unlawful, but Putin could be expected to claim that any partisan activities in annexed areas would be an attack on Russia. 

If the Russian people don’t reject Putin’s atavistic strategy to restore the Russian Empire with his escalation of aggression in Ukraine, continued U.S. and NATO support for Ukraine will be necessary and will likely continue; but U.S. elections in November and a possible worldwide recession are wild cards that could undermine Western motivation to support Ukraine.

Recent demonstrations in Russia against Putin’s escalation in Ukraine are a hopeful sign of public opposition to Putin’s aggression.  Putin has to stand for election in March, 2024.  In the  U.S. and NATO the motivation to continue supporting Ukraine against Putin’s aggression will depend on public support and the economy--and whether Putin exercises his nuclear option.

Up to now, Putin’s means and motivation to continue Russian aggression in Ukraine has depended on superior Russian military power and the lack of public opposition; but that could be changing.  Ukrainian military successes and Putin’s commitment to escalate the conflict could awaken the sleeping giant of Russian public opposition to Putin.  Otherwise, the outcome will depend on a continuation of Putin’s lethal game of Russian roulette--with a nuclear weapon.


This past week Putin changed the dynamics of the Ukraine war in several particulars that indicated he lacked confidence in Russia’s ultimate victory after Ukraine’s military successes:

See Putin took a big risk by mobilizing greater force for the Ukraine War, in the Hill at

In the Washington Post, see How Putin’s partial mobilization could backfire, at; also, Over 1,300 arrests reported as Russians protest military mobilization, at; also Russia pushes the panic button and raises the risk of nuclear war at; also Putin drafts up to 300,000 reservists, backs annexation amid war losses at

In the New York Times, see Three Paths Toward an Endgame for Putin’s War at

For commentary on Christian nationalism in the Russian Orthodox Church and the Ukraine War, see Musings of a Maverick Methodist on the Obsolescence of Christianity in Politics, at; also.

Musings of a Maverick Methodist on the Ascendancy of Evil in Politics and Religion, at

See also, Musings on Shifting Strategies Against Russian Aggression in Ukraine, at

Saturday, September 17, 2022

Musings on Finding Common Ground to Reconcile Polarized Partisan Politics

By Rudy Barnes, Jr.

Disagreement in partisan politics is normal, but America’s two parties are so polarized now that civil conflict is likely without partisan reconciliation.  In 1860 partisan differences over slavery led to secession and Civil War.  Partisan conflict once again threatens the fabric of American democracy.  Common ground must be found to avoid another civil conflict. 

The moral teachings of Jesus summarized in the greatest commandment to love God  and our neighbors as we love ourselves is a universal standard for reconciliation.  Reconciliation doesn’t require unanimity in political views, only finding consensus on critical issues.  To be reconciled, Americans must first accept their political adversaries as their neighbors.

For  Americans to hold the fabric of their diverse democracy together, they must accept political differences and find consensus on providing for the common good.  If they don’t, they are destined to see their democracy once again dissolve in civil conflict.  Slavery is no longer an issue, but racism remains pervasive and continues to corrupt and polarize American politics.

The big question for America today is whether a majority of Americans can rise above their partisan loyalties and agree on the common good.  If not, unless one of America’s two parties becomes more open to independents or a viable third party is created, America’s polarized partisan duopoly will become even more extremist and evolve into civil conflict.

Economics is a major factor.  A strong middle class is essential to political stability in America, and vast disparities in wealth create instability.  Progressive taxes and government regulation are necessary to prevent unacceptable disparities in wealth.  While Jesus favored the needs of the poor over the wealthy, he never addressed the common good in a democracy.

President Biden’s executive order to forgive billions of dollars of debt for millions of students has created a politically volatile constitutional issue just before the midterm elections. Article I, Section 8, limits such action to a Congress that’s too polarized to act on such a divisive issue, and litigation will likely exacerbate polarized partisan politics to dangerous levels.

Both parties seem to have accepted a partisan gridlock that precludes providing for the common good, and that will likely lead to civil conflict if not resolved with partisan reconciliation.  It took a Civil War and the civil rights revolution of the 1960s to fulfill the ideal of the Declaration of Independence that All Men are created equal and endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.

America’s politics seem regressive on that lofty ideal.  America First with its racist baggage, precludes The American Dream that’s compatible with providing for the common good.  A new Gallup poll shows that 43% of all adults think that a civil war is at least somewhat likely in the coming decade.  That’s reason to worry about America’s future. 



