Dinner Table Politics: Trump, Russian, and How to Pronounce “Magnitsky”

Abby and Jim discuss President Trump’s disastrous summit in Helsinki and why George Will called the Commander-in-Chief a “sad, embarrassing wreck of a man.” That leads to the incredible story of Bill Browder and the 2012 Magnitsky Act, which leads Abby to predict that Melania will likely soon be jumping out of airplanes a la Tom Cruise in Mission Impossible.

Also, is the EU really a foe? Why does the difference between integrative and distributive trade matter? And how is Vladimir Putin’s attempt to get vengeance on Bill Browder like the Battle of Hogwarts?

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Articles of My Personal Faith

The LDS Church has 13 official Articles of Faith that have been canonized as scripture, and I believe all of them. Over time, I have come to a more comprehensive understanding of my own personal faith, and I have compiled a list of additional things I, personally, believe.

This list is in no way comprehensive and is certainly not infallible. It is also subject to revision, addition, and subtraction as circumstances may warrant. I have resisted the temptation to number them, because they are listed not in order of importance but in the order in which I thought of them.


I believe the Book of Mormon is exactly what it purports to be – not a fraud or “inspired fiction,” but an ancient religious record translated by the gift and power of God. It is the anchor of my testimony and the primary reason that, despite all my frustrations with the LDS Church, I will remain an active and faithful member. 

I believe the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the theologically truest church on the earth. If I discover a truer church, I will join it, although I don’t anticipate such a church existing. 

I believe other churches teach a great deal of truth, and that a great deal of truth can also be found in schools, in nature, in science, in entertainment, and, really, just about anywhere you look.  

I believe that “whether by mine own voice, or the voice of my servants, it is the same” means that the Lord honors the things he says through his servants, not that everything his servants say is the word of the Lord. 

I believe that Latter-day Saints have an unhealthy aversion to the concept of Christ’s grace, and that has resulted in many Mormons believing that they earn the majority of their salvation, which is wildly incorrect.

I believe the fifteen men who serve in the highest offices of the Church are good and righteous men. I also believe there is a vast overabundance of members qualified to be apostles, and that there are at least fifteen men and women in my own ward alone who are as good and righteous as the fifteen men who serve in the highest offices of the Church. 

I believe I have as much direct access to heaven as Russell M. Nelson does. 

I believe that temples need not be nearly as ornate as they are and that we should spend far less money on them. 

I do not believe that the U.S. Constitution is or will be hanging by a thread, or that the Mormons will be called upon to save it. 

I believe that agency and infallibility are incompatible, which means prophets can make mistakes, sometimes very big ones. 

I believe that the denial of the priesthood and temple blessings to people of African descent was, indeed, a mistake, perhaps the biggest mistake the modern Church has ever made.

I believe the November 2015 policy punishing innocent children of gay parents is the biggest mistake that is currently on the books. 

I believe that there is a great deal of further light and knowledge the Church needs to receive with regard to our LGBT brothers and sisters, and that we are not actively seeking that knowledge with the vigor commensurate with the love we should have for our fellow children of God.

I believe that no question should ever be feared or blithely dismissed, and that it is possible to directly confront the thornier elements of Church history and doctrine and come out with a strengthened testimony on the other side. 

I believe the possibility of the ordination of women ought to receive more careful and prayerful consideration than it has gotten thus far. 

I believe that mixtures of religion and politics are toxic by default. 

I believe the BSA has never had a mandate from heaven and that nearly all of my childhood traumas can somehow be traced back to the Boy Scouts of America. I’m immensely grateful to the Church for finally severing that connection. 

I believe militant atheism is intellectually ridiculous. It’s one thing to doubt the existence of God; it’s another, much dumber thing to be certain no God exists. 

I believe that religion has nothing to fear from science, and that the Old Testament makes no effort to distinguish the literal from the figurative and is therefore useless as any sort of scientific treatise.

