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What has to be said

By August 4, 2023 28 Comments

I didn’t see the Twin Towers go down on 9/11. Let me take that back—because I was in class, I didn’t see the collapse, not until hours later. When I did, the world was still stunned into silence.

No single building was attacked yesterday. The Washington and Lincoln Monuments, as well as the Vietnam War Memorial and all the commemorative places in the nation’s Capital, are in one piece.

But like Tim yesterday, I’m departing from plan, because what happened yesterday afternoon is just as significant as the catastrophe of 9/11: a former President was charged in a DC court not all that far from the Capital. A decade ago what I’ve just said would have been unthinkable.  

Tuesday’s indictment wasn’t his first but his third, with another expected within the month. Some news outlets led this way on Tuesday: “Trump Indicted Again. .  .” That last word, again, is sufficient to make some readers roll their eyes—“what else is new?” Ever since he and Melania came down that elevator, Donald J. Trump has outweighed all other politicians and all other newsmakers. No one stays above the fold like he does, but then nothing about DJT is weak or puny; even what he mistakenly says on a hot mic gets rave reviews from those who adore him. 

But this morning, I just can’t help thinking something has to be said: a former President of the United States has been charged with “using dishonesty, fraud and deceit to obstruct the nation’s process of collecting, counting, and certifying the results of the presidential election.” Just doesn’t happen every other Tuesday.

We standing where none of us has ever stood, witnessing a historic moment that not only rivals but exceeds 9/11 in gravity, and danger to democracy. 

I turned to Fox News on Wednesday, where commentators claimed the Department of Justice was charging the former President with exercising his First Amendment rights, charges that would never hold up in court because the affair was pure politics, Trump being the front-runner in the 2024 Republican Presidential sweepstakes. The only reason Biden is going after him, Fox’s people were saying, is his commanding lead in the polls. They were convinced the DOJ fabricated charges to cover the more heinous crimes of Joe Biden, who, along with his drug addled, criminal son Hunter, took home millions in bribes and payoffs. 

According to Fox, the compelling story was not whatever Donald J. Trump might or might not have done, but what a corrupt government in Washington had already accomplished to keep their man from free speech—to mouth the lie he blanketed over the country. He’d won in a landslide in 2020, he said and still is saying. 

The political Royal Gorge in this country has well-established and fortified walls. You either buy the goods Jack Smith is bringing to the bench, or you buy the truth Fox is selling. Either way, it’s frightfully clear the U. S. of A. is cut in halves, broken up, and seething. Where both sides agree is that what happened yesterday was as momentous as anything in this nation’s history—a one-time President of these United States has been officially charged with a crime, more than one. Soon enough, he will face a jury. 

Never before. Never. 

Donald J. Trump at Dordt University

In January of 2017, Candidate Trump uttered one unforgettable line here in northwest Iowa, at Dordt University, the college from which I graduated and where I taught for almost 40 years. Few followers or detractors have forgotten.  “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody,” he told a standing room only crowd in the BJ Haan chapel, “and I wouldn’t lose any voters.” 

But then he said something largely forgotten: “It’s incredible,” he said, as if he were himself shocked by the loyalty his candidacy had somehow mystically, even spiritually, created. He seemed stupefied.

Thousands have tried to understand the Trump phenomenon’s lock on his millions, how he created a loyalty he seemed not to understand himself back then. How he holds his immense power remains a mystery.

He’s pounded the meaning from words like patriot and evangelical and even Christian by redefining them for his use only. He’s made us all—even his supporters—incapable of being shocked at anything he says or does. I’m writing these words right now because I can’t help but think it’s incumbent on all of us to repeat over and over and over that what he’s done and what he’s doing is in no sense at all “normal.” He’s carried half a nation into his fantasies and carnage.

Six years ago, when he was still running for the nomination of the Republican Party, he made his bold and murderous assessment, but nothing’s changed. Today, only one contender is registering sufficient popular appeal to challenge him for the 2024 nomination, and that man, Florida’s Gov DeSantis, wears lead boots he put on his own feet. He has no problem determining his competition, but he’s scared of saying anything bad about him, because even today DJT could stand in the BJ Haan chapel, shoot someone, and not lose a vote.

Yesterday was for the history books. Many, I fear, will simply scratch it up to “politics.” No attack from off our shores could be as injurious to us than a slapdash shrug of the shoulders. He’s hardened us to treachery and falsehood. We’ve become accustomed his sledge hammer coming down on our moral compass.

This morning, I just need to say that yesterday was huge. We’ve never been here before. 

James C. Schaap

James Calvin Schaap is a retired English prof who has been something of a writer for most of the last 40 years. His latest work, a novel, Looking for Dawn, set in reservation country, is the story of two young women joined by their parents' mutual brokenness and, finally, a machine-shed sacrament of reconciliation. He writes and narrates a weekly essay on regional history for KWIT, public radio, Sioux City, Iowa. He and his wife Barbara live on the northern edge of Alton, Iowa, the Sgt. Floyd River a hundred yards or so from their back door. They have a cat--rather, he has them.