On the American Dream? America First eclipses it.  A durable code in the nation’s politics emphasizes the limits of unity and inclusion [and providing for the common  good]  See

Jason Willick attributes partisan tribalism to opposition to whatever the other party asserts.  “We are so ideologically invested in the purity of our [concept of] democracy that much of what the other party does seems like a threat to democracy.” See

A recent Gallup poll shows that 43% of all adults, 40% of Democrats, and 54% of Republicans think that a civil war is at least somewhat likely.  That’s good reason to be worried.  See

Maya  MacGuineas, president of the nonpartisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, has asserted The White House is wrong,  Biden is no steward of fiscal responsibility.  “The White House has been trying to paint President Biden as the champion of prudent economic stewardship. Biden’s ‘record on fiscal responsibility is second to none,’ it asserts. As temporary covid measures end — and record-high deficits predictably decline — the administration is congratulating itself for that supposed achievement. But the administration’s record is, sadly, the opposite of what it argues. Since entering office, the president has approved policies adding $4.8 trillion to the deficit over the next decade. This is an extraordinary sum, which makes it all the more astonishing that the administration would try to pull off this claim. If ever there were a moment for responsible budgeting, this is it. The debt is at near-record levels. Inflation is soaring, in part because of excessive government spending. The White House added to this fiscal irresponsibility by initiating an additional $1.1 trillion of borrowing through the aggressive use of executive actions, including his most recent unpaid-for student debt relief plan. The debt relief alone will cost a half a trillion dollars by my organization’s estimate. Others put the price tag even higher. All this new borrowing is adding $700 billion more of new interest costs over a decade at a time when interest payments are already the fastest-growing part of the budget.” See  


Saturday, September 10, 2022

Musings on the Constitution, the Bible, and Democracy

            Rudy Barnes, Jr., September 10, 2022

What do the Constitution, the Bible and Democracy have in common?  Not much.  The Constitution provides a framework for American democracy and secular law.  The Bible says nothing about democracy, but a lot about God’s law.  The Bible is based on the sovereignty of God over man, while the Constitution provides for the political sovereignty of man.

The Enlightenment of the 18th century marked the end of the divine right to rule under the sovereignty of God with the birth of the political sovereignty of man in democracy.  Most of the Founding Fathers were deists.  Like Thomas Jefferson, they were skeptical of institutional religion and made religious freedom the first of the fundamental freedoms in the Bill of Rights.

The Constitution emphasizes individual freedom under a secular rule of law, and it balances individual freedom with providing for the common good.  It provides for an electoral process to elect the President, a separation of the executive, legislative and judicial branches, and a civilian head of the military, all to prevent a dangerous concentration of political power.

Despite the separation of powers, polarized partisan politics have paralyzed Congress and allowed the executive branch to expand its power.  Donald Trump tried to reverse his loss in 2020 by challenging the legitimacy of the election; and Joe Biden recently encroached upon the power of Congress when he issued an executive order providing for student debt relief.

There has been no judicial challenge to Biden’s executive order yet, but it’s inevitable.   Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution gives Congress the power of the purse; and Biden’s executive order provides billions of dollars in debt relief to millions of student debtors, with no national emergency to justify it--and it comes just before 2022 midterm elections.  

On September 1 Biden lambasted “MAGA Republicans” as “the enemy of American democracy.”  Before his partisan speech, Biden had promised to seek the reconciliation of America’s polarized partisan politics.  Biden now shares responsibility with Trump for the deepening partisan divide in America’s polarized politics.


The Constitution doesn’t mandate political reconciliation for a divided democracy; but the altruistic teachings of Jesus do just that.  They are summarized in the greatest commandment to love God and our neighbors as we love ourselves, and our political adversaries are included as our neighbors.  It’s considered a common word of faith by Jews, Christians and Muslims, alike.

Thomas Jefferson considered the teachings of Jesus “the most sublime moral code ever designed by man;” but Jefferson was critical of a church that subordinated the moral teachings of Jesus to exclusivist beliefs never taught by Jesus.  In 2016 the church lost its moral compass when most white Christians elected Trump President; but those voters can restore America’s political legitimacy by promoting the common good over divisive partisan politics. 


