Can church ever be separate from state at a Franklin Graham rally?

[OPINION] CHARLOTTE, N.C. — After the Rev. Billy Graham became less a counselor of presidents and more a political player, particularly in the unfortunate case of Richard Nixon, he learned a lesson. The Rev. Franklin Graham, heir to his father’s legacy, has chosen a different path, arguably becoming as well known for his politics as for his role as a spiritual leader.

Considering his remarks as he brought his “Decision America” tour to his hometown this past weekend, it’s a box Graham the younger is not exactly comfortable being placed in. But for the preacher who credited the “God factor,” in part, for Donald Trump’s 2016 win, that narrative is set. Vocal support of the president pre- and post-election exists right alongside his philanthropic and mission outreach — such as recent efforts in the Bahamas — through the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association and Samaritan’s Purse.

Before he took the stage, and as Christian musician Jeremy Camp warmed up the crowd, I asked Graham about where he stands and about the qualities he admires in Trump, who is making his own news as he battles an impeachment inquiry with increasingly rough and divisive language, on Twitter and at rallies, which is anything but Christian.

When celebrity luster gives cover to how America judges its own

OPINION — I am not one of those folks who see celebrities as larger-than-life icons to be worshipped and admired. Usually. But the recent deaths of Jessye Norman and Diahann Carroll hit me in the gut because those two amazing women were at once larger than life and so very real. The reactions to their accomplishments also illustrate an American or perhaps universal trait — the ability to compartmentalize, to place certain citizens of color or underrepresented citizens on a pedestal, at once a part of and apart from others of their race or gender or religion or orientation.

It allows negative judgment of entire groups to exist alongside denials of any racist or discriminatory intent. There are a lot of problems with that way of thinking. It places an unfair burden on the icons, a need to be less a human being than a flawless symbol. And it uses them as a rebuke to others who never managed to overcome society’s obstacles.

Most destructively, it allows behavior that punishes those not so talented, fortunate or lucky.

Americans as ‘High Noon’ heroes against lawlessness? Nope

OPINION — Americans like to imagine themselves as Gary Cooper’s Marshal Will Kane in “High Noon,” facing impossible odds, struggling, yet managing to stand up, even if it means standing alone and risking it all. We are all rugged individuals, we think, rushing in while cowards run for cover.

Think again.

As we’ve seen in the reactions to the impeachment inquiry launched by the House into the actions of President Donald Trump, that high self-regard is just another American myth disproved by historical reality.

Long arc of history guides John Lewis in his call for impeachment inquiry

OPINION — No one can accuse Rep. John Lewis of lacking patience. The Georgia Democrat showed plenty, as well as steely resolve, as he changed millions of minds — and history — over a life spent working for equal rights for all. So when he speaks, especially about justice, a cause from which he has never wavered, all would do well to listen.

Lewis was not the only voice raised this week, as all sides raced to place a political frame on the narrative of the undisputed fact that a U.S. president asked a foreign leader to work with him and for him to smear a political opponent, perhaps with military aid in the balance. “I would like you to do us a favor though because our country has been through a lot and Ukraine knows a lot about it,” President Donald Trump said, according to a transcript of the conversation based on notes. He also wanted to rope in his personal lawyer and the attorney general, who, by the way, works for the American people, not Trump.

No direct quid pro quo but plenty of bread crumbs leading to the conclusion that a country dependent on funds to deal with, among other things, an extremely aggressive Russian neighbor, better pay attention.

By writing off climate change, are Republicans writing off young voters?

It makes sense that young people, who will have to live with the consequences of decisions made by their elders, are becoming increasingly passionate about climate change and global warming. Once an afterthought on the list of issues at the top of voters’ concerns, the future of the environment is now the topic of candidate town halls, serious investigative reports and, on Wednesday, a congressional hearing featuring young people offering advice and warnings.