  • Daniel Meeter says:

    Thank you for writing this.

  • Bruce Buursma says:

    So much collateral damage hath been wrought by this petulant man, including the now-imploding CRCNA and other faith communities across the evangelical spectrum. Sad. Sad. Bigly sad.

  • Emily Jane VandenBos Style says:

    Thank you for writing this, James Schaap. Here. And to Kristen Kobe’s DuMez for writing the book Jesus and John Wayne. May the RJ tradition contribute further to the ethos of being “wise as serpents, gentle as doves.”

  • Pat Cavanaugh says:

    Amen. Words that sadly needed to be said. I am devastated that he would dare say those frightening words at our Christian college and still be welcomed and endorsed.

  • Phyllis Roelofs says:

    Thank you for penning truth. I’m beyond sad, lament fits for me.

  • mstair says:

    20 Our citizenship is in heaven. We look forward to a savior that comes from there—the Lord Jesus Christ. 21 He will transform our humble bodies so that they are like his glorious body, by the power that also makes him able to subject all things to himself. (Philippians 3:20-21)

    …had to be said…
    and we have to remind ourselves… and get BACK to looking forward…

  • Jan Zuidema says:

    Thank you for naming what he has legitimatized, that has poisoned and unleased forces whose end game no one can predict. Money and the craven quest for power have replaced ethical behavior and justice. Even in our beloved denomination, it would seem that the end justifies the means.

  • Jack says:

    He poisons the quietest, gentlest, holiest opening to each day.
    Thank you for welcoming us to your own broken heart, enabling us to feel less alone in a world one mere infectious caricature imposed on us all.

  • John Kleinheksel says:

    That man has done what no person has a right to do. “It’s only about me/us; I can be shared with no one else.”
    So half the citizenry swears by him; the other half swears at him.
    Fox News has helped him demonize anyone but himself, the Savior of the human race, the God-father of American democracy, enfranchising all of you/us who have been defrauded by the urban elites.
    It is so easy for us elite folks to demonize the Man. I do it regularly.
    It took the DOJ a long time to get the particulars together to call him to account for January 6. That day has finally arrived.
    May justice be done, by reasonable persons who can cut to the chase and put the Man where he belongs: behind bars. As Jesus once said: “All the accusations you make against your foes, obscure the log in your own eye.” It is not Jack Smith who is “deranged.” YOU are that man. Your deceit, your evil deeds, your verbal assassinations will continue to be exposed. Make room for others besides yourself. You are disgraced. Shame on you, you who have no shame.

  • Harold Gazan says:

    Well written — “No attack from off our shores could be as injurious to us then a slapdash shrug of the shoulders.” Yes, and the Trump movement if not stopped will bring down our democracy.

  • Henry Baron says:

    Thank you, Jim, for finding words for the ongoing and painfully sad feelings that have dispirited many of us about our future and the future of our children in this riven society and church.
    We need to do some hard thinking and talking now about what we believe the Lord would have us do.
    As people of faith we’re still here to make a difference.

  • George Bruins says:

    Wow! The echo chamber is at full volume!
    Since all of you have read the NYT and WaPo, perhaps you missed David Brooks’ column, 8-4-23, a perspective that dares to depart from the narrative.

    • Mark S. Hiskes says:

      I did read Brooks’s article, and it was a thoughtful one about how we need to be careful at how we look down on Trump’s followers. But Brooks also said as he concluded, “Trump is a monster in the way we’ve all been saying for years and deserves to go to prison.” While we haven’t called him a “monster” here, for he too is created in God’s image, Brooks’s perspective on Trump’s character is consistent with the narrative you take issue with here.

    • Daniel Meeter says:

      I certainly read that thoughtful and insightful David Brooks piece. (And I will watch tonight, as I do every week.) Brooks by no means contradicts anything that Scaap has written here, but helps explain why this evil man has taken so many victims with him. Pointing out the self-righteous pride of our elite does not excuse the menace.

  • Mark S. Hiskes says:

    Thank you for stating this so clearly and well–and bravely. He is the most corrupt public figure in my lifetime, but of all his public sins, duping so many Christians to follow him may be the greatest. With Henry Baron, I believe we need “to do some hard thinking and talking now about what we believe the Lord would have us do.” Telling the truth, as you have done here–what Jack Smith and other brave public servants are doing as well–is a good place to start.

  • jcs says:

    I certainly didn’t miss it nor the sharpness of his critique of people who share my opinions. I found it food for the mind, the heart, and the soul. Everyone should read it. But it certainly doesn’t alter my sense of the critical moment we find ourselves in right now. A great piece by David Brooks–you’re right; but his own stance on DJT hasn’t altered one bit. BTW, you might appreciate the responses, too, if you haven’t gone through them. I certainly did.

  • Albert says:

    Amen and amen. Thank you!

  • jcs says:

    That last comment of mine was not meant for MH, but for GB.

  • Kay Joiner says:

    Well stated. Thank you.

  • Pam Adams says:

    Jim, that was a message I totally agree with. He is smashing our moral compass.