See Musings on the Consequences of Forgiving Student Debt, (September 3, 2022), at,

A viable third party could break up America’s polarized partisan logjam.  See Other voting options that could defuse partisan polarization are fusion voting that allows candidates to run on more than one party ticket, and ranked choice voting that allows voters to rank their votes for more than one candidate. See Musings on Fascism and Socialism, and a Nasty Trump Versus a Nice Biden at (9/3/2022). These alternative voting methods are opposed by party loyalists since they would dilute partisan political power.  It will take a moral reformation to remedy America’s extremist partisan politics.  See Partisan Alternatives for a Politics of Reconciliation (12/10/2016) at

See also, Tribalism and the American Civil Religion (9/23/2017) at

On fusion voting, see

On ranked choice voting, see


Jesus was a maverick Jewish rabbi who infuriated other Jewish leaders when he challenged Mosaic Law as God’s standard of righteousness with the primacy of love over law.  See Musings of a Maverick Methodist on Love Over Law and Social Justice (7/27/19) at, and Musings of a Maverick Methodist on the Radical Moral Teachings of Jesus (3/20/21) at

Thomas Jefferson assembled The Jefferson Bible as his personal collection of the moral teachings of Jesus, leaving out many of the mystical matters in the gospel accounts.  Jefferson understood that political legitimacy depended upon moral standards, not mystical beliefs, and that the moral standards of political legitimacy in America were derived from the Christian religion.  Jefferson held the teachings of Jesus in high regard but detested church doctrines.  In 1804 he wrote: “I consider the doctrines of Jesus as delivered by himself to contain the outlines of the sublimest morality that has ever been taught; but I hold in utmost profound detestation and execration, the corruptions of it which have been invested by priestcraft and kingcraft, constituting a conspiracy of church and state against the civil and religious liberties of man.”  Robin Meyers has echoed Jefferson’s criticism of the church in Saving Jesus from the Church: How to Stop Worshiping Christ and Start Following Jesus,  Even so, the church has continued to promote exclusivist church beliefs that emphasize worshiping Jesus as God rather than following him as God’s word. See Jefferson’s Jesus and Moral Standards in Religion and Politics (3/17/18) at

Trump’s “morality” is based on self-centered moral standards similar to those of Ayn Rand’s objectivist philosophy.  It’s reminiscent of Old Testament standards of justice based on God rewarding the obedient and punishing the disobedient based on Biblical Laws that defined standards of legitimacy.  “Life is a battleground between good and evil. This extreme dualism [can] lead to the adoption of apocalyptic religious beliefs. As the books of Daniel and Revelation reveal, the evil world will soon come to a violent end with the righteous few saved by Jesus who will take them to safety in heaven. God is portrayed as a global terrorist who brutally annihilates all the evil people who oppose him.”  And Trump’s supporters see him as their god. See

Other commentary on the church and political legitimacy:    

(12/23/17): If Democracy Survives the Trump Era, Can the Church Survive Democracy?

(12/15/18): Musings on the Great Commission and Religious and Political Tribalism

(12/22/18): Musings on Faith and Works: The Unity of All Believers and The Last Judgment

(2/9/19): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on the Hypocrisy of American Christianity

(3/2/19): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on a Post-Christian America

(6/22/19): The Universal Family of God: Where Inclusivity Trumps Exclusivity

(11/21/20): Democracy Has Survived Donald Trump, but Can the Church Survive Democracy?

(1/15/22): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on America’s Morally Muddled Mainstream

(1/22/22): Musings on Popularity as a Corrupting Influence in Democracy and Christianity

(1/29/22): Musings on the Inadequacy of Religious Moral Standards in American Democracy

(4/23/22): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on Why Americans Are Losing Their Religion

(4/30/22): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on the Obsolescence of Christianity in Politics

(6/25/22): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on the Church and the Greatest Commandment

(7/23/22): Musings on Moderating Extremism in American Religion, Legitimacy and Politics

(8/6/22): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on Moderating Hatred in Partisan Politics

(8/13/22): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on Religion and the Wisdom of God

Saturday, September 3, 2022

Musings on Fascism and Socialism, and a Nasty Trump Versus a Nice Biden

By Rudy Barnes, Jr., September 3, 2022

Dana Milbank’s column on August 26 was half right.  Biden’s criticism of Trump’s supporters as semi-fascists was correct; but he didn’t mention that Biden’s Democrats are as likely to promote socialism as Trump’s Republicans are to promote fascism.  Trump is a nasty and narcissistic right-wing demagogue, while Biden is a nice-guy leftist socialist.  

Fascism exalts nationalism and a preferred race; and in 2016 white Christian nationalism provided the catalyst to elect Donald Trump President.  The toxic mix of extremist politics and religion remains a powerful force that favors authoritarian politics over libertarian democracy, and gives Republicans an advantage over Democrats in America’s polarized partisan politics.