It’s hard to miss the extreme weather patterns that bring 500-year floods way too often. But are politicians missing the boat on an issue that could transform the voting patterns of a generation?

What a close Republican win in a North Carolina House race means (maybe) for 2020

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Though Republicans tried to downplay the importance of an off-year special House election in North Carolina, President Donald Trump certainly thought differently. Why else would he have held an election eve rally alongside Dan Bishop, the GOP nominee in the state’s 9th District? And if that was not enough to belie the seeming lack of official party interest, Vice President Mike Pence also managed a North Carolina campaign trip the same day.

It paid off Tuesday, as Election Day turnout gave Bishop a 2-point win over Democrat Dan McCready. Bishop certainly credited Trump — the president, of course, took all of it — who helped the candidate overcome scandal over the race and his own controversial support of a “bathroom bill” that hurt business in the state. The newly elected congressman portrayed himself as Trump’s “mini-me” on every issue, from guns to abortion rights to immigration.

True, it was only one seat and one election, albeit one that has been going on for what seems like decades, and it was in a district Trump won by 12 points in 2016 and where Democrats have not had success since the early 1960s. So you could characterize Trump’s visit as a rescue mission. But a win is a win. On second thought, though, is it?

Biden and Beto are like night and day — except when they’re potato-potahto

OPINION — It was a difference in styles and generations. In a Carolinas swing, first there was Beto O’Rourke with a town hall at a brewery in Charlotte, North Carolina — more like an informal gathering among many new friends. The next day there was Joe Biden with a large crowd at a historically black college in Rock Hill, South Carolina.

It was a day and a world apart last week, though in both cases, supporters uniformly praised a certain quality in their chosen candidate — authenticity.

Hopes for 2020 run high in these two states, and the stakes are real for both parties.

Amid foreign policy chaos, remembering what’s important

OPINION — Master Sgt. Luis F. DeLeon-Figueroa and Master Sgt. Jose J. Gonzalez. Those names might not be that familiar to most. But their families, friends and fellow soldiers won’t forget them. The two Americans were killed in combat in Afghanistan last week, U.S. officials said, which brings the total killed this year to 14, one more than all of last year.

This is the news that disappears quickly from the headlines, as politicians and pundits try to make sense of just what happened at the G-7 meeting in France, for instance, and the latest chaos at the top. When the Amazon is burning, and the president of the United States skips the climate change meeting, as his buddy Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro takes time to insult the wife of the host country’s leader, it’s more distracting than usual.

But it is still astonishing how little attention the 18-year American engagement in Afghanistan seems to attract in the country’s consciousness and conversation.

Criminal justice reform had a bipartisan minute. Then 2020 reared its head

For a while, it looked as though the distance between the parties had narrowed on the issue of criminal justice reform. Bipartisan cooperation passed the First Step Act, a small step indeed toward remedying America’s mass incarceration crisis that disproportionately, in a historically skewed system, burdens minorities and the poor in everything from arrests to sentencing. Increasingly, though, the rhetoric resembles a partisan return to form.

But is the public changing?

Ken Cuccinelli wants to be a poet. First he needs a history lesson

OPINION — It happened like clockwork. Every few weeks, especially in the winter months, when snowbirds traveled to my then-home in Tucson, Arizona, from parts north that included Michigan and Wisconsin, Minnesota and Illinois, a letter to the editor would turn up at the paper where I worked. With slight changes, it would go something like: “I stopped in a store and overheard some people speaking Spanish. Why don’t they speak English?”

It took a little bit of time and a lot of convincing to explain that the families of many of these folks had been on the land the new arrivals so expansively and immediately claimed for generations, in the state since before it was a state, which Arizona didn’t become until 1912. It also has the greatest percentage of its acreage designated as Indian tribal land in the United States. And would it hurt you to know a word or two of Spanish?

Those are facts I was eager to learn — often from those long-timers — when I moved from the East Coast, many miles and a world away. Better late than never.