I believe that truth exists independent of human interpretation thereof. That includes truth of all kinds – scientific, moral, ethical, spiritual, and musical. 

I believe D&C 121 provides the template for how all authority should be wielded, regardless of whether that authority is sacred or secular.

I believe that “Mormon Doctrine” by Bruce R. McConkie, “The Miracle of Forgiveness” by Spencer W. Kimball, and “For Young Men Only” by Boyd K. Packer were all well-intentioned works that ended up doing far more harm than good. In particular, Elder Packer’s pamphlet, given to me when I was twelve years old and had no earthly clue what he was talking about, severely warped my adolescence by making me afraid of my own body. 

I believe every temple sealing should be directly preceded by a non-temple wedding ceremony that anyone can be invited to attend, because no parent should be denied the right to see their children get married, and alienating an existing family is a terrible way to mark the creation of a new one. 

I believe “Us vs Them” is a terrible way to live your life, regardless of who is “Us” and who is “Them.” 

I believe most sports analogies are directly inspired by Satan. 

I believe people who believe all manner of nonsense should be welcome in the Church, provided they are not actively seeking to tear down the faith of other members.

I believe it is in the best interests of both priesthood leaders and children to have parents present during interviews. 

I believe kindness is a mandatory prerequisite for all of our interactions with other human beings.


I believe that’s all I have for now, but I reserve the right to revise and extend these articles as occasion permits. 

Decency in an Era of Ding Dongs

When my father passed just over two years ago, the media was filled with laudatory tributes to him that brought a great deal of comfort to all of us in the family. The problem was that most of these were posted on websites that included comment sections.

“Don’t read the comments” is the best advice I have ever given that I have never followed myself. Of course I read the comments. And the good news is that, in this instance, the overwhelming majority of them were entirely appropriate condolences. But far too many of them were not. Some people thought his death provided the perfect opportunity to settle old, and now meaningless, political scores, and a handful decided to seize the day by crowing, “Ding, dong, the witch is dead.”

I’m not paraphrasing. That was an actual comment, verbatim. There was no other substance or elaboration, just a terse expression of raw glee that my mother was now a widow and that I had lost my father. And as I stared at that slice of congealed bile for what seemed like forever, I tried to understand the rationale of the person who would say such a thing.

Now I can fully understand having unkind thoughts about public figures when they pass away, as I have had far too many of those myself. But the idea of immediately broadcasting those thoughts to the world at large in forums where the family of the recently deceased can read them is unfathomable to me.

If Mr. Ding Dong had met my mother on the street, would he have had the temerity to repeat his nasty mantra to her face? Would he be willing to come to either of my father’s funeral services, both of which were open to the public, and stand up and burst into song with his Oz-themed hatred?

Well, he didn’t, and neither did anyone else. That suggests that the anonymity of the Internet provides an easy outlet to be ruder than we would ever dare to be in real life. Except anonymity isn’t a mandatory requirement for an online license to be unkind.

I had a neighbor – in Mormonspeak, he was a “member of my ward” – who I knew casually and with whom I sang in the ward choir. He seemed a decent enough fellow, and he was a big fan of Evan McMullin, the independent presidential candidate who ran in 2016 and got 22% of the vote in Utah. He moved out of our neighborhood not long after the election, and I joined an Evan McMullin Facebook group in which I was a lurker while my former neighbor was an active participant.

When the formation of the United Utah Party was publicly announced, my neighbor jumped into the FB group to warn fellow McMullin fans that my new party was dishonestly pretending to be moderate, but he had talked to one of its founding members who had admitted to him that we were really interested in tricking people into accepting huge tax increases to fund vast expansions of touchy-freely social programs.

I jumped in immediately and pointed out that I was likely the founding member he had talked to, and I had never said any such thing, nor had any such idea ever been discussed in behind-the-scenes party conversations. He responded that while it was, indeed, someone other than me who had unwittingly divulged our diabolical agenda, I was still clearly lying to everybody when I denied that this was the UUP’s conspiratorial purpose.