  • Mary VanderVennen says:

    Thank you for saying clearly what has needed to be said for a very long time.

  • Tom says:

    OK, so I’m completely not a Trump guy, and he deserves every bit of the abuse hurled his way – while I don’t exactly pray for it, I would not mind if, next time Trump is out on the golf course, God decides to take him out with a lightning bolt. That would make the world a better place.

    That said – you all on the progressive side of the arguments (and I aim this at the RJ crew at large, not at James Schaap) could take one small step toward bridging the ‘Royal Gorge’ by demonstrating some principled consistency and just once exercising a little righteous indignation at the corrupt current resident of the White House. Just like Trump, Joe Biden has been a cynical, dishonest, self-serving man for his entire career and this was well-known before 2020. Yet after the election, writer after writer on this blog lauded his restoration of dignity to office. And, since the appearance of ‘the laptop’ – the level of that corruption becomes more obvious every day.

    So, in my view, there’s a bit of a ‘beam in your own eye’ thing going here. If you want us more conservative types to take you seriously in the hand-wringing about Trump, do a little study of the sins you might be overlooking in your own guy just because he’s more likely to advance the causes that you support. You might find that the two sides of the Gorge are more similar than you thought.

    • Rodney Haveman says:

      Dear Tom,
      I have tried to pay attention to your concerns about our current President. I have watched the majority of the broadcasted hearings about the weaponization of the government. I have read about the contents of the laptop and heard much of what was said about the relationship (or lack of one) between Barrisma and then VP Biden. I’ve heard about the phone calls between Hunter and then VP Biden while other business associates were in the room, and in all of it, I still haven’t heard something that rises to indictment for criminal activity. I may be missing something, so I’m determined to understand. I know that Hunter’s business partner said Hunter and then VP Biden never talked about business on those phone calls. I know Hunter worked to trade on his name and connections with his father to raise his stature (I’m curious which child doesn’t do this – see Jerad Kushner and the $2 billion investment fund Saudi Arabia gave him when he never led an investment fund previously. 🤷‍♂️
      I think they all may do it – see Hollywood actors getting their children into college for free, etc. etc.
      So I haven’t found anything of substance (not conjecture, or speculation or inference about what the current President did wrong. His son obviously has problems and failed in many ways, some of them legal, while struggling with those issues).
      Here’s what I do know from reading the indictment. Republicans, conservative Republicans, who voted for and worked for the former President, saved our democracy, not liberals, not progressives, not Democrats. Republicans stepped in, told the truth and ultimately then VP Pence did the right thing. That’s not a small thing, and I’m grateful. Somehow that’s not covered much by conservatives or Fox News that rail against this latest round of fiasco. And somehow those same conservatives are the ones who tell me there is no difference between our current President and the former one.
      I find this difficult to digest.
      I will add though, you are right about Biden in this: he did a horrible job in the confirmation hearings of Justice Clarence Thomas, slandering Anita Hill and fumbling the ball when he had the opportunity to help move our country forward on sexual harassment.
      Alas, I’ve failed too. I hope not to the detriment of almost all women in the workplace, but President Biden does need to wear that hat along with the confirmation of Justice Thomas.

  • Diana Walker says:

    And just why would a very wealthy man essentially start up a Go Fund Me page to pay for his legal fees? And just why would anyone in their right mind reach for their wallet?
    I. Will. Never. Understand.
    Any of it.
    Thank you, James Schaap.

  • Carol Visser-Wolf and Steve Wolf Wolf says:

    What you wrote and other’s comments hit the mark with what Jesus would do and say. Honesty, love and kindness have to prevail for our country to stay a democracy. Thank you for stepping out with what the former president has done and continues to do to split our country. He has taken the name of Christian and uses it for his purposes, not what the Bible says. It would be wonderful to have a new president that at least does his/her best to promote democracy in our country and around the world. No politician is going to be perfect, but some are much better than others. Again, thank you for writing what you did.

  • Ila Klemm says:

    Thanks for writing this! I could never understand how sweet Germans, Christian, Lutheran, etc. could follow Hitler and do everything that he told them to do. But we saw it happen in our own country after the election and ever since. My education, through you and so many other notable teachers, taught me to think for myself and not follow the crowd. Thank you!

  • Herbert W Schreur says:

    I think you are missing a few important pieces. . Both the 1960 and 2020 presidential elections prove Stalin’s point, that it doesn’t matter who votes, what matters is who counts the votes. Secondly, Trump and Biden are not THE problem. They are symptoms of the problems, How did we become a place where these two are our choices? Because we are ruled by beaucracy, not governed by the elected. And we all went along with it. The elecxted got the beauracracy to give us lots of our own money for this ,that , and the other thing, and we never paid any atttention to what they were really doing, what they were really taking. If you think you are strong enough and brave enough, read “Brave New Worlds’ again. Then tell how we are not there, or almost there, because that’s where we really want to be. Blaming Trump and Biden makes you part of the problem,people who are continuing to maintain the illusion .

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