Saturday, January 25, 2020

Sondland's Perilous Presumption

At the end of over 21 hours of arguments presented by Democratic house managers, it has become evident that the substantive basis for the impeachment of President Donald Trump amounts to nothing more than presumption. This is not my personal opinion, it is the actual testimony of the Democrats’ key witness, Ambassador Gordon Sondland. Perhaps the most stunning moment in Sondland’s testimony before the house was delivered in this exchange with Congressman Michael Turner:
Turner: “So you really have no testimony today that ties President Trump to a scheme to withhold aid from Ukraine in exchange for these investigations.”
Sondland: “Other than my own presumption.”

Turner: “Which is nothing!”
I would like to draw the reader’s attention to an important detail regarding this exchange between Sondland and Turner. When representative Turner called Sondland’s presumption nothing, he was no more than half right in his assertion. I say this because, on the one hand, Sondland’s presumption does in fact offer nothing in terms of actual evidence and facts. Because of this, Sondland’s testimony is a blatant admission that the Democrats’ impeachment articles are founded on nothing - no actual evidence at all. On the other hand, presumption, by definition, is not nothing, it is something. By definition, presumption is the assertion of one’s over-confident opinion, and is rooted in arrogance, pride, and effrontery (shameless audacity, unblushing insolence). By this latter consideration, I would suggest to the reader that Sondland’s testimony unveils more than an absence of evidence, it reveals the darkness of what is taking place in our nation’s capital. This is something.

Sondland’s use of the word presumption should have triggered more alarm than it did. Perhaps this is due to the slanted reporting of the leftist media, the political polarity of our nation, or possibly even the illiteracy of many who don’t think carefully about words and their actual meaning. For myself, I tend to think that it is a twisted blending of all three issues, a subject of which I have written elsewhere. When I heard Sondland’s testimony, it sounded more like a confession in view of the wisdom of proverbs:
Proverbs 13:10: Through presumption comes nothing but strife, but wisdom is with those who receive counsel.
Those who have studied the book of Proverbs are well aware of the fact that many verses in this book deal with contrasting, antithetical truths. Consider our verse under review. In the latter statement we have the presentation of wisdom: a wisdom that comes through the helpful counsel of others (…wisdom is with those who receive counsel). In the former section of this verse, we have wisdom’s antithesis: the dark reality of a presuming and insolent heart, which can only lead to strife. The contrasting thoughts in this verse convey its entire message: The polar opposite of wisdom is strife-producing presumption. The Hebrew word that is translated as presumption is zadon, which means insolence or pride. Translators vary on the connotation of this word: pride (ASV), presumption (NASB), insolence (ESV), and vanity (YLT). In the end, they all capture the core essence of this Hebrew term rather well. This Hebrew word zadon expands our understanding of the overall message of this verse. Antithetically, a heart of zadon (pride, insolence, vanity, presumption) will lead an individual to speak and act without the helpful counsel of others. This actually gets to the heart of the meaning of the term presumption. A presumptuous person forsakes outside counsel because he possesses an over-confident opinion[1] due to pride and arrogance. Wisdom humbly seeks counsel and facts (Proverbs 4:7); presumption requires neither, but is rooted in an unblushing insolence and arrogance. And what does such presumption produce? Nothing, our verse says, but strife. The inclusion of the word nothing (H. Raq) reminds us of the exclusivity of presumption’s yield. As Jesus said, a bad tree cannot produce good fruit (Matt. 7:18). And so it is that human presumption (pride, insolence, vanity [zadon]) has just one outcome and no other: strife. The word strife (H. matzah) requires little exposition: strife, contention, fighting. We are taught that the one who loves transgression loves strife (Proverbs 17:19).Thus, the contrast presented in our verse is rather clear and is affirmed as a principle throughout the Scriptures: The good fruit of peacemaking requires true wisdom (James 3:17-18), whereas infighting and strife are the perpetual bad fruits of the insolent (James 3:13-16). I say perpetual in view of the core verb which governs our verse in question: “Through presumption comes [H. yiten] nothing but strife.” The verb here employed is an imperfect verb which speaks of incomplete action and is often translated as a present verb in the English. This brings to mind the reality of unconstrained, continuing action. In view of the overall context of the verse, we could say that presumption yields nothing but strife, without end.

The reader should know that I am not claiming to have knowledge regarding the thoughts, motives, or intentions of Ambassador Donald Sondland. I am simply taking his own testimony at face value. Assuming that he comprehends his own words, his testimony reveals a particularly stark confession. And for those who wish to take issue with my sole examination of the word presumption, please keep in mind that this is not the only term used by Sondland to represent his fact-deficient testimony. As argued by Mike Purpura (Deputy White House Counsel to the President), ambassador Sondland used various forms of the words assume, presume, guess, and speculate over 30 times throughout the course of his testimony before the House. None of these terms lead us to an ounce of empirical evidence. It only supplies fodder in the canons of those who wish to weaponize impeachment as a deadly political weapon.

Finally, by presenting the teachings of Proverbs in this article, it is important to remember that our focus of study is not about any one individual, per se. Instead, when considering any principle of scripture, our first priority must be to examine ourselves to see how we (as individuals) fall short of God's standard, and how we can improve in our obedience to what He has commanded. The sin of presumption is a ubiquitous disease. All of us therefore need to mortify this ugly beast on a daily basis.

[1] OED: The taking upon onself of more than is warranted by one's position, right, or (formerly) ability; forward or over-confident opinion or conduct; arrogance, pride, effrontery, assurance.