I was flabbergasted. It’s one thing to say you disagree with what the UUP stands for, as that’s an entirely legitimate position to take. It’s quite another to publicly call me a liar with no evidence to back it up.

We exchanged a number of private messages, and he was far less willing to stand by his empty accusations away from the glare of the group spotlight. He finally said, “Look, it’s just politics.” I responded, “No, it’s just rude.” We are no longer Facebook friends, and I’m grateful we’re no longer neighbors. Political discussions do not relieve you of the responsibility to treat other human beings with kindness and respect.

The most recent example of this kind of bad behavior came in my Facebook thread discussing the Brett Kavanaugh Supreme Court nomination. I don’t want to rehash the argument, but I would like to highlight the reaction of one Solomon Kleinsmith, a man I have never met, do not know, and can no longer contact now that he has blocked me on Facebook.

Mr. Kleinsmith is apparently a blogger who claims to have influence over thousands, although I can’t find anything online that he’s written publicly in the past few years. I accepted his friend request during my campaign, and I hadn’t paid any attention to him until he jumped into this thread to offer the following bon mot:

Good lord… I cannot believe I threw several thousand people toward your candidacy in a positive way. I won’t be making that mistake again. If you believe this sort of logic, there is no way you could be trusted with high office.

I was quite startled by this, as I didn’t think I had said anything so far outside the bounds of propriety that it merited this kind of reaction, nor did I realize that I owed so many of the votes I had received to Solomon Kleinsmith. I tried to de-escalate the situation and point out that I was no longer running and had no plans to run again, so that made both our lives easier. I then attempted to redirect the discussion back to ideas instead of insults. But the good Mr. Kleinsmith was having none of it:

Good lord – you really are a politician, aren’t you?… Dishonest politicians like you are so much of what is wrong with our political system… Goodbye, and good riddance to bad rubbish.

I was defriended and blocked immediately thereafter.

All right, so what’s my point?

My point is not that I think we shouldn’t be passionate about politics or that we need to tiptoe around each other when engaging in spirited debate. I very much enjoy vigorous disagreements about ideas with good and wise people who have different opinions than I do. It’s when these disagreements turn into discussions about what a terrible person I am that I lose interest very quickly. When that’s the way it starts to go, I’ll often stipulate from the outset that I’m the worst person who has ever lived, so we can stop wasting time finding evidence for my awfulness and focus on ideas instead.

We live in an era where basic human decency is in increasingly short supply, especially when we enter the political arena. Donald Trump is a symptom of our national indecency disease, but, to mix metaphors, he didn’t start the fire. We have increasingly found excuses to be unkind to each other, when we need to find excuses to be precisely the opposite. If we’re going to dig out of the ad hominem pit in which we find ourselves, we need to listen to each other and find ways to disagree that allow us to pleasantly sit side by side in the ward choir together when the conversation is over.

This is how I intend to conduct myself for the remainder of my time on this earth. Although in the online comments for my obituary, I fully expect one from “S. Kleinsmith” that reads “Ding, dong, the witch is dead.”

Dinner Table Politics: All Things Judiciary

President Trump’s nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court leads to a discussion of the history of the Supreme Court, as well as Abby’s spontaneous performance of excerpts from the musical “Hamilton” amid scattered Harry Potter references. We also discuss Abe Lincoln playing judicial hardball, FDR’s attempt to pack the court, and why “Borking” is now Abby’s favorite verb.

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Dinner Table Politics: Fourth of July/Tinfoil Hat Edition

Happy Fourth of July!

Abby and Jim discuss the conspiracy theory that this year’s 4th will be the beginning of a new civil war, as well as a number of other conspiracy theories, both political and non-political, including the one that Jim actually believes.

Hear about Jim’s 3rd grade Watergate-themed Show-and-Tell, as well as Abby’s confidence that Tupac is still out there. Is Anthony Kennedy’s retirement from the Supreme Court a conspiracy, too? And should voting machines make funny noises while you’re in the booth?

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