Socialism is a step away from libertarian democracy to fascism, with more government and less freedom.  Without a moderate third party, America’s polarized 2-party duopoly forces voters to choose socialism over libertarian  democracy.  Party leaders claim it’s the other party that threatens freedom, but both parties are willing to sacrifice freedom for more political power.

Both Democrats and Republicans claim to be populists who appeal to ”ordinary people” and accuse the other party of being elitist; but loyalists in both parties who promote partisan objectives at the expense of providing for the common good are political elitists.  Those ordinary people who oppose narrow partisan objectives are left out of America's polarized partisan politics. 

 Fusion candidates can dilute partisan polarization by running on more than one party ticket.  It’s legal this year in South Carolina but has a questionable future since it’s opposed by both major parties.  Ranked choice voting is another way to minimize partisan dominance.  It’s legal in some states like Alaska; but it’s not available in S.C. or in most other states.

Competition is needed as much in a healthy democracy as in capitalism.  A polarized two-party duopoly limits political choice, and leaves independent non-partisan voters with little political power.  That allows an emphasis on party loyalty over political independence, and less willingness to compromise, encouraging less diversity and more authoritarian politics.

Biden’s executive order forgiving student debt will exacerbate partisan conflict in the midterm elections.  It will motivate the millions who receive debt relief to support Democrats; but since it’s an executive order rather than an act of Congress, with no national emergency to justify its massive price tag, it will likely be perceived as a leftist Democratic move toward socialism.

As long as the Republican Party is controlled by the radical right and the Democrats by the left in America’s polarized partisan democracy, extremism will remain an existential threat to America’s politics.  It will take supporters of both parties to rise above party loyalty to protect American democracy from partisan extremism and provide for the common good.



Dana Milbank quoted President Biden with some harsh words about those of the “extreme MAGA philosophy” currently hacking away at our democracy.  “It’s not just Trump,” he said at a fundraiser. “It’s the entire philosophy that underpins the — I’m going to say something: It’s like semi-fascism.” Americans are taking notice. A new NBC News poll finds that “threats to democracy” has become the top concern of voters, replacing the cost of living as the No. 1 concern. The 21 percent who cite it as the “most important issue facing the country” include 29 percent of Democrats, and even 17 percent of Republicans. Rubio, writing in the Federalist, a Trumpist publication, responded with more fakery, and by portraying himself as the victim. “This cisgender white male reeks of privilege,” Rubio wrote of Wilentz, borrowing the language of the woke left. [Florida governor Ron] DeSantis has devoted himself to book banning, voter intimidation and restrictions on what schools can teach about race, history and sexuality — all while DeSantis, a graduate of Yale University and Harvard Law School, bashes “elites.”

Such relentless attacks on facts, expertise, learning and voting, like fantasies of violence against a nefarious elite, are tools of the authoritarian. At DeSantis’s alma mater this week, Yale President Peter Salovey opened the academic year with a speech on the current “assault on truth,” in which he quoted Hannah Arendt, revered philosopher of the pre-Trump right: “The ideal subject of totalitarian rule is not the convinced Nazi or the convinced Communist, but people for whom the distinction between fact and fiction (i.e., the reality of experience) and the distinction between true and false (i.e., the standards of thought) no longer exist.” This is where the MAGA Republicans are taking us. It’s past time to call it what it is. See

The Washington Post Editorial Board criticized President Biden’s national address on Thursday just eight weeks before midterm elections when he emphasized partisanship over partnership.   “Mr. Biden was wrong to conflate upholding the rule of law with his own partisan agenda, which he called “the work of democracy.” You can be for democracy but against the president’s policy proposals to use government to lower prescription-drug prices and combat climate change.” But many conservatives — not just “MAGA forces” — agree with the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade. It was disappointing that Mr. Biden chose to omit that the infrastructure, gun-control and burn-pits legislation he praised had passed with Republican votes.” See

Fascism is a political system headed by a dictator in which the government controls business and labor, and opposition is not permitted. In Socialism, individuals own the means of production while rulers distribute power and authority among its organizations. Fascist regimes are dictatorships, while socialist nations can be democracies.  In libertarian democracies  individual freedom is emphasized, with government regulating oppressive business practices.

On fusion voting, see

On ranked choice voting, see


On Musings on Christian Nationalism: A Plague on the Church and Democracy (8/10/19) see

On Musings on Socialism, Capitalism, Democracy and Debt in Politics and Religion (3/6/21) see

On issues that have caused many Democrats to be critical of Biden’s executive order to forgive student debt, see Musings on the Consequences of Forgiving Student Debt (8/27/22) at